AN ITALIAN judge has ordered a priest to appear in court this month to prove that Jesus Christ existed.Johannes Climacus, Philosophical Fragments:
The case against Father Enrico Righi has been brought in the town of Viterbo, north of Rome, by Luigi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist.
Signor Cascioli, author of a book called The Fable of Christ, began legal proceedings against Father Righi three years ago after the priest denounced Signor Cascioli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ’s historical existence.
Yesterday Gaetano Mautone, a judge in Viterbo, set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. The judge had earlier refused to take up the case, but was overruled last month by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was “abusing popular credulity”.
It is generally a difficult matter to want to demonstrate that something exists-worse still, for the brave souls who venture to do it, the difficulty is of such a kind that fame by no means awaits those who are preoccupied with it. The whole process of demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists. Therefore, whether I am moving in the world of sensate palpability or in the world of thought, I never reason in conclusion to ex-istence, but I reason in conclusion from existence. For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something which exists is a stone. The court of law does not demonstrate that a criminal exists but that the accused, who does indeed exist, is a criminal. Whether one wants to call existence an accessorium [addition] or the eternal prius [pre-supposition], it can never be demonstrated. We shall take our time; after all, there is no reason for us to rush as there is for those who, out of concern for themselves, or for the god, or for something else, must rush to get proof that something exists. In that case, there is good reason to make haste, especially if the one involved has in all honesty made an accounting of the danger that he himself or the object being investigated does not exist until he proves it and does not dishonestly harbor the secret thought that essentially it exists whether he demonstrates it or not.You can see how modern philosophy moved rapidly from abstractions to language (the ultimate abstraction, and if not the source of abstraction itself, certainly the bearer of the burden). And as for establishing the existence of God, well....
If one wanted to demonstrate Napoleon's existence from Napoleon's works, would it not be most curious, since his existence certainly explains the works but the works do not demonstrate his existence unless I have already in advanace interpreted the word "his" in such a way as to have assumed that he exists. But Napoleon is only an individual, and to that extent there is no absolute relation between him and his works-thus someone else could have done the same works. Perhaps that is why I cannot reason from the works to existence. If I call the works Napoleon's works, then the demonstration is superfluous, since I have already" mentioned his name. If I ignore this, I can never demonstrate from the works that they are Napoleon's but demonstrate (purely ideally) that such works are the works of a great general etc. However between the god and his works there is an absolute relation. God is not a name but a concept, and perhaps because of that his essentia involvit existentiam [essence involves existence].
(0f course, Signor Cascioli would argue he is merely trying to prove the existence of a man. But the problem remains: absent works, how do we prove anyone existed? And how do we show that the works are peculiar to the individual, and not just the possibilities of any person with sufficient talent and opportunity? Can I demonstrate Napoleon's existence from his works, or do I merely demonstrate the existence of a skilled general? Perhaps I should offer an amicus brief to the judge....)