n January 1988 I received a remarkable letter from two younger scholars, Larry Arnhart of Northern Illinois University, and Leonard Sorenson of Assumption College (Massachusetts). The questions they addressed to me about God and man, the Bible and philosophy, were more direct and comprehensive than any anyone had ever before asked me—in a teaching career of some forty-five years—or than I had asked myself! Their questions were prompted by an article of mine entitled “Crisis of the Strauss Divided,” which had been published in the Autumn 1987 issue of Social Research. That article was the revised text of a lecture I had given at the New School for Social Research earlier in 1987, as part of a symposium—sponsored by the School—on the contributions of foreign born scholars to the understanding of the American Constitution, whose bicentennial was being celebrated. I was asked to speak on the contributions of Leo Strauss. (George Kateb of Amherst spoke on Hannah Arendt, and Dante Germino of the University of Virginia spoke on Eric Voegelin.)
In my lecture I had taken my bearings in part from Strauss’s assertions concerning the insolubility of the opposition between revelation and reason—Jerusalem and Athens—as to the highest principle of human life. I had also taken my bearings from Strauss’s assertion that, according to Aristotle, the ends of the city—that is, of political life as such—are the ends of the moral virtues.
And I had noted Strauss’s pronouncement that notwithstanding their theoretical disagreement as to the end or ends served by the moral virtues, revelation and reason had agreed substantially on what in practice morality was. And I had taken my bearings further from Strauss’s assertion that the very life of western civilization depended upon the continuing dialogue—the eternal dialogue—between revelation and reason.
But both the continuity and the beneficence of this dialogue depended upon it remaining theoretical, with neither side demanding—or being entrusted with—political power with respect to the conduct of the dialogue between them. In the post-classical world, government by sectarian religious authority—or by sectarian philosophic authority (as in the case of Marxist-Leninist regimes)—were equally tyrannical and equally abhorrent.
From this perspective, the intention of the American Founding, with its separation of church and state, its guarantee of the free exercise of religion, and of freedom of speech and of the press, could be seen, not as a lowering of the goals of political life, but as an emancipation of man’s highest aspirations for truth, from the tyranny of the political passions. In this sense it could be seen as the best regime of western civilization. However, this regime was endangered from the outset (notably in the slavery controversy), and continues to be endangered, by the moral relativism, culminating in nihilism, of modern philosophy.
Strauss’s critique of modern philosophy, as it seemed to me, was directed above all towards overcoming what he often called the self-destruction of reason, so that the authority equally of classical philosophy and the Bible, with respect to virtue and morality, might be restored. This restoration, I am convinced, is also nothing less than the restoration of the perspective of the American Founding.
I should mention finally that, although I cite Leo Strauss repeatedly as the ground of my assertions, I do not claim Strauss’s authority for the conclusions I draw from them. Other students of Leo Strauss draw very different conclusions—indeed, in some cases opposite conclusions—from his writings than I have done. I only say here—as elsewhere—what I believe to be true, and what in Strauss’s writings has led me to think as I do. Others must judge whether, in thinking as I do, I think truly.
Harry V. Jaffa
October 7, 1991
* * *
February 13, 1989
In yours of January 27, 1988, you propounded a number of interrogatories (as Lincoln would call them), to which I will now respond. You flattered me greatly by addressing me as you did, but I am not so lost to all decency, not to say modesty, as to think that my responses will constitute answers. I can only hope that I may contribute something to your continuing discussion. (When I first received your letter, I yelled to my wife, “Cancel the order for the pontoons.” However, sobriety soon returned.)
You ask “two general questions to which all our other questions are subordinated”:
1.) What is the specific, substantive teaching that is novel or unique to biblical revelation?
I reply first that it is the idea of the One God who is separate from the universe, of which he is the Creator. As both separate and unique, God is unknowable. We can properly be said to know only those things that have class characteristics that identify them as members of species or genera. That is, if I say, “This is a chair,” I imply that there is an infinite number of possible chairs, each different from this, but each equally a chair. Reason means recognizing the idea of the chair in the chair, and understanding thereby why the particular is different from the universal. Once I understand what a chair is, I understand why there can be many chairs besides this one.
Moreover, any particular which we experience by sense perception, however unique it may be understood to be, immediately implies the possibility of the existence of other particular objects of its class. This would be true for example of the first electric light bulb, the first airplane, the first of anything. It would be true also of any object which can be conceived by the imagination: for example, a centaur, which is half man, half horse. I may never have experienced a centaur, but by imagining one, I know that I can also imagine others that resemble this one and yet are different.
But the God of the Bible is not only One, but the only possible One. As such, He cannot become an object of knowledge. And He cannot be imagined. A god that can be imagined would be a pagan deity (of which there always can be many), but not the One of the Bible. This is why the second of the Ten Commandments forbids the making of images; that is to say, it forbids any suggestion that God can become an object of knowledge by being an object of sense perception. It is because He cannot become an object of knowledge that He can—indeed must—be an object of faith.
There is therefore a clear and distinct epistemological reason why faith and not reason has primacy. To summarize: I cannot know anything of which there is and can be only one. If God is One, and if there can be no other God, there can be no idea of God. God is unique in that in Him no distinction can be drawn between the universal and the particular, which is the ground of all intelligibility within the dispensation of unassisted human reason. God is therefore unknowable. This is the fundamental premise of the Bible.
Since internal reflection, or reasoning, about human experience can never lead man to the idea of the God of the Bible—since the God of the Bible is not an idea, and He is not a cause within the order of nature—revelation as the form of communication between God and man becomes “reasonable.” Revelation is marked by miracles, although creation itself is the primary miracle. This is shown by the first sentence of Genesis, which reports something which only God could have known or witnessed.
All other miracles are lesser miracles, but their reason for being is already implied in the story of creation. God’s reasons for communicating with man must be subsumed under his reason for communicating to him his account of his creation of the world—and man. If the highest things (God and the story of creation) are unknowable, then the highest capacity or virtue of man cannot be theoretical wisdom. In Aristotle, e.g., practical wisdom is in the service of theoretical wisdom. In the Bible, theoretical wisdom is replaced by—or perhaps is constituted by—the study of God’s speeches and deeds—of which the Bible (or Torah, or Law) is a record.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the
counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he meditates day and night…
* * *
2.) If biblical revelation poses an unanswerable challenge to philosophy and therefore is—in Strauss’s words—”the refutation of philosophy by revelation,” then why should one not reject philosophy?
“The refutation of philosophy by revelation” has some of the same ambiguity as “I know that I know nothing.” Strauss has placed this “refutation” in the mouth (so to speak) of revelation in much the same way that Socrates put the argument of the laws (the Torah of Athens!) into the mouth of the laws of Athens in the Crito.
There is an Aristotelian maxim that “When we have refuted all the errors, what remains is the truth.” Refutation is the method of philosophy rather than of revelation. (The “method” of the Bible is found in such expressions as “Thou shalt…/ or “I am…”) Strauss’s refutation of philosophy by revelation is a Socratic elengthus. This however does not mean that it is not serious, or that it is meant to subvert the argument for revelation by making it depend upon philosophy. God did not create man without reason, or without making it obligatory upon him to obey reason, in all those matters with respect to which reason can be a sufficient guide. Philosophy, insofar as it is the perfection of human reason, is the perfection of a God-given gift. Only the function of philosophy is differently conceived, depending upon whether that function is understood as ultimately ministerial to the teachings of divine revelation, or as identical with an intrinsic rationality that is itself the most divine thing in human life.
The context of your quote from Natural Right and History is important. Strauss shows how in Max Weber revelation has been transformed into “value judgments,” the sublime into the ridiculous! In restoring the dignity of revelation, Strauss shows why the conflict between reason and revelation is not a ground for declaring reason impotent. Because we may not be able to say which of two mountains, whose peaks are covered by clouds, is higher, does not mean we cannot tell a mountain from a mole hill!
The argument for revelation becomes in Strauss a defense of the common ground upon which Socratic political philosophy and the Bible both stand. “I know that I know nothing”—awareness of ignorance, of the need to know—itself leaves open the question of whether satisfying this need depends primarily upon reason or upon faith. Socratic progress in wisdom—such progress as may be said to result from every Socratic conversation—always is accompanied by an increased awareness of what we do not know. The mystery of the universe—the mystery of being—grows rather than diminishes, as a result of Socratic progress in wisdom.
How can a Socratic know that his “progress” is in “wisdom” if the goal of philosophy recedes with every supposed advance? Does not philosophy—confidence in the ultimate significance of reason—depend upon an act of faith as much as belief in the God of the Bible? Hence reason itself points to—and cannot reasonably deny—the possibility that the mystery of being is impenetrable, because the author of the universe is a mysterious God who—being separate from the universe he created—is beyond being.
Modern rationalism comes to sight as the attempt to dispel the mystery of being by so radicalizing skepticism as to abolish skepticism from philosophy. It attempted (notably in Descartes, but also in Spinoza) to discover premises that could not be doubted, and to proceed therefrom both inductively and deductively to conclusions that could not be doubted—and that did not require any “faith in reason.” In so doing it believes in the possibility of the ultimate transformation of philosophy into wisdom.
The consummation and transformation of philosophy—love of wisdom—into wisdom itself, were it to succeed, would put an end to both Socratic skepticism and biblical faith. For in such a case, there would be nothing left either for inquiry or for faith. Strauss’s critique of modern philosophy, more than any intellectual event of our times, showed the impossibility of this enterprise. His demonstration of the self-destruction of reason ending in nihilism proved the superiority both of Socratic skepticism and of biblical faith to the modern attempts to supersede them.
Whatever opposition may be intrinsic to the differences between biblical faith and Socratic skepticism, they stand as one in their dissimilarity to modern rationalism. Both employ reason, whether as autonomous reason or as the handmaiden of revelation, to make authoritative moral judgments. And while differing as to the ultimate purpose of morality, they yet agree substantially as to what morality is.
In his autobiographical Preface, Strauss cites Deuteronomy 4:6:
Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people….”
And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?
Why were the “peoples,” i.e., the Gentiles, expected to say of the Israelites, that they were a “wise and understanding people?” What in them enabled them to recognize wisdom and understanding (remember Meno’s dilemma!), if no direct revelation had been vouchsafed to them? And why did God expect that a comparison of the laws of different nations would disclose—presumably to a wise and understanding judge—the superior righteousness of the laws of Moses?
Does not the Bible then presuppose that the recognition of wisdom is a human potentiality, and that righteousness is an object of all law, and not only of the Torah? Does it not thereby presuppose that the teachings of reason and of revelation will not contradict each other, since both reason and revelation are God’s gifts to mankind?
Nothing in the proposition of the One unknowable God forbids our believing that among His deeds was the creating us as reasonable beings, with access by our reason to everything implied in the idea of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” While Strauss is careful to say that the Old Testament does not have in it any word for nature, he does emphasize (in part by the epigraphs chosen from the O.T. forNatural Right and History) that the experience of justice and of injustice underlies all human experience.
St. Paul declares:
When the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature
what the law requires, they are a law unto
themselves….They show that what the law requires is
written on their hearts….Romans 2:14, 15.
This passage parallels Deuteronomy 4, which implies something like natural law, although it is not yet conceptualized as such.
From the point of view of the Bible, God’s revealed Word and not autonomous human reason is the source of the highest wisdom. But the role of reason—i.e. of political philosophy or natural right, as distinct from metaphysics—is not thereby negated or even diminished. Consider the following from Strauss’s Introduction to The City and Man:
It is not sufficient for everyone to obey and to listen to the Divine message of the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City. In order to propagate that message among the heathen, nay, in order to understand it as clearly and as fully as is humanly possible, one must also consider to what extent man could discern the outlines of that City if left to himself, to the proper exercise of his own powers.
But in our age it is much less urgent to show that political philosophy is the indispensable handmaid of theology than to show that political philosophy is the rightful queen of the social sciences…. [E]ven the highest lawcourt in the land is more likely to defer to the contentions of social science than to the Ten Commandments as the words of the living God.
Strauss here speaks of political philosophy as “the indispensable handmaid of theology….” But it is much more urgent, he says, to show that it is “the rightful queen of the social sciences.” I would argue that establishing political philosophy as the ruler of the social sciences has become a necessary condition for the very survival in our times of biblical religion and morality.
Within the framework of historical modernity, the authority of revelation cannot and ought not to be the ground of political authority. Since the moral teachings of revelation are in great measure (as the Bible itself attests) also the teachings of reason, political philosophy provides authority within a non-sectarian political constitution for a moral teaching in agreement with revelation. In our time revelation has become—as Strauss’s chapter on Max Weber makes clear—confounded and confused with “value judgments,” or in an alternative jargon, “liberation theology.” The homosexual rights movement, for example, has made great strides in persuading the main line churches that the injunction to “love your neighbor” is a divine justification of sodomy and lesbianism.
In the wake of the transformation of modern philosophy, not into wisdom, but into nihilism, the Bible itself has been interpreted to mean whatever is in accordance with anyone’s strongest passions. Passionate commitment has become identified with revelation. The unrefutability of revelation has been confounded with the alleged indemonstrability of all “value judgments”—and hence is held to be the justification for rejecting all authoritative moral teaching.
But the authority of revelation, from the Bible’s point of view, is not arbitrary—as are “value judgments” and the appeal to the divine in liberation theology. It is because God is, to repeat, both One and separate, that revelation is the necessary means for communicating to man his true place in the universe and his relationship to God. Revelation although miraculous in its origin and essence is not subjective—God is an objective reality—and it does not authorize subjective moralities inconsistent with the teachings of unassisted human reason.
The idea of authoritative traditions as the ground of human well-being is an idea flexible enough to take into account the defects of fallible human minds as the light of revelation is filtered through them. But genuine traditions, however they may differ within themselves, as the traditions based upon the Bible do differ, must not be confounded with arbitrariness. The idea of natural right and natural law can be seen as the means by which genuine traditions can be distinguished from the many false pretenders to that claim. We cannot suppose that revelation would authorize moralities incompatible with what we know from reason.
It is clear from the foregoing, I believe, that Socratic skepticism and biblical faith stand upon the same epistemological foundation. It is impossible to restore the claims of the one without restoring the claims of the other. The transformation of modern philosophy—modern rationalism—into nihilism, the rejection of all rational standards for human thought or human action, lends credibility to liberation theology. This it does because of a spurious resemblance of nihilism to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo—which the Bible itself genuinely and necessarily teaches.
Modern nihilism culminates in each person being invited to create his own moral universe. Nothing inhibits man—seen in the light of the nihilistic dispensation—from himself laying claim to the attributes of God. Faith becomes then the justification equally of anything—or nothing. In this situation, only the refutation of modern rationalism and its mutation into nihilism can restore the possibility of biblical faith in its genuine bearing on human life.
Let me just conclude this part of the discussion by observing that the attack on reason and rationalism (and the natural law tradition) that is the hallmark of modern political conservatism is, no less than modern political liberalism, in the service of nihilism. On the surface, modern conservatism appears only as a rejection of modern rationalism. It is in fact a vehicle of modern romanticism—of a preference of the heart over the head.
Its preference for the heart however is vindicated by no systematic thought, such as has informed all the great religious traditions of the West, whether it be the Talmud or the Canon Law, whether it be the Summa Theologica or the Guide of the Perplexed. However decent these conservative Christians or Jews may be, however, they have no inner defense against the newer forms of religion grounded in liberation theology. These embrace the morality of radical modernity simply because it agrees with the passions—the passions unmodified or unmediated by reason.
* * *
I turn to what in the House of Commons would be called your supplementary questions. They are in six paragraphs, the first being as follows:
You link biblical revelation to faith, law, monotheism, and divine omnipotence. Is it the combination (or some combination) of these that is unique to biblical revelation? Or is one of them more crucial than others? You emphasize faith, but it is not yet clear to us what you mean by the content of faith. To speak of the content of faith as the Bible as a whole, as obedient love of God, or as in God as the source of the resolution of the very doubts that sustain the philosophic way of life, leaves us in the dark about the unique content of biblical faith as opposed to pagan religion.
I believe I have already answered the foregoing. I think it is clear not only that—but why—faith (accompanied by the “obedient love of God”) can be “the source of the resolution of the very doubts that sustain the philosophic way of life….” Of course, as Strauss says, it is also true that “man is so built that he can find his satisfaction, his bliss, in free investigation, in articulating the riddle of being.” Whether one should live one’s life “articulating the riddle of being,” rather than “resolving” it by faith, remains a question. While biblical faith may be said to offer an alternative to “free investigation,” human freedom requires only that one recognize either alternative as consistent with that freedom. Modern rationalism—or the nihilism into which it self-destructs—represents an abandonment (or denial) of human freedom.
You speak of “biblical faith as opposed to pagan religion.” I think that in Plato’sEuthyphro we find a definitive confrontation between pagan religion and philosophy. The issue is reduced to either the ideas or fighting gods. (The modern equivalent would be “fighting values”.) The gods can be made to stop fighting—that is, to provide non-contradictory guidance to human life—only if they are reduced to a role ministerial to the ideas.
In Plato (and still more in Aristotle) one can see the philosophers replacing the poets (and/or the sophists)—and the gods of the poets (and/or the sophists)—as the source of a non-contradictory moral instruction. Of course, the philosophers will not rule directly but through the new breed of sophists and poets resulting from their influence upon education; or, as in the case of Aristotle, through the gentlemen whose education they will supervise. But the God of the Bible is immune to Plato’s critique of paganism, for reasons I have already (I think) made sufficiently clear.
* * *
Your second set of “supplementaries” begins as follows:
You define and distinguish revelation as Jewish law and revelation as Christian faith. Is the uniqueness of biblical revelation found in Christian faith as opposed to Judaic law? If so does this mean that Judaic law is fundamentally closer to pagan revelation and the ancient city?
What you call “Judaic law” was certainly originally the law of an ancient city. Since all ancient cities (as represented by the beginning of Plato’s Laws) claimed their laws to be of divine origin, ancient Judaism may be said in that respect to resemble other ancient cities. However, faith in God was the principle underlying and informing every aspect of the laws of Moses, hence faith as such was never less fundamental to Judaism than to Christianity.
In Judaism, however, obedience to the law was always regarded as the basic test of fidelity. Absent this legalistic orientation, Christianity placed more reliance or emphasis upon tenets of faith, apart from their consequences for conduct. In its monotheism, ancient Israel was unlike any other ancient city. One effect of this unlikeness was that the Jews did not cease to have God as their God, when Israel ceased to be an ancient city, when the Torah was no longer their civil as well as their divine law.
You claim that the theme of Strauss’s life work was the reason/revelation issue which you seem to distinguish from the theological-political problem, the latter of which you proceed to call the “absolutely novel” problem which was caused by Christianity. You then identify this problem as at the center of Strauss’s life and work, as “the theme of his investigations.” Could you clarify what you take to be the difference between these two issues and how both, if different, could be at the core of one’s work?
In my eulogy of Strauss in 1973, I quoted two sentences which I thought characterized better than anything else, the thrust and purpose of Strauss’s life work:
It is safer to try to understand the low in the light of the high than the high in the light of the low. In doing the latter one necessarily distorts the high, whereas in doing the former one does not deprive the low of the freedom to reveal itself fully as what it is.
That is writing of classic beauty and simplicity. It embodies Strauss’s quiet rejection of Machiavelli, while admitting—or rather insisting—that the full revelation of the low is something that political philosophy and especially statesmanship cannot afford to neglect. As we cannot too often repeat, Strauss never forgot the claims of revelation, no less than of reason, to be the “high.” But a judgment with respect to these claims was ultimately dependent upon speculative reason: which he did not think could in fact render any final decision. While human freedom requires recognition of the philosophical and biblical alternatives there is nothing to compel acquiescence in one more than the other. As Strauss wrote at the end of “Progress and Return”:
The very life of Western civilization is the life between two codes, a fundamental tension. There is therefore no reason inherent in Western civilization itself, in its fundamental constitution, why it should give up life.
I believe that Strauss devoted his life, above all else, to keeping Western civilization from “giving up life.” The self-destruction of reason in the ultimate “wave” of modernity meant abandoning both philosophy and revelation, and affirming the human will as the sole authority for what had been attributed either to autonomous reason or to God.
Strauss’s articulation of the differences between ancients and moderns I called practical rather than theoretical. The heart of the modern experiment—which had its origins in Machiavelli—was to transcend the differences between the two competing views of the high. “Transcend” may be the wrong word however, since the human problem was now to be addressed by lowering, not elevating further, the ends of human life. The human problem was to be solved by the conquest of fortune.
This conquest, as it turned out, was to be accomplished by science. Science would supply the goods that men wanted most—health, wealth, freedom—without any requirement of virtue, either in their acquisition or in their enjoyment. Science would give men here on earth what most men had hitherto expected only in heaven—the effortless possession of boundless pleasure. Science would replace God. This new God would be literally the Demiourgos—the slave of the people, and not their master. The high would be in the service of the low.
Strauss’s rejection of the modern principles rested not so much on the folly of the optimistic assumption that the boundless power promised by science would be man’s servant and not his master. Machiavelli’s quarrel was equally with classical political philosophy and with Christianity. He accused them both of “utopianism.” What he meant by this, however, was not the difficulty inherent in the achievement of the best regime. This was essentially a straw man in Machiavelli’s argument. What Machiavelli really objected to was the tyranny of moral virtue.
The subordination of the passions to reason—in the economy of human well-being—was a doctrine common to both Athens and Jerusalem. Certainly in Aristotle, moral virtue is always subject to the dictates of prudence. As such, it is anything but utopian. Strauss thought that Machiavelli’s turning away from moral virtue, as a necessary ingredient of human well-being, was mistaken.
The emancipation of the passions of the body from the restraints of reason by the conquest of nature (and fortune) was not a project that could succeed. Taking one’s bearings not by what men ought to be, but by what they are, or by lowering the goals of political life in order to guarantee their actualization was doomed to fail. It was doomed to failure because of its insufficient attention to—or its ignorance or forgetting of—the ineluctable character of the human soul. The project of subordinating the higher elements of the soul to the lower could only lead to a tyranny greater than anything that had existed hitherto.
Machiavellian modernity meant reversing the classics by establishing the primacy of practical over theoretical reason. Science would be in the service of man’s estate—but not of man himself. The idea that the passions could furnish more rational goals for human life than reason itself was essentially absurd. What Strauss meant by devoting his “investigations” to the “theological-political problem” was restoring the authority of the moral order common to philosophy and the Bible, and restoring with it the conviction that human life could be well lived only by devotion to the “high.” Recognition of what was truly the “high” moreover would engender modesty and humility, and therewith moderation.
* * *
As we have said, the authority of revelation rests upon the proposition that the universe is the creation of the One God who is separate from the universe He created. Because God is separate, reasoning about the universe (going from effects to causes) will not lead to the first cause. The authority of philosophy—or of reason—arises from the perception (as for example affirmed in the first and tenth books of the Nicomachean Ethics) that reason is the best or most divine thing in us, and that the way of life devoted to its cultivation is the best way of life for man.
The establishment of Christianity in the fifth century is understandable in the light of the fact that every ancient city had attributed its law to its God. When Rome became the universal city, it was consistent with previous human experience that men should now transfer their loyalty to a universal God. But experience revealed that the universal city was not a city in the sense in which previous cities had been cities.
A city qua city has to be particular, not universal. Different peoples require different laws adapted to their different characters and circumstances. The homogenization of the different regimes into a single regime can take place only by means of despotism, against which human nature—a God-given human nature—must of necessity rebel.
The universal city may however be understood in a way that does not contradict nature—it may be understood as the City of God—the city which is the eternal home of man, but not his mortal or terrestrial one. All the citizens of the different mortal or terrestrial cities may become fellow citizens of the City of God, without ceasing to be good—and different—citizens of their particular regimes in this world. Moreover, the City of God may be understood within the dispensation of philosophy as the best regime—the regime in speech, which is always and everywhere best, although it may not exist in actuality or indeed, anywhere or ever.
Although the establishment of Christianity in the Fifth Century was—for reasons given—understandable, it was nevertheless inconsistent with both reason and revelation. The vitality of Western civilization, of which Strauss spoke, was the vitality arising from “arguments advanced by theologians on behalf of the Biblical point of view and by philosophers on behalf of the philosophic point of view.” The very idea of religious establishment meant an attempt by political means—that is to say, by practical reason—to resolve theoretical questions on the nature of faith and its relationship to reason.
The essence of modernity, on the other hand, is the parallel attempt to transform philosophy into wisdom (or by claiming to have transformed it, as in the persons of Hitler and Stalin) also to resolve theory on the basis of practice. As the one led to theological despotism the other leads to ideological despotism.
Political moderation is rooted in the refusal to resolve the mystery of human life by political means. It is rooted in the recognition of human freedom as grounded in the openness of the human soul to that mystery. It is rooted as well in the recognition of a moral order, which understands human freedom not as the mere absence of restraint, but as directed to living a human life in the light of its transcendent ends, whether these are defined by reason or by revelation.
* * *
You write that Ernest Fortin
makes a distinction between proving that revelation is not impossible and proving that it is possible and then claims that the latter would disprove the supernatural character of revelation. Why is that so?
Suppose someone had argued once upon a time that airplanes, for example, were impossible. Now, of course, if they could ever have properly been called impossible, then flying would be a miracle. But long ago—at least since Leonardo—men have been able to prove that flying is not impossible. That is to say, men have understood, long before they knew how to fly, what causes could bring it about that men would actually fly. By this fact, they knew that flying, when it happened, would not be miraculous.
The essence of revealed truth—qua revealed—is that it comes from a God whom faith tells us cannot be an object of knowledge. Hence we cannot know how God is a cause of those things (e.g. creation) of which he is the unmediated cause. If we could prove that revelation is possible then revelation would be like anything else that we have reason to believe we can understand even if we have not yet understood it.
* * *
Since many of your other “supplementaries” traverse ground I think I have covered, I will stop here. If you think there is anything else I should say on these topics (not to mention things that I have wrongly said!), let me know.
P.S. I am not certain whether you have seen “The American Founding as the Best Regime: The Bonding of Civil and Religious Liberty,” which I enclose. I think it sheds some light on some of the matters you ask about, which I may not have not covered here.