INTERVIEW WITH FATHER LLUIS CLAVELL (2) – Metaphysics and beyond

Aurelio Porfiri

I would like to talk a little more about the problem of ‘68. There are several books about this fateful age. Vatican II was convened between 1962 and 1965. The Novus Ordus of the Mass (we call it Paul VI’s Mass) was implemented in the years you were describing, the years of the strong crisis coming from the students protests in 1968. Don’t you think that the mindset of ‘68 may have influenced the way the Council reforms have taken place?

It is not easy to say. Certainly there are more studies to be done about 1968. For example, there was a meeting in Paris with the the students and other protesters from the revolts of 1968, where they had proposed a manifesto where it was written: “We need to change the needs of human nature.” There was a design from someone to suppress human nature! According to them, we should free ourselves from natural law.  This has created and spread a certain climate in families and schools. I think that is a phenomenon that has to be studied carefully.

Some people said that the crisis deepened with the abandonment of Thomism by some scholars, especially in the field of theology. Do you share this view?

Also here the question is complex. In some cases I think Thomism was renewed in a good and positive manner: the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Spain… There was more emphasis on the historical studies on Saint Thomas and lately a revival of the biblical Thomism, because most of all, what Saint Thomas was explained the Scripture; to read again with new eyes his homilies where he explained the Scripture was something very good. Certainly there was in some places a superficial abandonment of Saint Thomas, and this has created damage to theology itself. It depends on the different places and countries to see what was the magnitude of this abandonment.

I have noticed that many Popes regarded Saint Thomas Aquinas as an antidote against the heresies. I think of the Thomistic revival under Leo XIII.

For seven centuries the magisterium of the Church has recommended Saint Thomas Aquinas as Doctor Communis, — an important title. They have recognized the role that God wanted to give to Saint Thomas for the good of the Church. Yes, he is also an antidote, it is true, but he also helps you to overcome certain reductionisms, to see reality more deeply. He has a very positive sense of the relationship with science, something that contemporary philosophy has lost a bit. He had a great sense of the value of the person. It is true, Cornelio Fabro was already saying, that Thomism was a little formalistic and lost a little contact with reality. Fabro, with the help of Soren Kierkegaard was more metaphysical-existential. Also the current Pope sometimes makes distinction between a smarter Thomism and a more sclerotic Thomism. We have talked about this for many years, I think that in these years we made some progress.

You have mentioned the great Cornelio Fabro, one of the greatest scholars of Thomism in the 20th century. You were his student and disciple. He was considered a great innovator in Thomistic studies because he had reconciled Aristotle with Plato. Am I correct in saying this?

Somehow yes, but not all scholars nowadays agree with Cornelio Fabro. There are factions in Thomism, good researchers, who continue to think about a more Aristotelian Saint Thomas, leaving aside the Platonic implications. Other researchers indeed have a more positive position about the way Saint Thomas has used Platonism, others are using a middle way. This will always be a controversial point.  I think that Saint Thomas is a great interpreter of Saint Augustine.

When we talk about 1968, we should have mentioned the so called “anthropological turn.” And this issue has to do also with Cornelio Fabro, who wrote one of his most famous books on this very topic especially dedicated to one of the protagonists of this anthropological turn, Karl Rahner . What is the anthropological turn? Do you think we have to be still concerned about it?

I think that I like more the expression Cornelio Fabro used: “immanentism.” In Karl Rahner’s anthropological turn, an important role was played by Martin Heidegger, who was his teacher. Heidegger has a great influence on many theologians. But in Fabro I think the concept of immanentism is important In his Introduzione allo studio dell’ateismo there is this passage from the immanentistic beginning to its consequences. But Fabro has also written a less known book La preghiera nel pensiero moderno, where he tried to show that, despite modern thought’s turning away from the sacred, many thinkers still have this desire of God, there is a search for prayer.  But it is evident that the spreading of immanentism in the form of a reduced anthropocentrism, which is not a true anthropocentrism, because every man is open to God; Kierkegaard said that every person is tied to God for eternity.

Cornelio Fabro was the founder of the Institute for the History of Modern Atheism and you were his successor. Which one do you fear: more an atheist or an indifferent person?

I really don’t know, to say the truth. Recently there was a person (whom I don’t want to name) who first passed to atheism (feeling more confident); then some things make him think that certain things in atheism were not so clear and so this person passed to agnosticism; recently he was baptized in the Catholic Church. Many times personal histories are very different, for some is easier to call themselves agnostics, for other atheists. Even if, generally speaking, in many of these people I think there is a spur that is there, and that we don’t know how the Holy Spirit will blow and help. It is difficult…it depends a lot in different people.

In the last decades we saw a revival of militant atheism, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. We think of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and so on, favored by modern media of communication. So there was this revival of these fighters for atheism. How do you see this?

It is difficult to say something about this. Nowadays when people look for opinions they usually ask a very narrow group of “experts” who act as a sort of spokespersons about atheism, agnosticism. In some cases, for example in France, there was the case I referred to before about the separation between Church and state. There are atheists who look for a sincere exchange. I would say that the situation is quite fluid. I am sorry that certain media outlets that are strongly attached to certain specific ideologies close in on themselves repeating the same issues. In the cultural field indeed there are many people, opinions, ideas, but these groups keep repeating the same things.

You are a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. I would like to know if you have known well Saint Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer and Blessed Álvaro del Portillo.

When I arrived here in Rome I was not even 20. I met with the founder and I gave my availability to be a priest. I entrusted my vocation to him and I was ordained priest in 1966. So I was with him from 1958 to the time of his death. And also with the Blessed Álvaro del Portillo I was close. What I have received from them is a great help for prayer, for apostolate, for service to others and I always saw in them a beautiful and joyful example, always bearing with them the cross. The Church will also bear the cross and in the cross there is also happiness.