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Pope Francis: Shelve the Arguments of Reason, and Preach the Gospel
By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
September 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
One cannot argue against the irrational, anti-personal, anti-human, and unnatural aspect of the law if the other side believes only in the will to power, and not nature. Try to argue using reason and principles of nature to a "law is will" crowd and you will suffer nothing but derision. There is too much passion and too much pride on the other side. Pope Francis knows this. He knows reason--even the best reason has to offer--cannot pierce through the passion and the pride of man. Reason cannot save. That is also why in his recent controversial interview Pope Francis said that Catholics "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible." Reason is too weak an instrument. Some sins, especially those against the Gospel of Life, cannot be ousted by reason. They are ousted only by the Gospel, an encounter with Jesus, whose quality, Pope Francis is always at the ready to remind us, is always to have mercy.CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - "It is not the word 'philosophy,'" wrote the philosopher Etienne Gilson to his philosophical confrere Jacques Maritain in a letter, "it is the word 'nature' that separates us from our contemporaries."
The contemporary world has plenty of philosophers: Kantians, Existentialists, Empiricists, Pragmatists, Idealists, Deconstructionists, Analytic philosophers, Phenomenologists, und so weiter. To be sure, there is a smattering of Thomists among our contemporaries, but even these are divided up into various kinds: Classical Thomists, Neo-Thomists, Existential Thomists, River Forest Thomists, Lublin Thomists, Cracow Circle Thomists, Transcendental Thomists, et cetera.
We might even say: Contemporary philosophy, thy name is Legion!
But there is one philosophy that the Second Vatican Council, in its Decree Optatam Totius, called "perennially valid," and those are code words for a philosophy "according to the method, doctrine, and principles" of St. Thomas Aquinas.
In the so-called "Twenty Four Thomistic Theses" issued by the Sacred Congregation of Studies in 1914, "[T]he one God, unique and simple, along subsists in absolute being. All other things that participate in being"--and this includes man!--"have a nature whereby their being is restricted . . . ." While it is obvious that there are individual humans, it is equally obvious these individual humans share the "same specific nature." Humans, through a process of abstraction from the knowledge received from sensible things, can directly know the "natures of things," including the nature of man.
But modern man, as Gilson wrote to Maritain, rejects "nature," and he uses all sorts of devices to avoid the obvious, such as saying that "existence precedes essence," or man is néant, "no thing" (a clever French way of saying we have no nature), or that the concept of "nature" must be deconstructed since it really a way of one group to exercise power over another group without seeming so.
That philosophy of man eventually finds itself in a philosophy of law. Modern man, who rejects nature, says that law is will. If law is will, there is no need for nature or metaphysics. Such things as nature and metaphysics, says one of the founders of modern law, are "nonsense," and not only nonsense, but "nonsense on stilts."
But if the "law is will" crowd is right, then there is no limit to what the law can do. Law can even be irrational, anti-personal, anti-human, unnatural, and it is still law.
Theory translates handily into practice. So we entertain as "enlightened" laws and judicial opinions that say such irrational, anti-personal things like the human fetus is not a human person (pace the photos of a dismembered fetus) and not subject to protection of law.
Or we celebrate laws and judicial opinions that say that such irrational, unnatural things such as homosexual activity--copulation in vase indebito, a vice in every circumstance, and never a virtue--is a fundamental human right, envisioned by none other than our Founders!
Or we see laws or judicial opinions, even from our Supreme Court, which say--assaulting its entire patrimony in an act of legal parricide--that those who support traditional marriage, that is to say, marriage in the strict sense, are enemies of the human race, hostes humani generis.
This stuff is crazy. You cannot argue against the irrational, anti-personal, anti-human, and unnatural aspect of the law if the other side believes only in the will to power, and not nature.
There is no common ground for dialogue. It's a philosophical war fought in no man's land. It's a war of absolutes, and a war of which only one absolute wins: the other side must unconditionally surrender or be punished until they do.
The "law is will" crowd believe that laws which find their root in human nature are oppressive. On the contrary, the "law is reason" (nature) crowd believe that laws which find their root only in human will, and not in nature, are oppressive.
So, to paraphrase Gilson, it is not the word "law" that separates us from our contemporaries, it is the word "nature."
The perennial philosophy has a moral philosophy, even a political philosophy and jurisprudence, built upon the metaphysical presuppositions regarding nature. As John Courtney Murray put it in We Hold These Truths:
"Natural law supposes . . . the possibility of intelligence reaching the real, i.e., the nature of things--in the case, the nature of man as a unitary and constant concept beneath all individual differences."
But there is more. Since "nature" is something we obtain from God, it is something more than a mere empirical fact (a mere "is"): nature has a message (an "ought") in it. The "bottle" of nature has a message in it which can be read.
In Murray's philosophical language, "nature is a teleological concept, that the 'form' of the thing is its 'final cause,' the goal of its becoming; in the case, that there is a natural inclination in man to become what in nature and destination he is--to achieve the fullness of his own being."
This is just a way of saying that we must see nature as having meaning, purpose, a reason, an "end" (telos) to it. Nature is telic. It communicates what it is about. In St. Thomas Aquinas's words, the nature of man participates in the nature of God, and so natural law is participation by man in God's Eternal Law.
Human life is not, as Shakespeare's Macbeth said in his despair, "but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more." It is not "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." In this view, the merit of deciding to become a physician has no more merit than someone who decides to become a prostitute or, in the philosopher John Rawls's words, someone who decides to "count blades of grass in . . . park squares and well-trimmed lawns."
This sort of view of nature that nature means something is why those of us who believe in nature understood Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI when they would say things such as "Family: become what your are!" or "Man: Become what you are."
These sorts of statements (which would have given the British empiricist Basil Hume apoplexy because his limited imagination, or perhaps his atheism, blinded him to "oughts" and condemned him to see only "ises" in nature) mean that family and man have a nature, and that nature means something because God has given it meaning, and the meaning found in that nature can be known, and finally gives the ground rules for a good life.
Now, we have to work toward a recovery of nature. This much is clear.
But how to bell the cat? as Aesop might put it.
Try to argue using reason and principles of nature to a "law is will" crowd and you will suffer nothing but derision. There is too much passion and too much pride on the other side.
To be sure, some--but very, very few--will give you ear. But most will berate you and call you a bigot. As Cardinal Newman said: "Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man."
Pope Francis knows this. He knows reason--even the best reason has to offer--cannot pierce through the passion and the pride of man. Reason cannot save.
That is why in his encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, he says this:
"Faith . . . by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good."
What Pope Francis is saying is that our political enemies--the "law is will" crowd--must be brought to Christ, and if not Christ, must be brought at least to believe in God. They will not see the natural law, they will not be able to respect human nature and discern in it the grammar written by God's hand, without a knowledge of, and faith in, God.
That is also why, I believe, in his controversial interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, and published in English in the review America, Pope Francis said that Catholics "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible."
It is not possible because the other side, the "law is will" crowd, does not understand the reason behind the Church's moral teachings. They don't understand it because they do not believe in such a thing as human nature. We are speaking past each other. Passions are too high. Positions too entrenched. We are quarrying the granite of ideology with razors and mooring the vessel of political passion with a thread of silk.
Forget reason, says Pope Francis. Put up your razors. Roll up your silk thread.
Bring out the two-edged sword of the Gospel. (Heb. 4:12) Bring out the Gospel rope with which the strong man is tied up. (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22)
"We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner," says Pope Francis, and, by implication, in every Board Room, and in every Hospital, and in every Court, and in every Legislative Chamber . . . .
It is the Gospel that can break through passion and pride, that "makes the heart burn," says Pope Francis, that "fascinates and attracts more."
Reason does not, cannot do this. It is impossible for it to do this.
"If you build it, he will come," said the voice to Ray Kinsella in his cornfield in the movie Field of Dreams. Pope Francis believes that to be true of the Gospel.
If the Gospel is spread, morality will follow. "The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant." "The message of the Gospel" must show "the heart of the message of Jesus Christ." "This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin."
"The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people's night, into the night with them, into the darkness, but without getting lost." In short, the Gospel must be brought in partibus infidelium.
"It is from this proposition," the preaching of the Gospel with the zeal of the Apostles, with parresia, within the very bosom of the sinner, "that the moral consequences then flow."
Reason is too weak an instrument. Some devils are ousted by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29), and some sins, especially those against the Gospel of Life, cannot be ousted by reason. They are ousted only by the Gospel, an encounter with Jesus, whose quality, Pope Francis is always at the ready to remind us, is always to have mercy.
Jesus burns with desire to forgive the couple who uses contraception, the active homosexual, the mother who has aborted her child: this is Pope Francis's message. This--not reason--is what will change the world.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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