Robert Imbelli – Charles Taylor – the Blogger on the Topic of “Secularity”

 

Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”

 Secularism of a new kind

posted by Robert N. Bellah (“Habits of the Heart”)

“I have long admired Charles Taylor and have read most of what he has written and always found him helpful. Yet for me, A Secular Age is his breakthrough book—one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime. Taylor succeeds in no less than recasting the entire debate about secularism.

From the very first pages it is clear that Taylor is doing something different from what others writing about secularization have achieved, because he distinguishes three senses of secularity. Almost all the literature on secularization with which I am familiar falls under Taylor’s first two categories of secularity:

  • Secularity 1: the expulsion of religion from sphere after sphere of public life.
  • Secularity 2: the decline of religious belief and practice.

Many excellent books have been written on these two aspects of secularization.

But Taylor’s focus in this book is on what he calls

  • Secularity 3: “the conditions of experience of and search for the spiritual” that make it possible to speak of ours as a “secular age.”

I doubt that many people have even perceived this third dimension, and Taylor’s book should be as much a revelation to them as it has been to me.

To bring Secularity 3 into view, one must call in question some of the presuppositions of the usual discussions of Secularity 1 and 2: namely, that “science” (or “rationality” or “modernity”) has undermined the possibility of religious belief. Taylor devotes much of his book to a history of the conditions that gave rise to Secularity 3, and they simply can’t be summarized with the usual formulae.

Taylor argues that the Reformation—with its radical rejection of the monastic life and the demand of a kind of monastic discipline for everyone—is just the preliminary culmination of a thousand years of pressure of Christianity toward Reform. He then shows how, even when Protestantism itself comes in question, long-term pressure toward Reform continues, first in 18th-century Deism and its attendant strong emphasis on Benevolence, and then in the 19th-century emergence of unqualified (secular) humanism with its emphasis on progress.

According to Taylor, it is not “science” or “Darwinism” that accounts for these developments, but the continuation of a moral narrative that was already long present in Christianity. Even the emergence in the late 19th century of anti-humanism (Nietzsche) cannot be understood except in terms of the particular features of what was being rejected: namely, both Christian and secular social ameliorism. By seeing the emergence of the secular age in narrative form primarily, rather than as a theoretical discovery, I think he makes the whole thing far more intelligible and explains our present quandaries far better than any competing accounts.

Perhaps the most obvious person to compare Taylor with would be Peter Berger, whose many books cover some of the same ground but never with the same thoroughness or historical depth of Taylor. José Casanova, particularly in his important book Public Religions in the Modern World, deals with some of Taylor’s issues, but again his canvas is much smaller. David Martin has written interestingly on secularization, but has stayed mainly within the framework of Taylor’s Secularity 1 and 2. I really can’t think of anyone who has explored what Taylor is calling Secularity 3 with anything like his breadth and penetration.

Perhaps the closest predecessor for Taylor’s arguments is Max Weber, though Taylor’s differences with Weber are still major. Like Weber, Taylor argues that the Reformation attempted to obliterate the difference between the religious (in the sense of monastic) life and daily life by giving the latter a profound religious meaning in the doctrine of the calling—an effort that, to the extent that it succeeded, ended up undermining the very tension that the Reformation itself generated. But he diverges from Weber in maintaining that the success of the drive toward Reformation, mirrored to more than a small degree by the Counter-Reformation initiative, gave rise to new problems.

On the one hand, the very success of these efforts seemed to imply that their religious underpinnings were no longer necessary—that secular “progress” could take over from religious impulses. Yet, as the book’s Part III shows, the new secularity produced its own problems, sometimes but not necessarily leading to a retrieval of religious belief. What we have now is a situation in which neither belief nor unbelief can be taken for granted and where ever more numerous examples of both continue to appear on the scene.

Part IV and particularly Part V outline the possibilities and conundrums in the midst of which we live.

In closing, it is worth pointing out this is not a work of apologetics. Indeed, it would be hard to find a book in this area with so little polemic, so generous an understanding of all the possible positions—including those farthest from his own—and with so little need to show that any side in this multi-sided process of change is more virtuous than any other. Taylor is clear from the beginning that he writes as a believing Catholic: he believes that the Christian effort to reinvent itself as part of the new secular world is a positive event. Yet he is merciless as to its many failings.

I have always admired Taylor’s generosity of spirit, his lack of the usual scholar’s need to put other people and other positions down. That he has been able to maintain his irenic spirit in considering issues of the greatest importance not only to the modern world but to himself as an individual is a tribute to him and an example to be followed.

I think the book could well be the primary text for graduate seminars, and parts of it could be assigned in undergraduate courses, though it is a little too long and perhaps too demanding to be used as an undergraduate text except in a few universities and liberal arts colleges. I would also consider the book a “must read” for anyone concerned with religion and modernity—and that includes a great many people in today’s world.

Interview of Charles Taylor by Robert Imbelli:

 

Bloggers’s Take on Secularity in the light of the above:

Secularity: A Christian Truth

 

 

What is Secularity? – The Freedom and Autonomy of the Humanity of Christ

 

 

As response to the above, let me insert from the get-go the absolute grounding of secularity in the humanity of Christ. John Paul II’s Christifideles laici #15 states: “To understand properly the lay faithful’s position in the Church in a complete, adequate and specific manner it is necessary to come to a deeper theological understanding of their secular character in light of God’s plan of salvation and in the context of the mystery of the Church.

            “Pope Paul VI said the Church `has an authentic secular dimension inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in different forms through her members.’

 

            “The Church, in fact, lives in the world, even if she is not of the world (cf. Jn. 17, 16). She is sent to continue the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which `by its very nature concerns the salvation of humanity, and also involves the renewal of the whole temporal order.’

 

            “Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways. In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is `properly and particularly’ theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression `secular character.’”

* * * * * * * * * * * * [1]

 

Secularity is a term that is hardly ever used in the contemporary Church. And when it is, it is improperly confused with secularism, which connotes, pejoratively, a separation of the world from God. The starting point for evaluating the meaning of secularity as found in the documents of Vatican II[1] is the address of Paul VI on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia. Addressing members of secular institutes, he said—and John Paul II builds the core of Paul VI’s remarks into Christifideles Laici[2]—that
secularity is not simply your condition as people living in the world, an external condition. It is rather an attitude, the attitude of people who are aware that they have a responsibility, being in the world, to serve the world, to make it as God would have it, more just, more human, to sanctify it from within.

 

Paul VI goes on to say that
This attitude is primarily one of respect for the world’s rightful autonomy, its values, its laws (cf. Gaudium et Spes 36) though of course this does not imply that the world is independent of God, Creator and final end of all. One of the important dimensions of this characteristic quality of your secularity is that you take the natural order seriously, working to bring it to perfection and to holiness so that things which are necessarily a part of life in the world may be integrated into the spirituality, the training, the ascetics, the structure, the external forms, the activities, of your Institute. Thus is will be possible to fulfill what Primo Feliciter expresses in these words: “(that) your own special character, the secular, may be reflected in everything”[3] (emphasis mine).

The key word in these passages is “attitude.” Attitude denotes something personal (as subjective) and interior. Paul VI is thus affirming that secularity is not something “out there” that, so to say, rubs off on one or to which one conforms in order to become “secular.” As an attitude that is interior to the person, secularity, with all that it implies (work, occupations, outlook, lifestyle, ways of acting and behaving), is not added on to the Christian vocation from outside but flows from its very core as a sharing in Christ’s priesthood. [This is from the Father’s Letter of November 1995, #17-20]

As we have seen above, Jesus Christ is priest par excellence as mediator between men and the Father through his unique gift of self. The baptized person shares in this priesthood by making the same gift in the context of work in the world. The laity fulfill their calling to be persons through the creation of secularity by living out their unique way of sharing in Christ’s priesthood. It is the world, and work in it, as the proprium of the layman, not ministries, that delivers to the layman the radical call to priestly existence. And it is in this vein that we are called to love the world passionately.[4]

 

The laity have what might be called an existential priesthood, rooted in baptism. The locus of this priesthood is the act of self-gift. This self-gift, we have seen, is to be performed in the world, which thus becomes intrinsic to the priesthood of the laity. But it may seem strange in this context that the Magisterium refers to secularity in terms of autonomy. How, indeed, can self-gift and autonomy stand together?
Autonomy, of course, has the connotation of self-determination. I want to propose that this self-determination is the locus of the self-gift that is the core of the existential priesthood of the laity. Conversely, the existential priesthood of the laity is personal self-determination seen in its fullest, most paradigmatic form. But if this is the case, it must be true that self-gift and, indeed, obedience, is not extrinsic to what we mean by self-determination. Obviously, it exceeds the scope of the present reflection to explain in detail why and how this is so. One could certainly make a compelling philosophical case for this claim. But there is also a Christological dimension to this claim that inwardly completes the philosophical one. Christ, the Second Vatican Council teaches us, reveals man to himself.[5] In Christ, we see the unity of freedom as self-determination and obedience; Christ is perfectly free precisely to the extent that, in love, he obeys the Father, a prior relation to whom shapes his freedom from the outset. The prototype of self-determination, then, is the free human obedience in love of Jesus Christ.
That self-gift in loving obedience and autonomy are two sides of the same coin brings us back to the assertion the laity have an existential priesthood, expressed in self-gift in the world. We now see why this connection between existential priesthood and the world is so fundamental to the proprium of the laity: the existential priesthood of the laity, exercised as self-gift in free obedience, is the fullest meaning of autonomous worldly activity. Note, however, that we can say this precisely because the paradigm of freedom is Christological. The laity’s existential priesthood, with its self-gift in loving obedience, is a participation in Christ’ s own priestly self-offering in a free obedience, a free obedience that we see in the priestly gesture of submitting to the Father, rendering the cumulative sinfulness of all men concentrated in that will.[6] In other words, the existential priesthood of the laity is the full paradigm of man’s autonomous worldly activity precisely because it is a specific mode of sharing in Christ’s priesthood. If, in fact, Christ reveals the primordial figure of freedom[7] and of autonomy,[8] he is also the paradigm of secularity.[9]
Secularity, then, is a fundamental dimension of the human person enlightened by the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is “respect for the world’s rightful autonomy.” But what is thus respected is not some “thing” out there that has “autonomy.” The only autonomy that we are privy to experientially, and therefore know in the biblical sense, is in fact our own as persons when we experience the freedom, the joy, and the agony of self-determination. The import of Gaudium et Spes 24 underscores that the human person, “man,” is `the only earthly creature God has willed for itself.'” This means that only the self—the “I”—has autonomy. The truly autonomous self, however, is not the Cartesian cogito as consciousness. It is rather the ontological self of the human person who “fully discovers his true self only in a sincere giving of himself,” i.e., in existential action. However, precisely because what is in play is not the Cartesian cogito, this action of self-gift can only occur in an encounter with another who awakens, sustains, and brings to light the full meaning of self-determination as a response to love in free obedience. This other is, ultimately, Christ, the “I” who is the Revealer of the Godhead and of humanity. By the same token, the true “I” of man is the believing self as gift from and back to this Christological “I.” The paradigmatic act of autonomy is the act of divinized human freedom as seen archetypically in Christ’s self-gift in obedience-to-death to the Father and, from our side, in Mary’s unconditional fiat. Secularity, in this perspective, is an attitude of respect for the autonomy of the person, and his world—as autonomy is illumined in its fundamental meaning by Jesus Christ.
The true autonomy of created being is discovered only in the historical encounter with Jesus Christ wherein the “I” says Yes, in free obedience, to his giving me to myself as gift. This historical encounter, in fact, is “the privileged locus of the encounter with the act of existence, and with metaphysical inquiry.”[10] It is only when the whole of reality lights up in this encounter that it becomes a world—a secularity with an “autonomy” of its own. And so secularity is essentially Christian. Secularity is a priestly way of being and living because it flows from Christ’s own freedom of self-determination as self-sacrifice before the Father. It is lived out in an attitude of respect for the freedom of others—which finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s Paschal mystery. Secularity, then, must be interpreted primarily in terms of Christian faith and morality, and not by a given state of affairs that is taken as an a priori that is exterior, and perhaps contrary, to the meaning of the person as revealed in Jesus Christ. In other words, secularity should be judged and valued—or rather, discovered— from the starting-point of a lived Christian faith, and of what Christian faith reveals to us about man, about the world, and about our destiny.[11] What we mean by self-determination and the autonomy of worldly activity must take its basic shape within Christ’s revelation of man to himself.
Thus, secularity—not ministerial functions within the Church as institution—is the proper context, “the theological proprium,”[12] in which the laity “seek the Kingdom of God.”[13] As such, secularity is “not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well.”[14] It is not merely a “dimension” of the layman; it is considered his “characteristic.”[15] Secularity characterizes the laity because the world is intrinsic to their exercising the priesthood of mediation. It is what uniquely and specifically characterizes them as being other Christs and constituting the Body of Christ, the Church. They become Christ, and therefore Church, in the profound sense of a mystical identity, precisely by living an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, and so forth. The world is a specific vocation for laypeople as the place of their self-gift. It is the place in which they “are charged with carrying out an apostolic mission.”[16] John Paul observes:
Their specific competence in various human activities is, in the first place, a God-given instrument to ‘enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.’ They are thereby spurred on to place their own skills effectively at the service of the ‘new frontiers,’ which are seen as challenges to the Church’s saving presence in the world. The priests for their part have a primary and irreplaceable role: to help souls, one by one, through the sacraments, preaching and spiritual direction, to open themselves to the gift of grace. A spirituality of communion will best strengthen the role of each ecclesial element.[17]

[1]LG 31; GS 32, 36, 41, 48; Apostolicam Actuositatem 5.
[2]Christifideles Laici 15.
[3]Paul VI, “A Presence and an Action which will Transform the World From Within,” February 2, 1972; AAS 64 (1972), 208.
[4] “Passionately Loving the World,” the title of a homily preached on the campus of the University of Navarre, October 8, 1967 by Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer; it forms the last section of Conversations (Scepter, 1974), 113-123 in which the author professes: “I am a secular priest, a priest of Jesus Christ, who is passionately in love with the world.”
[5]“In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes 22).
[6]“For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin, so that in him we might become the justice of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
[7] “The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom” (Veritatis Splendor 85).
[8] “Man’s genuine moral autonomy in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God’s command… Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man’s free obedience to God’ s law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God’s wisdom and providence” (Veritatis Splendor 41).
[9] Christifideles Laici says as much quoting Paul VI: “the Church ‘has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in different forms through her members.’”
[10] Fides et Ratio 83.
[11] Secularity as characteristic is intrinsic to Christian anthropology, not the result of an extrinsic state. “Secularity… is not added on to our vocation from outside. On the contrary, it receives it fullest meaning from our vocation. Our vocation means that our secular state in life, our ordinary work and our situation in the world, are our only way to sanctification and apostolate.[11] Secularity is something Christian, a Christian way of being and living. In other words, our divine vocation, our spirit – or in broader terms, Christian faith and morality – cannot be judged from the starting-point of a secularity defined a priori. Rather, secularity should be judged and valued – or rather, discovered – from the starting-point of our vocation, and what the Christian faith reveals to us about man, about the world and about our destiny.” (Javier Echevarria, Prelate of Opus Dei, Letter 11/28/95, #20).
[12] “The Diversity of Charisms,” 310.
[13] Lumen Gentium 31.
[14] Christifideles Laici 15.
[15] The distinction between secularity as “dimension” and secularity as “characteristic” bears on the distinction of layman and priest. Secularity of “dimension” is a note of the entire Church inasmuch as Christ himself can be considered the paradigm of secularity. As Christ is Head, the Church is Body, both being one and same thing. Secularity as “characteristic,” however, refers to the laity’s engagement in the world of work as “the place, the environment, the means, or if you prefer, the tools and language of our response to the caring love of God” (L’Osservatore Romano (no. 17, April 26, 1995), 3). The point is: “what makes us holy is not work, but the action of grace within us.” That grace moves us to make work a self-gift. In that sense, work and the secular world are intrinsic to holiness, and therefore the “characteristic” of, the layman.
[16] John Paul II, Address during an audience for participants at a seminar on Novo Millennio Ineunte organized by the Opus Dei Prelature, March 17, 2001, #2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Feast Of Mercy

Backgroundt. Faustina

The Image

Feast of Mercy

Indulgence

The Chaplet

The Novena

The Hour

Second Coming

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The New Plenary Indulgence

During the course of Jesus’ revelations to Saint Faustina on the Divine Mercy He asked on numerous occasions that a feast day be dedicated to the Divine Mercy and that this feast be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. The liturgical texts of that day, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, concern the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, the Tribunal of the Divine Mercy, and are thus already suited to the request of Our Lord. This Feast, which had already been granted to the nation of Poland and been celebrated within Vatican City, was granted to the Universal Church by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the canonization of Sr. Faustina on 30 April 2000. In a decree dated 23 May 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated that “throughout the world the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come.” These papal acts represent the highest endorsement that the Church can give to a private revelation, an act of  papal infallibility proclaiming the certain sanctity of the mystic, and the granting of a universal feast, as requested by Our Lord to St. Faustina.

Concerning the Feast of Mercy Jesus said:

Whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. (Diary 300)

I want the image solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it. (Diary 341)

This Feast emerged from the very depths of My mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies. (Diary 420)

On one occasion, I heard these words: My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.* [our emphasis] On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. (Diary699)

Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it. (Diary 742)

I want to grant complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My mercy. (Diary 1109)

As you can see the Lord’s desire for the Feast includes the solemn, public  veneration of the Image of Divine Mercy by the Church, as well as personal acts of veneration and mercy. The great promise for the individual soul is that a devotional act of sacramental penance and Communion will obtain for that soul the plenitude of the divine mercy on the Feast.

*The Cardinal of Krakow, Cardinal Macharski, whose diocese is the center of the spread of the devotion and the sponsor of the Cause of Sr. Faustina, has written that we should use Lent as preparation for the Feast and confess even before Holy Week! So, it is clear that the confessional requirement does not have to be met on the Feast itself. That would be an impossible burden for the clergy if it did. The Communion requirement is easily met that day, however, since it is a day of obligation, being Sunday. We would only need confession again, if received earlier in Lenten or Easter Season, if we were in the state of mortal sin on the Feast.

Weapons with Which to Fight, Treasure with Which to Pay, Strength to Go Forward: The Sick and Elderly!

Escriva in Chile in 1974:

…. a priest who was twenty-six years of age and had the grace of God, a good sense of humour and nothing else. He had no virtues, nor money. And he had to do Opus Dei… And do you know how he managed? he asked.

In the hospitals. That General Hospital of Madrid, packed with sick and destitute people lying there in the corridors because there just weren’t enough beds. That King’s Hospital, full of consumptives at a time when consumption was incurable… Those were the weapons with which to fight and win! That was the treasure with which to pay! And that was the strength with which to go forward! (…) And the Lord has taken us all over the world, and we are now in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in America and in Oceania thanks to the sick, who are a treasure…

A few months later, on 19 February 1975 in Ciudad Vieja (Guatemala), he once again recalled those years when he relied on all the artillery of many hospitals in Madrid:

I begged them to offer up their sufferings, their hours in bed, their loneliness (some of them were very lonely): to offer all that to the Lord for the apostolate we were doing with young people.

This was his way of teaching them to discover the joy of suffering, because they were sharing in the Cross of Jesus Christ and were serving a great and divine purpose. The Founder of Opus Dei found in them a real pillar of strength and the conviction that the Lord would carry the Work forward in spite of men, in spite of myself, who am a poor man.

From that time on, along with catechism classes in poorer districts, visits to the poor and homeless have been habitual means to develop the apostolate of Opus Dei with young people the world over.

He also spoke about the Christian meaning of suffering in Lisbon in November 1972:

You too will meet up with physical pain and be happy with that suffering. You have spoken to me of The Way. I don’t know it by heart, but there is a point which says: Let us bless pain. Love pain. Sanctify pain… Glorify pain! Do you remember it? I wrote that in a hospital at the bedside of a dying woman to whom I had just administered the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. How I envied her! That woman had had a very good social and economic position in life, and there she was in that wretched hospital bed, alone and dying, with no more company that what I could supply, until she died. And there she was repeating, joyously savouring the words: Let us bless pain – and she had every sort of moral and physical pain – love pain, sanctify pain, glorify pain! Suffering is a proof that one knows how to love, that one has a heart.

In 1930 Jenaro Lázaro found that besides working in hospitals the Father was also teaching catechism in a number of places. He cannot recall their exact names, but he does remember that he went often to Vallecas. On 1 October 1967 Msgr. Escrivá de Balaguer returned once more to Vallecas. It had changed a great deal. In the auditorium of Tajamar, an apostolic work run by Opus Dei, its Founder recalled that when he was twenty-five, I came to these open spaces often, to brush away tears and help those in need, to treat children, the old and the sick with affection, and I received a lot of affection in return… and the occasional stone.

He continued, referring to Tajamar: Today, for me, this is a dream, a blessed dream, that I relive in so many outskirts of great cities, where we treat people with affection, looking at them straight in the eye, because we are all equal. (…) I am a sinner who loves Jesus Christ with all the strength of my soul; I feel very happy, although I have sorrows, because sorrow is with us always in this world. I want you to love Jesus Christ, to get to know him, to be happy as I am; and it isn’t difficult to attain this relationship. Before God, as men, as creatures, we are all equal.

Anticipating a Talk by Alvaro de Vicente on Shaping a Boy’s Moral Imagination

Richard Rohr: How to be a man: Passing through the fire of initiation, i.e. Christ.

In Adam’s Return, Rohr writes about masculinity. He argues that most cultures have initiation rites that they make their boys go through before they can be men … He thinks that men are finding life hard these days, and that it’s partly because we don’t initiate them properly into manhood any more. According to Rohr, there are five lessons that male initiation teaches:
1) Life is hard
2) You are not important.
3) Your life is not about you.
4) You are not in control.
5) You are going to die.

Blogger: To each of the above lessons, Rohr rejoins with the words of Christ and St. Paul…

 To: Life is hard, he rejoins: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11, 28).

To: You are not important… “Do you not know that your name is written in heaven” (Lk. 10, 20).

To: Your life is not about you… “I live now not my own life, but the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians  2, 20).

To: You are not in control… “Can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to your span of life?” (Luke 12, 26).

To: You are going to die… “I am certain of this, neither death nor life, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, not any height nor depth, nor any created thing can ever come between us and the love of God” (Romans 8, 38-39).

* * * * * * * * * * *

Blogger: Notice that the fundamental question, when information technology is so powerful, is formulated in terms of the query: what is the human person? What does it mean to be person and human? What is it that technology cannot do, and can never do? Technology can never deliver one “I am” to another “I am.” Rohr has found experientially, that “the large-than-life people… have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown which surely felt like dying, led them into a large life. That’s it! They broke through in what felt like breaking down. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”[1] Now, it is here that Rohr can be misinterpreted. He writes: “For many Western people, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the preeminent example of this pattern, and he is often recognized, even by many non-Christians, as the most influential person of the last two thousand years. But the pattern is archetypal and hardwired in history, literature, and poetry. Jesus is a perfect examplar of initiation in its full cycle. But there have been many others who have let ‘the single grain of wheat die… Abraham, Buddha, Mary, Rumi, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and the blood of all martyrs are the very fuel and fire of history.”

I want to say the following about the above: Jesus Christ is the radically unique instantiation of the God-man. He is 100% God, and 100% Man. There is no other. Born in history, He precedes all history because His Persona is the Creating God. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1 , 15-19: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”  This is a formally radical ontological statement that must be taken as such. Barron translates into modern idiom: “Jesus is not only the one in whom things were created but also the one in whom they presently exist and through whom they inhere in one another. And if we are inclined to view the future as a dimension of creation untouched by Christ, we are set straight: ‘Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’(v. 20). Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him. Mind you, Jesus is not merely the symbol of an intelligibility, coherence, and reconciliation  that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space.”

                And so it is important to clarify that Jesus Christ does not fit a pattern. He is the Creator of all patterns. However, it should also be made clear that each human person has been created in the image and likeness of Christ and baptized into Him to repeat Him. And if there are anticipations and redundancies of Him, they are not on the same ontological level as competition to and with Him because as they are entities, He is the One Who gives them their very “to be,” and their likeness is due to having been created in this image and likeness. He is the Prototype and the Pattern. Christ, therefore is to be found experientially within us as we obey believing, and believe obeying. And so the realism and salvation of the human person is not to be found in “Religion,” but experientially in Christ. And for that, given finiteness and sin (the turning back on self), every person needs initiation and a death before death.

In his approach to “traditional initiation rites,” Richard Rohr has found that “they interpreted ordinary men from within – crediting maleness with its own innate spirituality – and worked at bringing men to wholeness from the bottom up, and from the inside out.” He says, that he “will try to do the same… in the face of a culture, and a church, that usually tries to interpret men from the top down and from the outside in.” He writes: “Such a technique will never work, in my opinion, and it has not been working for some time. Our religious institutions are not giving very many men access to credible encounters with the Holy or even with their own wholeness… We are sons of Esau, having sold our birthright for fast-food religion… It does not deeply transform the self or the world.”[2] Rohr offers the insight into his mind: “My continuing momentum in this work has been a rather constant sadness and disappointment over the lack of an inner life in so many men I meet, even among ministers, religious, and devoted laymen, and high-level and successful leaders from whom we would expect more. It is not their fault.”[3] Rohr is very much with pope Francis here: “First, I believe that truth is more likely to be found at the bottom and the edges of things than at the top or the center. That is, the pedagogy of the oppressed and the continued testimony of the saints and mystics – and from the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Basically, he is with the last four popes + Francis about working on the inside and going to the peripheries. He then, formulated a remark that I, the blogger, wrote to him about, and which he attributed to Einstein. I asked its provenance but he did not know: He wrote: “As Einstein put it, I believe that ‘no problem can be solved from the same level consciousness that create it.’” But in his footnote, and his email to me, no known source.

   Personally, the whole problem is here, and Joseph Ratzinger made reference to the same thing when he put the conceptual conundrum of the “new” physics concerning particle and wave in his offering of the theological epistemology of  substance and relation, and continues to plague us with the internal discord re: chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia.” It personally takes me back to Charles Taylor’s presentation Kant’s pure aprior and Herder’s “romanticism.” Consider Ratzinger’s remark that “in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject. This, too, mutatis mutandos, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is not such thing as pure objectivity.[4] And so the God question is the human question: what is man? And the man question is: Who is God? Both  questions must be answered from within an initiation into giftedness.

[1] R. Rohr, “Adam’s Return,” Crossroad (2004) 2.

[2] x.

[3] Ibid, xii

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 125.

90 Birthday of Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI

“Jesus of Nazareth”

Prologue

Moses only saw God in the back, not in the face. Only He who is one with the Father (Jn. 10, 30) sees the Father in the face. Only He who is equally “face” with the Father sees face. Jesus, as the new Moses, is not only the new prophet – “prophet” being a category of the human mind – but the Prophet – the experienced reality from which we would form the notion of “prophet,” and this because He is the “Word” of the Father. “Word” is a relational term because its “meaning” is always “from” and “for.”

The entire task of this book is to lead reason to a higher experience and consciousness of being by leading it into deeper water: Duc in altum (Lk. 5, 4). Once there, reason will be able to re-cognize the Face of him who is not an individual whom we habitually place in mental categories, but a relation who is one with the Father, whom we can know experientially.[1]

We can only know the Father (and therefore, achieve eternal life [Jn. 17, 3]) by seeing the back of the Father, which is to follow Jesus Christ.[2] “We can only encounter God by walking after Jesus; that the only way we can see him is by following Jesus, which means walking behind him and thus going along behind God’s back….(S)eeing is going.” And “going” is going-out-of-self, particularly praying.

The whole book is an exercise in theological (existential) epistemology[3] whereby we do not know by theoretical categories but by experiencing being in relation to the Father as the Incarnate Son is relation to the Father. As a result, the best way to read the book is to start with the last part of the last chapter: “I Am” where the author announces the kind of Being that Jesus of Nazareth is, thus giving us a clue what he is trying to do in the entire first volume of the work. In this last part of the last chapter, he announces that “The issue at stake… is precisely the oneness of Father and Son…. Jesus is wholly ‘relational,’ that his whole being is nothing other than relation to the Father. This relationality is the key to understanding the use Jesus makes of the formulae of the burning bush and Isaiah. The ‘I am’ is situated completely in the relatedness between Father and Son.”[4]

 

 

Present State of Affairs

The state of affairs that Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI’s (henceforth, R-B) “Jesus of Nazareth” confronts is “the back” of God without the following. In a word, God is simply absent. There is abstract thought about God, lip service is paid, actions are performed toward Him as if He were a “hobby,” but no one sees the Face: “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (Jn. 1, 18).

Sacred Scripture, which is a major step in experiencing Jesus Christ, and therefore, the Father, has been purged of any supernatural content by the bifurcation exercised by exegetes during the last 200 years into 1) a text reducible to historical, linguistic and cultural facticity not unlike an experiment in the empirical sciences, and 2) the sujectivized myth of a supposed supernatural content – a kind of divine wishful thinking. This renders access to the Persona of Jesus of Nazareth as the “Christ, Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 17) impossible. “Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”[5]

R-B has undertaken the work “Jesus of Nazareth” because he finds this bifurcation of the figure of Jesus into a “Jesus of history” and a “Jesus of faith” unjustified, unreasonable and unscientific. He asserts straightforwardly: “The main implication of this [the explanation of his methodology] for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels.”[6] And the profound reason for his trusting the Gospels is his perception that the Persona of Jesus Christ as “Son of the living God” transcends, not all thought, but all created categories of thought. In a word, R-B has done theology on his knees watching and following the back of the Father in Jesus Christ. He has experienced Christ within himself beyond the categories by the self-transcendence of prayer. He has gone beyond what John Paul II called “the ordinary way of knowing things.”[7] This “ordinary way of knowing things” is the reduction of all sensibly perceptible reality to the Hellenized ontological categories of substance and accident. And it is precisely here that the genius of R-B is deployed. If we go to the last chapter of this first volume of “Jesus of Nazareth,” we find the quite explicit incursus into a metaphysical terminology that presupposes an underlying ontology of person as relation that has been alluded to in the entire opus of Joseph Ratzinger from his first book, begun in 1953 “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure” through his “habilitation thesis,” (1956) to this moment of “Jesus of Nazareth”(2007).

After forming himself in the thought of Augustine, R-B remarks in the forward to his work on Bonaventure: “Has not the ‘Hellenization’ of Christianity, which attempted to overcome the scandal of the particular by a blending of faith and metaphysics, led to a development in a false direction? Has it not created a static style of thought which cannot do justices to the dynamism of the biblical style?”[8] He is asking if Christian revelation is not being crammed into static mental categories of Greek pagan thought when the latter alone is used to give a rational account of the Person of Christ? In 1956, he was asserting that in Bonaventure, revelation that is identical with the Person of Christ is not to be identified with Scripture. Here we can see his apparent affinity with the “bifurcationist” exegetes who assert that there is more in the text that what is said explicitly in a scientifically ascertained text. But with huge difference. In his account of the thesis, he asserts that in Bonaventure and all the theologians of the High Middle Ages, “`revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the concilar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (‘by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.” [9]He immediately adds that this position was not understood to be “a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”

What we can conclude from this is that there is something in the text that cannot be gleaned from the text if it is treated positivistically and reductively. That is, the text is telling me more than what the words and “concepts” they represent say. If we go to the last chapter of “Jesus of Nazareth,” R-B shows that in the very text of the Gospels, especially Luke, the believer discovers the Person of Christ as “Son of the living God” when he enters into the act of prayer (Lk. 9, 18). The revelation of the divine Person who transcends all cosmic created categories is experienced and known by the one who goes out self in prayer.  This act of prayer constitutes a second tier of experience and being that is the very self in a state of transcendence – R-B calls this by a philosophical concept: “relation.”[10]

In his 1968 “Introduction to Christianity,” we find a “Magna Charta” on the notion of person in God, and therefore, as His image, in us. There R-B, building on Augustine, says, “the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver[11] but the act of giving…” He goes on: “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.’” He then lays down the fundamental challenge which is precisely the goal toward which this book is being guided: “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 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 complete – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable”[12]

It is not unreasonable that the Judeo-Christian God transcends these categories as Creator. Said differently, one cannot re-cognize in reality what one does not first cognize.[13] As quoted from Goethe on another occasion: “If the eye were not solar, it could not recognize the sun,” R-B makes the point that “Catechesis should also always be a process involving a type of assimilation with God, since in reality we can recognize only that for which a correspondence is found in us… The process of knowledge is a process of assimilation, a vital process. The we, the what and the how of the faith are closely connected.”[14]  As we saw above, this is the burden of Ratzinger’s “Habilitation” thesis, and, I would suggest, the key to understanding his solution in “Jesus of Nazareth” to the bifurcation of Jesus of history/Jesus of faith and hence the non-presence of God in the experience of the Apostles from the beginning, and hence the presence of the God-man in the world now.

Said differently, although Scripture as written word is not revelation in itself (only Christ as Person is), nevertheless it was written by men who experienced the Person of Christ in themselves and therefore re-cognized Him and knew Him to be “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 17). They perceived the historical individual Jesus of Nazareth through sight, touch and hearing, but they also were personally involved (on a second tier of experience) with their subjectivity  – their “I” – in the very activity that is cosmically invisible, but which is His very Person as act of being “one” with the Father. Hence, they also knew Him from the very start as “the Christ.”  That act of knowing is ontologically grounded on reality (being) neither as substance or accident. Rather it was the experience of an act of the “I” self-transcending that R-B calls “relation” that is both a divine, and therefore, a human way of being. It is not a mental category and therefore defies reduction to the abstraction or categories which we call concepts. However, as experience of the self-transcending “I,” it produces the consciousness[15] that we reflect on and form “concepts” as categories and communicate them as language.

As an overview of the book, I submit that the controlling insight is the notion of person as relation, a relation that is not reducible to either category of substance or accident. Since the dictatorship of relativism, which is uppermost in the mind of R-B, is a product of this kind of reduction or “objectification” he is taking aim at the epistemological schizophrenia of splitting Christ into objectifiable historical figure or subjectivist myth. He wants to show how the texts and actions themselves offer the whole Christ. Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ. There are two clear contradictory examples of reaction to the Gospel texts that we will examine below: that of Rabbi Jacob Neusner and Rudolph Bultmann.

 

The work of the book is to show that from the Baptism of Christ to the Transfiguration, the words and the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth are of a Person Who is constitutively relational, one with the Father and therefore very God. Its ambition is to lead reason into a paradigm shift from object to subject, from relativism to the Absolute Who is the God of Jesus Christ by leading the reader to pray with the Jesus of Scripture and experience self-transcendence.

Cardinal Schönborn sees the book as a “`symphonic’ attempt to prove the ‘coherency’ of the figure of Jesus as the One who is in an absolute and immediate relationship with God.”[16] It is not an exercise in syllogistic apologetics although it is not without the rigors of logic. It is simply not reducible to it. It is a cross-weave or crescendo of reasoned consciousness grounded in the real-life text of the history of Jesus of Nazareth but interpreted by another level of consciousness coming from the experience and consciousness accruing to prayer. It is something like an exercise of John Henry Newman’s “illative sense” that constructs from an accumulation of various probabilities, legitimate proof sufficient for certitude.[17]

As mentioned above, the entire theological opus of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI has been exercised on his knees. Recently in Brazil he asked rhetorically, “Who knows God? How can we know him?  … For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he ‘who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known’ (John 1, 18).”[18]
[1] See John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte #1, 16, 19-20.

[2] “No one knows the Son except the father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27).

[3] See J. Ratzinger’s “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987)  349-355.

[4] Ratzinger-Benedict XVI (henceforth B-R), “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 348-349.

[5] Ibid xii.

[6] Ibid xxi.

[7] John Paul II “Novo Millennio Ineunte” #20: “`Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 16, 17). The expression ‘flesh and book’ is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of ‘revelation’ is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus ‘was praying alone’ (Lk. 9, 18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have behold his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father’ (1, 14).”

[8] J. Ratzinger, “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Herald Press (1989)  xi.

[9] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” (1998), 108-109.

[10] “`I and the Father are one’… The issue at stake… is precisely the oneness of Father and Son. In order to understand this correctly, we need above all to recall our reflections on the term ‘the Son’ and its rootedness in the Father-Son dialogue. There we saw that Jesus is wholly ‘relational,’ that his whole being is nothing other than relation to the Father. This relationality is the key to understanding the use Jesus makes of the formulae of the burning bush and Isaiah. The ‘I am’ is situated completely in the relatedness between Father and Son;” “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit 348-349.

[11] The entire notion of substance (to-be-in-self) is rejected by R-B in doing the metaphysics of person in God and man. Observe the following: “I believe that if one follows this struggle in which human reality had to be brought in, as it were, and affirmed for Jesus, one sees what tremendous effort and intellectual transformation lay behind the working out of this concept of person, which was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and the Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms… Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined ‘person’ as naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms;” J.  Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.

 

[12] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 184.

[13] Ratzinger made a formal presentation of this idea in the following: Not only is there nothing in the intellect except through the senses (Nihil in intellectu nisi in sensu), but also there is nothing in the senses that is not first in the intellect (Nihil in sensu nisi per intellectum): “The senses experience nothing if no question has been raised, if there is no preceding command from the intellect without which sensory experience cannot take place. [Experience always involves the “I”]. Experimentation is possible only if natural science has elaborated an intellectual presupposition in terms of which it controls nature and on the basis of which it can bring about new experiences. In other words, it is only when the intellect sheds light on sensory experience that this sensory experience has any value as knowledge and that experiences thus become possible;” Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius (1987)  348.

[14] J. Ratzinger, “What Does the Church Believe? The Catholic World Report, March 1993, 59.

[15]This consciousness we understand to be Christian mysticism. R-B alludes to exactly this point when he says: “This [The Lord’s Prayer] also reveals something of the specificity of Christian mysticism. It is not in the first instance immersion in the depths of oneself, but encounter with the Spirit of God in the word that goes ahead of us. It is encounter with the Son and the Holy Spirit and thus a becoming-one with the living God who is always both in us and above us.”[15] It is here that R-B distinguishes Christian and Eastern Mysticisms. In Eastern mysticism, the distinction between the self and God is lost. In the Judeo-Christian “monotheistic revolution,” the distinction between self and God is maintained where they are in relation. The belief in God as other than the self is always a relation and the cause of the experience of self-transcendence, and therefore this non-conceptual consciousness that is the “dark night of the soul” J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,” Ignatius (2004) Mysticism and Belief,  32-39.

 

 

[16] L’Osservatore Romano, N. 22 – 30 May 2007, 8-9.

[17] John Henry Newman, “A Grammar of Assent” UNDP (1979) 320.

[18] Benedict XVI, “Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!” Aparecida, Brazil, May 13, 2007 (Zenit).

Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI

“Jesus of Nazareth”

Prologue

Moses only saw God in the back, not in the face. Only He who is one with the Father (Jn. 10, 30) sees the Father in the face. Only He who is equally “face” with the Father sees face. Jesus, as the new Moses, is not only the new prophet – “prophet” being a category of the human mind – but the Prophet – the experienced reality from which we would form the notion of “prophet,” and this because He is the “Word” of the Father. “Word” is a relational term because its “meaning” is always “from” and “for.”

The entire task of this book is to lead reason to a higher experience and consciousness of being by leading it into deeper water: Duc in altum (Lk. 5, 4). Once there, reason will be able to re-cognize the Face of him who is not an individual whom we habitually place in mental categories, but a relation who is one with the Father, whom we can know experientially.[1]

We can only know the Father (and therefore, achieve eternal life [Jn. 17, 3]) by seeing the back of the Father, which is to follow Jesus Christ.[2] “We can only encounter God by walking after Jesus; that the only way we can see him is by following Jesus, which means walking behind him and thus going along behind God’s back….(S)eeing is going.” And “going” is going-out-of-self, particularly praying.

The whole book is an exercise in theological (existential) epistemology[3] whereby we do not know by theoretical categories but by experiencing being in relation to the Father as the Incarnate Son is relation to the Father. As a result, the best way to read the book is to start with the last part of the last chapter: “I Am” where the author announces the kind of Being that Jesus of Nazareth is, thus giving us a clue what he is trying to do in the entire first volume of the work. In this last part of the last chapter, he announces that “The issue at stake… is precisely the oneness of Father and Son…. Jesus is wholly ‘relational,’ that his whole being is nothing other than relation to the Father. This relationality is the key to understanding the use Jesus makes of the formulae of the burning bush and Isaiah. The ‘I am’ is situated completely in the relatedness between Father and Son.”[4]

 

 

Present State of Affairs

The state of affairs that Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI’s (henceforth, R-B) “Jesus of Nazareth” confronts is “the back” of God without the following. In a word, God is simply absent. There is abstract thought about God, lip service is paid, actions are performed toward Him as if He were a “hobby,” but no one sees the Face: “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (Jn. 1, 18).

Sacred Scripture, which is a major step in experiencing Jesus Christ, and therefore, the Father, has been purged of any supernatural content by the bifurcation exercised by exegetes during the last 200 years into 1) a text reducible to historical, linguistic and cultural facticity not unlike an experiment in the empirical sciences, and 2) the sujectivized myth of a supposed supernatural content – a kind of divine wishful thinking. This renders access to the Persona of Jesus of Nazareth as the “Christ, Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 17) impossible. “Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”[5]

R-B has undertaken the work “Jesus of Nazareth” because he finds this bifurcation of the figure of Jesus into a “Jesus of history” and a “Jesus of faith” unjustified, unreasonable and unscientific. He asserts straightforwardly: “The main implication of this [the explanation of his methodology] for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels.”[6] And the profound reason for his trusting the Gospels is his perception that the Persona of Jesus Christ as “Son of the living God” transcends, not all thought, but all created categories of thought. In a word, R-B has done theology on his knees watching and following the back of the Father in Jesus Christ. He has experienced Christ within himself beyond the categories by the self-transcendence of prayer. He has gone beyond what John Paul II called “the ordinary way of knowing things.”[7] This “ordinary way of knowing things” is the reduction of all sensibly perceptible reality to the Hellenized ontological categories of substance and accident. And it is precisely here that the genius of R-B is deployed. If we go to the last chapter of this first volume of “Jesus of Nazareth,” we find the quite explicit incursus into a metaphysical terminology that presupposes an underlying ontology of person as relation that has been alluded to in the entire opus of Joseph Ratzinger from his first book, begun in 1953 “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure” through his “habilitation thesis,” (1956) to this moment of “Jesus of Nazareth”(2007).

After forming himself in the thought of Augustine, R-B remarks in the forward to his work on Bonaventure: “Has not the ‘Hellenization’ of Christianity, which attempted to overcome the scandal of the particular by a blending of faith and metaphysics, led to a development in a false direction? Has it not created a static style of thought which cannot do justices to the dynamism of the biblical style?”[8] He is asking if Christian revelation is not being crammed into static mental categories of Greek pagan thought when the latter alone is used to give a rational account of the Person of Christ? In 1956, he was asserting that in Bonaventure, revelation that is identical with the Person of Christ is not to be identified with Scripture. Here we can see his apparent affinity with the “bifurcationist” exegetes who assert that there is more in the text that what is said explicitly in a scientifically ascertained text. But with huge difference. In his account of the thesis, he asserts that in Bonaventure and all the theologians of the High Middle Ages, “`revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the concilar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (‘by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.” [9]He immediately adds that this position was not understood to be “a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”

What we can conclude from this is that there is something in the text that cannot be gleaned from the text if it is treated positivistically and reductively. That is, the text is telling me more than what the words and “concepts” they represent say. If we go to the last chapter of “Jesus of Nazareth,” R-B shows that in the very text of the Gospels, especially Luke, the believer discovers the Person of Christ as “Son of the living God” when he enters into the act of prayer (Lk. 9, 18). The revelation of the divine Person who transcends all cosmic created categories is experienced and known by the one who goes out self in prayer.  This act of prayer constitutes a second tier of experience and being that is the very self in a state of transcendence – R-B calls this by a philosophical concept: “relation.”[10]

In his 1968 “Introduction to Christianity,” we find a “Magna Charta” on the notion of person in God, and therefore, as His image, in us. There R-B, building on Augustine, says, “the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver[11] but the act of giving…” He goes on: “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.’” He then lays down the fundamental challenge which is precisely the goal toward which this book is being guided: “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 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 complete – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable”[12]

It is not unreasonable that the Judeo-Christian God transcends these categories as Creator. Said differently, one cannot re-cognize in reality what one does not first cognize.[13] As quoted from Goethe on another occasion: “If the eye were not solar, it could not recognize the sun,” R-B makes the point that “Catechesis should also always be a process involving a type of assimilation with God, since in reality we can recognize only that for which a correspondence is found in us… The process of knowledge is a process of assimilation, a vital process. The we, the what and the how of the faith are closely connected.”[14]  As we saw above, this is the burden of Ratzinger’s “Habilitation” thesis, and, I would suggest, the key to understanding his solution in “Jesus of Nazareth” to the bifurcation of Jesus of history/Jesus of faith and hence the non-presence of God in the experience of the Apostles from the beginning, and hence the presence of the God-man in the world now.

Said differently, although Scripture as written word is not revelation in itself (only Christ as Person is), nevertheless it was written by men who experienced the Person of Christ in themselves and therefore re-cognized Him and knew Him to be “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 17). They perceived the historical individual Jesus of Nazareth through sight, touch and hearing, but they also were personally involved (on a second tier of experience) with their subjectivity  – their “I” – in the very activity that is cosmically invisible, but which is His very Person as act of being “one” with the Father. Hence, they also knew Him from the very start as “the Christ.”  That act of knowing is ontologically grounded on reality (being) neither as substance or accident. Rather it was the experience of an act of the “I” self-transcending that R-B calls “relation” that is both a divine, and therefore, a human way of being. It is not a mental category and therefore defies reduction to the abstraction or categories which we call concepts. However, as experience of the self-transcending “I,” it produces the consciousness[15] that we reflect on and form “concepts” as categories and communicate them as language.

As an overview of the book, I submit that the controlling insight is the notion of person as relation, a relation that is not reducible to either category of substance or accident. Since the dictatorship of relativism, which is uppermost in the mind of R-B, is a product of this kind of reduction or “objectification” he is taking aim at the epistemological schizophrenia of splitting Christ into objectifiable historical figure or subjectivist myth. He wants to show how the texts and actions themselves offer the whole Christ. Jesus of Nazareth is Jesus the Christ. There are two clear contradictory examples of reaction to the Gospel texts that we will examine below: that of Rabbi Jacob Neusner and Rudolph Bultmann.

 

The work of the book is to show that from the Baptism of Christ to the Transfiguration, the words and the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth are of a Person Who is constitutively relational, one with the Father and therefore very God. Its ambition is to lead reason into a paradigm shift from object to subject, from relativism to the Absolute Who is the God of Jesus Christ by leading the reader to pray with the Jesus of Scripture and experience self-transcendence.

Cardinal Schönborn sees the book as a “`symphonic’ attempt to prove the ‘coherency’ of the figure of Jesus as the One who is in an absolute and immediate relationship with God.”[16] It is not an exercise in syllogistic apologetics although it is not without the rigors of logic. It is simply not reducible to it. It is a cross-weave or crescendo of reasoned consciousness grounded in the real-life text of the history of Jesus of Nazareth but interpreted by another level of consciousness coming from the experience and consciousness accruing to prayer. It is something like an exercise of John Henry Newman’s “illative sense” that constructs from an accumulation of various probabilities, legitimate proof sufficient for certitude.[17]

As mentioned above, the entire theological opus of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI has been exercised on his knees. Recently in Brazil he asked rhetorically, “Who knows God? How can we know him?  … For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he ‘who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known’ (John 1, 18).”[18]
[1] See John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte #1, 16, 19-20.

[2] “No one knows the Son except the father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27).

[3] See J. Ratzinger’s “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987)  349-355.

[4] Ratzinger-Benedict XVI (henceforth B-R), “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 348-349.

[5] Ibid xii.

[6] Ibid xxi.

[7] John Paul II “Novo Millennio Ineunte” #20: “`Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 16, 17). The expression ‘flesh and book’ is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of ‘revelation’ is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus ‘was praying alone’ (Lk. 9, 18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have behold his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father’ (1, 14).”

[8] J. Ratzinger, “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Herald Press (1989)  xi.

[9] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” (1998), 108-109.

[10] “`I and the Father are one’… The issue at stake… is precisely the oneness of Father and Son. In order to understand this correctly, we need above all to recall our reflections on the term ‘the Son’ and its rootedness in the Father-Son dialogue. There we saw that Jesus is wholly ‘relational,’ that his whole being is nothing other than relation to the Father. This relationality is the key to understanding the use Jesus makes of the formulae of the burning bush and Isaiah. The ‘I am’ is situated completely in the relatedness between Father and Son;” “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit 348-349.

[11] The entire notion of substance (to-be-in-self) is rejected by R-B in doing the metaphysics of person in God and man. Observe the following: “I believe that if one follows this struggle in which human reality had to be brought in, as it were, and affirmed for Jesus, one sees what tremendous effort and intellectual transformation lay behind the working out of this concept of person, which was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and the Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms… Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined ‘person’ as naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms;” J.  Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.

 

[12] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 184.

[13] Ratzinger made a formal presentation of this idea in the following: Not only is there nothing in the intellect except through the senses (Nihil in intellectu nisi in sensu), but also there is nothing in the senses that is not first in the intellect (Nihil in sensu nisi per intellectum): “The senses experience nothing if no question has been raised, if there is no preceding command from the intellect without which sensory experience cannot take place. [Experience always involves the “I”]. Experimentation is possible only if natural science has elaborated an intellectual presupposition in terms of which it controls nature and on the basis of which it can bring about new experiences. In other words, it is only when the intellect sheds light on sensory experience that this sensory experience has any value as knowledge and that experiences thus become possible;” Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius (1987)  348.

[14] J. Ratzinger, “What Does the Church Believe? The Catholic World Report, March 1993, 59.

[15]This consciousness we understand to be Christian mysticism. R-B alludes to exactly this point when he says: “This [The Lord’s Prayer] also reveals something of the specificity of Christian mysticism. It is not in the first instance immersion in the depths of oneself, but encounter with the Spirit of God in the word that goes ahead of us. It is encounter with the Son and the Holy Spirit and thus a becoming-one with the living God who is always both in us and above us.”[15] It is here that R-B distinguishes Christian and Eastern Mysticisms. In Eastern mysticism, the distinction between the self and God is lost. In the Judeo-Christian “monotheistic revolution,” the distinction between self and God is maintained where they are in relation. The belief in God as other than the self is always a relation and the cause of the experience of self-transcendence, and therefore this non-conceptual consciousness that is the “dark night of the soul” J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,” Ignatius (2004) Mysticism and Belief,  32-39.

 

 

[16] L’Osservatore Romano, N. 22 – 30 May 2007, 8-9.

[17] John Henry Newman, “A Grammar of Assent” UNDP (1979) 320.

[18] Benedict XVI, “Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!” Aparecida, Brazil, May 13, 2007 (Zenit).