Again, I ask you to read this book by the priest, Don Pietro Leone, to grow in a deeper intellectual understanding of your traditional Catholic faith. Good Advent practice.Chapter 1 PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY
This chapter presents in the briefest outline the Church’s understanding of philosophy and theology, certain objections to it in general, and certain objections to it in the areas covered by this book.
MAN WAS CREATED TO KNOW AND LOVE GOD. There are two types of knowledge: natural knowledge and supernatural knowledge. Natural knowledge is knowledge through experience and reason; supernatural knowledge is knowledge through faith. Natural knowledge of God, of the fact of revelation, and of the signs of the credibility of that revelation, provides the foundation for the supernatural knowledge of God. This supernatural knowledge transcends natural knowledge and is an elevation and illumination of the mind to assent to God’s self-revelation on the ground of God’s testimony alone.
Philosophy is the exercise of reason on the objects of human experience. It gives rise to natural knowledge, the highest form of which is the knowledge of God. It is marked by the systematic treatment of its subject matter, the certainty of its demonstrations, and the certitude of the mind in regard to its propositions. More technically it is known as the science of all things according to their ultimate causes. The Church teaches that the human mind is capable of attaining to the truths of God’s existence and to the truths of morality by means of philosophy alone, but that it needs the revelation of these truths by moral necessity: in order to know them promptly, without any admixture of error, and with certitude.
Theology means teaching concerning God: de divinitate ratio sive sermo2. Thus theology is the science of God. The object of theology is firstly God, and secondly created things as they are ordered to God as their beginning and end: Omnia pertractantur in sacra doctrina sub ratione Dei, vel quia sunt ipse Deus, vel quia habent ordinem ad Deum ut ad principium et finem (St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I 1.7). As we shall later see, this definition includes the discipline of moral theology.
Theology is divided into natural theology and supernatural theology. Natural theology, or theodicy, is that part of philosophy which provides knowledge of God. It is the scientific exposition of the truths concerning God, in so far as these can be known by natural reason. Supernatural theology is the scientific exposition of the truths about God in the light of Divine Revelation.
Now it is often objected to the Church’s understanding of philosophy and theology first that reason either disproves the existence of God and the soul or gives no ground for accepting it; and second that it is possible to reach all metaphysical truth by reason alone, but that since the object of (supernatural) theology, namely the tenets of Revelation, cannot be discovered by reason alone, they cannot be true.
To the first assumption it may be replied that reason can indeed prove the existence of God and the soul (by methods that will be referred to below), and to the second assumption it may be replied that although the tenets of Revelation cannot be discovered by reason, this does not entail that they are untrue, for there are no grounds, apart from man’s pride, for supposing that it should be possible to reach all metaphysical truth by reason alone.
In fact it may be shown (by the discipline known as ‘Apologetics’) that the tenets of Revelation are not only not irrational but also that they are rational. To show that a proposition or theory is rational, one must either prove it rationally, or where it is not possible to prove it rationally, as in the case of the tenets of Revelation or indeed of any religion, theory, or proposition with claims to truth or wisdom, one must justify it rationally. To justify a given proposition rationally, one must show first that it is not contrary to reason, and second that it provides the best explanation for some given phenomena. When the phenomena at issue are the deepest in human experience: when they concern the foundation of morality, the nature of man, the meaning of life, death, and existence, the existence of the soul and of God, the explanation must itself be the deepest explanation of these phenomena.
Not only are the tenets of Revelation not contrary to reason, but also do arguably provide the deepest explanation of these phenomena, by reference to God’s creation of man out of love, and His redemption of man out of love through philosophical topic, one is confronted with an array of conflicting philosophical theories. Frequently it is not possible to prove which theory is correct. In such cases, as said above, it may however be possible to show that a particular theory provides the best explanation for the phenomena in question.
Such a situation exists in relation to the philosophy of sexuality and abortion. Moreover, since this philosophy addresses some of the deepest phenomena in human experience (some of the same areas as Revelation addresses) such as the person, the soul, suffering, life and death, the explanation, again as said above, must itself by the deepest. This, then, is one of the criteria by which philosophical theories will be assessed in this book (especially in chapter eight).
To the reader who would deny that such philosophy concerns that which is deep, this book is not addressed; nor is it addressed to the reader who would deny that such philosophy is a serious enterprise, rather than the search for a logically coherent system undertaken as an abstract game, or in order to justify misconduct. In short it is addressed not to the shallow man, but to the man who takes serious things seriously, who is open-minded, open-hearted, right- thinking, and decent: it is addressed to the man of good will.
What is the nature of popular objection to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and abortion? It may indeed be described in Pope Paul VI’s words in Humanae Vitae (18) as ‘an excessive and clamorous outcry’, an outcry which is in fact not directed against a moral system peculiar to the Church alone, but rather (as Part II of this book purports to demonstrate) against the natural law itself, the irrefutable conclusions of moral reasoning. It is the outcry of fallen man, the outcry of the passions against the intellect, an outcry both brute and meaningless.
The people who reject the Church’s teaching on these issues are typically those who do not live according to it. These may be divided into two groups: those outside the Church who reject Catholicism outright along with it, and those in the Church who disagree.
Suffice it to say that one who lives unchastely is not in a position to evaluate the Church’s teaching on chastity, for chastity can only be properly understood by one who lives it4.
Perhaps the most common criticisms of Catholic teaching on sexuality and abortion are that it is repressive and outmoded. Indeed to many the term ‘Catholicism’ seems synonymous with repressive, outmoded, Schadenfreude.
Far from being repressive, however, and opposing man’s freedom and happiness, Catholic teaching is in reality a challenge to courage, love, responsibility, and self-mastery (cf. chapter eleven on chastity) which lead to peace and happiness; whilst it is the liberal, permissive attitudes which lead to unhappiness (cf. chapter 8 and 12): Contritio et infelicitas in viis eorum, et viam pacis non cognoverunt (Psalm 13.3): Destruction and unhappiness in their ways and the way of peace they have not known.
‘Liberalism’ in regard to Catholic doctrine represents in the final analysis nothing less than a ‘liberation’ from the Truth, so that it is not only false but also the ultimate form of slavery. The reason would seem to be that purity is a quality of the soul qua soul, and thus encompasses both the purity of the will, which is chastity, and purity of the intelligence, which is wisdom.
To call Catholic teaching outmoded is to suppose that it amounts simply to the opinion of a number of Catholics or (more superficially) to the opinion of the Pope himself, opinions which are no more valid than any other opinions, opinions which can be changed, and, indeed, should be changed to accord with changing circumstances. From the Catholic perspective by contrast, the moral teaching of the Church is not a matter of opinion but of Divine authority: it is established by God in the Old Testament, by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and preserved ever afterwards by the Holy Spirit. It communicates an objective moral law which is constant, unchanging (itself a strong argument for its Divine origin), and unchangeable.
Reflection on this second criticism reveals the existence of two distinct and irreconcilable moral systems: one objective and theocentric and the other (typically) subjective and anthropocentric. Now in order to show that one system of philosophy or theology is defective, it is clearly not sufficient to show that it does not conform to the standards of another system. What must be shown rather is that the system is prey to one or more of the following defects:
(1) it is logically incoherent; or
(2) it fails to provide an explanation of reality; and in the case of a moral system:
(3) it fails to provide a sufficiently deep explanation of reality as stated above;
(4) it is impracticable: it cannot be put into practice in such a way as to attain personal fulfillment or happiness.
The Catholic faith is not prey to these defects, for:
(1) it is logically coherent:
(2) it has a perfect harmony and by its moral doctrine does indeed further the purpose for which it exists, namely the sanctification of man for God’s glory.
(3) It does provide an explanation, indeed arguably the deepest explanation, of life, death, love, the person, suffering, as indeed of the whole of reality.
(4) It has by its moral precepts enabled men over the ages to live a life of fulfilment and happiness.
The subjectivist, anthropocentric system by contrast is prey to these defects, as shall be seen later with regard to hedonism in that:
(1) and (4) Since it characteristically leads to suffering (cf. chapter 8) it is both logically incoherent and impracticable.
(2) and (3) It provides no explanation, or no adequately deep explanation, of life, death, love, the person, suffering, or reality; nor, it may be added, of any phenomena that argue for the existence of God, such as the phenomena of order and change in the universe, or, more generally, the phenomena of faith, holiness, pious works, and the sublimity of religious art.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.