The journey of theology and philosophy has been unprecedented in the 20th century. One of the fields that has experienced many evolutions, revolutions and (maybe) involutions, is Metaphysics. It was said that the post-Carthesian philosophy is characterized by its rejection of Metaphysics but we can never forget the deep relation existing between this discipline and Theology, and how the two are mutually beneficial to each other.
I spoke about this with Father Lluís Clavell, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Father Clavell is professor emeritus of Metaphysics in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He holds a doctorate in Philosophy (Lateran University) and a doctorate in Philosophy and Letters (University of Navarra). He is, among other things, a former president of the Roman Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Among his academic interests is the relationship between Metaphysics, Theology and life. He has published several books, including Metafisica e libertà (Armando Editore, Roma 1996, 208 pp.), Metaphysics (Sinag-Tala, Manila 1991), Presupuestos y contenido del principio de identidad según Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange (Pontificia Università Lateranense, Roma 1982, 61 pp.), El nombre propio de Dios según Santo Tomás de Aquino (Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona 1980, 204 pp.). He was previously: Professor of Metaphysics and Natural Theology in the Urbaniana University for 12 years (1979), Visiting Professor of the “John Paul II Institute” for the studies on marriage and family in the Pontifical Lateran University (1984), Director of the Institute for the study of atheism in the Urbaniana University (1989-1990), Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (1994).
I met Fr Clavell many years ago, when he was the Rector of the Holy Cross University. We met at a conference in honor of the great Catholic theologian and philosopher Cornelio Fabro, who was his master. After that we were lost touch for quite long time. Recently we met again in the Holy Cross University Library, to speak about Metaphysics and about other crucial issues.
Father, in your academic career you have studied Metaphysics extensively. If you have to explain in a few words, what is it about?
Metaphysics means “beyond physics.” In Aristotle, the first one to write books about Metaphysics, and other authors, especially and in a deeper way Saint Thomas Aquinas, it means to know reality as it is in itself, in its depth, in its causes, and in its final cause that is God the Creator.
If the name is so “difficult” and probably also its concepts, should a common Catholic be concerned about Metaphysics, especially in a time of strong materialism?
The reality is, that when we have meetings with other people, we become aware that “the other” is not only biology. Let me give you an example: a medical doctor from Nagasaki [Takashi Paolo Nagai], a radiologist and a strong materialist, had lost all his materialistic faith when he visited his dying mother and she smiled at him. He was aware that in the last meeting with the mother that smile reveals something more than her pure physical body. After doing some philosophical reading he understood the reality of the spirit and so he accepted the Catholic faith. This story is told in a book called A Song for Nagasaki, by Paul Glynn [available also in English and published by Ignatius Press].
Don’t you think that in the last decades, especially in some parts of the theological world, there was a huge crisis of Metaphysics?
It is true, but we have also to say that, also outside theological circles, that there wasn’t in general a favorable atmosphere for Metaphysics. I think that this is a moment where many people are rethinking and returning to Metaphysics. An American friend told me: Saint Thomas Aquinas is rediscovered by many people as a gift from God to the Church. For some time he can be forgotten, some parts of his teachings can be scrutinized in different ways, but these teachings are so rich that there are people rediscovering him and fall in love with God’s doctrines, in the way Saint Thomas had presented them.
You have been a priest for more than 50 years. Do you think that your study of Metaphysics has helped your faith, confirmed your faith or has it also created doubts in you?
I really think that Christian Philosophy – and Metaphysics – was only in harmony with my faith and I may say that Philosophy also helped to reinforce apostolically the ability in spreading the faith, those parts where is possible to use reason, the capacity for dialogue, serenity, peace and the deepening of the most important knowledge, that is Jesus and the Most Holy Trinity”.
When I talked with people of the current crisis of the Church, many of them have said that is a “crisis of faith.” Do you agree with this? And what is the role played in this regard by modern conceptions of Metaphysics?
I remember from my time in the Institute for the Study of Atheism (created by Cornelio Fabro), we noticed that it was difficult to understand if those that profess to be unbelievers are really unbelievers….
But the opposite is also true … how many of those that believe, really believe?
But here there is a conscious acceptance of the gift received from God that we are trying to correspond to. Throughout history, there were moments of difficulty for faith and this is one of them. Every historical period can find different ways to overcome this problem. One of these, evidently, was an attempt of a certain kind of modern philosophy that has given birth to a certain kind of rationalistic Metaphysics that, somewhat, absorbed faith in such a way that it was no longer transcendent but immanent. So, from this point of view, Metaphysics was not really “metaphysical,” there was no acceptance of the reality as it is.
We saw it recently in France: a well known atheist has contested a decision from 1904 of complete separation between the State and the Church. What he was saying, even if he was contested by other atheists, is that part of being a citizen is also your faith.
What we are looking today, regarding faith, is really dramatic: we know of dioceses that have to close down churches or convents. Even in your (once very) Catholic Spain, the situation is strongly compromised. How come we are now at this point?
It is a question that is probably too difficult for me to answer, and it would take very long time. Nevertheless, I have to say that there are also positive signs because the Holy Spirit has a huge creativity and imagination. In France I saw a community that has many vocations and that is called by other dioceses to implement a new evangelization. A reality arising from a gift of the Holy Spirit is filling a void created by the situation we mentioned earlier. In my Spain, a Bishop sent me a message telling me that in his seminary that was almost non-existent, he has now 10 students in the major Seminary and 8 in the minor Seminary. It is not a lot but… For many years I have been praying for this intention. It is good to see that also in my Barcelona there is now a new growth.
But from what you say – and being a priest for more than 50 years – I think you can see that we are talking of very poor numbers, especially if we compare these numbers with the past. It seems to me that in wide strata of the society there is a refusal of Christian values and this is happening in many countries. How have we come to this?
As I have said before, it is a question that is very difficult to answer in a concise way. So this is why I prefer to look at the future and help people of good will. One important element was the anthropological crisis from 1968. Some refer to that as a simple revolution by students, indeed it was a huge crisis. Also Pope Francis has said that we are in a moment were certain fundamental beliefs about ourselves are demolished. So it is time to reconstruct. Also society has changed in many regards: in rural areas, for example, there were many vocations in the past; now there are more vocations from urban centers. Things are changing. There are people that nowadays are not so much influenced anymore by the 1968 ideologies, so if someone advised them in a good way, they usually follow.