The Spirit of Vatican I

Any observer of Catholic affairs today knows of the phrase “the spirit of Vatican II,” which refers to the liberal ideals thought to have prevailed there. Amusingly, in the times before that council, a similar phrase was attached to Vatican I, but with reference to a different sort of ideals:

On the other hand, none will deny that heresies may result not only from the denial or the excessive restriction of the meaning of a dogmatic definition, but also from too wide a connotation. Church history supplies many instances of this kind and the same principles must be applied to the Vatican definition. The Neo-Ultramontane opinions and suggestions found no official support, but the tendency to attribute all sorts of things to the vague formula “the spirit of the Vatican Council” still exists and may, if pushed to extremes, prove as dangerous as the opposite excess.

Source: Francis Dvornik’s The Ecumenical Councils (New York: Hawthorn, 1961), pp. 108-109.


  • Islam Without Hadith?,’ a review of one of Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol’s books, discussing Qu’ran-only Muslims.
  • Letter to My Younger Self,’ by Ryan Leaf, well-known among NFL fans as a quarterback whose ego led him to become a huge draft disappointment. A very touching piece and an intimate look into failure and drug addiction.
  • At Marginalia, reviewing a book about using evolutionary studies of religion to better understand natural theology arguments. Overall it looks like a solid interdisciplinary work.
  • I know I post a lot about medicine, but the development of the anti-cancer drug Gleevec is too interesting to pass up. Gleevec is mainly used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a white blood cell cancer caused by chromosome 9 and chromosome 22 swapping parts, so that a gene normally found on chromosome 9 (ABL) and a gene normally found on chromosome 22 (BCR) are fused together, and this ABL-BCR fusion gene codes for a mutant “always-on” tyrosine kinase. Tyrosine kinase is a protein that stimulates cell proliferation, so an “always-on” mutant causes incessant proliferation of white blood cells (thus, cancer). Gleevec very specifically targets this mutated tyrosine kinase, without affecting normal tyrosine kinase. It has turned CML, which previously had a five-year survival rate of 30%, to a disease with 90% five-year survival rate. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, it has very few side effects (which I find most amazing), because it has a very specific target. It also is taken orally. Unfortunately, translating this success elsewhere isn’t simple since most cancers have a cause more complex than a single bad protein, but targeted therapy still holds a lot of promise.
  • On the topic of drug discovery: The search for “ancientbiotics” – that is, looking for effective antibiotics in medieval pharmacopeias. The authors found that one medieval recipe, when prepared as instructed, had effective in vitro bactericidal activity against a highly resistant form of Staphylococcus aureus, suggesting clinical application. A very nice collaboration between the humanities and the natural sciences!

In Search of a Quote’s Origin

There is a famous quote in physiology that goes like this: “Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live. Yet he is ashamed to show himself with her in public.” It is attributed to various authors, such as Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, J. B. S. Haldane, and Asa Gray. And yet no one currently seems to know its exact origin. Here I will review what I found when looking for its source.

It seems to have first been made popular through famous American physiologist W. B. Cannon’s book The Way of an Investigator (1945), where he cites “the German physiologist E. von Brücke” without giving an exact reference. The same is true of W. I. B. Beveridge’s 1950 book Art of Scientific Investigation. Most citations of the quote do not get much further than pointing to these two books, although you might also find references to H.A. Krebs’s article ‘Excursion into the Borderland of Biochemistry and Philosophy’ in a 1954 issue of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin. Yet Krebs’s article merely cites the aforementioned Cannon and Beveridge books, along with an article that gives no further source.

If we look a little deeper, though, we find a closer citation. The pharmacologist Otto Loewi (1873-1961) writes: “I myself fully agree with an old friend of mine, the late physiologist E. von Bruecke, who once said in a lecture, ‘Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live. Yet he is ashamed to show himself with her in public'” (on p. 8 of this booklet). So it is simply a quote made by Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke in a lecture and which passed around? Considering that Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke died in 1892 (which would’ve made Loewi 18 years old at his death), it is safe to say that the “old friend” whom Loewi cites is a different E. von Brücke than the one the quote is usually attributed to. He must be referring to Ernst Theodor von Brücke (1880-1941), the grandson of Ernst W. von Brücke, who knew Loewi and nominated him for a Nobel Prize. At this point I began to strongly think that the quote was originally from Ernst Theodor, not Ernst Wilhelm, and that the people just got them confused. However, note that Cannon cites “German physiologist E. von Brücke” – only Ernst Wilhelm was German; Ernst Theodor was Austrian. However, it is possible that Cannon simply got the two confused. However, the British pharmacologist Henry H. Dale, in a 1954 paper, makes reference to the remark as something said by “v. Bruecke long ago” – which would be surprising if it were said by v. Brücke the younger.

At this point it is important to note that all of the above – Cannon, Loewi, E. Theodor von Brücke, and Dale – knew each other. The first three all had affiliations with Harvard Medical School, while Dale knew Loewi from their time together in London. This suggests to me that the quote does go back in some way to Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke. That the quote was so popular among physiologists of the 30s and 40s and widely attributed among them to the same man makes it seem like it does in fact go back to E. W. von Brücke, especially considering that they were in the presence of men such as Ernst Theodor von Brücke and Loewi who due to their German heritage would’ve had close familiarity with the works of the great German physiologist.

Unfortunately, though, finding the quote in Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke’s work remains frustratingly elusive. The vascular surgeon Gaza de Takats, in two separate articles, the first in Surgery, the second in JAMA, cites “E. von Brücke, 1896” – but in neither one does he actually give the name of the work! This does give me confidence, though, that it is made somewhere in his books. I cannot read German, but searching for key words (e.g., Teleologie, Dame, Öffentlichkeit) in the works of Ernst W. von Brücke does not seem to bring anything up. This might be an effort for someone more fluent in German (though, of course, even if it isn’t there, it could’ve been a remark made in a speech or lecture and which was then circulated orally).

In summary, I found a use of the quote earlier than the widely-cited 1945 Cannon book in Loewi’s recollection that his friend Ernst Theodor von Brücke (1880-1941) once made the remark in a lecture. I think it is likely that the quote ultimately goes back to Ernst Theodor’s grandfather Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke. On the other hand, I have been unable to prove this by finding the passage in one of his works (admittedly, though, my search was very superficial). Someone in the comments on John Wilkins’s blog post above says he found a part of the quote in an Asa Gray letter, but he also said Gray might have been citing Ernst W. von Brücke (though he didn’t say which letter). In addition to a comprehensive search of Ernst W. von Brücke’s works, Gray’s role in the quote might be something to look at further, along with a biography which E. Th. von Brücke wrote of E. W. von Brücke (Ernst Brücke, Vienna: Springer, 1928).

St. Maxim the Greek and the Latins

Maxim (or Maximus, b. 1475) began his life in Greece and after completing some studies there, he traveled to Italy to further his education. There he was attracted to Neoplatonism and to the Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola. This led him to eventually (but briefly) becoming a Dominican, in 1501, leaving the order around 1504. He ended up returning to Greece, becoming a monk on Athos, and was later sent to Russia to fulfill a request by the Grand Prince to translate some texts. In his time in Russia, he never seems to have revealed his Dominican past (never, e.g., mentioning Aquinas), but he did show the extensive learning characteristic of the Order of Preachers and he was also much more moderate in his criticisms of the Latins than were most Russians. Due to his support of the Non-possessors and unfavorable political circumstances, he was eventually imprisoned and died in 1556.

Thus the Latins, although in many ways they have yielded to temptation and invented certain strange doctrines, having been tempted by their own great learning in the Greek sciences, nevertheless have not finally fallen away from faith, hope, and love for Jesus Christ, and therefore those among them who have dedicated themselves to the monastic life assiduously order their service to God according to His holy commandments, since their harmony of belief, brotherly love, non-possessorship, silence, lack of concern for worldly things, and care for salvation in many ways ought to be imitated by us, so that we would not show ourselves worse than they. This I say in respect of the assiduous fulfillment of the commandments of the Gospels.

The above is taken from Treadgold’s The West in Russia and China, vol. 1 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 15-16. Sadly the footnote pointing to the source in Maxim’s works is not available in the Google Books preview. Although his favorable observations of Roman Catholics were not really well received among the Russians, Treadgold reports that even after his imprisonment and death, Maxim was widely considered fully Orthodox. It might be added to this quote that he did criticize Western theology, but this was primarily aimed at the later Nominalist schools rather than writers like Aquinas (according to Marcus Plested in Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, he does disparage Scotus and Albert the Great but he never speaks about Aquinas). Additionally, he defended the Inquisition and believed the bishop of Rome to be the successor to Peter (though he believed post-schism popes to be in heresy).

The Trinity in 1 Cor 2

Not too long ago I made a post about various analogies for the Trinity given by many ancient and medieval Christian authors. I’ve also come to realize that something very similar is going on in 1 Corinthians 2:

It is of the mysterious wisdom of God that we talk, the wisdom that was hidden, which God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. None of the rulers of the age recognised it; for if they had recognised it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory … to us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God. After all, is there anyone who knows the qualities of anyone except his own spirit, within him; and in the same way, nobody knows the qualities of God except the Spirit of God.

I find that this passage is remarkable for being such a condensed statement of the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. By stating that the rulers of the age “crucified the Lord of glory,” the Apostle recognizes Christ’s divinity and also undermines Nestorianism. By referring to the Holy Spirit as God’s “own spirit,” analogous to the spirit within each of us, St. Paul confirms that the Holy Spirit is likewise consubstantial with God, as our spirit is not identical to us but nor is it a different thing from us – and this, further, makes clearer how the Holy Spirit can be God without being the Father and without being another God, as later theologians would make more explicit.


  • An article by our beloved Herbert McCabe OP critiquing the account of natural law in Veritatis Splendor (N.B., while the site hosting the article is pro-Church reform concerning, e.g., gay marriage and contraception, it would not be right to ascribe such an outlook to McCabe). The article is a nice summary of what “natural law” is and is not.
  • An old blog post from Neurology Update describes how an impurity in illegal drug synthesis led to extremely rapid-onset Parkinson’s disease in some patients. The good news, though, is that according to the chief scientific officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation, advances in Parkinson treatment “in the next 20 years will likely outpace the progress of the past 200.” As a side note, although nearly everyone associates Parkinson’s disease with motor difficulties, symptoms such as constipation, trouble sleeping, and a reduced sense of smell precede the onset of the disease’s characteristic motor symptoms by many years.
  • The Limits of Information” by the well-known neuropsychologist and philosopher Daniel N. Robinson, at The New Atlantis. Some of the arguments he uses (e.g., the Martian anthropologist) are not very new, but one passage stood out as having some importance: “Notwithstanding the progress in neuroscience, the elements of lived life yield a “folk psychology” without which the brain would be of no greater interest than the spleen. We are as good (or bad) at explaining ourselves to each other now as were our remote ancestors, including those who had no knowledge of brains at all. By ordinary standards and expectations, this suggests a fundamental gap between the character of lived life and the neural processes grounding such a life — and thus, again, between the various types of explanation.”
  • Recently a March for Life was held throughout Romania and Moldova under the slogan “Help the mother and child! They depend on you!” It was blessed by the Romanian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod. Romania has one of the world’s highest abortion rates. It’s good to see the equal emphasis on mother and on child.

Herbert McCabe on Holy Week

Then there are those who do see that our world is heading towards destruction, that its alleged unity is born out of fear and that it is based on violence, the violence built into its structures; that it is not the unity of love but of concealed hatred, a hypocritical pretence of fellowship. But of these less-deceived people there are many for whom the answer lies at least for the most part in simply dismantling the economic structures of injustice by which this deeply divided world maintains itself as a fake unity. They have not reached down to the mystery of sin, which will always seek new forms as old ones are dismantled. For these people the mysteries of Holy Week should be not so much a challenge as an invitation: an invitation to go further, to enter into the deeper mystery of sin, to realize that the transformation we need if we are to escape destruction is even more radical than revolution; it is forgiveness.

Source: Herbert McCabe OP. “Holy Thursday: The Mystery of Unity.” New Blackfriars, 67, no. 788, p. 60.

Immediately prior to this paragraph, McCabe describes those who hold a different opinion: the people who think that, since the Enlightenment, the disunity of mankind (which McCabe calls ‘sin’) has been “abolished.” There are still problems, of course, but progress (through, e.g., better schooling) will eventually overcome them. Funny how one can still very clearly see these two groups which McCabe described in a sermon written in 1986. Those who believe the world is essentially good can still be in seen in organizations like the UN. Meanwhile, those who believe the current structures of the world are inherently violent remind me of communist social justice types (even the language is the same). And this latter group still are not heeding McCabe’s wisdom that “the transformation we need if we are to escape destruction is even more radical than revolution; it is forgiveness.” I have seen some of them portray forgiveness as a tool of oppression. While it is true that forgiveness is often used as an excuse to forget injustice, our Lord did set us an example when he prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers; and I find it hard to imagine how one can hope to build a just society while ignoring the deepest form of charity.