But to go back to some book reviewers: there are times, when one wishes to add to the list of litany: “from some book reviewers, deliver us, O Lord.” Their main concern is to impress the reader by their scholarship and at times very little light is shed on the content of the work being reviewed. Although it is fully legitimate for a book reviewer to praise certain thoughts, and to challenge those which are misleading and erroneous, he should refrain from going off track for the sake of drawing attraction to himself.
What I have written should not interpreted to mean that “labels” should be discarded altogether. It does make sense to call Protagoras a “subjectivist.” “Man is the measure of all things: things that are that they are; and things that are not that they are not.” Subjectivism opens the door to relativism.
It does make sense to call Hume an empiricist, even though this philosophical disease takes different forms. Kant is an “idealist” but it is worth remarking that Fichte, while claiming to be his disciple, was disavowed by the “master.” This scenario was repeated shortly afterwards when Schelling – viewed as Fichte’s favorite disciple – was radically rejected by him: “Schelling never understood my philosophy.” (Gilson: The Unity of Philosophical Experience, p. 243)
Marx certainly deserves to be called a materialist, but do all materialists agree on the nature of matter. The question deserves a deeper analysis that the one I can offer in this context.
Are all the Catholic philosophers who claim that St. Thomas is the Catholic philosopher par excellence of one mind while proclaiming his crushing superiority over the Augustinians? Do they all agree on how to interpret the thought of this great Dominican? The true disciples of St. Augustine reject emphatically Luther’s claim that he was inspired by the great Bishop of Hippo.
How beautiful that in Dante’s Paradiso, St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, praises St. Dominic, and that St. Thomas, a Dominican, is the one who sings the praise of St. Francis. This is truly catholic in the deepest sense of the term: what unites and should unite all men is truth, for truth is “universal” and therefore offered to all men and should be shared by all men. The key question should always be: “Is it true?” and not “Who said it?” There is one exception: the official teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, coming all the way down from Christ and given to His Apostles. In this case we can joyously say: Roma locuta est; causa finita est.
We should be wary of people who call themselves disciples of (obviously) a famous man. This applies particularly when the “master” is no longer alive, and consequently is not given a chance of endorsing or disavowing this “disciple’s claim. But by calling oneself a disciple of a great man, one benefits from his fame. One becomes “somebody.” I am far from denying that there is such a thing as true discipleship, but it is always desirable to have the endorsement of the “master.” Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels generously shares with us the treasure of his wit by shedding light on this tricky question.
In book three, Gulliver lands in the country of amazing mathematicians – people of such genius that thanks to subtle mathematical calculations, they can recall people back to life. Gulliver, deeply impressed, requests that both Homer and Aristotle be called back to life and make their appearance at the head of their commentators. The latter were so numerous that not all of them could enter the room and had to stay outside. A ghost whispered to Gulliver that in the lower world, these scholars were so ashamed of having misrepresented these two great men that they wisely kept as far away from them as possible.
This superb marriage of wit and cynicism should give us food for thought. Is it easy to be a true disciple? To generously quote another author, and to praise him abundantly, does not guarantee as yet that one has truly understood his thought and deserves to be called his faithful disciple. Words are very mysterious: they can have different meanings and nuances opened to very different interpretations.
I am touching on a huge topic, and wisely will refrain from passing a final judgment on what discipleship truly means. In this context, however, it is worth quoting the witty Kierkegaard who claimed that a disciple “is the greatest of all calamities.” (Walter Lowrie, Kierkegaard, II, p. 381)
This leads me to the core of this brief article. Millions and millions of people accept the Bible as a holy book. But when it comes to interpreting this sacred treasure, it must be sadly acknowledged that the disagreements between theologians and scholars are huge. Limiting myself to the case of Luther: early in the 16th century, he broke away from the Church and became the father of “Protestantism” – i.e. those who protest and reject the teaching and authority of the Holy Catholic Church.
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Being responsible for this radical break, this tragic figure witnessed in his life time that his “reform” led to more reforms, his “protest” to more protests. He was followed by Calvin who, while also protesting, introduced new changes; Zwingly followed suit. And now protestant sects since the 16th century amount to thousands. One dies and is promptly replaced by another one.
One of the interesting culture-shocks I experienced when I first came to the USA was the huge variety of denominations which I found in New England when I spent a summer shortly after my arrival. On the one hand, I could not help but feel that the USA was definitely a very religious country, but I was both puzzled and troubled by the variety of “religious menus” offered to the public. Coming from a Catholic country where all churches (with the exception of one built for the convenience of the British enjoying Belgian luxury hotels thanks to the strength of the British Pound and the weakness of the Belgian Franc) were united by one and the same faith. Protestants are united by “protesting”: apart from that, each sect is going its own separate way. This was inevitably the consequence of their “free” interpretation of the Bible recognized as the only source of valid information: sola scriptura. It also struck me that when Protestants moved from one town to another, they often shifted from one denomination to another usually because the pastor of this other church was a better speaker or had a warmer and more attractive personality.
The dogmatic content is definitely not prominent.
This discovery brought me great spiritual “benefits”: first and foremost, it gave me a deeper appreciation and a greater gratitude for belonging to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church whose divine teaching goes back all the way to Christ Himself through His Apostles.
At the end of my life, I wonder how many sons and daughters of the Church fully realize the blessing to have a Magisterium – that is, an authority coming from Christ Himself and given by Him to the Holy Catholic Church. Thanks to the Magisterium, the faithful are granted absolute certainty concerning the most crucial questions of human existence.
How many of us get up in the morning thanking God for this unfathomable gift? May He, on my death bed, give me the grace to say to Him: “Thank you, O Lord, for the magisterium.”