November 2, 2021 Wayne Northey

Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey Discussion Group with David Cayley

Illich/Cayley Friendship Circle

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David Cayley is introduced on this website here.

This summer, he consented to meet with a group of us on Zoom, to discuss his new book on Ivan Illich.

We are delighted. Our meetings are the last Tuesdays of each month at 3:30 p.m. EST. (David is in Toronto.) They last two hours or so. Our first was September 2021. We will skip December, and resume January 2022.

We initially scheduled four sessions; but David is open to continue if interest remains high. It does. It will (I’m sure!) . . .

I will post each session below.

An epigraph in the book above goes:

On the table . . . there is always a candle? Why?
Because the text that shaped my understanding
was . . . a treatise on spiritual friendship by the
twelfth-century abbot Aelred of Rievaulx . . . It
begins with the words “Here we are, you and I, and,
I hope, also a third who is Christ.” If you consider
his meaning carefully, you understand that it could
be Christ in the form of Brother Michael. In other
words, our conversation should always go on with
the certainty that there is somebody else who will
knock at the door, and the candle stands for him or
her. It is a constant reminder that the community is
never closed.–Ivan Illich

Further commentary on this and the book’s genesis is on page 9:

On December 2, 2002, he died in Bremen. I proceeded with what I had and, in 2005, published The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

The origins of the present book lie in that one. What I dared to call Illich’s testament—a name some thought presumptuous—was at the same time something vulnerable, exigent, and unfinished. There were reasons, after all, why Illich had maintained his discreet silence on the subject of the Church for so long, reasons why only his trust in me had finally allowed him, as he put it, to “stammer … what I have avoided saying for thirty years.” At various points he speaks of what he is telling me as no more than a “hypothesis” or, again, as a set of “possible research themes.” What I had asked for asked something of me in turn. A hypothesis needs testing; research themes need to be followed up. When Illich completed his “stammered” testament in 1997, he said, “I leave it in your hands to make sure that my intention … of speaking in gratitude and fidelity to the one behind this candle, which is burning here while I’m talking to you, was not a betrayal of his touching tenderness but a truthful statement, chosen once in my life.” The one behind the candle was always, finally, Christ. His charge was weighty, and in the intervening years, I have felt its insistent weight, even if with gratitude. With this book I offer my answer. In its pages I try to see Illich whole—understanding his various beginnings in the light of what he said to me at the end—and I try to say what I think the example of his life and thought means for our time.

One participant is author Marcus Peter Rempel. His book, Life at the End of Us Versus Them: Cross Culture Stories, powerfully applies both the thought of Ivan Illich and René Girard in telling his stories.

Marcus also is a singer-songwriter. In part inspired by Ivan Illich, in response to the death of a good friend, in the season of falling leaves, Marcus explains how he came to compose the following, gently-meditative song, Conspiratio:

NOTE: A clickable list of many Illich resources is here. The new Ivan Illich series of publications is here. David Cayley’s is the second of the series.

You may also appreciate the following excellent interview by noted theologian William T. Cavanaugh1, October 2021, recorded at the Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology, by clicking here. Cayley addresses amongst other issues what Illich’s response to the Pandemic might have been.






Zoom Recordings:

September 28, 2021

Much of this was discussing Illich as priest, his wanderer lifestyle, his formation, his relationship to David and genesis of recorded discussions and books with/by/about him.

October 26, 2021

Much of this was David’s discussing Illich and the Church: his faithfulness to, but variance from it; eventual cessation of performing duties as a priest; but perhaps consequently making the world his parish. Hebrews 11:4b reads:

. . . and by [faith] he being dead yet speaketh. (KJV)

Please also see Ivan Illich’s The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings, 1955–1985.

  1. My review of two of his books may be found here: The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict and Migrations of the Holy. Incidentally, David Cayley’s great interview with William Cavanaugh may be found here: After Atheism Part Three.[]

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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