Sunday, May 27, 2012

Modernism: Synthesis of All Heresies

I found a great article which really sums up what Modernism was all about, though I'm not sure you can really ever understand what is being described here until you have had the frustrating ill-fortune of meeting someone who holds this heresy which is utterly destructive to a right-thinking Christian mind and, indeed, to the community of the Church itself, tearing it apart from the inside:
One hundred years ago, on the feast of our Lady’s nativity, 1907, Pope St Pius X issued his renowned encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. He wrote the encyclical to protect the Church against a new movement that was starting to develop among a certain number of Catholic intellectuals. For want of a better name, the Pope called this movement ‘Modernism’. He stated that it threatened ‘to destroy the vital energy of the Church’ and to spread poison through the whole of Catholic life. In fact, he went so far as to say that its proponents were ‘the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church’, since they harmed her from within and not from without.

What was the danger that prompted so vigorous a papal riposte? What were the ‘Modernists’ saying? In various ways, they were saying this: Catholicism should be based not, as hitherto, on reason, but rather on experience. The exaltation of experience above reason is the essence of the Modernist heresy.

Why is this so serious an error? The Church holds that her faith is rational. The First Vatican Council solemnly taught that the human reason is capable of knowing the existence of God with certainty. It also taught that even before coming to faith, a man can discover by the correct use of his reason that God has made a revelation to mankind. He does this by carefully considering the ‘external signs’ that bear witness to divine revelation, especially miracles and fulfilled prophecies. Vatican I, in fact, anathematised those who claim that we must be drawn to faith in God simply ‘by personal, internal experience or by private inspiration’.

The Modernists, however, did not accept that rational argument could show that Catholicism is the true religion revealed by God. There were various reasons for this. In philosophy, they were influenced by Immanuel Kant, who had argued that it was impossible for anyone to prove the existence of God. In theology, they were influenced by attacks on the historical reliability of the Bible, attacks led by men such as the German Protestant Julius Welhausen (for the Old Testament) and the former Catholic seminarian Ernest Renan (for the New). More generally, the Modernists, as their name suggests, were strongly influenced by the spirit of their times, which put forward inevitable progress as a ‘law of history’. This led them to reject as impossible the notion of a religion revealed from heaven once and for all. A fortiori they rejected the notion that one should discover by the good use of reason what this religion is and then embrace it.

Now the Modernists, at least in the beginning, wished to help the Church. There seems to be no reason to doubt that men such as Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) and George Tyrell (1861-1909) were at first sincere in desiring the Church to be immune from the attacks of non-believers. Thinking that she could no longer be defended by reason, they called experience to her aid. In the middle of a sophisticated and unbelieving world, religious experience would henceforth justify the existence of the Catholic Church.

Like all heresies, Modernism begins with the distortion of some part of Christian truth. It is quite correct to say that apologetic arguments by themselves can never bring anyone to Christ. A preparation of the heart is necessary for someone to embrace the faith. Likewise, there is a proper place in the Christian life for the category of ‘experience’. Who will deny that being present at a High Mass or looking after a sick person may be a profound experience that strengthens one’s hold on some Christian teaching or other? But none of this means that ‘experience’ is the ultimate guide to religious truth. Before conversion to the Catholic Church, natural reason is the guide; after conversion, our guide is the teaching authority of the Church, accepted by that same reason now enlightened by faith.

It would have been bad enough if the Modernists had simply denied the possibility of apologetics. In fact, their exaltation of ‘experience’ led the more radical among them to go further, until they drained the Creed itself of meaning. These radical Modernists taught that man has an innate religious sense, active in some people, dormant in others, and that a believer is simply someone whose religious sense has been somehow awakened. He has had ‘an experience of the divine’. When a group of believers reflect together on their various experiences, dogmas gradually result. Yet these dogmas are not truths publicly revealed by God and passed down without change from apostolic times. For a radical Modernist, a dogma is just a symbol of the religious experience of the believers. A dogma is therefore true insofar as it expresses these experiences in a fitting way.

But what particularly disturbed Pope Pius was that the Modernists continued to use the Catholic formulas of faith even when they had ceased to believe in them. Among themselves, they might interpret the Church’s doctrines in a purely ‘subjective’ way. But among non-Modernists they would continue to use the ordinary expressions of faith, no doubt justifying themselves by the thought that these formulas were, after all, true: that is, truly useful symbols.

For example, when a Catholic declares, ‘Christ is God’, he means just what he says. A Modernist, in using the same words, might mean, ‘in meeting Christ, or belonging to the community that he founded, one experiences the presence of the divine’. Again, if a Catholic says, ‘Christ was born of a Virgin’, he means exactly that. If a Modernist said it, he might mean ‘in contemplating Christ, one has a sense of radical newness, of something without a fully satisfying natural explanation’.

It will be seen at once that Modernism is essentially foggy. Whereas the Catholic creed consists of statements that are simple enough for a child to understand – for God Himself is simple – Modernism thrives on ambiguity and unclarity (Belloc said that Maude Petre, an English Modernist, had written a book to prove that God was not a Person but a Vagueness.)

Was the Pope a victim of paranoia in supposing that the men he had in mind emptied the creed of meaning whilst continuing to profess it? Let the most famous name among them, the French priest Alfred Loisy, be our witness. In a letter written in 1904 to Cardinal Merry du Val, the Vatican Secretary of State, he declared ‘I accept all the dogmas of the Church’. But in his private diary at the same period, he noted, ‘I have not been a Catholic in the official sense of the word for a long time’, and again, ‘Pius X, the head of the Catholic Church, would excommunicate me most decidedly if he knew that I hold…the virgin birth and the resurrection to be purely moral symbols’.

From the beginning of his pontificate in 1903, St Pius had attempted to persuade the Modernists, whether moderate or extreme, to abandon their system, but when this failed, he acted swiftly and decisively. In the encyclical Pascendi, he exposed their motives and methods to the broad light of day. At the same time he promulgated, through the Holy Office, a list of 65 condemned propositions taken from the books of the leading Modernists. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he issued the ‘anti-Modernist oath’, to be taken by all clergy and others with teaching posts in the Church. This oath affirmed with crystal clarity that the Catholic faith is founded on reason, and that the Church’s dogmas do not depend on religious experience, but were revealed by God to the apostles and so cannot change. Although the imposition of this oath led to much public controversy, in the end only about forty priests refused to sign it. By this means were Catholic seminaries and universities preserved from Modernism at least until the time of the Second World War.

So far, we have considered two general features of the Modernist movement: its abandonment of apologetics and, at least among its more radical representatives, its denial of the obvious meaning of the Creed. We can now consider a third characteristic of the movement, one that makes it peculiarly hard to eradicate, namely its attitude towards the magisterium or teaching office of the Church.

St Pius X noted that the Modernists of his day considered conflict between the magisterium and the laity to be a normal and healthy state of affairs (today this is sometimes called ‘creative tension’.) They considered that the pope and the bishops ought to act as a ‘conservative’ force within the Church, maintaining the traditional expressions of doctrine intact: until the ‘common consciousness’ of the faithful had so ‘evolved’ that it became necessary to replace some traditional doctrine with a new one. Accordingly, the Modernists claimed that men such as themselves, who were in the vanguard of this ‘evolution’, must inevitably clash with the pope and the bishops. The Pope’s ironic description of this Modernist attitude is worth quoting at some length:

‘[When condemned by the Church] they reflect that, after all, there is no progress without a battle and no battle without its victims; and victims they are willing to be like the prophets and Christ Himself. They have no bitterness in their hearts against the authority which uses them roughly, for after all they readily admit that it is only doing its duty as authority. Their sole grief is that it remains deaf to their warnings, for in this way it impedes the progress of souls, but the hour will surely come when further delay will be impossible, for if the laws of evolution may be checked for a while they cannot be finally evaded. And thus they go their way, reprimands and condemnations not withstanding, masking an incredible audacity under a mock semblance of humility.’

In other words, even when condemned, the Modernist would not feel compelled to choose between faithfully accepting the Church’s teaching and openly leaving the Church. In such circumstances, there would seem to be no other option than to act as Pope Pius did: to administer an oath of fidelity, relying on the natural human horror of perjury to prevent it from being taken insincerely in more than a very few cases.

It is a commonplace that Modernism returned to the Catholic Church after the Second World War and particularly from the time of the Second Vatican Council. If the Modernism of St Pius’s day may be compared to a dangerous tumour, removed by the prompt action of a skilful surgeon, this later Modernism might be compared to a great flood of water pouring into a house with devastating effects. Many eloquent and acute authors in various lands have chronicled this ‘flooding’ of the Church. One might name, for example, Romano Amerio (featured in the May Mass of Ages); the German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand; Jean Madiran, in France; and our own Michael Davies. Such writers as these have amply shown how the spirit of Modernism re-entered the Church when the vigilance of the ‘watchmen’ was relaxed.

This ‘neo-Modernism’ has presented the same features as the original Modernism. First, it undermined apologetics. Apologetics presupposes a clear distinction between the knowledge that our natural reason can have of God and the knowledge that comes from the grace of faith. But during the second half of the 20th Century, a marked tendency developed among Catholic theologians to blur the distinction between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural’ (this is why many of them, today, stumble at the venerable doctrine of Limbo, or the natural happiness prepared by God for unbaptized souls who have never known the use of reason.) As a result, apologetics, which had previously been taught not only in seminaries but also in Catholic secondary schools, fell out of favour.

This decline of apologetics was accelerated when seminarians ceased to be instructed in the perennial philosophy perfected by Aristotle, St Thomas Aquinas and their heirs, in favour of a rather superficial acquaintance with ‘modern thought’. Accordingly, the traditional proofs of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, proofs that show the rational basis of Christianity, were devalued in the eyes of many. The rout was completed by ‘developments’ in biblical studies. From the 1960’s, it became fashionable in many Catholic circles to accept the scepticism about the Gospels that had previously been the mark of liberal Protestants. At the same time, many Catholic exegetes came to embrace the idea, repeatedly condemned by the Popes and by Sacred Tradition, that there are errors in the Bible.

(The best modern work of apologetics that I know is Fr Peter Joseph’s revision of Archbishop Sheehan’s classic Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine. This was published some years ago by the Saint Austin’s Press; I hope very much that they, or some other publishing house, will soon bring it back into print.)

The second Modernist characteristic mentioned above was that of using Catholic language without Catholic convictions. The most devastating example of this in recent times perhaps concerns the real presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist. It is not common for any one with a teaching position in the Church to deny that Christ is present in the celebration of the Mass. But probably many seminarians in different countries have been exposed to accounts of this doctrine which claim that transubstantiation is an ‘outmoded’ concept. The alternative explanation of Christ’s presence which is then given is likely to be a Modernist one. That is, the physical presence of Christ will often be at least tacitly denied, and the experience of the ‘worshipping community’ invoked to take its place.

Another example is the doctrine of the Resurrection. It would be very surprising if anyone with the title of a Catholic theologian should ever say, ‘Christ is not risen’. Yet one sometimes hears or reads that the resurrection does not necessarily mean that Christ’s tomb was empty on the third day, but simply that Christ has been glorified or ‘vindicated’ by God the Father. Of course, this is a self-contradiction: how could it be our Lord who was glorified if His Body had not risen again? Either those who say such things are simply very confused (that is what we should hope); or else, they are reducing the resurrection to an experience, either an experience of the apostles or an experience of the contemporary ‘believing community’.

The third characteristic that I, or rather Pope St Pius, distinguished in Modernism was the habit of ignoring the immemorial teachings of the Church in the name of an alleged evolving Christian consciousness. It would not be hard to find evidence of this within the Church today; one can simply read the Tablet. But not only is the habit of ignoring the magisterium more widespread than in the days of Pascendi, it also extends to a greater range of Catholic doctrines. St Thomas Aquinas, discussing tyranny, remarks that when there is a succession of tyrants in a land, the later ones will usually be more tyrannical that the earlier ones. This is so, he explains, because the later tyrants ‘do not relax the burdens inflicted by their predecessors, and also invent new ones out of the malice of their hearts’. In the same way, Modernism has a tendency to grow with the years. All 65 propositions condemned by the Holy Office in 1907 are alive today; but any list of contemporary errors would need to include many others too, for example about the maleness of the ordained priesthood, the abrogation of the Old Covenant and various moral questions.

At the end of his encyclical, St Pius states that the two great causes of Modernism’s spread are pride and ignorance. It follows that if we are to be free in spirit from the continuing influence of Modernism, we shall need humility and knowledge. Humility preserves us from supposing that we know better than our Catholic forebears and from the fear of seeming old-fashioned. It therefore defends us against the doctrinal deviations current at any given time (in our day, perhaps the worst such deviation is the denial of the seriousness of being outside the visible Church.) Knowledge is necessary because false ideas often spread not from ill will but from confusion. Pascendi insisted that the philosophy of St Thomas was the great remedy against such confusion, and that it must therefore be the basis of all seminary studies: but there is no reason why it need be confined to the seminaries (for those wishing to become acquainted with ‘scholasticism’, the best short work that I know is Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy, recently brought back into print.) More generally, continual contact with the works of the Doctors of the Church is surely a powerful way to protect ourselves against what the spiritual writers call ‘the presumption of novelties’, and so to root ourselves in the Tradition of the Church.

Finally, in his outstanding work The Devastated Vineyard, Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, ‘we must storm heaven with the prayer that the spirit of a St Pius X might once again fill the hierarchy’. If that is true, and I do not doubt that it is, we might like to use the following prayer, given in the Dominican missal as the collect of the Mass ‘for preachers’:-

Enlighten, O Lord, the hearts of thy servants with the grace of the Holy Ghost: give them a tongue of fire; and on those who preach thy word, bestow increase of power.

16 comments:

Brandon said...

That definitely was a good article.

If you've never read Tyrell's Medievalism, it's a fascinating read. It's Tyrell's attack on Cardinal Mercier's attack on the Modernists. It's in many ways the single best short description of Modernism by a Modernist and it shows two things: (1) Crean isn't exaggerating -- Tyrell explicitly says several of the things Crean attributes to the Modernists: e.g., he dismisses Mercier's Neo-Thomistic theology as "ideas from ideas" to which he prefers "ideas from experience"; and he at one point scorns those who would try to demand definitions from Modernism. (2) It is spookily familiar, as you say; you can pick twenty Catholics at random and would likely find several whose views are clear members of the Modernist family as laid out by Tyrell.

Aric said...

Guys, let's have an honest discussion here. You really believe in the historicity of Jonah and the whale? Of Job as a historical character? You believe, despite no evidence for it (and quite a lot against it), that the Exodus was an historical event? Leaving aside the Old Testament, how do we account for the chronological, numerical, and thematic inconstancies in the New Testament? How do we ignore the rampant textual contradictions throughout the Bible as a whole?

People who just "shrug off" historical criticism or "reject it as false" or "too complicated" are missing the point: A straight forward, no-nonsense reading of scripture is reveals a plethora inaccuracies and contradictions, and should be obvious to any thinking person that stories like Jonah and Job were just those - stories - made to prove theological points, not to provide a "historical record" of what really happened. Keep in mind, people in Canaan 3000 years ago weren't interested in history like we're interested in it now.

Now, the real question is what is meant by "error"? I'm ok with saying the bible has no "errors" if we understand "error" in the same way that the Pope is "infallible" - it has to do with faith and morals; it has to do with our salvation.

I'm not one to deny an actual, physical resurrection, I confess the creed understanding it to refers to actual historical events. Luckily, the creed does not require us to "believe" in all of stories in the bible.

This whole "modernist" vs "fundamentalist" binary is very frustrating... it's something that I wrestle with constantly. It's perhaps most frustrating when guys like Fr. Thomas Crean, who have most assuredly not taken a single course in historical criticism, spew off rhetoric that makes a caricature out of honest, rational, and straight forward historical work.

On the other hand, of course the idea that faith is all about "feelings" is asinine. That's a very Protestant, kind of Methodist idea. Yes, faith is based on reason. But what in reason compels us to understand all of the events within the Bible as historical?

As a final point, I'm truly not settled in my positions. I want to believe the Exodus happened. I think it would be wonderful if the stories in the Bible were all true. But when you sit down and do some research, when you stop for a moment reading the bible for in a spiritual sense, the idea that the Bible is akin to a modern day history book becomes quite difficult to digest

Aric said...

Oops, that third link was supposed to be this. A few of the examples in the video are obviously ridiculous, but put yourself in the position of the "common, no-nonsense, rational" man that Fr Thomas Crean was talking about and you start to realize that taking the Bible at face value may not be such a "rational" position after all. Also, the video is kind of funny, despite it being mildly insulting to intelligent believers.

A Sinner said...

A certain attitude towards Biblical Criticism is PART of the modernist program, but I hardly think is the defining feature.

Just because Modernists can and did "take it too far," doesn't mean there isn't anything redeemable about a historical-critical method, or that we have to look at the Bible as a straightforward history rather than stylized in some manner.

I'm certainly not a 6-day creationist, for example; and as I think I've mentioned on this blog before, Aquinas himself gives a nod to the opinion that the 6-days represent the creation of the world in terms of the construction of broad categories according to "angelic knowledge" rather than the temporal playing out of the material processes.

Obviously, recent Popes have likewise given approbation to this sort of "substance over accidents" view of Scripture, so such a position cannot be, absolutely speaking, heresy. And in fact stuff like "Job as parable" has been around for ALL of Christian history not just recently, and has usually been admitted as at least a tolerable opinion if you don't take it too far groundlessly.

However, there is a right and wrong attitude or spirit with which to approach such ideas. Approaching the Scriptures as if they are just any other text to be dissected academically according to secular standards as if the same standards of incredulity apply...is dangerous.

I mean, I hear things like "Jesus didn't really give the last discourses in John, but they reflect what the inspired community understood Jesus to be, what He said with His life."

And, okay, that's not terribly controversial in itself; is there any reason we need to think we're reading a transcript of a speech if the substance is true? If we're watching a bio-pic about someone's life, does each conversation need to be from an attested transcript? It seems like some license would be okay, and still truthful, as long as it serves to convey the personality of the historical figure in question. Heck, even "The Passion of the Christ" does this sort of elaboration.

But then I think, yeah, but if He was God, wouldn't He know they were going to attribute such statements to Him in the Gospels? And if so, then why WOULDN'T He have actually prayed them, if only to self-fulfill the foreseen attribution? It's sort of like what I was saying about there being no difference, in true Idealism, between "constructed reality" and "real reality." If Christ is constructed as having said those things, and the Christian construction IS truth and reality...then there IS NO standard of "real reality" to compare that "construction" to and say "But it didn't really-really happen that way." If the Narrative itself IS the Truth, then all evidence and such should be interpreted according to ITS framework, not vice versa.

A Sinner said...

There's a perfectly orthodox manner, nevertheless, to accept insight of a historical-critical variety, which essentially says "inerrancy is about the truth God intended to convey, and He wasn't always trying to write in the style of straight-forward history-textbook". Which basically says that trying to "explain away" contradictions is bad, not because it breaks some secular standard of textual criticism, but because it ignores a contrast that GOD obviously wanted to bring to our attention.

However, this is usually reflected by a very recognizably Catholic methodology of interpretation, which seeks to give even contradictions a divine significance (typological, spiritual, etc). You read how the Fathers and theologians dealt with stuff like this, and there is first of all a "benefit of the doubt" giving wherein they acknowledge ways the contradictions COULD be reconciled (even if they seem roundabout or convoluted to us), but then even when they admit the contradiction represents simply two different narratives, they elaborate on this in such a way to show the divine meaning in both.

For example, the method demonstrated at New Theological Movement here: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.ca/2012/01/did-jesus-misquote-1-samuel-21.html

Yes, there is a contradiction. BUT the Catholic answer is not "Jesus misquoted, simple as that," or "Mark made a mistake, simple as that." Rather, whatever the historical origins of the "contradiction" in the text, the proper Catholic attitude understands that it must nevertheless be Truth, must have some significance, must be intended by God, and then explains why (rather than giving some mundane natural explanation).

It's so ironic how the modernist critics will insist the Bible is not a history, but then read and criticize it like it is! If it's not a literal "textbook" history (and in a straightforward manner it's not), then dissecting it according to the standards by which we dissect a History don't make sense either! If we are treating it as "a literature" of salvation-history...then comparing the various sub-texts and parsing out contradictions according to historical methods doesn't even make sense. Rather, we should read it with the spiritual eye that the Church always has.

Then there's this other attitude which redefines (while using the same formulae disingenuously) the very notions of "truth" and "God", and which would reduce the Inspiration of the Scriptures, like they do with all dogma, into just the "expression of the evolving experiences of a community wrestling with the question of meaning" or some crap like that.

However, as I said, Biblical Criticism and an attitude of doubt and incredulity and naturalism there isn't the only hallmark of modernism. There is a way in which Catholics can legitimately accept historical-critical stuff (I look at Pope Benedict himself for a good example of how to do that in an orthodox manner).

But this idea of making doctrine all about the evolving religious "experience" of the community and then professing the same formulae and symbols but not really believing in their content in a straightforward manner...this is very dangerous and heretical indeed.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

What is mentioned here about Moderism is what was imlpicit in the Jesuit teachings back when I frequented those circles upon my return to the Church. It was exactly those implied beliefs that made me uncomfortable with them, even though I still had a somewhat of pragatic approach to the Church (but was open to believing in what the Church taught).

Aric said...

I'm in full agreement with you Sinner, I think, anyway. You're dead right about the fact that alleged "contradictions" in scripture have actually been the starting point for deeper understanding of the text; its spiritual and historical significance bears itself upon those who study it in this manner.

And of course we're in agreement about the dangers of primarily "experiential" faith, which often turns out to be little more than an idolatrous limerence.

However, I still take issue with Fr. Crean here who, ignoring the history of philosophy, the study of history, and even the natural sciences, makes weird claims about how biblical criticism is "modernist" and we need to watch out for this "modernist" tendency.

I think it might behoove us to ask what "modernist" thought is, anyway? It seems to me that the whole idea is quite ambiguous, as even the most "Orthodox" Catholics can exhibit the same kinds of characteristics that a "modernist" might (think of any Catholic mystic, for example). Or perhaps I'm missing something quite obvious here?

A Sinner said...

It sounded vague to me too, until I met one and talked to one. And then I saw exactly how well the description fit. These people don't "really" believe in the articles of faith. As the article says, they instead identify religious teachings as merely symbolic expressions of the evolving "spiritual" "experience" of the "community."

Turmarion said...

It's sort of like what I was saying about there being no difference, in true Idealism, between "constructed reality" and "real reality."

I disagree that this is the proper interpretation of Idealism; or at least, we're talking about different flavors of Idealism.

From here, my editing for space and emphasis:

Any philosophy that assigns crucial importance to the ideal or spiritual realm in its account of human existence may be termed "idealist". Metaphysical idealism is an ontological doctrine that holds that reality itself is incorporeal or experiential at its core. Beyond this, idealists disagree on which aspects of the mental are more basic. Platonic idealism affirms that abstractions are more basic to reality than the things we perceive, while subjective idealists and phenomenalists tend to privilege sensory experience over abstract reasoning. Epistemological idealism is the weaker view that reality can only be known through ideas, that only psychological experience can be apprehended by the mind.

Subjective idealists like George Berkeley are anti-realists in terms of a mind-independent world, whereas transcendental idealists like Immanuel Kant are strong skeptics of such a world, affirming epistemological and not metaphysical idealism.

Keep in mind that Plato is considered an Idealist (in that he thinks ultimate reality is in the non-physical ream of the Forms) and a realist (the Forms really, objectively exist outside the human mind). Plato thought there was a vast difference between "real reality"--the Forms--and constructed reality--the "shadows" of the material world we inhabit. I've read quite a lot by and about Plato, and there's nothing in any of it to indicate that he thought reality was somehow "constructed" or that "constructed reality" was the same thing as "real reality". Put it another way--there's nothing about "narrative-as-truth".

In fact, he and the later meso- and neo-Platonists are are very clear that the philosopher's goal is to get away from the constructed, "fake" reality of sense perception and to seek the "real" reality of the Forms and the One.

What you're describing seems to me more like what the article calls subjective Idealism or quasi-Kantian epistemological Idealism. Which is fine, if that suits you--it just doesn't apply to all forms of Idealism. I've always been more or less Platonist in my orientation (as a mathematician, objective Idealism seems obvious to me), and not so much into Kant or other subjectivist or epistemological types.

But then I think, yeah, but if He was God, wouldn't He know they were going to attribute such statements to Him in the Gospels? And if so, then why WOULDN'T He have actually prayed them, if only to self-fulfill the foreseen attribution?

But by that rationale, why didn't he ensure that the autographs of all books of Scripture survived perfectly intact? Why didn't he ensure that all copies were perfect, with no scribal errors of any kind? Why didn't he arrange that when different Gospels narrate the same events, they are totally and obviously completely consistent in all details? For that matter, why didn't he arrange for Koine Greek to continue in unbroken use into the present so we wouldn't have to wonder what things like hapax legomena mean, since we could just ask someone?

It's very clear that for His own reasons God wished that Scripture enter this world in a way no different from any other writings. The Divinity is as much hidden--and often obscure--in the words as it was in Christ himself.

A Sinner said...

"I disagree that this is the proper interpretation of Idealism; or at least, we're talking about different flavors of Idealism."

Yes, obviously there are different schools.

What I mean is simply this: to assert that "the meaning of" something like "Christ rose from the dead" is "true"...but then to also simultaneously think that He "didn't really" rise from the dead in the "simplistic" material sense...is to make a meaningless distinction, because if "the meaning of" it is true, then outside that there can be no MEANINGFUL sense in which it isn't true.

Causation is only ever a construct for example. In the bare phenomena, events just happen in order. "Cause" is read into this only by a meaning-making/meaning-perceiving mind. Therefore, claiming two "orders" of causation, one which is merely constructed (say, the attribution by the Apostles of a primitive socio-psycho-emotional "experience" they had to "Resurrection") and another which is "real" in some "objective" sense (as in, denying that an actual rising from the dead "really" caused this experience in the same way a hammer causes a glass to mash)...is to attempt to make a distinction which is not meaningful.

If "Christ rose from the dead" is "true" as a "meaningful experience"...then it's true in every way we can speak of truth or reality, all the conclusions that would naturally follow from that meaning must also be true (like the tomb being empty, no body being left on earth, etc), and there is no way we can speak (with this sort of skeptics wink) of Him not "really really" rising or anything like that.

If we deny the "really really" then we are denying the "as a meaningful experience" because there is no way meaningful way to distinguish the two.

"In fact, he and the later meso- and neo-Platonists are are very clear that the philosopher's goal is to get away from the constructed, 'fake' reality of sense perception and to seek the 'real' reality of the Forms and the One."

I'm pretty sure Plato would still consider it just a silly lie if you said, "A cat walked down the street" when it didn't but then tried to say you're still telling the truth by adding "But I don't mean a sense-cat in the material order. I mean that I had an un-externally-verifiable subjective experience of the Forms of Cat and Walking and Street."

"But by that rationale, why didn't he ensure that the autographs of all books of Scripture survived perfectly intact? Why didn't he ensure that all copies were perfect, with no scribal errors of any kind? Why didn't he arrange that when different Gospels narrate the same events, they are totally and obviously completely consistent in all details? For that matter, why didn't he arrange for Koine Greek to continue in unbroken use into the present so we wouldn't have to wonder what things like hapax legomena mean, since we could just ask someone?"

Because it requires a multiplication of miracles!

Turmarion said...

I agree that Christ rose from the dead in a real, literal, if-you-went-back-in-a-time-machine-you'd-be-able-to-see it sense. I think most of the attempts to say "He really rose from the dead but not physically" are obfuscations that try to have it both ways. They try to reject the belief while claiming they don't. One of the worst offenders in this respect is Bishop Spong, whose prose is actually almost unreadable because of the way he contorts on matters such as this.

I would have more respect if someone in that school of thought just said, "Jesus did not rise from the dead--his body moldered in the tomb/was thrown to the dogs/was stolen/etc., but his disciples had a real, albeit non-corporeal, experience of his spirit, which they erroneously mythologized as 'resurrection'." I wouldn't agree with that, of course, but at least it would be straightforward.

Plato would still consider it just a silly lie if you said, "A cat walked down the street" when it didn't but then tried to say you're still telling the truth by adding "But I don't mean a sense-cat in the material order. I mean that I had an un-externally-verifiable subjective experience of the Forms of Cat and Walking and Street."

Yes--but I don't think he thought that even in the world of shadows that causality was "constructed". He might say that to the extent that a physical cat was an instantiation of the Form of Cat, it was unreal; and that to the extent that it participated in Catness, it was really real; but I don't think at any point he'd think either cat or Cat was "constructed" or depended in any way upon observation or subjective states.

In short, I would tend to reject the type of idealism you seem to be embracing here. I would tend towards hardcore Platonism, myself.

It's really weird, given your theological commitments how you tend to favor aspects of Existentialist thought (you said you like Kierkegaard--I can't say I have much brief for him) and how you seem to embrace subjectivist and constructivist views that seem to me to teeter perilously close to postmodern relativism. Oh well--such is human complexity!

Actually, on second thought, your idealism here seems to bear some resemmblances to Yogācāra mind-only" Buddhist thought. Roughly, there is an "absolute truth" (śūnyatā, "emptiness", not totally unlike the apophatic conception of God in Orthodox thought)and a "relative truth" which is perceived by different beings according to their karma and state of enlightenment. Ultimately these differences of perception are "real" on one level since they are all projections of the mind.

Of course, this is more relativistic than what you seem to be saying (I think!). I must say, though, the idea of a Tantric Tibeto-Buddhist Traditionalist Catholicism is intriguing--om mani padme hum, amen!

A Sinner said...

"I agree that Christ rose from the dead in a real, literal, if-you-went-back-in-a-time-machine-you'd-be-able-to-see it sense."

Good. Not everyone does.

I'm just always amazed that people can believe THIS but then think something like papal infallibility or the immorality of contraception is just TOO outlandish.

But, as I wrote a post about once before, people seem to treat Faith issues and Morals issues differently. People seem a lot more willing to give intellectual adhesion to assertions about what IS, but have a lot harder time conforming their wills to ideas about what is Good and proper to love.

"Yes--but I don't think he thought that even in the world of shadows that causality was 'constructed.'"

What is "causality" though? It's not a thing. It's just a pattern of one event following another. But patterns are only meaningful to a mind capable of reading meaning in the first place.

I think causality is real. But that's because I believe Meaning is real. But meaning is also ultimately constructed (by God, finally). My point is that "cause" is a metaphysical category, not a material or physical one.

"but I don't think at any point he'd think either cat or Cat was 'constructed' or depended in any way upon observation or subjective states."

Assuming the Forms exist in the Mind of God (which is really the only thing a Christian Platonist can say), they are most certain constructs, if only God's constructs (which we participate in the perception of more or less correctly). God's subjectivity is our objectivity.

"It's really weird, given your theological commitments how you tend to favor aspects of Existentialist thought"

But the very point of this post is that intellectual assent and "experience" are two different things, and that it is the former, not the latter, which is the basis of faith.

My "experience" has very much been an existentialist or even nihilistic one. I have no innate "religious sense."

But that doesn't mean I still can't make a choice to make an act of intellectual assent to dogmatic propositions.

Emotionally speaking, "experientially speaking," one can be seething with hatred, can be a sociopath...and still CHOOSE to love and embrace the truth.

"and how you seem to embrace subjectivist and constructivist views that seem to me to teeter perilously close to postmodern relativism."

There's nothing relativist about it.

I'm just saying this idea that there are "really" animals out there, let's say. Well, an animal is just a pile of cells without a meaning constructing them together. Maybe there's a way to do this quantitatively so that a computer could determine it. But then cells are just juxtapositions of molecules, which are just juxtapositions of atoms, which are ultimately boil down to subatomic particles which are just various quantities ("states") of various vectors whose ultimate meaning in the physical sense seems defined largely in a circular way based on their ultimate macro effects, and which are bundled together in our categories because ultimately construct them together. And so without Meaning, none of this can be meaningfully said to "exist" even, I don't think, because WHAT is ultimately existing? The minute you answer "what," however, you'll be invoking some Form, some Meaning, some Idea, and thus subjecthood.

It's Personalism more than Relativism, I guess. (Though I'm not sure I'd say I'm a personalist...)

Turmarion said...

I'm just always amazed that people can believe THIS but then think something like papal infallibility or the immorality of contraception is just TOO outlandish.

People who agreed on the Resurrection have always managed to disagree on "faith issues and morals". Hence all the heresies, Councils, etc. That's a surprise? A heretic could use your argument--"If you can believe a man rose from the dead, why can't you believe our system?", right?

This from your post on Idealism, my emphasis:

"We are the true architects of the cosmos, not so much because we make everything, but because we give it meaning in our minds. In the end, that is the same thing."

I disagree--"making" something and "giving it meaning" are not the same thing--at least not for non-divine minds.

The only caveat I would add to this is that God is the ultimate Subject, the Supreme Meaning and Meaning-maker (the same thing at that point) and so this is not about some sort of solipsistic humanism.

Well, as you said on this thread, God's subjective is our objective; so the world is as it is, independent of us, even if we didn't exist; so it doesn't need our minds to give it meaning or make it "real" or make it exist. It seems to me that despite the caveat, what you propose is an awful lot like solipsistic humanism.

I really can't understand the materialist worldview that would deny miracles; if a miracle is constructed as having occurred (which would be an event of consciousness)...then a miracle has by definition occurred!

Here's an example of what I mean. You seem to be saying that if a miracle is "constructed to have occurred" that since this is an event of consciousness, and consciousness constructs the world, a miracle "has by definition occurred" and this should be plain even to a materialist. Really!

You know, I thought I understood what you said, but in all due respect, as I type it out, it seems ever more to me to be gibberish!

Look, the Church spends lots of money getting people out to find evidence that miraculous healings have actually occurred. If the construction by consciousness that a miracle has occurred is enough to show that it has, then why waste the effort? In fact, doesn't that make any miracle claimed by anyone in any religious context ipso facto valid? I mean, maybe I'm completely failing to understand what you're saying here, but it sure doesn't seem to make sense to me.

OK, one more post because of length.

Turmarion said...

As to whether the cosmos can be said to exist without meaning, the Mahayana Buddhist concepts of śūnyatā--"emptiness"--and of pratītyasamutpāda--"dependent origination", or as Thich Nhat Hanh translates it, "interbeing"--would argue that nothing taken individually does have meaning, since everything must be understood in reference to everything else. Thus every thing is śūnya--"empty"--in and of itself, but gains meaning through its interrelatedness to the whole. "Emptiness" of individual meaning or existence and "form" as the meaning gained as part of a whole are flips sides of the same thing. Hence the famous saying in the Heart Sutra, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."

Some interpretations of śūnyatā, which is sometimes equated with the dharmakāya ("body of the Law") or the Adibuddha ("primordial Buddha") are very close to the Orthodox apophatic view of God as unknowable in His essence, St. John of the Cross's statement that God is "nada", or the Kabbalistic Jewish view of God as such as Ein Soph ("limitless"). In the Buddhist context, though, such terms are generally understood impersonally. The point is that there are valid schemes in which the world is perfectly intelligible and meaningful without having to be materialist or personalist in the sense you're describing. Yes, God is a Person, but also more than that, and only by analogy with "person" as we understand it with us.

Maybe that's my bias--I'm much more comfortable with impersonal terms, and they make much more sense to me.

In any case, I can't see how your system avoids some sort of relativism or subjectivism on the human side of the equation. I think this is why when we've argued contraception your perspective is unintelligible--you frame it in terms of human perceptions of the meaning of acts, which seems to me to subjectivize and realativize it all again; but I don't want to open that can of worms again.

As to the existentialism and nihilism, well, not my cup of tea. As you recall from the Vox Nova threads, I wasn't the only one who viewed your perspective as puzzling and confusing! Of course many might view my Mahayana Catholicism as odd, too.

A Sinner said...

"It seems to me that despite the caveat, what you propose is an awful lot like solipsistic humanism."

I'm not exactly sure what I am proposing. What are you referring to?

"If the construction by consciousness that a miracle has occurred is enough to show that it has, then why waste the effort?"

Because of how natural science is constructed in our culture.

To a medieval, even IF it could be shown that the person's wounds suddenly healed because they were exposed to a rare bacteria via a ship-borne rat that actually acts as a cure for gangrene...this material cause would probably NOT take away the designation "miracle" because the very improbable nature of the concurrence of events is "miraculous"...ie, it signifies God as it's (final, Providential, etc) cause.

On the other hand, moderns would probably say that the coincidence of the rat with the beneficent healing bacteria proves that there is no supernatural cause here, even though it is so improbable and the occurrence was serendipitous.

So, in our culture, the Church has to discount all "natural" causes first that might allow for any other possible construction of the events.

We know now the universe is probabilistic rather than deterministic. So miracles can't be "impossible things happening"...they can only be "highly unlikely things" happening. But "highly unlikely" IS somewhat subjective.

Michael said...

I'm of the opinion that it doesn't really matter what philosophical position on the world you ultimately hold as long as you retain doctrine, dogma and liturgy in their proper places. All philosophy is is the study of worldviews anyway...and every person will have a different questioned or unquestioned approach to life, which can be glorified and made holy through faith. Scholasticism definitely isn't for everyone and all philosophies, ancient or modern have their shortcomings. I also don't think that "Modernism" is a real issue any more, no more so than Melchisedechianism. Maybe in intellectual circles. The plurality of the theologies of the saints also shows how the personal holiness of each saint glorified his/her thought system to a divine realm, irrespective of them being Eastern or Western Christians. Traditionally, in the Eastern church, any kind of philosophizing is almost explicitly linked to faith. You can develop any philosophy then on the grounds of dogmatic and theological faith, even something like existentialism or pragmatism.