Light from Fides et Ratio

It’s ten years now since JP2’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. It is a great analysis of what B16 calls ‘the dictatorship of relativism’. Part of the encyclical analyzes the underlying assumptions in our relativistic society which contribute to the relativism of our day.

The four types of thought which Pope John Paul discusses are: eclecticism, historicism, scientism and pragmatism.
Eclecticism is the tendency to gather ideas, concepts, moral principles and methods of thought from a wide range of different cultures or ideologies exclusive of their cultural, religious or philosophical concepts. So modern people pick n mix their ideas, taking a smidgen from New Age kookiness, a smattering of self help wisdom, something from the Bible, an idea from a motivational speaker, a quote from a cute poster and something from the Catholic Church. This eclectic approach is classical cafeteria culture. What it does is cheapens each idea and pollutes it with others. It also makes a cohesive and unified philosophy impossible. Most importantly, it relativizes all the ideas by treating them equally and granting each one the same truth value.
Historicism relativizes the truth by assuming that all truths originate in, and are limited by their historical context. What was true at one time is not necessarily true in another. Therefore there is no such thing as absolute truth. This heresy of thought assumes that progress is always going on and that it is always positive. “Each and every day in each and every day we are getting better and better.”
Scientism assumes that the only truth that can be known is that which is proven by the scientific method. Therefore theological, philosophical and moral verities are consigned to the realm of fantasy. Because moral and spiritual truths cannot be proved scientifically they do not exist, and must not be given any credence.
Pragmatism has two aspects: personal pragmatism and political pragmatism. This is essentially utilitarianism. “What works is what is good.” Personal pragmatism is what works for me. Political pragmatism reduces the quest for truth to a majority vote. This is the adolescent whine, “But everyone else is doing it!!” In formal terms groups actually vote on moral principles and believe they have discovered the truth. Therefore, if the majority want abortion, it must be right.
I would add another to the list: Sentimentalism. This is the belief that my own feelings on a particular issue is the deciding factor.
I’m outlining this because it is clear that the Anglican Church, in its debate on women bishops, (and in the majority of its thinking for that matter) it totally given to the relativistic spirit of the age. See if you can pick up which of the ‘isms’ above are speaking in these arguments for women’s ordination:
“Suzy is such a good priest! Such a good pastor! It would be so unkind not to allow her to be a bishop. She would be such a good bishop. So intelligent. So spiritual!” — That would be sentimentalism and pragmatism speaking

“We know so much more about women’s roles now than they did in the early church. Women can do the job just as well as a man. It’s only fair that the women get a chance too, and besides this is what the majority in our society and our church demand.” — I can hear political pragmatism, historicism and personal pragmatism.

“It’s stupid to think that men and women are essentially different when it comes to this sort of job. Psychologists teach us that women are especially suited for the job, and it is only the remains of patriarchal society that are holding us back. Besides, other religions and other denominations have women priests. The Zen masters say, ‘All equal when all is ended and all is ended when all is equal.'” Historicism, eclecticism and scientism.

What was remarkably lacking were arguments from Scripture, theology and tradition. Did anyone even speak of the Pope’s decision on women’s ordination? Did anyone refer to the Eastern Orthodox dismissal of such an innovation?
I know most of my readers are Catholics, and maybe are tiring of all the Anglicanism on the blog at the moment, but these points are vital for Catholics to understand too because they are the assumptions of the society in which we live. The same sort of specious arguments are used in Catholic discussions on all the hot button topics of the day. 
We need to understand the philosophical foundations of our society and be able to spot these specious arguments when they arise and turn away from the relativistic approach to the sources of true authority in the church.
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  • The late George Carlin, though wrong on many things was immediately correct when asked what some of his guiding principles were. His response, “Don’t take any **** from the zeitgeist”. Unfortunately it is all too common to see catholics fall into the trap of relativism. At the same time we see a reactionary movement that creates a false dichotomy between faith and reason. when separated the two can no longer support one another and collapse independatly. If Carlin had not been scandalized by the abandoment of our responsibilities, imagine how he and others may have changed for the better. This only accentuates why a document such as Fides et Ratio is something sorely needed for a the church and for this generation in particular. Thanks for the recap in your post Fr. Longnecker.

  • Father I hope you’re need to “apologize” for the focus on the Anglican is unfounded. This IS a huge story that is taking place in our lifetime, one that may well be pointed to in history as one of the few truly important mile markers of our Church.Said Catholics reading your pages I hope are well read, well prepared, and well prayed to help in anyway possible with the monumental “swim meet” that seems to be about to occur!!There is no way of knowing where this story might end…but I believe it’s going to be huge!

  • Since the writings of JPII much has happened with the field of science. The science of Darwinism & friends are finally being challenged in our school system. There is much more talk about the relationship between faith and science in the search for truth. By the way, how is an encyclical dated for an anniversary? says Sept 14th, 1998 the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

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  • Deacon, there will be no huge swim meet. Anglicans and Episcopalians have drank deeply of a sneering attitude toward Catholicism for so long, and prejudice against it, they feel so much smarter and better than Catholics. Their snide comments over the years have made this crystal clear. Some Anglo Catholics will become Catholic, some Orthodox (because they just can’t pope). Many of the women bishop objectors are Evangelical Anglicans who will go to Evangelical independent churches who still believe in the Bible! But most likely they’ll whine for a while and stay right where they are, being a solo practitioner of their idea of Anglicanism in the midst of everyone else who does the same–a very brittle unity.They’ll go home and have a nice cup of tea and everything will be the same.If they didn’t leave at the ordination of women and gay priests, they won’t leave now. They knew it was coming because ECUSA has been forging the path.I suppose a person could always move to Africa to find authentic Anglicanism. LOL