Among logical fallacies, the argument from authority, “argumentum ad verecundiam,” means accepting a proposition because its source is authoritative, even though the matter is outside that source’s competence. Such a fallacy, for instance, might approve Einstein’s view on politics or religion because he was such an important physicist. However, precisely because of his inventiveness, it is not fallacious to accept as valid his assertion: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind.”
Einstein was a remote disciple of the quirkily brilliant early nineteenth-century philosopher Schopenhauer: “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
There is some consolation in that at present, when “cabin fever” is an ancillary affliction of the coronavirus. One does not have to be a physicist or philosopher to know that while “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), there is a difference between cursed loneliness and benevolent solitude. The integrity of one’s spiritual life can be measured by understanding the difference. Thus Pascal, who was a Christian mystic and a mathematical scientist, famously said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.”
The Nazis locked the Dominican nun, Blessed Julia Rodzinska, in a cement closet for a year, and witnesses remarked on the radiance of her face. The Venerable Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan spent thirteen years in a Vietnamese prison, nine of them in isolation. I can attest to the serenity of three men I met who never were lonely in solitude. One was Bishop Dominic Tang of Canton, who spent seven of his twenty-two years in prison in solitary confinement. Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei of Shanghai was thirty years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. Father Walter Ciszek died in New York after five years in isolation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison and fifteen years in the Gulag.
These names came to mind when I read of a CNN commentator, who has shown condescension for the Church and promoted an article calling for the abolition of the Catholic priesthood. He tweeted that, after some weeks in lockdown, during which he kept his lucrative job, he “crawled in bed and cried.”
Saints in solitude often did not have a bed to crawl into, but they were with God, and would have been embarrassed for the Governor of New York, who said of the pandemic: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.”
Another governor, the fifth of the Roman province of Judaea, was told: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). We know who said that.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler