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Is There One Contemporary Philosophy?

In our book entitled Trojan Horse in the City of God, and in the introduction to Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith, we spoke of many of the bad tendencies and grave heretical errors which were and still are wreaking havoc in the post-conciliar Church. Nowadays they are no longer being proclaimed so much as great novelties and discoveries, but rather are assumed by many to be self-evident and to require no further discussion. This is also true of the theories of the arch-heresiarch, Teilhard de Chardin.

In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that if one repeats something continually, even if it is not in fact true, it will nevertheless ultimately be considered self-evident. This observation about the way in which the masses can be influenced is perhaps the only true thing to be found in this deplorable book.

We fully intend to analyze dangerous new tendencies and disastrous errors; however, let us again note two fundamental points briefly at the outset: the legend or myth of “modern” man, and historical relativism.

We showed in Trojan Horse and Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith that this “modern man” does not exist. He is an invention of the sociologists.

“As long as one only refers to the immense change in the external conditions of life brought about by the enormous technological development which has taken place, then one is referring to an indubitable fact. But this outward change has had no fundamental influence on man on his essential nature, on the sources of his happiness, on the meaning of his life, on the metaphysical situation of man. And yet only some such fundamental change in man would have any bearing at all on his ability to understand the language in which the Church has been announcing the Gospel of Christ to mankind for thousands of years.

“A modern knowledge of history and an unprejudiced view of it could not fail to convince anyone that the ‘modern man’ who is radically different from the men of all other periods is a pure invention, or rather, a typical myth.” 8

As to historical relativism, which unfortunately is influencing many Catholic theologians, let us emphasize once again how serious this is, and how radically incompatible with the Revelation of Christ. Here objective truth is replaced by historical-sociological “reality”:

“This historical aliveness of certain ideologies and attitudes [is confused with] their truth, validity, and value. The categories of truth and falsity have been replaced by the question of whether something is effective in the present age or belongs to a former age, whether it is current or superannuated, ‘alive’ or ‘dead.’ Whether something is alive and ‘dynamic’ seems more important than whether it is true and good. This substitution is an obvious symptom of intellectual and moral decay. In former times, when certain ideas and ideals gained a great influence over many minds because of their historical vigor, their adherents were nevertheless convinced of their truth and value. But today, the interpersonal, historical reality of an idea is alone enough to cause people to rave about it and feel sheltered in it. . . . The most striking example of the exclusive interest in historical-social aliveness [and the concomitant elimination of the question of truth] is the ‘God is dead’ drivel, and the extent to which this expression is taken seriously.” 9

But we must discuss in greater detail an aspect of this dependence on the spirit of the age which we have not yet discussed as such. One can often hear the opinion, even from Catholics who still hold fast to the depositum catholicae fidei (deposit of Catholic faith), that it is praiseworthy of many theologians to build bridges to contemporary philoso» phy, to express the message of Christ, without of course sacrificing any of its content, in the language and with the concepts of contemporary philosophy.

And here the question arises: is there any such thing as a single contemporary philosophy?

No, there is truly not one contemporary philosophy. We find in many epochs of history different and sometimes fundamentally opposed philosophies. One may be more widespread and have more adherents, but a variety of schools of thought has characterized every era in which there was active philosophical inquiry. Parmenides and Heraclitus, who were certainly different and indeed opposed in their philosophies, belong more or less to the same historical epoch. The same is true of Socrates and the Sophists. How many different and opposing schools of philosophical thought we find in Hellenism! But at the present time less than ever before can one speak of a contemporary philosophy insofar as one can still speak of philosophy at all in the authentic sense of the word. Our epoch contains completely different and opposing philosophies. We find positivistic empiricists of all varieties, pragmatists, logical positivists, all kinds of materialists, disciples of Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. Thomists such as Maritain, Gilson, and Marcel de Corte, thinkers like Gabriel Marcel who cannot be classified in any school, and finally, those who are exponents of Augustinian realism. Which one is the contemporary philosophy?

At most one could speak of certain characteristics which are found in many of the above listed philosophies, such as immanentism and subjectivism, epistemological and historical relativism, moral relativism and atheism. These disastrous errors can indeed be found in many of the above-named philosophical schools. But, thank God, there are many other schools in which they cannot be found, such as among the Thomists, or Gabriel Marcel, and especially those defenders of objective truth who have a deep affinity with St. Augustine.

Divine Revelation presupposes implicitly certain absolute fundamental truths which can be known by natural reason. As I pointed out in chapter six of the Trojan Horse, all forms of relativism, immanentism, materialism, determinism, and subjectivism are absolutely incompatible with Christian Revelation. It is nonsense to assume that, instead of refuting these errors on a purely rational level, instead of unmasking their completely unproved character and even their inner contradictions, one can “build bridges” to them, and that one ought to formulate the teaching of the Church in a terminology which has been molded by these errors. And it is a pure illusion to expect thereby to be better understood by our contemporaries and especially to pave the way for them to the true Faith.

The devastation of the vineyard of the Lord is manifested in a most disastrous way in progressivist theology. In The Trojan Horse in the City of God we have already pointed out many of these heresies. The apostasy from the true Faith, which is not conceded to be apostasy by those who proclaim it but is interpreted instead as aggiornamento, has become much more widespread since 1967. It has increased alarmingly both in extent, as well as in distance from authentic Christian belief. If we think of the pluralism of Rahner, or of Schillebeeckx's denial of the immortality of the soul and of the difference between body and soul, or Marlet's denial of a transcendent God, or the claim of Gregory Baum that God reveals Himself in the spirit of the age, or Küng's denial of the infallibility of the Church in matters of faith and morals, or many others, then we can see with shocking clarity how the devastation of the vineyard of the Lord is progressing. It is shocking because all these theologians are continuing to hold classes and to give lectures and to proclaim themselves Catholics shocking because they have neither been relieved of their offices and suspended, nor officially condemned. How can this irresponsible activity in the area of theology do anything else but slowly ruin and destroy the Church?

It certainly happened in certain epochs in which there was a great fear of heresy, that many things were wrongly believed to be incompatible with the teaching of the Church. Thus it is just not possible to interpret Descartes' writings as incompatible with the teaching of the Church, if they are correctly understood and judged in themselves and not according to their historical influence. This is not by any means to say that errors do not crop up in his philosophy alongside his great insights. But the question here is whether a thesis contains a contradiction to the fundamental natural truths which are tacitly presupposed in the Revelation of Christ.

But as soon as it is a question of a philosophical school which, as mentioned above, is absolutely incompatible with Christian Revelation, then there can be no pluralism in the Church. A philosophy such as Spinoza's, in which God is not a person and man has no free will and indeed is not a substance at all, can never be objectively reconciled with the depositum catholicae fidei.

As regrettable as was the overly anxious attitude of the Church in certain epochs, and the widespread mistrust of all philosophy which was not strictly Thomistic, nevertheless this narrowness still cannot be compared with the evil of present-day “pluralism.” It leads to terrible consequences when philosophies which are absolutely incompatible with the deposit of the Catholic Faith, such as all varieties of transcendental idealism and even out and out relativism, can be taught at Catholic universities without hindrance. Though these theories may be branded as false by the Holy Father when speaking to a small group, nevertheless as long as those espousing such philosophies, be they laymen or priests, are permitted to teach at institutions which call themselves Catholic, they can effortlessly undermine the faith of countless people and also destroy all sense of how irreconcilable certain false philosophies are with the orthodox Faith. A kind of schizophrenia is being bred through all this.

An unfortunate false notion of caritas, an over-emphasis on unity at the expense of truth, a false irenicism: all these are reasons for the tendency to want to unite irreconcilable things for as long as possible. Whereas the former narrowness was no danger to orthodoxy, the toleration of the spreading of theories which are in contradiction to the deposit of the Catholic Faith presents a mortal danger to orthodoxy.


8. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971), pp. XIV-XV.

9. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Trojan Horse in the City of God (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), pp. 82-83.


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