In the Aftermath of World War I
I was just idly reading Ratzinger’s “Introduction” to the most recent edition of Romano Guardini’s “The Lord,” Regnery (1996) in which Ratzinger says, “The First World War was everywhere experienced as the collapse of the liberal dream of ever-advancing progress engendered by reason alone. This crisis of liberalism had great consequences for the Church and theology. Every rational Christianity’ which the liberal theologians had managed to develop was affected by it. Liberal Biblical interpretation, or exegesis, had actually prepared the ground for this crisis by its attempt to discover behind the ‘veneer of dogma’ the true ‘historical’ Jesus. Naturally, by the liberal’s way of thinking, the historical Jesus could be only a mere man. The liberal’s thought that everything supernatural, everyting pertaining to the mystery of God that surrounded Jesus, was merely the embellishments and exaggerations of believers. Only with everything supernatural removed could the true figure of Jesus finally come to view! Already by the turn of the century, however, Albert Schweitzer had established that such an attempt would result only in contradictions: such a ‘sanitized’ Jesus could not be an actual person, but the product of a historian.”
But now I step back and attempt to say the truth I barely grasp, and that is that there is nothing nor no one who is “like” Jesus Christ. He is His own revelation. Nothing illuminates Christ as Christ Himself. How does Guardini put this?
The Chapter of “The Lord:” “Christ the Beginning.” Guardini begins: “’I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! (Lk. 12, 49-50)….
“The purity of (Christ’s) disposition is not the result of a struggle against evil and victory over fear, nor is it instinctive physical purity of inborn spiritual nobility. In him the disposition of the Son of God is alive; purity which enters the world from above and is its new spotless beginning. It is God’s love that was made man. Not any man, but Jesus Christ, the Galilean, offspring of a specific race and age, of its social, political and cultural aspects, but so disposed that in the man Jesus faith finds the pure expression of divine sonship.
“There is only one whom we might be inclined to compare with Jesus: Buddha. This man is a great mystery. He lived in an awful, almost superhuman freedom, yet his kindness was powerful as a cosmic force. Perhaps Buddha will be the last religious genius to be explained by Christianity, As yet no one has really uncovered his Christian significance…. Christ is the Establisher of absolute beginning.
“Not only does Jesus bring new truth, new means of moral purification, a doctrine of more crystalline charity to be established among menl; his entry into this old world of ours launches the new. And not merely in the intellectual sense through the recognition of hitherto unknown truths or in the psychological sense of an all-renewing inner experience, but actually. ‘I came froth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father…. I have overcome the world’ (John 16), This is not the tone of one who has morally or religiously worked his way through to another, higher plane of existence. Nothing in the Gospels suggests that Jesus had to struggle through worldly captivity or uncertainty to the complete freedom he enjoyed. This what makes every attempt to ‘psychoanalyze Jesus’ as ridiculous as it is impossible; in him there is no such thing as ‘development of personality.’ His inner life is the fulfillment of a fact that he is simultaneously Son of Man and God. The person of Jesus is unprecedented and therefore measurable by no already existing norm. Christian recognition consists of realizing that all things really began with Jesus Christ; that he is his own norm – and therefore ours – for he is Truth.
“Christ’s effect upon the world can be compared with nothing in its history save its own creation: ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ What takes place in Christ is of the same order as the original act of creation, though on a still higher level. For the beginning of the new creation is as far superior to the love which created the stars, plants, animals and men. That is what the words meanL ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled”’[ (Lk. 12, 49). It is the fire of new becoming; not ‘truth’ or ‘love,’ but the incandescence of new creation.
“How earnest these words are is clear from those that follow: But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!’ “Baptism’ is the mystery of creative depths, grave and womb in one. Christ must pass through them because human hardness of heart does not allow him to take the other road. Down, down through terrible destruction He descends, to the nadir of divine creation whence saved existence can climb back into being.
“Now we understand what St Paul meant with his ‘excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ:’ the realization that this is who Christ is, the Descender. To make this realization our own is the alpha and omega of our lives, for it is not enough to know Jesus only as the Savior. With this supreme knowledge, serious religious life can begin, and we should strive for it with our whole strength and earnestness, as a man strives to reach his place in his profession; as a scientist wrestles with the answer to his problem; as one labors at his life work or for the hand of someone loved above all else.
“Are these directives for saints? No, for Christians. For you. (Blogger: all are called to be Christian and saint). How long must I wait? God knows. He can give himself to you overnight, you can also wait twenty years, but what are they in view of his advent? One day he will come. Once in the stillness of profound composure you will know: that it is Christ! Not from a book or the word of someone else, but though Him. He who is creative love brings your intrinsic potentialities to life. Your ego at its profoundest is He. [Blogger emphasis]
This is the literally all-excelling knowledge to which St. Paul refers. It springs like a spark from that ‘fire’ Christ came to bring, streams like a wave from the ‘baptism’ through which he had to pass. To know Christ entails accepting his will as norm. We can participate in the beginning which is he only by becoming one with his will. When we feel this we draw back, startled, for it means the cross. Then it is better to say honestly: ‘I can’t, yet, than to mouth pious phrases. Slow there, with the large words ‘self-surrender’ and ‘sacrifice’! It is better to admit our weakness and ask him to teach us strength. One day we shall really be able to place ourselves fully at his disposal, and our wills will really be one with his. Then we shall stand at the threshold of the new beginning. That that will mean we do not know. Perhaps pain or a great task, or the yoke of everyday existence. [My emphasis] It can also be its own pure end; it is for God to decide.
How does this change knowing?
” Unconverted man lives in the visible world judging all that is or may be by tradition’s experience and by the rules of logic. But when he encounters Christ, he must either accept him and his revolutionary approach to truth or lose him If he attempts to judge also the Lord by the standards of common experience, he will soon notice that he is dealing with something outside experience. He will have to discard the norms of the past, and take Christ as his new point of departure. When he no longer at tempts to subject Christ to immediate reason and experience, he will recognize him as the supreme measure of all possible reality. The intellect jealous for its own sovereignty reject s such recognition, which would put an end to its world-anchored self-glorification, and surrender it into the hands of the God of Revelation. This is the ‘risk’ any would-be Christian must take. If he takes it,
How Does This Affect Knowing?
” A profound revolution begins. It may take a disquieting even frightening form; it may demand passage through stifling darkness and perplexity. All that until now has seemed certain suddenly becomes questionable. The whole conception of reality, the whole idea of existence is turned upside-down. Only the haunting question persists: Is Christ really so great that he can be the norm of all that is? This has been the impact of Vatican II as “Starting From From Above”
 My edition, 1954.
 Romano Guardini, “The Lord” op.cit.,
Chapter XIV, pp. 305-308 of the 1954 edition.
 Ibid. op. cit 460 (1954 ed.).