Friday, April 24, 2009

More about our work

After two weeks of reading and thinking and trying to collect some ideas about our Society, I was wondering why this project seems so difficult. It's not because we are dealing with two very prolific writers, and one of the most complex and interdisciplinary of all subjects. It's not because most of what Duhem wrote is in French - and in my case, I do not know French. And, strange to say, it is not simply because the idea of setting up such an organization is certainly not easy.

No, it's difficult because the difficulty is inherent in the task. To put it simply, the world is against our work. A Christian, committed to living his faith in the world - perhaps I should say despite the world - knows this and understands. But there is something specially complex about the idea of studying the history of science in its true Culture (as Father Jaki would write, "Culture writ large") which is the authentic Christian Cult known as Roman Catholicism.

Father Jaki recognized the warfare for what it is - and he has written us a warning.

Whether one likes it or not, one is engaged in a battle, and if such is the case, it is better to fight. I certainly do not dislike a spirited encounter or two, and I read with great delight that Newman readily joined a battle whenever he saw one. This is not to suggest that I have always fought wisely, or even to the purpose. But I have no doubt about the very essence of the great contestation which has taken on a frightening vigor for the past two or three decades and got into high gear during the 1990s. It is a wholesale attack by the champions of naturalism and secularism on the supernatural as mainly represented by the Catholic Church. For them, the Catholic Church is the chief enemy of a mankind that wants its autonomy from anything superhuman, that is, supernatural. Their view of the Church echoes the invectives hurled at her by T. H. Huxley who in that respect was at least consistent as an ideological Darwinist. In modern America, embarked on the Third Millennium, everything is defined, overtly or covertly, with a reference to the Catholic Church.

I simply could not stand on the sideline. I felt I had to contribute whatever I could to stem the onrush of the juggernaut of secularism, insofar as it invokes science on its behalf. But my aim was not so much to attack some spokesmen of that juggernaut, as to strengthen those ready to resist it but often are at a loss for arguments that would convince them that they are on the winning side, or at least on the side against which no force, no factor, shall ever prevail. It is the side that for now two thousand years has held about the forces opposing it: non prevalebunt. Its success in holding out for two millennia augurs well for it now that mankind has entered a third millennium counted from the birth of Christ.

Those on that side derive their sense of invincibility not from themselves but from that very Christ who promised them His Spirit, who would convict the World of sin, of justice, and judgment (John 16:8). He was the kind of victor who, unlike other victors, held out no easy prospects even when He assured them of having achieved a victory over the World. In the same breath He foretold their being forever under pressure. Indeed if they are so, it is only because the World is resolved to discredit all claims about the Word's divine status.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography]
Do not misunderstand the nature of our struggle. It does not mean we resort to violence, or any worldly form of warfare. The battle is an intellectual - rather, a spiritual - one. We need to work hard, in whatever task we undertake, with enthusiasm, with prayer - and with the active sense of Subsidiarity, that we need assistance: as we cannot do it ourselves, we must appeal to those that can help.

First and foremost, that means prayer. Is that a strange word to hear from a scientist, in what purports to be an intellectual project? Oh, not at all. What is strange is that so many scientists, so many intellectual projects are devoid of prayer! It was not always so. The great colleges opened their sessions with the Mass and prayer, the Mass of the Holy Spirit was offered when difficult questions were faced and (as I seem to recall reading somewhere) on the day when one went to defend his doctoral dissertation. All projects were begun with prayer. Any glance at the Roman Ritual (the collection of blessings for places and things) will show that the formulae of blessings begins with a psalm verse which is the essence of Subsidiarity, the appeal to the ultimate authority:
V. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
That is,
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth. (Ps 123:8)
Yes: "heaven and earth". We who read Jaki recall his explanation of this rhetorical device, totum per partes: the listing of the principal parts to stand for the All or universe. We ask God, who "arranged everything according to measure, number and weight" (Wis 11:20) to provide assistance.

Do I mean I expect to get answers to technical or scholarly questions direct from God? Oh my, no. (Though as Chesterton's Father Brown once said "If I want any miracles I know where to get them." So He can help us even there.) But that's not the point. We are not asking to come in to the lab to find everything finished; we're expecting to put our own best efforts in, and use our talents, to do what we've undertaken. We pray because we are asking for assistance in larger matters. Certainly we ask to be enlightened, and not to make ridiculous and harmful errors, as we proceed in our technical and scholarly efforts, that we not misquote, or contaminate a sample, or delete the wrong file, or spill acid on ourselves... But far more do we ask to remain humble, to remain steadfast, to be courteous and generous, even to enemies - to "put on love over all the rest" as St. Paul says. And we must pray that we will succeed in our battles with the Enemy, the opponent of all truth.

Finally, we must remember to pray for each other, and our families.

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