Monday, April 28, 2014

Example of Fundamental Conflicts within a Mystical Movement

In the two preceding posts I provided my notes on Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. In the post below I focus on one element of the book, Gula's account of a debate among Catholic theologians in the 20th Century. 

Catholicism is a 2000-year old religion. Its theologians have always debated about the ideal relationship between reason and mysticism (faith in particular). Most Catholic theologians have tried to integrate them. Philosopher Leonard Peikoff has rightly called this attempt "misintegration." It is logically impossible to integrate contradictories. "Misintegration" is the result of such an attempt. (See the Nov. 28, 2012 post (here) for a review of Leonard Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis.)

The following example, taken from Gula's confusing account, looks at the debate among Catholic theologians from about 1940 to about 1990 (and presumably today). The key question in the debate was: What should be the source of Catholic morality? Should theologians start with the principles provided by mystical sources (Holy Scripture, Church Tradition, and the magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit)? Or should theologians begin with natural law, that is, principles which thinking about the world (which God created) can produce?


Early 20th Century: The manuals which Catholic teachers used to teach Catholic morality presented the "classical moral theology" of Catholicism. Gula is unclear here, but apparently the classical moral theology was the result of Catholic theologians thinking about ("reflecting on" ) moral problems as natural law, without referring directly to the roots of Catholic morality in specifically Christian beliefs. (p. 1, par. 1)

1940-1970: A movement arose wanting to "Christianize" Catholic morality by rooting that morality directly into Holy Scripture and "the mysteries of faith." (p. 1, par. 2) Gula does not say so, but apparently this Christianizing movement was a reaction against an earlier movement to root Catholic morality in natural law.

1962-1965: The Second Vatican Council calls for radical revision of the manuals of morality. (p. 1, par. 1)

Late 1960s-early 1970s: Some Catholic theologians agreed with the Second Vatican Council's call to revise the manuals but broke from the early revisionists, the ones who wanted to base morality directly on Holy Scripture and other specifically Catholic sources. These new theologians instead wanted to use a philosophical method to develop "autonomous ethics," that is, ethics based on, not God's revelations (in Holy Scripture), but on thinking about the human person who was created by God to have a certain nature and must discover morality for himself through reason. (p. 1, par. 2)

Why did many Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement in the 1960s to 1970s want to revise Catholic morality's roots? They had two motivations. First was that the non-Catholic culture around them was becoming more secular, and a philosophical approach would be more acceptable to secularists. Second was that Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement reacted against the earlier Christianizing phase of renewal, the phase that began in the 1940s and wanted to ground Catholic morality in Catholic mystical sources. Apparently the Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement of the 1970s objected to relying on specifically Catholic roots for two reasons. First, the earlier renewalists, the Christianizers, apparently published essays that were "uncritical," that is, they did not meet rigorous academic standards and therefore were an embarrassment. (Gula is not clear here.) Second, the earlier, Christianizing renewal movement's products (which were rooted in specifically Catholic sources) were too sectarian, that is, too Catholic. That was a problem in the 1970s and later because by then Catholic theologians wanted to appeal to intellectuals all over the world regardless of their religious choices. (Apparently these Catholic autonomous- ethics theologians of the 1970s wanted to be "multicultural" in appeal.) (p. 1, par. 3)

1970s: Apparently still another movement arose among Catholic theologians. (Gula is not clear about the timing.) This movement, the "faith ethics" movement, arose in reaction against the autonomous-ethics movement. The faith-ethics movement's theologians said that mysticism (specifically in the form of God's revelations) must have a role in forming Catholic morality. Thus this movement of the late 1970s wanted to restore the Christianizing renewalist movement of the 1940s to 1950s. (p. 1, par. 4)

1980s: At the time of Gula's writing (1989), Catholic theologians, considered as a group, were in "tension." (That is the academic word for "contradiction.") They were trying to meet both demands—"trying to include the orientation of faith ethics, while preserving at the same time reason's critical reflection on human experience which characterizes autonomous ethics." 

In other words, Gula says, Catholic theologians generally wanted to avoid relying on either sectarianism (faith ethics) or humanism (autonomous ethics) in isolation. (p. 1, par. 4) Instead, the Catholic theologians of the 1980s wanted to speak of Catholic morality "in a language accessible to nonbelievers" as well as Catholic believers. (p. 1, par. 4 continuing onto p. 2) This is an example of the Catholic "both/and" approach to many issues. ("Faith and reason" is an example.) It is "misintegration," and the Church advocates both at the same time.

Catholic theologians from around 1940 to around 1990 turned from one pole to another, that is, from open mysticism to the truncated, Catholic version of reason. They made their turns sometimes for loyalty to their mystical sources and at other times for the hope of reaching their modern goal of being able to talk to all individuals everywhere, regardless of religious or cultural background.  Catholic theologians continue today trying to find the right mix of contradictory sources of knowledge. Trying to "integrate" mysticism and (alleged) reason is an effort that is inherently unstable. The instability leads to conflict and confusion in the movement.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Catholic Theologian's View of Reason and Mysticism

In the previous post, I briefly reviewed Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. The post below records some of my notes on Gula's views of reason and mysticism.

REASON. What is reason? Gula provides no direct answer. Curiously, in a book dedicated in part to reason, the index has no entry for reason. The reader must infer Gula's meaning of "reason" from clues. Here is one clue. At one point he implies that reason is "critical reflection on human experience." That sounds promising. He says that critical reflection is "a valid source for coming to know what is morally required." However, his justification for doing so is the "principle of mediation: "... only through the human ... do we come to know God and respond to what God is ... requiring us ... to do." That principle in turn rests on "a commitment of faith by which we accept the mystery of Christ as the full revelation of God and accept the sources of faith as valid sources of coming to the truth about God, being human, and living in the world." (p. 8) So, according to Gula, "reason" works on the material provided mystically by God. This is not reason as the faculty of forming abstractions logically from sense-perception of the natural world. 

"Reflection" is a synonym for reason in Gula's view. At one point (p. 46), Gula even speaks of "reflection informed by faith" as he spoke of "reason informed by faith in the title of his book. "Reflection" is an appropriate word here. The Catholic thinker reflects on ideas that come from outside of him; he does not create these ideas. He reflects on them as premises of some sort in his chain of thinking. 

When should we use reason and how? In a section called "Reflection," Gula says: "We turn to the language of the mind when we want to support, analyze, and communicate what we grasp by heart." (p. 16) Again Gula says that in ethics, reason (which he refers to as "rational explanations" and "conceptual knowledge") is useful if we want "to communicate values and to argue for or against a position." (p. 84) Reason, then, is for persuasively conveying ideas to other individuals, not for gaining new ideas of our own. Reason is rhetoric.

The strict logic of a scientific nature is necessary in morality in order to defend publicly what we have decided.  But we do not actually make our decisions in the same logical way that we try to justify them. Ordinarily in the oral life, we lead with the heart. Judgments of rationality follow in a complementary way. (p. 316)

We get ideas—in least in the field of ethics—from God via revelation and our "heart," and then we use reason to tidy up our position when speaking to others. So much for reason, at least in the field of ethics. (Gula's view of the roles of reason in other fields are not clear in this book.)

MYSTICISM. Gula does not use the word "mysticism" to identify the class of alternatives to reason. Instead he identifies each form of mysticism individually. For example, early in the book Gula names three "theological sources of faith—scripture, Jesus, and the church." (p. 4) A Catholic takes on faith the ideas conveyed through scripture, through Jesus's words as preserved in Catholic tradition, and through the Church's magisterium, its special teaching ability, as guided by the Holy Spirit. The following passage makes those sources explicit:

The Christian conviction about the good is governed by the religious beliefs expressed in the stories of the Bible, especially in Jesus, and further expounded in the theological tradition of the church. (p. 44)

Another form of Catholic mysticism is "sensitivity," as shown in two passages:

(1) Sensitivity is fundamental. It implies that moral living begins in the heart and not with an abstract principle about the nature of being human from which we draw crisp conclusions. ... The foundational experience that awakens our moral consciousness ... is the experience of the sacredness of human life, or the value of persons as persons. All morality is organically linked to this foundational experience. The value of persons as persons can only be appreciated. It is not something we reason to or can prove with satisfaction of a logical syllogism. That is why the foundational moral experience is a matter of the heart. ... To bring sensitivity to moral analysis, then, is to engage artistic or mystical insight in the service of the moral life and moral reflection. (pp. 13-14)

(2) The sensitivity required for the moralist to engage in moral 'theological' reflection is a sensitivity of the heart attuned to the presence of God. ... Without this prayerful attentiveness to God, moral reflection [that is, "reason"] stops short of attending to the fullness of the relationships which make up the moral life. (p. 15)

Yet another form of mysticism appearing in Gula's book is the mysticism of "theological code words." For example, Gula says, the term "Trinity" is a "theological code word" for the "freedom and totality of God's self-giving." (p.65) You see or hear the word "Trinity" and then you "know" something about God.

Gula identifies a last form: the mysticism of experience. 

Evaluative knowledge, symbolized by the heart, is the kind of knowledge we have when we are 'caught up' in someone or something through personal involvement or commitment. Evaluative knowledge is more personal, more self-involving than conceptual knowledge of facts or ideas, for it has to do with grasping the quality of a person, object, or event. We do not gain evaluative knowledge by words but by touch, sight, and sound, by experiencing victories and failures, sleeplessness and devotion. ...  In short, evaluative knowledge is a felt knowledge which we discover through personal involvement and reflection. (p. 84)

IMAGINATION. In Gula's Catholicism, reason is not the faculty of integration of sense data into abstractions. Reason is instead merely a faculty of argumentation, that is, lining ideas up syllogistically, mainly for persuasion.

Catholicism values integration, connecting things into a system, as Gula says through out his book. If not reason, then what in Catholicism performs integration? Gula's answer is the faculty of "imagination." Four passages illustrate it.

(1) Understood in its deepest sense, the imagination ... is the capacity to construct a world. By means of the imagination we bring together diverse experiences into a meaningful whole. (p. 71) 

(2) The imagination connects "diverse beliefs and experiences." (p. 72)

(3) When religious beliefs, for example, are part of the imaginative process, they enter into the content of what we experience and contribute toward connecting the many dimensions of experience with the values entailed in those beliefs. (p. 72) 

(4) The imagination informs what we think, what we see, the way we feel, our readiness to act, and the direction of our actions. (p. 72)

RELATIONSHIP OF REASON AND MYSTICISM. We have seen above that Gula cites various sources of mysticism, that is, non-rational claims to "knowledge." He restricts "reason" to reflection on ideas that have come into the mind in various ways. He thus expands mysticism and shrinks reason. What is the relationship between them? The next three passages show that Gula's Catholicism claims adherence to both faith and reason.

(1) Characteristically, Catholic moral theology relies on 'mediation' for coming to know God and what faith requires. This means that it takes seriously not only revelation and the tradition of the Church, but also critical reflection ["reason"] on ongoing human experience as well. Both faith and reason, then, are the fundamental sources to which we appeal in giving content to ethics [theory] and morals [practice] within Catholic moral theology. (p. 10)

(2) Our affective commitment to ... the value of persons ... are 'reasons of the heart' which ultimately cannot be proven, yet which will always remain the final court of appeal for our moral judgments. We appeal to 'reasons of the head', or rational arguments, to confirm and demonstrate in a way that can be convincing to another what we already know by heart. In the moral life, head and heart work together. (p. 14)

(3) The Catholic tradition has not maintained ... a complete dependence of morality on faith. It holds to a relative autonomy for faith and morality. Faith informs reason, but it does not replace it. Faith and reason are the two sources of moral knowledge to which the Catholic tradition appeals. (p. 45)

Gula acknowledges the central problem in claiming both faith and reason: How does one decide to use one or the other claim to knowledge?

The challenge to moral theology today lies in maintaining the proper relationship of faith and reason for determining what constitutes morally good character and right moral action. (p. 46) 

When pressed for demands for a rational approach, Gula resorts to polylogism and subjectivism: 

Thus, the 'therefore' which links morality to religious beliefs is not by way of a strict inference of syllogistic logic. [Instead, the] inference is made by way of ... 'the logic of self-involvement'.

Such a "logic" considers the believer's "certain manner of living" and "having certain attitudes and feelings." (pp. 48-49) An additional form of Catholic mysticism, the mysticism of Christian symbols, ties up any loose ends left by other forms of mysticism.

Using a Christian symbol of some sort to look on a situation, then, will determine to some extent what one sees [the is, the facts] and what one does [the ought, the values]." (p.50)

SUMMARY. In Gula's Catholicism, mysticism is broad and takes many forms; reason is narrow and is truncated to being a tool of rhetoric. The Church insists on claiming both, leaving no room for the mind that starts from sense-perception, forms abstractions about the world, and then selects values from among those facts. For the Church, mysticism is the means for obtaining morals from another world, and "reason" is the means the Church uses to argue for its positions.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

Monday, April 21, 2014

BkRev: Reason Informed by Faith

Richard M. Gula, S.S., Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality, New York, Paulist Press, 1989, 334 pages.

Two posts will collect notes I have made on Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith. The first post, below, is an informal book review. The next post will examine Gula's Catholic view of reason, mysticism, and their relationship. 

AUTHOR. Richard M. Gula is a Catholic intellectual activist. He disseminates his understanding of his worldview—its supernaturalism, mysticism, altruism, and statism—to other, more specialized Catholic intellectuals and particularly to the Catholics involved in "pastoral care," which means the bishops, the priests, and lay workers who make daily contact with the great flock of Catholics who look to the Church for guidance in their lives. Gula trains these trainers. 

The back cover of the book says that Richard M. Gula was—in 1989, the year of publishing Reason Informed by Faith—the Professor of Moral Theology at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California. A seminary is a sort of university, one reserved for training the intellectuals of the Church—the priests, the bishops, the cardinals, and the popes, as well as the Catholic intellectuals who work outside the hierarchy of the Church but in universities, "think-tanks," and advocacy organizations.

The "S.S." after Gula's name means Society of Saint-Sulpice, a Catholic organization devoted to training the intellectual leaders of the Church: Gula's central purpose in life appears to be an extension of his training. The Logos Almanac of the Christian World, at, speaks of Richard_M._Gula thus:

As a Sulpician priest, Rich has dedicated his life to the education and formation of ministers in the Church. After teaching in diocesan seminaries for twenty-three years, Rich came to [the Franciscan School of Theology] in 1996 to participate in a more diverse and ecumenical effort in preparing ministers for the Church. As a moral theologian, Rich has tried to be a bridge between the community of academic theologians and the community of pastoral ministers. Besides teaching, Rich is on the workshop circuit lecturing to clerical and lay ministers on topics in moral theology, medical ethics, and professional ethics. He is also involved in the world of health care as an ethics consultant to hospitals. His several books and many articles have addressed a variety of moral issues which pastoral ministers have to face today.

As a writer, lecturer, and teacher, Richard M. Gula is a fount of not only particular principles of Catholicism, but also, and more importantly, the conveyor of an intellectually systematized worldview. That systematization—an act of integration— makes Catholicism a potent weapon in the war between reason and mysticism.  

SUBJECT. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith is a tour of Catholic morality. It covers the fundamental principles that "inform" (shape) Catholic positions in debates over abortion, war, welfare, and other issues. It also identifies the intermediate steps, the methods of thinking about moral issues. Finally it offers guidelines for the skill of  "discernment of spirits." By "discernment" Gula means making a judgment of a particular person, action, or situation. The term "spirits" refers to Gula's belief that God is present in everyone we judge and we need to learn to seek God's presence as a guide to our judgment. 

Gula draws his information from theologians who have written since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The theologians Gula consults are mainly Catholics, but some are Protestants.

We are experiencing a convergence of Protestant and Catholic thinking in more and more areas, especially in one of the major areas of concern in this book—the integration of the rational aspects of morality with a perspective of faith. Therefore, while the primary emphasis here is on the foundations of Roman Catholic morality, many Protestant voices will be heard throughout. (p. 3)   

What distinguishes a partucular ethics is its sources, Gula says. Catholic ethics grows from Catholic sources. Three such sources are the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Tradition, and the Catholic magisterium (the mystical teaching authority given by God to the Church). (p. 10)

Questions arise. "How does faith inform Catholic morality? What relation do religious convictions have to Catholic moral thinking which prides itself on being 'rational' and based on 'nature'?" (p. 2) Gula sets out to answer.

AUDIENCE. The book, the author says, "is written for those who are seriously interested in Catholic morality but who do not have the time to make their way through all the scholarly work which has gone on in Catholic moral theology." (p. 4) Academic teachers could use this book as a textbook because it surveys moral theology as a whole—both its foundations and the positions (and controversies) that stand on the foundations. A serious layman, given sufficient time, could work through this book and gain an introduction to the field of Catholic moral theology, both its history and its contemporary landscape. Gula says he tries to write to "the 'people in the pews'." (p. 4)

STYLE. Gula makes the structure of the text clear. He writes previews, summaries, and reviews. Unfortunately his convoluted sentence-by-sentence style is often difficult to follow. For clarity, a careful reader must often reread, parse, and restate the author's point in the reader's own simple, declarative sentences. 

THEME. A Catholic, Gula says, should strive for "discernment." This is a complex skill that leads a person to making the best possible moral judgment—of oneself, another person, or a situation—in particular circumstances at a particular time. Discernment thus is an attempt to integrate fundamental moral principles with the particulars of an individual case.

Elements of discernment include the following:  

1. One should have faith. Without faith, "discernment of spirits" is impossible. "Discernment of spirits" is the "process of discovering the presence of God in one's inclinations and choices." (p. 316). "Discernment of spirits is only possible for a person who looks on life from the perspective of one committed to God in Christ and through the Spirit. ... For the person of faith, every human experience, if given a chance, could disclose God." (pp. 317-318) 

2. One should realize that an individual's heart is the place in him where he makes contact with God. Here "heart" refers to the deepest level of one's nature. "This is the level of the human person which escapes clear conceptual knowledge."  (p. 321)

3. One should gather complete and accurate information about the subject being judged. (pp. 323-324)

4. One should confirm one's initial judgment internally (for example, by having a feeling of harmony) and externally (for example, by consulting the needs of the community). (pp. 324-326)

The four points above produce a "reasoning heart" (p. 316), that is, an integration of faith and reason, at a non-conceptual level (p. 321, with a summary at p. 328) Thus, Catholicism "integrates" faith and a crippled version of reason, basing decisions ultimately on feeling of one sort or another. 

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BkRev: Catholicism for Dummies

John Trigilio, Jr., and Kenneth Brighenti, Catholicism for Dummies, 2nd ed., Hoboken (New Jersey), John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 414 pages

I reviewed the Catechism of the Catholic Church on December 19, 2013, here; and I focused on particular aspects (reason, mysticism, the holy spirit) in later posts in that series.

While the Catechism is generally clear, it is also sometimes difficult to read because it is condensed; it is a handbook of teachings, not a tutorial. Trigilio and Brighenti's Catholicism for Dummies corrects the problem of difficult reading. Trigilio and Brighenti's writing is clear. They cover generally the same ground that Catechism covers and in the same order:
- Part I: What Do Catholics Believe?
- Part II: Celebrating the Mysteries of Faith [the Sacraments]
- Part III: Living a Saintly Life [Ethics]
- Part IV: Praying and Using Devotions
- Part V: The Part of Tens ["Ten Famous Catholics" and so forth]
- Part VI: Appendices (a 2000-year history of the Catholic Church in about 20 pages; and a collection of popular Catholic prayers]

(I read some parts closely; I skimmed some sections; and I skipped over some sections.)

If Catholicism for Dummies covers the same subjects as the Catechism, why review it here on TME? Catholicism for Dummies is an example of one of the many actions that philosophical activists can take to disseminate their ideas to a wide audience—in this case, an audience outside Catholic academic and administrative circles. Catholicism for Dummies includes checklists, simple icons ("Remember," "From the Bible," and "Warning!") that mark special or secondary text. The format includes wide margins and aims for ease of reading.

For the most serious advocates of reason who are also activists, Catholicism for Dummies serves as a test: Has the reader failed to understand or misunderstood Catholic doctrines and practices described in more formal documents such as the Catechism?

For the few, most serious advocates of reason, another advantage of reading this book is seeing the form of arguments that a well informed Catholic activist might use to explain Catholic ideas to an audience standing in front of him. For example, the following quotation is an excerpt from a three-page explanation of the relationship of reason and faith. The title of the section is "Backing Up Your Faith with Reason: Summa Theologica."

So are having faith and hoping to be saved the same as believing in the Tooth Fairy and hoping for a dollar bill under your pillow? Of course not. The First Vatican Council (1869-1879; also known as Vatican I) taught that you need the intervention of supernatural revelation to be saved, but certain truths, like the existence of God, are attainable on your own power by using human reason. 

In the 13th Century, St. Thomas Aquinas (see Chapter 21), a philosopher, explained how the human mind seeks different kinds of truth. He said that
- Scientific truth (also known as empirical truth) is known by observation and experimentation. So, for example, you know that fire is hot by burning your finger with a lit match.
- Philosophical truth is known by using human reason. You know that two plus two equals four, for example. So if two chairs are in a room and someone says, "I'll get two more," you know by using reason that the total will be four chairs. You don't need to count the chairs after they arrive.
- Theological truth, known only by faith, is the final and highest level of truth. It can't be observed, and it can't be reasoned; it must be believed by faith—taken on God's word, because He revealed it. (pp. 33-34)

Parts of the book defend Catholicism from false charges, for example, rebutting (the authors hope) the charge that Catholics are polytheists because they worship three gods (the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). (pp. 11, 32, 51, and 101-102) This function of defense is a standard function of activists. Christian intellectual activists who do so are called "apologists" (from the Greek word for "defense," apologia).

This book has a compound theme: The Catholic Church, the authors say, is here on earth to help save your soul for heaven—and the Church, through divine inspiration and 2000 years of diligent intellectualizing, has answers for almost all relevant questions. Anything that the Church cannot explain is a mystery and requires faith. In Catholicism for Dummies, as elsewhere, the Church's advocates convey the idea that the Church is "both-and." The Church supports reason and mysticism, supernaturalism and naturalism, achieving one's own success and sacrificing to others (as well as God).

Catholicism for Dummies, like the Catechism, does not speak of "mysticism," though it does speak of the elements of mysticism: revelation; inspired Holy Scripture; the Church hierarchy's divinely-given ability (under some circumstances) to teach infallibly; and faith in all those mystical sources. 

In conclusion, this book is worth reading for any individual who is seriously planning, in the decades ahead, to confront the most powerful pro-mysticism institution in the USA today.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at