Gratry on the Knowledge of God, Pt. I
GRATRY OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
[From Brownson’s Quarterly Review for 1855.]
M. GRATRY has here attempted a work of the highest importance, and much needed to meet the moral and intellectual wants of our times. No higher subject than God can occupy our thoughts, and no knowledge can compare, in dignity, interest, and value, with the knowledge of God. Indeed, as without God there is nothing, for all things are by him, in him, and for him, so without knowledge of him there is not knowledge at all. He who knows not God knows nothing, and hence the deep significance of the Holy Scripture with calls him a fool who denies God, --- Dixit insipiens in corde suo, non est Deus. The highest wisdom is to know God, and the supreme good is to know and love him. The greatest service, therefore, which can be rendered to genuine science and to mankind, is to furnish solid instruction as to the means and conditions of the knowledge and love of God, and to stimulate men to seek him as the “first good and the first fair.”
A service of this sort is attempted by the learned, pious, and philosophical author in these profound and highly interesting volumes. Whether he has succeeded in all respects or not in accomplishing the end he proposed to himself, he has certainly made an attempt in the right direction, and the most considerable attempt that has been recently made. His work may not be faultless, it may fail in some respects to satisfy the truly philosophic mind, but it is full of rich and suggestive thoughts, and well fitted to raise modern philosophy from a dead scholasticism, and to breathe into it the breath of life,--- to give it a living soul, and to render it vigorous and productive.
The author enters his protect against the dead abstractions of the schools, against the dry barren logic of mere speculative reason, and rejects all speculation that leaves out the heart and its wants, as well as all philosophy detached from theology. He seeks to rehabilitate reason indeed, depreciated by modern skeptics, sentimentalists, and traditionalists, but also to give the heart a place in our speculations, and revelations is share in raising us to a knowledge of God. He calls his philosophy Theodicy (from Qeox, God, and dich, justice), the Divine Justice, in order to show that our primary and chief knowledge of God is under the relation of morality, as the object of the heart, rather than of the pure intellect. If we understand him, we are first moved to seek God by a moral want, and we recognize him first in the heart as the object to which it tends, under the relation of good, or beatitude, and our knowledge of him increases in proportion as the heart becomes pure, and its love free and strong. But as the desire of beatitude cannot be satisfied without the intuitive vision of God as he is in himself, which is not naturally possible, there is necessary to complete the knowledge of God craved by the soul supernatural revelation or faith, and ultimately the ens supernatural. In other words, as the soul cannot fir the beatitude it desires in the natural order, a philosophy confined to the order, or detached from supernatural revelation, can never be adequate to its wants. The soul taken in its actual state has, so to speak, a natural want or desire of the supernatural vision of God as the complement of its beatitude. The supernatural is not naturally attainable, and therefore a purely natural or rational philosophy, since by its own nature confined to the natural order, is inadequate even to the natural wants of the soul. Hence its deficiency must be supplied by supernatural philosophy, or the Christian revelation. The author takes here philosophy as the answer to the moral wants of the soul as well as to its intellectual wants, and includes under it what is supplied supernaturally as well as what is supplied naturally, or by our natural reason and strength. He therefore labors to enrich philosophy by introducing the element of love, and to complete it by supernatural revelation. Certainly we are not the man to complain of this. We applaud the attempt with all out heart. It is a work of no slight importance in out day to restore reason to its rights, and to recall the age to its dictates. The author is perfectly right when he maintains that reason is at present more in danger then revelation. Men, we mean that men who represent the age, have lost their faith in reason, and will not use it reasonably. One class distrust it, and tend to universal skepticism. They do not believe that any thing can be known; they despair of all certainty, fall into religious indifference, and live and die as the beasts that perish. Another class, and much more numerous than is commonly believed, decry reason in order to exalt sentiment. There are such as decry doctrine and praise feeling, and say, “Away with your dogmatic theology, your philosophical abstractions, and your ethical rules, and give us the heart,” ---the modern cant of your Evangelicals, Methodists, and Transcendentalists. You cannot reason with these people. If you address their understanding, they fly to feeling; if you address their feelings, they fly to understanding. Sustain your positions by logic, and they tell you that the logic of the heart is far above the logic of the head ; bring forward evidence that not reason can gain- say, and they remain unmoved, for they do not feel with you. Another class decry reason in order to exalt tradition, and, like Kant in his Critik der reinen Vernunft, “demolish science to make way for faith.” These have honest intentions, are moved by praiseworthy motives, but they damage the cause they have at heart; for never can we build faith on skepticism, or science on faith. Revelation presupposes reason, and in denying reason you deny equally revelation and the possibility of revelation; for revelation can be made only to a rational subject. It is well against these to assert reason, and to let all the world know that in asserting revelation we presuppose reason instead of denying it.
This point is capital. Man is a rational animal, and reason is his characteristic, as well as his noblest attribute. He cannot suppress his reason without suppressing his humanity, without foregoing his manhood and making himself practically a brute. We do not, by asserting the God has made a revelation to man, supersede reason, or forbid him to exercise it. The revelation assists reason, it does not annul it. It brings to reason a higher and purer light than its own, but removes none of its laws, abridges no sphere of its activity, and impedes in no respect its free and full exercise. It elevates it, clarifies it, and extends its vision, but does not deny, enchain, or enslave it. The authority which the Catholic claims for revelation, or for the Church in teaching and defining it, does not enslave reason, or require it to surrender a single one of its original rights; it enables it to retain and exercise all its rights, and to attain lovingly to a truth higher and vaster than its own. Man is naturally bound to receive and conform to the truth, and is it to offer an indignity to his freedom to prevent him more truth than he is naturally able to apprehend? Does the astronomer complain of the telescope, because by it he explores vast fields of the heavens invisible to his naked eye? Is his natural eye superseded or closed, because, in order to see more than it can attain, a telescope must be used, or because he must govern himself by what he sees through his telescope as well as by what he sees without it? Why then complain of revelation, that it is derogatory to reason? or of the assertion of its authority? Is not truth always authoritative? Why should revealed truth be less so than natural truth? The astronomer would be as angry at us were we to deny the objects revealed by his telescope, as he would were we to deny the objects visible to his naked eye, and he would call us fools for disputing them, because visible only by means of the telescope.
The author has also done good service to the cause of truth by introducing the element of love into philosophy. It cannot by denied that the tendency of scholasticism, with its dry abstractions, is syllogisms, and subtle distinctions, is to lose sight of the true under its form of the good and the beautiful, as addressed to the heart and the affections. Man is not pure intellect, any more than he is pure sentiment. He is body and soul, and his soul is endowed with the power to know, to love, and to will, and his need to love is greater than his need to know, and indeed he needs to know only in order to love and obey. Knowledge distinctively considered is never the end. It is but means to an end. The end is to love and enjoy, and the beatitude of the soul is rather in the supernatural possession of God and Him who he has sent is not a knowledge separate from love, but a knowledge which includes love and is informed by it. Love is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” Love is the fulfilling of the lay, the bond of perfection, the evidence that we have passed from death unto life. The Gospel is addressed to the heart, and the whole law is summed up in supreme love to God, and the love of our neighbor as ourselves. The age in which we live adopts as its watchword Love, and certain it is that if we would reach it, make a favorable impression upon it, or recall it to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we must recognize its craving to love, and show it the object it ought to love, and which is adequate to all the wants of the heart. There is, however, as we shall by and by show, a serious danger in all this to be guarded against. We must certainly take care not to separate love form intelligence, or to run into sentimentalism, which loses sight of moral obligation or duty,-- of obedience to law. We must remember that Christian love is a rational affection, not a blind instinct, sentiment, or feeling; but we must not forget that faith is in order to charity, and that no philosophy, no religion which does not meet the craving of the heart to love, is of the least conceivable value. The moral wants of the soul, as well as its intellectual wants, must be met and answered. We are happy to see that our author has fully recognized this fact, and endeavored to conform to it. He recognizes the two wings of the soul, spoken of by Plato, by which it rises to God, that is, science and love, and insists that we are led to God by the heart even more than by the head.
Starting from the wants of the heart, from the natural desire of the heart for beatitude, the author finds that this desire can be satisfied with not created, with no limited, with no natural good, but demands a supernatural good, the possession of God as he is in himself. Hence a complete theodicy adequate to the wants of the soul, cannot by constructed by natural reason alone; for natural reason is by its own nature confined to the natural order, and cannot present the supernatural. Hence no adequate philosophy detached from supernatural revelation. This is in its terms what we always ourselves assert, although we probably do not maintain it in the precise sense of the author. He seems to us to suppose that natural or rational philosophy may begin and go a certain length alone, and only needs supernatural revelation to complete the knowledge of God or to reveal to us by faith God in the sense in which he is the adequate object of the soul’s craving for a supernatural beatitude. He in this does nothing to reconcile the rationalists and traditionalists, but takes the ground of the rationalists, and differs essentially in no respect from Father Chastel, the unrelenting opponent of the erudite Bonnetty. We take a somewhat different view. We do not assume revelation as necessary simply to elevate reason into the supernatural order properly so called, but also as necessary to enable reason to explain and rightly understand even the first principles of rational truth. Reason and revelation must go hand in hand from the first step to the last, and there is no philosophy, in any stage, independent of revelation. Philosophy is nothing but the rational element of supernatural theology, and is incomplete on every point if detached from the supernatural light reflected from revelation. Nevertheless, the principle we contend for M. Gratry concedes, and if there by any difference between us, it is merely one of application. Perhaps, after all, the difference is not even so much, and may be resolved into one of mere expression.
The central principle of the author’s doctrine is, that God is apprehended primarily by the soul as the object of is moral wants, its craving for beatitude, and that the soul attains to a knowledge of him by love, by an interior movement or spring by which it passes at once from the finite to the infinite,---a process which he labors to prove is purely geometrical, of which geometricians in the infinitesimal calculus make merely a special application. In this he thinks he is borne out by all the great philosophers, theologians, and sublime geniuses of all time. In order to prove it, he gives us a learned historical sketch and a masterly analysis of the theodicy of Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas, Descartes and Pascal, Malebranche and Fenelon, Bossuet, and Leibnitz, Petau and Thomassin. His work is valuable here as a history of philosophy, from Plato to Leibnitz, if for nothing else. He finds, or things he finds, in all these sublime geniuses the same method, the same conclusions, the same theodicy, substantially his own. He places St. Thomas of Aquin at the head of the list, and considers him greater than St. Augustine by the addition of Aristotle to Plato. We are not quite prepared to accept this estimate, as much as we reverence the Angel of the Schools. St. Thomas knew Aristotle thoroughly, and followed his method at all, it is where he is forced to do so by his Catholic faith and his profound reverence for St. Augustine, who, we dare hold, combined in himself all of both Aristotle and Plato that is of permanent value.
We are somewhat surprised that M. Gratry omits from his list of sublime geniuses St. Anselm of Canterbury,--the sublimest genius, the profoundest and most original philosopher of the Middle Ages, who by his own thought and contemplation reproduced all of Plato that is worth reproducing, and to whom M. Gratry is apparently more indebted than to any other philosopher for his own theodicy. There is there either strange injustice or a sill more strange forgetfulness. We cannot excuse an author who includes Descartes, Pascal, and Petau in the list of sublime geniuses and profound theologians and philosophers, and excludes St. Anselm from it. St Anselm was, so far as we are aware, the first who adopted the method of demonstrating the existence of God from the idea of God, which is the method M. Gratry himself insists upon and follows.
We are not prepared, moreover, to admit that all these great and sublime geniuses adopted the same method, and attained to their theodicy by one and the same process. We have no disposition to speak slightingly of Plato, the “divine Plato,” as some of the Fathers call him, and who in our judgment stands at the head of all Gentile philosophers; but we think M. Gratry makes him talk quite too much like a Christian philosopher. We think that, in his translations of the passages he extracts, he gives him a meaning for more in accordance with Christian thought than Plato himself entertained, and interprets, not infrequently his mythology in a non-Platonic sense. That Plato clearly and distinctly taught the unity of God in the Christian sense, we do not believe. He held substantially the Pythagorean doctrine of the eternity of matter, has at best only a confused conception of creation, and though he asserted the immorality of the soul, he was ignorant of the future life and beatitude brought to light by Christian revelation. How, then, he could have a sound theodicy, as far as it went, is more than we are able to understand. But be this as it may, how does out author know that Plato attained to the great truths which he unquestionably held, and those still greater which he supposes him to have held, by the sole virtue of his dialectic method? Was there no tradition in the age of Plato, no wisdom of the ancients which had come down in his time? May not Plato have been indebted for these truths to tradition, to the primitive revelation, which was made to our first parents, and handed down in its purity through the patriarchs and the Synagogue, and in a corrupt and fragmentary form through the Gentile sacerdocies and philosophies? Is it certain that all in a theodicy is attained to by the method professed by its author? Have we never known honorable inconsistencies? How may Christian philosophers do we not meet, in who faith triumphs over their philosophical method, and who give us sound and sublime conclusions never attained by their method of reasoning, and which they hold only at the expense of their logic? We are far from being willing to ascribe all we find in Plato to the virtue of his dialectic method, and we have not the least doubt that the sublime truths contained in his theodicy were borrowed, directly or indirectly, from the primitive revelation preserved in its purity and integrity in the Synagogue. He himself, if we recollect aright, ascribes them to tradition, to the wisdom of the ancients.
We cannot agree that Aristotle follows substantially the method of Plato, who he continually combats and is perpetually misrepresenting, or the St.Thomas, who follows the method of Aristotle, follows the method of Plato, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm. His method is very nearly the reverse of theirs. He combats, and in his school is held to have refuted, St. Anselm’s famous demonstration of the existence of God. St. Thomas follows the syllogistic method throughout, and nowhere, so far as we have been able to discover, does he adopt the dialectic method,--the method insisted on by our author, and represented by him as that adopted by all the great philosophers and theologians in every age. Des Cartes, Fenelon, Thomassin, Malebranche, Bossnet, and Leibnitz follow, perhaps, the dialectic method, but Pascal does not, and, though an able geometrician, he was no philosopher. He was a sceptic, and founded his dogmatism on the denial of reason, and religion on despair. He was a brilliant genius, if you will; he has many profound thoughts, and has left behind him many pregnant remarks; but he should never be named with the great philosophers and theologians of mankind. Pascal was indeed a Frenchman, but we do not know that we are for that obliged to cite him as one of the great men of the earth. He belonged to Port-Royal, and with it we would leave him to pass into forgetfulness, or the execration he deserves for his Provincial Letters.
But leaving all considerations of his sort by the way, we are not quite sure, after all what is it that M. Gratry means by his dialectic method. He says reason has two processes or modes of operation; the one he calls the syllogistic, the other he calls the dialectic, and represents the former as deductive and the latter as inductive. We think we understand what Plato means by the dialectic method, for with his it is based on his doctrine of reminiscence. According to Plato, the soul existed prior to is connection with the body, in close union with the Divinity, and its knowledge here is a reminiscence of what is knew by virtue of that union in its per-existing state. By being clothed with a material body, it lost in great measure its previous knowledge, and can recover it only in proportion as it detaches itself from the body, and only rises on the wings of love and contemplation to union with God, in whom are the ideas or archetypes of all things, that only objects of real science. The way for the soul to know here in this state is to recover its former knowledge, and the way to do that is by moral discipline to recover the lost union with God, in whom the real objects of science are open to the soul’s contemplation. The soul must detach itself from the body and all material things, ascend by its love and contemplation to the empyrean it originally inhabited, and there contemplate in calm spiritual repose the first Good, the first True, and the first Fair. Or, in other words, the soul must enter into itself, and silently contemplate its own reminiscences of that ideal world from which it has been exiled. Setting aside the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, there is no doubt a shadow of truth in this; but it would then resolve the dialectic method into the contemplative, and assert that the object obtained is obtained by intuition, not by induction. M. Gratry must reject the doctrine of reminiscence, and therefore, it seems to us, must mean by the dialectic or inductive method, that of simple contemplation; in which case all he says of the infinitesimal calculus avails him nothing.
But contemplation of what? Of God? Then he must concede that we apprehend God intuitively, or at least apprehend intuitively that which is God. But this he seems to deny, or to be afraid to assert. Of the creature, or the finite, as he would seem to hold? Then he attains a knowledge of God, if at all, by reasoning, and by reasoning which in no respect differs from the syllogistic or deductive reasoning which he rejects. He says we dart at once from the finite to the infinite by mentally suppressing all conception of bounds and limitations, as in the infinitesimal calculus; that is, by abstraction of the finite, and consequently by deduction, or syllogistic reasoning. But this is not all. If the author means by out darting at once to the infinite, that the infinite is immediately and simultaneously apprehended in the apprehension of the finite, we accept it, but the process is then intuitive, not dialectic. But if he means, as it would seem, that we attain to the infinite is only an abstract infinite. Abstract from the finite its finiteness, or suppress mentally its bounds and limitations, and you suppress the finite altogether, annihilate the whole object, and there remains not the infinite, as supposed, but simply nothing.
M. Gratry professes to adopt the method of the geometricians, and says formally, that the process by which all men, learned and unlearned, philosophers and poets, attain to a knowledge of God, is precisely the method of which the infinitesimal calculus, incented by Leibnitz, is a special application. He labors at great length to prove that the demonstration of the existence of God is strictly geometrical. In this consists the original and novel part of his work. Others have indeed asserted it, but he is the first who has demonstrated it. But, with all deference to the learned and scientific author, we must say that the God he demonstrates by his geometrical process is simply zero. Mathematics is a mixed science, at once ideal and empirical. The mathematical infinites belong to the ideal, and the ideal is always God as the intelligible; for, as M. Gratry well maintains, the infinite as God, and there is no infinite separate or distinguishable from him. At the bottom of all your mathematical infinites, as the plane, so to speak, on which they are projected, is the intuition or conception of God, without whom they could not be conceived. Take away from the human mind the intuition of God, which accompanies all its conceptions as their ideal element, and the infinitesimal calculus would not only be an error, as Berkeley maintains that it is, but an impossible error; for there is and can be out of God no infinitely little or infinitely great, even in thought. St. Thomas, we believe, somewhere says, an atheist may be geometricians, but without God there can be no geometry. We will add, that without the intuition of God, as infinity no man can be a geometrician. Having through that intuition the conception of the infinite God, the conception of the infinitely real, we can speak of mathematical infinities, for in so doing we only make a special application of that conception. But these infinities are purely ideal, not empirical, and aside from their reality in the essence, wisdom, or power of God, not distinguishable from God himself, they are nothing, simply zero. But as we always have that conception of God, we take it into our heads that mathematical infinities are something, and considered, of all bounds, limitations, or fixed, definite, or determinable quantity, gives us not in infinity, but simple zero, which is nothing at all. Between zero and a determinable number, between nothing and something, there is no medium. Zero multiplied or divided by zero gives simply zero, and hence, regarded in the concrete order, the infinitesimal calculus of Leibnitz, as the fluxions of Newton, is only a superb error, and harmless mathematically only where the error is equal on both sides, which is by no means always the case. Mathematicians do not detect its fallacy, because there is in their minds the intuition of the real infinite, in which their imaginary infinities have, so to speak, a basis or support.
M. Gratry cannot have so much as this, for he professes to dart from the finite to the infinite without a previous intuition of the infinite, by simply suppressing or disregarding in the finite apprehended its bounds, limitations, or determinable quantity. But this is a complete abstraction of the finite, and the remainder is simply zero, not only empirically but even ideally; for the very conception of the finite is the conception of a fixed or definite quantity. Remove that conception, and nothing remains; for, according to the hypothesis, there is no previous or concomitant intuition of the infinite which, as in mathematics, survives, so to speak, the suppression, in thought, of the finite or determinable quantity. M. Gratry, then, by his process, that of abstracting the finite or disregarding the determinable, attains for his God simply zero, das niche Seyn, and, strangely enough, finds himself in perfect accord with Hegel, whom he ridicules without mercy. It would perhaps not be difficult to show that his dialectic method is at bottom identically the constructive method of the Hegelians. We must say, therefore, and we do so with profound respect, that we do not think he has added any thing valuable to philosophy or theodicy by his geometrical demonstration, for the alleged demonstration, strictly taken, is an error even in geometry, inasmuch as it starts with the assumption that zero is not nothing, but something.
It may be our own blindness and stupidity, but we confess that we do not understand how there are or can be two distinct methods of reasoning, and we have never yet been able to see wherein Aristotle erred when he termed induction an imperfect syllogism. Reason has two very distinct modes of operation, which we term intuition and reasoning or ratiocination. It is intuitive and discursive. But all discursion, all may be reduced to a regular syllogism, as all the old masters of logic have taught. We agree entirely with M. Gratry, that we do not and cannot obtain our principles by syllogistic reasoning, for the principles must be given prior to reasoning. The office of the syllogism is not to discover new principles, or to extend science to new matter, but to clear up, systematize, and confirm what in some form is already held by the mind. Principles, or the matter from which and on which the syllogism operates, must by furnished prior to and independent of it. These, according to Plato, the soul brings with it, and are reminiscences of its knowledge in its pre-existing state, or previous life; according to us, they are furnished objectively by intuition, and reach us though simple intuitive apprehension. To extend our knowledge in this direction, Plato recommended silence and recollections. We recommend tranquil contemplation, or observation. Beyond these who methods, which differ from on another only as seeing or beholding differs from remembering, we are unable to conceive any other. A dialectic or inductive method, which is neither intuitive nor syllogistic, we cannot understand, and a logical process distinguishable from intuition, by which the reason can be furnished with principles, is to us inconceivable. M. Gratry is frequently on the verge of the truth, but seems either not to apprehend it, or to fear to assert it. What he wants is, to perceive that what he calls dialectic is, so far as distinguishable from the syllogistic, intuitive, and that the infinite is affirmed to us in direct intuition; not attained by a logical process, or by way of abstraction of the finite. He is probably afraid to do this, because our theologians have, as it were appropriated the term intuition of God of God to express the beatific vision of the Blest, the vision of God in his essence, or as he is in himself, which is not naturally possible, and is attainable only by the supernatural light of glory. He fears, most likely, that, were he to say that we have intuition of God here, he would fall into a condemned heresy, and be thought to teach that we are naturally capable of the beatific vision, and may even naturally enjoy it on earth. But we think this fear is groundless. To have intuition of God as the ideal, the intelligible, is, in our judgment, something very different from having intuition of him as he is in himself, or in his essence, and we think may be asserted without danger to faith; for it is asserted by St. Augustine, St. Bonaverntura, Pere Thomassin, and Cardinal Gerdil, and implied by St. Thomas, ans in reality by M. Gratry himself.
Nevertheless, M. Gratry is not, as a matter of fact, deceived in supposing that, after suppressing the finite, he has not zero, but the infinite, present to his apprehension. His mistake lies in supposing that he in that way obtains it, or attains to a conception of it. The fact is, in every intuition we have direct and immediate intuition of both and the infinite and the finite, of the necessary and the contingent, of God and the creature, and by disregarding or mentally suppressing the finite we only detach the infinite from the finite presented along with it in the same intuition, and turn our minds to its direct and district consideration. We do not thus obtain it originally, but we thus obtain it as a distinct conception. If we suppose the mind destitute of all intuition of the infinite, the method proposed by our author would give us simply zero, as we have said, not the infinite, for the infinite is not deducible from the finite; but since we really have all the intuition, as a matter of fact to the mind, and is, what it was not before, distinctly apprehended. The fact is as the author asserts, but his account of it is not correct, for the idea is not obtained in the way he supposes. It is not obtained by his dialectical process; it is only made an object of distinct recognition and contemplation.
M. Gratry will permit us, however, to say, that he seems to us, throughout his work, to confound two things which in our judgment are very distinct; namely the process by which we know that God is, with that by which we learn what he is. That God is, we know intuitively, in that we have direct and immediate intuition of real and necessary being, which is God; but what he is, what are his moral attributes, and what are out relations to him, we learn only by a process similar to that which he calls the dialectic. His work is less a demonstration of the existence of God to those who deny it, than a discourse to advance in the knowledge and love of God those who, though they deny not that he is, have no lively sense of his existence, and seek their beatitude, not in loving and serving him, but in loving and serving the creature. It is philosophical, indeed, but practical rather than speculative, and moral rather than metaphysical. We complain not of this in itself, but the author does not avow it, or seem to be fully aware of it. He seems to proceed on the assumption, that both objects are to be effected by the same process, and to regard his work as fitted alike for both speculative and practical atheists. He would have us believe that he is writing a purely metaphysical work, demonstrating and elucidating the first principles of all science, as well as inciting to growth in the knowledge and love of God. There is, therefore, to us some discrepancy, in his work, between what he really does and what he has the air of doing, or of supposing that he is doing.
We think M. Gratry makes a mistake in regarding metaphysics and theodicy as precisely one and the same thing. We cannot for ourselves consent to resolve ontology into theodicy, for we believe that in out intuition God is presented as the object of the intellect prior to his being presented as the object of the will, and therefore as the summum Ens or Verum before he is presented as summum Bonum, or as the True before being presented as the Good. We have duly considered what the author says to the contrary, but it does not convince us that the heart darts away to God as the object of its love or its beatitude before he is presented as the object of the intellect. The heart has its movements, its affections, and these may urge the soul to action, yet without the light of the intellect they are mere blind cravings, torment the soul, and render it restless and incapable of repose; but they are all interior, and can fasten upon this object only as intellectually, apprehended. The age experiences these cravings, and is crying out day and night for some object on which to fasten, and which shall be adequate to is wants and fill its empty heart. Hence the universal unrest which is its grand characteristic. It craves it knows now what. The intellect does not present the object that could satisfy its vague longings, and in which its heart can find repose. Its malady is moral, but also intellectual. The author, undoubtedly, wishes to render his philosophy living and practical, adequate to the wants of the heart as well as to those of the understanding. He wishes to give fair and full play to the moral feelings. He thinks they ought to count for more than they do in our modern scholastic philosophy; that there is a logic of the heart which is, perhaps, superior to that of the head, and he endeavors to prove that we first know God as the good, first apprehend his in his moral attributes. If we understand him, the intellect apprehends God as the True because the heart is already apprehended his as the Good and the Beautiful. Hence he resolved, virtually, philosophy into ethics, and makes its first division theodicy. But the soul, though endowed with several faculties, is a simple spiritual substance. It has the power to know, to will, and to feel, but it cannot act as the one power without also acting in some degree as the other. It has not cognitions without volitions and emotions, no volitions or emotions without cognitions. It acts never as there distinct activities, but as a simple vis activa with a threefold capacity of acting. Now suppose the heart apprehends God before he is apprehended by the head, must it not still apprehend him intellectually? If the heart, that is, the power either to will or to feel, taken distinctively, is blind, it cannot apprehend any thing. Has it then some other light or medium of placing itself in relation with its object than the intellect? M. Gratry, indeed, speaks of a “divine sense,” a “divine instinct,” by which the soul in drawn to the placed in relation with God as the Good, as the adequate object of its love; but is this divine sense or instinct intelligent? Does it present its object to the soul’s contemplation? How then distinguish it from reason or intellect? If it is not, how say that by it the heart knows God? If it is not intellect, it must be will or feeling, and if simple will or feeling, it is in itself blind, and has no light to know except from the intellectual faculty itself; for to know is one and the same phenomenon, whatever its conditions, its region, or its degrees.
We confess that we distrust this talk about divine sense, or divine instinct, which is supposed to be distinguishable from out common intellectual faculty; and when we find an author placing in the acquisition of knowledge the heart above the head, we are tempted to suspect that he does not himself very well understand what he is about. We very readily concede that he end is not simply to know, and that all knowledge should be in order to love or charity; and in this sense we place the heart above the head. But the heart taken distinctively for the affections or emotions is not a light, is but a blind craving to love, or aspiration to light of its own. The heart craves beatitude, and torments itself till it finds it; and from his we may learn that it wants what it has not, and may conclude it we already believe that a good God has made us, that there is a beatitude for us, and which we may attain unless we have forfeited it by our fault; but the heart itself, regarding as enlightened by natural or supernatural intelligence, cannot tell where its beatitude is to be found, or in what is consists. Its supposed divine sense or instinct is in reality intellectual intuition, or an obscure perception of God in its desire for beatitude, which is to be found only in God.
We are ourselves supposed to have no heart, and regarded as a mere logic0grinder, logic-chopper, or dialectic gladiator; and therefore out inability to accept M. Gratry’s doctrine will most likely be ascribed to our own psychological defects. But be this as it may, we can understand very well the cravings of the heart, its deep power of love. We know very well that man is not all dry intellect. We can imagine that he has a heart, and that his heart craves beatitude,--nay, that its deepest want is to love, and that all love seeks to lose itself in the beloved. We can very well understand the God is the only adequate object of the heart, and that he only can satisfy love. The heart was made for God, and nothing less than blessed union with him, the full possession of him as the beloved, can fill it, give it fullness of joy, and sweet repose. Here we should be sorry not to be able to go all lengths with the Christian mystic; but it is through the understanding, by natural and supernatural light, that God as the adequate object of the heart, or as our Supreme good, is presented to the soul. Without this light presenting the object, the heart’s love fastens upon nothing, or fastens upon low and unworthy objects, which serve only to disappoint or to disgust it. God, then, as the adequate object of the hear, must be presented as the adequate object of the intellect, as the summum Verum, prior to being apprehended as the summum Bonum; and therefore metaphysis should precede in our philosophy theodicy, as it does with nearly all our theologians. We prize Plato very highly, as we have always said, but we do not think him always a safe guide. It is worthy of remarks, that all the mystagogues of the Middle Ages were Platonists, and setting up Plato against Aristotle was the signal of rebellion against the Church, which has resulted in modern Protestantism. Plato is the favorite author of our Transcendentalists, and was the philosopher of predilection of the Patarins, Cathares, or Albigenses, and the followers of the Gospel of Love, so widely asserted in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, against the Papacy and Catholic theology. We cannot think that his is purely accidental. Plato, though he mitigates the Oriental doctrine that matter is evil and the source of evil, still holds, it, and teaches that we attain to a knowledge of God and divine things only in proportion as we trample on the body. We must despise it, and practically disengage ourselves from it, and rise on the wings of pure spiritual contemplation and love into intimate union with God. This is a satanic imitation of the Christian doctrine of charity and mortification; and so close is the resemblance, that it deceives not a few, and never was there an age in a more fitting temper to be deceived by it than our own. Christianity does not place the origin of evil in matter, nor regard matter either as evil or unclean; for it reaches the resurrection of the flesh, honored by its assumption in the womb of the Virgin by the son of God. It sees evil only in sin, and sin only in the perverse will, or abuse of our moral freedom. Its works of mortification are not performed in hatred of the body, nor to release the soul from it, but in honor of the sufferings of our Lord in the flesh, and in purification of the soul from its own fleshly desires; for these desires are not, as with the Platonists, the desires of a sensual soul distinct from the spiritual soul, but are desires for the spiritual soul itself united to the flesh. By mortification the Christian purifies his soul and sanctifies his body, and keeps in hold as the temple of the Holy Ghost. He rules the body, but loves and cherishes it. The Platonist contemns it, and seeks to act as a spirit without a body. He falls back on the spirit, with in his view is separated from God only by the body or material envelop. He regards his purity and holiness as independent of the body, as dependent solely on that higher, or, as Plato calls it, demonic region of the soul, in which it is still united, or attached perhaps substantially, to the Divinity, and therefore treats that concerns the body as wholly unconnected with the moral state or character of the soul. Hence the have nothing to do with the soul’s purity and holiness. They belong, as it were, to another person, and no more defile the soul than the filth on which it shines defiles the sun’s ray. Hence the Patarins or Cathares, while claiming the greatest spiritual purity, abandoned themselves to the grossest sensual indulgences, and practiced such abominations, that the Church, in order to save Christian morals and prevent the dissolution of society, was obliged to proclaim a crusade against them, and to call upon the secular princes to exterminate them, as we shall have yet to do with our Mormons.
The doctrine of Plato, that we attain to a knowledge of God by love, is also liable to a gross abuse, as we see in the same heretics. Who has not heard of the old minstrels, Troubadours, and Trouveres? Their songs, ballads, lays, sirventes, fabliaux, seem to us in these days mere songs in honor of the poet’s lady-love; but the love they sang, at least they who sand in Provencal and Italian, is the heretical Love of the Cathares and other sects. The Beatrice of Dante and the Laura of Pertrarca only symbolize the Gospel of Love, the Johannine Gospel as distinguished from the Pertrine and Pauline Gospelsso boldly proclaimed by Schelling a few years since at Berlin, defended formerly, we are ashamed to say, by us, and still by Chevalier Bunsen, as the basis of the Church of the Future. The doctrine is, that the Church is progressive, at first authoritative with Peter, ten intellectual with Paul, and now is to be love with John. In the thirteenth century, this doctrine was widely diffused, and was cherished and defended by secret societies all over Europe, especially in Northern Italy and Southern France. The sect held that love alone was required, and that authority and dogmas were not only superfluous, but absolutely repugnant to the spirit of true Christianity. This love, the Platonic love, is the love that was sang by the Provencal and Ghibbeline poets, whose real purpose was to corrupt the people, to detach them from The Holy See, and to carry on the wars of the Emperors and secular princes against the Papacy. The readiness with which Plato’s doctrine could thus be turned against Catholicity, as it was by Jews and Greeks, as well as the Patarins, is probably the reason why St. Thomas attached himself so rigidly to the Aristotelian method. It was the only way in his time to escape the abuses of the Platonic method, and to combat with success the heretics which then prevailed.
We avow our preference in many respects for Plato, but we dare not take him for a master. The Fathers to some extent were Platonists, but none of them followed him throughout, and St. Augustine, the greatest of them, always masters him, and never suffers himself to be mastered by him. Such men as St. Augustine are in no danger from Plato, but in the hands of men of more erudition then genius, or more imagination than judgment, Platonism has almost invariably led to heresy, to moral abominations, and armed its followers against the Church of God. We therefore fear that M. Gratry, in following Plato, and giving us theodicy for metaphysics, and love for science may be opening the way to errors and disorders which no man would deplore more than he. He is a mystic, and writes from the mystical point of view. But though there is a true mysticism, and though the highest and deepest knowledge of God is the mystic, yet the line which separates true from false mysticism is so subtle, that it is easily mistaken, and none but the spiritually enlightened in an extraordinary degree can be sure of not mistaking it. We are afraid, if we give way to the mystical tendency, and undertake to substitute mysticism for scholasticism in popular philosophy and theology, we shall only be making bad worse. While we would by no means exclude or discourage the mystical, while we would study the Blessed Henry Suso, St. Catharine of Genoa, and St. Theresa, we would retain the speculative, and study diligently St. Thomas; we would aim at exact science at the same time that we gave way to the motions of the deepest and most burning love.
These criticisms we have felt it our duty diffidently to offer on M. Gratry’s remarkable book, for we look upon its author as one of the few living men of our times, and as one from whom much is to be expected. He is full of life, zeal, and energy; he is learned, pious, and endowed with a philosophical genius of a high order, He writes with freedom, strength, and eloquence, and wins our heart and kindles out enthusiasm. The defects of his work are comparatively few; its merits are many and great, and to these we shall return in another article, especially to the part of the work that treats of the supernatural, of the higher demands of reason which only the supernatural can satisfy, and of God as the adequate object of the wants of the soul. In the mean time we would direct our readers more particularly to meditation on the adaptedness of our whole religion to the wants deeply felt by all men. The age in which we live is to be pitied rather than disclaimed against. It is restless and unhappy. It is seeking rest and finding none. Its heart is loving, but has no object it can love. It is empty and desolate. Its song is low, melodious wail of sorrow, or the wild lament of despair. Can we not give to this age a word of hope? Can we not give to these sorrowing souls the object their hearts crave? We have that word of hope. We know what their hearts need, what it is, and where it is to be found. Their sorrow has been ours, their despair we have felt, and in their unrest we have shared. We have found faith, we have found hope, we have found a sweet ineffable repose. Why can we not aid them?
The Catholic has, and he only has, what this age needs with especially our own countrymen want. Is there no way in which we can convince them of this? Is there no way in which we can speak to their hearts, and be to him messengers of love, joy, and peace? Alas! we feel at times that we have been too ready to despair of them, and too distrustful of the Divine assistance. We fear that we have suffered our hearts to grow cold towards them, and to forget the good which Almighty God may have in store for them. We have been to easily overcome by difficulties, and have been too loath to make sacrifices to bring souls to God, or rather to persuade them to let god come to them. But it is not too late to redeem the time, and we trust thousands and thousands of young Catholics are growing up among us who will never be content to let our countrymen perish for the lack of the bread of life.