The War Against Being
The Church Versus Revolution
Writing only fourteen years before the French Revolution Pope Pius VI, in his encyclical Inscrutabile (1775), unravels the primary role of philosophy in what he prophetically saw would be the terrible disorders to come:
Similar quotes, attributing all the evils of modern day apostasy from Christ and Catholic culture to the works of philosophers, can be found in the writings of Popes throughout the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth. For the early part of the nineteenth century we mention the following encyclicals: Die Satis (1800) by Pius VII; Ubi Primum (1824) by Leo XII; Traditi Humilitati (1829) by Pius VIII; and Mir an Vos (1832) by Gregory XVI. The latter even uses the word conspiracy at least four times to describe the work of these men.
It is with Popes such as Pius IX (1846-1878), Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pius X (1903-1914), and Pius XI (1922-1939) that these modern philosophical errors are explored in greater depth. Before examining these particular errors in some depth, we would do well to see that these philosophical errors in themselves are rooted in another very closely related hubris. In his encyclical Sapientiae Christianae, Pope Leo XIII writes the following:
I would recommend that the reader re-read the above passage very carefully. These five sentences contain what is probably the greatest historical analysis and summary of the past four or five centuries ever penned.
The extent to which investigations into natural science and the growth of fundamentally anti-Christian and anti-Scholastic philosophy paralleled and militantly supported one another should be obvious to anyone acquainted with the history of ideas. According to the teachings to be found in the above encyclical, and also in the encyclicals of the other Popes we have mentioned, such "science" seems almost inevitably to lead to that hubris which ends by denying not only God, but also the very foundations of human knowledge itself. As Pope Gregory XVI said in the quote already offered, such philosophy and science "attack the very basis of rational nature."
Why is this so? The answer is easy enough, if at the same time very difficult for modern man to accept. The mind and heart of a man deeply established in God, the Supreme Being, is also profoundly established in the reality and being of creation (including himself). All his faculties (and especially that intuitive grasp by the intellect of being which we have mentioned above) tell him that at the root of any created reality is a unity, essence, and nature (in terms of scholastic philosophy this would amount to the intellectual grasp of that universal essence or nature which is abstracted from an existing substance) which can only find its explanation (as our Old Testament Scriptures have already told us) in the "glorious, secret, and hidden" intellect and will of God - "In Him we move, and live, and have our being."
In other words, the man of God humbly acknowledges that what he sees with his God-given eyes of a God-given creation, in all its wholeness and integrity, is far more profound than what he shall know through human analysis and science. This, of course, does not mean that such science cannot accomplish many technological marvels in this world. If I kill my cat, rip it open, and take its guts to make a violin string, I certainly have accomplished an act of technology by engaging in some sort of science. The notion, however, that the cat-gut string which I have obtained somehow enables me to understand more deeply the mystery of being which is my cat, would indeed be a great hubris. This, of course, may seem a very foolish example; and admittedly, the first time our man opened up his first cat, it would be very unlikely that he would emerge from the interior of that cat as an agnostic. But what the Pope is saying is that the more cats, dogs, frogs, human beings, compounds, molecules, atoms, quanta, super-strings a man rips out of reality through his analytical science, the more likely he is to crawl out of his laboratory not only a God-slayer, but also a killer of kings and priests, Popes, and unborn babies. And this is so because something drastic has happened to his philosophy, to his whole perception of what reality is all about.
It is historically important to understand that this false science and philosophy is something which antedates the French Revolution by at least two or three centuries - to the effects of Renaissance science and humanism (which actually began in Italy about the middle of the 14th century and spread in the next one-hundred years to the rest of Europe) upon Christian culture. Pope Leo XIII, in at least two different encyclicals (Immortale Dei and Aeterni Patris - On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy), in fact points out that the Protestant Revolution was the "climax" of this process of decay. This revolution was totally rooted in the rejection of the Scholastic philosophy of being (especially the categories, and the distinction between substance and accidents), the rejection of hylemorphism (the philosophical position that all substances are a substantial union of substantial form and primal matter), and Scholastic epistemology (or criteriology) which establishes the God-given ability of the human mind to truly apprehend universal essences through the process of abstraction from sense experience (in other words, the true reliability of human knowledge under normal circumstances).
Under the tyranny of a bogus science (which sees every thing in terms of the reductive principles of the actions of material particles upon one another and upon the human senses) the whole of Scholastic philosophy, and its teachings regarding the reality of substantial being and the minds ability to grasp it, is rejected. Recent research has, for instance, unearthed a document in the Vatican Galileo archives which reveals that Galileo rejected hylemorphism, believed that all reality was reducible to the effect of crude atomic particles upon one another and the senses (these also, of course, reducible to atomic particles), and that therefore there could be no such thing as transubstantiation simply because in any physical reality there could be no real distinction between substance and accidents.
I don't think that we fully understand the degree to which the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation has been the sign of contradiction in the whole religious, theological, philosophical, and scientific world for the past five-hundred years. The reason of course is that in order for transubstantiation to be true, there must exist a metaphysical distinction between substance and accidents. And further, it must also be true that the entire realm of investigation by the analytical physical sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.) is by its very nature confined to the relatively superficial realm of the accidental categories of being (quantity, relation, etc.). Substance (and the union of substantial form and primal matter which constitute any particular substance) is not subject to apprehension by the senses or to any sort of physical analysis. It is also true, therefore, that sciences which do not affirm the real existence of such substantial being underlying all existing substances, are not real sciences. Paul Glenn gives us this definition of any true science: "knowledge that is systematic, complete, evidenced, and certain." It is evident that the vast majority of "scientists" practice a trade which profoundly rejects the deepest elements of substantial reality, and their endeavours therefore do not deserve to be called true science.
Certainly, there is a powerful seductive power within the pursuit of physical science which tends to draw any of its practitioners into a reductive materialism. After all, such science works - it results in technological advances, and the discovery of all sorts of things. More important, however, is the fact that accidental change can, and very often does, produce substantial change (this is totally in keeping with the teaching of Scholastic philosophy). This, in turn, gives the impression that individual and particular substances are themselves reducible to these accidental realities. The gas hydrogen, is for instance, the simplest substance according to physical analysis. It is composed of an atomic structure of one proton and one electron. If one changes this simple atomic structure (by either adding or subtracting electrons or protons) then what was hydrogen is changed into something totally different. Yet there is absolutely nothing in the atomic composition of one proton and one electron which accounts for the substantial nature of hydrogen gas. To make this even more evident, let us take the substance water. If we take two atoms of this hydrogen gas and unite it with one atom of oxygen gas, we cause to come into existence something extraordinarily different; the substance water. There is absolutely nothing in the individual substance of hydrogen and oxygen or in their molecular union which accounts for the extraordinary substance which is water. And yet, all of us are deeply infected with the bogus scientific notion that water is H2O. What we have done is to take part of what constitutes water - its very real but "accidental" physical structure - and equated it with the whole. The same may be said of the union of sodium and chlorine gas to form common table salt, or of any other existing physical "stuff".
Substantial reality is simply not equivalent to, or reducible to, physical analysis or atomic structure (or quanta, super-strings, or any other structure). And yet the effect upon the human mind and heart of engaging in such science is overpowering and almost inevitable. It is not that science is intrinsically evil, but that it is intrinsically superficial and, at the same time, immensely seductive. Its pursuit almost inevitably results in the identification of accidental reality with substantive being.
As our Old Testament scriptures pointed out, the end point of such endeavours is to put a man at a total loss as to the reality of both creation and God. I would suggest that anyone interested in this subject obtain a copy of John Horgan's best-selling book The End of Science (Broadway Books, 1996). Mr. Horgan, former senior writer at Scientific American, interviewed several dozen of the most famous and prize-winning scientists in the world as to their views regarding the "meaning of science", the "end of science", etc. He discovered and chronicles what he calls a world of "ironic" science: a world in which virtually no one is sure of any reality, or that there even is such a thing; there is total confusion in regard to the science of epistemology - whether there is or can be any true correspondence between the human mind and objective reality (or whether this is even a valid distinction or question); there appears to be a radical discontinuum between the world of ordinary human experience and perception and the "scientific" apprehension of things; and yet most, including Mr. Horgan, still continue to believe in the supremacy of analytical science as an "unfolder" of the depths of reality, while at the same time holding to a contemptuous view of religious faith (and certainly Thomistic philosophy).
It should also be pointed out at this point (and as also noted by Pope Leo XIII) that this dual process of the growth of secular science and the decay of philosophy was also largely responsible for the Protestant Revolution. Luther detested St. Thomas and embraced the Nominalism of Ockham which denied the human mind's ability to grasp universal essences of substances (of which we have already spoken). He also vehemently rejected transubstantiation and the distinction between substance and accidents which is integral to this doctrine. Again, therefore, we can see the great "sign of contradiction" which is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. It is, in fact, the one point in all of Catholic doctrine wherein Thomistic ontology is enshrined as a dogmatic philosophical truth absolutely integral to Catholic doctrine: "that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species [accidents] only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church aptly calls transubstantiation" (Council of Trent, Session XIII, can 2).
Liberal Errors Condemned
The one Church document which constitutes the greatest sign of contradiction to all this erroneous science and philosophy is Pope Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors, promulgated on December 8, 1864. It contains eighty propositions expressing the errors of liberalism, all of which are specifically condemned by the document. These errors are divided into nine categories, which range from a variety of philosophical errors; to such things as religious indifferentism and latitudinarianism; the condemnation of socialism, communism, secret societies, etc; errors concerning the Church and her rights and her relationship to civil society (including errors concerning the education of the young); errors concerning the moral law; errors concerning Christian marriage; and errors concerning the temporal sovereignty of the Pope.
We have already discussed at some length the philosophical errors which are condemned by the document. Yet it would be well for us to quote several (there are fourteen in all):
It is in the application of the truth concerning God's Being, and His consequent Sovereignty over all individuals and nations through His Church, that we find the condemned propositions which are the greatest sign of contradiction to the modern world. Under the category of religious indifferentism and Latitudinarianism are the following:
Now, if we place these errors into the context of what we have learned about the Being of God, and of how this Being is expressed through Christ's sovereignty over all things human through His Church, then we can well see the depths of error involved in these propositions. They are indeed an attack on the Being of God and the well-being of men.
Possibly the greatest affront to the values of modern secular society are to be found in the condemnations of those propositions which have to do with the relationship between Church and State:
Finally, there is one more condemned proposition which is very worthy of mention, since it obviously is so opposed to our modem view of things:
The Kingship of Christ
The Syllabus amounted to a declaration of war against the world of liberal ideas and practices which had come into ascendancy from the French Revolution. Historians have a tendency to see the French Revolution as a sort of one-time aberration (this is probably due largely to the "Reign of Terror" which accompanied it). We must realize, however, that the ideas and culture which were brought into permanent dominance in France through the French Revolution are of little difference from those which are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. That which required a "Reign of Terror" to accomplish in France because of its dominant Catholic population and monarchy, was accomplished in a much more orderly fashion in the United States simply because the population was dominantly Protestant and their existed no Catholic monarchy. We (as well as every other nation in the world) now live in a country whose Constitution and public institutions (especially the public school system) are in profound violation of God's sovereignty, and thus a denial of the very Being of God.
The Catholic position on all of which we have so far been speaking is simply called "The Kingship of Christ." We must not at all think that the Syllabus of Pius IX was the apex of the Church's confrontation with the forces of liberalism. In fact, Pope Leo XIIIís long pontificate (25 years: 1878 - 1903) seems to have been almost entirely dedicated to a careful and extended exploration of all the errors condemned in the propositions of Pius IX. We will not here delve deeper into these waters. I do, however, want to convey to the reader the absolute seriousness of the task which Leo XIII undertook, and the incredible wealth of teaching contained in his writings, by listing most of the English titles of these wonderful encyclicals (which can be found in A Light In The Heavens - The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, published by Tan Books):On The Evils Affecting Modern Society; Socialism, Communism, Nihilism; The Study Of Scholastic Philosophy; Christian Marriage; Freemasonry; The Christian Constitution Of States; Human Liberty; The Right Ordering Of Christian Life; On The Chief Duties of Christians As Citizens; The Condition Of The Working Classes; The Study Of Holy Scripture [the great defense of the Scriptures against modern "scientific" criticism]; The Reunion Of Christendom; The Unity Of the Church; Anglican Orders; The Prohibition And Censorship Of Books; True and False Americanism In Religion; Christ Our Redeemer; Christian Democracy, I stress this again: if the reader wishes to understand all of which we have been speaking, the study of this great Pope's encyclicals is an absolute must.
I cannot leave Leo XIII without offering a series of quotes from Tametsi (Christ Our Redeemer):
These are, of course, truths which are very foreign to the modern mind. This "modern" attitude, of course, tells us a great deal about the extent to which we have fallen away from what are simply very elementary truths concerning Who God is, and the obligations that all men and institutions have toward Him. In an absurd sense, it means that we have come to the point of wanting to believe in God (if we still retain this desire), while at the same time rejecting His Being or Nature. We may loudly protest things about the dignity of man, and his right to free choice. Yet as a matter of historical fact, the Church has always taught that this dignity and freedom must be respected - it has always taught that no one may be coerced into acceptance of the Christian faith, or forced to accept baptism. Faith obviously may involve a journey, and the free will which is a part of our being created in the image of God is absolutely integral to that process. This does not, however, entail any "right to error." Nor does it entail the right to spread error in civil society. Nor does it lessen the obligation of all individuals and communities to seek out the truth and embrace it. Nor does it entail any right of the State to deprive the Church of Her rights, or to pass unjust laws, or to permit and encourage immorality and error.
There certainly exists in Church tradition a right for states to "tolerate" error, but this toleration has very strict limits. Basically such toleration is permissible for one of two reasons: either to prevent a greater evil - such as the total civil chaos and anarchy which might follow from enforcement of the truth; or to protect a greater good - this is, of course, why personal religious error or idolatry would be permitted by God at all: in order to respect the free will of the individual in his or her journey towards God and the fullness of truth and moral integrity. As Catholics, however, we must always realize that such toleration of evil is not an ideal situation, The presence of evil and error in any society always has its consequences, especially upon the young. We are therefore always obliged to be committed to the conversion of all individuals and nations to the Catholic Faith.
Pope Leo XIII was followed by Pope St. Pius X, the only Pope to be canonized since Pius V (d. 1572). Four years into his pontificate, Pope Pius X promulgated his own Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists (Lamentabili Sane - July 3, 1907). Approximately two months later (Sep 8, 1907) he issued his great encyclical On the Doctrines of the Modernists (Pascendi Dominici Gregis). And on Sep 1, 1910 the Pope published his famous Oath Against Modernism (which contained a statement of interior assent to all the teachings contained in Lamentabili and Pascendi Dominici Gregis). All bishops and priests were required to take this oath, until two years after Vatican Council II when Pope Paul VI abolished it.
Pope Pius X's Syllabus contains 65 condemned propositions. Upon reading them carefully, it is astonishing to realize how many of them have to do with the inerrancy of Holy Scripture and Divine Revelation. One is led to the obvious conclusion that Liberalism or Modernism, having largely eliminated the Kingship of Christ over human society and its institutions, is now aiming at the very Heart of God: at the truth of His Divine Revelation. Essentially, the methodology which Satan is now employing in this struggle is to proclaim that God's Presence and Being are to be found pre-eminently in the experience of man's consciousness and becoming, and not in some immutable, eternal Being of God proclaimed through unchangeable Divine Revelation. This heresy is labeled by the Pope as Immanentism - the belief that God is most real and present in the evolving consciousness and belief of the individual person.
Again, I cannot recommend enough that Pius X's encyclical on Modernism be carefully studied. One immediately comes away with the impression that what Pius X is writing about is certainly fully deserving of the name Liberalism, but also that under the form of what he labels as Modernism, it contains new and extremely insidious elements. These elements (which we have already mentioned as the heresy Immanentism) are not directly preached as a coherent system but rather are insidiously promoted through a process of dialogue with error, and a false ecumenism in which the Kingship of Christ over human society is either ignored or denied.
What is employed for the furtherance of this heresy is really a shift in emphasis that is totally destructive to both the Kingship of Christ and the moral fibre of Christian society. We are, in other words, dealing with a profound shift in our worldview. Under the old view (as envisioned by all the Popes and documents which we have up to this point mentioned and quoted), God is the Supreme Being Who is the Source of all Truth, Love, Goodness, and Beauty. Further, He is Incarnate on this earth in His Mystical Body the Church. All our efforts as Catholics, therefore, are aimed at drawing all men and societies upwards through the Church to Him. Christ said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself (Jn 12: 32)." This, of course, refers to His ascending the Cross; but it also refers to the process by which a man ascends to Christ through being crucified to the world. The primary force of evangelization is conversion - the lifting up of man to God. This cannot be accomplished unless God, His Truth, and His Church be offered to man in all their purity, clarity, and uniqueness. It is certainly necessary therefore that the Christian love the sinner (but hate the sin), and that he go out into all the ways and byways of the world in order to bring his fellow man to Christ. It is absolutely necessary, however, that he not lower God in the process, and that he realize that man can only be drawn to God through a full revelation of His Being and Rights. This certainly requires prudence; it does not require or allow compromise with the fullness of truth.
For the Modernist, however, man's salvation lies not in conversion, not in being drawn upwards to God; but rather in "fostering all that is truly human", so that through "dialogue" and mutual sharing of human experience we might evolve into the fullness of human maturity which somehow is identified with Christ. In its extreme form, such an attitude simply degenerates into full-blown pantheism (as in the writings of Teilhard De Chardin). In more moderate forms, it comes to us in the form of such movements as Christian Phenomenalism, or the Integral Humanism of Jacques Maritain. The really disturbing and seductive thing about the writings and teachings of Modernists is that they offer an apparently acceptable fusion of orthodoxy and heresy. Pope Pius X points out in Pascendi that in the same work by a Modernist scholar one page can be found to be totally orthodox in formulation, and the next heretical. One of the "first principles" of Thomistic Metaphysics - the "Principle of the Excluded Middle" no longer holds. A Truth can now both be and not be. Dogma or doctrine can be, in the sense that it is a current formulation of the truth understood by the evolving human consciousness. The same dogma or doctrine can also not be, in the sense that we are evolving out of it into a fuller understanding of reality and God. Truth is really a dialectical process - from "be" to "not be" to "new be" - from thesis, to antithesis, to synthesis. This is why the Modernist can seem like such a humane and loving fellow, and the traditional Catholic so rigid and uncompassionate. The former can truly accept the position of the latter. The Catholic however, can in no way accept the position of the Modernist. In so doing, He would be denying the very Being of God, and also the being of his own nature.
Last month, in Part I, we mentioned the wonderful encyclical written by Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) on The Kingship of Christ, and quoted a very important passage from it. We also quoted from his encyclical Studiorum Ducem, on St. Thomas, from which we offer one more short passage:
Sufficient to say that the study of St. Thomas has been virtually extinct in our seminaries since Vatican Council II.
A Sorrowful Peace
Our teaching concerning the Being of God, the Kingship of Christ, and the centrality of Thomistic philosophy in protecting this great Tradition has spanned nine Popes and at least three times that many Papal documents since the year 1775. For 150-200 years the western world had thundered with the guns of warfare between the Ways of God and the ways of men. In 1962, the guns became strangely silent. Vatican Council II opened, and since then, comparatively speaking, peace has largely reigned between the Church and the world. But as Pius VI wrote in 1775:
the pagans and peace from the heretics, but no peace from the children."
It is to this inner ecclesial conflict that we shall next turn, in considering the position of a pre-eminent churchman, whose astonishing views repudiate the traditional corpus of Catholic teaching in order to effect, so he declares, "an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789."