Saturday, March 25, 2006

Development of the New Theology

The Catholic Church traditionally considers A.D. 1274 as the start the Modern Era, for in that year was the death of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great Medieval theologian and philosopher. Things went downhill after that period: plague, civil war, philosophical skepticism, confusion over authority, and lack of stable leadership eventually ended the great medieval civilization, and instead led to the era of the domination of nature, political totalitarianism, and heresy, the era in which we still live.

Orthodox philosophy, which reached a high point by the works of Aquinas, and which was paralleled by thinkers in Judaism and Islam, came under attack after his death. William of Occam's philosophy of Nominalism, which in its most extreme expression, stated that words are mere "vocal flatulence", corresponded with his idea that Church must be absolutely poor, and that civil authorities should have total worldly power and must be completely independent of religion. Then the Black Death killed off most of the university scholars, ending the professional study of philosophy for centuries. Nominalism, the philosophy of meaninglessness, leads to our current philosophy of postmodernism.

Greater wealth in the 15th century, coupled with moral doubt, led to the renaissance of classical humanistic learning. The great spiritual schools of philosophy started by Socrates were denigrated in favor of the ancient worldly philosophers, who either grasped for power or who were merely coping under powerlessness. The leadership of the Church became highly secularized and corrupt, while the people remained faithful: this led to the Reformation. We must note however, that Luther was a Nominalist, and this is reflected in the wildly chaotic character of Protestantism today. The same tendency is seen in progressive Catholicism also.

Humanism as practiced after the Renaissance became divorced from religion; in fact today we hear of people calling themselves "spiritual, but not religious". Depending ever less on the Faith, these new humanists instead moved towards an abstract deism. However, we musn't assume—that because of the divorce between faith and reason—that these humanistic doubters left religion alone, but instead some intended to subvert and transform religion as they desired. Instead of letting religion influence life and philosophy, these new men changed religion according to their philosophy, using religion as just one more method of amoral social control.

The philosopher Hegel revolutionized Europe in the 19th century. He has a model of the progress of history, where competing worldviews eventually join to create a greater system, which in turn is opposed by a new worldview. This is called the dialectic of Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The New Theology comes from this intellectual framework. Where we should be concerned is that this philosophy is the intellectual basis for the greatest amount of the shedding of blood in the history of the world: right-wing Hegelianism led to the Nazis, and left-wing Hegelianism led to Communism. Nevertheless, Hegel was an optimist, always seeing things getting better and better.

The Historical-Critical method of Bible exegesis is based on Hegel. This method proposes that there was a Thesis (Jewish thought as actually taught by Jesus, and not what is written in the Bible), that opposed Greek thought as taught by Paul (the Antithesis), and they joined together to form a Synthesis, which is John's community of followers. This is in contrast to the Catholic interpretation of the Gospels, which proposes a continuity from Old Testament times to the present, and a constant effort to keep God's People united.

Ultimately, this doubt thrown on Scripture led to the idea that only individual personal experience can lead to theological insight, that there is nothing specifically revelatory about Christianity or Judaism. So they stripped Christianity of Greek philosophy, the remnants of Catholicism, and even Christ Himself. God was seen as both being unknowable and yet immanent, and individual revelation is equal in authority to the Bible and Tradition. It was an optimistic religion with a belief in an inevitable progress of history. This was the state of Liberal Christianity in Germany before the rise of the Nazis: faith was lost, yet the people had great self-esteem. They assumed that people were good and progress inevitable. Christianity had been turned into a New Age pantheism, and this led quite naturally to the mystical New Age pantheism of the Nazis. Modern historians tend to ignore this pseudo-religious aspect of Nazism and see Hitler as an unexplainable aberration, with the equally atrocious Communists being seen as the only viable alternative to Fascism. However, these same errors had nearly taken over the Catholic Church since the 1960s. We need to reflect on our own pantheistic New Age culture, and where it might lead.
I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming and his kingdom:
Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.
For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears:
And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.
But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.
—2 Timothy 4:1-5

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