Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Avoiding Secularist Minimalism: Introduction

IN THE AREA OF NATURE AND GRACE, the Catholic must walk a via media, midway between the extremes of fideism, where all is grace, and a sort of naturalism, where all is nature. Luther is an example of one who erred by overemphasizing grace at the expense of nature. Pelagius is an example of one who erred by overemphasizing nature at the expense of grace. In the relationship between grace and nature we must adopt that wonderful axiom that seems to be at the heart of the Catholic system: when it comes to truths, it is not either/or, it is always both/and. Faith and Reason. God and Man. Freedom and Law. Nature and Grace.

It seems apparent then that our theology and our philosophy must be appropriately balanced. Theology--which deals with grace--must allow for nature: it cannot so guard jealously the totality of man so as to leave nothing of man for philosophy but dregs. Philosophy--which deals with nature--must allow for grace: it cannot regard nature as having no ordering to God as First Cause, as Final End, as Providential guide. In earlier posts, we saw how two of the most prestigious members of la nouvelle théologie, Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, overemphasized grace and ended up deprecating or minimizing nature to the point that it was nothing but a lifeless stump, a dry twig, hardly something that a philosopher could use to find a proportionate end. Nature had to be released from the capture by grace through the application of a classical Thomist theological model.

Picasso's "Charnel House" (1945)

Once nature is given its due by theology, however, we run into the question of how is reason, apart from faith or in cooperation with faith, to work with nature? Some philosophical systems, it seems, are unable to affirm the reality of nature, to determine its proximate natural end, to find in it guidance and meaning. A foundational metaphysical error will stymie any effort at developing a philosophical construct based upon nature. A Humean, for example, would find no ends, no oughts in nature, so what a Humean takes from nature will be nothing other than a series of interesting but ultimately unmeaning facts. Someone in the analytic tradition, we saw in a prior posting, does not have the philosophical tools, the philosophical method, to get anything substantive out of nature. As Steven A. Long summarizes it in his book Natura Pura, we are "checking Christian theology into the Graveyard Motel," a Charnel House, if we rely upon the enlightenment philosophies which overemphasize individualism (at the expense of the universal) and reject philosophical realism. These are not the starting points for understanding nature, whether these be "the immolation of the adequatio intellectus ad rem in Cartesian rationalism, Kantian a priorism, Humean skepticism, or Hegelian dialectics--as though these constituted the natural starting point for human knowledge." Long, 142. Additionally, we have another concern. We want to make sure that once nature is released from those who are jealous of grace, we do not fall into the opposite camp. We do not want to end up with an overweening nature that essentially diminishes, if not altogether quenches, the importance of grace. It is this particular problem we will address in the next series of blog postings. What we shall see is that we have to recover a realistic philosophy. Here, like Thomistic theology helped save nature from grace, a Thomistic philosophy may help save grace from nature.

Steven A. Long summarizes the concept of nature that we want preserved:

[T]he doctrine of natura pura is the double doctrine (1) that even here and now, in the concrete order, there is impressed upon each human person a natural order to the proximate, proportionate, natural end from which the species of man is derived, which is distinct from the final and supernatural end and (2) that this ordering could have been created outside of sanctifying grace and without the further ordering of man to supernatural beatific vision (the famed hypothesis of Cajetan [which we saw was the hypothesis of St. Thomas himself], although, from the beginning, the actual concrete order has been first one of man created in grace, and then subsequently fallen from grace, and restored and elevated in grace.

Long, 142-43. Long's greatest concern (and it ought to be the concern of every Christian) is to assure that nature is not captured by a "secularist minimalism," a danger which is very real given the philosophical presuppositions that confront us since the Enlightenment and its philosophies which can be unable to grasp, or can be positively hostile to, a notion of nature, especially a theonomic notion of nature, a notion of grace, and a notion of nature and grace.

Long defines "secularist minimalism" as follows:
Secularist minimalism is the privatization of revelation through a denial of its contribution to public life, law, culture, and the life of the mind--as though it were of a purely private import. It is particularly the denial that the Church's authoritative interpretation of the moral law, preaching, and witness to the life of supernatural faith, hope, and charity, and of all the virtues, can in any sense serve as a norm for public life.
Long, 143. Secularist minimalism might be said to be a form of social Pelagianism.

Long approaches this concern through the prism of three thinkers: Jacques Maritain, Jean Porter, and David Schindler, Jr. Jacques Maritain is chosen as representative of 20th century Thomism. Maritain advocated a notion of a "minimal purely practical consensus" in the order of nature which Long finds incompatible, or at least in undesirable tension with, Maritain's own espousal of Thomist principles. Jean Porter is chosen as a type of modern theologian who has sought to balance classical scholastic analysis with modern thought. David Schindler, Jr. is chosen as representative of the "Communio Circle."* Long sees in all three thinkers a characteristic or quality which affects their thought. These authors, and of course many who have learned from them or who hold the same presuppositions, "tend[] toward overstating the consaguinity of the theses of natura pura and of secularist minimalism in public life."

In practical terms, what this means is that Maritain, Porter, and Schindler would give short shrift to grace and revelation in public life. Gratia and the revelata, grace and revelation--and by implication the Ecclesia, the Church, especially in her role of authoritative interpreter of the natural law--end up having no real role.

*By "Communio Circle," Long refers to part of an international theological movement generally guided by the ideas espoused in the journal entitled Communio: International Catholic Review. The journal Communio was founded in the 1970s through the efforts of Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, Walter Kasper, Louis Bouyer, and others associated with la nouvelle théologie. The journal Communio was offered as an orthodox antidote to its theological rival, the journal Concilium, which--under that mantra "spirit of Vatican II," which seems to be a blanket excuse for, or an exoneration of, all manner of intellectual and theological sins--had by then ventured into heterodoxy. Concilium, a journal founded in 1965, was founded by Johann Baptist Metz, Anton van den Boogaard, Paul Brand, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Hans Küng. It seems that la nouvelle théologie ended up in a rift with advocates of Communio on one side and advocates of Concilium on the other.

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