Appeared in Vol. XV, No. 2, 3 Download PDF here

Two Ways to Knowledge


Today we have a surplus of prophets of doom for Western, Christian civilization. Many, but not all, correctly see that the abandonment of Christianity, and by that I mean primarily Catholicism, is leading the West to confusion, chaos and final dissolution.

The massive move to materialism and atheism is certainly a part of the problem. But we should ask: Why do Christians become atheists? I’m sure there are many reasons for the slide into atheism, but the neglect of serious thinking about the objective world of reality in which man lives is certainly one of them. This has come about, in my opinion, because too many of our intellectual leaders have a false understanding of human nature, especially man’s intellectual endowments.

Man is neither an angel nor a beast. He is a composite, unified being with two unified powers of sense and intellect. If we do not have a correct understanding of the nature of sense knowledge and the nature of intellectual knowledge, plus the difference and the relationship between them, then the way is open for all kinds of errors with regard to the individual man and his life with others in society.

The reigning theory about man today seems to be summed up aptly in the well-known slogan from Burger King, “Have it your way!” That philosophy may be good for ordering hamburgers, but it is disastrous when applied to truth and moral goodness. For man is a moral being who finds himself in a world he did not make. Therefore, he does not create his own truth and goodness, but must find them in the real, extra-mental world which is here when he arrives and remains when he is gone.

One aspect of the false understanding of human nature which is so prevalent today is mental confusion about the difference between knowing and meaning. In this essay the author shows conclusively that there is a significant difference between, the concept (simple apprehension) which is caused by extra-mental, real things, and meaning which is derived from concepts and arbitrarily attached by social consensus to words or symbols.

Subjectivism and an over-reliance on the physical and social sciences, which tend to reduce all knowledge to sense knowledge, have had deleterious effects on some explanations of the Catholic faith. For if all knowledge is reduced to “experience” as is common in certain new forms of catechetics, and if it is asserted that we can “experience” only material things in space and time, then there can be no knowledge of the Trinity, Incarnation, grace, Heaven, Hell, and so forth. The author wisely moves beyond the philosophical and theoretical to show how a proper understanding of the definition of meaning has consequences on catechetics, liturgy, academic freedom, and the dissident magisterium.

Father Halbach’s brilliant essay should be read by those who teach the Catholic faith and communicate it to others. For a correct understanding of the “definition of meaning” which is offered here, plus its implementation in Catholic teaching, will make the voice of the Church sound like a clear trumpet in a confused and despairing world.

-Kenneth Baker, S.J., Editor Homiletic & Pastoral Review


Mankind has two ways of getting extra-mental knowledge. The first and basic way of learning is through direct contact with the world around us by using the senses – seeing, hearing, touch, etc. The second way of learning is, in contrast, through indirect contact with the world through the use of signs and symbols, largely words spoken or written. Clearly the attention focuses on the two ways to knowledge, not on knowledge itself, which remains the same in both ways. Still, the second way to knowledge through the use of symbols gives to this knowledge a different quality or value.

It is a universal phenomenon of language that learning acquired the first way is called knowledge (scientia), while learning by the second way is called meaning (significatio). There has to be an explanation, a rationale for this “behavior” of universal language. But if people do not know the difference between knowledge and meaning, which together constitute building blocks of mental life, can they know how to use these correctly and/or for the right purposes? To know these two ways of learning and their correct uses will then be of benefit to all thinking persons.

Of these two terms, knowledge and meaning, meaning has been the more controversial and has caused the most confusion among American psychologists. This chapter of epistemology has not yet been completed by American experimental psychologists. Experimental psychology has observed the centennial of its founding (1874) and the American branch of that science is approaching the centennial of its appearance in American academia. This monograph attempts hopefully to revive some interest in this unfinished area of epistemology. Epistemology can be defined provisionally as the study of the conditions, values and limits of knowledge. And since currently there is no agreement with regard to the precise problems epistemology embraces, this study will not hesitate to examine subjects that fall within the compass of both philosophy and psychology, both of which concern the study of the human mind.1

Gospel Testimony

Jesus Christ was and is the first among all psychologists. Naturally. He is the Word through Whom all things were made, visible and invisible, including the human mind. In His gospel Jesus makes reference to two ways that men gain knowledge. The first way: after teaching the crowd in parables one day, Jesus was asked by His disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered: “I use parables when I speak to them because they look but do not see, they listen but do not hear or understand…. But blest are your eyes because they see and blest are your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13, lOff). In this reply Jesus clearly teaches that people are to use their eyes and their ears, and all their sense faculties to learn truth. This is the original and basic way that mankind will learn the truths of the world around them.

The second way: on Easter evening Jesus appeared to His apostles when Thomas was absent. Having seen Jesus in His risen body, they knew He had risen from the dead. This was not an act of faith. They learned this truth through man’s first way of knowing, the use of the senses. When they told this to Thomas later, he refused to believe what they said until a week later when Jesus appeared again in His risen body, and Thomas said: “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus said: “You became a believer because you saw Me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20, 28f). Clearly, Jesus has posited two ways of knowing: the first way depending primarily on the use of the senses, the second not so directly dependent on the senses, to which Jesus strangely gives higher value rating. He also distinguished the second way by naming its end result, believing, instead of knowing. This emphasizes further the real difference in the two ways of learning.


Another treatment of the two ways persons learn external knowledge is found in a source older than the Gospel, namely, perennial philosophy, begun by the Greek philosophers, principally Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), and perfected by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.). Etienne Gilson, reputed historian of Thomistic philosophy, presents the first way “which Aquinas used to call the simple intellection of concepts consisting in the simple apprehension of essences.” This demands the intentional use of the sense organs in perceiving objective reality. This knowing act of the intellect – intellection of concepts – is the original and basic source of man’s knowledge. This is the use of the intellect that Christ praised in His followers when they see what they look at and understand what they hear. The philosopher calls this act “apprehensio,” and its product, concept.2

Jesus warned: “Take heed, therefore, how you hear: to the man who has, more will be given; and he who has not, will lose even the little he thinks he has” (Luke 8, 18). Christ shows how foundational is the first way to knowledge. If the faculty to gain knowledge through the senses is not exercised assiduously and honestly, there will be no consequent gain of knowledge. This psychological principle appears later in this study where the second way to knowledge is found to work effectively only after requisite knowledge has been acquired through the senses. Christ the Teacher offers guidance to the learner.

Gilson next mentions a second class of intellectual operations which Thomas Aquinas called “Composition and Division” and in modern terms are known as Judgment and Reasoning. These mental acts however produce only internal knowledge and are excluded from this study.

Gilson introduces the second way to extra-mental knowledge in Chapter 10, “Man and Knowledge.” He writes: “It is commonly said words are sensible signs or marks of the ideas a speaker has in mind when using them. Now this `meaning’ or `signification’ is not a word, it is not the voice of the speaker, nor is it in any sense of the term a thing. It has no materiality; so much so, that it cannot even be the object of sense perception. For we can hear a spoken word, but we do not `hear’ its meaning, we `understand’ it. To understand the meaning of a word is to `know’. The thus understood meaning of a word is a knowledge.”3

Now we have found a knowledge not acquired through the first way of apprehensio. Aquinas recognized this second way to knowledge and named it “significatio.” Thomism has accepted for seven centuries man’s two ways to extra-mental knowledge, apprehensio and significatio.

Gilson’s description of the knowing-through-signs process creates problems. He writes: “This meaning or signification is not a word.” Yet when we look up the meaning of a word in the dictionary we find the meaning expressed in a word or a group of words. How explain the apparent contradiction?

Again he writes: “. .. nor is it (meaning) in any sense of the term a thing. It has no materiality; so much so that it cannot even be an object of sense perception.” But I ask a botanist what the eucalyptus is and he points to a tree, assuredly a materiality and an object of sense perception.

These apparent contradictions disappear when we distinguish between meaning as content and meaning as mental process. The dictionary supplies the different meanings of millions of words. That is content of meaning. But the mental process of experiencing meaning remains uniform. In his comments on meaning, Gilson shows what meaning is not. He does not tell us what meaning is when viewed as an act of the intellect. Meaning is still that hidden element of epistemology mentioned in the opening statement that has not been defined in American psychology. Meaning as process seems to be something one cannot touch or see but only understand. Sound mysterious? Indeed, it seems mysterious, but it is not beyond the mysterious power of the intellect. That is the intellect’s subtle power to acquire knowledge through symbols, a feat that electrified Chesterton in The Everlasting Man to boast that symbols, artistic drawings or other, are always made by Homo Sapiens and never by apes on the walls of prehistoric caves. We leave the philosopher’s study without a complete definition of meaning, to seek next the views of the psychologists.

The American Psychology Approach

Wilhelm Wundt, founder of modern experimental psychology at Leipzig in 1874, in his theorizing lacked sound principles of metaphysics. Oswald Kulpe, reputed as Wundt’s star pupil, founded the Wurzberg school of the new science in Munich about 1894, differing from Wundt’s philosophy in that it favored the principles of perennial philosophy. The differences between the Wundt and the Kulpe styles of the new science came to be reflected in the several laboratories of the new science established in the U.S. Edward B. Titchener, John Dewey and Thomas Verner Moore are fairly representative of the achievements in the new science of psychology in the U.S. during the first quarter of this century. An examination of their works and published studies will tell what happened to the two mental processes, knowing and meaning.

Edward B. Titchener

Titchener, 1867-1927, professor of psychology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., a graduate of Wundt’s laboratory at Leipzig, was well known for his work on the context theory of meaning. Born and educated in England and influenced by Wundt’s philosophy of mind, Titchener had a flawed understanding of the role of the first act of the intellect in learning and attempted a definition of meaning that ignored the help of the knowing power of the intellect. To explain his context theory he used a wagon wheel – hub, spokes and rim – as illustration. Consider a child that has had a normal share of pleasant experiences with a playful dog. What does that child’s knowledge (concept) of a dog consist in? In Titchener’s example, the child’s idea of a dog is the hub of the wheel. The various sensory experiences the child has had with dog rest on the rim of the wheel, much like light bulbs that light up when she remembers them, and are connected by the spokes to the hub. These lit bulbs are the context that make up the child’s idea of dog. The spokes are the relations between past experiences and the present awareness of dog.4

In this sensory-images-only of meaning, Titchener limits meaning to the sense level of mental activity, a type of “knowing” that animals more or less share with man. He ignores the concept-making work of the intellect that, in epistemology, is the first act of the intellect. There is in the wheel-illustration of meaning no hint of forming a stable universal concept of dog that represents all dogs. However, Titchener does identify an element in the process of meaning that is recognized by others, namely, the awareness of relationship. Titchener published his context theory at the University of Chicago in 1909, and ten years later one of Moore’s students, Agnes McDonough, published the results of laboratory experiments that disproved the validity of Titchener’s definition of meaning.5 Obviously the fatal flaw in Titchener’s work was the absence of the knowing power of the intellect, the first way of knowing repeatedly mentioned here. The presence of relationship in his theory may turn out to be a positive contribution.

John Dewey

John Dewey was recognized during his long, active and productive career, 1859-1952, in some circles as the country’s foremost educational philosopher and scholar.6The University of Chicago called him to head the Department of Philosophy, Psychology and Education in 1894. His philosophy, however, lacked the principles of metaphysics, according to Schneider.7 In his psychology, Dewey early rejected the laboratory method and the principles of Wundtian experimental psychology practiced by Titchener at Cornell U. and introduced his philosophy of functionalism to American psychology. Given the chair of philosophy at Columbia U. in New York in 1904, Dewey became the dean of American progressive education until he retired a quarter century later in 1929.

Dewey’s writings present much of the contemporary viewpoint on meaning. He discussed the nature of meaning in the first edition of his best known book, How We Think, published in 1909, where he reflected the view of meaning as the “awareness of relations” which his colleague James R. Angell of Chicago U. had proposed several years earlier. Dewey extensively revised How We Think in 1933 in which he presented his final definition of meaning. Although Dewey early abandoned the experimental approach in psychology, he was no devotee of the intellectual knowing power of the human mind. This is to be expected from Schneider’s observation that Dewey knew no metaphysics. Dewey’s exclusive interest is the thinking processes, which in perennial philosophy constitute the second level of mental life, called composition and division, or in the modern idiom, judgment and reasoning. In his How We Think his mental activities of thinking, judging and reasoning deal only in material realities. For Dewey there are no non-sensory, immaterial entities deserving of man’s interest.

The title of his book, How We Think, already suggests that Dewey considers the scholastic explanation of “How We Know” as irrelevant. To him these concepts of reality, the nuggets of knowledge which are the building blocks of our mental activity, are mere primary stuff without any value until a person discovers a use of purpose for them; something like a blank bank check is nothing until a $-value is ascribed to it. This idea goes a long way to set man up as the autocrat of the universe. Because of his evaluation of all things in terms of use, Dewey’s philosophy of reality is correctly called functionalism. Knowing something, in Dewey’s theory of meaning, merely triggers the search for use of purpose, making the knowing activity, thereafter, irrelevant. For the scholastic, on the other hand, the knowledge is the stuff thinking is made of, and the validity of this thinking is directly related to the truth-content of his knowledge of reality. Dewey’s disdain for concepts or ideas in mental activity is clear in these quotations: “The fact is that an idea, intellectually, cannot be defined by its structure but only by its function and use…. An idea, logically speaking, is not a faded perception of an object, nor is it a compound of a number of sensations.”8

The last two phrases, “faded perception,” “compound of sensations,” point directly and verbally to the perennial philosopher’s process of apprehension and its product, the concept. He denies totally the value of ideas and concepts in the knower’s mind. Dewey’s definition reads: Meaning is Function, putting concept in deep freeze. In this, Dewey creates a problem. Dewey agrees with many others that meaning involves the awareness of relations. So the problem is this: if the reader meets the word horse in his reading, but has no viable usable concept of horse stored in his mind, to what will the reader relate the word horse to get meaning?

Thomas Verner Moore

Moore, of the Catholic University of America, was solidly instructed in the principles of Thomistic (perennial) philosophy and later trained in both Wundt’s and Kiilpe’s laboratories, (therefore a genuine neo-scholastic competentin both philosophy and in the principles and techniques of the new science). He was acclaimed both in Europe and the U.S. for his brilliant experiment on the Process of Abstraction begun under Wundt at Leipzig in 1904 and completed in the laboratory of the University of California in 1909. Indeed, Moore, differing radically from Titchener’s and Dewey’s neglect of the knowing power of the intellect, i.e., concepts, undertook as his first major project in experimental psychology an in-depth laboratory analysis of the first and basic activity of the intellect: the formation of concepts or ideas, nuggets of knowledge drawn from direct contact with objective reality through the sense faculties.

This work specifically studies the first way of knowing mentioned both in the gospel and in perennial philosophy. Moore was academically prepared for such a challenging experiment. He acquired his first doctorate in philosophy in 1903 under the philosopher-psychologist Msgr. Edward Pace at C. U. of A., who had earlier acquired his doctorate in philosophy in 1892 as the fourth student of Wundt at the Leipzig laboratory. When Moore suggested his topic of research to Prof. Wundt in 1904, the latter approved it enthusiastically and offered Moore some useful directives.

In his experiment, Moore contrived to observe under laboratory conditions the formation of concepts step by step through the recorded introspection reports of his subjects. It is remarkable that from these introspection reports Moore was able to trace four distinct steps or stages in the autonomous process of concept formation, and these four stages correlate with the four stages that Aquinas established in his philosophical examination of the same mental process. This mutual verification between the methods of philosophy and science is remarkable. It is a case that supports the belief that philosophy and physical science can both discover the same truth when both apply their own appropriate methodology competently and honestly. Moore called this the Process of Abstraction, which he completed in 1909 after a three-year residence at the University of California, the same year Titchener published his context theory at Chicago U. and Dewey published his function theory at Columbia U.

It is noteworthy that the four steps in the mental process of forming concepts discovered in Moore’s experiment are autonomous, that is, free of any voluntary control or any manipulation by the observing-person. There is no interference here from personal factors such as prejudice, viewpoint or choice. In this independence of the concept from personal influence exists the certitude of man’s first way of knowing. Given, then, normal functioning of the sense organs, and given the attribute of honesty, a thousand observers may observe the same object under the same conditions and all without exception will conceive the identical idea or concept of the object. Here is the secret of the perennial philosopher’s complete trust in the certitude and reliability of man’s first way of knowing reality. Honesty is added as a necessary condition for this certitude. Why? If a person deliberately falsifies his report on what he sees, e.g., calling white black, he maliciously destroys man’s first and only way of knowing reality upon which all later mental life depends. And since truth is defined as the conformity of the mind to reality, this dishonesty destroys man’s sole access to truth. This is a sacrilegious offense against the Spirit of Truth. No wonder Jesus in the gospel calls this sin unforgivable here and hereafter, a scene we will contemplate a few pages later.

This points up the paramount importance and value of Moore’s Process of Abstraction. There is skepticism about the certitude of man’s knowledge found in some academic circles where probably the scientific demonstration of the source of man’s basic knowledge is unknown. Moore’s work fills a great need here, especially because of its scientific method. Aquinas had already established the reliability of the same mental process seven centuries earlier by the philosophical method which unfortunately is not accessible to many moderns. Hence the skepticism about truth.

Moore’s experimental demonstration of the origin of knowledge can be compressed in a relatively short excerpt from his textbook, Cognitive Psychology, 1939. As preliminaries, before any knowledge can occur, there must be a person, owner of the intellect, the faculty of knowing, who consciously unifies all the activities of the mind. He also enjoys the use of the bodily sense organs, eyes, ears, touch, etc., which supply the intellect with the primary stuff of which knowledge is made. The intellect is an immaterial faculty while the senses are material organs of the body. This chasm between the spiritual and the bodily activities in the process of knowing is bridged by the all-embracing control exercised by the conscious knowing person.

This knowing process begins when the person consciously receives sensory impulses, impressions, from the outside world. The intellect assimilates these incoming sensations into appropriate categories of past experience. The infant opening his eyes for the first time to the world has no categories of past experience with which to work. When awake he begins to be aware of things happening through his senses, especially the eyes, ears, touch and taste, and records these experiences in mental categories like warm and cold, soft and hard, sweet and sour, noise and quiet, pain and comfort, pleasure and displeasure, colors, and sounds which seem infinite in variety where language takes place. The intellect stores these categories of experience in its memory, able both to store them and to recall them as needed. This nigh miraculous “storeroom” of countless remembered categories of sense experience enables the knower to interpret later incoming impressions of external objects and events. The knower combines these aroused categories into a mental image or idea of the object being perceived, and this mental image is called the concept of that perceived object, or idea, or thought, of it. This is knowledge of objective reality; no concepts, no knowledge. Moore describes the formation of concepts as follows: the assimilation of incoming sensations into categories of past experience.9

At the start of his abstraction experiment, Moore wrote: “Our problem was to study the mental processes involved in the formation of our abstract ideas … what after all is the `concept’? What is the process of its formation?”‘° At the conclusion of this project Moore comments: “The product of abstraction, that which is perceived as common to many groups, is essentially a concept distinct from imagery and feelings …(it) represents the assimilation of that which is perceived by the senses, to a more or less complex mental category, or perhaps to several such categories. These mental categories may be recognized as the results of past experiences.”11

It is crystal clear that Moore, in these brief excerpts, is treating the origin of that first kind of knowledge: apprehension, that is directly dependent on sensory experience. This work by Moore solves the problem that has baffled idealist philosophers from Descartes, to Hume, to Kant, to Sartre: namely, how that immaterial faculty, intellect, can absorb or assimilate within its awareness the knowledge of an objective material being. This philosophic-scientific feat earned Moore international distinction in modern psychology.

At this point in our search for a definition of meaning, as a unique mental process sui generis, appears a disturbing fly in the ointment. Moore, in describing the final product of abstraction, surprisingly uses the word meaning interchangeably with the word concept, thereby giving the clear impression that concept and meaning are identical mental processes. This is another impasse in the search for the meaning of meaning. Evidence of Moore’s use of meaning as a synonym for concept is scattered throughout his textbook, Cognitive Psychology, and his published experiments. Not to belabor the obvious, a few samples will do.

“Consequently in the final product of abstraction there is an element distinct from imagery and feelings. This element, since it is the bearer of meaning (italics mine), is the kernel of the product and it may truly be termed the `thought’ or the concept’.”12

“The end result of perception is meaning (italics mine) … meaning is knowledge; it is not a picture. It is a definite act of the mind … It is something intellectual and is known without the possibility of any kind of sensory representation.”13

The amazing thing about that second quote is that it corresponds almost word for word to Gilson’s description of meaning quoted earlier. But there can be no connection between these, since Moore published in 1939 and Gilson in 1960. The truly amazing thing about this parallel is that Gilson is speaking about the second way to knowledge gained through the mediation of symbols, while Moore speaks of the first kind gained through direct sense perception. An unexpected confirmation that all human knowledge is an intellectual act free of any sensory images.

Brennan, in his psychology text, supports Moore’s equation of meaning and concept as follows: “In the modern psychologists’ nomenclature, apprehension is referred to as meaning.”14

Modern psychologists can raise a valid objection to the scholastic’s practice of using meaning in this ambiguous manner, thus further confounding the confusion. They insist that knowledge-through-symbols has a prior claim to the title meaning since it is the sole unique term for that experience. Such is not the case with knowledge-through-apprehension which has available such words as concept, idea, thought. The Oxford English Dictionary defines meaning in the fifth place as Knowledge, Understanding; then adds: Obsolete, Rare.

Caution prompts a demurrer at this point. Contrary to the impression that this critique of Moore’s Process of Abstraction depreciates the incalculable value of his work, his description of the Concept or Idea remains the cutting edge of this study. In very fact, the concept is the basis of the entire mental life: no concept, no knowing, no meaning, no reasoning, etc. Moore did yeoman service to epistemology in his experimental, hence scientific, demonstration of the mental formation of concepts. In so doing he harmonized man’s two approaches to truth, the philosophical and the scientific. Historically, the philosopher preceded the scientist by a millennium. Perennial philosophy had recognized the mind’s power to form imageless ideas of external things centuries before the arrival of experimental psychology. Furthermore, the Wundtian experimentalist neglecting philosophy did not discover this unique power of the mind. Testifying to that are the failures of Titchener and Dewey and Semanticists to understand the mental process of meaning since, as we discover a little later, without the concept there is no meaning.

Moore on the other hand was schooled in metaphysics before he attempted experimental psychology. We will also learn that Moore, while at first neglecting the definition of meaning, later became aware of the need to define meaning but was deflected from this pursuit by the multiplicity of the scholarly and priestly service to humanity.

The irreplaceable role of concept or ideas in human discourse and affairs was neatly highlighted recently by the U.S. Ambassador to Vatican State in an interview that appeared in the National Catholic Register of September 6, 1987, p. 1. The Register’s Rome correspondent, Robert Moynihan, asked Ambassador Shakespeare: “What might be the essential ideas that will emerge from John Paul II’s imminent trip to the U.S.?”

Shakespeare replied: “That’s hard to say. The underpining of Western civilization is the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The U.S. is a product of Western civilization on one hand, and in a temporal sense is the leader of the West. Thus it has huge responsibilities for the continuing freedom of the West.”

“The West is essentially ideas: it is based on concepts of the nature of man, the nature of the state, and man’s relations to the state. In the final analysis they – concepts – are more important than guns or military power. So in that sense seriouspeople represent great forces. We’re talking about ideas – that’s the most important thing on earth. That’s the sense in which I feel that the papal trip to the United States is very important…. Ideas are the fountainhead of everything. Guns and all other weapons are simply expressions of a desire to defend ideas and principles. . . . We probably have more of a ferment of ideas in the world today than at any other time in history.”

This study must leave Moore’s grand work on man’s first way of learning, a way that is endowed with truth and security, but we leave regretfully without any new light on the definition of meaning. At the same time educators whose bread and butter is teaching meaning in the classroom were crying for a workable definition of meaning. “In spite of the fact that we use the term `meaning’ so constantly, and that obviously we show in our behavior that symbols have meaning, the nature of meaning is still one of the most difficult and incompletely understood problems of psychology. But since the psychology of meaning is fundamental in the most important problems in learning and teaching we must explain it as clearly – and as practically – as we can.” The text however offers no definition of meaning as a mental process.15

Allow another two decades of educational psychology studies to pass and what do we read about meaning? The following: “Special Problems in Development of Meaning and Understanding. Mastering the meaning of such concepts as `justice’; or `squareness’, or `democracy’ is much more difficult … etc. We have laid down certain rules for teaching new words and for teaching the meaning of abstract concepts.” Clearly, in this excerpt, meaning does not refer to a mental process that differs from apprehension. It is more like a synonym of concept as Moore stated in 1910.16

Allow another two decades of psychology texts to be born. Visit a college bookstore in 1987 and examine its array of psychology publications. There one discovers that interest in theoretical psychology is dead. Definitions are taboo. Meaning does not even appear in the Subject Index. Function is in control. Today meaning is not only a hidden part of epistemology, it is totally lost. So what next!

The unremittingly rapid deterioration of ideals and values in American thought and conduct today, writes a social critic, strongly suggests a radical misconception of man’s own nature and an ignorance of his own mental faculties which are essential guides to man’s optimum development and destiny.17

We have been blessed with a sound exposition of man’s first way of knowledge. Can we achieve a clear idea of the second way of knowing? Nothing tried, nothing gained. The first move must be to separate the two ways of knowing which American psychologists have coalesced more or less into identicals. Where is the authority to separate them now as distinct mental processes?

Testimony of Common Experience

Responding to a suggestion made by proponents of a new spirit in physical sciences, we leave momentarily the study of the philosopher and the laboratory of the scientist to mingle with the common folk in order to learn how meaning fares in common usage. These authors say: “Now the old story of science rejects common experience considering it unreliable … The scientists of the new story however show a great regard for common experience, pointing out that science does not replace it but rather builds on it as a foundation . . . Common experience is immediately connected with reality, with the world; … has the immediacy of the sense of touch which is always on top of what it apprehends . . . Scientific concepts are idealizations; they are derived from experiences obtained by refined experimental tools and are precisely defined. But through this process of idealization and definition the immediate connection with reality is lost.””

Acting on this idea, namely, getting the testimony of common experience, we mingled with people in the market place and gathered examples of their use of the word “meaning.”

Exhibit One: A devoted mother and her son, 10, are having a family argument about a well-known swimming hole. Both mother and son have the identical concept of a swimming hole – namely, a big hole in the ground filled with water deep enough to swim but also to drown in. The mother, asked what the swimming hole means to her, answers it means fear and worry. Answering the same question, the son says it means fun and excitement. Two different meanings for one and the same concept. By the law of contradiction, concept and meaning cannot be the same mental act. Concepts of the same external object are stable and normally identical for different persons perceiving the same. Meanings are however personalized reactions to that object through the association of personal tastes, views or experiences. One sees here the factor of relationship that is highlighted in Titchener’s work.

Exhibit Two: This time the interviewer asks several characters on the street their views about trees. He encounters five individuals, each in a different life pursuit. He makes sure that all five have the same concept of a tree. He asks a lumberman what a tree means to him. He answers that a tree means to him an x number of feet of lumber to put on the market. To the landscaper, a tree means a thing he can use to beautify a locality. To the householder, a tree means firewood to heat his home. The poet thinks a tree is something he can poetize -“only God can make a tree”. To the hobo on foot on a hot day, a large shady tree means a welcome escape from the hot sun. Obviously, one identical concept and five different meanings cannot be equivalents.

Exhibit Three: This one is more striking. Jim, a high school freshman, is at home reviewing his Latin-English vocabulary. He sits at the kitchen table with a list of twenty Latin words with the textbook nearby as needed. At his feet sits his pet dog, Skippy. Running down the list he is able to give the English meaning of all words but one, which is the Latin word canis, dog. Try as he will the meaning of canis escapes him. Taking a little breather, he plays with Skippy for a while, then checks the text for the answer. He is surprised to learn that canis means dog. That should also surprise anyone who thinks that concept and meaning are equivalents. During this little act, Jim had a perfect concept of both the word canis and the dog. How could he miss the meaning if concept and meaning are identicals?

At this point we are reminded that some psychologists find the element of relations necessary for the awareness of meaning. Jim failed to see the relation between dog and the word canis, which acts like an “invisible washline” connecting two posts. This washline is invisible to the human eye. It is a pure invention of the creative intellect, one of the many forms of abstract knowledge that the intellect builds on experience but not directly through sense images. This is a case of imageless thought, and presents an insuperable difficulty to Titchener and his followers who hold that all knowledge consists of sense images. The early reader at age three precociously has found the intellect’s creative power of “seeing” the “unseeable” relationship between words and their referents. It also explains the practice of LQ. testers who, for lack of time, resort to the use of a reading test as a fairly accurate measure of mental ability. Now the puzzle that Gilson presented before clears up, when he wrote: “The meaning is not a materiality…. it cannot be an object of sense perception; the understood meaning of a word is a knowledge”. That knowledge consists in the mind spontaneously recognizing the invisible relation between the word, or any symbol, and the object it represents. An invisible washline connecting two visible posts, the sign and the object signified, is an apt analogy of this relation in the experience of meaning.

Exhibit Four: But the decisive refutation of Moore’s “concept is meaning” is as surprising as is his equation of meaning with concept. The surprise is that Moore’s own laboratory experiment by sheer coincidence disproves his theory of meaning. This may indeed be an anomaly in the whole history of American psychology. It will be necessary to describe in more detail Moore’s procedure in this experiment. As reported above, Titchener published his context theory in 1909. His theory was easily tested because of its mechanical form, the wheel with hub, spokes and rim.

In 1913, Moore conceived an experiment to test Titchener’s definition of meaning. He began this project in Kulpe’s laboratory in Munich where Prof. Kulpe took an active part in the planning and execution, acting as one of the six subjectintrospectors: five Europeans and one American. This probably identifies Moore as the only American psychologist to have begun a major experiment in the laboratory of and in consultation with both Prof. Wundt and Prof. Kulpe. At the Munich laboratory, Moore recorded the introspection reports from Kulpe and four of his students, and later completed the experiment at the Catholic University laboratory with his first major professor, Dr. Edward Pace, acting as a subjectintrospector. This collaboration of these professors – an European and an American, representing top level competence in the new science and also completely familiar with current psychology terminology – is of vital significance in the unexpected fallout of this experiment.

The idea of the test was simple. ; If, as is supposed in Titchener’s theory, meaning of an object or word is experienced by the introspector when a former sensation connected with that object or word appears, then the introspector should experience meaning and sensation at the same moment. Moore set up a reaction-time control for his introspectors. The introspector was allowed a brief glimpse of the word “dog”, then instructed to push an electric button as soon as he experienced the meaning of that word. At a later glimpse of the same word, the introspector is told to push the button only at the appearance of a sensory image of a dog. The two time lapses are then compared. The results from the performances of all six introspectors showed meaning regularly appearing before the sensory image. These statistics show that the meaning experience does not wait for the appearance of sensory images. Therefore, meaning is something different from sensation. These results proved the context theory of meaning to be invalid. Moore published this experiment in 1915.19 The Titchener group however found a flaw in Moore’s experiment and so challenged his conclusions. Thereupon one of Moore’s graduates repeated Moore’s work eliminating the flaw but getting the same results Moore gathered. This spelled the end of Titchener’s theory.20

The stage is now set for the surprise rebuttal of Moore’s “concept is meaning” in the same experiment. An additional detail not mentioned so far, the introspectors were both to push the button and then proceed to describe what went on in their minds after the glimpse of an object or a word. There was no time-limit for this verbal report. They were free to ad lib. It is this spontaneous reporting that adds a new factor in the experiment – unwittingly. This factor is the common experience of language both European and American. Here appears unplanned the application of the bold counsel suggested by the authors of The New Story of Science that Common Experience and Scientific Experience sometimes need to collaborate in order to find the truth. Easy enough said, but requiring the wisdom of Solomon to implement.

There were three different rounds in these introspection and reaction reports. In the first round, they glimpsed objects only – cup, shoe, spoon, hat, etc.; in the second round, pictures of similar objects; in the third round, words referring to such objects. These three rounds introduce – again unwittingly – the two ways of knowing, one by apprehension, the other through the medium of symbols. The key question now is: what terminology do these trained psychologists use in describing their mental states as they report on glimpsing objects, then on pictures, then on words? Does their language change accordingly?

In nine relevant reports after seeing objects, seven of the introspectors use expressions like “I know what that is”, “I have a concept of the object”, “what the object is was at once clear”, “the object is apprehended”. None of these seven, which includes the two professors, ever uses the word “meaning”. The two that used meaning twice to refer to objects were the students. Understandable. But in nineteen reports after seeing pictures and words, all spoke of getting the meaning of the word; no one used the word concept. The phrases ran as follows: “that means a rake”; “that means a pair of scissors”; “recognition of meaning always came first”; “the picture presented to me was at once clear in its meaning”; “it seemed to me that the meaning of the words was always apprehended”. This tells us that when persons deal with symbolic materials, like words stand for or refer to things, they experience a different way of knowledge than knowing through concepts. Scientific experience and common experience are in agreement on the real distinction between concepts and meaning.

This finding, which is at least a significant footnote for American epistemology and educational psychology, lay dormant in tomes of psychology until found three decades later by a doctoral candidate in 1945. Stranger still, that bit of information has not yet been granted a noticeable exposure to the academic community since 1948.21

Interlude Semanticism

During the 1930’s-40’s came a great agitation in the academic world over the problem of certitude of human knowledge. When semantics, a useful study of linguistics, becomes an “ism”, it has gone astray, as happened in the first third of this century. Probably misled by the ideas of leaders in psychology like Titchener and Dewey, who ignored the role of the knowing power of the intellect, semanticists sought to explain meaning without the help of concepts, wherein they lost the key to the certitude of human knowledge and thereby launched a wave of skepticism in their followers. The “meaning of meaning” became the popular “saw”, suggesting a fruitless endeavor. A book by that name became the bible of this movement.22 Semanticists tried to establish meaning as the first and basic form of human knowledge and therein lost the first way of knowledge, which is also the guarantor of certitude.

Dr. John Oesterle of Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, had compassion on their frustration and devoted his serious attention to their predicament. He noticed that semanticists confined their search for truth and certitude exclusively to the verification of words in language and literature. That meant that they were seeking truth in the signs and symbols of reality and not in reality itself, which man knows only through concepts, the first form of knowledge. But signs like words change their meanings according to the intention of the person using them. Therefore, verification becomes impossible and

certitude of knowledge is lost. Oesterle concluded his laborious study with the brief statement, “The problem of meaning is solved only by moving up to the level of knowing by the intellect”.23 The eager student will find also in Oesterle’s definitive article a graphic illustration of the Thomistic theory of significatio which is a parallel to meaning in the modern idiom. That illustration also reveals how penetrating and complete is the philosopher’s understanding of the mental process of meaning. (Diagrams of Process of Knowing, Process of Meaning and Process of Significatio are found on the last two pages of the essay.)


To distinguish and describe the mental acts of knowing and meaning, one needs to know the agents that effect them. These are person and mind.

Person: To paraphrase Stein’s Keine Gestalten ohne Gestalter, there can be no meaning without a person who experiences the meaning.24 Stern defines person as “a living whole that is unique, goal directed, self-contained, yet open to the world around him. He is capable of having experience.” This defines person in terms of what he does. Boethius’ scholastic definition is: “A person is an individual substance with a rational nature.” In common parlance we say a person is a human being who experiences his own existence and can think.

In the moral sense, person is that element inseparable from the human being which owns, directs and is fully responsible for every act of that being in mind and body. When someone inflicts an injury with his right hand on his neighbor, that neighbor will respond by holding this person guilty for the injury, not his right hand. The person is the center of attribution and accountability. It is the person who owns and demands all the human rights granted by nature. Animals have no rights since they lack this element of person. This agent person is aware of the activities of both his body and his mind and responsibly directs them. Person also acts as the unifying principle of the human being so that his two-fold nature, flesh and spirit, functions harmoniously as a single actor. This two-fold and unifying relation of person to both sensory and mental activities plays a key role in bridging and coalescing the sensory and non-sensory phases of man’s knowledge.

Mind: The experience of self by the person supposes mind, since mind has the power of self-perception without a mediating agent. For example, the eye can see itself only with the help of a mirror. The mind needs no such reflector to see itself in operation. This self-beholding facility rules out the idea that the mind is the effect of an organized myriad of nerves and brain cells, none of which enjoy self-perception.

What then is mind? It is not a foreign something added to human life. While plants and animals both have life, the life of the animal is of a higher grade, capable of activities not found in plants. So is man’s life higher than that of the animal, and mind is the highest activity of that higher life. Mind is therefore life, not any life, but a human life exercising the highest powers and activities known in the world.

While mind needs nerves and brain tissue to acquire knowledge, the mind in its higher powers can next operate with that knowledge without the aid of the nervous system. Wilder Penfield, pioneer brain surgeon, reports: “Neither the mind nor the will could be located in any part of the brain. The brain is the seat of sensations, of memory, of the emotions, and of the powers of movement, but apparently the brain is not the organ of either the intellect or the will. Evidently, then, the human intellect and the human will have no bodily organs.” The content of consciousness depends in large measure on neural activity but awareness itself does not.”25

Mind is an invisible reality that is as real as life itself. The agnostic surgeon who boasted he had seen every nook and corner of the human body but never saw a sign or trace of the human soul, was stumped by a bystander who asked: “What does life look like? Did you ever see life?” The surgeon was silent.

When mind is in full activity, the opposite of sleep, it displays that unique and inimitable quality of consciousness or awareness of both itself and the non-self surrounding the person, and at the same time registers relations between them. Allport described it: “The human mind is the only agency ever devised for registering at once innumerable variables and for revealing the relations between them (emphasis his). It is the one and only instrument capable of comprehension.”26

In the scholastic explanation of the origin of immediate knowledge of external objects, this first act of apprehension brings something new into the mind: the concept of an objective existential reality. Here the knowing agent-person plays his role of verifying the identity between the object perceived by the senses and the idea conceptualized by the mind of the same object. The person, situated by nature to observe both the perception by the senses and the conceptualization (making the concept) by the mind, is able confidently to recognize the true identity between the sensory percept and the mental concept. This confidence in the truth of the concept is so natural and implicit that when it fails the person in error automatically seeks the reason for the miscue which, when discovered, invariably still supports the basic truthfulness of the concept.

In this irrefrangible identity between object and concept rests the complete confidence that mankind in daily practice gives to primary knowledge through sense perception. If then some philosophers of sorts find this universal conclusion repulsive to their principles, they are the odd-men-out who need to take another look at their principles. In thus establishing the reliability of man’s concepts of objective reality, we are prepared to address the definition of meaning as another but lesser way to knowledge. This follows since meaning is the coincidence or relating of three bits of conceptual knowledge.

The Definition

This critique of the theories of meaning by American experimental psychologists; the use of the word meaning in both common and scientific experience; the reason for the failure of semanticism; the comparison with the perennial philosopher’s theory of significatio which has stood the test of seven centuries; all this ventilation of a century-old exhausted problem hopefully presents useful criteria for a definition of meaning as a mental process. The following points are informative:

Concept and meaning are not identicals. Concept is the product of the intellect’s power to know perceived objective reality. Concepts therefore vary with the variety of objects perceived.

Meaning defined here as a mental process remains always uniquely the same. It is the intellect’s projection of a conventional relation between a sign and its referent. The signs and the referents may be infinite in variety but the intellect’s positing the conventual relationship between them is always the same.

The descriptive term conventional which means “agreed upon by responsible social consensus”, is needed here to distinguish this relation from relationships found in judgment and understanding.

This invisible conventional relation between sign and the thing it refers to is “seen” by the intellect which possesses the power of imageless thought.

A person discovers a meaning when through his intellect and memory he knows all three elements, the sign, the referent, and the invisible relation between them.


Putting all these points together, a definition of meaning should read:



The dictionary defines meaning as aim, purpose, value, intention, significance. This is a definition of simple meaning as opposed to complex meaning. Simple meaning is directly related to an object without mediation of a symbol, as the five persons above relate their different values to a tree directly without a symbol. The complex meaning employs a symbol as does the student who relates the word canis to the dog. It seems to be helpful to name simple meaning the content meaning, content referring to the value or purpose of things. And then to call complex meaning the process meaning, describing the mental process that takes place. The content meaning is infinite in variety since things are infinite in number each with its own value(s) or purpose(s) given in its creation. But process meaning is always the same. Philosophers would probably name simple meaning the ontological meaning since it refers to the nature, purpose and value of an object. And complex meaning would be called the psychological definition because it describes the mental process in the act of meaning.

A fuller explanation of the definition of complex meaning follows. To get meaning where a symbol is used the person must first possess three specific bits of knowledge. Again we return to Jimmy studying the Latin-English vocabulary. He has a perfect concept of the word canis, for he sees it, can spell it and recognizes it as a symbol for some object. He also has a perfect concept of dog while playing with Skippy. Why does he fail to see that canis in Latin means dog? Because he lacks the third knowledge, namely, that the Latin-speaking society has a social agreement, a consensus, that canis always means dog. That information too is a concept learned from experience. When the student’s memory has effectively retained that experience and he is able to recall it when needed, he experiences the meaning of canis. Is that not the psychological definition of meaning to see the connection between the sign and the thing signified? This process of relating sign to object signified continues unchanged in the face of foreign languages. Suppose Jimmy becomes an accomplished linguist and learns to speak Latin, French, German and Italian. He learns three more symbols for dog besides canis in Latin – chien in French, cane in Italian, and hund in German. His memory will recall the symbol proper to the present language to refer to dog.

Meaning itself effects no new knowledge. This reveals the defect in Titchener’s context theory of meaning, and the reason why semanticists could not find certitude of knowledge. They ignored the reality of concepts which are the matrix of all human knowledge: no concepts, no knowledge, no meaning. Gilson uses a very apt word to describe this mental act of referring sign to object. “We cannot hear the meaning,” he says, “we understand it.”

This mental act of relating the sign to the thing signified is an invisible, autonomous act of the intellect, swift as light, initiated by the memory faculty of recall. Memory is a faithful servant of the intellect. A keen intellect requires an equally efficient memory. Moore’s explanation of the concept, the “assimilation of incoming sensations into appropriate categories of past experience,” places memory at the center of this assimilating action. Without memory the sensations would disappear like ripples on the water. This process of understanding goes on constantly as long as the person continues reading. For the practiced and well-informed reader these acts become subliminal and infinitesimally rapid.

In the introduction, meaning is declared to be a knowledge not different from the knowledge of the first way but one that has acquired a change in quality and value. What are these added attributes?

  1. Meaning is a more economical way to knowledge and makes universal education possible. A person may be unable to visit a favorite city but he can get much information about it at the library. The universal level of information would be distressingly low without the printed

  2. Meaning is impersonal knowledge and much less satisfying than knowledge by experience. After reading much about a famous city a person still welcomes a chance to visit it in person.

  1. Meaning has less fullness of information than concepts. The existence of science laboratories is proof of this.

  2. Meaning has less certitude of knowledge than concepts because the information is second hand.

  3. Meaning surpasses concepts beyond all telling through its facility to get knowledge of the supernatural world.

Meaning and Understanding

Gilson is prophetic when he writes that we understand meaning. In that statement he leads us to a clearer idea of the mental act of understanding. To know and to understand are two different acts of the intellect. To know is the first and simplest act of the intellect. To know a tree all I need is to see a tree. One sole object. For the act of understanding a person needs at least two objects seen in a relationship of cause and effect.

Simple example: A fine tree graces the lawn outside my window. One morning I notice the tree is flat on the ground. I don’t understand why it is down. I investigate and discover an axe beside the stump. The chopped stump shows that the tree was cut down by the axe. I relate the axe with the felled tree as cause and effect and I understand. A relationship is established in understanding just as in meaning and in judgment, but the relationship is different in each case.

The notable point about these three different relationships is the fact that all three are transcendent, totally abstract, and cannot be perceived by the senses. These are immaterial, spiritual realities that are known only by a spiritual being. This is a simple argument for the spirituality of the human mind. Animals lacking intellect cannot “see” such relationships. Veryyoung children can.

The writer in a psychometrics course once tested the I.Q. of a toddler, two years old. She did not yet speak sentences. I placed a number of household articles before her – spoon, knife, cup, glass, shoe, doll, etc., then asked her to point to the object I named. She responded gleefully, as if playing a game and did not miscue once. At that early age through the experience of daily family living her intellect had already gained the power to recognize meaning relationships between oral sounds and their referents. Here we see the creative intellect at work at an early age, which, when sufficiently matured, makes reading possible.

This power of abstract, imageless thought explains some passages in the Bible. Moses in his farewell to the Hebrews reminded them of God’s frequent complaints about their lack of appreciation of His providential daily care of them during the 40years’ trek to the Promised Land. God said: “I led you for 40 years in the desert. Your clothes did not fall from you in tatters nor your sandals from your feet; bread was not your food, nor wine or beer your drink. Thus you should know that I, the Lord am your God” (Deuteronomy, 29, 4f). In other words, God expected them to use their gifted intellects and reason from effect to cause.

St. Paul appeals to the same creative intellect when writing to the Romans. “Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God’s eternal power and divinity have become visible, recognized through the things He has made” (Romans, 1, 20). Paul quickly added “recognized” after “visible” to make clear he meant “understood by the intellect,” not visible to the eyes. Again, an abstract principle, cause and effect.

Christ, Divine Psychologist, gives the clearest testimony to the difference between knowing and understanding. “I use parables when I speak to them because they look but do not see, they listen but do not hear or understand (emphasis added) … Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them which says: `Listen as you will, you shall not understand’ (emphasis added) . . . sluggish indeed is this people’s heart” (Mt. 13, 13f).

Clearly, it is not the lack of their knowledge that Christ complains about. It is the lack of the will – sluggish hearts – to use the creative intellect to recognize the spiritual realities inferred in His teaching. He also complained to His twelve: “Haven’t you yet understood!”

It is a test of the good teacher to be able to rouse one’s students to exercise their creative intellect. Chesterton greatly admired the human creative intellect. He applied that power to explain the difference between Moslem and Christian knowledge of God. The Moslems, he said, have only one thing to contemplate in the divinity, namely, God the Creator. No rudiments there for the act of understanding. But the Christian, Chesterton said, had three things to study and rub together – the Three Persons, and hence the adorable doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

This mysterious power of the intellect to transcend, rise above, from the visible to the invisible, from the visible sign to the invisible object signified, the power we refer to as the creative intellect, the power of imageless thought, is essential to the Christian Faith. Without this power of transcendence the act of faith would be normally impossible. This idea is more fully explored in the later chapter, Meaning Akin to Faith.

Let us briefly add that this power of transcendence is also needed for a Christian citizen to participate successfully in a pluralistic democracy. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has written: “Today we know that man needs transcendence so that he may shape his world, that will always be imperfect, in such a way that people can live in it in a manner in keeping with human dignity.”27

Meaning as mental process daily exercises man’s power to rise from the seen to the unseen, thus facilitating the act of faith empowered by divine grace.

Meaning and Judgment

In making a judgment, we relate one term to another. For example: Smith is an American. Are judgment and meaning identical mental acts, since both express a relationship between two things? They appear identical, but are not really the same since the relationship exists on a different principle in the two. In meaning, relationship is artificial, resting on social consensus; in judgment, the relationship is substantial or real. Smith and American have something in common – their citizenship. Judgments can be negative as well as positive. Smith is not an American.

Meanings are always positive.

Meaning in Reading

The most obvious and significant implication of defined meaning for education is seen in the revised idea of reading itself that results from it. After some experimental psychologists proposed the context theory of meaning, meaningful reading was variously interpreted as the relating of images, feelings and attitudes to words and sentences. Later the behaviorists added muscular responses to this list. These experienced subjective states lack all reference to objective reality, since the context theory omits the knowing activity. This intellectual power of possessing reality in conceptualized form is the umbilical cord between subject and object, between the conscious knower and the external object he knows. In excluding the intellectual act of knowing, the key to the communication of ideas is lost. Every mind is then its own prison in which images, feelings, attitudes and muscular responses are the inmates. The person cannot enter another’s prison nor admit the other to his own. C.S. Lewis has seen in all this the “abolition of man,” for man’s intellectuality is one of the things that distinguishes him from brutes. He quotes from a school textbook to show what modern concepts of meaning and reading have done to human language.

“When the man said That is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall . . . actually he was not making a remark about the waterfall but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word Sublime, or shortly I have sublime feelings…. We appear to be saying something very important about something and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings” (emphases part of text).28

With this idea of meaning in reading, man has indeed been abolished, for his language has been reduced to the babble of animals whose language is nothing more than vocalized bestial impulse and feeling. In contrast, meaning correctly defined elevates reading to the intellectual level, since it involves the intellect in a three-fold activity. The reader must first know and be able to recall that knowledge of the thing referred to by the word. He must know the word that refers to that thing. He must also know the abstract relationship between the word and the object.

Meaning in Religion

Since religion urges the search for value underlying everything and provides the most comprehensive of all philosophies of life, it is to be expected that the subject of religion will deal with highly abstract concepts and ideas.29The well-nurtured Christian is perforce a philosopher because, from the days of the first lesson in praying at mother’s knee, his mind has been gently prompted to transcend the world of sense and matter, and to commune with unseen reality. In spite of this favorable early instruction, the Christian religion offers ever the supreme challenge to the art of teaching.

Catholics of the United States were in this century supplied with sound catechisms beginning with the Baltimore Catechism (1885) which was joined later by many other excellent textbooks that were more sophisticated in pedagogy. Still there were complaints about the teachability of some catechisms. In 1943 Father David Fullmer of the Chicago Archdiocese published his doctoral dissertation on The Vocabulary of Religion. In a laboratory procedure, he collected a list of 1,000 words commonly used in twenty-eight catechisms comprising five widely known series in elementary schools. Of that list, he chose 100 words most frequently used and gave that vocabulary test to 2500 students in grades 3-12. Commenting on the test results, Fullmer wrote: “The vocabulary currently used seems to be entirely too extensive and in many cases much too difficult. There is ample room for improvement along the lines of simplification of many of the terms. The elementary textbooks should not read like a manual of theology.”30

The same problem with vocabulary was dramatized by Bruce Marshall in his best seller: “`How many sins are there?’ the priest asked their sailor suits and ribbons in their hair. `There are two kinds of sin: original sin and actual sin,’ the sailor suits and ribbons answered back. `Very good,’ the priest answered, and then suddenly he knew that it wasn’t good at all, because the children didn’t understand what they were saying any more than the parrot did when he said ‘Dominus vobiscum.”‘31

The definition of meaning indicates the solution to this vocabulary problem, namely, words themselves do not contribute knowledge. Words are meaningful only when they refer to a bit of knowledge the reader already has. Examples: What does it mean to say “God the Father”? Tell the child to think of what his/her father means in the family. Now the child can relate God-the-Father to the idea of father at home. What is the meaning of charity? Tell the story of the Good Samaritan. What does repentance mean? Tell the story of the Prodigal Son. This also explains why parents are the first teachers of their children. Many words of the catechism get their meaning from the examples of parents.

Jesus was the model teacher in this respect. He never used strange or technical words not familiar to His audience. To give His hearers ideas about the spiritual kingdom, He used their own experiences of present reality, not another’s experiences with a distant reality. Though Jesus used only simple words, He still taught with power because He called forth concepts already in their minds and used them to create a new reality. If a topic was abstract, like the laws of the spiritual life, He would present a parable like the seeds that fell on different kinds of soil. He observed the law of meaning that persons can only get meanings after they have requisite knowledge: no knowledge, no meaning. Jesus was the Master Psychologist.

Meaning and Anglican Orders

The definition of meaning also contributes to the Vatican’s adjudication of the Anglican Orders of the priesthood. Pope Leo XIII in 1896 declared that ordination carried out with the Anglican Orders are “absolutely null and utterly void” because of a defective intention. He then added a permanently binding prohibition, “and remaining as it (intention) did in that condition, there was no prospect that with the passage of time it would become capable of conferring them (powers of the priesthood).”32

This is a solemnly declared doctrine of faith by Pope Leo XIII. Can this declaration be contradicted if the presentAnglican Church corrects its defective intention?

Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, head of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity, in an official letter (dated 13 July 1985) to the Co-Presidents of the Second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission stated that the Roman Catholic Church would acknowledge the possibility that if the Anglican Church would make a profession of faith in thepriesthood and the Eucharist as understood by the Roman Church, the Anglican Ordinal would no longer contain the defective intention which was the basis of Pope Leo XIII’s judgment.33

Would this development when fully realized be a contradiction of the judgment of Pope Leo XIII and therefore embarrass the infallibility of the Chair of Peter? We first examine the alleged defective intention. When Thomas Cranmer and other original Anglican Reformers ordained “priests” they deliberately excluded from the meaning of the term priest any power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist. In the Catholic Church if a man has no power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, he is not a priest. This is the key, the heart of the matter, of Pope Leo XIII’s rejection of Anglican Orders.

Here enters the psychology of meaning. Did Cranmer and his associates have the power to remove the Catholic meaning of the word priest? They did indeed. Priest as a six-letter word is only a sign or symbol for the speaker’s signified idea or concept. By itself, a word is neutral or empty, like a drinking glass, until its owner pours into it water, or milk, or wine, or beer. Notice the variety of contents possible for the glass, a completely passive being. And completely passive are words which too can signify different ideas, depending on the mind of their user. The dictionary gives countless examples of this. Christ Himself gave to the word priest, a totally different meaning in the New Covenant than the word had in the Mosaic Law.

Since words are the means of social communication, it is clear that their meanings must be determined in a socially responsible way, by proper authority. Language and literature would be useless if the meanings of words were privatized. That is why, in the definition of meaning, words are treated as signs of ideas agreed upon by social consensus.

Since then the original Anglican leaders were able to give a non-traditional meaning to the word priest, in their Ordinal, a meaning that has been operative for five centuries, it is totally reasonable that present leaders of the same social group, with consensus, could reinstate the traditional meaning of priest. If and when they do so, the defective intention Pope Leo XIII rejected will have disappeared. The present Vatican’s probable acceptance of such a reformed Ordinal would then not contradict the decree of Pope Leo XIII. It would merely recognize a revised and valid Ordinal.

Meaning is not Teacher

Meaning as man’s second way to knowledge is not always able to reflect like a mirror the understanding, the interpretation of all the words of faith contained in Scripture and tradition. Some words are limpid and easily understood. Others are opaque and defy interpretation. Yet all these symbols are part and parcel of the deposit of faith that must be believed.

“We believe in the forgiveness of sins,” from the Apostles Creed is one of those easily understood symbols because forgiveness of injury is a normal human experience. But the next example presents the opposite case: “This is My Body; this is My Blood,” referring to the consecrated bread and wine in the Eucharist. This symbol in the Bible has no analogy or resemblance to anything in all human experience, and therefore resists understanding or explanation.

Since the ingrained impulse of reason strives to find a rationale for the words of the Faith – faith seeking understanding – what will complement or enlighten those intermittent lapses of meaning-knowledge? No one is to go off on his own initiative to trump up a personal solution to a difficult symbol of faith. St. Peter declares: “There is no prophecy (teaching) contained in Scripture that is personal interpretation”

(2 P. 2, 20). At the same time, Peter asks his followers “to be ready to reply should anyone ask them the reason for their hope” (1 P. 3, 15). There appears here an impasse without a solution.

Christ, the original Psychologist, was well aware of this limitation in human knowledge and so established a unique agency, the Magisterium of the Church, divinely guided in teaching men the true knowledge of all symbols of the faith. Christ also employs miracles both in His own lifetime and in succeeding ages to confirm man’s faith in the Church’s teaching when hard to understand. “Even though you put no faith in Me put faith in these works” (John 10, 38).

The true and complete teaching of the deposit of faith appears in the Scripture and tradition as these are interpreted by the Magisterium of the teaching Church. “He who hears you, hears Me. He who rejects you, rejects Me. And he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10, 16).

This argument for the teaching office of the Church has a special potency since it derives from psychology, a natural human science whose laws and principles are amenable to man’s understanding.

Maritain’s Testimony

This study proceeded on the assumption that meaning had never been defined in American psychology as a mental process which gives mankind a second way to knowledge. Meaning has, in the American experience, always been treated as the end product of the first act of knowing. The dictionary is the perfect exponent of that practice. There one finds the meanings of a million words, but meaning as a psychological act is found in no American dictionary. How come?

Jacques Maritain was the brilliant and world-renowned proponent of Thomistic philosophy in the 20th century. This study is indebted to Maritain for an explanation of the aberration in American psychology stated above. He wrote: “(a) Leibnitz and certain logicians in his tradition tend to neglect the operation for the product, and the immaterial product of the mind for the material sign. (b) On the other hand, in its critique of the intellect, the Anti-Intellectualist school (James, Bergson, LeRoy) often confuse the operation and products of the intelligence with the material signs by which they are expressed. (c) No one has anywhere made clearer the distinction between the thought and the material signs which express it than Aristotle.”34

Maritain does not give a definition of meaning like the one proposed in this study which employs the experimental approach. Instead he understandably follows the Thomistic method and in doing so describes in detail all the elements found likewise in the experimental definition. Let Maritain speak:

“A term is the oral expression of a concept or more precisely `every articulate sound that conventionally signifies a concept’.

“The fact that these particular words signify these particular concepts is not due to nature itself but to an arbitrary disposition of man’s own (in other words, social custom).

“Since the `mental term’ is the concept itself as the `written term’ is the graphic sign (written word) of the oral term (spoken word), it is evident that the written term signifies the oral term, the oral term signifies the mental term or concept, which in turn signifies the thing. Hence the axiom: words or terms are signs of ideas or concepts, and concepts are signs of things.35

“The term signifies simultaneously and in the same act both the concept and the thing, but it immediately signifies the concept and only signifies mediately the thing itself (as it exists outside the mind by means of the concept).”36

Maritain credits Thomas Aquinas for the ideas expressed above. Maritain’s description of the process of significatio given above supplies a perfect legend for the diagram of significatio, credited to John of St. Thomas, found on the last page of this article. It is crystal clear that neither Maritain nor John of St. Thomas entertains the faintest idea that concept and significatio can in any sense be considered identical or synonymous. In comparing the diagrams on the last two pages one notices that meaning is simpler than significatio. Meaning is the product of the experimental method, while significatio is philosophical, which has metaphysical features that escape the other’s comprehension.

Meaning Akin to Faith

To properly associate and apply meaning to the act of faith is a challenge. Meaning is easily analyzed into its three parts: the sign or symbol, the object signified by the sign, and the knower’s awareness of their connection. All three are known by the natural powers of the human intellect. Faith, however, is an activity of divine grace beyond human comprehension. In coalescing these two vastly unequal processes, the natural with the supernatural, one proceeds with trepidation and anticipation of an eventual inscrutable mystery.

First we reflect on the way that the mental meaning activity trains the human being to make the leap from the natural to the supernatural. Suppose the impossible: a human being who has only the one way to knowledge, to know only by apprehension through the senses. Lacking the second way to knowledge, meaning, indicates that he lacks the creative intellect, that marvelous faculty to “see” spiritual entities such as the immaterial, therefore spiritual, connection between sign and object-signified. It is this creative intellect that makes meaning, reading, language and literature possible and reality. This artifact human being cannot know spiritual realities like truth, love, justice, beauty, etc. He cannot make an act of faith because he is unaware of the existence of a metaphysical world, a world of spirit over and above the physical universe. It must now be obvious that meaning is propaeduetic to faith, it gives man the mental tool to believe in something he cannot see.

Let the Divine Teacher and First Psychologist show us how to merge meaning and faith. Luke’s gospel (5, 17-26) gives the setting. The house was filled to overflowing including Pharisees and teachers of the law from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem. Men carrying a paralytic and unable because of the crowd to lay him before Jesus went up on the roof and let the paralytic down on his mat into the middle of the crowd before Jesus. A most dramatic scene. Immediately Jesus, seeing their faith, said: “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

The Scribes and the Pharisees objected: “Who is this man who utters blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew their reasoning and answered: “Why do you harbor these thoughts?” He recognized their lack of faith and so proceeded to build their faith, saying, “Which is easier to say, `Your sins are forgiven you’, or to say, `Get up and walk’? In any case to make it clear to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralyzed man: “I say to you, get up! Take your mat with you, and return to your house.” The man promptly arose and went out carrying his mat. The crowd was electrified. Full of awe they gave praise to God, “We have seen incredible things today.”

When we analyze these “incredible things” we discover present in this exchange between Jesus and His critics the three parts of the psychological process of meaning. The missing object to be signified by a sign is named by Jesus – “to make it clear to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This “object” is “absent” because the “forgiveness of sins” could not be seen, being a spiritual and totally invisible effect of Jesus’ words. This is the article of faith Jesus intends to teach. The sign here is the astounding miracle. The awareness by the crowd that the miracle proved the forgiveness of sin appears in their enthusiastic response. If a picture is worth a thousand words, certainly this miracle proves the congeniality of meaning and faith.

The concluding note should be a caution concerning the third part of the meaning process, the object signified. In normal daily experience the object signified by the sign is instantly recognized with an image or concept. For example, at the alarm “fire” one immediately imagines a burning house. But this immediate image of the signified object does not necessarily occur when dealing with matters of faith, because faith deals often with events or beings of which we can have no parallel or analogy in earthlife. The miracle of the paralytic above has for its third part, the signified object, the forgiveness of sin, an item familiar to everyone. The Pharisees knew exactly what it meant. They just would not believe Jesus had the power to forgive sins. This led Him to teach them a truth of faith by using the meaning process.

For an example of an object of faith for which there can be no image or concept, we recall an incident from the life of the great and saintly theologian Thomas Aquinas. Near the end of his life – he died at age 49 – he “complained” that he had spent his life teaching and writing volumes about the Supreme Being and yet had to admit he had not the slightest idea of what God was like. Still he would blindly believe in the God he could not see but whose Word he trusted absolutely. Every Christian must be ready to take that step into blind faith. In this lies salvation.

St. Paul assures us: “It (the Gospel) is the power of God leading everyone who believes in it to salvation” (Romans 1, 16). Jesus said: “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 21, 28). Jesus Himself recommended depending on signs when we cannot see the reality: “Even though you put no faith in Me” – His divinity is totally hidden in His humanity- “put faith in these works so as to realize what it means that the Father is in Me and I in Him” (John 10, 38).

The difference between concept-knowledge and the twinned meaning-faith-knowledge shows why Christ preferred the second in the spiritual life. The difference lies in the personal achievement and control of concept-knowledge, which is always open to conceit and pride of mind, and heavily favors material reality, while the second demands the willingness to learn truth second-handedly, as through a teacher, a truth that transcends immediate reality. This requires humility and becoming like a child who is ready to be taught. Jesus said: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18, 3).

We recall that Moore, in his process of abstraction, showed that the formation of concepts from sense experience is an autonomous act of man’s power of knowing in which man’s free will is passive. However, for the knowledge that comes by faith the person must freely will to accept the truth that is presented in the symbol. This contribution by the free will gives the knowledge of faith a unique value, hence the special title, believing, and the blessing from Jesus.

Gilson throws additional light on the difference between the knowledge of faith and the knowledge of understanding. On the one hand, he says, faith is a type of knowledge inferior to understanding; as a mode of knowing, merely to believe is not as good as to understand. On the other hand, if we consider these two ways of knowing from the viewpoint of their certitude, faith is incomparably more certain than understanding. Faith does not see the truth of its object (the unseen), but the intellect is more unshakably certain of the truth it believes than it would be if it assented to it on the strength of a demonstration. The reason is that the ultimate ground for our intellectual assent to revealed truth is the supremely infallible knowledge that God has of all truth. In fact, God Himself is Truth. Even the intellectual evidence of the first principles in us is only a human type of certitude; it does not compare with the absolute and infinite infallibility of God.37

The Test

Whatever is true, the philosopher says, will be found in fact and in trial to be useful and practical. Is the definition of meaning herein proposed workable in educational practices? Some examples follow.

The Montessori Method of preparing pre-school children, 36, for school work was founded by Maria Montessori, born in Italy in 1870. She first worked with children with learning problems. In 1907, she opened her school to normal children in Rome and Milan. The success of her technique gave her wide acceptance abroad, eventually in the U.S. because of the failures of progressive education.38 The heart of the Montessori method is the clear distinction between apprehension-learning and meaning-learning: in other words, between concepts and meaning. Only after a child has a good fund of real knowledge of things in the environment, concepts acquired through direct sensory contact, does Montessori introduce the child to meaningful learning, learning through symbols of reality, namely, reading and arithmetic. This conforms to the solution that Oesterle applied to the problem of meaning for the semanticists.

Teaching Arithmetic. Arithmetic teachers in the 1930’s led the revolt against the learning theories of the pioneer experimental psychologists. In 1935, William A. Brownell asked for a more meaningful method that presents arithmetic as a “closely knit system of understandable ideas, principles and processes.”39

Henry G. Wheat insists that ideas (concepts) are necessary for meaningful learning. “It takes an idea to make a word significant … With the idea the word becomes serviceable and meaningful … When the children have counted a group of 8, let us say, write the symbol 8… Do not write the symbol 8 before the children have had the experience in counting 8 things.” Concepts must precede meaning.40

Teaching Reading. The revolt of the reading teachers came soon after that of the arithmetic teachers. One example will suffice. W. Valentine, reviewing the article “Experience, Concepts and Reading”, wrote: “There appears to be a renewed interest in the meaning phase of the reading process. Empty word-calling cannot be eliminated until the child possesses concepts to enable him to interpret symbols.”41

Bible Testimony. The all-wise Designer of the human mind has recorded in the inspired scriptures striking examples of the two ways of acquiring knowledge afforded man on the natural level. These two ways are, to recall briefly, first, simple apprehension of objective reality in the concept, call it conceptknowledge, which is knowledge of the first degree of certitude; second, meaning through signs or symbols of reality not immediately present to the knower, call it meaning-knowledge, which is a knowledge of a lower degree of certitude.

Exhibit One. In Exodus 19, 9, God tells Moses: “I am coming to you in a dense cloud so that, when the people hear Me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you also.” The dense cloud and the voice speaking from the cloud give the people sense experience, seeing the cloud and hearing the voice, concept-knowledge. Later Moses gives them the meaning of the conversation through his words, now meaning-knowledge for the people. “That they may always have faith in you also,” God adds. The people hearing God speaking with Moses – this is concept-knowledge, which is related to believing. Again, concepts confirming meanings.

Exhibit Two. The Easter day event, when the doubting Thomas is not present at Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples, sets the stage for an illuminating commentary by Jesus on the two ways of knowing. Thomas had refused to believe, because the report of his companions gave only meaning-knowledge, having less certitude than the concept-knowledge that they had of the risen Lord. When Thomas a week later sees Jesus in the risen body, he gets concept-knowledge of it and then says, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus admonishes Thomas: “You became a believer because you saw Me. Blessed are they who have not seen Me and have believed.” As if to say, faith based on meaning-knowledge is the faith that saves because that faith has the childlike humility to trust in the message and the messenger. Where believer demands complete certitude of knowledge there is no need, indeed no room, for faith. That tells us something about the necessity of believing firmly the promises Jesus made to the Chair of Peter, the reality of the Eucharistic Presence, etc., etc., if we are to be the “blessed who have not seen and have believed.”

Exhibit Three. When Jesus cured a possessed man who was blind and mute (Mt. 12, 22ff) He got two different reactions from the bystanders. Some were astonished and asked “Might this not be David’s son?” referring of course to the promised Messiah. This, though not an act of faith in Jesus, at least showed an open mind expecting further persuasion. But the Pharisees charged: “This man can expel demons only with the help of Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” Jesus responded to this insult with the severest condemnation found in the gospels. He said in part: “Whosoever says anything against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever says anything against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” In this denunciation Jesus distinguishes two degrees of guilt: one forgivable, the other never.

Now, moral guilt is always related to the degree of knowledge the sinner has of the matter in which he sins. Do the degrees of knowledge that distinguish these two guilt cases correlate in some way with the two kinds of knowledge here under study, namely, the knowledge acquired directly through concepts and the other knowledge acquired through meaning? An authoritative commentary on scripture makes this observation on the case of the forgivable sin: “The word against the Son of God is, though grave, forgivable. To assail the human conduct of the Lord, e.g., why does the Teacher eat with tax collectors and those who disregard the law? (Mt. 9, 11), is an insult to His compassionate humanity but it proceeds from a misreading of God’s ways. It has an excuse in the fact that the Word has taken flesh and is to a degree veiled.”

“Misreading of God’s ways” is a significant statement. The sinner in this case has learned divine mysteries through the medium of symbols, words spoken or written, scripture or tradition. Given the fallibility of human judgment, symbols of truth, with the best of intentions, can be misunderstood and lead to improper response. This is meaning-knowledge whose certitude is without guarantee. Jesus, the original psychologist, compassionately holds out hope of forgiveness to this sinner. On the other hand, the Pharisees in this gospel scene are sinners of a different stripe because the knowledge they had of Jesus’ miraculous cure was clear concept-knowledge. They apprehended with their own eyes the total obedience of the demon to Jesus’ command and the immediate gifts of sight and speech to the possessed man.

Again, let the commentary describe their guilt: “Blasphemy against the Spirit is this sin by the Pharisees. They have perversely attributed to Satan what is clearly the work of God. They maliciously and totally subverted the purpose and use of man’s original faculty to learn the truth.”42

This is a hardened-heart rejection of God’s offered light. It is a direct affront to the Spirit of Wisdom. The sin is unforgivable because by its very nature it precludes what is necessary to receive forgiveness. God cannot forgive a sinner so long as his mind and heart lock out God’s gift. This is a perversity, a dishonesty of spirit that calls white black, attributes bad fruit to a good tree, and good fruit to a bad tree. This is the evil of rejecting the original source of truth given to man, the first way of knowing, the concept. Should he change his attitude and open his mind, forgiveness becomes possible. The recognition of the two ways of knowledge, of concept and of meaning as separate and distinct, helps us to understand better Jesus’ variable treatment of sinners in the gospel.

Exhibit Four. Hebrews 1, 1 reads: “God, Who in sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all spoke to us by His Son.” That brief text indicates that the people of the Old Testament based their faith largely on meaning-knowledge, depending on the speaking and writing of the patriarchs and prophets, though not entirely since God, seeing their weakness, sometimes gave sensory evidence of His presence and action, as with Moses. The last age of the world the New Testament presents is a different picture, as Hebrews indicates. In establishing the New Testament Kingdom whose mission is not merely to save one Chosen People but the whole human race, thus driving the Powers of Darkness off the earth, God, foreseeing the rage with which Satan would attack, built the Church on absolute certitude of knowledge. The New Testament Kingdom was powerfully established not in meaning knowledge of signs and symbols, but with concept-knowledge of the Incarnation of the Son of God, of His thirty-three years’ presence and action among men on earth. “He who sees Me sees the Father.” “He who hears Me hears Him Who sent Me.” “If you don’t believe Me, believe My works.” Men literally saw God in the flesh. Men actually heard God speak in the flesh. Still, “blessed are they who believe and have not seen” remains true. Why? Because we live 2,000 years after Jesus lived on earth. We can only know what He taught and did from tradition and scripture. We have only a meaning-knowledge of the Faith. Only? It is the only kind of knowledge of the Faith that we desire.

What knowledge of the Faith? Only the knowledge of the symbols found in the Creed, knowing that these symbols infallibly proclaim invisible salutary eternal truths. This is meaningknowledge, since it leans on symbols and signs, scripture and tradition, and waits for faith to confer absolute certitude upon it, the certitude of Divine revelation. With faith, certitude of the second way of knowing surpasses the certitude of the first way of knowing, the concept. This explains why Jesus, the Divine Psychologist, says: “Blest are they who believe and have not seen.”

The Archetypal Cases

If we may assume rationally that nature’s Designer attached a purpose to the two ways of knowing that the Divine Psychologist has indicated, namely, concept and meaning, it reasonably follows that the misunderstanding and misuse of the same in the day by day management of life will lead to harmful results personal and social. It has been noted already, that a perceptive commentator on the present American scene suggests that the current deteriorating U.S. culture is rooted in a general ignorance of man’s nature, faculties and destiny. In the light of that observation, what evidence is there that the erroneous conceptions of basic mental faculties by American psychologists since 1910 have had a debilitating effect on the education of American youth during that time? For that evidence we turn the spotlight on the story of the evangelization of Catholic school children since the end of Vatican Council II in 1965, and on several other areas of intellectual and devotional life of the Catholic body in the U.S.


Without any official announcement, after Vatican II the Church’s control over the content and publication of catechetical texts for grade and high school students disappeared. Thereupon a variety of publishers, sensing a promising market, got into the act of furnishing textbooks in the highly specialized field of a divinely revealed religion, free to flood Catholic schools with their product that escaped serious censorship by the Teaching Church. There followed then a heyday for profiteers and selfconstituted “experts” and “theologians.” Not to enter a prolix description of this unprecedented publishing phenomenon, we restrict attention now to the roles that the two ways of knowing, concept and meaning, played or failed to play in this catechetical venture-for-profit.

The first serious problem the publishers faced was determining the content of the catechism. On the one hand they lacked regular access to the Deposit of Faith of which the Magisterium (Pope and Bishops in union with him) was the keeper and interpreter. On the other hand they were informed by the “expert theologians”, who were ubiquitous after Vatican II, that Vatican II had radically changed the teachings of the Church, thus denying the publishers access to the traditional catechisms like the Baltimore Catechism.

In this dilemma, the enterprising publishers invented their own source of the content of the Catholic catechism, namely, personal experience of daily living. Now, personal experience consists almost totally of conscious reaction and interaction between ourselves and the people and the environment around us. This is the way we get knowledge of the world. This is nothing else but the first way of knowing described before in detail that gives us concepts and is called apprehension by the perennial philosophers. We recall that Christ was displeased with people who did not use their wits, their senses, to learn the facts of reality around them, but He rose above that form of knowledge and gave a blessing to a more precious knowledge: meaning, akin to faith. Here we see the tragic limitations of the secular publisher’s experiential method of learning the truths of the divinely revealed faith. There is no way that a child can learn about the Blessed Trinity, the Annunciation, the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Eucharist, the nature of sin, the seven sacraments, eternal life, the resurrection, the need for prayer from the experiential method. These uncommissioned and uncensored texts denied the student the second way of knowing and believing in the symbols of eternal truths found in the Bible and Tradition.

Jesus said: “Blessed are they who believe and have not seen.” The experiential method taught children only to see and failed to teach them to believe. The experiential method is limited to the truths of the material world. Only the symbolic method teaches us the truths of the unseen world.

Had the publishers and the pushers of the experiential catechisms been aware of the real nature of and the clear distinction between concepts and meaning, the tragedy of a generation of countless children schooled without faith, and the broken hearts of parents who saw the tragedy happening and were refused a hearing, could have been prevented. The protests of these alert and well-informed parents are now recognized and supported by recent counter-attacks from the Vatican, which has commissioned a new universal catechism to be created under the complete control of the Teaching Church.

The lack of a sound epistemology at the highest levels of the American Catholic educational system has led to a monumental toll in human deprivation and sorrow. Nature’s Designer did indeed attach a specific purpose to the two ways of knowing for mankind. Man disregards these principles to his own undoing.


Liturgy is another area that suffers from the wrong way to reach supernatural truth. This is presented by the staunch apologist for all things Catholic, Frank Morriss, reputed journalist. In The Wanderer of October 22, 1987, Morriss reviews a booklet, The Mass – Finding Its Meaning for You – and Getting More Out of It, by Father Gerard P. Weber, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, with nihil obstat of two priests, the imprimi potest of a Franciscan provincial, and the imprimatur of the Bishop-Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This book then carries the approval of the highest ecclesial authority – of the American church that is, not the Roman. There is a difference! The title, The Mass – Finding Its Meaning for You, is intriguing to say the least.

The title that Morriss gives to his column speaks volumes for the content of Weber’s book – “Another False Prophet Denigrates the Mass.” Father Weber, by the way, is a retreat master and author of catechetical texts. Morriss, a devoted educator of youth in the Faith, is no stranger to the destructive effect that experiential methodology has wreaked on catechetics since Vatican II, post hoc not proptor hoc, of course. He immediately identifies this methodology in Weber’s book: “It was inevitable, I suppose,” he writes, “that the raging experiential deluge would reach the level of the Mass.” Then he adds very significantly: “Experience must be transcended if we are to arrive at knowing and acting as our Creator intended us to know and act.” Here Morriss points ahead to another way of knowing beyond experience.

We pass over the multitudinous list of activities Weber proposes as means to make the Mass more attractive and meaningful. Let one example suffice, where the author compares the Mass to the performance of a symphony orchestra, to wit: “But without the cooperation and active, intense participation of the ministers and the entire congregation, the priest’s efforts will be in vain.” (All Father Weber will concede to the celebrant is that he holds a central role.) “He is the one who pulls it together, orchestrates it, gives it feeling and tone, much like the conductor of a symphony orchestra.” Morriss comments: “Quite clearly in that part of his book Father Weber is at odds with Church teaching, notably, the Council of Trent which declared a Mass at which only the priest receives Communion is fully valid and effective.”

But Morriss saves the best for his final sentence where he points to the other way of knowing: “That they (humble believers) know, not with the heart, but with their knowledge through hearing the word and keeping it, as did Mary.” This is the knowledge that is raised to the level of believing through the meaning process. The Divine Psychologist gave this knowledge His blessing, for it is the key to eternal life. Not only does experiential knowledge by itself defeat the very purpose of evangelization, but it also destroys the spirit of worship in the Eucharist. Therefore, the lamented decline of attendance at Sunday Masses. Staged theatricals do not possess the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist.

Academic Freedom

Some leaders in the Catholic Church of the U.S. demand that the Catholic theologian, when teaching Catholic doctrine, be granted the same academic freedom that is enjoyed by scholars in the secular university. This calls for a basic distinction. Two different levels of knowledge are involved here, natural knowledge and supernatural knowledge. Man is a part of the world of nature and thereby is equipped to gather and to understand the knowledge he has gathered. This co-naturality between the knower and the known is the reason for academic freedom, to be exercised within reason and respecting a higher law, in the area of natural knowledge. All the academic freedom exercised in the secular university is limited to this natural knowledge, since the secular university has no delegated authority to teach supernatural knowledge.

Academic freedom is a much more complex problem for the Catholic theologian. He has all the freedom of the secular college when he deals with natural knowledge. He is also authorized by his Church to teach supernatural knowledge to his students. The moment he teaches in this area his academic freedom ends. What is the evidence for the existence of supernatural knowledge? Jesus clearly pointed to it when He said simply: “Everything has been given to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son – and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him” (Mt. 11, 26f). That statement presents two capital truths: first, there exists a world of knowledge totally beyond man’s faculty to know; second, there is a Man Who can give men this higher knowledge. Jesus said: “If you live according to my teaching, you are truly My disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 31f). The Second Vatican Council in Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, I, 6, succinctly stated these two truths in these words: “He chose to share with them these divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind.”

Here is a reality that transcends all powers of the human mind; still man can possess it by believing the divine teachers. “The man who believes it (the good news) and accepts baptism will be saved” (Mark 16, 16). It is not enough merely to believe. Obey – be baptized. It is self-evident that the person who believes with humility under the help of grace cannot the next moment proceed to revise or alter the truth received to suit his personal opinion. That face-about is forbidden in Christ’s warning: “I assure you unless you change and become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 18, 2). No one in the Church, from Pope to peasant, has academic freedom in respect to truths that the Magisterium declares to be divinely revealed. Speculating on the meaning of some obscure part of revelation is not academic freedom, provided the person speculating faithfully submits his ideas to the final judgment of the Magisterium and abides by the same.

What principle of reasoning does the Magisterium employ when guarding, defending and interpreting revealed doctrines of faith and morals? Is this not a form of academic freedom? For an answer to that, listen to the story of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the morality of artificial contraception, 1968. The Pope was overwhelmed during the late 1960’s with administering loose odds and ends of Vatican Council II which ended in 1965. At the same time there was a clamor from the public for a prompt declaration on contraception, the burning issue of this era. Responding to this pressure, the Pope appointed a mixed committee of Catholic clergy and laity, recognized scholars and theologians, with instructions to palliate this demand, hoping, oh so mistakenly, that the committee would re-affirm traditional Catholic teaching. The committee, however well-intentioned, proceeded to study birth control from the viewpoint of medical, familial and social statistics and concluded in a majority report that contraception is in modern conditions necessary and therefore morally acceptable. This sent a shiver through the whole Church and presented Pope Paul VI an unprecedented challenge to the Church’s teaching.

This is a case of Catholic scholars using academic freedom and natural knowledge, statistics, to interpret revealed truth about marital sexuality. Pope Paul VI however met this challenge with flying colors in his now immortal Humanae Vitae. Relying totally on the historical record of the Church’s teaching from the beginning, he showed from scripture, tradition and Church history that the Church always has taught artificial birth control to be intrinsically evil, therefore this teaching does not permit change. Is there any similarity to or trace of academic freedom in this procedure followed by the Pope? What method did he use? He stood by tradition.

It was tradition that brought John Henry Newman into the Church. He was the greatest historian in his time of the Church’s teaching through the ages back to the beginning. Wherever his studies led him Newman found the teaching the same. Yes, he found a development of doctrine which he described in his greatest book, The Development of Doctrine,written before he became a Catholic. This development, when done by the Magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, amounts to a better understanding of a given doctrine without changing its original truth. Such a development is found in Humanae Vitae which proposes natural family planning as morally appropriate, but still condemns artificial contraception. Thus the Church avoids the error of fundamentalism and yet safeguards tradition. Such delicate operations on revealed doctrines would be impossible for mere human agents. This is the work of the Holy Spirit Who guides the Magisterium in defense and development of doctrines.

What is wrong with academic freedom? Simply the fact that it is exercised by a human being who is fallible. Read the history of the natural sciences whose centuries-old path is found to be cluttered with discarded wrecks of unworkable theories. These are all the works of one-time scholars who enjoyed academic freedom in natural knowledge. Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away” (Mt. 24, 35).

Why does Jesus enjoy perpetuity in His pronouncements while human agents working in their natural fields so frequently produce only temporary phantoms of truth? Why? Because Jesus is omniscient and knows all the relevant facts. What scientist has all the facts, past, present, future, of the piece of reality about which he is theorizing? If the natural scientist cannot guarantee his work in the area he understands, what chance has the theologian to be free of error when theorizing about supernatural knowledge whose facts are beyond human understanding? We recall Gilson’s remark that “the intellect is more unshakably certain of the truth it believes than it would be if it assented to it on the strength of a demonstration. The reason is that the ultimate ground for our intellectual assent to revealed truth is the supremely infallible knowledge God has of all truth.”

Can anyone measure the influence that false academic freedom of theologians had in the propagation of the many heresies that disfigure the fair pages of Mother Church’s history!

From the dangers of false academic freedom in revealed truths, deliver us, O Lord.

“First you must understand this: there is no prophecy contained in Scripture which is a personal interpretation. Prophecy has never been put forward by man’s willing it. It is rather that men are impelled by the Holy Spirit having spoken under God’s influence” (II Peter, 1, 20-21).

Dissident Magisterium

The Church’s Magisterium, her divinely delegated-andguarded supreme teaching authority, is also victimized by the current neglect or even ignorance of epistemology. It is a basic premise of epistemology that a clear distinction exists between natural knowledge and supernatural knowledge, which distinction also applies to their respective powers and effects. Natural knowledge on its own can never achieve a supernatural end.

The appearance of another “magisterium” within the body of the Church, which is self-induced, self-directed and dissenting from traditional teachings of the Church, is deeply disturbing to the faithful. Fortunately, this phenomenon has been clearly analyzed by Dr. Germain Grisez, the lay moral theologian who needs no introduction to American Catholic informed readers. Grisez’s very instructive essay, “Two Views of the Church’s Magisterium,” was published in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review of November 1987, pp. 64-7. Points presented here about this upstart magisterium are drawn from Grisez’s excellent exposition and are gratefully acknowledged.

The proponents of this dissident magisterium, while they recognize that the old positions on personal and marital sex are still official Church teaching, nonetheless endorse the new positions, confident that these discern what the Spirit is telling the Church today. They base their position on the large number of theologians who agree on this, and insist that this consensus of competent theologians may not be ignored by the Pope and the bishops with him. They also broaden the base of their consensus by including the contemporary Christian experience of the faithful, which they claim to be the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

The position of the Church’s Magisterium, tracing its origin back to Apostolic days, is to teach Jesus’ way and to observe all He commanded. In this mission of the Magisterium the Holy Spirit plays an essential role by continually guiding the Church and all her members, not by teaching anything new on His (Holy Spirit’s) own authority, but by recalling and unfolding Jesus’ teaching. Because these teachings have been held unbroken by the Church in the past and handed down to us, Paul VI and John Paul II have reaffirmed them. No Catholic bishop or theologian has contradicted this constant and very firm teaching of the Church until very recently. Dr. Grisez concludes: “(There is) no good reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church today through the experiences of Catholics whose way of life . . . conforms to the standards of the contemporary nonbelieving world.”

We have here two different ideas of the Magisterium: the modern one contradicting the traditional one. Two arguments contest the existence of the modern version. The first argument is theological and follows. If the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity generates and promotes the upstart magisterium, He is guilty of introducing dissension within the inner life of the Blessed Trinity as Jesus presented it to the disciples. Jesus is very explicit about the complete cooperation that He receives from the Father and the Holy Spirit in respect to His mission on earth when He speaks to them while still at the Last Supper table on Holy Thursday night. He first defines and limits the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the future Church. “This much have I told you while I was still with you; the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in My name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you” (Jn. 14, 25). “In my name” indicates that the Holy Spirit will not work on His own authority and initiate His own program. Rather, He comes as Jesus’ Ambassador, continuing and completing Jesus’ mission on earth: “Will … remind you of all that I told you”; “Whom the Father will send in My name” establishes the total support and harmony Jesus receives within the Trinity.

A little later but still at the Last Supper Jesus emphasizes the unity, harmony and loyalty that exists in the Blessed Trinity in regard to Jesus’ work as the Messiah. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot hear it now. When He comes however being the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but will speak only what He hears, and will announce to you the things to come. In doing this He will give glory to Me, because He will have received from Me what He will announce to you. All that the Father has belongs to Me. That is why I said what He will announce to you He will have from Me” (Jn. 16, 12-15).

The impossibility of a rift coming between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is so clear no further comment is needed. In this connection we recall Jesus’ prophetic words: “The heavens and the earth will pass away but My words will not pass” (Mt. 24, 35). Theologically speaking, the idea of a second magisterium instigated by the Holy Spirit and dissenting from the teaching of the Magisterium that Jesus entrusted to the chair of Peter is sheer blasphemy of the highest degree.

The second argument against a rival magisterium is drawn from epistemology. It appears to be a fact that there are two orders of knowledge, the natural and the supernatural. Man has the faculty to gather and utilize natural knowledge. But Jesus repeatedly states, and the Second Vatican Council has reiterated, that man cannot acquire any supernatural knowledge on his own. Man learns supernatural truth only passively as a gift from above through the meaning-faith process. Even when Peter declared that Christ was the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus replied: “Blest are you, Simon son of John! No mere man has revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father” (Mt. 16, 16-17).

If now the Holy Spirit is theologically excluded from guiding the practitioners of the rival magisterium, then the consensus that dissidents build on the modern experiences of theologians and faithful is nothing more than natural knowledge. Therefore, this dissident magisterium is devoid of any input of supernatural knowledge.

The Final Curtain

The flawed psychology under scrutiny was operative also in the historic meeting between Pope John Paul II and the American hierarchy in Los Angeles on September 16, 1987. Four archbishops made presentations to the Pope, who responded to each directly.

Appearing and reappearing in the American talks like an undulating thread was the suave hint that the American church should rightly share more fully in the decision-making process of the universal Church, with special concern for cases where an American bishop or theologian differs with the Holy See’s decision on some issue. The point and purpose of this presentation being that, to effectuate better the unity and solidarity implicit in the Mystical Body of Christ, a better mechanism should be devised for resolving such disputes, thus resulting in a more constructive exchange between the “universal Church” and the “particular churches.”

Underlying this search for a “more constructive exchange” are two developing social factors of modernity. There are the differences in culture that generate different expectations in peoples of different areas. The other factor is the explosion of freedom of thought that demands private interpretation in religious matters. In the face of these burgeoning forces, how can the unity essential to the universal Church be preserved? The question itself suggests the answer, namely, the Roman See must adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward American dissenters from official teaching.

How does the Holy Father respond to this American thesis? In an unexpected way but still typical of the astute theologian the Holy Spirit has placed on Peter’s chair, he first deftly by-passes the two modernist problems which are only natural phenomena devoid of any supernatural value, and directs the discussion to a higher level. The bishops had made much of the need for harmony between the universal and the particular churches as a requisite for the preservation of the Church’s mark of unity. But John Paul II points out that this unity is not the work or result of natural forces, such as the sociological factor of harmony. If it were, that would give her mark of unity a mere horizontal origin. He then makes a special effort to clarify the vertical dimension of the Church’s unity. This is a supernatural gift from on high which no human or natural factors can bring into existence or destroy.

He also declares that since Vatican II this “vertical dimension” has been obscured and many have grasped only the “horizontal” dimension.

The Pope then rejects concession to the dissenters. “Dissent remains dissent.” This rejection by Peter’s successor of any dissent from official teaching is supported in the total history of the Church. Every century of Christian experience has had its quota of dissenters who, when denied concessions from Rome, turned heresiarchs and tore away whole nations of the Church’s membership. Suffice it to mention only Arius, Luther, Henry VIII. The last members have included many bishops and theologians besides the laity. Externally, horizontally, sociologically the Roman Church’s unity has been shattered. But vertically the unfailing presence and shepherding of Christ has preserved the Church’s unity in one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Moral Code. If the Roman See had made concessions to these numerous heresiarchs, the Creed would today be the confusing hodge podge of religious theories now prevalent outside the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II stands like the Rock of Peter against any modernist incursion upon the Faith of Our Fathers.

The Holy Father’s distinction between the vertical and the horizontal approaches to the Church’s unity presents a perfect parallel to the psychological principle established in this study that man has a special way to natural truths, the concept, and a special way to supernatural truths, the meaning akin to faith. This psychological principle is useful, indeed necessary, not only for catechetics in the classroom, but also has application in the highest reaches of ecclesiastical life. This is the psychological elucidation of how Peter strengthened his American brethren. When a prairie fire erupts on the landscape, it devours all in its path, man and beast. This is the last curtain of error which only a contrary wind, a divine intervention can stay. “You are the Rock, and on this rock I will build My church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16, 18).


Both philosophic psychology (Aquinas’ Treatise on Man) and scientific psychology (Moore’s “Process of Abstraction”) attribute to the human person the supreme faculty to conceptualize all reality both material (sensory) and immaterial (non-sensory). That faculty is called the intellect. This noble faculty is unique to man among all earthly creatures. It is his intellect that constitutes man the king of the universe; under God, of course. It is by this intellect that mankind has sure access to both the material and immaterial truths essential to his rule. Even the immaterial? Some will doubt. As is often true in the human story, the full power of this noble and highest faculty is not always used. In the story of American psychology herein unfolded are examples of this.

Pioneer psychologists neglected the role of the intellect in education, and teachers quickly found their methods unworkable. Their definitions of meaning were defective for the same reason. The same flaw created the problem for the semanticists. The modern philosopher John Dewey limited the use of the intellect to initiate the search for the function or use of things and thereby planted the seed of the present prevailing decadent culture, materialistic consumerism. However, a few psychologists like Moore and Woodward in the U.S., Binet in France, Kulpe in Germany, Spearman in England, gave serious attention to the superior powers of the intellect.

There is a danger here of misunderstanding this superior intellect, also named creative intellect. Some may think this refers to the talents of creative artists like poets, painters, composers, novelists, etc. Not true. The creative intellect as used here in the epistemological context is possessed by everyone with a normal intellect. Every person who has learned to read is using the creative intellect that enables him to see the invisible relation between the word and its referent. No sense organ gets an image of that relation. The intellect of the reader has to “create” that relation on its own. A moment’s reflection on the many other creations of this intellect for man’s daily uses will enhance appreciation of this noble faculty.

Carl Spearman, English psychologist, a contemporary and admirer of Moore, did much to reveal this subtle power of the creative intellect. He discovered purely intellectual processes – not dependent on the sense organs – which he named the “eduction of relations” and the “eduction of correlates”. Example of the eduction of relations: seeing a maple leaf and an oak leaf side by side tends to produce the idea of difference. The relation here is the abstract idea of difference. But place two maple leaves side by side – the result will be the idea of sameness. A tall person and a short person standing side by side generate the ideas of taller and shorter. Two apples, one larger, the other smaller. And so on, e.g., true and false, right and left, up and down. The intellect in this area reveals the power to compare things from certain aspects and to give the result a term that is universally recognized. The eduction of correlates is a bit more subtle. Example: pairing the oak leaf with the idea of a different leaf leads to the recall of some leaf that is not oak. In this case the other leaf is the correlate.

These are striking instances of the super-sensory power of the intellect. All persons have these powers of mind. None of these concepts can be grasped by bodily senses of sight, touch, etc. These intellectual leaps are totally missing in the mental performance of animals, and also explain why animals cannot read.43

The real rewards of the full use of the intellect, interestingly, appear in the work of a group of physical scientists presently writing a new chapter in the history of the physical sciences. We do well also to give some recognition in this respect to artists, poets and saints. What do members of the groups mentioned look for when they look at nature? Not, like Dewey, for use or function only, or consumption. They look to find the total truth wrapped up in the creature now under observation, and in this search they pull out all the stops of the intellect. Let them speak for themselves.

The mathematician-physicist, Henri Poincare, writes: “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.”44

Roger Sperry, neuroscientist, reports in “Interview”, Omni, August, 1983, p. 74: “Consciousness, free will and values; these three long-standing thorns in the side of science. Materialist science couldn’t cope with any of these . . . For most of us of course all these are among the most important things in life … When science proceeds to deny their importance, even their existence … we have to wonder about science.” Consciousness, free will and values clearly are immaterial entities not visible to the eye but are “seen” by the superior intellect, the same that in the meaning-experience “sees” (knows) the unseeable relations between the sign and the thing signified. The new-story-scientist pays his respects to this intellectual power.

Albert Einstein, the genius of science, has summarized the three elements of beauty of which Poincare speaks: “A theory is the more impressive the greater is the simplicity of its premises; the greater is the harmony the more different kinds of things it relates; the greater its brilliance the more extensive is its area of applicability.”45 Einstein once remarked: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”‘

Henry Morgenau, for forty years renowned physicist at Yale U. and co-worker of Albert Einstein, has stated that it would be unreasonable for someone to reject the notion of a Creator by appealing to science. “Modern science has definitely shown the non-contradiction of Creation out of nothing.””

Professor Charles Wickramasinghe and Sir Fred Hoyle, coauthors of several scientific books, have been described as two of Britain’s most eminent scientists. They recently startled the scientific community with the announcement that their research showed that “there must be a God.”‘

Wilder Penfield, pioneering in brain surgery since 1930, in his book published in 1975 wrote: “Although the content of consciousness depends in large measure on neural activity, awareness itself does not” (p. 55). “It is the mind (not the brain) that watches and at the same time directs” (p. 25). “It is more reasonable to suggest that the mind may be a distinct essence from the body” (p. 30). “What a thrill it is then to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the spirit” (pp. XIII, 85).49

In this passim sampling of top-flight modern physical scientists who probe objective reality for ultimate truths by plying intellect-power at full throttle, the following list of transcendental realities is affirmed: beauty, simplicity, harmony, brilliance, spirit, creation (invisible action), consciousness, free will, values, purpose, mind, God – not a complete list. Intimations of immortality are these, rich intellectual fare. As wholesome food improves bodily health, so transcendentals enrich the mind of the knower ethically and culturally. Compare then the life-story of an individual raised on an intellectual curriculum of functionalism and consumerism with the aspirations of the brilliant Blaise Pascal who, after finally succumbing to the unassailable principles of perennial philosophy, exclaimed in one of his Pensees: “I don’t want to know only the use of a thing. I want to know the thing in itself.”

Is there any support from these scientists for St. Paul’s dictum: “Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, God’s eternal power and divinity, are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made?” (Romans 1, 20) Significantly, St. Paul adds “being understood” after “are clearly seen”, not seen by the eye, “seen” by the creative intellect. That leads to the question: What is the personal attitude of these scientists toward religion? Prof. Morgenau of Yale on one occasion commented on that topic as follows: “It is often said, and widely believed that scientists on the whole are antireligious, or, are not interested in religion. I believed that for a long time, too, but no longer. Perhaps I should not say this, but as I perceive it, the fact is, the scientists, the physicists at least, who have been most active, most successful in developing the quantum theory and further innovations in physics, are very interested in religion. If you consider scientists of the type of high school teachers or grade school teachers of Carl Sagan, you find that, yes, there is a lack of interest. Quite a few of them are anti-religious. But if you take the outstanding physicists, the ones who have done the most to advance modern physics, especially Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Dirac (Nobel prize winner), you find them all interested in religion. All these men were intensely interested in religion.” Regarding Einstein, he added: “He did not go to church very often. But he certainly did not disdain religion or speak against it. Never.”50

Let Alfred Tennyson give one testimony for the poets. “Little flower – but if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.”51

As the physical scientists discover immaterial, transcendental values in creatures, so do the saints even more, for they see in creatures reflections of the divine attributes of their Creator, such as purpose, providence, mercy, faithfulness, wisdom, and love; also beauty.

The great Augustine of Hippo speaks for the saints:

Question the beauty of the earth

the beauty of the sea

the beauty of the sky;

question the living creatures that move therein;

the spirit that lies hidden,

the invisible that rule them;

question all these.
They will answer you.

“Behold and see, we are beautiful.”

Their beauty is their confession of God.

Who made these beautiful changing things if not one who is beautiful and changeth not.

Free Will

Free will appears in the personal response that every person makes to the bits and pieces of objective reality presented to him/her by the knowing power of the intellect. That expresses in a nutshell the management of personal life through the great faculties that produce concept and meaning, namely, intellect and free will.

Different persons respond to the same bit of reality in a different way, according to each one’s talents, tastes, needs and background of experience. That is freedom. The example given earlier of the mother’s worry about the swimming hole and the son’s fun in the same illustrates this freedom. Does this not present a conflict of interests, the one smothering the other? While on the face of it the reactions suggest a confrontation, the result can be quite otherwise. The mother’s worry moves her to create a community interest in providing all swimming sites with effective safeguards that assure the son’s opportunity to enjoy swimming even more. The son’s enthusiasm, on the other hand, abetted by that of his peers, sets off social and political moves to create better local swimming and diving facilities so that water sports become a valuable health and recreational asset to the whole community. Tolerance of individual meaning-responses to the environment, within proper limits, protects the freedom of the individual and yet contributes to the common good.

The same analysis fits the example of the meaning of the tree to five different citizens of the market square. If thelumberman for whom the tree means an x number of feet of lumber for the market would demand exclusive use of all trees, his liberty becomes license, and there will be a shortage of fuel for the householder, no trees for landscaping, no shade for the wayfarer, no beauty for the poet. An unprincipled use of the meaning-freedom works havoc on the common good. The presence of other meaning-reactions to trees exercises a restraining effect on the lumberman. Freedom of meaning is recognized and workable even in the context of conflicting interests so long as that freedom is counseled and guided by ethical principles dictated by social guardians, the family, the church and the state. No human freedom in a society of equals is absolute unto itself.

In the Creator’s loving design every person exists with his/her complex of viewpoints, tastes, skills and needs that determines one’s own value-response to the environment. That personal meaning-response determines the contribution that each person makes in terms of services and/or goods to society. Through those variable contributions by the different members of the community, the needs of society are fulfilled. This providential plan of the human mind, of social structure and service, rests on these two spiritual faculties, the intellect and the free will. To empower all men for this thrilling pilgrimage through time into eternal glory, the Father created them intelligent and free. Praise the Lord!

Integrating Intellect and Free Will

What then do these findings about the natures of concept and of both simple and complex meaning, their distinctness and mutual dependence, contribute to the optimum fulfillment of the human person and the assured attainment of his high destiny? Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, in his intense activity and rich productivity of pre-papal years as pastor, teacher,philosopher, theologian, author and shepherd, has given us a new vision of man in his Personalism. Personhood, he explains, is that immaterial ingredient that gives man this similarity to his Creator indicated at his genesis (Genesis, 2); likewise, the ingredient that elevates him in essence and ineluctably above his biological cousin, the animal. In his personhood man enjoys the ability to know the truth in all beings and the power of self-determination, which is the freedom of responding to all reality, as well as the ability to escape enslavement to secular forces and attractions. These powers of knowing and choosing constitute him a rational being in duty bound to choose and love the true and the good. John Paul II ascribes to this rationality of man a thirst for the absolute which embraces the search for truth, the need for the good, the urge for freedom, the hunger for beauty, and last but not least the approval of conscience. These spiritual hungers can be satisfied only if man has the faculty to find truth and also the faculty to respond with freedom. In this personalism are found then the roles of concept and meaning.

Concept comes first, since it provides the building blocks of man’s knowledge upon which rises the second level of mental activity, namely, judgments and reasoning and meaning. The concept possesses that certitude of truth which the perennial philosopher describes as the conformity of the mind to reality; which, Moore also demonstrated, is proof against voluntary manipulation and revision by the knower, except for mendacity, which is the unforgivable sin against the Spirit of Truth. The meaning activity is the free response to the truth presented in the concept, and that free response embodies the giftedness of the person.

An Accolade

Father Moore, O.S.B., probably did not commit himself irrevocably to the statement that concept is meaning. It may have been a handy remark to conclude his report that came easily to mind in the context of the universal misreading of meaning of that time. The reason for that interpretation is that about five years later Moore talks about meaning as something not yet clearly understood. This happens in his report in 1915 on his important experiment “Temporal Relations of Meaning and Imagery” in which Moore shows Titchener’s theory on meaning invalid. Moore: “The meaning is a`knowing’ sui generis” (p. 200). “Meaning therefore is not context. What is it – a mere negation? Not at all. It is a definite mental process sui generis. What are its qualitative characters?” (p. 225).

In these comments Moore sees the nature of meaning to be a process still to be deciphered. If he was convinced that meaning and concept were identicals, he would have referred to his work on the process of abstraction. What has happened to Moore during those five years? Here we need to consider the special attributes of his strong personality. Moore was an extraordinary person of exceptional talents. He was also a highly motivated priest. After fifteen years of intense theoretical work, mostly confined to the laboratory and classroom, Moore began to feel the need to practice the works of charity toward the needy, the suffering and the underprivileged of mankind. So he turned away from theoretics and sought the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins U. in 1915. During World War I he served in 1918-19 as a Major in the U.S. Medical Corps at home and in France where he achieved noteworthy success in bringing hundreds of shell-shocked GI’s out of their disability in the field hospitals. In the meantime, he also had acquired the degree in psychiatry and became the Director of the Clinic for Neural and Mental Disorders at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Finally, with the purpose of helping handicapped children, he established an Institute for Training Handicapped on the campus of the Catholic University. His success in the treatment of nervous and emotional patients was phenomenal. He possessed a unique charism for this therapy. A colleague and friend of Moore’s who practiced psychiatry in New York and sometimes visited Moore at C.U. once told Moore’s class that some of Moore’s patients felt a curative effect from Moore’s mere personal presence.

Considering this crowded program of activities after 1915 while still teaching and publishing books, it follows readily that Moore could not keep up with ongoing experiments in psychology. Still a haunting interest in the unsolved problem of the nature of meaning hung on. Then thirty years later, one day he found on the desk of the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences a doctoral thesis, “The Definition of Meaning in American Education,” soliciting official readers to judge the manuscript. The title caught Moore’s eye and he offered to read it. However, he returned the manuscript before finishing it with the interesting comment: “An important part of this work is a critical treatment of an experiment of mine published thirty years ago. This represents a conflict of personal interest and it is not proper for me to judge this work.” This candid reaction testifies to Moore’s honesty and humility in academic work.

Soon after this, Father Moore retired at age 70 from the faculty of C.U. and spent his last twenty years as a Carthusian monk, the most austere contemplative life in the Catholic Church, at Burgos, Spain. Here he died at age 92 and was buried at Miraflores, Spain.

Thomas Verner Moore, the calm and gentle priest and monk, Doctor of Philosophy, educator, author, psychologist, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Psychiatry, and contemplative, was the noblest person ever to grace the campus of the Catholic University of America. All society, the healing arts of mind and body, the Catholic University and his students are beholden to Moore for important contributions to Catholic life and useful knowledge, and owe him a sterling accolade of admiration and grateful remembrance.

Thomas Aquinas, Peerless

Professor T.V. Moore contributed substantially to the understanding and appreciation of that supreme faculty, the intellect, with his laboratory demonstration of the Process of Abstraction. But this scientific demonstration was not entirely original, since Moore was guided in the designing of this experiment by the principles of epistemology of which he had earlier knowledge from Aquinas’ Treatise of Man. Aquinas had, seven centuries earlier, correctly identified philosophically the process of the origin of man’s knowledge.

The record of American experimental psychologists’ treatment of the mental process of meaning, which is the seat of human freedom, shows that their contribution here was their express recognition of the awareness of relationship between the two terms in the meaning experience. Their failure to define meaning completely was due largely to their neglect of the knowing power of the intellect, which is a pre-condition to meaning. Again, Thomas Aquinas, the perennial philosopher, had explained the basic elements of the meaning process in his significatio seven centuries before the appearance of experimental psychology.

These historic and enduring achievements entitle Thomas Aquinas to an honorary membership in the Academy of Modern Psychology.

John Oesterle’s Explanation of
Diagram of Significatio
(According to John of St. Thomas)

Starting with instrumental signs (the most obvious), the diagram makes clear the arbitrary (ad placitum) connection of instrumental signs and formal signs. Several instrumental signs are arrowed to the formal sign to indicate there is not a one-to-one correspondence. The same formal sign (concept) may be expressed by different instrumental signs. The reverse would also hold: one instrumental sign may express different formal signs. This emphasizes the arbitrariness involved in this relation. The truncated arrow leading from the instrumental signs to the object shows that only an indirect relation is there.

The formal sign (the concept) signifies naturally and directly its signified, the object. This relation is direct and natural because of the complete dependence of the formal sign upon the object, i.e., the formal sign takes its whole being in representing the object, and hence the sense in which formal signification is the same for all. The dotted line running from the formal sign to the knowing power indicates that this representation of the object is to the knowing power. There is no “interpretation” involved in this signification, hence the necessity of having one continuous line running from the object through the formal sign to the knowing power. The line is dotted from the formal sign to the knowing power to show the attaining of the knowing power “in obliquo” by the formal sign. The line and dotted line from object to knowing power (really one line) illustrates the comprehensive relation involved in the sign, knowing power, and signified which John of St. Thomas elaborates so extensively. The arrow extending from the formal sign to the knowing power indicates the sense in which the formal sign can be related to the knowing power distinct from its relation to the object (the sense of the double relation); here, however, “signum respicit potentiam directe ut objectum, non formaliter ut signum.” The point of all this is always the objectivity of knowing.

Finally, lines are drawn from the knowing power to indicate the other elements involved in the whole knowing process, the impressed species and the act of knowing, both of which are prior to the formal sign which is the term and manifestation of the knowing power. The arrow extending from the object to the impressed species is the last point in terms of signification, but the first point in terms of knowing. For the object inaugurates the whole process by the impression of its species upon the knowing power which, aroused into act, manifests its likeness of the object in the formal sign, the term of the knowing process; then, we signify instrumentally. (The Thomist, A Speculative Quarterly Review of Theology and Philosophy. Vol. VII, Jan. 1944, pp. 260-262.)















1Thomistic Epistemology, Vol. I, by Georges Van Riet, Ph.D., Prof. of U. of Louvain, Herder Book Co., St. Louis, translated by Gabriel Franks, O.S.B., Ph.D., 1963, 348 pp.

2Elements of Christian Philosophy, Etienne Gilson, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1960, p. 231.

3Ibid., p. 220.

4Lectures on the Experimental Psychology of the Mental Processes, E.B. Titchener, Macmillan Co., N.Y., 1909, pp. 175f.

5“The Development of Meaning”, Agnes McDonough, Psychological Monographs, XXVII, 1919, pp. 443-515.

6New York Times, Oct. 20, 1944.

7A History of American Philosophy, Herbert Schneider, Columbia U. Press, N.Y., 1946, p. 552.

8How We Think, 1933, p. 136.

9Cognitive Psychology, T.V. Moore, 1939, J.P. Lippincott Co., Phil., p. 327.

10“The Process of Abstraction,” University of California Publications in Psychology, I, 1910, p. 74.

11Ibid., p. 191.

12“Process of Abstraction,” p. 187.

13Cognitive Psychology, p. 330.

14Thomistic Psychology, Robert E. Brennan, Macmillan Co., N.Y., 1942, p. 203.

15Educational Psychology, Arthur R. Gates, A.T. Jersild, T.R. McConnell, and Robert C. Challmann, Macmillan, N.Y., 1942, p. 426.

 16The Psychology of Classroom Learning, John M. Stephens, Johns Hopkins U., Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc., N.Y., 1965, p. 164ff.

17ldeas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver, U. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984, 190pp.

18The New Story of Science, Robert M. Augros and George N. Stanciu, Regnery Gateway, Inc., Lake Bluff, Il., 1984, p. 133.

19“The Temporal Relations between Meaning and Imagery”, The Psychological Review, XXII, 1915, pp. 177-225.

20“The Development of Meaning”, Agnes McDonough, Psychological Monograph, XXVII, 1919, pp. 443-515.

21The Definition of Meaning in American Education, Arthur A. Halbach, Catholic University of America Press, 1948.

22The Meaning of Meaning, Ogden & Richards, 5th edition, Harcourt Brace Co., N.Y., 1932.

23The Thomist, 7, 1944, p. 262.

24W. Stern, General Psychology from the Personalistic Viewpoint, translated by H.D. Spoerl, N.Y., Macmillan, 1938.

25Ibid. The New Story of Science, Augros & Staiiciu, Gateway, 1984, pp 27-34.

26Personality: A Psychological Viewpoint, Gordon W. Allport, 1937, Henry Holt & Co., p. 549.

27Church, Ecumenism & Politics, Crossroads: New York, 1988, p. 211.

28The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, 1947, The Macmillan Company, N.Y., p. 2.

29Allport, op. cit., p. 226.

30The Vocabulary of Religion, David Fullmer, 1943, Catholic Education Press, Washington, D.C., p. 67.

31The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith, Bruce Marshall, 1945, Houghton Miflin Co., Boston, p. 52f.

32“The Vatican and Anglican Orders,” by Brian W. Harrison, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, October 1988, pp. lOf.


34An Introduction to Logic, Jacques Maritain, Sheed & Ward, N.Y., pp. 7-8.

35Ibid., p. 46.

36Ibid., p. 47.

37Gilson, p. 54.

38New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1966.

39“The Teaching of Arithmetic,” pp. 1-31. Tenth Yearbook of the National Council of Teachers of Arithmetic, N.Y., Bureau of Publications, Columbia U., 1935.

40The Teaching and Psychology of Arithmetic, Henry G. Wheat, D.C. Heath & Co., N.Y., 1937, p. 24.

41Education Abstracts #971, July 1944, edited by Paul M. Cook, Fulton, Mo.

42A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Editorial Committee, 1953, Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., London, p. 874.

43The Nature of “Intelligence” and the Principles of Cognition, Carl Spearman, London: Macmillan Co., Ltd., 1927, pp. 362.

44The Value of Science, Henri Poincare, N.Y., Dover, 1958, p. 8.

45Albert Einstein, “Autobiographical Notes” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher and Scientist, ed. Paul Schilpp, N.Y., Harper & Row, 1959, p. 33.

        47“Intellectuals Speak Out About God, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese, Regnery Gateway, Inc., Chicago, Il., 1984, pp. 44-5. 7 Ibid., p. 42.

48Intellectuals Speak, p. VIII.

 49The Mystery of Mind, Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1975.

50Intellectuals Speak, p. 44.

51“Flower in the Crannied Wall”, 1870.