Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Protestant Rebellion (Non serviam)


SINCE the year, 1883, when the Protestant world celebrated the fourth centenary of Martin Luther's birth at Eisleben, scholars who have made a special study of the religious revolt of the sixteenth century have accepted as an undeniable historical conclusion the existence of two Luthers—a Luther of fiction and a Luther of fact. As posterity and historical scholarship have done justice to Luther, by drawing a sharp line of demarcation between the ideal reformer of panegyric and romance and the real founder of Protestantism, so also have theologians, after a thorough and searching study of the spirit and principles underlying the Reformation, discovered that Lutheranism, far from being an unmixed blessing, contained the germs of Evangelicalism and Liberalism, and of that Rationalism which underlies all the aberrations of modern Philosophy and runs through all the developments of the Higher Criticism, until finally it has run to seed in Modernism—that strange conlectum omnium heresion, as Pius X well styled it, which in our own day has succeeded in destroying the very vitals of Protestantism, whose philosophical and theological foundations the sapping of intellect had long since undermined, because of its revolt against their inconsistencies and logical contradictions
It is a strange paradox indeed that the religious revolt of the sixteenth century, which set out ostensibly to vindicate the independence of intellect, and to free it from the yoke of all authority, should be declared to be responsible for all the religious indifference of to-day, and even to have contained in germ those philosophical systems which are loudest in their charge of incompetency against the conclusions of reason, and in their denial of any validity to intellectual knowledge, ever since the day that Immanuel Kant became the founder of modern philosophical criticism. And yet this is only what might have been expected from the very beginning. It is the principle of private judgment driven to its logical conclusions. Since all truth has one source, it is not possible to divorce reason from religion; to set up a false religion and then to look to reason to justify such a course, cannot but end disastrously for the new theology, whose conclusions at every turn must be established at the expense of logical consistency. So that the logical course for the reformers, and the one which history shows them to have adopted, since they were too proud to acknowledge their apostasy and go back to the bosom of the true Church, was to set up a perplexing and exasperating antinomy between faith and reason; to say that the former had no foundation in the latter, nay, that the dogmas of the one contradicted the conclusions of the other.
There was one way by which a rapprochement could be effected between erroneous religious principles and intellectual integrity, and Protestant theologians have adopted it, when they deny any intellectual basis whatsoever for their doctrines, and make emotionalism alone the bar before which they are forever summoning the religious instinct to justify itself; knowing that before the bar of right reason, their system stands condemned. There are those who would make modern philosophy responsible for the ruin of faith in intellectual circles among the contradictory sects into which Protestantism is dissolving from day to day. But perhaps a truer conception of Reformation theology would go to show that modern philosophical systems themselves are rather a result than a cause of the errors that make religion to-day outside the Catholic Church anything but an obsequium rationabile. The most prominent characteristic of modern philosophy is a doubting scepticism stamped indelibly upon its beginning by its founder, Réné Descartes. The intellectual movement that culminated in the Reformation theology, and developed into Reformation philosophy, began long before October of 1517. It takes its origin, not from Luther, or the Castle Church of Wittenberg, but from the Humanists who came forth from Constantinople after its fall in 1453.

Of course, the movement received a great impetus from the Reformation, whose proud boast was the overthrow of all authority in matters of religious belief, and the enthronement in its stead of the supremacy of individual thought. The systems of Descartes' successors differed not so much in kind as in degree. Immanuel Kant is probably the greatest thinker of modern philosophy. He is certainly the one of whom it is proudest; and yet his greatest contribution to philosophical thought is nothing but a grand act of despair in the capabilities of the human intellect, amounting in fact to a denial of the objective validity of knowledge. Though setting out, like many another reformer, with the best of intentions, it was the author of the Critique of Pure Reason who put the finishing touches to Cartesian doubt and Cartesian rationalism. Modern thought in its origin and development is thus sceptical and agnostic, and Immanuel Kant is its prophet; for he was the one great thinker that has left the deepest impress upon the writers that followed him. He was, in the words of Sabatier, the master mind that makes leaders of lesser calibre proud to boast of the fact that they have received their philosophic initiation and baptism from his Critique. When we speak then of modern thought, we mean systems of philosophy that are preponderantly rationalistic, and, when there is question of the supernatural, altogether agnostic. This is to say that modern thought is dominated and impregnated, colored and tainted, by the philosophy of Kant. Even the philosophical principles underlying the religious sentimentality of Schleiermacher presuppose the Critique of Practical Reason of the professor of Königsberg.
Our age is one of sceptical unbelief in every department of knowledge. Rules of human conduct are vicious because they are founded on false principles of destructive philosophies. Leo XIII, looking at the dangers that threatened modern society, civil and religious, saw the root of the evil in the pestilence of perverse opinions built on the shifting foundations of weak and shallow philosophy, and declared that all society would be much more tranquil and much safer if healthier teaching were given in universities and schools. “If anyone will look carefully at the bitterness of our times, and if he considers earnestly the cause of what is done in public and in private life, he will discover with certainty the prolific root of the evils which are now overwhelming us and which we greatly fear. He will find that the cause lies in the evil teaching about things human and divine that has come forth from the schools of philosophers. It has crept into all the orders of the state, and it has been received with the common applause of very many.” Were Leo living to-day, how true and how justified he would think his diagnosis of the maladies that are slowly disrupting the social fabric.
It remained for Leo's successor, Pius X, to proscribe in no uncertain terms the attempts that were being made to readjust Christianity to the mentality of the age, and to reinterpret its dogmas in terms of modern thought. As Newman aptly expressed it, “while believing revelation, there is a tendency to fuse and recast it, to tune it, as it were, to a different key, and to reset its harmonies.” The Catholic Church, because it is divine, and the pillar and ground of infallible truth, has come forth triumphant from the open and covert attacks of these insidious and erroneous teachings; but alas, what has become, for those outside its fold, of those doctrines of faith and morality once held sacred even by the reformers themselves! In the absence of any infallible authority in their churches, the influence of modern philosophy has captivated the minds of Protestant theologians, and with them religion has ceased to connote all that it has hitherto stood for in the minds of reasonable men. Not only supernatural religion, but even our natural knowledge of God and the consequences that spring from that knowledge, with regard to His rights and our duties toward Him, has been corrupted and destroyed. We search in vain among the writings of modern philosophers to find a place in their theories of knowledge for the God of Scholasticism.
The name is mentioned, indeed, but the orthodox signification is conspicuous by its absence. “The adherents of these various systems like to be called Monists, and they are wont to apply the name of God to their one reality, into which they profess to resolve all existence; but the true name for them is Atheists, and we must protest against the practice of giving to the Name of God a meaning distinct from that which it has hitherto borne, and even opposite to it, in all that gives to the idea of God its special value as the basis of moral conduct and obligation.”.” For if God does not exist, religion and morality are mere meaningless abstractions. Kant's influence then is clearly discernible in the groundwork of modern thought. It is rationalistic, because Kant was a rationalist. It denies the supernatural and poses as agnostic, because Kant was pleased to put the supernatural outside the pale of intellectual knowledge. Because Kant in his Lutheranistic pietism made religion a matter of personal inward experience independent of external authority, modern thought, impatient of the restraints of any control, appeals to the supreme tribunal of the inner consciousness as the sacred fountain whence emanates the pure stream of religion and morality undefiled. The human heart has thus become the Sinai whence is promulgated the new decalogue of sentimental liberalism.
It is easy to show that modern philosophy is proximately responsible for the decay of religious teaching in matters of faith and morals, for so Popes and Councils have taught us. But is it possible to prove that modern thought is itself an excrescence of Reformation theology, that darkens our understanding and weakens our will, and leaves in us a strong inclination to flippancy and shallowness when treating of the most sacred truths? Is this a result of the original sin of Martin Luther, what time he nailed his ninety-five theses to the doors of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, on that fateful eve of all Saints, 1517, when the novel doctrines of the Saxon monk put him at the head of that religious unrest which his ready comprehension had shown him to be swaying the contemporary world, as expressed in the unsettled currents of thought then prevalent in its intellectual centres?
The theology of present-day Protestantism, as championed by men like Dr. McConnell, calls for a complete divorce of religion from objective fact and grounds of intellect, and a founding of the whole edifice upon an emotional consciousness. It has no express intention of turning atheist any more than Kant had; but, like him, it is satisfied with the undogmatic and emotional piety inspired by Luther. Since even God Himself cannot be reached by intellect, and human nature cannot well get on without Him, we must believe in God for reasons of expediency and sentimentalism. Since modern philosophy knows no science of metaphysics, its psychology will not allow the modern theologian to say that God exists, a proposition that savors too much of the medieval science of being. Its credo in unum Deum is revised and modernized and brought abreast of the age into “Man cannot help wishing a God to be.” If to the subjectivism of Kant be added the humanism of Professor James, we have the foundations upon which is built the whole summa of Protestant theology, deducible with mathematical exactness from its primum verum—“Wanted, a God”. Each man's religion is just what he finds it expedient to believe. Man needs religion and creates it for himself accordingly. If it suits his interests to believe in it, it is so far forth good and true.
But other men may think otherwise, and so are free to believe otherwise also. Since even the expedient for the same individual is subject to change, so proportionately his beliefs and their object may change too. What was good and true yesterday may be bad and false tomorrow. Thus does dogma progress and regress; and truth, becoming identified with expediency of belief and a vague undefinable sentimentality, the will and emotions, not intellect, are made its judges. Emotional standards are especially the deciding factor in matters of supernatural beliefs; and the only test of experience to which it is legitimate to subject them is—How do they serve the account of the individual who in the security of his foggy and mystified pietism scorns to formulate any system of objective apologetics? Each must decide for himself, his religion, its foundations, origin, and genesis, in the introverted quiet of the sanctuary of his own soul, if he has a soul; and every age is supreme in deciding what are its own peculiar religious needs, and this conglomeration of individual tastes, in a given time, is the universal consciousness, to whose bidding the Church must conform its teachings and its practices, its dogmas and its morals, if it is to remain true to this Christian consciousness. That is the Court of final appeal and last resort for enlightened humanity, emancipated from the yoke of every authority, human and divine. Even the bondage of knowing the truth is forsaken for the freedom of doubt and denial and the inalienable liberty of wandering along the primrose paths of error, out of the beaten way that would make the mind conform itself to fixed and immovable standards of objective realities, in tending to the great goal of truth. Things are good and true because they are expedient, not expedient because they are true and good. This is Kantian subjectivism with a vengeance, for even Professor James owes much to the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft.
Scholasticism on the contrary would prove the truth of Christianity and all it stands for, by purely objective criteria. Religion, if you like, is a fact of human consciousness. It is a mere phenomenon of the human mind, if you only mean that men have thought about it, and have been elevated and purified for the thought of it. But if you go on to say that, because men have thought of it, and believed in it, and have lived it, they are its creators and its causes, you are assuming what, in the interest of historical and scientific truth, all sensible men must reject, namely, that our own dreaming and theorizing Egos are the creators of nature and the universe, and—pardon me for the blasphemy—the creators likewise of the God of nature and the divine authors of the supernatural itself.
The preconceived philosophical dogmas of Neo-Kantian philosophy will not allow the modern Protestant theologian intellectually to recognize things as they are in themselves, apart from the forms and impressions and creations of the human mind. His dogmatic bias makes him the measure of religious truth also, instead of making religious truth a God-given standard to which the human mind in its beliefs must conform itself. Even the great pagan Plato, more than two thousand years ago, taught “that God should be to us the measure of all things, much more than any man.” Religious sentiment and emotion, then, gives us divine realities that do not exist in themselves independently of the person who believes in them. The Deity is not external but immanent in man. We cannot raise our minds and hearts to God any more in the old sense. But we can do better, think our modern Aquinases—we can raise God in our hearts and minds! Revelation and dogma are the products of the vague indefinite cravings of human desires, not objective truths that satisfy the intellect and the heart, that conform themselves to them, but things which are summoned into existence or out of it, by the passing longings of human sentiment and emotions. If God has any objectivity or permanence apart from the modern Protestant theologian's notion of Him, He has it because these ravings about religious values lie latent in the tranquil sub-consciousness of the prospective believer. God is capable of being evolved at any moment, provided the aspirations of humanity are allowed to develop to their highest and their best.
How these theologians, some holding high ministerial office, in Protestant communions, can call themselves Theists and even Christians, while holding doctrines so contrary to every notion of orthodox religion, natural or revealed, passes ordinary comprehension. We are astonished to find men holding the rank of Dr. McConnell, asking in the pages of the North American Review, “if there is any way by which the religious man and the intelligent man, or rather the religion and the intelligence in man, can get together.” And he solves his difficulty by allowing one and the same individual mind to maintain its intellectual integrity with regard to the essentials of a religion, such as we have described it, and at the same time consistently to profess faith in the venerable creeds of Christianity! Would it not be a more honest position to admit outright that the impetus of the grand and glorious Reformation of the sixteenth century has fizzled out in philosophical infidelity in the twentieth? And now that the Protestant Churches are doing special honor this year to the founder of Protestantism, is it not strange that reflecting minds among them cannot see that it is Luther who is responsible for all this travesty of unreasoned religion, this eviscerated Christianity of modern times? All this liberal theology of to-day is only a revival of Lutheranism, because it was his Lutheranistic pietism that made Kant seek God through the practical reason, after he had dethroned him from his seat in the intellect proper.
Liberalism, in following Kant, is thus unconsciously imitating the example set by Luther. As long ago as 1852 the keen mind of Newman saw that it was Luther who had sown the seeds of the terrible religious indifference and widespread unbelief which exists in the modern world, and which has gone on increasing to such an alarming extent to our own day, under the baneful influence of egregious systems of idealistic philosophy. The following passage from the pen of the illustrious Cardinal, in the Idea of a University, fully substantiates our thesis. “In proportion as the Lutheran leaven spread, it became fashionable to say that faith was, not an acceptance of revealed doctrine, not an act of the intellect, but a feeling, an emotion, an affection, an appetency; and, as this view of faith obtained, so was the connection of Faith with Truth and Knowledge more and more either forgotten or denied. At length the identity of this (so-called) spirituality of heart and the virtue of Faith was acknowledged on all hands. Some men indeed disapproved the pietism in question, others admired it; but whether they admired or disapproved, both the one party and the other found themselves in agreement on the main point, viz. in considering that this really was in substance Religion, and nothing else; that Religion was based, not on argument, but on taste and sentiment, that nothing was objective, everything subjective in doctrine. . . . They learned to believe and to take it for granted, that Religion was nothing beyond a supply of the wants of human nature, not an external fact and a work of God.
There was, it appeared, a demand for religion, and therefore there was a supply; human nature could not do without religion, any more than it could do without bread; a supply was absolutely necessary, good or bad, and, as in the case of the articles of daily sustenance, an article which was really inferior was better than none at all. Thus religion was useful, venerable, beautiful, the sanction of order, the stay of government, the curb of self-will and self-indulgence, which the laws cannot reach: but, after all, on what was it based ? Why, that was a question delicate to ask, and imprudent to answer; but, if the truth must be spoken, however reluctantly, the long and short of the matter was this, that Religion was based on custom, on prejudice, on law, on education, on habit, on loyalty, on feudalism, on enlightened experience, on many, many things, but not at all on reason; reason was neither its warrant, nor its instrument, and science had as little connection with it as with the fashions of the seasons, or the state of the weather.” Over against this travesty of theology stands the rock-ribbed system of the Catholic Church, which, sinning neither by excess nor defect, holds that “the doctrine of our Saviour is indeed perfect in itself and has need of nothing, for as much as it is the power and the wisdom of God.”
Yet does it not despise the native dignity of the human intellect, but believes “that a rightly and wisely used system of philosophy is able in a certain measure to pave and to guard the road to the true faith, and is able also to prepare the minds of its followers in a fitting way for the receiving of revelation.” It knows full well that Greek philosophy does not make the faith more powerful, but still it knows that great and glorious truths can be gathered from human reason. It teaches that the philosophy of the schools “is an education leading to the Christian faith,” “a prelude and help to Christianity,” “a schoolmaster for the gospel.” Not confining speculation within the limits of the narrow circle of a mere theory of knowing, it does not make its metaphysics conterminous with psychology, even that caricature of a psychology that ignores or denies the existence of an immortal soul. With a true scientific imagination, it will not divorce knowledge from experience; it scorns to abandon for the mere poetic monistic idealism of the Neo-Kantians its well-balanced science of being, built on that sane and moderate dualism borrowed of Aristotle, which, while it exalts mind infinitely above matter, still has room for a real distinction between intellect and the world which it cognizes, and, being rationally theistic, between God and His creation. The higher unity of pantheism never charmed the true Scholastic. He made indeed the being of the contingent world analogous to the being of God, but infinitely below it.
The scholastic mind was ever bent on the bed-rock of being, not wasting its energies on mere forms of thought; but, accepting facts, it made a pronounced objectivity the most characteristic feature of its whole system of philosophy. It accepted as an axiomatic truth the invincible belief that man sees a world, which is no part of his own mind, nor yet a necessary shadow cast by the Creator outside His own infinity. This primary dictum of the philosophy of the Schools kept metaphysics and psychology distinct, a distinction altogether ignored by modern idealism, which confounds consciousness with all reality, making it the object, not the instrument, of its cognition; and thus it ends in a vulgar pantheism. Thus Scholasticism is able to establish triumphantly against all the specious arguments of sophistry the praeambula fidei—the immortality of the human soul, the existence of God. It shows that God excels in His own peculiar excellence, by the sum of all perfections, by an infinite wisdom from which nothing is hidden, and by a supreme justice, which no shadow of evil can touch. It proves that God is not only true, but the truth itself, incapable of deceiving or being deceived; and thus does human reason obtain for the word of God the fullest belief and authority.
Thus does this twin alliance of faith and reason, effected in the councils of Scholasticism, reject a separate peace with the foes of truth. Theology was partly divine and partly human. It is divine inasmuch as it came from heaven in revealed truths or principles which human reason developed as it proceeded f1om premise to conclusion, establishing beforehand, by its own unaided powers, the trustworthiness of the sources of knowledge whence came those truths that lay outside its own special sphere of inquiry, namely: those dogmas that belong exclusively to the higher science of theology, those mysteries of our holy faith which the human mind can neither demonstrate nor comprehend.
Distinct though the two sciences of philosophy and theology are in their formal objects, still are their conclusions ever in complete harmony, because since both spring from the same fountain of knowledge, it is essentially impossible for the God of nature and the supernatural ever to contradict Himself. Faith never contradicts reason, because it does not at all follow that because a mystery is incomprehensible to human reason, it must therefore be labeled a contradiction. Revelation enlarges the horizon of knowledge, and, accepting the limitations of human thought to lie within the bounds of the natural order of things, faith strengthens and supplements and becomes a complement of reason. Beyond the confines where human knowledge terminates, modern agnostic philosophy places the region of nescience, where no human thing can dwell; while the Scholastic, with the light of faith upon his soul and the word of God for a lamp to his feet, enters a new world, a land of promise made known by a higher knowledge revealed by God, to which assent is reasonably given, since the authority of its source has already been demonstrated—the authority of the infallible Godhead. Knowledge, for the Scholastic, is co-extensive with reality. As reality is the twofold realm of science and faith, the latter continuous with the former, assent to its dogmas is still radically reasonable; for belief must rest ultimately on the authority of God, and it is the unaided light of human reason which primarily must tell us that God cannot deceive or be deceived.
If our faith then is not to degenerate into a blind superstition, reason must furnish unaided the motives of credibility and establish beyond prudent doubt the preambles of supernatural faith. Scholasticism, unlike later systems of philosophy, then, does not seek refuge in any insoluble enigmas, any irreconcilable antinomies between faith and reason, but recognizes that revelation is eminently reasonable, and that reason is in a manner divine. This is the greatest triumph of the philosophy of the Schools, this constructive synthesis that clearly defines the provinces of philosophy and theology, while it shows perfect harmony between faith and science, between the human reason and the divine. Catholicity is the true champion of the claims of intellect, for even God Himself or His Church does not ask us to accept the truths of faith blindly, but, as a preliminary thereto, He wishes us to make full use of our reason. All He demands of us is that we trust those to whom He has given the requisite credentials.
Scholastic theology at all times has consequently insisted on the necessity of objective apologetics, and Catholics are the most rational of believers, because they will not rest their beliefs on merely subjective feelings, but only on the rock of objective and infallible criteria. Even the most profound mysteries of the faith, though anything but objectively evident, are not accepted until they have become evidently credible, by the application of standards of assent which are themselves objectively evident in their certainty, which is the ultimate criterion of certitude.
Liberal Protestantism on the contrary rejects reason for the sake of the religious sense. Their faith is only a blind groping after the unknowable that cannot be scientifically justified by reason, according to their own premises. For Catholics, as Pascal truly remarked, “faith is the highest act of reason,” and the Vatican Council itself teaches us that right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith. “If any person says that divine revelation cannot become credible by external signs, and that by internal experience alone or by private inspiration men are moved to faith, let him be anathema.” Relative immanence has its place in Catholic theology, we admit, and some modern Catholic apologists lay great stress on internal feelings and desires; but it is questionable whether this method is practical in scientific apologetics. Hence, Catholic theologians are extremely cautious about the emphasis placed on these methods as against the traditional and recognized proofs. As motives of belief, they must not receive undue prominence, especially if this is done at the expense of keeping external motives in the background. Without borrowing from Protestant apologetics, subjective states of mind cannot receive too much value in a scientific analysis of the motives of credibility. These should be at all times severely tested in the light of objective facts. It was fear of the light that cannot injure the truth, which made Luther take refuge in subjectivism.
Kant's subjective idealism, when applied to religion, we have seen develop into pantheism in the hands of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; while Schleiermacher did not hesitate to make a mere subjective sentiment the very essence of religion, and the great and penetrating, but unscholastically trained, mind of Newman himself, while still a Protestant, thought it sound criticism to teach that popular feeling and moral instinct was sufficient ground for the reformers of the sixteenth century, in giving their assent to the belief that the Bible was truly the word of God. Psychological voluntarism and credulity may lead into any extravagance in religious states, apart from the restraint of constitutional checks and balances administered under the dry light and before the cold scientific cross-examination of the bar of intellect.
It must not be inferred from our thesis, however, that the assent of supernatural faith is no stronger than the natural motives of credibility warrant. For an act of supernatural faith there is need of divine grace to enlighten the understanding and strengthen the will. We are not dealing explicitly, however, with the act of faith in itself, so much as with the reasons that make the faith that is in us a reasonable service. Our quarrel is with liberal Protestantism, which after it broke with authority went on to ridicule the supernatural, and, calling itself rational, rejected the reasonable credentials demanded of orthodox Christianity; the while appealing to reason, and still inconsistently presuming to pass judgment on revelation and the supernatural and declaring unknowable everything that transcends the limits of reason, and gratuitously confining the limits of reason itself to knowledge of the phenomena of sensible things only.
The Catholic on the contrary examines the documents of his faith, and tests the value of the motives of his belief. Accepting the primary conceptions of the understanding, which are known immediately by the light of reason, such as first principles, he is certain he can acquire the knowledge of God. His reason, too, can establish God's holiness and veracity, and consequently the grounds for the reasonableness of faith in divine revelation, which is ultimately based on the infallible authority of God. This mode of procedure is eminently reasonable, and thus Catholicism is the real apotheosis of intellect; and Protestantism, while boastfully asserting the contrary, stands convicted in principle and in theory of being avowedly hostile to the independent rights of reason, preferring in the name of a false liberty, which is in reality license, the degrading freedom of being in error to the glorious bondage of knowing the truth.
~J. C. HARRINGTON., St. Paul, Minnesota.
Taken from The American Ecclesiastical Review, Volume 57; 1917.

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