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Was Pope John Paul II a Thomist or a Kantian Phenomenologist?

One of the great pleasures and honors of publishing the Catholic Monitor is the interaction in the comment section with good and intelligent Catholics who know philosophy and theology. 

Below is a sample of a discussion we had on: Was Pope John Paul II a Thomist or a Kantian Phenomenologist? 

This discussion is from the comment section of the September 23 post "John Paul II, Taylor Marshall & Francis' Apparently Pure Kantian/Modernist 'Catholic... Freemasonic Naturalism'":

MEwbank said… 

While John Paul ii was, in fact, a very intelligent man, I think his fundamental flaw lay principally in his presumption that his personality and charm could nullify all ill-will and erroneous presumptions in others.

However, it is not correct that Gilson's understanding of St. Thomas' acknowledgement of the 'act of being' as the 'act of all acts, the perfection of all perfections' [St. Thomas' own words!] implies that Gilson was an 'existentialist' in the sense of several varieties of twentieth-century philosophers. Gilson certainly did not ignore the stability of created natures or essences.

While Maritain was fuzzy in articulating various matters, it was due, in part, to his striving to stay very close to interpretations of Cajetan and John of St. Thomas while engaging in discussions with his contemporaries.

However, Gilson never agreed with Maritain on all things, and he explicitly disagreed with him on some major issues.

Even the then Fr. Wojtyla (as Flippen explicitly indicates in the essay cited) strongly indicated that St. Thomas' doctrine of 'being' permits one to go beyond Scheler's philosophy of 'value' and ground moral judgments in the truth and good of things, beings. No subjectivism is implied in this.

So, again, let me say that in my judgment, Wojtyla's disputable actions and judgments are rooted not so much in the intellectual sources he studied, but rather in his own passions and the (arguably) exaggerated esteem he had for his own capacities and abilities to influence others.

And unfortunately, all to many others seem to have the same view.

Fred Martinez said…

Please reread this section of Flippen's essay where he shows in the Wojtyla juggling act he plays between subjective "Modern philosophy [Kant, etc]... the philosophy of consciousness" and St. Thomas' metaphysics called below "objective acts of knowing."

I agree that he tries to keep subjectivism within Thomism, but it appears to me his ambiguity of terms fails him sometimes and he tries to emphasize and push too far subjective "consciousness" as even Flippen appears to admit: "The point here is somewhat difficult to understand... One thing that makes this position somewhat difficult to maintain is that in some sense consciousness is obviously cognitive in nature, i.e. it is a knowing of knowable objects. And yet, even as he admits this, he emphasizes the passive character of consciousness'"

It appears that Wojtyla's overall "Personalism" which sometimes seems to equalize the Personhood of God with the created depended personsonhood of man even as it is juggled within Thomism and is used by him to ambiguously emphasize a type of substitution or at least to over emphasize man's "consciousness" becoming for God's being which lead to things like the apparent idolatry or at least differentism of Assisi.

Please read this whole passage in the link and show me where I may be incorrect:

"Cardinal Wojtyla consistently calls the philosophy of being, focused on the objective knowing of things and of the self. Modern philosophy, which he calls the philosophy of consciousness, has been very concerned with that concomitant awareness of the self as knowing things. The term "philosophy of consciousness" comes from the fact that the concomitant awareness of self as knowing something is also called consciousness or self-consciousness...


 MEwbank said…

You are definitely touching on some rather technical points.

I think, overall, Prof. Flippin tries to read Wojtyla as supplementing, not disagreeing with Aquinas (or, insofar as the latter agrees in the main with him, Aristotle).

However, when the professor says that the 10 categories are adequate to explain the human being, it seems to me one ought to put a qualifier here... 'not exhaustively.'

This latter is a point that Wojtyla (likely pondering some implications of any of Gilson's rather profound reflections) seems to be emphasizing.

Without ascribing 'subjectivism' to human awareness (for W. acknowledges that our knowledge is 'of' things and derives its content from them), he is exploring the fact that our concomitant awareness of being agents of our knowing implies an 'act' that is not reducible, totally, to what is the content in categories.

This parallels certain points made by Gilson concerning metaphysics. The 'act of being,' though apprehended in and through our knowing of finite things, is expressed in the fundamental categories (substance, quantity, quality, relation, action/passion, etc....) as determined in 'what' is known by the content known; but neither the act of being nor the act of knowing by us as subjects (persons or cognizers) is merely that content.

I don't quite see how it is that Prof. Flippin can make his objection and continue later by favorably citing many others (K. Schmitz, R. Buttiglione, and the various Polish scholars who were both Thomists one one variety and another yet knowledgeable of the implications of the entire phenomenological movement) in their defense of what Wojtyla was trying to do.

He tried to bond some unique phenomenological reflections on awareness of our awareness with fundamental principles of knowledge and being articulated by St. Thomas.

But speculatively, this does at all necessarily imply a defense of 'subjectivism' if one is philosophically trying to explore experiential dimensions of awareness or subjectivity.

Yes, there are some ambivalent and unresolved aspects in his analyses and loose ends.

But even these aspects of his philosophical reflections don't justify his imprudent actions and failures.

Rather, these were rationalized in terms of long-established personal habits that evidenced excessive confidence, pride, in his own abilities and being highly esteemed by others.

The least trace of disorder in the passions results in imprudence and errors. As grave an error as his actions at Assisi were, along with his kissing of a Quran, in no way does this imply that he equated Divine Personhood with created persons and finite consciousness.

True, someone with the latter assumptions would look favorably on what Wojtyla did in those acts and others. But that does not necessarily mean that Wojtyla's reasons for such and theirs are the same.

To give contrasting example: one man in combat may fight ferociously and valiantly and kill others to defend himself, his comrades, and his country; another might do the same thing purely out of daring and a lust to kill.

To appearances, the exterior act or effect seems the same, but both differ radically in terms of both motive and rationale.

Fred Martinez said…

I agree that "overall, Prof. Flippin tries to read Wojtyla as supplementing, not disagreeing with Aquinas."

Moreover, I didn't say "his actions at Assisi were, along with his kissing of a Quran... imply that he equated Divine Personhood with created persons and finite consciousness," I said "sometimes [it] SEEMS to equalize the Personhood of God with the created depended personsonhood of man even as it is juggled within Thomism and is used by him to ambiguously emphasize a type of substitution or at least to over emphasize man's "consciousness" becoming for God's being which lead to things like the apparent idolatry or at least differentism of Assisi."

SEEMS in the sense of being "ambivalent" in the same sense that the Semi-Arians were "ambivalent" to the Arian heretic's teachings to stay in communion with them and the Roman emperor while not denying explicitly that Jesus was God.

As you said: "Yes, there are some ambivalent and unresolved aspects in his analyses and loose ends."

But, as everyone knows "ambivalent and unresolved... and loose ends" can be used as you said for "his imprudent actions and failures.'

I totally agree with you when you say: "But even these aspects of his philosophical reflections don't justify his imprudent actions and failures.'

But, it appears to show how those "imprudent actions and failures" may have come about. 

The Bear said…

There is a picture of Pope John Paul II with the two-volume German edition of Meditations on the Tarot by (anonymously) Valentin Tomberg on his desk. It was all the rage with cutting edge Catholic thinkers and got an afterword by Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose thought ran in some of the same grooves as some of the other theologians mentioned. Of course, I can’t say he read it. I have. It would be a strange thing to find on the desk of a pope, I think. (It’s not about fortune-telling, but Tomberg riffs off the 22 Tarot trumps in a sort of earnest Catholic mysticism with occult overtones. For instance, he explicitly endorses reincarnation and a Mother-Daughter-Holy Soul additional Trinity. It seems very profound and, in parts, beautiful, with just enough orthodoxy to make it “legitimate” to Catholics of a certain type. 
Fred Martinez said… 

Thanks for the example of why popes' words and actions must not be "ambivalent."
MEwbank said… I think here you've hit on the marrow of the problem.

In the speculative order, especially in philosophical analysis, one is rather lenient with the efforts of a given thinker in trying to discern what his intended objectives are or were. Aquinas, in my view, certainly was sometimes generous with the implications of Aristotle concerning certain metaphysical issues. However, in other contexts, he explicitly states that this or that position or doctrine does not accord with the truth and Faith.

Wojtyla was, and is, an interesting philosopher in his efforts to discern potential compatibility between aspects of phenomenological description with definitive metaphysical principles, rationales, and conclusions offered by Aquinas.

But what's interesting philosophically isn't at all necessarily pertinent to confirming in the practical order, that of action, what is to be believed and done.

Wojtyla was anachronistic even in his presenting a philosophical topic for his theology degree (Scheler) and a theological one (on Faith according to St. John of the Cross... again, with some ambivalent interpretations) for his philosophical degree.

After the wavering confirmation of truth and tyrannical imposition of the 'novus ordo' by Paul vi, the rather inane rhetorical aspirations articulated earlier by John xxiii, the blip on the radar of JPi, Wojtyla arrived on the scene as an ecclesial rock star.

He knew this and acted accordingly during his long pontificate. What he ought to have been first and foremost was the pope, fathering the entire Church in truth. Instead, he continued to promote himself as a philosopher of stature.

Well, even though many look back to him in contrast to Bergoglio as having been 'great,' whether he was truly such in regard to governing in the papacy or doing philosophy will certainly be sifted out in time, if it hasn't already been.

Some of what he achieved philosophically is interesting and suggests profundity; but that doesn't necessarily mean he is the one who ought to have tried to do it. []

Below is the original post:
John Paul II, Taylor Marshall & Francis' Apparently Pure Kantian/Modernist "Catholic... Freemasonic Naturalism"
"[T]he [Kantian/Modernist] Blondelian schema holds that justification for the faith is to be found by turning inwards to the personal experience of the human subject. This turn to the subject is characteristic of modern philosophy, from Descartes right up to the Idealism of Kant and Hegel and beyond, and presented a major challenge to the traditional Catholic apologetics... If it were the case that inner experience justified the faith, if each person was to find the proof of God’s existence within their own life, then what would be the basis for the teaching authority of the Church?"

- Liberal AnthonyCarroll  []

Scholar Douglas Flippen in the philosophical article "Was John Paul II a Thomist or a [Kantian] Phenomenologist?" gives an intellectual history of  Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla). He shows how Kantian philosophy mostly in the form of the Kantian philosopher Max Scheler's phenomenology became important to him.

After reading Flippen and other scholars it appears that Wojtyla's attempt to mix Thomist's metaphysics of objective reality and being with the Kantian Scheler subjectivist thought lead to things like the disastrous "ecumenical" Assisi "prayer meeting" and many of the other problematic actions of his pontificate. 

Flippin shows the Kantian influences on Wojtyla:

"Father Wojtyla lived at the Belgian college in Rome and the center for... Transcendental Thomism... so called because its approach to the thought of St. Thomas is influenced by the transcendental system of philosophy of Immanuel Kant..."

" ... After earning a second doctorate with a thesis on the ethics of the [Kantian] phenomenologist Max Scheler, Father Wojtyla was appointed in 1954 to the philosophy department of the Catholic University of Lublin..." []

Scholar Flippen gives an exact time when Wojtyla started thinking that Kantian philosophy became possibly as important as Thomism. He thought that Scheler's Kantian thought could make up for "a certain lack in the approach of " Thomism. The supposedly solid Thomist Etienne Gilson so-called "historic or existential Thomis[m]," it appears, may have helped turned him towards Kant through Scheler:

"It seems likely that at this time Father Wojtyla would have become more aware of different approaches to the thought of St. Thomas. The reason for this is not only the fact that he was studying at the Angelicum with Father Garrigou-Lagrange, called a traditionalist Thomist for his approach to Thomas through the tradition of the commentaries of Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, but also because Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson, the two most famous [supposed] Thomists of the twentieth century, had been active in promoting the thought of Thomas since the 1920s, and this would hardly have escaped notice at the Angelicum. Both Gilson and Maritain, but especially Gilson, could be called historic or existential Thomists because of their interest in recovering the authentic thought of Thomas and because of their conviction that the historic thought of Thomas centered itself on the act of existing as being at the heart of reality..."

"... Father, and then Bishop, Wojtyla lectured at Lublin from 1954 until 1961. In this period of time his understanding and appreciation of the metaphysical approach of St. Thomas increased. This was due not only to his own continuing work on St. Thomas, but also to his interaction with a colleague named Stefan Swiezawski. As George Weigel notes in his biography of John Paul II, "Through faculty colleagues at KUL, and especially Stefan Swiezawski, Wojtyla had his first serious encounter with Etienne Gilson's historical rereading of Thomas Aquinas and with Jacques Maritain's modern Thomistic reading of Catholic social ethics."8 During this period, Father Wojtyla published a number of essays, many of them taking into account the thought of St. Thomas and comparing it favorably with modern thinkers. And yet there is a change of tone in his treatment of the thought of St. Thomas during this period. In the beginning, his praise of Thomas seems unqualified. Toward the end we find criticisms of a certain lack in the approach of Thomas and an emphasis on a positive contribution coming from the phenomenological movement. (Was John Paul II a Thomist or a Phenomenologist?:

Wikipedia gives a very rough (not exact) idea of what so-called "existential Thomists" such as Gilsona and Henri de Lubac meant when they falsely claimed "the historic thought of Thomas centered itself on the act of existing as being at the heart of reality":

"The proposition that existence precedes essence (French: l'existence précède l'essence) is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence (the nature) of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence (the mere fact of its being).[1] To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because the human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. That identity or value must be created by the individual. By posing the acts that constitute them, they make their existence more significant.[2][3]

"The idea can be found in the works of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the 19th century,[4] but was explicitly formulated by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century. The three-word formula originated in his 1945[5] lecture "Existentialism Is a Humanism",[6] though antecedent notions can be found in Heidegger's Being and Time.[7]" []

Sadly, Wojtyla trusted that dishonest "existential Thomist" Gilson's "rereading of Thomas Aquinas" was true. It was not Thomism. Renowned Thomist Dr. Ralph McInerny shows in detail in his book ""praeambula fidei : Thomism and the God of the Philosophers" the deception of Gilson: 

"Gilson's... passage of [Thomist] Cajetan... when Thomas says that esse [existence] is the actuality of all things, even of forms. Gilson asserts that this is a novelty, unknown to Aristotle... Gilson's attack on Cajetan is one aspect of his criticism of Aristotle... is seen from the angle of Gilson's increasingly inventive interpretation of esse [existence]... it is... painfully clear that he is out to make a case against [Thomist] Cajetan and fairness to the great commentator [of Thomas] will not characterize his criticism... For now, consider what he stresses: a substance as Thomas understands it can only be the term of generation, as it is, because it has its own act of existing... Being is the term of a generation; that which is generated exists thanks to that process of generation. Surely, Gilson does not mean to suggest that something is generated and then receives an act of existence. Or is he suggesting that existent things are not the terms of generation for Aristotle... " 

"... the Gilsonian attack on Cardinal Cajetan... is embarrassing to read this... attack [on] one of the giants of the Thomistic school... Cajetan... [and Thomist] Garrigou-Lagrange is demonized by Gilson and Maritain... It is possible that those he criticized got it right [on Thomas] and that he got it wrong..."

"...Gilson makes his own the position of Kant that existence is not a predicate... Gilson wrote...'Being,' Kant says 'is evidently not a predicate or a concept of  something that can be added to a thing'... What is the Thomististicity of Gilson's claim..."   

"... [W]hat he [Gilson] is attributing to Thomas is not found in Thomas... 'No Thomist,' Gilson concedes, 'aiming to express it, should write that existence (esse) is not known by a concept.' Coming from a historian [Gilson] who has been so severe on other interpreters of Thomas [such as Cajetan and Garrigou-Lagrange], it is somewhat disarming to be told that 'historically speaking, our [Gilson's] formulas are inaccurate' and that he should have made clear that he was not using the language of Saint Thomas." ("praeambula fidei : Thomism and the God of the Philosophers," page 52-54,68, 152-153)

The deceptive Gilson who is called by many "the chief scholar of Aquinas in the 20th century" not only mislead John Paul II, but most of the orthodox (even some traditionalists) Catholics to accept the equally dishonest or simply poor scholar Henri de Lubac who made the false claim that Thomas Aquinas didn't make a distinction between nature and the supernatural grace. 

As one reads the scholar McInerny's "praeambula fidei" it is obvious that he considers Gilson a real scholar who was dishonest in his discourses on Cajetan and Aquinas while he doesn't, it seems, appear to consider de Lubac "orthodox" or much of a scholar:

"'Supernatural' brought de Lubac... silenced... eventually De Lubac learned that it had been other Jesuits, not Dominicans, who had questioned the the orthodoxy of his views... If de Lubac got Cajetan's reading of St. Thomas wrong, what is to be said of De Lubac's own understanding of Thomas." ("praeambula fidei," Pages 70, 84)

The point is, as McInerny shows in his book, that Gilson and de Lubac were a team who worked to discredit Cajetan and ultimately St. Thomas' real teachings. The poor scholar de Lubac needed Gilson's reputation as a honest scholar to cover for his "question[able]... orthodoxy" and dishonest or poor scholarship. 

It can be argued that part of what the nouvelle theologian de Lubac's teaching has done is replace the infallible teachings of the Church with Kantian/Modernist teaching in which all human experience (pagan, heretical, mundane, etc...) is equal to the redemption, grace and teachings given to us by Jesus Christ's Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection as taught and administered through the Sacraments by the Church He established:

"The rejection of the proportionate human nature separate de Lubac more decisively from St. Thomas than anything else, doubtless because this rejection is at the basis of his thought... Grace, as the words suggests, is gratuitous, unowed, above and beyond what our nature is naturally ordered to. The supernatural, as the word suggests, is added onto natural... In de Lubac's account... [it] is almost as if for him the supernatural replaces the natural." ( "praeambula fidei," Pages 85-86)

It might better be said that de Lubac's teachings replaced the supernatural with the natural.

Thomist scholar Taylor Marshall, in the best paragraph of his book "Infiltration," summarized what nouvelle theologians like de Lubac did:

"They [nouvelle theologians] sought to make everything grace, and by doing so, they, in fact, reduced everything to the natural, so that the natural longings [human experiences] of every human became the means of salvation. Hence, all human nature itself is 'open' to attaining salvation. This means that liturgy should be less supernatural and that other religions are 'open' as means of salvation. This theology necessitates a new liturgy, a new ecumenism, and a new form of Catholicism. It is Freemasonic naturalism cloaked with quotations of the Church Fathers. The nouvelle theologie was a frontal attack on Thomas Aquinas." ("Infiltration," Page 135)

Pope John Paul II's Vatican II attempt to mix Aquinas' metaphysics of objective reality with the semi-Kantian/Modernist subjectivist thought lead to things like the disastrous "ecumenical" Assisi "prayer meeting" and many of the other problematic actions of his pontificate, but kept intact, for the most part, the moral and dogmatic teachings of the Church. 

Unfortunately, Francis' apparently pure Kantian/Modernist subjectivist theology unmixed with Thomist's metaphysics is bringing about "a new form of Catholicism. It is Freemasonic naturalism cloaked with quotations of the Church Fathers... a frontal attack on Thomas Aquinas." This theology appears to be leading to his attack on the moral and dogmatic teachings of the Church.

Pray an Our Father now for the restoration of the Mass and the Church as well as for the Triumph of the Kingdom of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.


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