Sunday, November 27, 2022

Can I venially murder?

I recently watched Michael Lofton interview Pedro Gabriel on Amoris Laetitia, and I made some provocative comments to see how he would respond. His responses confirmed my beliefs outlined in my previous post on the subject, and I think that Dr. Gabriel is shopping a very dangerous misstatement of Catholic moral theology. In fact, it is the same misstatement that Erick Ybarra has concluded Pope Francis is asserting in Amoris Laetitia (AL). What Erick has suggested is that Pope Francis's strategy is to admit the definitions of what mortal sin is, but then make the full knowledge and consent requirement so ridiculously high that it's practically impossible for someone to commit mortal sin. This seems to be the earthly equivalent of the "hard universalist" position -- there's no way anyone who knew what they were doing could ever say "no" to God in any lasting way. At root in both is a denial that a rational being can, except perhaps in extraordinary circumstances, permanently deform his own soul, contrary to nature and in opposition to God. Given that I incline to a similar "soft universalist" position as Dr. Chapp does, which is very open to divine mercy on sin generally, I find it interesting that we both see the same danger in Dr. Gabriel's position.

At around the 50:00 mark, Dr. Gabriel argues that the problem with proportionalism, the erroneous moral theology outlined in Veritatis Splendor (VS), is that it rules out in principle that any act can be intrinsically evil. But he argues that the renewal of moral theology in VS can still allow for subjective culpability and mitigating circumstances that reduce the person's moral responsibility, which he argues is a general principle that can be applied pastorally (similar to the idea of economy in Eastern Orthodox theology). He argues that there are true proportionalists out there, whom we should oppose. But, he maintains, going after people who are just engaged in this "renewal of moral theology" is distracting from the real enemy -- the genuine proportionalists who believe that there is nothing evil in principle but only according to circumstances. But as Dr. Chapp correctly pointed out, this interpretation of the subjective culpability would eradicate the moral theology of VS on which the denial of proportionalism is built. The reason is that the denial of proportionalism is built on the concept of the moral object, the act viewed in its personal dimension. That means full consent is a question specific to the moral object in question, which defines the species of the moral act. This idea of general subjective culpability (GSC) as opposed to specific subjective culpability (SSC) corrupts the teaching of VS, and it is that corruption that Dr. Chapp and I are eager to answer.

The analysis of moral theology in terms of the object is characteristic of Pope St. John Paul II's personalist philosophy, and it was raised in his apostolic exhortation Reconcilatio et Paenitentia (RP):

Here we have the core of the church's traditional teaching, which was reiterated frequently and vigorously during the recent synod. The synod in fact not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. It must be added-as was likewise done at the synod-that some sins are intrinsically grave and mortal by reason of their matter. That is, there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. These acts, if carried out with sufficient awareness and freedom, are always gravely sinful.
The sense of sin also easily declines as a result of a system of ethics deriving from a certain historical relativism. This may take the form of an ethical system which relativizes the moral norm, denying its absolute and unconditional value, and as a consequence denying that there can be intrinsically illicit acts independent of the circumstances in which they are performed by the subject. [Quoting a previous address, h]erein lies a real "overthrowing and downfall of moral values," and "the problem is not so much one of ignorance of Christian ethics," but ignorance "rather of the meaning, foundations and criteria of the moral attitude." Another effect of this ethical turning upside down is always such an attenuation of the notion of sin as almost to reach the point of saying that sin does exist, but no one knows who commits it.

This is summarized in VS 80-81:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object". The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".

In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: "Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). 

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. "As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?".

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act "subjectively" good or defensible as a choice.

And Dr. Gabriel points out that this diminished culpability can even apply to the most serious issues, such as those pertaining to life. As St. John Paul II says in Evangelium Vitae (EV):

Decisions that go against life sometimes arise from difficult or even tragic situations of profound suffering, loneliness, a total lack of economic prospects, depression and anxiety about the future. Such circumstances can mitigate even to a notable degree subjective responsibility and the consequent culpability of those who make these choices which in themselves are evil. But today the problem goes far beyond the necessary recognition of these personal situations. It is a problem which exists at the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency, ever more widely shared, to interpret the above crimes against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom, to be acknowledged and protected as actual rights.

So the principles here are clear enough with one ambiguity which seems to be a perpetual source of confusion. When VS uses the term "intention or circumstances," it refers to extrinsic intentions or circumstances, as is implicit in the concept of moral object. That is to say, since the moral object is the specification of the act from the perspective of the acting person, this phrase refers to the more general reasons or motives for acting, the so-called ulterior motives, that do not pertain to the nature of the act itself.

In terms of the analytical principles, then, Dr. Gabriel hasn't said anything wrong. Some acts are intrinsically evil, and nothing extrinsic can turn evil into good, but those intrinsic factors can mitigate subjective culpability. None of that should even be controversial, and Dr. Gabriel raises a good point that the dubium raised against Amoris Laetitia was essentially a "have you stopped beating your wife?" query that ignored this distinction entirely. Yet I still find Dr. Gabriel's interpretation of Amoris Laetitia just as dangerous.

As I mentioned before, full consent is a question of the moral object of the act, so there is no such thing as general subjective culpability. Every question of subjective culpability must be tied back to the moral object, so when there are mitigating factors or circumstances, they must mitigate something pertaining to the nature of the act from the perspective of the acting person. In other words, whatever extrinsic factor is operating to mitigate the gravity of the sin based on responsibility must do so on some specific way related to what makes the sin grave, the nature of the deformation of the will involved in the moral object. As VS 76 teaches (emphasis added) "When the Apostle Paul sums up the fulfilment of the law in the precept of love of neighbour as oneself (cf. Rom 13:8-10), he is not weakening the commandments but reinforcing them, since he is revealing their requirements and their gravity." So the principle of VS is that there is no such thing as generic mitigation of culpability. Mitigating circumstances and subjective culpability are always interpreted solely in the context of the moral object and the relevance of those circumstances to the nature of the act itself. 

In response to the question of whether someone can venially murder, at least arguably, EV says that is possible. There are cases like abortion and euthanasia where one is not as squarely confronted with the person in all of his moral dimensions and where the "culture of death" may be sending messages to obscure this perception. Obviously, those with particular roles of responsibility that turn on awareness of these aspects, such as physicians or politicians, cannot appeal to this excuse, but the example Dr. Gabriel gave of a desperate and frightened teenager certainly seems to be in the general category. We likewise have Scriptural teaching in Exodus 21:22-23 that suggests that the penalty for killing the unborn, albeit possibly through inadvertent miscarriage, is less than mortal. So this seems to be a case where we can maintain the moral principle while still making the accommodation that subjective culpability can be diminished, even possibly to the venial level. But the reason that we can say that is because the moral principles in this area have been outlined with sufficient clarity in EV to articulate the moral object and how extrinsic circumstances (and particularly the consciousness of human life in society) are relevant to culpability. If EV had not done so, then one could reach the "ethical turning upside down" in RP that "sin does exist, but no one knows who commits it." 

But if we can mitigate killing another person to the venial level, surely that teaching on subjective culpability can be applied to literally any other sin, right? After all, nothing is worse than killing someone, so just apply the general principle of subjective culpability to anything, and any priest can determine that any person was not subjectively culpable for the thing that they've done. It's that general application to the case of adultery, which is a completely different species of act, without any analysis of the moral object that is fatal to the reasoning of VS. And while it is true that VS represents a personalist development in moral theology beyond the manualism and casuistry that Dr. Gabriel derides, one cannot just take its principle of subjective culpability without the accompanying analysis of the moral object. "Complexity" is not an excuse for throwing the whole kitchen sink of circumstances into situations it does not belong, on pain of endorsing de facto proportionalism.

Dr. Gabriel's De Facto Proportionalism

Where Dr. Gabriel and AL fail is in not excluding the concept of GSC, which concept eradicates the entire purpose of VS. Indeed, Dr. Gabriel himself says that AL is not just a document about adultery and divorced spouses but a continuation of VS, affirming that he sees AL not as teaching with respect to subject culpability on a species of sin but as teaching GSC as an entirely new approach to moral theology, albeit applied in the specific case of adultery. As Dr. Chapp pointed out, if that were true, it would be a direct contradiction to VS. If AL were following the teaching of VS, then it would be specific to the question of adultery in terms of moral object, just as EV was specific to life issues and thereby provided complete context for understanding the "culture of death" and the resulting mitigated culpability. It is this idea of GSC that proves too much, to the point of being so misleading that it teaches de facto proportionalism.

It is my position that AL can't possibly be teaching this de facto proportionalism magisterially, for if it were, it would contradict VS. Rather, it seems to be analogous to the case of Pope Honorius with respect to the monothelites. The papal document itself does not teach an error, but it doesn't teach clearly enough to exclude this erroneous teaching, and the best evidence that Pope Francis has been dangerously obscure is that Dr. Gabriel has himself accepted the heterodox understanding of the document. The GSC approach radically misunderstands the nature of the moral object and its specification of the moral act, asserting a sort of generic diminishment of culpability based on extrinsic circumstances that VS clearly does not teach. The teaching of AL is therefore worse than nothing; it actively undermines the clear moral teaching of the Church.

Dr. Gabriel appears to be completely oblivious to what his critics are saying. Reduction of culpability cannot be a general principle for any intrinsically evil activity. It must always be specific to the species of wrongdoing -- always.   In order to excuse culpability of behavior, then, it is essential for one accepting the moral teaching of VS to give an account of how culpability can reasonably be excused. And this is what AL fails to do. Consequently, it has not presented any moral teaching; it is solely a matter of sacramental discipline. And contrary to Dr. Gabriel's assertion, that sacramental discipline has absolutely nothing to do with whether the members of the couple are presumptively in mortal sin, which is not the reason that people are denied the Sacraments. That is a question of scandal, which doesn't turn on whether the couple is assumed to be in mortal sin by the Church but whether they appear to others to be in mortal sin.

Familiaris Consortio (FC) had already established that it was possible for those in irregular marriages not to be presumed by others to be in a state of mortal sin if they were living as brother and sister, but this presumably required a public declaration to that effect. The only thing AL changed in this regard was that there would be no public presumption that the couple was not living as brother and sister, even if remarried, so that remarriage would not automatically transform private sins into public sins. It would instead be assumed that they were following their moral obligations, as any Catholic must do, and refer their failures to do so to the private forum as with any other private sins. In other words, it formally declared as a matter of sacramental discipline that continence in a second marriage was a private matter that could not be subject to public scrutiny.

Likewise, AL removed the presumption that one could not have a firm purpose of amendment while remaining remarried. Since living as brother and sister is possible and one could presumably declare the intent to remain continent privately in confession, then as long as one was sincerely repentant, the fact that one might fail from time to time does not vitiate the firm purpose of amendment. There could likewise be cases where consenting to sexual intercourse is simply not sinful at all in the same way that consenting to contracepted sexual intercourse might not be sinful in mixed marriages, as outlined in the Vadamecum on the subject (discussed in my previous article). But a flaw in AL, one that is fatal in my view to the clarity of the document, is that it contains no analysis of how there can be mitigation of the sin of adultery.

Church teaching on adultery

The confusion that is constantly present in AL is the confusion between sexual sins generally and the specific case of adultery, and this makes the teaching of mitigated culpability rife with with confusion. The Catechism clearly distinguishes between sins against chastity (the reservation of sexuality exclusively for marriage), sins against conjugal fidelity (including contraception), and sins against marriage itself (notably adultery and divorce). What is relevant toward culpability for the first or second need not be relevant at all for the third, yet AL cites teachings on the first two categories (specifically, CCC #2352 on masturbation and the reference in FC to failing to understand the "intrinsic values" of the rule against contraception) as if they should be relevant to adultery.

AL certainly could have appealed to an extensive body of teaching concerning the acting person inaugurated by VS. This additional teaching on sexuality now viewed from the perspective of the acting person has certainly developed the moral teaching of the Church. For example, especially in the case of rape, there is now a clear understanding that there is no sin at all in exhorting a rapist or a male prostitute to use a condom, when (although this is hard to believe) that had actually been a question in manualist moral theology. When the sexual act is viewed from the perspective from the acting person, it is very clear that the same physical act can have an entirely different moral object. Particularly in the case of consenting to another's initiation, it is possible for one person to will the good in a sexual act that is objectively deficient. But viewed from the perspective of the moral object, these may not even be sins at all but applications of the principle of double effect.

But with respect to adultery itself, these exhortations about understanding the rule are generally inapt, and the reason is that adultery is a sin against the union that the person has formed by free consent. It partakes more of the nature of breaking one's own vows than the sins against chastity, such as fornication. If one had sufficiently free consent to form the union in the first place, which may be a legitimate question for discussion in the annulment process, then it would be very difficult to imagine a case where one would be inculpable to the point of veniality for violating them. Of course, if one believed to a moral certainty that one's first attempted marriage was null, then that would be a case wherein the moral object was simply not a violation of the marriage bond at all. One could be guilty of disobedience due to the irregularity, as is the case where a marriage has not been regularized by the Church, but the moral object of the act would not be the commission of adultery. But the idea of excusing culpability with respect to vows one has made is not something that has been taught by the Church; on the contrary, the previous sacramental discipline on this point strongly implies that there is no such exception. The increased gravity of these circumstances is exactly in that one is sinning against one's own vow. This is the same reason that it is a far more serious offense for a priest to commit sexual sins than a single layman.

And this reaches the question of indissolubility of marriage. Unlike even the priestly vows of celibacy, the indissolubility of marriage means there can be no release from them. Dr. Gabriel implies that there is no implication in diminished culpability for the indissolubility of marriage, but this completely disregards the species of sin involved in adultery, which is a violation of chastity contradicting the vow one has made. Excusing culpability for that contradiction has direct implications for the doctrine of free consent involved in the original contract for marriage, and that is the objection that people are raising. If we are inconsistent in the requisite degree of free consent to form the union and to violate it, that raises serious questions concerning the nature of the sin of adultery from the perspective of the moral object. In other words, it throws the moral teaching of the Church into question.

This is what appears to be a manifest confusion in the teaching of AL 301, the same one that Dr. Gabriel appears to endorse:

The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. 

I agree that there is a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations in the context of adultery, and by and large, there aren't any. And the prohibition on sacramental participation wasn't about whether those in irregular situations are living in a state of mortal sin; the Church is rarely in a position to judge that, and it's been clear since FC that living as brother and sister is a licit option to avoid actually committing in in the union. 

The reason this statement is completely misplaced is that the issue has never been whether the couple is mortally sinning but the public appearance to others based on objective conduct that they are disregarding Church teaching, the same concern involved with the failure to regularize what may otherwise be valid marriages. FC required a public profession that the person was conducting himself or herself in a matter permitted by Church teaching, while AL now says that this can be referred to the private forum like any other private sin without the Church seeming to repudiate its own teaching. I have no objection to this disciplinary change; it seems a bit bizarre that FC opened up the option of living as brother and sister but required that matter to be made public to avoid scandal. Moreover, as I will point out below, it's entirely possible that there could be legitimate subjective doubt about whether the person was, in fact, married previously. Scandal could be avoided by the charitable assumption that anyone seeking communion with the Church is taking the steps needed to be in a state of grace. So if AL only stood for the principle that we ought not treat anyone as a public and notorious sinner unless their sins themselves are of a public nature, then I think that few people would object. 

But the unstated implication, one drawn explicitly by Dr. Gabriel, is that culpability for the sin of adultery can be less than mortal due to lack of appreciation of its inherent values. I have no idea how that can be the case, and given the nature of sin itself, I have no idea how mitigation of consent could be applied in a way that does not impair the level of free consent required to make the vows in the first place. Now there are certainly cases where one might not have full knowledge and consent of being adulterous. For example, if one believes sincerely that one's marriage would be annulled if all of the facts were known but has not (and perhaps cannot) obtain a declaration to this effect from the tribunal, then one might negligently be committing objective adultery if one is in fact married, but one cannot deliberately sin against a bond one does not believe to exist. Likewise, there is precedent for the fact that one's cooperation in the sins of a spouse is not necessarily attributable to both partners, as in the case of a spouse who objects to the use of contraception but accepts the remaining unitive good of the act, even at the minimal level necessary for the spouse not to look elsewhere. 

Neither of these cases involve a lack of appreciation of the rule; instead, from the perspective of the acting person, there is a real difference concerning the moral object of the act. Lack of appreciation of the rule's inherent values has only been applied to sins against chastity, not the sin of adultery. In the case of adultery, by one's consent to marriage, one must have already accepted the value of the rule. This is the same reason that divorce is sinful in the first place and why there is a moral obligation not to remarry.

To the extent lack of appreciation of the rule is relevant then, it is relevant to whether the person was married in the first place. That is, have we reached the point where there is such massive social confusion on the purpose of marriage that it is difficult or impossible for many people to form the act of will to contract marriage? Is this statement in AL then simply "saying the quiet part out loud" that no one really believes in marriage, especially its necessary role in begetting children, anymore? Are most attempted marriages then simply null for lack of proper intent and that spending the time necessary to establish this in the tribunals would be impractical, so that the presumption of validity ought to be much weaker and (unless challenged by the surviving spouse) left to the private forum as a matter of first resort? I do not say that those questions are not worth asking, but it is certainly reckless to a fault to leave it to an assertion of GSC as opposed to SSC for the sin of adultery. But regardless, in terms of understanding subjective culpability, it should be focused not on what the sinner is now doing but what the person did when attempting marriage. The idea that one could have previously been of the correct mental state to marry and now can excuse culpability based on a deficient mental state certainly would be a theological novelty that is inconsistent with what the Church has previously taught.

That last criticism has been raised by Dr. Eduardo Ecchevaria, Dr. Larry Chapp, and Dr. David Schindler, and it apparently has not been understood. Given the teaching of VS on conscience and the acting person, it is not possible for the mental self-contradiction on the point of adultery to exist, and this is the "rupture" from previous teaching. This is exactly why Fr. Julio Martinez, who holds essentially the same position Dr. Gabriel does, calls VS a "hypertrophy of the Magisterium." The teaching of VS on the moral object would clearly exclude the notion of conscience that liberal proponents of AL are trying to use to install de facto proportionalism as the moral teaching of the Church. That Dr. Gabriel has not heeded the warning does not mean that AL should somehow be considered harmless.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Why Amoris Laetitia is back in the news

There's been a recent exchange of rather-tense articles between Larry Chapp and Pedro Gabriel on the subject of the Magisterial document Amoris Laetitia, which was controversial at the time and which has seen the controversy reignited by a recent conference in Rome. Dr. Chapp has maintained that Amoris Laetitia (AL) was written in a way that it could be used to defend proportionalism contrary to the teaching of Veritatis Splendor (VS), even though it in principle only dealt with issues of culpability for sin, because of a dangerous (and perhaps even deliberate) ambiguity. Because of that ambiguity, as a practical and pastoral matter, the teaching of the Church is being disregarded. This is the "rupture" that Dr. Chapp points out, and it seems to me both that the criticism is entirely legitimate and that supporters of Pope Francis, including Gabriel, aren't actually answering that criticism.

There are historical examples of Popes being judged harshly for exactly this sort of "technically correct but practically dangerous" teaching, including the notorious cases of Liberius, Honorius, and Vigilius. In each case, while there is a legitimate defense that what was written did not dogmatically contradict the deposit of faith, it had the practical effect of making it more difficult to fight error. The case of Liberius and Hosius was probably the most innocuous, as Liberius's friend Athanasius the Great pointed out, because the faithful knew full well what the faith was and that any ambiguous statements by Liberius were going to be taken in a manner compatible with the faith. Mental reservations in a case like that are going to be much more apparent. Honorius seems to have been relatively oblivious to the theological controversy into which he was weighing, but that practical context made his decision to weigh in dangerous for the faith. Lastly, Vigilius's vacillation on the disciplinary side made it difficult to the point of being nearly impossible to clearly condemn the Nestorian heresy of the time. In each case, one could say that the Pope had not taught contrary to the faith, but that he had exercised his Magisterial office in a way that sowed confusion and made the correction of error more difficult as a practical matter. 

That is where I think we are with Pope Francis: he is depriving the Church of pastoral and disciplinary tools that prevent heresy. Where that puts him on the scale of these notorious Popes of history is a matter that can be debated, and I am inclined to think that the Christological errors of the early Church were more serious than the matters of moral theology that are being debated, simply because there is already going to be a great deal of pastoral judgment in this area. But in terms of being on the side of Popes who have done very bad things from the practical perspective that make it more difficult to prevail against heresy, that conclusion seems inescapable. As history has shown, that doesn't violate the indefectibility of the Church, but it does make those stretches of time relatively more miserable, both for the Church and for the world to which the Gospel is presented.

I. Problems with Amoris Laetitia

When AL was published, there were predictions that this was going to be the result. First, there was a question as to whether it was even compatible with the prior teaching concerning intrinsic evil in VS. Then, there were questions as to whether the Pope even had the right to alter sacramental discipline concerning these matters, particularly regarding the sacramental discipline of couples in objectively deficient civil marriages. Those questions resulted in a dubia written to the Pope by some rather prominent figures in the Church, who later also sought to offer "fraternal correction" to the Pope. The reason that I raise these questions is that I considered (and still consider) those criticisms to be unfounded based on AL itself, but they do point to an opportunity for abuse.

In the first place, as Gabriel correctly points out, AL deals not with intrinsic evil but with culpability for evil conduct:

An intrinsically evil sin can have diminished culpability and still remain intrinsically evil. (It is one thing to say that a sin is not justified in any circumstance and another thing to say that there are circumstances where the sinner is not fully culpable.)”

“Veritatis Splendor deals with the objectively evil nature of sin, and especially of intrinsically evil acts. Amoris Laetitia deals with the subjective culpability of the sinner. The latter does not change the former. The fact that a sinner is more or less culpable does not change the object of the sin: it remains wrong. Therefore, we are talking about different planes, which do not generally intersect in those two documents, so that they cannot contradict each other. As I said in previous chapters, it is a matter of emphasis.

That was the same understanding I had at the time, but this needs to be carefully nuanced. There are two cases where public evidence of subjective culpability might be relevant. Specifically, based on this understanding of subjective culpability, AL is revising the following teaching of Familiaris Consortio (FC): 

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. 

The relevance of subjective culpability to AL, if consistent with FC, is to say that what FC means by "objectively contradict" is too broad. The truth is that irregular unions only give the appearance of objective contradiction in addition to being manifest violations of canon law, and AL proposes that we should deal with the objective reality of the situation (including its subjective aspects) rather than equating the canonical situation with the moral situation. In other words, there can be a disconnect between the outward appearance of the union with its violation of the canons and its true nature. This arises especially in two cases, one of which is explicitly contemplated by FC:

1. The most obvious case is people who do not have the resources to demonstrate to the tribunal that their first marriage should be annulled, even when they might have a high degree of certainty that it is the case. These are marriages that could be regularized and may well be valid but illicit, yet circumstances make it difficult or impossible to make any official finding that this is the case. Since the couple lacks authority to make the determination for themselves, even if they have made that determination accurately, they are in a complex set of circumstances, and giving these couples the benefit of the doubt may be a reasonable sacramental practice. Given the risks involved, it is a good idea to keep this as a high bar, because as with doubtful baptisms, the consequences of invalid marriages are enormous. However, that's a matter of pastoral judgment, so at least giving priests the latitude to address these situations seems like a reasonable pastoral provision.

2. With respect to divorced and remarried couples who do not have this level of certainty about their prior marriage, the moral directive to divorced and remarried couples is the same as the one given in FC: they must "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples." The question is whether that step of taking on the duty must itself be made publicly or whether it should be handled in the same way all other moral duties are handled. The moral law is that the couple must abstain, but rather than presuming that they are going to fail for purposes of sacramental discipline, the presumption will be that they are trying in good faith with the help of the Sacraments to do so. If the couple is giving what AL describes as "what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God" ("[Conscience] can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal"), then it can be left to the conscience as to how well they are fulfilling that call and how serious their breaches of that obligation are.

There is precedent in the 1997 Vadamecum for Confessors for this exact kind of cooperation in an act that might otherwise be considered evil -- contracepted marital acts. That document discusses the following case:

Special difficulties are presented by cases of cooperation in the sin of a spouse who voluntarily renders the unitive act infecund. In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish cooperation in the proper sense, from violence or unjust imposition on the part of one of the spouses, which the other spouse in fact cannot resist.

This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:

when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself; 

when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;

when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).

If we accept the assertion that the overall living arrangement is permissible as per Familiaris Consortio and if we likewise consider that sexual acts are in their nature cooperative, it seems that this is the situation contemplated in AL 298 n. 329: In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.” That complexity seems to be the additional consideration offered in AL, and if it is, then it seems to be nothing more concerning from a dogmatic perspective than the Vadamecum was, even though the subject matter is still one of intrinsic evil. Of course, some moral theologians had very serious concerns about even that document, but being a layman and not a theologian myself, I can personally defer to AL and the Vadamecum as expressing the Magisterial opinion on the matter. At the very least, it would be hard to argue that AL was going beyond VS when the Vadamecum was issued only a few years after VS in the same pontificate. 

So there seem to be these two cases of significant relevance where FC needed some additional thought. (1) is probably a case that is more common today given how much more rarely canonical formalities are being observed, and (2) is acknowledging that, when couples are trying to achieve something together, one or the other might fail at a certain time. All of this seems fine, except for one thing: there is no mention of the obligation for divorced and remarried couples to abstain. The words "abstain" and "abstinence" are not found anywhere in AL. And that is the exceptionless norm: unless you are morally certain that the person with whom you are having sexual relations is your true spouse (whether or not you can prove that to a tribunal), you are committing adultery. It is significant that a document devoted almost entirely to the application of this moral principle mentions it only in a footnote and there only with reference to what "many people ... point out" about the surrounding circumstances. 

Another reason for confusion in this area is that AL cites a number of considerations that are simply irrelevant. Yes, mortal sins require full knowledge and consent, but subjective culpability isn't particularly difficult for things like murder, fornication, or adultery, which is the entire rationale for public sins. With murder, if you know that you are killing an innocent person and you mean to kill that person, it's irrelevant (1) whether you know exactly why killing people is wrong or (2) what your ulterior motives are for killing the person.

With that in mind, AL 302 says the following:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability”. For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved. On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases”.

The confusion here is between canonical procedure and moral rules, yet Pope Francis seems to be almost deliberately obscuring the distinction. The mention of "negative judgment about an objective situation" and "a general rule" seems to be canonical procedure, as he refers earlier to "general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases." A similar criticism can be leveled at the use of "objective ideal" (or exemplar in 303. If he means by "objective ideal" a canonically regular marriage, so that we cannot automatically infer subjective culpability from the objectively irregular situation, then this is simply an expansion of FC. If it were to mean that one could willfully initiate objectively adulterous sexual intercourse without culpability for it as a mortal sin, that would be just as absurd as saying that one could deliberately kill an innocent person without guilt for the mortal sin or murder. Yet the reason that this distinction is completely opaque in AL is that Pope Francis introduced the concept in the context of "mortal sin" as follows:

The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide other wise without further sin.

That statement has literally no relevance to the moral case of adultery, none at all. The citation from FC 33 is in the context of contraception; the citation from the Catechism in AL 302 relates to masturbation. It is fairly clear that on sexual issues particularly, the discussion about culpability for violations and whether they rise to the level of mortal sin is an open one, and that is primarily related to the nature of the act and what intent is necessarily embodied in the act. (Whether that may extend even to homosexuality is a current discussion along the same lines.) There is no such discussion about adultery, nor can there be given the clarity and the nature of the commandment, because it is not merely a sexual sin but a sin against marriage itself. Many moral principles are extensions of the Decalogue, but when they are as plainly stated in the Decalogue as the commandments against adultery and coveting another's wife, it's in the same class as murder or theft in terms of things that are obviously wrong as a matter of natural law. It is one thing if one genuinely believes that one has never been married before. It is another thing entirely if one believes that one was previously married and yet does not abstain in a subsequent union. This isn't a case where those mitigating factors are particularly relevant. Like murder, the evil just is the doing of the thing, so it's not possible to initiate the act voluntarily without intending the evil and falling into mortal sin. There is no conceptual room for these factors to reduce culpability to the point that it ceases to be a mortal sin if you intend to do it (as opposed to mere cooperation).

And note a critical difference here: unlike AL, the Vadamecum doesn't talk about the "inherent values" of the rule at all. Rather, it raises the possibility that consent to sexual intercourse is not the same thing as planning and initiating it. There is no question about the wrongness of the act itself, only whether the participation in the act necessarily counts for moral responsibility for the act. That development was a long-needed one for distinguishing what rape victims suffered from a sexual act in its moral object, and the Vadamecum is consistent with that reasoning. But saying that there is a difference between initiating and consenting in terms of moral object in no way denies that there is a species of act known as adultery.

The only possible way that this statement could have a correct application is in saying that disregard for the canonical rules about marriage is excusable. In other words, not following the canonical rules is not itself an objective sin against marriage, but an objective sin against one's duties as a member of the Church to submit to Her administration of the Sacraments, including marriage. If AL is arguing that docility to the Magisterium (and specifically canon law) is one of those sins for which culpability could be diminished or even nearly excused because people do not perceive its "inherent values," so that it is not always a mortal sin, then that seems reasonable. Perhaps one would not want to say that openly in a Magisterial document, so this is why both FC and AL dance around this issue. But given that it comes at the cost of potentially confusing the exceptionless moral teaching about adultery, saving face for the Magisterium seems to come at much too high a price in this case. 

The resulting ambiguity between adultery, a sin against marriage, and other sinful sexual acts is simply dangerous. In the general context of what is appropriate pastoral guidance, a statement about reduced culpability would be innocuous. In the context of this particular discussion, it's reckless, because this section of Chapter 8 isn't about pastoral guidance of couples generally but specifically the divorced and remarried. It is simply not relevant to that point; the factors cited are completely inapplicable to the obligation of abstinence with a partner who is not known to be your spouse. Whether you see the "inherent values" of the rule against adultery is simply irrelevant, just like it would be with respect to murder. No one honestly has "great difficulties" understanding that you don't kill innocent people, and the fact that people plead such difficulties in supposedly "complex cases" such as abortion nonetheless fails to give them an excuse. So it is with adultery; to perform the fact deliberately is to be guilt of mortal sin. 

II. The Problems Become Manifest

Now, as I said, the problem is not that AL teaches anything wrong in terms of principles. The problem is that there is a mention of mortal sin and subjective culpability that is simply irrelevant to the case of adultery. Just as we know murder is wrong instinctively based on our own humanity, we know what marriage is, and we know that adultery is a sin against it. 

So we can ask the following questions of AL: Is there a correct interpretation of the statement concerning mortal sin? Certainly. Is there any point in including such a statement in the context of adultery? Certainly not. 

This was the point raised in the contemporary criticisms of AL; it's not that the statement in and of itself taught proportionalism, but that it was teaching in a way that would almost inevitably lead to misinterpretation. In that way, it was similar to Honorius's description of "one operation" in the monothelite controversy. Subjectively, Honorius very likely intended nothing more than that Jesus's divine and human operations were the operations of the same subject, but he should have known that in the context of a discussion on the integrity of natures, that assertion was going to look like papal approbation for monotheletism.

Although there were certainly signs of that confusion in the response of Argentinian bishops to AL, that risk in AL became more than theoretical as of the May 2022 conference "Moral Theology and Amoris Laetitia." During the conference, which was introduced by Pope Francis himself as part of a year-long meditation to encourage adoption of AL, the keynote speaker Fr. Julio Martinez and one of the organizers, Fr. Miguel Yañez, both endorsed a change in the application of moral rules for married couples.

Fr. Martinez says in his interview with America magazine:

“Conscience is a fundamental part of morality. Indeed, you cannot eliminate conscience,” Father Martinez said. But “Veritatis Splendor,” he added, “very much fears what is called ‘creative conscience,’” and insists that “conscience cannot be creative. It has to somehow be obedient to the rules and the norms of the magisterium, and especially the magisterium of the pope, whose role it is to recognize and formulate the norms so the faithful can know and follow them.”

Father Martinez characterized this move as “a hypertrophy [an excessive development] of the magisterium in the field of moral theology, that took place during the long pontificate of John Paul II,” he said. “As a result, the magisterium speaks on every single issue of personal or social morals—but especially on personal morals, sexual morality and violence.” With this hypertrophy of the magisterium, he said, “conscience has, in equal proportion, been diminished; even though ‘Veritatis Splendor’ affirms conscience is the main instance of morals.”

Fr. Yañez says:

Pope Francis’ approach in “Amoris Laetitia” is “quite different” from that taken by Pope John Paul II in his own 1981 post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” Father Yáñez said. The latter can be seen as “a more dogmatic document” that emphasized “what the family should be and not what the family is in reality,” he said.

John Paul II realized that the traditional notion of family was changing, but his way of facing it was different to that of Francis, Father Yáñez said. In “Amoris Laetitia,” Francis “offers a sense of humanity regarding the new realities of the family—single-parent families, ensembled families, mixed-race families and, ultimately, even ‘rainbow’ families—and went beyond what ‘Familiaris Consortio’ stated.”
Many bishops and pastors find this approach difficult to accept, Father Yáñez said. He recalled that after Vatican II ended in 1965, the Vatican accepted a renewal in social ethics, but it had difficulty in accepting a renewal in issues of personal morality with regards to the family, sexuality and marriage.

Indeed, “the whole problem regarding family life and marriage was reduced to sexual relations. There was a failure to see the complexity of marital life,” he said. “Familiaris Consortio,” he recalled, “stated that a person who is divorced and remarried could not receive Communion, unless the couple [were to] abstain from sexual relations.

“But if marriage is reduced to sexual relations, there is a difficulty to see the complexities and richness of marital and family life. In my view, the problem was due to the fact that sexuality and marriage was not studied in a scientific way,” Father Yáñez concluded. “The bishops and clergy didn’t know the findings of science.”

“I believe that one of the strongest calls we receive today is to make moral theological reflection on good scientific data, for which we need a good formation in all pastoral agents. This is crucially important for clergy,” he said. For Pope Francis, sexuality is a gift, he said, and we need an integral and realistic sexual education.

These men are simply dissidents from Pope St. John Paul II's moral teaching. This has nothing to do with the "science" of sexuality, which is clearly behind Fr. Yañez's reference to "rainbow" families. I can give AL the benefit of the doubt as a synodal document that involved compromises, which is exactly the sort of consultation that Pope Francis or any other Pope ought to do in order to be a wise teacher. But this is precisely the interpretation of AL's teaching that would be heterodox, the one that the dubia was aimed at resolving, and Pope Francis is doing nothing to stop it. On the contrary, he has practically encouraged it. This was the point at which Pope Francis has crossed the line into bad conduct as a shepherd. 

As I mentioned, in terms of gravity, I don't think that this rises to the level of the Christological problems that strike directly at the heart of the faith. For that reason, I wouldn't put Pope Francis on the level of historically bad Popes like Honorius, but I think we can definitely point to other bad Popes like John XXII, who sowed confusion on matters of salvation. It seems that, after this conference, Pope Francis has lived down to the low expectations set by AL. Those who would condemn liberal dissidents should be condemning Pope Francis as well. That is not because he has taught anything contrary to the faith, but because he issued something with an ambiguity (perhaps even a deliberate ambiguity) that has been exploited by liberal dissenters, and he has done nothing whatsoever to distance his own teaching from their interpretation. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Fundamental Theology vs. Presuppositionalism

I've previously sketched an account of fundamental theology as an answer to modernism and nihilism, I want to point out how this fundamental theology responds to presuppositionalism, one of the rival Christian philosophies that emerges from the challenges of modernity. Based on the beliefs entailed in the fundamental theology that Jesus is God, I conclude that presuppositionalism does not work as a Christian epistemology. 

I. Fundamental Theology as a Discipline

Recall that fundamental theology as I have outlined it is (1) a response to modernity (and its inevitable nihilism) based on (2) a coherent account of the fundamental Christian belief that Jesus is God. The approach is based on an acknowledgement of the limits of formal systems based on the work of Gödel, Tarski, Quine, and Kuhn, as well as similar conclusions in physical science demonstrated by the theory of general relativity and the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. It serves as a response to the Enlightenment skepticism of reason exemplified by David Hume and Immanuel Kant, and it can, properly speaking, be called a postmodern approach to fundamental theology as John Deely defines it. It cannot be characterized as postmodernism, the denial of meaning itself, but rather as a critical (metaphysical) realist method of inquiry intended to provide abductive explanations of our experiences centered around the kerygma that Jesus is God. To put it another way, it is a way of doing theology as science, not in the classical Aristotelian sense, but in analogy to how contemporary scientific inquiry is practiced. But what is being explained is a set of dogmatic facts -- moments, events, and statements given normative status by the Christian churches over time that articulate the central revelatory event of the Incarnation.

There are, to be sure, those Christians who want to deny that the questions of the Enlightenment have any legitimacy at all. That is not the call of fundamental theology but fundamentalism, the return to the time where no one cast explicit doubts on the certainty of reason. The problem is that this time never really existed. The questions raised by the Enlightenment had already started to arise even within scholastic Catholicism. As Jose Pereira points out in his article "John of St. Thomas and Suárez," "For Suárez the basic principles of Thomism are, at best, open to debate and are unnecessary to found a metaphysics, a fact that makes the system, when not fallacious, superfluous. The rationale of Suárez’s critique of classical Thomism is that it tends to reify concepts." And as John Deely points out in Augustine and Poinsot, questions about the metaphysical nature of signs had already been asked by Augustine and had been given an extended analysis by the same John (Poinsot) of St. Thomas who is discussed in Pereira's article. Accordingly, this idea that we need to return to some epistemologically unsophisticated Eden where people gave no thought to the source of their knowledge is chimerical. What we need to understand is not the ability of older theologians to address these questions, which they certainly had resources to do when they were inclined to do so, but why they cared so little about them

The lesson that we should take from that indifference is not that questions of epistemology raised by the Enlightenment are idle or unimportant; they are not. What we instead must consider is why they took on such a disproportionate level of importance in the Enlightenment, and that relates back to the issues I raised in my blog article Calvinism: A Dead End Theory. In that article, I noted that Ockham's nominalism, which was enormously influential for modernity and the Enlightenment, reduced explanations to super-voluntarism, the exclusive use of the inscrutable divine will as a metaphysical explanation. This inevitably results in a zero-sum game between the divine and human wills that ultimately does not allow for an adequate account of God as Creator. The best evidence that this is the case is that an analogous denial of natures by al-Ghazali led to the same outcome in Ash'arism, even though it took place in the context of a completely different monotheistic religion.

The flip side of super-voluntarism is that epistemology, now severed from its grounding in nature, becomes hopelessly unstable. If knowledge of natures are simply creations of the mind imposed on the world based on observation of singulars, then the entire structure of our knowledge ends up being a house of cards. Once a nominalist starts to question how he knows, having committed the explanation of reality to the inscrutable divine will, it is only a matter of time before he reaches the conclusion that he knows nothing at all and that what he calls "knowledge" is, in reality, nothing. That process of degeneration is what we call modern philosophy, and fundamental theology gives an answer to it.

II. The Degeneration of Nominalist Knowledge

Although we clearly disagree on the reasons for the degeneration of knowledge, I can certainly agree with the presuppositionalist on the process of degeneration. In that respect, I can commend this summary by the Orthodox presuppositionalist Jay Dyer of the process. Jay also cites an article by Russ Manion titled "The Contingency of Knowledge and Revelatory Theism" that traces the history, which likewise provides a nice summary of modern philosophy's wrangling with this problem. In short, we do not disagree about what happened, only why it happened. 

The beginning of the Enlightenment can reasonably be traced to Descartes. Given the enormous optimism of humanist endeavors, he must have believed that human knowledge undoubtedly rested on a sure foundation, and he set out to demonstrate this with in the context of nominalist mind-body dualism with his cogito. This set the stage for the nominalist foundational project, the attempt to ground knowledge in indubitable (properly or doxastically basic) first principles, which would be doomed to failure. This is often given the misnomer "classical foundationalism," but that is anachronistic, since the project itself would only arise within a nominalist metaphysics. The idea of a mind separate from the body in the world is impossible if one accepts human nature as what it is, but the nominalist denies this, which creates the need for this project of justifying knowledge from indubitable a priori principles. This process may be ridiculous to the point of absurdity from the view of hindsight, but it clearly was not considered to be so at the time, and there are reasons that this was the case.

The empiricists then start to question how we get from even those "indubitable" principles to knowing anything about the world. The quintessential nominalist skeptic is David Hume, and there is a reason that Dyer more than once refers to a later philosopher saying that Hume represented the death of epistemology, citing especially W.V.O. Quine's conclusion that epistemology has become psychology. Hume's interpretation of the Peripatetic axiom that knowledge only comes through the senses (which in turn goes back to Aristotle) gives that principle a nominalist reinterpretation. Thus, what is experienced by the senses into sense "data" that are interpreted by the mind in nominalist fashion. That is not characteristic of realist metaphysics. For example, the Thomist agent intellect assumes the activity of judgment in human nature, the Scotist idea of intuitive cognition considers the question of apprehension directly, and it is likely that even Aristotle must have had a similar inchoate assumption of active intellection, even if he never developed the point in detail. In other words, a more fair representation of the Peripatetic axiom would be that knowledge comes not from the sensory powers themselves from being a person using his senses. But when the mind is severed from nature in nominalist fashion, Hume's problem becomes acute.

The next turning point is Immanuel Kant, whom Dyer quotes as saying that he had been "awoken from his dogmatic slumbers" by Hume. Kant therefore recognizes the problem that Hume has raised and tries to solve it. He distinguishes the noumenal and phenomenal realms and tries to reproduce knowledge with resort to a priori categories, such as Aristotle's categories, morality, and logic, that interpret the phenomenal, which we cannot know in itself. This essentially defines the course of the modern philosophical project, which ends up offering more failed attempts to answer Hume's question of how the world and our minds are connected in the nominalist metaphysical paradigm. Dyer aptly cites Imre Lakatos, Nelson Goodman ("The New Riddle of Induction"), and Quine, the last of whom ends up observing that everything from Kant and after has really done nothing to go past the questions that Hume had asked. But it is also hardly a coincidence that Goodman and Quine wrote an article titled "Steps toward a Constructive Nominalism." The framework for the entire discussion has been nominalist.   

The primary post-Kantian approaches for nominalist philosophy were phenomenology and mathematical idealism, each grasping one horn of the noumenal-phenomenal dilemma. Phenomenology is exemplified by Husserl's attempt to grasp phenomenal experience as such, and this project would turn out to be the closest that nominalism would get back to its ontological roots. In fact, the critical techniques involved in phenomenalist epistemology would end up being useful tools for metaphysical realists to be more epistemically self-conscious. But Husserl's project was itself unsuccessful as an attempt to ground knowledge in a nominalist paradigm, and neither was Heidegger's attempt to ground knowledge in the experience of time. Sartre's existentialism seems to be the inevitable result of phenomenology without metaphysical realism.

On the other hand, mathematical idealism was the attempt to derive nominalist knowledge through a priori formal systems such as logic and mathematics. This interacted with the modern interest in semiotics, the study of signs and meaning in language, begun primarily by Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce and fitting harmoniously with the work of Gottlob Frege in logic. The idealist project had started with empiricists such as George Berkeley, but the most ambitious attempt was that of Bertrand Russell, who combined logic, mathematics and semiotics in an effort to discover an ideal logical language, effectively reducing all of philosophy to the nominalist epistemological project. The Vienna School can be considered an overall philosophical project along the same lines. This was paralleled by David Hilbert in the physical and mathematical sciences in what would be known as Hilbert's Program.

Russell's and Hilbert's attempts were ultimately defeated by Kurt Gödel, whose incompleteness theorems disproved the idea of a self-proving formal system. Alfred Tarski explicitly applied this conclusion to the logical definition of truth in his undefinability theorem, which Tarski acknowledged as  having already been reached more or less explicitly by Gödel. Likewise, Kuhn's critique of natural scientific theories in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions leaves science similarly unable to provide the epistemic certainty than the nominalist account of knowledge would require. The Tarskian idea that truth can only be defined within a language as a result of linguistic holism has now been generally accepted, but the Kantian question of how that linguistic truth maps to the phenomenal realm (i.e., what is the truthmaker of statements) and the Humean problem of induction remain unanswered. Despite attempts by Quine, Gödel, Donald Davidson, Saul Kripke, J. L. Austin, John Searle, Wilfrid Sellars, Richard Rorty, and others to remedy that deficiency, I am inclined to agree with the assessment of the later Wittgenstein that the nominalist roots of the problem necessarily lead to an irreconcilable skepticism about knowledge. The attempts to recover a "Platonist" account of knowledge, apart from the Christian history of Western philosophy, in order to reverse the damage done by nominalism do not appear to have been successful.

III. Postmodern Angst: Postmodernism, Fundamentalism, and Christian Presuppositionalism

The implosion of the nominalist account of knowledge leads to a couple of subsequent attempts to construct a metaphysical system in the ruins. But neither of these seems to be successful as a Christian philosophical system that can consistently proclaim that Jesus is God. 

The most significant, at least in terms of historical impact, is Jacques Derrida's postmodernism. As mentioned above, postmodern is not merely referring to the fact that the system originated after the modern critique. Instead, it refers to the fact that the system denies meaning anywhere other than the interpreting subject. In order to solve the problem of knowledge, it simply denies that there is a truth out there to know. What we call knowledge is a statement about ourselves or, perhaps more aptly, an expression of ourselves. While I suppose that one might see Derrida's creative interpretation as something like the image of God as Creator, I do not see any way that it can give us any real and meaningful relationship with the historical person Jesus of Nazareth or to affirm that He is God. Therefore, I do not think it can be considered Christian.

The flip side is to try to assert fundamental beliefs of Christianity as themselves being undeniable, which is known as fundamentalism. This is nothing but a specific form of fideism, in which beliefs accepted by an act of will are posited as axioms upon which an epistemology of certainty can be built. It is nothing more than an attempt to bootstrap one's way around Hume's and Kant's skepticism of knowledge, but it doesn't reply to any of the metaphysical problems of nominalism that created the situation in the first place. It accordingly fails to answer the epistemological critique.

Christian presuppositionalism is a more sophisticated approach for explaining knowledge as such, but it is built on the same broken nominalist foundation from which Hume's and Kant's critiques emerged. It attempts to answer Hume and Kant on their own ground, and there is no place on that ground where a stable platform for proclaiming Jesus is God can be constructed. Specifically, the Calvinist Cornelius Van Til, who may reasonably considered the first such presuppositionalist, adopts the gap between noumena and phenomena taken from nominalism that forms the basis of Hume's and Kant's critiques. But he maintains that this gap can be bridged with the submission to the revealed truth of the Trinity, so that this act of submission of the will supplies a missing foundation for all of knowledge that can never have been coherently explained prior to its reception. Confronted with the inconsistency of having taken for granted knowledge that cannot be explained without this revealed truth, the unregenerate unbeliever can presumably be thereby humbled in such a way to be more likely to submit to this revealed truth. Alternatively, the unbeliever who stubbornly insists on his refusal to submit would demonstrate that his unreasonable position was a result of his pertinacious denial of God, not as a result of reason. Either way, the presuppositionalist would have confronted the unbelieving critic with an irresistible argument for his own inconsistency, the transcendental argument for God (TAG), requiring the unbeliever to face that his position is unreasonable.

Unfortunately, at least in the recent debates with Jay Dyer that I have seen, I do not believe that Dyer's opponents are actually interacting with presuppositionalism as a system, an observation echoed by Catholic blogger Paleocrat who has started an entire series on Catholic presuppositionalism. Dyer's opponent Trent Horn, both in the debate and in his debrief with Jimmy Akin, seems to have confused presuppositionalism with presuppositional argumentation, which is not really the same thing. As far as I can tell, they have interacted with the Trinity used as a presuppositional argument, as opposed to submission to the revealed belief in the Trinity being a doxastic requirement in order to be able to reason at all. They have also been dismissive of Dyer's particular presentation of presuppositionalism, which is an extremely difficult task with time constraints of a debate and which is generally going to require opponents to at least accept some basic philosophical premises for the sake of argument so that the discussion can proceed. That this has been the outcome is unfortunate, because presuppositionalism has enough of a following in the Christian community that it deserves interaction. 

Along those lines, the presuppositionalist critique of autonomous reasoning, which would include the inconsistency of natural theology or any other account of truth not expressly submitting to belief in the Trinity, is not exactly obscure. Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and Gordon Clark should not be unfamiliar names in apologetics. At a sophisticated level of apologetics with an informed audience, Dyer should be allowed to take the background for granted and to show how he is applying it to Orthodox theology without needing to reinvent the wheel. Likewise, when Hume's problem of induction and Kant's critique of pure reason are raised, even that invocation is itself cursory or laden with philosophical jargon, it should receive a response. Otherwise, the inference people may draw is that we don't take those problems seriously, which has implications for debates with atheists, Muslims, Unitarians, and others who question the coherence of the Trinity.

I will try to avoid that and to be explicit in why I reject Christian presuppositionalism (both generally and in its Orthodox application). I deny nominalism as an acceptable premise for Christian philosophy, and I therefore reject both presuppositionalism (including TAG) and the Humean-Kantian critique as non-Christian in their assumptions. I have a number of reasons for the rejection of presuppositionalism and the use of TAG, and I propose my own alternatives for how Christianity answers the Humean-Kantian critique.

IV. Arguments against Presuppositionalism as a Christian Approach

First, the separation of noumena and phenomena as implicitly posited by Descartes, Hume, and Kant is a denial of the Christian account of human nature. We have a primordial awareness, sometimes called intuitive cognition, of the unity constituted by our individuality as persons perceiving reality, which we can no more doubt than that we can doubt our own existence. But we have that apprehension of ourselves and the things around us whether we are reflective on it or not; the ontology of being a thinking person precedes reflecting on being a thinking person. So it is not "I think; therefore, I am" but rather "I am; therefore, I am thinking." The entire epistemological project in nominalism is therefore based on a denial of what human beings are, and it unsurprisingly produces a skepticism that is incompatible with human knowing, since it is based on a misunderstanding of human nature as such.

Second, the use of God as a premise in a formal epistemological system presumes knowledge of God to a level of certainty that denies divine infinity, thus succumbing to idolatry. This was the same error committed by Eunomius when he attempted to use the Father's property of ingeneracy as a basis for knowledge. But divine infinity precludes sufficient conceptual knowledge for the nature of God to be the basis of epistemology. Moreover, because it is based on the Cartesian dualist account separating noumena and phenomena, it exaggerates the rational capability of the mind alone to a point that even Eunomius, who at least recognized the possibility of knowledge about natures from the senses, would not accept.

Third, Christian presuppositionalism does not survive the nominalist internal critique deployed by Gödel and Tarski, because the existence of God is explicitly used as a formal axiom within the system for purposes of coherence. What the incompleteness theorems and the undefinability theorem prevent is the attempt to demonstrate the truth of the system by its own axioms, which is exactly what TAG does in its attempt to display its superiority and consistency. But there is no paradigm-independent way to demonstrate that conclusion in the first place. One can think of TAG as the "magic glasses" theory, so that paradigms are like sets of spectacles that can be tried on until one finds the one that lets one "see the truth." But Gödel proved not only that there are no magic glasses but also that magic glasses are in principle impossible. There is no way within any paradigm to see around the glasses so that one would know that what one is seeing is "true" with reference to the use of the glasses. But once one appeals to external knowledge, such as revealed knowledge of the Trinity, that concedes that one cannot build epistemology from within the epistemic formalism, which is a defeater for TAG. Thus, TAG fails for the same reason that Russell's ideal language project and Hilbert's Program failed.

V. Practical Concerns with Presuppositionalism

Apart from the general concerns about relying on arguments that are false, I consider the use of TAG particularly problematic because it creates the false impression that we can achieve a level of confidence in our own finite knowledge that is impossible. The problem with Descartes, Hume, and Kant is that their nominalist metaphysics erodes their confidence even in their own experiences, so that they are searching for a level of certainty in knowledge that is "incorrigible" or "indubitable" around which all other knowledge must be justified in order to count as knowledge. The resulting quest for magic glasses is quixotic; one is likely to end up like Quixote in dubbing a shaving basin "the Golden Helmet of Mabrino."

Not that a foundational argument based on the authority of the Church is any better. Specifically, especially in the so-called "manualist" tradition, there was an attempt to reinterpret the Peripatetic axiom (that knowledge only comes through the senses) and Magisterial authority in Scholasticism into a kind of Cartesian epistemic certainty as an answer to nominalism. That would be nothing other than the nominalist project in Catholic language, which would rightly be called "classical foundationalism," which really means reinterpreting classical philosophy in Cartesian foundationalist terms. This false certainty is nothing but the obverse of the naive assertion of Scriptural authority, sola Scriptura, to perform the same function in Protestant apologetics. 

Of course, I certainly believe that there ought to be a normative Magisterial authority in the Church, in the same way I believe that states ought to have a government and laws with normative authority. But that is hardly the same thing as source of necessary epistemic certainty, an epistemic authority, which concept leads only to flailing attempts to answer hopeless questions like "how do you know for sure what is Christian dogma, if you are not infallible?" We ought not to expect to have more certain epistemology about religious matters than we do about anything else, and Hume's and Kant's expectations for epistemic certainty are unreasonable to the point of impossibility. It doesn't work for them because it doesn't work for anyone in any field of endeavor.

In general, the quixotic quest for epistemic certainty, either presuppositionalist or foundationalist, leads to a situation I call "glass cannon apologetics." Presuppositionalists who place all hope for theological knowledge in TAG or similar arguments must be fully invested in this argument in a way that goes beyond normal engagement. When the battle becomes a clash of presuppositional systems, it is an all-out war where one must destroy or be destroyed, which requires one to perfectly protect one's own position from being shattered while devastating the opponent. In normal philosophical discussion, theories are like swords; one might slash, stab, club, or parry with it, and it can absorb and inflict a lot of punishment. It's also relatively easy to drop a sword when it breaks to pick up another one, and one isn't generally too concerned to leave it on the battlefield in the event that one needs to retreat. But when your weapon is a glass cannon, you can't abandon it, and you have to protect it at all costs.

Apart from the incentive toward bad behavior in argumentation that this creates, TAG itself casts one's opponents as being incapable of reasoning, and that makes it extraordinarily difficult, bordering on impossible, to display charity for one's opponent. The presuppositionalist would have basically started the debate in the position that his opponent is less than human in some sense; the opponent has not only made a mistake, but he can't even think straight. In encountering various bad arguments over time, once I have reached the point that I don't think someone can even think straight, I conclude that's the moment at which there is no more discussion to be had. In that respect, the presuppositionalist is starting in a position where dialogue should normally be ending.

In short, I believe that presuppositionalism, apart from being a bad argument from a Christian perspective, is toxic for dialogue. It's therefore best that Christians have ready answers to it so that we can nip it in the bud rather than allowing it to proliferate, from whence proceeds my concern that Trent Horn's response was inadequate. And of course, Christians ought not to make the arguments in the first place. The skepticism of Hume and Kant is not the right starting point for evangelization. With that in mind, I turn to some specific theological problems with presuppositionalism.

VI. The Noetic Effects of Sin

Reformed theologians who use the "magic glasses" approach of TAG account for the existence of multiple paradigms by the so-called noetic effects of sin. This localizes the denial of God at the heart of wrong paradigms as the effect of sin, contrasting autonomous reasoning due to the willful denial of God as contrasted with theonomous reasoning. Before the fall, the human noetic faculties were functioning perfectly, since Adam was in a healthy relationship with God, but breaking that relationship caused the noetic faculties to deceive us. This essentially reads the Humean-Kantian view of epistemic certainty into Scripture and then uses sin in the Reformed view as an explanation for the condition. But again, that aspiration to a noetic faculty of epistemic certainty is itself a kind of Pelagianism. That Pelagianism in turn fits with the prelapsarian Pelagianism entailed in the covenant of works, characteristic of Calvinist soteriology. As I explained in my article, Nicene Christian theology is incompatible with Calvinism, so fundamental Christian theology does not allow orthodox Christians to accept this belief.

It is certainly true that sin has noetic effects, but those effects are not impairment of the faculty of knowledge itself. Rather, the inherent finitude of human knowledge intersects with the temptation to sin in the form of concupiscence to create the misuse of knowledge. It is not that we do not know things but that we use what we know unwisely. Indeed, one of those temptations is to think that we need to know more than we do, as if the finitude of our knowledge is itself evil, which falls in the general line of thinking that material being is itself evil and causes us to covet God's own omniscience. Realizing the limits of human knowledge should not cause skepticism of human knowledge but rather acceptance of human knowledge for what it is, a limited yet good and fruitful capacity of human nature that finds its proper use in seeking for God.

The Biblical account of this situation is clear. Ecclesiastes 1 says at verses 14 and 18 that "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit…. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Manifestly, this is not intended to suggest that the created faculties that produce wisdom and knowledge are evil or vain. Rather, they are being used in vain. This is the condition of sin, in which all of our good faculties are misused in self-interest and the pursuit of passions. Just as our desires are fragmented into pointless vanity, so the truths that we may genuinely know serve no good purpose.

In Western theology, this was articulated by St. Augustine as the difference between scientia and sapientia, referring to true wisdom. This true wisdom lets us apprehend God and our ultimate purpose of communion with him, letting us use our knowledge wisely and humbly, not vainly. Such wisdom serves the love of God and neighbor. This is contrasted with the natural man, bereft of grace, who misuses his gifts. Scripture speaks of such men as follows: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God' [Ps. 14:1]." "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned [1 Cor. 2:14]." "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened [Rom. 1:21]." It is not that they lack knowledge, but they lack the love that makes knowledge meaningful. "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing [1 Cor. 13:2]."

The intimate connection between charity and knowledge is itself a result of creaturely finitude. We are not monads existing independent of others. Rather, every one of us necessarily depends on other human beings to be able to be able to achieve a significant degree of knowledge about the world. That dependence is a reflection of our finitude that is not itself evil, and it promotes trust and community. The capacity to make mistakes due to finitude should, if rightly understood, cause us to reach out to those around us so that we can form more human connections and reach more truth. But knowledge sought for its own sake, a result of the brokenness of the fallen world, instead further promotes division. This idol of knowledge for its own sake is symbolized by the Tower of Babel, which caused the scattering of peoples not because it collected too much knowledge but rather because the knowledge was not in service of the ultimate truth, which is God.

VII. Orthodox Critiques of "Natural Theology"

Turning now to the Orthodox version of presuppositionalism, one favored critique among Orthodox presuppositionalists comes from Fr. Justin Popovic in "The Theory of Knowledge in Saint Isaac the Syrian," which can be found in his work Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ. Part of the problem with bringing this work into the contemporary context is that the Europe in which Fr. Popovic was operating was overwhelmed by nominalist philosophy. This is a telling quote about natural knowledge from Fr. Popovic's essay:

It is not difficult to see that in this first and lowest degree of knowledge of which St. Isaac speaks is in- cluded virtually the whole of European philosophy, from naive realism to idealism - and all science from the atomism of Democrates to Einstein's relativity.

The "whole of European philosophy" here means the entire nominalist project of certainty following the Humean-Kantian critique that I have described at length. The term "naive realism" can be used interchangeably with classical foundationalism, and Fr. Popovic appears to be attributing it to scholastic theology as a whole, as opposed to the nominalist reinterpretation of the Peripatetic axiom as "sense data" or Cartesian attempts at certainty. That might have even been a fair criticism of the prevailing Catholic view at the time. So "naive realism" might reasonable include the nominalist project to use Magisterial authority or sola Scriptura as a foundational premise for Cartesian certainty.  But the charge of naive realism should only apply to such naive Cartesianism here, since Catholic realism, exemplified by St. Augustine, requires no such thing.

Fr. Popovic's critique of natural knowledge is as follows:

Natural laws do not exist for faith. St. Isaac emphasizes this very strongly: "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9: 23), for with God nothing is impossible. Natural knowledge constrains its disciples from "drawing near to that which is alien to nature;' to that which is above nature.'"

This natural knowledge to which St. Isaac refers appears in modern philosophy under three headings: realism based on the senses, epistemological criticism, and monism. These three approaches all limit the power, reality, force, worth, criteria, and extent of knowledge to within the bounds of visible nature - to the extent that these coincide with the limits of the human senses as organs of knowledge. To step beyond the limits of nature and to enter into the realm of the supernatural is considered to be against nature, as something irrational and impossible, forbidden to the followers of the three philosophical paths in question. Directly or indirectly, man is limited to his senses and dare not pass beyond them.

Nevertheless, this natural knowledge, according to St. Isaac, is not at fault. It is not to be rejected. It is just that faith is higher than it is. This knowledge is only to be condemned in so far as, by the different means it uses, it turns against faith. But when this knowledge "is joined with faith, becoming one with her, clothing itself in her burning thoughts," when it "acquires wings of passionlessness;" then, using other means than natural ones, it rises up from the earth "into the realm of its Creator;" into the supernatural. This knowledge is then fulfilled by faith and receives the power to "rise to the heights;" to perceive him who is beyond all perception and to "see the brightness that is incomprehensible to the mind and knowledge of created beings." Knowledge is the level from which a man rises up to the heights of faith. When he reaches these heights, he has no more need of it, for it is written: "We know in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." (1 Cor. 13: 9-10) Faith reveals to us now the truth of perfection, as if it were before our eyes. It is by faith that we learn that which is beyond our grasp - by faith and not by enquiry and the power of knowledge.

"Realism based on the senses" is the naive realism that I've described earlier, "epistemological criticism" is the Kantian approach, and "monism" refers to Berkeley's denial of the reality of anything outside of minds, so that there is only one substance (ideas). In each case, there are postmodern versions of all of these ideas that aren't susceptible to the criticism, but Fr. Popovic has in mind the the naive versions steeped in the nominalism of the time.

The process is described by St. Isaac as follows:

To explain yet more clearly the mystery of knowledge, St. Isaac presents further definitions of both knowledge and faith. "The knowledge that is concerned with the visible and sensual is called natural; the knowledge that is concerned with the spiritual and incorporeal is called spiritual, for it receives its perception through the spirit, and not through the senses. The knowledge that comes by divine power, however, is known as supernatural. It is unknowable and is higher than knowledge." "The soul does not receive this contemplation from the matter that is outside it," as is the case with the first two kinds of knowledge, "but it comes unexpectedly by itself as an immaterial contained within itself, according to the words of Christ: "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: There is no point awaiting its appearance in outward form, for it does not come "with observation." (Luke 17: 20)).

First, this process definitely rules out presuppositionalism of any stripe. TAG operates by epistemological criticism, the conditions required for knowledge, which cannot produce knowledge of God according to Fr. Popovic. To the extent it destroys confidence in knowledge entirely, it denies Fr. Popovic's observation that natural knowledge "is not to be rejected." Fr. Popovic knows the Humean-Kantian critique intimately, but unlike Van Til and Bahnsen, he does not concede the validity of that critique. Rather, he correctly places that critique within natural knowledge as one of the means it uses to turn against faith. By contrast, Dyer demurs that the use of Kant and Hume is "just asking questions," but that obscures the motivation for asking the questions in the first place, which is epistemological criticism. Asking those questions is motivated by doubt in reason itself, and that is inconsistent with the idea that reason is created by God. 

In doing so, Dyer has confused knowing about God with knowing God; "natural theology" allows us only to do the former but not the latter. It is not an attempt to bypass grace or to pretend that we can have God's friendship, to walk with God in the cool of the evening as Adam did by the sheer power of our reason. Nor is it an attempt to affirm an impersonal God that somehow develops into a personal God. Natural theology tells us both that God must be personal and that God must reveal Himself to us in order to be known. As Fr. Popovic maintains, that natural (or spiritual) knowledge of God ought not to be an obstacle for faith; it testifies about God Who is known to be unknown. Natural theology, correctly understood, would cause us to wait on revelation if we have not received it and to trust in revelation if we have, not to descend into rebellious autonomy against the Christian life. It is absolutely true that natural theology can be used in a way that violates the purpose of reason, but that is a misuse of reason, not its absence. 

In short, Fr. Popovic's critique, while it might well have been apt against contemporary views at the time, does not rule out classical apologetics or theology, although it might well rule out classical foundationalist approaches, whether Catholic or Protestant. In any case, it certainly doesn't support the presuppositionalist approach.

VII. The God-in-General Canard

One of the most frequent criticisms of natural theology leveled by presuppositionalists is that natural theology proves a "God in general," an impersonal monad that not only fails to be identical with the triune God of Scripture but is another god entirely: the god of the philosophers. The reason that is untrue is that natural theology never reduces God to a concept. Rather, the reverse is true; the presuppositionalist is the one who has reduced God to a concept by demoting Him to a formal axiom of a system as a basis of justified true belief. In other words, the philosophers have reached erroneous conclusions about God. In natural theology, by contrast, God is a real entity not reducible to a concept. Any sound natural theology concludes that God is an infinitely thick metaphysical reality that cannot even possibly be conceptualized, although true things can certainly be said about God.

A related concern, but one that ought to be taken more seriously, is the concern of apologetics against monotheistic religions, primarily Judaism and Islam but also including Christian oneness sects. For example, Qai at Orthodox Shahada has raised concerns that if one confesses monotheism based on natural theology, then one might have put oneself on the defensive against a Muslim arguing the doctrine of tawhid (oneness) as against the Trinity. Dyer has likewise elsewhere suggested that the Trinity is "tacked on" to God-in-general. The response to that concern is exactly the same argument from transcendence raised above: that we know what we don't know about God.

In the context of this argument, it's a misunderstanding of divine simplicity in the context of natural theology. Since all we know about God is through creation and since natural theology reveals God as Creator, we don't have a basis to know God's internal operations except by analogy. With respect to those external activities, everyone who affirms monotheism would necessarily see the same things in creation. The question is only whether what is knowable about creation properly rules out the possibility of the Trinity or instead whether the claim that God is a Trinity is unknowable based on natural knowledge. What we can conclude from the type of unity in God to the extent it is knowable from natural revelation is that God's mode of being generally and His mode of being one (simple) is a fundamentally different mode of existence from created things. In terms of the Catholic understanding, that is agreed by both Thomists and Scotists, the latter of whom affirm univocity of predication about God but who still affirm God's perfections in an infinite mode. Moreover, the concept of divine simplicity is identical in East and West, although there are differences on the implications of that doctrine for metaphysics generally in terms of exactly how creation relates to God, including whether God's activities are with respect to creation are entitative (energies, logoi) or relational. At any rate, if we understanding what we mean by the divine simplicity, then we would know that it cannot be used to formally rule out the Trinity, because it would require us to posit knowledge about the inner life of God that we can't possibly have based on the nature of divine simplicity. (It is also possible that one could argue that the Trinitarian nature of God is knowable from natural theology and analogy. To date, I have not found those arguments compelling, although I am intrigued by Joshua Sijuwade's argument from love defined as willing the good for another.)

As one example of a failed concept, the Islamic doctrine of tawhid is too small. It is modeled on earthly sovereignty and makes God an exceptionally powerful being among beings, as opposed to the transcendent Creator of all that is. That is a false conception of God, so they have not correctly reasoned as a matter of natural theology. It is not a question of the Trinity being "tacked on" to a common concept of God but rather that the Muslim's concept of God simply is not the one held by Christians or correctly reasoning natural theologians at all. And again, we have to contrast knowing God with believing things about God. When we say that Muslims worship the same God, we do not mean that they have true beliefs about God. Rather, we mean only that they have attached a defective concept of God to the actual God who has taken certain acts in history. For example, they correctly attribute that God in question is the one God who created everything.

The same would be true of anti-Trinitarian Judaism, which is comparatively rare because Trinitarian doctrine does not philosophically contradict divine oneness. (The rejection of Christianity is typically due to rejection of the historical fact of Jesus as Messiah as opposed to the philosophical rejection of the Trinity or the Incarnation as incompatible with divinity.) The God revealed in the Old Testament is correctly identified with the one God Who created all things, so there is certainly a common foundation. But to the extent that there is a defective interpretation of the revealed concept that "God is one," much like the defective Islamic concept of tawhid, it is a wrong philosophical description of God. It says something false about the God they have correctly identified. The Trinity cannot be "tacked on" to that defective concept; the defective concept must be corrected, either by correct interpretation of Scripture or by showing that the characteristics of God apparent from nature cannot exclude the Trinity.

In short, the reason that the "god of the philosophers" is problematic is not that the concept is known through natural theology (methodology) but that it is mistaken. The "god of the philosophers" does not mean that the concept results from philosophy but rather that the (erroneous) concept is held by certain philosophers.

IX. The Failure of the Critique against Catholicism

This critique from the East ought to be well-taken to the extent that Catholic thinkers can fall captive to naive philosophy, even when they believe themselves to be ancient. John Deely's Four Ages of Understanding is an essential work for articulating the process by which philosophy developed over time, especially the metaphysics of signs that is essential to conscious epistemology in Thomism. One might consider it the definitive counter-narrative to the assertion that Catholicism is "realism based on the senses," as per the anachronistic reading of the Peripatetic axiom. As I previously noted, this was not an issue of philosophy lacking the capacity to think consciously about epistemology. Rather, much of that conceptual apparatus was taken for granted. Nevertheless, in the West, there was thought given to these questions, particularly in the study of logic, before the issues associated with Ockhamism and modernism overwhelmed that discussion. The Cappadocians engaged in a similar project of conscious epistemology in the East in the context of replying to Eunomius, and although the focus in the East was primarily on the need for Christian practice, that should not be taken to imply that this was unique to the West. Rather, both East and West affirmed the same fundamental idea that natural knowledge could lead to knowledge about God but only grace, in the context of Christian life, could provide knowledge of God.

The confusion between those two reflects confusion in the question of ens intentionale, intentional being. In their consideration of the metaphysics of signs, Catholic authors over the centuries developed this understanding of the relationship between knower and known in a conscious way, with the most explicit expositors being St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Poinsot, and Bl. Duns Scotus (in the application to his own metaphysical system). Although it may be fair to say that this study was somewhat neglected because of other more pressing considerations, especially as modernism took hold, it is wrong to say that Catholicism did not have epistemological solutions. What is common to all of these solutions, at least to the extent that they are successful, is that they follow Stephen Chamberlain's observation that "epistemological critique is intended to supplement rather than ground ontology in the explication of human knowledge."

By "successful," I mean that the critique is not based on denying the real relation between the knower and the known that underlies knowledge. That is the linchpin of Catholic philosophy on this point. In my opinion, Jacques Maritain and John Deely are the two best expositors of conscious epistemology in the Thomist tradition, in terms of giving an explicit response to the modernist epistemological critique after Kant while also answering the phenomenological turn of Husserl and others. Maritain and Deely are only following St. Thomas's account of intentional being, in terms of giving a rigorous exposition of the sign relation and its metaphysical basis. In Deely's case, this also incorporated much more recent work on logic and language in the analytical tradition, especially Peirce's account of signs.

In terms of responding to Kantian philosophy and so-called "transcendental Thomism," I commend Out of a Kantian Chrysalis?, which collects and analyzes Maritain's critique of the transcendental Thomist Fr. Joseph Marechal. Much of what Maritain says would apply to transcendental approaches generally, including Christian presuppositionalism. In my opinion, Maritain also gets the better of Gilson and his epistemological disciple Frederick "Fritz" Wilhelmsen in terms of answering the transcendental critique without swinging the pendulum to the opposite side of reducing knowledge to sensory impressions, which is precariously close to turning the Peripatetic axiom into the modernist "sense data." I therefore agree with Chamberlain that Maritain's position strikes the correct balance in responding to the Kantian critique, and importantly, that difference on epistemology does not entail a fundamental conflict on what being actually is in the Thomist metaphysics. Both Maritain and Gilson end up in the Neo-Scholastic Thomist line of philosophy, not the modernist schools. They agree with the essence/existence distinction; they only disagree about how existence is known.

The good thing is that while there is a difference in explanation here, it is not really a difference from what Fr. Popovic or Orthodoxy in general articulates in terms of theological method. The critique does hit hard against modern versions of Catholic philosophy, including some versions of transcendental Thomism and phenomenology, as well as any uncritical Catholic epistemology. But in terms of having a plausible epistemology consistent with patristic understanding and Christian dogma, there is no reason that philosophers in the East and the West cannot both provide adequate accounts. For that matter, there is no reason that different philosophical schools within both Catholicism and Orthodoxy can provide such accounts.