Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fr. James Schall On The Catholic Mind

Father James Schall, S.J. a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, has penned, among many other writings, a book-length commentary on Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture. The lecture caused an international sensation for its mention of the presence of violence in the Islamic tradition, but the lecture's key themes related to the relationship between faith and reason were left to be unpacked by writers such as Father Schall.

Now Father Schall has written a new book, "The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays" (CUA Press). The book explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen.

Father Schall shared with ZENIT why all people, not just professional philosophers and theologians, can have a mind that is truly Catholic.

ZENIT: What does it mean to have a mind that is Catholic? What are its key elements?

Father Schall: The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation.

Revelation is not opposed to reason as if it were some blind source. Revelation has its own intelligibility that can be grasped and compared or addressed to what we know in reason.

Catholicism does not define reason as if it only meant a reason that follows some methodology where the terms of the method decide what we are allowed to see or consider.

The very definition of mind is that power that is open to all that is. We human beings are not gods. But we do know and the object of our knowledge is all that is.

It is characteristic of the Catholic mind to insist that all that is knowable is available and considered by us in our reflections on reality.

ZENIT: Are there clear points of distinction between the Catholic mind and a "Protestant mind" or a "secular mind"?

Father Schall: Monsignor Robert Sokolowski says that the method of philosophy is precisely to make distinctions. Obviously, the Protestant mind and the secular mind strive to distinguish themselves on many things from the Catholic mind.

If no one thought there was any difference between them, Catholicism, Protestantism and secularism would already be one. This does not deny that it is quite possible that they agree on some things.

It is the method of Aquinas to find out what these points of agreement and difference are. I always like the way Aquinas recalls Aristotle's comment that "a small error in the beginning leads to a large error in the end."

The ecumenical movement has tried valiantly to find points of agreement. It has found many. But errors do appear and grow.

I once wrote an essay entitled "Protestantism and Atheism." ("Thought," XXXIX (Dec. 1964) pp. 531-558.) The burden of that essay had to do with the importance of reason to Catholicism. This stress on reason is found in Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture, among other places.

The reason, I thought at the time, that Protestantism led to atheism was because it evaporated the world of meaning and insisted on revelation alone. Once the world is there absent reason, it is easy, following Aristotle's dictum, to conclude that God is not in the world in any sense.

It was the mind of Aquinas, following the line of the origin of "existence," to insist that we really did find reality in existing things, but they did not cause their own existence.

It was from here we could argue to God's existence so that, if revelation happened, it would be intelligible to us as a response to our own lack of knowledge of ultimate things.

Read the rest of Father Schall's interview at Zenit (here).

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