Emotion over Truth

John C. Wright wrote the following in his essay Parable of the arbiters (July 13, 2012 scifiwright.com):
“The claim of the Protestant type would take us to the arbitration of the intellect. Oddly enough, Reformers are sometimes criticized (at least in Catholic circles) for their emphasis (we call it overemphasis) on the spontaneous and emotional and passionate nature of their communion with God.
I reject these criticisms as being a misunderstanding of the Protestant mind.”
[…]
“All Protestants, even those who reject Puritanism, have a strong inclination toward the ideal of pure worship, a simplicity and purity of rite.”
[…]
“It is not emotionalism. It is intellectualism.”

(Science-fiction writer, philosopher, lawyer and technical writer, John C. Wright was raised Lutheran but he was an atheist most of his life; he converted to Catholicism a few years ago.)

My comments (inspired mainly by Maritain’s essay on Luther in Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau and Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio):

These criticisms are perfectly valid, but I grant you emotionalism is an important consequence of the real cause.

“Strong inclination”, “ideal”, “simplicity”, “purity”: if all those words are not moral or aesthetic emotion, I don’t know what they are. Not that they are unjustified, far from it, because love for beautiful ideals, simplicity and purity and all good things is our motivation to be and do good.

“It is not emotionalism. It is intellectualism.”
Our two superior faculties are not intellect and sensibility, they are intellect and will, the coupling of which in the liberty of TRUTH being the image of God in us. Thus the opposite of intellectualism is not emotionalism, it is voluntarism. Of course, decisions of the will are often expressed emotionally, this is why we tend to conflate the consequences and the cause.

The keyword in this is TRUTH. The only authority that can impose itself on our intellect is truth, because our intellect is made for truth (and ultimately for God, obviously) and nothing else. And the only thing that can stand between truth and our intellect’s appetite for truth is our own will which, in its appetite for the good, can very well mistake not very good, or evil things, for real good, and trick the intellect in believing it.

This is precisely Luther’s mistake. From the fact that some theologians and preachers, or even the Pope, were really in error on some points he decided were major and universally spread in the Church, he stopped trusting the authority of the Church on all points. He had the precedent of the Great Schism to support his claim: Luther was trained to be a lawyer before he “discovered” his religious “vocation”, so I suppose he felt confident to trust the authority of his own conscience, when he was really trusting only his will, which had successfully silenced his conscience.

In principle he was right: if the truth had departed from the Church, he had to obey his conscience and follow the truth wherever it would lead him. The problem is he did not follow his conscience, but his will. Thus he did not SUBMIT to truth. The Protestant quarrel is a quarrel of authority. It is all about deciding to which authority, and to what extent one will bend his “free” will. What was brought about in Protestantism is an illusory freedom from authority when real freedom can be found only where truth is in its entirety: Truth will set you free.

Excerpt from Mr. Wright’s reply:
“Catholic criticism […] underestimates the underlying craving which is intellectual, that is, to embrace the naked God with a mind unclouded and undisturbed by any finite images or representations.”

You describe the craving to perfection. Maritain expresses the same idea in different words, but it is NOT AT ALL an intellectual craving. A sound philosophical [=intellectual] inquiry would recognize that the human mind MUST arrive to truth by mediations from the senses and from the teachings of respected authorities and that philosophical and theological analogy would lead us from finite images and representations to the things they represent. Mediations are necessary to us in order to test if our intuitions are not delusions caused by the individualist pressure of the appetite and sentiment, as is painfully exemplified by Luther.

The immanentist error in modern Protestant individualism and philosophic subjectivism followed from Luther’s opposing Faith and works, Gospel and law and his deforming their relation to each other. The means regarded by common sense as uniting what is inside with what is outside the mind and enabling communication are regarded by the moderns as what separates us from external reality, or even what is killing our inner self.

I would like to add some ironic comment by Chesterton to lighten up such a deadly serious debate, but I did not find one applying to this particular issue.

Advertisements