Saturday, August 30, 2008

Philosophia Perennis - Athens, meet Jerusalem!

Moreover, if God, by Whom all things were made, is wisdom, as the divine authority and truth have shown, then the true philosopher is a lover of God. But the thing itself whose name this is does not reside in all who glory in that name; for it does not follow that those who are called philosophers are lovers of true wisdom.
(City of God, Book VIII. 1.)

This looks like a very promising website. Nota bene: I stole the link from Dr. Ransom.

Day-before-yesterday, I received my diploma from Berkeley in the mail. It said that I had a bachelors in philosophy, from Berkeley, with all the rights and privileges thereto. Not sure what those privileges are - am I allowed to dance on the tables of Howison library, while patting my head, rubbing my tummy, and whistling Dixie, now? - but there you have it.

Being a Catholic and a philosophy major was reason for much astonishment among classmates. "WAIT," said one - "You're a Catholic AND a philosopher?" Huh... I didn't know that was possible."

HoYes. I was breaking that glass ceiling with the 18 million cracks placed by Boethius, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Pieper, Maritain, McInerny, MacIntyre, and all those others!

Vhat, however, is perennial philosophy? And Vhy should this interest Catholics?

If you are familiar with plants, you may recall that perennials are that class of plant that bloom during spring/summer, seem to die, then come back the next year during spring/summer.

Perennial philosophy is analogous to that - only instead of plants living and dying, you have questions of epistemology and ontology (broadly speaking) that persist through time/space and transcend a particular culture or religion.

Buuut. Us Catholics sometimes tend to view philosophy with a bit of suspicion, because a lot of funny business is seriously proposed by philosophers. I mean, Monads? Seriously? WTF(rillyLaceDresses)! So Tertullian, for example, said:
What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between the heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from the Portico of Solomon (see Acts 3:11), who had himself taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart (see Wis 1:1). Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the Gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.
(The Fathers of the Church, Aquilina 95)

Where's the love? Well, the philosopher is being mixed up with philosophy. In the early Church, some heresies were based on philosophical or logical distinctions or puns. It's very difficult to love something that you see as a tool that aids the destruction of faith by diluting, contradicting, or disparaging the gospel. Or, it's difficult to see the need for philosophy since Christ is the fullness of Truth. Besides, the Greek philosophers were pagans who believed in multiple gods. Why would you want to have anything them? That's a very short, incomplete answer (don't maim me, scholars, for it's incompleteness!). Let it suffice for now.

St. Justin Martyr responds:
Our doctrines, then, appear to be greater than all human teaching; because Christ, who appeared for our sakes, became the whole rational being, body, reason, and soul. For whatever lawgivers or philosopher said well, they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Word. But since they did not know the whole of the Word, which is Christ, they often contradicted themselves. And those who by human birth were more ancient than Christ, when they attempted to consider and prove things by reason, were brought before the tribunals as impious persons and busybodies.
(The Fathers of the Church, Aquilina 81)

Notice what Justin Martyr is doing here - resonating with what Augustine said about wisdom, Justin Martyr points out that Christ became a rational being. It is in light of our rationality that we are men. Christ became a fully rational human being. Rationality, then, cannot be contrary to faith. For God does not first give us the character of rationality and the inclination to grasp after knowledge while asking us to have faith in something that contradicts or is unintelligible (in principle) to that reason. Hence, it is natural for us to freely exercise this rationality in the pursuit of wisdom, which turns out to be the pursuit of God. All roads lead to Rome.

So, if you're not in philosophy for the celebrity lifestyle, shaggy hair, and existential crises every few weeks, then you are involved in the pursuit of something greater than yourself - wisdom, truth. This pursuit does not focus on things apart from the Word, but things that are a part of the Word.

I suppose I should add one more "if," and that "if" is the "if" of hope. Pope John Paul II points out in Fides et Ratio that:

It has happened...that reason, rather than voicing human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost its capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being.

Philosophy is in trouble - we are experiencing a surfeit of factual knowledge about the world, but don't know what to make of it. We've lost hope that there is something above and beyond those facts, something that is the source of them and the answer to all questions.

So rock on, Philosophia Perennis! Make that reason rise.

On another note, there was a sound outside that sounded like something wood was being rolled around on squeaky wheels. My little sister woke up, giggled to herself, and proclaimed "It is the giant bunny!" Monty Python, what have you done!?