We all know that there was a concerted effort by many bishops, priests and theologians in the 1960s to tell everyone the Pope would soon permit birth control (even though Bl. John XXIII condemns it in _Mater et Magistra_). What is lesser known is that some bishops actually *squelched* efforts by *Democratic* Catholic politicians to fight contraception. I once read how Chicago’s legendary mayor Daley organized a movement against legalization of contraceptives–till the archbishop of Chicago told him to stop because supposedly the Church was going to permit contraception. Then there’s how “Fr.” Drinan told the Kennedys to adopt a pro-choice position (I always forget if this infamous meeting took place during JFK or RFK’s campaign, but it’s well-documented).
Fr. Bing Arellano can be a bit of a “nut,” but when I went to a conference he gave in Atlanta a few years ago, before the stuff about the USCCB and the Canadian Bishops’ funding of pro-abortion organizations became a public issue, he claimed evidence that back in the 1980s, the US Bishops were giving millions to pro-abortion groups (turned out they were doing so more recently than that).
It was of course another Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, who gave us the “seamless” garment notion that blurs the prioritzation of “respect life” issues, even to the point of putting racism and health care on par with abortion or the death penalty. Regardless of whether people agree that the “death penalty” is a “pro-life” issue (and Bl. John Paul II, the late John Cardinal O’Connor, and even Fr. Frank Pavone all say it is), I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s a difference between directly killing someone and something like “racism” or health care–unless, of course, you’re the kind of person to believe the “Mitt Romney killed my wife” ad.
Ever since I finally read (or perhaps reread, as I think I read it in high school) Etienne Gilson’s classic _Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages_, I’ve wanted to write a piece called “How Islam Gave Us Nancy Pelosi.” When Greek wisdom was re-introduced to the west after centuries of “Dark Ages”–which were really a time of great Christian enlightenment, where the Greek “wisdom” was just considered irrelevant to the spiritual journey–it came via Muslim translations and commentaries, of Greek to Arabic and back to Latin, or even of Greek to Latin to Arabic and back to Latin . So there was some translation error, and since these translations were done as commentaries by Avicenna and Averroes (Latinizations of their names), their commentaries colored the texts.
Aristotle was, at the time, end and all and be-all of what we now call “science,” and Aristotle’s “science” contradicted Scripture–for example, Aristotle said the universe is eternal (a question about which scientists still debate). How did you reconcile Aristotle with “Creationism”?
Averroes attempted to answer this question first, in turn borrowing from Avicenna and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides before him. “Eastern” and “Western” thought is separated primarily by the question of paradox versus the law of identity. Aristotle, building on Socrates and Plato, established the principle of identity and the principle of non-contradiction: a thing is what it is. Something cannot be BOTH A AND B. It cannot be BOTH A AND -A. Two objects cannot co-exist in the same space. This principle (which I once tried to illustrate using symbolic logic on an Aristotle exam, prompting the professor to write “Uncle!” in the margin) underlies all Western thought, but is alien to many non-Western cultures.
Islam is an eastern religion, and relies on many things that Westerners would consider paradoxes. For example, the Bible is to be honored as the Word of God, but recognized as also corrupt. Jews and Christians are “People of the Book,” but there’s the ambiguity about whether we are “Infidels” or not. Meanwhile, Plato had taught his famous notion of the “noble lie,” that “mythology” is a “noble lie” taught to the people because they cannot understand philosophy. Plato said that myths and philosophy teach the same concepts, but mythology allegorizes them to be palatable to the public’s level of intelligence.
To a certain extent, Catholic philosophy even adopts that notion–as even Augustine and some of the other early Fathers recognized a level of allegory and symbolism in Genesis.
However, Averroes took it to a new level and said, basically with Plato, that the Bible and Aristotelian science didn’t *have* to be reconciled. A person could believe *both*. He took Plato’s argument that the Bible is just a symbolic expression of the truth’s of philosophy, and that religion is subservient to philosophy, just a menas of expressing philosophy to the people, but he departed from Plato in that Plato’s philosopher kings are supposed to acknowledge that *to themselves*. Averroes held that people had to believe *both* the “noble lie” of the Bible *and* the philosophy of Aristotle, but in the fashion of Eastern logic, he argued that these truths could be confined to different spheres of life.
So it was Averroes who gave us the concept of the “secular world,” that we can hold one set of beliefs in our religious lives but an entirely different set in our “secular” lives. This idea set in in the Universities in France. The work of Scotus, Aquinas and Bonaventure was a reaction against this trend in philosophy.
However, as Gilson explains, Aquinas and his fellow Scholastics in some ways failed. Averroeism remained entrenched in Catholic universities for centuries. So while we may rightly condemn Masonry, Modernism, etc., for the problems in the Church, they also date back 800 years.
When America arose, it gave Averroeism within the Church a new impetus: it became known as “Kennedy Doctrine,” though in turn it can be found in the writings of John and Charles Carroll, as well: religion is a private business, to be kept private and at church, and civic virtue is another matter. The “heresy of Americanism,” condemned by Leo XIII, kind of covers a lot of things, but one of the things it covers is the relegation of religion to a private sector in return for a secular virtue in public.
I don’t know if Gilson ever explained in another work how this entrenchment operated from the 11th to the 18th century, but it’s clear how it manifested itself in America. Then came the infiltration of the Church, and the Masonic and Communist infiltrators used the existing foundation of Averroeist philosophy to teach priests and bishops to hold the same view.
And it was these priests and bishops who went around in the 1960s and told Catholics both that it was OK to use contraception and that not only should they not fight efforts to legalize contraception, they should *support* those efforts.