[Editor’s note: Beginning tomorrow and continuing on subsequent Fridays, we will publish Deacon Tracy Jamison’s article, “Integrating Philosophical Paradigms toward Theological Unity,” in three installments. In this essay, Deacon Jamison identifies two different philosophical approaches that underlie much of the division in the Catholic Church today: an approach that prioritizes first principles and objective morality, and an approach that incorporates personal encounter and lived experience. When set against each other, polarization is the result. Incorporating the thought of of St John of the Cross and St John Paul II, Deacon Jamison presents medieval Aristotelian anthropology in a new light in order to reconcile these approaches. It is a bit more dense and academically-oriented than most of our articles, but it raises an important area of discussion for our Church today. What follows is an introduction to the series, and after all three installments are published, we will respond with a summary and conclusion. —ML]

In his 2021 address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Francis called Christian anthropologists and all the faithful to rethink what it means to be human and to look for a new positive model of cultural integration that will enable us not only to maintain our “lofty Christian vision of the human person, our origin and ultimate destiny and our way of living on this earth” but also to welcome “the contributions of the contemporary humanistic tradition and that of other cultures” besides those of European continent.  As examples of such contributions, he indicated “the holistic vision of Asian cultures, in a search for inner harmony and harmony with creation,” and “the solidarity of African cultures, to overcome the excessive individualism typical of Western culture,” as well as “the anthropology of Latin American peoples, with its lively sense of family and celebration, and also the cultures of indigenous peoples all over the planet.”

Along the same lines, in the book Let Us Dream, Pope Francis called us to a program of discernment and synodality that will cultivate a mentality of fraternity and harmony and enable people from a variety of perspectives to dialogue with each other more effectively and overcome the isolated mentalities produced by prevalent polarizations such as those between individualism and socialism, or the conservative right and the progressive left.  This new level of dialogue, listening, and reflection will remind us of relevant perennial truths and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to better solutions to the societal, ecological, and economic problems caused by division and injustice. The inclusion of the perspectives of women and minorities will also provide more effective means by which to attain ends ordered to true happiness and the common good.

Francis contrasts this new dialectical approach with the fundamentalist approach of “decadent Scholasticism.”  Fundamentalism, he argues, is a closed-minded attitude found in many different contexts that opposes and suppresses alternative viewpoints.  Francis explains that he is not opposed to Scholasticism as such, but only to the fundamentalist attitude that emphasizes universal moral rules to the exclusion of case-by-case discernment.  He stresses that what needs to be changed are the practical applications of natural law, not the natural law itself. The objective truth of moral law as taught by the Church from the beginning is always affirmed and presupposed in the practice of discernment and synodality.  Francis explicitly states that his dialectical method is intended not for the debate of doctrine but only for its implementation.

Francis clearly maintains a hermeneutic of continuity.  He explains that his method of discernment and synodality is based in the philosophical approach taken and recommended by Romano Guardini.  Truth is continually unfolding and often reveals itself in a new way, but it is also firmly rooted in objective principles and perennial certainties.  Francis hopes to overcome polarization in the Church with this dialectical approach inspired by Guardini.  It brings different peoples into charitable fraternal dialogue and enables them to discern the signs of the times by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to find practical and more effective modes of action for eliminating alienation and enabling everyone to participate in the natural and supernatural common good.

Like John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him, Francis seeks to address the fundamental longings of the human heart for meaning and virtue with the supernatural resources of the Christian faith.  The desires that naturally arise from universal human experiences implicitly orient all people toward divine revelation.  The Christian faith is the good news that applies to the aspirations and struggles of every human heart.  In Francis’s approach to discernment and synodality, the truths which correspond to the needs of the human heart are recognized with the help of the Holy Spirit.  These truths are already implicitly known, but they are recollected, recognized, and clarified by the Holy Spirit through a fraternal dialogue in intersubjective discernment and engagement which has the real inherent potential to overflow with greater insight and understanding and thus to overcome the errors and oppositions of false ideologies.

In this same spirit, inspired and guided by the commentary of the late Dr Richard E. Dumont on the works of St John of the Cross, I employ the intellectual resources of the theology of St John Paul II in an attempt to offer a rethinking of medieval Aristotelian anthropology in order to overcome false oppositions and to welcome the contributions of other philosophical traditions and cultural paradigms.  Instead of suppressing or replacing the general medieval synthesis of faith and reason found in St Thomas Aquinas and Bl John Duns Scotus, I retain it and supplement it with the methods and insights of modern phenomenology and existentialism which confirm perennial truths about the human person and the human sciences.  I will examine Dr Dumont’s proposal for a Carmelite cruciform anthropology at length in three articles which will begin with the theoretical and philosophical and move to the practical and pastoral, integrating the objective and the subjective dimensions of human knowledge and human culture in a modern synthesis. It is my hope that readers who make the effort to struggle through the philosophical concepts and principles explained in the first two essays will find them clearly illustrated in the final essay and understand how their practical applications can contribute effectively to the new integrated anthropology that Pope Francis is seeking for the perennial Christian mission of the evangelization and affirmation of all peoples and cultures.  May the Lord and the Saints assist us in the endeavor to break down the walls of false oppositions and to bring out from the storeroom of faith and reason both the old and the new.

Image: Adobe Stock. By surachat.

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Tracy Jamison is a Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also a secular Carmelite (OCDS) and a professor of Philosophy at Mount St Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology (MTSM). Tracy and his wife Joyce met in a Protestant seminary and have been happily married for over thirty years.

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