Immanuel Kant (c. 1775)

The greatest philosopher of the German Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Königsberg (East Prussia) and spent his entire life there. His major works are contained in three treatises, or critiques: Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of Judgment (1790). Painting by Johann Gottlieb Becker (1720-82), c. 1775.

Immanuel Kant (c. 1775)

© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Lutz Braun
Original: Marbach, Schiller-Nationalmuseum and Deutsches Literaturarchiv



by Curt Stoler

As a person who did research for my dissertation at Notre Dame, I would like to say something about what is behind all this Notre Dame protest against Bishop Jenky, something that will sound outrageous, but which I believe is true and not just true at this Catholic University.

An odd fellow who few have heard of and even less have read has become the unquestioned authority on rationality in universities like Notre Dame and in the whole world: Immanuel Kant. This man’s thought has become literally the air we breathe. Even those who have never heard of him, think like him. What did he say? He said that the voice of Being-in-itself cannot and can never be heard by human beings. As a result humans can only hear echos of that voice in the postulates of practical reason. [incipient pragmatism here] Practical reason is the only pinhole through which man can make any contact with the light of Being-in-Itself. And a tiny, tiny pinhole it is. And therefore, all that is left to us are the categories of phenomena: the positive, the empirical, the scientific.

Do you get a little uncomfortable when you hear the word metaphysics, soul, Being, ontology? Thank Kant for that. Do you shift in your chair when you hear the word supernatural, miracle, Virgin Birth? Thank Kant for that, through his two students Dibelius and Bultmann. Do you feel a bit unsettled when you read the ontological argument of St. Anselm or the the cosmological arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas? Thank Kant. When “Scripture scholars” speak of creation myths, biblical legends, words placed on the lips of Jesus by later disciples. You can thank Kant for this. Him and his students. Do these expressions sound familiar to you: word over event, discontinuity between early proclamation and later development, discontinuity between Pre and Post-Easter Jesus, the antithesis between Hellenistic and Palestinian Christianity, the antagonism between primitive revelation and later cosmic, cultic and apocalyptic additions, the discontinuity between priestly and prophetic, the discontinuity between grace and law. This is Kantianism applied to Biblical scholarship. Human’s have no access to Being-in-itself but only a little light through that tiny tiny pinhole of Kantian hermaneutics applied to Sacred Scripture.

If Being-in-itself is inaccessible, then so are its transcendentals: truth [thus gnoseological relativism and sycretism], goodness [therefore moral relativism] and beauty [thus subjectivism].
Natural theology is impossible and so is natural law. What is left is fideism. But wait. Fideism is also subject to the Kantian limitations: it is a very little teensy weensy pinhole of light type of fideism. Philosophy is not science nor is theology. They are dead: Kant. God is dead was only inevitable after Kant. Only the physical and social sciences are true and they are methodologically atheist.

What happens when this Kantian air suffuses the hallways of universities, even Catholic universities like Notre Dame? Well, then you get the kind of people together who can write letters like the vicious protest letter against Bishop Jenky.

But people have never heard of Immanuel Kant. It doesn’t matter. He looms large. His faulty ideas are dogma: philosophy and metaphysics are impossible. The voice of Being itself in Sacred Scripture: impossible. The notion of the impossibility of miracles and everything distinctive in Scripture first subverted the Protestant world, then the Catholic world. At the risk of being called totally loony, I would venture to say that every one who signed that letter against Bishop Jenky is a Kantian of one sort or another. Read “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis” by Pope Benedict if you think I am wrong.

When Kant said ontology was impossible, his students set about to undermine Platonism in Sacred Scripture. Entering a modern theology department one only has to ask whether it is Kantian or not to know what one will find. If the courses are called theology of myth, hagiography of the saints, religious anthropology, comparative mythology . . . well . . . ? If a college philosophy department advertises itself as a survey of the historicity of ideas . . . well . . . ? When philosophy and theology commit suicide with the gun of Kant, what are the other college disciplines to think? Do they respect religion and philosophy more because of this suicide? Or does it just confirm the opinion they held all along that all we have are the hard sciences and ethical and judicial positivism?

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Paula Nedved says:

    Very nice, “ilovethomisticstraw”!!! Very very nice indeed. Worth learning about the ills Kant has brought forth just to come to that lovely writing by Jacques Maritain. For some other similar writings, “Pillar of Fire” by Karl Stern is REALLY good too (he was a Jewish psychiatrist who Jacques Maritain helped counsel into the faith). David Berlinski’s “The Devil’s Delusion” is also great!

  2. ilovethomisticstraw says:

    Jacques Maritain contra Kantian transcendental epistemology: “The Almighty God who created the world, and whose voice Moses heard, was he owing his existence and his glory to the mind that knew him? And the people this God chose for himself, and the land to which he led them, with its vines, its olive trees and its corn – were all these men and all these things which the hand can touch and the eye see, objects which have shape or consistency only in dependence of the mind that knows them? . . . And Christ preaching along the roads, and the enemies through whose midst he passed, and the mountain from which they sought to hurl him, and the children he blessed, and the lilies of the field he admired, and the sins which he took upon himself, and the love with which he loves us, is all this grasped by our intellect as being, to say, like Schopenhauer, “my representation”? . . . The Judeo-Christian revelation is the strongest, the most insolently self-assured testimony rendered to the reality in itself of being – the being of things, and Being subsisting by itself – I say being dwelling in the glory of existence in total independence of the mind that knows it. Christianity professes with tranquil impudence what in the philosophical vocabulary is known as realism.” from The Peasant and the Garonne

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