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How Did We Get to This Situation?

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I have been asking myself this question for some years now: How have we come to this situation?

I am referring to the situation we see today in this church 2.0, as I called it in a previous article, not to mention what we see happening in civil society.

Watching those who remain silent, almost stunned, and somehow resigned to powerlessness to the point of sometimes becoming aligned with the situation, it is hard not to see the operation of a kind of anesthetic, an opiate patiently administered by the devil himself over years and even centuries. Step by step, this anesthetic has gradually numbed “formators” and “trainees” in seminars, theological faculties, and private Catholic universities. Seminarians became priests; the others became lay professionals. In this way, “weak thinking” ended up weakening and dissolving every foundation that we could seriously define as “metaphysical.” But now even logic has failed: everything is said, and the opposite immediately repeated: who can notice it anymore? Today, the consequences of this situation on the doctrinal, theological and philosophical formation of the clergy are terribly evident.

Let me make some considerations that are surely obvious for you but might not be for everyone.

The “theological” (it would be better to say “supernatural”) root of this undoubtedly is the progressive weakening of faith with the consequent weakening of the knowledge of Catholic doctrine and the decline in morals and lifestyle of clergy and laity. How many (even among clerics and catechists) know the catechism and are trained to teach it to children, adolescents, and adults? Mass homilies are reduced to expressing more or less good feelings or frantic political speeches!

Besides the crisis of faith and theological formation, there are also “philosophical” roots because human “reason,” a requirement for an “authentically Catholic faith” to exist, has stopped operating in a human and Christian way.

The remote philosophical roots of all this are found back in schools of the late Middle Ages such as the Oxford school (XIII-XIV centuries) — the mother of nominalism — which began to undermine epistemological realism and then metaphysics: Can we know something true, or is everything subjective opinion? Does “reality” exist? Who knows?

If what we know is only a symbol alluding to reality and not “information” — “form” of real things and the intellect — it is no longer possible to recover the link between reality and thought. Today, this symbolism has inevitably reached the point of making it impossible to understand what a sacrament is. What is the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, reduced to a party among friends engaged in social work? It has become normal to turn churches into restaurants, bedrooms, and halls for the most varied uses while continuing to celebrate Holy Mass in them.

However, in their “initial condition,” the remote roots of his process were already there in the thirteenth century, when displacement from the realism of Saint Thomas Aquinas seemed minimal, almost a subtlety that grew over time.[1] Curiously, this phenomenon of growth over time from small “initial mistakes” today is better known to physicists and mathematicians than to philosophers and theologians. But this is not the place to delve into this aspect of physics because it would take us too far.

In my opinion, the “proximate” philosophical roots of this crisis in contemporary theology can be found in the inability of Catholic scholars (priests and laity) between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of last century passed to properly respond with arguments to all philosophers, from Kant onward, who considered metaphysics as a obsolete science. A timid attempt by Neo-Scholasticism to cover defects ended in a simple, mechanical repetition of what people still remembered from Saint Thomas, but with less and less convincing arguments. The fact is that Catholic philosophers, no matter how capable, have not succeeded in restoring a thought system that refutes the anti-metaphysical bases of various empiricisms, idealisms, Marxisms, phenomenologies, existentialisms, and nihilisms before their contemporaries.

Inevitably, in parallel to the mechanical repetition of a tired Thomism that had become boring and misunderstood, there appeared in seminaries a “narrative” theology, no longer metaphysical. It is certainly more attractive because it is new and not entirely despicable in some aspects. In it, the role of “history” occupies a wide space with biblical exegesis, patristics, the description of the “experience of the believing subject” (before this was nothing more than “spirituality” and should be seen from this perspective). Everything is fine, but one cannot fill the void of a metaphysical “foundation” with historical-experimental aspects that are, at best, a “fruit” of the tree and not its “substitute.”

On the other hand, conditioned by a way of thinking that has become “dialectic” (earlier Hegel, and later Marx), experience has “opposed” metaphysics, and history has opposed systematics to the point of contrasting situation morals with the morality of principles. Today, the former has expelled the latter. Thus, Catholic theology has gradually become more Protestant, built on faith without reason (fideism). Fashionable ideologies such as environmentalism, animalism, pauperism, the exaltation of unlimited immigration have found its gates open. In recent days, pantheism and paganism have entered even the Vatican without stopping before the facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

For decades, seminarians have been fed in this climate and in the illusion of having discovered and learned a new “living” theology. Today we find ecclesiastics and theologians, children of this opposition dialectics, and a break with the past, incapable of conceiving the “analogy of being” and the “metaphysics of participation” (does anyone still know what these words mean?). No wonder.

In all this, there is some inevitability which the Lord has allowed, perhaps to see, in the end, what will remain of the fruits without the tree. But the latter can grow again from its roots, while the rest, rootless, will dry out.

One might think that it would have been enough, fifty years ago, to forbid in theological schools the teaching of certain non-Catholic doctrines which have become fashionable as if they were the authentic thinking of the Council.

Although appropriate, such prohibitions would not have been sufficient to stop the phenomenon of secularization and Protestantization, although they could have delayed it somewhat.

The cultural power of the world was already too strong and penetrating and had weakened faith and reason even in places of formation of the clergy. So the latter ended up enthusiastically embracing non-Catholic and even non-Christian ideas that have completely derailed us today.

Curiously enough, metaphysics, in the form of “theory of the foundations of science,” is gradually being rediscovered by some scientists (logicians, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, cognitivists).

Naturally, these true scientists, known to only a few, are not invited to television. They are not carried away by delusions of omnipotence that lead some to try and “manufacture” man in a laboratory.

Not even traditional mathematics suffices to “expand” science; people seek, without realizing it, that “expansion of rationality” of which Benedict XVI spoke.

Who knows what will happen according to God’s plan? Will it be a great cleanup of history by a self-dissolution of error and its constructions? A resurgence of truth as the only requirement sine qua non for us not to succumb? An attempt to “live as if God existed” (as Benedict XVI suggested)? Quick arrival of the latter times? We do not know, and we must be vigilant.

Whatever it is, in the meantime let us pray and learn from the monks, who guaranteed the continuity of faith and culture for centuries, maintaining and transmitting it to new generations even when everything else was falling apart.

 

Father Alberto Strumia: Professor, Theologian, Philosopher of Science at the School of Theology of Emilia-Romagna (Italy).

 

Source: Stilum Curiae

 

Translated by the staff of Pan-Amazon Synod Watch.

 

Positions and concepts emitted in signed articles are the sole responsibility of their authors.

© Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.

 

[1] Saint Thomas said that error, small at the beginning, becomes huge at the end “Quia error, parvus in principle, magnus est in fine.”

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