« That Ad McCain Hates | Main | Savages! ...Savages? »

April 27, 2008



Thanks, James. I thought that you'd posted here, too, about pantheism, but unfortunately I couldn't find the post. (Google doesn't turn it up.) I'll have to take a look at that Immanent Frame post and get back to you on it.


Did heterodox theologians like Chardin introduce pantheistic elements into Catholic thinking? Of course, and within all of Christianity, there are promoters of this perennial, but vague and cuddly heresy. Still, I think Alexis T's point remains true; the greatest bulwark against pantheism is found within Catholicism.

It is an excellent topic to explore. Thanks for raising it.

Matt S.

Actually, Tocqueville thought Protestants should become more Catholic, and Catholics more Protestant. In short, we all need to, like me, become Anglicans.

And I'm pretty sure I could justify this on philosophical grounds. I've long wanted to write an essay on Oakeshott's Anglicanism, meaning that there's a strange but true confluence between Oakeshott's notion of "conversation" and Anglicans' understanding of "prayer." Oakeshott, in his later work, intimated that what was most satisfactory in experience was some marriage of practical life with poetry, i.e. religion. I think Anglicanism fits this marriage the best.

And one word about pantheism and Catholicism. What they have (again, strangely) in common is neither seems to be able to handle "remainders" very well. Both are false unities, though in different ways...


The alleged commonality between pantheism & Catholicism can more accurately be described has a undercurrent, possessing a long pedigree, coarsing throughout Christianity. It's draws some Catholics, but is it a major tendency within the Church? Would love to read the evidence in the un-posted bill of indictment.

Let's do that before we put words into Tocqueville's mouth. We know he thought Protestantism too focused on obtaining prosperity in this world, too particular to be truly universal, and prone to breeding indifference as a result of it's emphasis on tolerance at the expense of dogma.


Matt, how does Catholicism not handle the remainders? In the sense that it is a "single and uniform" authority?

I would say the similarity between Catholicism and pantheism for Tocqueville is in the unity that each offers. It seems to me, however, that one of these unities is a true unity, while the other is untrue. (Yes, unity is appealing to the democratic man.)

Come on, the individual is not forgotten in Catholicism just because the Holy Spirit works with the Church in the world.

... is it [i.e., pantheism] a major tendency within the Church?

No, I don't think so. (How would it be possible, for example, to make sense of the Incarnation?) Part of the argument I was trying to make in the post James linked was that something resembling what we'd call pantheism was an important tendency in the (very) early Church, when Neoplatonism rather than Aristotelianism provided the dominant philosophical understanding of the universe. The possibility of striking a balance between these two schools of thought is - at best - an immensely difficult one to actualize, and the tensions therein are what came to a head in, e.g., Aquinas's difficulties in holding onto the idea that creation "participates in" the Being of God while still adopting the Aristotelian language of causation. The latter strain has pretty much won out, and understandably so, but I do think that a lot has been lost in this development, and that taking pantheism more seriously - or rather, trying to recover what's right in it, and using it as a check against what's wrong in the causal model - would be a worthy endeavor. Put differently, I think that in our present condition we'd be better off if pantheism - rather than, say, Intelligent Design - were to become a stronger (and more intellectually serious!) force than it traditionally has been.


"...we'd be better off if pantheism - rather than, say, Intelligent Design - were to become a stronger (and more intellectually serious!) force..."

Interesting and worth reflecting on. Especially in conjunction with Benedict XVI's intense labors to re-awaken us to God's presence.


As a crypto-catholic Protestant, it's always seemed to me that Catholicism does a much better job than most Protestant theology and praxis in striking the right balance between God's immanence and his transcendence. The doctrine of transubstantiation is a perfect example of this -- Christ is present, physically, but it is precisely the miraculous nature of this presence in the elements that preserves and indeed highlights Christ's (and God's) transcendence.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo


  • Moral philosophy, political commentary, and elevated snark from a licensed technician. Further Details »


  • Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More
    Web PoMoCo
    Listed on BlogShares Technorati blog directory