Friday, August 28, 2015

Liberalism and Theology

Fr. Stanley L. Jaki

A NEW situation has come about within the Christian community itself... with regard to the Church's moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.(1)

So stated Pope John Paul II in his latest encyclical, Veritatis splendor. The situation is indeed very new. Church historians may not agree as to how far back in time they should go to find a situation similar to the one described in the encyclical. But they would certainly agree that no encyclical issued during the last 200 years contains a statement even remotely as ominous.

Not that during those two very modern centuries there has been no dissent. Also, the dissent could be so radical as to call for the harshest conceivable words of condemnation. Thus in his encyclical, Pascendi dominici gregis, Pius X decried, in 1907, the modernist position as a "delirium," an "insanity," an "audacious sacrilege," a "monstrosity." He used such extremely harsh words only because he felt he could thereby alert each and all to the seriousness of an error which, however, was held only by a few, indeed only by a very few.

Moreover, that saintly pope did not have to face a dissent in moral theology, which, concretely or existentially speaking, is always far more serious than a dissent in matters of faith. Dissent in morals involves not merely man's head but also his very flesh and blood that pull him away from truth with a far greater force than would purely intellectual urges. The following of Christ has indeed its moment of truth when one has to deny oneself and take up the cross not only once or twice but, as we have it in St. Luke's Gospel, each and every day.

It has often been said that the anti-modernist policy of Pius X did not eradicate the evil of modernism but merely suppressed it, pushing it underground, so to speak. Should one then say that the alarming situation registered by John Paul II is a broad revival of modernism? It would be a mistake to think so. First, nothing could have been easier for Pope John Paul II than to refer to modernism. After all, he is not one to mince words. But there is no mention whatever of modernism in the encyclical Veritatis splendor. 
Second, it would have been wrong to refer to modernism for a simple reason. As was noted above, modernism, as denounced by Pius X, related to dogma rather than to principles of morality. Pope John Paul speaks, however, about a dissent concerning moral theology. But he also speaks of a universal and systematic dissent. Now a dissent, to be systematic, must have a system to support it, and systems, precisely since they tend to be universal, can easily be given a verbal label which is always a universal. Still, John Paul II did not give a name, a general label, to that universal and systematic dissent. The words he uses, such as relativism, consequentialism, and behaviorism, are but partial aspects of a broader trend. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to identify that trend as liberalism.

There is, however, no reference to liberalism in the encyclical. A possible reason for this is the amorphous character of what is meant by liberalism. It is difficult to improve in this respect on the words of Ramsay Muir, a prominent professor of economics, who, in the wake of World War I described liberalism as follows:

Liberalism is a habit of mind, a point of view, a way of looking at things, rather than a fixed and unchanging body of doctrine. Like all creeds it is a spirit not a formula. It gets expression from time to time in formulae and programmes of policy, but these are always and necessarily determined by the circumstances of the time in which they are framed; they can, therefore, have no permanent validity; they need to be continually revised and recast, or they become mere shackles on the spirit which they try to express.(2)

Much the same amorphous nature of liberalism is conveyed in the more popular formula given by an equally prominent liberal, Dorothy Thompson, shortly before World War II. Liberalism, she wrote, is "a kind of spirit and a sort of behavior, the basis of which is an enormous respect for personality."(3) The expressions "kind of" and "sort of" are in English standard verbal means to protect one's intentionally vague discourse from the threat of clear objections. But here they were obviously called for because of the difficulty to define clearly the profile of liberalism.

After World War II it became a chief problem for liberals to make it credible that their reluctance to be clear was a poor means to counter the clear threat of Communist totalitarianism. Under the duress of that threat a fair number of perceptive liberals thought that liberalism was digging its own grave by its refusal to admit anything absolute, including some absolute limits to the use of one's freedom. This refusal, they saw, promoted anarchy which in turn would usher in totalitarianism. One of those perceptive liberals was Michael Polanyi. In a much quoted article he criticized in 1950 the inconsistency of liberals who, while advocating freedom, refused to consider the meaning of man's ability to be free in a universe in which nothing else was free.(4)

Yet while the liberals could not often state what they really wanted, they were all too clear on what they really opposed. "Liberalism turned away from the ideal of the medieval saint and proclaimed the modern ideal of the reformer." These words are from a book, The Faith of a Liberal, written in 1949 by Morris Cohen, a prominent professor at Columbia University at that time.(5) Indeed, this anti-Christian character of liberalism was clearly in view when the word liberalism was first used in 1811 in Spain to promote a new, secularizing constitution. Long before that, liberalism was on the march as a principal means of securing for the middle class (bourgeoisie) the accumulation of its wealth. Indeed, countless are the documents which show that the various liberal political movements during the 17th and 18th centuries had the protection of private wealth as their chief aim. The limits set to absolute monarchies, the stepwise extension of voting rights, the various customs legislation had this one thing in common. From Thomas Hobbes through Adam Smith and the French physiocrats on the continent, to Jeremy Bentham and Herbert Spencer, a great variety of politico-economic theories have the protection of private property for their central theme.

The theme antedates, of course, the 17th century. It was born during the 15th century, in a more or less open break with the medieval and indeed Christian outlook on life which put the emphasis not on this life but on the life to come. Poor and rich equally enter that life with no possessions except such that the moth does not devour and the rust does not corrode. Liberalism, however, put the emphasis on the life here and now, and on the demand that life down here should be comfortable, at least for a relatively few. It is in this light that one should see the general agreement among liberal economists that an unemployment rate of seven percent is healthy, because it is inevitable. Not all can be equally well off.

The grim pursuit of riches, has, of course, for its foundation the very un-Christian conviction that life is bounded by one's birth and death. Not that liberals would always dismiss the prospect of eternal life in a categorical way. Eternal life is left as a vague possibility, at best an added bonus, like the icing on a cake. But it is the essence of liberalism to focus on material well-being down here on earth. One only needs to couple this emphasis on material well being with the evasive vagueness of liberals about principles to see the necessary, the inevitable dynamics of liberalism in theology.

But before setting forth and denouncing that dynamics, it is important not to rush into an indefensible position. Once in that position, one cannot but concede that only liberals can be generous, open minded, daring, and enterprising; only liberals would explore the unknown, only liberals are innovative, only liberals are entitled to repudiate with Horace the label, laudator temporis acti. Once in that indefensible position, opponents of liberals are condemned to see nothing but the good old days, without seeing that, on a close look, those good old days were all too often pretty bad times indeed.

Indeed one can gather from unimpeachably conservative authorities some high praise for liberalism. According to one such authority, "it must be borne in mind, that there is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true; for example, not to say more, the precepts of justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command which are among its avowed principles, and the natural laws of society." The one who said this is none other than John Henry Newman. Further, he uttered these words at the very moment when he was formally notified in Rome on May 12, 1879, that the next day he would be created a Cardinal.(6)

In reply to that notification Newman gave a brief speech in which he summarized the chief motivation of his public life as something most anti-liberal:

For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of Liberalism in religion... it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; . . . Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion.

Did then Newman oppose liberalism in theology or religion alone, but not the socio-political applications of liberalism? In the same speech he gave to this question an answer which again strikes one with its markedly anti-liberal tone:

Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this Problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious and sober is his personal interest.

It would, of course, be a great mistake to think that Newman, a great logician, would contradict himself, and in a brief speech at that. He himself gives the solution to the apparent contradiction as he refers once more to the principles of what he called liberalistic theory: "It is not till we find that this array of principles is intended to supersede, to block out religion, that we pronounce it to be evil." He also stated, in the same breath, that it was the exploitation of that array of principles which constituted that most successful strategy of none other than the devil, the Enemy:

There never was a device of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success. And already it has answered to the expectations which have been formed of it. It is sweeping into its ranks great numbers of able, earnest, virtuous men, elderly men of approved antecedents, young men with a career before them.
Were he to live today, Newman would add that a great many Catholic theologians have been swept into those ranks, however unwittingly.

Only a conservative would speak in this way, although today Newman would protest against using this term. I said, today, or times very different from his. A hundred and fifty years ago, in the Spring of 1850, he could describe the ecclesiastical situation in words that today would sound unbelievable:

Never was the whole body of the faithful so united to each other and to their head. Never was there a time when there was less of error, heresy, and schismatical perverseness among them.(7)

What a contrast with the present situation, a situation of universal systematic dissent, a situation registered by the Pope himself! And were Newman to explain himself on theologians who had been ensnared by the Enemy, he would point to their heavy reliance on categories such as liberal versus conservative, traditional versus progressive. It is by relying heavily on these categories, that they try to evade the categories of true versus false, holy versus sinful. But it was precisely these categories that form the backbone of Newman's foregoing description of Christian religion as being in irreconcilable opposition to the ideology called Liberalism.

Newman allowed liberty to theologians to be liberal only as long as they kept in focus the categories of true versus false, holy versus sinful. In fact he greatly availed himself of that liberty. So much so that some, who would today be classified as archconservatives, such as the great Cardinal Manning, called Newman the most dangerous Catholic in England! But even when Newman made some of his apparently most liberal statements, he could balance them with very conservative ones. Nothing sums up more succinctly his very balanced views on the development of dogma than these two short phrases:

It (the formulation of revealed truth) changes with them (the times) in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.(8)

This is why, when asked after he had become a Cardinal what he would do if elected Pope, Newman said that he would immediately set up a number of commissions to study what changes should be made in a number of areas with all deliberate speed! Did this mean that Newman would have, as Pope, let the Church be run as a parliamentary or liberal democracy? Far from it. Three years before he became a Cardinal, Newman gave a capsule formulation of his idea of the Catholic Church:

Christianity is at once a philosophy, a political power, and a religious rite: as a religion, it is Holy; as a philosophy, it is Apostolic; as a political power, it is imperial, that is, One and Catholic. As a religion, its special centre of action is pastor and flock; as a philosophy, the Schools; as a rule, the Papacy and its Curia.(9)

Do not some prominent liberal theologians make a sport of disobeying the Pope by flouting directives issued from his Curia?

What has been said about Newman may seem a long digression in a relatively short essay, but an all important one for the purposes set by our topic: liberalism and theology. For few things put liberals so much on the defensive as the assertion that Newman was anything but a liberal. Have not liberal theologians tried to appropriate Newman to themselves as their patron saint? But it is precisely Newman's characterization of liberalism in relation to Christian religion that should make it clear why so-called liberal theologians always run the risk of promoting heresies, however unwittingly.

Being liberal, those theologians must share something of the program of liberalism. At the very core of that program is the emphasis on nature, on life on this earth, on fulfillment here below. The foremost of those liberal theologians, say a Rahner or a Schillebeeckx, have never denied eternal life. They never suggested that there was no such life; they never ridiculed the words of the Gospel: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but in the process he loses his very soul? But they certainly put the emphasis on nature whenever they discussed any supernatural proposition. Moreover, as befits liberalism, which, as we have seen, even according to liberals is more an attitude than a clear statement, liberal theologians are long on describing attitudes and short on being to the point.

What then is the outcome? To predict it one need not be a prophet, not even a professional theologian; it is enough to be a plain Catholic, who still remembers the propositions of the Apostles' Creed and takes them with plain common sense. The first of those propositions is about the Maker of all, that is, the Creator of all creation. The liberal theologian will put the emphasis not on the Creator but on creation. But by creation he understands not so much the act of God whereby he creates out of nothing and freely, but its target, the created world. Worse, his interest in the natural will tempt him to identify that created world with Nature, which secular liberals view as uncreated, as existing on its own terms. Hence the emphasis of liberal theologians on respect, in the guise of ecological concern, for Nature as if Nature had been created for its own sake and not for man's sake.

The same dynamics, the same imbalance toward the natural, can be seen in liberal theologians' treatment of belief in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. Plain logic demands that if man is to be redeemed, he has to be in a state of captivity, in a state of perdition. This is a chief reason why the Church has always stressed that all men sinned in Adam and therefore fell into the grip of the Devil or the Enemy. But the dynamics of liberalism, which is ruled by an optimistic view of human nature, prompts the liberal theologian to de-emphasize as much as possible the fallenness of human nature. He would not, of course, deny the dogma of original sin, but does everything to make it appear that original sin is not tangible at all. Thus it became a trend in the new or liberal theology to claim that original sin cannot be closely tied to anything concrete in human experience, be it ignorance, concupiscence, suffering, or death. No liberal theologian would repeat, for instance, with Newman that it looks as if the human race had been involved in a "terrible aboriginal calamity."(10)

Such a calamity, which Newman meant to be taken for original sin, is not something strictly concrete. Even in concrete actual sinful acts, the sin itself remains purely non- material, the absence of what should be there. But in this empirical age, when champions of the new or liberal theology swear by the empirical, it should seem rather strange that they downplay the most empirical of all dogmas, as Chesterton called the dogma of original sin. Do we not all experience its effects in ourselves day in and day out? Liberal theologians are far more interested in liberating man from socio-economic oppression than from the oppression of sin.

The same naturalist dynamics, which forces the liberal theologian to shy away from original sin, forces him to shy away from what is divine in Christ. Consequently, great religious leaders, such as Buddha and Muhammad, will be seen as variations on the incarnation of the divine in the human. I have heard a liberal theologian claim in a public lecture that Jesus is not on a higher level than any of the great religious leaders. Christological dogmas are then treated (Schillebeeckx is an example) as culturally conditioned formulas which are always revisable.(11) Liberal theologians writing lives of Jesus can go so far as to claim that Jesus was a mere Galilean peasant, with all the ignorance and limitations of such peasants.(12) But the naturalism, which liberalism demands from the theologian, is also evident in the claim of one such biblical expert that while his critical reason forbids him to see a divine being in Jesus, he accepts his divinity on faith. Such a distinction between faith and reason is, however, the very dynamic which turns faith into a subjective sentiment which does not strictly depend on supernatural grace.

This is not to suggest that a liberal theologian would necessarily draw all the consequences of that dichotomy between faith and reason. Thus Karl Rahner did not mean to reduce the virgin birth, that is the miraculous birth of Jesus, to the level of a purely natural birth, where the mother's hymen is broken in the very first birth. But Rahner failed to consider the consequences of his "explanation" of the virgin birth by distinguishing between the idea of virgin birth and the reality of it. The distinction was the distinction between the Kantian Ding an sich which is unknown and the idea of the thing which alone could be known.(13)

While on this point Rahner did not draw the naturalistic consequences of the Kantian position, he did so in respect to papal authority. This happened after the present pontiff had appointed Father Dezza, subsequently a cardinal, as General of the Jesuits, obviously to save many of them from the naturalism that invaded the Society under the generalship of Father Arrupe. Rahner, with eight other leading Jesuits, signed an open letter to the Pope in which they protested the Pope's disregard of the democratic rights of the Society to elect their own General.(14) Now what are democratic rights, if not the chief means which according to liberalism will usher in the better future?

With respect to the Eucharist the liberal theologian emphasizes the natural externals of the sacrament as a banquet. The Eucharist is certainly a meal, even a banquet, but a sacrificial one, the very point which the liberal theologian is not going to emphasize. Obviously, any emphasis on sacrifice, on self-immolation, would strike at the very root of the liberal claim that nature is good by itself and because of this it should not be sacrificed. The doctrine of transubstantiation is naturally too supernatural for the taste of the liberal theologian. While he cannot directly deny it, he will make much of the philosophical objections to the Aristotelian doctrine of substance and will promote a ritual in which acts of adoration, such as kneeling before the sacrament, are eliminated.

Such naturalist weakening of the traditional view of the Eucharist goes together with a liberal revamping of the notion of the priesthood. Hence the emphasis on the service which the priest should perform toward the community. But that service- counseling, organization, preaching, instructions-is such that any layman can do it Another way of naturalizing the sacramental priesthood is to push for the ordination of women, very often under purely naturalistic or feminist pretexts. The irony is that this push is readily followed by the claim that there is no need for priests at all. So it happened within the Church of England no sooner than it allowed women to receive its rite of ordination. Naturally the claim that by nature everybody is a priest was decried by many, but the claim was instructive of the naturalist logic at work in liberal theology.

That logic has been at work for four centuries now in Protestantism. Barth merely reacted to that logic without drawing the full logic of what he had seen unfold as a historic fact. Much less could he be expected to draw that logic in the full glare of publicity. Indeed, only in strict privacy did a prominent Barthian, whose name I am not at liberty to divulge, disclose to me his suspicion that naturalism is the real outcome of Protestantism. Naturalism is also the chief harm which liberalism is producing in Catholic theology.

The optimist view of human nature which is fostered in liberalism forces the liberal theologian to be silent on hell. If he speaks of heaven he describes it as a place into which everybody would slide almost naturally and almost insensibly. Naturalism lurks between the lines of such a statement in the sermon delivered at the funeral service of Jacqueline Kennedy that we all should be "filled with gratitude for the graces lavished upon Jacqueline and through her upon us all, and most of all gratitude for the gift of salvation that God has won for Jacqueline."(15) Lackeying to the rich, the powerful, and the glamourous (especially when it flies in the face of matters public and obvious) does not seem to jibe with Paul's warning that we all should work on our salvation "with fear and trembling." But this warning is hardly echoed even in modest contexts. Liberalism in theology translates itself into "politically correct," that is, plainly naturalist language when at a typical Christian burial not a word is being said about judgment, particular or final. The resurrection of the body will then become a prospect for all, since liberal theology overemphasizes the Catholic doctrine that nobody is condemned for personal fault.

What is the common theological trait of all these manifestations of liberalism in theology? It is the upsetting of the balance between the natural and the supernatural. As a theological term the supernatural was coined by medieval scholastic theologians, especially by Thomas Aquinas. Liberal theologians see in the medieval provenance of that term the Achilles' heel of the traditional doctrine that grace, being the utterly gratuitous gift of God, is not merited. But if one can argue against anything medieval just because it is medieval, then the twentieth-century liberal cannot protest if his views are slighted at the outset for their being no less time-conditioned.

At any rate, the medieval scholastic teaching about the relation between the natural and the supernatural was a very balanced doctrine. It was Thomas Aquinas who insisted that the supernatural, the grace of God, does not destroy but lifts up what is merely natural: Gratia non destruit sed elevat naturam. The liberal does not necessarily deny this, but goes on arguing that if the supernatural can raise the natural, then the natural must have a receptivity for the supernatural.

But the question is precisely this: can the receptivity be interpreted in such a way as to endanger the utter gratuity of grace? Clearly, one is faced with what conceptually is an insoluble dilemma. One is faced with the task of a balancing act, with the duty similar to the one which Christ enjoined when he said: "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Concerning this particular question, or the question of Church-State relations, their long history shows that a perfect balance could not be perfectly articulated and much less acted out. The same is true with respect to the relation between the natural and the supernatural.

This means that those who insist on unfolding in full the receptivity of nature to the supernatural shall forever have material to work on. They can always claim that the last word, in all particulars, has not yet been stated. This is perfectly true. No matter how perfect a dogmatic formula is, the reality or truth which it conveys is always deeper than our verbalizations of it. Hamlet's phrase, "to be or not to be," can forever be put in a better or deeper light, precisely, because that verb "to be," no matter how clear it may be by itself, shall forever fall short of the depth of meaning which is included in the reality of existence, especially when seen against the very real possibility of nonexistence.

But, although it is always legitimate to emphasize the receptivity of nature to the supernatural, there remains always the risk that the emphasis will entail the turning of the supernatural into a fruit of that receptivity, destroying thereby its genuinely supernatural character. Indeed, some of the best liberal theologians, such as De Lubac, whose sincere loyalty to Pope and orthodoxy is above any doubt, did not succeed in presenting their work on that receptivity in such a way as to allay legitimate fears that they had not indeed safeguarded the supernatural. In other words, in this human condition there will always be a struggle, a sort of a fluctuation between two possible approaches while both approaches ought to be cultivated carefully. But since a perfect balance is not possible, one is going to make a mistake. The question is whether the mistake one will have to make will be bigger or smaller. Is there a guideline which assures us that the mistake will be smaller rather than larger?

I think there is such a guideline. One of its best formulations, which is very relevant to our topic—liberalism and theology—is due to Saint Bonaventure, the great Franciscan Doctor of the Church. He gave that guideline in the context of his discussion of the relation of grace and free will, this most acute aspect of the relation between the natural and the supernatural:

However much you ascribe to the grace of God, you will not harm piety by so doing.... If, on the contrary, you wrong grace by crediting nature with what belongs to grace, there is danger.... Even though (the former) position were false, it would not harm piety or humility; it is therefore fitting and safe to hold it.(16)

This was also the principle which Newman followed in deciding the great issue whether he was to join the Catholic Church. The issue was between the natural and the supernatural. He saw that if there was any progress in the Church of England it was towards the shallows of naturalism. Within that Church, ruled by the ruling social class and political establishment, the gentleman took the place of the saint as the ideal to follow. The norms of the gentleman were the norms of mere nature. But from the very start the Church held high norms which implied a rise above nature, a rise which only the supernatural grace of God could implement. The process was best implemented in the saints. This is why Newman kept saying: "Be my soul with the saints!"(17)

Herein lies in simple terms the solution to the relation between theology and liberalism. Take any old or modern saint. Take, for instance, Mother Teresa, whom everybody would consider a living saint. She is heroic, she is daring, she is compassionate, she is understanding—qualities which liberals like to ascribe to themselves. But a liberal she cannot be called, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination. And all the liberals in the Church know that her heroic virtues present a far greater threat to them than all the non-liberal theologians taken together. And this is why liberal theologians poured out a good dosage of their sophisticated scorn when the road was opened for Newman's eventual canonization after Rome declared that he had heroically practiced Christian virtues.

For what are the saints, or rather, what are the saints in the Church? Let us use a comparison which, because of its modernity, may sound very liberal. In olden days the Church was likened to a boat, to a bark, to a ship. It has become a classic to speak of the bark of Peter, with the pope at its helm, a bark tossed around by the waves but always remaining afloat and always making some progress in spite of adverse and treacherous currents. Let us be modern, liberal, if you wish, and speak of the Church as a car, an automobile. Clearly, the steering mechanism would be the pope and the bishops in union with him. The frame would be the ecclesiastical organization into dioceses and parishes. The motor would be the sacraments. The grace of God would be the gasoline. But the saints would be the spark plugs that keep igniting the motor. Indeed, throughout Church history it was the saints who kept the motor of the Church really running, a motor which in its spiritual form too should be revitalized at every split second, or else it will come to a stop.

A great many things can be said in support of theological liberalism, or rather of theologians who are typically classified as liberals. They provided many new perspectives, say, on Church-State relations. They supplied enthusiasm for the elaboration of Catholic social teaching. They made largely possible a much-needed dialogue with non-Catholics, with non-Christians, and even with atheists. They, and not the so-called conservatives, made the Church ready to accommodate itself to an increasingly pluralistic society, not only in the West but all across the globe. This is not to say that liberals carry no serious responsibility for much of the disorder in the Church and for much of the misunderstanding about the Church as seen from the outside. They and not the conservatives spread the illusion that the Church is another democratic society whose laws and constitution can be redrawn by opinion polls and majority vote.

But the most serious failure of liberal theology and liberal theologians lies in their chronic inability to generate saints. The reason for this lies in their undue focusing on the value of the natural. Because of this they are unable to see the difference between any ordinary coin and the coin which Jesus Christ spoke of. On any ordinary coin the two sides are equal. But one side of the coin Jesus spoke of, has the name of God on it, a God who is not man's equal, but his very Creator. This is why liberals have always been insufficiently attentive to those words of Christ that made all saints: What does it profit a man if he gains the world but in the process he loses his very soul? Ordinary coins can be exchanged at will and pleasure. But there is one exchange for which there is no liberal provision, about which there is no analogy in the free market economy advocated by liberals: If a man tries to obtain something for his very self, to recall Christ's words again, he receives nothing in return. Herein lies the root of the ultimate bankruptcy of liberal theology. Its basic trading policy is far more deceptive than the foolish gesture whereby a whole orchard is given away for a mere apple. We know what happened to Adam and Eve. It is liberals, not conservatives who are turning our first parents into mythical figures, and keep reinterpreting their foolish bargain so that it may appear, if not a good investment, at least something of no real consequence.

I am not saying that liberal theology, unless it is plain modernism, offers divinity for man. But by overemphasizing the natural it puts the plain Christian on a roller coaster which goes up and down, although it never climbs as fast as it rushes downward and can never regain its original height. It is also bound to come to a stop at the lowest level of its course. The opposite dynamics has been the specialty of the saints. It is not the dynamics of an easy soaring all the time. Rather it is the dynamics of re-engaging every day in a struggle that goes on until the end of each and every life.

That there is such a battle, such a struggle, is stated in the documents of Vatican II, indeed, in its most celebrated, most often quoted document, which begins with the words "Gaudium et spes" (joy and hope). There in paragraph 37 we read the statement, hardly joyful but never forgotten in the Church, except perhaps now and then, in a moment of liberal euphoria, like the early 1960s. The statement is preceded by a warning about the temptations of "progress,"(18) this great liberal catch-word:

While human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation . . . thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.(19)
And now to the statement itself:

For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good. Nor can he achieve his own integrity without valiant efforts and the help of God's grace.

The statement describes the most realistic aspect of human existence and human history. But precisely because of this, grave questions can be raised about the statement. Why is it that a Council, whose documents occupy at least twenty thousand lines, had only six lines for what according to the Council itself is the most real aspect of human history?

This question should seem all the more pertinent as the Council's stated aim was a reorientation of the Church to the modern world. Was the modern world not part of that monumental struggle? Why then only six lines about that struggle, out of more than twenty thousand lines? The answer lies with those who drafted that document, most of them leading liberal theologians. They were part of the euphoria of the sixties, just as the Church is always part of the world, so much so that in the Kingdom of God the wheat and the cockles keep growing together until the end of time. For the Evil One keeps sowing the bad seeds. The Evil One has indeed been so active in post-Vatican II times as to prompt Paul VI to state, about twenty years ago, that the Devil was loose in the Church. No wonder that the statement quoted above is prominently quoted in the New Catechism.(20) What was almost hidden, is now being proclaimed from the rooftops.

Such topics are not favorites with liberal theologians. And while such topics are not foreign to conservatives, they all too often act in reference to such topics as if they were so many liberals. In brief, liberal theologians practically deny original sin, whereas the conservatives plan and act and dream as if original sin did not exist. Conservatives love to dream about a total renewal of society. How many times have we heard this expression during the last twenty-five years! Yet this is the kind of expression which should be eliminated from the dictionary of true conservatives. It is an expression which only gives illusions. The U.S. Presidential elections of 1992 and the recent Polish and Hungarian elections proved only too well that big and small countries will not fail to give new opportunities to some very evil factors to rekindle a struggle that goes on until the end of time.

The struggle is between selfishness and generosity or self-sacrifice. The ensuing problems that, as if they were an epidemic, are increasingly plaguing individual and family life are not fashionable topics for liberals, who are always on the side of permissiveness. Let me talk about the economic struggle, a less personal matter. A mere ten years after Vatican II closed and Paul VI appealed for a definitive "breaking of the hellish circle of poverty," the city of Rome hosted the World Food Conference. Its aim was to find means of alleviating hunger in many parts of the world. Everybody looked to the U.S. for help. But Earl Butz, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, told the needy nations: "If you've got the money, we've got the food."(21) No food was to be bartered for mere good will, for mere gratitude, because in such a barter only such givers could benefit who appreciated rewards mainly to be had in heaven.

But let me return to those mere six lines in that Vatican II document. Their shortness was similar to the brevity with which such doctrines as purgatory and hell were treated there. Twenty years later, Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the architects of those documents, admitted that something went wrong, and indeed very wrong.(22) This should be no surprise. In all the ecumenical Councils, without any exception, many things did not turn out as well as one would expect. Every Church historian knows this. In fact liberal theologians are the most critical of all Councils, with the exception of Vatican II. If they criticize it, it is only because it did not provide for the automatic convocation of an even more liberal Vatican III.

Vatican II was in large part the Council of liberals. They therefore carry the chief responsibility for the strain which has since heavily sapped the strength of the Church. As a result the Church has been left largely unprepared for the perils of liberalism, which, when realized, do not appear much less destructive than the perils of totalitarian materialist regimes. But to expect that liberal theologians would ever write liberally about the problems inherent in that strain would be equivalent to taking, of all places, the ranks of liberal theologians. There are far more reliable seating accommodations in the Church which has the duty to conserve the great deposit of Faith about a very supernatural salvation.

1. Veritatis splendor #4. See official English translation, The Splendor of Truth (Boston, MA: St. Paul Books and Media, 1993), p. 13.

2. R. Muir, Liberalism and Industry: Towards a Better Social Order (London: Constable, 1920), p. 15.

3. Dorothy Thompson's Political Guide—A Study of American Political Liberalism and its Relationship to Modern Totalitarian States (New York: Stackpole Sons, 1938), p. 77.

4. Polanyi did so in his "The Logic of Liberty" which later appeared as "Perils of Inconsistency" in his collection of essays, The Logic of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951).

5. M. R. Cohen, The Faith of a Liberal (New York: H. Holt, 1946), p. 437.

6. Newman's speech is reprinted in W. Ward, John Henry Cardinal Newman (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912), vol. 2, pp. 458-62.

7. J. H. Newman, Difficulties of Anglicans, see new edition with introduction and notes by S. L. Jaki (Clinton, MI: Real View Books, 1994), p. 218.

8. J. H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Dogma (new ed.: London: Basil Montague Pickering, 1978), p. 40.

9. J. H. Newman, The Via Media and the Anglican Church (new ed.; London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1896), vol. 1, p. xl.

10. J. H. Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (Garden City, NY: Doubleday), p. 320.

11. E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (New York: Seabury Press, 1979).

12. For instance, A Marginal Jew (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1991), by John P. Meier, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Washington DC, and The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (San Francisco: Harper, 1991) by John D. Crossan, professor of biblical studies at De Paul University, Chicago. To crown the "liberal" irony, the latter book is advertised as "the first comprehensive determination of who Jesus was, what he did, what he said."

13. See on this my booklet The Virgin Birth and the Birth of Science (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1990), pp. 17-19.

14. See my The Keys of the Kingdom (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1986), pp. 174 and 205.

15. This statement of Father Walter F. Moodrys S.J., at the funeral mass in St. Ignatius Church, New York City, May 23,1994, should seem particularly "liberal" in view of the prominent presence, at the mass as well as at the burial, of Mr. Maurice Tempelsman, a diamond magnate, who, although married, was Mrs. Kennedy's "intimate" companion for the past ten or so years.

16. See. E. Gilson, La philosophie de Saint Bonaventure (Paris: J. Vrin, 1926), pp. 456- 57. The quotation is from Bonaventure's commentaries on Peter Lombard's Sentences II, 26, un. 2. conclusio. This is not the only passage in which Bonaventure spoke in that very same vein.

17. Newman, Difficulties of Anglicans, p. 259.

18. For details on those temptations as evidenced by the deification of Progress during the last two hundred years, see my The Purpose of It All (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1990), ch. 1.

19. The Documents of Vatican II, ed. W. M. Abbott (New York: Guild Press, 1966), p. 235.

20. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #409.

21. In 1974. Quoted in A. S. Miller, Gaia Connections: An Introduction to Ecology, Ecoethics, and Economics (Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), p. 173.

22. V. Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985).

(July 1994)
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Socrates or the Baby and the Bathwater

By Stanley L. Jaki

Three widely differing modern interpretations of Socrates are analyzed together with a failure common to all three. Had the Marxist F. Stone, the rationalist K. R. Popper, and the Catholic R. Guardini paid attention to the true nature of Socrates' argumentation in Phaedo, they would have noticed his historic mistake. It was to throw out the baby (science) with the bathwater (mechanistic philosophy). The mistake became corrected in a culture steeped in the cult of the Babe born in Bethlehem.

Jesus and Socrates

That every book is autobiographical is the substance of a longer observation in Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, a spiritual biography in spite of its title.(1) The remark has some applicability even to the four canonical biographies of the Word made Flesh. The young man who in Mark's Gospel lets his nightgown be grabbed by Jesus' captors and runs away naked is very likely Mark himself. Had Luke not been a physician, he might not have paid special attention to the miraculous healings performed by Jesus.

That Jesus aimed above all at a moral healing of man and taught it most effectively by His own death has always been the principal reason for drawing a parallel between him and Socrates. Nothing extols more justly the greatness of Socrates than Kierkegaard's apparent slighting of him: "If God had not come himself, all the relations would have remained on the Socratic level."(2)

For the level was very high, and certainly so intellectually. Each of the great Greek philosophical schools—the Platonists, the Aristotelians, the Epicurean atomists, and the Stoics to all of whom Western thought owes so much—took Socrates for inspiration. There were, of course, other war heroes like Socrates, there were other men of wisdom, there were others who died bravely though perhaps not with the same calm as he did. But no one from classical antiquity is remembered as having matched Socrates' resolve to avoid, as if it were "the poisonous bite of a Tarantula,"(3) the vice of homosexuality in which the classical world saw the noblest form of love.

On this point no ancient or modern critic charged Xenophon, whose writings on Socrates constitute one of the two chief surviving sources, for having injected himself into Socrates' story. But in many other respects Xenophon was very much "autobiographical," a reason why his writings on Socrates have been much less commented upon than is the case with the other chief source, Plato's four dialogues known as Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Yet even these have not been immune to the charge that they are more the record of Plato's ideas than of Socrates.

Undoubtedly it was Socrates who drank the hemlock and not Plato, doubtful as one may be about the motivations which Plato ascribes to Socrates for that heroic act. The variety of motivations ascribed to Socrates in the remote and recent past may seem to constitute a further proof of the validity of Butler's remark. It should be enough to take the very different views offered on Socrates by three such different thinkers and personalities as Stone, Popper, and Guardini. Yet they are at one in missing something most decisive in the thinking of Socrates in reference to his death, the very point to be explored in this essay because of its great cultural significance.

A Marxist Socrates

As to the recent American bestseller, The Trial of Socrates, its thesis may appear a foregone conclusion if one recalls that its author earned his living for much of his life as the editor of I. F. Stone's Weekly, a muckraking leftist New York journal. At the very start of his book Stone voices his hope about the eventual realization of a social system in which Marx and Jefferson are the two leading lights.

Plato has always been high on the list of compulsory readings for Marxists. Plato's ideal state as described in the Republic and the Laws could easily appear as an anticipation of regimented Marxist society. Since it is regimented, it has also to be elitist, a point which Marxists try in vain to gloss over. But for Stone, Socrates is not only an elitist but also a most skillful elitist who goads the working-democracy of Athens into condemning him to death for exercising the basic right of democracy which is free speech: "Socrates looks more like a picador enraging a bull than a defendant trying to mollify the jury."(4)

Marxist writers have always loved working in democracies that worked. Obviously, it is in their best interest to discredit anyone who either by his arguments or by his outstanding comportment exposes their double standards which is to take full advantage of a working democracy while doing their best to undermine it. Not one of them likes to recognize boomerangs in those very weapons that were supposed to serve as foolproof instruments for bringing about the ultimate triumph of the proletariat. Champions of perestroika must have nightmares on realizing that today they are beaten with their most vaunted strategy or technique.

Have not those champions been taught that the tools of production determine the outcome of history? Are they not at last seeing that Marxism is being beaten by the new physics and the semiconductor technology built on it? Is it not evident that the technology in question can be developed and kept explosively productive only through the free flow of information, the very last thing compatible with a closed society?

But these are precisely the points not seen by Stone, a political ideologue and a stranger to science and technology. Consequently, Stone makes the preposterous claim that Socrates chose death because he was tired of life.5 Stone deliberately slights what Socrates really looked for and the principal argument he afforded on behalf of that outlook. The latter has an eerie relevance for this scientific age, which Stone and other humanists, Marxists as well as Christians, still have to discover. But this is to anticipate.

A Popperian Socrates

It may seem more puzzling that the argument in question was completely missed by Popper whom many in our times take for the definitive philosopher of science. The points of definitive validity which, according to Popper, are made by Socrates can readily be gathered from Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies. Among the points are the principle of falsifiability and Socrates' commitment to teaching "that the spirit of science is criticism."(6) But if Socrates was so Popperian and so intent on science, the extent of his knowledge of the science of his time must have been considerable.

Popper's failure to raise the question about that extent and probe into it should seem baffling for several reasons. One is that Popper admits only one philosophy, namely the one which has science for its sole object. Another reason is that Socrates was very much concerned about science. In fact science was Socrates' supreme concern in his supreme hour. To ignore that concern of Socrates should seem all the more serious if one is to grant at least a modicum of truth to a remark of Xenophon suggesting the very opposite. According to Xenophon, Socrates recommended to his followers the study of astronomy only insofar as it provided useful information for everyday life: "To continue the study of astronomy so far as to distinguish the bodies which do not move in the same circle with the heaven, the planets, and the irregular stars, and to weary ourselves in inquiring into their distances from the earth, the periods of their revolutions, and the causes of all these things, was what he greatly discountenanced."(7)

Popper's failure to consider Socrates' real concern about science may suggest that perhaps Popper's own chief concern is not so much the criticism of science but criticism for the sake of criticism. Such a criticism can serve as a sophisticated foil against facing up to points of fundamental validity. It should be no secret to anyone familiar with The Logic of Scientific Discovery that whenever Popper faces up to criticism as a means for establishing a truth to which all must bow, he sidesteps the issue. He does not want to cast a vote on behalf of that closed society which sets limits, in the name of universally valid truths and norms, to the individual's unbridled pursuit of his own individualism.

Popper holds high individualism as he identifies Socrates' foremost leading principle as the conviction that "it is better to be a victim of injustice than to inflict it upon others." Then Popper adds: "I think it is this last doctrine which can help us best to understand the core of his teaching, his creed of individualism, his belief in the human individual as an end in himself."(8)

Of course, Popper does not mean by this anything similar to the Christian conviction about the sacredness of the individual. At any rate, Popper holds that Socrates' death was the ultimate proof of his sincerity. "He showed that a man could die, not only for fate and fame and other grand things of this kind, but also for the freedom of critical thought," if not for the principle of falsification, one would be tempted to add. Popper injects into the story of Socrates' death his own thinking about democracy as an "open society." In fact he injects himself into that story so deeply as to see only his thoughts in the most decisive turn of that story, which comes when Socrates is given the opportunity to escape. According to Popper, had Socrates seized that opportunity "and become an exile, everybody would have thought him an opponent of democracy. So he stayed and stated his reasons."(9)

In recounting those reasons Popper is not at all eager to dwell on the overriding perspective and preoccupation of Socrates: the individual soul's eternal responsibility. The latter meant for Socrates either an eternal peace of mind, or a never ceasing remorse of conscience. Moreover, Socrates was ready to probe fully the materialist (and therefore Popperian) objection to the soul's immortality. The essence of the objection, in Socrates' very words, was a particular interpretation of "the subject of the causes of generation and decay,"(10) a subject undoubtedly scientific. And possibly because Socrates made even more unscientific whatever was scientific in the contemporary understanding of that subject, Popper had to pass over the matter, lest he make appear ridiculous his presentation of Socrates as a champion of the scientific spirit.

An Idealist Socrates

Romano Guardini, another important modern interpreter of Socrates' trial and death, certainly cannot be suspected of being uneasy about the question of the immortality of the soul. With his book, The Death of Socrates, he hoped to lead a modern world, but especially his adopted country, Germany, devastated and decimated by World War II, to the vision of something in man that survives death. Guardini tried to achieve this most noble aim by reconstructing as closely as possible Socrates' state of mind in the process of taking one step after another toward his being condemned to death and the implementation of his death sentence. Guardini proceeds most meticulously. He offered, with many quotations, a step by step analysis of Euthyphro, of the Apology, of Crito, and of Phaedo, all with subheadings, lest anything be missed by the reader as the interpretation develops. Guardini's reader will, however, miss the crucial point by being endlessly reminded of the Platonic essence or eidos.

In Euthyphro Socrates allows Euthyphro suspect that he, Socrates, is not in quest of a particular form of piety but of its essence. It is the question of essence which for Guardini is, and rightly so, the basic idea in those four dialogues. It reappears in Socrates' three defense speeches, recorded in the Apology, in reference to truth and to the duty to speak truthfully in harmony with that divine voice that speaks through man's conscience. Even more so does the idea of essence take the center stage in Crito, especially when Socrates declines the offer to make use of the opportunity to escape. His reason is that the act of escaping would contradict his very essence which is manifested in his life-long commitment to solving ethical problems.

It is here that the immortality of that essence or soul comes into sharpest focus, a point that dominates Phaedo throughout. It does so both through the objections of Cebes and Simmias to the immortality of the soul and through Socrates' replies. Socrates first tries to prove the soul's immortality from the principle of the generation of opposites. Socrates' friends remain unimpressed by his reference to the Egyptian practice of embalming the body as suggestive of the soul's immortality. He makes no better impression on them by referring to the mind's ability to recall ideal, that is, essential forms or absolute forms of things which cannot be seen by bodily eyes.

Socrates himself realizes that a far better argument is needed. That it will be such is signaled by Guardini through the subheading, "The answer to Cebes and the decisive argument."(11) To call that argument "decisive" certainly fits the existentialist setting in which Socrates presents it. The setting reveals him to be at a decisive stage of his life, indeed at a point where he turns from youth into man, in more than one sense.

Socrates recalls that as a young man he had a passionate desire for the wisdom which he hoped to find in the study of physical science. But he obviously needed a shock, a sudden disillusion, if he was to extricate himself from the trap in which his infatuation with physical science had landed him. The blow came from his hearing somebody read aloud a book, called Mind, by Anaxagoras, the latest and most impressive among pre-Socratic physikoi. Young Socrates eagerly listened in the hope that finally he would hear of a physics which explains processes with a reference to a mind which always acts for a purpose and therefore accounts in the deepest possible sense for the question why this and that happens: "If we wish to discover the cause of the generation or destruction or existence of a thing we must discover how it is best for that thing to exist, or to act, or to be acted on".(12)

But as he was sitting on the bed in the cell in which he was soon to drink the hemlock, he recalled that he had had "all his splendid hopes dashed." To illustrate the haplessness he had felt as a young man, he assured his friends that on the basis of the enlightenment provided by physics he would have long ago escaped: "For, by the dog of Egypt, I think that these muscles and bones would long have been in Megara or Boeotia, prompted by their opinion of what is best, if I had not thought it better and more honourable to submit myself to whatever penalty the state inflicts, rather than escape by flight."(13)

After quoting these lines from Phaedo, Guardini offers his comment: Socrates went to the philosophers of nature with fundamental philosophical questions about the existence of things and their origin. In listing those questions Guardini does not mention the one about the purpose of things or about their being for their very best. Socrates had to find, Guardini states, that those philosophers understood by their looking for the arrangement of things by reason or the Mind "the reference of empirical phenomena to ultimate, metaphysically conceived constituents, such as water, air, fire, and so forth." In Guardini's reconstruction those philosophers "practised, therefore, a kind of mythological physics—and Socrates got no answer to his questions."(14) He had to realize, Guardini continues, that questions about beings and their nature "cannot be deduced from any analysis of their component parts." He is in the prison because "he has come to see clearly the ethical eidos which contains both the imperative, that which ought to be, and the 'best' for himself, that is, the meaningful."(15)

The rest of Guardini's comment is an elaboration on the eidos or the Platonic substance which as such has to be immortal. It is a comment that signally fails to do justice to the fact that Socrates did not want merely to restate his belief in the immortality of the soul with a reference, however dramatic, to his youthful experience, but wanted to give, in Guardini's very words, a "decisive argument."

The decisive argument

That Guardini was to miss that decisive argument was foreshadowed by his failure to quote from Phaedo a crucial passage of over twenty lines that precede Socrates' reference to his dashed hopes. The passage is introduced by Socrates' remark, already quoted, that Anaxagoras' reference to Mind as the guiding principle of Nature could only mean that a true physics of Nature should find everything in Nature arranged for the best. The passage makes it clear that Socrates found most valuable a physics in which the principal concern is not, for instance, whether the earth is spherical and in the center of the universe, but whether both features are best for the earth. Socrates recalled that he also wanted to learn from Anaxagoras why was it best for the sun, the moon, and the stars to do their revolutions as they did. He was disappointed all the more so because he felt to be shortchanged by Anaxagoras on the all important point of what the role of mind, or understanding, was ultimately about: "I never thought that, when he said that things are ordered by Mind, he would introduce any reason for their being as they are, except that they are best so."(16)

Socrates (or Plato) utterly failed to realize that his identification of understanding as a means of registering purpose and, consequently, as a decisive proof of the immortality of the individual soul, was to undermine the credibility of his argumentation. It was also to steer, by the same stroke, discourse about nature into a bottomless morass. The latter is usually the product of equivocations or of misplaced analogies, in this case the heedless application of the same word "best" to inanimate and animate, and in fact, to spiritual acts. And since Guardini did not have for his expertise that discourse, or science, and much less its history, he failed to note Socrates' failure and the enormous threat it posed to culture. Yet Guardini's own German cultural ambience should have alerted him to that threat. Was it not the German idealists—Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel—who tried to replace Newtonian physics with a physics of purposes in which not a single paragraph was free of absurdities?(17)

In offering his "decisive" argument Socrates performed a most un-Socratic, that is, unwise turn, a turn with fateful consequences for Greek as well as early Western intellectual history. What that "decisive" argument led to has been taken very lightly by almost all readers of Phaedo except some very attentive ones. Of course, the reader must be especially attentive, which is not an easy task for most readers of Platonic dialogues, full of repetitions and conversationalist platitudes. Their attention may already be flagging by the time they reach the point in Phaedo where Socrates suddenly changes tactics. Instead of developing in full his "decisive" argument, foreshadowed in his questions about what was best for the earth, the sun and other bodies, he begs for licence to shift to another argument, which he calls "the second string to my bow."(18) He merely plucks again an old string as he waxes prolific on the idea of an absolute that alone explains any class of existents insofar as they embody such general properties as beauty, quantity, good, and so forth.

Plato's occasional sophistry, if not wishful thinking, is nowhere more visible in the entire Phaedo than in his portrayal of Cebes' surrender to a proof of the immortality of the soul which he had already rejected. Plato's only excuse may lie in the fact that he had written Phaedo a decade or two before he wrote Timaeus. There he speaks of the universe as an animated being acting for its own good which he leaves unspecified. Yet the pages which in Phaedo immediately precede Socrates' preparation for death, Plato puts in Socrates' mouth a myth in which one can recognize that good about which Socrates had just claimed that he could not find out either from others or from himself.

The myth is about the interior of the earth, full of streams and cavities, so many passage ways and abodes for the souls according to their good or bad record.(19) In other words, the only good that can be meaningfully known about the earth or physical reality in general is, according to Socrates, a markedly spiritual or, rather, biological or organismic metaphor. The only question that should be asked about physical reality is its suggesting, and in a rather primitive manner, the eternal good of the soul or its eternal punishment. It was that perspective that in Socrates' eyes justified decisively his belief in the immortality of the soul and made him ready to drink the hemlock. A classic case of an anti-reductionist trying to achieve his aim by endorsing a different kind of reductionism.

Antiscientific failure of nerve

Socrates drank the poison without losing composure even for a moment, an undoubtedly heroic act. Yet the reasoning underlying that act included a failure of nerve with respect to the investigation of physical reality. The impact which Socrates made on classical antiquity and beyond always carried with it that failure, or an absence of what William James memorably called "tough-minded" mentality. All major intellectual trends of post-Socratic antiquity are an example.

The most obvious case is that of the Epicureans. For all their fondness for atomism, they initiated no systematic search into the constitution of matter or a consistent discourse about an atomistically constituted universe. They did not because of their fear that thereby they would deprive existence of purpose. The Stoics let the universe be subject to periodic conflagrations while they bravely tried to find purpose in cosmic ashes. The Platonists, especially their brand initiated by Plotinus, tried to find purpose in a process which suggested the very opposite: They as a man shied away from the physical universe as an object of inquiry with any purpose. Plotinus was in particular praised by his biographer, Porphyry, for cultivating only the theoretical parts of the sciences.

Even the Aristotelians, whose leader so resolutely pointed at the terrestrial ground as the starting point of all knowledge, failed to break out of the perspective set by Socrates. With Aristotle too the primary questions about purpose could only be saved if all is supposed to be permeated with purpose. Such is the basis of Aristotle's doctrine of natural places and natural motions, a doctrine that put the study of physics into a straitjacket for almost two millennia.(20) It was no accident that Aristotle discussed the free fall of bodies in terms of their nature or propensities. Worse, he gave a quantitative touch to that intellectually perverse enterprise of his. A body, so Aristotle claims in On the Heavens, which has twice as much mass as another body, will fall twice as fast toward the center of the earth, its natural place owing to its twice larger nature or propensity.(21)

Aristotle's reasoning was perverse not only because it flew in the face of everyday evidence, but also because it revealed some perversity in man's nature. The perversity consists in man's inability to show intellectual humility in the face of the fact that man's knowledge of reality has various aspects that conceptually cannot be reduced to one another. Why, one may ask, did Socrates fail to oppose Anaxagoras with a distinguo: the mechanistic (quantitative) features of things and processes were one thing, an exclusively mechanistic philosophy of existence another. Could Socrates not have espoused the former while rejecting the latter?

The baby and the bathwater

The question is the one about the baby and bathwater. Was it necessary to throw out the baby, or the quantitative study of matter, just because that study was immersed in a dirty bathwater which, in this case, was not even of the baby's own making? Should it not have been obvious to separate the two and save the quantitatively exact study of matter as a most valuable enterprise?

Had Socrates and his many admirers perceived this, intellectual as well as political history would have been very different. As to the former, thinking about scientific method might not have become restricted to the principle of "saving the phenomena" which barred the consideration of real physical causes. For that restriction the lop-sided Socratic program of "saving purpose" bears a heavy responsibility.

As to political history, it should be enough to consider the following question: What if the colonizing urge of the Greeks had gone hand in hand with expertise in the science of motion, or specifically in the science of ballistics? About the latter even an Archimedes had only some practical rules and, what is most important, he loathed being involved in constructing machines. The static of floating bodies he developed meant no breakthrough toward that science which becomes true to itself only by dealing successfully with that physical world all of whose parts are constantly in motion.

The Babe behind the baby

That there lay a moral failure behind the Greeks' inability to give birth to science, which is either the science of motion or hardly science at all, is amply brought out by scientific history. The first of Newton's three laws of motion was formulated in a medieval theological context, which, let us not forget, is always a context of divine grace aimed at healing man's various failings, of which one of them is the failure to see the obvious and all too often to resist it. It is against this background that one should see Buridan's epoch-making commentaries on Aristotle's On the Heavens, which is a most systematic celebration of the eternity and divinity of the cosmos and a relentless unfolding of some stupefying "scientific" consequences of that cosmic vision.

In rejecting Aristotle's claim about the eternity of the universe, Buridan was sustained by a long Christian tradition about the creation of the universe out of nothing and in time. Buridan, however, went one step further than the theologians by also asking the question about the how of the beginning of all motion. Duhem's great pioneering studies, now almost a century old, of Buridan's feat and its impact on Copernicus, Descartes, and Galileo, and indirectly on Newton, cannot be reviewed here in detail.(22) Let it merely be noted that Buridan's belief in creation out of nothing and in time was a Christian belief, a belief rooted in the Babe of Bethlehem.(23)

As a Christian, Buridan believed in that Babe as the only begotten Son of God. In and through that belief Buridan had a powerful safeguard against the temptation of taking the universe for a begetting, that is, for an emanation from the divine principle. That temptation of pantheism, to which all pagans of classical antiquity fell a ready prey, ruined their religion as well as their science. To that temptation Jewish and Muslim scholars put up a far from convincing opposition.

It should therefore be easy to understand that in these modern or post-Christian times, so heavily infected with pantheism, one witnesses the Socratic "turn" both in its original form and also in its reverse. In its original form it is resurrected by the proliferation of cosmic gnosticism which is all too often the ideology behind sundry efforts to save the earth from ecological threats. In its reverse the Socratic turn is at work in the infatuation with quantitative patterns which in our times all too often serves as an excuse for ignoring considerations about purpose and values. Patterns, invariably quantitative or statistical, serve as justification for outright contempt for values, especially for ones hallowed by Christian moral tradition.

Indeed, post-Christian modern man finds it practically impossible to recognize the respective rights of quantitative considerations as well as of genuine value judgments. Engrossed with patterns, which he takes for substitutes for values, modern man throws out the baby of pure values, a baby invisible in the dirty water of scientistic reductionism. Modern man's predicament has been aggravated by many wrong cures which unwittingly point to the only effective remedy: It consists in a surrender to that Babe who as the Master from Nazareth challenged reductionism at its very core. He did so by pointing out the respect due to both sides of the tax coin or of any real coin for that matter. In doing so He set the pattern for a turn to which mankind, if it is to save its very purpose, must constantly return, and especially in this age which is not only the age of science but which, with every passing year, becomes even more scientific.

___________________________________________________ Endnotes

1. "Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself, the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him." Quoted from the Signet edition, New York, New American Library, 1960, p. 60.

2. S. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, tr. D. F. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946), p. 44.

3. See Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3, 12 in Everyman's Library edition, p. 22.

4. I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates (1988; New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 186.

5. Even Plato, Stone remarks, does not take seriously Socrates' mysticism in which death appears as a "doorway to unblurred vision" (ibid., p. 196).

6. K. R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), vol. 1, p. 185.

7. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 7, 4 in Everyman's Library edition, p. 147.

8. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. 1, p. 190.

9. Ibid., p. 194.

10. Phaedo, XLV. This and the subsequent quotations are from the translation by F. J. Church, in the Library of Liberal Arts (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1951), p. 48.

11. R. Guardini, The Death of Socrates, tr. B. Wrighton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1948), p. 142.

12. Phaedo, XLVI.

13. Ibid., XLVII.

14. Guardini, The Death of Socrates, p. 148.

15. Ibid., p. 149.

16. Phaedo, XLVI.

17. For details, see ch. 8 "The Illusions of Idealism," in my Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

18. Phaedo, XLVII.

19. Ibid., LVII.

20. For details, see ch. 1 in my The Relevance of Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

21. On the Heavens, 273b.

22. See ch. 10 in my Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984).

23. For further discussion, see my The Savior of Science (Washington: Regnery-Gateway, 1988).

Darwinists and ethics

“DARWINISTS for the most part still fail to recognize with T. H. Huxley in ethics something which should seem both an obvious fact and also an inescapable contradiction for Darwinism. On both counts ethical force, to recall Huxley’s words, is “the checking of the cosmic process at every step” and a substitution for it of another—the end of which is not the survival of the fittest . . . but of those who are ethically best.” Darwinists have no answer to this dilemma because the only answer—the recognition of a spiritual order in which man is more than mere matter—cannot come within their ken, a ken constructed to the specifications of strict materialism.”

~S. Jaki: Angels, Apes & Men, Ch. II.

Pascal: Man's nature

“IT is dangerous to make man see too clearly his equality with the brutes without showing him his greatness. It is also dangerous to make him see his greatness too clearly, apart from his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is very advantageous to show him both. Man must not think that he is on a level either with the brutes or with the angels, nor must he be ignorant of both sides of his nature; but he must know both.”

~Blaise Pascal: Pensées, No. 418. (Quoted by Jaki in Angels, Apes & Men)

Fr. STANLEY L. JAKI (1924-2009)

"Stanley Ladislas Jaki, a Hungarian-born Catholic priest of the Benedictine Order, was Distinguished University Professor at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. With doctorates in theology and physics, for over forty years he specialized in the history and philosophy of science. The author of over fifty books and over three hundred and fifty articles, he served as Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and as Fremantle Lecturer at Balliol College, Oxford. He lectured at major universities in the United States, Europe, and Australia. He was an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, membre correspondant of the Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts of Bordeaux, and the recipient of the Lecomte du Noüy Prize for 1970 and of the Templeton Prize for 1987."

~Biographical note from Real View Books. Continue reading here.