began…by noting that our view of consciousness is the new field upon
which the academic and cultural battle between materialism, panpsychism,
and transcendentalism is being waged. We now see that the outcome of
this battle will not only affect our personal view of life’s purpose,
the world, human dignity, and human value, but also the culture’s
outlook on these important ideas and ideals. Jesus’ proclamation that
‘the truth will make you free’ (Jn. 8:32) is particularly important
herefor if we and the culture falsely underestimate our purpose,
dignity, value, and destiny, we will also unnecessarily restrict our
freedom and potential to reach beyond the material world into the domain
of perfect truth, love, goodness, and beauty.” Fr. Robert Spitzer,
SJ, The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015), p. 267.
me begin by saying that these remarks are not properly a “review” of
the extraordinarily brilliant book cited above. Robert Spitzer is a
Jesuit colleague from many years; we taught together at Georgetown for a
number of years where he was a most popular and effective teacher. He
studied at Gonzaga University, St. Louis University, the Gregorian
University in Rome, the Weston School of Theology and the School of
Philosophy at the Catholic University of America under Paul Weiss and
other members of that most distinguished faculty. His dissertation on
the objective nature of time remains something of a classic.
is currently at the Magis Center in Southern California where he has
continued to develop a coherent overall synthesis of all branches of
knowledge into one intelligible whole. I know that sounds impossible but
no other way is adequate to describe the work and mind of Robert
Spitzer. His academic background covers almost every field from business
to science to literature to metaphysics to studies in Scripture. His
earlier books, especially his Cosmological Proofs for the Existence of God along with his work in questions of life and ethics, are themselves testimony to a most comprehensive mind.
He is frequently on EWTN and runs the Napa Institute; he lectures
widely to business and professional audiences. Besides these
accomplishments, Fr. Spitzer’s eyesight has been such that he can barely
see. He has learned to remember what he needs to know. Yet, he seems to
remember everything by being read to or using various devices on the
Robert Spitzer, in addition to being a mesmerizing
speaker and teacher, has, as this book attests, a clear and organized
mind that knows, like Aquinas, where everything belongs in its proper
order. One of the pleasures in reading The Soul’s Upward Yearning
is surely its awareness of the reader who can be overwhelmed with the
technical language and demonstrations necessary to make its points.
Everything is repeated, reduced to clear argumentthen said in another
way, then repeated, later summarized. Spitzer deals with the most
difficult of concepts in physics, cosmology, psychology, and philosophy.
To read him is itself a philosophical education of a kind that few
teach anymore, not merely because they do not have Spitzer’s range of
knowledge, but they do not see how things from differing disciplines fit
together. Spitzer was also, to add another dimension to his career,
president of Gonzaga University. He can recount vividly the continued
rise of its famous basketball team in which he had a hand.
book is Volume II of a Quartet of four books under the general heading
of “Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence”. Volume I is titled Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts
(Ignatius Press, 2015). What I deal with here is the second volume of
this quartet of books. The first volume is on happiness, a thorough and
complete analysis of this reality in our lives. The second volume deals
with what goes on inside of us, what do we know and how do we know it.
The third volume addresses revelation, that is: What is it that is
revealed to us and how does it relate to what we are and know? The final
volume concerns the consequences of our freedom, both the questions of
suffering and those of evil, along with the opposite of what our final
destiny looks like. All together they simply provide a liberal education
the likes of which can be found in few if any colleges today.
first thing to note in reading Spitzer is that the word “clue” often
appears in what he is presenting. The word appears in the sub-title of
this book on Yearning, a word he takes (as his introductory
passage indicates) from St. John of the Cross. But, as the similar
introductory passage in Volume I attests, the theme also comes from
Augustine’s “restless hearts”. The questions of most concern to human
beings begin hereinside of us. Spitzer’s approach commences with what
we experience in ourselves and how we explain what we find. Unlike
Aquinas and Aristotle, though not opposed to them, he begins with
introspective desires and longings which we all have whether we like it
or not, the desire for happiness, the longing for an explanation of
things, ourselves, our existence, included.
But Spitzer is nothing
if he is not at the same time thoroughly scientific and reasonable.
This is where the word “clue” comes in. Spitzer knows scientific method
backwards and forwards; he respects what it is and what it claims for
itself. In this sense, this book is a thoroughly scientific book,
provided with all the daunting scientific evidence needed to make his
points. But these books are not only “scientific arguments”. They are
also meditative reflections, even catechetical lessons and apologetic
inquires. These books are thus multi-layered. They are meant for the
scholar, the well-educated, and the common man, as well as for those who
doubt that any case can be made for reason or the coherence of the
Catholic understanding of things. Yet, it all fits together. There is
something quite exhilarating in seeing these relationships spelled out
in a manner that, with a little effort, we can follow.
follows Newman’s famous notion that many strands of thought, many
different arguments and experiences can come together to provide a
“proof” that each of the arguments by itself may not be able to provide.
Thus, while “science” cannot provide a definitive metaphysical proof of
either the immortality of the soul or of the origin of the universe, it
can provide many “clues” that taken together leave little room for
doubt that these positions are valid. Scientific method, Spitzer
recognizes, can always be improved or modified by new evidence. It thus
can bring up probable certainties that lend themselves to more certain
In this sense, Spitzer makes all the
required distinctions of argument and approach. He does not intend to
prove more than the evidence of a given discipline can establish. On the
other hand, he also sees that realitywhat ishas a certain
order that we know more and more about, both the order of the cosmos and
the order of living things, including ourselves. Thus, Spitzer always
begins with facts that he spells out. He does not hesitate to begin with
what is most known to us. He understands the vast amount of modern
scholarship that is designed to explain the universe and man in terms of
determinism or chance.
The two appendices of this book are
devoted to what we know about the order of the cosmos as a scientific
project, its extent, age, and origin. This is a clear and succinct
summary of the evidence and perhaps should be read before reading the
book. The second appendix deals with Stephen Hawking’s “proof” that
there cannot be a God who stands at the beginning, a “proof” that
Spitzer shows is invalid from the beginning. Both of these additions are
masterfully stated. In a sense, they are “outside” the main text of the
book because their focus is scientific argument as such.
scientific argument itself presupposes a clarification of what goes on
inside of ourselves. Do we have the power and capacity to know what it
out there? Spitzer understands the usefulness of beginning with our
being, our feelings, our will, and our mind. It is not that these latter
interior activities do not have scientific studies made about them.
They do, and Spitzer uses all of this evidence. What he is after,
however, is an explanation of the whole. He realizes that each of us is a
whole capable of knowing what is not ourselves. Not only are we capable
to know, but we yearn and long to know the truth. The intricacies of
knowing this truth is what this book is about.
The book begins
with two studies of the fact of human testimony about religion, with
Rudolf Otto’s account of the human experience of an “Other” that appears
to us as the complete beginning or explanation. He next covers Mircea
Eliade’s account of the religious sense as it has appeared in human
history among almost all peoples. Can such experiences be simply
overlooked as having no scientific basis? He finally examines the
irreligious man in the light of what happens to him when he does not
believe, again in terms of testimony and empirical evidence. The issue
of conscience, especially as it appears in Kant and Newman, is
considered. Finally, Spitzer interestingly deals with Tolkien and Harry
Potter as testimonies of man’s understanding of a struggle between good
and evil in human history.
reflection on what the presence of God has meant in human history and
how it has been dealt with, Spitzer comes to his central chapter on the
inner nature of human thinking and its implications. He shows that any
reflective examination of what happens when we think leads logically to
the fact that there is something immaterial about our thought. While
brain and thought are related, thought is not simply a physical
operation. Spitzer’s section of the meaning of the word “why?” is
positively remarkable. This “why” question alone leads us to the notion
that questions have answers and that answers presuppose that things can
be explained. And if they can be explained that implies a mind as the
source of this explanation. This is nothing other than a mind that
thinks itself, a mind that is bound by body, space, or time.
Spitzer does next is to go through the philosophical proofs that follow
from the notion that all being is true, the transcendentalomne ens est verum.
This concludes in the notion that a transcendent truth grounds our
understanding of things, an understanding that is the origin of the
order we find both in mind and in things. Spitzer recounts these proofs
from Aquinas and Lonergan, among others, but within the context of
classical thinking on God’s existence. Spitzer is always careful to
present the essence of each step, usually in syllogistic form.
Spitzer has two audiences in mind: the learned and the ordinary
thinking man. His text is designed to satisfy both kinds of readers.
This line of thought leads to the notion of God as a “completely
intelligible reality” who grounds the restricted truth found in things.
Spitzer’s transcendental arguments do not argue from thought to things,
but demonstrate what it must be to think the truth. Again note that
Spitzer here is thinking of how each of us proceeds in knowing and
explaining the reality we confront. As one reads him, it becomes evident
that the reader is guided to think for himself and to see that there
are objective and careful ways to deal with these issues of how we know
and what we know.
On the basis of this approach, Spitzer next
considers the other transcendentals: the good/just, the beautiful. He
follows our desire for a love that is unconditional, for a justice that
is complete, and of a beauty that is fascinating. He does not think that
we can actually achieve such perfections in this world; he is not a
modern political utopian. He points our rather that each of these
experiences leads to a transcendence lodged within the reality of these
experiences themselves. His examples and arguments are clear and well
These considerations too are “clues” about what we
are and what the world is. They each converge, as does the true, on the
fact that God exists. This is the best conclusion from these experiences
and reasonings. Spitzer then presents a highly sophisticated proof for
the existence of God. As a preface to this proof, as it were, he briefly
presents what he explains in more detail in the first appendix and in
his earlier book on the Cosmos. This is the scientific status of the
nature and origin of the universe.
the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. Evidence from various
sources shows that the cosmos must have had a specific beginning, before
which nothing finite existed. This beginning did not presuppose a
pre-existing material thing. He deals carefully with various
multi-universes, bubble, and string theories designed to escape the
logic of the Big Bang evidence. An incredibly fine order is found in the
universe. Without it, human existence could not have appeared in the
universe. This is the “anthropic principle” that leads us to suspect
that the purpose of the universe was to have intelligent life within it.
Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, the world is not complete unless
there is found within it also beings that could understand it. Spitzer’s
book explains why this is reasonable. This order found in the universe
could only be properly explained by concluding to the existence of a
transcendent mind outside of the universe capable of knowing and
creating it. This “mind” was itself the being that simply is.
all along, Spitzer retains his concern for each of us finite human
beings seeking to know what and who we are. This brings him to the
question of our own personal immortality and destiny. Spitzer, again on
legitimate scientific grounds, is willing to be open to the possibility
of revelation’s capacity to assist us in understanding what we are. This
is largely what Volume III is about but here he sees the need to assure
us that the use of revelation is not as such irrational as much
scientific and philosophic reasoning insists that it is. He shows how
thinking of the cosmos itself and the nature of the rational creature
within it can make reasonable why God might want to explain certain
things about his life and ultimate purpose.
The last section of
the book deals with the question of the possible transcendence of the
human soul of each person. This issue was already central to Plato, as
Spitzer understands. What he does is to give us further “clues” that is
reasons why this just might be the case. Spitzer spends a lot of time on
the modern studies of “near-death” experiences that have been recorded
in various studies in recent decades. He does not say that these
testimonies absolutely prove that we live after death. But they are
strange to explain by any other hypothesis. Likewise, the studies in
human self-awareness, if we reflect on them, give us some further
grounds in our own experience for concluding to the soul’s immateriality
and permanence. How, for instance, can we be aware, at the same time,
of our own selves and of knowing something else? We could not do this
holding together if it were only a question of physical items.
short, we have here a major event in intellectual reflection on our
nature as it is confronted by the nature of things. Spitzer has the
background that enables him to see where these various studies come
together. He can distinguish clearly what is coherent from what is not.
There is something magisterial about this work. We can only be grateful
that Spitzer’s health and freedom from other assignments have left him
free to complete these works. He has talked to me about them for many
years while he was thinking about them. I find it particularly
satisfying that these four volumes will all soon be available. In the
meantime, we can start with the first two volumes. They will take time
to read, absorb, and think our way through their clarity and depth.
I think of it, we have here a major event in Catholic intellectual
history, indeed in the history of philosophy as such. In recent years,
the Catholic mind has been distracted by social justice and has tended
to drift away from studies in the truth of things. Unless we first have
this latter firmly grounded, all else tends to become, alas, an exercise
in ideology. If I might put it this way, we have here a book that
understands why metaphysics must remain central if we are to deal with
cosmology, theology, justice, literature, business, or science.