Thursday, August 28, 2008

St. Augustine

According to Benedict XVI, the life of Saint Augustine is centered ellipse-like around two foci that are not unlike the two parts of the liturgy: the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of sacrifice. They are two moments of conversion in Augustine’s life. Benedict underlines that one is not born a Christian. One converts to Christianity.

“The Basic Attitude behind the two conversions and changes in Augustine’s life, that is, behind his turning to the word and later to the selfless service of others, is what he himself once called his restlessness of heart. He means the attitude that will not let human beings be at peace with themselves and their present state but keeps them journeying toward the eternal reality in which alone they can find repose and fulfillment.”[1]

First Conversion

Augustine was not baptized as a child. The first conversion is Augustine’s first real assimilation of the Word of God into his very self. In Book 8, chapters 11 and 12 of the “Confessions,” he describes the dialogue within him between his captivation by concupiscence and the call of continence: “My lovers of old, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, held me back. They plucked at my fleshly garment, and they whispered softly: ‘Do you cast us off?’ and “From that moment we shall no more be with you forever and ever!’ “Continence again “smiled, as if to say: ‘Turn deaf ears to those unclean members of yours upon the earth, so that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not as does the law of the Lord your God.’ This debate within my heart was solely of myself against myself.”

Benedict writes: “He tells us that one day he tears himself away from his friend Alypius in order to be alone in the garden with his distress, his temptations, his inner conflict. In this moment of extreme agitation he thinks he hears a child crying repeatedly, Tolle, lege! Take and read!’ He asks himself whether this can be part of a children’s game. He can think of no such game and feels that the words are meant for him and are a summons to a turning-point in his life. He rises, finds a Bible, opens it and reads the words: ‘Put on the Lord Jesus.’

“This was indeed the turning-point in his life. Whatever historical explanation we give to the child’s words ‘Take and read!’ Augustine truly made them a program for his life. At this moment he really discovered the word of God and henceforth remained a hearer of the word, constantly turning to it in order to gain light and direction for his life. At this moment, then, he experienced in his own person the situation of decision, the primal situation of Adam in the garden. And in this primal situation of Adam in the garden of decision he found in God’s word the tree of life that brought him the closeness to God and the communion with God which Adam had lost because he had attempted by his own powers to become like God and actually divine.”

This first moment of conversion for Augustine can be read into Ratzinger’s own intellectual development concerning the meaning of revelation and faith. As we have seen many times before, Ratzinger’s habilitation thesis was about the personalist characteristic of both. Revelation was not words and concepts but an “action” in which God shows himself. That “action” is the Person of Jesus Christ as the full and total revelation of the Father. That action – which is self-giving – must be “heard” and received by the believer in a reciprocal resonating of that action. In a word, revelation and faith are the same “act” which is self-gift whereby the believer becomes Christ Himself by becoming the self-gift that Christ is.

Once, enigmatically but succinctly, Ratzinger wrote: “What does the Church believe? This question includes the others: who believes and how should one believe? That Catechism has dealt with both fundamental questions: the question of ‘what’ to believe and of ‘who’ believes, as one question with an interior unity. In other words, the catechism illustrates the act of the faith and the content in their inseparability.”[3]

Further down he explains: “The faith is an orientation of our existence as a whole, in its completeness. It is a basic decision, one which has effects in every aspect of our existence and one which is realized only if it is supported by all the efforts of our existence. Faith is not solely an intellectual process, or solely one of will or emotions; it is all of these together. It is an act of the entire self, of the whole person in the unity of all the elements of that person gathered into one. In this sense it was described by the Bible as an act of the ‘heart’ (Rom. 10, 9). It is a highly personal act. But precisely because it is this, it surpasses the self, the ‘I,’ the limits of the individual. Nothing belongs to us as little as our self, stl Augustine affirms in one passage.

“Where the human being as a whole is at stake, he surpasses himself; an act of the complete ‘I’ is always at the same time becoming open to others, an act of ‘being with.’ And even more: we cannot realize ourselves without touching our most profound foundation, the living God, who is present in the profundity of our existence and sustains it. Where the human being as a whole is at stake, together with the ‘I’ there is also present the ‘we’ and the ‘you’ of the totally other, the ‘you’ of God.”

The whole thing can be made more explicit if we consider that the manifestation of the divine Person of Christ is the act prayer to the Father. We can see that as well as join in to do it ourselves in union with Christ (Lk. 9, 18). If we perform the act that Christ performs, then we experience in ourselves what He experiences Himself as God-man. By transferring our prayer experience to Him, we are able to name Him the Christ, Son of the living God. Like is known by like. Only God knows God (Mt. 11, 27). That act of faith, then, is an act of becoming like God and therefore knowing God because in some measure we are God. This is not pantheism but created imaging.

This is what went on in Augustine: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”[5]

Second Conversion

Augustine is called to be bishop. “On a visit to Hippo, the great seaport of North Africa, he entered the church and listened to the elderly bishop, Valerius, preaching. The bishop said, among other things, that he was on the years and that, begin Greek by birth, he found preaching very difficult; he had long been looking for a suitable priest to assist him. At this moment a tumultuous cry ran through the church: ‘Let Augustine be our bishop!’ The people laid hold of him; his refusal and tears and resistance were unavailing, and they dragged him to the front of the church. Bishop Valerius seconded the invitation. As a result, Augustine was ordained a priest, entirely against his own wishes….

“It is precisely here that we see Augustine’s greatness: in the fact that out of obedience he accepted this new direction for his life and gave himself completely to the new task now laid upon him. For from this moment forward there was no more time for tranquil study of the word and for the stillness of contemplation that he has chosen as his lot in life. From early morning to late evening he was constantly up against the whole panorama of human life. The doorbell of his house rang al day long, and he had to reconcile enemies, comfort mourners, and do all the things that are a priest’s lot. In addition, according to the legal setup of the time, he was judge in all the civil litigation of the town and was involved in all the human dealings of its citizens”[6]

Benedict XVI has seen this precedent of Augustine fulfilled in his own life. After a very short period as Archbishop of Munich-Freising, Ratzinger was called to Rome by John Paul II to head the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He continued in that position for five year intervals before each of which he asked to return to study and writing. John Paul II kept renewing his position until he was elected Pope in 2005. He continues here in the same uncomfortable position as Augustine, but more so.

This Augustinian state of affairs is reflected in Ratzinger’s episcopal and papal coat of arms, principally in the Pallium (the wool of the sheep: pastoral office), the shell (the infinite depth of God: like putting the ocean into a hole with shell) and the bear carrying the pack (the burden of pastoral office). Benedict has seen himself as the bear that devoured the horse of St. Corbinian on his trip to Rome. “As the saint was riding to Rome, a bear ran out of the forest and devoured his horse. The saint ordered the bear to carry his pack to Rome for him. Ratzinger made the bear part of his coat of arms, likening himself to that bear: instead of indulging tin theological thinking, writing, and teaching, he had no choice but to carry the heavy pack of St. Corbinian, the burden of the pastoral office.” Rock Kereszty adds, “like Sts. Augustine, Archbishop Ratzinger did not cease to be a theologian: instead, he learned to teach the deepest mysteries of faith in a language that speaks to ordinary people.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 125.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching” ibid.120-121.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “What Does the Church Believe?” The Catholic Word Report, (March 1993) 27.
[4] Ibid
[5] Augustine, “Confessions,” Book 10.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 123.

Monday, August 25, 2008

21st Sunday A: The Experience of God

Matt. 16, 13-20

8 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi 9 he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, 10 others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
11 Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 14 Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
15 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

In his “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” John Paul spoke of the “experience” of God. “It is… possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experience, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: ‘No on has ever seen God’ (cf. Jn. 1, 18). If God is a knowable object as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach – He is such on the basis of man’s experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the point of departure for Immanuel Kant’s study of ethical experience in which he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer… is in a certain sense the first verification of such a reality.”

Joseph Ratzinger presented the “theological epistemology” that must be deployed in the experience of the unseen God (the Father) by achieving an “identity” with Jesus Christ – who is prayer – by prayer. In his "Behold the Pierced One," Benedict scripturally establishes the Trinitarian action of the Logos as relation to the Father to appear before us as prayer: “Thesis 1: According to the testimony of Holy Scripture,. The center of the life and person of Jesus is his constant communication with the Father.”[1]Hence, “The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”[2] Following that, there is: “Thesis 3: Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.”[3] The metaphysical underpinnings of this is: to “know” another one must “be” another. Because of the freedom of self-determination of each “I,” it is impossible to “know” another “I” – as “intellegere” = ab intus legere (to read from within) – because it is impossible to “be” another’s freedom. However, I can freely determine myself in a manner “like” another, and therefore experience in my own autonomous freedom what the other experience in his or hers. Transference is then possible of the consciousness from one to another. This is the phenomenological and metaphysical underpinnings to Ratzinger’s theological epistemology whereby we come to know God experientially by entering into Christ’s prayer to the Father (Lk. 9, 18).

With regard to today’s text of Matthew 16, Benedict XVI writes:

“We are at a decisive milestone: Jesus is setting out on the journey to the Cross and issuing a call to decision that now clearly distinguishes the group of disciples from the people who merely listen, without accompanying him in his way – a decision that clearly shapes the disciples into the beginning of Jesus’ new family, the future Church. It is characteristic of this community to be ‘on the way’ with Jesus – what that way involves is about to be made clear. It is also characteristic that this community’s decision to accompany Jesus rests upon a realization – on a ‘knowledge’ of Jesus that at the same time gives them a new insight into God, the one God in whom they believe as children of Israel.”[4]

Exegesis of John Paul II:

“Regardless of how much his body was seen or touched, only faith could fully enter the mystery of that face. This was an experience [consciousness] which the disciples must have already had during the historical life of Christ, in the questions which came to their minds whenever they felt challenged by his actions and his words. One can never really reach Jesus except by the path of faith, on a journey of which the stages seem to be indicated to us by the Gospel itself in the well known scene at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Mt 16:13-20). Engaging in a kind of first evaluation of his mission, Jesus asks his disciples what "people" think [conceptually] of him, and they answer him: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Mt 16:14). A lofty response to be sure, but still a long way — by far — from the truth. The crowds are able to sense [experientially] a definitely exceptional religious dimension to this rabbi who speaks in such a spellbinding way, but they are not able to put him above those men of God who had distinguished the history of Israel. Jesus is really far different! It is precisely this further step of awareness [consciousness], concerning as it does the deeper level of his being, which he expects from those who are close to him: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Only the faith proclaimed by Peter, and with him by the Church in every age, truly goes to the heart, and touches the depth of the mystery: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).
“20. How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps with ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter's confession: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (16:17). The expression "flesh and blood" is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things [sensible perception and intellectual abstraction]. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough [emphasis mine]. A grace of "revelation" [the experience of the “I” of Jesus through prayer] 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 beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (1:14).”

What is This Experiential Faith? As indicated above: Prayer. And when am I to pray? In the secular work I have before me. It is most important to know the exegesis of the “Kingdom of God” to be the very Person of Christ. As Escriva proclaimed in “Passionately Loving the World:” “He waits for us everyday, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” The encounter with the Person of the God-man is in the secular affairs of the present world – now. Exercise yourself as free gift.

Benedict writes: “We can put it even more simply: When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and “God is really God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the threads of the world. In this sense, Jesus’ message is very simply and thoroughly God-centered. The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour when God is showing himself in history as it Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship.”[6]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 15
[2] Ibid 19.
[3] Ibid 25.
[4] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 290.
[5] John Paul II, “Novo Millennio Ineunte” January 6, 2001.
[6] Benedict XVI, op. cit. 55-56.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

August 23, The Day After the Queenship of Mary

"Mary… The Apex of Creation… The First Entirely Human Person of the Universe."[1]

"And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. Of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk. 1, 31-33.)

"The sovereign royalty of Mary is intimately connected to her Son's. Jesus Christ is King since total, proper and absolute power belong to him, as much in the natural order as in the supernatural. The royalty of Mary is entire as well: it stems from her Son. The terms Queen and Lady with reference to the Virgin are not metaphors. By means of them, we designate a true pre-eminence and an authentic dignity and power in heaven and on earth. As Mother of the King, Mary is truly and properly Queen. She is the apex of creation, and effectively the first entirely human person of the universe. Almighty God placed her far above all the angels and all the saints, and so filled her with every heavenly grace, taken from His own divine treasure, that she was always free from all stain of sin, all beautiful and perfect, possessing such a fullness of innocence and holiness to be found nowhere outside of God, and which no one but God can comprehend."[2]

Significantly, when Pius XII instituted this feast day, he invited all Christians to draw near to the "throne of grace and mercy of our Queen and Mother." These very words were heard by St. Josemaría Escrivá on this date, August 23, 1971. It is a verse taken from the epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 16: "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

St. Josemaría explained the meaning to his sons and daughters such that they should go with confidence to the "throne of grace" (he heard "glory"): the most sweet heart of Mary, so that they may get mercy from the most Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus.

This day had the significance of being proposed by John Paul II for the establishment of Opus Dei as a personal Prelature in 1982, but it was postponed until the first Sunday of Advent, November 28th of that year.

[1] Francis Fernandez Carvajal, "In Conversation with God" Scepter Volume 7 (1991) 104-105.
[2] Pius IX, Bull Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pius X: Cf. Etienne Gilson to Henri de Lubac (later Cardinal) [July 21, 1965]

“For every Saint Thomas and a few others like him, who magnificently destroyed the obstacle [rationalism], there have been hundreds of low-flying ‘rationalists’ who foundered on it….

“This is what is frightening: orthodoxy in the hands of her destroyers. The tragedy of modernism was that the rotten theology promulgated by its opponents was in large part responsible for its errors. Modernism was wrong, but its repression was undertaken by men who were also wrong, whose pseudo-theology made a modernist reaction inevitable.

“I see redemption only in a Thomist theology as you perceive it, in the company of Saint Augustine, Saint Bonaventure and the great theologians of the East: they are all welcome because, despite unavoidable philosophical differences, they all try to draw an intellectus from the same Faith.”

April 1, 1964: “When I quote them Saint Thomas on the Faith, they accuse me of fideism. NO! Not of fideism, but ‘leaning dangerously toward fideism.’ I never respond to them. My great strength, alas! Is that I am not a priest. Had Maritain and I been monks or priests, neither of us would have been able to write the hundredth part of what we have written. We would have been, as they say, crucified. But I have nothing to teach you on that score… Nonetheless, there will have to be a new edition of Surnaturel” (H. de Lubac "At the Service of the Church" Communio Books - Ignatius (1993) 126-127.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Love: The Meaning of "Is"

From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot:

“Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing form there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.

"The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?

"Rightly then does she give up al other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, love and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.

"What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and perfected marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?”

[1] Sermo 83, 4-6: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 2 [1958], 300-302.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Faith as the Act of Becoming Christ: Ipse Christus

Revelation is the action whereby God gives Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. Faith is the action whereby the believer becomes the Person of Jesus Christ. Joseph Ratzinger proclaimed: “‘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 now faith: “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…. Revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it.”[1]

When the person makes the gift of self to the Person of Christ, the act that we call “faith,” the person experiences what it is to be Christ, and there accompanies this experience the consciousness being like God. It is an attitude, a perception of meaning, an understanding in the sense of perception on the plane of a distinct horizon.

This experience of Christ is critical to of epistemological realism. To not have it is not have the experience of being in an immediate fashion but always to perceive “things” mediately, and therefore with distortion. Julian Carron remarked: “It is very important for us to stick to experience without disconnecting ourselves from [this immediate perception] for even an instant. AS soon as we disconnect ourselves, we being a discourse that is ‘pasted on’ to life, and we no longer understand anything.’ What Fr. Giussani taught us is a look that passes from appearances to the You, the ultimate depth of everything, of reality, and therefore it is through what you do that you realize that you are lacking something, that the desire for Something Other is reawakened. This is what I mean when I say that the idea of Mystery is lacking. It is not because I do something ‘religious,’ like saying Morning Prayer, for example, that the Mystery comes in!”

A Helpful Metaphor: The Fresco or the Mere Painting, Secco.

Actions, including so called “religious” actions, when not done with the whole self, such that we call them “ faith,” do not become part of the self, and therefore a development of the self. By them, we do not become Christ (who is self-gift). They are like paintings done on dry plaster walls. The pigment adheres extrinsically, and with time peels off. It fails to become part of the wall.
The difference is self-gift as opposed to performance. Consider the metaphor in the contrast between “buon fresco” and “fesco secco.”

From Wikipedia:
Buon fresco technique consists of painting in pigment mixed with water on a thin layer of wet, fresh, lime mortar or plaster, for which the Italian word for plaster, intonaco, is used. Because of the chemical makeup of the plaster, a binder is not required, as the pigment mixed solely with the water will sink into the intonaco, which itself becomes the medium holding the pigment. The pigment is absorbed by the wet plaster; after a number of hours, the plaster dries and reacts with the air: it is this chemical reaction which fixes the pigment particles in the plaster. One of the first painters in the post-classical period to use this technique was the Isaac Master in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

Fresco-secco (or a secco) is a fresco painting technique in which watercolors are applied to dry plaster that has been moistened to simulate fresh plaster. In true fresco (buon fresco), the plaster is still fresh and has not dried when the watercolors are introduced.
Because the pigments do not become part of the wall, as in buon fresco, fresco-secco paintings are less durable. The colors may flake off the painting as time goes by. But it has the advantage of being able to work indefinitely longer time or make aftertouch.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1997) 108-109.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Assumption 2008

John Paul II wrote: "The truth of the Assumption, defined by Pius XII, is reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which thus expresses the Church's faith: 'Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. she was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19, 16) and the conqueror of sin and death.'In this teaching Poius XII was in continuity with Tradition, which has found many different expressions in the history of the Church, both in the East and in the West.

"By the mystery of the Assumption into heaven there were definitively accomplished in Mary all the efects of the one mediation of Christ the Redeemer of the world and Risen Lord: Ín Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at this coming those who belong to christ'(1 Cor. 5, 22-23). In the mystery of the Assumption is expressed the faith of the Church, according to which Mary is únited by a close and indissoluble bond to Christ, for, if as Virgin and Mother she was singlarly united with him in his first coming, so through her continued collaboration with him she will also be united with him in expectation of the second; 'redeemed in an especially sublime manner by reason of the merits of her Son,' she also has that specifically maternal role of mediatrix of mercy at his final coming, when all those who belong to Christ 'shall be made alive,'when 'the last enemy to be destroyed is death'(1 Cor. 15, 26)."

"Connected with this exaltation of the noble 'Daughter of Sion' through her Assumption into heaven is the mystery of her eternal glory. For the Mother of Christ is glorified as 'Queen of the Universe.' She who at the Annunciation called herself the 'handmaid of the Lord' remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name experesses. In this she confirmed that she was a true 'disciple' of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: the Son of Man 'came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mt. 20, 28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, 'serving Christ also in others, with humility and patince lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign,' and she fully obtained that 'state of royal freedom' proper to Christ's discipels: to serve means to reign!" (Redemptoris Mater #41).

Now, this assmuption of our Lady is not of the soul. It is of the whole person. And our Lady is assumed into God because she is loved.

Joseph Ratzinger said: "Our eternity is based on his love. Anyone whom God loves never ceases to be. In him in his thinking and loving, it is not just a shadow of us that continues in being; rather, in him and his creative love we ourselves, with all that we are and all that is most ourselves, are preserved immortally and forever in being.

"It is his love that makes us immortal. This love guarantees our immortality, and it is this love that we call 'heaven.' Heaven is simiply the fact that God is great enought to have room even for us miniscule beings. And the man Jesus, who is also God, is our everlasting pledge that man and God can forever exist and live in easch other. If we grasp this truth, then, I think, we will also have some insight into what the odd words, 'bodily assumption into heavenly glory,' mean."

"The Assumption cannot mean, of course, that some bones and corpuscles of blood are forever preserved somewhere. It means something much more imporotant and profound. To wit: that what contineiues to exist is not just a part of a human being - the partwhich we call the soul abnd which is separated out from the whole - while so much else is annihilated. It means rather that God knows and loves the entire person which we now are. The immortal is that which is now growing and developing in our present life. The i9mortal is that which is developoing in this body of ours wherein we hope and rejoice, feel sadness, and move forward through time; that which is developing now in our present life with its present conditions. In other words, what is imperishable is whatever we have become in our present bodily state; whatever has developed and grown in us, in our present life, among and by means of the things of this world. It is this 'whole man,' as he has existed and lived and suffered in this world, that will one day be transformed by God's eternity and be eternal in God himself....

"Nothing of what is precious and valuable to us will be lost. Christ said on one occasion that 'the hairs of your head are all numbered' (Mt. 10, 30). The final and abiding world will be the fulfillment of this earth of ours. Thus the point we noted at the beginning is once again made clear: that Christianity is not a religion focused on the past, a religion forever changing us to something that took place once upon a time, but a religion of hope in what is to come. It is a religion that opens the way for us into the future, into the definitive and abiding creation. Precisely as Christians we are called upon to build our world and to work for its future, so that it may beecome God's world, a world far transcending anything we could build by our own powers" (Dogma and Preaching, Franciscan Herald Press [1985] 116.-117]).

The Kingdom of God is here and now as Christ, the God-man. Insofar as we become Christ, we are that Kingdom which will endure forever because we have been and are loved. "You are worth more than many sparrows."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

St. Maximilian Kolbe - August 14, 2008

1) The Crisis of Our Time: God! The ultimate question is: Is God real and the key to all reality. If there is no God, is anything real? I repeat Benedict’s remarks in Brazil in 2007:

“What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems 'reality'? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of 'reality' and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction. ” "The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God. ” Yet here a further question immediately arises: 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). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth. Notice that the point now is that God must be experienced to be adequately known, and the pivotal experience that is at once twofold – of senses and the self in conversion - must begin in the sensible- historical of Jesus Christ: God-with-us.

“God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face; he is God-with-us, the God who loves even to the Cross. When the disciple arrives at an understanding of this love of Christ "to the end", he cannot fail to respond to this love with a similar love: "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57).

2) The Provocation of the crisis is the loss of the sensitivity of discernment: Benedict says: “when a man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.”[1]

The successor to Luigi Giussani, Julian Carrion is most persuasive: His topic is the same as Benedict’s: the broadening of reason. This means the deployment of one’s “I” in going out of self and entering into a new horizon of experience and consciousness. “It is very important for us to stick to experience without disconnecting ourselves from it for even an instant. As soon as we disconnect ourselves, we begin a discourse that is ‘pasted on’ to life, and we no longer understand anything. What Fr. Giussani taught us is a look that passes from appearances to the You, the ultimate depth of everything, of reality, and therefore it is through what you do that you realize that you are lacking something, that the desire for Something Other is reawakened. This is what I mean when I say that the idea of Mystery is lacking.” Before that, Carron said: “In listening to someone who works in the city, who earns loads of money and who, after working a fourteen hour day, goes home dissatisfied, the question arose: So what is life? Without the Mystery, without the deep perception of the Mystery, nothing gives satisfaction. You will have seen it during vacation, during leisure times: without the perception of the Mystery, everything becomes a bore. So, either we help each other, accompany each other, to perceive the Mystery, or inevitably we, too, sooner or later, will become skeptical.”[2] Why boredom? “We are imprisoned or bored when the awareness of the totality, of the Mystery is missing.” “I feel imprisoned or bored because I am not made for anything less than the Infinite (it’s like a shoe that doesn’t fit). If we don’t take a step forward in the conception of our ‘I,’ in the way we look at ourselves, we are ultimately like everyone else, with the same mentality. We may add some pious exercise, organize meetings, to whatever we like, but we have the same mentality as all the others. Since the ‘I’ is relationship with the Mystery, if this does not become familiar, then we are prisoners.”[3]

- On June 8, 1978, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn remarked in an address at a Harvard graduation: “Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” The operative words are: “spiritual exhaustion.”

3) The Transcendent Self: Kolbe steps forward: “Suddenly, there is movement in the still ranks. A prisoner several rows back has broken out and is pushing his way toward the front. The SS guards watching this Block raise their automatic rifles, while the dogs at their heels tense for the order to spring. Fritsch and Palitsch too reach toward their holsters. The prisoner steps past the first row.“It is Kolbe. His step is firm, his face peaceful. Angrily, the Block capo shouts at him to stop or be shot. Kolbe answers calmly, ‘I want to talk to the commander,’ and keeps on walking while the cap, oddly enough, neither shoots nor clubs him. Then, still at a respectful distance, Kolbe stops, his cap in his hands. Standing at attention like an officer so some sort himself, he looks Fritsch straight in the eye.‘Herr Kommandant, I wish to make a request, please,’ he says politely in flawless German.Survivors will later say it is a miracle that n one shoots him. Instead, Fritsch asks, ‘What do you want?’‘I want to die in place of this prisoner,’ and Kolbe points toward the sobbing Gajowniczek. He presents this audacious request without a stammer. Fritsch looks stupefied, irritated. Everyone notes how the German lord of life and death, suddenly nervous, actually steps back a pace.The prisoner explains coolly, as if they were discussing some everyday matter, that the man over there has a family.‘I have no wife or children. Besides, I’m old and not good for anything. He’s in better condition,’ he adds, adroitly playing on the Nazi line that only the fit should live.‘Who are you?’ Fritsch croaks.‘A Catholic priest.’Fritsch is silent. The stunned Block, audience to this drama, expect him in usual Auschwitz fashion to show no mercy but sneer, and take both men. Instead, after a moment, the deputy-commander snaps, ‘Request granted.’ As if he needs to expel some fury, he kicks Gajowniczek, snarling, ‘Back to ranks, you!’”[4]

4) John Paul II Canonizes Kolbe as Martyr for the Fatih, not only Confessor: What is at Stake here: A violation of the human person is a violation against the revelation of the human person: Jesus Christ.

“On October 10, 1982, a magnificent autumn morning, found a quarter of a million people in St. Peter’s Square, where they saw a great banner, a portrait of Father Kolbe, draped from the central loggia. Still, the question hung in the air: Would Kolbe be recognized as a martyr? The answer came when John Paul II processed out of the basilica and into the square wearing red vestments, the liturgical color of martyrs. He had overridden the counsel of his advisory commission, and in his homily he declared that ‘in virtue of my apostolic authority, I have decreed that Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who following his beatification was venerated as a confessor, will henceforth be venerated also as a martyr.“John Paul II was making an important theological point in deciding that St. Maximilian Kolbe was indeed a martyr – systematic hatred for the human person (systematic odium hominis, so to speak) was a contemporary equivalent of the traditional criterion for martyrdom, odium fidei. Because Christian faith affirmed the truth about the inalienable dignity of the human person, anyone who hated that truth hated, implicitly, the Christian faith. Modern totalitarianism was an implicit form of odium fidei, because it reduced persons to things.”[5]

5) Benedict XVI is re-starting the Church by presenting it with the experience of St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ. He said in 2006: “Before his conversion, Paul had not been a man distant from God and from his Law. On the contrary, he had been observant, with an observance faithful to the point of fanaticism. In the light of the encounter with Christ, however, he understood that with this he had sought to build up himself and his own justice, and that with all this justice he had lived for himself.

“He realized that a new approach in his life was absolutely essential. And we find this new approach expressed in his words: "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2: 20).

“Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself, for his own justice. He lives for Christ and with Christ: in giving of himself, he is no longer seeking and building himself up. This is the new justice, the new orientation given to us by the Lord, given to us by faith.”

[1] Benedict XVI, Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops, November 7, 2006.
[2] Julian Carron, “Friends, That is, Witnesses,” Traces Booklets 16.
[3] Ibid 24.
[4] Patricia Treece, “A Man for Others,” OSV (1982) 170-171.
[5] George Weigel, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Cliffside Books (1999 (447-448.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Text of Address by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn - Harvard June 8, 1978

I am sincerely happy to be here with you on this occasion and to become personally acquainted with this old and most prestigious University. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today's graduates.

Harvard's motto is "Veritas." Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. [my emphasis] And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I then said...

A World Split Apart

The split in today's world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom -- in this case, our Earth -- divided against itself cannot stand.

Contemporary Worlds

There is the concept of the Third World: thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth's surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as compact units. For one thousand years Russia has belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in communist captivity. It may be that in the past years Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West, I am no judge here; but as to Israel, for instance, it seems to me that it stands apart from the Western world in that its state system is fundamentally linked to religion.

How short a time ago, relatively, the small new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any possible values in the conquered peoples' approach to life. On the face of it, it was an overwhelming success, there were no geographic frontiers to it. Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden in the twentieth century came the discovery of its fragility and friability. We now see that the conquests proved to be short lived and precarious, and this in turn points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial world now have turned into their opposite and the Western world often goes to extremes of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West, and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns will be sufficient for the West to foot the bill.


But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development is quite different.
Anguish about our divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all developing into similarity; neither one can be transformed into the other without the use of violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side's defects, too, and this is hardly desirable.

If I were today addressing an audience in my country, examining the overall pattern of the world's rifts I would have concentrated on the East's calamities. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the West in our days, such as I see them.

A Decline in Courage [. . .]

may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?


When the modern Western States were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration). Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?
Even biology knows that habitual extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

Legalistic Life

Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.

The Direction of Freedom

In today's Western society, the inequality has been revealed of freedom for good deeds and freedom for evil deeds. A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that every single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.

It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and, in fact, it has been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say about the dark realm of criminality as such? Legal frames (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists' civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society. (There is a huge number of prisoners in our camps which are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state resorting to means outside of a legal framework).

The Direction of the Press

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media). But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters, pertaining to one's nation's defense, publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press. It stops at sensational formulas.

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: by what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the communist East a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time and with what prerogatives?

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East where the press is rigorously unified: one gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment and there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership because newspapers mostly give enough stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.

A Fashion in Thinking

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

I have mentioned a few trends of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world. The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a review, to look into the influence of these Western characteristics on important aspects on [the] nation's life, such as elementary education, advanced education in [?...]


It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the United States.

Not a Model

But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.

A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper and more interesting characters than those produced by standardized Western well-being. Therefore if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.

All this is visible to observers from all the worlds of our planet. The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.

There are meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive, you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?


Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism's well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.

In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who believed that Angola would become the Soviet Union's Vietnam or that Cuban expeditions in Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan's advice to his own country -- to begin unilateral disarmament -- belongs to the same category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Moscow Old Square [1] officials laugh at your political wizards! As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours.

However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American Intelligentsia lost its [nerve] and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation's courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?

I have had occasion already to say that in the 20th century democracy has not won any major war without help and protection from a powerful continental ally whose philosophy and ideology it did not question. In World War II against Hitler, instead of winning that war with its own forces, which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy grew and cultivated another enemy who would prove worse and more powerful yet, as Hitler never had so many resources and so many people, nor did he offer any attractive ideas, or have such a large number of supporters in the West -- a potential fifth column -- as the Soviet Union. At present, some Western voices already have spoken of obtaining protection from a third power against aggression in the next world conflict, if there is one; in this case the shield would be China. But I would not wish such an outcome to any country in the world. First of all, it is again a doomed alliance with Evil; also, it would grant the United States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion people would turn around armed with American weapons, America itself would fall prey to a genocide similar to the one perpetrated in Cambodia in our days.

Loss of Willpower

And yet -- no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.

Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost, there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.

Facing such a danger, with such historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and apparently of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

Humanism and Its Consequences

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the Twentieth century's moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the Nineteenth Century.

An Unexpected Kinship

As humanism in its development became more and more materialistic, it made itself increasingly accessible to speculation and manipulation at first by socialism and then by communism. So that Karl Marx was able to say in 1844 that "communism is naturalized humanism."
This statement turned out not to be entirely senseless. One does see the same stones in the foundations of a despiritualized humanism and of any type of socialism: endless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility, which under communist regimes reach the stage of anti-religious dictatorship; concentration on social structures with a seemingly scientific approach. (This is typical of the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century and of Marxism). Not by coincidence all of communism's meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today's West and today's East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.

The interrelationship is such, too, that the current of materialism which is most to the left always ends up by being stronger, more attractive and victorious, because it is more consistent. Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism and socialism could never resist communism. The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism's crimes. When they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.

Before the Turn

I am not examining here the case of a world war disaster and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot [achieve] unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.


[1] The Old Square in Moscow (Staraya Ploshchad') is the place where the [headquarters] of the Central Committee of the CPSU are located; it is the real name of what in the West is conventionally referred to as "the Kremlin."
Source: Texts of Famous Speeches at Harvard
Re-formatted in HTML by
The Augustine Club at Columbia University, 1997

Response to a Comment to the Post: "SCDF on Lumen Gentium (in particular)"

Bobby has left a new comment on your post "SCDF on Lumen Gentium (in particular)":

" I was stunned yesterday when I posed the question of how the Church views fallen Catholics to Karl Keating whom I'm sure you know. Karl wrote the book, Catholicism versus Fundamentalism and as founder of the Catholic Answers website influences millions of Catholics.Karl told me emphatically (EWTN on the air) that Catholics who leave the church and join another Christian faith ( Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc.) have no chance of being saved and obtaining Heaven, irrespective of their heart for Christ. Unfortunately this is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches pursuant to Paragraph 14 of its Constitution...Lumen Gentium (LG), "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." Nowhere in sacred Scripture can that statement be supported!That mindset is, pardon the expression, asinine to me. It not only is judgmental and presumes to know the mind of God in terms of judging men's hearts, but also illustrates a Pharisaical attitude. (Matthew chapter 23).As a born again, spirit filled, active cradle Catholic, I personally am on a mission to have Catholics and Protestants focus not on their differences but on their common beliefs. I believe this "ecumenism" is tremendously encouraged by the Holy Father as it was by Pope John Paul II. The ignorant, counter productive commentary coming from both sides is destroying any hope for Christians to give their most effective witness to non-believers worldwide."

Dear Bobby,

In a talk given to the bishops of the United States by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he opened with the proposal to John Henry Newman to make a toast to the pope. Newman responded that he would be glad to, but he that he would prefer to toast conscience first, and then the pope, because “without conscience there would not be a papacy.”
[1] Ratzinger quotes Newman: “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into afterdinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, - still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”[2] Ratzinger clarifies that “the dominance of the idea of conscience in Newman does not signify tha the, in the nineteenth century, and in contrast to ‘objectivistic’ neoscholasticism, espoused a philosophy or theology of subjectivity…. Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-a vis the claims of authority in a truthless world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Much more than that, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God.” The grounding of that truth consists in “an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis [non-amnesia] of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[3]

The large point that he makes here is that this “ontological tendency” is seeking a response from without, literally, from revelation. He says: “The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but ordered to it. It has a maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign, but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely its interior openness to the truth.”
[4] Hence, the teaching authority of the Pope is really to be an advocated of this Christian “memory” that we have instilled in us as created in the image of the divine Persons and seeking the revelation of the Second Divine Person in Jesus Christ. Hence, the whole teaching function of the Church is not to impose ideologies on conscience in order to coerce it to for the political purpose of boosting membership. Rather it is to increase the freedom of self-gift by imparting the truth of Jesus Christ (who is Jesus Christ Himself).

Now, the point you offer from Lumen Gentium #14 reads: “Fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who… are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but ‘in body’ not ‘in heart.’”

The text is talking about those who have made a free act of conscience in accepting the Church’s teaching and sacraments ruled by the hierarchy (‘holy origin’ via the imposition of hands in the sacrament of Order). In reality, they would be condemned not because they leave the visible Church of Christ, but because they sin against their own conscience which they themselves have freely determined in accepting the Catholic Church.

In this regard, it would be helpful to read the document on Religious Liberty (“Dignitatis Humanae”) from the same Council which contradicts your misunderstanding of Lumen Gentium #14. To wit: “The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor ia anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private of in public, alone or in association with others. The Council further declares that at the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.”

The large truths to hang onto are two: 1) There is no salvation outside of Christ because He alone is the God-man. 2) Jesus Christ is the God-man in history. The Church is the extension of His humanity possessing in itself all the elements of salvation. Consequently, the Church is necessary for salvation.

Lumen Gentium #13 says it this way: Therefore, “To this catholic unity of the people of God, therefore….all are called, and they belong to it or are ordered to it in various ways, whether they be Catholic faithful or others who believe in Christ of finally all people everywhere who by the grace of God are called to salvation.”

John Paul II’s “Redemptoris Missio” #10 says: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. In enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”

Notice that there is a primacy of the ontologically grounded conscience here that is always searching for the one true objective Christ via His one true objective Church. Also keep in mind that Scripture is not revelation. The Person of Christ is revelation. Scripture is the result of revelation and must be interpreted by the believing Church. (See Ratzinger’s “Milestones…” 108-109).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas (1991) 22.
[2] Ibid 14.
[3] Ibid 20.
[4] Ibid 22
[5] Dignitatis Humanae #2.
[6] Lumen Gentium #13.