by Nick Cohen
Dismissing St Thomas Aquinas with his customary succinctness, Bertrand Russell said there was “little of the true philosophic spirit” in the Catholic church’s greatest philosopher. It was not that he wasn’t clever, but that he lacked the willingness to follow an argument wherever it led. Catholic dogma determined in advance where he could and could not go.
Aquinas “already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion already given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”
Anti-Catholicism is still a residual force in Britain and a great mistake of secularists who fall into the prejudice is to imagine that the church’s dogmas are as dumb as the blabbering of the worst type of knuckle-dragging, know-nothing Protestant fundamentalist. Reading the pope’s encyclical on the care of our common home ought to provide an antidote. It shows, if nothing else, why apparently intelligent men and women can lose themselves in the richness of Catholic theology.
The encyclical is plainly written – Francis examines our throwaway society and declares: “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” It emphasises the interconnectedness of the natural world and is properly appalled that humanity is presiding over a mass extinction of species. Francis shows a concern for the poor that would shame most rich leftwingers, let alone their conservative opponents. And like his recent predecessors he is comfortable with modern science. Even if you think, as I do, that there is no God and the pope should grow up, you should admit that there is grandeur in this view of life, to take Darwin’s words wildly out of context, and a moral vigour too.
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