D. C. Schindler - "The Catholicity of Reason"
8:18PM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
D. C. Schindler
Today it is our pleasure to be speaking with Dr. David C. Schindler. Professor Schindler is Associate Professor of metaphysics and anthropology at the Pontifical john paul to institute for studies on marriage and family at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of the text that we'll be discussing today, The Catholicity of Reason, from Erdman since 2016, Professor Schindler, thanks for being with us today.
Oh, thank you very much for having me.
If we can jump right into this amazingly technical and also extremely fruitful book. In the first chapter, you introduced the concept of the catholicity. of reason, would you be willing to explain what is it that you mean precisely when you use this term catholicity.
that term, as as you'll have noted, it's with a small c rather than a big C. They comes from the Greek calf Hold on, which means, according to the whole and my intention in the book was to was was to try to recapture a bit of the the classical sense of, of the meaning of reason. So, we tend to think of reason these days in very technological scientific terms, something is is more reasonable or rational The more we can formulate it in in precise scientific terminology, the more we can do experiments with respect to claims, the more that we can mathematize or in philosophy, symbolize the language and make it extremely precise. And and all of these are actually features and practices that have emerged in the in the modern world, in the pre modern world. And by that I mean essentially up to about the Renaissance. The the model for reason was not so much math and sciences it was philosophy and, and theology In fact, and there the the the notion of reason is this, this, this drive to come to a certain intimacy with things through our minds and and well, and to say that reasons Catholic means that we we strive to get to the bottom of things that that reason is not content until it can see things as a whole that it's got this drive that won't come to rest except in in thought the big picture in understanding particular things as a whole doesn't necessarily mean that we will always grasp it as a whole but but insofar as we don't grasp things as a whole We we still have a that this desire has not been sated. And and and that that aspiration continues. If that makes sense they're
good. What would you say to the modern materialist? What What does there's been such a change in the way that we think since classical times and medieval times and to the post scientific or or scientific era that we now live in today. And of course, one of the major shifts is that we're not sure if we have souls anymore, and we're by and large materialists, how is it that reason as understood in the pre modern sense, this grasping of the will in the mind for the whole still makes sense to us today? Well,
I think that the the very, the very fact that we can raise a question as you did, suggests that we can see beyond we can compare materialism to something to something larger, that it's it's quite evident, it seems to me that that
that we're not satisfied with
what CS Lewis used to call nothing buttery. Nothing but material, nothing but the laws of physics, that that we have a sense that there's, there's more to it than that, and the desire to know, it's if we think about it, what does it mean to know something? What what sort of what sort of contact Are you making with with the thing when you know it, it's very different from physical contact. It's not just the pushing and pulling of material forces, there's, there's a thing is present to you somehow, when you know it. And that, it seems to me is already an indication that there's, there's something in us and in fact, in reality, that transcends the merely material
is this is this argument for the capitalist city of reason. Also in some way at the same, By the same token, an argument for the existence of God, can we believe in this universal reason that you describe without grounding the concept in God?
I don't think so. Right. I, the first thing that I would say, though is is rather than looking at it as a as a proof for the existence of God. It's that when we when we attempt to prove the existence of God, we're using our reason in a particular way. And what I wanted to talk about the book is suggest in this book is that that there are some more basic questions that we want to ask not so much what how we ought to use our reason, but what is reason? And and behind that question is is is a conviction that if we were to recover this
sense of reason, this aspiration to the whole, the normal usage of reason itself would naturally really opens up to the question of God, when you desire to know the hole and you desire to get to the bottom of things, the mind itself opens up to ultimate questions and ultimate causes and and ultimately the question of God. So that would be the first thing. Now, granted that it's also the case that you might ask them well, why do we have this desire to know the hole? And I think in the end, there's no way to explain that other than through the positing, of, of, of a creator god at at the source of things of a first cause, who is perfect knowledge and perfect love at the source of things. I think that's absolutely right.
Dr. Schindler in chapter three of your book, which is titled the primacy of beauty, the centrality of goodness of the ultimate sea of truth. You argue that the quote primacy of beauty belongs to the specifically Catholic character of reason. We know that you wrote your doctoral dissertation at the University at the Catholic University of America on football bizarre, in what ways do you appeal to Baltazar in this text to construct your argument? Sure.
Well, hunters from both is ours, as you
certainly know and your readers may know is a very profound and prolific theologian from the 20th century. He's not known so much in philosophy circles I work in, in, in philosophy he's, he's he's, he's a theologians, theologian. But his work it seemed to me had very clear philosophical implications and one of the things that that both those are achieved in his work, his famous trilogy that his masterwork, his main, his main Opus, in of his office, hundreds of books and thousands of articles. The trilogy is constructed around the order of beauty Goodness and truth. And he thinks through assessing the whole history of thought, from the pagan antiquity all through the Catholic Middle Ages into the the, the modern era and the fragmentation that occurs there, and explains that we have an encounter, we ought to think of our initial encounter with God in terms of beauty, that in which God appears to us. The the the Epiphany, he first shows us He reveals Himself, he's not simply a construct of reason. But he gives us himself to us before we even know the right question to ask. And it's it's in that initial solicitation by God that our our desire is is elicited and we then respond through our actions. So that is the good and in responding to Action, then we come to understanding, which is where the true arises. So it's interesting. It's not that we first have a concept of God that would that would reduce God to our own terms. In a way if we began first with a concept of God, what begins the what's first is God's call to us in his self revelation. And then we respond in goodness in truth. It seems to me that what Balthazar was arguing in terms of theology actually makes sense for the way we interact with everything in a certain respect. And so I wanted to try to translate that into philosophical terms. Our encounter with anything is first a manifestation of its beauty that then draws us in, through our, our response, our action, our will and our love. And, and through this, we come to an understanding of things so that that's the basic pattern that I've traced out in different essays in this book.
undecide would you be willing to give us a reading recommendation of Vaughn Baltazar most of us are quite intimidated just by the length of the series, where should we begin?
Cardinal Ratzinger then Benedict the 16th used to respond to that both bizarre was one of his. So this is the pope preceding the current Pope Francis Botha was was his favorite theologian, he said on many occasion, many occasions, and when he was asked for recommendations, he pointed to the series of books that's published by Ignatius press explorations in theology, which is a collection of, of, of discrete essays and articles and one can go through there and find something that that sparks an interest. That's a good, good start. The other is, is this very slim volume. That in a way encapsulates the whole it's called love alone is credible. It's a slim volume. And it's helpful because it encapsulates the whole in such a small compass. But I would warn you that that books a bit a bit dense to best start with
the essays. Okay.
Thank you very much for that. And if I can ask a further clarifying question to the theological aesthetics, how does the his theological aesthetics the seven volume work specifically, do you make much use of that work in your own argument?
Oh, very much, I think volumes four and five, Volume One and then volumes four and five are three of my all time favorite, favorite books in Volume One is when he talks about what it means for God to manifest himself and what form means that's the the the appearance of Gods mysterious depths, appears in a concrete form and specifically as we know in the human face of Jesus as Christ, but then that has philosophical implications as well. And then in volumes four and five, it's when he goes through the the, you might say that the literary and philosophical history, through philosophy mythology, we begin begins with Homer and the Greeks and Virgil and put tightness all the way up to the modern era. It's really an extraordinary reading that that that gives you a sense of of the whole again, reason once the whole and in terms of that whole, it opens up a sense of, of where to place any particular figure or problem that you're thinking about. So those those volumes in particular have been very helpful to me.
Dr. Schindler at the conclusion of chapter six in your book, you make the following incredibly intricate, yet extremely powerful statement. If I can quote you here, quote, The reason that there cannot Evolution without creation is because as we have seen, there can be no intelligibility of any sword without the absoluteness of substance, which the Supra temporal and indeed the super formal act of creation alone, if one does not affirm the eternity of species makes possible. Would you be willing to unpack this a bit for us? Is there a simple way to explain this or possibly even illustrates the conclusion in chapter six?
Right, that that's, I apologize
for the technical terms there. But But it seems to me that you, you begin with an insight and you need to give a very rigorous account of it, and that's what I attempt to do, but to try to simplify if I may.
That's a technical way
a passage that Gk Chesterton wrote that I quote here, and if I if I allow me to read just a couple of sentences, this is on page 161. Chesterton talks about it. evolution and creation and he says here, if evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape, turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man than it is stingless. For the most orthodox. For a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change. And no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing and that is a flux of everything, and anything. And when he says thing, that's the word substance is the technical metaphysical term to talk about a thing that has a distinct intelligibility and meaning and its own its own reality. And what what Chesterton is saying here is the the science of scientific reductionism is ultimately incapable of recognizing an ape, a frog as a reality. And instead, it thinks of these things as simply a sum of parts that have been accidentally thrown together. To which we give a name, but the name is not, doesn't designate something real there. It's just, it's just a practical device to allow us to organize things. But in fact, this is just an accidental conglomeration and that means everything is an accidental conglomeration and it means that the world is just a great ocean of fluctuating mass of particles without any meaning. And, and that's obviously, in fact,
not only repulsive
to Christians, but nobody really believes that in fact, no one does. We when we when we speak about evolution, We talk about an ape, eventually evolving into a man and we think that there is such a thing as an ape, and there is such a thing as
as a man. And
so so to put it To put it simply, in the end, it seems to me that there are three alternatives. One, you can say that the world is just flux and there is nothing meaningful, even the words that I'm saying that there is nothing meaningful don't mean anything, it's really a self undermining position. To that things are have that there are such things as things that we can recognize and come to know. And we say that the reason that there are such things is because of eternal forms. This was the pagan metaphysical view that that that you can't construct from below realities, but they have to be given as such, and and that would be the eternal forms or You have the Christian understanding, which is that what accounts for things is not merely a flux, but the creative act of God. That it's a creative act that operates through the workings of nature. But what God creates is things in this particular way. And and so the alternative is either meaningless flux eternal forms, or a creative God we have no, we have no other alternative. And the one that seems to make the most sense, I would argue is that is the Christian notion of God.
There's a lot to unpack there. But I want to complete this thought if I can by jumping straight to the next question, but there's so much that we need to unpack in the preface of the book. To draw us back to this earlier citation, you you write, quote, The present book seeks to defend the idea that a recovery of the whole breadth of reason is the only adequate response to the problem. So modernity This is something that you also return to at the conclusion of the book or near the end with the chapter titled The problem of the problem of onto theology. What if we lost today in the modern era by losing our metaphysics?
Right I the the metaphysical actus is something that both those are says it's an assent to being, it's a saying yes. To to reality and receiving reality as a gift that's at the heart of the metaphysical act. metaphysics in a technical sense, is a particular branch of philosophy, but in a broader sense, it means it's the Catholic sense of reason. That's this aspiration to to affirm the reality of things. And in the modern world. We've, modernity began by by, in a certain sense, limiting the claims of reason we want to not bother ourselves with these ultimate questions, but let's just figure out the way things Work and that seems to be modest. But what happens is, as soon as reason loses this aspiration to the whole, it, it becomes a kind of Titanic force. And there's it has a natural tendency simply to overtake our thinking in every other sphere and and we've got ample evidence of that. So the recovering a sense of metaphysics is a recovering, recovery of a sense of the intrinsic meaning of things, the intrinsic Goodness, goodness of things, recognizing things as having a kind of nature and a reality in themselves, that we, before we do anything with them,
we receive gratefully
affirm and love and that that right there is the beginning of, of metaphysics in this in this broader sense
at the at the
At the heart of this divide between our materialistic culture, which doesn't really have a metaphysics or claims not to have a metaphysics, and between this this proposal that you're making, in your text, the capitalist city of the reason, how is it that we can understand the world so differently today? And how is it that whole groups and whole societies can go about their business? Not really thinking the way the other things? Where is that divide located?
I, you know, in a certain sense, it's not so much that we understand the world
differently. It's, it's that we have given up the project of understanding. We now are concerned much more with doing things and achieving things and making things and solving problems. And we aren't have lost a desire simply to understand what things are. And if you look at the classical Tradition, we've projected back into the tradition, this sense that of radical pluralism that everyone had different ideas about, about the nature of reality and, and that modernity is simply a recognition that these questions can't be resolved. And so let's give them up and attend to more practical matters. But But in fact, there is an extraordinary unity of thinking in the classical tradition, that the differences are very fine and intelligible. But but there's a there's a, there's a common root and it seems to me in fact, that common route becomes apparent the moment we give priority to this question of understanding reality. Simply knowing what things are, that they're there, the the, the number of self evident truths is extraordinary.
And we've we've, we've,
in a sense, trained ourselves to be skeptical That, but it really requires a kind of a brainwashing. I mentioned CS Lewis earlier, and I come back to him on this point, the abolition of man is really an extraordinary book. And he speaks there of this body of self evident truth
that we've lost
a sense of and and we recover it. We don't have to convince anyone about it because it's self evident. We simply have to open ourselves up to this desire to understand and these things become evident. Once again,
Professor Schindler on a practical level if, if what you argue for in the text is correct. How would one go about simply as a cultural project how would one go about educating society or even the church in in this this argument that you're making for in the capitalist city of reason?
one thing is, is that we need to unmask The
duplicity, if that's not too strong a word in, in the claims of modernity not to be answering these ultimate questions that we think that we can we have this illusion that we can get along with basic patterns in modern culture because as long as we as long as, as the political order separates itself from big questions of religion, as long as science doesn't try to answer the big questions, then then it's fine. As long as they remain modest, but in fact, the very presuppositions in that separation are a claim about the meaning of reality. And that as you mentioned before, that's something that would have to be unpacked and I and I urge your, your audience to to, to think to ponder these questions this this this is something this is a lifelong project really, but but these are not neutral. modernity is not neutral as it claims it's it's it's making a distinct judgment about the nature, the fundamental nature of reality. And when we realize that it's it seems to me that that
this this this window into a larger picture we can avoid asking ultimate questions so let's ask them properly and and in a way that that receives the great tradition that has spoken on these questions in the light of the faith that we can't
break it out that that that concerns every
aspect of our lives, and reacquire some of these basic dispositions of gratitude and wonder which is a big theme in the book and
Love that in the affirmation a cent, and gift,
all of these basic, basic notions that that are part of what I try to express in that phrase catholicity of reason,
Dr. Schindler, if we can close with a question that we've been asking all of those we've interviewed on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we even recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do to pursue the unity of the church?
Thank you. That's, that's a great question and a massive question. And, and, and certainly beyond, beyond me, but to make some small effort at it, it seems to me first of all, we need to recognize that that unity is not simply in the first place, just a matter of sentiment, and mutual respect and so forth. Obviously, those are indispensable. We that we respect differences. But we have to understand that unity it's not only of the heart but also of the of the mind. St. Paul spoke of a homeboy the sameness of mine the unity of mind, a community of mind. So this, this recovery of this body of self evident truth, and again the capitalist city of reason, it seems to me as part of recovering unity, but one of the but but that doesn't mean that unity is simply a convergence of opinions. It's not we who create unity, but unity is first given to us. And as Christians, we have to recognize that that the foundation of unity is Christ Himself, the church, the unity of the church is given by Christ in His his sacrificial act, and I can only answer this question as a Catholic It seems to me that that the, the, the, the Eucharist is the, the, the, the, the objective fruit of this, that we that the Eucharist is not something that we doesn't simply have a meaning that we give, give it it's given by Christ and it has an objectivity that's there that calls us to, together in in, in order to receive it. So. So I would say unity, recovery of unity is recovery of, of tradition and sacrament as the foundation, the objective foundation that brings us together and allows us to come together both in our hearts and in our minds.
It has been our delight today to be speaking with Dr. David Schindler, associate professor of metaphysics and anthropology at the Pontifical john paul Institute for studies on marriage and family at the Catholic University of America. He's also the author of the text we've been discussing today, the catholicity of reason. Dr. Schiller, thank you so much for your time this morning.
Thank you very much for having me.
It's been a pleasure.