Why Read Holloway in a Time of Sacramental Isolation

Fr Hugh Mckenzie

Recent events have confirmed that our post-Enlightenment culture no longer sees the Sacraments as an “essential service”. Why? In the current issue of First Things their great editor R.R. Reno, citing “setbacks such as Obergefell and more recently transgenderism”, concludes, “I am certain of this: We should restore both metaphysics and theology to our public debates, reordering the public life to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good” (March 2020, p.70). A 2012 Faith editorial argued, with the help of Reno, that Vatican II concurred: https://tinyurl.com/uql6bww . So did Fr Holloway. But he also did what Gaudium et Spes (and Fides et Ratio) requested, and provided a way forward:  


Seven Extracts from Fr Holloway pieces reprinted in FAITH Magazine 2016-17:


1994: “We will destroy Womanhood … The culture of humankind must become unisex. The fact that it is not so in any other form of advanced life is irrelevant … Then homosexual ‘marriage’, lesbianism, the infidelity which follows from the division of sexual from spiritual and life-long love. etc. etc. The list is endless …”. Reprinted in Sept 2017


1973: “The heart of the crisis is a crisis of the intellect, in the order of that framework of philosophy through which theology is supported and explained.” Reprinted in Jan 2016.


1973: “All the other identity crises of this time … are lesser than the identity crisis which surrounds the meaning and fulfilment of man in the world of scientific civilisation … [the cause] is not simply the corruption of men by anarchic hedonism or by the break-up of the family as an institution … religion is concerned with the fulfilment in truly human joy of the inner man … The supreme question is whether man is fulfilled from himself, and in his works, or through an inner feeding upon God … from the strength of which he defines all his other ideal and social ends … We must not present the history of salvation as an arbitrary story, but as an ascent of wisdom similar to the ascent of being, and as crowning all that work of the one same God.”  Reprinted in July 16    


1975: “The essence of [apologetics …] is going to reduce more and more … to the inevitable need to postulate a Divine Environing of human destiny, and [its] manifest gradual unfolding”. Sep 2016

1950: “We cannot hope to make sense of Man until we can make sure of the definition of human nature … Thus do we answer the riddle of Man which vexes hard our age – how much in Man is matter? How much is mind? Mind in man is that which controls and directs – matter is that which is controlled and directed.” Reprinted in Jan 2017 

1973    Dictatorship of Scientism

“… there is a desperate need for a law of life for mankind [which] is the refutation [of] the very roots of atheism, ‘rationalism’ and the new ‘humanism’. All these attitudes put the control and direction of human life, and the fulfilment of a man’s self, in his own personal decisions about himself, his neighbour and the world. The outcome is first personal and social anarchy, and then the dictatorship of an oligarchy with power over the working-class mass of mankind …. We are passing over to the oligarchic dictatorship of applied, scientific knowhow.” 

          Proof of God’s Mind as Rooted in Man’s Mind

“The failure of the Churchman has been not to see the overwhelming probability of the thesis of creation by evolution [because of] the manner in which, properly valued, it gathers all the sciences of nature and all the development of mankind into a coherent unity of wisdom, and mutual relation-ship. A great tragedy this, for the same coherence of wisdom and development manifest the unity of mind and power as the source of all, and underlies the certainty and reality of the living God. … For all the interlocking wisdom in matter, and in the ascent of life, requires the unity of MIND… Man does not achieve anything without thought which unifies things, and the universe itself is not expli-cable without mind which unifies all things, and such mind is centred only in PERSON.      July 2016.


1. What is the basic point in Holloway’s Perspectives in Philosophy?

Philosophy and Theology cannot ignore each other because both the objectivity and the dynamism of reality comes from its relationship to the Mind of God, who is in fact The Eternal Word, whose Incarnation is the raison d'etre and fulfilment of all created being. The only real distinction in the cosmos is between matter and spirit, which are related on the principle of Control and Direction.


2. How does Holloway update traditional ontology?

Modern science has shown that all physical things are inter-linked. Properly interpreted, all this order is according to one fundamental way of interacting, a “Unity-Law”. That is, each thing is a unity of functional parts -- and it, in turn, functionally fits into its environment as a part of a unity – ultimately the unity of the whole universe. 

    Holloway reminds us that this environmental unity is “my” environment: it makes sense to the observing and responding mind of man. The unified interrelationship and dynamic functionality is in relationship to man’s mind and ultimately to and im-mediately under the Mind of God.


3. How is this different from the Scholastic approach?

Pre-modern philosophy of science tended to see just parts of the physical universe as intrinsically ordered – namely substances and living things, where their “matter” was ordered by their “Form”. The way such things interacted with each other was directed by the clear-cut natures which their Forms founded. The dynamic and positioning of these things was therefore ‘ordered’ in a sense. But this order was strictly secondary and “accidental” to the fundamental formal order of substances and organisms. 

   So, the universe’s order was sourced in two metaphysically different, if accidentally related, ways: Forms making specific unities and their interaction with other unities. 

   The human soul/mind was not fundamental to this ontology but had to be fitted in, almost secondarily. And the proofs of God took quite a few inferential steps in order to get to absolute Mind. 


4. Does this matter in the modern world?

Yes. The traditional Catholic philosophy encouraged people to see the holistic level of substances and organisms as a Form, somehow organising the matter into a whole. This substantial unity was a radically different phenomenon from its resultant, “accidental” interaction. The modern mindset does not look at the physical world in such a bi-focal way.  The universal Form is not a specific metaphysical principle of organisms and substances. Interactions at what used to be called the substantial and accidental level happen according to the same types of dynamics, not metaphysically different ones.


5. What impact would that have upon the evangelisation of our culture?

The traditional Catholic interpretation of the physical world depicted it as partially intrinsically unified. It was dappled with formal order. But there were gaps at the “material” and “accidental” level. And this bi-furcated cosmos was at the heart of its proofs of God and the soul. 

    But this partiality is at odds with the predominant cultural interpretation, which affirms all physical things as inter-related at whatever level of reduction. For Catholic thought to deny this is to undermine natural reason. More and more we appear fideistic. To evangelise at the level of culture we must either effectively challenge this concept of “ubiquitous inter-relationship” which is now almost intrinsic to our culture’s fabric, or synthesise it with the Christian vision.  


6. Does this (FAITH) vision believe in holistic natures?

Yes. Science, properly interpreted, does not support the mere reduction of the whole to the parts. But what our vision brings to bear is the fact that all unities, to the degree that they are an intelligible unity, have holistic natures. Their unity-level is defined by real, intelligible relationships through which they actively contribute to their wider environment - and create a stage for human mind-ful action. This is most obviously the case with substances and organisms. But it is also true at other levels of molecules and atoms. Further, even unified systems, like ecosystems only make sense through their functional relationships with their wider environment.


7. Maybe then our cosmos is just made up of clear-cut Forms grounded in matter-energy?

No. Even things we normally easily categorise, like animals, have fuzziness at the edges. Is the Ass a horse or a donkey? But plants have a complex, overlapping classification tree. Symbiotic plants like lichens create thing-like unities out of other species. Furthermore, birds clearly show multiple levels of family types, and similar shaped animals sometimes turn out to have very different genetic pedigrees (e.g. Indian and African Elephants). It is just not possible to draw clear species lines in the way Aristotelian biology did. The ability to breed together is often the key criteria of species, yet dogs and wolfs can inter-breed but are regarded as different species.


8. Does it really matter how we defend the concept of “the nature”?

Yes. The old view of “natures”, developed by centuries of Catholic philosophy, collapsed under the above good philosophy of modern science. The failure to synthesise this into Natural Law theory encouraged the denial of any natures at all, let alone universal moral norms: that is Nominalism and Individualism – and the undermining of the idea that the God-Man truly shared our human nature.


9. Does this dynamicity not undermine clear-cut objectivity?

No. Physical things still have objective, if inter-related, natures rooted in the unity of cosmos under the absolute Mind of God, which controls and directs all matter-energy. This Logos is the ultimate point of reference for all our descriptions and their objectivity. Our language can accurately refer to aspects of this hierarchical dynamic. All meaning is ultimately a call to recognise and commune with the objective, absolute, loving Creator.


10. Can we defend a clear-cut human nature?

Only through defending the soul-body unity through proving the spiritual soul in a manner that incorporates the new good, science-inspired, insights.


11. Hasn’t evolution by natural selection and survival of the fittest undermined any holistic and/or teleological interpretation of organisms?

No. Its dynamics are just an aspect of the above described Unity Law, at the level of living things. It is just an aspect of the way in which living things form unities, over space and time. One must not forget the highly specified environment that it needs. For instance, the teleology which we see in the pre-life evolution of the universe, is still present in the processes of evolution.


12. Should I read Holloway’s Perspectives in Philosophy while in isolation?  Yes. Don’t let this providential chastisement go to waste.