Spring 2013

“Your Reasonable Worship”: Catholic Communion as the True Life According to Reason

Adrian J. Walker

“Catholic communion is the true life according to reason, in the sense that it makes present, in the most comprehensive way in which an earthly life can, the (enfleshed) Reason ‘through’ whom ‘all things were created.’”

1. Whose Realism? Which Rationality?2


What is the proof that it is reasonable to believe the Church’s teaching concerning Christ, along with everything else bound up with it? The main proof—the quintessence of every individual proof—is the Church itself. Hence the thesis suggested by the title of my article: Catholic communion is itself the true life according to reason.3

What does it mean to be reasonable? How we answer this question depends on how we answer a prior one: What does it mean to be realistic? This is not just an anthropological question, but a metaphysical one as well: What is to ontôs on, what is the “really real”?

Modernity claims, implicitly or explicitly, that the good doesn’t constitute the really real as such.4 Rather, the really real is initially indifferent to the good, which is added to the really real at a later date, some time after its initial constitution—in the form of man’s own self-given purposes.5 In this sense, George Grant (following Heidegger) is right to call technology the “ontology of the age,"6 the (tendentially) encompassing “package deal” in which we understand and live our lives.7

* For my parents. I would like to thank Ricardo Aldana and Conor Cunningham for helpful remarks on an earlier version of this paper, presented at the international Communio meeting in Zagreb, Croatia (15–19 May 2012).

2. This title is a playful recasting of that of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

3. Of course, we also need convincing discursive arguments to show that the content of the faith—the fides quae—is true. If, in fact, the fides quae is false, then no reasonable man can perform the act of faith—the fides qua—except, perhaps, accidentally. That said, I would like to suggest that the fides qua itself has a certain relative independence as a “verification” of the truth of the fides quae. This claim follows, I think, from a correct theological account of the fides qua that sees it, not as an act of so-called “private judgment,” of which the individual would be the sole proprietor (and ultimately the sole arbiter), but rather as the Church’s own indefectible adherence to Christ—an adherence that, in its core, is itself part of the fides quae. As Hans Urs von Balthasar teaches, the heart of the Catholica is Mary, whose Yes, the superabundant fulfillment of Abraham’s fides qua, is the immediate human condition of possibility of the Incarnation of the Word of God. The fides qua, then, is not “merely subjective”; it includes subjectivity, to be sure, but it does so by taking it up into the encompassing form of ecclesial life. This suggests the possibility of an apologetics that argues for the truth of the fides quae by appealing to the radiant intelligibility of the fides qua as the Catholic form of existence. The main claim that such an apologetics would seek to show is not simply that the fides qua is reasonable, but that the fides qua—understood as the Catholic Lebensform—is itself reasonableness, is itself the highest flourishing of reason. John Paul II says something strikingly familiar about “religiosity” in a footnote to his 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio. Citing earlier remarks of his own, the pontiff says “in fact, religiosity is the highest expression of the human person, because it is the apex of his rational nature” (Fides et ratio, 28; the reference is to General Audience, 19 October 1983, 1–2: Insegnamenti VI, 2 [1983], 814–5). The translation is mine, as are all the translations that follow.

4. Mark Shiffman has helped me see this point more clearly. By “modernity” I mean a certain “European project of emancipation” (Robert Spaemann, “Einleitung,” in Philosophische Essays. Erweiterte Ausgabe [Stuttgart: Reclam, 1994], 6). Although modernity is not an absolute, totally self-contained singulare tantum, as modernity itself would have us believe, it does have a certain unity. Nevertheless, this unity is inherently unstable; it is essentially parasitic upon, and dialectically enmeshed with, the very thing from which it seeks emancipation: human nature as teleologically ordered to a pre-defined good. One implication of this account of modernity—which I am largely borrowing from Spaemann—is that no good brought to light in the modern era can be credited (except per accidens) to the modern project insofar as it would be purely modern, for the simple reason that it is ontologically impossible for anyone or anything actually to be purely modern in the first place. By the same token, we can appreciate the modern era as an expression of God’s providential design—while acknowledging just how deeply the modern project has distorted this expression. It seems to me that an important task of the Church today is to make this acknowledgment in a posture of vicarious representation (Stellvertretung, as Balthasar calls it) on behalf of the “modern world.” The Church must in a sense be the true modern world, true because it confesses the illusion of the modern project and so receives as if for the first time the providential blessings that this illusion has distorted. Of course, to the extent that the Church’s members are themselves moderns, they will be really confessing, and not just going through the motions. There is no room in this confession for any sort of moralistic resentment or indignation, but only for impartial (also philosophical) self-examination in the light of divine goodness.

5. Francis Slade makes a helpful distinction between purposes—human intentions—and ends—which have to do with the fulfillment of natures. See his essay “Ends and Purposes,” in Richard F. Hassing, ed., Final Causality in Human Affairs (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 83–85.

6. George Grant, “Thinking about Technology,” in Technology and Justice (Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 32. Technology, then, is not a repertory of neutral instruments. There are two interrelated reasons why it isn’t. First, the instruments we describe as “technology” (as in “new technologies”) are not neutral, because (whether the makers fully realize this or not) they (tend to) embody a certain understanding of causal agency as neutral power to which the good is added later in the form of extrinsic human purpose. Second, this very fact implies that the essence of technology lies in the conception of causality that technological instruments (tend to) embody: What really is is what really works, and what really works is some form of neutral mechanics, whose effectiveness simply is what it is, indifferently to the purposes—all that is left of the good—that we choose to add to it from the outside. Note that this understanding of causality is nothing other than the modern ontology I have outlined above—now translated into the terms of cause (the problem being, not causality, efficient or otherwise, but its reduction to neutral power, whose constitution has nothing essential to do with any original goodness).

7. Ibid. At the same time, it is good to remember the possibility of “the very simple discovery that a net woven by thought is always just that: a net that exists because it is thought”: Spaemann, Philosophische Essays, 8 (emphasis added).