Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dispute on Wojtyla's Personalism

Share/Bookmark Dear Prof. Romero,

My name is Brian. I'm a sophomore at Saint Mary's College of CA and I'm becoming a student of JPII's Philosophical & Theological Anthropology (Personalism). I hope to study at the International Academy someday. I think your article on von Hildebrand was well written. However I must disagree with your analysis on three points [scroll down for other two points].

I. First, I believe your characterization of realist phenomenology's approach to Thomism is unfair and inaccurate. Rather than trying to displace or 'fix' St. Thomas, they saw a place for legitimate contribution. Without question John Paul the Great sought to create a complete view of man. In his view, Thomas' metaphysics alone couldn't complete the picture of man (something Thomas himself acknowledge when deciding not to complete his Summa). JPII's Personalism is not the result of his phenomenological thought alone; it is a combination rather of Thomistic Metaphysics, the epistemology of Phenomenological Realism, and the truths of Divine Revelation as conveyed through Scripture and the Saints....

-Dear Brian,

Thank you for your question. By way of preface, I do want to say that, although I am about to reply to your criticism very forcefully and (hopefully) in a decisive way, I do not intend to attack you personally or to create the false impression of being correct simply because of my academic seniority. However, I understand that you are an undergraduate who is only in his second year of studies, and that you have been bombarded with many ideas and have not had an adequate amount of time to process them or to take into account most of its implications; therefore, I encourage you not to be turned off by my strong corrections, but to take the time to consider both traditional Thomistic thought and the traditionalist position seriously. Only through years of study (and prayer) can you even hope to see things in appropriate perspective.

You have recited well the story that Catholic Personalists tell their students. I got that story too, when I was an undergraduate at Franciscan University. There I had a chance to learn Personalism from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I had half a dozen professors that had been either first- or second-generation disciples of Von Hildebrand and other Phenomenologists/Personalists, notably John Crosby and Michael Healy, and got to meet personally other representatives of this school of thought, such as Rocco Buttiglione (author of the pope’s intellectual biography) and Joseph Seifert (head of the International Academy of Philosophy). From Healy I took several courses, one on Karol Wojtyla’s thought, where we read Wojtyla’s main philosophical works, primarily The Acting Person and some philosophical essays, such as the one on “the irreducible in man” (whose exact title I forget); and another course on the “philosophy of love and sexuality” where the main textbook was Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility. From Crosby I took a graduate course on personal subjectivity and consciousness, where Wojtyla’s philosophy was very prominent. Moreover, most of my graduate colleagues were avid defenders of his thought and that of Von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, and others—and many of them either have been through, or are now at, the International Academy of Philosophy.

The students of personalism and phenomenology will tell you that Wojtyla is a Thomistic Personalist, that he sought to reconcile Thomism and personalism. That is true; he sought that. However, the manner in which he did it was more ‘Personalistic’ than ‘Thomistic.’ He nominally accepts a very primitive Thomistic metaphysics (there are substances; there are accidents; there is matter and there is form—nothing beyond what one learns in one day of class) as the foundation of his thought, but at the same time rejects the Thomistic metaphysics of man by claiming that metaphysics is grossly inadequate for understanding man—that it was not until personalism came along that we discovered ‘the irreducible in man’ and began to understand human nature adequately! So, not only does he ‘build on’ Thomistic metaphysics (which by itself is something benign); he also destroys Thomistic philosophical psychology in order to establish his own enlightened ‘insights’ (which is not something benign). Thus, you will find him rejecting the Thomistic doctrine on the substantial unity of soul and body in man and embrace a form of personalistic substance dualism, because he phenomenologically attained the insight that “I am not my body; rather, I have my body” (cf., The Acting Person). Therefore, whereas it is true that there is a latent sort of Thomism in his thought (which has nothing properly Thomistic about it—it’s more like a very basic Aristotelianism), he nonetheless thinks that this Thomism, especially the philosophical psychology, should be corrected. It’s not a ‘contribution’ as much as a correction. So he is trying to ‘fix’ St. Thomas. And I, therefore, wouldn’t think it is a legitimate contribution to Thomism. Neither would his Thomistic professor, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.

Moreover, even the primitive Thomism that he held was hardly a Thomism at all. His thought was not a combination of personalism and traditional Scholastic Thomism; but rather, it was a combination of personalism and Existentialist Thomism, which is a corruption of Thomistic metaphysics, filled with its own existentialist problems. (Wojtyla received his ‘formation’ in Existentialist Thomism at Lublin, Poland, where one school of existentialist Thomism originated.) This side of his thought, even without the personalism, is contemptible in itself from a Thomistic point of view.

Moreover, it is simply a gross misunderstanding of history to think that the reason St. Thomas did not complete his Summa is because he thought “metaphysics alone couldn't complete the picture of man.” That is actually quite a comical idea, because though it you can see how far the personalists will go to find a justification for their nonesense. First of all, by the time Aquinas decided to stop writing, he had long ago finished his Treatise on Man. What he left unfinished was his treatise on the Sacraments (out of which the Church drew most of the now dogmatically-binding doctrine on the sacraments, defined at the Council of Trent). Second, the reason he himself gives for why he stopped writing is that, compared to the glory of God that he beheld, everything he has written is like straw. In other words, what he has written about God is mere straw compared to God Himself. He did not mean to say that what he has written about man is like straw compared to ‘man himself’, because he did not have a vision of ‘man’. He did not have a mystical experience of the phenomenologically ‘irreducible in man’. It is just ridiculous that phenomenologists and personalists use this event in Aquinas’ life as an indication that Thomism is an inadequate philosophy! It is not Thomism that is inadequate: it is the human mind itself that is inadequate for describing God as He is in Himself!!! Perhaps we should say, even Thomism is inadequate for describing God as He is in Himself—not to mention the other philosophies, such as phenomenology/personalism, which are inadequate and false! Remember that, in the end, it was Our Lord Himself told Aquinas, bene scripsisti de me, Thoma... "Well have thou written of me, Thomas!"

II. Second, I must say that I disagree with some fundamental presumptions that you seem to be making about the nature of Church teaching on Thomism. I don't think your dogmatic stance on his place in the Church is truly where the Church stands. You seem to be proposing Thomas' thought and therefore the Church's approach to philosophy and theology as if they constitute a system. There is no 'Catholic way' to philosophize. There is no 'Catholic theology' qua system. There is only Truth. This is what John Paul means when he says in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, that the Church does not 'intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one'. Consistency is not the same as having a system. Marx had a system. Freud had a system. The Reform Church of Switzerland has a system. But Thomas is consistent. The difference can be seen when one challenges the views of Maxists or followers of Freud. Those thinkers created systems geared toward answering questions, like a machine. We just as them a question and the put their premises and assumptions together to give an answer. Completely independent of reality. Their conclusions always match their premise. And begging the question - raises no problem for them. Thomas and the Church are consistent not because of a system but because of a love of the Truth.

-True. Talk of ‘systems’—‘philosophical systems’ and especially ‘theological systems’—is simply boorish. There are no ‘systems’ here and there. There is simply truth—the rest is falsehood. And that’s exactly what Aquinas—and the Church—understand Thomism to be: truth! Not merely ‘a system’! Like you say, “there is no ‘Catholic theology’ qua system. There is only Truth.” And the Truth is best expressed in the writings of the Thomists.

I don’t disagree with that. What I disagree with is the claim that Thomism (i.e., truth) does not hold a place of prominence over all the other philosophies (i.e., falsehood). It is very clear that the Church does prefer Thomistic philosophy over all other ‘philosophies’.

What does the Church teach about philosophy and about the priority of Thomism? Not once was I given at Steubenville a single pre-Conciliar document that answered this question—not even something as simple as Aeterni Patris. The only thing I was presented with was post-Conciliar stuff like Fides et ratio and Veritatis splendor—which merely say that no philosophy as a whole holds the level of dogma. But the question is whether the post-Conciliar attitude towards philosophy—which is not merely that the Church has not defined any ‘philosophical system’ as dogma, but that the philosophy of St. Thomas is no more adequate than other philosophies and that, therefore, it has no prominent place in the Church—is correct and if it is compatible with the already-established, binding doctrine on the issue. So we have to look at the binding declarations prior to Vatican II to determine the answer.

You seem to be accusing me of having a “dogmatic stance of [Aquinas’] place in the Church.” I would never say that Aquinas’ “stance” in the Church is a ‘dogma’, or that his metaphysics demands our internal assent, but I would say that the Church has made binding statements that would render doubtful the claim that the Church does not regard Thomism as normative, in a sense, or that no philosophy holds a primary place in the Church—because Thomistic philosophy clearly does.

First, Pope St. Pius V declared Aquinas not only a doctor of the Church, but the “Universal Doctor of the Church.”

Then, there is Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris, which as such is not binding, strictly speaking, and thus holds roughly the same level of authority as Fides et ratio and Veritatis splendor. But Aeterni Patris presents a totally different picture than the new encyclicals. Whereas the new ones simply remark that Thomism is not a dogma (duh!) Aeterni Patris recommends scholasticism, especially Aquinas’ philosophy, over everything else. They are not incompatible, except some people read the new ones as nullifying Aeterni Patris. Not only is it false that they nullify it; it is also a fallacy to hold that the new encyclicals are more authoritative simply because they are “the latest word,” or that we should pay more attention to them because they are more “current.” (That thought, which is constantly brought up at Steubenville, reeks of neo-modernism.) In fact, it is a better argument to say that, whereas the Aeterni Patris presents a very clear message of the precedence of Thomism over all other ‘philosophies’, the new encyclicals could not contradict the old teaching, because ‘truth does not contradict truth.’ So their only possible meaning is compatible with the precedence of Thomism over all other philosophies. Let us listen to Pope Leo:

Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because "he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all."(34) The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining
what is abstruse.

Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield. And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason, borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

This attitude towards Aquinas is a far cry from Wojtyla’s correctionist attitude.

Further, Pope Benedict XIV says:

Numerous Roman Pontiffs, Our Predecessors, have borne glorious testimony to his philosophy. We also, in the books which We have written on various topics, after by diligent examination perceiving and considering the mind of the Angelic Doctor, have always adhered and subscribed with joy and admiration to his philosophy, and candidly confess that whatever good is to be found in Our own Writings is in no way to be attributed to Us, but entirely to so eminent a teacher" (Acta Cap. Gen. O.P., vol IX, p. 196).

Next, Pope St. Pius X, (and this one really is a saint), gradually transformed what was only a recommendation of Aquinas into a binding mandate. In 1907 he published his 24 Thomistic Theses, summarizing Thomistic philosophy, and declared that they were “a safe norm for intellectual guidance.” (No other philosophy can boast of having been declared by the magisterium as being a ‘safe norm for intellectual guidance’.) Moreover, the pope told Fr. Edouard Hugon, one of the authors involved in the drafting of the theses, that “he did not intend to impose the twenty-four theses as compelling internal assent, but as the doctrine preferred by the Church.” (Cf., Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality, Ch. 55). Later he would say about these theses that they “are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church” (Doctoris Angelici). Then, in his authoritative Syllabus of Errors (Pascendi Dominici gregis, 1907) the same saintly pope declares that “to deviate from St. Thomas, especially in metaphysical questions, is always attended by grave detriment.” Again, in Sacrorum antistitum in 1910 he ordained that the study of St. Thomas be mandatory in seminaries. Again, he reinforced the point that “the principles of philosophy laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas are to be religiously and inviolably observed,” in his Doctoris Angelici of 1914. There, he says:

Therefore that "the philosophy of St. Thomas may flourish incorrupt and entire in schools, which is very dear to Our heart," and that "the system of teaching which is based upon the authority and judgement of the individual teacher" and therefore "has a changeable foundation whence many diverse and mutually conflicting opinions arise . . . not without great injury to Christian learning" (Leo XIII, Epist, Qui te of the 19th June, 1886) be abolished forever, it is Our will and We hereby order and command that teachers of sacred theology in Universities, Academies, Colleges, Seminaries and Institutions enjoying by apostolic indult the privilege of granting academic degrees and doctorates in philosophy, use the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas as the text of their prelections and comment upon it in the Latin tongue, and let them take particular care to inspire their pupils with a devotion for it.

To reinforce the point further, Pope Benedict XV, in his Code of Canon Law of 1917, which is rightly regarded as a theological authority, makes it canonically binding on professors “to teach philosophy according to the doctrine, principles, and method of the Angelic doctors, and that they hold these things as holy” (Can. 1366 § 2. Philosophiae rationalis ac theologiae studia et alumnorum in his disciplinis institutionem professores omnino pertractent ad Angelici Doctoris rationem, doctrinam et principia, eaque sancte teneant.”)

Further, Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Studiorum ducem, echoed Aeterni Patris by again placing Aquinas in a position of prominence among all philosophers. (In his Deus scientiarum Dominus, he further commanded that Aquinas be taught in theology.)

In addition to this relatively-recent enforcement of Thomism, there is the simple fact that, well before Thomism had risen to such canonically-binding status, the Church has already many times utilized Thomistic philosophy in its dogmatic definitions, and has even infallibly defined Thomistic philosophical doctrines themselves! For example, the Councils of Florence, Trent, and Vatican I were thoroughly Thomistic. Florence, for example, defined the Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophical doctrine that “the soul is the form of the body.” Moreover, Trent’s decrees and canons on the sacraments make no sense at all if one rejects the Thomistic doctrines of substance and accident (cf., Transsubstantiation), of species (cf. the sacramental species), of matter and form (cf., matter and form of each sacrament), etc. Similarly, the definitions of Vatican I on the existence of God, and our knowledge of Him, are all based on Thomistic natural theology. And the list of instances where the Church clearly shows preference for Thomistic philosophy over all others, both in word and in deed, is truly endless.

At Steubenville, as an undergraduate, I trusted my professors and I took it as a fact that the Church “didn’t have a philosophy.” But when I later went and looked at the documents myself, I found an entirely different reality.

III. Finally, I must say that I am concerned about the type of traditionalism your philosophy is leading you toward. I find your criticism of the Holy Father and the Saint to be troubling. It sounds very much like the rhetoric of SSPX and other so called 'traditionalists'. When we begin to think that we know a better way to defend the Church's deposit of truth than our Holy Father, Christ's Vicar, I think we stand in a dangerous position. You can fall off the boat port or starboard. Left or Right. But either way you end up with the sharks. So long as we remain on the Barque of Peter there is only one thing needed: Charity.

Here, your accusation is vague, and gratuitous; you don't really explain what's wrong with my position and you offer justification for the accusation at all. What exactly have I said that “concerns” you? You say I have criticized the Holy Father. I don’t recall having done that.

(Plus, who ever said he is a saint? In fact, there are very serious reasons to doubt that he was all that holy, and that he even caused scandal among the faithful; see the respectful, yet poignantly critical article by Fr. Brian Harrison in Latin Mass Magazine, where he argues as a devil’s advocate against John Paul II’s canonization, presenting examples of scandalous acts against the virtue of faith, such as his notorious kissing of the Koran--pictured to the left--and his infamous Assisi interreligious meetings.)

Next, you say that my philosophy brought me to a type of traditionalism that “concerns you.” It was not my philosophy that brought me here, it was simply the teaching of the magisterium throughout the ages. Just a cursory read of the following magisterial texts, along with a profound love for the Truth that never changes, will eventually lead you to the realization that the Church is going through its greatest crisis yet, and that the truth of Catholicism is different from what we are usually given from the pulpit:

· THE COUNCIL OF TRENT (Protestant Heresy)
· St. Pius V, QUO PRIMUM (Tridentine Rite)
· Gregory XVI, MIRARI VOS (Liberalism)
· Bl. Pius IX, QUANTA CURA (Modern Errors)
· Bl. Pius IX, IAM VOS OMNES ("Ecumenism")
· Leo XIII, ÆTERNI PATRIS (Scholasticism)
· Leo XIII, HUMANUM GENUS (Freemasonry)
· St. Pius X, PASCENDI (Modernism)
· St. Pius X, LAMENTABILI (Syllabus of Errors)
· Pius XI, STUDIORUM DUCEM (Aquinas)
· Pius XI, MORTALIUM ANIMOS ("Ecumenism")
· Pius XI, QUAS PRIMAS (Christ the King)
· Pius XI, CASTI CONNUBII (Marriage)
· Pius XII, MEDIATOR DEI (Sacred Liturgy)
· Pius XII, MYSTICI CORPORIS (Ecclesiology)
· Pius XII, HUMANI GENERIS (Errors re: S.S.)

Plus, is it necessarily and always wrong to criticize the Holy Father, or is there possibly a legitimate way to do it (with respect and obedience)? Most sensible Catholics of all ages (think of St. Catherine of Siena) would think there is a respectful and obedient way to criticize and admonish an erring Pope. That’s how she managed to drag the papacy back to Rome by herself after their ridiculous 70-plus-year-long vacation in Avignon, France. You must believe that there is a respectful way to criticize an erring Pope… that is, unless you believe it is impossible for there to be an erring Pope. Some neo-conservative Catholics commit the fallacy of thinking that, because the Pope can exercise the charism of infallibility, he therefore always exercises it. In other words, neo-conservatives think that, for all practical purposes, the Pope is always infallible. If he were always and in every respect infallible, then it would not be surprising for you to think that “when we begin to think that we know a better way to defend the Church’s deposit of truth than our Holy Father, Christ’s Vicar, I think we stand in a dangerous position.” But since the Pope is NOT always infallible, but only in very limited occasions, it is hard to see why we can’t think that there may be better ways of defending the faith than the new way of doing so—especially if what we believe is best is exactly what most previous popes have done—and especially if the ‘new way’ has proved to be ineffective, as is demonstrated by its undeniably catastrophic results (cf. Kenneth C. Jones, Index of Leading Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II).

Oh, and please do not dismiss the SSPX’s position as mere rhetoric, as if what they say amounts to nothing but empty words. That is just not fair. Although I am not a member of SSPX, and although I disagree with its attitude towards the problems, I nonetheless recognize that they have raised some valid issues and their position is not merely a flatus vocis. Those issues have to be answered by the Pope; they cannot be dismissed.

What is merely rhetoric is your conclusion that the truth lies in neither “the left” nor “the right” for the simple (and rather humorous) reason that, if you go to either the left or the right of a boat you will end up “with the sharks.” That is a childish comparison, and does not apply. It may be that only the extreme right is correct in certain issues. In fact, what is today considered the extreme right was even considered the “middle” in previous decades/centuries. There is no absolute rule that says that the truth lies in the middle.

Finally, you close with the presumptuously wise and profound remark that, apart from adherence to the Pope, all we need is charity. (As if the beauty of those words should convince me of your position.) However, the remark that all we need is adherence to the pope and charity is false. We need, in addition to charity, the full flourishing of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost and of the beatitudes, without which we would not be able to follow faithfully all the inspirations of the said Holy Ghost or to fulfill all the duties of our Christian vocation (cf. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, vol. 2). One of those gifts--the highest, indeed--is that of wisdom, which allows us to judge the signs of the times and to see everything sub specie aeternitatis--as God sees it.

Again, I don’t mean to discourage you or to attack you personally. I admire your courage in bringing up these points. I encourage you to study these issues carefully, taking seriously all the different positions and evaluating them in light of the perennial teachings of the Church—not just in light of the latest encyclical.

In Domino,

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