Development of Doctrine IV

Both here and at Sacramentum Vitae, I’ve been involved in a long-running debate about the development of doctrine with conservative scholars from each of the three major Christian traditions.  (By ‘conservative’ I mean those who believe that the “faith once given to the saints” is definitive, fully and publicly identifiable in Tradition and Scripture, and may neither be added to nor subtracted from.) Unsurprisingly, though for quite varied reasons, many of those scholars are hostile to the Second Vatican Council’s claim, in Dei Verbum (emphasis added), that the

tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit.  For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

When I began writing about DD a few years ago, I believed that that a mutually fruitful understanding of DD could be reached across confessional lines on scholarly grounds alone. I now find that belief naïve. The purpose of this post is secondarily to explain why, and primarily to move the issue to the level I believe it needs to reach.

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Apophatic humility…

In Scholastic theology, three methods of analogical inquiry were used in discussion of God: the via causalitatis, the via remotionis, and the via eminentiae (or, excellentiae). St. Thomas, for instance, treads the via causalitatis in the first ten or so chapters of the Summa Contra Gentes, where he argues from the effects of the Creator to the existence and nature of the Creator. Since, however, His effects are woefully inadequate to convey God’s nature in a fitting way, the other two viae are invoked by the Scholastics to balance out the limited gains of the via causalitatis. God is a maker of effects, yes, but He is very “remote” from the limitations of makers as we think of them. His divine remoteness as Creator stands out principally in the way that He creates ex nihilo, whereas lesser makers always have to rely on some medium or tool or model outside themselves. The method of remotion is a constant reminder to us that our best arguments about God and our highest praises of Him are still far removed from what and how He actually is in se. As the IVth Lateran Council stated in 1215, “between the Creator and the creature there cannot be a likeness so great that the unlikeness is not greater [semper maior dissimilitudo in tanta similitudine].”

Further, the aspects which we can ascribe to God by analogy with lesser created things (by way of the viae causalitatis et remotionis), we must ascribe to God in an “eminent” or “excellent” way. Thus, by invoking the via eminentiae, we speak of God as a wise artisan, but eminently and supremely so. God is not simply a rough idea of love, but supereminently love; the Father not simply a paternal pattern, but a supereminently good father, etc. This trifold methodological tension is integral to Scholastic theology.

Critics of Scholastic theology, and Christian theology in general, often mistakenly assume that apophatic, or “negative”,  theology is a specifically Christian sort of obfuscation (as they would call it). But I believe apophatic limitations are a part and parcel of basic human thought, and that the Scholastic emphasis on God’s transcendent “otherness”, safeguarded by the via remotionis, is just a forthright way of connecting existential apophaticism to its Source.

Daoism is among the most apophatic belief systems known to humanity. The locus classicus is of course chapter 1 of the Daodejing: “道可道, 非常道。名可名, 非常名。Dao ke dao, feichang dao. Ming ke ming, feichang ming.” (I leave it to the reader to view the translation via the link.) The basic idea is that, whatever you can think or say about the power (德) and the way (道), and however close you might get to it, you are still far from describing or knowing the highest reality in itself.

Similarly, in chapter 28 the ‘power of the way’ (道之德 Daozhide) is portrayed as an uncarved block (or “unwrought material,” J. Legge) which, though formless and empty, yet holds within itself the fullness of all possible forms. Hence, the Dao defies our attempts to visualize and explain it. In the same chapter, the infant (or fetus) is lauded as a symbol of Daoist strength; though weak, immobile, untrained and unshaped, yet the infant possesses greater power than all just by being open to all forms and all levels of growth. Likewise, while God is entirely simple, yet He contains within Himself the fullness of being and all possible forms of created beings. Consider William Riordan’s comments in Divine Light (2008, Ignatius Press, p. 128) on Denys the Areopagite’s theology of the divine names:

God is described as great [μέγας] because of the multitude of His gifts (δορεάς: doreas), which are the perfections that He gives to His creatures. The myriads of creatures come forth as outgushings or springs (τὰς πεγαίας: tas pegaias) from Him, and yet He is in no way diminished. … But God is celebrated as small [μιχρός: micros] because He, in His perfections, “penetrates without hindrance through everything” (το διὰ πάντων αχωλύτως χωροΰν: to dia panton akolutos choroun). … Denys is drawing attention to God as the Small, who as Wisdom, permeates all beings.

Nor is there any shortness of apophaticism in Hinduism. Indeed, I think this sort of “natural apophatic-theology” is a classical component of all great human traditions. Even modern exact science has come to realize, grudgingly for some, perhaps, that even our best models are always true-but-only-rough and tentative approximations of natural reality. Our most secular theories, then, are subject to the a kind of Scholastic via remotionis. As Niels Bohr said, “If you think you can talk about quantum theory without feeling dizzy, you haven’t understood the first word about it (Wenn es Ihnen beim Studium der Quantenmechanik nicht schwindelig wird, dann haben Sie sie nicht wirklich verstanden).” Coincidentally enough, Bohr was a Daoist most famous for his Taiji-like principle of complementarity.

There is, thus, an apophatic humility proper not only to most philosophical traditions but also to modern natural science itself. I think this is so because all reality stems from God in variously analogical levels of likeness to and conformity with His own supernature. Even in personal relationships, we come to see that there is an inner mystery about even our most intimate friends which surpasses, remotionally, as it were, our most complete descriptions of them and our most vivid experiences with them. Nothing fully discloses itself in purely cataphatic terms, not even a stone. Thus, existence reflects the Creator’s revealed hiddenness in levels of analogy proper to their own corresponding laws of being.

The Word was Made Flesh

No one has ever seen love and God is love. “Why sketch an outline, why arrange limbs, why provide him with an acceptable stature, why imagine a beautiful body? ‘God is love.’ What color has love, what outline, what shape? We see none of these things in it, and yet we love” (Augustine, Sermon 34.3). Unseen, the heart sighs. “No one can see glory but he who is in glory; there remains both the desire and the intellect of those who are not in it” (Aquinas, Quodl. 8, q. 7, 1. 16). And yet we love because our heart demands to give itself. Kept to itself, the impossibility of redemption lurks in the background. Loneliness becomes the habitat of the heart, the heart without a presence that it can be naked to. Yet, even a lonely heart beats because it is seen. “Adam, where are you?” Man cannot hide from the One who looks for him. “Where are you?” Such is the proposal of God to humanity. Adam fails to see God because of the lack of certainty he has put himself in; within the bush, Adam cannot see and therefore know the world around him. He has lost his place. Mystery becomes the eclipse of God. Prayer becomes a monologue.

 

If today there is an eclipse of God (M. Buber), it is because we have lost the experience of being looked at with a sense of love and gratitude for our unique existence. We have lost the awareness of ourselves and therefore exile and slavery crept into our world. This is why Henri de Lubac noted that man can build a world without God but only a world which turns its back on man. It would be superfluous to analyze which came first, the lost of the experience of God that led to the lost of our sense of humanity or the lost of our compassion for humanity that led to the eclipse of God. What must be affirmed is that the human being failed to submit himself to the gaze that defined his humanity and personality, that he preferred autonomy rather than dependency on the Fatherhood of God.  This line from Theophilous of Antioch pertains to our discussion: “You will say to me, ‘Show me your God.’ And I tell you, ‘Show me first the man who is in you, and then I will show you my God’” (Ad Autolycum libri tres, I, 3). Any thought of God that does not reveal (and therefore experience) humanity is a failed utopia. There cannot be any dichotomy between the revelation of God and the revelation of humanity, for God is the light that exposes humanity. The experience of the glory of God is an experience of our worth and uniqueness. We cannot achieve deification unless our humanity has been embraced by God, unless we embrace our humanity with God. “How can you be a god when you have not yet become a man? How can you be perfect when you have only just been made? How can you be immortal when, in your mortal nature, you do not obey your Maker? You must hold the rank of men before you partake of the glory of God” (Against the Heresies IV 39, 2-3). It must be noted that for Irenaeus, the glory of God is man fully alive and so to partake in the glory of God is for man to fully embrace what he is made for. This requires that he holds the rank of men, that is, stay as a man and not a god. Only when he has accepted himself as man, that is, one who is dependent on the gaze of God, can he, paradoxically, become a god. Only in obedience to the immeasurable light of his heavenly Father can he achieve an existence that transcends the corruptible world. As Joseph Ratzinger stated, “Man can become God, not by making himself God, but allowing himself to be made ‘Son’” (Dogmatic Theology vol. 9: Eschatology, CUA Press 1988, pgs 64-65).

 Responding to Theophilous of Antioch would be very difficult because it is especially manifesting our humanity that is troublesome for us. How can we show the man who is in us if we ourselves have distorted our own image, if we have experienced a lack of gaze that awakened the desires inherent in us? It is not problematic to give examples when that gaze is lacking: A baby who has been abandoned by his mother, a child who lacks the gaze of both a mother and a father, a woman who has experienced infidelity from her husband, and so on. How can we show our humanity when the distance between human persons is far enough that we do not need to look at each other to communicate? What can close the distance between us? What can liberate us from the inhumanity we have experienced? How can we be free to look at the true, the good, and the beautiful? Free enough that “one does not keep one’s eyes in one’s pocket” (Claudel)?

 No one has ever seen love and yet we are seen with love. It is that innocent and pure eyes of that babe in the manger that produces the smile of the virgin mother. That non-condemning innocent gaze asks to be held. The question “Where are you?” becomes more dramatic and demands a renewal of decisiveness towards life. “Where are you when there is this babe to be held?” In the smile of the virgin mother is the certainty that there is no love that fails to satisfy life. Virginity is the acknowledgment that Christ alone can satisfy the heart. This is why a mystic is satisfied with life: everything speaks of Christ. It is virginity which keeps married people alive to each other with that tender gaze that Christ arouses in them. It is not simply chastity, that is, moderation, but the understanding of the other as the gift of God, the presence of Christ in life. Without virginity, marriage becomes burdensome and provokes a sigh of resignation rather than a sigh for meaning and love. Virginity is the pure heart which sees God. The one who sees God is one who understands why reality satisfies him. This is why it must be often repeated that virginity is not abstinence from sex but rather positivity. It is the embraced proposal from the Other. It is seeing that the darkness in the world is the overshadowing of the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the radiant glory of the crucified One who reveals that reality is mysterious.

 The seen and unseen coincides in the person of Christ, the humanism of God. God Himself, in infusing His Spirit to a human being, manifested the humanity we cannot expose. The Word which speaks the language of love (Spirit) is the sustenance and meaning of life. The Word-made-zygote in the womb of Mary is the lamb that conquers the “spirit of the lion” (Nietzsche) and brings back to man the freedom to erect his head before the glorious One who sees him with an unconditional look of mercy. Every experience of one’s worth comes from the affirmation of another. This is not dissimilar to the original experience of a baby who experiences reality from the smile of his mother. It is not, however, only an experience of worth the child has but an affirmation of his ontological existence. Hans Urs von Balthasar noted,

It is clear that a conscious subject can only awaken to himself and his distinct selfhood if he is addressed by one or more others who regard him as of value or perhaps as indispensable. When a child learns from its mother that it is ‘her treasure’, it becomes aware not only of its ‘worth’ (dignitas individui) but specifically of its uniqueness…The most emphatic affirmation can only tell him who he is for the one who values him or loves him. (Theo-Drama vol. 3, Ignatius Press 1992, pg. 205)

The existence of a child possesses a certain uniqueness that does not simply call out to be loved, but loved in a way that corresponds to his uniqueness. What cannot be separated, however, are his uniqueness and the way he is loved. Our humanity can now be revealed because God, in becoming man, has beckoned us. Pain, suffering, and darkness can never be an excuse for refusing to embrace life because even in the suffering God has from man’s abandonment, He manages to keep His eyes on him. “It seems to me that nothing prevents man from rejoicing in whatever he finds painful. For while he is sad at the troubles caused by virtuous living in the flesh, he rejoices in his soul because of that same virtue, because he sees, as something already present, the beauty and dignity of what is to come” (Maximus the Confessor, Quaest. ad Thal. 58). This is the new humanity, the humanism of God, man with God. There is now a gaze that infuses the spirit of freedom and love into the hearts of man. It is the gracious gaze that brings out the confident cry of a new song to the Lord. Even sin does not blindfold Him. Without this gaze, even love cannot satisfy the lonely heart. “He came to create a need, a thirst that his disappearance will render unquenchable. And at the same time he came to bring the satisfaction of this need, to place the answer in our hands, to offer himself as the sole remedy for this one fundamental craving of our nature that is its own gratification. He came to place himself at our disposal, to join forces with us. Son of God, he came to show us how to be sons of God” (Paul Claudel, I Believe in God, pg. 75). The Sun of glory has broken the eclipse away. Prayer is no longer a monologue but an invitation for the consummation. 

 

 

 

Some Notes on Orthopraxis. Responses to Critics of Spe Salvi

Pope Benedict has been insisting lately on the unity of faith and reason, without separation and confusion. One can give many examples of this such as his would-have-been lecture at La Sapienza, Regensburg address, his talk to educators in America, and especially Spe Salvi. What he has been calling for is a synthesis between the Gospel and natural law, that is, the broadening of the concept of reason. This is not at all new in Catholic thinking and one can look back in the early Church for this. John Paul’s Fides et Ratio provides many examples of Christian thinkers who saw no contradiction between faith and reason. Vatican 1 hailed the power of reason, pointing out that we can acquire knowledge of the existence of God from reason alone. Today, we can appreciate the genius of Pope Pius X’s Pascendi for pointing out the tendencies of reducing the concept of reason to either the phenomenon or feeling or even science. What St. Pius X was affirming was simply that man is able to attain knowledge of the world, himself, and especially God. Of course knowledge is not simply an intellectual exercise but rather meeting the Person of Christ in the Church. What St. Pius X was recovering, against rationalists and fideists, was that the Christian has certainty in this world, a certainty that comes from He who is Truth.

A century later, many would think that we are not suffering from lack of certainty but rather lack of right action. Because of technology and our experiences with suffering, we now know that there are many who are in need, especially the poor. Political theologies have risen and the condemnation of certain aspects of liberation theology by the Magisterium have ignited some theologians to re-think and improve political theology. Some, however, are still critical of the Magisterium for neglecting those that are in need. Some are still not appreciative of the two encyclicals Pope Benedict has written, arguing that although they may talk about what a Christian should do, it is not concrete enough. What I would like to do is to focus on a particular criticism of Pope Benedict’s encylical from N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann (cf. http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/jurgen-moltmann-horizons-of-hope-a-critique-of-spe-salvi/ and http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Spe_Salvi_Reflections.htm). Of course it would not be fair to criticize their theologies simply from these criticisms alone. Rather, what I would like to do is to offer a perspective in which people can understand why Benedict seems to be silent on concrete issues (of course his new encyclical would probably deal with that).

N.T. Wright says,

Hoping in God and in Jesus – and in the Holy Spirit, who (again despite the encyclical’s starting point in Romans 8 ) doesn’t feature much in this document – must entail hoping for, and then working for, genuine transformation within the present world, anticipating the time when God will renew and restore all things. This doesn’t mean a return to a ‘social gospel’ which denies the ultimate future in order to concentrate on the immediate and this-worldly; as Benedict insists, we cannot build God’s kingdom ourselves. But, as Paul indicates, we can work together for God’s kingdom (Colossians 4.11), and the framework provided by Jesus’ resurrection on the one hand and the ultimate hope of new creation on the other gives both theological grounding and motivation for such work at all levels. I looked in vain, in the final paean of Marian devotion, for any explicit mention of the Magnificat’s vision of turning the world the right way up.

What Wright seems to be calling for a renewal of the concept of collaborative eschatology, that is, that because Christ is risen, there is work to do. We need to be accomplishing God’s work here on earth. Our work here on earth will not be in vain and we get a glimpse of the new world at this minute. Of course Pope Benedict would not disagree with the notion of collaborative eschatology. He would not disagree with the notion that we should interact with the world today. Even an Augustinian can see the need to interact and live in the world so long as he is of the Church. It seems, however, that what Wright wanted was certain principles that a Christian can apply to this world, maybe like that of Rerum Novarum. Now, it has been gossipped that Benedict’s next encyclical will actually get into detail about principles of Catholic morality. Certainly patience is called for here. But what Pope Benedict wanted to do, it seems to me, is to offer a foundation of the Christian life, starting with love and hope. Only when the Christian has both can he work in the world. Pope Benedict pointed out in Spe Salvi that being in Christ means being drawn to his being for all. This is not at all abstract but simply pointing out that participating in the life of Christ is affirming the dignity of creation. Holiness is precisely being acquainted with the sinful world. In being a presence of Christ, the Christian changes the world. Being a presence of Christ, however, can neither be made into some kind of structure since man is always free and he needs to be continually won. He is not against good structures, but he acknowledges that structures are never enough because man becomes suffocated if he is reduced to it. What man needs is certainty that he is loved. As Pope Benedict says,

He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances.

What is essential then is not that the human person does the right thing, become the virtuous man. What is essential is truth. What is essential is that he recognizes that he is made for Another because the Other has met him face to face. Most of the problems that we have in this world is a problem of knowledge. A young man does not know what he will do in the future. A man does not know what to do in an economic crisis. A woman does not know if her boyfriend really loves her. But a fundamental skepticism is that we do not have the certainty that we are created and loved. The story of Christ and the rich young man should offer us some insights. The rich young man was a great Jew who did all that was asked of him. He saw something attractive in Christ and so he followed. He asked, like all good Jews would, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Here we see that he is concerned with orthopraxis. Most Jews would tell you today that Judaism is not about orthodoxy but orthopraxis, maybe with the exception of Maimonides and his followers. The whole covenant between Yahweh and man has been that of laws, that of following certain rules so that they can be distinguished from the world. So the rich young man’s question is not at all surprising. One should admire such a man since he took his life seriously, took his desire for eternal happiness seriously. Then Christ told him that he should sell everything he has and give it to the poor so that he can follow Him. What went wrong? Why did the rich young man leave? Traditionally, the interpretation has been that he was too attached to his riches. He must detach himself from everything and be attached to Christ. There is some truth to this but it is insufficient. What the rich young man lacked was certainty on who Christ is. What if I leave everything behind and this man is not the man I thought he was? What will my friends think of me? What if? But? Lack of certainty crippled this young man to the extent that he despaired and walked away. The problem with the rich young man was that he lacked knowledge. He could have simply said, “I do not know. Help me.” That would have been sufficient. Sadness turned into despair. Skepticism, in the end, is failing to acknowledge that Christ can become part of one’s life.

This story educates us in that what matters is orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not true belief, but passion for the glory (doxa) of God, which is, man fully alive (Irenaeus). It is responding to the proposal of reality. This not only means doing the right thing, but embracing all of reality, affirming the truth of things. Maximus the Confessor said,

Praxis is the reality of theory, theory is the mysterious inner side of praxis. To put it briefly: virtue is the form in which knowledge appears to us, but knowledge is the center that holds virtue together. Through them both, virtue and knowledge, one single wisdom comes into being. (Quaestiones ad Thalassium 63)

Because Christ has come, we can no longer simply do the right thing. We need to be transparent and acknowledge the Presence which holds all things. God only requires one thing: simplicity of the heart. The story of Mary and Martha reveals to us that Christ does not require activism. What he requires is to adhere to the proposal he makes. This proposal cannot simply be formulized since the proposal is ultimately the proposal to accept Him, to be certain that He can be the life of your life. Only when a person is certain of this can he engage with his culture.

Jurgen Moltmann, one of the founders of political theology, has this to say about Spe Salvi,

What is lacking in the papal writing? What is missing is the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed. What is missing is the message of the lordship of the risen Christ over the living and the dead and the entire cosmos that we find in the apostle Paul. What is missing is the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come” as it appears in the creeds. What is missing is the salvation of a groaning creation and the hope of a new earth where justice dwells. In short, what is missing is the hope of the all-encompassing promise of God who is coming: “See, I am making all things new.” By limiting hope to the blessedness of souls in eternal life, Benedict also leaves out the prophetic promises of the Old Testament. Christian hope then becomes hard to differentiate from a Gnostic religion of salvation.

I do not understand how the encyclical is missing the gospel of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is nothing than God Himself present in the world which is a promise of things to come. Granted, he notes that there are some things that need to be emphasized, such as the resurrection of the body. What I would add, though, is that Moltmann’s view of dialectical eschatology may be off. He believes that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a contradiction: life is opposite of death and vice versa. Moltmann believes that the resurrection is a promise of the world to come, a “new world” where God will contradict the world and bring it to life the way He did to Christ. However, I don’t think we know what the resurrection will be like. In fact, we cannot even fully understand the event of the Resurrection itself. Maybe Robert Jenson was right in saying that the Resurrection of Christ is the ousia of God. If this is the case, then we will never understand it. We can only speak of the Resurrection in an analogical way. If this is right, and the Resurrection is the promise of what is to come, then we can only speak of the eschatological future in an analogical way. This means that whatever good things we do here, there is some greater good that we have not achieved. Maybe we can never achieve them. This is why Pope Benedict was right: structures are good and we should try to make just ones, but it will never be enough. This is why he mentioned the Fourth Lateran Council that when there is a similarity between God and the creature, there is a greater dissimalirity; in other words, analogia entis. A just economic, political, etc. structures, then, can never fully participate in the structure of love between the Trinity.

This means: a Christian is politically radical not simply because he opposes whatever is evil in the world, but he is politically radical in that he offers something to the world that it does not have: a love that lasts forever. This cannot be conceptualized nor can it be “put” into a structure. Hence, this is not “dialectical eschatology,” but analogia entis. Maybe this is why Christendom failed…the people of that day thought they could structuralize God. It is true that we must fight for justice and propose a communion of love to all things. This is, of course, how God divinizes the world; that is, responding to evil by sending and commissioning the Christian to the world. The Christian is the response of God to evil and suffering. However, precisely because we deal with persons in this world, and persons are not reducible, we cannot hope to achieve a permanent structure, maybe even a Christian structure, that will satisfy their hearts. We can see this explicitly every day when someone passes away. Death still haunts us and the structures we have created can never save us from it. Death does not simply prove that structures cannot be permanent, but it reveals to us that we are irreducible. In Christ, we do not see death as something that simply reveals temporality, but revelation of our irreducibility, that we are greater than what we have in this world, that our conceptualizations of the world and of ourselves falls short of who and what we truly are.

The question, then, is how do we know what and who we truly are? And is this not the most fundamental question we need to answer before we can try to hope for some kind of revolution in the world or create a just society? We cannot know what justice is without knowing the just man, without knowing who and what we truly are. That is why, I think, Moltmann missed the point of what Pope Benedict was saying in the encyclical. In fact, many theologians criticize him for not putting a lot of emphasis on orthopraxis. But again, orthodpraxis comes about through the example of Mary who contemplates the face of Christ, not Martha. 

The way we can understand who and what we are only comes from the Church, the body of Christ. Only when we have immersed ourselves to the love of Christ, a love that lasts forever, can we truly build this world, can we, in participating with God, divinize the world. To hope for a better world presupposes that the person be ecclesiastical. There is no dichotomy between the Church and the world, God and the world. There is no dialectical eschatology.

The will to believe and the believing will…

Étienne Gilson says on page 83 of his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages that “faith is not a principle of philosophical knowledge, but it is a safe guide to rational truth and an infallible warning against philosophical error.” The point being that, while faith cannot provide rationally deductive demonstrations of this or that claim, it can provide the light and insight we need to direct our premises in rational investigation. We cannot philosophize by faith, but we can philosophize wrongly apart from faith. Since the content of faith, objectively given, is not an object of reason, it is not subject to purely rational strictures (much less to purely rational [i.e., deductive] demonstration, for which Anselm and Scotus argued in their ontological arguments). Because the content of faith is not an object of rational certainty, it is not an opinion at which we arrive, but is a testimony we accept as the Word of God. Moreover, because faith is not subject to rational demonstration, it is not arrived at by the intellect, but my a movement of the will, whereby the intellect arrives at truth it cannot grasp on its own without an elevating grace upon the pliant will.

This hold that faith places on philosophy has to do not with the supposed irrationality of faith claims, but with the very meaning of faith and reason as such. As soon as faith becomes an object of purely rational demonstration, it is eo ipso no longer an object of faith, and this in the same way your belief that I have brown hair is a ‘belief’ once you see (and thus know ‘scientifically’) that I do have brown hair. Accordingly, Gilson, citing St. Thomas in ST IIaIIae, q. 1, a. 5, notes that it is “impossible for one and the same thing to be an object of science [i.e., rational knowledge] and of belief for the same person…” (op. cit., p. 74). This disjunction is in order, since faith “implies assent of the intellect to that which the intellect cannot see [qua ‘scientific’ knowledge] to be true…” (ibid., p. 73). Further, Gilson argues, “if reason cannot prove them [i.e., dogmas] to be true, it cannot either prove them to be false” (ibid., p. 83). This is all of a piece with what we read in SCG I, 3:

Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.

As Gilson notes, St. Thomas’ anti-Averroist and, we might say, trans-Augustinian position on faith and reason stands in an interesting light, given the developments that ensued a few centuries after St. Thomas. For one thing, largely animated by Gehrard Groote, the Moderna devotio placed nearly all emphasis on our mystical perception of God, rather than any scholastic musings about Him. (Groote founded the fraternity of the Brethren of the Common Life in Deventer in 1381, and in 1475, a 12-year-old Desiderius Erasmus would enter the school for that fraternity.) This anti-scholastic, mystical attitude can be seen in Thomas à Kempis’ Imitatio Christi, as well as in the doctrine of Meister Eckhart (condemned in 1329 by Pope John XXII) about the soul’s union with God even this side of Heaven. It also finds expression in Luther’s excoriation of scholastic thought: “only without Aristotle can we become theologians.” (Cf. Gilson, Reason, pp. 86–94 for more details.) According to Ernst Cassirer, it also manifests in the development of Nicolas Cusanus’s thought. On page 13 in his The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, Cassirer states:

With the same assurance with which [Cusanus] denies the possibility of conceiving of the infinite by means of logical abstractions and generic concepts, he also denies the possibility of its conception through mere [mystical] feeling. In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis: it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition. No love can love what he has not, in some sense, known. Love by itself, without any admixture of knowledge, would be an impossibility. Whatever is loved is, by that very act, considered good; it is conceived of sub ratione boni. This knowledge of the good must spur on and give wings to the will, even though the What, i.e., the simple essence of the good in itself, remains inaccessible to knowledge. … The principle of docta ignorantia as ‘knowing ignorance’ re-affirms itself once again.

All of this suggests that there is a constant, inescapable tug on the rudder of Christian theology, which guides it back towards what Gilson calls the Augustinian family, a family characterized by St. Anselm’s credo ut intellegam. In that family, the will, drawn by love, always has an at least notional prominence over the intellective pursuit of truth that characterizes much of the Thomistic family. What I suggest for discussion is whether Cassirer underestimates the role of will in the scholastic account of our knowledge of God, since, as Gilson notes, where reason stops, grace must help the will to continue by faith. This point is made emphatically by James F. Ross in his papers dealing with cognitive voluntarism, available on his webpage).

More Scattered Thoughts On Obedience

God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov

It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.

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Development of Doctrine III

John of Fides Quaerens Intellectum has replied to my post Development of Doctrine II, primarily with a 1,700-word comment thatis longer than the post itself.  As supporting material, he has posted two entries at his own blog: one consisting chiefly of quotations from the late Prof. JND Kelly and Fr. John Behr on St. Irenaeus; the other consisting chiefly of quotations from Klaus Schatz, SJ’s Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present. Given that each exchange in our discussion—one which stretches back to old comboxes at Sacramentum Vitaeis longer than its predecessors, I find myself wondering with some amusement how many faculty and students will stick around for the seminar. At least the seminars in real academic departments have scheduled beginnings and ends! But even if the education ends up being John’s and mine alone, I think the discussion well worth pursuing. Speaking for myself, I come off every online discussion of DD better equipped to carry on the next one—and there always seems to be a next one, even when that’s not the plan. Who knows whom I might thereby reach? It might even be somebody here. And so I proceed with my latest reply as a productive exercise in what contemporary Catholic theologians term “fundamental theology.”

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