The following blog is the first of a two-piece article on the relationship between sanctity, i.e. a holy and virtuous life, and sanity, i.e. peace of soul. The first piece gives a brief overview of this relationship from a scientific, philosophical and historical perspective. The second piece will provide examples of people who have lived holy, peaceful and joyous lives.
Wickedness and Insanity – The Current State of Affairs:
‘Whereas the expert is tolerant of some fashion and prepared to take seriously the proposition that he is no more than the table he is looking at, he is unduly annoyed, if it be suggested that the word soul is in place in a discussion on psychology, that the science of ethics has a number of loose ends unless some kind of immortality be admitted, that a serious philosophy cannot avoid the conception of a divine being. He seems to feel that the game is not being played fairly, that he is being forced to present at some séance.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’
Today, there are many different solutions proposed to solve mental health issues. Some of these include medication, exercise, dietary changes, slowing down/staying more present, getting out into nature and going to see a counsellor or psychotherapist. While all of these can be of some benefit, there is one sure fire method of maintaining one’s sanity in the crazy world we find ourselves in. This solution to psychological difficulties is rarely talked about in our modern times. This solution is living a holy and virtuous life. This effective solution for psychological issues has fallen out of favour in our world today as people grasp at more ‘progressive’ solutions, which condone or even encourage sinful lifestyles or encourage people to take prescription drugs that are often toxic and ineffective. Many professionals dismiss or only pay lip service to any talk of the soul or the importance of a moral life. Hence, many of our modern approaches are causing far more harm than good. One can find numerous professionals highlighting the problems with the psychotropic drugs people are being prescribed (see here: www.rxisk.org ; here: https://joannamoncrieff.com/; and here: https://davidhealy.org/psychiatry-gone-astray/ for just three examples). I have highlighted elsewhere how dangerous counselling can be if the counsellor is detached from the truth themselves.
‘It is his own perfection that man is instinctively reaching out after in all his restless strivings, or rather it is God, Who alone can complete and perfect man. We are unhappy because we are not perfect, and we are not perfect because we have not that plenitude of existence for which we crave and for which we have the capacity. Perfection means fullness of life, and fullness of life means complete happiness.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’
Even when one is taking good care of one’s body, is getting out into nature often and is taking the time to slow and appreciate things around them, it does not keep one immune from psychological difficulties. While the body may be healthy, there is still lack of peace in the mind for many. There is a restlessness of the soul, which manifests itself in one’s mind and body. There is a desire for perfection that burns within us and which can spring into our consciousness as pain or bewilderment or disillusionment or deep sorrow that we cannot quite explain. Psychiatrists often explain this away as a chemical imbalance in the brain (with scant and poor evidence to back up this assertion) and sociologists explain this restlessness as a reaction to social inequality or social injustice (yet the socialist utopias they have dreamt up and forced on people have only turned into dystopian nightmares). These modern explanations for this restlessness lack grounding in evidence, logic and reason. The ‘old’ explanation for this restlessness is rarely talked about today. It is even more rarely accepted as the true explanation, i.e. one’s distress is caused by not living an ordered life in accordance with God’s will. Once this explanation is accepted as the reason for most psychological difficulties today, the solution becomes obvious – living an ordered life in accordance with God’s will, i.e. living a holy and virtuous life. (I say ‘most’ as I am not ruling out the fact that, in some cases, psychological agitation is caused by a physiological issue or the oppressive social circumstances one finds oneself in but, even with these factors at play, a strong Faith is still key to overcoming or managing them). A sincere desire to find and follow God’s will will bring one to the truth, i.e. the Catholic Faith. But some might ask, where is the evidence for the Catholic Faith contributing to psychological well-being?
Sanctity and Sanity – The Scientific Evidence:
‘No psychological theory which condones sin can ever be one that contributes to the mental health of individuals or a society‘ – Fr Ripperger, ‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’
I have highlighted elsewhere the empirical evidence for the claim that the Catholic Faith is of benefit to people’s psychological well-being. I have also spoken about how unholy practices are promoted by psychological professionals and how they misunderstand and misdiagnose emotional reactions due to their lack of understanding of what man is. A brief examination of the actual evidence for psychiatric interventions will lead one to see that these are not the solutions. A critical examination of socialist/communist experiments in the twentieth century clearly shows us that these are not the solution either. In 1878, in his encyclical, Quod Apostolici Muneris, Pope Leo XIII clearly foresaw why trying to remove mention of God and eternity from the public sphere would only lead to disaster in the twentieth century: ‘After being consigned to oblivion the rewards and punishments of a future and never-ending existence, the keen longing after happiness has been narrowed down to the range of the present life. With such doctrines spread far and wide, and such licence in thought and action, it is no wonder that men of the most lowly condition, heartsick of a humble home or poor workshop, should fix eager eyes on the abodes and fortunes of the wealthy; no wonder that tranquillity no longer prevails in public or private life, or that the human race has been hurried onward to well-nigh the verge of ruin.’ Applying a critical scientific mind to the claims and practices of psychiatry and socialism highlights how damaging these approaches are. But what does a brief examination of Church history teach us about psychological distress and its treatment? This is what I will explore next but before we do that, we must get a clear understanding of what we are actually talking about.
Sanctity and Sanity – The Philosophical Argument:
‘The least deviation from truth will be multiplied later a thousandfold.’ – Aristotle
To help someone with a psychological issue, one must understand what psychological order and psychological disorder look like. Now, in our modern times, because of psychological professional’s false understanding of man and his purpose in life and the embracing of these ideas by many of the Catholic hierarchy, confused and dangerous ideas about what order and disorder look like have become more and more prevalent in our society. Prior to the Vatican II council, and before the majority of Catholics accepted the errors of the world, most Catholics had a clear understanding of what order and disorder looked like. As Catholics had a clear understanding about what man was and what the purpose of life was, this understanding revolved around virtue and vice, holiness and sin, morality and immorality. It was rooted in the understanding that we are all children of God. Dom Anscar Vonier, in his book, ‘The Human Soul’, gives an example of what Catholics were taught to believe when it came to defining disorder. ‘Man belongs to God, to mankind, and to himself. He sins because he puts himself in opposition to God or to mankind, or to himself. Belonging to God, he owes to God duties of religion; they are the most necessary and the most sacred part of his moral life. He owes to God subjection of intellect and will. To neglect any of his duties towards God, or to rebel against God with intellect or will is a grievous disorder, because man has placed himself in opposition to the uncreated order and harmony. As a member of mankind, the human individual has towards mankind duties of love and justice. The violation of those duties puts him into opposition to the human order; he is in a state of disorder. Finally, man is not a simple entity; he is a composition of spirit and body; harmony and order for him are attained when the body obeys the spirit. If man were not a composite being, he could not sin against himself; there would be only the two preceding disorders; but being two in one, it will be disorder, if the lower part of his being is not subject to the higher part.’ Catholicism teaches that the body’s subjection to the soul, man fulfilling his duties to his fellow man, and man subjecting himself to God, are the foundation blocks for an ordered life. Deviation from any of these leads to disorder within man. This deviation also contributes to disorder in the world. As modern psychological theories either reject or ignore this Divine order and as more and more people embrace modern errors, it is no wonder that disorder both within man, e.g. increased rates of psychological distress, suicide, and in our society, e.g. homelessness, continues to grow.
Sanctity and Sanity – The Historical Evidence:
‘The Church…teaches us the laws that govern reality and the consequences of breaking them. This is what Our Lord meant when He said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). For moral freedom – like every other freedom – is limited by the order of the universe…we are free to reject the teachings of Christ in His Church, just as we are free to ignore or disobey the laws of engineering; but we will find that the rejection of her laws never leads us to the perfection of our personality, as we foolishly hoped. It results, instead, in a morbid affirmation of the ego, which can even lead to self-destruction.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘Peace of Soul’
For hundreds of years, the majority of people in the West understood, followed and lived the teachings of the Catholic Church. By the grace of God, most people adhered to the natural and Divine laws. This led to peaceful minds and harmonious societies. People were nourished on the Divine Charity that emanated from the Church thus helping to make their burden light and the yoke sweet. As a result, psychological disorders were rare. Despite what modern scientists continuously tell us, we have not become better at identifying psychological disorders nor have we become more enlightened about or more effective in treating psychological distress. While being ignorant of the central cause and most effective cure for psychological distress, even atheist professor of psychiatry David Healy highlights how modern treatments for ‘schizophrenia’ are worse, in terms of outcome and life expectancy, than those provided 100 years ago and that current approaches are often directly responsible for creating chronic illness and drug dependence. Psychological disorder is on the increase mainly because we have become disconnected from the Faith. We are tumbling into ‘psychopathic messes’, as Bishop Fulton Sheen puts it, due to our abandonment of the Catholic Faith.
But what about all those claims that the Church, especially in the Middle Ages, treated everyone as if they were possessed and treated men and women suffering from psychological issues in cruel and degrading ways? Carol Robinson in her book, ‘My Life with Thomas Aquinas’, highlights how false these accusations are: ‘Most references to ‘medieval’ treatment of the insane in textbooks are wildly inaccurate. Snake pits were a device of the ancients; the chained inmates of Bedlam were a post-Reformation scandal; and diabolism as an all-pervasive explanation was Seventeenth Century. True history does honour to the Church. The admirable Gheel system of allowing freedom of the village to harmless lunatics was started by a cult to St Dymphna, and still persists. Medieval references to the care of the insane were simple and salutary, including such advice as playing music to cheer the melancholy. Above all what honours the Church is that mental disease never became a major problem while the world still lived within the framework which she made.’ Even those who are no friends of the Catholic Church and who promote falsehoods about progress in psychiatry admit that the Church was not involved in the abuses prevalent in Irish mental asylums during the 18th and 19th century as these were run by secular government-run institutions. A critical and accurate examination of history highlights how adherence to the Catholic Faith established order in society and order in the minds of its faithful. The Faith gave people what their soul needed. This is particularly true when comparing our modern psychological theories to the nourishment that was given to men’s minds and souls during the greatest age of the Church: ‘Instead of expanding men’s souls, as every branch of knowledge in the thirteenth century had the power to do, springing as each did from the source of all Truth, our intellectual offerings have contracted men’s minds and shrivelled their souls. Men have been directed to look, in our day, not out beyond themselves to the Immensity and wonder of God, but in upon the workings of their own minds. They have been taught a great deal of distasteful nonsense in the name of psychology and sociology, and treated to a number of myths in an unclean practice called psychiatry, first brewed for the world in the impure mind of an Austrian Jew named Freud.’ (Sister Catherine, ‘Our Glorious Popes’). The Catholic Faith gave man what he needed as the Church knows what man is, i.e. a combined body and soul designed to know, honour and love God.
Following the Evidence:
‘God has created man. He is therefore man’s beginning. He has created man for Himself. He is therefore man’s final goal. The proper order of the universe demands that men recognize these two facts and act accordingly.’ – Frs Farrell & Healy, ‘My Way of Life’
An objective scientific analysis of the claims and practices of psychiatry and psychology in our modern times brings one to the conclusion that they are causing more harm than good. An objective historical and scientific analysis of the relationship between psychological distress and the Catholic Faith brings one to the conclusion that the Faith is of huge benefit to people’s psychological well-being. Unlike the pseudoscientific claims of psychiatry and modern psychology, practicing the Catholic Faith can be truly said to be an effective evidence-based approach for psychological distress. This is a recognition of the facts. However as these are not Catholic times that we live in, it is highly unlikely that these facts will be recognised and acted upon by those who like to promote ‘evidence-based’ approaches to psychological issues. This is the sad situation we find ourselves in today, i.e. the very thing that would solve psychological issues, the Catholic Faith, has been pushed out of education, health and social policies and practice and any remaining remnants are being rapidly swept out too. Given this, instead of looking for the government or the health service to help us with psychological issues we must look elsewhere for solutions. No better place to look is the examples of saintly men and women thus inspiring us to bravely carry the crosses life inevitably throws at us. Hence, the second part of this article on ‘Sanctity and Sanity’ will look at these examples so one can live a holy and peaceful life and, ultimately, an eternally happy one.