‘Men of Research’

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 Damien F. Mackey



“It reveals the whole problem of knowledge that remains self-sufficient

and so does not arrive at Truth itself, which ought to transform man”.



Blissfully Ignorant


There is a world of difference between knowing ‘stuff’ and being truly wise.

As I have written before, the universities are full of clever academics who know much about a lot of things, but who are unable to synthesise that vast knowledge in a coherent fashion.

True Wisdom is tied up with God, and it transforms rather than debases whoever possesses it (Proverbs 9:10): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence”.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen had written of ‘men of research’ in relation to Herod and the chief priest and scribes in their efforts to pin-point the geographical beginnings of the Messiah in the case of the visit of the Magi. And I continued that theme in my:


Geographical Origins of Prophet Jonah. Part One: He could not have been from Galilee




These men, “the chief priests and the Pharisees”, were expert in the sacred Scriptures – the Law and the Prophets – which they knew in the tiniest detail. So, when they asserted before Nicodemus that ‘none of the prophets had hailed from Galilee’, I take them to be quite right. They challenged Nicodemus to “search and … see”, knowing that a thorough investigation of the matter would prove them to be correct. These were, like Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, had described Herod, men ‘of research’. They knew ‘stuff’. But they lacked wisdom. Fulton Sheen explained in another place (http://www.catholictradition.org/Christmas/christ-child10.htm):


When the Magi came from the East bringing gifts for the Babe, Herod the Great knew that the time had come for the birth of the King announced clearly to the Jews, and apprehended dimly in the aspirations of the Gentiles. But like all carnal-minded men, he lacked a spiritual sense, and therefore felt certain that the King would be a political one. He made inquiries as to where Christ was to be born. The chief priests and learned men told him, “At Bethlehem in Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” Herod said that he wanted to worship the Babe. But his actions proved that he really meant, “If this is the Messiah, I must kill Him.”

When Herod saw how the astrologers had tricked him he fell into a passion, and gave orders for the massacre of all children in Bethlehem and its neighborhood, of the age of two years or less, corresponding with the time he had ascertained from the astrologers. [Matthew 2:16]

Herod will forever be the model of those who make inquiries about religion, but who never act rightly on the knowledge they receive. Like train announcers, they know all the stations, but never travel. Head knowledge is worthless, unless accompanied by submission of the will and right action.


Just as Herod was able to ascertain from “the chief priests and the learned men [Pharisees?]” that the King of the Jews was to be born “at Bethlehem in Judea”, so did “the chief priests and the Pharisees” well know that none of the prophets – and they were ‘building tombs for them’ (Luke 11:47) – had hailed from Galilee. Their ancestors had killed many of these same prophets. And Jesus, whom “the chief priests and the Pharisees” were intending to murder (John 11:53) – even though they were quite aware that He had raised Lazarus from the dead (11:46) – had also, as a child, been marked for death by Herod.

Apparently intelligence and learning are, on their own, not enough. They can lead to murder.

[End of quotes]


A reader (in 2011) predicted the eventual downfall of a conventional Egyptian chronology that fails to enlighten, but rather causes confusion:


Those holding to the old orthodoxy of Egyptian History will soon vanish and out of the mists will arise a new historical chronology that will again dramatically shorten the length of Egyptian chronology. I think the works of Velikovsky, Courville … and others will eventually unseat the modern Pharisees and Sadduccees who hold sway over the old orthodoxy which is dying as the revisionists get their ideas out in the internet. I hope that you are actively engaged in further research and I suspect you realize that the Hebrew Chronology which influenced three of the major religions in history is more critical than the Egyptian documents that are carved in stone as almost nothing in the Egyptian Chronology matches that of the Hebrews. Keep up the great research.


[End of quote]

“Not Knowing”


Now, Pope Benedict XVI has written astutely on this theme of ‘expert knowledge coupled with ignorance’ in his 2011 book, Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (p. 207), in which he would excuse those who are not wilfully ignorant:


Once again, the theme of “not knowing” appears in one of Saint Paul’s autobiographical reflections. He recalls that he himself “formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted” Jesus; then he continues: “but I received mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim 1:13). In view of his earlier self-assurance as a perfect disciple of the Law, who knew and lived by the Scriptures, these are strong words; he who had studied under the best masters and who might reasonably have considered himself a real expert on the Scriptures, had to acknowledge, in retrospect, that he was ignorant. Yet his very ignorance is what saved him and made him fit for conversion and forgiveness. This combination of expert knowledge and deep ignorance certainly causes us to ponder. It reveals the whole problem of knowledge that remains self-sufficient and so does not arrive at Truth itself, which ought to transform man. ….

[End of quote]



Part Two: Philosophy and Faith




“Most people have some degree of higher education and so are accustomed to dealing with complex issues in a sophisticated manner in other areas of life. But when it comes to their faith, or when it comes to an outlook on how life is, they have been brought up on a diet of simplistic fluff”.


Bishop Richard Umbers





Need for Metaphysics


The case for metaphysics is given by Bishop Umbers in The Catholic Weekly (16 April 2017), pp. 18, 23:


… the recovery of metaphysics is necessary to the re-evangelisation of culture.

“Metaphysics is the ‘first philosophy’. … It deals with the question of God, the question of the world and of the soul, of the state of ‘being inasmuch as it is being’ or [in Latin] ens qua ens.  It is looking at the technical aspect of reality.

Since the ancient Greeks, the world’s greatest thinkers were, first and foremost, metaphysicians. It was the gold standard of intellectual pursuit.


In the Modern Era, metaphysics has been slowly replaced with epistemology, the question of how we know things. In this way, the focus of the world’s thinkers shifted from objective Truth, to subjective knowledge. Although it may have fallen out of fashion, Bishop Umbers explains how metaphysics still operates as the basis of all thought – even for those who expressly claim the opposite.

“When we say that philosophy doesn’t matter, (as) scientists like Lawrence Kraus and Stephen [Hawking] (say), they are actually making metaphysical assumptions. They are just doing bad metaphysics” ….


“Most people have some degree of higher education and so are accustomed to dealing with complex issues in a sophisticated manner in other areas of life. But when it comes to their faith, or when it comes to an outlook on how life is, they have been brought up on a diet of simplistic fluff”.

This inverse proportion between people’s general education and their philosophical and faith formation “creates a false dichotomy between faith and reason” ….

Metaphysics is a “certain training of the mind” and … it is a gruelling, but rewarding, ride. “You have to be prepared to read. There are no short cuts. There are no easy courses. You can’t use your imagination when doing metaphysics, it is purely conceptual … it is less about “gooey feelings” and more about “well though-through positions”.

Apart from being difficult, the biggest obstacle to learning metaphysics is knowing where to begin.

“It would be good to have a teacher … especially when you first set out, you tend to get many things wrong”.


But more than anything, Bishop Umbers encourages people to hit the books themselves.


[End of quote]


Whilst Bishop Umbers traditionally points would-be readers in the direction of the Greeks, I would be suggesting the Hebrews, and books such as this one by Peter Kreeft.


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