Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mind that is Catholic

James V. Schall, The Mind that is Catholic: Philosophical & Political Essays. Catholic University Press, 2008. 337 pages. ISBN 9780813215419

James V. Schall is one of my favorite authors. I have read most of his books multiple times. The Mind that is Catholic is one of my favorite books authored by Father Schall. This book is made up of "academic essays" written by Schall from as early as 1957 to those published more recently. Schall explains his purpose for this book in the introductory chapter: "All of the essays in this book, I think, circle around the same point, that things do fit together, that reason is very powerful in its own order, but that, at its best, . . . it leaves us with a certain longing, a certain unsettlement, an abiding intellectual search. At the same time, it is possible to think with a knowledge of  belief in revelation without thereby harming reason or its legitimate powers. What I suggest . . . we think better . . . when both are taken into account" (3).

The Mind that is Catholic is divided into seven parts. The first part explains what is a Catholic Mind. Schall says that "though C. S. Lewis was not a Catholic, I think his mind was" (10). In other words, one does not have to be a Catholic to have a Catholic mind. What is a Catholic mind? According to Schall, a Catholic mind is to "hold the truth because it it knows that it is itself mind open to what is, to what is true from whatever source its evidence might arise, even from common sense, even from reason, yes, even from the revelation hand down to us" (18). Schall believes that both faith and reason are compatible and that one without the other is inadequate. In other words, we need both in our search for truth.

In part two Schall analyzes the importance of Plato. Chapter six discusses Plato's Republic. In this chapter he discusses the uniqueness of Socrates. Schall notes that Socrates tells Glaucon that "to speak knowing the truth, among prudent and dear men, about what is greatest and dear, is a thing that is safe and encouraging" (79). Socrates also teaches us it is better to suffer evil than to do evil. In chapter six, Schall reflects on the death of Socrates. He begins the chapter with a quote from Cicero's On Old Age: "But there is another sort of old age too: the tranquil and serene evening of a life spent in peaceful, blameless, enlightened pursuits. Such, we are told, were the last years of Plato, who died in his eighty-first year while still actively engaged in writing" (80). Schall thinks a college student who doesn't seriously study Plato while in college wasted his education.

Part three discusses friendship. Chapter eighth describes Aristotle's ideas on friendship from his ethics. This chapter on Aristotle's teaching on friendship is excellent. Schall writes, "Two of the most beautiful treatises from the ancient world are on the same subject--friendship. One is by Aristotle in books 8 and 9 of his Ethics; the other is by Cicero" (105). Aristotle's reflections on friendship, Schall points out, "have metaphysical implications of the deepest sort grounded in what is" (112-113). Friendship is one of the great gifts of God. It especially beneficial when you can share the most important things with friends. Aristotle also teaches that we are social and political animals. The next chapter distinguishes between justice and friendship. Chapter nine analyzes the Trinity and how "God is not alone" (128).

Part four focuses on philosophy and theology in the Middle Ages.Chapter eleven's theme is "the point of political philosophy." Schall quotes from Josef Pieper: "The framework of 'Christian Philosophy' . . . is that in Christ man received an intelligence which relates to the whole of the universe and of existence, and therefore by definition concerns anyone who engages in philosophizing--and, which, moreover, is valid by virtue of a superhuman claim to truth. Should anyone reject this premise, he must in consistency regard 'Christian Philosophy,' however one defines it, as meaningless. The whole of medieval philosophy must remain inaccessible to him, as far as its sole underlying motiff is concerned" (151). Medieval philosophy takes both reason and revelation seriously. They believed they addressed each other. Chapter twelve shows how Medieval philosophy "possessed . . . both a reason and a revelation." This chapter discusses the relationship of revelation and reason. The next chapter explains how Aquinas defended "ordinary things." Schall shows how the divine is found in simple, ordinary things. Schall even argues that it is Christianity that will save philosophy. One is reminded that to reason is an act of faith. The author also says that Christians should "love philosophy for its own sake" (179). Schall concludes the chapter: "If the human mind cannot reach reality, there is no mind in things, if the only world that is, is the world that we project within our wills, it follows, it would seem, that there is nothing we can receive. We are, in that case, the criterion and content of our own existence" (188).

Other sections discuss the "implications of Catholic thought." For example, one chapter compares the realism of Augustine and Machiavelli. This was an interesting chapter. It shows how Augustine is a better guide to political things than Machiavelli. Another chapter reviews a book that is a defense of Christian Humanism. Part six describes how sports and philosophy are related. It also includes a chapter on the alternative to a just war. The last section looks at the implications of the earlier chapters. An excellent chapter in this section is the one "On choosing not to see." We can wilfully refuse to see the truth. The appendix includes a recent interview with Father Schall.

The Mind that is Catholic is another excellent book from the pen of James V. Schall. Father Schall recently retired from teaching at the age of eighty-five. He , however, will continue to teach through his books.

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