Wojtyla’s Encounter with St. John of the Cross:
The Impact of St. John of the Cross on “Dei Verbum” [Document on Divine Revelation] of the Second Vatican Council, evident in the commentary of John Paul II:
The Pope contrasts (complementarity, not contradiction) the “definition” of faith from Vatican I from the “description” of faith in Dei Verbum of Vatican II:
“Personally I would not discount the old catechism definition which I learned at primary school: faith is `to admit as truth what God has revealed and what the Church gives us to believe.’ However, I will not send you back to the catechism, for this definition, as it stands, can incur the criticism that it does not attach sufficient importance to the person, the subject that experiences faith, even though the very phrase `admit as truth’ clearly implies the existence of the subject…. These admirable compact and precise words do not yet speak of faith but of Revelation. Revelation is `God communicating himself.’ It thus possesses the character of a gift or a grace: a person-to-person gift in the communion of persons….
All this concerns Revelation. What about faith?
We read further on in the same text: `To God who reveals himself we must bring the obedience of faith by which man entrusts himself entirely, freely, to God, bringing to him who reveals the complete submission of his intelligence and heart and giving with al his will full assent to the Revelation which he has made.’ Thus faith is man’s reply to the Revelation by which God `communicates himself.’ The constitution Dei Verbum expresses perfectly the essentially personal character of faith.
“In the words `man entrusts himself to God by the obedience of faith,’ one must see, if only indirectly, the thought that faith, as response to the revelation by which God `gives himself to man,’ implies through its internal dynamism a reciprocal gift on the part of man, who in a way `also gives himself to God.’ This gift of oneself is the profoundest and most personal structure of faith. [To understand this, one must remember that the Person of Jesus Christ is what we mean by “Revelation.” And if this is confusing, let me add the authority of Joseph Ratzinger to that. He writes: “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 conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scrip[tue but is not simiply identical with it. This in turn mens that evelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again mens that thre can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understganidng subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given” (J. Ratzinger, (“Miletones, Memoirs, 1927-1977, Ignatius,  108-109]). Let’s say it clearly: revelation takes place in the believer in the action of belief that is the going out of self that is the very action of the Word of God who is revelation in Person.
“In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with the gift of a bit of himself, but with the gift of his whole person. Of course, in this reciprocal relationship the disproportion remains.
“So misapprehension is frequent. Those who say, `faith is a gift,’ implying that they have not received it, are at the same time both right and wrong. Right, because there really is a gift on the part of God. Wrong, because this gift is not one of those which require only a banal acknowledgement of receipt; it only takes effect when there is reciprocity.”
At this point, John Paul II clarifies any apprehension of Pelagianism that we respond by our own powers alone: Man needs to be loved by God to achieve the identity of being an “I” in order to be able to master self, take possession of self, and then to make the free gift of self that is faith. This loving affirmation by God is called “grace.” Grace is not a “thing” but the relation of the divine Person to us, affirming us and therefore empowering us. Thus this self-gift must be preceded by a divine affirmation that is “an inner action of the Holy Spirit and that it depends entirely and essentially on this action.”
The large picture here is the move from an objectified epistemology of faith to a subjective epistemology of personal experience and therefore a consciousness of the Person of Jesus Christ as revelation of the Father. It is the move from understanding faith as a series of concepts or sets of propositions to a life style of self-giving in response to the gift of the Son Who is the Gift of the Father. John Paul II notes this difference:
“I have already drawn your attention to the difference between the catechism formula, `accepting as true all that God reveals,’ and surrender to God. In the first definition faith is primarily intellectual, in so far as it is the welcoming and assimilation of revealed fact. On the other hand, when the constitution “Dei Verbum” tells us that man entrusts himself to God `by obedience of faith,’ we are confronted with the whole ontological and existential dimension and, so to speak, the drama of existence proper to man.
“In faith, man discovers the relativity of his being in comparison with an absolute I and the contingent character of his own existence. To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An absolute person – or better, a personal Absolute.
“The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this `commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. It is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of `accepting as true what God has revealed.’
“When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person John Paul II sees bound together the being of the human person, the action of going out of self, the consciousness of Christ. And so faith is not “knowledge” as we habitually understand it. It is not primarily conceptual and creed-like, but the conscious context of all that we know. Pay attention: “The essence of faith resides not only in knowledge, but also in the vocation, in the call. For what in the last analysis is this obedience of faith by which man displays ‘a total submission of his intelligence and w ill to the God who reveals himslef’? It is not simply hearing the Word and listening to it (in the sense of obeying it): it also means responding to a call, to a sort of historical and eschatological ‘Follow me!’ uttered both on earth and in heaven.”
Let me dare to say this with a radical clarity: Faith is the consciousness one has of self when the “Yes” is the daring commitment to death for love of the other. That is, one has entered into the experience of being Christ Himself, and the consciousness of that – let’s call it “transformation” – is faith.
John Paul II continues: “To my mind, one must be very conscious of this relation between knowlege and vocation inherent in the very essence of faith if one is to decipher correctly the extemely rich message of Vatican II. After reflecting on the whole of its content, I have come to the conclusion that, according to Vatican II, to believe is to enter the mission of the church by agreeing to participate in the triple ministry of Christ as prophet, priest and king. You can see by this how daith, as a commitment, reveals to our eyes ever new prospects, even with respect to its content. HOwever,I am convinced that at the root of htis aspect of faith lies the act of surrender to God, in which gift and commitment meet in an extremely close and profound way.”
(from “Be Not Afraid,” Andre Frossard, St. Martin’s Press (1984) pp. 66-67.
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To Appropriate St. John of the Cross’s Understanding of Faith Demands a Confrontation, Purification and Assimilation of Enlightenment Philosophy.
This involvement of the entire self in the act of faith, when reflected on by reason using the method of phenomenology, is rendered under the concept of “experience.” But this involves a radical confrontation with the philosophical dualism that has come down to us from the Enlightenment. “Experience” in the Enlightenment has been identified exclusively with the sensible world and radically “disengaged” from the “I.” The “I” is pure consciousness. There is no such thing as an “experience” of consciousness.
As we have seen, the formulation of faith in Vatican Council I, “can incur the criticism that it does not attach sufficient importance to the person, the subject that experiences faith, even though the phrase `admit as truth’ clearly implies the existence of the subject.” Wojtyla’s use of phenomenology has enabled him to discover that “experience” always involves the subjectivity of the “I,” an action of the “I,” and contact with the “reality” of being. After writing his doctoral thesis on “Faith According to St. John of the Cross,” Wojtyla sought out this philosophic method to explain what he had found in St. John of the Cross’s rendering of faith as “a dark night” (without concepts) and found that it was precisely the experience of the whole self – obeying – that was the likeness to the divine Person (Jesus Christ, the enfleshed Logos) who revealed the Father. This enabled him – and the other fathers of the Council – to “purify” the Cartesian turn to the subject “existentializing” it by disclosing that it is precisely in experience, especially the experience of self-transcendence – that faith can be rendered “reasonable.” Faith then becomes rendered anthropologically and therefore metaphysically, and made accessible to the whole domain of moral action. The act of faith as self-gift becomes the explanatory core of sexuality and the entire social doctrine of the Church. Faith becomes “reasonable” and accessible to ordinary, quotidian life. This constitutes the revolution of Vatican II and the resolution of the hitherto insoluble dualism of Enlightenment modernism. In brief, it reads: “man, the only earthly creature that God has willed for itself [meaning: “creature with the power of self-determination, i.e. freedom of self-mastery], can fully discover his true self [the “I”] only in a sincere giving of himself [the self-transcendence of faith]” (Gaudium et Spes #24). And this because Christ said, “when praying to the Father `that they may all be one… even as we are one’ (Jn. 17, 21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love”(Ibid.).
What Had Wojtyla Done?
Wojtyla translated the phenomenological work of Max Scheler: Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die Materiale Wertethik (1916) and wrote his own habilitation thesis : “Valutazioni Sulla Possibilita di Costruire L’Ethica Cristiana Sulle Basi del Sistema di Max Scheler.” He finds Scheler’s work on the intentionality of emotions incapable of describing the Christian “experience” of the radical absolute call to self gift to the point of martyrdom. Even though Scheler opposed Kant’s philosophy of consciousness, he never transcended it by reaching the experience of the “I” as being, but remained on the level of the faculties of the “I” and emotion. Hence, he said, “The person, in Scheler’s view, is in no sense a being, but is merely a unity of experiences…. The person is not a being, but solely and exclusively a consciousness. This is a consciousness of being a person, but this is ot the objective being of the person… values are merely contents of consciousness… They do no perfect the person’s being… Every value, including moral value, is merely an intentional object of feeling. The person’s intentional feelings of moral value, however, cannot be equated with the real perfection of the person’s being through moral value. Thus Scheler’s system allows us to witness the perfectionistic tendencies that pervade consciousness, but it does not allow us to construct a truly perfectionist ethics. This is, as in Kant, a consequence of an idealistic understanding of consciousness. Consciousness is understood realistically when it is connected with the person’s being as its subject, when it is an act of this being.”
Hence, Wojtyla constructed his own brand of phenomenology, that of inspecting the acting person and the experience of the “I” as being, mirrored in consciousness. He asserts: “My lived experience discloses not only my actions but also my inner happenings in their profoundest dependence on my own self. It also discloses my whole personal structure of self-determination, in which I discover my self as that through which I possess myself and govern myself – or, at any rate, should possess myself and govern myself. The dynamic structure of self-determination reveals to me that I am given to myself and assigned to myself. This is precisely how I appear to myself in my acts and in my inner decisions of conscience: as permanently assigned to myself, as having continually to affirm and monitor myself, and thus, in a sense, as having continually to `achieve’ this dynamic structure of my self, a structure that is given to me as self-possession and self-governance. At the same time, this is a completely internal and totally immanent structure. It is a real endowment of the personal subject; in a sense, it is this subject. In my lived experience of self-possession and self-governance, I experience that I am a person and that I am a subject.”
Whenever and wherever there is experience, there is contact between the self, the “I,” and empirical being. The “I” as experienced in self-determination is empirical, even more so than being that is sensiblyexperienced. And as Wojtyla has just said, the empirical is not just experiential as sensory but also as human, moral and religious. Hence, faith, as the act of the “I” determining itself to transcend itself as gift, is also an experience of empirical reality. In fact, it is the prototype of empirical experience since it is unmediated by any concept or symbol. Nothing can be more immediate than the self experiencing itself as determining itself to go out of itself (faith). It is the self directly experiencing itself in the most radical offering of self even to death. This is the antithesis of the “I” cast in the ideology of Cartesian consciousness, which in its turn is the antithesis of being, reality and experience. (For Descartes, consciousness is the radical “disengagement” from all experience as perched outside the cosmos of experience and being). Consciousness has its place, and a critical one, in this experience since Wojtyla sees it as mirroring the very act of self-determination and therefore making it possible for reason to perceive the passage from the potency to self-determine to the achieved act of self-determination. But consciousness is an instrument of the experience, not the subject that is the “I.”
Text of St. John of the Cross for the feast:
|A Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross|
|Recognising the mystery hidden within Christ Jesus|