Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 11)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 11:

“Within Ecclesiastical academic institutions, a suitable philosophical formation must involve both intellectual “habitus” (plural) and contents.  With the acquisition of intellectual, scientific and sapiential “habitus”, reason learns to know more than empirical data. In a particular way, the intellectual debate in pluralistic societies, which are strongly threatened by relativism and ideologies, or in societies without authentic freedom, demands that the students in Ecclesiastical Faculties acquire a solid philosophical forma mentis. These “habitus” make it possible to think, know and reason with precision, and also to dialogue with everyone incisively and fearlessly.  The “habitus” are, though, connected with the assimilation of firmly acquired contents. In other words, they derive from the knowledge and deepening of the most important truths gained by philosophical labour, sometimes with the help of Divine Revelation. To arrive at a rigorous and coherent knowledge of man, the world and God, [Footnote 23] the “habitus” require that the teaching of philosophy be rooted in “the eternally valid philosophical heritage”, developed over time, and, at the same time, be open to accepting the contributions that philosophical research has provided and continues to provide. [Footnote 24]  Among those fundamental truths, some are of central importance and are particularly relevant today: the capacity to reach objective and universal truth as well as valid metaphysical knowledge; [Footnote 25] the unity of body and soul in man; [Footnote 26] the dignity of the human person; [Footnote 27] relations between nature and freedom; [Footnote 28] the importance of natural law and of the “sources of morality,” [Footnnote 29] particularly of the object of the moral act; [Footnote 30] and the necessary conformity of civil law to moral law. [Footnote 31]

“ [Footnote 23] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decr. Optatam totius, n. 15.

“ [Footnote 24] CIC, can. 251; cf. Sacred Congregazione for Catholic Education, The Study of Philosophy in Seminaries (20 January 1972), III, 2, Rome, 1972, pp. 12-14.

“ [Footnote 25] Cf. Fides et ratio, nn. 27, 44, 66, 69, 80, etc.

“ [Footnote 26] Cf. Veritatis splendor, nn. 48-49, AAS 85 (6 August 1993), pp. 1133-1228.

“ [Footnote 27] Cf. Fides et ratio, nn. 60, 83, etc.; cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Past. Const. Gaudium et spes, nn. 12-22.

“ [Footnote 28] Cf. Veritatis splendor, nn. 46-47.

“ [Footnote 29] Cf. Veritatis splendor, nn. 43-44, 74; cf. International Theological Commission, The Search for Universal Ethics. A New Look at Natural Law, 27 March 2009.

“ [Footnote 30] Cf. Veritatis splendor, n. 72.

“ [Footnote 31] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae (25 March 1995), AAS 87 (1995), pp. 401-522, nn. 68-74; cf. Deus caritas est, n. 28.”

 

Commentary:

In the commentary to the previous installment (part 1, paragraph 10) of this thread (Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy), I defined what is meant by dialogue and explained the manner in which participants to a dialogue conduct themselves.

Two additional comments need to now be added.  The first involves the preferred modality of dialogue which is face to face communication and the second involves the spiritual maturity of those participating in a dialogue.

Dialogue happens best face to face with the participants gathered together.    Various difficulties arise with the attempt to conduct dialogue by making using of various electronic modalities such as email, Facebook, Webex.  The most important deficiency of the use of electronic modalities for dialogue is that these allow for dialogical courtesies to be ignored.  Whereas the choice to be non attentive in a face to face dialogue is immediately evident, the mask of an electronic modality allows one to be distracted without others noticing.  A second deficiency of the use of electronic modalities is that any attempt to communicate emotion is often mis-interpreted, if not mis-identified.  A third deficiency is that the electronic modality are tainted by the impression, given and received, that facts are  always being communicated.  Dialogue is an attempt to display truth.  The use of facticity is only one of the tools by which dialogue displays truth.  The predilection to facticity creates an interpretive filter which inhibits the communication of truth.  Finally, all communication involves some masking.  A supposed phonetic root of the English word person is a Greek word (πρόσωπον, pronounced prosopon) which means “mask”.  Though masking is a necessary complement to all communication, even dialogue, it is much easier for the speaker in an electronic forum to intentionally mask his/her communications in ways which confuse the intended meaning.

Dialogue is the use of disciplined speech to display truth.  The spiritual maturity of the participants to a dialogue facilitates this use of speech for the purpose of displaying truth.  Two spiritually deficient attitudes which inhibit the display of truth are the Kantian ethic (pervasive in Roman Catholic settings) that one must earn salvation, and truth narrowly defined as facticity (pervasive in evangelical non-Roman Catholic settings).  Spiritual maturity avoids interpreting ideas through the confusing filter of facticity and avoids earning approval of others present to a dialogue.  Dialogical sharing is improved by the degree to which participants to a dialogue understand that God’s love is a gift, that this gift has already been given and received, that one only needs to accept this gift, and that verbal and physical good deeds flow easily from the heart of the one knowing s/he is loved by God unconditionally.

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Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 10)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 10:

“Finally, philosophical preparation is, in a particular way, a “crucial stage of intellectual formation” for future priests: “only a sound philosophy can help candidates for the priesthood to develop a reflective awareness of the fundamental relationship that exists between the human spirit and truth, that truth which is revealed to us fully in Jesus Christ.” [Footnote 21]  In fact, “the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies and to the formation of candidates for the priesthood. It is not by chance that the curriculum of theological studies is preceded by a time of special study of philosophy.” [Footnote 22]

“[Footnote 21] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (25 March 1992), AAS 84 (1992), pp. 657-804, n. 52.

“[Footnote 22] Fides et ratio, n. 62; cf. Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis (19 March 1985), nn. 59-61.”

 

Commentary:

Theology is the application of philosophy to information obtained from revelation.  Divine revelation provides the premises upon which reasoning is conducted in a philosophical manner.  Just as modern physics can only be performed by using mathematics, theology requires the use of philosophy.

The tools which philosophy brings to the theological enterprise are various methods of reasoning.  These methods include classical logic, modern phenomenology, and dialogical investigation.  Logic deals with categorization and the insights which come from deductive categorizations.  Phenomenology deals with discovering the essence of the matter which one is attempting to understand.  To this end, phenomenology utilizes input from sensation, memory, and imagination.

Dialogical investigation is the use of disciplined speech for the purpose of displaying truth.  Once displayed, the philosopher engaged in dialogue simply leaves the truth “sitting there” to be accepted or ignored or appropriated by those other persons engaged in the same dialogue.  The philosopher does not attempt to persuade; only to display.

Persuasion is the focus of rhetoric.  Rhetoric is the use of disciplined speech, and the use of other means, for the purpose of persuasion.  It stands to reason that the manner in which rhetoric is conducted is different from the manner in which dialogue is conducted.  The difference refers to the communicative tools used to persuade and the tool of disciplined speech used to display without attempting to persuade.  For example, if one’s intention is to persuade, one would repeat oneself  as often as it takes to get the intended audience to pay attention and to change its mind on the matter being proposed.  Dialogue; however, avoids repetition.  Dialogue strives to articulate its discoveries in a clear manner to an audience which has already agreed to be attentive.  Thus, there is no need, dialogically speaking, to repeat oneself.

Philosophy is a group of friends, engaged in leisurely dialogue, about ideas of enduring importance.

There are ideas; “White is not black”.  There are important ideas; “What do I wish to accomplish?”  And there are enduringly important ideas; “What is the nature of God?  Is eternity the same as forever?  Is beauty a quality of existence or only a choice?  What contributes to goodness?  Why did Jesus identify Himself with truth?”  These questions, and many other ideas such as these, have been discussed for millennia and will be discussed until human kind is no more.  These enduringly important ideas are the subject matter of dialogue.

This dialogue is leisurely; it occurs in a leisure environment.  That is, in an environment which is free from distraction and constraints.  Dialogues take whatever amount of time they take.  There is no artificial amount of time determined prior to the dialogue, determining the length of the dialogue.  The English word “leisure”, as it is used here, is the exact translation of the Greek word σχολή, pronounced sko-lay, from which the English words school and scholar are phonetically derived.

They are friends, not in the sense that they like one another but in the sense that those who have agreed to participate in a dialogue, also agree to avoid using the tools of  rhetorical persuasion.  To this end, the participants in a dialogue agree to the rules of dialogical courtesy.  These rules include:

  • Every person speaks.  Silence in a dialogical setting is often an act of rhetoric; persuasion.
  • All listen to what each person says.  They do not allow themselves to become distracted; to direct their attention to someone or something other than the speaker.
  • No one engages in distracting or disrupting activities.  Distraction and disruption are rhetorical acts; they seek to draw attention away from the speaker and redirect it to oneself.  Such an act is rhetorical.  It is an attempt to persuade, not just behavior, but thinking as well.  It persuades thinking by not allowing others to attend to the speaker, who has every right to be “on the stage” and at the center of attention.
  • The one speaking does not repeat what he says.  Of course, if some participant was unable to hear what was said, repetition is good.  However, most often repetition is a form of rhetoric; it is an attempt to force agreement by the sheer repetition of an idea.  Dialogue does not repeat; it displays.
  • The one speaking, clearly indicates when he is finished speaking.  He does not allow his speech to trail-off or fade-off without a clear conclusion.  He does not keep on talking for the purpose of finding a conclusion.  He knows his point and he uses speech to clearly make his point and then becomes silent.  To not put a period-on-one’s-comments is a manipulative rhetorical act.
  • The one speaking avoids asking questions; actual or rhetorical.  Asking questions often causes a dialogue to trail-off, fade-off, never have a clear ending.
  • Participants to a dialogue should moderate the amount of time they speak and the number of times they speak, relative to the amount and number of comments of the other members of the dialogical group.  For example, one should speak less and fewer times than the rest of the group, combined.
  • All persons present for the dialogue have read ahead of time any assigned text they agreed to read ahead of time.  All persons agree to have with them any text which they agreed to have present at the dialogue.  They should always have something on which to write and something with which to write.
  • All participants arrive on time and are prepared to stay for the entire dialogue.
  • The environment in which a dialogue is held should be free of interruptions and should be very quiet so that those who speak can easily be heard.
  • When texts are read, a common practice is to read the text section by section, all the way through, allowing time for annotation.  Suppose a text is made up of a series of paragraphs of reasonable length.  Each paragraph will be read by different group members, the order of reading being easily understood by all; say going clockwise through the room.  The first person reads aloud the first paragraph.  The next reader, before reading aloud the second paragraph, will silently reread the first paragraph.  The time it takes him to silently reread the first paragraph provides the dialogical participants the time to reread and make notes about the first paragraph already read, for later discussion once the reading of the entire text is finished.  Participants may annotate their text in the form of using a “+” to indicate a piece of the text read with which one agreed, a “-“ to indicate disagreement, and a “?” to indicate confusion about the meaning of a portion of the first paragraph read.  Once the second reader has silently reread the first paragraph, he then reads aloud the second paragraph.  The next reader, of the third paragraph follows the same procedure as do all subsequent readers.  When the reading of the text is finished, participants make use of their annotations to form their spoken comments.
  • When a text is discussed, the person speaking, before he comments on a portion of the text, should direct everyone present to the portion of the text about which he will comment.  For example, he might say, “on page five, in the left hand column, in the second full paragraph, the third sentence beginning with the word “therefore”, here the author says such-and-so.  I believe he intends to say and means such-and-so.”  It might even be a good idea to reread aloud the specific piece of the text about which one wishes to comment.

The current Pope, Francis, encourages the use of dialogue often.  The rules of dialogical courtesy reveal why dialogue is an evangelical tool, different from the common ways in which believers attempt to speak with those identified as non-believers.  Evangelistic persuasion often utilizes a method of preaching-at an audience which listens to others only when doing so may provide grist for future attempts at persuasion.

In dialogue there is no audience.  There are only participants.  Since this environment eschews persuasion, the other members to the dialogue are put at ease.  They know they will not be put in the uncomfortable or embarrassing positions of being manipulated nor forced to declare assent to something said.  This dialogue is an essential tool for creating the trust which might then cause another, on his or her own, to choose to enter into a different type of discussion sometime later with the dialogical participant who has put on display, ideas of enduring importance.  The other participant(s) might choose to investigate more fully for personal benefit and growth at some other time.  To this end, s/he might choose to ask the displayer, at some other time, to declare why he/she believes what he/she believes.

The dialogue which the Holy Father encourages is not well suited to use within the Church, among those who already believe.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that all, or nearly all, Church discussions seek to persuade.  The second reason is that the Church operates in an insular manner which is not conducive to dialogue.  It is very rare in ecclesial settings to have a gathering of all persons who have something to say about a given matter at hand.  For example, if the ecclesial matter is one of discipline and administration, almost always only some of the relevant parties are identified and those who are identified, are usually spoken with individually and separately with the investigating person; a bishop or his designate.  Such a setting is clearly constrained in ways which are not conducive to dialogue; the display of ideas of enduring importance.

The same can be said of catechetical settings in which the catechist in charge is echoing the teachings of the Church and does not want in such a forum to have those present who might offer ideas contrary to the doctrines.  In such a setting, the knowledge of dialogical method and skill in conducting dialogue are not necessary, and in fact, are rarely possessed by the catechist.  Dialogical skill is not required in such a setting.  Occasionally, if the catechist has not been able to control who participates in the catechesis, it might be necessary to have some skill at dialogue to create the appearance of accepting all ideas which are displayed without attempt to emphasize one over the other.  Such a use of dialogical methodology is; however, another form of rhetoric.  It is the appearance of dialogue for a rhetorical purpose.

Self-evidently, homilies are non-dialogical rhetorical acts in the Roman Catholic tradition.  The full intent is to persuade.  Dialogue is neither invited or allowed.  Nevertheless, the Holy Father encourages dialogue as necessary for preparing homilies.  By this, his intended meaning must be that the homilist engages persons in dialogue prior to homily preparation and prior to when these same persons will be a non-dialogical audience to the homily.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 9)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 9:

“Moreover, philosophy is indispensable for theological formation. “Theology in fact has always needed and still needs philosophy’s contribution.” [Footnote 19] By helping to deepen the revealed Word of God, with its character of transcendent and universal truth, philosophy avoids stopping at the level of religious experience. It has rightly been observed that “the crisis of postconciliar theology is, in large part, the crisis of philosophical foundations […]. When philosophical foundations are not clarified, theology loses its footing. Why is it therefore not clearer up to what point man really knows reality, and what are the bases from which he can start to think and speak?” [Footnote 20]

“ [Footnote 19] Fides et ratio, n. 77.

“ [Footnote 20] Joseph Ratzinger, “L’unità di missione e persona nella figura di Giovanni Paolo II [The Unity of the Mission and Person in the Figure of John Paul II]”, 1998, in Id., Giovanni Paolo II. Il mio amato predecessore [John Paul II, My Beloved Predecessor], Vatican City and Cinisello Basalmo, 2007, p. 16 (unofficial translation).”

 

Commentary:

Philosophy is to theology what mathematics is to science.

Consider a specific application of modern science which can only be accomplished by the use of mathematics; successfully sending an unmanned spacecraft to another planet in our solar system.  Observing the night sky reveals that a planet, at which we are looking, seems to move at different speeds at different positions in its orbit around the sun.  By tabulating the behaviors of this planet over time, one can then measure the changes in its orbital velocity.  Then, mathematically, one can create algorithms (mathematical formulas) which match these changes in velocity.  By doing so, it becomes apparent that the changes in velocity of this planet is related to this planet’s differing distances from the sun during different parts of its orbit.  When those algorithms are visualized geometrically, it becomes apparent that this planet orbits the sun in an ellipse rather than in a circle.  When its further from the sun, it moves slower.  When nearer the sun, it moves faster along its orbital path.   One can then translate this geometrical image into algorithms of celestial mechanics (often referred to as Kepler’s three laws) which can be used to determine a flight path and the flight dynamics necessary to send a space craft to that planet.

In much the same sense, theological discoveries and the moral applications of those discoveries are largely due to the application of philosophy to the analysis of various revelations.

Theology is the use of philosophy to analyze premises obtained from divine revelation.  Divine revelation is the self-disclosure of God.  Such revelations are found in the Sacred Scriptures (the Old Testament and New Testament) and in that Tradition which is made up of the teachings of the magisterium; the Pope and Bishops in their role as teachers of the faith.  The teachings of Tradition may be derived from their analysis and sanctioning of observations of nature, of the products of human reason, and from various personal revelations of the faithful.  Premises from these two sources (Scripture and Tradition) are assumed to be true.  Philosophical reasoning is then applied to these premises.  If this philosophical reasoning is conducted in a valid manner, insights can be drawn from these revelations  which are sound; that is, correct and certain.

Sometimes, the insight generated from the proper application of philosophy to premises of divine revelation, is something new; not recognized before even though the insight was already contained in the revelatory premise but not noticed.   For example, from Sacred Scripture and from the experience of the faithful it is understood that God is perfect, unchanging, complete, actual.  Applying sound philosophy to an analysis of these divine characteristics, it is determined that God’s nature is timeless (because time is a measure of change, and if something (i.e. God) does not change, it cannot be measured or controlled or defined by time).  Philosophy nows goes further to point out that every moment of the existence of creation is, from God’s perspective, the same timeless instant; e.g. what for us humans are called the subsequent moments of the creation of the universe, the creation of human kind, one’s own birth, one’s own death, the end of the world, all of these from God’s perspective are one and the same timeless instant.  Further applying philosophy, one can now state correctly and soundly that since God’s “first” interaction with creation is the act of creation, since all the “subsequent moments” of creation are the same timeless instant from God’s perspective, all of these “subsequent moments” must also be the act of God’s creation.  Thus, all events within the human condition are connected, one to each other, by both the process of causality within time and by the timelessness of their common creation.  A final philosophical insight which can be drawn from all this regards divine nurturance and providence.  Many events “since” the creation reveal a providence or divine care.  As seen by us human beings from our temporal perspective, these events reveal God’s acts of nurturance.  However, from God’s timeless perspective, all divine acts which humans experience as manifestations of divine kindness, care, nurturance, providence; all these are the equivalent of the act of God’s creation.  These are God’s act of creation by other names.  These are creation’s qualities.  Caring, nurturance, loving kindness, and provision are of the essence of creation.

Sometimes the new insight derived from the proper use of philosophy applied to the analysis of premises drawn from divine revelation is both a new understanding and a practical application.  For example, from the revelation of Sacred Scripture and Tradition it is understood that all creation is God’s possession.  Further, this same revelation tells us that by God’s decision, we human creatures are to be the caretakers of that same creation; its stewards.  The valid and sound philosophical conclusion which can be draw from these two truths (that creation is God’s possession and that we are the stewards only) is that unfettered and unconstrained capitalism is wrong.  Unfettered and unconstrained capitalism requires the assumption that human beings can own property without qualification.  This qualification is contrary to the revelation that only God possesses created things.  The wrongs associated with unconstrained and unfettered capitalism are two; it is contrary to God’s way and second, it does not help all persons find a way to accomplishing those goals which are uniquely human; goals such as salvation, eternal life, creativity, utilization of talents, freedom, joy.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 8)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 8:

“The Church has always cared deeply about philosophy. In fact, reason – with which creation has endowed every human being – is one of the two wings on which man rises towards the contemplation of truth, and philosophical wisdom forms the summit that reason can reach. [Footnote 16] In a world rich in scientific and technical knowledge, but threatened by relativism, only the “sapiential horizon” [Footnote 17] carries an integrating vision, as well as a trust in the capacity that reason has to serve the truth. That is why the Church strongly encourages a philosophical formation of reason that is open to faith, while neither confusing nor disconnecting the two. [Footnote 18]

“[Footnote 16] Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et ratio, Opening words).

“[Footnote 17] Fides et ratio, n. 106.

“[Footnote 18] Cf. Fides et ratio, n. 77; cf. Deus caritas est, nn. 10, 29.

 

Commentary: (Part 2)

The relationship between philosophy and the Roman Catholic Church is significant and beneficial.  Roman Catholic Christianity’s embrace of the Greek language and of its philosophies (primarily those of Aristotle and Plato) will contribute to the fast growth of the early Church and to the development of modern science.

The early followers of Christ were mostly Jews, spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and used a Jewish theology.  Slowly these followers of Christ moved out into the gentile world.  This non-Jewish world was administrated by the Roman military in accordance with Roman law.  An important piece of this administration was its support of commerce for the purpose of enriching the Roman empire.  To this end, roads which could carry that commerce were built and protected by the Roman military.

Though Latin was the official language of the empire and though much of the official administration of the empire was conducted in Latin, Greek was the language used in most of the social interaction of that time.  Further most of the academic and intellectual interchange of this time was in Greek.  Specifically, this language was used to articulate Greek philosophical ideas of which a significant part was the moderate realism espoused by Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.

It is no exaggeration to say that Christianity’s growth is due to a Greek philosophical language which was used by Christian evangelists to articulate Christian beliefs and to the existence of Roman roads on which those evangelists could travel.

 

During its first century, Christian beliefs, theological reflection by Christians about their beliefs, and Christian morality were influenced by and largely appropriated from Judaism.  Christianity at this time was a Jewish sect with some singular beliefs about the messiah.

Had Christianity remained exclusively Jewish in character, Christianity might not have grown.  Political events such as the destruction of Jerusalem and its Jewish temple in A.D. 70 would force Jewish Christians to emigrate to other parts of the Roman world which, predominantly, spoke Greek.  As this Judeo-Christian belief system, theology, and morality moved into the Greek speaking world, it was discovered that many of these Judeo-Christian ideas were compatible with the ideas of Greek philosophy.  Christianity’s path to being the dominant religion of the world is due to its appropriation and use of the ideas of Greek philosophy as a tool for expressing its Jewish beliefs to a Greek speaking world.

Judeo-Christianity’s focus on God, angels, heaven, after-life, prayer were compatible with the idealistic strain of Greek moderate realism articulated by Plato and his teacher Socrates.  Plato and Socrates espoused a belief that what was most real were the immaterial forms of various things rather than the material things themselves.  For example, oak-tree-ness was more real than any actual given oak tree one could see or touch, and the number three was more real than three specific persons standing over-there.  These immaterial forms were understood to be the immaterial categories of thought into which the various actual things of the world could be sorted in thought.  It was this sorting which created the concepts by which one could then understood individual actual entities.  For example, one’s ability to understand the nature or essence of a particular horse was due to knowledge of the category horse of which the particular horse in one’s barn was a particular expression.  Without one’s knowledge of the category “horse”, one would not be able to think about the nature of horse and its difference from humans or cows.

These immaterial categories were what could be understood and which could form the basis of knowledge.  In this sense of being the basis of knowledge, these immaterial forms were most real.  The elevation of immaterial things (forms/categories) to what was most real matches up nicely with a Judeo-Christian spirituality which emphasizes the importance of immaterial things such as souls, God, prayer, and eternal life.  So impactful was this similarity that Christianity immediately appropriated this Greek philosophical language to talk about and think about its own theological ideas and beliefs.  Quickly, these beliefs and theologies, now influenced by Greek philosophy, began to deviate from narrow Hebrew ideas.  These Greek philosophical ideas began to dominate the manner in which Christianity thought about spiritual matters.  For example, Judeo-Christianity spoke of experiences; experiences of God, experiences of Jesus on earth, experiences of an advocate promised by Jesus after Jesus’ ascension.  It would be Greek language which would begin to conceptualize and categorize these experiences as a trinity of persons.  Similarly, whereas Judeo-Christianity spoke of Jesus manifesting human qualities and divine qualities, it would be Greek philosophical discourse which would conceptualize and categorize these experiences as a manifestation of a duality of natures; as an hypostatic union.

Greek platonic idealism became the language in which Christians spoke about and understood the immaterial things and events which were very important to them; things such as the soul, eternal life, God, love, prayer.

 

There was another aspect of Greek philosophy which Judeo-Christianity began to appropriate and use.  It was discovered that the ethical ideas of the Greek philosopher Aristotle were very similar to the moral principles of Judaism and Christianity.   And, as had happened with the mixing of Judeo-Christian beliefs and platonic idealism, the ethics of Aristotle’s moderate realism began to influence and sway the understanding and application of Judeo-Christian morals.

In early Christianity, there were differing theologies; specifically, differing soteriologies (theologies of salvation).  For example, in Christian texts heavily influenced by Judaism (such as the gospel of Matthew) there is an emphasis on the importance of good works as a component of attaining salvation.  However, the writings of St. Paul de-emphasize the importance of doing good deeds as a means of attaining salvation.  Paul’s writings emphasize the importance of accepting the salvation attained for us by Christ as the way to salvation and de-emphasize the importance of works as a tool for attaining salvation.  Paul was not saying works of faith were unimportant.  In fact, for Paul, works of faith are just that, works of faith; works which flow out of one’s faith, out of the joy of knowing one is already saved.  Paul’s desire was to help followers of Christ avoid falling into a mindset of justification by works which would effectively become an idolatry; seeking salvation in something other than God, in something other than Christ Jesus, that is, in one’s own works.  Paul was seeking to replace faith-in-works with works-of-faith; the effect of faith in Jesus and the works which flow easily from one who already believes.

Aristotle some four hundred years before St. Paul, wrote that what is most important, ethically speaking, is having an excellent character.  The path to this excellence of character was by doing good deeds habitually.  However, Aristotle wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics, one must never confuse the doing of good deeds habitually with excellent character.  Doing good deeds habitually had an instrumental value in terms of helping a person become virtuous in character.  But virtue, for Aristotle, was not the same as doing-good-deeds; was not the same as continence, a word which Aristotle used to describe performing the good deeds one desires to do.  In fact, for Aristotle, the continent person (the one who did good most or all of the time) might not be a virtuous person, not because s/he had not done enough good, but because s/he was confused about the meaning of virtue.  This person was stuck in the attitude that virtue was defined as continence; that excellent character was the equivalent of doing-good-deeds.  Rather, for Aristotle a virtuous person was a person who possessed a generous, modest, courageous character from whom individual acts of modesty and generosity and courage (and others) easily flowed.  The Pauline idea that good deeds flow easily from and out of the person who knows s/he is saved is much like this Aristotelian idea.

Judeo-Christian morality was progressively influenced by and began to be swayed by the Greek ethical ideas of Aristotle’s moderate realism.  As Christians began to face and eventually be more involved in the increasingly complex political and social issues of the world into which they were emerging, they began to adopt Greek ethical speech as the way to harmonize their Christian morality with Greek ethical ideas and to use this amalgam as a tool for fitting into the world over which they were gaining control and influence.  A manifestation of this adoption will be the replacement of an early (and predominant) Christian pacifism with a just war theory.  Much later, another manifestation of the influence of Greek philosophical ethical categories of thought would be the articulation of a ethical principle of double/multiple effect allowing for the therapeutic treatment of a pregnant woman allowing the possible  unintended result of aborting a fetus.  Before the articulation of this philosophically nuanced priniciple, advice to a mother in such a situation was limited to do-what-is-most-loving.

Greek philosophical language impacted Christianity and led to its growth because Christianity began to speak in a way which was coherent to persons not familiar within the language and values of a Jewish/semitic world.  First, Greek philosophy provided an ideal immaterialism which could make Judeo-Christian emphases on things such as soul, God, divine, heaven, prayer, palatable to a non-Jewish world.  Second, the moderate realism of Aristotle provided an ethics which translated Judeo-Christian moral principles into a language which non-Jews could understand and which they could effectively apply to commercial, political, social, and religious affairs.

 

In addition to being a major factor in the growth of early Christianity and in its subsequent political and social predominance, another monumental impact of the marriage of Judeo-Christianity and the moderate realism of Greek philosophy is the development of modern science.

Aristotle and Plato and Socrates are called moderate realists because they believed that things are real, that they can be understood, and that they can be talked about meaningfully and usefully.  Plato and Socrates are also called idealists because they emphasize the importance of immaterial forms and categories, which are the basis of all knowledge through which we come to an understanding of actual events and things.  Aristotle; however, emphasized the importance of actual things and events because these were what one actually knew.  For Aristotle, an actual thing such as that-apple, an actual person such as my-friend-George, and an actual event such as reading-this-text are what are real.  It is these things which one knows by means of recognizing the forms which make up the actual things (as opposed to platonic forms which exist in-here (in the mind of the knower) separate from the actual things out-there.

Aristotle’s emphasis on the means by which one comes to recognize and understand and know real things provides the basis upon which a robust science can be built.  It is from these Aristotelian ideas that the explosion of knowledge called modern science will arise.

However, the history of Aristotle’s influence on the development of modern science, indicates that Aristotelian moderate realism only had this impact because of the assistance of Christianity’s appropriation of platonic idealism.

Platonic idealism’s emphasis on immaterial realities led to the formation of institutions and practices separated from the actual messiness of the real world.  This separation from the messy world was attempted by disciplines such as fasting, prayer, meditation, sexual celibacy, and obedience, and by institutions dedicated to those same disciplines; religious communities, monasteries, and a clerical hierarchy.  These institutions provided the means to shift away from the real messiness of ordinary life and focus upon immaterial spiritual aspects of the Christian faith such as soul, God, angels, salvation, and eternal life.

From the patristic period  to the end of the medieval period, roughly A.D. 300 to 1300, this platonic idealism formed the character of Roman Catholic Christianity.  Not only in the monasteries, but even the everyday lives of Christians began to exhibit this platonic idealistic immaterial view of Christianity; Sundays and many feast days are dedicated to worship and rest, enduring authority is re-interpreted as a beneficial spiritual obedience, fasting becomes the name of hunger.  The moderate realism of Aristotle had much less influence at this time, and would have been forgotten, had it not been for these same platonic Roman Catholic Christian institutions and practices.  Monasteries, those institutions in which platonic immaterialism took on a material form, would become the place where some financial resources could be used to collect, preserve, and copy the written texts most common people wouldn’t have cared about because of their inability to read.  Among those texts which were preserved and multiplied were the writings of Aristotle.  A thousand years later, at the end of the medieval period, the writings of Aristotle would be rediscovered in the libraries of the monasteries, would be picked up and read, and would begin to influence the development of modern science and its impact on intellectual, business, political, and religious affairs.

In short, platonic idealism embraced by Roman Catholicism saved that Aristotelian moderate realism which would, in turn, influence the development of modern science.  Now, the story is not quite this simply.  At the same time as the monasteries were keeping and copying the Aristotelian texts, those same texts were being discussed by Islamic philosophers through-out the middle east.  When Europe awoke from the medieval period, trade with the Islamic world was re-established and from this direction as well as from the Christian monasteries, the writings of Aristotle began to flow back into Europe where they were picked up, read, talked about, and applied to practical affairs.

 

Greek philosophy provided Christianity two priceless tools.  The first was that the language of moderate realism translated Judeo-Christian morality into an ethical language which the predominantly non-Jewish Greek speaking world could understand and use.  The second was the platonic idealism which provided a way to understand, think about, and apply the spiritual ideas of Judeo-Christianity.  These two were easily understood in the non-Jewish Greek speaking world.  Persons of the non-Jewish Greek speaking world found these ideas very attractive.  This attraction results in an explosive growth of Christianity.  This growth allows hierarchical leaders to devote resources to the development of those institutions which will preserve the ideas of moderate realism.  These ideas of moderate realism, planted in the monasteries where they will grow silently, until the social and political climate of Europe allows these ideas to break earth and turn into the plants which will form the basis of the modern political, economic, social, religious, and scientific-technological world.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 8)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 8:

“The Church has always cared deeply about philosophy. In fact, reason – with which creation has endowed every human being – is one of the two wings on which man rises towards the contemplation of truth, and philosophical wisdom forms the summit that reason can reach. [Footnote 16] In a world rich in scientific and technical knowledge, but threatened by relativism, only the “sapiential horizon” [Footnote 17] carries an integrating vision, as well as a trust in the capacity that reason has to serve the truth. That is why the Church strongly encourages a philosophical formation of reason that is open to faith, while neither confusing nor disconnecting the two. [Footnote 18]

“[Footnote 16] Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth” (Fides et ratio, Opening words).

“[Footnote 17] Fides et ratio, n. 106.

“[Footnote 18] Cf. Fides et ratio, n. 77; cf. Deus caritas est, nn. 10, 29.

 

Commentary:

Chapter 8 states that our world is rich in scientific and technical knowledge.  This is true.  It also states that relativism is present in our world.  This too is true.  The occurrence at one and the same time of this explosion of scientific knowledge and of moral relativism are related.

Modern science utilizes a method which provides external causal explanations and descriptions of material entities.  Descriptions of material things are always in terms of the various events which involve them.  An atom for example is not a thing so much as it is a relationship of ensconced and interacting energy fields.

Modern science is not interested in and offers no opinions on the essences or natures of things.  Science as science is only interested in matter (and the various forms in which matter appears, such as energy) and motion (the changes and events experienced by and describing those material entities).  Science only recognizes and investigates the material things which exist in the universe and their motions, their changes, their related events.  Modern science has adopted a method, though very effective in understanding inanimate material things, is necessarily not concerned with the individual natures of things, the individual essence of things.

A morality is the articulation of a set of rules which benefits persons.  Persons have goals.  Those goals are related to the essence of the person.  These goals include things such as freedom, salvation, eternal life, creativity, happiness.  To attain these goals, persons must engage in behaviors which help them reach these goals.  Morality is the set of rules which states what are those behaviors which support reaching those goals and what behaviors inhibit reaching those goals.  These rules are stated in the forms of shoulds/musts/oughts.

A person acts morally when s/he acts in accordance with these moral rules guiding him/her to those goals uniquely suited to human existence.  A person acts immorally when they act in opposition to those rules.  When s/he acts in a moral fashion, s/he is abiding by and acting in accordance with those rules which best match his/her essence as a person.

Modern science does not recognize the existence of essences or individual natures.  Therefore, science as science can have no interest in morality.  Science does not recognize the basis upon which morality is established; the identification of essences; of natures.  Nor should science recognize these bases of morality because, again, science as science has only two subject matters; matter and motion.

Moral relativism states that one cannot determine what is best for other persons.  At best, moral relativism states, that one can only know what is good for oneself.  Moral relativism holds that one cannot know what is good for all, good for others because one cannot know if persons have essences; natures which form the basis of determining the rules of a morality which apply in common to all persons.  In short, moral relativism appropriates the viewpoint of modern science, that essences and natures cannot be known.  Not being able to be known, the moral relativist holds that one cannot determine the rules of a morality.   Thus each individual is limited to doing what feels right/good/best for himself/herself.

Moral relativism is the necessary result of limiting one’s description of human beings to what science as science can say about persons, that they are material things as described by external causes.  Again, note, science as science does not say one should describe persons only in terms of matter and motion.  Science as science only says that the only thing it can say about what are called persons are those aspects of those persons which are material.

But, if one were then to assert that persons are nothing other than descriptions of matter and motion (for example, describing love as nothing more than brain neuro-chemistry), one has then left science and made a philosophical assertion.  The philosophical assertion made is that a a person is nothing other than the causal descriptions of the material aspects of those things called persons.  This limited description of persons is referred to as material reductionism.  Moral relativism is the necessary result of material reductionism; the necessary result of limiting one’s understanding of human beings to those material aspects which science as science investigates.

The reduction of morality to material reductionism, is a philosophical act and a moral act.  The philosophical act is that moral relativism embraces a concept of material reductionism.  A concept is not a material thing.  And finally, this act of limiting the description of the person to the categories of matter and motion (material reductionism) is done because it is assumed (by moral relativism) that such a choice is correct/good/best/right.  Clearly, moral relativism declares that this materially reductive description of persons and that this attitude of moral relativism is true for all, a position which is a self-contradiction.  Moral relativism is stating that the only morality true for all is that there is no morality which is true for all.