Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fulton Sheen Suspended . . . Again?, III: Faith v. Reason . . . Again?


Yesterday we reviewed very briefly Fulton Sheen’s stand on the natural law, justice, charity, and all that sort of thing.  We believe that he is fully consistent with the principles of the Just Third Way . . . or that the principles of the Just Third Way are fully consistent with him; whichever way you want to take it.

Many people in the Catholic Church, however, take a different position.  As far as they are concerned, law is will, lex voluntas.  They believe that faith and reason, and often faith alone, are essential to come to knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law.  This is a belief specifically refuted by Aquinas, many of the popes, and the Canons of the First Vatican Council.

Within the framework dictated by faith instead of reason, as Knox pointed out, legal rights become something restricted to the godly, i.e., those who are deemed righteous or otherwise worthy of having rights.  The ungodly or the unworthy have no legal rights.  The natural law changes from being something built into human nature by God at the moment of creation and analogous to His Nature (“the image and likeness of God”), to a revocable grant or gift that must be justified in some fashion, a shift from the Intellect to the Will, or from reason to faith.  This is an example of that “species of moral, legal, and social modernism” (positivism) Pius XI condemned in his first encyclical (Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, § 61).

Sheen’s adherence to the Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of the natural law, and many Catholics’ and others’ rejection of it, would account for the hostility CESJ’s edition of Freedom Under God has encountered.  This might also explain why the Justice University concept by means of which we want to restore sound understanding of justice to academia has not met with any degree of (if you’ll pardon the term) enthusiasm.

The unquestionable fact is that Sheen insisted on the immutability and the consistency of truth (and Truth) discernible by reason.  The modernist/positivist Catholic of today, however, insists on that “Manichean mutability” of which Chesterton spoke with such disdain, and is found in “New Age” (i.e., theosophy or “Esoteric Buddhism”) thought.

Consequently, the modernist/positivist enthusiast tries to base the natural law (inevitably merged into and subsumed by the supernatural law) in part or wholly on faith, and often ends up a socialist or capitalist.  Sometimes he or she even slides into theosophy before becoming a complete moral relativist.  (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 6; cf. Heinrich Rommen in The Natural Law, and Mortimer Adler’s discussion on the modern(ist) confusion between knowledge and opinion in his book, Ten Philosophical Mistakes.)

Thus, many people implicitly demand that Sheen (and Chesterton) support their faith-based position, when an objective assessment of Sheen’s position bases it squarely on reason, to say nothing of Beaconsfield’s Apostle of Common Sense.  They prefer the “nice” spiritual Sheen and the witty and clever Chesterton.  Knox they pretty much ignore — he’s clever and witty, too, but they have trouble misunderstanding him or twisting what he said into the desired pattern or paradigm.

The clear emphasis on reason and rejection of modernism/positivism in orthodox Catholic thought is, evidently, causing a certain amount (or a lot) of acrimony among both liberal and conservative modernists/positivists within and without the Catholic Church, and pitting them against the orthodox when they are not going after each other hammer and tongs.  This issue has divided the Church, and set Catholic against Catholic, for over a century.  (Cf. Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, § 24.)  Cardinal Dolan may be motivated by nothing more than prudence, not wanting to pour gasoline on the fire by seeming to support either liberal or conservative modernist/positivist error against orthodoxy before the truth is made manifest within an increasingly divided Church.

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7 comments:

Baseball Billy said...

If the reference (at the end) is to Cardinal Dolan's decision to serve as marshall of the St. Patrick's Day parade in which a homosexual activist group is scheduled to march, I offer another opinion as to whether his decision is prudent or imprudent. It is imprudent because it appears to condone homosexual acts. And by doing so, he pours gasoline on the fire by seeming to support the liberal modernist/positivist error against orthodoxy, against faith and reason.

Michael D. Greaney said...

No, it's only in reference to the suspension of Sheen's cause for canonization. Bishop Jenky did the same thing once before, when he suspended Sheen's cause on November 3, 2010 because he demanded Sheen's corpse. He resuscitated the cause on January 27, 2011 after receiving Cardinal Dolan's assurance that he, Dolan, would consult the wishes of Sheen's family and the Vatican. Sheen's family seems pretty convinced that Sheen should remain where he is. Jenky appears to be trying to apply pressure again by doing the same thing for the same reason as before. I hope he simply doesn't realize how this harms both the cause and Peoria's argument that they should have the body. I don't know if such a thing has ever been done before, but I suppose it's possible that, in response to popular demand, the cause could be taken away from Peoria and given to New York. The laity, especially, tend to have little patience with ecclesiastical politics, just as I have none for that of academia.

Baseball Billy said...

Maybe the family, at some point, will change their opinion as to the location of Bishop Sheen's remains. As you said (part II), it could actually be a very good thing that Sheen's cause has been suspended, as it may prompt "discussion of some key issues that Catholic academia and the American hierarchy have very carefully avoided dealing with for over a century."

It seems to me that the possibility you mentioned, of New York receiving the cause for canonization, is remote. One reason it seems so is I don't think there will be "popular demand" for the cause to be given to New York, where Cardinal Dolan seems to be spreading confusion.

Michael D. Greaney said...

I said it's possible, although hardly probable. I think the whole thing is politics, but it might get some people thinking, and prompt them to take a serious look at Sheen's intellectual work, which — to put it mildly — is astonishing. Frankly, I don't care where his body ends up, and neither should anyone else, as long as he can intercede for them in heaven, and provide an example of the cooperation of faith and reason for us to counter some of the nuttiness we see increasing around us every day.

Baseball Billy said...

Well said.

Baseball Billy said...

Well said.

But I think you meant to say "giving in to human weakness," where you said "politics." (Pure speculation on my part)

Michael D. Greaney said...

Good point. In a sense, politics, as the art of the possible, is an accommodation to human weakness. If the system and life within organized social bodies (the pólis; hence politics) were only for the perfected instead for the perfectible, we'd all be in pretty bad shape. There must be some accommodation to human weakness in any system devised by man — even if the institution the system supports is divinely instituted — or we fall into the trap that Msgr. Knox termed "enthusiasm," which he defined as an excess of charity that threatens unity. If only the perfect or the godly have rights, then the rest of humanity isn't even fully human.