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Father Ripperger maintains that q crucial part of the answer is found in a philosophical challenge to the correct perception of reality itself. The entire series is an explanation of the error of immanentism and its devastating consequences for authentic faith upon the modern Catholic mind and soul.

Immanentism and the Ecclesiological Crisis by Fr Chad Ripperger, FSSP (Part I)

Originally published in Latin Mass Magazine, Winter 2007

One often hears the question, "How did the Church ever arrive at her present calamity?" In this first of a four-part series, Father Ripperger maintains that q crucial part of the answer is found in a philosophical challenge to the correct perception of reality itself. The entire series is an explanation of the error of immanentism and its devastating consequences for authentic faith upon the modern Catholic mind and soul.

It is likely that the average layman has heard but possibly not grasped, that the current ecclesiastical crisis consists, not in a crisis of theology, but in a crisis of philosophy that has caused a loss of faith and in turn, devastation in theology. This series of articles will deal with arguably the most foundational and important part of modernism-what has come to be known as the principle of immanence. We may define the principle of immanence as "a philosophical position which holds that the first thing one knows is self and that all our knowledge of external reality is judged in light of self." Many people, who study modernism, e.g. by reading the papal encyclical Pascendi and the Syllabus of Pius IX, know that living immanentism has been condemned. But their understanding of that principle is often vague and unclear. Yet, a clearer understanding of the principle of immanence will afford the Catholic layman a profound understanding of the current state of the Church. This series of articles will provide a short presentation of the principle of immanence, apply it to various aspects of theology that are affecting the Church, and finally present solutions so that we ourselves do not fall into the very problem against which we are fighting.

Our discussion of the principle of immanence will be admittedly brief and inadequate for anyone looking for a thorough overview. On the other hand, for some readers the first part of this series will seem quite difficult. The reader is urged to follow along as closely as he can, in order better to understand the conclusions we draw in later articles on the basis of earlier ones. Let us begin with a distinction between the immanent and the transcendent. In the traditional or scholastic use of the terms, immanent is defined as "present in an operation within; indwelling: as, God is immanent in all things by his power, knowledge, and authority."1 Transcendent, on the other hand, means "so excellent that [it] surpasses the limits of created perfections and is really distinct from creatures."2 With these two classical definitions. God is seen as both immanent in His causation, since the cause is always present to the effect,3 as well as transcendent in His existence, which means that God is really distinct from created things. Immanence can also mean "living, originating in and remaining within the agent as a perfection of the agent."4 For example, we see this when we perform a moral action: the defect of sin or virtue is caused by the action which remains in us. In this discussion of immanence we shall not normally be using the term in these classical but valid senses. Rather, we shall be using it in the modern sense of the term, which will become clear as the series of articles proceeds.

In order to give a basic outline of the genesis of the principle of immanence, which has impacted theology so drastically, we need to consider some of the points advanced in the philosophies of Descartes, Kant, Schleiermacher, Feuerbach and Blondel.5 Most modern scholars hold that the principle of immanence began with René Descartes (1596-1650). 6 Descartes, in his Discourse on Method, began with a systematic doubt of anything that was not absolutely certain.7 This led him to doubt the senses, since the senses can deceive us. He gave the example of a stick, which when placed in water appears to bend because of the refraction of light. The observer knows that the stick has not actually become bent but his senses report that it is. Consequently, the senses, according to Descartes, could not be trusted. This systematic doubt is the foundation for the Cartesian philosophy (that is, the philosophy of Descartes) and all modern philosophy which flows from it.

Descartes went on to observe:

But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolute necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am [cogito ergo sum], was so certain and of such evidence, that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the skeptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.8

This passage contains something of great importance: the beginning and founding of his philosophical reflection on himself. The first thing of which Descartes is certain and which he knows is himself, rather than extramental (outside the mind) realty reported to him by his senses. This point of departure in his philosophical reflection deviated from the Thomistic understanding that knowledge first begins in the senses, that from sensible knowledge we proceed by abstraction to intellectual knowledge, and that by this process we come into contact with reality. Descartes inverted the process by first founding knowledge in oneself and then trying to establish that knowledge of extramental reality is not false or unreliable. Ultimately, if one accepts the cogito, i.e. the principle that the first object of knowledge is self (stemming from systematic doubt), one is cut off from reality and being.9 After Descartes, modern philosophy, having adopted the cogito as a principle, vacillates between trying to get back to reality and trying to make thought identical with reality.10

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), accepting the Cartesian cogito and the Humean critique of causation, 11 developed an understanding of epistemology (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge) that led him to the following conclusions. Kant labeled the thing-in-itself, i.e. the thing in reality, the noumena, and said it was inaccessible to human understanding and knowledge. But he went on to say that we did have some kind of experience of the noumena, called the phenomena. Our experience of the phenomena did, not penetrate to the essence of the noumena, and thus we were still unable to reach the real. However, man does have an a priori knowledge of things as well as his experience or phenomena. What is important in this whole discussion is the phenomena, i.e. human experience. In later philosophical systems, this experience will become the focal point in the discussion about God.

Kant brought full reflection to bear on this notion of being cut off from reality. Kant argued that neither ontological 12 nor cosmological l3 arguments for God's existence worked. Cosmological arguments for God's existence argue from something in reality (such as order in the universe14) to God as its cause. But Kant rightly understood that, if one accepted the Cartesian cogito, i.e. if one was cut off from reality, there would be no way to prove God's existence on the basis of reality outside the mind. The next philosopher we need to consider is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). As reflection upon religion developed increasingly from the Kantian understanding of epistemology, the focus became the experience, the phenomena or various aspects of the phenomena. Schleiermacher observed:

Your feeling is piety, insofar as it expresses, in the matter described, the being and life common to you and to the All. Your feeling is piety insofar as it is the result of the operation of God in you by means of the operation of the world upon you. This series is not made up either of perceptions or of objects of perception, either of works or operations or of different spheres of operation, but purely as sensations and the influence of all that lives and moves around" which accompanies them and conditions them. These feelings are exclusively the elements of religion, and none are excluded. There is no sensation that is not pious, except it indicate some diseased and impaired state of the life, the influence of which will not be confined to religion. Wherefore, it follows that ideas and principles are all foreign to religion.... [I]f ideas and principles are to be anything, they must belong to the knowledge which is a different department of life than religion.15

This passage indicates that for Schleiermacher religion was merely a matter of feeling, and any kind of feeling, insofar as one could experience God in it, could be part of religion. But Schleiermacher also created a division between an intellectual approach to religion and religion itself. He went on to observe:

From within, in their original, characteristic form, the emotions of piety must issue. They must be indubitably your own feelings, and not mere stale descriptions of the feelings of others, which could best issue in a wretched imitation....16 The sum total of religion is to feel that, in the highest unity, all that moves us in feeling is one; to feel that aught single and particular is only possible by means of this unity; to feel, that is to say, that our being and living is a being and living in and through God.17

This passage indicates that in matters of religion it is not other people's emotions that are important but your own. In the final analysis, it is not the place of anyone else to tell you what to believe, what to think18 or how to feel in relationship to God or religion. Rather, the place of any religion would be to facilitate these emotions or feelings in relation to God.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) began to reflect on what all this meant in relationship to man, particularly in the realm of psychology. If we could not know anything outside of ourselves and if we could not prove God’s existence (as Kant had shown), then the only thing that was left was man.19 Feuerbach observed, "If, for example, feeling is the essential organ of religion, the nature of God is nothing else than the expression of the nature of feeling."20 God was therefore "pure unlimited, free feeling."2l Schleiermacher then went on to describe how man, in taking these ideas and feelings about God, projected them into beings independent from himself. If one accepts the Cartesian/Kantian epistemology and Kant's critiques of the proofs for the existence of God, discussions about God or religion are really discussions about man and his feelings. In this sense, Feuerbach observed that religion is really anthropology-that is, man looks at some perfection in himself and then projects it out to a god which he thinks exists independently of himself. While we might think Feuerbach is unsound in his thinking, if one accepts the Cartesian cogito this is one of the conclusions: atheism (i.e. there is no God but only man projecting perfections or thoughts about God into reality). In contrast to Feuerbach's line of thinking, there were some who, having a religious mind were uncomfortable with the final atheistic outcome of the cogito. Among these was Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), who sought to give a defense or an apologetic for religion in view of the modern philosophies. Blondel first observed that the old forms of apologetic, which were ultimately scholastic (referring to the philosophy articulated by the Latin Fathers, Aristotle and his commentators - especially Saint Thomas Aquinas) in nature, did not work for modern man, for the general movement of modern thought had turned more and more against it.22 Blondel essentially rejected the scholastic approach to religion and placed himself within the context of the modern philosophical approach to God:

In a phrase which must be explained but which indicates at once the seriousness of the conflict, modern thought, with a jealous susceptibility, considers the notion of immanence as the very condition of philosophizing; that is to say, if among current ideas there is one which it regards as marking a definite advance, it is the idea, which is at bottom perfectly true, that nothing can enter into a man's mind which does not come out of him and correspond in some way to a need for development and that there is nothing in the nature of historical or traditional teaching or obligation imposed from without which counts for him, no truth and no precept which is acceptable unless it is in some soft autonomous and autochthonous.23

For Blondel, the point of departure was the notion of immanence or, we may say more appropriately, the principle of immanence. What this means is that, in the context of the philosophical history from which it derives, to proceed philosophically in the discussion about religion one must first begin with self:

For our idea of transcendent truths or beings, whether real or imaginary is always immanent in so far as it is our own; and before we can pronounce upon the significance of what we are thinking it is important to decide what in fact we are thinking; that is, we must go over the whole series of our inevitable ideas and their necessary implications apart from the mutilations or partial restrictions which the superficial intervention of our reflexive decisions seems to bring about when we are preoccupied with moral and ontological problems. The method of immanence, then, can consist in nothing else than in trying to equate, in our own consciousness, what we appear to think and to will and to do with what we do and what we think in actual fact... And its special business is to criticize all of phenomena which make up our inner life, each one in the light of others, to adjust them, to study the connections between them, to show all their implications, to discover what principles are presupposed by thought and by action, to define on what conditions we may ascribe reality to the objects or the means of salvation which are inevitably conceived by us, to study (for example) our idea of God, not just as God, but insofar as it is our necessary and effective thought of God.24

For Blondel, even the discussion about God and the transcendent25 was subject to the method of immanence. One judges the things of God and the transcendent based upon one's own experience. The final conclusion is that all of religion becomes subject to the self. In the above passage we italicized the word "decide" because Blondel was influenced by Kant's stress on the primacy of the practical reason or moral will.26 This reduces religion to choice, i.e. we decide what we believe. That follows from the principle of immanence. (Later we shall see that this leads to a heavy emphasis on action in relation to religion.) For Blondel, truth was not the adequation of intellect with thing (adaequatio intellectus et rei);27 rather it was adequation of intellect with life.28 In other words, the truth does not consist in our knowing reality and conforming to that objective reality (in religious terms, in our conforming ourselves to the Deposit of Faith). Rather, we must decide what we believe and conform our lives to that. In the end, truth is merely a consistency between what one believes and how one acts. We now come to a crucial, highly debated point that must be addressed. There are those who assert that Blondel, while holding to the method of immanence, did not succumb to the doctrine of immanence, which was condemned by Pope Saint Pius X. Some hold that the condemnation did not apply to Blondel because he proposed a method of immanence rather than the doctrine of immanence.29

Again, the method of immanence, the approach to being through critical reflection on the subject, could easily be converted and had in fact been converted" into a doctrine of immanence, asserting that nothing exists outside human consciousness or that the statement that anything so exists is devoid of meaning. There remained therefore the problem of pursuing the method of immanence while avoiding the doctrine or principal of immanence.30

The doctrine or principle of immanence starts in the Cartesian cogito and asserts that human thought is the principle of judgment of all things that exist:

This is far from the metaphysics of Christian Philosophy, for it begets the principle of immanentism, the idea that the actively of human consciousness stands at the root of being and hence of value. Human thinking feels itself independent of and ontological reality is given from the higher Source of existence and indeed conceives of itself as the creator of being and value.31

The principle of immanence essentially states that the first thing we know is ourselves and that all our knowledge of external reality is judged in light of self. Blondel wished to avoid this, since he knew that it led to Kant's rejection of the proofs for God's existence and ultimately to atheism, and that this was contrary to what the First Vatican Council had stated regarding what we could know about God's existence.32 Blondel then asserted the necessity of following the method of immanence and was careful not to assert the doctrine or principle of immanence. The difficulty, however, lies in the analysis of the term "method." Method is a mode of proceeding insofar as the method determines how one proceeds. But method is an action, i.e. a series of intellectual reflections, and according to a Thomistic analysis, actions always implicitly contain the end towards which they are directed. In scholastic moral theology this is called the finis operis, i.e. the end of the action or work. In order for the action to achieve the end, it must be proportioned and directed to the end. This direction towards the end is the end of the action itself or the finis operis. The end is often called the principle of the action for it is that which is first in the order of intention, i.e. one first conceives the end and then sets about seeking a means to achieve the end. When we apply this notion to the method of immanence, we recognize that the method contains within itself the end towards which the method is ordered. Since Blondel stated that he would rigorously apply the method of immanence,33 the immanence must be fleshed out in order for us to understand precisely where it is heading. Blondel observed that the method of immanence was confined to determining the dynamism of our experience and that this was the very condition of modern philosophy in its intransigent independence.34 Since it is the person's own experience and not reality that constitutes the foundation of the method the doctrine or principle of immanence is contained implicitly in the method of immanence, since the method terminates (ends) in self. While Blondel would assert that this is not the case and that he does not wish to follow where the principle of immanence leads, nevertheless, he is still subject to the principle of immanence in his adoption of the method of immanence. His methodology will not lead one outside one's own thought, for as we have noted above, once one cuts oneself off from reality, i.e. once one accepts the cogito, the final trajectory is atheism.

As we noted earlier, some have asserted that the condemnation by Pope Saint Pius X involved a different kind of immanence, and therefore that the condemnation does not apply to Blondel. Yet what Pope Saint Pius X describes in Pascendi Dominici Gregis in paragraph seven is the doctrine of immanence, which contains the rejection of the proofs for God's existence and natural theology; the explanation for these things "must, therefore, be looked for in man."35 While some say that the condemnation of immanentism is strictly with respect to vital immanence or religious immanence, in fact what is being condemned is the principle of immanence, i.e. basing the judgment of things that pertain to revelation or religion within man himself.36

To be sure, the Pope did not condemn Blondel by name. However, the condemnation of a man's thought is not based upon whether he is named or not but whether the philosophical or theological position he holds has been condemned. We also concede that Blondel "made it clear enough that he had no intention of identifying God with the immanent idea of God."37 This is why the discussion of Blondel is so difficult: because his method from the foregoing analysis indicates that it contains implicitly the principle of immanence, even though he denies that it contains that principle.

In the next article, we shall take up the conclusions that have been drawn from the philosophy of the principle of immanence.


Notes :
l. Bernard Wuellner, A Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Millwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1966), 133.
2. Ibid.,310.
3. This is known as the principle of simultaneity. See Bernard Wuellner, Summary of Scholastic Principles (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1956), 18, #45.
4. Wuellner, A Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, 133.
5. It is not possible to give a full treatment of the development of the principle of immanence throughout modern philosophy within the space of an article. For a full account. See Cornelio Fabro, God in Exile: Modem Atheism from its Roots in the Cartesian Cogito to the Present Day (Westminster, Md.: Newman Pres, 1964).
6. For example, see Fabro, God in Exile, passim. Jacques Maritain in Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929) asserts that the principle of immanence began with Luther. While it must be conceded that Luther was an immanentist, he was an informal immanentist. His teaching lacked any systemization and was expressly opposed to reason. In this sense, he cannot be said to be a formal immanentist in the sense that his immanence was rooted in systematic thought for it was not. It would be more accurate to say that Luther provided a “spiritual" or psychological ambience in which immanence could flourish. But historically the actual intellectual foundation of the principle of immanence that affects Western Civilization belongs to Descartes.
7. René Descartes, Discourse on Method (as contained in René Descartes, Benedict de Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, The Rationalists [Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books, 1974]), part II. I
8. Ibid., part IV, 63. The italicized section has been changed by this author from, "I think, hence I am," to "I think, therefore I am ' in order to bring it into congruity with the common way in which this passage is quoted.
9. Fabro, God in Exile, passim but especially 1063 and 1066. Etienne Gilson makes this part of the theme of his book Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).
10. Fabro. God in Exile. part X. passim.
11. Hume’s critique of causation effectively cuts one off from reality. According to Hume there is no cause of one thing to another but only a constant conjunction of one event with another-in other words, we may not conclude, when 1) one billiard ball strikes another and 2) makes the second one move, that a necessary connection exists between the two occurrences, but simply that the two occurrences have merely been correlated consistently with each other This view isolates one intellectually from reality since there is no causal connection between the knowledge in one's intellect and what one senses in reality, for the senses are not necessarily being acted upon in a causal way by some exterior object. See David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ch. VII.
12. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (New York: Willey, 1943), 331-59. This criticism of the ontological argument was foreseen by Saint Thomas Aquinas in ST I, q. 2, a. l, a. 2. Ontological arguments try to argue from a concept of God to the reality of God, which Kant rightly pointed out does not work. Simply because one has something in his mind does not mean that it actually exists in reality. So it is an illicit logical move to proceed from thought to reality without having first received it from reality. In other words, just because one thinks God exists does not mean that He actually i.e. in reality, exists.
13. See Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 331-59.
14. See ST I, q.2, a.3.
15. Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, trans. John Otto. (New York: Harper and Row, 1958), 45f.
16. Ibid., 48.
17. Ibid., 49f.
18. In ibid. (62), Schleiermacher says that one looks for no rule outside oneself.
19. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York Harper Torchbooks, 1957), xxxv.
20. Ibid., 9.
21. Ibid.,10f.
22. Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History of Dogma (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 150. It would be more accurate to say that the scholastic arguments or forms of apologetic do work for man whether he is modem or not, although they do not work for modernist man.
23. Ibid., l5lf
24. Ibid , 156f. (Emphasis mine.)
25. Ibid.
26. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1974), vol. IX, 229. 27. See Saint Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate, q. l.
28. Maurice Blondel, L' Action Essai d'une critique de la vie et d'une science de la pratique.
29. For example, see Copleston, op. cit., 232f.
30. ibid, 227.
31. Ronda Chervin and Eugene Kevane, Love of Wisdom: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 236.
32. See Filius Dei. The First Vatican Council dealt with certain aspects of modernism that were starting to make their way into Catholic thought at the time. Among other things it treated the proofs for God's existence and what we can know about God through the natural light of reason. It also dealt with the authority of the Church.
33. Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History of Dogma, 156
34. Ibid., 159
35. Pope Saint Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, par. 7.
36. Cf. ibid., paras. 13, 19, 20, 22 and 37.
37. Copleston, loc. cit. See Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History of Dogma, 157.


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