Friday, March 30, 2007


The Crisis of Our Time: The Absence of God.

Theological Epistemology:

Both Eastern and Western Christendom have shared a common epistemology that was engendered in the Christian experience of the Person of Jesus Christ, written down in the Gospels and developed by the Fathers of the Church. In a word, there was an experience of God and a pervasive consciousness of His presence. It is not so now. The opposite seems to be the case.

Robert Moynihan, editor of the monthly magazine “Inside the Vatican,” suggested that Cardinal Josef Ratzinger had been elected pope by a world-wide selection of Cardinals because they agreed with him that “the greatest `crisis’ facing the Church and the world is `the absence of God’ – a culture and way of life without any transcendent dimension, without any orientation toward eternity, toward the sacred, toward the divine. And that the `solution’ to this `crisis’ is quite simple to express in a phrase: the world needs `the presence of God.’”[1]

Ratzinger suggested that this crisis is not to be overcome by returning to “an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic,” but rather by forging a true synthesis of modern existential experience and healing it with the existential faith experience of the Fathers of the Church. Basically, taking up the task of what the Second Vatican Council was all about. Ratzinger remarked:

“There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity…. And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time… to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.”

Recently he suggested that “when man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive the sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing. When he overuses all the other organs, the [sensible] empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St. Gregory says, no longer perceives God’s gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!”[2]

The Recovery of the “I” as Being

A Joint Project of Faith and Reason:

The human person is a pilgrim of the absolute. At the moment he is trapped in a quagmire of unrestricted relativism, and suffering. Drugs, for example, are the “perversion of mysticism, the perversion of the impossibility of transcending immanence, and the attempt to extend the limits of one’s own existence into the infinite. The patient and humble adventure of asceticism, which, in small steps of ascent, comes closer to the descending God, is replace by magical power, the magical hey of drugs – the ethical and religious path is replaced by technology.” They are the “pseudo-mysticism of a world that does not believe yet cannot get rid of the soul’s yearning for paradise. Thus, drugs are a warning sign that points to [something] very profound.”[3]

Created in the image and likeness of the Divine Persons who are constitutively relational, the human person is ontologically hard-wired to tend to act in a certain way. Rather than call this the “natural law” as a law of human nature, it would be more adequate to call it “the law of the person” to be self-gift as image of its prototype. The unity of faith and reason is so fundamental to the functioning of reason that then-Cardinal Ratzinger asserted that “reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational” precisely because reason without faith does not have access to the being of the reasoner as relational, or self-transcending. If the very being of the knower is constitutively relational, and if there is no act of self-transcendence - that activates that being, i.e. faith par excellence - reason is working with a non-transfigured object which is its very food, and consequently with a diminished light.[4] Most recently, Ratzinger as pope asserted most firmly at Regensburg, amidst an international brouhaha, that “The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly.” Thus “the intention is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its applications… We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons”[5] (underline mine). The full force of his magisterium since that moment to the present, especially during Lent 2007, has been directed at experiencing the wounds of the body of Christ. Through this sensible opening, reason will be able to access the divine “I.”

Modernity Gained the “I,” But "Neurotically"

Descartes’ mother died in child-birth when he was little more than a year old. Karl Stern suggests: “We can visualize the sickly schoolboy, with his chronic chest ailments, his need for prolonged sleep... and his general melancholia, which he later claimed to have overcome by an optimistic philosophy. The bereavement and grief of infancy impregnated his life with the permanence of a scent. (He remarked on several occasions, particularly in letters to Princess Elizabeth, that he had inherited his sickly disposition from his mother. We know today that such passing-on is much less through chromosomes or germs than through the experience of bereavement, at a time when the child’s main implement to grieve is still his body.”[6]

Stern sums up his psychoanalytic take on Descartes: “Consider, for a moment, his way of thinking, outside the framework of the philosophical edifice, and you enter into paradoxical world whose very genesis is intertwined with the sense of loss, whose reality is founded on uncertainty. Again and again in Descartes’ writings, particularly in the Meditations, we find him, almost in a free association of thoughts, muse on the mysterious relationship between dream and wakeful reality, between the certainty of delusional insanity and the certainty of reason. `For example, there is the fact that I am here, seated by the fire, attired in a dressing gown, having my papers in this hand, and similar matters.’ From here the thinker goes straight into the world of the insane who believe that they are kings clothed in purple, or think that their heads are made of glass! `At the same time I must remember that I am a man, and that consequently I am in the habit of sleeping, and in my dreams representing to myself the same things or even less probably things, than do those who are insane in their waking moments. How often has it happened to me that in the night I found myself in this particular place, that I was dressed and seated near the fire, whilst in realty I was lying undressed in bed!’ Take all this out of the philosophical context and you enter into a world which is only too familiar from clinical experience: the world of those to whom the certainty of being has early been shattered by maternal bereavement. For to all of us, the core and meaning of reality was at one time, before all cogitation, the certainty of carnal presence.”[7]

And now, Stern goes to his conclusion that there could be no certainty in the flesh because it was there that Descartes experienced the terror and pain. The original experience of the enfleshed self prior to all conceptual thinking was this abandonment. Stern says: “Reality, perceived primarily through the flesh, meant dread, and therefore ratiocination, the pure cogito, became an impenetrable armor.”[8] He corroborates it with Descartes’ remark: “As we have once upon a time been children and have judged the things presented to our sense in various ways, while we had not the entire use of our reason, many judgements thus precipitately formed prevent us from arriving at the knowledge of the truth, and apparently there seems to be no way in which we can deliver ourselves from these, unless we undertake once in our lives to doubt all things in which the slightest trace of uncertitude can be found.”[9]

The Cartesian dualism is an emotional experience whereby the sensible world is alien territory against which one protects self by retreating into the certainty of the cogito that is not merely rational but emotional. Charles Taylor’s use of the word to describe the Cartesian withdrawal as “disengagement” is apposite. He said: “Descartes gives Augustinian inwardness a radical twist and takes it in a quite new direction, which has also been epoch-making. The change might be described by saying that Descartes situates the moral sources, within us…. The internalization wrought by the modern age, of which Descartes’s formulation was one of the most important and influential, is very different from Augustine’s. It does, in a very real sense, place the moral sources within us. Relative to Plato, and relative to Augustine, it brings about in each case a transposition by which we no longer see ourselves as related to moral sources outside of us, or at least not at all in the same way. An important power has been internalized…. The Cartesian soul frees itself not by turning away but by objectifying embodied experience. The body is an inescapable object of attention to it, as it were. It has to support itself on it to climb free of it…. But this different ontology, and hence different theory of knowledge, and thus revised conception of dualism cannot but result in a very different notion of the self-mastery wrought by reason. This cannot mean what it meant for Plato that one’s soul is ordered by the Good which presides over the cosmic order which one attends to and loves. For there is no such order. Being rational has not to mean something other than being attuned to this order. The Cartesian option is to see rationality, or the power of thought, as a capacity we have to construct orders which meet the standards demanded by knowledge, or understanding, or certainty.”[10] [11]

Once Descartes has made his error and centered on the self as source of mental certainty and not as experience of the real, the entire intellectual world marched in the procession behind the Self disguised as consciousness, leaving reality dumbed down – “disengaged” - to sense experience and relativist subjectivism to rule the day. The experience of the “I” as being evaporated before it could be disclosed.

The Intrinsic Value of Modern Philosophy.

Positive Contributions:

1) The “I” was recovered as the primal source of meaning. It is important to state from the beginning the positive contribution that the Cartesian turn to the subject has made. Descartes’ turn to the thinking self enlarged the perspective of reality once the self was understood to be a part of reality and participating in being, and not simply an observer or a process. This enabled thinkers after Descartes to purify the content of sense experience itself of the erroneous burden of thinking reality was as we sensed it to be. John Courtney Murray commented on this epistemological sea change from “classicism” to “historical consciousness:

“The second great trend of the 19th century was the movement from classicism to historical consciousness… Suffice it to say that classicism designates a view of truth which holds objective truth, precisely because it is objective, to exist `already out there now” (to use Bernard Lonergan’s descriptive phrase). Therefore, it also exists apart from its possession by anyone. In addition, it exists apart from history, formulated in propositions that are verbally immutable. If there is to be talk of development of doctrine, it can only mean that the truth, remaining itself unchanged in its formulation, may find different applications in the contingent world of historical change. In contrast, historical consciousness, while holding fast to the nature of truth as objective, is concerned with the possession of truth, with man’s affirmations of truth… The Church in the 19th century, and even in the 20th, opposed this movement toward historical consciousness. Here, took, the reason was obvious. The term of the historical movement was modernism, that `conglomeration of all heresies,’ as Pascendi dominici gregis called it. The insight into the historicity of truth and the insight into the role of the subject in the possession of truth were systematically exploited to produce almost every kind of pernicious `ism,’ unto the destruction of the notion of truth itself – its objective character, its universality, its absoluteness. These systematizations were false, but the insights from which they issued were valid. Here again a work of discernment needed to be done, and was not done. To be quite summary about it, this work had to wait until Vatican Council II.
“The sessions of the Council have made it clear that, despite resistance in certain quarters, classicism is giving way to historical consciousness.”

Karol Wojtyla also opined favorably on the import of the Cartesian turn to the subject. He remarked that prior to Descartes, “the traditional view of the human being as a person, which understood the person in terms of the Boethian definition as rationalis naturae individua substantia, expressed the individuality of the human as a substantial being with a rational (spiritual) nature, rather than the uniqueness of the subjectivity essential to the human being as a person. Thus the Boethian definition mainly marked out the `metaphysical terrain’ – the dimension of being [as substance, or thing-in-itself] – in which personal human subjectivity is realized, creating, in a sense, a condition for `building upon’ this terrain on the basis of experience.”[13]

2) The turn to the subject opened the way to disclosing the importance of “experience” as the criterion of realism:

The heightened attention of the modern empiricists, such as Locke and Hume, to the content of the experience of the senses purified modern thought of abstractions that were presumed to be real but were really masquerading conceptually and semantically, such as “substance” and “causality,” for another kind of experience that had not been isolated and objectified. It was not that there was no real “substantiality” or “causality” in the real world of sense experience. The problem was: what were we talking about when we said “substance” and “cause?”

Basically, Locke and Hume, attending only to sense experience, denied the reality of substance and cause “out there.” And, in terms of the experience of the external senses, they were right. The Cartesian turn to the subject forced them to consider whether we really experience substance, causality and qualities in the things themselves. Or rather, are “substance,” cause, qualities and values coming from us in our perception of what Kant will call the noumenal thing-in-itself – which we do not perceive sensibly.

And so the result of the turn to the subject is negative and positive. It is negative in that we seem to be trapped in our subjectivity in an epistemological solipsism where there is no possibility of returning to reality once one makes the initial start with thought. As Gilson says: “The grand metaphysical systems of the 17th century are pure masterpieces, perhaps the most perfectly self consistent systems of ideas which anyone has ever produced, precisely because, working on pure ideas, as in mathematics, the complexity of reality could in no way inconvenience them. What does inconvenience them is the difficulty of rejoining reality. Having expelled quality from the field of extension, they do not know how to account for it when it reappears in thought. Having begun triumphantly with ideas, they are ultimately unable to explain physical sensation – that low-grade, suspect, even, if one likes, despicable function, in which one nevertheless sees something make its appearance that is not pure thought, since it is not an intelligibility, but which is not extension either since it is already thought.”[14]

The turn to the subject is characterized by giving any “idea” that is not contradictory to itself, and “matters of fact” as experienced in sensation, the status of reality. What we have perceived as “substantial being,” say, a swan swimming down the river, is, in the semantics of Locke,

“white colour, long neck, red beak, black legs, and whole feet, and all these of a certain size, with a power of swimming in the water, and making a certain kind of noise, and perhaps, to a man who has long observed this kind of birds, some other properties: which all terminate in sensible simple ideas, all united in one common subject…”

Locke goes on,

“The mind being… furnished with a great number of the simple ideas, conveyed in by the senses as they are found in exterior things… takes notice also that a certain number of these simple ideas [read “sensations”] go constantly together; which being presumed to belong to one thing… are called… by one name; which, by inadvertency, we are apt afterward to talk of and consider as one simple idea [having disengaged from reality into the thinking self, sensation and idea mean the same thing as subjective experience], which indeed is a complication of many ideas together… we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result, which therefore we call substance…”

In a word, what everyone experiences as “something real,” or “substance” that we sense in various “takes,” now evaporates. Locke says,

“Hence, when we talk or think of any particular sort of corporeal substances, as horse, stone, etc., though the idea we have of either of them be but the complication of or collection of those several simple ideas [read sensations] of sensible qualities, which we used to find united in the thing called horse or stone; yet because we cannot conceive how they should subsist alone, nor one in another, we suppose them existing in and supported by some common subject; which support we denote by the name substance, though it be certain we have no clear or distinct idea of that thing we suppose a support.”[15]

In another example, this time from David Hume, causality is not perceived by reason, but only by experience (and by “experience” he means sensation of states of affairs):

“The mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it. Motion in the second Billiard-ball is quite distinct event from motion in the first: nor is there anything in the one to suggest the smallest hint of the other. A stone or piece of metal raised into the air, and left without any support, immediately falls: but to consider the matter a priori, is there anything we discover in this situation which can beget the idea of a downward, rather than an upward, or any other motion in the stone or metal?”[16]

John Henry Newman corroborates this view of both Locke and Hume on causality. He will say that indeed, causality is not perceived through the external senses but in the experience of the self exercising self as agent. There and only there. From that internal experience of the “I” as agent as master of itself – which is the proper locus of freedom – causality is extrapolated to the relations and associations that are perceived through sensation.

“The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first principle, that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first instance, from what we know of ourselves; and we argue analogically from what is within us to what is external to us. One of the first experiences of an infant is that to his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this willfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring his minds and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experiences of cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience, that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing about physical phenomena as causes.[17]

We can say in summary that the turn to the subject has undermined our naiveté with regard to what is actually “taken in” by the external senses. Modern philosophy has been honest and correct in its evaluation of the content of sensation. We do not sense “substances” nor sensible qualities such as color, smell or sound. Pain is not in the tooth, nor red in the dress. Nor do we sense moral values that are absolutes in the objective world of sensation where the real is always individual, particulate and contingent. True there is no knowledge at all without external sensation, but it is not only the experience of sensing that gives us the full horizon of knowing, but the experience of ourselves experiencing things through sensation. The experiences itself as subject in the act of experiencing the external world as object. The received classical realism has insisted this in its nihil in intellectu nisi per sensum. The same obtains in the moral absolutes. They are not found in the contingent, empirical sensory world as absolutes. They are experienced as the being of the “I” as image of the Creator tending ontologically to union. That ontological tendency within us is the ontological hard-wiring of the created image that, when reflected as consciousness, becomes “conscience” that resonates with some forms of action and shuns others. Conscience, then, is not a store of retrieval a priori principles that we recall and from which we deduce moral probity in the concrete existential. It is an ontologically grounded innate sense.

Recall then Cardinal Ratzinger’s challenge: “Here is the problem: Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith”
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.”[18]
. “And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let us call it epochal struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”[19]

The Positive Effect of Modernity: Experience as Key to Reality
Ratzinger’s Three Stages of Experience

“Here is my Secret, a very Simple Secret: It is Only with the Heart that One Can See Rightly; What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye.”[20]

Benedict offers three stages of sensible experience: The first he calls “empirical experience”[21] which consists in the raw account of what we take in superficially and inexactly. The second is “experimental experience” whereby the sense experience is nothing if a prior question has not been raised. That is, there is no experience of the senses if the intelligence has not asked a question and devised an experiment to see how material reality reacts – which will be the new experience coming out of the questioning and the experiment. For example, we have no sensible perception of atoms or quantum particles – or waves - until an experiment is devised to experience them.

Quantum Physics:

Historically, Newtonian physics dealt with sensible reality as it was perceived. It was a thing-in-itself, a substance, a being-in-itself. He formulated laws that could explain the extrinsic relations of body to body. Max Planck attempted to give a mathematical account of black body radiation according to the Newtonian laws, and could not. He experienced, quite by chance, that there was intrinsic stability in the interior of the subatomic particles that Newtonian physics had no language to account for. Heisenberg commented: “Planck, as you know, discovered that the energy of an atomic system changes discontinuously; that when such a system emits energy, it passes through certain states with selected energy values. I myself later coined the term ‘stationary states’ for them.” Heisenberg continues: “We know from the stability of matter that Newtonian physics does not apply to the interior of the atom; at best it can occasionally offer us a guideline. It follows that there can be no descriptive account of the structure of the atom; all such accounts must necessarily be based on classical concepts which, as we saw, no longer apply. You see that anyone trying to develop such a theory is really truing the impossible. For we intend to say something about the structure of the atom but lack a language in which we can make ourselves understood.” In a conversation with Niels Bohr, Bohr remarked that “atoms were not things. For although Bohr believed that he knew a great many details about the inner structure of atoms, he did not look upon the electrons in the atomic shell as ‘things,’ in any case not as things in the sense of classical physics, which worked with such concepts as position, velocity, energy and extension. I therefore asked him: ‘If the inner structure of the atom is as closed to descriptive accounts as you say, if we really lack a language for dealing with it, how can we ever hope to understand atoms?
“Bohr hesitated for a moment, and then said: ‘I think we may yet be able to do so. But in the process we may have to learn what the word ‘understanding’ really means.”[22]

Genome Discovery:

A similar upending of the same first order abstractive and reductive positivism occurred recently with the termination of the genome project and it was found that the enormous complexity of the human body that called for well over 100,000 genes to explain its cellular makeup, in reality had in the range of 30,000 whereas the worm and the fruitfly Drosophila had 13,000 genes and the round worm that has 959 cells has as many as 19,000 genes.
Jay Gould, the Harvard high priest of biological evolution and one to one reductive determinism, remarked: “Human complexity cannot be generated by 30,000 genes under the old view of life embodied in what geneticists literally called (admittedly with a sense of whimsy) their ''central dogma'': DNA makes RNA makes protein -- in other words, one direction of causal flow from code to message to assembly of substance, with one item of code (a gene) ultimately making one item of substance (a protein), and the congeries of proteins making a body. Those 142,000 messages no doubt exist, as they must to build our bodies' complexity, with our previous error now exposed as the assumption that each message came from a distinct gene.”[23]
He continued and concluded: “But the deepest ramifications will be scientific or philosophical in the largest sense. From its late 17th century inception in modern form, science has strongly privileged the reductionist mode of thought that breaks overt complexity into constituent parts and then tries to explain the totality by the properties of these parts and simple interactions fully predictable from the parts. (''Analysis'' literally means to dissolve into basic parts). The reductionist method works triumphantly for simple systems -- predicting eclipses or the motion of planets (but not the histories of their complex surfaces), for example. But once again -- and when will we ever learn? -- we fell victim to hubris, as we imagined that, in discovering how to unlock some systems, we had found the key for the conquest of all natural phenomena. Will Parsifal ever learn that only humility (and a plurality of strategies for explanation) can locate the Holy Grail? “The collapse of the doctrine of one gene for one protein, and one direction of causal flow from basic codes to elaborate totality, marks the failure of reductionism for the complex system that we call biology.[24]

The Third type of Experience is “Existential.” Ratzinger makes a very similar observation to that of Einstein, who had said that a problem found in one horizon of consciousness cannot be solved except by moving to another horizon. Ratzinger refers precisely to this epistemological shift of horizon in the new physics that parallels his own understanding of revelation and faith.
With regard to the new physics, he said: “We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends o the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject.”

He then applies the paradigm shift in the new physics to the epistemological shift that has taken place in the Second Vatican Council. There, John Paul II observed as conciliar father that: “the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe?’ ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer...”[25] In a word, the meaning of “pastoral Council” for Vatican II involved the shift from talking about objectified truths, to talking about the “I” as self-transcending believer, or more exactly, “the acting person.”
Ratzinger then situates this shift of horizon from object to subject as the key to the question about God, and how He is to be experienced and not simply conceptually thought. He remarked: This too, mutatis mutandis, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it penetrates the center of individuality, and the more it engages the beholder’s individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in pure objectivity. Thus, wherever an answer is presented as unemotionally objective, as a statement that finally goes beyond the prejudices of the pious and provides purely factual, scientific information, then it has to be said that the speaker has here fallen a victim to self-deception. This kind of objectivity is quite simply denied to man. He cannot ask and exist as a mere observer. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality ‘God’ can only impinge on the visit of him who enters into the experiment with God – the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by co-operating in the experiment does one ask at all, and only he who asks receives an answer.”[26]

Sokolowski’s “Exorcising Concepts”[27]

Robert Sokolowski exorcises concepts as “something.” He says that we are inclined “to believe that the concept is something: that there is some sort of entity in our minds, or perhaps in our brains, that we can call the concept.”[28] He says that “We tend to substantialize both concepts and the mind. We may even go on to add a process of ideogenesis, a natural process in which impressions cause images which in turn cause concepts; thus new concepts are said to be brought into being and to take their place in the mind along with those that are there already.”[29] Sokolowski suggests that concepts are “a transcendental mirage” that we imagine because we do not understand what takes place in the use of speech. He says that “when we move from thing to meaning to word, whether in work or at play, we do not turn from that thing there (an object) to this thing here (a mental entity) to still another thing coming forth (a word); we simply shift our attitude and go from the thing, to the thing as presented, to the thing as presented and voiced. And concepts as mental entities, the transcendental mirage that occurs so persistently, are simply reified or decontextualized meanings. They are modes of presentation that have mistakenly been taken as mental things.”[30]

To intensify the point, I would make reference to Charles Peirce as interpreted by Walker Percy. Percy takes Peirce’s “thirdness” as transcending the reductive determinism of biological stimulus (S) and response (R) as the only adequate explanation of language. He says: “The point is that the picture the psychologist draws, showing stimuli and responses, big S’s and R’s outside the brain, little s’s and r’s inside the brain, with arrows showing the course of nerve impulses along nerves and across synapses, not matter how complicated it is, will not show what happens when a child understands that the sound ball is the name of a class of round objects, or when I say The center is not holding and you understand me.”[31]

Percy is not talking about an abstract concept when he says “ball.” He is talking about language as a name used by an “I” who is the “third” and critical reality towering over stimulus and response. When the “I” undergoes the act of naming the “stimulus” (round thing) with the symbol (“ball”) that has been given to him by his father or mother or nurse, the “I” activates itself by a self-determination to subdue the object and thereby come to a consciousness of self. This is not a process of ideogenesis, but of personagenesis.
Percy’s signature example is Helen Keller. He quotes Helen:

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that `w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

"I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. [She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper.] I felt my way to the dearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”[32]

What had happened? Helen had exercised her subjectivity as cause by “throwing” (βαλέιν) the “likeness” (sym): w-a-t-e-r at the wet flowing object. She had experienced herself as cause, and therefore came to a consciousness of herself as “self.” Percy comments: “before, Helen had behaved like a good responding organism. Afterward, she acted like a rejoicing symbol-mongering human. Before, she was little more than an animal. Afterward, she became wholly human. Within the few minutes of the breakthrough and the several hours of exploiting it Helen had concentrated the months of the naming phase that most children go through somewhere around their second birthday.”[33]

This exercise in exorcising concepts can help us remove the ontological freight from sensation where we have tended to place it. We have bypassed the real criterion for ontological reality that is experience and have frontloaded sensation with essences, substance, causality, values, etc. that had to be transmogrified by theories of abstraction and ideogenesis that are pure mirages. The central ontological reality is the “I” that experiences itself in the act of free self-determination in the act of naming, that is work. The central act of knowing is brought about by the will in the free morality of self-transcendence. Call it love, work, faith, naming, etc, it is the acting person experiencing itself as the prime meaning of being.

As an aside, it is telling that Josef Ratzinger has exorcised the idea of substance not only as the prius ontological category, the prime meaning of being, but as an adequate way of dealing with reality. I cite three Ratzinger examples: 1) “Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in term of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being complete – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable;”[34] 2) “In this light, Boethius’s concept of person, which prevailed in Western philosophy, must be criticized as entirely insufficient. Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined `person’ as Naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms;”[35] 3) “a new philosophical category – the concept of ‘person’ – was fashioned, a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought. The meaningof an already existing category, that of ‘relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relation moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence.”[36]

Wojtyla’s Metaphysical Phenomenology: Experience the “I” as Being

It has been the work of Karol Wojtyla that has performed the metaphysical and phenomenological amalgam of making it possible to perceive and conceptualize the grasp of the self in the moment of self-determination. The great task was to show that what was being grasped of the self was not consciousness, but being. And the even greater task was to give an account of accessing the being of the “I” without objectifying it and turning it into an object. The account of this kind of abstractive and objectified knowing of the self has been accounted for by what has been called intentional “reflection” and therefore rendering it by a concept. Wojtyla perceived that what really takes place in knowing the “I” precisely as “I” is the work of consciousness itself which is reflective rather than reflexive. That is, consciousness, that is the noetic dimension of experience itself, mirrors the “I” in its passivity before the internal act of determining as potency to so self-determine, and after the internal act, it mirrors the state of being self-determined. By so doing, consciousness embraces the “I” as both potency and act and in so doing offers the experience of the passage performed by the “I” – and this without objectifying it. This, of course, does not mean that it cannot be objectified by an intentional reflection, which, indeed, takes place. The “I,” then, is known by itself as both subject and object.


Repeating the challenge laid down by Benedict XVI: "Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith”
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.”

The answer imposes itself. Modernity – as the turn to the subject and the experience of it - is a real contribution, and a critical one. It is reconciled with the received classical metaphysics in finding the “I” of the person as the “privileged locus for the encounter with the act of existence” (Fides et ratio #83) and therefore the key to a new metaphysics that will harmonize faith and reason. The dualisms of supernatural/natural, faith/reason, grace/nature, Church/State, priest/layman will be reconciled in the experience of the self as gift.

This delicate epistemological work of the phenomenology of self-determination, the experience of the “I” in the moment of free moral activity, is precisely what opens up the new anthropology of relation that supersedes the received understanding of the human person as “individual substance of a rational nature” that has bogged down the true development of a Christian anthropology.

Only with this new metaphysical anthropology of the “I” are we able to have reasonable access to the Christological anthropology that was enunciated in Gaudium et spes #24: “Man, the only earthly being that God willed for itself, found himself by the sincere gift of himself.” And only by achieving that self-knowledge as “I am” is it possible to achieve – by transference - the knowledge of Him Who is nothing but “I AM.”

[1] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, Let God’s Light Shine Forth” ed. Robert Moynihan Doubleday (2005) 4.
[2] Benedict XVI, “Holy Mass with the Members of the Bishops’ Conference of Switzerland,” November 7, 2006.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe?” Ignatius (1994) 20.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Church, Ecumenism and Politics,” Crossroad (1988) 218.
[5] Benedict XVI, Papal Address at University of Regensburg: “Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization,” September 12, 2006.
[6] Karl Stern, The Flight From Woman,” Farrar Straus Giroux (1965) 92.
[7] Ibid. 100.
[8] Ibid. 100.
[9] Ibid. 100
[10] Charles Taylor, “Sources of the Self,” Harvard University Press, (1989) 143-147.

[12] Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II, Paulist Press (1966), Appendix III by John Courtney Murray, S.J.
[13] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community (1993) 212.
[14] E. Gilson, “Methodical Realism,” Christendom Press (1990) 88-89.
[15] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
[16] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
[17] John Henry Newman, Grammar of Assent, UNDP (1992) 70-72.
[18] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, `Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday [2005] 34-35).
[19] Ibid.
[20] Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince” Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1943) 70.
[21] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 346-347.
[22] Werner Heisenberg, “Physics and Beyond,” 41
[23] The New York Times, February 19, 2001, op. ed.
[24] Ibid
[25] Karol Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” Harper and Row (1979) 17.
[26] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990)125.
[27] R. Sokolowski, “Pictures, Quotations, and Distinctions,” UNDP (1992) 173-185.
[28] Ibid 173.
[29] Ibid 174.
[30] Ibid 185.
[31] Walker Percy, “The Delta Factor,” The Message in the Bottle The Noonday Press (1995) 14.
[32] Ibid 34-35.
[33] Ibid 38.
[34] J. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius (2004) 184; (1990) 132.
[35] J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.
[36] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant” Ignatius (1999) 76-77.

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