Close papal confidant: “2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5.”

Fr. Spadaro’s tweet, as short and simple as it is, has a decidedly nominalist (or voluntarist) bent to it, for it rests on the apparent belief that God can indeed act contrary to what and who is he is.

Jesuit papal confidant and director of La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro S.J., who is considered to be “one of the Jesuits closest to Pope Francis,” has a lively Twitter account. Lively, but not necessarily theologically sound. Granted, there are more substantial news items out there, but this little tempest in a tea pot is not only rather fun, it is rather revealing.

The tweet in question, from earlier today:

Theology is not #Mathematics. 2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with #God and real #life of #people

— Antonio Spadaro (@antoniospadaro) January 5, 2017

Fr. Spadaro was apparently trying to make a point about certain theologians who are supposedly too rigid, dogmatic, or scholastic in their approaches to complex or difficult moral situations. A number of folks responded to his tweet, pointing out, in essence, that it was wrong, vapid, and otherwise embarrassing. This is Theology 101, the sort of thing junior high students should understand: truth can never contradict truth, even if some truth (theology) is supra-rational. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, quoting from both Vatican I’s Dei Filius and Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:

Faith and science: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” “Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (CCC, 159)

Dr. Francis Beckwith, meanwhile, proffers this from St. Thomas:

@antoniospadaro True, math’s not #theology, But incoherence is a vice of #reason, including #theology, not just math. See Aquinas SCG.I.84.1

— Francis J. Beckwith (@fbeckwith) January 6, 2017

Perhaps sensing that his tweet was not going to successfully buck commonsense, basic theology, and the entire Tradition, Fr. Spadaro tried to find an ally in Benedict XVI: 

“GOD was made flesh and shows us that he is NOT only a MATHEMATICAL reason but that this original Reason is also LOVE” #BenedictXVI (2006)

— Antonio Spadaro (@antoniospadaro) January 6, 2017

The quote, in the English translation on the Vatican site, is from an address given by Benedict at Auschwitz in May 2006: “The God in whom we believe is a God of reason – a reason, to be sure, which is not a kind of cold mathematics of the universe, but is one with love and with goodness.”

That quote, however, does not help Fr. Spadaro at all since Benedict—to repeat what I’ve already noted above—is simply noting that God is a God of reason and that God also transcends the limits of reason and human knowledge. In fact, Fr. Spadaro’s simplistic, glaring error—which he seems to think is some sort of great theological insight—was roundly rebuffed in one of Benedict’s most famous addresses, also in Germany in 2006, given at the University in Regensburg:

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which – as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated – unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul – “λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1). [emphasis added]

Fr. Spadaro’s tweet, as short and simple as it is, has a decidedly nominalist (or voluntarist) bent to it, for it rests on the apparent belief that God can indeed act contrary to what and who is he is. As John Lawrence Hill explains in his exceptional book After the Natural Law (Ignatius, 2016), in nominalism, “Only things exist, not the relationships between and among them.” Put simply, this means that the numbers “2” and “4” only mean what we want them to mean at any particular place and time, and that in some other instance, “2” might equal “3” and “2+2” might equal “5”.  “Thus,” Hill states, “mathematical entities do not really exist” in nominalism; that is, they are entirely fluid and subjective.

Perhaps this is much ado over nothing. But I think four things can be suggested in light of the tweet, especially within the larger context, which is clearly the ongoing debates and disputes over Amoris Laetitia:

1). If Fr. Spadaro really does believe that, in theology, “2+2” can equal “5”, and if Fr. Spadaro really does have as close of relationship to Pope Francis as most observers believe he does, well, say a few prayers, because it is just further evidence this pontificate is challenged when it comes to thinking and acting consistently and in concert with fundamental principles and truths.

2). If Fr. Spadaro really does believe this is somehow a good argument, at least at the level of a Twitter “zinger”, then he not only has a shaky grasp of some foundational truths, he also would appear to have complete disdain for the actual concerns and arguments of those critical of (of even just concerned about) certain passages in Amoris Laetitia.

3). If, in fact, “2+2” can equal “5” in the realm of theology, what else can be suggested? Shall we rethink the Trinity and consider the possibility of 4 or 9 or 39.5 divine Persons? Perhaps the hypostatic union involves 3 or 12 or 99 natures? Yes, I’m being a bit flippant, but there is a serious point here: if theological truth does not have to accord with reason, then where does that leave us? As Saint John Paul II stated at the outset of Fides et Ratio, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…” (par 1). If reason is set to the side, then faith ultimately becomes, as Benedict argued, a matter of fideism, something John Paul II (referencing Dei Filius 4) denounced: “Against the temptations of fideism, however, it was necessary to stress the unity of truth and thus the positive contribution which rational knowledge can and must make to faith’s knowledge…”

4). Thus, when it comes to moral theology and complicated situations—say, involving marriages, divorces, new “unions”, and such—there cannot and should not be any contradiction between reason, moral truth, and Church doctrine. This point is made very well in a recent post at titled “Hard Cases Make Bad Law: A Response to Austen Ivereigh on Amoris Laetitia”, in which the author states:

When the Church has traditionally made the demand for two such people to forgo their sexual relationship due to the irregularity of their bond it has struck many as draconian, blind to the reality of couples who have long since left behind “spouses” with whom they never really had anything close to what they have now.

Can’t these theologians and hierarchs see that this is not adultery? Can’t they see that this is authentic love?

While compelling, all of this misses the central point to the whole debate: the consistent teaching of the Church that two people can form an indissoluble bond of marriage which prevails until one of them dies — merely by speaking words to one another in the span of approximately 45 seconds. Here I refer, of course, to the marriage vows.

At its core, this is not an issue about canon law.

Time and again those on Ivereigh’s side of the argument have couched the whole thing in terms of those who are open to applying the law compassionately on a case by case basis and those who are legally “rigid”. I understand that the authors of the dubia leave themselves open to such a perspective due to their use of the phrase “more uxorio”. It looks as though the interest is precisely in “upholding the law” at all costs, concrete personal situations be damned.

This misses the point.

Certainly the canonical argument is vital in its own right to the life of the Church. However, canon law exists to protect deeper, more fundamental theological realities. In this debate, all of the canons in question concern the integrity of marriage as a sacrament and indissoluble bond, the sanctity of the Eucharist, and the necessity of upholding the commandments of God Himself to obtain eternal salvation.

Finally, the truly strange thing here is that while Fr. Spadaro and Company often seem to take umbrage with the supposedly rigid, fideistic arguments of canon lawyer, theologians, and “conservative” writers, they appear quite oblivious to the fact that they are proposing an irrational, fideistic approach that would require a fragmenting of authority in keeping with its inherent fragmenting of logic and theology.

If “2+2” can equal “5” in the realm of theology, then it can also equal “9” and “catfish” and “π” and just about anything you want it to. More than a considered belief that there are exceptions to “the rules”, this is an irrational belief that “the rules” are essentially arbitrary and without objective, transcendent basis. And that is #arecipefordisaster.

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

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