THE WAR OF MIND VERSUS WILL
Father John W. O’Neill
27th December, 2005, the feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist
The fields of Philosophy and Theology try to cover everything. Philosophy used to be defined as the study of all things under the light of unaided human reason, while theology was the study of all things under the light of Divine Revelation. Philosophy and Theology married long ago, and together they make a very fruitful marriage, begetting a whole host of very happy discoveries. Many have tried to separate these partners, and have begotten nothing but fruitless dreams. The game of cricket needs batsmen and bowlers; if either is missing there is no match to be enjoyed by players and spectators. One would not be prepared to sit all day watching a batsman swing at the air, or a bowler hurling the leather, no matter how refinedly, at undefended stumps, even if one had the best of conditions in the Members’ Stand. No palliatives could substitute for the absence of meaningful action on the field. So with true Philosophy and true Theology: they are essential to each other, and can lead us to the most enjoyable of life’s natural experiences.
Whether or not these great disciplines produce worthy fruit or not depends very much on what motivates the philosopher or theologian. What one wants with the will can get in the way of what one ought to discover with the mind. Saint Paul condemned the Greeks, who loved to philosophize, for not discovering the true God. Our dear old catechism, now despised by today’s disordered thinking, put it very simply: We know that there is a God by the things that he made. Perhaps Paul’s condemnation did not apply to Plato or to Aristotle, who accepted that there is one God, with no tradition of Revelation to help them. The unaided mind can discover God.
What happened to all the rest of the philosophers, among the Greeks and in every age and place since that golden age of thinking? And, indeed, what happened to so many theologians, and/or scripture scholars, who even after Divine Revelation, managed to get it wrong in pretty well all departments of religion. Very early the Christian stage was invaded by spotlight-seekers in the Gnostics and Nestorians, Montanists and Arians, and so down to our own times, in which we see the nihilism which results firstly from the confusion caused by breaking away from Christ’s protective authority, and secondly from the consequent apathy.
Nevertheless, today’s philosophers have to find an explanation for the phenomenon of man, and today’s theologians an explanation for the phenomenon of Christ. Here and there some get it right. (Now, there’s audacity for you! By what yardstick does one dare to decide that there is even such a thing as right, or such a thing as truth?) Many of the thinkers find security in the current gurus. Perhaps they enjoy being trapped in the mind set of their peer group, and are prevented thus from experiencing the grace-assisted elevation into the wonders of Revelation.
Why on earth do human thinkers insist, throughout the centuries and especially today, on forbidding the Divine Mind from taking part in their quest for fulfilment. Why ban the Source of Truth from the search for truth? What makes them prohibit God from his world and from his children? (And we see, at this very time, an Italian atheist taking legal action to prosecute Jesus Christ for trespassing in human history!)
What perverse kind of freedom do they seek? They are like climbers who set out to conquer Everest but deny its summit, or orchardists who refuse to plant their trees where it rains. They construct roads to nowhere, and subconsciously wonder why they have the constant need to chase after the next guru who has some new ‘exciting’ theory, which inevitably turns out to be just another road into further intellectual frustration.
Endless is the list of philosophers and theologians and Scripture scholars, and please include the liturgists! who have led so many for so long, out into their deserts or their fruitless orchards, where they have ‘sat down’ for a while, content with their ‘masters,’ until the masters, got bored and went off searching again. They are satisfied getting just a little way up the mountain. Who remembers those who got only half way up Everest, and worse, boasted they had reached the top while denying the mountain its summit? Some foolish poet put it this way:
“Oh, we scholars are intelligent, that’s why you all should follow.”
But we want Truth that’s heaven-sent: man’s theories change, are hollow.
The doubters’ race is vain because as they throng in the guru’s train,
When they get to where they think he was, the guru’s gone again!
They all must have had other things motivating them than the pure search for Truth, and the willingness to submit to It once discovered. Fundamental in the explanation of man’s ancient and ongoing restlessness is the very thing without which he is not human at all: his individual freedom. A man’s greatest enemy is himself if he allows to grow in him the determination that he needs no one but himself to arrive at fulfilment. Herein he makes the most anti-human of all errors: without realizing it, he thinks he can satisfy his inbuilt yearning for the Infinite by trying to satisfy elements of his nature which are merely finite. ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts…’ For his happiness’ sake, man must accept that he is dependent by nature. He should be able to do that easily, for his limitations are staring him in the face: his physical and mental limitations, and the glaring reality that his time on earth must end. But the proud man conceives of no one greater than himself, and ends up only disconsolate, for he will not admit that he needs more than himself to bring life’s merriment into his soul.
Yet onward he proudly goes, kidding himself that he will soon find the ultimate for himself and his society. Pride of mind and the refusal to accept a morality that is not ‘imposed’ as much as it is written into his nature, for his own happy fulfilment, have been the two chief obstacles preventing the acceptance of the fullness of Christianity. So we have seen and still see, secular thinkers, ably assisted, if not led, by Church thinkers, trying to make man the master, even to the extent of obliterating, if they could, that Person and Event, which enlivens and holds together the whole human story, Jesus Christ and his Resurrection.
Meanwhile, back in the company of the humble – and only the humble are capable of being inspired, because they accept and submit to Someone greater than themselves – there is the sharing of joy. There is still some of this left in our Church in Australia, if one knows where to look and to whom to listen. The expertise, however, that had its roots in Christ’s Truth preserved, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition by the Holy Spirit guiding his Church’s authority, in the greats like Augustine and Thomas, Anthony and Teresa, is not as widespread as it used to be, and so we find it so hard to fill the teaching chairs in our colleges and theological institutes, with professors of great stature.
Please God our bishops will be able to be advised truthfully and thus find genuine Catholic quality in those they choose to hand on the Truth. The bishops more than anyone need to keep their heads , their vision, higher than the lowering ramparts their ‘experts’ sometimes try to build around them. We all need to keep in mind that the mind that is filled with faith is the judge of all philosophies.……….O God, how long?
(Posted to the website on September 17, 2006)