Sunday, February 07, 2021

If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light


“Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing.  Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.” (John Hittinger, John Paul II and the Exorcism of Descartes’ Ghost, page 191).  This summary of the difference between “modern philosophy” and the “ancients” supplies a useful starting point for describing the “obstacle for understanding faith and theology”.  Indeed, this focus on limitation and conditioning provides the paradoxical frame of describing faith in terms of “superstition”: “The belief in supernatural phenomina[sic], concepts, or figures; the opposite of logic or knowledge or facts.” (Urban Dictionary, 2021).  Paradoxical because the method of Descartes is to exclude any and all information that a person cannot greet with certitude, especially the perjorative “supernatural”, rather than to use one's rationality to know the truth.

It is this modern belief that reducing reality to some system of logic (and, consequently mathematics) as a base of certainty that misleads modern philosophers: “is faith also not cast into oblivion in light of the other great criterion for the modern philosophy—mathematical certitude?” (Ibid., page 196).  True, describing a small section of the “real world” with logic has utility scientifically.  However, mathematics is simply a “language” for describing what is thought to be observed rather than an anchor of truth.  It is the reification of a mathematical description, the “saving of appearances”, that produces this illusion of certainty.  Any greatly extensive mathematic description quickly becomes a world view in which flaws in its assumptions are hidden beneath the complexity of its deductions, as any writer of software models can willingly testify.  A mathematical model of “reality” thus is inherently darkened by its complexity and the limitations of its assumptions, an impediment to the search for truth.

I think this superstition of describing reality with certitude that comes about through filtering reality with the “emphasis upon subjectivity” and “the method of separation and reduction” is the true obstacle to the exercise of faith.  Not because these methods are not useful but because of “the ambiguity about the end or purpose” (Ibid., page 197) for which the method is use: “John Paul II detects impatience with mystery” (Ibid., page 194).  Indeed, it is this superstition of certitude that blocks openness to wonder and mystery, that comes from not acknowledging the insufficiency of human knowing simply through analytical and reductive investigations.  In the end, faith requires the humility of accepting the true boundaries of one’s interiority, the reality of one’s person.  The good news is that this provides the foundation for knowing other persons, including God, through relationship rather than remaining in the ignorance and isolation of the immature prison of one’s own consciousness, a way of knowing that allows reception of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

There are in life but two things


“After Descartes . . . the aspect of consciousness eventually assumed a kind of absolutization, which in the contemporary era entered phenomenology by the way of Husserl.  The gnosiological attitude in philosophy has replaced the metaphysical attitude: being is constituted in and somehow through consciousness.  The reality of the person, however, demands the restoration of the notion of conscious being, a being that is not constituted in and through consciousness but that instead somehow constitutes consciousness.  This also applies to the reality of action as conscious activity.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Person: Subject and Community”, 1976, in Person and community: selected essays, p 226).  This quotation of Wojtyla illuminates “one of the central questions concerning the world outlook (Weltanschaung)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976), “the problem of the subjectivity of the person”.  

What is the problem of the subjectivity of the person?  It is not with subjectivity, the interiority of a person, per se.  Rather it is with the basis of human action and, as such, morality. With Descartes proclaiming that being is dependent on consciousness, subjectivism alone becomes the foundation of human action rather than in combination with the objective “conscious being”: “the act of personal existence has its direct consequences in the activity of the person”.

How is this problem important today?  This question connects to another essential if “hoary”, question: “Why be moral?  Why should I do what I should, rather than what I would? Why ought I do what is right?” (Kenneth L. Schmitz, At The Center of the Human Drama, 1993, page 31).  In a culture founded on the “notion of conscious being” morality is a consequence of relationship between beings (since a “being” is defined by its relationships with other objective beings):  I do what I should because of its effect on others as well as myself.  The context is one of whether an act is consonant with “love”, with the gift of self, with Gods will.  In a culture founded on the notion of consciousness solely as basis of action, the “I”, the subject, is alone, an individual whose “should” is determined by what is judged best for “I” by “I”.  Here the context is one of individual “power”, in which the “should” is focused on using and taking what the “I” needs and wants. 

This difference is reflected in psychological and developmental aspects of human beings, with the contrast of the immature, self-centered stage of “me” with the more mature stage of “us”, the basis of the moral contrast between young children and mature adults.  More deeply, this is the contrast between the psychosis of isolation and narcissism and the more realistic position of the interconnectedness of all persons and creation.  The fundamental consideration is one of knowing reality, of knowing the Truth (cf., aletheia in the New Testament), for knowing the truth frees a person to love.  As Weigel states about the Lublin school of philosophy, “if our thinking and choosing lacks a tether to reality . . . raw force takes over the world and truth becomes a function of power, not an expression of things-as-they-are.” (Witness To Hope, page 133). 

Living from the fundamental notion of “being . . . constituted in and somehow through consciousness” leaves one at the mercy of power and of one’s quest for it: an empty and lonely worldview disconnected from reality.  One’s moral “should” is based on this need for the power to provide for one’s self, a morality implemented in rage and addiction rather than in love since the source of human happiness—a sincere gift of one’s self —is blocked by the isolation that is needed to maintain one’s gaining and holding personal power.  Thus, the problem of the subjectivity of the human person, as “the very basis of human ‘praxis’ and morality (and thus also ethics)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976) led to and leads to “mountains of corpses and oceans of blood” (Witness to Hope, page 134) when solved this way since other persons have no intrinsic value besides their usefulness.

“'Here am I, Captain of a Legion of Rome, who served in the Libyan desert and learns and ponders this truth--there are in life but two things, love and power, and no man can have both.' (an Roman inscription popularized by Malcom Muggeridge).

I have come to cast fire upon the earth

 “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism . . . an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects . . . as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real.” (John Paul II, Address to the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas, Section 6, 17 November 1979).

I think the profound announcement of the title of “doctor of humanity” given by John Paul II to Saint Thomas Aquinas is grounded in this openness and universalism of his thought described in the above quote.  Openness to the “whole” of reality is a very difficult endeavor and constantly disturbs one’s sense of security derived from the barriers of one’s hermeneutical filters.  It is not for the faint-hearted.

Saint Thomas wrestled with the great disturbance of his era, the arrival of works of Aristotle that had streamed into Latin during the twelfth century as a result of reconquest of parts of the Islamic empire.  The importance of these works and the seeming contradiction of parts of these texts with Christian revelation greatly disturbed the worldview of established theologians.  Many reacted against Aristotle’s thought, some to the extreme of banning it.  Saint Thomas instead used his freedom to study and integrate this challenging new system of thought that excited the younger generation.

Openness to reality itself is not sufficient for the appellation, "doctor of humanity", however; the core is the desire for the truth of reality, for aletheia, a desire to know God : “the [prevailing characteristic of the philosophy of St. Thomas” is that it is always in search of the truth . . . Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true.” (Ibid., Section 8).  This passion for truth is what truly makes Saint Thomas the teacher of humanity because all human persons are created in the image of God and, thus, desire to know Him the source of their being.  His heart burning within him, filled with love for God, Saint Thomas lights the path for the rest of us to help show us the Way: “knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, Lecture 6, section 812, translated by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. {relevant text: “John [the Theologian] was perfect in his nature because he was a lamp, i.e., enriched by grace and illumined by the light of the Word of God. Now a lamp differs from a light: for a light radiates light of itself, but a lamp does not give light of itself, but by participating in the light. Now the true light is Christ: “He was the true light, which enlightens every man coming into this world” (above 1:9). John, however, was not a light, as we read in the same place, but a lamp, because he was enlightened “in order to bear witness to the light” (above 1:8), by leading men to Christ. We read of this lamp: “I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Ps 131:17).  Further, he was blazing and impassioned in his affections, so he says, blazing. For some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love”}).