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Reflections on a Semester of Philosophy

  01/02/07 18:43, by jsignal, Categories: life with god
2007 at the ND Capitol

In C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, the main character takes a rather unusual bus ride. He begins his journey in Hell, which is depicted as an infinite, dull place full of people quarreling with one another. He boards this unusual bus and arrives in Heaven. I laughed out loud when I read that C.S. Lewis' version of Hell includes many "bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle."

Having just spent a semester studying the chain of philosophers in history that culminates with Aristotle, I understand all too well what C.S. Lewis is getting at here. Later in the book, a "philosopher" steps off of the bus in heaven. A saint works to obtain the man's repentance so that he does not need to get back on the bus for the return trip to Hell. But the man is so full of intellectual pride and confusion he cannot admit, though he thinks himself a well-intentioned and intelligent Christian, that there is objective truth which he cannot comprehend.

In this hectic semester of philosophy courses, I studied varying ideas of what constitutes truth. How do we know that what our senses tell us is true? Is there a spiritual reality? If so, is it more "real" than this sensible world? How can we think about God, a supernatural reality, using our limited experience in a world we only know from our senses? Or, perhaps even more basic, what does the name "God" that we utter so often actually mean? How do we define it in our English language?

Near the end of the semester, I studied various "proofs" for the existence of God and realized that, truly, they are not strictly philosophical proofs for the existence of a personal God that one can love and know. What followed was a sense of not altogether unexpected disappointment in the human ability to reason about the supernatural. The trick for a beginning Christian student of philosophy is to not lose faith until at least a shred of academic humility is achieved. And the stakes could not be higher in this spiritual battle for eternal life.

As The Great Divorce and my personal experience illustrate, philosophy is dangerous yet necessary (in my case, at least) for proper faith. When I started my seminary journey, I had great hope that philosophy would strengthen my faith in God. But I'm learning quickly that while philosophy can help me understand my faith, faith must be a gratuitous gift. Faith is not the culmination of academic understanding.

If one does not approach philosophy with a strong faith in God and a sense of humility, one's faith may crumble in the ensuing state of confusion and uncertainty. Philosophy (that is all rational thought) and our Christian faith MUST agree with one another because there is only one absolute truth. But none of us will be able to reconcile the apparent discrepancies between faith and reason in this earthly life.

Shortly I will be back at the seminary for another semester of philosophy. Having rested for several weeks and avoided any sort of philosophical or theological debate and thought, I feel somewhat refreshed and strengthened. Please remember me in your prayers as I return to my studies.

Happy New Year and God Bless.

3 comments

Comment from: Dawn [Visitor]  

Ummmmmm, what? Just kidding. (kind of)

As far as understanding or defining God with your words, or even in your intellect, I don’t think it is possible (for me, anyway). The only place that I can seem to find any definitive understanding is within my heart. And I usually trust my heart a lot more than my mind because things just seem to get cloudy and confused the more I try to rationalize them in my brain. I guess it’s pretty apparent why I’m NOT the philosophy student and you are! : )

I got this great book for christmas that has quotes from Mother Teresa to use as meditations. ; ) I came across this one last night that seems appropriate for this discussion. “It is important to gain self-knowledge as part of spiritual growth—to know yourself and believe in yourself means you can know and believe in God. Knowledge of yourself produces humility, and knowledge of God produces love.”

You’re in my prayers. God Bless your next semester seminarian!

01/02/07 @ 20:44
Comment from: Stephen Mirarchi [Visitor]

Sounds like you’re ready for Flannery O’Connor, Jason!

Seriously, congratulations on a fine first semester. There are many aspects of the Truth that can be known through natural theology or the intellect. Grace, the Incarnation, and the Trinity are infinitely mysterious and will never be exhausted by the intellect, but we can prove many other so-called mysteries through reason. Aquinas is great for this… As is Dei Verbum, which you’ll get next year in Fundamental Theology.

Looking forward to another great semester with you, my brother in Christ!

01/11/07 @ 02:53
Comment from: Cat [Member]  

A good friend of mine related a conversation between two fellow study abroad students, one Orthodox and one Roman Catholic. It ended thus:

Orthodox: For you Roman Catholics, it’s always “Define. Define. Define.”

Roman Catholic: For you Orthodox, it’s always “A Mystery.”

The conversation was in good faith and good humor, but I think that exchange illustrates a bit of truth. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are both Churches properly so called (both have proper episcopal succession, and I hope we will be reunited soon), and it seems we are focused on two sides of the same truth. Don’t forget as you learn to define, that it is still a mystery.

01/18/07 @ 04:21
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