Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Theological Origin and, Hopefully, End of Modernity by Thaddeus J. Kozinski

Voluntarism, an indifferent will as primary moral agent; nominalism, the rejection of any real reference for universal concepts; disenchantment, the default existential mode of a buffered, self-sufficient “individual”; and desacralization, the “immanent frame” surrounding and conditioning modern social and intellectual life—these were the background assumptions of the Enlightenment, but they seem now foregrounded social, cultural, and political dogmas. The “Regensburg Address” of the Pope, with his account of the three waves of dehellenization, is, I think, a key text for grasping this development. Dehellenized reason closed to intelligible being, a voluntarist God beyond good and evil, a non-participatory cosmos mechanically construed, and a univocal, flattened concept of being supplanting Aquinas’ precarious but precious metaphysics of analogy—these are the metaphysical, epistemological, and theological roots of modernity, and they are deeply planted. As the Pope suggests, these roots have nourished a misshapen cultural tree, nay, a forest; and it cannot be simply cut down and replanted—for it is our home, whether we like our home or not, for, at least for the time being, there is no other domestic domicile into which to move, it would seem.

Now, great fruits came via their heroic attempts: the progress of medicine and human rights; what Taylor calls the “affirmation of ordinary life”; the dignity of persons seen as ends and never means (Casanova); the autonomy of politics, science, and economics from ecclesial control. This represents, as in the words of Maritain, a maturation of the political order and the Gospel seed coming to fruition. This is the true message of Gaudium et spes, when interpreted correctly–that is, not as a replacement of the Syllabus of Errors, but its complement. After Vatican II, no Catholic can interpret the prior social teaching and theology as simply a rejection of modernity, but neither can they reject or dismiss the prior teaching as outdated or simply mistaken.

The question of modernity, again. Kozinski offers a couple of scenarios as to how this all plays out, but I think maybe the analysis starts off on the wrong foot. Was there a rebellion against the authority of the Church? Undoubtedly. Did that rebellion provide the intellectual roots for liberalism? Or merely the occasion for it to develop as a reaction against the wars of religion?

Maybe it is not "modernity" that is the problem, but the power of earthly rulers vying against God; they are the ones who have made of liberalism and a host of other idealogies in order to take power for themselves in the name of liberating the masses.