Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra, Secunda pars

Thursday, June 30, AD 2011

The following is the second part to this post. It is recommended that you read the first part before reading the second part.  There has been some request for the original address given by Cardinal George.  I have been unable to locate it on the web and have not gotten around to scanning it in.  As soon as I get a chance, I will try to get to up and available, barring any unforeseen copyright issues.  For now, my humble comments and summary will have to suffice.


While the time from Augustine to Aquinas embodied a realization of Cardinal George’s incarnation metaphysics, things began to take a turn for the worse with Duns Scotus, a contemporary of Thomas. Scotus radically separated God from the world, and in so doing separated grace from nature. Instead of a metaphysics of participation, Scotus promulgated that, “God is no longer that generous power in which all things exist but rather that supreme being next to whom or apart from whom all other beings exist” (George, 15). Scotus begins what Descartes (through philosophy) and Luther (through theology) would complete. “In both its Lutheran and Cartesian manifestations, modernity assumes a fundamental split between the divine and the non-divine and hence implicitly denies the participation/communio metaphysics that had shaped the Christian world thought the ancient and medieval periods” (George, 16).

It was Thomas Hobbes that made the political implications of this split evident. He describes the natural state of man as “solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short” (quoted in George, 17). (Incidentally, we can see in Hobbes the secularized version of Luther’s total depravity.) Because of man’s deprived nature, even debates over religion inevitably lead to violence, coercion, and the further demise of the human condition. For Hobbes then, the Church needed kept on a tight leash and was permitted to exist only insofar as it does not hinder the political advancement of a fundamentally irreligious humanity (George, 18). These Hobbesian notions were quite influential in the founding of the United States. “In what appears to be a departure from Hobbes, the framers of our constitution insisted that no one religion be officially established but that the state should remain separated from religion, neither sanctioning nor prohibiting its exercise. This approach, however, is still basically Hobbesian, since it proceeds from the distinctively modern creation of a secular space, untouched by religious questions, concerns, and finalities” (George, 18). In particular, many American Catholics and even those in the Vatican, worried that the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment would contribute to an understanding of the relationship between faith and society that is not in continuity with Catholic tradition, one that is not a relationship at all but rather a radical separation of the two (faith and society) so that one would not or could not influence the other. This concern even caused Pope Leo XIII to issue an official condemnation of the heresy call “Americanism” towards the end of the 19th century (George, 26).

It is within this line of thinking that we find the philosophical work of John Courtney Murray, S.J. “Murray’s is undoubtedly the most powerful voice advocating the reconciliation of the Catholic faith with a characteristically modern political experiment” (George, 27). Murray defines a civil society as one that is built from reasonable discourse that leads to consensus. The two fundamental conditions for such discourse are (1) “a heritage of essential truth” and (2) a general respect for the rights, freedom, and dignity of the human person (George, 28). According to Murray, while the founders of the United States were not anti-religious, they were convinced that the discussion of ultimate ends had no place in the politics of a pluralistic society. They therefore “declared the state incompetent in matters of religion and restricted its interests to the political sphere” (George, 29). Thus, the self-evident truths spoken of in the Declaration of Independence are, according to Murray, “not final or theological truths but are rather basic convictions and intuitions in principle available to all people of intelligence and good will” (George, 29).  Hence, one can begin to see why Murray refers to the articles of the First Amendment as “articles or peace” rather than “articles of faith.” In other words, for Murray, the First Amendment is inherently agnostic.

It is here that Cardinal George begins his critique of John Courtney Murray. “It is no secret that John Courtney Murray’s thought was shaped by a neo-scholastic two-tiered conception of nature and grace,” a conception that is “a departure from the communio and participation metaphysics of the patristic and medieval periods” (George, 32). It is only using this separation of nature and grace that allows Murray to establish two realms, one political and the other religious. This separation of the sacred from the secular also leads Murray into an impoverished anthropology. “If the political or social dimension is essentially untouched by the sacred, then the human being who is naturally social is also by nature agnostic, perhaps even atheist” (George, 33). It is true that on the face of it, American liberalism does not admit itself to be inherently atheistic. Rather, liberalism will cite the non-establishment clause as evidence that it will not back any one system of beliefs in particular, including atheism. However, this in-and-of-itself is a system of beliefs, one that includes the belief that all religious (and non-religious) positions are of equal value in public discourse. In this way, American liberalism is what Cardinal George calls “covertly atheist,” or at the very least covertly agnostic. “The ‘peace’ gained by the articles of the First Amendment is bought at the price of a secularized understanding of the world and the loss of communio” (George, 33).

In contrast, the anthropology set forth by Pope John Paul II “flows from the world of the Incarnation and communio metaphysics rather than from a modern framework” (George, 34). What is key for the late Holy Father’s philosophy of man is truth as the foundation of freedom. When objective truth is ignored or bracketed as not relevant to the political sphere, or worse when truth is seen as determined by the majority, human freedom becomes abused and tyranny results. Pope John Paul II, who lived through both the Nazi and Communist occupations of Poland, knows this all too well. “What the Pope consistently criticizes in the Western democracies born of the Enlightenment is just this divorce of freedom and truth, just this tendency to think that liberty can be unquestionably affirmed while consideration of ultimate truth is bracketed or privatized. Such a bifurcation – allowed for by Murray in the interests of peace – is, for the Pope, an undermining of the very structure of freedom itself” (George, 34). This divorce of freedom and truth has led our country into the “culture of death,” a rise in abortions, the death penalty, failed marriages, and euthanasia.

What is the alternative to this current political climate? Is Cardinal George arguing for the Church to step in and take over the political reigns? Certainly not. “The Church should never seek to establish itself officially or juridically outside is own structures” (George, 36). Instead, the Cardinal is advocating that the Church of Jesus Christ seeks to create culture. “The faith creates such a culture by being simply, boldly and unapologetically itself. At the heart of the Church is the sacred liturgy, what Vatican II called ‘the source and summit’ of the Christian life. The liturgy on earth is, as we have seen, an iconic display of the heavenly liturgy of the angels and saints” (George, 37) The power of the Eucharist seeks to establish a culture “gently but subversively from within.” First and foremost, the family must regain its dignity as the Domestic Church, as an authentic expression of communio. Beginning from the family, the Eucharistic Church must “re-fashion the social, economic and political realms; next they should influence the arenas of education, entertainment, literature, and the arts. Finally, they ought to concern themselves with the environment and ecology” (George, 38). There is nothing violent, and certainly nothing Hegelian, about this process. It is, in a sense, organic. The Cardinal says that in petitioning the Lord’s Prayer that God’s kingdom may come, we are asking that God’s ordo might become our ordo, that the City of Man be transformed into the City of God (George, 38). “In that conversation an in all dialogues, the deepest truth that Catholics proclaim is that of communio: all things and all people are ordered to God and hence ordered in love to one another. This truth informs everything we say about the political, social, economic and cultural realms. If we surrender this truth – either through ideological compromise or even out of concern for civility – we succumb to the culture of death” (George, 41). Let us pray, dear friend, for the coming of the City of God; let us pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


6 Responses to Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra, Secunda pars

  • “It is here that Cardinal George begins his critique of John Courtney Murray. “It is no secret that John Courtney Murray’s thought was shaped by a neo-scholastic two-tiered conception of nature and grace,” a conception that is “a departure from the communio and participation metaphysics of the patristic and medieval periods” (George, 32).”

    It is not just neo-scholastic, but sholastic and in fact Thomistic. Communio theology of the 20th Century seems to flow from de Lubac’s thought which George seems to endorse. George’s critique of Murray then flows from this Communio theology.

    I think there are very good critiques of de Lubac at this point which render his view of nature and grace, and those who depend on this interpretation of nature and grace, doubtful at best. Following from that, critiques of Murray and the American experient are rendered less coherent also.

  • What garbage. More pointless blackening of bl. Duns Scotus reputation by ignorant Thomists or at least their lackeys..

    1. What, Scotus didn’t believe in the Incarnation? What on earth is “incarnation metaphysics”? Scotus did in fact believe in the incarnation, and he has an extensive metaphysical discussion of it. Ergo etc.

    2. How did Scotus radically separate God from the world?

    3. The bit about participation is just plain false. I have read many hundreds of pages of Scotus in latin and he never explicitly rejects participation. (NB: “particpation metaphysics” as a “worldview” that everyone enjoyed before Scotus is itself a chimera of post modern theology). What does do is express puzzlement regarding how participation fits into the scheme of the Aristotelian four causes.

    4. The quote is misleading:

    “God is no longer that generous power in which all things exist but rather that supreme being next to whom or apart from whom all other beings exist” (George, 15).

    this article makes it sound like Scotus said this, but this is George’s own paraphrase. The scholastics have no conception of a “generous power”. It was a matter of dispute whether creatures existed in the divine power or divine intellect prior to their creation. Aquinas’ view, that they are contained in the divine power, was never the common opinion.

    The second part of this quote betrays the origin of this nonsense. The claim that Scotus made God just a being among beings is derivative of “Radical Orthodoxy”, who say that Scotus’ view of univocal concepts results in this. But this conflicts with George’s other claim that Scotus introduced a radical divide between God and the world. You can’t have both, buddy: either there is a radical divide between God and creation, or God is just like us.

    Of course, the usual reply will be that George isn’t trying to exegete Scotus, he’s just drawing a narrative that explains how things are in the present. Truth and falsity of the narrative doesn’t matter, because it’s a narrative, and what’s important is that we are relevant and engaging the contemporary culture.

    Fine, whatever. And people wonder why there are so many crises in the church?

  • I didn’t realize this was cardinal George; I thought it was Robert George. I might have been more temperate. But he should know better.

  • lee,

    Interesting your points on Scotus. Don’t know much about him but I thought George’s comments about him sounded simplistic. I also wouldn’t say that George is completely a Thomist. As I pointed out, most Thomists think that De Lubac was wrong in his interpretation about Nature and Grace. Thus De Lubac is a poor Thomist at best. George however runs with De Lubac’s thought as a given. Thus making George a poor Thomist?

    I think George is a faithful priest and bishop. But like you, I think his understanding of philosophy sometimes misses the mark. Thanks for your insights. And I don’t mind the force of your comments. Even bishops occasionally need a good argument back.

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