commentary: Mightier Than the Sword (Part Three)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 30-May-15; Sermon #1270c; 12 minutes
Philosophers advance their ideas exponentially by charismatically persuading their peers, as was seen in the example of Thomas Aquinas, a popular innovator in educational circles, having the reputation of being a topnotch theologian and scholar. Aquinas revived the Greek Classical philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, driving a wedge between theological and humanistic philosophical positions. Jesuit-educated Rene Descartes was not an apostate in the ordinary sense because he never embraced religion, but instead set his own experience as his parameters of creation, declaring "I think, therefore I am." Descartes felt no compunction to seek any other knowledge not found in himself, feeling sufficient to determine truth on his own. Although he never denied the existence of God, he minimized God's sovereignty and control over His creation. Descartes believed that moral integrity was an unimportant construct, feeling that mankind alone was sufficient to determine truth and mores on his own, discarding any input from the Creator, dazzling his followers through philosophy and empty traditions of men.
Do you understand the principle that is at work that makes certain philosophical figures stand out as having great impact on life in general? It is that certain of these men are somehow able to greatly influence many others among their peers. That is the major key that is working here. The peers pick up and agree with what the philosopher is teaching, and in turn, spread his concepts far and wide, thus creating a synergy of belief in lies among those who hear and accept.
This process is especially clear regarding the man I mentioned last week. Thomas Aquinas lived and died almost 750 years ago but he is still, to this day, looked upon as a great innovator within educational circles because of a few factors that all came together at the same historical time.
First, he was very intelligent. Second, he had an outstanding reputation as a theologian and teacher amongst his peers in the relatively few Catholic-staffed universities that existed in his time, and the timing of his cause was exactly right. A movement away from God was already beginning to stir. His cause was that universities should establish courses searching out knowledge apart from revelation in the Word of God. This knowledge should be based on the natural man’s human reason.
This means teaching as truth that knowledge generated from minds blinded by demonic deception. This discipline was not new. We know who began it in the very distant past. Were not the educated Greeks seeking out men such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many others deeply involved in this sort of teaching pattern long before the Church was founded?
What Aquinas began was only a revival of an old, old system whose time had come so as to jump start the preparations for our day and age. I do not mean to imply that Aquinas turned the educational world on its head. He only got this ancient process restarted once again. What he did was much like an educational wedge being tapped between two opposing disciplines, driving them ever so slowly further apart. But university education, though far from perfect before Aquinas’ proposal was made, has never returned to what it was before. The gap is so wide in our time that the humanistic basis of education has almost absolute control of the administration of every university, and its basis of teaching has substantially affected knowledge in virtually every category, including even mathematics and music.
Our next major philosophical character is Rene Descartes. With him, we make a major jump in time, closer to our time. He came along at the very beginning of the 17th century. This is in the early 1600s. Descartes was French, but he spent much of his life in Holland. He claimed life was too distracting in Paris. His early university education, incidentally, was under the Jesuits. He never married but produced one child through fornication. That child died at age 5. His unmarried, fornicating lifestyle apparently was considered unusual by his peers.
Like Aquinas, he was not an apostate in the ordinary sense only because he never truly practiced a religious life. He also never claimed loyalty to the Catholic Church. He was, to say it bluntly, all wrapped up in himself.
Descartes is given credit for the saying, “I think, therefore I am.” I will give Descartes credit for one thing: He never denied God’s existence. Descartes was a deist, but not a religious one like many others. Blaise Pascal, a contemporary mathematician and thinker, said of him,
I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of His lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God.
That is a very perceptive insight into him. [Descartes'] thinking took him to believe the Creator was uninvolved with His creation. This gave him a convenient platform to use his thinking to explore avenues apart from anything God might be doing except for the creation. Descartes' belief was that after creation, man was on his own.
Early in his adult life, Descartes resolved the following—this is a direct quote: “To seek no other knowledge than that found in himself and the great book of the world.” The "great book of the world" was not the Bible, but creation itself—apart from God, of course. But more important is his statement, “to seek no other knowledge.” This was his fundamental credo. His search for knowledge was self-contained. He was extremely, stubbornly skeptical because he firmly believed that he was self-sufficient to determine truth.
What did he believe? Descartes was a humanist who considered moral integrity unimportant. In any area of life, it was just unimportant. For example, the fact that men fornicated with women, as he did, and produced more orphans, as he did, was of little importance. To him, what really mattered is shown in this comment from him: “That the new ideas formulated from men’s minds are radical, human-centered, innovative, autonomous—that is what makes a genius." The key words are “men’s minds” and “autonomous.” “Autonomous” means, "independent; not controlled by others"—God especially.
Listen to this contrast. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Not Descartes; Jesus. Paul wrote,
Colossians 2:2-3 . . . [having] full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:8-9 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
The man (Descartes) shows his demonic influence in this. He really was at war against God and His revelations.
Wikipedia contains many brief biographies of him. One stated that he is considered by many as the father of modern philosophy. Why is he considered this way? The author of that article concludes that it is because Descartes’ ideas “departed widely from the then-current understanding in the 17th century, which was then more feeling-based.” I said that Aquinas could not turn the educational world upside down, but Descartes came very close to it because he was so popular among his peers, and they read what he wrote and they liked it.
I am not going to finish it, but we will finish today with this: Remember that he said, “I think, therefore I am.” Did you notice he included the "I AM"? He was a pride-filled braggart who also happened to be intelligent and had a big following, and people followed him because they liked what he said. It liberated them from God.