The Non-Confessionalist Before God. A Philosophical Response to Today’s Laicism.

Publisher: Rubbettino
Pages: 162
Price: €12,00

When perhaps even superficially observing the current social and cultural debate in political circles and the mass media on the “rediscovered” public issue of God, one might be tempted to conclude that contemporary thinking is slowly becoming reconciled with at least part of the best Christian tradition from which, by the way, it historically stemmed.  In fact, as explained in this essay by one of the most unambiguous pure philosophers of our times, Prof. Horts Seidl, former professor of Ethics and Ancient Philosophy at the University of Munich, later at the Pontifical Lateran University, and also member of the Pontifical Academy St. Thomas (PAST), for as long as western philosophical modernity as a whole continues to conceive of itself as a simple “direct filiation” of French-style illuminist critique, which basically speaking is always anti-metaphysics, it will be difficult for it to take its distance from the orthodox laicist current it continues to profess. The problem in the mind of the author, one of the last disciples of that great Christian thinker Etienne Gilson (1884-1978), is specifically philosophical, not religious, and resides above all in the refusal (prejudicial and therefore not reasonable) of the great western metaphysical tradition (which entered into the Magisterium of the Church, but diachronically prior to its logical reordering). The author proposes concrete examples to show the extent to which a farsighted use of traditional philosophy could dispel the numerous contradictions of our times and the consequences flowing from repeated and hostile closure towards it. The recent and most clamorous case relative to invoking God in the preamble of the Constitution of Europe is rather meaningful: “The laicists refused this citation by insisting on the clear separation between State and Church, […] while it would have been possible to legitimately argue the invocation of God through recourse to traditional metaphysical argumentation dating back to Plato, who invoked God numerous times in his ‘Laws’ and called the unjust ‘persons abandoned by God’. Eliminating God from the political-social sphere is not only non Christian, but non human as well, because innate in man is a natural piety towards a supreme divine being. Ever since ancient times the philosophers of tradition have developed sound arguments and doctrines that assume universal values in the political-social realm, as well as in the moral and religious realms” (pg. 10).

            Insofar as naturaliter ‘homo religiosus’, man does necessarily need to take recourse to the ‘propriety’ of the faith (nor all the less to a specific faith) in order to motivate the existence or first causal nature of God. In all truth, the fact that such evidence is no longer accepted reveals less of an abandonment of the (only) spiritual tradition of the west, and, rather dramatically, more of a radical detachment from the elementary, logical, rational and constituent foundation of its centuries old culture.  Therefore, quite objectively and without being polemical, the ungrounded refusal on the part of the representatives of the European institutions appears much akin to an undeniable step backwards, and above all (paradoxically enough) a step towards the best ‘pagan’ or pre-Christian Greek wisdom, even before being against the Catholic faith handed down and preserved by the Church down through the centuries.

In the second place this is likewise an expression of anti-history at work insofar as in blatant contrast with the numerous national Constitutions that practically begin with the reference to God (without for this reason being confessional), beginning with the ones of Germany and Poland, two nations not really in the background as far as the elaboration of European identity is concerned. If we want to be even more exact and at the same time respectful of the continent’s historical memory, a more attentive glance at the Constitutions of the nations belonging to the European Union reveal the more evidently Christian character of the God evoked: the Polish Constitution refers to the Christian heritage of the nation”, while the Constitution of the Slovak Republic speaks of the “spiritual heritage of Cyril and Methodius”, while in the Constitutions of Greece and Ireland we read “in the name of the Most Holy Trinity”. An analogous reference to God can also be found in the preamble of Constitutions more recently approved – and hence by way of thesis tendentially more secularized – as in the cases of Albania (1996), Switzerland (2000) and the Ukraine (1996), countries so very different and also geographically distant from one another. Basically speaking, therefore, these are normal reflections of common sense and realism, precisely what is lacking to the contemporary skepticism, which, on the contrary, resolutely rejects anything set forth with the clear features of clarity and evidence: “The reality of things is determined by their nature, which has to be recognized if we want to resolve the problems now under discussion relative to nature, man and God” (pg. 11).

            The author continues his investigation by examining the characteristics of current laicism (theoretical and practical) charged with vis polemica against the Church, which in its turn is being attacked not only by “the world” and its shifting ideologies, but also and lately “from within”: “There is also an existential trend of philosophical origin that has entered into theology with the negative judgment on Thomist tradition, which considers it “sclerotic scholasticism’, ‘sterile’  (K. Rahner), and feels ‘liberated from the ghetto of scholasticism’ (Y. Congar), looking down on it as ‘decadent Thomism’  (J. Tischner), convinced that we cannot go farther back than Kant. . .” (pg. 42). As if to say that the fundamental and indispensable encyclicals of the recent Magisterium, for example, Fides et Ratio (1998), which draw inspiration directly from St. Thomas Aquinas and so admirably evoke his thought, had never been written. Mr. Seidl’s accusation is severe, but also embodies a remedy, an ambitious pars costruens that goes back to the ‘genius’ of Christianity: “The new theology no longer has the form of the ‘sacred science’ of Thomas Aquinas, but that of an existential ‘religious thought’ in which the science of ‘theology’ becomes ‘theo-logy’, a speaking of and about God, and wherein experience has both the first and the last word. It therefore becomes difficult to defend oneself against today’s empiricism and relativistic pluralism. With the loss of Thomism that – adds the author – consists not only in Thomas Aquinas himself, but also in most precious sources of ancient and patristic thought, Europe runs the risk of abandoning a millennium-old intellectual heritage, a part of its identity” (pg. 43). The reason for the ‘functionally’ necessary recovery of Thomism resides in the fact that it is difficult to tackle the challenge of contemporary relativism (which comes across as ‘structurally’ anti-metaphysical) without a solid metaphysical base that returns to the being and essence of things, man included. The debate must take place in the realm of ‘the real’ itself, which – we should recall – is a concept of metaphysical origin dating back to the doctrine of the transcendentals. But even the hotly debated term ‘identity’ “in its fundamental meaning is a term of metaphysics […] Here we have the hotbed of the disease: the cause of the malaise is a crisis of philosophy, which cannot be surmounted without metaphysics” (pg. 49).

            In this sense the author is convinced that the alternative now facing a ‘non-confessionalist’ (more and more often the person who crosses our path in our respective cities) is not immediately between scientific knowledge (or, better said, scientistic knowledge) and Christian faith, because, as has been the case down through the centuries, laid between them can be that precious bridge of traditional metahysical philosophy able in its own right to arrive at the soul and God with natural philosophical reason (then again, the faith with its revealed supernatural truths appears only at a second stage). By way of analogy, in the field of ethics – an area of equally heated debate, especially in the realm of biotechnologies – the author suggests a possible way out in the deepening of the natural moral law – in itself universal – and its bountiful practical and legal consequences, not by sheer chance evoked anew “urgently” by Benedict XVI as “a non alienable value” in the construction of today’s ever more frequently fragmented civil and political society.


                                                                                                              Omar Ebrahime