Wednesday 23 March 2011

The dis-comfort of the Truth

Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski offering Mass in Rome on the Feast of St Nicholas

Fr Tim Finnegan has picked up on the "Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy" published yesterday (signed by the Holy Father in January, interestingly, on the Feast of St Thomas Aquinas) by the Congregation for Catholic Education concerning the reform of philosophical studies.

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, explained that the Church is always adapting to respond to the needs of changing historical-cultural circumstances, and that many ecclesial institutions today are lacking in philosophical formation.

This absence is particularly noteworthy at a time "in which reason itself is menaced by utilitarianism, skepticism, relativism and distrust of reason's ability to know the truth regarding the fundamental problems of life," he reflected.

New guidelines are in accordance with Pope John Paul II's "Fides et Ratio," the Cardinal added, which notes that "theology has always had and continues to have need of a philosophical contribution."

Cardinal Grocholewski said the Church intends to recover metaphysics, namely a philosophy that will again pose the most profound questions of the human being.

The Vatican official stressed that technology and science cannot "satiate man's thirst in regard to the ultimate questions: What does happiness consist of? Who am I? Is the world the fruit of chance? What is my destiny? etc. Today, more than ever, the sciences are in need of wisdom."

He said that the "original vocation" of philosophy needs to be recovered: "the search for truth and its sapiential and metaphysical dimension."

The Cardinal also emphasized the importance of logic, calling it a discipline that structures reason and that has disappeared because of the present crisis of Christian culture.

For myself, I have frequently encountered a complete lack of logic and any sort of philosophical coherence when trying to explain the Church's teaching in the parish. Not that I expect everyone to have a philosophy degree but there is so often no coherent mind-set or any willingness to take on board a set of objective crtiteria in relation to the Church's teaching (and liturgy). Nor is this difficulty confined to lay people, I might add. The practical result is that people end up by saying, "Well you shouldn't do that / say that because I don't like it". In other words, it doesn't suit me and never mind any logical inconsistencies. Thus we end up with the situation of our "Catholic" schools where 90%+ of parents will tell you that you don't need to go to Church (ie receive the Sacraments, pray, be part of the communion of the faithful) in order to be a good Catholic. The acknowledgement of objective truth has become alien to our culture. The Faith is a great edifice but just like a house, take away a seemingly small piece of it and the rot sets in - removing that little bit of guttering may not seem very significant but just wait a few years and see the damage it eventually does...

It links in to observations made in a new book by Stefano Fontana "L'Eta del Papa Scomodo" (The Age of the Plain-Speaking Pope). He says that Benedict XVI is distinguished by gentleness and humility, but that does not stop him from touching the bare nerves of the world and the Church. He does this by proclaiming a God who is Love and who is Truth.

He speaks about the Holy Father as a Pope who might shake people out of their comfort zone."By confirming that Christianity is the true religion, this Pope has caused two explosive consequences," he said. "The first is his having drawn the world to question itself about its own truth; the second is his having claimed a public role for the Christian religion. These are two exacting requests that many sectors, whether in the world or the Church, have trouble accepting and often openly oppose."

Presenting Christianity as truth, Fontana asserted, means that the world is "called to redo its reckoning of truth itself, in fact with the subject of truth as such, after thousands of philosophies have said, and continue to say, that truth doesn't exist."

Then, "to ask for a place for God in the world" goes against a view of politics without any absolutes," the author continued.

Challenging a widespread mentality is "difficult and painful," Fontana proposed, and that's why this Pope can cause discomfort, not only to the world, but also within the Church.

"Benedict XVI preaches two things: that God is love and that God is truth. He causes discomfort above all because of the second affirmation," Fontana said. "The world, in fact, accepts in some way that Christianity announce a truth proposed with love, but it does not accept that it proposes a love respectful of truth."

The Pontiff proposes "non-negotiables", and this brings opposition, from society and churchmen both.

"[I]n present-day society there is nothing that is 'non-negotiable,' that is absolutely true or false, good or bad," he said. And "in order to have 'non-negotiable' principles there must be a place for God in the world. Without God everything is negotiable. For this reason the 'non-negotiable principles' of life, of the family, of liberty of education become continually grounds for this Pope's 'uncomfortableness.'"

Other reasons are more specific, Fontana proposed: "The subject of the liturgy, for example, or that of the evaluation of the Second Vatican Council, of the use of the condom in the fight against AIDS, and women priests. In the end, however, all these more specific topics, can lead back to those that I have mentioned above.

"The logic of the world would like to impede the logic of the Church from existing and would like her also to be conformed to the logic of the world. Is there equality of rights among men? Then why can a woman never become a priest? Is there the right of liberty? Why, then, can one not procreate as one wishes? Is democracy not a value? Then why can there not be a liturgical democracy with the individual communities inventing their own liturgy? As can be seen, the world does not accept that the Christian religion should express a truth and would like to extend to her the truth of the world.

"But the Pope says precisely the contrary. He does not deny the natural truths, but says that if they are deprived of supernatural light they also lose the way. Hence it is understandable that this Pope, though with the gentleness that distinguishes him, touches all the bare nerves of the world and also of so many sectors of the Church."

1 comment:

GOR said...

Sounds like a timely matter, given the relativism that abounds today. What jumped out at me though was Bishop Brugues’ comment regarding the syllabus: "the document adds a subject: ... logic, and in particular highlights the role of metaphysics"

Huh? It adds Logic…???

When was Logic dropped from the syllabus? It used to be one of the first courses taught in the curriculum at the Angelicum and was considered a sine qua non for further studies in Philosophy. I find it hard to believe it would have been dropped at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas – of all places!

I trust he was referring to other locations…