Friday, October 06, 2006

Louis Dupre and Pope Benedict: A Connection?

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.
-Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Lecture

Louis Dupre's expert study Passage to Modernity was among the first books I discussed in the second month of this blog's existence. (see here and here) It is an expanded discussion of those medieval philosophers and theologians who would inspire the amputated rationality of modern philosophy. Matthew Fish has written an excellent discussion of these medievals and their interpreters, including Dupre quoted here:
Seeking a foundation for the order of cognition, Descartes has redefined the ultimate ontological principles in the function of the epistemic order. The foundation both of the mind and of the world is conceived in accordance with the conditions and needs of knowledge…. While Greek philosophy of the classical age had defined being in terms of form and its dependence primarily (though never exclusively) in terms of participation, modern thought conceived of nature as a causal interaction of forces and of transcendence as a supremely powerful divine will which created and ruled all things by means of efficient causality.

Matthew Fish expands further:
God being relegated to an extrinsic influence, who no longer effects the cosmos formally, is left ghostly absent; where classically the cosmos had an interiority that always pointed to its participation in the Word, now nature was a neutral sphere, in fact a canvas for the mind to impose meaning upon, that the mind must inform since reality has now become void of intelligibility, and therefore any higher ordering or purpose. All meaning and purpose has been exclusively reserved to the inscrutable divine will.

I had not yet noticed the connection between Pope Benedict's and Dupre's analysis, nor have many others, but it is certainly an interesting link to explore. Matthew Fish's full essay excerpt is quite the worthy read.

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