Three Reformers, Three Rebuilders

In his essay on Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, Jacques Maritain pointed out the fateful ideas that were ferments in transforming Christendom into the modern secularist world. Reviewing the book once again, I came to the conclusion that the 20th century, though it featured the most horrendous consequences of de-Christianization, also saw refreshing beams of light. Three great writers, in particular, responded and gave an accurate assessment of the damage, and paths of healing.

Against the individualistic view of religion brought forth by Martin Luther, another German-speaking theologian stands for a comprehensive view of Redemption and reconciliation founded on the transcendentals –the Beautiful, the Good and the True– thus on classical philosophy and theology. Amongst a phenomenal production, Father Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) gave the Church his monumental trilogy: Herrlichkeit (Glory, or “Theo-aesthetics”), Theodramatik and Theologik. He also tellingly chose Communio as the name of the quarterly theological journal he founded.

Against the rationalistic destruction of philosophy effected by a great scientist but terrible philosopher, René Descartes, Maritain himself (1882-1973) opposed his life’s work to spark a renewal of Thomism, or philosophia perennis. The common philosophy of humanity, enveloped and exemplified everywhere in the works of saint Thomas Aquinas, can be developed and applied to every new problem of any human culture.

Against the false, unreal worldviews and the false moral superiority à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau pervading the post-modern thought, the English-speaking world was graced with a literary genius who is a miracle of sanity. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), also a Thomist, is known to his admirers as the “apostle of common sense”.

 

The chronological order and the overlap of these three writers and their fields recall the logical order of operation of the transcendentals in human life.

In high quality literature and poetry, beauty leads to the True and the Good. Chesterton was also a great poet and a fine artist; Maritain wrote beautifully and was a connoisseur of fine art; von Balthasar was an incredibly well-read man, a translator, a literary critic of French and German literature and an excellent pianist.

Metaphysics is the highest and deepest inquiry into truth that the human intellect unaided by faith can achieve. The common and precise language and categories of classical theist philosophy are the frame for the basic principles in every science, especially theology.

Theology, supporting itself on the gifts of faith and Divine Revelation proceeding from the Goodness of God, explains spiritual reality and its embodiment in worship and Christian life, where man responds to the call to holiness, or the invitation to the perfection of goodness.

 

(Linked document updated Feb. 28, 2016)