The Papal Vision and the Hermeneutic of Observation

Editorial FAITH Magazine September-October 2009

"When the Spirit of Truth comes He will guide you into all truth." John 16:13

One of the sadder spectacles of recent times has been the savaging of Pope Benedict for his gesture of unity towards the Society of St Pius X. The orchestrated broadcast of the holocaust-denying interview with Bishop Williamson set up a media frenzy that overshadowed any coverage of his quite genuine concern for unity in the heart of the Church which he made the principal theme of his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Any one of several of his close advisors could have stepped up and taken some of the blame for failing to warn him of the possible consequences of Bishop Williamson's views on the holocaust. Yet it seemed that a spiritual sirocco overtook the Eternal City as everyone went for siesta with a shrug of the shoulders, leaving the successor of St Peter swingingin the wind.

The Papal Vision

In addition to his desire for unity within the Church, Pope Benedict clearly desires an acceptance of the harmony of the ordinary and extraordinary forms of Holy Mass and sees the proper and reverent celebration of the Sacred Liturgy to be essential in the renewal of the Church and in the recovery of direction which was lost in the aftermath of Vatican II.

In a somewhat similar vein, in his recent Encyclical Caritas in Vehtate (CiV - see our Road from Regensburg column for an overview), Pope Benedict denies that the Church has "two typologies of social doctrine, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar, differing from one another: on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new." (n. 12)

Benedict's idea of a "hermeneutic of continuity" is a more basic principle of his pontificate and ties together his concern for both doctrine and liturgy. He is calling us to a radical affirmation of revealed truth given by Christ to the apostles and preserved in the tradition of the Church. Essential to this is the idea of magisterium, seen as the fulfilment of the promise of Christ "I will be with you always" so that in the Church, the Word "certain in all His ways" is ever present. It is for this reason that Vatican II cannot be seen as a fundamental departure or a "new constitution" for the Church. Such a discontinuity would not be simply a matter of a change of liturgical form or social doctrine, it would ultimately present us with a new Christ, different from the Christ weworshipped and believed in before.

Calling the Church back to the heart of truth is an essential foundation for Pope Benedict's missionary and evangelical initiative. In his latest encyclical and numerous other addresses, the Holy Father has determinedly proposed to the world - to scientists, university professors, muslims, atheists, secularists - an invitation to embark on a common search for the truth, which
 

"by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things. Truth opens and unites our minds in the logos of love" (CiV 4)

In doing so, he is somewhat provocatively affirming the ability of the human mind to know the truth in the real world, as a "gift received" (CiV 34 & 77). If we believe in the wisdom of God as one wisdom shared with us both in creation and revelation, then the call to the common search for truth is a brilliant solution to the problem of tolerance and dialogue when faced with the claims of revealed religion. Hence, towards the beginning of his Regensburg address in 2006, Pope Benedict recalled fondly the dies academicus. This was an occasion when teachers from every faculty appeared before the students of the whole university. The Holy Father said that this made possible a "genuine experience of universitas" whereby the different specialisations recognised thatdespite the difficulties of communication, they made up a whole, "working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason."

As we reported in our last Road from Regensburg column Vincent Nichols, the new Archbishop of Westminster recently made Pope Benedict's Regensburg conclusion his own. They both emphasise the importance of overcoming the positivistic interpretation of science through what the Archbishop called a "deepening appreciation of the role of faith [... and] its harmony with true reasoning." Pope Benedict argued:
 

"The scientific ethos [... is] the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. [...] reason and faith [must] come together in a new way, [...] overcoming] the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable."

Humans Discover Before Presuming

From the standpoint of the proposal of a new synthesis which is core to the aims and ideals of the Faith movement, we wish to draw attention to one problem in the philosophy of science which we believe needs to be clarified if the key Papal appeal concerning the "broadening of reason" is to come to fruition. His latest encyclical offers, we think, some significant epistemological help. The question reduces to whether or not we believe modern scientific discovery can affect metaphysics.

In speaking of science, the Pope appears, at Regensburg, to give some support for a reductionist understanding of the object of natural sciences, which process is proposed as following upon holistic "reasoning", that is metaphysics. On the other hand in Caritas in Ventate he seems seamlessly to include scientific knowing within the wider gamut of knowing, as an immediate, non-abstract, holistic relationship.

At Regensburg he speaks of the holistic, formal, "intrinsic rationality" of the object of human knowing, "the mathematical structure of matter", as a "presupposition]". Rather than these unity-level "rational structures" being intrinsic to what "modern scientific reason" discovers a posteriori, the Pope argues that science's "methodology [... is] based" upon "acceptance of] the rational structures of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given" (our emphasis).Whilst we would certainly concur that this "correspondence" is the essential (contemporaneous) context of scientific activity we would deny the idea that holistic (or any) aspects of our knowledge of the physical are known a priori tothis activity. The Pope’s emphasis is a common approach, followed in varying degrees by Cardinals Dulles, Ruini and Schonborn (see our May issue) and by the prominent Christian scientists featured in the Faraday Institute's interesting new resource described in our Cutting Edge column.

But the phenomenon of scientific observation discovers (not presumes) the nature of matter, its "rational structures", and the phenomenon of observation itself reveals the spirit-nature inter-related "correspondence". The former discovery leads to science's predictive ability, the latter contemporaneous, related, discovery leads to metaphysics. Both certainly involve past discoveries feeding into our present knowledge of the nature of things, as these things and our knowledge of them dynamically develop. But the dynamic of discovery through observation of our environment, with which we are inter-related and inter-defined, remains fundamental to our state of knowledge.

Science Does Observe the Form

The problem with positing the above distinction between scientific knowledge and other kinds of knowledge is that it risks a form of idealism whereby "form", that which makes things to be as they are, is excluded from empirical scientific knowledge and must occupy an idealistic place somewhere hovering in between matter and spirit, between the concrete physical realm and the mind of those who investigate it. (We use the term "matter" for the structured matter-energy which makes up the physical realm, not in the more exclusive scholastic sense of a distinct metaphysical principle which individualises universal forms).

In the discussion of form in recent issues of Faith (and see our current Letters page), we have proposed that science cannot be properly considered to exclude the knowledge of formal and final causes. Whether we are speaking of the structure of the atom or the structure of the eye, there is

always a formal and final context. In the case of carbon atoms which can be arranged in such a way that they form a diamond, or in such a way that they form graphite, it is surely the form, the intelligible structure, that makes the difference. This observation, analysis and description of this form is something that is part of the science of physics and chemistry, not something excluded from them and relegated to an idealist realm, sanitarily excluded from scientific observation.

If we allow only material and efficient causation to be the proper province of material sciences, and reserve formal and final causation to a metaphysics that claims superiority, there will inevitably be the same problem as we find when people invoke an argument from the "God of the Gaps." If we say "There must be a God because we cannot explain the fossil record" then that God becomes ridiculous when someone explains the fossil record. Similarly, if we say that the material explanations of science may be separated from metaphysics, we are likely to be embarrassed when the physical sciences discover key truths about the form of material things. We can postpone the fateful day by insisting that metaphysically, "form" is to do with something outside the "reductionist" methodology ofscience, but surely it would be better to tread the path of finding a synthesis between science and philosophy so that the two areas of knowledge are genuinely seen in practice to be expressions of the one Wisdom of God.

Physical Discovery Feeds Into Metaphysics

Pope Benedict's lecture does go on to point the way out of materialism. When speaking of the above "correspondence" he says "the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology."

Necessarily intrinsic to all experience of the physical, which includes scientific observation, is simultaneous awareness that we are the sort of people who can investigate the universe. Rather than leaving this as an uninvestigated discovery, as scientific reductionism and materialism would have us leave it, the Holy Father invites us to remit the question to those areas of study which have the appropriate competence, which comprise human subjectivity and creativity within their appropriate object: namely philosophy and theology. This is not to close the door between the laboratory and the sacristy, rather the opposite; what we discover from the natural sciences cannot be hermetically sealed off from philosophy and theology as though it were some totally separate area of wisdom.If the primary object of physical science is the physical realm in its inter-dependant relationships, the object of metaphysics is the very same physical realm as it relates to the spiritual.

As per Aquinas, words used about the transcendent Creator are used analogically upon their use concerning the creation. The post-moderns have something right, we think, when they point out that our personal angle, our individual experience of our environment as we encounter it, is foundational to the semantic of our language. What they miss is that at the heart of this semantic and of the very success of language as a communal project is a relationship of the knower with that which is distinct from him, the objective realm.

Immediate Intuition in Caritasin Veritate

For Edward Holloway every human observation inherently involves a complementary interaction and interdefinition between "me and my environment", a fundamental aspect of which is the relationship between the knowing spiritual mind and ordered matter. Our spiritual self-consciousness is materially incarnated and, with our body, immersed in a material environment "in which we swim like a fish" (Perspectives in Philosophy, II, p.82).

Modern science's discovery of objective facts is no exception to this basic pattern of human observation. The objective physical, including its mathematical structure, is always known in relationship with the spiritual, and this indeed includes rational intuition of the absolute spiritual Mind of God founding the very being of matter.

Concerning this latter intuition, in footnote 88 of Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict comments that St Augustine



"indicates the existence within the human soul of an 'internal sense'. [...] an act that is not the result of reflection, but is almost instinctive, through which reason, realising its transient and fallible nature, admits the existence of something eternal, higher than itself, something absolutely true and certain."

The text at which this reference appears goes on to make a similar point about all our knowing:
 

"In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, 'is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings' (Deus Caritas Est, 3)" (CiV 34).

John Henry Newman, whom the Pope has recently put forward for Beatification, puts the point this way, at the beginning of his section on "The sanction of the Illative Sense" in The Grammar of Assent:
 

"It would be out of place to demand of fire, water, earth, and air their credentials, so to say, for acting upon us, or ministering to us. [...] But what we are still less able to doubt about or annul, at our leisure or not, is that which is at once their counterpart and their witness, I mean, ourselves. We are conscious of the objects of external nature, and we reflect and act upon them, and this consciousness, reflection, and action we call our rationality."

This natural "almost instinctive" immediacy of the interrelated truths, or "counterparts", concerning God, our own

minds and our own physical environment is we think, as did Newman, in tension with theories of that knowledge is mediated by the process of abstraction. It is much more in tune with the gradual, developmental model of knowledge acquisition towards which modern scientific methodology pushes. We discuss this in our Letters page.

Mind and Matter: An Immediate, Foundational Metaphysical Relationship

Later in his encyclical Pope Benedict seems to depict the natural rise to a metaphysical knowledge oriented to a transcendent Giver, on the basis of observation of objective matter by spiritual mind:
 

"All our knowledge, even the most simple, is always a minor miracle, since it can never be fully explained by the material instruments that we apply to it. In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us [...] In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something 'over and above', which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we are raised." (n. 77)

What human persons observe and discern to be true of the physical realm never denies that that very intelligent observation is a metaphysical relationship, which in turn relates to a greater intelligence, a Divine Person. But we should not affirm that this self-knowledge, or any aspect of our knowledge of the physical realm, is hermenetically a priori to such encounter with the physical. As we have mentioned past knowledge certainly necessarily feeds in but at heart metaphysical knowledge of mind and matter, and their interrelationship, is a present, immediate grasp and gift. To re-make our 'God-of-the-gaps' point, as the first modern philosopher of science, Francis Bacon, prophetically warned, holistic levels safe from science's influence will prove to be chimeras, andleave us all reductionists.

We should always allow that scientific discovery will have determinative input into how we describe the above interrelationship. As Aristotle and Aquinas recognised, metaphysics flows from our observation of the physical. Modern science is observation of the physical.

Pope Benedict goes on in CiV to affirm the necessary contextualization of the most objective and fruitful use of knowledge, the production of technology, by the complimentarity of knower and known:



"In technology we express and confirm the hegemony of the spirit over matter. [...] man recognises himself and forges his own humanity. Technology is the objective side of human action whose origin and raison d'etre is found in the subjective element: the worker himself. [...] It reveals man and his aspirations towards development" (n.69)

In the following paragraph he deplores the denial of the inherent moral and spiritual context of technology, an ideology "that threatens to confine us within an a priori that holds us back from encountering being and truth." He provides the balanced picture again between knower and known, without an a priori, in going on to say: "The key to development is a mind capable of thinking in technological terms and grasping the fully human meaning of human activities, within the context of the holistic meaning of the individual's being." (n. 70)

Faith and Reason

Furthermore God's wisdom is shown through both the natural world and through revelation. Paragraph 48 of Caritas in Veritate states:
 

''Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us [...] Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be 'recapitulated' in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). [...] Nature is at our disposal not as 'a heap of scattered refuse'[Heraclitus], but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order 'to till it and keep it' (Gen 2:15)."

As Pope John Paul II put it in Fides et Ratio:
 

"It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (n.34)

In a footnote to this passage, Pope John Paul referred to Galileo's letter of 1613 to Fr Benedetto Castelli, arguing that the two truths, of faith and of science, can never contradict each other, and to the teaching of Gaudium et Spes 36 which echoed Galileo in teaching that properly conducted research in any field will not be opposed to faith (provided that moral norms are respected) since "the reality of the world and of faith have their origin in the same God". And this is through the one simple Logos.

In his 2008 address to the university of La Sapienza which he was eventually prevented from giving because of the protests of a small number of the faculty, Pope Benedict proposed the use of an expression from the Council of Chalcedon, in an entirely different context, to describe the relationship between philosophy and theology: "without confusion, without separation." The same could also be applied to that area of knowledge which is the natural sciences. They are not to be confused with theology, nor should they be separated from it.

Contra Relativism

To revindicate such a vision and to affirm its radical benefit or the life of the Church today seems to be a key project of Pope Benedict. In Britain today we see in practice everything that Pope Benedict has warned of under the heading of the "Dictatorship of Relativism." Good Christians are interviewed by the police in their homes for daring to express Christian teaching on homosexuality, a charity worker is sacked for even discussing such views with a fellow worker, home-schoolers are placed under suspicion, a nurse is sacked for praying with a patient, and campaigners seek to force organisations in the name of equality to employ people who want to cross-dress part-time. Pope Benedict's call to embark on a common search for the truth is a heresy in modern Britain where the very notionthat there is truth in morality is seen as discriminatory.

Yet we pray that Britain be the place where a recovery begins. The progress of sex-education has now reached a point where it is dangerously close to provoking a public backlash. The advice of NHS Sheffield encouraging young people to masturbate because they should have "an orgasm a day" for healthy living has earned the opposition of the anti-bullying group Kidscape. At least one school has prompted angry protests after giving parents just a little too much information about their proposed sex-education programme with animated cartoons of young people masturbating. Over four decades in this space we have argued that the radical rejection of the intrinsically procreative purpose of the marriage act will tend to the "sex is for fun" philosophy, the destruction of the family and the abuseof children. When it is so brazenly presented by the secularist elite, we may hope that ordinary parents wake up to just what is being done to their children.

As they do so, they will find that the only place where the values that they rather hazily desire for their children can be found is in the Catholic Church and in that broad ecumenical alliance that cuts across denominations. An example of this is to be found in the excellent work of the Challenge Teams UK who offer presentation for teenagers encouraging them to abstain from sex before marriage. Such an alliance around certain basic truths of the natural moral law is a good basis for genuine and effective ecumenism. There is also an opportunity, largely unexplored with the noble exception of SPUC, for fruitful dialogue on these issues with the Muslim community.

It is sad that the response of the Catholic Church in the face of the secularist onslaught has been so weak. Bishop O'Donoghue has courageously drawn attention to this weakness, not being afraid to criticise the working of the Bishops' Conference. It is not a question of "attacking the Bishops" but of calling for a necessary regrouping in the face of an unprecedented onslaught on the truth of our human nature.


Faith Magazine

September - October 2009