by Andrew Simmons Thursday, Feb 13
“Since all creatures, even those devoid of understanding, are ordered to God as to an ultimate end, all achieve this end to the extent that they participate somewhat in His likeness. Intellectual creatures attain it in a more special way, that is, through their proper operation of understanding Him. Hence, this must be the end of the intellectual creature, namely, to understand God.” – St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III. Q. 25. A. 1
Following the Renaissance and the recovery of more Greco-Roman philosophers, scholars mainly focused on presenting Christianity in accordance to pagan philosophers rather than Christianizing them (which, arguably, is what Augustine did for Plato, and Aquinas did to Aristotle). The change in emphasis led to dramatic theological changes that resulted in a return to an old Greco-Roman juxtaposition between the supernatural and the natural. Whether it was Duns Scotus or Thomas Cajetan, the changes in scholasticism did create the theological conditions ripe for reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, Wesley, and Calvin (there might be more merit to Luther’s statement of “the Aristotelian Church” than we give credit for). And, as time progressed, it also dramatically affected the views held by those of our time. The change is mainly this: with a severing of the supernatural and the natural, the natural was viewed as being radically autonomous from the other. In demonstrating the problem of this juxtaposition, I hope to provide a small glimpse of a harmonized view in which all are oriented as beings-unto-God.
In regards to the general societal indifference towards God, it should not come as any surprise to see the full spectrum of responses to our current Pope. His statements against capitalism and blatant consumerism in particular have caused the most shock as it impacted a formerly complacent bunch of Catholics. Perhaps the main reason for this is that modern Christians have been inculcated towards a belief that there is a natural end for mankind apart from God. Following the general aphorism “well that is just how the world works”, modern Christians seem to believe that God simply works to direct them towards a suitable natural end in which eternal life is part of some detached life known by sola fide.
The effects of this detachment from a natural way of life can be seen in two individuals: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Nietzsche writes, “The Christians have never led the life which Jesus commanded them to lead…The Buddhist behaves differently from the non-Buddhist; but the Christian behaves as all the rest of the worlds does” (Nietzsche, 95). The self-professed “Antichrist” was tired of the doctrine sola fide common throughout his Protestant upbringing. What he wanted to see among Christians is something more akin to the demeanor of Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (Kaufman, 343-344). Myshkin, for Dostoevksy, is the portrayal of one who truly lives out the Christian life. It, however, is not a life that ends well for Myshkin. For Kierkegaard, this is very much the point of Christianity. He states that the price of “Christianity is superhuman. And yet the New Testament bids the Christian take up the imitation of Christ.” (Kierkegaard, 152) In making the articles of faith detached from practical living, Christian “lives, exactly like those of the heathens, reveal that man exists in relativity. People’s lives are nothing but relativities.” (Kierkegaard, 149)
In my previous article “Likeness and the Afterlife,” I made the assertion that human beings generally pursue some sort of likeness to live by. The answer to this juxtaposition lies in why one is not able to live without needing to be consummated in a likeness. Philosophers such as Duns Scotus and Cajetan assert that humanity exists wholly as a self-autonomous “pure nature”. Humanity, to be brief, is complete and exists without the need for God to further perfect their existence. I, from the standpoint of the existentialists and the writings of Henri de Lubac, assert the contrary: humanity is radically dynamic and not autonomous. For Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, the essence of man is absurdity which requires an inventive intuition to make sense of (albeit only briefly and relatively). For the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel, the essence of man is ambiguous but finds itself immersed in the wonders of being amongst other beings; the culmination of this statement is found in his assertion that “to be is to be with others”. For Martin Heidegger, who is commonly lumped with the existentialists, the natural end of man could only be a being-unto-death which convicts us to be individuals but also terminates our existence.
With Heidegger’s being-unto-death, it needs to be asked if one can be satisfied with such an end. Is the totality of human satisfaction found in solely embracing its definitive end? Heidegger does present those who put an immense amount of faith in self-determination with an immense obstacle. The pursuit of becoming independent falters in light of the individual ceasing to be in death. Henri de Lubac, however, saves the dignity of our individuality away from the being-unto-death. He challenges what he calls a “metaphysic of self-sufficiency” with a claim of “radical incompleteness” (de Lubac, 59). In Catholic theology, one needs sanctification in order to walk the Christian life. Sanctification is the act of God that infuses the believer with faith, hope, and charity. It is not something added to one’s nature or radically opposed to it, but is a perfecting of the human being. For my assertion of searching for likeness, it is God placing upon an individual the means to be able to live out the likeness of Christ. Grace does not turn humanity into super-humanity. Rather, it reveals the individuals radical need to be oriented towards the likeness.
De Lubac, Henri. A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1984.
Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2013.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Anthony M. Ludovici. New York: Barnes & Nobles, Inc. 2006.
Kierkegaard, Soren. The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard. Ed. Peter Rohdes. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc. 1960.
Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College. He studied for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. He find himself reading more of those dastardly modern philosophers and theologians in order to feel more relevant. It would be easier if the moderns would stop deconstructing the point of being relevant.