Matt D’Antuono is a physics teacher in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy, a master’s degree in special education, and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. He returned to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is the author of A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics, The Wiseguy and the Fool and Philosophy Fridays. On YouTube you can find him at DonecRequiescat and his family at MisterD418.
On Sept. 12, 2016, nearly skeletal remains were found in an abandoned police headquarters in Paterson, New Jersey. Authorities think the body had been there for 8 to 10 years based on the water bottle and over-the-counter medicine found with him. The cause of death? The man had accidentally locked himself inside of the cell because he was probably homeless and looking for shelter. One hypothesis put forward is that he was mining the building for scrap metal to sell. Regardless of why he was there, it was a tragedy that he died, and it is terrifying that he died the way he did.
This is old news, but I just heard about it the other day. Immediately, I thought of three analogies: spiritual, theological, and philosophical. Getting locked into one room that is not meant to support the totality of our being is deadly, both literally and metaphorically.
Spiritual. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” All of creation is ours to enjoy, explore, and know. In addition to intellectual and spiritual pleasure, God showers us with an abundance of good, earthly delights. The saint who despises created things, per se, is not a saint. Those among the saints who practiced heroic renunciation did not put aside sense-enjoyment because they thought physical things were bad in themselves; they just saw them in the context of a greater purpose and plan.
However, if we grasp at any one of those pleasures to the exclusion of all the others, we die spiritually. In the mansion of pleasures available to us, each room has its appropriate time and place. Locking ourselves in any room in an effort to get everything we possibly can from that pleasure cuts us off from the other, necessary, life-giving rooms created for us.
Theological. Every heresy is little more than the overemphasis, to a greater or lesser degree, of one aspect of orthodoxy to the point where it eclipses other truths. The true faith is a study in beauty as paradox is connected to paradox into an overall harmony and unity. Faith and works. Free will and providence. One God and three Persons. Soul and body. Scripture, Magisterium, and Tradition. Mercy and justice. True God and true Man. Substantially the body of Jesus and apparently bread. Grace and cooperation. A heretic is a man who locks himself into the idea of God’s unity to the point where he has locked himself out of the idea of God’s three-person-ity. There are abundant riches in the idea of Christ’s divinity, more abundant than we even know, but there are other, abundant, and necessary riches in the idea of Christ’s humanity.
Philosophical. If there is a word that best characterizes the intellectual climate of the Middle Ages, it might be synthesis. Scholars sought to unify everything that there was to know, from Scripture to mathematics to astronomy. Every domain of knowledge has to do, ultimately, with reality. Metaphysics lies at the heart of that synthesis since it deals with the very nature of reality and forms the foundation and draws the boundary for every other discipline. Philosophically speaking, that synthesis ended when Descartes substituted epistemology for metaphysics. However clear and distinct our ideas are, the mind is a philosophically unhealthy place to get locked up. The result has been the maelstrom of philosophies that have since developed. There is no idea so crazy that there is not someone with a Ph.D. who believes it. To be out of touch with reality is the most necessary component of insanity, and to leave the world of reality is precisely what so many modern philosophies do. Are there philosophical riches in the study of the mind? Yes. Are there enough riches in there to sustain philosophical life and growth? No.
Are there more analogies that can be drawn? Yes. In general, it is a grave mistake to live only in the cramped space of a single idea or pleasure. While we may enter a room just out of curiosity or with intentional purpose in mind, we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in that one place. The human person needs the fresh air of all God can give us. If we find ourselves locked in one place, we must beg God for the grace to escape or else we perish.