Vocation of Philosophy

The vocation of the Catholic philosopher today is tied to the meaning and import of the Vatican Council II. Does the position of the Church in the modern world require the abandonment of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and the embrace of modern philosophy? Does respect for the autonomy and progress of the secular world require a separation from the guidance of doctrine and the formation of faith? Is it the fate of Catholic philosophers to be absorbed into the professional cadres of academia and fragmented into the rival ranks of secular philosophies? Must the great tradition of Catholic philosophy disappear with but a faint trace in the journals of the historically minded? Not according to the man who fermented Catholic intellectual life for decades prior to the council and was considered a mentor by Pope Paul VI, namely Jacques Maritain. And not according to the man who was present at the council and who worked to craft one of its key documents (The Church in the Modern World), and later became the Pope who steadied the Church in its post-conciliar waverings, namely Karol Wojtyla.

According to their lights, the Church and the world need the philosophy of St. Thomas now more than ever; the efforts of the laity to “build the earth” and discover the   excellence of the everyday calls for the aid of divine grace and the light of faith; Catholic philosophers and thinkers, however dispersed throughout the ranks of academia and wherever present in the deliberations of the councils of the world or engaged in dialogues in galleries and assemblies, must retain the strong flavor of the salt of the gospel. Neither giddy with the superficial hopes of the progressives nor embittered with the shrill despair of the traditionalists, Maritain and Wojtyla brought the strength of their philosophical character (habitus) to confront the many challenges that face the Church in the modern world.

In 1967 Maritain offered his book, The Peasant of the Garonne, as a corrective, a rebuke to extremes he playfully named the “sheep of panurge” and  “ruminators of holy alliance.” Maritain attempts to stabilize the core meanings of the council in light of history, spirituality, and philosophy. Pope John Paul II has accomplished the corrections and he has stabilized the core meanings much in the vein traced by Maritain in Peasant. But much still waits to be discovered. The call for renewal is still waiting for intelligent and generous response. Maritain’s account of the intellectual and spiritual conditions for a true renewal provide us with much to consider.  Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et ratio expands and deepens these considerations..

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