At first glance, the layman might be forgiven for wondering what the significance of this would be for, say, a parish priest whose job is mostly going to involve saying Mass, hearing confessions, handling parish finances and helping his lay parishioners in their day-to-day struggles.
But a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas told LifeSiteNews.com that the degrading of philosophical education, especially in the area of metaphysics, has critically affected the Catholic Church, and hampered the ability of priests to respond to modern moral crises.
“So much propaganda from the pro-death lobby stems from an erroneous notion of the good. Promoters of the culture of life can have no sounder weapons unassailable from the powers of evil than those bathed in the metaphysical truths of St Thomas Aquinas,” she said.
Dr. Isobel Camp, who teaches seminarians and religious from around the world in Rome, told LSN that she is excited and grateful for the Vatican’s document, saying, “In these days of such darkened secularist philosophies so much that was once accepted at the natural level is now under attack.
“Seminarians need to know which philosophical systems are incompatible with the truths of the Church and how to combat them.”
The document, issued this week and titled, “Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy,” was approved by Pope Benedict in January. It says that in the face of the explosion of modern moral and philosophical relativism, priests must be all the more conversant with the philosophical disciplines, particularly with metaphysics.
In a statement Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the head of the Congregation, said that in our times the most fundamental aspects of life are under assault: “[R]eason itself is menaced by utilitarianism, skepticism, relativism and distrust of reason’s ability to know the truth regarding the fundamental problems of life.”
Science and technology, those icons of the materialist philosophies, he said, cannot “satiate man’s thirst in regard to the ultimate questions: What does happiness consist of? Who am I? Is the world the fruit of chance? What is my destiny? etc. Today, more than ever, the sciences are in need of wisdom.”
The cardinal said that the study of philosophy must be returned to its roots in reason, saying that logic, the discipline that gives structure to reason, has “disappeared” because of the present crisis of Christian culture.
A correct metaphysics, said Dr. Camp, is of tremendous significance in the fight against abortion and other attacks on human life. She told LSN the declaration comes none too soon, and that a vast misunderstanding or corruption of metaphysics is at the root of most of the modern problem.
Metaphysics is the study of the most fundamental questions of existence and its nature, she said. It is these ideas that are most fundamentally under attack in what have become known as the Culture Wars.
“Without metaphysics no study of ethics is possible. Metaphysical formation gives us the basis to fight for the culture of life.” Issues such as the nature of the human being, the “unity of soul and body” and “how to distinguish what we are from what we do” are all metaphysical questions, she said.
In order to help a priest address the life and family issues, a correct understanding of metaphysics is “simply indispensible.”
“What is nature; what is life; the notion of truth; the purpose of creation; and the various demonstrations of God’s existence.” No matter which direction one takes in philosophy, the start is always metaphysics.
Metaphysics, therefore, also “has an essential mediatory role in theology, without which any study of theology would be impossible.”
“It would be would be analogous to a physicist trying to study his subject without mathematics.”
In the day-to-day life of a priest, a correct understanding of philosophy “better disposes the priest to understand the saving truths of the faith and communicate them to his parishioners,” and to help “order them towards the supernatural,” she said.