Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman

John Henry Newman, when he preached his first ...
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John Henry Newman has now been declared Blessed, a step up from Venerable. I imagine the next move is towards canonization or sainthood and then after that, there’ll probably be a push to name him Doctor of the Church. John Allen at National Catholic Reporter has a bunch of interesting links.


Newman’s Oxford Sermon #1-Gospel’s Philosophical “temper”

The sermon, “The Philosophical Temper First Enjoined by the Gospel,” was preached July 2, 1826.

{1} FEW charges have been more frequently urged by unbelievers against Revealed Religion, than that it is hostile to the advance of philosophy and science. That it has discouraged the cultivation of literature can never with any plausibility be maintained, since it is evident that the studies connected with the history and interpretation of the Scriptures have, more than any others, led to inquiries into the languages, writings, and events of ancient times. Christianity has always been a learned religion; it came into the world as the offspring of an elder system, to which it was indebted for much which it contained, and which its professors were obliged continually to consult. The Pagan philosopher, on enrolling himself a member of the Christian Church, was invited, nay, required, to betake himself to a line of study almost unknown to the schools of Greece. The Jewish {2} books were even written in a language which he did not understand, and opened to his view an account of manners and customs very different from those with which he was familiar. The writings of the ancients were to be collected, and their opinions examined; and thus those studies which are peculiarly called learned would form the principal employment of one who wished to be the champion of the Christian faith. The philosopher might speculate, but the theologian must submit to learn.

 I think this is an interesting statement for an Oxford man. 19th century Oxford was a school for the Arts. Science was not it strong suit. It would be interesting to know what Newman understood by science (I wonder if he is thinking Bishop Joseph Butler and Bishop Paley of watchmaker analogy fame). There was a lot going on in Great Britain scientifically, including with folks like Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin.  This early we see Newman’s concern to bridge the gap the between faith and science, which I think he succeeds with his 1870 work As Essay in the Aid of a Grammar of Assent.

In general this sermon raises interesting questions and issues:

Continue reading “Newman’s Oxford Sermon #1-Gospel’s Philosophical “temper””

Mill and Aristotle

So my new bedtime reading was John Duns Scotus’ Questions on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. I did take a course on this particular work, but it was a major blur. I remember little if nothing. So in hopes of rekindling my relationship with Scotus I have decided to read his Questions. However, as with many philosophers, it is like walking into the middle or a pretty advanced conversation. So what to do.

In the meantime, my while-watching-TV reading is J.S. Mill’s A System of Logic. Which is actually quite enjoyable until you feel like, again, there’s a pretty major conversation that’s gone on before this. I’m just not sure with whom: Aristotle? Locke? Hume? Whewhell? Archbishop Whatley? I’ve decided that his conversation is foundationally with Aristotle. So . . .

My new bedtime reading is Aristotle’s Metaphysics. I also took a course on this book and I did understand it but I was an Aristotle novice at the time. I am rereading it and enjoying it and boy is shedding light on Scotus and Mill. Even words like “art” and “science” seem to have relevance for how Mill structures his argument on the nature of logic.

I do have a daily commute of about 3 hours. In the morning, I read the Washington Post, which is exquisitely delightful. On the return trip, I listen to NPR’s Planet Money podcast and now I am reading the Cambridge Companion to Locke. So Locke is my new commuter read. I do have to say that I hit a real snoozer of a paragraph the other day and it did not help that I was insanely sleepy. So why am I reading a companion to Locke and not Locke himself? I do want to and will read his Essay on human understanding. My experience with reading primary works is that it is generally better, but only if you plan to devote much time to it. I’m reading Locke to understand John Henry Newman, so I don’t want to waste time plumbing the depths of Locke when I could spend that time on something else. Mill and Scotus are people I do want to read and write on, but not Locke. After reading the companion, I’ll read the Essay itself.

Another person whose Cambridge companion anthology thingie I need to read is Kant. As distasteful as it sounds (i.e. reading Kant) I can’t (ha) get away from his issues and I certainly do not have time to waster reading him.

So there it is . . . Aristotle, Aristotle and more Aristotle. And by the way, I am really disturbed at the number of terms papers for sale out there. I googled Mill and Aristotle and ran into all these websites selling term papers doing comparisons on both men. Disturbing.

Science, Scientists, and Religion

Dan Gilgoff at US News and World Report blogged about the growing dissonance of scientists and religion. The percentage of scientists who believe in God is drastically less that the God-believing part of the population.

An eye-opening new Pew survey on science and religion reveals a huge God gap between scientists and other Americans. Eighty-three percent of Americans say that they believe in God, while just 33 percent of scientists do. Just 17 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, while nearly three times as many scientists are.

This is not surprising at all being that religion is fast losing credibility. The fact that an ungodly number of Americans, about 40%, do not accept evolution is astounding and is directly attributable to religion. For scientists, the question of evolution is a non-starter. Evolution occured. Period. So when they have to debate the fact of evolution, it is like debating that the earth is indeed round or that the earth revolves around the sun.

Also, the issue of the nature of the human being, i.e., the soul. That’s another that science and traditional Christianity have no middle ground in understanding the nature of the human person.

Until Christianity, especially Catholicism, take a step in honestly dealing with science, scientists will dismiss religion as credible. I suspect that most of these people consider themselves spiritual, which seems to be the cool alternative to traditional religion.

Caritas in veritate 4

Caritas in veritate 4:

4. Because it is filled with truth, charity can be understood in the abundance of its values, it can be shared and communicated. Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion.

So the emphasis is that contemporary society does not understand love and truth. Authentic love is defined by truth and truth is identified specifically, not as correctness or verification of fact, but as Christ/God. So here the pope calls Truth, logos.

Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.

Here’s an interesting point made by the pope, truth is not found in “subjective opinions and impressions,” and also that “culture and history” are limiting factors in the achievement of truth. So to get to the essence, “value and substance” of things one must go beyond subjective opinions and impressions, culture and history. The questions is what truth is there outside of subjectiveness, perception, culture and history? As a phenomenologist, I tend to cringe at the thought of this idea–that there is an objective truth independent of subjective perceptions and culture.

One thing that strikes me is that for Benedict, who was quite the Augustinian scholar, he seems to sound more like a Thomas Aquinas type. There’s a very sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and essence and accidents. The essence of a thing is its true nature and the accidents are properties that cannot exist in themselve independent of the essence. Essences can exist and retain their integrity without accidents. So with a blue table, the “blue-ness” is the accident because the table can exist without being blue and the blueness does not substantially add anything.

So the pope is establishing the idea that the accidents of truth are subjective opinions, impressions, history and culture, and that there is an essence of truth, logos. To get then to the essence of truth we have to wade through the accidents of subjective impressions, culture, etc, to get at it.

In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.

There’s the word “essential” which is a loaded term in Catholic thought. So, Christianity is not simply a good idea for society but is “essential” for a good society and true human development. So . . . what happens to a non-Christian society? Is such a society capable of authentic human development? This is very much in line with Ratzinger’s/Benedict’s focus. The name Benedict was selected because Benedict the father of monasticism, and Benedictines, were critical in restoring and promoting Christianity in Europe and the current pope has that very much as his focus, i.e., returning Europe back to its “Christian roots.” My point here is that Benedict is very much a Christiainity focused person and has no problem whatsoever proclaiming the superiority of the merits of Christianity.

A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis.

So the absence of authentic Christianity means that there is no “real place for God in the world.” Again the issue of non-Christian societies arises. The key thing here is that the pope is presenting as the foundation of social justice, Christianity. There is usually another approach to social justice issues which focuses on a philosophy/reason base without a necessary reference to Christianity. So the argument is usually that there are social justice issues that we can all agree on as long as we are people of good will, regardless of religion or religious disposition.

Pope Benedict’s Caritas in veritate

The Pope has a new encyclical out called Caritas in veritate or Charity in Truth.

One of the first things to do when reading these Papal encyclicals is to see to whom it is addressed. This one is address to basically, everyone from bishops, to Religious, to laity, to “all people of good will.” When this is the case, belief in Christ is not assumed to be critical in accepting the tenets of the encyclical. Obviously, one can presume a heavy Christo-centric emphasis, but the arguments and discussions should be able to stand on their merit without reference to faith in Christ.

I’ll be reading through this encyclical, which seems to have garnered much praise, and has E. J. Dionne, placing the Pope to the left of Obama socially. The title and the introduction explicity attempt to defince love, caritas, as a force that is not independent of truth. This is fairly significant because truth is also defined clearly in terms of God and Christ. So a question that arises is if true love, caritas, must explicity recognize dogmatic or doctrinal truth? So can I be a muslim, a humanist, an atheist, a buddhist, etc, and still have this “love in truth”? He may address this but I haven’t gotten that far into the document and I’ll be interested in that issue.

Another thing I notice initially is the idea that the contemporary world, with its relativistic mindset, does not understand true love. Thus, he drawing from a long philosophical and theological tradition of caritas to explain love rather than work with current understandings. There is nothing wrong with the tradition of caritas. It does have a ton to contribute to the contemporary notions of love, but given that we contemporary people are just as human as the ancients and as capable of loving and understanding love as they did, surely contemporary society can have much to add to the idea of caritas. Ancient Greece and Rome and the societies that followed were not paragons of societal morality, but yet we embrace many of these moral ideas that originated and thrived in these societies.

There also the put down of contemporary notions of truth. The documents notes that society relativizes and may not even acknowledge truth today. However, our current age, more than any previous age, has much to say about truth and certainty that cannot be ignored and if people are not certain about things, there is always good reason for this because science, history and experience have shown us things that previous ages have not seen.  

My unease with “caritas” and “truth” in this encyclical does not undermine the document for me, it just seems that there was a missed opportunity since this document is directed at “all people of good will.”  But we’ll read on and comment.