AntiScholasticism and Traditional Philosophy

Anti-Scholasticism and Traditional Philosophy

© Copyright 2006, (revised 2009) by T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)

Over the past several years, various articles have been written to demonstrate that Traditionalists, far from preserving Tradition, exhibit all the symptoms of several spiritual maladies known as heresy. Among these are Gallicanism, Traditionalism, Fideism, Liberalism, Americanism, Trusteeism, Modernism and even Lutheranism. After studying these works, one reader asked if Traditionalists had their own philosophical system in opposition to the Scholastic method used by the Church, which they consistently ignore or dismiss. The answer is yes, they do; and even more heresies follow in the wake of this system. This is hardly surprising since Pope St. Pius X defined modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies.” So while the philosophical system is the method driving these heresies, all are part and parcel of modernism, which is the dreaded disease that contains them all.

This philosophy, which is really another heresy masking all the others, is closely related to Americanism and Isaac Hecker’s “heresy of action.” It came into being at about the same time modernism and the “divine right democracy” errors of the Sillon were condemned. Rev. Pascal Parente tells us that in matters religious, this philosophical heresy stems from the “fiducial faith” principal of Lutheranism, and the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia traces its origins to Kant. What then is the name of this system?

It is pragmatism, a philosophical system borrowing elements for its application from several different philosophies, including Schiller, Descartes, Locke, Hume and others. William James first proposed it as a mathematical and scientific method in the late 1800s. The numbered items below represent a summary of the article on pragmatism found in the Catholic Encyclopedia. An application of these principles to the writings and behaviors of Traditionalists today will follow below.

What is pragmatism?

“Pragmatism is a philosophico-religious system…which can be defined in general as a tendency to consider everything from the practical point of view, i.e., in terms of action, seeking in action itself the reason of truth and certainty, of life and religion…The truth of an idea depends on its practical verification,” (Rev. Pascal Parente, “Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology”).

“Pragmatism makes out the true to be something relative and changeable,” (“A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy,” Cardinal Mercier)

“Pragmatism…is a non-rational philosophy; practical consequences used as a test of truth…[It] is a separate system of philosophy…In reality, it is the application of humanism to the theory of knowledge.”

This being the case, humanism must be defined. In the 15th to the 17th centuries it was a studied reaction to Scholasticism, the philosophical method of St. Thomas Aquinas adopted by the Church. Owing to new discoveries of Latin and Greek classics during the Renaissance, a spirit of learning was revived that especially stressed the use of reason in determining truth and falsehood. Humanists appealed to the classics (especially Aristotle without St. Thomas and Plato) as a true and pure form of philosophy outside of Scholasticism. Cosimo de’Medici , a 15th century Humanist favoring Platonism, founded a Platonic academy in Italy where a new philosophy was envisioned. Humanists Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola called this philosophia perennia (a philosophy that always would be true). This philosophy embraced all the humanities — art, languages, literature, science, mathematics and so forth.

At that time the Church had not yet solidified Her reliance on Scholasticism as the only system of philosophy approved by the Church. St. Thomas More was sympathetic to humanism, and in its first blush, this philosophy was not what it later became. Individual responsibility for the application of Catholic principles to their lives, aided by the erudition of Latin and Greek scholars, was not in itself an objectionable goal, as long as the truths of faith were not harmed in the process. But the Reformation soon redirected Humanism against Catholic teaching, and this is what queered the movement. The Anglicans, Church of Scotland moderates, German pietists, and Kant preserved humanism after its condemnation by the Church. Montini’s close friend Jacques Maritain and the heretic Hans Kung are its proponents today in Novus Ordo theology. This failed attempt by Kung and Maritain to reconcile humanism with Scholasticism is the explanation for much of the confusion and error in the field of Scholastic thought today.

Humanism today is better known as secular humanism, defined by the Novus Ordo priest Fr. Burke as the “common heritage of all Americans…a way of looking at reality that denies the impact of God on human affairs…It denies the existence of an absolute and knowable objective truth.” In other words it is embodied in the popular American catch phrases, “Live and let live,” and “Do your own thing.” And as we will see below, secular humanism is only a dumbed-down version of pragmatic philosophy.

The pragmatist system of philosophy teaches that:

1. An unproved hypothesis or hypothetical cause, if it explains the facts observed, fulfills the same purpose and serves the same ends as a true cause or established law; truth perpetually evolves, (evolutionism).

2. A problem presented to the thinking mind calls for an adjustment of the previous content of the mind to a new experience in a problem pondered, (modernism).

3. Experience is the true test of real existence, (modernism).

4. Judgments and reasoning processes are merely symbols and hypotheses, (humanism).

5. The standard of truth is satisfaction of needs, realization in conduct, and the possibility of being lived, (the non-rational test, which is modernism).

6. Of two opposing theories, even if one such theory contains revealed or infallible truth, the one which “works best” is the true one.

7. There is no absolute truth, only truths by the mind constantly working on the data of experience, (humanism, modernism).

8. Individual autonomy supersedes the good of the family and society, (individualism).

9. The standard of pragmatism is individual, particular and personal, (anti-intellectualism).

10. Individual interpretation of events and experience, intuition and sensistic feelings are the proper mode of judgment for this system, (modernism).

11. No item of experience ever can be verified definitely and irrevocably, only provisionally. The function of any concept goes on indefinitely.

12. There are no necessary truths, no axioms, only postulates. Conclusions drawn from truth are only hypothetical, (anti-Scholasticism).

13. All truth does not proceed from God and is not integral; all things proceed from matter, (pluralism, monism, evolutionism).

14. Belief is not founded on inferential evidence, (anti-Scholasticism).

15. Scholastic realism is naïve and old-fashioned, (anti-Scholasticism).

Scholasticism and opposing errors

Needless to say, pragmatism is a false system of philosophy. The only philosophy approved by the Church is Scholastic philosophy. The Church is a perfect society and as such long ago determined what system of philosophy Her members should use. The Church censures those who reject Scholasticism. Pope St. Pius X said: “[Modernists] have only ridicule and contempt for scholastic philosophy and theology.” Pope Pius IX condemned those who held that “the methods and principles which have served the Doctors of Scholasticism when treating of theology no longer correspond with the exigencies of time or the progress of science.” According to Cardinal Manning, Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus automatically was considered infallible following the Vatican Council’s definition of infallibility in 1870. But what is the definition of Scholasticism, and in what points does it conflict with Modernism, Traditionalism, Fideism and other heresies?

Rev. William Turner, S.T.D defines Scholasticism as “the theology and philosophy which flourished in the Christian schools of Europe during the…ninth to fifteenth [centuries], and which, after the fifteenth century, continued to influence the theological and philosophical thought in Catholic circles down to our own times. [Yet] the extent of that influence has varied. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was not much evidence of the Scholastic method in the teaching of philosophy in the Catholic Schools of Europe…Cartesianism and the spiritual Eclecticism of Cousin predominated in the colleges…The reaction against Fideism and Traditionalism brought Scholasticism once more to the front. What are Fideism and Traditionalism? The Catholic Encyclopedia under this topic states that Fideism teaches there is no need of intellectual assent based on objective evidence, observing that “Denying intellectual knowledge, [fideism] ruins faith itself.” Pascal Parente defines Traditionalism as “A philosophico-religious system, which depreciates human reason and establishes the tradition of mankind, which is bound up with language, as the criterion of truth and certainty,” (“Dictionary of Theology”). Pragmatism is a particularly prevalent American system, with Fideism and Traditionalism as its ancestors and Modernism as its most fully developed expression. For this reason these heresies will be considered under the head of pragmatism for the purpose of this article. Yet it must be understood, as explained elsewhere, that the choice of the name Traditionalism was not a random one. Those selecting this name for their sect in the 1970s following the cessation of the Latin Mass, did not necessarily intend for it to reflect the Traditions of faith as most Traditionalists innocently assume. But this will be addressed in a later section.

Continuing his explanation of Scholasticism, Rev. Turner notes: “Modernists are opposed [to]…the intellectual formalism of the Scholastics. As in the case of Fideism and Traditionalism, so in the Modernist system: the starting point is the denial of the adequacy of the intellect to solve the highest problems of human thought. Reason, it is maintained, cannot explain God, human destiny, moral duty, legal right and social institutions because these things antedate reason as facts.” According to the Modernists, reason cannot explain man, his emotions and impulse, or nature either, Turner explains. “Because Scholasticism on these questions is made the object of attack on the part of the Modernists, and precisely because of its affirmation of the powers of reason, it is offered by ecclesiastical authority as a remedy against Modernism…But the intellectualism for which it stands is not the intellectualism which its opponents ascribe to it.” That some Scholastics indulged in “frivolous and futile…discussion of the higher things of faith,” made egotistical assumptions and neglected to consult the outside sources of positive knowledge cannot be denied, Turner admits. But he also states, “No system is to be judged by the extremists who abuse its method…Modernists ought to know that between [these abuses] and the same empirical intellectualism of St. Thomas there is a vast difference.”

St. Thomas narrowed the distance between the opposite poles of rationality and mysticism. “He strives to hold a middle course between the two,” Turner says. Thomistic intellectualism consisted in “the ability of reason to attain a knowledge of natural truth of the higher order and to elucidate — not to prove as a comprehend — the Mysteries of Faith…Here intuitive perception, the mystic contemplation of higher truths…the affective aspect or feeling is subordinated to dialectical discussion, logical definition, systematic reasoning, clear, cold, calm intellect.” Turner concludes with a quote from Townsend’s “The Great Schoolmen,” pointing out that in any area of study, in all departments of knowledge, the analysis of facts, natures and qualities must be reduced to a system. Given such facts, their arrangement and analysis leading to theories and conclusions is inevitable. “‘If a logical method be allowed in relation to scientific facts or philosophical principles, it cannot with fairness or reason be denied in relation to religion; and if it be of advantage with respect to the former, it cannot be of disadvantage in regard to the latter.’ The problem is, as has been said, a problem of method.” If reason is not to be relied on, what is its substitute? Affections, sentiment, totality of life “all have their proper place in the struggle of the soul towards a realization of spiritual truth. That place, however, is a secondary one. None of these faculties or functions can, of itself, systemize, analyze, defend or prove…Sometimes [these very things] function against the cogency of proof by entrenching a prejudice,” and sometimes they place obstacles in the way of arriving at unity and symmetry of the proof by idealizing it or by striving too much or to little to assimilate it. The Church has excellent reasons for preferring and prescribing Scholasticism as Her own philosophy, and even if Her children cannot understand why, they still must obey.

Below we will examine some of the points listed by the Catholic Encyclopedia that define pragmatism.

• An unproved hypothesis or hypothetical cause, if it explains the facts observed, fulfills the same purpose and serves the same ends as a true cause or established law…

One of the most maddening traits among Traditionalists and conclavists is the use of probable opinions concerning their clergy or “popes” and their “right” to Mass and Sacraments. As has been repeatedly explained, laity and illicit priests cannot elect a true pope; this was along go condemned by the Church and these former laws were abrogated by Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XII. And the use of probable opinions to justify attendance at Mass and reception of the Sacraments from illicit priests is contrary to the unanimous opinion of modern theologians, a practice condemned by Pope Innocent XI in DZ 1151. And when we say the Sacraments we mean all the Sacraments with the exception of Baptism and Marriage, which are allowed to the laity in their extraordinary form.

The decision to receive these Sacraments from those not truly priests amounts to following unproved hypotheses. It is as the Vatican Council solemnly proclaimed: “The doctrine of Faith, which God has revealed, has not been given over to be perfected by human intelligence, as though it were a philosophical theory,” (DZ 1705). And again, Pope Pius IX condemned the following proposition in his Syllabus: “Divine Revelation is imperfect, and is consequently subject to continuous and indefinite progress, corresponding to the progress of human reason,” (DZ 1800). God has unquestionably revealed that unless priests and bishops are both certainly valid AND licit, they cannot be the true successors of the Apostles. Laymen and illicit priests elected pope, illicit bishops and priests whose validity may even be questionable are not successors of the Apostles.

• The standard of truth is satisfaction of needs, realization in conduct, and the possibility of being lived, (the non-rational test, which is modernism)… Individual interpretation of events and experience, intuition and sensistic feelings are the proper mode of judgment for this system.

Pope St. Pius X well understood the “needs” of the pragmatists and modernists. He wrote in “Pascendi Dominici Gregis”: “For them the Sacraments are the resultant of a double need, for…everything in their system is explained by impulses or necessities…The first need is that of giving some manifestation to religion; the second is that of propagating it, which could not be done without some sensible forms and consecrating acts, and these are called Sacraments…The Sacraments are mere symbols and signs, though not devoid of a certain efficacy…The Modernists would be speaking more clearly were they to affirm that [the Mass and] Sacraments were given us by Christ primarily to foster the faith,” Pope St. Pius X warns Catholics that this error was condemned by the Council of Trent: “If anyone says these Sacraments are instituted for the nourishing of faith alone, let him be anathema.” How often have we heard Traditionalists rationalize their reception of the Sacraments from illicit priests with the plea that “We need the graces.” Ironically they fail to recognize the oxymoronic nature of their statement, since as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, they can never receive graces from Sacraments administered by illicit priest and bishops.

• Judgments and reasoning processes are merely symbols and hypotheses…

The Church has condemned the notion that one thing cannot be inferred from another thing and certitude arrived at thereby. “Human reason ought to search diligently for the fact of Divine revelation so that it can know with certainty that God has spoken…” Faith must precede reason but is not an impediment to it; rather it is the light that dispels the darkness of false belief. As Judge A. C. Baine explains: “When reason develops a new fact from other facts, by any of her recognized processes of action, faith seizes on the fact so developed and stamps it with the seal of her truth before reason concludes as to its absolute veracity.” Those wishing to boast a true sensus Catholicus can think in no other way than by the method described by Judge Baine.

This teaching that judgments and reasoning guided by faith can only constitute a possible explanation (among others) of actual events has nearly destroyed the administration of justice and has badly warped the practice of true charity. Those Traditionalists who believe they are applying the truths of faith to human conduct and events are paralyzed by the necessity of submitting to pragmatism’s hidebound adherence to individual interpretation of events and experience. In pragmatism there can be no absolute truths.

• There is no absolute truth, only truths by the mind constantly working on the data of experience, (humanism, modernism).

Each individual has the right to his “own truth,” and manner of seeing, experiencing and explaining events. A lie, for example, is a lie only if understood as such by the one whom has written or spoken it; all “sides” are seen to have their own “grain of truth.” We must never judge the actual event for what it truly is because this is tantamount to judging the intention of the ones who uttered or committed the offense. This is benefit of the doubt stretched far past its intended limits and judgment reduced to a meaningless slap on the wrist. In fact judging is a forbidden word for pragmatists, who do all in their power never to apply concrete Catholic principles to actual events involving real human beings, especially themselves. In such situations laxity passes for compassion and magnanimity, sacrificing justice to an all-encompassing “charity” that destroys morality and justice.

Because pragmatists, humanists and liberals have much in common, it is appropriate to quote Rev. Felix Sarda here on the nature of true charity. “To offend our neighbor for the love of God is a true act of charity. Not to offend our neighbor for the love of God is a sin. Modern Liberalism [and pragmatism] reverses this order. It imposes a false notion of charity. Our neighbor first, and, if at all, God afterwards…Sovereign Catholic inflexibility is sovereign Catholic charity…Liberal charity…is an essential contempt for the true good of men, of the supreme interests of truth and of God.” But pragmatists so love to see themselves as goodhearted, non-judgmental, compassionate and forgiving that these words will only serve to convince them that Ultramontane Catholics are mean-spirited and hardhearted. This is especially true of Traditional pragmatists who insist on “seeing the good in everything,” while ignoring the true extent of the evils at their very doorstep. Such “innocents” will be the first to tell you they do not want their peace (ignorance) disturbed. But this flight from reality will only exacerbate, not repel those evils they refuse to face head on.

• Pragmatists hinder the task of showing that belief is founded on inferential evidence…

As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, this then causes confusion concerning the relations between philosophy and theology. There the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Scholasticism is quoted as follows: St. Thomas clearly taught that theology and philosophy are two separate sciences, “yet …they agree. They are distinct because…philosophy relies on reason alone, theology uses the truths derived from revelation, and also because there are some truths, the mysteries of Faith which belong [only] to theology. They must agree because God is the author of all truth, and it is impossible to think that He would teach in the natural order anything that would contradict what He teaches in the supernatural order. The recognition of these principles is the crowning achievement of Scholasticism.”

This error concerning the division between philosophy and theology is only a rehash of the teaching of the Arabian philosopher Averroes. “Averroes advocated the principle of two-fold truth, maintaining that religion has one sphere and philosophy another. Religion…is for the unlettered multitude; philosophy for the chosen few. Religion teaches by signs and symbols; philosophy presents the truth itself. In the mind, therefore, of the truly enlightened, philosophy supersedes religion. But though the philosopher sees that what is true in theology is false in philosophy, he should not on that account condemn religious instruction, because he would thereby deprive the multitude of the only means it has of obtaining a (symbolical) knowledge of the truth.”

Turner observes that Averroes believed in “the eternity of matter,” and the (Gnostic, aeon-like) existence of “spirits” that mediated between God and matter. Averroes also denied the existence of Divine Providence “in the commonly accepted sense,” and glorified “(rational) mystical knowledge as the ultimate aspiration of the human soul,” not unlike the Jewish mysticism later aligned with philosophia perennia by the Humanists Ficione and della Mirandola. Turner tells us that the Christian schools rejected Averroes’ teaching, but “owing to the revolt of the Renaissance from everything Scholastic, [his commentaries] secured once more a temporary hearing.” St. Thomas however was able to put error in the service of good by adapting Averroes’ method of commentary on his topics as his own for the compilation of the Summa.

What indications of pragmatism do we find in Averroes’ teaching? First we notice the compartmentalization of religion, which points to the external religion of Traditionalists. This compartmentalization fails to apply Catholic teaching and practice across the board to daily life. It results in the reversal of St. Thomas’ teaching that in order to act, one must first “be,” or believe. If one truly believes, that belief automatically will reflect itself in action. Secondly, Averroes would condescendingly relegate religion to a system of “signs and symbols,” which again is basically external religion. Here we see connection to pragmatism’s inherent conceptual symbolism and interpretation of external events (ritual) and Modernism’s sacramental symbolism. We also see that even in religious instruction, only symbols of the truth were to be imparted, the truth itself being reserved for the exalted philosophers.

Among other things, Averroes taught that the Active and Passive intellect, “belong to an intellect outside us…[They] are separate from the individual soul and are universal, that is, one in all men.” Turner calls this doctrine of one mind, “monopsychism,” which endangers the doctrine of immortality by imputing one soul to all, since the intellect is the seat of the soul. Taken in combination with all the other pragmatic tenets, it is almost identical to the idea of sensus catholicus as taught by today’s Traditionalists. This theory was propagated by Rama Coomeraswamy and Briton’s Catholic Library among others and was a key component of 15th-century humanism, as explained above. This sensistic belief of Traditionalists/Perrenialists is a denial of the condemnation of the following proposition found in Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors: “Authority is nothing more than numbers and material strengths,” (DZ 1760). By insinuating that they can point to the unconscious belief held by centuries worth of invincibly ignorant Catholics, as well as saints and holy people, Traditionalists think they “win” hands down.


Pragmatism, Traditionalism, perrenialism, (sensus catholicus) conclavism and all the other heresies related to Traditional catholicism are proven fact, not just hypotheses or speculation. The Church thinks and teaches in one particular way and Traditionalists are not in union with Her thinking, although not all are aware of this. This is what we have shown here and in other works. It is for Traditionalists to prove they are not heretics and schismatics (Can. 2200), and present conclusive evidence to support their claim. Until then, according to Canon Law, these conclusions stand.

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