Letters to the Editor: September 2020
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
In his column “Spendthrift Shepherds & Pervert Priests: Where Are They Now?” (New Oxford Notebook, June), Pieter Vree follows up on the whereabouts of Michael Bransfield, former bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, and the late Marcial Maciel’s “lieutenants” in the Legion of Christ. Perhaps Vree could enlighten readers as to the status of the “McCarrick report” that the Vatican was to release in February or March of this year. You know, the report that was supposed to expose former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s homosexual misconduct, whom he aided to rise in the clerical ranks, and the actions Pope Francis has taken to alleviate this kind of abuse of power.
I fear that the old political ploy of “ignore it and it will go away” is being used by the Vatican. The homosexual cancer that has infiltrated the Catholic Church and done great harm to the Body of Christ will continue to spread unless it is cut out.
Please, Mr. Vree, use your power to get some answers. Enough is enough!
Platte City, Missouri
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
I’m flattered that anyone would think that I have power to wield in the Vatican. Would that I did! The sad fact is that I have absolutely no sway there — or anywhere in the institutional Church. And really, perhaps that’s for the best!
As for the McCarrick report, first a little background: This June was the two-year anniversary of the announcement by the Archdiocese of New York that credible accusations of homosexual abuse had been brought against McCarrick, who was, for a time, the most powerful figure in the U.S. Catholic Church.
This October will mark the two-year anniversary of the announcement by the Vatican that Pope Francis had ordered a review of all the files pertaining to McCarrick’s sexual misconduct.
This November will mark the one-year anniversary of Sean Cardinal O’Malley’s announcement at the U.S. bishops’ 2019 General Assembly that the McCarrick report would be released “if not before Christmas, soon in the new year.”
This December will mark the one-year anniversary of Francis’s statement to Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing that the McCarrick report would be published “probably after the beginning of the new year” — i.e., by early 2020.
And yet the world still waits for this allegedly imminent report.
All we’ve gotten in the meantime are as-yet-unfulfilled promises (who says only politicians play that game?) and unsubstantiated rumors. The “silence” emanating from the Vatican “has become its own scandal,” wrote J.D. Flynn (Catholic News Agency, June 19). “The delays seem, to many observers, incomprehensible, regardless of whether the reason is to avoid litigation, to avoid embarrassment, to avoid accountability. And a long wait has turned, for many lay Catholics and clerics, into a kind of cynical resignation that very little might actually be coming, and even that won’t be coming soon.”
One of those rumors (see how little we have to go on!) came in the form of a June 5 blog post at www.essayforthefaithful.com by an alleged McCarrick victim. Identified only as “Nathan,” this person claims that he and other alleged victims were contacted “early this year” by “persons tasked by the Holy See with investigating McCarrick’s career.” These investigators allegedly asked Nathan if he “would be willing to provide facts and information to help ensure the accuracy of the report and to contribute to its findings.”
Nathan claims to have sat through “many uncomfortable interviews and conversations” with “a lot of fact-checking and cross-referencing of information.” He says he has been “surprised by the level of due diligence” on the part of the investigators, and “nothing” in his experience indicates “any type of cover-up or attempt to minimize anything by anyone involved in the Holy See’s investigation.” It seems to him like “a genuine search for the truth.”
Admittedly, it’s not much. But for now, we have no other option than to take this anonymous blogger’s word for it and pray for the best outcome: a complete rendering of facts and figures regarding McCarrick’s massive abuse of power and people, including the names of those who aided his abuse and those whom he aided in their abuse — particularly those who are still in positions of power.
The Body of Christ has been contaminated for too long by corruption and cover-ups, deviance and deceit. The needed tonic is the truth — the full and complete truth, and nothing less. The question is: Does the current Vatican administration have the guts to administer it?
Perhaps the McCarrick report will finally be forthcoming soon. But I don’t recommend holding your breath.
Fr. Maciel’s “Lieutenants”
At one time, circa 2008, I must have been the Legion of Christ’s public enemy number one, as they sued me under false charges in civil court for criticizing them. I had to reach a settlement and got the gag order. But I can still write and opine. I have so much to share, but not enough time and energy.
Pieter Vree writes about Fr. Maciel’s “lieutenants.” That’s not a term I would use; rather, I would call them “accomplices” — and of these there were many. Not all of Maciel’s accomplices were superiors in the Legion.
One would have to start with Maciel’s charism for winning over people and using lies and deceit about having them help him with “the work of God,” which actually involved catering to Maciel’s desires and whims. One of those accomplices was the now-deceased Fr. Álvaro Corcuera, director general of the Legion from 2005 to 2012. Maciel had personally groomed Corcuera since adolescence, and he ensured a smooth transition during the hazardous years of the failed Vatican intervention and Pope Benedict’s ordering Maciel to step down. Corcuera was a slick and gentle accomplice who never looked into Maciel’s past.
Fr. Luis Garza, vicar general of the Legion from 1992 to 2011, attributed to himself an investigation into Maciel, leading to the discovery of his double life. But Garza is mostly self-serving too. The basic Legion attitude has been one of denial, minimization, willful forgetfulness, and revision the order’s own history.
As Vree points out, Maciel’s earliest accomplices covered up his drug addiction. Maciel used his “favorites” at the time, not necessarily superiors or lieutenants, to get his drugs. It was a revolving door of manipulated Legionaries.
Maciel was also expertly secretive. Remember, he was a malignant narcissist and was able to manage several closed circles of collaborators: his sexual victims, his hit men and spies, his official superiors, his fundraisers, his PR crew — all of whom may not have known each other.
Maciel’s sexual specialization was introducing pubescent boys to homosexuality. He continued relationships with some of his “select” victims into their adolescence and early adulthood. Women were just the icing on the cake for him, possibly as objects of new sexual experiences that attracted him as he got older. It is very sad that Catholics were scandalized only when they learned he had female lovers who had borne his children. They did not realize that he had been deceiving a host of others: the Legionaries and lay Regnum Christi members who thought he was a living saint and who gave their lives to him, the families, the benefactors, the businessmen, prominent Catholics such as Mary Ann Glendon, clergymen such as Richard John Neuhaus, cardinals such as Angelo Sodano, and popes such as John Paul II. But his most egregious crime, in my opinion, was his abusing, desecrating, and destroying the lives of his seminarians, whose number are unknown.
Worthy of the Original
C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters could well be classified as a literary genre all its own. There’s something about the playful complexity of the letters, the inversion of good and evil to reveal the supremacy of God’s saving plan, that invites imitation. Sadly, many amateurs fall short of Lewis’s original in such manner that they defuse the dynamic force of his arguments.
Not so with Michael Thomas Cibenko’s “Screwtape 2020” (guest column, June). Every time I thought Cibenko had painted himself into a corner with his newly conceived correspondence — that he had misunderstood something of the Devil’s work in the world, the nature of God’s plan, and their conflict in the COVID-19 era — I quickly discovered that it was instead I who was trapped, confronted, and in some manner converted by the ongoing saga.
Kudos to Mr. Cibenko. And many thanks for the much-needed provocation!
Rev. Daniel P. O’Mullane, S.T.L., Ed.S., Pastor
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
Boonton, New Jersey
Michael Thomas Cibenko presents a modern take on C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, addressing the contemporary issue of the coronavirus pandemic. His use of language and style mirrors that of Lewis. One could easily imagine Lewis himself having written “Screwtape 2020” as a postscript to his original work.
The central theme of this pseudo-Lewisian Screwtape Letter is the demons’ need to deter people from turning to Christ during this pandemic, to numb the populace regarding faith and hope, the centrality of family life, and their need for the Eucharist, which is a constitutive element of the Church, as Pope St. John Paul II reminded us in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003).
Cibenko carefully addresses the positives that could have developed during this time of pandemic: a deeper desire for the Eucharist, quality time spent in prayer, quality time spent deepening family relationships, a return to a more profound sense of what it means to be a human being vs. a human doing, and, of course, a greater dependence on Christ to fuel our hope for a better tomorrow. Yet, Cibenko shows how Screwtape undermines what should have been positive religious and cultural developments and how, instead, through the craftiness and devious plotting of Screwtape and other demons, man will continue to move further away from truth, justice, and the love of God. Cibenko shows how man will develop an ever more fractured view of human life, its dignity, and its purpose. Where we might have hoped that through this pandemic the world would have developed a greater respect for life, Screwtape has been successful in sowing seeds of destruction.
However, Cibenko, like Lewis, does not view man as hopeless. In the final summation of the letter, it is clear that the demons have a lot of work to do to keep us from our truest end: communion with God. Despite many victories for the Devil, man need only look at the situation of the pandemic from a viewpoint of faith in Christ and he will come out even stronger than when the pandemic began. If only man, like the proverbial lobster in the soon-to-be-boiling pot, were awakened from his slowly desensitized demise.
Rev. Fr. Philip-Michael F. Tangorra, S.T.L., J.C.L., Pastor
Our Lady Queen of Peace Church
Branchville, New Jersey
The Coronavirus Conundrum
Thanks to Michael S. Rose for offering a much-needed splash of cold reality to our collective faces regarding the coronavirus (“Countering the COVID-19 ‘Expert’ Narrative,” June). As a bemused (and amused) American, I am not prepared to discuss the minutiae of “herd immunity” or “social distancing.” But I am prepared to consider some historical echoes.
We are a resilient species.
We survived the Plague of Athens in the fifth century B.C.
We survived the Plague of Justinian in the sixth century A.D.
We survived the Great Mortality of 1347, an outbreak of bubonic plague that may have carried away 50 percent of Europe’s population. Back then, those poor souls could have had no idea what was killing them. There was, of course, speculation. The learned doctors of the University of Paris, noting a close conjunction of the planets Mars and Jupiter, always a baleful occurrence, concluded that extraordinarily noisome “miasmas” arising from the earth caused the plague. Crowds of common people huddled around public urinals, inhaling the overwhelming stench in the belief that a plague caused by “putrid exhalations” would abate in the presence of an even more malodorous stench.
Today, we know the nature of our enemy. We can classify, image, and tweak the genome of COVID-19 to produce a vaccine. We may be forgiven, then, for smiling a bit at the benighted and fanciful reaction of 14th-century people to their pestilence. I do wonder, however, if we are truly that far removed from the poor souls of past centuries in our own panic-driven responses to COVID-19.
Rose wisely warns us of the folly of accepting favored statistical models and their inherent flaws. It’s the old GIGO principle — “garbage in, garbage out” — as we saw when the good governor of California scared the bejabbers out of his citizens, warning that 50 percent or more of Californians could be infected with the virus. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” What is next for the sunny Land of Oz? A return of the dinosaurs?
Earlier I noted the resilience of our kind. But when Rose wrote that abortion clinics were deemed “essential businesses” and could remain open so that assembly-line killing might continue apace, I had to wonder if we are a rational species.
Rose’s article should be widely circulated and read.
Michael S. Rose has written one of the best articles to date concerning COVID-19. He reviews all the major topics with regard to this issue. I would like to remind NOR readers that on April 2 the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released a communiqué stating that all pneumonia deaths would be counted as COVID-19 deaths. This has caused the COVID-19 death rate to be completely unreliable and inflated. As of June 19 the National Center for Health Statistics’ Provisional Death Counts reported only 6,426 deaths due to influenza. Yet there are an estimated 24,000-62,000 flu deaths for this season (2019-2020). What happened to all the influenza deaths? The numbers don’t add up!
With regard to the Church, as an example, Michigan dioceses have been holding outdoor Masses after months of having no Masses. This is to address a theoretical spread of a virus that has, in many counties of Michigan, killed far fewer people and infected far fewer people than influenza. What is the exit strategy for all this absurdity? Will these parishes still be holding outdoor Mass in subfreezing temperatures?
Instead of treating this like any significant viral infection, COVID-19 has morphed into “Operation Scare the Daylights Out of as Many as Possible.” And it has been a huge success.
I believe that this is a chastisement, not so much reflected in the number of deaths from the coronavirus, but in the restriction of the sacraments and the taking away of basic rights given to us in the U.S. Constitution. The next chastisement naturally followed: riots and destruction of major city infrastructure and massive movements to destroy American history. How many more chastisements will society need before it comes to grips with the Almighty?
Martin Dubravec, M.D.
Allergy & Asthma Specialists of Cadillac
Catholicism is, for most of us here in the U.S., very bound up with externals: Mass at 11 AM with coffee in the parish hall afterwards, and the parish picnic on the third Sunday in August. When these externals were suddenly removed in the wake of COVID-19, our first reaction was a sort of flustered panic.
The pope, in earlier times, would shut the Kingdom of Heaven to certain persons, groups, or nations, declaring them under interdict: no Masses or sacraments could be celebrated or baptisms, marriages, or funerals for those under this papal decree (and those sacraments that were celebrated were considered invalid). When the coronavirus hit, we found ourselves under a new kind of interdict, with churches locked up and no Masses allowed and, in some places, no confessions, baptisms, marriages, or funerals. It was, for many of us, as if our entire religion had suddenly ceased to exist, as if it had no interior dimension to drive our behavior.
In the Bible, and in all Christian societies prior to the so-called Enlightenment, pestilence was regarded as a punishment from God. The first thing people would do, when faced with a pandemic, was prepare for the afterlife, often with self-flagellations and public prostrations. Considering the lack of such actions among today’s Catholics, I can only conclude that, for many, their religion consists of merely a fancy building, a boring ceremony led by a beaming nice guy whose homilies they sleep through, and social functions; actual interior beliefs have little to no meaning.
Now, considering that pestilence is a divine judgment, we should praise God for His great mercy: Instead of something like the bubonic plague, we have a virus that seems to kill only by “complications” and has a high rate of recovery and a low rate of fatality, and an interdict that only removes the public aspects of our religion. We are indeed witnessing the mercy of God in that this is all He has allowed to be visited upon us so far. (If anyone asks why we should be laid under such a divine visitation, I would merely point to the many local abortion clinics.)
We have been forced to do penance by spiritual fasting, whether we would or would not. But we have a vast interior tradition to fall back on when we are stranded without the sacraments. Perhaps this divine judgment will make us aware once more of this tradition and rescue us from the peril of people who are Catholic in culture alone.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught me that Catholic leaders in the U.S. will rarely, if ever, speak out against Democratic politicians, but they will still send out their tithing envelopes.
Yonkers, New York
Michael S. Rose’s article reinforces the attitude of those who say their freedoms are more important than the safety of others. It shows a callous disregard for human safety and smacks of something emanating from the White House. I am so disappointed in the NOR for publishing his article that I will no longer give credence to the magazine in the future.
Spring Valley, California
Early on in the pandemic, I attended a Mass in which the priest admonished those who skip Mass out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. He added that were we to contract a disease by attending Mass, we would die martyrs. I couldn’t help but notice that my priest shook hands, rubbed his eyes, and even licked his finger. It seems to me that there is a fine line between tempting fate and accepting it.
Snake River Correctional Institution
Michael S. Rose’s article reads like it was written by Fox News. Dying of COVID-19 does not make you a religious martyr; it makes you ignorant of the limits of God’s human creation.
Traverse City, Michigan
While around the country so-called essential entities, some of dubious virtue, are opening their doors, many Catholic churches remain closed on order of the local bishops. Even as some dioceses consider a phased approach to the initiation of public Masses, the reception of the Holy Eucharist on the tongue is in jeopardy. In early May, one bishop tweeted, “Yes. They will not give Communion on the tongue as per my instruction. And if the person makes a scene, they will be asked to leave and not permitted to return unlike [sic] this passes. Reception of the Eucharist is NOT to be used as a statement of personal piety.”
Certainly, contemporary Catholic leaders have the best interest of the public at heart. However, there is no evidence to suggest that receiving in the hand is safer than receiving on the tongue. In fact, the Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, a cohort including three infectious disease specialists, three additional physicians, and one biologist, convened by the Thomistic Institute in Washington, D.C., wrote a definitive document (released on April 28) discussing Communion on the tongue during the coronavirus pandemic. The group reports that “it is possible to distribute on the tongue without unreasonable risk.” Furthermore, the group recommends against the priest wearing a mask during the distribution of Holy Communion and discourages frequent and obvious use of hand sanitizer.
Moreover, the Catholic Medical Association reports, “Either method [receiving on the tongue or in the hand] should be safe from transmitting the virus from one communicant to another” (March 14).
Regardless of the (lack of) medical evidence, it is the right of Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue. Communion on the tongue is supported, and seems to be preferred, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which states, in its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), “Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishop’s Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him.” This right was also recently supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a posture of filial piety and understanding that there is no medical evidence to support a mandate of Communion in the hand, I would support immediate public Mass celebration with Communion on the tongue.
John Dunn, M.D.
El Paso, Texas
The coronavirus pandemic is doing what it’s supposed to do in the world at this time. People are, for the most part, doing what they have been asked to do by their governments to help keep it controllable. Everyone is waiting for it to end. God, who made the whole universe, also is waiting. For what? God is waiting for repentance of all the people of certain and special sins against His commandments. People are obeying the rules of their governments — but what about the Eternal Father’s rules, His commandments? Are the people of this world obeying these most important commandments, the only rules that really matter?
The Bible tells of the plagues and punishments God Almighty sent to cleanse the world of sin. Even after the Bible was written, God had to cleanse the world many times when the people stopped obeying His commandments. They would not give up their killing, immorality, cheating, lying, and so on. God made this world; He is not mocked! God is patient, but He will not let evil reign on this earth. We can start the cleansing by stopping abortion immediately. Now is the time. No more waiting for years and years to pass the necessary bills.
God is slow to anger, but when He rises up — watch out, people! — our time has come. So let us be watchful, repent, change our evil ways, and ask for forgiveness from our almighty God.
The Book of Joshua says, “That all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the lord is mighty; that ye might fear the lord your God forever” (4:24).
Thelma Scarpa Bucikowski
Vineland, New Jersey
May I suggest that Michael S. Rose compose an update to his excellent June article, referencing the subsequent claims of “strategy failure” in Sweden, the media dismissals of Prof. Wittkowski’s work, and the various dissemblings of herd immunity?
With absolutely zero capability in medical matters, I, along with several others with whom I have conversed (while social distancing), have been left with a sense that COVID-19 is not a “regular” virus. Rapid mutations seem to bedevil treatment and recovery patterns. There appear to be many “inconsistencies” in the outbreaks, their circumstances, and the accompanying conditions — e.g., sudden (and irregular) appearance of blood clotting.
Another equally well-researched commentary by Rose would add welcome credit to his original piece.
Love: A Principle, Not a Feeling
I very much appreciated the connection Paul Krause made in his article “Tolle Lege: The Wisdom of the Great Books” (June), especially his thesis — present perhaps not explicitly but as an undertone — that the realization of love drives human evolution as its final cause. I think it was Novalis who wrote that “Love is the ‘Amen’ of the universe.”
“Love” is at the same time the simplest and the most difficult term to grasp. We can take the approach of vatic silence and say only, “You know it when you encounter it.” But at the same time we must concede that it is not a “brute fact” but a “moral fact,” in Elizabeth Anscombe’s terminology. This means that the dimensions of our own souls and the depths of our love are the same measure. It is also difficult because, to paraphrase Aristotle and C.S. Lewis together, “Love is said in many ways.” Storge, eros, philia, and agape are the Greek words to which Lewis famously appealed to aid in limning nuances that a single word might tend to gloss over.
I have also thought of love as gradients of willingness to unite as one without abolishing individual differences. The greater the love, the more fully this integration of union and individuality is achieved. “Communion” is a very expressive phrase in this respect. Differences alone provide for no relation and are thus not love, and identity alone also provides for no relation and is thus not love either. Abolition of differences to the point of similarity but without respect for individuality almost inevitably initiates the impulse of mimetic desire that René Girard so lucidly exposed as the origin of all collective violence. Indeed, Girard defines violence as “the annihilation of difference.” In some mysterious manner, love manages to wed these apparent contrarieties and sublimate the annihilation of difference into a spiritual communion.
As I said, I believe that this conjugation is accomplished because love exalts the differences just as it might seem to nullify them. I believe this characterizes our relation to the great authors of the past: We become at once united in spirit with them while also keenly aware of their difference from us and the distinctness of their vision from our own.
I have also thought of love as a force of willingness to change on behalf of the beloved. We will not allow ourselves to be transformed for that which we do not love. Aristotle famously observed that “there is a mover which, not being moved, moves, being eternal and reality and actuality. The desirable and the intelligible move without being moved. The primaries of these are the same…. It moves as loved.” For all his perspicacity, the noble Stagirite was not provided the revelation of the Trinity, and thus he failed to grasp that Christ was this Mover. Love, therefore, is not merely a feeling but a principle.
Krause wrote of the transformative power of literature: “We read to heal ourselves, to discover ourselves, to save ourselves.” The Gospel is meant to be proclaimed, so I am moved to say that he is talking about love and he is talking about Christ: “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.”
Grace & Civilizational Sanity
We are indebted to Jason M. Morgan for his review of Peter Redpath’s book The Moral Psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas: An Introduction to Ragamuffin Ethics (June). Morgan is to be congratulated on a fine effort, helped no little by his opportunity to study under Redpath at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Morgan speaks dauntingly of “our civilization’s wasting disease,” of “all the ‘isms’ that have begotten our cultural woes” and that “keep ending up as twisted heaps of wreckage piled on the altar of progress.”
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Redpath has “dedicated his life to telling the rest of us what went wrong and how we can get the West, and the world, back on track” with the help of “the Angelic Doctor himself.” Moreover, I naturally questioned what role God would play in our “journey back to civilizational sanity.” The answer, I think, is in the Summa Theologiae, Question CX, “The Essence of Grace”:
1. The grace of God is a gift bestowed on man’s soul to enlighten and strengthen it above the measure of its natural light and strength.
2. Grace is received into the soul as a quality of the soul. It is a supernatural quality that disposes the soul to supernatural well-being and supernatural well-doing.
3. Grace is not identical with supernatural virtue: It is prior to such virtue and is its root. Supernatural virtue is a habit that works by, through, and with grace.
4. Grace is not, as virtue is, primarily in the powers of the soul: It is received into the essence of the soul and flows from the soul’s essence into the soul’s power.
Canyon Lake, Texas
Sympathy for the Stones
Casey Chalk’s interpretation of the Rolling Stones’ 1968 hit song “Sympathy for the Devil” in his column “Sympathy for the Priest” (Revert’s Rostrum, June) is 180 degrees off course!
The lyrics are a monologue delivered by the Devil himself, who would of course attempt to fool the mortals listening to him. He notes how many people are puzzled by the “nature of his game.” I can’t read the song any other way than to conclude that Mick Jagger’s intent was to shock listeners into realizing who’s driving all the horrible historical events he narrates — and not to be “fooled again,” as The Who famously sang two years later.
Jagger’s lyrics might be “narcotics-induced,” as Chalk claims, but somehow, miraculously, they produced what National Review deemed the second-best conservative rock ’n’ roll song ever. (The Beatles’ “Taxman” from 1966 claimed the number-one spot, but naturally National Review would prioritize low taxes over rejection of Satan.)
This was an unfortunate non sequitur in an otherwise very enjoyable column.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
I thank Mr. McFadden for helping me “get off of my cloud” and consider an alternative interpretation of “Sympathy for the Devil” — one with a National Review pedigree, no less! Perhaps Jagger is not “painting it black” and urging listeners to have sympathy for Satan. As far as I can tell, the Stones’ frontman has never actually said as much, describing it rather as a satirical song about one with a “tremendously long trail” of evil deeds.
Either way, time is not on Satan’s side. Though, if we play with him, we’re playing with fire. I’m just glad that, ultimately, Satan can’t get no satisfaction. Because of Christ, we needn’t be under his thumb.
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All capacities with which God endowed us must be employed in the quest for truth.