By: Fr. Robert Mann, SCJ
There can be no disguising the fact that for Catholics serious about their faith the almost daily stream of ambiguous and dangerous words and actions emanating from this Papacy give good cause for alarm. Not that there was no cause for concern with previous post-Conciliar Popes. However, in these times, the revolution has moved up a gear with almost no pretence of disguising the ultimate goal of bringing “irreversible changes” to the Catholic Church in terms of attitudes to doctrine and universal disciplines intrinsically bound up with that doctrine.
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in all of this is that the vast majority of Catholics for the most part do not seem to care about doctrinal departure from the Church of the past or are not even aware of the catastrophe unfolding at the heart of the Church. The great majority of clergy and people seem quite happy to go along with the Modernist program. They are welcoming of the ‘new attitudes’ – especially the rebooted ecumenical thrust, with its disregard for defined dogma and, of course, the new attitude to morality with it’s “Who am I to judge?” approach.
There will be others of course who are troubled but feel powerless and unable to articulate an adequate response to the intended “remodelling” of the Catholic Faith. As for those most obviously opposed – if you were to include all traditional Catholics, of one stripe or another, who do care about the disastrous state of affairs, in terms of numbers they would be a small proportion indeed of the entire Catholic population.
It seems then that over the last few decades the Catholic mind has been slowly eroded. It has become a ghost of itself. It bears some outward resemblence to what it once was, it holds on to some remnants of Catholic belief and practice but in reality it has come to accept that truth is relative. What would have been repugnant not so long ago is now acceptable to most who call themselves Catholic. The Catholic mind has been “disarmed”, and this has been in process over the last fifty years or more.
It is this issue of “disarming” to which I want to draw attention. I am thinking especially of this in relation to the priesthood, for it seems to me that in that time the Catholic priesthood has “morphed” into something quite different, from an understanding of priesthood as primarily sacrificial in character to something more akin to a Protestant ministerial functioning. What are the causes of this change? Well, I am sure we can all identify many but there is one I particulary want to identify and that is the abandonment of Thomist philosophy and theology in the seminaries and Catholic educational establishments.
When I was studying for the priesthood in the late seventies and early eighties, and during later postgraduate studies, the theological sources were people like Rahner, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Congar and a host of others along with a growing North American school. (There was also the Canadian Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan – he appeared at first sight to be of quite a different shade from the others, at least in his early writings, but ultimately he seemed to go the way of all the others in terms of the Catholic Faith).
By my time, the Thomist approach (that is the school of philosophy and theology based on the writings of the great Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas) had been well and truly abandoned. True, there were a few courses on different aspects of the Scholasticism and Thomism here and there but any sense that this was a perennial Philosophical/Theological system (with roots in the best of ancient classical thought) taken up and profoundly shaped by Catholic doctrine over centuries was well and truly lost. It was seen as an archaic intellectual product of a bygone age with little relevance for the modern world.
The contemporary philosophies with their atheistic presuppositions, doubtful of the possibility that the human mind could attain to objective truth, and their focus on the human person and the exaltation of subjectivity and relativism, were now ascendant.
Of course the Church has always made use of the best achievements of human reason while at the same time correcting error and distortions inevitably found in systems of thought; as she did with Plato and Aristotle. For no matter how clever and penetrating they may be they are always the product of a human intellect weakened by the effects of original sin and so liable to a darkening and the influence of the passions.
That is partly why the human mind needs the corrective and transformative power of God’s revelation and supernatural faith if it is to attain to absolute truth free from error and distortion – but it also needs this if it is to approach the truths about God that transcend the natural powers of the mind, truths that can only be known by God revealing them; e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption and so on.
That being said, the new philosophies with their focus on the human person, by and large, had their roots in anti-Catholic thinking coming on the heels of the Reformation and preparing the ground for the French Revolution and all that it spawned. The new starting-point was the human person and subjectivity. This shift has been termed “the anthropological turn to the subject.”
Thomism also dealt with the human person but the major focus was always on the objective reality of God and his Revelation in Christ, known to us through the teaching of the Church. This context prevented such considerations of the human person from spiraling out of control with the consequent danger of exaggerating the human at the expense of the Divine, to the extent that the human person becomes the measure of all.
By abandoning the most potent system of Catholic thought ever attained, the clergy became vulnerable and ultimately overpowered by the new thinking. They were left with no effective means to evaluate and critique what humanistic thinkers threw at them. The best defence that could be mustered in the face of an attack against Catholic doctrine was often a fuzzy mushy appeal to God’s “luv,” but there was little powerful intellectual challenge offered in response.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you ever heard or saw a Catholic theologian or philosopher, or priest on the media defend ably and robustly the Catholic Faith? Do you ever hear priests in Novus Ordo parishes give solid doctrinal sermons anymore? Not many, I bet. Many no doubt will have gone along with the “party line” because they have virtually abandoned the Faith, but no doubt there are many others who, though uncomfortable with the present state of affairs in the Church, feel unable and ill-equipped to join the fray.
You see, the great advantage and power of Thomism was that it was razor sharp and unashamedly asserted the ability of the human intellect to grasp reality objectively. It provided the most powerful vehicle for conveying the truths of the Catholic Faith and integrating these beautifully with the best that the human intellect had to offer.
If theology (as St. Anselm defined it) is “faith seeking understanding,” then there can be no doubt that this system of Catholic thought which allowed the human intellect, formed by Revelation and aided by divine grace, to penetrate the mysteries of the Divine Essence in a way never before seen or achieved since, must be reckoned as one of the greatest achievements of Christian and indeed of human civilization. To abandon such an intellectual patrimony was true folly and a great deprivation indeed.
The pre-Vatican II Popes time and again insisted on the value of retaining Thomism in the education of priests. Just to give one example, Pope Pius XII writing in 1950 states:
It is not surprising that the Church will have her future priests brought up on a philosophy which ‘derives its conceptualization, doctrine and basic principles from the Angelic Doctor’ (C.I.C., canon 1366, n. 2). One thing is clearly established by the long experience of the ages – that St. Thomas’ philosophical system is an unrivalled method, whether for conducting the beginner through his early steps, or for the investigation of the most recondite truths; moreover, that his teaching seems to chime in, by a kind of pre-established harmony, with divine revelation – no surer way to safeguard the first principles of the faith, and turn the results of later healthy development to good advantage. Deplorable, that a philosophy thus recognized and received by the Church, should, in our day, be treated by some minds with contempt.” (Humani Generis)
My contention is that the abandonment of this superior Catholic thought stripped priests (and consequently laity by a trickle down effect) of the ability to adequately expound and defend the Faith. They were intellectually disarmed. Without this powerful weapon they were like soldiers in a battlefield without ammunition. Their ability to teach the Faith robustly, to engage with those who honestly sought the truth, and to attract those who would be drawn to the intellectual power and beauty of Catholic truth, evaporated over time and a weak, insipid, limp mindset appeared in which objective truth was elusive and relative at best.
Thomism, with its precise doctrine of “Being” and its constituent principles of potency and act, essence and existence, matter and form, substance and accidents, the reality of cause and effect, categories that helped provide an unrivaled explanatory power for the expounding the truth of Catholic doctrine: all this was swept away in favour of a tortured personalist language of subjectivity, experience, encounter, inclusivity, and relativism.
The consequences ultimately have been catastrophic. We now have generations of clergy who for the most part are strangers to that Catholic intellectual tradition. Not only are they alien to it, but actively hostile and dismissive of it. The contemporary person-centered philosophies now shape and form their minds and attitudes; faith and moral issues tend to be relativised and the attainment of objective truth is at best an elusive ideal.
The disarming of the Catholic mind (amidst other causes) begun in Catholic seminaries and educational institutions all those decades ago has slowly wrought its havoc. Thus in our times the successor of Peter can publicly make known his support for the admission of the divorced and “remarried” to Holy Communion, and more recently state his intention to attend a ceremony commemorating the Reformation, during which a prayer will be offered thanking God for the “gifts” that this disastrous Revolt brought to the Church, and this will not cause so much as a stir among the vast majority of priests and laity.
Not so long ago the Catholic mind would have recoiled in horror at such a prospect. It would have been seen as impossible that a true Pope would ever endorse such anti-Catholic acts, but now for a great many, its not such a big deal.
Truly, something catastrophic has befallen the Church, a spiritual and intellectual darkening has descended. The true Catholic mind can see straightaway that if the doctrines and universal disciplines taught authoritatively by successive pre-Conciliar Popes no longer hold and are binding no more on the Catholic conscience, then it would mean you could never trust the Catholic Church again on anything, because if it was wrong then on these core doctrines and consequent disciplines, why can’t it be wrong now and in the future on all other doctrines and disciplines? Why trust such an institution that could get these matters that pertain to salvation so badly wrong and with such unjust and tragic consequences for people?
The erosion of Catholic thinking goes a long way to explaining why, in the face of all the doctrinal and intellectual chaos so rampant in the “New Church,” so few Catholics even bat an eyelid at the damage done to the Faith and consequently to souls by the words and actions that continue to flow from the highest authorities in the Church. They are virtually powerless to react.
Indeed the seeds were sown many decades ago in the Conciliar documents as others have documented. What we are witnessing now is the next stage in the revolution, a stage that now seems in a hurry to shake-off the vestiges of Catholicism that still remain. Thus the Thomist system with its focus on the objective truth of the Catholic Faith had to go; it was too Catholic, it could have no role in the construction of the “New Church,” with its new ecumenical design in doctrine and liturgy.
It was despised by the Modernists and its demise had to be achieved if the new faith and moral order were to be attained. And so it came to be, and now we are living in the doctrinal and liturgical wastelands they have created, and sad to say our Church leaders have no remedy but to provide more of the same.
Yet the Catholic mind is directed towards objective truth, and even in the midst of this time of terrible tribulation, for however long it takes, those who hold fast to the true Catholic Faith will always find in that great Thomist intellectual tradition a great treasury of Catholic thought and a powerful instrument in winning minds and hearts for Christ.
Thank you very much, Father, for that clear description of the problems we face. It is calming for the mind, and the emotions too, to read truth clearly. Truth is beautiful.
As a remedy for we laity there are many resources. Oltyn is a site from which John Vennari of Catholic Family News offers lectures on Philosophy – all based on St. Thomas. Here’s the link: http://www.oltyn.org
One very good series from Oltyn is “Philosophical Psychology, (The Philosophy of Human Nature), by +Raphael Waters, D.Ph, L.Ph, Ph.C. Dr. Waters is a wonderful teacher too.
Some book recommendations: “An Introduction to Philosophy” by Daniel J. Sullivan, and “Aquinas” by Edward Feser, and very handy is “Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy” by Bernard Wuellner, S.J. which helps greatly in the understanding of the language of Philosophy.
Another great beginning to actual “thinking” is “Being Logical” by D. Q. McInerny who has taught Philosophy at the FSSP Seminary for years. One excellent chapter is: “Sources of Illogical Thinking” which goes a long way to understanding just where some of the lazy modern thinking comes from.
As an aside, my pastor (FFSP) told me he was converted to Catholicism in part through philosophy classes at university. When he was taught perverted modern philosophy he could sense there was something wrong – when he was exposed to St. Thomas, bells went off and that led him to the One True Church. And from there he was led to the priesthood. God is Good!
Dear Father Mann,
Thank you for this very insightful, honest and accurate assessment of the Modernist attack on the Catholic Church and the resulting brainwashing of Catholics in the pew who have no idea that they have been manipulated. They seem to be very satisfied that they a “good enough” Catholics. This is not a criticism because after 50 years of watered down theology, I doubt they even realize how they have been mislead. I admit I tend to be very negative on this subject. Therefore, I wish to thank you wholeheartedly for pointing out the errors which outwardly began with Vatican II and continues to this day not knowing where or how it will end. Pointing in the direction of Thomist philosophy certainly is a good start to truly Catholic restoration. We are encouraged that priests like yourself still know the Truth and are willing to share it. God bless you.
Thank you, Fr. Mann. I understand everything that you’re saying and completely respect and am grateful to God for all that I am learning, FINALLY, about the true Catholic faith which was hidden from me my whole life. Although I see clearly the Truth whenever God reveals a little more to me. My mouth cannot clearly or orderly profess the Truth. I think you explained clearly why It’s like that for me
Thank you for this wonderful resource Barbara! And thank you for a wonderful article Father. I drank up the series “Right and Reason” on CMTV precisely b/c I was floating around wondering how the Church ever got so far with the fluffy, meaningless, rootless junk being thrown my way in Catholic schools. St. Thomas and his teachings are indeed a gift from God and a grounding of sanity in our insane world. God bless~
Thank you Father Mann – What a wonderful way to start Lent. Randy Engel
Yes, I agree a very helpful article indeed. And thank you Barbara for your link – I can see I will be spending some time over there from now on!
And I can see what derailed me from being an early teen wishing to become a Catholic in 1862 to the thoroughly modernist adult who didn’t make it into the Church until I was in my 60s: Reading Philosophy for my first degree at the height (or depth rather) of the linguistic approach. I fought against such statements as “One cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” ” at the start but became acculturated. Maybe my mother was right when she told my daughter “Your mother ruined hr life by studying philosophy.”
Sorry, typo. I’m not quite that old, I meant to say 1962, not 1862.
“Ask yourself, when was the last time you ever heard or saw a Catholic theologian or philosopher, or priest on the media defend ably and robustly the Catholic Faith?”
Every Sunday, sometimes more: http://mhtseminary.libsyn.com/
Hee, Hee, Hee. I was going to find you and sit at your feet – you would be an ‘elder’ for sure!
Studying Philosophy is not all that hard – Our Loving Father did not propose Truth but make it so hard to understand that we ‘little ones’ would be left in the dark.
We have been given the gift of Faith so we are not starting from ground zero like many lost souls in our secular world – or like apostate Catholics who have buried their gift of Faith and become just like pagans of the old world.
No, we start from belief – that gift which is the pearl beyond price. Start with belief that God is all knowing, all powerful, all good, all loving. Next add “reality” which simply means what we see is what we get – the five senses bring in the data our intellect uses to inform the will – then we act. St. Thomas’ system is just a really, really advanced way to see God, (and other reality) as He is and he shows us how to act on that ‘seeing.’
As for explaining the Faith to others, well, you’re right. This can be difficult as we get twisted up in complexity. If we could only tell our neighbours how much we love God!!! If our love for Him poured out of our eyes, our mouths, our actions O! how far that would go to teaching/explaining our Faith. Many of the Saints were uneducated and knew very little other than their great love for Him.
Be joyful! Be joyful under all circumstances! Let that joy do your talking for you.
Barbara, thank you for these extremely comforting words. Today is a day I really needed to read them. Thank you.
I am a professional philosopher. I am not a Thomistic philosopher, rather belong to what is called “objective idealism” (related to Anglo-American Idealism). With Thomas I place focus and supreme value on “objectivity” relative to which “truth” must correspond. Indeed, my definition of truth is similar to that of St. Thomas. I mention this as I do not think being a Thomist is sufficiently necessary for orthodoxy. Dietrich von Hildebrandt was no Thomist, but was quite orthodox. All this is just to throw a bit of light on my background before coming to the fundamental error of Fr. Mann’s discussion. Which is?
Fr. Mann complains about the effective relativity of truth among Catholics which leads to an indifference towards dogma. This misunderstands the Pope and his, let us say, chief theologian, Cardinal Kaspar. In his “Einführung in den Glauben” (Introduction to the Faith), Cardinal Kaspar does not plead for the relativity of truth, he denies that truth IS. There can be no truth of correspondence unless there IS an object to which X, Y or Z is predicated as conforming with said object. Twice I have written “IS”, an obvious function of “Being/esse”. Card Kaspar asserts that there are no objects to which truth can point because ALL is historical, changing, ever different. If so, then the use of “IS” as a function of truth about “Being” is meaningless. Kaspar & Co are not relativists or for a relativity of truth, they are totally opposed to truth being. This is a more radical thesis than that of Fr. Mann’s. The disdain for “dogma” of the “doctors of the Church” by the Pope is, I suspect, a disdain for “Truth”, not an acceptance of a relativity of truth. Indeed, I suspect (and that is all) that Pope Francis explodes at times into vitriolic “put downs” of traditionalists because traditionalists aka Catholics are self-directed towards objectivity and truth thereof. Hence, dogma is of the essence.
If Card. Kaspar rejects truth, where does he find the “way” for the Church in today’s time? He speaks of the “signs of the time”, evidently divined by, well I guess, himself, or the current Pope. The Pentecostal leanings of the Pope are in my judgment an attempt for “truth” (despite himself) as constituted and hence revealed by the intensity of the emotions, particularly shared emotions of oneness resulting in social service. “Unity” is the work of the “Spirit”, “diversity” (different truth claims of diff. denominations) is the work of the devil (and Francis has almost used just those words), which is to be shunned, along with those workers of the devil, hence the endless insults. What directs the emotionally driven feeling of unity towards the telos of the times? Well, healing the “common house” in which we humans live (ecology) or curing the planet (climate warming) or healing possible wars (UN or world gov) or destroying a market economy under the guise of being against “consumerism”. All secular goals! The soul and eternity get lost. David P. Goldman, a Modern Orthodox Jew and a banker, put it so with insight. The Pope is more interested in saving the world than souls. I, alas, concur.
Very interesting, and what you propose makes things so much worse. One thing to be a relativist but to deny that truth IS is pretty scary even for someone like me who uses guts instead of a philosophy degree.
So we are really in the soup, eh?
“When I was studying for the priesthood in the late seventies and early eighties, and during later postgraduate studies, the theological sources were people like Rahner, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Congar and a host of others along with a growing North American school.” I think it is only through DIVINE PROVIDENCE you survived!
Relativism necessarily denies objective truth.
The issue of “disarming” was helpful to further understand where we are today.
Thank you, Fr. Mann.
I propose nothing! I am only reporting upon the opinion of Cardinal Kaspar (and then as a young priest). I reject vociferously Card. Kaspar’s thesis! But does Pope Francis? We are not “in the soup”, rather like the frog swimming in a pot of water slowly being heated up. The frog is boiled before it notes it. This is a firgurative way that repeats, perhaps, Mr. Verrecchio’s theses on Vat 2 and its popes.
Lynda, relativism paradoxically asserts (sometimes explicitly, sometime implicitly) that it is indeed (truly) so that all truthS are relative. Relative to what? To whatever effective (agenda) TRUTH that has been chosen. To grasp my thesis take up Richard Rorty. (I did print a very long article on this in a Taiwanese Christian journal which you cannot easily get > so no reference.) In this context Card. Kaspar has denied (implicitly as true) that there is no objectivity to which to predicate truthS because all is historical in its essence, i.e., changeable. This is quite radical as at least a Rorty is willing to confront the problem, whereas Kaspar denies that there is a problem. Kaspar replaces the imperative to correspond to the truth with seeking “the signs of the time” — and this seems to be an extension of the “Spirit” of Vat II. All this would be hair splitting among theologians if there were not Pope Francis’ kowtowing to Card. Kaspar and his high praise of the German theologian. — Think for a moment just how often Pope Francis hurls insultory remarks of those who “cling” to the “doctors of the law” and show no mercy — mercy without dogma being the new agenda. How many times does the Pope talk about the surprises of the “Spirit” (and HOLY Spirit is not mentioned)? I find that circumstantial evidence points towards a complicity by the Pope with the Cardinal. But, then again, has not that been the direction since Vat II?
Sermon by Fr chad ripperger (ffsp) on St Thomas Aquinas http://youtu.be/cU4hO2IT_6E
Here’s one of many superb rebuttals to the nowatch imbecile:
Why must you persist in posting these links here, constantly? Nobody cares. This isn’t a sedevacantist forum.
Usually truth relativism is a roundabout way of denying the existence of any truth at all. So I would not see much difference between the two positions.