Catholicism And Progress

Rudolf Steiner, Magazine for Literature, 66th year, No. 37, 18 September 1897
Google translate: German to English


The Würzburg Professor of Theology Herman Schell has published: "Catholicism as a Principle of Progress" (Würzburg 1897). This title had an effect on me like a protest against ideas that I have become accustomed to for many years. I remember that in my youthful years a lasting impression was made on me by a statement made by the famous Cardinal Rauscher in the Austrian mansion. He said, "The Church knows no progress." This sentence always seemed to me to be inspired by a truly religious spirit. And he still seems this way to me today.

If I were a devout Catholic, I would probably take every opportunity to prove and defend that sentence. I would then say, as the Church Father Tertullian, that man's curiosity is no longer necessary, after the divine truth has been revealed to him through Jesus Christ. I would swear by the words of St. Thomas Aquinas that Scripture contains the doctrine of salvation, and that reason can do nothing but use its powers to find human proofs for these eternal truths of Scripture.

I consider the freedom of thinking a paradoxical idea, for I could scarcely associate any sense with the idea of ​​free thinking, if I had to assume that reason must ultimately end up in revelation. I must confess that a devout Catholic who does things differently appears to me first as a problem, as a big question mark. One such question mark for me at first was Professor Herman Schell. As I read his book, the problem took on a more definite shape. It became a psychological task. I found that in the mind of the Professor, ideas are in perfect harmony, which I have hitherto thought to be a complete contradiction.

So says our author: "Freedom of thought is really an ideal, insofar as it means freedom from all prejudices, and remains an ideal, as long as the greatest danger to judgment and to progress is bias by prejudice. Freedom of thought means nothing other than the endeavor to break and keep away from those influences on thought which have no right to truth, because they are not factual or substantiated, because they are only imaginings, habitual ways of thinking, false and superficial interpretations of sensory impressions other communications, such as historical documents or religious source scripts."

The Professor knows quite well what must be drawn from this sentence to draw conclusions when dealing with different modern world-views. He proves to materialism, to monism, that they are based on judgments that thought does not test, because it has become accustomed to them, because it has become entrenched in them by settling in to it. "Materialism has no sense of the facts of internal experience and of the mind; only the tangible is considered a fact. Monism does not want to accept a cause of the world that is different from the world and is a supramundane personality: that is its dogma."

But I would now like to ask the Catholic professor what he said when it turned out before the forum of free thinking that any of the basic Christian dogmas must be dropped. It seems to me, if I recall the contents of the book, as if the author had no sense for such a possibility. It is as if he believes that thinking can not be anything but the last to arrive at the Christian salvation truths. He wants the promotion of knowledge, but he is convinced that this promotion can not exist in the abandonment of the essential doctrines of the Church, "ranging from the personality of the Creator and the personal immortality of the soul to the historical revelation of God".

If thinking is to be really free, then it must also be open to the possibility of leading to a world-view which derives the order of things from other powers than from a personal God, and knows nothing of personal immortality and historical revelation. Whoever sets these doctrines as goals from the beginning to which thinking must come, speaks as a Catholic; but he can not possibly become the defender of free thought. This becomes a guideline when you set the target yourself. It is inhibited by recognizing the facts as only an arbitrary flight into fantasy, yet the interpretation depends on the statement of the facts. Thought is the last determining factor.

Christian theology, however, must be concerned with interpreting the phenomena of the world so that the interpretation agrees with the content of the revelation. Our author says: "The ideal that guides theological research is the conviction that the equation between properly recorded revelation and properly interpreted reality is to be established." Free thinking sails out into the unknown when it searches for truth. Where the boat is going, it does not know. It only has the strength and the courage to come to a satisfactory view from its own power. Catholic theology knows exactly what the cognition looks like to which thought must arrive. Schell knows this because he says: "The return of faith to demonstrable facts and to convincing principles and proofs is the ideal of theological science."

For me, the question now arises: how is it possible for a logically trained person like Herman Schell to unite the two assertions: thinking must be free, and: this free thinking must provide the proof that the Catholic belief in revelation has unconditional truth? This question seems to me to be a psychological one. I want to solve it in the following way. The modern theologian is educated in the belief in divine revelation. His education makes it impossible for him to doubt the truth of revelation. But in addition to the divine salvation truth, he also gets to know modern science with its fruitful research methods. He gain respect for this fruitfulness. At the same time, he feels a sense of weakness in the face of the achievements of the modern spirit. Only strong spirits will presume to fight against this feeling; and they will also be able to suppress it. They will remain faithful and brave in the true faith, in the true spirit of their fathers, namely the Fathers of the Church: the Church knows no progress.

The others will unite black and white, and as Schell says: "Catholicism signifies the covenant of peace of reason and faith, of research and revelation without the degradation and humiliation of the Logos: for Christianity is the religion of the Spirit and the Logos! The true spirit of religion and sanctity is only the spirit that proceeds from the Word of Truth." Thus says one who feels a sense of shame, perhaps dormant in the unconscious, when viewed as an adversary of progress. The word "Progress" has a suggestive effect on today's educated people, be they theologians, scholars, politicians, etc.

How rare are the people who are proud to think "anti-progressive". Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the opponents of progress: "Progress is merely a modern idea, that is, a false idea. The European of today remains deep in his values ​​under the Renaissance European; development is not necessarily essential for exaltation, elation, or augmentation." These propositions are in one of the antichristlidist books that have been written. But they are in the book that was written by a truly independent mind. However, the treatise "Catholicism as the Principle of Progress" has come up with a heading that is dependent on two sides: the spirit of true Catholicism and a false shame that prevents denying the claims of anti-Catholic science. A Catholic in the true sense of the word must be called, according to the author: "Catholic is a name that not only is from a time-honored tradition, the central church and conservative Christianity in its firmly organized world inventory, but a name that is a high principle, to accomplish a God-given task: to realize the kingdom of God in spirit and in truth among all peoples, and indeed through all peoples and national characters, and thus to carry out Christianity in the Church really fully, genuinely and truthfully."

Non-catholic, and only out it is said in reverence for anti-Catholic science: "The concept of God of the arbitrary power, which expresses its supreme mastermind just as frequently as possible in breaking through the laws of nature and the great chaos of uncontrollable forces, has no basis in reason and can not be proved scientifically. Only God as the almighty realization of the perfect spiritual life, as the eternal omnipotence of infinite wisdom and holiness itself, is provable to unbelief as indispensable truth and makes all superstition unacceptable." This sentence affects me as if it were a Haeckelian not a professor of Catholic theology in Würzburg. A God as the realization of the perfect spiritual life, as the epitome of wisdom and holiness, is something very different from the personal God of the Catholic, the one and only one who can break the laws of nature. This is what the Gospels teach.

And completely anti-Catholic spirit speaks from the words: "Does it need a separate principle, that everything in the rational man must be mediated by his personal reason and freedom, by his earnest examination of conscience, concerning faith and the purpose of life? That's obvious!" Yes, it goes without saying, but for an unchristian thinking. Anyone who does so seriously with these words must refuse to tie the thinking by the established doctrines of faith. But he stops thinking Catholic. For the modern thinker, ghosts like Professor Schell have only a psychological interest. From them you can learn how the most contradictory ideas can live side by side in one mind. The example cited is particularly instructive because it is typical of a large number of modern theologians, and because it shows how little logical training can combat the power of human sensations. Logically, the spirit of the Catholic theologian is trained. But what good does all logic do if contradictory feelings  develop their power from two sides. Logical thinking then becomes a sophistry that fools the thinker that things that will be eternally hostile could live side by side in deepest peace.

© Tom Last 2017