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Monday, May 14, 2007

Doctrinal Infantilism versus Spiritual Childhood

Reading an approving summary of a recently published history of late twentieth century ‘Catholic’ theology it struck me that there is something tremendously irresponsible and childish about the ‘new theology’ the movement which has seized control of the Church in its aspect as a human institution since the Council, and which has brought such misery and spiritual destruction to the faithful. Universities are after all places of education for late teens and early twenty somethings, it is hardly surprising that something indefinably juvenile should infect the thought and attitudes of academics who have spent their entire lives in such institutions. The ‘new theology’ is a new gospel for academics. And, unfortunately, because it is the empirical natural sciences with their intrinsic provisionality and not the settled demonstrative sciences of Aristotle which enjoy today the cultural power and prestige which goes with the name of science, novelty has ceased to be a criticism and has become an intellectual virtue. Such an attitude is always a temptation of youth and now the formers of youth are surrounded by it not only because of the presence of youth itself but because of the scholarly air they breath.

God became man in Jesus Christ and the small number of crucial metaphysical concepts which would be necessary for a purely natural theology were greatly augmented by this first and greatest of all miracles. Person, nature, substance, form, species, procession, relation – these terms required irreformable definition if the Church was to fulfil her mission to guarantee for the faithful the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. In order to teach all nations a substantial metaphysics, physics, psychology and anthropology were required, the identification and terminological stabilisation of the perennial philosophy was revealed as a hypothetical necessity for the proclamation of the self-manifestation of God to man in Christ.

For the followers of the via moderna, the innumerable bastard offspring of Christendom’s decline, the creation of yet another philosophical system, a new philosophy, is the ultimate achievement of an intellectual career. For the Church it cannot be this way, there may be multiple schools which we may choose to call philosophies but there must be one horizon, one core perennial philosophy which ensures that the words with which the Magisterium defines the teaching of Christ retain an unalterable meaning though all generations. This one horizon is inseparable from the via antiqua, it is embodied in Pius X’s twenty four theses without which, as he taught, the “students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.”

This means that sacred doctrine and theology cannot conform to the model of the empirical sciences and it cannot be the ambition of each (or any) Catholic theological academic to create their own ‘theology’ with which to win a reputation and impress their colleagues. This makes a true theologian a stranger and an illegitimate figure in the eyes of his colleagues in the secular academy. It was too much for the creators of the nouvelle theologie. They strained against the restraints imposed upon them by the Church’s defence of Scholasticism they schemed and lobbied, and to their joy they broke, the anti-modernist apparatus which held them back from conformity to the world. Thus they have procured the ruin of innumerable souls.

The fathers fought and raged to establish a clear vocabulary in which the articles of faith could be unchangingly professed without ambiguity or mutability. Their struggle is the heroic intellectual epic of the early church. Scholasticism is the fruit of their effort as much perhaps more than it is the fruit of the Scholastics themselves. The new theologians looked back at the early church and they saw confusion and perplexity they saw all the things they wanted so much and which the curias of the pre-conciliar popes denied them. They fought to bring confusion and perplexity back to the church and they claimed the patronage of the fathers in doing so. They conveniently ignored the fact that the fathers themselves inhabited that confusion and perplexity only as part of their struggle to bring it to an end, they ignored the fathers’ anger and intolerant zeal for truth. They appealed to the spirit of ecumenism to excuse all this. The true explanation is that any resemblance to the project of the fathers and of the new theology is derived from the fact that the latter are undertaking the same task as the fathers but in reverse. They seek to untie the bonds the fathers made and unshackle the errors the fathers cast into the abyss.

Perhaps the style of scholastic theology in the 1950s was a little desiccated and more appeal to sacred art and to the fathers in addition to the scholastics was needed. Instead, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been transformed into a game for academics and emptied of all meaning and so emptied of all power. This movement does not require development in a new and more fruitful direction. Instead, it must be unmasked for what it is, modernism. Finally, it must be uprooted and destroyed, cast into the fire from whence it came.