A convert to Catholicism, author Carol Robinson, who was involved in and was once editor of the magazine Integrity, pondered her whole life over the relationship between religion and life. This is not unique among men, for most—if not all—men do it so some extent, though it could be argued that when most men think about life and its relationship to something beyond this world, it is not really religion in the strict sense. But whatever the argument, Carol Robinson is leaps and bound ahead of most, due to the fact that she understands the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The author notes that most people, however, divorce their lives from God. God is for Sundays (if even that much!) and the rest of the week is for thinking about our lives, as if our lives are somehow apart from God. To say that we can remove God from our professional lives, for example, is denying or taking a poor view of the Incarnation. But such is the state of modern man.
Of course, we Catholics know that there is no way to say that we are men and we are Catholics, but not Catholic men. It is an absurdity. Carol writes that “there is a bridge between the temporal, natural order of life and the supernatural life of grace, and that it is to be found in the great theologian’s [St. Thomas Aquinas’] metaphysics,” which “is the science of those first principles and ultimate causes which span the whole created order. In its highest part it gives true knowledge of God, so far as He can be reached by reason.”
Popes have praised Thomas’ metaphysics and have not hesitated to say that it is without error. However, modern philosophies all share the common error: the rejection of metaphysics. If Thomas’ metaphysics is without error, what does that say about modern philosophies, and about those, even in the hierarchy in the Church, who abhor metaphysics?
In thinking about the relationship between religion and life, which every Catholic must do, the founders of Integrity had as their theme the little jingle written by Ed Willock:
Mr. Business when to Mass,
He never missed a Sunday.
Mr. Business went to hell,
For what he did on Monday.
Reading this for the first time, I think in the summer of 2011, impressed on my mind the need to understand how to be Catholic in every instance. As one priest said, “We cannot be Catholic only on Sunday mornings.” He once told us about French girls at a boarding school who would wear their uniforms, during the week, but when they took the train home for the weekend, they wore immodest clothing, and often went to the beach wearing only bikinis. This sounds to me like most Catholics today, in their attitude toward religion and life: they are separate. In our modern world, Catholics are hardly Catholic.
Even if lay Catholics, and even non-Catholics, do not truly care about the relationship between religion and life, it cannot really be said of the Church’s hierarchy, no matter how poorly one thinks the pope and bishops are doing their jobs. We hear bishops clamor about the need to overturn Roe v. Wade, how the government cannot force the Church to provide contraception in insurance plans, that religion cannot be forced into the catacombs of society. The problem is, as Carol points out, that because they do not know Thomas Aquinas, their arguments lack the foundation of truth. Without truth, who can stand?
It must be noted that the modernist errors that entered the Church did so before the Second Vatican Council. People will argue ad nauseam and ad infinitum if the errors of the modern Church started before Vatican II (we have always suffered from heresy and suffered attacks, even attacks from priests, bishops, and groups of bishops) or whether the Council is the problem (Did it teach heresy? Is it ambiguous? Is it completely orthodox? Is it dogmatic or pastoral? Do we need a syllabus of errors?).
Carol Robinson writes her thoughts about the Second Vatican Council. She notes that it, like herself, reflects upon the relationship of religion and life, which, given the widespread secularization of society, is urgent today probably more than ever before.
The Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, or Gaudium et Spes, is the document that takes the issue head on. But when Carol read the document, “I was shocked. I thought the Church had labored only to bring forth a mouse; a clumsy and hodge-podgy mouse…. It declares that at all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times, and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.” Signs of the times? Where did that come from?
Of course, modern Catholics will turn our attention to Matthew 16:3: “Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times?” (emphasis added). However, I do not believe it is the same thing. Just one verse further, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.” Must we really be looking at the “signs of the times?” Do we really need external signs when the Church, in all of Her wisdom, knows the Truth because it was given to Her by Her Divine Spouse? What do we say when we recite the Act of Faith? “I believe these and all the Truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou (God) hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”
Since these signs “must be interpreted in the light of the Gospel,” Carol continues,
I respectfully suggest that this direct recourse to the Bible is a shift to a Protestant methodology and its everlasting searching of the Scriptures for answers which are accessible to human reason. It certainly shoves St. Thomas and his metaphysics out of the Church’s attempt to find a relationship between religion and life…. [I]n examining the temporal order of any time, the immediate governing principles come from reason operating under the light of faith…. They are all in the natural order, accessible to reason, and true for all men of all times because of our common nature.
The problem Carol sees in the Gaudium et Spes is this shift from metaphysics to sociology. Anyone who has ever taken a course in sociology is well aware of the principles that guide it: Sociologists already have in mind certain societal constrains, customs, norms, etc. that they hate. They hate patriarchic society, traditional norms of marriage, the caste system, and organic segregation, just to name a few. These few examples should make any good Catholic shutter. The Church has an all male priesthood, the Church is a monarchy, and She promotes and blesses marriage as between one man and one women, asking spouses to have as many children as God will send them. This last point necessarily delegates, with few exceptions, the wife to the house to care for her children. The Church calls this a wonderful sacrifice for a woman not to pursue any personal glory so that she might educate her children and hopefully help them save their souls. Sociologists call this sexism.
This shift toward sociology has others disadvantages as well. If the Church is a monarchy, this automatically prevents the Church from being democratic, meaning that the Church will not and cannot believe whatever 50 percent plus one of Her faithful wants to believe is true. However, sociology is now directing the Church’s actions. “In its ecclesiastical application, sociology is the science of false ecumenism, parochial togetherness, the substitution of democracy for hierarchy in the Church, and the exaltation of the laity.”
What is more, Truth, in the minds of modern men, is subjective. The Church knows this is not true, and as such, She “can discern in any time the world’s errant courses and that out of charity it should and does correct, warn and offer guidance to the nations.”
However, modernists believe that the newest and the latest is the best. Catholic philosophy is based on Thomistic metaphysics. Metaphysics is the highest in the order of traditional sciences and should be used as the handmaid of theology. August Comte came along and invented a new order of the sciences. For him, theology is myth and philosophy is uncertainty. Once the sciences broke free from “fairy tales”, they essentially broke with intellectual truth and followed only measurable facts. This is Positivism. Psychology and sociology are both founded on this science.
Now, much research needs to be done to figure out what is true using only measurable facts. The problem is that surveys, studies, questionnaires, and polls all contain the bias of the experimenter (for example, with the question: Do you still beat your wife?). Their techniques are amoral and lead to the brainwashing of society. Sociology as a science “works out plans for holding society together and for uniting all people in one great artificial community, one world.” This means that the order ordained by God is thrown out the window.
Another point must be said about this continuous shift of truth. It is often said, “The Church no longer believes that.” As far as I know, the Church still believes everything She has taught because Truth cannot change. Truth comes from God, Who is eternal, and as such Truth is also eternal. If, as modernists believe, Truth can change, then God can change. If God can change, then He is not eternal. If He is not eternal, then there is no God. Modernists are essentially atheists. It is certain that Truths can be expressed in different ways. I can say that two plus two equals four and also that twelve minus eight equals four; but I can never say that two plus two equals five or twelve minus eight equals three.
(Then, invariably people will say, well that is different. It is math, and philosophy, theology, etc. are not math. Yes, but it does not mean that they are subjective. These truths may be more difficult to ascertain, but it does not suggest that these truths cannot be known or can change.)
Carol Robinson sees this expression “signs of the times” to mean facts uncovered by the modern sociological techniques, and believes this is how it has been interpreted too. Now, Carol does not condemn all those involved in the writing of the document. Most of those involved were not ushering in a revolution into the Church. The problem is that even the good bishops were unaware of Thomas’ metaphysics. Even so, “the Second Vatican Council has been used as a watershed for many in the Church to promote a shift from St. Thomas to Auguste Comte, from logic to logistics, from analysis to description and from changeless metaphysical principles to manipulative techniques.”
In the second part of her My Life with Thomas Aquinas, Carol discusses some of the effects of the shift away from Thomistic metaphysics.
During the time of the Second Vatican Council, she notes, the English Dominicans were undertaking the task of launching a new edition of the Summa Theologica. The Summa would be edited, with Latin on one side and English on the other, as well as with footnotes, glossary, and appendices provided by the editor-translator of each of the 60 volumes in this new addition. However, the work was doomed from the beginning. While the translations are faithful, notes Robinson, “many of most of the editors’ footnotes and appendices are suspect…they have a distortive bias toward the novel philosophies of their editors, frequently…setting St. Thomas right,” some saying even that St. Thomas was wrong.
Maybe this new edition would have been great had it been started 20 years earlier. However, given the thought of the 1960s, and with the Council’s openness to false philosophies, this edition of the Summa fell to the disorientation of modern thought. One such example, as given by Robinson, is volume twenty-two. This volume was edited by a young priest, Anthony Kenny, who was in the process of leaving the Church and who later became the Master of Balliol Collage at Oxford and had a wife and children. This priest did not uphold the faith and traditions of the Church; how could he not be suspect in his editing?
Another example: Volume two, The Existence and Nature of God, was edited by Timothy McDermott, who cited in the volume academics who are opposed to St. Thomas and priest who said, “In the opinion of the present translator too much has been made of St. Thomas’s alleged teaching on analogy.” Thomas Gilbey, O.P., general editor of the new edition wrote that the Summa Theologica is one prolonged argument by analogy.
And this is where the whole problem lies, which is Robinson’s thesis: the world is trying to forget St. Thomas, either by not reading or by hiding his works, but also by rewriting what he wrote, which is likely worse. With this in mind, Robinson gives us a quote from Leo XIII:
It is well known that there have not been wanting heresiarchs who openly said that, if the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas could only be got rid of, they could easily give battle to other Catholic Doctors and overcome them, and so scatter the Church.
“One way to get rid of books,” writes Robinson, “is to burn them; another is to rewrite them with a different meaning.”
The consequence, then, of moving away from St. Thomas’s metaphysics is to fall into secularism. St. Thomas’s Summa is completely based upon God. It deals with being, it deals with everything. Everything is either God or comes form God. Therefore, his great work is an automatic remedy for our secular society. When modern men condemn acts not because they are sinful but because they “use our tax money”, these men move away from God.
The third part of Carol Robinson’s article discusses the “Thank God I’m not a Thomist” crowd. She first gives examples of those in the crowd—Dietrich von Hildebrand, Dr. William Marra, and “the theologian of the trendies at the Second Vatican Council”, John Henry Cardinal Newman.
This crowd, however, is not anti-Catholic in the least. They all uphold the teaching of the Church and all came into the Church when She had almost no defenders at all. However, as Robinson’s theory goes:
…through no fault of their own, most of the great and learned converts to Catholicism in the last 150 years brought Platonism into the Church with them, and along with it a strong bias against the robust intellectual thought of St. Thomas. Over my lifetime these two influences, the educational, cultural and cosmopolitan thought of the converts, and their covert detestation of St. Thomas, have both spread among native Catholics, especially in the United States. Lately, with the seeming weakening of the Church’s claims for St. Thomas, the philosophical positions of these ‘Platonists’ are making rival claims in their own right. Phenomenology is one of these currently in vogue. Even its language traces to Kant, and remotely to Platonic errors. Philosophical pluralism is claimed, to put them on a par with the thought of St. Thomas, with a view to eventually replacing him, in the Hegelian manner.
What does this all mean? It is not in and of itself a bad thing to use other philosophical traditions. However, if one does, he runs into problems. These men who turn away from the wisdom of St. Thomas are not trying to destroy the Church (some of course are, but not these whom Robinson gives as examples); rather they feel that their philosophy will benefit the Church.
Yet, here lies the problem: marriage, for example, is for these men about love. When two people fall in love, they get married. These two people do not marry to carry on the species. Of course they do not believe that two men or two women should marry each other, only because they are in love; but that is the problem. When this shift from the objective purpose of sex to romantic psychology of those in love occurred, it wiped out previous magisterial teachings on marriage. It forced a primacy of love of man over a love of God, a primacy of sex over a primacy of procreation.
And the problem remains today. While this crown focuses so much on culture, they neglect truth. But our society must be founded upon truth, or it will not stand. While liberals force an artificial order upon society, St. Thomas finds truth already existent in nature, for this truth, this order comes from a wise God. This wise God ordered everything according to His plan. A wise man, then, can understand the order that God infused into nature and look down upon human affairs to judge them.
The Future of Thomism
Carol Robinson opines that the greatness of Thomism is in the future. But, before its return, she predicts a great collapse, and I think we are witnessing the collapse today with our own eyes. The newspapers inform us of the many wars in Arab nations, the economic collapse in Greece, and the ones looming in Spain and France. Unemployment is still high in our country while wages are low. Apart from the moral depravity of our society in its personal affairs (abortion, contraception, divorce, etc.), we have corporations exploiting the working class, labor unions becoming rich on the dues of people who actually work, and an ever-growing federal government that has now forced Socialism upon us with Obamacare (Socialism was here before, but now we are firmly Socialists), against the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.
So, assuming the collapse does come—I believe it will, though I am unsure of most of the details—and it is not the end of the world—I do not believe it is, but who can say?—Thomism will again reign supreme. Society will be ordered rightly, that is with God in mind and with what God had in mind.