For the last couple of postings, “More on Fulton Sheen” and “Fulton Sheen and the Idea of Ideas,” we’ve been looking into the bruhaha (ha, ha, ha!) over the announced delay in the “beatification” of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Although the stated reason for the delay is to resolve some issues that have no discernible basis in fact — although it is clearly prudent to make absolutely certain (or at least as certain as humanly possible) that there is no substance in the possibility — a number of interested parties immediately began speculating that there is some kind of conspiracy behind the decision. Of course, some of the individuals and groups making the claims have a vested interest in advancing Sheen’s “cause” as fast as possible, and might be tempted to overlook one or two things in their anxiety to promote their desired outcome.
This can cause significant problems, especially when it goes directly contrary to the expressed intent and known position of Fulton Sheen. For example, on obedience to authority, Sheen had this to say:
Obedience does not mean the execution of orders that are given by a drill sergeant. It springs rather from the love of an order, and love of him who gave it. The merit of obedience is less in the act than in the love; the submission, the devotion, and the service which obedience implies are not born of servitude, but are, rather, effects that spring from and are unified by love. Obedience is servility only to those who have not understood the spontaneity of love.
Our universe is governed by laws: things are this way and that way. By submission to laws, we make them our own. If, for instance we obey the laws of the body, we keep it in health; If we obey the laws of mind, we keep it learned. Spiritual being has its prizes too, as Our Lord said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
In other words, true obedience springs from love not from force. The worst man in the world knows a great deal more of his duty than the best man does. It is not for want of knowledge that men go to pieces, but rather for want of obedience to the knowledge of the good they already possess.
The obvious lesson to learn from Sheen himself — and one that a few of his more fervent admirers appear to have forgotten — is that people should love the Catholic Church enough to accept the order handed down to delay his beatification. Does that mean blindly? No, but it does mean at least politely and respectfully, even if you have objections.
What if you’re not Catholic, but still want to see Sheen beatified or whatever? Given that it is the Catholic Church’s rules for the organization’s own procedure, non-Catholics should respect those rules, even if they don’t feel they apply to them. For example, a Protestant, Jew, or Muslim would probably be out of line to say, “I think the Catholic Church is wrong and should recognize Sheen as a saint,” but perfectly within his or her rights to say, “I don’t care what the Catholic Church says, to me he’s a saint.” Even a Catholic is free to believe that Sheen is a saint, as long as it’s a private opinion. Just don’t go calling the Church’s authority into question, which is not the same as asking for an explanation — difficulties and doubts are two different things.
That is why we’re looking at the non-obvious lesson to learn from Sheen’s position on obedience, that of obedience to the laws of mind, that is, of reason. As he said, “Our universe is governed by laws: things are this way and that way. By submission to laws, we make them our own. If, for instance we obey the laws of the body, we keep it in health; If we obey the laws of mind, we keep it learned.”
This was a matter of great concern to Sheen, and he wrote his doctoral thesis, published as God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), on the modern tendency to reject reason in favor of personal opinion. Sheen, in fact, based his entire approach to God and man on the first principle of reason — on common sense. As he explained in God and Intelligence,
No thesis in the philosophy of St. Thomas is clearer than that which asserts that all knowledge rests upon a single first principle. To it all other principles of thought may be reduced. Upon it all depend for their validity. Without it there can be no certitude, but only opinion. Whether we choose to express this absolute, first principle in the form of an affirmation — the principle of identity — or in the form of a negation — the principle of contradiction — it matters not. The point is, that unless our knowledge hangs upon this basic principle, it is devoid of certainty. Wherefore, causality — efficient, formal, material or final — must attach itself in some manner to the principle of identity. In the Thomistic view, the connection is immediate. Its very immediateness gives to the notion of causality the absolute necessity and complete universality of the ultimate principle.
He who denies causality must ultimately deny the principle of identity and the principle of contradiction — and this is mental suicide. It is to assert that that which has not in itself and by itself its reason of being, is its own reason of being; or, in other words, is and is not, under the same formal consideration. (Fulton J. Sheen, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy: A Critical Study in the Light of the Philosophy of Saint Thomas. New York: IVE Press, 2009, 197.)
Thus, as far as Sheen was concerned, truth is a unity; truth cannot contradict truth. The first principle of reason is therefore stated in two ways, one negative and one positive:
· Negative, the Principle of Contradiction: Nothing can both be and not be at the same time under the same conditions.
· Positive, the Principle of Identity: That which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true.
These, then, are the “rules of the mind” to which Sheen referred — and which he saw violated in the modern world at every turn. People today seem to have no problem with contradicting themselves or denying what is clearly objectively true if they find it useful or convenient . . . which is what we’ll look at when we next post on this subject.#30#