Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: December 2017

December 2017

Dawn of the Vandals

Your New Oxford Note “Twilight of the Idols” (Oct.) made me ponder whether the removal of the statues honoring our Confederate generals and soldiers, often in the middle of the night, is the result of the South’s rebellion against our Union, or of the fact that it perpetuated and extolled the merits of slavery. If slave ownership is the criterion by which we judge the removal of statues, should it not surprise us that people also clamor for the removal of monuments honoring the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson — all slave-owners?

If monuments honoring these men can be removed, why not excise their writings or even the culmination of their ideas as found in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? After all, the principles expounded in these documents are just hypothetical moral platitudes about equality and liberty.

Not content with American historical figures, all vestiges of Western white supremacy and colonial oppression should also be removed from our sight. As a consequence, Christopher Columbus and St. Junipero Serra can no longer remain unscathed and untouched by our enlightened arbiters of current justice. Maybe even our sacrosanct Old Testament and New Testament figureheads will also be excoriated. Didn’t Abraham offer his wife to Pharaoh; didn’t David commit adultery; wasn’t Jacob a liar; wasn’t Paul a persecutor of Christians; wasn’t Peter a three-time denier?

Who from our past can still be honored when no one now seems to measure up to the “ideals” of our benighted time?

Mario Rubino

Curitiba, Paraná

Enfield, Connecticut

You cheer the destruction of a statue of an anonymous Confederate foot soldier by rioters in Durham, North Carolina, calling it perfectly “understandable.” True, you include a single sentence denying that you’ve made an “apologia” for those who desecrate public property. This denial is both preceded and followed by extensive justification for this particular act of vandalism. And vandalism, when there is no economic motive, is a crime essentially driven by hatred.

The tenor of your New Oxford Note is “hate who I hate”; then, and only then, is vandalism morally, if not legally, justified. For you, it is an abomination to throw paint on the statue of a Catholic saint like Junipero Serra, who, for some Native Americans, symbolizes the conquering Spanish who tortured and murdered their ancestors. But then you proudly state that you would join with other “strong-minded and strong-armed Catholics” in vandalizing and toppling a statue of the 16th-century Protestant Thomas Cromwell, and you ask rhetorically, “Wouldn’t you?” My answer, as a Catholic, is a resounding no — not even if the diocesan bishop, who is the legal owner of all parish real estate, placed the statue in the St. Thomas More parish garden in an ill-considered ecumenical move to signal the end of ancient religious wars. And I would not assume that the bishop was an anti-Catholic bigot. Nor are the city fathers of Durham racists for erecting a memorial to Confederate soldiers. Nor is every Confederate soldier a war criminal, as your overblown analogy to the Nuremberg trials suggests.

Some facts: (1) the Civil War ended 150 years ago, and the Confederates lost; no dead Confederate soldier is a threat to any living American of any race. (2) The Civil War was fought in the South, and an estimated 50,000 civilians were killed, some by direct military action and many by starvation and illness caused by the “scorched earth” policy of destroying food supplies, homes, and hospitals to demoralize the enemy. Is it not “understandable” that the Southerner depicted in the statue would fight to protect his home and family without being a hated racist?

No one is stopping other groups from honoring their dead on public property if they elect likeminded legislators. This is how a peaceful democratic society works. It is, unfortunately, possible to get results more quickly than by peaceful democratic means. If every Confederate monument in the South were removed because of the fear of violence, would the NOR declare victory? Will this promote racial harmony?

Janice Hicks

Dept. of Philosophy, University of St. Thomas

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

In regard to the Confederate monuments the NOR wants removed: They are obviously not equivalent to “purple mountains’ majesty and amber waves of grain” any more than St. Stephen’s monument in Budapest, Nelson’s Column in London, or Martin Luther’s statue in northern Germany are natural European topography. Are you in favor of book-burning and closing museums too? The few who hate history will always be offended. Without history there can be no Church or Christianity.

And now you are in lockstep with small groups of street thugs and indiscriminate iconoclasts. They, at least, were and are quite open in their attitude. You should remember Jesus’ command not to pretend to look into other men’s souls.

The decision of some politicians to take down Robert E. Lee’s statues is, in the words of Maine’s governor, “just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished on 9/11.” Quite correct. The statues of Gen. Lee, who embodied all Christian virtue, and other Confederates honor Americans who followed St. Augustine’s view to fight an invading force, unless you don’t consider citizens of 13 (not 11) states to be Americans. America is as much a part of the name of the C.S.A. (Confederate States of America) as it is of the U.S.A. I know the winner makes the rules, but this is not a Catholic doctrine.

You say that Lee was “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.” Did Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman kill none?

Are you unaware that Lee never fought for “chattel slavery”? He freed and found occupations for the few slaves he inherited, at his great expense. Of course, Lincoln never freed the over 400 he got from his wife, or the over 7,000 he owned ex officio. His “Emancipation Proclamation” was an unconstitutional military measure to free only those slaves behind Confederate lines, whose status he knew he could not affect, in an attempt to start a rear-area race war. It didn’t work — the blacks were Southerners. It only worked in New York and other northern cities, where it caused the mass lynching of blacks. There were more free African-Americans in the prewar South than were permitted in the North. The North continued to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws in its states throughout the war.

Although Virginia’s House of Burgesses failed by one vote to abolish slavery, that state seceded only after being invaded by a hostile army — and Tennessee, North Carolina, and Missouri quickly followed. Explain the thousands of men from the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri who fought for the North, and the fact that Union Gen. George Thomas, “the Rock of Chickamauga,” was one of the largest slave-owners in Virginia.

Most Confederate monuments were built long before northern progressives imposed segregation on the South in order to win over poor whites to their cause.

I am certain you know that Pope Pius IX was a pen pal of Jefferson Davis throughout his presidency and even sent him a handmade crown of thorns while he was being held without charges for two years in a small prison cell.

One of your early mainstays, Sheldon Vanauken (a fine historian from Virginia), promised me such historical ignorance would not be common among editors of the NOR. If you wish to excommunicate all Southern Catholics, including (posthumously) Generals Beauregard, Cleburne, Early, and dozens of others, including the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy, Fr. Abram J. Ryan (who has a monument), you’ll have to clear it with the bishops and the Vatican.

Your editorial ends, “When the urge to destroy is sated, what will be left?” Good question. Pity you leave it hanging.

Egon Richard Tausch

San Antonio, Texas

Over the years, the enjoyment and edification I received reading the NOR has given way to profound disappointment. How sad that a journal that once seemed dedicated to the preservation of our culture and faith should take on the very characteristics of those who have contributed to the demise of our society.

Your New Oxford Note with the provocative title “Twilight of the Idols” doesn’t seem quite in keeping with the NOR’s attempts to stem the rise of barbarism in our society. Why would the NOR base an entire column on the often-propagated myth that the War Between the States was all about slavery? The “slave auction” illustration that accompanied it was inflammatory and typical of anti-Southern propaganda.

Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee, a decent man of dignity, honor, and courage, didn’t fare so well in your desinformatsiya piece. But if you really want to blame someone for “the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” you need look no further than the man revered (speaking of idols) as the “Great Emancipator.” After all, it was Honest Abe who raised an army to wage total war against what he viewed as states still in the United States.

And where did Lincoln get the constitutional authorization to do so? As he and his bellicose cabinet knew very well, there exists nowhere in the U.S. Constitution the power authorizing the central government to wage war upon a state. So they called it a “rebellion,” pretending that the validly elected Confederate state legislatures were hijacked against the will of the Southern people. Convenient.

It may be argued that the topic of the root causes of the War Between the States is a practical or prudential matter rather than a purely doctrinal or dogmatic one. As Catholics, we can amicably and charitably disagree on prudential matters. The real issue, however, isn’t assigning blame for our bloodiest war, but why you would approve of those who are re-writing history. That is downright dishonest, and hence contains moral aspects. (By the way, Custer was a Yankee soldier who, along with Sherman and other northern “idols,” did to Indians the same thing they did to the South.)

You obviously sensed where this is all going, for your smug “Who knows?” about why St. Joan of Arc’s statue was vandalized in New Orleans is incredible. Of course it was “an act of anti-Catholicism.” Just as the vandalizing of St. Junipero Serra’s statues in California was a blatant attack on our Holy Faith and our evangelization efforts through the ages. But your false handwringing about historical grievances is like the crocodile tears of 19th-century abolitionists who castigated Southern plantation-owners for their alleged poor treatment of slaves while overlooking the oppressed workers under the absolute control of northern industrialists.

“What will be left?” you ask. Well, as you beat your breast there in the intellectually rarified air of Berkeley, ponder these words from Tacitus: “The barbarians are come into their inheritance.” He was not referring to enemies outside the gate but to those within Rome who wished to destroy her. Perhaps this next quote of his explains your despicable and facile treatment of a great cause and the courageous men who were devoted to it: “It is a weakness of your human nature to hate those whom you have wronged.” Wronged how? Bring the Confederate states to their knees, wage total war against their populations, put them through a long and brutal occupation that starves and crushes them, and, oh yes, tear down those statues!

By approving the removal of Confederate statues (of men you apparently believe have something in common with Saddam Hussein), you have, as you so rightly point out, signed onto a process that will end who-knows-where. Your inflammatory and divisive propaganda piece on the Confederacy makes it clear that we must part ways. Please remove me from your subscription list.

Rev. Fr. Ted Bradley

Spokane, Washington


According to Fr. Bradley, showing depictions of slave auctions is “inflammatory,” the mistreatment of slaves is only “alleged,” the South’s secession was somehow not a “rebellion,” and the Civil War was all Lincoln’s fault. And he accuses us of “re-writing history”? Physician, heal thyself!

Mr. Tausch likewise accuses us of “hating history.” The purpose of Confederate monuments is not, and never has been, to teach the facts of history. As we explained, a good many of them were erected during critical junctures in post-war history — the implementation of Jim Crow laws and the advent of the civil-rights movement — as a way to reinforce a culture of racial segregation and subjugation. Their removal is, therefore, not on par with closing museums or burning books. The statue controversy doesn’t involve the circumscription of historical instruction or intellectual edification, as Mr. Rubino suggests; it boils down to what and whom we choose to honor in our public spaces.

Was Robert E. Lee as magnanimous to slaves as Tausch alleges? According to Elizabeth Brown Pryor, author of Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (2007), Lee believed that “the only relationship that could exist between the races” was that of “master and slave.” In personal correspondence from 1856, Lee wrote, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race.”

And Lee did indeed inflict “painful discipline” of an especially cruel kind on the slaves in his charge. As Pryor recounts, in 1859, when Lee was executor of Arlington House, a farming estate at which scores of slaves were held in bondage, three managed to escape but were eventually captured. Lee instructed the estate’s overseer to teach the runaways a lesson they “never would forget”: 50 lashes each, during which Lee “frequently enjoined Williams to ‘lay it on well,’ an injunction which he did not fail to heed.” Not satisfied with lacerating their flesh, Lee “then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash [the slaves’] backs with brine, which was done.”

Are these the beliefs and actions of a “decent man of dignity, honor, and courage,” as Fr. Bradley would have it, of someone who “embodied all Christian virtue,” as Tausch claims?

It is an alien form of Christianity that considers it “necessary” to keep a race of people in slavery supposedly for their own good. Christ came to set the captives free. Are Christians not to follow His teachings? Lee’s own words condemn him. How can his statues not be an affront to the heirs of the terrible legacy of American slavery, a human-rights violation he personally practiced, an institution he took up arms to defend?

And yes, Lee did indeed see slavery as part of the struggle. As recounted by Charles Bracelen Flood in Lee: The Last Years (1981), Lee told a New York Herald reporter during the later years of the war that, “based on wisdom and Christian principles, you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free. And it is only this consideration that has led the wisdom, intelligence and Christianity of the South to support and defend the institution [of slavery] up to this time” (italics added).

Yet Fr. Bradley has the chutzpah to label “barbarians” those who want Lee’s statues removed. Who is the true barbarian? Is it he who abused slaves and “defended the institution” via warfare, or he who does not think our nation should publicly honor such men? Tausch calls them “street thugs.” Who are the real street thugs? Is it those who knocked over inanimate objects, or those who paraded around Charlottesville with Nazi flags, chanting anti-Semitic slogans and demanding racial separatism, who injured and killed counter-protestors? Why do none of our interlocutors censure these murderous white supremacists? Is it because their “great cause,” as Fr. Bradley calls it, at best shrugs at the degradation and deaths of certain races of people, and at worst is complicit in it?

If this is what Fr. Bradley means by “our culture,” then let it be clear: The NOR was never dedicated to the preservation of a culture (any culture) that profits from slavery, in whatever form it takes. If he finds that “divisive,” so be it. The NOR doesn’t exist to confirm people in their prejudices. (The story about Pope Pius IX sending a crown of thorns to Jefferson Davis, president of the C.S.A., is purely apocryphal. It has not been verified by any reliable historical source.)

Although Fr. Bradley says that assigning blame for the war isn’t the “real issue” (we didn’t discuss its cause or claim it was “all about slavery”), he is quick to assign blame to Lincoln and his cabinet, and he points his finger at Sherman and Custer and even northern industrialists for their sins in other venues. Tausch does likewise. But this is merely diversionary. Whatever crimes they committed in no way mitigates or diminishes the crimes of Confederate leaders.

Contra Janice Hicks, we did not call the destruction of Confederate monuments understandable. We said we find understandable “the impetus” to do so. It is telling that none of our correspondents cared even to consider that impetus. Moreover, most of the monuments coming down are being removed “peacefully,” by decree of Mrs. Hicks’s democratically elected legislators, not by “vandals,” though they get the most press.

Mr. Rubino wonders who from our past can be honored. This was our very question too. We concluded by asking, “When the urge to destroy is sated, what will be left?” Tausch asks why we leave our “good question” hanging. The simple reason is that the editors of the NOR don’t have the ability to see into the future. The answer depends on how we conceive of ourselves as a nation and a people, and whether we are finally willing to undertake an honest appraisal of the dark times in our national history and undergo an examination of conscience for the sins our nation has committed — against flesh and blood.

Mrs. Hicks asks whether we believe removing Confederate statuary “will promote racial harmony.” We do not. As we said, “The great melting pot contains a potentially combustible concoction” — even the election of a multi-racial president couldn’t prevent another detonation. But their removal will help undo a historical wrong by eliminating the public veneration of certain symbols. That’s a worthy first step, in our eyes. What the next step will or ought to be is an open question.

Tony & Victoria Ambrosetti

Post Falls, Idaho

Abject Confusion

Ines Angeli Murzaku’s guest column “How ‘Remarried’ Catholics Can Validly Receive Communion” (Oct.) is, at the very least, confusing. After she muddies the water by speculating on the meaning of footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia, she correctly points out that in order to gain the graces from spiritual communion, one must be, inter alia, in a state of grace. So, how do divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics stay in a state of grace? The reader is left to wonder about this, as Dr. Murzaku doesn’t tell us. What she does is add confusion to an already puzzling narrative by speaking of the potential “exterior conversion, culminating in the eventual surpassing of the impediments to receiving the actual sacrament.” So, is the couple in a state of grace or not? Who knows? Apparently, Murzaku doesn’t feel that she needs to bring any of this complex issue, which touches on actual and sanctifying grace, into focus, as she ends with warm and fuzzy musings, invoking Pope Francis’s “God of surprises.” The reader is left in abject confusion.

George Koenig

St. Francis, Wisconsin

Capitalism: A Gift from God

Both Pope Francis and Thomas Storck strike out when they endorse “the Church’s historic condemnation of market forces” — i.e., capitalism (“Francis or Fundamentalism: A False Dichotomy,” Oct.).

In fact, capitalism is a fundamental gift from God that has dramatically benefited the world. All competing economic systems have failed. Like all God’s gifts, it is subject to the natural law and the Ten Commandments.

The problem is not capitalism but Catholic social teaching, which has become a growing list of generalities that are impossible to apply or codify with any moral certainty. Its blatant misuse in politics has sharply divided the Church. Regrettably, many Catholics now regard it as more important than the Ten Commandments.

The bottom line is that the Evil One is using Catholic social teaching as a tool to destroy capitalism, as well as Catholic morality and personal freedom. Social-justice Catholics are being deceived by the Enemy.

Terence J. Hughes

Fort Pierre, South Dakota


Catholic social teaching is as old as the Church, and in modern times it has been the subject of numerous papal encyclicals and addresses. It is part of the patrimony of Catholic doctrine and can hardly be ignored by a Catholic who wants to align his faith with that of the Church. Yes, there are those who make claims under the mantle of Catholic social teaching for things that are not part of that teaching, and such people unfortunately have discredited the entire concept, in the eyes of some. The solution, however, is not to jettison Catholic social teaching but to study the authoritative documents of the Church that embody that teaching, just as we would any other portion of Catholic doctrine.

As for capitalism, it is hardly a gift from God. It is simply a reflection of the deistic philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment. 

Michael Benda

St. Cloud, Minnesota

Preach, Sister

Laurie Cherbonnier (letters, Oct.) claims that women are not allowed to preach in the Catholic Church. Has she paid no attention to Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica, her own Catholic sisters living in her own lifetime? Their preaching reached more people than that of most Roman pontiffs, with one exception, St. John Paul the Great. Ms Cherbonnier has the same freedom to preach as did these two saintly women, and to reach as many people, if she would apply her energies as they did, in Mary’s footsteps, preaching, “Do as My Son says.” Will she?

Fr. Anthony Mellace


The Point of Light to Be Pursued

A headline earlier this year in London’s Telegraph declares, “University Students Demand Philosophers Such as Plato and Kant Be Removed from Syllabus Because They Are White” (Jan. 8). We live in a world that continually ignores the foundation of things for any number of reasons and agendas. But we cannot understand philosophy if we ignore the origins of current knowledge. We see this in the spread of abortion: Once we disregard the miracle of conception and the person’s eventual development into a baby, it is easy to claim that a person’s “rights” begin only when he emerges from the womb.

Mary Rosera Joyce dares to go deeper into the foundation of philosophy (“Being & the Beginning of Wisdom,” Oct.). She doesn’t attempt to eliminate but to fortify. She takes us closer to the beginning, to “the pre-conscious cause of wisdom” that, she says, “needs to become conscious before philosophy can begin at the beginning.” One can hear the collective uproar against anyone who suggests that Aristotle and Aquinas might not have had the final word! But Joyce doesn’t disregard; she continues where they left off. “Wisdom is a positive insight that can grow and deepen,” she writes.

In a world in which there is a constant march toward individualism, “the other” becomes objectified, something to be used. Joyce gives us insight into how we can reverse this. She states that “wisdom begins between a subject and a subject, not between a subject and an object.” Wisdom is the light of Aristotle, not for cataloging but for the active reception of knowing the act of being. This is the point of light that must be pursued if we are to fulfill Pope St. John Paul II’s request to go deeper.

Catherine Deavel

St. Paul, Minnesota

Taking her cue from John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, Mary Rosera Joyce explains that for two wings to fly, they need to be attached to a body. The spiritual wings of faith and reason need to be attached to the body of wisdom in order to remain united and soar to the heights of knowledge. Without wisdom, the wings go nowhere; they fall apart and drop to the ground.

But what is wisdom? It is a sort of loving, intuitive, creative knowledge involving the will, heart, and intellect. Faith without wisdom turns into a blind fideism of repetitive dogmas with little intelligibility. The mind hungers to understand more deeply the data of divine revelation, but simplistic analyses of revelation without the penetration of wisdom are unacceptable to many.

Reason without wisdom disintegrates into a dry, stone-cold monotonous philosophy, science, and technology devoid of human values and dignity. The North Korean nuclear drama is the latest example. Rationalism is reason blinded by pride that refuses to see and believe in anything but itself and puts all others under its judgment. Anything that is above reason is pure fantasy and illusion, and needs to be rejected. Ideologies born of this mentality have led to destruction and death.

If you build a house on a crooked foundation, the building itself will come out crooked. We have seen this disaster in the history of philosophy. One of the most devastating definitions in philosophical and theological history is that man is a “rational animal.” This definition robs us of our ability to see that we are persons and are person-based in our dignity and being. An animal eats, drinks, sleeps, rests, runs, and defecates as an animal. A man eats, drinks, sleeps, rests, exercises, and defecates as a man. We are infinitely distant in our natures (animal and human); there is nothing animal in man.

The “rational animal” definition, however, has taken its toll. Scientists reason that if we are not too different from animals, then it is acceptable to tinker with the human body, experiment with it, manipulate it, put it in test tubes, abort it, change its sex, block its sexuality, etc. If we can do that with animals, and man is no different from an animal, there is nothing morally wrong with any of this. These scientists do not realize the terrible crimes they commit — not against rational animals but human persons created in the image and likeness of God.

Mary Rosera Joyce brings philosophy back to its original meaning, which is love of wisdom. It also means being in touch with being and constructing a deeper foundation: beginning with being, staying with being, and ending with being — this is the philosophy of being and the source of all our wisdom.

Wisdom makes both reason and faith intelligible. Philosophers and men of science who have wisdom are at home with faith and reason. Theologians with wisdom welcome reason to shed more light on faith and explain it more intelligibly. But the faith is on the defensive today, and the deranged reason that brought about world wars has made people lose faith in reason itself. Skepticism and relativism are rampant.

Joyce shows how we came to this mess and what we must do to get out of it. We are to be grateful for her precious contribution to the salvation of reason and faith through wisdom.

Mary Rosera Joyce is surely correct to encourage philosophers to answer John Paul II’s call for a return to a search for wisdom, without which the discipline of philosophy becomes either a history of ideas held at arm’s length or a collection of intense debates over important but seemingly unrelated problems.

First, thanks are due to Joyce for her chutzpah in tracing “the bridge problem in human knowledge,” as she identifies it, from the ancient Greeks through contemporary thinkers. Professional philosophers, as a general rule, prefer to stay narrowly within specialties. Joyce, to her credit, chooses instead to emphasize a central problem — namely, how human beings know an entity and how our knowledge is related to what this entity is and to its being. To this end, she takes readers on a tour of thinkers through the centuries at a breakneck pace to show proposed solutions to the bridge problem and underscore its lasting importance. While I disagree with parts of her analysis, this kind of holistic approach is at once bracing and edifying.

Joyce’s choice of terms and juxtaposition of claims sometimes seems to obscure meaning — Fides et Ratio‘s and her own — and possible allies in her project. She initially renews John Paul’s call for philosophy as love of wisdom, but then she criticizes metaphysics, preferring to call herself an ontologian rather than a metaphysician. A reader of Joyce’s article might be forgiven for thinking that John Paul’s call for a “turn to the philosophy of being” is explicitly a call for a turn away from metaphysics. Not so. Fides et Ratio criticizes pronouncements of “the end of metaphysics” (no. 55) and treats metaphysics as a legitimate “philosophy of being.” Further, the encyclical criticizes “ontologism,” together with rationalism, as positions that “attributed to natural reason a knowledge which only the light of faith could confer” (no. 52). From her discussion of being, I take it that Joyce is not a proponent of “ontologism” but someone who focuses on the being of things (“ontology”). Many philosophers interested in metaphysics share her interest in being and the human person’s ability to know objects, if not all her conclusions.

More substantively, a different choice of terms could help clarify Joyce’s central claim that understanding the intellect as “a pure act of knowing being” eliminates the need for a “bridge” between the human knower and the thing known — a bridge that can never be constructed once a divide is assumed. Her main position seems to be a defense of direct realism (briefly, the position that, when we have knowledge of something, what humans know is the thing rather than our own idea or sense perceptions of the thing). Despite the language of a subject/subject relation of knower and known (vs. subject/object), Joyce does not argue that everything humans know is a “subject” in the sense, minimally, of a conscious being. Instead, she claims, first, that the intellect can, in fact, know both that and what things are, and, second, that reflection on the being of a thing can help us recognize that the notions we form when we focus on particular attributes or ask only certain kinds of questions are not exhaustive. Analysis of music as a series of soundwaves may be true and illuminating, but it is not complete. The most interesting questions in philosophy are the deep and fundamental ones, and Joyce invites renewed exploration and articulation of how and what humans know.


Catherine Deavel raises a question about two different ways of starting the adventure of philosophy: metaphysics and ontology. Metaphysics, meaning “beyond physics,” begins by taking a bow to being, then turning around and using the logic of science to answer questions about the causes of things. Ontology, however, tries to take being more seriously by including everything that is.

Why did Pope St. John Paul II ask philosophers to begin with being once again? He could see that we still do not know how we are connected to the being of what is. That is why we have experienced so many philosophical problems, including the spread of atheism.

Long, long ago, God said to Moses, “I Am Who Am.” Those were the greatest words ever spoken about being. But we still do not know how we know that something is, and the struggling history of philosophy shows it.

Animals can see what we can see. But the sense of sight does not know that anything is. That requires a spiritual light shining toward everything — from a drop of water to “I Am Who Am.” The philosophers said this light is the agent intellect. But they never seemed to wonder what the light actually is. As a result, the history of philosophy is ending in darkness.

My article tries to show that the agent intellect is the finite pure act of knowing the is of whatever we are knowing. The act of our agent intellect is the pre-conscious cause of our conscious mind. Becoming aware of it as such is a move beyond the subject/object logic of science (metaphysics) to the subject/subject logic of wisdom (a new beginning in ontology). Philosophy, then, as phila-sophia finally becomes what it says it is: love of wisdom.

Wisdom begins, stays, and ends in the light of being. And science needs to stay within wisdom.

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