Thursday, May 28, 2015

Crisis of Reason, III: Symptoms of Irrationality


Yesterday we looked at the source of today’s “crisis of faith,” which is really a crisis of reason.  How is that?  As every pope since Pius IX (including John Paul I . . . remember him?) has made clear, just as you must base charity on justice, you must base faith solidly on a foundation of reason.  Reason does not replace faith, of course, any more than reason can replace faith.  Faith completes and perfects reason, it does not contradict it.  It’s faith AND reason, not faith OR reason.

Does this really need a caption?
Today we’re looking at the evidence of the loss of rationality.  Not loss of rationalism.  That’s something else again.  Rationalism — reason alone — is the opposite side of the coin that has fideism — faith alone.  You never get the whole picture by cutting off half of it.

Many people today blame the Second Vatican Council for all the problems that the Catholic Church is having.  This is the obvious place to quote George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  It’s also the obvious place to point out that the Catholic Church isn’t the only religious body having problems.  In some respects, the problems in the Catholic Church are not as bad as those others are going through.

Sacred blue!  Irrational Rationalism!
It started long before Vatican II.  We can trace it back thousands of years, in fact, even before there was a Catholic Church as an established body.  We’re concerned with the modern phase, though.  This began with the French Revolution and the distortions of “reason.”

When things settled down a bit, Pius IX was able to start addressing the problem.  He made it clear in his first encyclical in 1846 that it’s neither faith nor reason alone, but faith on a foundation of reason.

This also appears to have been the reason for calling the First Vatican Council — the definition of infallibility gets all the press, but if you read the council documents from Vatican I, it becomes clear that infallibility was defined to ensure that Catholics could have absolute certainty in matters of both faith and reason . . . once understood properly, of course.  It should come as no surprise that the degree of understanding in the student is not guaranteed by the infallibility of the teaching office of the teacher!

Pics of First Vatican Council with PIX
Translation: just because you think something has been declared infallibly doesn’t necessarily mean it’s so.  For example, a number of people believe that the Catholic Church has declared infallibly that capital punishment is wrong.  Those people need to read more carefully.  What was actually said is that the pope stated that in the present condition of society it does not appear that capital punishment can be justified.
Fr. Edward McGlynn

Back to our story.  What really gave the modern phase its greatest impetus was socialism.  This led inevitably to the rapid spread of the idea that the mission of the Church is wholly of this world, dedicated exclusively to meeting material needs — what the solidarist economist Dr. Franz Mueller called “meliorism,” and the binary lawyer-economist Louis Kelso called “needism.”  The loss of reason and the rise of socialism was the primary target of Leo XIII’s first three encyclicals.

What really brought out the heavy artillery, however, was “the McGlynn Affair” in the United States.  Father Edward McGlynn, a fervent promoter of the agrarian socialism of Henry George, was excommunicated on July 4, 1887 (effective July 5 due to the holiday) for disobeying a direct command of the pope to present himself in Rome to explain his actions.

At the same time, many people in the U.S. were petitioning Leo XIII to issue a definitive statement on the problems caused by Karl Marx and Henry George.  It took four years, but what resulted was Rerum Novarum in 1891 — which George and McGlynn instantly interpreted as a personal attack on themselves!

Fortunately McGlynn, like George, was a fundamentally honest if misguided man.  He eventually submitted to the requirements for lifting the excommunication (accept Rerum Novarum, apologize to the people he had insulted [especially Archbishop Corrigan and Cardinal Simione] and promise to go to Rome at the first opportunity), and a year and a half after he traveled to Rome fully recanted his georgist views and was put back in charge of a parish. (
“Parish for M’Glynn: He Recants and Will Soon Be Completely Forgiven,” Meriden Daily Republican, Meriden, Connecticut, Wednesday, December 19, 1894, 3.)

Unfortunately, the “Americanist” movement had been split into orthodox and what became known as modernist factions.  This spread to France, where the younger, liberal clergy were at odds with the older, conservative clergy.

Fr. Isaac Hecker
In response to Leo XIII’s call for the French to accept the Third Republic, some of the younger clergy took this as permission to update doctrine as well as certain practices based on human tradition, and modernism/Americanism/Heckerism was born.  Ironically, the movement had next to nothing to do with being modern, American, or a follower of Fr. Isaac Hecker’s actual teachings, as the pope made clear in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae in 1899.

What really embedded socialism, however, was the innovation of Msgr. John A. Ryan and his shift in the basis of the natural law from reason to faith, and his making private property contingent on something other than mere existence, i.e., shifting from the Intellect to the Will.  This was the central argument in Ryan’s doctoral thesis, A Living Wage (1906).  It’s on page 48 of the first edition, if you’re curious.

Fulton Sheen addressed this man-centered idea of religion in his first book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925) . . . and became the target of Ryan’s vindictiveness when Sheen was appointed to the faculty of the Catholic University of America where Ryan ruled supreme.  G.K. Chesterton had eviscerated Ryan’s position a few years earlier in his sketch on St. Francis of Assisi (and was, of course, completely misunderstood and misinterpreted).  As Chesterton said of this “new” view of property and approach to religion, that is, faith alone instead of faith and reason,

“St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilization was to be consumed.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1943, 175.)

Today, Sheen is known somewhat disparagingly as “the first televangelist,” while Ryan is enshrined as a virtual saint of Catholic social teaching, even though a careful examination of his work reveals that it is not only socialist, it is heavily tinged with influence from Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, as Ryan himself declared, an apostate Catholic turned spiritualist, and a primary source for Madame Blavatsky’s theosophy, who claimed that “ascended masters” dictated her books to her via Ouija Board.

Not surprisingly, a few days ago First Things published an article, “Tales of Two Social Scientists,” about how the social sciences are essentially bankrupt because they are based on the secular faith of political correctness instead of reason.

Obviously this outline leaves out an immense amount of critical detail and explanation, but that’s not the point.  The point is that, because reason has been pretty much abandoned, faith itself has suffered.

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