Saturday, September 15, 2007

For your consideration

Do any of you agree or disagree with the following statement:

"The Church has a philosophy that she canonizes in preference to others."

25 comments:

Geoff said...

I agree with John Paul II on this.

Andy Bodoh said...

Amusing answer.

Geoff said...
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Geoff said...

Ah. It's as lighthearted as the way the question was posed. :)

healthily sanguine said...

I disagree! The Church canonizes saints, not philosophies. :)

Andy Bodoh said...

"can·on·ize (kn-nz)
tr.v. can·on·ized, can·on·iz·ing, can·on·iz·es
1. To declare (a deceased person) to be a saint and entitled to be fully honored as such.
2. To include in the biblical canon.
3. To include in a literary canon.
4. To approve as being within canon law.
5. To treat as sacred; glorify."

Take it as either of the last two definitions, or consider it an analogous use of the term.

Andy Bodoh said...

Regardless of the language, does the Church have her own philosophy?

bakerstreetrider said...
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bakerstreetrider said...

If the last definition is taken in an analogous sense, then yes, I believe so.

Andy Bodoh said...

Can you elaborate?

Fezzick said...

Define what you mean when you speak of "the Church." Do you mean the universal Catholic Church as guided by the Holy Spirit? Or the human Church made up of flawed human members? (I understand that they are inseperable, but I believe they are distinct and can be discussed as such.)

Andy Bodoh said...

Take it to mean your former definition...the Church as guidedby the Holy Spirit.

Fezzick said...

Ah. In that case, I believe that the Church does not neccesarily canonize one particular type of philosophy over another, as much as many of her members would like her to.

Case in point: Eastern vs. Western Catholicism.

healthily sanguine said...

The Church has put forward Thomistic philosophy as most beneficial for studying the truths of the Faith. She has also condemned certain philosophies as incompatible with faith. However, I don't believe she has ever officially aligned herself with any one philosophy, as Colin's example shows.

Fezzick said...

To the best of my knowledge, the Church has not officialy put forward Thomisim as such. I think that Thomism is widely accepted by Catholic theologians and thinkers, but this marks the extent of its official recognition. I could be wrong, though.

healthily sanguine said...

Several encyclicals strongly recommend the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, including Studiorum Ducem by Pope Pius XI and Aeterni Patris by Leo XIII. Also see the motu proprio Doctoris Angelici by Pius X. Further, in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Can 1366 §2, we find, Philosophiae rationalis ac theologiae studia et alumnorum in his disciplinis institutionem professores omnino pertractent ad Angelici Doctoris rationem, doctrinam et principia, eaque sancte teneant. ("Teachers shall deal with the studies of mental philosophy and theology and the education of their pupils in such sciences according to the method, doctrine and principles of the Angelic Doctor and religiously adhere thereto," trans. in Studiorum Ducem)--so I guess in a way it has been "canonized"! Finally, Geoff mentioned John Paul II, and I happened upon his apostolic letterInter Munera Academiarum, reaffirming the need for the study of Thomistic philosophy. I think it is safe to say that through many centuries the Church through her pontiffs has continued to give the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas pride of place, without, of course, discounting all other methods as incompatible with the faith.

Fezzick said...

I stand corrected. It strikes me as interesting that the Church would give a certain philosophy pride of place. I suppose we must, as Catholics, be cautious to avoid giving the impression that the Catholic Church gives the West pride of place, as a result. Just a thought.

Andy Bodoh said...

Does anyone see any difficulty in reconciling this possition with the following statement in Fides et ratio par. 49:

"The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others."

healthily sanguine said...

I believe John Paul II is strictly differentiating between philosophy and theology and taking the former "as its own thing," so to speak. This analogy will limp, but for the same reason the Church cannot adopt an official political party, she cannot adopt an official philosophy. It would not be in her nature as arbiter of the Faith to do so. This does not mean that the Church has nothing to say about politics or about philosophy, but merely that she is not going to micromanage either area but rather give freedom for innovation and admonish as she sees necessary. I need to read Fides et Ratio, though; it looks like there is a lot of good, difficult stuff in there! :)

Andy Bodoh said...

This sounds essentially correct by my reading of the document, but there also seems to be an element in it that it would be wrong for the Church to involve itself in philosophy except where a philosophy would contradict revelation. JPII seems open to philosophies even when they seem wrong becuase they are essentially a human answer to human questions and as such generaly contain some truth even when they are largely errant. He seems very open to non-traditional philosophies, but this should not surprise anyone who has read his works.

healthily sanguine said...

I suppose that is a controversial issue--whether you can take "true elements" from essentially errant philosophies and twist them to actually promote the truth (basically to make it compatible with faith, which contains the most important truths for man). Some have labeled any efforts in this direction as modernism; I don't go that far. However, I would submit that any way you look at it, it's a difficult thing to manage and from a purely numerical standpoint doesn't gain you that many converts. Here is what I mean: Suppose you are a great thinker like JPII and are able to see over, around, and through a given "false philosophy" (meaning one that has used its grain of truth to turn reality on its head). If you attempt to use the language of this philosophy and take it over, first of all you will not do a whole lot for the average believer in this philosophy. Why? Because his adherence to the false philosophy is not purely intellectual but rather affective. He believes it because he wants to, and likewise it encourages certain feelings which make it very difficult to see beyond this paradigm. There may be one or two other really intelligent people who follow what you are trying to do and take the attempt as what it is: an attempt to intellectually engage adherents to the philosophy. So you may gain a few converts. What is the downside? The downside is that if you are a high-profile type person (like the pope) you may unintentionally cause scandal to the ignorant masses by your very choice of words. I think especially when you are Pope, the media (with satan at the helm) attempts to twist everything you say so that the truth will be watered down. So, is it not worth it to even try? I wouldn't say that. But I think it's hard and definitely beyond most of us to do it.

Andy Bodoh said...

While I don't disagree with all that you say, I would disagree with some of your objections. First of all, you don't take the "true elements" of an errant philosophy, you take the true elements of an errant philosophy. Then no twisting is necessary, what is true is true. You don't need to "take over" philosophies either. An errant philosophy is wrong is wrong is wrong. Nor do you need to synthesize every philosophy in the world into one. I agree that it is a difficult thing. The purpose of philosophy, is to pursue truth, and as John Paul writes:

"It is necessary to keep in mind the unity of truth, even if its formulations are shaped by history and produced by human reason wounded and weakened by sin. This is why no historical form of philosophy can legitimately claim to embrace the totality of truth, nor to be the complete explanation of the human being, of the world and of the human being's relationship with God."

Take for instance Thomism verse Cartisianism (or whatever it is called). Thomas approached philisophy with a general view of how the whole world workd. This was highly effective in building a metaphysics compatable with Revelation. Decartes proposed approaching philosophy through the subjective, through man's experience with reality. He didn't get far because he denied the senses. But why did he do it this way? Because he recognized a simple truth: man is a subjective creature whose primary way of evaluating truth is by judging it in accord with his experiences.

Thomas did not deal as much with particular human experiences because they were not transcendant. Human experiences are real though, and they are true. Decartes suggested that the truth of human experience are worth considering philisophically. Are either of these positions fundamentally flawed? Probably not. Will either accomplish all that the other will? Almost certainly not.

John Paul writes:

"All men and women, as I have noted, are in some sense philosophers and have their own philosophical conceptions with which they direct their lives. In one way or other, they shape a comprehensive vision and an answer to the question of life's meaning; and in the light of this they interpret their own life's course and regulate their behaviour."

Man's search for truth is natural, but every philosophy has a limitted ability to penetrate truth. One philosophy might get at the nature of being, but another might help explain particular human experiences better. That doesn't mean that one is wrong and another right. It probably means that they will never be wholly synthesized. But would they necessarily be incompatable?

You also spoke of the downside to a high-profile person like the Pope using a nontraditional philosophy. You suggest that using the language of a nontraditional philosophy is potentially scandalous because the media will twist it in order to water it down. I frankly think that the precise opposite is much more likely, that using the language of traditional philosophy is more likely to be scandalous.

Consider two examples. First, what do you think the media would say if the Pope came out and said that the Church does not teach that a fetus is a human person from the moment of conception? According to Thomism this is an accurate assessment of the Church's possition. The Church does not teach that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception. See Declaration on Procured Abortion, note 19.

Secondly, why did Humanea Vitae cause such controversy and Evangelium Vitae recieve such applause? They dealt with related, controversial topics and the both contained absolute moral prohibitions on popular practices. I would posit, on a close reading of the encyclical and the historical circumstances, that the chief reason was Paul IV's strict reliance on a Thomistic evaluation of the act as opposed to JPII's interwoven approach bringing together Thomism and other traditional philosophies with untraditional philosophies.

Essentially, the media doesn't get philosophy, it gets language. If you are looking for converts, you use language that appeals to people. The media won't takle the philosophy to accuse the Pope, they will attack the language.

healthily sanguine said...

You raise some very good points. I definitely agree that the media, and certainly most Americans, do not "get" philosophy; it's rather a scary word, really, to many. And I do like John Paul II's approach to the search for truth, especially in its catholicity and openness to persons. You could never imagine him saying to another, "No, you have to look at things my way, you have to come and see what I am seeing in the way I am seeing it in order to come to truth." Rather, his message is very humble and charitable: "I will go with you and try to see as you see. I will meet you where you are and try to give you some of what I see." If we as Catholic thinkers can use this as a model, we will be truly blessed.

I suppose my concern about potential scandal has to do with the fact that some philosophies have certain connotations which makes their "conversion," so to speak, a bit difficult. To use your example of Cartesianism, when you bring up Descartes a lot of people will say, "Oh, I think therefore I am." Maybe this in itself isn't so bad, but if they know a bit more about Descartes they might recall his ideas about people being minds imprisoned in bodies--his fundamental dualism. Therefore, if someone like the pope were to make a speech in which he heavily leaned on Descartes' ideas and quoted him in several places, the thoughts of those who may not have understood all of what he was saying could be, "Well, he must follow Descartes and Descartes said we are just minds." This is, of course, shallow thinking and perhaps a rough example; but such things do happen--it's not that you can't pick out things that are really true, yet sometimes the connotations make it undesirable to do so.

I'm not sure your first example of using "traditional philosophy" is a good one, because it is rather the odd example. In most cases, the things St. Thomas had to say are consonant with what the Church has always said and continues to say today. You could just as well bring up the Immaculate Conception or limbo or something. I was thinking of a more straightforward presentation of the main truths of human nature, as is repeatedly necessary in times like these. That's where the danger of "watering down" comes when non-traditional language is used. As far as Humanae Vitae versus Evangelium Vitae, all I can say on that score is that the encyclicals came out at very different periods in history from two very different pontiffs; I think that, more than their actual content or language, contributed to the different receptions they received. Of course, that is only my opinion.

Andy Bodoh said...

I think we are essentially in agreement. The chief difficulty in modern philosophy is the body/soul dualism arising out of Descartes rejection of the senses. John Paul tries to correct the two by considering the merits of both empiricism and idealism without ascribing to either totally. Essentially, John Paul tried to point out an old truth in a new way: that a person was not body or a soul with a body, but a being at once material and spiritual.

One other point on Humanea vitae. Weigel writes in his biography of John Paul that he wanted to see the contraception ban presented in a different way in the encyclical, much more like the way he presents in in Theology of the Body. I wonder how much of a difference it would have made.

You should read Fides et ratio, though. It is very interesting.

Fezzick said...

I think it would have made all the difference in the world. I think the world's difficulty with Humanae Vitae arose not simply from the time period in which it was released (although that certainly played a role), but the way in which the pope sought to deliver the truth about sex and contraception. It is not unreasonable to posit that the world, going through the sexual revolution at the time, was not going to respond well to a document that they saw as a straitlaced Church moralizing yet again about sex. Obviously, Paul IV was doing much more than that, and Humane Vitae is much more than that. However, I think JPII's integrated approach would have made more converts and fewer enemies.