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Monday, June 30, 2008

0025: Fides et Ratio

Entry 0025:

Five years prior to the publication of Fides et Ratio, when addressing the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II took advantage of the occasion to express his great appreciation for the efforts made by the Congregation in conducting a survey on the relationship between faith and philosophy. This is “a subject particularly close to my heart,” the Pope said on 19 November 1993. It actually took 12 years to complete the work that led to Fides et Ratio. The Encyclical letter was signed by the Pope on 14 September 1998 and released on 16 October 1998 to mark the 20th anniversary of his Pontificate. At the time, Alessandra Stanley properly described the Pope’s Encyclical as “one of his most personal pronouncements to date: a crystallization of his philosophical and theological thinking over a lifetime” (The New York Times, October 16, 1998).

The successor of John Paul II, Benedict XVI has expressed his awareness that the year 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Fides et Ratio. On 7 June 2008 in his Address to Participants at the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors, the Pope said:

For me it is a motive of profound joy to meet you on the occasion of the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors on the theme: Widen the horizons of rationality: Perspectives for Philosophy … I would like to express my gratitude to the organizing committee for this choice which permits us, among other things, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio of my beloved Predecessor Pope John Paul II. Already on that occasion 50 civil and ecclesial philosophy professors of the public and pontifical universities of Rome manifested their gratitude to the Pope with a declaration which confirmed the urgency of relaunching the study of philosophy in universities and schools.


In Fides et Ratio John Paul II forcefully expresses that the Church does not canonize any philosophical system. But in developing the exposition the observation is plainly made equivalent to saying that, beyond the various systems and schools of thoughts, the ‘philosophy of being’—and more concretely the doctrine of the actus essendi—is an inherent, essential ‘tool’ of the power of reason. In other words, the actus essendi is an all-embracing point of reference on which the power of reason must rely to correctly exercise its functions. Accordingly, the Pope says, (1) the ‘philosophy of being’ “is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very ‘act of being’ itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole,” (2) the ‘philosophy of being’ “can claim in advance all that is true in regard to reality,” and (3) the ‘philosophy of being’ “is capable of assimilating every new authentic value emerging from the history of every culture whatsoever.” For John Paul II, the philosophy of the actus essendi is “a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever because is one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

0024: Actus Essendi and Personalism

Entry 0024:

As interpretations of the thought and writings of Pope John Paul II proliferate, the words ‘misjudging’ and ‘misreading’ have been used to characterize some of these interpretations. The latest instance I have seen appeared on issue No. 184 of FIRST THINGS (June/July, 2008, p 38) where Professor Russell Hittinger writes,

Some have claimed that John Paul II is subordinating both human action and metaphysics to a philosophy of personalism, but that misjudges [John Paul II’s] steady desire to repristinate what Leo XIII had proposed in Aeterni Patris.
Hittinger’s remark is presented after having pointed out that, throughout John Paul II's pontificate, the Pope embraced wholeheartedly the responsibility of not only defending the philosophy of being and the doctrine of the actus essendi but also that of showing how relevant Aquinas’ realism was to the practical problems of the present world.

John Paul II’s message that from the methodological point of view, the philosophy of the actus essendi is “a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever because is one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature,” has not been heard in a variety of circles. The Pope’s fundamental attitude towards the ‘philosophy of being’ is clear and explicit but many interpreters of John Paul II—dazzled by the novelty of Husserl’s phenomenology, Scheller’s personalism, and the philosophy of consciousness—have ended up rejecting that in the Pope’s mind there is one - universal - valid philosophy, the ‘philosophy of being.’ In practice these interpreters are no longer giving priority to the actus essendi.

In A Christian Humanism: Karol Wojtyla’s Existential Personalism (Mariel Publications, New Britain, Connecticut, 1980), Andrew N. Woznicki recognizes that,

Although Wojtyla makes frequent reference in his works to phenomenology, it would be an ‘incredible misreading’ to call his philosophical anthropology a ‘phenomenology.’ Any attempt at combining these two philosophies, i.e., a philosophy of being and a philosophy of consciousness, is out of question, especially with respect to merging the philosophy of being with a philosophy of consciousness, as one that reduces all reality to the subject-consciousness and its contents. In Osoba i Czyn [The Acting Person], such a melding is completely out of question. Hence Wojtyla rejects any notion of merging a philosophy of consciousness with a philosophy of being.

And in a Letter to the Editor entitled, Phenomenology and the Pope: An ‘Incredible Misreading’ (“The New York Times,” 24 December 1978), Alfred Bloch communicates,

Prof. Anna-Teresa Tymienniecka, one of America’s leading exponents of phenomenology, without offering a shred of evidence, claims that a book written by cardinal Wojtyla about 10 years prior to his becoming Pope places him in the ranks of phenomenologists. As authorized translator of the Pope’s book Osoba i Czyn [The Acting Person], I cannot let this incredible misreading and misinterpretation of his philosophical work be left unchallenged. On pages 10 and 11 the Cardinal wrote in the book under consideration as follows: ‘The empirical position accepted by us does not embrace and certainly cannot be equated with the phenomenological concept of experience.’ The italics are his. The Cardinal follows this statement with a series of critical assessments of phenomenology from which this school of thought will find it difficult to extricate itself.
Even in the context of philosophical anthropology John Paul II remains unyielding on presenting the methodology of the actus essendi as the one - universal - valid point of reference to keep philosophical reflection from running aground. In his Address to the International Congress of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Society (4 January 1986) the Pope indicated that “Thomistic anthropology does not end in the abstract consideration of human nature. It shows, on the basis of experience, a striking sensibility, so dear to modern people, for the concrete historical condition of the human person, for—as one would say today—his ‘existential situation.’ It shows a sensibility also for the uniqueness and dignity of the individual person; for his dynamic and moral aspect; for the ‘phenomenology’—we could say in modern parlance—of human existence. To understand the great esteem which the Angelic Doctor has for the reality of the person, we must go back to his metaphysics, in which the greatest perfection is given to ‘being’ understood as the ‘act of being’ (esse ut actus). Here, the person, much more than ‘nature’ or ‘essence’, by means of the ‘act of being’ which sustains him, is exalted to the very height of the perfection of ‘being’ and reality, and thus of good and value.”

I would say that if in his philosophical writings previous to 1978, John Paul II left any doubt about his stance concerning the philosophy of the actus essendi, he certainly closed that argument during his Papacy. As late as 1999, in his Apostolic Letter Inter Munera Academiarum, he insists, “I considered it opportune to revise the Statutes of the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas [Aquinas], so that the metaphysical realism of the actus essendi which pervades all the Angelic Doctor’s philosophy and theology can enter into dialogue with the many directions in today’s research and doctrine.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

0023: Two Metaphysical Principles: ‘Essence’ and ‘Act of Being’

Entry 0023:

The doctrine of the actus essendi appears at every turn in the philosophical and theological writings of Aquinas.

Still Aquinas is emphatic in saying that the metaphysical principle of the actus essendi is inseparable from ‘essence’.

At times Aquinas' reflections concentrate more heavily and almost exclusively on the side of the metaphysical principle of ‘essence,’ but often his reflections rely entirely on the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. Nevertheless, throughout his writings, Aquinas crosses from the plane of ‘essence’ to the plane of the actus essendi and vice versa with remarkable facility.

The task of disentangling the nuances in doctrine he thus generates is not an easy
one.

For Aquinas, the ‘act of being’ is the most profound perfection of a thing; it is an internal incommunicable metaphysical principle inseparable from the thing itself, from the ‘essence’ of the thing, and from anything that exists in the thing. No ‘essence’ actually present in nature makes itself known to the intellect without simultaneously making known its proper participation in ‘act of being.’