A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Have They Uncrowned Him Again?

In its March 2005 issue, The Angelus republished an article by Eric Gill (1882-1940) titled “Education For What?” which was written in 1940 (http://www.sspx.ca/Angelus/2005_March/Education_What.htm). In the Editorial of the July 2005 issue of The Angelus, Fr. Kenneth Novak acknowledged the “grave moral problems” of Gill that were recently brought to light and went on to confirm the actual content of the article as follows: “Despite the moral problems of Eric Gill–for which we can do penance–“Education For What?” itself is true, is Catholic, and is extremely sound.”

The Editor of The Angelus went on to discuss the importance of a truly Catholic “polemics” that focuses on “principles” rather than “persons”. It is in that same spirit that I would like to analyze the article “They Have Uncrowned Him Again” by J. Christopher Pryor that appeared in the July 2005 issue of “Knights” - a newsletter published by the Order of the Knights of Our Lady.

“Education for What?” considers the problems of modern education in light of man’s spiritual nature and final end. The means and ends of education will be approached very differently depending of the view of man as man. In other words, is man only a material being or does he have a spiritual character with a transcendent goal? If man is created for more that this earthly existence then how does that impact our view of education? These are the questions addressed in “Education for What?” that Pryor concludes was approached in a way that amounted to “naturalism” and “humanism”. We will walk through Pryor’s analysis of “Education for What?” section-by-section beginning with:

Gill Denied Catholicism Has the Only Answer?
The object of the essay was to expose and contrast the modern materialistic view with a socially united “religious” view in the context of education by employing a philosophical rather than a theological approach. The end of education is very different depending on the particular “world view“. For example, Gill says: “By accepting the religious view of man’s nature, we are compelled to take a very different, a radically different view of education. No longer can we think merely of getting on in the commercial and materialistic sense. We must now think of getting on in the sense of getting heavenwards.”

By using a philosophical approach and natural reason (rather than all that Catholics know by the light of divine faith) Gill shows his audience that man is a spiritual being and that he has a transcendent goal - not merely a materialistic existence here below. This approach does not add up to a “denial” of Catholicism for the simple fact that what he says here is true and in conformity with Catholic teaching. If we condemn Gill for philosophizing then we would be constrained to condemn a very large number of Catholic philosophers.

Gill's Answer Was Human Dignity?
In the first section we saw Pryor’s objection to a philosophical approach as a denial “of submission to the Catholic Religion and Our Lord”. This attitude against the “natural wisdom” of philosophy carries over into this section. The first objection we find is against Gill’s statement: “God exists; He is a Person; the Personal Author and Ruler of all things.” To this Pryor objects: “…he ignored the central article of the Faith, namely the Blessed Trinity. God is not a person, as Gill stated, but three Persons.”

Now it is the very nature of philosophy to demonstrate truths from reason and that is why the philosopher can refer to God as a “person”. For example, St. Thomas asks himself the question “Whether the word "person" should be said of God?” and indeed answers in the affirmative. (CF. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/102903.htm http://www.newadvent.org/summa/102904.htm )

The next objection we find in this section is against Gill’s statement that: “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. We are made in His image--that is to say we share in His spiritual nature. We are rational beings and can weigh the pros and cons of action; and having thus weighed, we can act freely; Thus we are children of God; if we are children of God we are heirs also.” To this Pryor objects: “…one can see the similarity between Gill's ideology and Dignitatis Humanae. Both wished to base man's worth on the dignity of the human person which, it was argued, enables man to 'transcend the terrestrial and temporal affairs,' or in other words partake in supernatural life.” [Emphasis mine]

Pryor unfortunately verlooks the distinction between the “natural” sonship and “supernatural” sonship of man with his creator. This failure caused Pryor to assume that Gill understood man’s ontological dignity and natural sonship as necessarily partaking “in supernatural life“. To understand our sonship in the natural sense we could again turn to the Angelic doctor who said:

Wherefore, as by the work of creation the Divine goodness is communicated to all creatures in a certain likeness, so by the work of adoption the likeness of natural sonship is communicated to men, according to Rm. 8:29: "Whom He foreknew . . . to be made conformable to the image of His Son." (CF. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/402301.htm)

One could also turn to the popes who refer to man’s sonship in the natural sense:

In fact, the first page of the Scripture, with magnificent simplicity, tells us how God, as a culmination to His creative work, made man to His Own image and likeness (cf. Genesis i. 26, 27); and the same Scripture tells us that He enriched man with supernatural gifts and privileges, and destined him to an eternal and ineffable happiness. It shows us besides how other men took their origin from the first couple, and then goes on, in unsurpassed vividness of language, to recount their division into different groups and their dispersion to various parts of the world. Even when they abandoned their Creator, God did not cease to regard them as His children, who, according to His merciful plan, should one day be reunited once more in His friendship (cf. Genesis xii. 3). (CF. Pius XII, SUMMI PONTIFICATUS, 1939)

Now the philosopher does not deny the supernatural or descend into naturalism when he refers to a natural truth that is intelligible by the powers of natural reason. This is the mistake that Pryor makes in this section.

Similar to Dignitatis Humanae?
In this section Pryor delves into the distinction between the “ontological” and “operative” dignity of man and the necessity of “operative” dignity for salvation…But Pryor again makes the critical logical fallacy: “Like the authors of Dignitatis Humanae, he [Gill] built his theory of education on the ontological dignity of the human person as the means by which man could obtain God.” [Emphasis mine]

Gill’s essay concerns education in light of man’s true (ontological) nature, however, Pryor wrongly accuses Gill of applying this truth to the supernatural order (i.e., man’s salvation) – something Gill did not do. In fact, consistent with what Gill has stated, Archbishop Lefebvre is quoted by Pryor saying that ontological dignity is a "transcendent orientation to God and is thus a divine call."

Pryor next objects to Gill’s statement below on account that it “denies” the necessity of operative dignity for salvation: "For it is not what we do that matters most, but what we are. And it is the same with things as with persons. Being is more important than doing.” Rather than denying the necessity of grace for salvation, Gill speaks of “doing” in the sense of materialistic activity that has a purely temporal end in view and subordinates this kind of materialistic “doing” to Being (i.e., a metaphysical concept that Pryor seems to have confused with the ontological dignity of man). Again, Gill is not addressing here the means to our supernatural end as such – rather he is considering education in light of man’s spiritual nature and transcendent goal. That is why Gill says: “For education will not then mean drawing out those faculties which make us successful worldlings, but drawing out those faculties which make us better fitted for an eternal rather than a merely temporary existence.”

Gill Promoted Naturalism & Indifferentism?
In this section Pryor rejects the following statement by Gill as “naturalism”: “Whether or no we can do good of ourselves, we can certainly refrain from evil, even if we are to some extent-perhaps to a large extent-the victims of our physical and psychological make-up.” Pryor objects as follows: “The idea that it is up for debate whether man can lead a virtuous life based upon one's natural power, without the assistance of supernatural grace, or that one could even abstain from sin without God's assistance, as Gill contended, is completely false.”

Again, Pryor’s assertion here is unfounded since Gill does not say that man can attain to the supernatural by his own natural powers. Rather, Gill is referring here to the fact that man can perform naturally good acts in the natural order by virtue of the natural law that is written on all hearts. It would be extreme to say that man has been so wounded by original sin that he is no longer capable of doing any natural good. For example, St. Thomas said:

Yet because human nature is not altogether corrupted by sin, so as to be shorn of every natural good, even in the state of corrupted nature it can, by virtue of its natural endowments, work some particular good, as to build dwellings, plant vineyards, and the like; yet it cannot do all the good natural to it, so as to fall short in nothing; just as a sick man can of himself make some movements, yet he cannot be perfectly moved with the movements of one in health, unless by the help of medicine he be cured. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/210902.htm

And elsewhere he states:

Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/209402.htm

This idea is confirmed by the following condemned proposition against the Jansenist mentality: "They agree with Pelagius who understand the text of the Apostle to the Romans: 'The nations, who do not have a law, do naturally the things, which are of the law'. (cf. Denzinger, 1022) Regarding Romans 2:14-15, the Haydock Commentary has this to say:

When the Gentiles...do by nature, or naturally, that is, without having received any written law, 'these men are a law unto themselves', and have it 'written in their hearts', as to the existence of God, and their reason tells them, that many sins are unlawful: they may also do some actions that are morally good, as by giving alms to relieve the poor, honoring their parents, etc. not that these actions, morally good, will suffice for their justification of themselves, or make them deserve a supernatural reward in the kingdom of heaven; but God, out of his infinite mercy, will give them some supernatural graces, by which they come to know, and believe, that he will reward their souls for eternity. Such, says S. Chrys. were the dispositions of Melchisedech, Job, Cornelius the Centurion, etc. (cf. Haydock Bible Commentary)

Pryor then objects that Gill “…was attempting to analyze religion and the Faith using human reason alone…It is the proud, or rather foolish, men who examine the mysteries of faith which surpass all understanding with the faculties of the human mind, and rely on human reason, which by nature of man's nature is weak and infirm.” Once again Pryor misunderstands the philosophical method employed by Gill. Gill is analyzing the problem of education with a view to man’s final end rather than conducting a theological study regarding “religion and the Faith” - as Pryor assumes here. Once again we see a confusion regarding the proper role of philosophy as natural wisdom. Etienne Gilson had this to say about philosophy and the relation of faith and reason:

Although the relationship established between faith and reason is so intimate, they still constitute two formally distinct types of knowledge, and the same can be said of philosophy and theology. In spite of the fact that their territories extend over a certain common expanse, they still do not coincide. Theology is the science of truths necessary for our salvation, and since all truths are not necessary for this, God has not revealed about creatures many things which they are capable of learning by themselves and for themselves, and which falls into different sciences according o the different genera of natural things, while theology considers them all under the perspective of salvation and in relation to God…Even when the two disciplines cover the same ground they keep their specific characters and thus are distinguished from each other. Indeed, they differ above all in their principles of demonstration…Just as two natural sciences can establish one and the same fact starting from different principles and arriving by different methods at the same conclusions, so the demonstrations of the philosopher, based on principles of reason, differ specifically from faith, even where both agree on the same truth…What we call Thomistic Philosophy is a body of rigorously demonstrable truths and is justifiable precisely as philosophy by reason alone… (CF. Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas)

Holding an unbalanced view on the relationship between faith and reason can lead to the extremes of rationalism on one hand and fideism on the other. The Catholic Encyclopedia has the following to say about fideism:

Fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Church has condemned such doctrines. In 1348, the Holy See proscribed certain fideistic propositions of Nicholas d'Autrecourt (cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, 10th ed., nn. 553-570). In his two Encyclicals, one of September, 1832, and the other of July, 1834, Gregory XVI condemned the political and philosophical ideas of Lamenais. On 8 September, 1840, Bautain was required to subscribe to several propositions directly opposed to Fideism, the first and the fifth of which read as follows: "Human reason is able to prove with certitude the existence of God; faith, a heavenly gift, is posterior to revelation, and therefore cannot be properly used against the atheist to prove the existence of God"; and "The use of reason precedes faith and, with the help of revelation and grace, leads to it." The same proposition were subscribed to by Bonnetty on 11 June, 1855 (cf. Denzinger, nn. 1650-1652). In his Letter of 11 December, 1862, to the Archbishop of Munich, Pius IX, while condemning Frohschammer's naturalism, affirms the ability of human reason to reach certitude concerning the fundamental truths of the moral and religious order (cf. Denzinger, 1666-1676). And, finally, the Vatican Council teaches as a dogma of Catholic faith that "one true God and Lord can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made" (Const., De Fide Catholicâ", Sess. III, can. i, De Revelatione; cf. Granderath, "Constitutiones dogmaticae Conc. Vatic.", Freiburg, 1892, p. 32 cf. Denzinger, n. 1806).

Gill Attacked the Kingship of Christ?
In his conclusion Pryor sums up his objection to “Education for What?” as follows:

The most pernicious aspect of Gill's humanist and naturalist errors reprinted in The Angelus is that these ideas deprive Our Lord of His rights as King. In the entire article written about the "religious view" of education, Gill did not refer to Our Lord and Saviour even once…Gill has objected to a materialistic view of the world and has replaced it with a humanistic view of the world.

In the final analysis, the basic “problem” of “Education for What?” is that Gill employed a philosophical approach to shed light on the modern problems of education in society by using reason rather than those supernatural truths that we know by the light of divine faith. This philosophical approach, according to Pryor, is equivalent to "naturalism" and “attacks the Kingship of Christ”.

If we want to restore the Social Kingship of Christ it is critical that we have the proper balanced and Catholic view on the relation between the natural and the supernatural orders - between nature and grace - between faith and reason - between Church and State. If we fall into extremes on either side we will not only make a mess of things here below in the natural order (e.g., politics, economics, philosophy, etc.) but our supernatural end itself is at stake. God's design has intended there to be a harmony between these two orders. I will conclude with some fitting remarks by Fr. Kenneth Novak from his July 2005 Editorial in The Angelus:

"The Catholic Church is concerned with one thing: to bring as many people as possible to their supernatural final end, the Beatific Vision. The State is concerned with one thing: to bring as many people as possible to their natural final end, the fulfillment of a virtuous life. The wrinkle comes when the Church's mission is stymied because the State doesn't fulfill its mission. Yet, the State is incapable of fulfilling its mission without help from the Church. We must accept that the two entities are meant by God to work together."

K Gurries
Copyright © 2005 K Gurries All rights reserved.



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November 14, 2005 2:26 PM  
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