The Philosophical Key to Bergoglianism
by Christopher A. Ferrara
August 2, 2017
As the continually astonishing phenomenon of this pontificate progresses, mainstream Catholic commentators, awakening to the inescapable drama of it all, are now offering their frank diagnoses of what is wrong with what Antonio Soccio has dubbed “Bergoglianism.” One such commentator is James Patrick, writing in Crisis Magazine.
Patrick rightly observes that “every theology necessarily incorporates a philosophy, for there will always be a natural way of thinking that under-girds the exposition of revelation.” Thus, he continues, “Like everyman, popes have philosophies, and although it is not the business of a pope to advocate any philosophy, the philosophy every pope presupposes will influence his representation of the Catholic faith and his government of the Church.”
I would politely disagree with the proposition that “it is not the business of a pope to advocate any philosophy.” On the contrary, it is the business of a Pope to advocate a philosophy that accords with reality, with the content of Revelation, and with the nature of man as created in the image and likeness of God but in need of redemption on account of the Fall. And such a philosophy is that of the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas.
In his landmark encyclical Aeterni Patris, on precisely the subject of “the restoration of Christian philosophy,” Pope Leo XIII said this of Saint Thomas in the course of calling for a thorough revival of the Church’s commitment to Thomistic philosophy:
“Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because ‘he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.’ The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.”
Why is Thomistic philosophy “the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith”? Quite simply, because, as G.K. Chesterton has noted, “Thomism is the philosophy of common sense.” That is, Thomism defends the correspondence of the mind to the real world, failing which God would be a monster who has imprisoned us in diving bells cut off from reality. All of so-called modern philosophy is, more or less, a denial of the authority of the senses that Saint Thomas defended, because that authority comes from God Himself.
More than this, however, Saint Thomas’ profound exploration of what reason (perfected by grace) reliably reveals (through the senses) about reality led to his development of a vast system of philosophic precision in moral and theological matters which protects the doctrines of the Faith from corruption though faulty thinking. For example, the dogma of transubstantiation, reflective of Thomistic philosophy, holds that at the moment of their Consecration the “substances” of bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, while only the “accidents” of bread and wine remain.. The concept of transubstantiation carefully distinguishes the substance (essence or nature) of a thing from its accidents (visibly detectable physical characteristics). To deny that distinction is to deny that Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist, leading inevitably to the conclusion that the bread and wine remain bread and wine in substance, not just in appearance. Which is precisely the error of Protestantism and its denial of the Real Presence.
Patrick’s diagnosis of Bergoglianism focuses on one of the Pope’s sayings that strikes at the heart of Saint Thomas’ defense of reason. Quoth Francis in Evangelii Gaudium: “Reality is greater than ideas.” The disjunction between ideas and reality is false. For as Saint Thomas teaches, and as Patrick explains: “When Saint Thomas asks where truth resides, he answers that it resides in the mind and only secondarily in things. A historical or scientific account may derive truth from what happens in the world by explaining events under a generalization, but reality remains unintelligible without ideas, and in that sense ideas are always more important than reality. And also with theological truth and moral precepts.”
Indeed, there can be no theology or morality without fixed ideas in the mind that govern human reason and human action in the use of reason. This is also true, Patrick notes, “with the exercise of authority. The attempt to rule without reference to tradition or any other transcendent rational ground, or even the regulative claims of the past, however benign the results may or may not accidentally be, will result in a government that rests upon unmoderated will, difficult in principle to distinguish from a vernacular Marxism.”
Moreover, Patrick continues: “The attempt to derive moral guidance from reality, from how mankind behaves, from the sorry story of our aspirations and failures, will make every teaching of the Church uncertain, as has Amoris Laetitia in the opinion of many. An editorial writer in the Guardian has said that Francis has changed the Church forever from a rule-bound institution to an instinctive Church. Good luck with your instincts.”
Thus, we can see that by one simple, seemingly plausible phrase that flies in the face of the common-sense philosophy of Saint Thomas — i.e., that “reality is greater than ideas” — literally the entire edifice of the Faith is undermined.
From which it is obvious that philosophical errors have enormous consequences when they are espoused by a Pope. And such is the new stage of the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves.