The Real Umberto Eco: How a deeply Catholic young man became an Apostle of Anti-Catholicism

Umberto Eco: the sad parable of a nominalist

Roberto de Mattei

Corrispondenza Romana

February 24, 2016 (Courtesy of Rorate Caeli)

On February 23rd 2016, the writer Umberto Eco, who passed way on February 19th at the age of 84, had his “non-religious” funeral. Eco was one of the worst products of 20th century Italian/ Turin culture. His Turin origins need to be emphasized as Piedmont was a mine of great saints in the 19th century and of secularist, anti-Catholic intellectuals in the 20th century.

The “Turin School”, described well by Augusto Del Noce, passed from idealism to Illuminist-Marxism, maintaining its anti-Catholic, immanentist essence, thanks to the influence of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and Piero Gobetti (1901-1925). After the Second World War, this cultural line exercised such a strong influence which quite a few Catholics were attracted to.

Umberto Eco, born in Alessandria in 1932, a diocesan leader at the age of 16 in Catholic Action, was, as he himself reveals, not only an activist, but a “daily communicant”. He took part in the 1948 electoral campaign by putting up posters and distributing anti-Communist flyers. He subsequently collaborated with the presidency of Catholic Action in Rome, while studying at the University of Turin, where he graduated in 1954 with a thesis on the aesthetics of St. Thomas Aquinas, afterwards published in the only book of his worth reading (The Aesthetic Problem in St. Thomas, 1956). It was also in 1954 that he abandoned the Catholic faith.

How did his apostasy come about? Certainly it was reasoned, convinced and definitive. Eco said with derision, that he had lost the faith while reading Thomas Aquinas. However, you don’t lose the faith, you reject it and at the origin of his estrangement from the truth is not St. Thomas but philosophical Nominalism, a decadent and deformed interpretation of Thomist doctrine.

Eco was right to the very end, a radical nominalist, for whom there are no universal truths, but only names, signs and conventions. The father of Nominalism, William of Ockham, is portrayed in William of Basekerville, the protagonist of his most famous novel, The Name of the Rose (1940), which closes with a nominalist motto: «Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus». The essence of the rose (as in everything) is reduced to a name [a word]; we have but names, appearances, illusions, no truth and no certainty. Another character in the novel, Adso, states: «Gott ist ein lautes Nichts», “God is pure nothing”. Everything is, in the final analysis, a game, a dance, about nothing. The concept is the same in another philosophical novel of his, Foucault’s Pendulum (1989). Behind the metaphor of the pendulum there is a God who is merged with the void, evil and absolute darkness.

The true pendulum of Eco’s thought, was, in reality, his vacillation between the absolute rationalism of the Enlightment and the irrationality of occultism: the Kabbalah, gnosis, which he fought against but was nevertheless morbidly attracted to. If Nominalism empties reality of any meaning, the inevitable outcome is indeed a fall into irrationality. In order get out of this, all that’s left is absolute skepticism. If Norberto Bobbio (1909-2004) is the neo-Kantian version of Turin Enlightenment in the 20th century, Umberto Eco incarnates its neo-libertine version.

One of his last novels, The Prague Cemetery (2010) is an implicit apologia of the moral cynicism which necessarily follows the absence of what is true and good. In the more than five hundred pages of the book, there isn’t a single passionate ideal, nor a figure moved by love or idealism. “Hate is the true primordial passion. It is love that is an abnormal situation” Eco has Rachkovskij, one of the protagonists, say. In any case, with all the despicable characters and criminal activities the book is stuffed with, his pages lack that tragic note, which is the only thing that makes for a great literary work. The tone is sarcastic of the type of comedy where the author mocks everything and everyone, seeing that the only thing he really believes in are filets de barbue sauce hollandaise eaten at Laperouse al quais des Grands-Augustin, le écrevisses bordelaises or le mousses de Volailles at Café Anglais in rue Gramont and the filets de poularde piqués aux truffes at Rocher du Cancale in rue Montorgueil. Food is the only thing that emerges triumphant from the novel, and is continually celebrated by the protagonist, who confesses: “Food has always satisfied me more than sex. Perhaps an imprint left on me by the priests.” It is not by chance, that in 1992, Eco was taken to hospital and given to be almost dead as a result of colossal indigestion.

Eco was technically a great juggler, given that he made a mockery of everyone: his readers, his critics and most of all the Catholics who invited him to their conferences like he was some kind of oracle. At the time of the referendum for divorce in 1974, he spoke in jest to the supporters of divorce from the columns of “Espresso” * by appealing for intelligent planning in their propagandistic campaign, with the following words: “The referendum campaign will have to be free from supposed theories, unscrupulous, immediate and steered to have effect in a short period of time. Targeted especially at a public which is easy prey to emotive solicitations, it will have to sell a positive image of divorce which exactly overturns the emotive appeals of the opposing side […]. The themes of this “sales” campaign should be: divorce is good for the family, divorce is good for women, divorce is good for children […]. For years Italian advertisers have been experiencing a crisis of identity: well-educated and informed, they know they are the object of sociological criticism, which shows them as faithful servants of consumerist power […]. They attempt free -publicity campaigns in defense of the environment and for the donation of blood. Yet, they feel excluded from the great problems of their time and are condemned to the selling of soap. The battle for the referendum will be the proof of the sincerity of many, oft-declared, civic aspirations. All that’s needed is for a group of expert, dynamic, unscrupulous, democratic agencies to co-ordinate and auto-finance support of this type of campaign. All that’s needed is a round of telephone-calls, two meetings and a month of intense work. The destruction of a taboo in a few short months is a challenge that should make the mouth water of any advertising agent who loves his job […].

The taboo to destroy was the family, which for a relativist like him, had no reason at all to exist. Since 1974, the destruction of the family has continued in successive stages. Eco happily went along with it, leaving the scene [right] on the eve of the approval of homosexual unions – the final outcome of the introduction of divorce some forty years ago. The natural family has been substituted by an unnatural one. Relativism celebrates its apparent victory.

Umberto Eco contributed significantly to the work of desecrating the natural, Christian order of things, yet what he will have to answer for is not so much the evil he did, as much as the good he could have done if he hadn’t rejected the Truth. What’s the use of forty honoris causa degrees and the sale of thirty million copies of one single book (The Name of the Rose) if you don’t gain eternal life? The young, Catholic Action activist could have been a St. Francis Xavier in this mission land which is the Europe of today. Yet he didn’t accept the words that St. Ignatius said to St. Francis Xavier and that God has echoing in every Christian heart: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the loss of his own soul?”
[*Espresso –weekly magazine of the daily newspaper “La Repubblica” | Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana.]

Take Courage and Prepare for Battle

POST-SYNOD CHURCH & UNBELIEVERS IN THE HIERARCHY

Rorate Caeli: In the recent Synod, we will not know the legal impact it will have on the Church for some time, as it’s up to Pope Francis to move next. Regardless of the eventual outcome, for all intent and purposes, is there already a schism in the Church? And, if so, what does it mean practically speaking? How will it manifest itself for typical Catholics in the pews?

H.E. Schneider: Schism means according to the definition of the Code of Canon Law, can. 751: The refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with those members of the Church who are submitted to the Supreme Pontiff. One has to distinguish the defect in belief or heresy from schism. The defect in belief or heresy is indeed a greater sin than schism, as Saint Thomas Aquinas said: “Unbelief is a sin committed against God Himself, according as He is Himself the First Truth, on which faith is founded; whereas schism is opposed to ecclesiastical unity, which is a lesser good than God Himself. Wherefore the sin of unbelief is generically more grievous than the sin of schism” (II-II, q. 39, a. 2 c).

The very crisis of the Church in our days consists in the ever growing phenomenon that those who don’t fully believe and profess the integrity of the Catholic faith frequently occupy strategic positions in the life of the Church, such as professors of theology, educators in seminaries, religious superiors, parish priests and even bishops and cardinals. And these people with their defective faith profess themselves as being submitted to the Pope.

The height of confusion and absurdity manifests itself when such semi-heretical clerics accuse those who defend the purity and integrity of the Catholic faith as being against the Pope – as being according to their opinion in some way schismatics. For simple Catholics in the pews, such a situation of confusion is a real challenge of their faith, in the indestructibility of the Church. They have to keep strong the integrity of their faith according to the immutable Catholic truths, which were handed over by our fore-fathers, and which we find in in the Traditional catechisms and in the works of the Fathers and of the Doctors of the Church.

Rorate Caeli: Speaking of typical Catholics, what will the typical parish priest face now that he didn’t face before the Synod began? What pressures, such as the washing of women’s feet on Maundy Thursday after the example of Francis, will burden the parish priest even more than he is burdened today?

H.E. Schneider: A typical Catholic parish priest should know well the perennial sense of the Catholic faith, the perennial sense as well of the laws of the Catholic liturgy and, knowing this, he should have an interior sureness and firmness. He should always remember the Catholic principle of discernment: “Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus”, i.e. “What has been always, everywhere and from all” believed and practiced.

The categories “always, everywhere, all” are not to be understood in an arithmetical, but in a moral sense. A concrete criterion for discernment is this: “Does this change in a doctrinal affirmation, in a pastoral or in a liturgical practice constitute a rupture with the centuries-old, or even with the millennial past? And does this innovation really make the faith shine clearer and brighter? Does this liturgical innovation bring to us closer the sanctity of God, or manifest deeper and more beautiful the Divine mysteries? Does this disciplinary innovation really increase a greater zeal for the holiness of life?”

As concretely to the innovation of washing the feet of women during the Holy Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday: This Holy Mass celebrates the commemoration of the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Therefore, the foot washing of women along with the men not only distracts from the main focus on Eucharist and on Priesthood, but generates confusion regarding the historical symbolism of the “twelve” and of the apostles being of male sex. The universal tradition of the Church never allowed the foot washing during the Holy Mass, but instead outside of Mass, in a special ceremony.

By the way: the public washing and usually also kissing of the feet of women on the part of a man, in our case, of a priest or a bishop, is considered by every person of common sense in all cultures as being improper and even indecent. Thanks be to God no priest or bishop is obliged to wash publicly the feet of women on Holy Thursday, for there is no binding norm for it, and the foot washing itself is only facultative.

PRIESTLY FRATERNITY OF ST. PIUS X (SSPX)

Rorate Caeli: A non-typical situation in the church is the Priestly Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Why does Your Excellency think that so many Catholics are afraid of the SSPX or anxious about any association with it? From what Your Excellency has seen, what gifts do you think the SSPX can bring to the mainstream Church?

H.E. Schneider: When someone or something is unimportant and weak, nobody has fear of it. Those who have fear of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X ultimately have fear of the perennial Catholic truths and of its demands in the moral and the liturgical domain.

When the SSPX tries to believe, to worship and to live morally the way our fore-fathers and the best-known Saints did during a millennial period, then one has to consider the life and the work of these Catholic priests and faithful of the SSPX as a gift for the Church in our days – even as one of the several instruments which the Divine Providence uses to remedy the enormity of the current general crisis of the faith, of the morals and of the liturgy inside the Church.

In some sectors of the SSPX there are, however, as it is the case in every human society some eccentric personalities. They have a method and a mindset which lack justice and charity and consequently the true “sentire cum ecclesia,” and there is the danger of an ecclesial autocephaly and to be the last judicial instance in the Church. However, to my knowledge, the healthier part corresponds to the major part of the SSPX and I consider their General Superior, His Excellency Monsignor Bernard Fellay, as an exemplarily and true Catholic bishop. There is some hope for a canonical recognition of the SPPX.

THE SYNOD AND PAPALOTRY

Rorate Caeli: Back on the Synod, while focusing on tradition, does Your Excellency believe that the changes in the Roman liturgy post-Vatican II contributed to the current crisis in the Church, the crisis of marriage, the family and societal morality in general??

H.E. Schneider: I wouldn’t affirm this in such a way. Indeed the very source of the current crisis in the Church, the crisis of marriage, of the family and of the morality in general is not the liturgical reform, but the defects in faith, the doctrinal relativism, from which flows the moral and liturgical relativism. For, if I believe in a defective manner, I will live a defective moral life and I will worship in a defective, indifferent manner. It is necessary first to restore the clearness and firmness of the doctrine of faith and of morals in all levels and, from there, start to improve the liturgy. The integrity and the beauty of the faith demands the integrity and the beauty of one’s moral life and this demands the integrity and the beauty of the public worship.

Rorate Caeli: Still on the Synod, it is clear to those with eyes to see that Pope Francis caused confusion instead of clarity in the Synod process, and encouraged a turn toward rupture by elevating the role of Cardinals Kaspar and Danneels, Archbishop Cupich, etc. What is the proper attitude a Catholic should have towards the pope in these troubled times? Are Catholics obliged to make their views known and “resist” as Cardinal Burke said in an interview last year with us, even when their views are critical of the pope?

H.E. Schneider: For several past generations until our days there reigns in the life of the Church a kind of “pope-centrism” or a kind of “papolatria” which is undoubtedly excessive compared with the moderate and supernatural vision of the person of the Pope and his due veneration in the past times. Such an excessive attitude towards the person of the Pope generates in the practice an excessive and wrong theological meaning regarding the dogma of the Papal infallibility.

If the Pope would tell the entire church to do something, which would directly damage an unchangeable Divine truth or a Divine commandment, every Catholic would have the right to correct him in a due respectful form, moved out of reverence and love for the sacred office, and person of the Pope. The Church is not the private property of the Pope. The Pope can’t say “I am the Church,” as it did the French king Louis XIV, who said: “L’État c’est moi.” The Pope is only the Vicar, not the successor of Christ.

The concerns about the purity of the faith is ultimately a matter of all members of the Church, which is one, and a unique living body. In the ancient times before entrusting to someone the office of a priest and of a bishop, the faithful were asked if they can guarantee that the candidate had the right faith, and a high moral conduct. The old Pontificale Romanum says: “The captain of a ship and its passengers alike have reason to feel safe or else in danger on a voyage, therefore they ought to be of one mind in their common interests.” It was the Second Vatican Council, which very much encouraged the lay faithful to contribute to the authentic good of the Church, in strengthening the faith.

I think in a time in which a great part of the holders of the office of the Magisterium are negligent in their sacred duty, the Holy Spirit calls today, namely the faithful, to step into the breach and defend courageously with an authentic “sentire cum ecclesia” the Catholic faith.

TRADITION AND ITS ENEMIES FROM WITHIN

Rorate Caeli: Is the pope the measure of tradition, or is he measured by tradition? And should faithful Catholics pray for a traditional pope to arrive soon?

H.E. Schneider: The Pope is surely not the measure of tradition, but on the contrary. We must always bear in mind the following dogmatic teaching of the First Vatican Council: The office of the successors of Peter does not consist in making known some new doctrine, but in guarding and faithfully expounding the deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles (cf. Constitutio dogmatica Pastor aeternus, cap. 4).

In fulfilling one of his most important tasks, the Pope has to strive so that “the whole flock of Christ might be kept away from the poisonous food of error” (First Vatican Council, ibd.). The following expression which was in use since the first centuries of the Church, is one of the most striking definitions of the Papal office, and has to be in some sense a second nature of every Pope: “Faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith” (First Vatican Council, ibd.).

We must always pray that God provides His Church with traditional-minded Popes. However, we have to believe in these words: “It is not for you to have knowledge of the time and the order of events which the Father has kept in his control” (Acts 1: 7).

Rorate Caeli: We know there are many bishops and cardinals – possibly the majority – who want to change the Church’s doctrinal language and long-standing discipline, under the excuses of “development of doctrine” and “pastoral compassion.” What is wrong with their argument?

H.E. Schneider: Expressions like “development of doctrine” and “pastoral compassion” are in fact usually a pretext to change the teaching of Christ, and against its perennial sense and integrity, as the Apostles had transmitted it to the whole Church, and it was faithfully preserved through the Fathers of the Church, the dogmatic teachings of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Popes.

Ultimately, those clerics want another Church, and even another religion: A naturalistic religion, which is adapted to the spirit of the time. Such clerics are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, often flirting with the world. Not courageous shepherds – but rather cowardly rabbits.

ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

Rorate Caeli: We hear a lot about the role of women in the Church today – the so-called “feminine genius.” Women obviously have played a critical role in the Church since the beginning, starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary. But liturgically, Christ made His position crystal clear, as have pre-Conciliar popes. Does Your Excellency believe that female involvement in the liturgy, whether it’s women taking part in the Novus Ordo Mass or girl altar boys, has played a positive or negative role in the Church the last four decades?

H.E. Schneider: There is no doubt about the fact that the female involvement in the liturgical services at the altar (reading the lecture, serving at the altar, distributing Holy Communion) represents a radical rupture with the entire and universal tradition of the Church. Therefore, such a practice is against the Apostolic tradition.

Such a practice gave to the liturgy of the Holy Mass a clear Protestant shape and a characteristic of an informal prayer meeting or of a catechetical event. This practice is surely contrary to the intentions of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and there is not in the least an indication for it in the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.

THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS

Rorate Caeli: Your Excellency is well known for celebrating the traditional Latin Mass in many places around the world. What does Your Excellency find to be the deepest lessons learned from saying the Latin Mass, as a priest and as a bishop, that other priests and bishops may hope to gain by saying the traditional Mass themselves?

H.E. Schneider: The deepest lessons I learned from celebrating the traditional form of the Mass is this: I am only a poor instrument of a supernatural and utmost sacred action, whose principal celebrant is Christ, the Eternal High Priest. I feel that during the celebration of the Mass I lost in some sense my individual freedom, for the words and the gesture are prescribed even in their smallest details, and I am not able to dispose of them. I feel most deeply in my heart that I am only a servant and a minister who yet with free will, with faith and love, fulfill not my will, but the will of Another.

The traditional and more than millennial-old rite of the Holy Mass, which not even the Council of Trent changed, because the Ordo Missae before and after that Council was almost identical, proclaims and powerfully evangelizes the Incarnation and the Epiphany of the ineffably saintly and immense God, who in the liturgy as “God with us,” as “Emmanuel,” becomes so little and so close to us. The traditional rite of the Mass is a highly artfully and, at the same time, a powerful proclamation of the Gospel, realizing the work of our salvation.

Rorate Caeli: If Pope Benedict is correct in saying that the Roman Rite currently (if strangely) exists in two forms rather than one, why has it not yet happened that all seminarians are required to study and learn the traditional Latin Mass, as part of their seminary training? How can a parish priest of the Roman Church not know both forms of the one rite of his Church? And how can so many Catholics still be denied the traditional Mass and sacraments if it is an equal form?

H.E. Schneider: According to the intention of Pope Benedict XVI, and the clear norms of the Instruction “Universae Ecclesiae,” all Catholic seminarians have to know the traditional form of the Mass and be able to celebrate it. The same document says that this form of Mass is a treasure for the entire Church – thus it is for all of the faithful.

Pope John Paul II made an urgent appeal to all bishops to accommodate generously the wish of the faithful regarding the celebration of the traditional form of the Mass. When clerics and bishops obstruct or restrict the celebration of the traditional Mass, they don’t obey what the Holy Spirit says to the Church, and they are acting in a very anti-pastoral way. They behave as the possessors of the treasure of the liturgy, which does not belong to them, for they are only administrators.

In denying the celebration of the traditional Mass or in obstructing and discriminating against it, they behave like an unfaithful and capricious administrator who – contrary to the instructions of the house-father – keeps the pantry under lock or like a wicked stepmother who gives the children a meager fare. Perhaps such clerics have fear of the great power of the truth irradiating from the celebration of the traditional Mass. One can compare the traditional Mass with a lion: Let him free, and he will defend himself.

RUSSIA NOT YET EXPLICITLY CONSECRATED

Rorate Caeli: There are many Russian Orthodox where Your Excellency lives. Has Alexander of Astana or anyone else in the Moscow Patriarchate asked Your Excellency about the recent Synod or about what is happening to the Church under Francis? Do they even care at this point?

H.E. Schneider: Those Orthodox Prelates, with whom I have contact, generally are not well informed about the internal current disputes in the Catholic Church, or at least they had never spoken with me about such issues. Even though they don’t recognize the jurisdictional primacy of the Pope, they nevertheless look on the Pope as the first hierarchical office in the Church, from a point of view of the order of protocol.

Rorate Caeli: We are just a year away from the 100th anniversary of Fatima. Russia was arguably not consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and certainly not converted. The Church, while ever spotless, is in complete disarray – maybe worse than during the Arian Heresy. Will things get even worse before they get better and how should truly faithful Catholics prepare for what is coming?

H.E. Schneider: We have to believe firmly: The Church is not ours, nor the Pope’s. The Church is Christ’s and He alone holds and leads her indefectibly even through the darkest periods of crisis, as our current situation indeed is.

This is a demonstration of the Divine character of the Church. The Church is essentially a mystery, a supernatural mystery, and we cannot approach her as we approach a political party or a pure human society. At the same time, the Church is human and on her human level she is nowadays enduring a sorrowful passion, participating in the Passion of Christ.

One can think that the Church in our days is being flagellated as our Lord, is being denuded as was Our Lord, on the tenth Cross station. The Church, our mother, is being bound in cords not only by the enemies of Christ but also by some of their collaborators in the rank of the clergy, even sometimes of the high clergy.

All good children of Mother Church as courageous soldiers we have to try to free this mother – with the spiritual weapons of defending and proclaiming the truth, promoting the traditional liturgy, Eucharistic adoration, the crusade of the Holy Rosary, the battle against the sin in one’s private life and striving for holiness.

We have to pray that the Pope may soon consecrate explicitly Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, then She will win, as the Church prayed since the old times: “Rejoice O Virgin Mary, for thou alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world” (Gaude, Maria Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo).

Originally published by Rorate Caeli