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Our final cause is not tied to this world we live in. Though we inhabit the world for a rather temporary span of time, we do have enough time, no matter what polity or era we live in, to decide for ourselves whether or not we will accept the purpose for which we are created…

Catholicism and Intelligence by James V. Schall, S.J. (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017)

catholicism intelligenceLook upwards, then! Contemplate this place which is a habitation for all eternity! Then you will not need any longer to be at the mercy of what the multitude says about you: Then you will not have to put your trust in whatever human rewards your achievements may earn.[1]

In other words, Plato turned his face to truth, but his back on Mr. H.G. Wells, when he turned to his museum of specified ideals.[2]

It may be stated with more than some measure of assurance that Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., former Professor of Government at Georgetown University, possesses qualities which may be considered Chestertonian. Not only does he possess Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church, but, in so doing, he additionally exhibits the latter’s ability to redistill seemingly complex and ethereal concepts into the vessel where they were meant to reside, in humanity’s shared common sense. This is precisely what Fr. Schall does in his latest book, Catholicism and Intelligence.[3]

Echoing Chesterton’s own unique penchant for humor and seeing the profundity in simple things, Fr. Schall early on references a Peanuts cartoon wherein Lucy is visiting Charlie Brown at home. She informs him that not only does her house have a larger TV, but her house is also better owing to her father making more money than Charlie’s. To all of these, Charlie Brown is constant in his good-naturedness. Ultimately, he hopes Lucy enjoys her house and TV, and he is happy for her to do so. This, of course, infuriates Lucy, who lets Charlie know that he drives her crazy. Well, at least she has that TV to turn to.

Fr. Schall writes that Catholicism’s claim to the truth is akin to Charlie’s good-naturedness, seemingly immune from the envy and resentment others try to induce by touting matters of earthly prestige. And, to this, there is also a correlation of Lucy and critics of Catholicism. “This claim to truth, both of reason and revelation, does drive the modern world crazy. As implied in John’s Gospel, truth incites the persecution that Christ told His disciples to expect.”[4] He furthers this point, writing that even the most reasonable teachings of Catholicism, “sound crazy in a world that denies any order in nature or in the human being that is not placed there by man alone.”[5]

It is not altogether unique for Fr. Schall to cite Catholicism’s claim to truth in both reason and revelation. One of the sources he often quotes, Pope John Paul II, wrote that reason and faith were the two wings upon which human beings ascend to the truth. Yet, it is the specific and perceptive manner in how revelation and reason are oriented towards each other which Fr. Schall keenly stresses.

To this end, he first explains how of all places Paul the Apostle could have been sent to preach and promulgate the new faith, it was not the more populated far corners of the world, but Greece which was chosen. Unlike most civilizations of the time and before, the Greeks were not brimming with diverse religious activity. Rather, theirs was a land of thinkers purporting to love wisdom, a land of philosophers. Here, there was great import, as, “Christianity had to relate itself first to philosophy, not to other religions, precisely in order that it could be seen as universal.”[6] Had this not been achieved, there would have been no shared basis from which to have dealings with other differing faiths or philosophies. Likewise, Christianity, “would have had no common ground from within human reason whereby it could evaluate the truth of its own revelation as well as that of other religions.”[7]

Revelation’s role in this was seemingly less broad than it would seem. It was not meant to supplant reason, nor instruct it in what we could know or understand by it. This, Fr. Schall posits, comes from the authority of the Gospels themselves. “The Gospel also wants us to use our heads for our own sake. We are, if we can, to figure out what we need to do by ourselves.”[8] Revelation, as it was, was fashioned in such a way to address itself directly to human reason. Via the agency of reason, revelation is addressed to man in his wholeness. It was not meant to contradict reason or be irrational. In a manner, revelation was a gift, or boon to reason. “In seeking to understand the meaning of revelation, reason in fact became more, not less, reasonable.”[9] In addition, revelation was specifically addressed to reason when the latter was at its best, when it was most reasonable, “most consciously thinking of the reality of what is.”[10]

When what is becomes the subject of human contemplation via reason, which itself has revelation addressed to it, the outcome according to Fr. Schall is the realization of humanity’s place in it. Our final cause, as Aristotle would have put it, is not tied to this world we live in. Though we inhabit the world for a rather temporary span of time, we do have enough time, “no matter what polity or era we live in, to decide for ourselves whether or not we will accept the purpose for which we are created.”[11] This, Fr. Schall says, is the main message of importance revelation bequeathed to human beings.

The position through which human beings decide to either accept or refuse their purposes, or final causes, establishes that such creatures are secondary causes. These, as Fr. Schall states, are beings, “capable of their own activities or at least of having separate existence.”[12] Those of the modern scientific, or even scientistic point of view which eschews all but evidence-based reason, require a world populated by such secondary causes in order to go beyond thinking about the world, and onto actually investigating it. The existence of secondary causes is given more meaning by the addition of, “the idea that things are good and had a beginning,”[13] which was itself a conclusion of revelation, both Christian and Jewish. Uniquely, Fr. Schall points out, science did not grow from soil without these ideas from reason addressed by revelation.

It would seem odd then that the specific Western culture (in modern guise) from which science was able to spawn from, itself produces philosophies which seek to sever the ties between reason and revelation, and perhaps from reason and the human mind as well. The culprit here would not be the intellect itself, which is ordered to reason, but rather the will, which has plans of its own. “For much modern thought wants to cut our minds off from what is. Many see this cutting off of any relation of mind to reality as a way to liberate us so that we can do whatever we want.”[14]

There is poignant irony in this elevation of the arbitrariness of the will as a measure of freedom. This voluntarism wills to liberate via the elimination of personal accountability for one’s decisions. The will desires to not have to exercise itself for any decision which has true bearing on the whole of which it only constitutes a part. Yet, it itself cannot do this without first casting a vote in rejection of the ultimate purpose the entire being which it inhabits was meant for. “Truth means to conform our minds to what is, not the other way around.”[15] For the modern mind of the West, freedom would appear to come via the route of rejecting what it means to be free.

This voluntarism which stands athwart the truth espoused by the Catholic mind finds a strange cohort in the thought that drives the atrocities perpetrated by those seeking to establish a medieval Caliphate anew in the modern world. Fr. Schall writes that the Islamic State has no reservations about dubbing itself the true standard of its faith. It scorns Muslims who diverge from their vision, planning to silence these in time. With its aim being the conquest of the world, this also means everyone being brought under Islamic law which is taken as the will of Allah. Using force instead of reason and argument to attain this end is valid in the Caliphate’s holy book and its, “philosophic voluntarism that explains how Allah can at one-time talk of peace and then talk of war without any problem or need to resolve the contradiction.”[16]

Whereas in the aforementioned modern schools of philosophy which subordinate reason to the will in order to presumably be free from what is, Fr. Schall claims reason is at best a tool, or means to an end to those of this vision of a renewed Caliphate. “The world itself and all events in it are directly caused by Allah’s will.”[17] What links these brands of thought according to Fr. Schall, ultimately, is the negation of the existence of human beings as secondary causes, ironically something which the Catholic mind reasons, with revelation addressed to it, human beings were meant to be.

Toward the end of the book, Fr. Schall draws on Chesterton himself to approximate man’s lot, possessed as he is with revelation directed to his reason. Chesterton wrote that no other animal is afflicted with the phenomenon of laughter, perhaps a sign that man catches glimpses of deeper mysteries weaved into the fabric of the universe which it is itself unaware of. It is as if though he is living on earth, his home, he is nonetheless homesick.

As it turns out, this is due to each individual person having within immense value, something not simply discerned by vaunted human reason. “Man, each man, is more important than the cosmos. This fact is our dignity, in spite of the many theories that argue or imply that we have no dignity because the universe has no inner or external reason.”[18] Chesterton claimed for it to be unnatural to see man as simply a product of nature. In this latest work by Fr. Schall, one finds out the cause for this, a conclusion reached by Catholicism and intelligence. “That is, there rings in each man’s being an end higher than that due to his nature as simply a rational animal.”[19] Perhaps this, in the end, is why Catholicism and intelligence render someone akin to Charlie Brown who was eternally good-natured and content with his own house, TV, and father.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThe Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

Notes:

[1] Cicero, On the Good Life, (London: Penguin Classics, 1971), 352.

[2] G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2007), 41.

[3] James V. Schall, S.J., Catholicism and Intelligence, (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017).

[4] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 51.

[5] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 51.

[6] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 84.

[7] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 84.

[8] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 85.

[9] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 85.

[10] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 85.

[11] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 43.

[12] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 89.

[13] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 89

[14] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 87.

[15] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 87.

[16] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 106.

[17] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 106.

[18] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 124.

[19] Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, 124-125.

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2 replies to this post
  1. It seems one of the primary keys to understanding scripture is found in the fact of the two natures of Christ, human and divine. The master Teacher instructs us according human nature as preparation for inviting us to dig into the unfathomable reaches of His divine nature. It takes a certain light-heartedness to keep digging and at the same time not becoming weary of the effort. That light-heartedness may be the ascent into contemplative union with the Divine St. John of the Cross testifies to. Could it be that both Chesterton’s and F. Schall’s writing style, as simplistic and straight forward, is a style fashioned after the Master Himself? Could it be that, after plumbing the depths of Divine nature, when one returns to his human nature he returns with a clarity of reality that produces simple thoughts with eloquence that elevates? Thank you F. Schall, Mr. Chesterton and you, Mr. Yulo, for digging deep.

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