“No man can by force of will say that three times three is not nine.”

Fr George Rutler, pastor of St. Michael’s in Manhattan first-rate thinker, issues a weekly, Sunday essay as a “Pastor’s Page”.  This week’s column for the Novus Ordo Feast of Christ the King opens and closes with a deep incision and a ruthless cauterizing of an especially goofy remark that, in a way, could be the anti-proverb of these wounded years.

 A mark of first-rate thinkers is their ability to make complex theories understandable. Conversely, muddled thinkers assume that obscurantism is profound. Consider, for instance, a comment made a few months ago by an Italian Jesuit and close advisor to Pope Francis, who wrote: “2 + 2 in theology can equal 5. Because it has to do with God and the real life of people. . .” It was the attempt of a confused mind to justify “situation ethics,” by which sentiment replaces reality. In the lives that people really live, as distinct from indulged lives lived in ivory towers, facts are facts.

   Saint Augustine was a realist: “No man can by force of will say that three times three is not nine.” By her commitment to reality, the Holy Church has been the greatest benefactor of civilization: in theology, philosophy, science, works of charity, and the arts. Étienne Gilson, of the same religion that gave us Pascal and Pasteur, wrote: “We are told that it is faith which constructed the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Without doubt, but faith would have constructed nothing at all if there had not also been architects; and if it is true that the façade of Notre Dame of Paris is a yearning of the soul toward God, that does not prevent its being also a geometrical work. It is necessary to know geometry in order to construct a façade which may be an act of love . . .”

   Perhaps the decline of classical reasoning explains the fuzzy and unsystematic thinking of many who portray themselves as theologians. It explains at least in part how Europe, and Rome itself, once the nursery of great sculpture and architecture, has been foisting on culture such pretentious mockeries of art, as often displayed in recent years in the Venice Biennale and scattered urban galleries. Happily, here at home the current nominee to head the National Endowment for the Arts, Mary Anne Carter, will be able to undo the waste of public monies on sham art, some of which has been blatantly anti-Catholic.

   Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to celebrate the dominion of the Savior over all creation, sustaining and nurturing every aspect of human knowledge. As the Nazis began to disseminate pagan myths of racism and statism, he had the Vatican Radio broadcast in German: “Twice two makes four, whether you are a Japanese, a German or an Eskimo. There is a truth common to all mankind, and every nation is but a different incarnation of the same truth about man.”

   Saint Paul said that in his own clarion way: “For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17).


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Sawyer says:

    Nor can anyone by force of will, decree of law, executive action, policy of HR, surgical alteration, bureaucratic pronoun policy, or academic bluster say that a man is a woman or vice-versa. Yet it is being done and taken seriously by the same sorts of muddled minds that Fr. Rutler mentions, even in Catholic schools and organizations.

  2. I seem to recall C.S. Lewis once saying that utter nonsense is utter nonsense, even when talked about God.

  3. Blaise says:

    Can anyone point me to the source of the quote from St Augustine please. It would be useful to have to hand.
    That quote and the reference to the transmission by Vatican radio referred to above at the time of the rise of the Nazis just shows even more clearly how desperately in need of a counter-reformation we are. Trent II anyone?

  4. Ivan says:

    “No man can by force of will say that three times three is not nine.”
    I’d make this a bit bolder:
    ““No Catholic can by force of will say that there is salvation outside of the One and only Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

  5. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Rutler wrote: “It [2+2=5] was the attempt of a confused mind to justify “situation ethics,” by which sentiment replaces reality.”

    Good point.

    Such muddled thinking has produced, after adding a superiority-complex and malice, written works such as the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. Then, if a sufficient number of preening socialists, Useful Idiots, and the Permanently Aggrieved are indoctrinated, the power of a modern state can be gained. Then, totalitarian control of the population will be required in order to safeguard the fictions of socialist (or neo-socialist, it really doesn’t matter) ideology. The result will eventually be a failed state, or something similar to the Holodomor, the Holocaust, or the Great Leap Forward.

    We live in a Fallen World. This Papal advisor referred to by Fr. Rutler is proving the necessity of private property and the 2nd Amendment.

    Deo volente, those who dabble in the exotic delights of socialism will understand that Heaven on Earth is to be found not in pretentious theory but only at Holy Mass.

    To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: It’s not that socialists and leftists are stupid, it’s that they know so much that isn’t True.

  6. tho says:

    Fuzzy minds like our reigning Pontiff, and many of his acolytes replace facts with feelings. The thinking of clerical and academic liberals finds substance in trying to create a heaven on earth. Their utopian ideas have been tried by Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler, with an inevitable death toll in the hundred of millions. National socialism and communism are the product of wishful thinking with no basis in reality. Man without God, or the desire for God, is a very destructive creature. Our country is in the throes of people, who are trying to create a cause, by opposing President Trump, who is firmly rooted in reality.

  7. jameeka says:


    I found online an e-book with the quote:

    Saint Augustine
    On Christian Doctrine
    Book 2, chapter 38.


    “Coming now to the science of number, it is clear to the dullest apprehension that this was not created by man, but was discovered by investigation. For, though Virgil could at his own pleasure make the first syllable of ‘Italia’ long, while the ancients pronounced it short, it is not in any man’s power to determine at his pleasure that three times three are not nine, or do not make a square, or are not the triple of three, nor one and a half times the the number six, or that it is not true that they are not the double of any number because odd numbers have no half. Whether, then, numbers are considered in themselves, or as applied to the law of figures, or of sounds, or of other motions, they have fixed laws which were not made by man, but which the acuteness in ingenious men brought to light.”

    After that, a good paragraph re: TRUTH

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. Johann says:

    Spadaro clearly slept though all the theology classes at the seminary.

  9. DeGaulle says:

    Father Z, please correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it be theologically correct to say that God Himself could not say that “three times three is not nine”, because Himself being Truth and Truth being Himself, He cannot, unlike the arbitrary Allah of the Mohammedans, contradict Himself?

  10. Sawyer says:

    @DeGaulle, consider this from the Summa Theologiae:

    “Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing. ” (ST I, Q25, A3)

    Saying 3 x 3 does not equal 9 is a contradiction. God cannot assert such a thing nor even make it be true, not because God is not omnipotent but because God’s omnipotence only pertains to what is possible.

  11. Tara Tremuit says:

    This makes me wonder if Shakespeare had been reading Augustine whilst writing Love’s Labour’s Lost – all about swearing and forswearing vows – the parallels to the Oath of Supremacy are obvious enough here – any way, in a time when Catholics were required to swear a falsehood equally violent to the intellect as to say that thrice three were not nine, he pretty much quotes Augustine verbatim, (also in Macbeth, I:3, in Sonnet 133, and most obviously here from LLL.)
    O Lord, sir, they would know
    Whether the three Worthies shall come in or no.
    What, are there but three?
    No, sir; but it is vara fine,
    For every one pursents three.
    And three times thrice is nine.
    Not so, sir; under correction, sir; I hope it is not so.
    You cannot beg us, sir, I can assure you, sir we know
    what we know:
    I hope, sir, three times thrice, sir,–
    Is not nine.
    Under correction, sir, we know whereuntil it doth amount.
    By Jove, I always took three threes for nine.
    O Lord, sir, it were pity you should get your living
    by reckoning, sir.

  12. maternalView says:

    ” A mark of first-rate thinkers is their ability to make complex theories understandable. Conversely, muddled thinkers assume that obscurantism is profound. ”

    That sums up the two ways of teaching in the Church today.

  13. michaelthoma says:

    Seems to me a deeply non-Catholic theology in its essence.

    Catholic theology and Orthodox theology for that matter sees Super Nature as building and perfecting Nature. That which can be learned and gained from the natural world is good and Godly.

    What these “theologians” propose seems to be more “Contra” Nature by it’s essence. There is nothing essentially good in the material world, therefore they are tasked to recreate truths built ex nihilo to make a supposed ‘good’ (as they see it) out of nothing, therefore making their god “seem” good in contradiction to the material “real” world.

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