Aquinas Proves God Exists and Faith Is Discoursed and Explained, as Culture Is Engaged
BOOK PICKS: Reads for our times
A Bargain Book Grounds Proof of God’s Existence in First Principles, Reason
A CATHOLIC SCIENTIST PROVES GOD EXISTS
By Gerard Verschuuren
Sophia Institute Press, 2019
185 pages, $5
To order: sophiainstitute.com or (800) 888-9344
In Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, the devil meets Berlioz and Bezdomny in a Moscow park and asks if they believe in God. Told No, he questions them about the “Five Proofs” of God’s existence. Berlioz, speaking for all “enlightened” men, simply dismisses them: “None of those proofs is valid. You must agree that rationally there can be no proof of God’s existence.”
Happily, Gerard Verschuuren doesn’t.
This book is an extended, logical explanation of Aquinas’ Five Proofs and the implications deriving from them for God’s attributes. It also examines the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation for their compatibility with reason and concludes by demolishing the claim that all religions really worship the same god. Setting up the discussion in question-and-answer format — not unlike Aquinas — allows Verschuuren to parry objections.
The author, a biologist, acknowledges that “science does not have that power, if we want a proof [of God’s existence] in the sense of being certain and irrefutable.” The book’s title tickles the fancies of contemporary prejudices: How great it would be if a “scientist” proved God exists! How convinced we would be if we could “prove” God like we prove E = mc². (Somehow, I suspect men would still flee him.)
As a philosopher of science, however, Verschuuren shows readers that, as amazing as science is, its compass is still limited: To borrow the Bard, “there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your science.” We even know some of them: truth, goodness, beauty, love. They’re real, but not “scientific.”
Verschuuren gives a great example of how different ways of looking at reality offer unexpected truths: “When we add one to one in math, the result is necessarily two (1+1=2); but when we add one drop of water to another drop of water, the result is not two drops but one drop (1+1=1); and when we add one organism to another, we may end up with three or more of them (1+1 ≥3).”
Verschuuren takes readers on a tour de force of philosophy, grounding proof of God’s existence in first principles, basic truths of reason that they cannot deny without making all thinking impossible.
Painstakingly, step by step, he leads from those first principles to an understanding of God that any human being, using his reason, could arrive at:
“Based on a premise with a self-evident universal statement, the argument leads us conclusively to God as Existence Itself, a Necessary Being, the First Cause, the Cosmic Designer, and an Eternal Intellect. The existence of this Being cannot be denied without rejecting the self-evident universal statement that the argument begins with.”
From this foundation, he drives on:
“Based on these proofs, we can logically derive that this Being must be unique, invisible, all-perfect, all-present, all-knowing, all-good, and all-loving. Rejecting the existence of this Being is first of all illogical. But if this Being does exist, then denying its existence would also be [an] offense against God Himself.”
Verschuuren acknowledges that the vision of the God of Revelation is richer than the God of Reason but is also emphatic about the need for reason along with faith. He also admits that while proof of God’s existence is theoretically available to all, philosophical reasoning is hard and can derail. Concepts like “cause,” “effect,” “time,” “space,” “presence” and “eternal” are all deceptively simple — until we lose our way by failing to differentiate first from second causes or thinking “eternity” is just a very, very long “time,” forgetting that even time had to be created (with the Big Bang), “before” which there was no time — but there was God. The author patiently leads readers through those distinctions. An enriching read.
How 3 Men of the Cloth Tailored the Fabric of American Discourse
RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE:
SHEEN, KING, FALWELL
James M. Patterson
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019
236 pages, $49.95
To order: upenn.edu/pennpress/index.html or (855) 867-1907
How should religion influence public policy in a democratic state that is constitutionally barred from having a state church? Increasingly aggressive secularism renders that question ever more acute today in the United States and other parts of the Western world, but it has been around since the founding of the republic.
James Patterson, Ph.D., associate professor of politics at Ave Maria University in Florida, offers examples of three clergymen who brought religious values to bear on American culture and public discourse in the 20th century: the Catholic apologist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, civil-rights activist Martin Luther King, and the notoriously vocal figure of the “Religious Right,” Jerry Falwell. Patterson credits the first two with successfully integrating values into public life — Archbishop Sheen in the fight against communism and Rev. King in the civil-rights struggle — while faulting Falwell for too closely identifying the concerns of religion with the particular planks of a political party.
The author goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the seminal work on U.S. culture and politics, Democracy in America, to note that America presented an opportunity unavailable elsewhere in his time: By foregoing union of altar and throne, America’s clergy all benefited from the free exercise of religion, and thus the freedom to shape the culture.
“Renouncing state sponsorship … carried with it a benefit that far exceeded the benefit of state sponsorship: the embrace of political freedom among clergy,” Patterson writes. “For Tocqueville, the result was something thought impossible in his native France: an alliance between ‘the spirit of religion’ and the ‘spirit of liberty.’ ... Americans depended on religion to provide ‘general ideas relative to God and human nature’” i.e., the Judeo-Christian consensus.
According to Patterson, Archbishop Sheen used that political freedom to bolster postwar American resistance to communism in the long Cold War’s early decades, while simultaneously helping to erode the anti-Catholicism still infecting American thought. Catholics could be good Americans because their theology held what America’s founding claimed: that man is “endowed by his Creator” — not by government or commissar — “with certain inalienable rights.” Archbishop Sheen helped make Protestants aware that their rights stood on firmer foundations than legal positivism, while turning the charge typically leveled against Catholics at the time — that they were loyal to a foreign despot — against the Red fifth column, the communist cells operating in the United States during the Cold War.
Likewise, Patterson notes, King addressed a domestic threat every bit as dangerous to the health and life of the country as the foreign peril of communism by introducing the religious vision of “the beloved community” as a way of tackling the civil-rights problem.
Patterson maintains that King’s vision was explicitly, not just expediently, religious. Civil rights were going to be achieved not (just) by law but, first and foremost, by change of hearts. “King sought to use agape as a common value that could bridge several religious denominations to support civil rights more broadly,” the author writes. “He strove to illustrate ways in which figures from all religious backgrounds demonstrated the kinds of sacrifice he demanded from white and African Americans,” the former to forego their legal privileges, the latter to forego violence, both out of a sake of brotherhood under one Father in one covenant, animated by religious values but civil in its effects; the civil-rights clergyman of the 1960s was like the Old Testament prophet, recalling the nation to membership in the covenantal community.
In contrast to these other two clergy-activists, Patterson says, the senior Falwell undermined this communal and inclusive perspective: “The surest way to undo the salutary servitude [of society] to religious dogma would be for the clergy to take sides in partisan disputes,” Patterson writes. This is what he charges Falwell with doing. But the dilution of “religious dogma,” Patterson argues, does not leave American society dogma-less.
“Religious dogma,” he notes, always tempered the “dogma of popular sovereignty,” i.e., the sense that people could do (and justify) whatever 50.1% agreed to, whether on principle or for the sake of personal profit. As Joseph Ratzinger elsewhere observed, modernity is ambivalent about the “ethical foundations of the law,” i.e., those “inalienable rights” not open to democratic debate, and that is a cultural and religious problem; a society is most permanently transformed when its culture, not its politics, changes; ministers who confuse the culture (including the religious culture) with politics undermine both.
Religion in the Public Square is an academic book demanding close reading of its detailed argument. That said, it’s today’s argument that demands our engagement when the very foundations of our religious-civil life are in contest.
Combating Mischaracterization of the Church
THE SCANDAL OF THE SCANDALS:
THE SECRET HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
Trans. Beata Vale
Ignatius Press, 2020
267 pages, $18.95
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531
“Narrative” is a term currently in vogue. In its logic, “history” is not so much a body of objective facts as an interpretation, making the winners look good.
“Narrative” has become fashionable in many areas of history, but one where it has long dominated is the characterization of the Catholic Church. From the Black Legend to the Holocaust, a certain historical narrative paints the Church as the locus of all evil.
The problem is, according to Manfred Lütz, much of it is false.
The author sweeps through 2,000 years of Christian history, identifying all the areas where coals are constantly heaped on the Church’s head: Is religion a divisive force humanity would do best without? Does monotheism generate intolerance? What does history tell us about Islamic benignity? How did a parable change religious history? Did the Church advance the faith by force? Did missionary work bespeak cultural intolerance? How did Church and state interact in the Middle Ages? Why did the Church lead the Crusades (or witch hunts)? Was the Church responsible for anti-Jewish pogroms? How many people were butchered by the Inquisition? What about the persecution of Bruno and Galileo? Did the Church enslave the aborigines of the Americas? Why did the Church fight the Enlightenment? What about those 19th-century popes who had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to accept “progress, liberalism, and modern civilization?” Is that why they “aligned” themselves with Hitler and Mussolini and “did nothing” to save European Jewry? (Editor's Note: Read more about the truth here.) Isn’t the Church still the greatest sexually repressed bunch of misogynists in the world? And what about the products of “unhealthy” clerical celibacy?
Lütz doesn’t just identify the attack narratives, he examines the history and answers them. His answers are balanced: Where there are warts, he doesn’t pretend otherwise. But neither does he let exaggerated narratives stand unchallenged by historical facts, and, in their light, the Church doesn’t come out as the great infâme.
“Turning the history of Christianity and the Church into a scandal is itself a scandal. The state of international historical scholarship, which is presented in this book and which has painstakingly extricated Christianity from the sludge of hundreds of years of polemics … yields surprising results.”
“Tolerance is a Christian invention. While the classical Latin tolerantia meant enduring physical burdens and labor, injustice, torture and violence, but never enduring other people or their opinions, Christians took care to change the word’s meaning. From now on, it would be understood as loving respect for other men and forbearance toward those who think differently. This change had to do with the twofold commandment at the center of the Christian faith.”
This book’s origins lie in a 2007 book by a German historian, which was, in turn, a footnoted 800-page riposte to an article from 2000 that portrayed two millennia of Church history as a corrosive bane in human affairs. The response is authoritative, but Lütz thought average readers needed more than a 1.5-ream dissertation. This is the “Book of the Month” abridgement.
The book’s roots are a plus: Grounded mostly in German sources, it affords an insight into how different yet similar many “politically correct” narratives are. But it also gives some problematic biases, e.g., while strongly defending Church teaching on contraception, Lütz also mentions the German pastoral “don’t ask, don’t tell” stratagem, opining “[s]till, Catholic women decide according to their own conscience whether to follow the Church’s teaching.” Given residual German guilt over Nazism, he also tends to paint almost all “nationalist” attitudes negatively.
We live in an era where “narrative” is up for grabs and, adapting Franklin, history “is invented by winners as an excuse for hanging losers.” Catholics might want to brush up on history with Lütz.
The Book of Revelation’s Insights on Engaging the Culture
THE CHRIST OF THE APOCALYPSE:
CONTEMPLATING THE FACES OF JESUS IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
By Msgr. A. Robert Nusca
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2018
252 pages, $24.95
To order: emmausroad.org or (740) 264-9535
The Book of Revelation can be considered a theological Rorschach test because interpretations of its apocalyptic visions often say more about their interpreters than John’s revelation. Less a frightening prophecy of the end times than a message of consolation — Christ’s return means the ultimate triumph of God and good — Revelation featured in the Sundays of Easter readings in year C (2022).
Msgr. Robert Nusca’s six-chapter book studies the “faces of Jesus in the Book of Revelation.” Three of those faces — “Jesus the Glorified Angel” walking amidst the lampstands of the seven churches (1:12-20); as Messianic Lion/Lamb of God; and as Divine Warrior — are found directly in the biblical text.
What I found most intriguing was the longest chapter, “A Fourth Face.” The author treats the Book of Revelation as an “icon.” If an icon is “theology in color,” then the visual imagery of Revelation “‘stands on the border between word and picture,’ impacting the reader in a manner that goes beyond words to express, as they point beyond themselves, to ultimate reality. For, in the final analysis, Revelation is concerned not only with what is to take place in the future, but with ultimate realities and ‘what is’ (literally, ‘the things that are’). In this way, the text of the Apocalypse is an icon and door that opens up the path towards the new Jerusalem.”
This “fourth face” Msgr. Nusca explores is the face of Christ that the Christian who rejects the lure of this passing world is promised to acquire. “John’s remarkable oscillating portrait [is] of the ultimate destiny of the human person in Christ — crowned, immortalized, angelified, asterified, glorified, and deified through their sharing in the mystery of the Cross,” which makes one thing immediate and imperative: “to add our own ‘Amen’ without delay to Christ’s” call.
Msgr. Nusca takes Jesus’ words to the seven Churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3) — his assessment of their situation, his encouragement and warnings, the images he employs and promises he makes — to discuss the glory that will be revealed in Christ’s faithful disciples (Romans 8:18). He also draws out the implications of those words for the situation of Christians today because, if Revelation is about “the things that are,” then the things of every age are equally open to judgment in its light and truth.
A common thread running through the messages to the Churches of Asia is witness. Witness can be real, with temporal consequences, or lacking, as one seeks to accommodate Christ to the world and its idols. Msgr. Nusca sums up his study of Christ’s message to the seven Churches by proposing a model for today: “the Woman-adorned-with-the-sun-option.”
There is much ferment about how today’s Christian should relate to contemporary neopagan culture. Some urge an “Augustine Option,” battling the barbarians who are not at the gates but in the city and its institutions. Others propose a “Benedict Option,” retiring to isolated and intentional Christian communities. Msgr. Nusca’s “light of the moon” option is Marian (probably inspired by Revelation 12): Just as the moon becomes the sun’s face by reflection, so our face should be the face of Christ in the world, in whatever way we fit in that world. His final chapter sketches out some of the theory behind how to engage a culture some might see as not so much actively anti-God as simply so indifferent to him as to make him a non-question.
The scholarship and discourse is on a serious but not inaccessible level to serious readers, including those wanting to draw both knowledge and spiritual fruit from the Book of Revelation. Recommended and timely.
- st. thomas aquinas
- existence of god
- archbishop fulton sheen
- life of jesus
- john grondelski
- american culture
- church history
- religious freedom
- inalienable rights
- founding fathers
- declaration of independence
- dignity of the human person