Saturday, March 21, 2009

Caveat Christianus

"Malebranche has managed to do precisely the opposite of what the early Church did with a comparable situation of Neoplatonism. The early Christians read pagan philosophers at great length and with cautious respect and sympathy, and through so lengthy an acquaintance learned which elements were supportive of Christian revelation and which could be reinterpreted in terms of that revelation; they then used these elements to construct so profound a system as that of the great Augustine and so religious a synthesis as that of the Alexandrian mystics. Malebranche took up the neo-Confucian ideas during his vacation conversation with the exiled bishop of Lyonne, after a series of interchanges felt himself master enough of the six errors about the existence and nature of god which that ancient culture embraced, and set himself 'to rectify the false idea they have of the nature of God.' Few things exhibit the casual arrogance of the Western clerical world more than the events of that sad and needless time: Maillard de Tournon sent to the Middle Kingdom with no knowledge of its language or respect for its culture; Malebranche confident of his crusade against the neo-Confucianists because 'it seems to me that there are many correspondences between the impieties of Spinoza and those of the Chinese philosopher.' Never mind the Jesuits' protest in the Mémoires de Trévoux, or the attempts of centuries of cultural interchange reaching one of their finest expressions in Lieibniz! The matter can be handled in a short essay whose data is culled from the conversations of a vacation."

Michael J. Buckley, S.J., At the origins of modern atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987): 152-153.

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