Jacques Maritain Center

Characters in Search of Their Author

The Gifford Lectures, Glasgow, 1999-2000

Ralph McInerny

University of Notre Dame Press
Notre Dame, Indiana
Copyright 2001

Mario Enrique Sacchi
Querido amigo

Nox nocti indicat scientiam

          -- Ps.18*

*Sed tempus noctis est tempus meditationis propter quietem;
et ideo in quiete noctis homo meditatur, et adinvenit
multa ex quibus fit sciens, et ideo est tempus scientiae.
          -- St. Thomas

Though giant rains put out the sun,
Here stand I for a sign,
Though earth be filled with waters dark
My cup is filled with wine.

Tell to the trembling priests that here
Under the deluge rod,
One nameless, tattered, broken man
Stood up and drank to God.

          -- G. K. Chesterton




1. Personal Prejudice and Natural Theology

Believers bring antecedent convictions to the task of natural theology, but so do non-believers. Does this simply relativize their answers, making them a function of their antecedent convictions?

2. Friends and Foes of Natural Theology

Once the position according to which God can be known by natural reason was opposed by its contradictory which was supposed to be true. The Epistemological Turn has led of late to the disappearance of the concept of truth.

3. Atheism Is Not the Default Position

Gaudium et spes observes that atheism is not the original position. It is a negation that presupposes an affirmation. Modern atheism is the story of the loss of faith. The loss of faith is a consequence of the starting point of modern philosophy.

4. Radical Chic

Philosophy develops along with its dark twin skepticism. Is the denial of skepticism merely an option? The defense of first principles. One cannot coherently deny that truth is possible.

5. Natural and Supernatural Theology

Kierkegaard who denies natural theology and Newman who affirms it both take the subjective route. If faith is the only way to the truth about God, fideism looms. Can the subjective approach avoid fideism?


6. Aspects of Argument

If theism is true, atheism is false. Natural theology resides on the possibility of proving that God exists. What can a proof effect? Proofs lead to the acquisition of a truth, not to a moral change.

7. Intemperate Reasoning

Natural theology is an instance of speculative philosophy. How does speculative thinking differ from practical ? Romans 1:19 suggests a connection between knowing that God exists and moral change. This does not disturb the distinction between the speculative and practical.

8. Truth and Subjectivity

Both Kierkegaard and Newman hold that objectivity presupposes subjectivity. Kierkegaard's definition of subjective truth applies to prudential judgments and to the act of divine faith. Does Newman generalize Aristotle's practical truth across all knowledge?

9. That God Exists

The proof from motion remains sound and cogent despite progress in our knowledge of nature. The premises of the proof considered as pre-scientific knowledge. Is there an ordinary pre-philosophical knowledge of God?

10. Faith and Reason

To know and to believe are radically different. Does the notion of Christian philosophy smudge their difference? Fides et ratio, and three States of philosophy: pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian. Why I am a Christian philosopher.


          After I received the invitation to give a series of Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, I perused the volumes of previous lecturers with renewed interest. It soon became apparent to me that the usual procedure was this. The lecturer delivered his lectures at the appointed time and then a period of varying length, often years, intervened during which the lectures were prepared for publication. Since I would be fulfilling my assignment when I had reached the allotted three score and ten, I felt it would be hubristic to assume that I might be given adequate time to follow this procedure. Accordingly, I decided to reverse it.

          I wrote a book which bears the title Praeambula Fidei, a philosophical book of the usual kind, full of arguments, exegesis, and documentation. Its length would have made reading it in Glasgow out of the question, and its style would have guaranteed a soporific experience to those who came to the lecture hall. Furthermore, Lord Gifford intended the lectures to be intelligible to a cultivated but non-professional audience and, while the general culture of Scotland permits a more demanding style than would be advisable elsewhere, the lectures I gave struck a lighter note than the book to which I have referred.

          In order to underscore the different key in which I am playing variations on my theme, I gave the actual lectures a title of their own. Those who find them somewhat swift in places, arguments being suggested rather than developed, may perhaps find what they want in Praeambula Fidei when it appears. For in this at least I will mimic the usual procedure, publishing the lectures I actually gave before publishing the book on which, sometimes remotely, they are based.

          I must thank Professor Alexander Broadie, and the other members of the Gifford committee of the University of Glasgow for the great honor they paid me in asking me to give these lectures. My stay in Glasgow was intellectually stimulating and socially entertaining, and I look back on it with pleasure and gratitude. I would be remiss indeed if I did not say how enormously helpful Mrs. Eileen Reynolds was in seeing after the innumerable details involved in making a visiting scholar feel welcome. She and Mrs. Alice Osberger, Administrative Assistant of the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame, joined forces, pooling their formidable resources of efficiency. I am grateful to them both. To Sir Jimmy Armour, with whom I played Royal Troon, many thanks for his generosity and patience. Finally I want to thank Stanley Jaki, O.S.B., for sending me a copy of his history of the Gifford Lectures, Lord Gifford and His Lectures, an indispensable book.

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