October 31, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning" Part II


In our last post on Genesis we talked about how the sin of Adam had thrown everything out of balance. The world was no longer a temple as it was before. Man had literally fallen out of God's grace. He was now estranged from God though not entirely. God promises to send a redeemer to save man and defeat evil once and for all. (More on this in a later post.) Last but not least, man's relationship with man and with woman was forever transformed. Brother would fight against and kill brother. Marriage would no longer be predicated on love. Instead, the battle of the sexes had begun. This was not part of God's original plan but a consequence of original sin.

"In the beginning," Adam was charged with protecting the Garden and everything in it - including Eve. Man was supposed to tend the Garden, reap its fruits and defend it against the very evil he would succumb to. Adam was standing next to Eve as the snake tempted her. The idea that a "mere garden snake" tempted man away from God is very misleading. The Hebrew word translated as snake in the book of Genesis is the same word used to describe fearsome monsters in other parts of the Old Testament.

Adam was afraid. His first sin wasn't eating the fruit. It was failing to protect Eve.

October 29, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning"


The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It portrays the beginning of life on earth, indeed the start of everything that is. God, in a free act of love created the world. "In the beginning... " the world was far different from the one we know today. All of creation was in perfect harmony with the Lord. We don't often think of it this way, but before the first sin, the entire world was a temple in which mankind worshiped the one true God. Man fully possessed original goodness and original justice. Then Adam sinned and this was lost.

For one thing, the world at large stopped being a temple. It became necessary to build a temple in which God could be worshiped. Furthermore, man had to sanctify or purify himself before entering this sacred space. This was not necessary before the Fall. More in our next Genesis post.

October 27, 2009

Thought of the Day

As iron is fashioned by the fire on an anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive the form that our Lord desires for them to have.

-- St. Madeleine Sophie Barat

October 23, 2009

Review: What the Church Teaches About Sex


What the Church Teaches About Sex- God's Plan for Human Happiness
By Robert L. Fastiggi Ph.D. (reviewed by Matthew Coffin)

Dr. Robert L. Fastiggi is professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. In What the Church Teaches About Sex – God’s Plan for Human Happiness, he draws on his experience as a theologian and educator to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching about human sexuality. Fastiggi begins by looking at St. Augustine, an admitted adulterer and exploiter of women, before he allowed divine grace to transform his heart. With God’s help Augustine went from sinner to saint.

Fastiggi uses Augustine’s struggle with chastity to show how openness to selfless love and prayer are powerful antidotes to sexual concupiscence. Our first parent’s original sin taints every human endeavor, but none more than conjugal love. Dr. Fastiggi argues the “sexual revolution,” far from liberating human beings, has left in its wake divided homes, broken families, and fractured lives. The greatest victims of this new sexual license are woman and children. Ironically, it is often in their name that abortion, contraception, and divorce is justified.

What the Church Teaches About Sex – God’s Plan for Human Happiness, is more than a refutation of contemporary values. It is a comprehensive yet readable presentation of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Fastiggi looks at the Church’s greatest thinkers, from Augustine to John Paul II, relevant encyclicals, and catecheses. What emerges is the remarkably consistent view the Catholic Church holds regarding sex.

For any Catholic who wants to know why the Church teaches what it does about marriage, homosexuality, divorce, abortion, contraception, and more, this book is a good place to start. A forward by Catholic bioethics scholar Janet E. Smith and an appendix summarizing Church documents relating to sexual morality compliment the text. Whether you are a devout Catholic or unsure, this book will enlighten you like few others. (Despite having taught and studied Catholic Theology, I learned from reading it and will recommend it to students. Parents, engaged couples and young people would benefit greatly.)

October 21, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily


Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is the last excerpt from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

5. Pray!

The proclamation and preaching of the Word is an extension of the Word into this time and this place. When we hear the Word proclaimed and preached, we are made larger to better receive God’s blessing; we are strengthened to labor in holiness; we are deepened to be fresher sources of living water for others; and we are excited, electrified to be bearers of the Word, apostles to our world. Pray constantly for our preachers. Ask God to set them on fire for His truth, to open their hearts and minds to His Word, to loosen their tongues, to free their gifts, and make them true workers in sowing the seed of faith. Since we know from the Tradition that the first beneficiary of prayer is the Prayer himself, praying for our preachers grows the capacity of the Prayer to hear, bear, and spread the Word he/she hears in a homily. Ears settled charitably in prayer will hear clearly the voice of God spoken by the preacher.

Well, those are my (somewhat cranky) suggestions for listening to and benefiting from a liturgical homily.

Anybody want to add anything?
Pope Pius XII



Thought of the Day



So then, the great Mother of God, so mysteriously united to Jesus Christ from all eternity by the same decree of predestination, immaculately conceived, an intact virgin throughout her divine motherhood, a noble associate of our Redeemer as he defeated sin and its consequences, received, as it were, the final crowning privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the grave and, following her Son in his victory over death, was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages
-- Pope Pius XII.

October 17, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily


Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

3. Repeat every word in your head.

Yup, that’s what I said: repeat every word. I do this all the time. I have what the Buddhists call “Monkey Mind.” Just about the only way I can pay attention to a homily is to close my eyes (no visual distraction) and then repeat every word of the homily in my head. This is how I am able to stay on track, follow the homily’s “argument,” and not end up daydreaming about bread pudding, Battlestar Galactica, and the Pope’s new encyclical all at the same time.

4. Listen now, argue later.

OK. Fr. Oprah is on and on and on about his latest trip to the therapist and he’s boring the snot out of you with tales of his evolving consciousness and how close he is to exploding into Cosmic Oneness with the Womb of Universal Is-ness. First, put down the missalette. Just put it down. Pay attention to key words and image and repeat every word in your head. Why? Because for better or worse, ugly or pretty, he’s the preacher and (however hard it is for us to understand why) the Church has seen fit to make him a priest. He has something you need to hear. Even if you need to hear in order to reject it. Listen now, argue later. If you start arguing when he launches into a description of his Naked Rebirthing Sweat Lodge Ritual with Richard Rohr and you tune out because you need to argue, then you can’t hear what it is you need to hear from him. You’re spending your homily time arguing with someone who can’t hear you argue and couldn’t care less if he could. So, don’t waste your homily time arguing with your version of Fr. Oprah’s homily. Hear him out and argue on his time later.

October 16, 2009

Review: Man and Woman - He Created Them


Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is comprised of 129 addresses he gave over the first five years of his pontificate during his weekly Wednesday audience. In Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body respected biblical scholar Michael Waldstein presents the Holy Father’s vision of the human person with meticulous scholarship and insight.

George Weigel called the Theology of the Body, "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries." Weigel observed that Saint John Paul’s thought is difficult to read and understand; hence, a secondary literature capable of translating John Paul's thought into accessible categories and vocabulary was needed. Waldstein’s contribution answers the concerns of Weigel and others. One shortcoming of prior English-language translations is that different translators were used at varying times over the duration of the audiences. Occasionally, the same term would be translated differently from one talk to the next. L'Osservatore Romano, published the homilies, thus resulting in an inconsistent transcript when compiled as a whole. Man and Woman He Created Them has corrected this problem.

This seminal work of 20th century Theology contemplates the mystery of love that flows from the Trinity, through Christ’s spousal relationship with the Church. That same love is realized in human relationships and in a concrete way in the human body. In so doing, Saint John Paul II restores man firmly at the center of reality, making moral absolutes essential. Like Augustine and Aquinas before him, he confirms the fundamental harmony between faith and reason. Using phenomenology and Sacred Scripture, the pontiff affirmed objective moral truth and the dignity of persons, who are shaped by and responsible for their actions. John Paul synthesizes the wisdom found in Scripture with the personalistic norm which holds that the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.

The fruit of this synthesis, the Theology of the Body, is a reflection on our nature and life as persons made in the image and likeness of God, conjugal love, the meaning of celibacy, and the beatitude to which every human being is called. This is the Holy Father’s catechesis for a culture where sex is an obsession, marriage and families are endangered, and the dignity of persons is denied. Teaching about human sexuality using language subjective, inductive, experimental minds can understand, the Theology of the Body is a light in darkness, guiding us toward an authentic vision of the person as divine gift.

I highly recommend this translation. The preface and introductory essays are illuminating unto themselves. This is not summer reading, however, or for the theologically faint of heart. For those unfamiliar with it, I recommend reflecting on one address at a time. With patience and persistence, a thoughtful reading will bless and reward those seeking to understand Saint John Paul’s wisdom.

Pillars of Unbelief - Karl Marx


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The fifth article considers the philosophy of Karl Marx. It can be read in its entirety here.)

False Moses for the Masses

Among the many opponents of the Christian faith, Marxism is certainly not the most important, imposing or impressive philosophy in history.

But it has, until recently, clearly been the most influential. A comparison of 1917, 1947 and 1987 world maps will show how inexorably this system of thought flowed so as to inundate one-third of the world in just two generations-a feat rivaled only twice in history, by early Christianity and early Islam.

Twenty years ago, every political and military conflict in the world, from Central America to the Middle East, turned on the axis of communism vs. anti-communism.


Even fascism became popular in Europe, and is still a force to be reckoned with in Latin America, largely because of its opposition to "the specter of communism," as Marx calls it in the first sentence of his "Communist Manifesto."

The "Manifesto" was one of the key moments in history. Published in 1848, "the year of revolutions' throughout Europe, it is, like the Bible, essentially a philosophy of history, past and future. All past history is reduced to class struggle between oppressor and oppressed, master and slave, whether king vs. people, priest vs. parishioner, guild- master vs. apprentice, or even husband vs. wife and parent vs. child.

This is a view of history even more cynical than Machiavelli's. Love is totally denied or ignored; competition and exploitation are the universal rule.

Now, however, this can change, according to Marx, because now, for the first time in history, we have not many classes but only two-the bourgeoisie (the "haves," owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the "have-nots," non-owners of the means of production).

The latter must sell themselves and their labor to the owners until the communist revolution, which will "eliminate" (euphemism for "murder") the bourgeoisie and thus abolish classes and class conflict forever, establishing a millennium of peace and equality. After being utterly cynical about the past, Marx becomes utterly naive about the future...

October 14, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily


Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

2. Pay attention to key words, images, phrases, ideas.

If you can’t “hear” the whole homily, listen for prominent words or ideas that get repeated or emphasized. A good preacher will ask a question or make a statement or in some way call your attention to his point(s). When you hear this point, cling to it and then listen to the rest of the homily “through” this point, paying careful attention to how it is developed or used. So, for example, if the preacher starts by defining “conversion” or asking a question about conversion, then listen for images or words or some kind of repetition of conversion themes in the rest of the homily. He might preach about other things, but you’ve picked up on “conversion.” Now, of course, you can pick up on multiple points and follow them all. But you can’t do any of this while reading the bulletin, the missalette (Hack! Pooey!) or fiddling with your cell phone. (to be continued... )

Marriage - The Nuptial Blessing


Robert L. Fastiggi

From What the Church Teaches About Sex: God's Plan For Human Happiness

Getting married is certainly a "rite of passage," but it's much more. It is a sacrament, a holy mystery, "an efficacious sign instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is entrusted to us." One of the most beautiful prayers in the "Rite of Marriage," is the nuptial blessing given by the priest that says:

Father, You have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and His Church.

Father, by your plan man and woman are united, and married life has been established as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away by the flood.

Marriage is a sacred mystery that symbolizes the covenantal love between Christ and His Church (cf. Eph. 5:21-32). It is a primordial blessing that goes back to the creation of the human race. The dynamics of this blessing should be obvious: love, intimacy, communion, and fruitfulness. So precious are these gifts that God preserved them for humanity even after the fall.

October 9, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Sartre


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The final article in the series considers the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Apostle of Absurdity

Jean-Paul Sartre may be the most famous atheist of the 20th century. As such, he qualifies for anyone's short list of "pillars of unbelief."

Yet he may have done more to drive fence-sitters toward the faith than most Christian apologists. For Sartre has made atheism such a demanding, almost unendurable, experience that few can bear it.

Comfortable atheists who read him become uncomfortable atheists, and uncomfortable atheism is a giant step closer to God. In his own words, "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." For this we should be grateful to him.

He called his philosophy "existentialism" because of the thesis that "existence precedes essence." What this means concretely is that "man is nothing else than what he makes of himself." Since there is no God to design man, man has no blueprint, no essence. His essence or nature comes not from God as Creator but from his own free choice.

There's profound insight here, though it is immediately subverted. The insight is the fact that man by his free choices determines who he will be. God indeed creates what all men are. But the individual fashions his own unique individuality. God makes our what but we make our who. God gives us the dignity of being present at our own creation, or co-creation; He associates us with Himself in the task of co-creating our selves. He creates only the objective raw material, through heredity and environment. I shape it into the final form of myself through my free choices.

Unfortunately, Sartre contends that this disproves God, for if there were a God, man would be reduced to a mere artifact of God, and thus would not be free. He constantly argues that human freedom and dignity require atheism. His attitude is like that of a cowboy in a Western, saying to God as to an enemy cowboy: "This town ain't big enough for both you and me. One of us has to leave." [ ... ]

Mr. Kreeft's website has additional articles, audio presentations, and more.

How to Listen to a Homily


Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

1. Put down the missalette...

or as I prefer to call them Those Paper Destroyers of the Liturgy, or Those Menaces to the Word Proclaimed. Put them down. No, tear them in half, stick them in your pocket, and bury them near a soggy marsh. Do you take your Riverside Shakespeare with you when you go to see Hamlet? Ask yourself this question: if we were meant to read along with the lectionary readings, why do we bother training and appointing a Lector to proclaim the readings for us? Why don’t we just say, “OK. Let us take out our missalettes, turn to page forty-three, and spend a few minutes reading the Old Testament passage, etc.”? We don’t do this because we are called upon in the liturgy to LISTEN to the Word proclaimed. Not to read along, not to check the Lector for errors, not to fiddle with a little book during the Boring Parts When We Read the Bible Out Loud. Can you listen and read along? No. You can’t. Sorry, you can’t. The whole point of the proclamation is that the Word is sent out, projected, given a voice, made alive. You can’t get this if you’re fumbling with a missalette or fussing over a mispronounced word or a lame translation. Hear the Word Proclaimed. Don’t follow along with another text. And, yes, this means we need VERY well-prepared and trained Lectors who understand what they do as a ministry of the Church... (to be continued)

October 8, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Freud


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The fourth article considers Sigmund Freud, an "honest atheist," who paved the way for the sexual revolution. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Founder of the "Sexual Revolution"

He was the Columbus of the psyche. No psychologist alive escapes his influence.

Yet, along with flashes of genius, we find the most bizarre ideas in his writings—e.g., that mothers cuddle their babies only as a substitute for their desire to have sexual intercourse with them.

Sigmund Freud's most influential teaching is his sexual reductionism. As an atheist, Freud reduces God to a dream of man. As a materialist, he reduces man to his body, the human body to animal desire, desire to sexual desire and sexual desire to genital sex. All are oversimplifications.

Freud was a scientist, and in some ways a great one. But he succumbed to an occupational hazard: the desire to reduce the complex to the controllable. He wanted to make psychology into a science, even an exact science. But this it can never be because its object, man, is not only an object but also a subject, an "I."

At the basis of our century's "sexual revolution" is a demand for satisfaction and a confusion between needs and wants. All normal human beings have sexual wants or desires. But it's simply not true, as Freud constantly assumes, that these are needs or rights; that no one can be expected to live without gratifying them; or to suppress them is psychologically unhealthy.

This confusion between needs and wants stems from the denial of objective values and an objective natural moral law. No one has caused more havoc in this crucial area than Freud, especially regarding sexual morality. The modern attack on marriage and the family, for which Freud set the stage, has done more damage than any war or political revolution. For where else do we all learn the most important lesson in life—unselfish love—except in stable families who preach it by practicing it?

Yet, with all his faults, Freud still towers above the psychologies that replaced him in popular culture. Despite his materialism, he explores some of the deeper mysteries of the soul. He had a real sense of tragedy, suffering and unhappiness. Honest atheists are usually unhappy; dishonest atheists happy. Freud was an honest atheist...

For more articles by Peter Kreeft visit his website.

October 7, 2009

LET US PRAY

(From the Liturgy of the hours)
God, come to my (our) assistance.

- Lord, make haste to help me (us).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

- As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia.

[ ... ]

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in peace. Alleluia.
To pray Compline (Night Prayer) in full click here.

October 6, 2009


Thought of the Day
There are two sides to every sin: the turning of the will toward fleeting satisfaction and the turning away from everlasting value. As regards to the first, the principle of all sins can be called lust--lust in its most general sense, namely, the unbridled desire for one's own pleasure. As regards to the second, the principle is pride-- pride in its general sense, the lack of submission to God.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas

October 5, 2009

Beauty, Goodness, and Truth


According to Aristotle, man's thought entails three types of inquiry. (There may be others but none are more important.) They are making, doing, and knowing. "making" is thinking about how to make things and the actual making of those things. Aristotle calls this "productive" thinking because it is about the production of things.

A second type of thinking "doing," involves how we are to act, what is right and what is wrong, vice and virtue, and how we ought to live. Aristotle calls this "practical" thinking because it concerns itself with moral choices.

The third kind of thinking Aristotle highlights is "knowing" Aristotle calls this "theoretical" thinking - acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

The object of productive thinking is making something that is beautiful or, at the very lest, something that works well. The object of practical thinking is virtue or goodness. The object of theoretical thinking is seeing things as they really are or truth.

Pillars of Unbelief - Nietzsche


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and has authored over forty-five books. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and an unapologetic big C Catholic. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The third article considers Friedrich Nietzsche, the self proclaimed "Anti-Christ" and outspoken critic of religious belief. The article can be read in its entirety here.)

Nietzsche - Self-Proclaimed "Anti-Christ"

Friedrich Nietzsche called himself "the Anti-Christ," and wrote a book by that title. He argued for atheism as follows: "I will now disprove the existence of all gods. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently, there are no gods."

He scorned reason as well as faith, often deliberately contradicted himself, said that "a sneer is infinitely more noble that a syllogism" and appealed to passion, rhetoric and even deliberate hatred rather than reason.

He saw love as "the greatest danger" and morality as mankind's worst weakness. He died insane, in an asylum, of syphilis-signing his last letters "the Crucified One." He was adored by the Nazis as their semi-official philosopher.

Yet he is admired as profound and wise by many of the greatest minds of our century. How can this be?

There are three schools of thought about Nietzsche. Most popular among academics is the school of the "gentle Nietzscheans," who claim that Nietzsche was, in effect, a sheep in wolf's clothing; that his attacks should not be taken literally and that he was really an ally, not an enemy, of the Western institutions and values which he denounced.

These scholars resemble theologians who interpret sayings of Jesus like: "no one can come to the Father but through me" as meaning "all religions are equally valid," and "he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" as meaning "let your divorces be creative and reasonable."

Second, there are the "awful, awful" Nietzscheans. They at least pay Nietzsche the compliment of taking him seriously. They are typified by the footnote in an old Catholic textbook on modern philosophy, which said only that Nietzsche existed, was an atheist and died insane-a fate which may well await anyone who looks too long into his books.

A third school of thought sees Nietzsche as a wolf indeed and not a sheep, but as a very important thinker because he shows to modern Western civilization its own dark heart and future. It's easy to scapegoat and point fingers at "blacksheep" like Nietzsche and Hitler, but is there not a "Hitler in ourselves" (to quote Max Picard's title)? Did not Nietzsche let the cat out of the bag? The demonic cat that was hidden in the respectable bag of secular humanism? Once "God is dead," so is man, morality, love, freedom, hope, democracy, the soul and ultimately, sanity. No one shows this more vividly than Nietzsche. He may have been responsible (quite unintentionally) for many conversions...

October 3, 2009

Pope welcomes new US ambassador...


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI outlined wide areas of potential cooperation with the administration of President Barack Obama, but drew a sharp line on the issues of abortion and the rights of conscience.

The pope called for "a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens."

He made the remarks at a ceremony Oct. 2 to accept the credentials of Miguel Diaz, (pictured) named in May by Obama as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. After the encounter at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, Diaz held talks at the Vatican with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone...

October 2, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Kant


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The second article considers Immanuel Kant, his philosophy and his subjectification of truth. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Kant - Subjectivizer of Truth

Few philosophers in history have been so unreadable and dry as Immanuel Kant. Yet few have had a more devastating impact on human thought.

Kant's devoted servant, Lumppe, is said to have faithfully read each thing his master published, but when Kant published his most important work, "The Critique of Pure Reason," Lumppe began but did not finish it because, he said, if he were to finish it, it would have to be in a mental hospital. Many students since then have echoed his sentiments.

Yet this abstract professor, writing in abstract style about abstract questions, is, I believe, the primary source of the idea that today imperils faith (and thus souls) more than any other; the idea that truth is subjective.

The simple citizens of his native Konigsburg, Germany, where he lived and wrote in the latter half of the 18th century, understood this better than professional scholars, for they nicknamed Kant "The Destroyer" and named their dogs after him.

He was a good-tempered, sweet and pious man, so punctual that his neighbors set their clocks by his daily walk. The basic intention of his philosophy was noble: to restore human dignity amidst a skeptical world worshiping science.

This intent becomes clear through a single anecdote. Kant was attending a lecture by a materialistic astronomer on the topic of man's place in the universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: "So you see that astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant." Kant replied: "Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer."

Kant, more than any other thinker, gave impetus to the typically modern turn from the objective to the subjective. This may sound fine until we realize that it meant for him the redefinition of truth itself as subjective. And the consequences of this idea have been catastrophic.

If we ever engage in conversation about our faith with unbelievers, we know from experience that the most common obstacle to faith today is not any honest intellectual difficulty, like the problem of evil or the dogma of the trinity, but the assumption that religion cannot possibly concern facts and objective truth at all; that any attempt to convince another person that your faith is true—objectively true, true for everyone—is unthinkable arrogance.

The business of religion, according to this mindset, is practice and not theory; values, not facts; something subjective and private, not objective and public. Dogma is an "extra," and a bad extra at that, for dogma fosters dogmatism. Religion, in short, equals ethics. And since Christian ethics is very similar to the ethics of most other major religions, it doesn't matter whether you are a Christian or not; all that matters is whether you are a "good person." (The people who believe this also usually believe that just about everyone except Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson is a "good person.")

Kant is largely responsible for this way of thinking. He helped bury the medieval synthesis of faith and reason. He described his philosophy as "clearing away the pretensions of reason to make room for faith"—as if faith and reason were enemies and not allies. In Kant, Luther's divorce between faith and reason becomes finalized...

Pillars of Unbelief - Machiavelli


Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and has authored over forty-five books. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and an unapologetic big C Catholic. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The first article considers Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact of Machiavellian philosophy. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Machiavelli - Inventor of "the New Morality"

Niccolo Machiavelli (1496-1527) was the founder of modern political and social philosophy, and seldom in the history of thought has there been a more total revolution. Machiavelli knew how radical he was. He compared his work to Columbus' as the discoverer of a new world, and to Moses' as the leader of a new chosen people who would exit the slavery of moral ideas into a new promised land of power and practicality.

Machiavelli's revolution can be summarized in six points...

For all previous social thinkers, the goal of political life was virtue. A good society was conceived as one in which people are good. There was no "double standard" between individual and social goodness-until Machiavelli. With him, politics became no longer the art of the good but the art of the possible. His influence on this point was enormous. All major social and political philosophers (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Dewey) subsequently rejected the goal of virtue, just as Machiavelli lowered the standard and nearly everyone began to salute the newly masted flag.

Machiavelli's argument was that traditional morals were like the stars; beautiful but too distant to cast any useful light on our earthly path. We need instead man-made lanterns; in other words, attainable goals. We must take our bearings from the earth, not from the heavens; from what men and societies actually do, not from what they ought to do.

The essence of Machiavelli's revolution was to judge the ideal by the actual rather than the actual by the ideal. An ideal is good for him, only if it is practical; thus, Machiavelli is the father of pragmatism. Not only does "the end justify the means"-any means that work-but the means even justify the end, in the sense that an end is worth pursuing only if there are practical means to attain it. In other words, the new summum bonum, or greatest good is success. (Machiavelli sounds like not only the first pragmatist but the first American pragmatist!)

Machiavelli didn't just lower the moral standards; he abolished them. More than a pragmatist, he was an anti-moralist. The only relevance he saw morality having to success was to stand in its way. He taught that it was necessary for a successful prince "to learn how not to be good," (The Prince, ch. 15) how to break promises, to lie and cheat and steal (ch. 18).

Because of such shameless views, some of Machiavelli's contemporaries saw "The Prince" as a book literally inspired by the devil. But modern scholars usually see it as drawn from science. They defend Machiavelli by claiming that he did not deny morality, but simply wrote a book about another subject, about what is rather than about what ought to be. They even praise him for his lack of hypocrisy, implying that moralism equals hypocrisy.

This is the common, modern misunderstanding of hypocrisy as not practicing what you preach. In that sense all men are hypocrites unless they stop preaching. Matthew Arnold defined hypocrisy as "the tribute vice pays to virtue." Machiavelli was the first to refuse to pay even that tribute. He overcame hypocrisy not by raising practice to the level of preaching but of lowering preaching to the level of practice, by conforming the ideal to the real rather than the real to the ideal...

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