Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why The Priest Needs Philosophy

Okay,...time to step away from the Optimusmastro character and revert back to Marco (imagine Bruce Banner!)  The following is a paper that was done a few months back regarding why Priests need philosophy.  In light of the recent metaphysical dimension of the last few posts, I thought I would reprint it!  Please look past any spelling mistakes as I had to translate it,..(I had originally written it in french...)

Today's fast paced multicultural society has become a haven for ideas, fads, cultural norms and trends
each adhering to a certain set of guidlines or rules. The same can be said for religion as it is interpreted
by today's standards. What exactly do I mean by 'standards?' Well by way which humanity looks
upon religion as a cafeteria of differing beliefs, myths and superstition. It can be said that thanks to
mass media, the religious landscape is littered with not just differing and competing 'Christianity(s)' but
but also differing viewpoints on Catholicism as a whole and priesthood in particular. Therefore it is the
thesis of this paper to argue the necessity of philosophy in training future priests. Priests of today are
facing an up hill battle from the secularized world, differing religious traditions and finally it could
noted an internal identity crisis threatening the very fabric of Holy Orders.

Too often the Christian or Catholic can be labelled 'superstitious and closed minded clinging to
mythological truthes concerning a divine which orders humanity to its natural end. It is in this light,
where we must put aside the lense of Faith and thus put on the lense of Reason to justify not only
proofs or arguments for God's existance but also enable the future priest to speak to the world on moral
issues or ecumenical ones by establishing universal 'Truthes' based upon critical thinking. Topics such
as Abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual marriage have presented themselves upon the radar screen
within the politcal agenda, and thus need warranted attention from a priest seeking to better educate his
flock. In these case, the fallacious argument that 'its in the Bible!' would not suffice especially when
speaking with an unbeliever. In this instance, philosophy must step up to answer by proposing a
common universal truth based on logic.

1.What is Philosophy?

According to its greek root words, Philo and Sophia, philosophy literally translates as lover of wisdom.
In this light, the philosopher is one constantly seeking 'truth' to answer life's basic questions. Before
the Church, or Revelation for that matter was even a considered thought in the minds of men, the pre
-Socratics attempted to find the source, or 'arche' of all things. Sifting through different ideas and
theories, mankind sought to achieve the common goal of 'happiness' true authentic 'happiness.' Vatican
II reiterated in Optatum Totius; '

  1. -Philosophical subjects should be taught in such a way that students are first of all gradually led to a solid and coherent knowledge of human nature , the world and God, guided by the philosophical tradition of lasting value.-

Taking this into account, the potential future priest candidate will no doubt have the rational tools and
intelligence necessary to combat the many differing mosaic of ideas and morality our current world is
now experiencing.

2. Philosophy as Anchor for Truth.

Authentic, true philosophy is properly speaking, studying a series of effects back to its cause. Pope
John Paul II is his encyclical 'Fides et Ratio' (Faith and Reason) argued that a proper
understanding of theology can never divorce itself from Truth. His opening line clearly outlines and
surmises his premise;

-Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2). -

In his encyclical the Holy Father outlines the complamentary nature between Faith and reason. Faith
by itself only reveals what is mystery whereas reason seeks understanding in attempting to
intellectualize and show the Faith not as mere 'superstition' but as a full completion and answer to what
the profound thinkers without revelation could naturally grasp at. In other words, theology must take
off where philosophy leaves us, and thus provide us with an intellectualized Faith capable of standing
on its own. Simply put Truth is Truth. Therefore in comtemplating the mystery of God, whether we
get there by blind faith, or by reason, we are still ordered towards the same end. Herein lies at the core
the beauty of Catholicism, by which through its compatibility with reason, today stands alone through
its unique priestly formation stressing at first Truth as we can know it, and then Faith as the natural
answer to many of these philosophical questions.

The following is taken from the CCCB, (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) Decree on the
Training of priests

-Why do future priests need philosophical training? What are the principal reasons?Philosophy for seminarians should be given atheological context, so that they may grasp “with everincreasing clarity the Mystery of Christ, which affectsthe whole course of human history, exercises anincreasing influence on the Church, and operatesmainly through the ministry of the priest” (Decree on
the Training of Priests, 14).-

Once again, going back to the beginning, the priest, who as an 'alter Christus' is seen as much more
than just a 'minister as the protestant understanding who have it, must be prepared to dialogue and
discourse in a world filled with differing opinion. Knowledge of philosophy becomes a tool for in my
opinion three key areas. Morality, Inter Faith and Ecumenism, the last two being somewhat
synonimous. Once again, returning to John Paul II,..another encyclical by the name of 'Pastores Dabo
Vobis, the priest in his time writes,.

  • For this reason the synod desired to "contextualize" the subject of priests, viewing it in terms of today's society and today's Church in preparation for the third millennium. This is indicated in the second part of the topic's formulation: "The formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day."

The challenges facing the Church, include, among other religions, especially Islam, is secularlism.
Truth is seen as something relative and thus emptied out of its objectivity has given us the fruits of
Abortion as was seen with the 'Hebert' article whereby even the disputability of a human being is
called into question. Philosophy steps in to answer these questions and show that you do not
necessarily have to resource yourself to Faith and the Bible especially while engaging a worldly
person. If the person is religious, a muslim,..then it becomes an entirely different story.

3. Philosophy as a starting point for Inter Faith dialogue.

Pope John Paul II started calling different religious leaders of different faiths to Assisi in order to pray
for peace. Apart from the secularist attack,.the Church it can be argued since the reforms of the
Second Vatican Council has found Herself more open to understanding Her interfaith and ecumenical
mission. Since dialogue and more importantly fruitful dialogue must be achieved so as to push
forward with her goal of evangelization, philosophy can used as a starting point to find common
ground. In other words, to seek what we share in common so that we may be able to better understand
where our friends in other religions are coming from so as to determine how far they are from
Catholicism. St Thomas Aquinas compaired the relationship of other religions to the Church in terms
of 'potentials' or by how much Truth they already possessed. In this light, the priest while speaking
cannot begin a theological discourse without establishing certain 'universalities' and how they got
there. Deep within the fabric of every human being, lies at the very core a true desire for Truth and
for the Divine. Both are one. Thus, philosophy can allow us that window to use our intellects with
adherents of other religions to bring them into a fuller understanding of who God is,.and how we as
man can be happy. A socratic dialogue can take place with a muslim whereby commonalities can be
establishment thus paving the way for Truth to prevail.

4. Philosophy as a key to Morality

Abortion. The very word conjures up debate and stirs emotions. As was briefly alluded to earlier, our
generation is faced with a moral vaccuum giving no clear indicator of whether or not Truth exists or
can be attained. Thus, our morality has suffered and one of the great holocausts of our time, Abortion
exists on a thin line enjoying support at times from well meaning people. The future priest knowing
that he'll have to deal with this said issue can resource himself within the philosophical context and
present to mankind, politicians and other just exactly when a human being is a human being. The same can be said for the just war argument. Peter Kreeft writes,.

  • Most of the controversies in our world today can be understood and solved only by good philosophy and theology; for instance, the relation between world religions, especially Islam and Christianity; human life issues such as abortion, euthanasia and cloning; the justice of wars; the meaning of human sexuality and of the "sexual revolution"; the relation between mind and brain, and between human intelligence and "artificial intelligence"; the relation between creation and evolution; how far we are free and responsible and how far we are determined by biological heredity and social environment; the relation between morality and religion, and between religion and politics; and whether morality is socially relative or universal, unchanging and absolute. -

Can it thus be sufficient to say that philosophy can at least attempt to produce a coherent plan for
humans to act in a just moral manner? The future priest knowing that he is dealing with essentially all
of these issues must be ready to give intelligent answers, cognitive and well thought out essentially
being able to dismantle the opposition's argument and present in its place a strong testimony of truth
regardless of whatever Faith tradition one belongs to especially in light of these moral issues,
Abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia and contraception.

5. Philosophy as an aid to Ecumenical Dialogue.

Unlike Inter-Faith dialogue, Ecumenical dialogue has at its goal, since the second Vatican Council the
mission that all Christians be one as Christ Himself is one. Obviously sin on both sides caused this to
be not quite the case. Philosophy, especially coming from the priest allows him to engage our
seperated brethren in serious thought. Most of the time, the philosophical training is cut and dry and
thus invites a sincere search for Truth. Examples of this can be found with regards to the subjectivist
positions and subsequent morality in some of the more 'liberal' mainstream protestant groups to the
'fideistic' fundamentalist groups clinging to a rigidity not based on common sense. The protestant
mosaic, being what it is offers a variety of opinion, and not much philosophy.
To conclude, Just how important is a philosophical formation in the future priest? It can safely be said
that it is essential. We have seen throughout this age that moral ambiguity, spiritual confusion, and
rampant secularism have all but extinguished any hope of metaphysical thought. The future it would
seem would be for the future priest no longer in a world that was once 'Catholic' be called on the carpet
to justify his views on differing subjects. The priest solidly in trained in philosophy specifically
Aristo-Thomism can be well equiped to articulate his positions from a purely rational point of view. In
this light, the priest, will not have to be seen as some relic of medieval superstition, but an actual
living breathing beacon for Truth! Technology, the fast paced consumerism and other contributing
factors have at times left the metaphysical masterpieces of the Greeks, but we must not forget, what
would they think of all this confusion and questions regarding issues that would be no brainers. In the
letter for the Congregation for Catholic Education, paraphrasing,..The modern culture has without a
doubt a certain hostility towards authentic philosophy. This last statement brings up yet another point
that was not truly addressed, and that is, as much as philosphy can anchor the potential priests faith in
God, it can also destroy it especially by deviating away from the Aristo-Thomistic mindset. (Aristotle
and Thomas Aquinas) Peter Kreeft, a well known Thomist thinker in the US, writes,..

-Philosophy can lead you to God, and theology can lead you further into God (or away from Him). And God is the source of all truth, all goodness and all beauty; that is, of everything we value. (If that is not true, then God is not God.) All truth is God's truth; when an atheist discovers some scientific truth, he is reading the mind of God, the Logos. All goodness is God's goodness; when an agnostic secularist loves his neighbor, he is responding to divine grace. All beauty is God's beauty; when a dissipated, confused and immoral artist creates a thing of beauty, he is using the image of God in his soul, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, however anonymously, and participating in God's creative power. -

Truth exists, it just does, and whether we get 'there' by Faith or by reason, we are still attempting to get
to the same thing. Mankind will always, maybe now more than ever ask himself, 'Who I am? Where
did I come from? Where am I going?' How can I be happy? The priest in his role as alter Christus
must be able to step up and be ready to articulate positions for why we are the way we are as Catholics
and not use theology to do it.

To summarize, future priests need metaphysical training the same way a boxer needs cardio and
stamina. It is the lifeblood of Truth to be able to wonder what is the 'Arche.' Now more than ever,
because of the reasons put forth in this answer,.Because of cultural shifts, because of morality and
because of pluralism and multiculturalism, because of interfaith dialogue and finally because of ecumenical dialogue. It is only through rational discourse that proper arguments can be put forth and
solutions metted out in the arena of reason alone. The Aristo-Thomism of the Catholic Church which
laid the groundwork for what we now call the modern university, is the only way for humanity to
recover its roots, studying a series of 'effect' back to its 'cause.' In this light, this priest, as bearer of
Christ to the world, must be prepared for that changed world, and thus meet it head on! Whether we
like it or not, forty-six chromosones are in a human being when the sperm meets the end! This makes
life fully life, and we didn't need the Bible to tell us, just our own active intellects!

Hope you enjoyed it,..I know, I know, just cause I have muscles, you didn't expect me to be so nerdy!!!