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Pulling up Roots From Reality – A Review of a Cogent Analysis of the Post Cartesian West

May 26, 2013

052613About two years ago I attempted to trace our philosophical disaster of the modern world back to Descartes and the disconnect from reality he introduced (and with which, at least, he struggled). In effect, the radical doubt he introduced in anything I see or experience,  disconnects us from reality. And, pulling up roots from reality and the revelation of creation, we live increasingly in our mind and out of touch with reality. Welcome to the modern and post Cartesian age, a strange landscape that seems little impressed with reality or stubborn facts. (N.B. It is a strange paradox of modern times that we idolize the physical sciences, and I also wrote of that here On the Cartesian Anxiety of our Times).

Perhaps the most  extreme example of the disconnect from reality in our times is the celebration of homosexual activity. If, for example a “cultural neanderthal” such as me suggests that the design of the body speaks against homosexual acts by a simple consideration that  “the parts” do not fit, I am greeted with a continuum of responses from blank stares on down to indignity which rhetorically asks, “What does the body have to do with it? It is what I think and feel that matters!” And thus, the disconnect from reality and the retreat into the mind and psyche is complete.

How did we get here? I attempted to answer in the previous post I referenced above tracing the problem to the great Cartesian divide. But in so doing I must say I am in less command of the subtleties of the problem since my philosophical training is thin, and especially the history of philosophy.

Last Tuesday, the priests of Archdiocese of Washington were summoned to a meeting wherein Cardinal Wuerl laid out his concerns of regarding our modern culture, and then asked us to listen to Msgr. Brian Bransfield, Associate General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He gave a wonderful talk, many details of which I cannot share now, but will in the future. But among his teachings was a cogent and concise description of the stages of our journey out of reality and into the self defined world of personal opinion and merely the mind.

His description is brief, really an aside in a larger talk, but I am always appreciative of those who can see and describe the stages of our current malaise. There is something about naming the demons that afflict us and mapping the stages wherein we have come. Perhaps there is a way back, or at the very least, a rediscovery of the glory of the original map of God’s desgin and the charting of a newer and better course.

Allow me to quote from Msgr. Bransfield and supply some commentary of my own. Please direct any critique at me, not him, since I am excerpting from a larger talk and context is important.

Also, Msgr. Bransfield’s talk was aimed more at the heart than the head, and he argues that merely intellectual arguments will not be enough in the current climate of doubt and cynicism. And yet, understanding the intellectual disconnect is important in order to help us understand why mere argument will not be enough.

His brief description is in black and bold italics. My poor commentary is in plain, red text.

We can trace the fragmentation of the last four hundred years…in steps, how Descartes, to establish clear certainty in his search for knowledge set up:

Notice the use of the word fragmentation. For if it be so that we tend today to live in our heads, not in reality, then there is very little to unite us. If all that matters is what I personally think, and that is “reality” for me, and if you have claim the same authority for your own personal thoughts, then we are not united, we are fragmented. There is nothing outside ourselves to unite us. We are divided, fragmented and living in our own little world, living up in our head, not in a shared experience called reality.

Descartes set up:

1. A dualism between the material and spiritual – 

And thus the disconnect between the actual world and what we think begins. Descartes entertained or struggled with radical doubt wherein he could not be sure there was anything “out there,” that is, outside his mind. The only thing he knew for sure was that he existed, since he was a thinking agent. And here was the memorable” Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). But that is all that is certain for him. Everything else might be a dream or deception.

Thus the wall of separation between the thinking mind and reality is introduced.

By the way, radical doubt, though an intriguing theory, and one we have all wrestled with a bit, is a wholly useless theory at the end of the day. One cannot possibly live by it. Such folks tend to sit on chairs that may or may not be there, and avoid walking into walls that may or may not be there. But of course they are there. And thus the doubters ignore the overwhelming evidence of reality in theory, but must navigate it in actuality. Their little theory of radical doubt is useless and they violate it at every moment.

But useless though it is, the theory has been very intoxicating to the decaying West which loves its little dualisms, and prefers conflict to synthesis.

2. and in the dualism introduced…a separation in which he set man’s internal mind in, opposition to external reality. – And thus the retreat out of reality and into our minds began. We start to live up in our heads and think something is so just because we think so.

3. [Next] Descartes….elevated the mind, (the thinking subject) and …reduced the external, objective world of concrete reality.

And thus what we think becomes more important that what is. Thought, opinion and feeling trump reality. Many people today do not even sense the need to check on the facts of what they think. Merely that they think it makes it so.

Today we often here phrases like, “That may true for you, but not for me.” And, more humorously, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” 

And thus, what we think trumps reality. We actually start to suppose that saying “truth is relative” or “that is true for you but not for me” is a real argument (it is not) when all it really is, is a lazy “living up in our head” and a stubborn refusal to engage reality.

4. Man’s understanding of himself and the world have been in a downward spiral ever since. Only the mind and what the mind says is reality, is real.

And this partly explains the shredding of tradition and the iconoclastic tendencies of the modern age. “Who cares what the ancients said or thought? If you and I, who are contempories cannot even agree on what is real and all that matters is what I think, why should what you think matter to me, let alone what someone who lived centuries ago think?” If we all just live up in our heads, not in reality, what do I have in common with you, let alone The Founding Fathers, St. Thomas, or Jesus for that matter. Everything now goes into the shredder, all that matters is what I think.

5. [And] thus there is … a collapse between the mind and reality. And in the collapse, reality loses. exactly

6. [And so] reality becomes a mere label (nominalism). The child in the womb is not called a child, it is labeled something else. A refugee seeking asylum is not called a person, but is labeled undocumented.

And thus the modern battle over terminology: pro-abortion or pro-choice, fetus or baby, fornication or cohabitation, homosexual or gay, redefining marriage or marriage freedom, and even worse than “undocumented” is illegal “alien.”

So much hinges on terminology, euphemism and redefinition since thought trumps reality. And if we can influence thought, reality doesn’t matter. Never mind that a baby has been dismembered alive, this is all about “choice” and “reproductive freedom.” And “sodomy” is such an unpleasant reality, lets just call it “Gay Love”

It is as  if we suppose our terminology and thought can change or alter the reality somehow. It cannot, but in this post Cartesian fog that is exactly what we suppose. Away with reality, all that matters is what I think.

7. [So] the mind now “creates” rather than conforms to reality – Yes, or so we think

8. Relativism is born; [and] the thinking subject is… autonomous – Notice that word; “Autonomous.”

And here is where things get scary. Reality is what I say it is. No one and no thing gets to tell me what to do or what to think, I should answer to no one.

As Pope Benedict had warned, while this attitude marches under the banners of tolerance and freedom, the ultimate result of relativism is tyranny.

This is because if you and I cannot agree on something outside ourselves to which we are bound (e.g. reality) and to which we must answer, then we cannot appeal to that, so we resort to the use of power to enact our view. Raw power, be it political, economic or popular opinion, are now used to impose agendas since appeals to reason, or a common sense, or justice and or religious values, even to Constitutional parameters is becoming increasingly impossible.

In the video below Fr. Barron laments how we cannot even have a decent argument anymore since we agree on so little. Thus we just end up talking past one another. The final result is the mere use of raw power. Reality is what I think, I am autonomous. And if you don’t agree I will first ignore you, and if that doesn’t work I will work to marginalize you, eliminate your influence altogether,  and , if necessary, destroy you.

Welcome to the dark side of the Cartesian Divide.

9. And [thus], the ultimate absurdity is enthroned: nihilism: nothing, not as a privation, but as a positive reality: there is nothing…no relation between reality, be it the child in the womb, the prisoner on death row, the immigrant on the border, and …. our conscience. There is no communion between reality and the mind. –

Yes, today we witness the exultation of nothing, the outright celebration that “nothing is true.” Indeed, we live in self-congratulatory times where many, if not most, applaud their nihilism as being “open-minded,” “tolerant” “humanitarian” and so forth. 

But As Msgr Bransfield points out, all this really does is to sever communion. There is nothing humanitarian about it since there is no real communion between human beings possible when I just live up in my head. Further there is nothing to be tolerant of since there is nothing out there, outside what I think, to tolerate. And there is absolutely nothing open-minded in any of it since it is the ultimate form of close-mindedness saying, “Reality is what I think, and that settles it.” For the modern post-Cartesian, “tolerance” is your right to agree with me, “open-minded” means you agree with me, and humanitarianism is only what I say it is.

So here we are, in a post Cartesian malaise and cauldron, the vast majority living up inside our head. To all this the church must keep shouting reality.

It may seem dark now, and it may get darker. But reality has a funny way of reasserting itself. Our little collective experiment in unreality will necessary run its course. Let us pray that our reintroduction to reality will not be too harsh. But I am afraid it will be.

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Comments (58)

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  1. Crowhill says:


    If you’re interested in philosophy, try the podcast called The Partially Examined Life. They have an episode on Descartes.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Monsignor, reality does have a funny way of reasserting itself. Gay sex is not healthy from a medical perspective. The parts really don’t fit. Sodomy is very dangerous to one’s health…particularly to the passive partner.

    Heterosexual sex can spread disease, too, but gay sex is an especial public health disaster.
    But people deny this still! It is laziness, fraud and exploitation to promote homosexuality as a virtue.

    People whose genitalia are abloom with herpes talk about “healthy” sex. And many gay men deny that they have any special risk for HIV. The band just keeps playing on and on.

  3. John says:

    Inspirational! The last paragraph sums up perfectly what will happen: “reality has a funny way of reasserting itself”. Thanks, Msgr!

  4. Mark O'Malley says:

    Msgr Pope,

    Great analysis.

  5. R in Indiana says:

    I’m anxious to hear more from Msgr. Bransfield. Thank you for providing some insight.

  6. Donna says:

    Excellent post and so relevant to our times. There is so much “choice” out there, and everyone is choosing their own path. There is very little that connects us.

    It’s not just laziness that plagues our world, but pride. We think so much of ourselves and prefer our own opinions to others’. No longer do people search out concrete knowledge, but defer to their own thoughts about matters. In our pride, we condemn anyone who would not esteem us as highly as we do ourselves. We are “politically correct” because it has become a “crime” to hurt someone’s feelings by correcting them or exposing their sin.

    The enemy knows that there is strength and power in a People who are of “one mind” – united in beliefs and purpose. Sadly, we have become a people who are, as you say, “autonomous”, which has led to weakness, confusion, and a lack of moral conviction. Chaos is not far away from us.

    God’s children need to wake up and start fasting and praying for this society that is spiraling downwards.

  7. Dismas says:

    I learned a new word, anamnesis, while listening to the homily on EWTN’s daily Mass this morning. I wonder if the problem of our cultures “Pulling up Roots From Reality” couldn’t also be better understood or further defined in a less theological more medical sense of the word as cultural anamnesia?

  8. TaillerHuws says:

    I like your commentary Msgr. Pope. I don’t think it “poor.” This is a good, informative analysis. Thank you.

  9. Greg says:

    Because of the Fall, we all have a disordered inclination to invert the words Christ that say “The truth shall set you free” into “I’ll use my freedom to determine my own truth”. Adam and Eve did it. No one is immune to it without accepting the supernatural grace of God, given by Christ in the gift of the Spirit.

  10. Gregg the obscure says:

    Last red paragraph first line has some typos “us severe” should probably be “is sever”.

  11. Nate says:

    Fr. Barron said:
    ” The final result is the mere use of raw power. Reality is what I think, I am autonomous. And if you don’t agree I will first ignore you, and if that doesn’t work I will work to marginalize you, eliminate your influence altogether, and , if necessary, destroy you.”

    We too need to accept reality – which is that secularism and Islam seek the destruction of the Church. Here in the West our reintroduction to this reality is just beginning. In places like China and the Muslim world, these hard facts are already quite apparent to Christians. When will we abandon the post-Vatican II self-deceptions on these matters?

  12. Romulus says:

    The project Msgr. Pope exposes here is literally demonic: the deconstruction and redefinition of humanity and the possibility of being human. How long can this go on?

  13. BHG says:

    As I used to tell my chemistry and biology students: there may be your reality and my reality but try sitting down without a chair and your rear end is going to hit the floor….

  14. Howard says:

    The radical division between the spiritual and the corporeal did not first occur with Descartes; it is an old Gnostic idea. I think you could find all these troubling problems among the Manichees and Cathars as well — notably the idea that the body is already depraved and the soul can only be deceived, not contaminated, so sins of the body are irrelevant.

    • So the good Monsignor has no point? I suppose we could trace all problems to the Garden and the fall too. But Descartes WAS a major turning point in Western history, and that is the point here Howard. Everyone knows there are not new ideas, but the current hurricane of the West’s decline organized itself around the storm center of Descartes, even if storms are as old as the planet.

      • Howard says:

        We could, but the sin of Adam is not as explicitly related to the divorce between body and spirit as either the doctrines of the Cathars or the philosophy of Descartes. And yes, I do think it is a mistake to lay all this at the feet of Descartes, just like it would be wrong to lay the blame for all slavery at the feet of John Calhoun. Calhoun was a prominent spokesman for slavery, but the idea (and the practice) was there before him and did not depend on him to continue. Descartes was a very prominent spokesman for dualism, but the idea was there before him and would have still been here if Descartes had never lived. If we think this is a totally new idea that could have been avoided if only it had not been for Descartes, we will underestimate the allure and resilience of this error.

        • You just being argumentative at this point. Go write your own article. Neither i or the good msgr lay everything at Descartes feet and you know we don’t Howard. I am going to start thinking you engage in the cognitive distortion of all or nothing thinking

  15. Anonymous says:

    What about empiricism? I might be willing to agree with you about Descartes’ radical doubts about the sensible world, but Locke and Hume are totally modern and thorough rejected Descartes’ doubts as ridiculous. Given empiricism it seems inappropriate to reject modernity in its entirety.

    • Yes, but weren’t they thereby responding to the tone he set? I do not propose that Descartes was never disputed, he even disputed himself, but rather that he began a process

      • Anonymous says:

        Sure, empiricism was responding to Descartes, but so was everyone at the time including scholasticism. (And as someone noted above, previous philosophers took time to respond to the sorts of arguments Descartes presented as well. Augustine himself takes time to address these sorts of radical doubts in De Trinitate.) So I’m not sure what your point is.

        My point is that empiricism’s point of departure was a straight-forward rejection of Descartes’ radical doubts about the external world as irresponsible. Empiricists heaped no end of ridicule on these doubts. Aren’t you just doing the same thing? Aren’t you just rejecting Descartes’ doubts in the same way empiricism does? If so, it seems wrong to condemn modernity (which includes empiricism) as essentially misguided.

      • Telos says:

        Msgr. Pope,

        If you are interested in modern philosophy and its influence on our current times, I would recommend that you pick up a copy of William Desmond’s “Being In the Between.” William Desmond is one of the few current philosophers that has been able to lucidly show our inherited “forgetfulness of being” from the modern philosophical approach to metaphysics. That is to say, in the attempts of becoming masters over nature, most modern philosophers have failed to take into account or have ignored the fact that being as such, is given by something that is other to the modern mind before modern mind could determine its own existence. This “forgetfulness of being” has has dire consequences on both, individual and structural levels because the modern mind wants to annihilate that which is other to its own self-determination.

        Also JPII, when he was Cardinal Wojtyla, wrote “The Acting Person.” This text gives a good basis for thinking through the strict dualism between mind and matter that was maintained by Descartes and continued in Kant.

        Both texts are heavy scholarship and require a lot of patience, but are well worth taking the time to read.

        Incidentally, have you considered Francis Bacon as a predecessor of Descartes? His natural philosophy had a direct impact on Descartes’s modern approach to metaphysics and the modern scientific method.

  16. RichardGTC says:

    All these descartians have a self-defined excellence. Though for them, reality is, by definition, inhospitable, as they deny a coherence between the one knowing and that which is known. I guess these descartians also claim that there is some sort of heroism in claiming the incoherence between the one knowing and that which is known.

  17. John Darrouzet says:

    Descartes may well have been thinking with Ockham’s Razor as he peeled back his self to the point of arriving at his “thinking substance” or, better, his “doubting substance.”

    However, it is at that point when the razor cut too close to the heart of the matter. Descartes had no way of identifying who or what it was that was doing the doubting, hence the “certainty” achieved was like passing gas rather than giving birth to a living child.

    Both of these mathematicians lived in mathematical bubbles of their own making, like many idealists. Materialists would come back at them and take away their razors, but suffer from the same reductive effort.

    The result: people try to balance material and ideal needs on the razor, thinking the outcome will be real, when in fact they are only splitting the hairs of nominalism.

    To arrive at a realism that we live, it’s best to doubt the benefits of doubt and put the double-edged blade of insight-and-oversight back in Pascal’s “safety razor” where the “heart has reasons that reason does not know.”

  18. david pair says:

    Most interesting. Not that I didn’t find you commentary educational and informative but I would like to read Msgr Bransfield’s talk in its entirety if possible. Is it posted online or are you planning to do so in the future? Perhaps with your own comments as above?
    Thanks again for this very educational post.

  19. Dave Pair says:

    Most interesting.
    Not that I didn’t find you commentary informative but I would like to read Msgr Bransfield’s talk in its entirety if possible. Is it posted online or are you planning to do so in the future? Perhaps with your own comments as above?
    Thanks again for this very educational post.

  20. Anneg says:

    Very interesting and clear. I’ve seen this non-rational behavior so much that I wonder if it isn’t autonomic rather than autonomous. The reactions to reasoned arguments are so knee-jerk it is surprising when talking to supposedly well educated professionals and especially bad with those technologically oriented. They seem to react only to those things that can be plugged in and their children are even more disconnected from empathy and normal human behavior.

  21. Anne says:

    The confusion we are experiencing is overwhelming. Today’s New York Times, May 27, has an article about how the Archdiocese of New York, with its own money, is paying for coverage that includes abortion for its health care workers and has been doing so for some time. The archdiocesan spokesperson says it indeed does this.

  22. one anonymous says:

    So many can try to deny God but they can’t deny life though can they. Truth needs evidence and there is so much evidence, which is all around us. So Christ says if you do not believe me then believe the works that I do (John 10:38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”) And then of course death will be the ultimate reality, the last evidence… facing God then.

  23. Linus says:

    That’s a lot to put on one man. The real impetus certainly was the early 17th century. I would put it on a combination of Martin Luther, the Reformation, the whole Age of Enlightenment or the so called Age of Reason. But perhaps Henry the Vll broke the moral ice and set an example for others to jump after they had thought about it for a hundred years.


    • TeaPot562 says:

      @Linus: Do you mean Henry VII (who benefited from the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field? Or his second son, Henry VIII, who divorced Catherine of Aragon and rationalized his way into murdering St’s John Fisher and Thomas More?

  24. TaillerHuws says:

    If we stand inside that narrow beam of Light which God sends for us – and with a clean inner “eye,” the answers become simple and clearer I think.

  25. Manny says:

    I completely agree with you on the absurdity of homosexuality as normal. No argument from me there. Society has swallowed the Kool Aide there, and I don’t know what will cause us to return to sanity.

    I do think your argument on Descarte’s being the root of relativism is off. Descarte circled back to faith after searching for rock bottom certainty. Two points come to mind. (1) Every single mature person has at some point had doubt in their faith. I cannot believe that it’s possible not to. I think even Mother Theresa expressed some momentary qualms. The fact that Descarte questioned it is not unusual. (2) Every philosopher has to entertain the negative of where his proofs find firm ground. Even Thomas Aquinas in the very act of presenting proofs of God’s existence had to entertain the thought that God does not exist for him to progress in his thoughts. Otherwise why go through the effort of the proof? Personally if you’re really want to go back and find the germ of relativism, I would put forth it’s Hume’s empiricism. Dualism claims the existence of physical and metalphysical worlds, and we agree with that, don’t we? Empiricism denies the metaphysical world exists, or perhaps more charitably claims it cannot be proven to exist.

    • Isn’t it interesting that you use the word “personally” Your Cartesian slip is showing 🙂

      • Regina says:

        Monseigneur, with all due respect, she and other people that bring up the empiricists are closer to the mark of post modernity thinking patterns. Descartes played a significant role (although Martin Luther play a greater one, I would argue), but it is more the denial of the metaphysical realm (e.g. objective good, truth, or justice) that begets today’s relativistic ideology than skepticism of the physical. Manny was just being polite by saying “personally” because this is not simple 1+1=2 problem or answer.

        Another person who we are beholden to is Charles Darwin….

      • Manny says:

        LOL, I am not a Cartesian nor a philosopher. Philosophy usually makes my head spin around. 🙂

        • Anonymous says:

          “Empiricism denies the metaphysical world exists, or perhaps more charitably claims it cannot be proven to exist.”

          I suppose this is true, but it is not quite so simple as this. Locke and Berkeley (both empiricists) didn’t deny a metaphysical reality. Hume probably did, but he never said so. For example, he doesn’t deny the existence of cause and effect. He denies only the Cartesian claim to have a level of certitude about cause and effect which would enable us to be sure about know which cause produces which effect.

          What they all agree on (and this allows us to label them empiricists) is a firm rejection of reason’s ability to access metaphysical reality. Locke and Berkeley agreed that perception alone was sufficient to do this. Hume was skeptical.

          By the way, in point of fact, Hume was not a relativist of any kind (especially moral). He makes it pretty clear that he considers himself a kind of Aristotelian. Check out his letters

  26. Patrick Cullinan, Jr. says:

    Let me offer a correction. Our Catholic Faith is absolute certainty. Some people, known as red martyrs, sacrifice life without a twinge of doubt. Others, the white martyrs, are no less sure of the things of the Faith — or, for that matter, of their devotion to Jesus. The enemy has tried to drive a wedge between faith and knowledge. The Faith is knowledge. We know that Jesus is the Son of God. We know that He rose from the dead.

    Descartes is playing a trick on those who fall for the pitch and come to think they were never sure of the Faith.

    And by the way, there is no such thing as a “leap of faith.” When someone comes to believe in the Catholic Faith, he does not take a jump in the dark, but sees with an intellect that has been formed by truth and cultivated by a right will.

    The seed-bed of doubt is a prickly conscience or a will to sin.

  27. Paul Brandon Rimmer says:

    ‘“the parts” do not fit’

    Yes, they do.

    • You have be deceived and certainly a poster child for Cartesian solipism. For the record, and it is distasteful that a should have to say this, but the part of the body referred to as the anus is for the expelling of feces. I will say no more since this is a family blog but I would encourage you to purchase an anatomy book. You might also consult a PDR to see the list of cancers and other diseases related to all sorts of unhealthy sexual practices, both homosexual and heterosexual. Perhaps nature and reality are registering their complaints in regard to disordered sexual practices. Any fifth grader can see that the parts don’t fit, that the body is not designed for its proposed usage in the matter under (unfortunate and unpleasant) discussion.

  28. Tim says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Do you have any thoughts to share about the liturgy and the Cartesian effect? I am curious to know if there is a link between the Novus Ordo, which seems to take on a nature of “experience” of the individual compared to the EF. Did the Council Fathers see this as a chance to engage the modern world and bring the “experience” driven person into relation with God, or where they products of their time and didn’t have the hindsight to see that the liturgy, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass (Source and summit of Christian life being the Eucharist), as moving towards the thought that it needs to fulfill the needs of individual “experience” so attendees “get something out of Mass”.

    Thank you for your writings and may God bless you.

    • I would prescind from speaking of the Council Fathers in relation to this topic, but certainly, the post conciliar age displayed a lot of Cartesian solipsism. There was a lot of hyper individualism at both individual and parochial levels We said in effect, “but the liturgy has to speak directly to me” to my parish in our particular circumstances And thus, “We should be able to adapt the liturgy at will.” And this is a form of detaching from the wider reality of the Church, and the great traditions to which we are heir. There was a tendency to want to live up in our heads, in our own little worlds, rather than in the wider world of international Catholic identity, the liturgy as given, and the liturgy extending back to antiquity. Everything is reduced to me, or a small group of us, what I, or we think. It is a very closed little system, and was even reflected in the architecture of the times which prefer to build parish churches is the form of a closed or semiclosed circle. The building, and the liturgy of those times focused inward rather than outward toward the world and the wider church, or upward toward God, or backward toward antiquity. At least, that’s my take on it.

      • Tim says:

        Msgr Pope,

        Thank you very much for the reply. I suppose I am an engineer by thought and look for root causes to “problems” and was curious if whether those liturgical changes made accompanied by architecture (and I would say music, art, dress, behavior, etc) were intentional or unintentional from the perspective of Cartesian influence.

        By the way, Fr Barron gave a talk similar to your article last year at the Napa Institute (YouTube). Worthwhile to watch if your readers have an interest in a complimentary piece to your article.

        God bless,

    • Br. Antonio Maria says:

      I recently read a book entitled “The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward,” by Fr. Jonathan Robinson, published by Ignatius Press. Jonathan Robinson wrote this book with two aims: (1) “To examine the origins and present day influence of modernity” and to show that in the context of the Mass, “this damaging mind-set” need not be accepted by a Christian; and (2) “to show that the sources of a genuine liturgical renewal are to be found in a heightened sense of the centrality of the Mass and a return to a theology compatible with The Catechism of the Catholic Church (These are quotes from the back cover).”

      He divides the book into three parts: Part I is entitled “Wingless Chickens;” Part II is “The Night Battle;” and Part III is entitled “The Lamb’s High Feast.” This is probably the kind of book you’re looking for.

      Blessed Feast Day of the Visitation of Mary.
      -Br. Antonio Maria

  29. Dan says:

    It always bothers me when anyone makes a distinction between “heart” and “head” as though the two are rationally separable. Truth is conformity between the object in the mind and the object in reality. Truth is to be sought with the head and followed with the heart.

    • Patrick Cullinan, Jr. says:

      Dan, this is not a contradiction of what you’re saying, but a contribution. Your post is exactly correct. Everything is epitomized by “Truth is to be sought with the head and followed with the heart.” Forgive me if I get simplistic. I’m an old man with a lot of time on my hands.

      The heart is actually the will. The will enables us to love (or commit, to use current language). That’s where real love comes from. The head or intellect apprehends something, for example, how Jesus took insults and abuse, even threats, from the liberals of his time, namely, the Pharisees. The heart or will is then moved — “I’m going to be like Him!” This is usually accompanied by some emotion. All this is treated in writings on the spiritual life. These writings are far from bookish. If you follow them, you could get jailed or killed. I can see it coming.

  30. Steve B says:

    Msgr. Pope great article – remember never let the facts get in the way of a good story (or the truth) – God Bless!

  31. ThomasL says:

    Msgr Pope,

    If you have not read it yet, Etienne Gilson’s “The Unity of Philosophical Experience” is an excellent history and critique of this issue.

    The overall arc turns on Descartes, but it is more general as it takes up similar threads from Abelard (reducing philosophy to logic), Occham (reducing philosophy to arbitrary power), &c.

    I have also heard great things about Kenny’s the Metaphysics of Mind, but have not had a chance to read that one yet.

  32. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Descartes was, primarily at least, a mathematician and mathematics is not a science; as such; but – rather – the language of science. When he drew up the Cartesian co-ordinate system he was building the language further toward describing (or improving the language to better describe) what science knew and was discovering. However, this article seems, to me, that he then used the language to define sciennce on its own, assumed, value. Sort of like overemphasizing the value of the “thought experiment”; or maybe even actually treating the thought experiment as conclusive.
    A thought experiment can have a great deal of value when it is built on information that has already been confirmed by a hard, and physically manifested, experiment. However, if someone were to perform one thought experiment then, build another on the basis of the first then, keep carrying on; preconceived notions will creap into the structure as the experimenter struggles between an attempt at superhuman objectivity and an egotistical desire to be believed no matter how accurate the results. A physically manifested experiment will confirm the quality results and lead to discarding the uncomfimable. Wishful thinking grows in its influence and weakens the structure.
    A metaphor (or comparison) which I see here would involve a structure similar to a house of cards but, the first layer is built with solid card-like sheets and a few flimsy cards. Then, the second structure; which rests on and depends upon the first would have fewer solid sheets and more flimsy cards. If this structure exists only in the mind then, the inevitable collapse would be prevented in the structure itself but, the society which depends on it would be doomed to a collapse; which our society seems to be experiencing the beginnings of – as government debt increases due to funding dysfunctional to remain dysfunctional and encouraging dysfunction in order to make potential producers into helpless recipients of the “benevloence” of the bloated and steadily growing bureaucracy.
    A revered thinker would have attracted idolators who would tend to use verbal violence (and other manipulative emotional pain induction) in a fear of comparison to what used to work so well. I’ve seen “fear of comparison” presented as the source motive for jealousy and comparison.
    I don’t know if Descares somehow polarized from regarding mathematics to effectively communicate (and use) proven facts (truth? as in John 8:31-34) and ended up, after the polarization, to use the language to prove or disprove the facts and to endorse wishful thinking. However I do know that I dislike the degeneration of society as such things as punishing the producers by providing their fruits to the wasters and, thereby, discouraging meaningful constructiveness. All in the name of being “fair”

  33. Greg says:

    My biggest problem with Descartes is that he got it backwards. It’s not “I think, therefore I am,” but rather “I am, therefore I think, love, feel, remember.” Our existence is *the* sine qua non, the prerequisite. He was living inside his head, as Msgr. Pope pointed out repeatedly.

  34. vincent apisa says:


    I just got around to reading this post. Thanks for passing along the gist of Msgr Bransfield’s talk.

    A quick point: You made the comment, “… radical doubt, though an intriguing theory, and one we have all wrestled with a bit, is a wholly useless theory at the end of the day. One cannot possibly live by it.”

    Agreed. Not that the radical doubter is much troubled by his stance, but it would seem that he has trapped himself in a paradox of his own making. The doubter says, “I doubt that truth can be discovered. I doubt everything, — everything, that is, except the sentence ‘I doubt that truth can be discovered.’ Of that that principle I am absolutely certain.” In other words, the radical doubter must guard against applying the principle of doubt against doubt itself, lest he open the door into an inquiry into truth.