Pope Leo XII (1878-1903) On The Need For Sound Philosophy

Posted on November 12, 2020

(Charlie’s friend and ours, Desmond, who reads and comments here began presenting a series in June of this year which he has been posting on his Facebook page. He’s titled it: SCHEMA ON CAUSES OF CURRENT CRISIS. Now, we’re blessed to present Desmond’s most recent piece in this series for your reading and contemplation. And by all means, pose your questions for Desmond who is ever ready to clarify and further explicate when needed. ~Beckita)

THE FIRST POPE OF THE 20TH CENTURY, LEO XIII FULLY UNDERSTOOD THE DRASTIC CONDITIONS IN EUROPE AND THOUGHOUT THE WEST; CULTURALLY, SOCIETALLY, PHILOSOPHICALLY, THEOLOGICALLY, POLITICALLY AND FAMILIALLY.

I chose the carved image of the word ‘VERITAS’ (Latin for ‘Truth) for this post, along with the truism that it “is not written in stone” in order to point out the major horror of our age. This Latin word is on the motto’s of some of the oldest colleges and universities in our land (e.g., Harvard) – and in many such institutions in Europe for that matter. Yet, a great majority those places of learning – openly challenge the very idea that there is any such thing as truth. Our children are in large part being brainwashed into this lie in our schools – from the first year in school on up.

HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? I TELL YOU – AND THE LONG LIST OF POPES WE WILL BE LOOKING AT TELL YOU – THE CAUSE IS BAD PHILOSPHY. The false conclusions of that bad philosophy have for over a century permeated our governments, our societies, and in large part filtered down to the common man. As you will see, Pope Leo states this to already be a fact in the year 1879.

Leo XIII was aware of this sad state of affairs even well before his famous ‘vision’ in 1884 wherein he received the understanding that Satan would have a field day on earth for 100 years.

I can safely say this, because in 1879 – five years before that vision – Pope Leo XIII promulgated his famous Encyclical, ‘Eterni Patris’. Therein, Leo sounded the alarm bell in relation to the great damage which had been done to the studies of both philosophy and theology through bad philosophy. His solution was to instruct all Catholic seminaries that they were to now center their studies in the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

IF YOU WILL READ THE FOLLOWING QUOTES BELOW FROM ‘ETERNI PATRIS’ WITH CARE, YOU WILL DISCOVER THAT IT ISN’T JUST DESMOND WHO SAYS THAT BAD PHILOSPHY IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE WORLDS TERRIBLE SITUATION TODAY – AND THAT SOUND PHILOSOPHY IS NOT ONLY VALUABLE BUT NECESSARY. LEO XIII MAKES THAT SCALDINGLY CLEAR 141 YEARS AGO.

It is really critical for us to understand these points which Leo XIII and virtually every Pope since have made: Bad philosophy had wreaked terrible havoc on mankind. Sound philosophy (sometimes called ‘right reason’) is critically necessary in properly understanding the Word of God and in implementing it in our lives. And finally, for much of human history most of mankind utilized sound philosophy to some degree or another – for the greater good of mankind. I.e., you don’t have to go to university to learn the basic elements of sound philosophy. I.e., the most basic elements of it the average child has learned by the age of reason. Particularly in the West, the average adult has been subjected to so much irrational propaganda that – in an alarming number of cases – the common man is now beginning to wonder if there is any such thing as truth. [If any reader is unaware of this phenomenon – he or she cannot have been getting out much during the last thirty or forty years.]

In the opening passages of his Encyclical, ‘Eterni Patris’, Leo XIII names the central cause of the alarming situation he sees in the civil and religious world around him in 1879. He identifies bad philosophy as the central culprit in that debacle, in culture, science, the Church, etc. He first points out upon the use of sound philosophy depends the very ‘Right Interpretation’ of all other branches of study (sciences). In other words, he makes it clear he is not attacking good or sound philosophy – but rather he is singling out bad philosophy as the central culprit in the ‘modern’ crises. He makes this distinction absolutely clear in the following paragraph:

“Indeed, venerable brethren, on this very subject among others, We briefly admonished you in Our first encyclical letter; but now, both by reason of the gravity of the subject and the condition of the time, WE ARE AGAIN COMPELLED TO SPEAK TO YOU ON THE MODE OF TAKING UP THE STUDY OF PHILOSOPHY WHICH SHALL RESPOND MOST FITLY TO THE EXCELLENCE OF FAITH, AND AT THE SAME TIME BE CONSONANT WITH THE DIGNITY OF HUMAN SCIENCE.”

[DB Note: Here, Leo is telling his readers that he is now going to instruct them on what kind of philosophy most soundly fits Christian Faith and belief – and it is also quite useful for (“consonant with”)the study of the other human sciences (e.g., biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, linguistics, etc.).]

Now, in the 2nd paragraph of ‘Eterni Patris’ – here names bad “schools of philosophy” as the cause of the great public and private evils in the world – which were already horrendous in 1879.]

“2. Whoso turns his attention to the bitter strifes of these days and seeks a reason for the troubles that vex public and private life must come to the conclusion that a fruitful cause of the evils which now afflict, as well as those which threaten us, lies in this: THAT FALSE CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING DIVINE AND HUMAN THINGS, WHICH ORIGINATED IN THE SCHOOLS OF PHILOSOPHY, HAVE NOW CREPT INTO ALL THE ORDERS OF THE STATE, AND HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED BY THE COMMON CONSENT OF THE MASSES. For, since it is in the very nature of man to follow the guide of reason in his actions, if his [man’s] intellect sins at all his will soon follows; and thus it happens that FALSE OPINIONS, WHOSE SEAT IS IN THE UNDERSTANDING, INFLUENCE HUMAN ACTIONS AND PERVERT THEM.”

At this point, I’m compelled to comment that nothing has changed in that regard in the ensuing 141 years. Very frankly, right up to this day, every successive Pope since Leo XIII right up through Pope Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI have declared more or less similar statements. [We’ll be featuring those of JP II and Benedict XVI when we come to them.]

Now we will see Leo XIII point out that ‘REASON’ itself – which had already been under systematic attack from bad philosophers since the 17th century, that ‘reason’ is absolutely necessary for men and women to make the right decisions in life. That is true as long as it is “right reason” as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it. Leo points out that this is nothing new – that even St. Augustine refers to the necessity of the proper use of reason by men of faith. Leo continues:

“3. Therefore, Divine Providence itself requires that, in calling back the people to the paths of faith and salvation, advantage should be taken of human science also-an approved and wise practice which history testifies was observed by the most illustrious Fathers of the Church. They, indeed, were wont neither to belittle nor undervalue the part that REASON had to play, as is summed up by the great AUGUSTINE when he attributes to this science “THAT BY WHICH THE MOST WHOLESOME FAITH IS BEGOTTEN . . . IS NOURISHED, DEFENDED, AND MADE STRONG.”

For those of you who have never studied philosophy, all of this may sound somewhat puzzling. Why would a Pope in 1879 have to defend the use of reason by human beings? Why, indeed? It is because for centuries prior to Leo’s Papacy, the use of reason itself had been under systematic attack. [One of the most glaring examples of this is the philosopher, Immanuel Kant’s, ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ – published a century earlier in 1781.]

And of course, Leo is gently leading people to understand that attack has had dire consequences in both the world and in the Church. The results of this bad philosophy had been devastating Europe for a century before Leo became Pope. To the mind of a late nineteenth century observer, the horrors of the French Revolution and the predations of Napoleon Bonaparte were still fresh in their minds. The French Revolution was only a century old then, which had butchered tens of thousands of priests, nuns, monks, etc. The French Emperor, Napoleon, had devastated Europe only twenty five years later in his mad desire for power and glory. Men of Leo XIII’s age, their grandfathers were young men during the reign of Napoleon and his wars which devastated Europe. All of that and much more was a direct result of the bad philosophy so prevalent in salons of French and other European nobility and academe. As a result, Satan was having a field day with mankind, which Leo XIII knew all too well.

‘Eterni Patris’ is basically an eight thousand word document. So, I’m having to selectively choose material to make my points. But in doing so, I am not misrepresenting nor over simplifying the meaning or intent of that work.

My purpose is to show you that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church – going right back to the days of the Infant Church – has respected and utilized sound philosophy for a proper understanding of God’s Word, and in the choices involved in the practice of that Word.

So we shall now present the view of Leo XIII on the purpose of sound philosophy and its use in the Church.

Why are we going to such measures to demonstrate the beneficial purpose and usefulness of sound philosophy. As stated earlier, it is primarily because of one central thing. THERE ARE CHRISTIANS OF MANY FLAVORS – INCLUDING CATHOLIC – WHO LAY THE JUSTIFIABLE BLAME OF BAD PHILOSOPHY — ON ALL PHILOSOPHY. The reason for that is quite clear. Bad philosophy has held sway for so long, especially in the West, that such people assume (due to understandable ignorance) that all philosophy is of one bad flavor or another.

There is no shortage of those who will try to tell you that all philosophy and all theology is evil or bad. Quite a number of them have been conditioned even to make the same statements about ‘reason’ itself. We will get into this deeper in the course of the series.

Next we present a thick slice of the Leo’s Eterni Patris, in which he spells out the need and proper use of correct philosophy in comprehending the Word of God. Even so I’m going to have to take a piece from the top of the Encyclical’s #4, and another from the bottom, or this is going to just get too long for one post. Leo writes:

“4. In the first place, philosophy, if rightly made use of by the wise, in a certain way tends to smooth and fortify the road to true faith, and to prepare the souls of its disciples for the fit reception of revelation; for which reason it is well called by ancient writers sometimes a steppingstone to the Christian faith, sometimes the prelude and help of Christianity, sometimes the Gospel teacher. And, assuredly, the God of all goodness, in all that pertains to divine things, has not only manifested by the light of faith those truths which human intelligence could not attain of itself, but others, also, not altogether unattainable by reason, that by the help of divine authority they may be made known to all at once and without any admixture of error. Hence it is that certain truths which were either divinely proposed for belief, or were bound by the closest chains to the doctrine of faith, WERE DISCOVERED BY PAGAN SAGES WITH NOTHING BUT THEIR NATURAL REASON TO GUIDE THEM, were demonstrated and proved by becoming arguments. For, as the Apostle says, the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: [Here Leo is referring to St. Paul’s teaching that man can by reason conclude from God’s creation that, there must be a Creator, One God who created this our ordered universe.]

Later in this same paragraph, Pope Leo cites a long list of the early Christian Saints and writers who both defended and utilized philosophy to defend Christian teaching and to defeat pagan arguments used against the Faith. I’m not going to take you through all of the text, but rather will just give you the names he cites from Fathers of the Church who so utilized philosophy. They are, Gregory of NeoCaesarea, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Jerome, Quadratus, [a disciple of the Apostles] Aristides, Justin, Irenaeus, Augustine, Cyprian, Lactantius, Victorinum, Optatus, and Hilary.

Leo concludes this description of such men’s defense of Christ and His Church with the following conclusion:

“But if natural reason first sowed this rich field of doctrine before it was rendered fruitful by the power of Christ, [Aristotle and other pagan philosophers who reasoned that there must be a God, and only one] it must assuredly become more prolific after the grace of the Saviour has renewed and added to the native faculties of the human mind. AND WHO DOES NOT SEE THAT A PLAIN AND EASY ROAD IS OPENED UP TO FAITH BY SUCH A METHOD OF PHILOSOPHIC STUDY?”

Brothers and sisters, these teachings of Pope Leo XIII about the positive role of philosophy were not new with him. He simply restated what the Church has known since Her infancy. We must close this post here.

In the next one, we will look at what Leo laid out for the Church as the best of the best in masters of both philosophy and theology, St. Thomas Aquinas. Then he proceeded to require all the Catholic seminaries to anchor their teachings in the philosophy and theology of Thomas.

All my love in Christ

Desmond

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