Feb 11, 2015
Genesis informs us that God brought millions of creatures into existence by uttering a single word: “Be.” Having accomplished His creative work, He rested and saw that what He had created was “very good.”
There is an immense hierarchy among all the fruits of His Creation, and each one of them reflects, in its own imperfect way, the glory of God. This applies to the overwhelming beauty of the sun, the moon, the stars, planets, galaxies, but also to the tiniest little insect creeping on the earth. “Everything was very good” is a solemn declaration and expresses one of the most fundamental metaphysical truths: exemplarism. It is to Plato’s glory to have seen it, even though, inevitably limited by his ante lucem view, his perception of this key truth was incomplete and imperfect.
St. Augustine - and those following his wisdom - has shed abundant light on this. St. Bonaventure makes a crucial distinction between ‘vestigia’ (traces) of God (the whole impersonal creation) and ‘imago’: the creatures who are persons.
Aristotle makes his own important contribution by distinguishing between objects and subjects. The subject knows himself to be a “subject,” he is aware of his existence, and this enables him to know “objects” outside of himself and distinct from himself. A being which is a pure object – a tree – does not know that it is one: it just “is” and can neither know itself nor any other objects. The great Greek thinker makes it clear that subjects rank metaphysically much higher than objects, for not only are they able to know the latter, but they can also know themselves to be “subjects,” that is, to be granted the metaphysical privilege to say: “I.” The subject has a metaphysical dignity denied to pure objects and yet is itself an object to other subjects.
One of the many paradoxes of human existence is that the higher a being ranks in the metaphysical hierarchy, the lower will it fall if it chooses to “betray” the perfections given to it. The Latin words: “corruptio optimi pessima” powerfully express this truth. An animal cannot “betray” its nature: it is enslaved by it. He is exactly what it is meant to be. A tiger can be called cruel by analogy, but this cruelty is not chosen: it is rooted in its “tiger nature.” But the cruelty that men are capable of (let us think of the horrors of concentration camps), is infinitely worse, not only in its creative “refinement,” but also because it is consciously intended: finding “satisfaction” in seeing others suffer. Anyone being given the choice between facing a ravenous lion in the Colosseum or a vicious Nazi or communist would not hesitate.
It is the doubtful privilege of the male sex that, being physically stronger, men can “rape “the weak sex.” Women cannot reciprocate. It has always struck me that when males are particularly mediocre, they highly praise the size of their biceps.
The tyrant Quintianus, enraged by St. Agatha’s refusal to sacrifice her virginity to his lust, punished her by having her breasts cut off. This is a type of refinement in viciousness that animals are “incapable” of. They are endowed with remarkable instincts: zoologists will righty sing the praise of how cleverly they pursue their prey, protect themselves from danger or secure their food. These instincts, however, have strict limits and this is why man’s inventiveness will always have the last word. Once aware of the perimeter of these instincts, it is easy for men to “defeat” them. Lions cannot cage men.
Men have the gift of intelligence which together with free will, and the capacity to “love,” make them to be infinitely superior to animals, but once they “betray” these gifts, proudly choosing to trample upon them resenting their being “gifts,” –and therefore calling for gratitude – are capable of a degree of wickedness often leading to a well deserve punishment – namely – stupidity which would make monkeys laugh themselves into stitches if they could perceive it.
This leads me once again to the distinction between subject and object. To be aware that one is a subject is linked to an awareness of one’s metaphysical dignity; to be able to “know” objects is once again an impressive gift. But a subject who, for whatever reason, betrays his noble nature, will inevitably become “subjective,” which is a sort of epistemological jail man creates by choosing to wear deforming glasses, preventing one from seeing things as they are. Subjectivism is an intellectual cancer – a punishment for abusing one’s dignity as subject: through pride, one’s capacity to know others will be distorted and perverted. Once the “subject,” instead of listening reverently to the message given him by “objects,” decides what these objects should be, he will be the victim of heresies, errors, and every conceivable nonsense. This epistemological distortion can be directed toward objects but also toward subjects viewed as pure objects. It is also a key obstacle to self knowledge. This distortion is unlikely when turning to “neutral” objects for the plain reason that being incapable of arousing our feelings, they cannot tempt us to view them “subjectively,” and decide that we would like them to be. For this reason a physicist is less likely to make mistakes than a philosopher whose field is questions affecting our personal existence.
How often “geniuses” are blind toward is another genius’ talents! A very beautiful woman is not likely to praise the charm of her “rival.” (let us recall Snow White) while wearing magnifying glasses to detect the smallest imperfection in her rival’s appearance. Mothers tend to overestimate the talents and virtues of husbands and children, while denying the qualities of others – obvious as these might be. How many people will praise “their” country as being the greatest one in the world for the plain reason that they happen to be born on its soil.
The greatest danger faces us in the appraisal of oneself; how tempting it is for our fallen nature to blind ourselves toward our faults, while shedding a bright light on our virtues, or imagined virtues. This is why self knowledge is so difficult to acquire and is the reward of humility – a virtue that calls for grace.
Most amazing is the “allergic” reluctance of some thinkers to acknowledge God’s existence. Nietzsche had the “honesty” to state this in his famous book: thus spoke Zarathustra. In this work, he writes that if God existed, how could he endure not to be God Himself? Hence he feels justified in endorsing atheism: it is a choice. Period. It is a sheer waste of time and saliva to try to convince a person who has already made up his mind on a particular topic. No wise person should ever try to convince another of a truth that this person has decided to reject. “Causa finita est.” This sad fact has already been mentioned by St. Augustine: The City of God, II, 1. Indeed man’s nobility as a person - when poisoned by pride and accompanying stupidity as a well deserved punishment - will inevitably lead to errors that cannot be corrected for the plain reason that their initiator refuses to see.
The obvious conclusion is that subjects alone can be “subjective,” just as only living beings can be sick. A stone cannot catch cancer. But this does not entitle us to claim that subjects are BOUND to be subjective, and that Descartes’ falls into subjectivism in basing his Discourse on the Method on “I think (subject) there I am.” To be a “subject” is a metaphysical honor. To be subjective is an epistemological disease.
To go back to Descartes: Obviously existence must precede my knowing that I exist, but the point he wishes to make is that even though I can often be deceived by sense perceptions (nightmares, dreams, hallucinations), I cannot possibly be mistaken in thinking that I am thinking, because to be mistaken one must think. For this reason, a flower cannot flunk a test. That a subject can attain objective knowledge has been strikingly formulated by St. Augustine in his famous statement: “Si fallor, sum.” This is his remarkable refutation of radical skepticism and nihilism. He proves that “epistemological subjectivism” is a trap that can be avoided, and he gives us the joyful certainty that we can attain Truth. That Jacques and Raissa Maritain, fed on relativism taught at the Sorbonne and convinced that truth could never be found, drew the conclusion: “if there is no truth, or man can never find it, life is not worth living,” is all to their honor. They contemplated suicide. Thank God, He heard their anguished cry and placed Leon Bloy on their path. Once they found truth, they devoted the rest of their lives defending it.
Clearly this “Augustinian defense” of Descartes should not be interpreted to mean that the latter’s philosophy is flawless, which, obviously it is not.
The conclusion that can be drawn is for us is that self knowledge is extremely difficulty to attain because numerous are the epistemological hurdles barring our way, the most obvious of them being that a true knowledge of self cannot possibly be attained without humility, a virtue that keeps escaping us because he who believes he has it, loses it by this very claim. It can only be obtained by grace that is divine help and will only be fully secure in eternity. Self knowledge is the triumph of truth over subjectivism or put in other words: the perfect defeat of subjectivism. Who would dare claim that when God proclaimed that “I am who I am” (Exodus III, 14) clearly referring to his metaphysical perfection, he was falling into subjectivism?
Indeed when a subject truly knows himself, he attains perfect objectivity.
Another typical source of confusion for which Aristotle is indirectly responsible, is the one between “passivity” and “receptivity.”
“Activity” is clearly superior to “passivity,” coming from the Latin word “Patire,” to suffer. When a forester cuts off the branch of tree, the latter is purely passive: it “suffers” being cut. It is a “victim”; it is “defeated.” But Aristotle commits a very grave philosophical error in applying this truth to the relationship between the sexes. He declares the superiority of the male over the female because in the act of procreating man is “active,” whereas the woman is only “passive.” Whereas he is right in placing activity over passivity – in acting we are in control; in passivity –“patire,” we are under another’s control, I strongly challenge his claim that this applies to the difference between man and woman. Let us recall that Aristotle – in contrast to Plato -, had a passionate interest in natural sciences – all of which are concerned with matter. He wrote a treatise on the Generation of animals which is worth reading. However, comparing him with Plato, we will be struck by the fact that whereas the latter tells us explicitly that the higher is the “causa exemplaris” of the lower which is only a “copy,” this luminous truth is definitely not prominent in his “disciple” and this has serious consequences with regard to our topic: male and female; man and woman. In stating that in the act of procreation, the male is the “doer,” the female is just “acted upon,” he proclaims the superiority of the male sex. He is misled by his knowledge of zoology. The male pursues the female because he is driven by a powerful instinct over which he has no control, and will pursue her until his urge has been satisfied, that is, he has succeeded in catching her and covering her. She is “caught” and because of the male physical superiority, she cannot resist. But then what prevents us from calling procreation a form of rape? I leave it to zoologists to inform us whether the female resents being caught or whether there is a craving in her to be fecundated. At any rate, the “aspect” given us is the male pursuing her, and covering her and conquering her. The question then is legitimate: how do rape and procreation differ?. In fact do they differ? What is typical in the latter is the brutal conquest of the female dominated for the sake of the pleasure that this contact guarantees.
It is well known that little boys are born with a feeling of superiority over little girls because their reproductive organ is visible, obviously forgetting that what is precious is usually “hidden” or veiled.
I will now passionately defend the thesis that if it is true that the male superiority is valid in the animal realm, it is radically wrong when applied to “persons.” For Aristotle - this Greek “genius” (and I believe that he deserves the title) - fails to distinguish between “passivity” and “receptivity” – two concepts separated by an abyss. Yet, this distinction is crucial for our understanding of personhood. When a loving wife “unveils” herself and gives herself to her husband, she is acting freely and gives expression to her love – a desire to give oneself to the loved one, and is therefore at the antipodes of passivity. She joyously accepts the gift of his body, and reciprocates by giving him her own. It leads me to the conclusion that one of the most fundamental differences between human persons and animals is the sexual sphere. What characterizes the latter is precisely that one partner is “violated”, has nothing to say, is paralyzed by the other’s superior strength. Rape is nothing but theft, that is at the very opposite of any self donation. This is why this crime – for it deserves to be called such - is universally labelled as heinous and abominable. The day that an “advanced” society would declare rape to be perfectly acceptable is when it deserves to be blotted out of existence.
Years ago I was giving a talk in Portland, Oregon. My theme was the relationship between man and woman. After my talk, I was interviewed on Television and the anchor who was present at my talk said to me: you seem to claim that human beings are radically superior to animals. Many are those who claim that they only differ in so far as human beings have a more developed brain. How can you justify your position? Could you give me one single instance in which their fundamental difference is clearly defined? With lighting speed I said: “The sexual sphere”. The man’s amazement was amusing to observe; clearly he was convinced that he was interviewing someone who was not in her right mind, for to him, it was “obvious” that this sphere was precisely the one domain in which animals and human persons are most similar.
If a woman is “passive” - and this is widely accepted - the male sex is the superior one. I repeat: I believe it is true that boys are born with a feeling of superiority over girls and, alas, this has led to the justification of all sorts of injustices and ill treatments. In order to gain momentum the feminist movement – which has shattered our society – had to base its claims upon real facts, very much as Marxism had to justify itself by revolting injustices, but this rightful claim was only a cover up for a vicious philosophy which in fact, is a brutal attack on the beauty and nobility of femininity. Eve’s glory was to be declared “the mother of the living”. The poison of the feminist movement is to wage war on motherhood, to rupture the bond between “woman” and “life.” Hence it had to proclaim the legitimacy of contraception and if unsuccessful, abortion. If you want to kill a person, aim at his heart. If you want to destroy society and the family, aim at motherhood.
To see women as “passive” can only be endorsed by numbskulls who overlook the essential and concentrate on the accidental. She is receptive. The whole of Christianity is in fact a hymn glorifying this virtue, for it is one. It declares solemnly that the highest of all creatures – including Angels – is a woman, Mary, who became mother of the Savior by joyfully calling herself the Handmaid of the Lord, and pronouncing the words: “be it “DONE to me according to thy word.”
To attain holiness is to allow God’s grace to chisel one according to His plan: in other words to be totally “receptive” to His grace. “What do we possess what we have not received?” Everything we have is a gift, and the grateful acceptance of this gift is the way to holiness.
A feminist is, to my mind, someone who hates being a woman, who has stupidly accepted the “gospel” of Simone de Beauvoir, namely that woman is only a “becoming”; she is mere “immanence,” she is a slave; she is pure passivity; she does “nothing” (sic). To give birth is done better and more efficiently by animals. In fact maternity is slavery. As long as women are chained by this burden, they will never truly “be.” The road to liberation is socialism.
Like all talented people poisoned by revolt and pride, she is totally blind to the beauty of receptivity – a metaphysical attitude which gives birth to gratitude: a key virtue so often forgotten in decadent societies.
Teaching is in fact learning, and my long career has taught me that the very raising of certain questions condemns the very person raising them: if someone were to tell us: “Why is rape viewed as an abominable crime?” The very raising of the question is a “judgment” upon the person who has raised it and proves him to be the victim of a very grave moral sickness. Alas, years ago the question “why can’t two men get married,” would have triggered cries of horror from the masses. What is so worrisome about our society is that “any” question is now considered “worthy” to be raised. Why not? Indeed, “abyssus vocat abyssum” one stupidity opens the door to the next.
“Give me an argument against homosexual marriages.” If one were to say: the question is repulsive and should not be raised at all, it is most likely that we shall get the following answer: “You have not been able to disprove it”: “To despise is not to disprove.”
Let me repeat: “Why not?” can be a vicious trap; once we fall into it, the door is open to any moral aberration such as copulation with any mammals, torture of the innocent, and the whole gamut of abominations that “force” God to regret that he has created man. More needs not be said.
My key concern in this context is re habilitate receptivity, and show how crucial its role is in human life. In a gravely sick society like ours when moral bastions are collapsing, it might be urgent to rediscover the role that receptivity should play in human life. In fact, it should be given pride of place, but whatever human beings have achieved is to be traced back to the gifts that have enabled them to be “creative.”
Woe to those who no longer distinguish between good and evil, true and false. Isaiah warned us that a society which has blurred this distinction is doomed. (V -20)
In some way, one could also plead for the superiority of receptivity over activity because all the great “creative” accomplishments of men – be it in the intellectual sphere or in the artistic one, based on receptivity. Michel Angelo expressed this in the words: when I do “nothing” I am most creative. It is most luminous in the religious sphere where contemplation if placed above action: all great saints were totally receptive to God’s message: “Speak, O Lord, thy servant listens.”
The point I will try to make is that it is my deep set conviction that the vicious attacks made on femininity – alas coming from traitors called feminists – indicates plainly the key role that women play in the economy of redemption. The greatest victory of Satan today is to have convinced this privileged sex that in fact it is not only underprivileged but shamefully denied the role they are perfectly capable of fulfilling: to become priests. This arrogant and ridiculous claim – challenging the Divine Plan in creating two sexes – with distinct roles, reminds me of something I heard in high school while studying Roman History. Nero – one of the great historical monsters – a role model for both Stalin and Hitler, was clearly megalomaniac and one day “discovered” that to give birth was a very remarkable accomplishment. Being a male, he clearly had to acknowledge that this privilege had been denied him. In an impotent metaphysical revolt, he decided to fake giving birth. He put a cushion in his pajamas, went to bed, and started uttering pitiful cries, imitating a woman in labor. Needless to say, this vulgar comedy produced nothing…except air bubbles. When I heard that “women have been ordained as bishops and priests,” this image immediately comes to my mind. Indeed, the day that men can give birth, let women become priests…but the conclusion is obvious: a society in which the roles of man and woman are blurred is doomed.
May God have mercy.