The heart of Benedict’s theological epistemology is the double tier of experience corresponding to the senses (the empirical-historical study of Jesus of Nazareth) and the moral act that is Christian Faith (whereby one experiences Jesus, the Christ). One thing is to know the words of Scripture; another is to know the Word-Person that Scripture is about. You reach them on two levels of knowing coming from two kinds of experience.
On Oct. 7th, Benedict said: “We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor with, the Holy Spirit. We cannot find the Word in the words.” He then gives an example: “Saint Augustine, in this context, recalls the scribes and Pharisees consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Savior of the world would be born. They know this, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists, who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Savior. Saint Augustine says: they are signs on the road for the others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of the Scriptures: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today with the words from the past. This is not how we may enter the internal movement of the Word, which in human words hides and opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for “exquisivi”. We must always look for the Word within words.
”Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of the Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to look for the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence.”
Looking for God with our entire existence is another way of saying “contemplative prayer.” The connection that may not be obvious here is that contemplative prayer is a consciousness that does not derive from a so-called “intentional” kind of knowing whereby we fix on a particular being as an object and form a concept of it. Consciousness is not conceptual knowing like “dog,” “cat,” “tree,” “John.” Consciousness is reason becoming “aware” as mirroring what is going on within the person as wilfull tending toward another. Wojtyla sees it as “the derivative of the whole actively cognitive process and of the cognitive attitude to the external reality, like the last ‘reflection’ of the process in the cognizant subject” (“The Acting Person”Reidel (1979) 33). His main concern is to show consciousness as the result of the being and the acting of the person, and not the subject himself. He wants to “protect us from conceiving it as an independent, self-contained subject. Indeed, to recognize that consciousness is an inddependent subject could pave the way to a conceptin o f it in absolute terms and consequently would lead to idealism, if it were taken as the sole subject of all the contents” (Ibid. 33). He asserts: “The subjet of this state… is not consciousness itself but the human being, of whom we rightly may say that he is or is not ‘conscious,’ that he has full or limited consciousness, and so on. Consciousness itself does not exist as the ‘substantive’ subject of the acts of consciousness; it exists neither as an independent factor nor as a faculty” (34).
Then-Joseph Ratzinger offered three Lucan examples:
1) Lk. 6, 12: “Now it came to pass in those days, that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when day broke, he summoned his disciples; and from these he chose twelve, (whom he also named apostles).” Ratzinger comments: “the calling of the Twelve proceeds from prayer, from the Son’s converse with the Father. The Church is born in that prayer in which Jesus gives himself back into the Father’s hands and the Father commits everything to the Son. This most profound communication of Son and Father conceals the Church’s true and ever-new origin, which is also her firm foundation.”
2) Lk. 9, 18: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am/’ And they answered and said, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets ahs risen again.’
“And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God.’” Ratzinger comments: “Again it is Luke who shows that Jesus put the crucial question of how the disciples stood toward him at the very moment when they had begun to share in the hiddenness of his prayer. In this way the Evangelist makes it clear that Peter had grasped and expressed the most fundamental reality of the person of Jesus as a result of having seen him praying, in fellowship with the Father. According to Luke, we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in that is most personal and intimate to him.
“Thus we have arrived at both the very basis and the abiding precondition of the Christian confession of faith; only by entering into Jesus’ solitude, only by participating in what is most personal to him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity. This is the only way to understand him and to grasp what ‘following Jesus’ means. The Christian confession is not a neutral proposition; it is prayer, only yielding its meaning within prayer. The person who has beheld Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and has come to understand him from within is called to be a ‘rock’ of the Church. The Chruch arises out of participation in the prayer of Jesus.”
3) Lk. 9, 28: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that he took Peter, James and John and went up the mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the appearance of his countenance was changed and his raiment became a radiant white.” Ratzinger comments: “Thus he makes it Palin that the Transfiguration only renders visible what is actually taking place in Jesus’ prayer: he is sharing in God’s radiance and hence in the manner in which the true meaning of the Old Testament – and of all history – is being made visible, i.e., revelation. Jesus proclamation proceeds from this participation in God’s radiance, God’s glory, which also involves a seeing with the eyes of God – and therefore the unfolding of what was hidden. So Luke also shows the unity of revelation and prayer in the person of Jesus: both are rooted in the mystery of Sonship… Thus Like suggests that the whole of Christology – our speaking of Christ – is nothing other than the interpretation of his prayer: the entire person of Jesus is contained in is prayer.”
Like is known by like. If the Person of Christ is prayer revealing His relation to the Father as Son, then only one who prays can become one with Him, and therefore, experience Him in the consciousness of continual presence.
To this end, Ratzinger wrote in 1992: “I always remember the beautiful words of Staretz Zossima addressed to the young theologian Alyosha in the novel The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevski. The wise old monk Zossima advises his young friend to read Scriture as it is to the simple people and adds: ‘You will see how the simple heart understands the word of God.’ It is important to listen always anew to the biblical message, in a way that is quite personal, as words addressed directly to me, as words that do not belong to the past, but speak to me today. It would be dangerous to renounce this immedite listening or let oneself be guided by the opinion that the problem of the correct interpetation of the text are, in the present state of biblical research, so complicated that only specialists have access to the text. Scripture does not lie in the past, but has always a present-day voice; it does not become the property of an elite, but is always the property of the ‘poor in Spirit’” (The Catholic World Report November 1992 51).
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: “Never read the Gospels in a superficial way. There you cna learn how to deal with Jesus…. When you open the holy Gospel, think that what is written there — the words adn deeds of Christ — is something that you should not only know, but live. Everything, every point that is told there, has been gathered, detail by detail, for you to make come alive in the individual circumstances of your life…. Try nevger to hold yourself aloof from those scenes. In God’s presence, see yourself as one of the characters t here, and react as you would have if, twenty centuries ago, you had really been at our Lord’s side. For Jesus Christ lives. He lives! St. Paul has told us so: Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula! (Hebr. 13, 8)…. We have to live in the times of Jesus and become a character in his epoch. The whole secret of our sanctity lies in becoing like Him. He is our model. Therefore we read the Gospels daily, so that we will neer lack the fuel that enkindles the fire of our love… Mingle with the characters who appear in the New Testament. Capture the flavor of those moving scenes where the Master performs works that are both divine and human, and tells us, with human and divine touches, the wonderful story of his pardon for us and his enduring Love for his children. Those foretastes of heaven are renewed today, for the Gospel is always true: we can feel, we can sense, we can even say we touch God’s protection with our own hands” (“Friends of God” 216).