Letters to the Editor
Editor FAITH MAGAZINE July-August 2013
The Editor, St Mary’s and St David’s, 15 Buccleuch Street, Hawick TD9 0HH, email@example.com
Form of ‘Horseness’
Dear Father Editor,
In your May/June editorial, you question Aristotle’s concept of the form’s adequacy for giving an account of the continuum of development in life forms that lies at the heart of the theory of evolution. Aristotle’s concept of form, suitably refined by St Thomas Aquinas, is a metaphysical concept. As such it has no place in empirical description. It is wholly – and rightly – innocent of the concept of falsifiability. The latter is the indisputable foundation of scientific enquiry. It is not the task of metaphysics to give an empirical account of anything.
Aristotle’s hylomorphism (matter-formism) has triumphantly withstood the test of time. Aquinas’ teleology is unthinkable without it. Without form we would have no basis for natural law morality. If evolution is a true scientific theory – and not just an ideology – then it must be falsifiable. Empirical investigation is built upon the notion of falsifiability. A non-falsifiable scientific hypothesis is a contradiction in terms. But is evolution falsifiable? That – and not Thomistic metaphysics – is what needs looking at.
Dear Father Editor,
Your May/June editorial sees St Thomas Aquinas’s system as static, and says we need something more dynamic – specifically, that we need to bring in evolution (this is a traditional Faith movement theme, and to be expected). But then it speaks explicitly of ditching the form (or essence) approach of Aquinas and Aristotle and gives the example of “horseness” as something that can change – without seeming to realise that this leads logically to ditching the notion of “human being” and, as a consequence, our union with other humans, from Adam and Eve down the ages until
the end of time.
If we do not share the same nature, what happens to original sin; to our solidarity with others; even to our being able to understand what they say? If the matter is taken to its logical conclusion, we would end up ditching the notion of Christ himself as something (or someone) permanent.
I think this poses a key query about the possibility of combining evolution and Christianity. An attempt to save the possibility could be that human beings, unlike horses, have an immortal soul, which keeps us all united, despite the fact that our bodies can evolve. But this does not fit in well with the theory of evolution (or at least I don’t see it doing so).
I have considerable admiration for the work the Faith movement does to promote the Catholic faith, but I have always been hesitant about its espousal of evolution (although I realise this is a central tenet). This editorial makes me more hesitant.
Fr Andrew Byrne
We are very grateful to Mr Martins and Fr Byrne for their thought-provoking letters. Space does not allow us to address exhaustively the issues raised, but it is precisely these issues that must be resolved if the New Evangelisation is to take root in our culture. While offering only a thumbnail sketch here we fully intend to revisit these issues at greater length in subsequent editions of this magazine.
First, a caveat: without getting bogged down in the scientific status of the theory of evolution, we should note that among scientists there is a consensus on the broad lines of the theory of evolution. Within those broad lines there are variations. Some of these variations may owe more to ideology than to empirical observation, and certainly some of them may be incompatible with the Catholic faith.
Our contention is that generally speaking the theory of evolution is not at odds with the Catholic faith. We do, however, note that both Mr Martins and Fr Byrne share our conviction that there is a tension between Thomistic metaphysics and the theory of evolution. Furthermore, we think Mr Martins is right to draw out the link between this issue and the whole question of morality and natural law. Fr Byrne is right to highlight its links with questions of anthropology and original sin. Mr Martins goes on to assert that Aristotle’s metaphysics “has triumphantly withstood the test of time”. We would demur.
It is simply a fact that many reputable scientists and philosophers of science dismiss metaphysics as irrelevant. Furthermore, the pre-modern science concept of “the nature” has been slipping out of our culture’s world-view for centuries, given the force of new knowledge about formality.
And this loss of the coherence of Catholic philosophy, which was so fruitfully at the heart of the growth of second-millennium western civilisation, has been followed by exactly the undermining of Catholic doctrines, inside and outside the Church, which Fr Byrne alludes to.
To cite one example, Professor Stephen Hawking, whose iconic status as a scientist has made him enormously influential in contemporary culture, says in his 2010 book The Grand Design: “Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead … Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics … Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”
If philosophy does not dialogue with modern science it condemns itself to obscurity. Where, after all, did Aristotle and scholasticism get their concept of “form” if not from (relatively accurate) observation of the natural world? And if the philosophy we use as a vehicle to present the content of our faith can be dismissed as irrelevant, so also the content of our faith may be dismissed as irrelevant. And who could deny that this is taking place in our culture at the present moment?
While cautioning against a simplistic understanding of the relationship between science and metaphysics, we cannot accept the notion that the latter can somehow entirely insulate itself against the discoveries of modern science. Even the Church’s Magisterium will not allow this.
Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Aeterni Patris, which did so much to foster the Thomistic revival in the 19th century, notes: “The Scholastics … well understood that nothing was of greater use to the philosopher than diligently to search into the mysteries of nature and to be earnest and constant in the study of physical things. And this they confirmed by their own example; for St Thomas, Blessed Albertus Magnus and other leaders of the Scholastics were never so wholly rapt in the study of philosophy as not to give large attention to the knowledge of natural things”.
Fr Byrne suggests our editorial “speaks explicitly of ditching the form … approach of Aquinas and Aristotle”. In fact our criticism was slightly more nuanced: we took issue with the notion of the form as a “static constant”. We do not want to do away with the notion of form altogether; we are not advocating nominalism. Modern science, however, allows us to elaborate a more refined notion of the relative form, according to which the form of any given reality is understood as relative to its environment.
In so far as that relationship of a reality to its environment is repeatable, two individuals may share the same relationship to their environment and so share the same nature. Form here is understood not as a distinct metaphysical principle but rather as a repeatable function of a relationship between an individual and its environment. Natural things below man do have dynamic natures.
Fr Byrne is absolutely right to draw attention to the distinctiveness of human nature in this matter. With us God directly infuses a spiritual soul, which is a new principle of integration and control bringing a new and higher unity and meaning to the elements that make up the human body.
Reform of the Curia
Dear Father Editor,
One of the constant clamourings since Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy, and throughout the build-up to the Conclave which elected Pope Francis, has been the mantra that the Curia must change, that the Curia is corrupt, that the Curia is a hundred and one other things.
Regarding the Curia, the Second Vatican Council taught as follows: “In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors” (Christus Dominus, 9).
Just as each government will alter its civil service departments as it sees fit, it seems to be that the same is to be expected within the Church. Taking the Council Fathers at their words, the Roman Curia essentially manifests and implements the will of the Holy Father. Thus in my view an attack on the Curia is essentially an attack on the Holy Father. Commentators, including cardinals, who have called for reform have, as far as I have seen, offered not one example where the Church’s machinery of government while carrying out the directions of the Holy Father has failed.
As the Pope regularly meets the curial heads and approves the publication of their decrees, it is the Holy Father who speaks through these decrees and who is criticised when people dissent from them. Pope Francis will amend the Curia as he sees fit to implement his vision. But I can see a time in the future when we will have the calls for the Franciscan papacy’s Curia to be reformed as people react against his teachings, as they have reacted against the teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
It is easier to attack the machinery of government in the Church then to stand up and say that the Pope is deluded, which is essentially what is being said. Pope Francis has, of course, outflanked critics of both the Curia and the Papacy by establishing a congregation of cardinals drawn from across the world to advise on the government of the Church. From this advice the Holy Father will decide how best to manage the machinery of government of his pontificate.
Perhaps we should spend less time picking the speck of wood out of the Curia’s eye and more time picking the beam out of our own eyes and therefore be more open to accepting the teachings of Christ’s Church.
The ‘New’ Evangelisation
Dear Father Editor,
I enjoyed Mgr Barltrop’s review of the book The New Evangelisation: Responding to the Challenge of Indifference. It goes without saying that one should not overlook Archbishop Fisichella’s insights into evangelising modalities – not just because he is President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation but because it is widely understood, especially inside the Vatican, that both he and Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, mostly authored the encyclical Fides et Ratio (aka “Fisichella and Ratzinger”)
However, Mgr Barltrop is right to point out the omission in Fisichella’s analysis of the outstanding survey of the “waves of evangelisation in history” by Raniero Cantalamessa.
Furthermore, there is a need to acknowledge some background to the phrase “New Evangelisation” itself so as to better resolve the “conundrum” that Mgr Barltrop describes as something Fisichella’s book is aware of.
The phrase originates from various translations of a phrase from Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi which is rendered in English as “a new period of evangelisation”. Other translations also use the word “new”, for example the Spanish “tiempos nuevos de evangelisacion”, and the Italian “nuovi tempi d’evangelizzazione”. The editio typica, however has: “feliciora evangelisationis tempora”. Thus the Latin does not use the typical word for new, “nova”. Instead, it uses “feliciora”, so the phrase translates more literally as “an abundant season of evangelisation”.
Mgr Brian Bransfield, an assistant general secretary to the US Bishops Conference has written in his book The Dignity of the Human Person According to John Paul II that “feliciora comes from felix, or happy. Feliciora connotes abundance, something that is nobler, propitious, flourishing, more auspicious, fortunate, or bountiful in an agricultural sense.”
The choice of the Latin word, he indicates, shows how the new evangelisation is new. The new is not opposite what was in the past, or opposite “old”. The new is not synonymous with contemporary or current. Rather, he states, “the new evangelisation is new in the sense that evangelisation is to be a noble, bountiful, flourishing and of abundance. While the word new is a suitable adjective for evangelisation, the quality of the newness should be understood in the sense of feliciora.”
Joseph Ratzinger in Co Workers of the Truth, under the entry for 9 December, states: “Mary is figure image and model for the Church. By gazing on her the Church is prevented from conveying a one-sided male image that reduces her to an instrument of socio-political action programmes.” And this is the context in which the Pope refers to Christian families open to life as “a key agent in the New Evangelisation”.
Mary educated Jesus in the human love he poured out towards others by her example. This makes sense when we consider the Greek for “favoured one”: kecharitomene – which is difficult to translate in to English, but which means overflowing with grace to such an extent that it is like a fountain within a fountain.
Kecharitomene is like a superlative placed upon a superlative. No wonder, then, that Blessed John Paul II called Mary the “Star of the New Evangelisation”.
If we are not wholly Marian our evangelisation cannot be “new” and the domestic church is called to embody this dynamic most of all.
Edmund P Adamus
Director for Marriage and Family Life
Diocese of Westminster