Expanded Paper on the Core of Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity 10/13/20

Joseph   Ratzinger entitled Chapter 1 of “Introduction to Christianity with “Belief in the World of Today,” “Doubt and Belief – man’s situation before the question of God.” At the end of the chapter, Ratzinger offers an insight into the whole book: John the Baptist had been cast into prison. He, who had come to pronounce the certain message that the Messiah judge was about to come and separate the chaff from the grain  and throw the chaff once and for all into eternal fire…. Doubt and uncertainty would be over.[1]

However, now when the Baptist is cast into prison, he strangely sends messengers to Jesus to ask the puzzling question, “Are you really He?” This sets the epistemological  structure of the whole book and this is also our question.  “This question was asked anxiously in a dark hour” by the very man “who had directed his own disciples to the rabbi from Nazareth whom he recognized as greater than himself and for whom he had to open the way. Ratzinger makes John’s question his, and ours: “Are you really He”

               This is the context and fundamental question the book proposes to address. And Ratzinger writes that “In the last resort all the reflections contained in this book are subordinate to this question and thus revolve around the basic form of the confession: ‘I believe in You, Jesus of Nazareth, as the meaning (logos) of the world and of my life[2]

And the answer is the risky “leap” out of ourselves, the about turn, that we must make to experience in our own ontological depths the metaphysical reality of the “You” Who is the revelation of the Father. I have a certainty in the “You” I cannot see by the certainty I have of giving my “I” which is His image of Him. Faith is this experiential turning away from self which is created in His image and likeness and which is craving to be like Him in this escape from self. The Son is the action of giving the self away in obedience and glorification of the Father. As faith, this action becomes work and prayer in ordinary life.

Ratzinger writes, “(Man) must turn around inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interest by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural center of gravity. He must turn around to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance to the natural center of gravity (to turn back on the self), there can be no belief. Indeed, belief is the con-version in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it.”[3]

Dare I say it here? The act of faith is the act of becoming another Christ.[4] It is the beginning of the reception Christ into oneself by getting out of oneself and the experience of that “going out” is the Who of Christ.[5] The about-turn of the self is the beginning of the self becoming Christ. It is celebrated in the semantic of Gaudium et Spes #24: “Man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds (becomes) himself by the sincere gift of himself.” This pouring forth of the self is the very meaning of Divine Person. This transcendental epistemology is the burden of the opening chapter of “Introduction to Christianity.” If this is understood, Ratzinger writes that “all the reflections contained in this book are subordinate to (it).”[6]

And so, what is the meaning of the confession “I believe in You, Jesus of Nazareth as the meaning of the world and of my life?” Ratzinger responds, “’I believe’ could here be literally translated “I hand myself over to,” I assent to. Faith is not a recitation of theories about things of which in themselves one knows nothing…; it signifies a movement of the human existence” – an about-turn by the whole person which from then on constantly structures one’s existence.” Prayer is such an about –turn of the whole self. It is a new access to the being of reality which is not part of the world but an active becoming of the Second Person of the Trinity Whom I image.

This is the take-off point of the book. The act of faith is an about-turn by the whole person. It is the act of mimicking the Person Who is believed. The Person believed is the divine Person-Act of the Son streaming forth to the Father, and to know Him, one must also stream forth.[7] It is so real that when Simon prays with Christ, his whole self is so utterly changed that Christ changes his name from Simon to Peter. He becomes “Rock” as Christ is “Cornerstone” which completes the epistemology: “Like is known by like.”

   In the book “Behold the Pierced One,” Ratzinger offers the supreme act of faith by the Church, i.e. Simon’s act of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. He leads up to this pivotal moment by scriptural texts that portray Jesus in prayer to the Father.[8] He proposes the thesis (3) “Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.”

               Since the Person of Jesus is pure relation as Self-gift to the Father, then Simon and the apostles entering into the prayer of Jesus begin to enter into the act of self-gift to the Father and become “like” Him. Ratzinger touches on Greek epistemology and writes: “By nature, knowledge depends on a certain similarity between the knower and the known. The old axiom is that like is known by like. In matters of the mind and where parson are concerned, this means that knowledge calls for a certain degree of empathy, by which we enter, so to speak, into the person or intellectual reality concerned, become one with him or it, and thus become able to understand (intellegere = ab intus legere) [to read from within the self]. [9]:

               Ratzinger now explains: “In Thesis 1 we saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and, indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with one he calls ‘Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls ‘Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand[10] this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44). Where there is no Father, there is no Son. Where there is no relationship with God, there is no Son. Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, if nothing but relationship with God, the Father – although one can doubtless establish plenty of details about him. Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which… is an act love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement.”

               Ratzinger calls this “theological epistemology”[11] because being from above, it is paradigmatic for all epistemology since “to Know” Christ as the center of all creation (Col. 1, 15-19) is to know all things at their origin.

Ramifications of this central vision from the “Introduction to Christianity:”

  1. The relation between faith and reason is solved: Where faith is an act of the whole self (the being of the believing person), the relation between faith and reason is solved. The encyclical “Fides et Ratio” benefitted from the presence of Ratzinger as head of the CDF in this regard. John Paul II wrote in #83 of same: “In a special way, the person [believing’] constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being (actus essendi) and hence with metaphysical enquiry. That is, the being of the believer, going out self) becomes the consciousness of being, i.e. the object of reason. It can be safely said, without Christian faith, reason cannot be fully  reason.
  2. In  this line, Ratzinger was asked, “Why a Universal Catechism in 1992?”[12]

Answer: Where this “theological epistemology” Is lacking, reason is restricted and becomes positivist. “Anything that cannot be subjected to mathematical or experimental verification is regarded as irrational This restriction of reason has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God cannot be subjected to rational experience, verified by mathematical formulae.”

And so they are left to subjective sensibility[13] alone, this is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened. Ratzinger goes on: “The great ideologies have been able to give a certain ethical foundation to society. But today, Marxism is crumbling and liberal ideology is so split into fragments that it no longer has a common, solid, coherent view of man and his future. In the present situation of emptiness, there looms the terrible danger of nihilism, that is to say, the denial or absence of all fundamental moral reference for the conduct of social life. This danger becomes visible in the new forms of terrorism.”[14] That was spoken in 1993, and the question today is the same as before: “Are you He is to come or shall we look for another?”

The core question and response is already given: “Are you He?” and“I believe in Thee.” It demands entering into another epistemological horizon, i.e. the “I” that is most boldly presented by Ratzinger in his offering on the “meaning” of the divine Persons. He wrote: “the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving  oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving, ‘wave’ not ‘corpuscle’… In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.” Let us listen once again to St. Augustine” ‘In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount t what we call today ‘objectifying thought.’ A new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable.”[15]

After the Introduction: “I Believe – Amen” which is the above, the structure of the book is the following:

               II The Ecclesiastical form of faith:

               Part One: God:  I) 1. The scope of the question

                                             2. Confession of faith in the One God

2) The Biblical Belief

3) The God of Faith and the God of the Philosophers

4) Faith in God Today

5) Belief in the Triune God

Part Two: Jesus Christ

               “I Believe in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, Our Lord:” Ratzinger‘s theological personalism  addresses the dualism that appears in the Christological manuals. the“solution” to the question of how a man can be God? is again offered in Person being Act of both natures, divine and human.  There is no dualism in Jesus Christ. There are two natures, but only one Acting Person. Free actions are performed only by persons. So What ever Jesus Christ did, the protagonist is the “I” of the Son, not the natures[16]

“Is it Jesus or Christ?” Again, the insight is that the Noun [Jesus] is the verb [Christ}; the Person is the Act. Jesus does not perform an action but performs Himself. Jesus does not reveal doctrine; He reveals Himself, “Jesus Christ” means that Jesus IS Christ. This Person is the action that  saves.’ Consider: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable[17]. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. There is no private area reservcd for an ‘I’ which [as substance] remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or another can be ‘off duty;’ there is no ‘I’ separate from the work; the ‘I’ is the work and the work is the ‘I.’”[18]



[1] J. Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching, Ignatius (2011) 324 [Franciscan Herald Press 1985] 74-75.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity” 48.

[3]  Iibid., 25.

[4] You  will see this on the next page in the 3d thesis of “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 25-27.

[5] Another way of saying it: The “I” of the believer becomes the Who of the One  believed.

[6] “Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which (as we have seen) is an act of love, of self- giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him or even being an obstacle to the rigorous purity of critical knowing. On the contrary, it is the basic precondition if real understanding, in the sense of modern hermeneutics – i.e., the entering –in to th e same time and the same meaning – is to take place” “Behold the Pierced One, ibid. 26.

[7] In Chapter V on the Divine Persons, the author explains this relationality of being as a pouring out. In the case of the Son, he writes: “To John ‘Son’ means being-from-another; thus with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere ‘I.’ When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely  open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards’, that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes… at the same time the explanation of Christian existence” (i.e. us). [Ibid. 134].

[8] Lk. 9, 18; Lk. 9, 28; Lk. 9. 58.

[9] “Behold the Pierced One,”ibid.  p. 25.

[10] The use of this word “understand” here taken from “reading from within” is very different from “knowing” this or that. We can know this or that, or know “about” but be far from what is meant by “understanding” or meaning.  See “Introduction” Chapter 1, #6, 7.

[11] “Behold the Pierced One” Ibid. 24.

[12] “A Catechism… only pretends to express the substance of the faith…. The novelty is that we have wished to present a unifying and organic vision of the faith. It’s not just a question of having dogmas here and moral commandments there. There is one fundamental vision of man, his life, his destiny. And this vision of man is the fruit of an action and a word of God… Christian morals… cannot be reduced to a catalogue of permitted or forbidden things. It cannot be abstracted from a fundamental unifying vision of existence and of human life.

This sacred dimension of man is the pivot of all Christian morals. Christian moral teaching rests on an anthropology that is directly inspired by our Christology.

[13] Subjectivism.

[14] J. Ratzinger, “And Marcism Gave Birth to … Nihilism,” Catholic World Report,” Henry Ting, January 1993 52-55.

[15] Ratzinger, “Intro…” Ignatius  (1970) 132.

[16] “In the manuals, the theological development after Chalcedon [451] has ordinarily come to be little considered. The impression thus frequently remains that dogmatic Christology finishes up with a certain parallelism  (my emphasis) between the two natures of Christ. This impression has also been the cause leading to the divisions since Chalcedon. But in effect the declaration of the true humanity and the true divinity of Christ can retain its significance only when there is clarification also of the mode or unity of the two natures, which the Council of Chalcedon has defined by the formula of the one person” of Christ, at that time not yet fully examined. In fact only that unity of divinity and humanity which in Christ is not parallelism, where one stands alongside the other, but real compenetration [“co-inherence: R. Barron] – compenetration between God and man – means salvation for mankind. Only thus in act does that true ‘being with God’ take place, without which liberation and freedom do not exist” J. Ratzinger, “journey to Easter,” Crossroad (1987) 100-101.

[17]  Consider D. Alvaro commenting on our Father on the occasion of the Beatification 1992: “All those who knew Josemaria Escriva perceived that his person was inseparable from the mission for which God had chosen him. Having been able to form a particularly close and profound relationship with him for 40 years reinforces in my memory this characteristic dimension of his human and spiritual physiognomy. I have seen him, so to speak, in his `first act’ as founder, that is to say, in the daily and continuous building of Opus Dei, and as a consequence, of the Church, as he affirmed not in vain that the Work exists solely to serve the Church, “The identification of his very self with his foundational activity implied that Mons. Escriva perfected himself as a subject – up to the point of living the virtues to a heroic degree – in the measure in which he carried out Opus Dei, feeling the need to second God’s plans daily. Frequently he expressed his feelings of responsibility as founder, which led him to carry out Opus Dei as God wanted and as the universal Church needed. OR, May, 1992,

[18] “Introductrion…. Ibid. 148.

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