Fr. Rutler’s Analysis of the “Innovative Mathematics of Fr. Antonio Spadaro”

“The method employed I would gladly explain,
While I have it so clear in my head,
If I had but the time and you had but the brain–
But much yet remains to be said.

“In one moment I’ve seen what has hitherto been
Enveloped in absolute mystery,
And without extra charge I will give you at large
A Lesson in Natural History.”–
Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark”


`And you do Addition?’ the White Queen asked. `What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?’
`I don’t know,’ said Alice. `I lost count.’
`She can’t do Addition,’ the Red Queen interrupted. `Can you do Subtraction? Take nine from eight.’
`Nine from eight I can’t, you know,’ Alice replied very readily: `but — ‘
`She can’t do Subtraction,’ said the White Queen. —Lewis Caroll, “Through the Looking Glass”


If we don’t get the numbers right, we won’t get much else right.  Fr. George Rutler, “The Mathematical Innovations of Father Antonio Spadaro”, Crisis Magazine, 22 February, 2018.

One reason I converted at a late age to the Catholic faith rather than some Protestant sect, was the rational component in Catholic teaching.  As Pope St. John Paul II aptly put it, “Man is carried to the truth on the two wings of faith and reason.”    I am distressed by recent efforts by some high in the Vatican hierarchy to replace reason with feeling.   One critical analysis of such attempts  is a fine article by Father George Rutler, “The Mathematical Innovations of Father Antonio Spadaro” (linked in the quote above).  In addition to his scathing analysis of Fr. Spadaro’s attempt to supervene logic, Fr. Rutler gives a very nice account of what mathematics is all about, one that even mathphobes like my wife can appreciate.  I’ll quote from that part of the article that deals with Fr. Spadaro’s pseudo-logic (note: “pseudo,” meaning “false”;  not “quasi,” meaning “almost”):

“Father Antonio Spadaro, a close associate of Pope Francis, raised eyebrows in July 2017 when he described religious life in the United States, with such confidence that can come only from a profound knowledge of a subject or a total lack of it. Father Spadaro advises the Holy Father, who had never visited the United States before becoming pope. In an essay in Civilta Cattolica called “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism,” Father Spadaro spoke with disdain of a cabal formed by Evangelicals and Catholics motivated by a “triumphalist, arrogant, and vindictive ethnicism” which is creating an “apocalyptic geopolitics.” Religious fundamentalists behind this plot have included Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Trump who is a Manichaean. The co-author of this imaginative literary exercise was a Protestant minister, Marcelo Figuero who is editor-in-chief of the new Argentinian edition of L’Osservatore Romano to which office he brings the rich systematic theology of Argentinian Presbyterianism. The two authors were rhetorically florid in denouncing Yankee racism, obscurantism, and fascism, so unlike the temperate history of Spadaro’s own peninsula and Figuero’s Argentinian utopia. If they want to condescend to the USA, they need a loftier platform.

Then in October 2017 Father Spadaro said in Boston, “It is no longer possible to judge people on the basis of a norm that stands above all.” The suggestion is that a mathematical principle of uncertainty also applies to theology where all is in flux and subjective.

Later, in a well publicized comment on “Twitter” which operates according to stable and constant principles of applied engineering, Father Spadaro typed: “In theology 2 + 2 can equal 5. Because it has to do with God and the real life of people…” To put a charitable gloss on that, he may have simply meant theology applied to pastoral situations where routine answers of manualists may be inadequate. But he has made his arithmetic a guide to dogma, as when he said in his Boston speech that couples living in “irregular” family situations “can be living in God’s grace, can love and also grow in a life of grace.” Yet, despite his concern for freedom of thought and expression, Father Spadaro has recently expressed sympathy for calls to censor Catholic television commentators who insist that 2+2 = 4.

There are two things to consider here. First, some clergy of Father Spadaro’s vintage grew up in a theological atmosphere of “Transcendental Thomism.” Aquinas begins the Summa Theologica asserting in the very first Question, four times, that theology has a greater certitude than any other science. While it gives rise to rhymes and song, it is solid science, indeed the Queen of Sciences. Transcendental Thomism was Karl Rahner’s attempt to wed Thomistic realism with Kantian idealism. Father Stanley Jaki, theologian and physicist, called this stillborn hybrid “Aquikantianism.” But if stillborn, its ghosts roam corridors of ecclesiastical influence. This really is not theology but theosophy, as romantic as Teilhard de Chardin, as esoteric as a Rosicrucian, and as soporific as the séances of Madame Blavatsky. The second point is that not all cultures have an instinct for pellucid expression. The Italian language is so beguiling that it can create an illusion that its rotundity is profundity, and that its neologisms are significant. When it is used to calling you a “Cattolico Integralista” or a “Restauratore” the cadences almost sound like a compliment. Even our Holy Father, who often finds relief from his unenviable burdens by using startling expressions, said on June 19, 2016: “We have a very creative vocabulary for insulting others.”

In saying that 2+2=5, Father Spadaro preserves a familiar if deluded intuition, and trailing behind him is a long line of children who in countless schoolrooms have been made to stand in corners for having made that mistake. A famous use of it was in George Orwell’s Ninety Eighty-Four speaking of its dystopia: ‘In the end the Party would announce that two and two, made five and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later; the logic of their position demanded it … the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy.’ “

See here for the rest of the article.

This escape from rationality is to me possibly as frightening as the retreat from established Catholic teaching on marriage, family and the sanctity of life.   If one cannot use rational argument, but only how one feels about something, as a basis for how one should act, then anything is justified.

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Bob Kurland, Ph.D.

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/ and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland). Extraordinary Minister of Communion, volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.


  1. “When people say that in theology 2 + 2 can equal 5, or that we can’t rely on Christ’s statements as they are recorded in the Gospels because no one followed him about with a dicta-phone, we have a very foundational problem. If we can’t trust scripture and tradition and we can’t trust reason, what have we left? The subjective hunches or prejudices of the local ordinary?? Without the strong foundations the whole system crumbles and we are left with a crude voluntarism. Within such an order brutish power trumps reason and the sheep become confused and scatter.”1

    1. Tracy Rowland, The Catholic World Report [Website], “Tracey Rowland’s Guide Through the Catholic Academic ‘Zoo’”, (11 May 2017), Site address: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/5635/tracey_rowlands_guide_through_the_catholic_academic_zoo.aspx

  2. One recalls that, in the Principia Mathematica, published in 3 volumes, 1910, 1912 and 1913, it took Russell and Whitehead several hundred pages of symbolic logic to arrive at Proposition 54.33, “From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1+1=2.

    Alas, in 1931, their whole attempt to provide a set of axioms and rules of inference from which all mathematical propositions could be deduced was shown to be futile by Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which showed any such system must either be inconsistent, or there must be some true propositions that cannot be deduced from them.

    As for Transcendental Thomism, which began with the Cahiers of Joseph Maréchal SJ (1878-1944) it was an attempt to solve a very real problem. The Scholastics borrowed from Aristotle a whole battery of categories, matter and form, potency and act, substance and accidents &c. Now, these categories are very useful for analysing our descriptive language, but do we have any reason to suppose that there is some necessary correspondence between the structure of being and the grammar of description? Rahner and Lonergan at least have the merit of recognising the problem; whether they have come come up with a satisfactory solution, I beg leave to doubt.

  3. “…to which office he brings the rich systematic theology of Argentinian Presbyterianism.” Oscar Wilde could not have said it better himself. Something tells me Fr. Rutler has made it on an enemies list. As someone once said, it’s all about the company you keep. God Bless Fr. Rutler!

  4. Fr Spadaro attempts to offer theological nonsense as cover for DeepThought.
    Much like his boss.
    Later than we think…bet on it.

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