Rorate Caeli

60 years of Vatican II - THE COUNCIL AND THE ECLIPSE OF GOD - by Don Pietro Leone- Chapter 10: THE CAUSES OF COUNCIL TEACHING (part 1) : A. METAPHYSICS

Rorate Caeli marks the 60th anniversary  of the  opening of The Second Vatican Council on October 11th 1962, with an analysis of its causes, Metaphysical, Theological and Religious  – causes as dramatic as the effects that the whole world has been living for the past two generations.  Don Pietro Leone delves deep into the very heart of modern error and traces it back to its roots in the Rebellion of the Angels and the First Man at the dawning of creation.  Parts 2 and 3 of this analysis will be published on the 11th and 13th of October respectively.                    

F. R. 


In this chapter we shall consider:


          I      The Sources of Antirealist Subjectivism;

         II      The Principal Agents involved in the Council:

         III    The Features of the Texts influential for Promoting the Council’s Program.



I     The Sources of Antirealist Subjectivism   


Since we have situated the evil of Council teaching in the false principle of ‘antirealist subjectivism’, our search for the causes of Council teaching will begin with a search for the source of this principle, namely in the following fields:


           A.   Metaphysics;

           B.   Theology;

           C.   Religion;

           D.   Psychology.


A.   Metaphysics


We here present:


      Introduction: Philosophy and Faith;

1.       1. Modern Philosophy;

2.       2. Marks of Modern Philosophy on the Council.


Introduction: Philosophy and Faith


Now the principle of theological knowledge, as we have said above, is reason illuminated by the Faith. Obviously different philosophical schools will adopt different principles of reason to attain such an end, amongst which we will sometimes find the marks of intellectual and moral weakness. Pope Leo XIII explicitly condemns initiatives to dilute Catholic doctrine on the pretext that [1]: ‘... the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigour, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods... to pass over certain heads of doctrines, as if of lesser moment, or so to soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held. On that point the Vatican Council says: ‘The doctrine of Faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a theory of philosophy, which is to be elaborated by the human understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ... that sense of the sacred dogmas... is not to be departed from under the specious pretext of a more profound reasoning’.’


Saint Pius X: '...St. Thomas Aquinas cannot be set aside,
especially in metaphysical questions without grave detriment.' 

In opposition to such schools of thought stands that vigorous and immortal school which perfectly conforms to the Faith and to the perennial philosophy of the Church. That school is Aristotelian-Scholasticism, particularly as represented by the Angelic Doctor, the Doctor of the Schools, who is St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Pius X declares in Pascendi [2]: ‘We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of sacred science... And let it be clearly understood also above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us... Let professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside especially in metaphysical questions without grave detriment. On this philosophical foundation the theological edifice is to be solidly raised.’


Pope St. Pius X is here setting up a defence against Modernism, that sum total of all heresies, which he has already described in the same encyclical in the following terms [3]: ‘If we pass from the moral to the intellectual causes of Modernism, the first which presents itself, and the chief one, is ignorance. Yes, these very Modernists who pose as Doctors of the Church, who puff out their cheeks when they speak of modern philosophy, and show such contempt for scholasticism, have embraced the one with all its false glamour because their ignorance of the other has left them without the means of being able to recognise confusion of thought, and to refute sophistry. Their whole system, with all its errors, has been born of the alliance between Faith and false philosophy.’


These words were to prove true both of the Council periti (experts) and of the Bishops. Monsignor Lefebvre writes: ‘... a large number of the bishops, especially those who were chosen as members of the commissions, were men... who knew nothing of Thomist philosophy, men who, as a result, did not even know what a definition was. For them there is no such thing as an essence: nothing must be defined. One may discuss, one may describe, but under no circumstances must one define. Definitions are no longer needed’ [4].


We have seen in the course of this book how Modernist errors condemned in Pascendi, Humani Generis, the Syllabus and by the various modern Popes, were to enter into Council teaching, to form what St. Pius X prophetically describes as an ‘alliance between Faith and false philosophy’, the false anti-scholastic philosophy. We shall now examine the root of this false philosophy, and where its marks may be found in the Council.


1.     Modern Philosophy


Magni passus sed extra viam [5]

We understand Modern Philosophy to consist of two essential components:


            a)    Idealism;

            b)   Nominalism.


a)   Idealism


In the Introduction we traced back the Council’s skepticism to Idealism: that philosophy which holds that the object of knowledge is not objective reality, but rather the ideas (i.e. the mental content) of the knowing subject. We referred to Descartes’ philosophical starting-point: the principle of ‘Universal Doubt’, according to which, in his view, we cannot be certain about the existence of the external world, of objective reality, but only about ourselves and about the fact of our thinking (that is to say when we are thinking). His skepticism in fact encompasses not only ontological truth (the existence of objective reality), but also logical truth (the correspondence of an idea to reality), because, having once rejected everything about which we cannot be certain, we are left with no objective criterion for Truth. Later Modern Philosophers, in virtue of their Idealism, will continue to doubt the existence of the external world: Berkeley will declare that it does not exist, Kant that we cannot know it, Spinoza that it is identical to God. For them too, and for the same reasons, logical truth also becomes a problem. 


Once objective reality is cast into doubt, its principles (or ‘determinations’) will also be cast into doubt: there will be no possible justification for the principles or determinations of objective reality, for the way in which it is ordered. Descartes leaves the question of the ordering of reality unresolved; Kant places its principle in the mind of the subject himself; other philosophers place it directly in the mind of God. Hume, by contrast will deny the order of the external world, attacking the principle of substance, the principle of the human subject, and the principle of causality. We see how skepticism about the existence of objective reality leads to skepticism about all the common-sense principles which determine it. 


b)     Nominalism


Delving deeper in our search for the root of Modern Philosophy, we discover that that Idealism which is the proximate cause of the skepticism of Modern Philosophy and of the Council’s philosophy, derives in its turn from another theory, ‘Nominalism’. This latter theory holds that the object of man’s knowledge is particulars, that is to say individual things without the natures or essences that one generally supposes them to possess. The Nominalist would say, for example, that if I see a man in front of me, I have no reason for assuming that he has such a thing as a ‘nature’, that is a human nature: he is just an individual man like any other.


The effect of Nominalism is to deny the possibility of the knowledge of things altogether, because to know a thing is nothing else than to grasp its essence: the knowledge of things, in other words, is the knowledge of their natures, of their essences by means of the relation of correspondence between the thing and the mind. But if I cannot possess any real knowledge of the world outside me, then all that I am left with is my ideas of things: I can know only my ideas, which is Idealism.


The root, then, of Idealist Modern Philosophy with its skepticism concerning the external world and our knowledge of it, is Nominalism with its skepticism concerning natures / essences. In contrast to Modern Philosophy stand the Philosophy of Being and the Faith, which respectively teach and entail that:


-        -      -  reality exists objectively outside us;

-               -  reality is the object of our knowledge; that is to say

-                     -  by the relation of correspondence [6]; and

-               -  by means of our apprehension of the natures / essences of things.



2.      Marks of Modern Philosophy on the Council


The two essential component parts of Modern Philosophy, namely Idealism and Nominalism, constitute the Council’s own philosophy, so that we can conclude that Modern Philosophy and the Council Philosophy are one and the same. We proceed to present the marks on the Council of:

   a) Idealism

   b) Nominalism 


        a)     Idealism


The Council, as we have witnessed in every page of this book, has adopted the skepticism of Modern Philosophy: a skepticism about Truth, about the correspondence of things with the mind [7], and about dogma. We shall look at the two gravest effects of this skepticism in the form of:


i)    Atheism; and

ii)   The self-deification of man.


i)     Atheism


We have seen that subjectivist Idealism denies that we can know the things outside us. Amongst the things (or beings) outside us there is, of course, most notably, God. Idealism therefore denies that we can know God: that we can know that God exists. In other words, Idealism entails negative atheism, agnosticism. As we said in the Introduction, this attitude is, however, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to positive atheism, to the denial of God: on the practical level it is one and the same thing. For if we cannot know that God exists, we have no incentive for acting as though He did exist.


We observe in passing that the Nominalist - Idealist current of Modern Philosophy is its most influential current, but there is another one, which has as its protagonists thinkers such as Karl Marx, and which is Materialism. This theory directly denies the existence of God, and is known as ‘positive atheism’. Modern philosophy is then, in its main currents, entirely atheist [8]: in the negative sense in the Nominalist - Idealist current, and in the positive sense in the Materialist current.


ii)    The Self-Deification of Man


The consequence of atheism, negative or positive, consists in its deification of man. Because if God does not exist, or if, at least, we cannot know that He exists, then man becomes the highest principle of all things in His place.


Emmanuel Kant:  '...wrests the ‘Categories’, or the ultimate principles of Being, from the mind of God and places them in the mind of man...'

One modern philosopher who elaborated his version of Idealism to its ultimate consequences, was Emanuel Kant. On the metaphysical level he wrests the ‘Categories’, or the ultimate principles of Being, from the mind of God and places them in the mind of man, by means of which he implies that man himself creates reality; on the moral level he ascribes to man an ‘autonomous reason’ and an ‘autonomous will’ [9]. Another modern philosopher whose self-deifying theories, both in the area of personal, but also and particularly in that of political, ethics, exercised an important influence on the Council [10] was Rousseau.


The Council, through its experts, imbued, as many of them were, with the Idealism of Modern Philosophy, followed suit. We have seen the Council’s atheism in its denial of the possibility of the knowledge of Truth; we have seen its consequent deification of man. In fact if we look carefully at the Council documents as a whole, we may observe an internal dynamic which moves towards the deification of man: first God’s existence is doubted and then the points of contact between Him and the world are gradually effaced:


-            - Faith by which man can know God and be saved;

-            - The Church which teaches the Faith and through whom God is present in the world;    and

-            - The Sacraments through which God acts in the world;

-            - The Consecrated Life by which man can love God perfectly [11].


The supernatural dimension is thus gradually expunged, and man’s life and operations are consequently reduced to an exclusively natural level. With Original Sin denied, and human nature  proclaimed unqualifiedly as good, man becomes transformed into some sort of Rousseauist noble savage [12], and then, in the ‘twinkling of an eye’, into God Himself.


b)     Nominalism


This skepticism of Idealism, as we have just stated, derives ultimately from the poisonous root of Nominalism, the theory which denies natures, or essences, of which we have given examples in the previous chapter. Altogether we may identify four nominalist doctrines in the Council.


The first feature is, then, the denial of natures / essences;


The second feature is the absence of definitions, as Monsignor Lefebvre complained in the passage that we quoted in section 1. The Council may claim that it renounces definitions because it does not intend to be dogmatic, or particularly because it does not want to use them in order to condemn, but its metaphysical motivation can be nothing else than Nominalism: if there are no natures or essences to things, then there can be no definitions either. How can we define something if it has no nature?  


The third Nominalist doctrine in the Council is what we have called the ‘false principle of degree’. As we noted above, Nominalism holds that one can only know particulars and that there is no such thing as a universal, a nature or an essence. This entails that the Faith is simply an amalgamation of disparate doctrines, which in its turn allows the Council to state:

-           - that the Church does not possess the fullness of the Truth in this world;

-          - that other confessions and religions can share to a greater or lesser degree in this Truth as well as in the Church’s means of sanctification;

-          - that the other confessions and religions can, to the extent of their share in Truth and in the means of sanctification, be in communion with the Church.


The fourth nominalist doctrine in the Council is the denial that one may know God in this life (at least by means of the reason [13]), which, as we noted above, is tantamount to agnosticism or negative atheism.

[1] Testem Benevolentiae, 1899. Amongst contemporary philosophical schools that, in our opinion, bear the marks of the softness to which the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Leo refers we indicate ‘Personalism’ and the personalist‘Theology of the Body’ in particular. We refer to our recent interview with Brother André-Marie on Rorate Caeli

[2] s. 45-6

[3] s. 41

[4] Un Evêque parle, p. 161, MD pjc, p.36

[5] ‘Great strides but off the track’. This phrase of St. Augustine is quoted by Father Garrigou-Lagrange OP in his book ‘Everlasting Life and the Depths of the Soul’ in regard to the modern philosophers, whom he does not hesitate to term ‘intellectual monsters’

[6] adaequatio res et intellectus, as we have stated above

[7] we recall the Introduction (B. I b) where the Council makes a radical distinction between things and their expression, referring back to the distinction made by Pope John XXIII in his opening speech between the doctrines of Faith and their ‘clothing’, rivestimento - an image evoking skepticism about the expression of Truth.

[8] apart of course from lone figures such as Blaise Pascal

[9] we have seen similar views adopted by the Council in chapter 8

[10] cf. chapter 4. IV on the discussion of the Right to Error

[11] we make our theological analysis of the Council on these lines in Section B below

[12] in the vision of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, as it were, in the tropical jungle of the Douanier Rousseau

[13] a doctrine of Occam