This week’s chapter is called The Legacy of the Enlightenment, and this is, most likely, the section of the book that is going to frustrate the most people because, in this chapter, Father Andrew is talking about the history of several ideas and concepts, and those ideas and concepts just don’t appear to have a whole lot of anything to do with our lives or with the Church.
However, that’s just not the case. For example, on page 32, Father Andrew writes about “the ideal of presuppositionless understanding, the ideal of freeing myself of presuppositions in order to understand the objective meaning of the text”. Father Andrew points out that we cannot, in fact, free ourselves of presuppositions and that, in fact, we need those presuppositions in order to actually understand what we are reading. Nevertheless, our brothers and sisters who are conservative Protestants constantly talk about how, if we will simply approach the Scriptures without presuppositions, then the objective meaning of the text will become apparent to us. That is a cornerstone of Protestant belief, and it’s one of the reasons why so many of our friends and neighbors and co-workers have such a difficult time with Holy Tradition—because it has been drilled into them that the Bible is self-interpreting and that presuppositions like those in Holy Tradition are a barrier to that self-interpretation.
That’s just one example of how all this directly impinges on our daily lives and on the Faith. But let’s go ahead and do an overview of the material that Father Andrew covers in this chapter. He begins by following up on the point he made at the conclusion of Chapter One: The success of the sciences has created an environment in which we have come to believe that the sciences actually give us more reliable access to the truth. But Father Andrew spends the bulk of the chapter talking about two thinkers who have successfully pushed back against that perspective: Giambattista Vico, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and Wilhem Dilthey, who lived into the early years of the 20th century. Both of these men made observations about how we acquire knowledge that call into question the assumption that science provides us with the most accurate understanding of reality.
In this chapter, Father Andrew also builds on the discussion of method that he introduced in the first chapter. Specifically, Father Andrew writes about the importance of our awareness of history and how that is often used as a method. However, Father Andrew also examines some issues which arise from the use of historical awareness as a method—the issue of objective versus subjective truth and the issue of how the present is always “privileged” over the past.
Father Andrew then goes on to consider how tradition, in the most general sense of the term, works, and that leads, in the final section of the chapter, to a discussion of how we actually learn, how we interact with reality, and what the goal of that interaction should be. This will, of course, interest anyone who teaches either in a public or private setting, but it’s important to understand that what Father Andrew is doing is building a slow and patient case for how the Church has always taught—and still teaches.
Don’t forget to look up the words. By now, you have probably googled all the people that Father Andrew mentions, but you might need to refer to your notes to refresh your memory of exactly who those folks are. And be encouraged! The second chapter is the most plodding section of the book; the subsequent chapters are where everything begins to come together in a very impressive and exciting way.