The Question of Dualism
Not too long ago, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete was walking on the avenue by the United Nations building. There happened to be several protests going on at the U.N. that day. A woman reporter with a microphone came up to him on the sidewalk and said, “Sir, are you here to protest something?”
He looked her in the eye and deadpanned, "I’m protesting dualism.” She ran away.
Fr. Julian Carron says that dualism leads to nihilism. I think that what he is getting at is that dualism denies the religious sense. By religious sense, I mean the seeming innate ability for human being to sense the existence of a higher power. And, by dualism, I understand that Fr. Carron means the post-Cartesian, post-modern dualism.
Let’s first put this in perspective. Most of the thought of Western civilization is dualistic. Platonism and neo-Platonism are very dualistic. The Manicheans were notoriously dualistic, far more than the Greeks. As a matter of fact, in definitions of dualism in various encyclopedias and websites, the example often given is Manichaeanism.
Although Augustine vigorously rejected all of the Manichaean doctrines, he retained a latent-Manichaean and strongly dualistic perspective on reality.
I saw the History channel documentary titled Sex and the Bible. A surprise to me, I thought it was very good—informative and thought provoking, with seemingly no ideological agenda. The commentators were all women seminary or college professors. They were respectful of Augustine but gently and firmly critical of his dualism. One said that the extreme dualism between body and soul found in Augustine is not Biblically justified. I am unaware of any reason to disagree. It goes without saying that Christians should be as Biblically grounded as possible and that is something that Augustine himself would agree with whole-heartedly.
Another perspective on this is that some of the Greek Bishops and thinkers that were contemporary with the converted Augustine considered him to be not much more than a Manichaean in Christian clothing. To be fair, I think some of this attitude was simply based on suspicion from his Manichaean days, as much as anything else. Also, to be fair and balanced, it should be pointed out that throughout his service as a bishop, Augustine was continually fighting major heresies; yet, he never once got into a conflict over doctrine with his Greek contemporaries.
One Orthodox person today expressed it to me that they do not consider Augustine’s conversion to have been complete. Of course they accept Augustine’s confession, experience of being born again, profession of faith and Baptism as valid. Their complaint is that he did not fully purge himself of his extremely dualistic worldview. One might discount some of this attitude as resulting from cultural differences and associated overtones of suspicion and paranoia between the Latin and Greek Church. However, the Greek speaking Christian thinkers had previously had to deal with the issue of dualism coming from Greek philosophy. I have been told they rejected the dualism from Greek philosophy that was not consistent with Christianity. I take it on face value that the Greeks know non-Christian dualism when they see it. I have the great respect for Orthodox thought, and in this case I side with the Orthodox in their indictment of Augustine’s dualism.
I hope, and prefer to think, that the attitudes and beliefs expressed by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete and Fr. Julian Carron represent the trend of orthodox, contemporary Roman Catholic thought. Thankfully, it does appear that Roman Catholic thought today is more grounded in the Bible than ever before.