A Creative Retrieval of Thomism
Another Visit with W. Norris Clarke, S.J.
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A Creative Retrieval of Thomism with W. Norris Clarke, SJ 

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In A Taste for Existence Norris Clarke, one of the U.S.'s finest metaphysicians, talked about the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Here we visit him again to find out more about his own life as a philosopher that has stretched from the heady days around World War II when the metaphysics of St. Thomas was being rediscovered, to the decline of Thomism at the time of the Second Vatican Council, until today, which finds him actively engaged in a creative retrieval of Thomism.

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Jim: Today we are visiting Fr. Norris Clarke, one of U.S.’s finest metaphysicians to find out more about his own life as a philosopher and his thoughts on the possibility of a creative retrieval of Thomism.

How did you get started in philosophy?

Fr. Clarke: It began really when I was asked to go over and do my philosophy as a young Jesuit in the Island of Jersey in the English Channel. That was in an entirely French house. Four of us went over there, the first ones from the New York province to go to Jersey. When we got there they asked us why we had come there. We said, well we were told we were supposed to be studying classics, and we were told to come to study under the famous Fr. So-and-So, a famous expert in classics. So they looked at each other, and said he has been dead 25 years, which meant we were not up on developments exactly in our province overseas. So we happily dropped classics and went into philosophy, and it was a wonderful international house with a wonderful faculty. I had Fr. André Marc who was a brilliant young Thomist metaphysician, fairly young, and a powerful mind. He took us and led us through the very beginning, making a judgment, all the way through the entire development of metaphysics, just unfolding like peeling an onion, so to speak – all the richness contained at the beginning. It was a wonderful experience. My mind just opened and blossomed like a flower under that tremendous experience. So that, together with reading two books, which gave me my sea legs as a philosopher. One of them was Marechal’s great Plan de depart de la metaphysique, Point of Departure of Metaphysics, five volumes – in four volumes then – history of philosophy from the point of view of Thomism, and then ending up finally, well, it was all the way up to, I guess, Hegel, but St. Thomas was the central focus, and the famous fifth cahier was his own exposition of St. Thomas, following somewhat the Kantian method of the transcendental analysis of the conditions of knowing. The entire history of philosophy from the central point of view of Thomistic metaphysics, that was an extraordinary experience.

I have since not been exactly a card-carrying member of the transcendental Thomist school for various reasons, but the central thing was the dynamism of the human spirit, and then the central Thomistic viewpoint. I sat down and read all the four volumes published then, and made notes on them. That was a tremendous experience of self-education, along with my Thomist teachers there.

The second book, which was a contraband book at the time, was Maurice Blondel’s L’Action 1893 version. It was a powerful dynamic one, taking what Marechal did with the dynamism of the human intelligence, Blondel did with the dynamism of the will. If you will anything, you are committed to will all the way implicitly the infinite good, God, and you can’t not will because not to will is already to will not to will, so we are committed. You can’t help not willing. It’s too late. You are thrown into the world of reality. At that time it was strongly being attacked by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, the great watchdog of orthodoxy, the Dominican, and he claimed it was dangerous, anti-intellectual, and was under a cloud and should be banned and that sort of thing, so Blondel who was very devoted to the church said he would do a re-edition, and he wouldn’t allow a republication of that book until he had done the revision which took place 20 years later and was not nearly as good. But I got the original. But it was banned, considered not safe reading for the young Jesuits, so it was banned. There was no xeroxing things in those days, so a group of scholastics had typed it out in Paris, typed out that whole book, and then brought it back secretly as contraband. When you were accepted into the club of real philosophers in the third or fourth year, they would lend it to you for two weeks. You had to hide it under your mattress because the minister was very fussy, and would go around checking, did you have any prohibited books? So I had it for two weeks. I put it under my mattress and read it with tremendous – to will anything is implicitly to go all the way to willing the infinite. Now that set me up. The dynamism of the mind and the dynamism of the will in this structure, participation. I sort of felt I had gotten a hold of the basic meaning and structure of the universe. That was tremendous. So from then on I felt, the end of my third year, that there was still a lot that I didn’t know, but I felt I was a philosopher now, had my own sea legs, and could talk to anybody else in the world. There was a lot I didn’t know, sure, but I was a philosopher and had a viewpoint on the universe. That was a tremendous experience, so I am very grateful for that. I didn’t pick up all the later things about the neo-Platonism and even the participation that much, but I did get that basic Thomistic vision, and the dynamism of intellect and will is underlying all of philosophy and spirituality and everything, so that was a tremendously rich experience. And the young French scholastics were so much more educated than ourselves at the same time, they read so much more, very sophisticated culture they had, so we used to go out together and sit on the seashore on the Isle of Jersey, we would sit on the rocks by the seashore and read Homer in Greek, and various other things. You could just hear the sea in Homer, and read various things, and it was so good talking about their own inner spiritual experience, very good at talking about deep things. Americans are shy about talking about deep personal things, but not the French. They have a great gift for doing diaries, so being able to speak about spiritual and intellectual things fully without any kind of embarrassment was just wonderful. So my mind expanded then. I became really very good friends with them, perhaps better than most people back here. So that was a wonderful period.



Jim: Did you have any early experiences that predisposed you for philosophy?

Fr. Clarke: I loved high places. I would climb any tree that I could find as high as I could, and then when I got bigger I would climb up the pillars of the George Washington bridge, as I told you before – 300 feet, and then go over to the other side of the Hudson and climb up the Palisades to get the highest viewpoint I could find. And that’s a kind of an archetype, I guess, when you are up high, you can see how everything fits together – rivers, and things like that, valleys – and it’s a kind of symbol of seeing how the universe fits together. So to see things from a high place, to see them coming together in some kind of unity or pattern, and that’s the model, so I always used to think about being an archetype, but I didn’t have any kind of systematic.

And then a young Jesuit who went crazy – afterwards he said there was too much insulin for diabetes – he took a group of us and gave us a tremendous opening to spiritual things, the doctrine of the mystical body and all that, so I had had an opening at the beginning of two years at Georgetown. And then my tree-climbing and rock-climbing expeditions, but that was sort of a practical, physical kind of metaphysics from a high place, and now I got into the strictly intellectual side of things.



Jim: Tell us about your first article, the one about the neo-Platonic elements in St. Thomas.

Fr. Clarke: That wasn’t my first article. My first article has never been reprinted, "What is really real?" That became quite celebrated in a sense because it was attacking, even in the Thomistic textbooks, the tradition had gotten in, I think from contamination with Scotism and various other things, that real being was divided into classes: actual and possible. So the possibles were one branch of real being. I thought that when I got into the existential Thomism that it was clear to me that it could not be at all St. Thomas. Only being with an act of existence was real being, and that possibles were not real being at all. So I wrote this article attacking this big tradition, and that made quite a stir and upset some people because even many of the traditional textbooks would have this division, Thomistic textbooks in Latin, by Thomists, they had this division of real being that didn’t come at all from St. Thomas. It came later with Scotus and Suarez and people like that, but it had contaminated Thomism. So that was the famous one, but it was a long one and has never gotten reprinted. Maybe sometime it might.

But this other one you mentioned is the one I am best known for. That came not when I was over in the Island of Jersey studying philosophy for the first time, it didn’t come there. We were into the existential Thomism, but not quite the neo-Platonic and participation. It was more modern Thomists. But when I got to Louvain to study, that’s where I discovered, well, one of the reasons was the books were not out yet. All this burst out in different authors right around the year 1939 without connection with each other because of the war coming up. Books during the war did not get around. Those didn’t really get around until after the war. So those books of Fr. Geiger, on participation in St. Thomas, Cornelio Fabro, an Italian on participation, and De Finance, those three books were all on the same line, but they just came out around 1939, and got lost in the war, and only got known afterwards. So I picked up that whole new development of the neo-Platonic element in St. Thomas, I picked that up in Louvain when I went there to do my Ph.D. in 1947-49. That’s where I picked that up. It was all moving around then. So the combination of the existential Thomism of Gilson plus this new development gave me the full rich St. Thomas, I think. When I was over there in Europe in 1947 it was in the middle of all the existentialism, Jean Paul Sartre and all that, and the phenomenology, so I soaked up that existential phenomenology for a couple of months, and then went into St. Thomas and tried to put it together.



Jim: What brought about the decline of Thomism at the time of the Second Vatican Council?

Fr. Clarke: It was a rather dramatic change. When I came back in 1950, and then for about 10 years, Thomism was really what they called the Thomistic triumphalism. That was the triumphal period. All the American Catholic philosophical, and Thomism was riding high in the journals, and Gilson was up in Toronto. That was the Thomistic triumphalism. Philip Gleason from Notre Dame tried to write up some of that history, that they had a great idea of unifying all of Catholic culture around Thomistic philosophy, all of Catholic culture. And even in science and sociology, all of that, to make this the great unified thing that everybody would accept. But shortly after that the idea of one common philosophy, and then it became a kind of ideology, that needed to preserve the culture. And then instead of being for its own sake, it became connected. We’ve got to hold onto this to preserve the unity of culture, and that’s, as they say, turning it into an ideology as a cultural defense, and that’s always dangerous. What happened was that with all the bursting out of novelty and the Second Vatican Council and everything, and the general blowing off of the lid of respect for authority all during the ‘60s and ‘70s, this notion of an imposed orthodoxy of philosophy, as well as theology, just was too much for the young people. They didn’t refute St. Thomas. They just quietly moved away into phenomenology and other things. They never refuted St. Thomas. They simply shifted their interest and just quietly dropped him. It was partly the fault of the church making him, not just the Common Doctor, but required for all of philosophy and theology, and holding onto this. Then you were part of the Catholic culture to identify it with Catholic culture, and it became a strait-jacket. So the revolt against authority and all that just made these young people who were throwing over and opening up to the new modern world, then we should open up to the modern world of philosophy, too. Strangely they never examined St. Thomas carefully, the new generation. They just moved away. They lost interest. So they moved into phenomenology which was the principle thing they moved into. Some Hegel, I guess, but principally phenomenology. So a massive movement of the young people out of Thomism into these new trends, and against the old textbook orthodoxy of St. Thomas. That was what happened. It was a rapid decline. But the good thing, since St. Thomas got lost, along with the ideology and the rigid textbooks and so on, a great deal got lost.



Jim: What was the impact of the decline of Thomism on Catholic theology?

Fr. Clarke: I think it had a rather dramatic impact on Catholic theology. They are beginning to realize now. As Michael Novak once said, "All of the great so-called liberal theologians, who even got into trouble around the time of the Second Vatican Council, Schillebeecks and all those people, de Lubac and everybody, even though they were getting into trouble, all those theologians, innovative ones, were all trained in Thomism earlier. Of those who were not trained in Thomism, it is not clear that we produced any really great theologians, so the great innovative theologians, even the ones who got into trouble, were all trained in the old Thomism. And those who were not, who were so-called liberated from Thomism, it is not clear that we have yet produced any great theologians, whether orthodox or unorthodox. So there has been a great decline in the strength and vigor, systematic vigor, of Catholic theology. There are many theologians, they say they have stayed away from metaphysics as from a leper, to get away from all that, but as a result, they get very foggy kinds of theories about the Trinity and so on, like a leading book, Catherine Lacugna’s book on the Trinity. It is otherwise a good book, she got prizes for it, she is a wonderful woman, a wonderful Catholic scholar, in her book on the Trinity she warns theologians they must remember all their fundamental concepts are metaphorical. Now if everything you say about God is metaphorical, there is nothing literally true any more. You can’t even say that if everything is metaphorical, you are endlessly chasing because metaphor means it is like something else, and that’s like something else, and like something else, so you never have a literally true statement about God, even that God is intelligent, God is wise, God is good. If it is all metaphors, what is? And how about being? If that is a metaphor that God is, what is it like? Something else that is not being? So that is an impossible situation. That’s not thought through clearly. Philosophically, whatever, the orthodoxy of it is just not thought through. But that can go along. So I think the theology has been seriously weakened because of a lack of a clear metaphysics. It has been a very serious weakening. But the remarkable thing is that the creative theologians, even those who got into trouble and went too far, they were all trained on the old strong Thomism and then they branched out creatively, but those who were liberated, don’t seem to have gone much of anywhere except to get all kinds of somewhat fluffy. Now, that’s a bit strong. There are any number of good theologians, but not the really great theologians, strange to say, so that the liberation didn’t seem to give them wings to fly that much.



Jim: How can we recover the riches of Thomism today if it is not being taught?

Fr. Clarke: I think what is happening now is that in somewhat of a vacuum of solid philosophical theory, what is happening is that the Thomistic metaphysics and philosophy is coming back through the door of ethics. People like Alistair MacIntyre who, as you know, has become a convert to Catholicism finally and has attacked all the modern analytic ethics and has put out his own books, and finally one on three ways of doing ethics, Kant and Aristotle, and where he is opting for St. Thomas as the best way to do it. He went over two years ago to England to study St. Thomas during the summer with his old classmate Hubert McCabe, the Blackfriar Dominican, so he studied St. Thomas, and he’s bringing it back through ethics. So a lot of people are slowly coming to the metaphysics of human nature and of being through ethics because they see the lack. So I think it is going to be a slow steady kind of presence. There are young Thomists slowly coming out. It is a steady presence now, not dying, and slowly getting more perhaps through ethics. That’s how it is coming back. But it certainly will not be the dominant strain over in Europe. It is certainly not the dominant strain in the Catholic university, at least in France anyway. Though in the seminaries it is stronger here. It is about the only place, but it is coming back slowly through ethics, to be the foundation of ethics.



Jim: How could a creative retrieval of Thomism take place?

Fr. Clarke: St. Thomas, himself, is difficult to get into by yourself because of the heavy technical armature of terminology that he took over from Aristotle that used to be coin of the realm for all the Catholic thinkers. It takes about ten years to get really at home in St. Thomas. What we need now is to have some way of streamlining St. Thomas, getting his great seminal ideas and putting them across so people can understand them easily, and see their relevance to their lives without having to go through a whole long technical training, a whole jargon, as they call it, like Heidegger, who is pretty impossible, too. St. Thomas isn’t nearly as bad as that. He is much clearer. But what is needed is to get the rich seminal ideas of St. Thomas out of that technical structure that is like an armor and get them more easily accessible. That’s what I call creative retrieval of the thought of St. Thomas, the great seminal ideas. But doing that upsets some of the Thomistic scholars because it doesn’t seem to know exactly how St. Thomas was put in it. But I think that’s important. You are taking a risk whenever you re-express the thought of an older thinker in your own terms, more modern terms, you are taking a risk, but without that the seed can’t take root in new soil. It is just restricted to a small group.

For example, when I was teaching out at Santa Clara, I just had a ten-week course on St. Thomas for undergraduates, and I just hit the great seminal ideas, and these students were amazed, and they said, "Where has this man been? No one ever gives us any integrating visions like this. One modern philosopher tells us you can’t know that, and others say you can’t know this. Nobody tells us what you can know, and no integrating visions. Where has this man been?" But I didn’t give them all the technical side. You can streamline it if you really understand something. Great experts on things have claimed that to really understand any subject you can teach it to a young person. One man took the challenge of teaching set theory in mathematics to a 12-year-old boy. They said you can’t do it. He showed how you can do it. To really understand it you can put it simply, and it can take root. So that’s what needs to be done. It is a risk to streamline, but I think it is worth it and it’s very important to get those ideas to take root.

My most recent book, Person and Being, has been republished in the Philippines with a commentary applying it to ecology, and has been mandated by the Philippine government as required reading for all Filipino students and higher education studying philosophical anthropology in order to get them responsible for their environment before it is too late. But that is precisely that creative retrieval kind of work that some Thomists have thought was going to not stick into St. Thomas enough, and so on. So I think the ideas are very fertile, but they have to be put in more streamlined form – just the great seminal ideas without all the armature. It is dangerous but necessary. People are doing that all the time with Plato. They have done it for many, many centuries. We have to do it with St. Thomas, too.



Jim: Are you optimistic about the future of Thomism?

Fr. Clarke: I am moderately optimistic in that, because of its strength, it will be a steady, steady quiet influence. Many places now are willing to hire one Thomist, to have a representative Thomist. It won’t be dominant, but I think it will continue as a quiet thing, and maybe, if the theologians settle down, they might go back to something like that, but I think of it as a quiet, steady influence. As we get more and more vacuum of serious thinking in the rest of the culture that there may be such a need to get in a more solid, rich kind of philosophical backing, it might become more popular again. The Wall Street Journal just had an astonishing editorial, which you may or may not have seen, that came out on the moral chaos in the U.S. That kind of vacuum of meaning, and all that, may really draw people back to something like that, but I don’t look for that immediately, but a steady, fruitful presence.



Jim: What are some of the areas where Thomism could make a real contribution?

Fr. Clarke: I think one is the philosophy of the person, a powerful notion of the person as self-possessing, master of one’s dominus sui, self-possessing and self-communicating and self-transcending, that notion of the person, and then the notion of an integrating vision of the whole universe as a vast community of beings, all participating from the source in God, the notion of the universe as a community where nobody can really be alienated because we are in a community, a kind of connatural friendship, as St. Thomas says, with all beings. We belong. To be is to belong to a community for St. Thomas, that notion of instead of being isolated in a meaningless universe, we are part of a great meaningful community of existence coming from God, that vision of being as a great unified community and the role of the person in it I think are very important.

The next area would be in ethics, the natural law of morality, and the third area I think would be something that is coming up now. There was an article done by somebody who claimed he was inspired by metaphysics, an article came out in the International Philosophical Quarterly last September (1996) on St. Thomas’ substantial form and modern science, showing how the modern science is coming back now to a notion of wholes which are not just the sum of its parts, but a whole which exercises causal influence on the parts below it. It is a new thing in science. It was always reductionism. You analyzed the parts, and the parts influenced the whole, and that’s it, but now there is a two-way influence: the parts influencing the whole, and the whole as a causal unity influencing and controlling its parts. Now the notion of the whole as having a causal force is practically identical with the Thomistic substantial form. So there is a need for that, called a principle of wholeness, coming back into science – biology, and then elsewhere. In that area there, which is just sort of beginning, there is an area there for trying to understand that principle of wholeness in science, which St. Thomas had a notion of a substantial form which is the act of unity of the whole composite parts in a single being, especially in biology, but even in atoms and molecules. The whole being a causal influence. That’s something that got knocked out by the reductionism, the atomism and reductionism that has been common to science ever since Descartes.



Jim: Tell us about William Carlo and his work on essence and existence and matter because you are one of the few people who have written about his work.

Fr. Clarke: He was a younger philosopher at that time, and I was the editor then of the International Philosophical Quarterly, and he got caught profoundly in the existential Thomism of Gilson. He studied up at Toronto, I believe, and got caught very strongly in that. The main influence on him was Gerald Phelan up at the Medieval Institute of Toronto who really went very far in the existential Thomism, and said the language of essence really doesn’t fit Thomism. It is an older language, so essence is some big solid kind of a thing with its own density, and then it is put over into existence by the act of existence, but it has got its own positivity which then is just actualized by existence. Phelan had said that’s not it at all. That language doesn’t fit, so it is just the act of existence which then gets limited down, just so it is a much more streamlined and all out, following out, of the notion that the act of existence is the source and center of all the perfection in a being. Essence is just the limitation. Phelan saw that very clearly and gave his famous talk in the American Catholic Philosophical meeting, putting that forward, that essence was really an older language and really doesn’t fit the Thomism, and made his astonishing statements that God is Fr. Phelan, but Fr. Phelan is not God, that extraordinary paradoxical that caused a lot of trouble there because God is the fullness of existence, and all I am is a limited, so God is all that I am and much more, but I am not what God is. That was an extraordinary statement, and then I was one of the commentators on Phelan’s speech, Carlo and myself, so we got together then, and I was much intrigued by Phelan’s very dramatic kind of presentation of that radical existentialism, and then Bill Carlo wrote the article which we published for the International Philosophical Quarterly on that. So he was following it all the way, streamlining the thing, there is just the act of existence and limited act of existence.

I felt that he was going a bit far when he said essence is limited just like we are in frozen water. It is where the ice stops. There is no kind of an extra thing that limits it. It is just where the thing stops. It is all ice. It is all existence. It just stops at a certain point. So it is a completely negative kind of a thing. I was a little worried that that was not giving enough role to essence, but still it seemed to me basically that any finite being was a limited act of existence, and the whole core of positivity was the existence. That was a real insight that I used, but it got in trouble with various Thomists. I know John Whipple and Joseph Owens, all those, they were worried about playing down the role of essence. They said we have to keep it more as a subject. Otherwise you are liable to lose potency and various things, so I was a little ambivalent, but I did write the introduction to his book when he turned his article into a book, and basically going along with it. Since then I am a little more cautious about doing that for reasons of potency and so on.

But then the other dramatic application was that once we have taken that any limitation is just purely negative, there is just existence, and then limited existence, so he interpreted even matter, which is a lower degree of limitation in St. Thomas, even that as just a negation of existence – where the ice stops, so to speak, so matter was not some whole new kind of being, added on, but it was simply the dispersion and imperfection of existence when it gets dispersed can no longer hold together that much and gets dispersed over space, so matter would be a purely negative limitation on form and existence, purely negative. That was really something new. The whole material world, then, becomes just a kind of negation of the fullness even of formal existence being together all at once. So that was a very dramatic thing, and I am afraid that Thomists have not gone along with that. They have been very worried about that. I am a little concerned about that, that the new level of material being, that kind of limitation, allows all kinds of new creative expressions of being which didn’t seem to be just negative, so I am cautious about going that far. I know you go along with him more strongly there, so I am certainly open to that, but the traditional and very good Thomists have not been willing to go along. They are reluctant at playing down the essence as subject and so on. So I am still ambivalent on that, but he had the courage to go follow an insight all the way to the radical, radical implications of it the way Phelan did, which I thought was wonderful. I loved that streamlining, but it made me a bit cautious because of the reactions of others to it.



Jim: Do you think you will do more work on this question of matter?

Fr. Clarke: No, I don’t. It is a very technical kind of thing. The traditional people have come out rather strongly that we shouldn’t go this way, and to do that I would have to do a lot more work on the texts. St. Thomas is certainly ambivalent in his texts. Many texts go for the stronger view of essence, and some don’t. I think there are other more important battles to fight. It would be interesting to follow that out. I did it in a European conference for the anniversary of St. Thomas in 1974, a brief one on essence as limited existence, but it didn’t get much publicity over here. There were too many other fruitful and rich things that I would like to write on at present rather than that sort of technical one which wouldn’t have as much implications for a spiritual life and so on. One of the things that people have been begging me to write on, younger Thomists – I say, why don’t you write it, but they say, you are well-known, you could do it – was this doctrine in the natural theology of what used to be called Molinism, God’s knowledge, so called, of the futurables – middle knowledge where God would have to know all that you would have done, whatever you would have done if you had been put in the circumstance, and you may never be put in that. All that you would have done had God created the world this way, or allowed this to happen – all the things that you would have done, what would have happened, and then God said, no, we don’t want that world. But that kind of knowledge of God which was held by the Jesuits, Molinism, against the Dominican Bañez, because of his tendency towards too much predetermination. It was brilliant logically, but a good Thomistic metaphysician, an existential Thomist would look at that middle knowledge as a metaphysical monster. And it is coming back again through Alvin Plantinga, the Calvinist theologian philosopher, being picked up by Catholics again in Notre Dame, so-called middle knowledge. And I think it is a metaphysical monster and a serious misunderstanding for the simple reason that what you are asking is that God would see what a non-existent will, a decision that a non-existent will would make. But a decision is an existential something. A non-existent will can’t make any decisions. If it is true that you would have done this, therefore God must know it – St. Thomas would have said that there is no truth yet unless there is being to support it, so I think that is a real metaphysical monster. And it is coming back again as being a brilliant solution to various things. I don’t think it is a solution, at all, so I would like to write on that, risking losing some friends, certainly Alvin Plantinga and in Notre Dame even some of the Catholic philosophers there, reprinting Molina’s book and all that. We used to have teach that as Jesuits. I refused to do it when I was put in. And then I discovered the Gregorian University with all the Jesuit Thomists there had quietly put that knowledge of the futurables, had quietly put that on the shelf as a historical thesis, no longer systematic, so I was supported then, but I refused to teach it because no good Thomist could possibly hold that theory, it seems to me, an existential Thomist. So I would like to write on that because that is making a difference around.



Jim: Tell us about the work you did on the creative retrieval of an existential sense of the existence of God.

Fr. Clarke: Well, that was under the stimulus of scientists. I had to deliver that before scientists, and they were pushing me very hard, and I had never been so challenged. That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that you couldn’t speak to the scientists about essence. Essence is a black box for them. They didn’t know what was in there. So I said, well, what terms do you use? Well, they said, models. So using that term model it suddenly occurred to them, and then Stephen Hawking in his book had it that suppose you did get a theory of everything? Everything is explained physically by a simple thing there. You have got this perfect model of everything. He said, would this model somehow bring itself into instantiation, this real energy, would it somehow will itself to become real? The perfect model, but how about the real world? Would it somehow will itself into existence? What does that mean, or do you need something else? That suddenly hit me, and I presented that to them. Suppose you got the perfect model? How about getting the instantiation with energy, real energy? The model is a model for the transformation of energy, but the model has no energy. That suddenly hit me, and it hit the scientists, too. Suppose you got the perfect model. Does that mean that many other models that could be? How about the real instantiation? Some scientists who are sort of nutty, I think, said that if you could show really that there was only one possible physical universe, you would dispense with any kind of God, or author or mind, but that is totally to miss it even if there was just one possible. It doesn’t give you the slightest reason of how did that possibility become genuinely real with active energy? Just because it is possible, there is a huge gap between that and the real, and that did impress the scientists. Hawking amazingly said, how about the model? Is it going to will itself into instantiation? He lost the philosophical perspective a little bit later in that book, but still.



Jim: Tell us about your work on person and cosmos.

Fr. Clarke: That’s a somewhat new development that I have been working on in just the last few years. I have been getting into what is called the new dialogue between theology and science, and by theology they really mean philosophical theology. It is not the strict special revealed dogmas. That is a new dialogue going on, and very fruitful one. Quite different from the old dialogue was theology – keeping science at a distance. Science is a threat and all that, keeping it at a distance, keeping its own turf, but theology back in the 16th century after the new science became strong, theology washed its hands of science and just followed its own path and did its own, and that was not the way St. Thomas did it at all. So the new dialogue is what we can positively learn from science, learn about God, the meaning of the universe, it is a whole new positive dialogue and the Pope in his dramatic letter, which was the preface to that book you were talking about, said that theology now must, really to be fruitful, must learn from science and incorporate its findings into it positively. That’s a whole new positive dialogue, especially about the evolutionary universe. It is not the old fight about whether or not God is needed along the way. It is not about those partial ones. It is about a single great story of the universe, a single great story from the big bang on, and with the human being, however it happened, emerging out of this long story as the final crown of this long story of development, and being now the divine creativity, not of a fixed universe, but a tremendously creative universe that grows and grows and grows, and now God puts the sources of creativity participated right down into the process in human beings so we are now new creative centers in this whole long story. Now we become created co-creators with God of a not yet finished universe. We are a powerful new creativity that has blossomed out in technology and all kinds of things. We have become responsible for our own earth, and if we are not truly responsible, we can ruin our own earth. We have a cutting edge of creativity now in this long process of the universe. It is a single great story now, and we have this new role of being responsible for our part of the universe, and maybe for more of it later on, and partly responsible, too, in the sense that it is in us, as some of the scientists say, in us that the atom has become self-conscious. Only in us does the whole unconscious material universe reach consciousness, come to the light, and there are some who say that’s the whole purpose of it all, to come into the light in our consciousness. We are the fulfillment of the material universe, and our role in it then in a full vision is then to gather up the material universe into consciousness and offer it back to God. The universe doesn’t know it is on a journey, but we do, we can, and we should, to recognize it as a journey coming out from God, and now trying to get back to God, and it goes out to God through us where we can offer it back to God in recognition where it comes from, in gratitude and worship, so we can complete the story of the material universe by gathering it up into consciousness, and we are in the middle of it. It is part of us. The angels can’t do that. They are not part of the material universe, but we can do it, so we have a role in the universe, a very positive role, the new creativity in it to gather up the universe, offer it back to God, and so fulfill the deepest longing, so to speak, or finality of the universe by bringing it into the light of consciousness. And scientists have said, the atoms have been waiting to become conscious in us. The highest value, the only real value is for consciousness. A totally unconscious universe is a complete waste of time. It only has value when it comes into consciousness, can be appreciated, and that’s our role in the universe. All of science comes in there for us to rediscover the divine thoughts, the divine creative thoughts, rediscover them and rethink what God first thought, and then creatively carry it on. That is a whole positive role of man in the universe, but it requires now that you know the new science, and learn positively from the new science. That’s a whole new phase of positive relationship of philosophy, and philosophy of God, and theology, with science – a positive relationship. The old fights about reductionism still have to go on, sure, but this is a much richer, new positive picture, I think, that is very interesting. Protestants got into it first, and a number of Anglican priests over in England who have become philosophers and theologians. They are doing the main work, but Catholics have now gotten into that. Fr. Christopher Mooney with his new book, Theology and the Natural Sciences, I think it is called, is deliberately doing that. It is a fine book, so it is a new dialogue and I think we should get into it.


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