Lay Catholics often presume that analytical philosophy is a child of logical positivism, and so uncomprehending of many things, including religion. It surprises them to learn that many Oxford philosophers since the war have been or have become practising Catholics. These include Sir Michael Dummett, Brian McGuinness, John Finnis, John Foster, Peter Geach, and the subject of this piece, his late wife Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001), for many years a Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, later Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge. In the introduction to a new collection of her essays, Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics (Imprint Academic), her daughter Mary Geach quotes an American philosopher as saying, "They're good philosophers, aren't they? But they're Catholics. They must compartmentalise." That may happen to be true of those who cultivate areas of the subject where invocation of Christianity would be out of place. It is certainly false of Geach and Anscombe, who have combined a strenuous commitment to the core of analytical philosophy - philosophical logic, metaphysics, philosophy of mind - with an active engagement with ethics and religion.
Geach already published a committed collection of essays, God and the Soul, in 1969. A Balliol tutor in philosophy, the late Arthur Prior, commended it to me at the time as "a splendid piece of Roman Catholic tub-thumping". Geach refuses to divorce the Logos that is logic from the Logos that is the Son of God: "I suppose that I ought to say something in conclusion about the idea that it is somehow improper or irreverent to employ the rigour of logic in speaking of the Divine Majesty. To me it appears blasphemous to say God is ‘above' logic; logic is named from the Logos, which was in the beginning with God and was God. In a Muslim story, a fallen champion saw a Crusader wielding against him a magic invincible sword bearing the name of God: ‘Sword' he cried, ‘can you strike a true believer? Do you not know the name on your blade?' ‘I know nothing but to strike straight', the sword replied. ‘Strike then, in the name of God!' Logic is not partisan, and knows nothing but to strike straight; but the sword is invincible, bearing the Maker's name."
Sir Anthony Kenny, who was once a priest, and, while himself now agnostic, is a champion for the faithful against the attacks of Richard Dawkins, described Geach and Anscombe to me as formidable allies in philosophical debate, he more logical, she more intuitive. That went with their complementary specialisations, his in the philosophy of logic, hers in the philosophy of mind and action. In neither case do we meet any attempt to reduce the arcana of religion to something different but more articulable; rather, an ability to illuminate what has to remain mysterious by setting it in the context of what we can and must be clear-headed about. Otherwise, religion becomes a mental sludge within which spirituality is not to be distinguished from muddle-headedness.