Sunday, February 28, 2010

Transfiguration - 2010: Second Sunday of Lent C

1) Genesis 15, 5-12, 17-18. The beginning of the dialogic relationship with God. “The Lord God took Abram outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,’ he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’ Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

He then said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.’ ‘O Lord God,’ asked, ‘how am I to know that I shall possess it?’

Important is the question: “”How am I to know…” And the answer is the Covenant: Heifer, she-goat, ram, turtledove, pigeon. Cut the animals in two, and I will pass between the halves as fire promising you that such and so will I subject myself to as assurance that you will have the entire world as your progeny. Of course, this is what took place on the Cross.

And Abram will live out his side of the Covenant with the existential faith of leaving Ur and traveling to a foreign land, and then, after engendering Isaac from Sarah, he will be asked to kill him, the only reasonable possibility that Abram will be the Father of all nations of faith. And so, the point: Abram will know because God has given His Word – literally, and Abram will become Abraham by giving his very self in leaving his home and then being willing to kill his only son as key to universal fatherhood. In reality, he will have to kill his very self. The self-gift must be complete on both sides. This is the faith of Abraham, and the faith asked of us in Jesus Christ.

Notice, the “knowledge” is the result of the experience of mutual self-giving. In the act of self-gift, there is knowledge and light. “As he prayed, hie face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white…” There is a glimpse of paradise, the universal progeny of faith.

Here is a 1970 text of Joseph Ratzinger on the nature of the faith of Abraham. He describes a conversion experience.

“For the sake of this promise he left the world of his ancestors and set off into the unknown, into apparent uncertainty, led on by the certainty that this was precisely how the future would become his…. He gave up the present for the sake of what was to come. He let go of what was safe, comprehensible, calculable, for the sake of what was unknown. And he did this in response to a single word from God. He had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands; he dared to accept a new future that began in darkness. The word he had heard was more real to him than all the calculable things he could hold in his hand. He trusted in that which he could not yet see, and thus became capable of new life, of breaking out of rigidity. The center of gravity of reality, indeed the concept of reality itself, changed. The future took precedence over the present, the word heard over comprehensible things. God had become more important to him than himself and than the things he could understand. Imprisonment within the calculable and among the goods with which a man surrounds himself, was broken, and a new, limitless horizon opened up – a horizon towards the Eternal, towards the Creator. Attachment to the accustomed world around came to an end, and man’s true destination appeared – not his immediate environment, but the whole world, the whole of creation that knows no frontiers, but allows itself to be explored until the ultimate foundation of everything has been discovered.”[1] Benedict concluded: “What, in the light of the Bible, is ‘faith?’ And let us again affirm clearly: it is not a system of semi-knowledge, but an existential decision – it is life in terms of the future that God grants us, even beyond the frontier of death. This is the attitude and orientation that gives life its weights and measures, its ordinances, and its very freedom. Certainly a life lived by faith resembles more an expedition oup a mountain than a quiet evening spent reading in front of the fire; but anyone who embarks upon this expedition knows and feels more and more, that the adventure to which it invites us is well worthwhile.” [2]

“A Second Mode of Access to Reality”

I first read the following this morning on a Lenten take by Benedict on the Transfiguration. I then went back to re-read from his “Introduction to Christianity” on the meaning of faith. I became astonished at the light it lit in me.

"Astonished in the presence of the transfigured Lord, who was speaking with Moses and Elias, Peter, James, and John were suddenly enveloped in a cloud from which a voice arose that proclaimed: ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’ (Mk. 9, 7). When one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: For a moment they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials. However, no one lives on Tabor while on earth. Human existence is a journey of faith and, as such, goes forward more in darkness than in full light, with moments of obscurity and even profound darkness. While we are here, our relationship with God develops more with listening than with seeing; and even contemplation takes place, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light lit in us by the word of God…. This is the gift and commitment for each one of us in the Lenten season: To listen to Christ, like Mary. To listen to him in the word, preserved in Sacred Scripture. To listen to him in the very events of our lives, trying to read in them the messages of providence. To listen to him, finally, in our brothers, especially in the little ones and the poor, for whom Jesus himself asked our concrete love. To listen to Christ and to obey his voice. This is the only way that leads to joy and love.”[3]

The Second Mode of Access to Reality

Having read the above, it is now most profitable to return to Benedict’s “Introduction to Christianity” to enter into the level of reality where one can encounter and experience the Word of God. It is the level that is called “faith.” I have the read what follows several times since 1989 and have understood it with varying steps of insight. But this morning was particularly illuminating. I offer it again so you may perhaps see it with deeper insight:

“We now begin to discern a first vague outline of the attitude signified by the word ‘Credo.’ It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not see the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch, but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode which he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world. If this is so, then the little word ‘Credo’ contains a basic option vis-à-vis reality as such; is signifies not the observation of this or that fact but a fundamental mode of behaviour towards being, towards existence, towards one’s own sector of reality and towards reality as a whole. It signifies the deliberate view t hat what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal’ that on the contrary what cannot be seen in fact represent s true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality. And it signifies the view that this element which makes reality as a whole possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief signifies the decision that the very core of human existence there is a point which cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, which encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

“Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls ‘reversal,’ ‘con-version.’ Man’s natural center of gravity draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn round inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interests by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural enter of gravity. He must turn round to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance t o the natural center of gravity, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is the con-version in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our center of gravity does not cease to incline us in another `direction it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a life-long conversion can we become aware of what it means to say ‘I believe.’

“From this we can see that it is not just today, in the specific conditions of our modern situation, that belief or faith is problematical, indeed almost something that seems impossible, but that it has always meant a leap, a somewhat less obvious and less easily recognizable one perhaps, across an infinite gulf, a leap namely out of the tangible world that presses on man from every side. Belief has always had something of an adventurous break or leap about it, because in every age it represents the risky enterprise of accepting what plainly cannot be seen as the truly real and fundamental. Belief was never simply the attitude obviously corresponding t the whole slant of human life; it has always been a decision calling on the depths of existence, a decision that tin every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of will.”[4]

The Reality That Benedict is Talking About : The “Word of God That is An Action (Person-Gift-Donating)To An Action (Person-Gift Receiving). Re-vel-ation to Faith

The Word of God is relational reality, a Divine Person Who can only be received by a total gift of self of the believer whereby he becomes the Word. That is, in order to “know”God, one must become God. Hearing the Word determines the anthropology that is man. Man is “hearer of the Word” and experiences the Word with his whole being.

the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.”

Benedict ends his address with the words: "I am yours". The Word of God is like a stairway that we can climb and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of his love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. "I am yours". The word has a Face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say "I am yours", he has already told us "I am yours". The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: "You gave me a body.... Then I said, "Here I am, I am coming'". The Lord prepared a body to come. With his Incarnation he said: I am yours. And in Baptism he said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, he say ever anew: I am yours, so that we may respond: Lord, I am yours. In the way of the Word, entering the mystery of his Incarnation, of his being among us, we want to appropriate his being, we want expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to him who gave Himself to us.

"’I am yours’. Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. Thus we will be in the heart of the Word. Thus we will be saved.”

Now consider that Revelation is the Person of Christ and faith is the removal of the “veil” in us that prevents revelation from taking place – because Revelation takes place in us, insofar as we become “other Christs.” And this experience is not perception of the sensible world, but the experience of ourselves.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1970) 30-31.

[2] Ibid. 50.

[3] “Benedictus, Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI – Magnificat” p. 79Zenit, ZE06031201

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990)24-25.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"A New Trajectory of Thinking" (Caritas in Veritate #53)

“You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you.”[2]

George Weigel railed against Benedict XVI’s newest encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” He published against it twice. His pique was three pronged: 1) language; 2) a parliamentary document resulting from competing interests; 3) discontinuity with the tradition of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.

According to Weigel, it was parliamentary boiler-plate crafted by competing sources, one of which was Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (to which he assigned a “red” marker), and another of which was Benedict XVI (for whom he assigned “gold”); it represented a hermeneutic of discontinuity from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI.

1) His disapproval of the language left little to the imagination. He called the references to “gift” and “gratuitousness” “clotted and muddled.” The orientation to solidarity was “a confused sentimentality.” The reference to development of the person “to be more” caused astonishment. The “incoherence” proved so deep and the language so “impenetrable” that, to Weigel, instead of a “new sounding of the trumpet” it was more “like the warbling of an untuned piccolo.”[3]

2) That Caritas in Veritate be a parliamentary document suggests that it is a document of human contrivance and not a work of Tradition with the voice of the Spirit. He suggested that “those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” He concludes: “The net result is, with respect, an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.”

3) But, the problem deepened. Not only was the document “obscure” and a parliamentary work of human reason that, by implication, could not resound the Voice of the Spirit, but after a second, third and even fourth reading, was found to be in discontinuity with the Catholic social doctrine originating in Leo XIII’ Rerum Novarum. What was needed was prayer as experience of the revealing Subject of continuity behind the text. Rather, he found it necessary to declare that the document was suffering from a “hermeneutics of rupture.” Specifically, “proponents of “Populorum Progressio”… would seem to be promoting a ‘hermeneutics of rupture’ when they claim that the tradition of Catholic social doctrine began anew with Populorum Progressio – a claim that at least some passages in “Caritas in Veritate” can be interpreted to support.”[4]

We may ask: What was the source of this rupture? Clearly, it must have been the encyclical “Populorum Progressio” which Benedict had given pride of place as the second chapter of “Caritas in Veritate.” Weigel’s assessment is that it is, indeed, a “rupture.” He asks whether there are “two Catholic social-doctrine traditions (one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 masterwork, Rerum Novarum, and a postconciliar one beginning from Populorum Progressio), or is there one?”[5]

In response, I would suggest that Weigel has not understood what transpired in the Second Vatican Council, and consequently thinks he sees a rupture, when in reality Populorum Progressio [PP] and Caritas in Veritate [CV] – as well as Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [SRS] [6]- are developments of Rerum Novarum stemming from Vatican II’s turn to the Subject as the epistemological horizon in which to consider all the previous councils of the Church.[7]

The key to the conceptual continuity of the teachings of the Church – as contained in its texts - is the continuity of the experience of the Person of Christ in living faith.[8] Benedict has been persistently expounding the exact same point concerning the true exegesis of Scripture. He said as much in his commentary in CV. There he said that PP was published immediately after the Vatican II and “it clearly indicates its close connection with the Council” (11). Recall that Vatican II has privileged the person as presented in GS #22 and #24 as hermeneutical key to all of its documents John Paul II did the same with SRS emphasizing its relation to Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes. Let it be noted that it is precisely in Gaudium et spes #22[9] and #24[10] wherein the meaning of man is understood in terms of Christ, who is the revelation of man. Then, Benedict said: “I too wish to recall here the importance of the Second Vatican Council for Paul VI’s Encyclical and for the whole of the subsequent social Magisterium of the Popes. The Council probed more deeply what had always belonged to the truth of the faith.”[11]

Hence, the “Hermeneutic of Continuity” that Benedict appealed to in his address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005 is based on the notion of experience, concretely faith-experience. The conciliar shift from an objectified conceptual horizon of epistemology to a subjective horizon of the person that is experientially and therefore ontologically based is an insurance of a living and realist continuity in Magisterium. The experience of the Person of Christ that comes across in Sacred Scripture, in the Tradition, in the teachings of the Fathers and in the Magisterium down the ages is the continuity that will that gives realism to us as persons. The novelty of “the new trajectory of thinking” that was the Second Vatican Council is a complementary and heightened realism that has emerged in the Magisterial offerings of the last three post-conciliar popes.

Having missed this epistemological paradigm shift from object to subject, Weigel, considering that rupture had taken place because of the non-objectified terminology, and that the Magisterium had been reduced to parliamentarianism,[12] asked the question as to whether there are “two Catholic social-doctrine traditions (one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 masterwork, “Rerum Novarum,” and a post-conciliar one beginning from Populorum Progressio), or is there one?”

The answer is there is one, which is the experience of Jesus Christ. But this experience involves two epistemological horizons: the experience of that Person through sensible perception, abstract concepts and parliamentary debate, and the experience of that Person as another Self. These are two distinct hermeneutics, which, if not distinguished and working together, can produce rupture between them.

The novelty of Vatican II is the shift to the subject, the meaning of Revelation and the meaning of Faith. There is only one social doctrine tradition, but the kind of knowing before and after the Council was “something different in kind.” Something different did begin in the Second Vatican Council, and it is precisely because of this that “there is essential continuity over time.” The continuity is the human person, not only objectified as “individual substance of a rational nature,” but as ontological subject – “I” – who “finds himself by the sincere gift of self.”[13]“Populorum Progressio” was the vehicle of introducing this epistemological paradigm shift from Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes #24 into concrete social doctrine. The ontological realism is increased but the language becomes more vague as the precision of objectifying concepts is complemented by an existential consciousness.

But if we are going to talk continuity in doctrine and Tradition, then we must rehearse the meaning of Revelation and Faith. The Church hears the Word of God which dwells in her and takes flesh from her. She can do this only by reciprocating the act of self-gift that is revelation (that is the Person of Christ) by the act of self-gift that is faith. By that resonating act, the Word is assimilated. The Church speaks the assimilate Word that is the Person of Christ in the written word of Scripture and the Magisterium. To hear the Word that is Christ, then, one must not only hear the word-text of the Magisterium but the Person-Word of the Revelation behind the text.

For continuity, one must hear both the text and the Word. The Person-Word can only be heard in prayer while mulling over the word-text. And then, it is not reaching a logical conclusion by reasoning, but receives an experience of the Word as gift of the Spirit. This means that the Word of God in the text is not reducible to linguistics of words. Their meaning always is the Person of Christ in both Old and New Testaments. Hence, the use of words like “quotas of gratuitousness and communion” in CV refers to the relationality that the human person is called to achieve in the interpersonal space of the market.

We can conclude, then, that it is not reaching a logical conclusion by reasoning that we achieve continuity of concepts, but receiving the gift of the Spirit- an experience - whereby we have a continuity of consciousness. There occurs an experience of Christ and a consciousness beyond concepts. This alone is Benedict’s meaning of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

He who only hears words but does not experience the Word by self-gift in prayer will see discontinuity in the wording of the Second Vatican Council. Even the use of the word “pastoral” will move such a one to trivialize the immense doctrinal horizon that is contained therein and which is in perfect continuity of, say, a Council of Nicea which would seem to be, indeed, “obscure” by saying that the Father and the Son, distinct and irreducible as Persons, are “one in Being. “This, I submit, is the state of the case of George Weigel in his perception of CV.

How important is this point? I judge it to be immense because Weigel’s critique is the state of the hearing Church writ small. Vatican II has not been understood because it has not been read, and it has not been read because the “spirit” of the Council, broadcast early on by an elite inspired by the Bologna School, has pre-empted reading the text. Hence, Joseph Ratzinger insisted on the return to the texts and the ascetical conditions required for their proper hermeneutic.

* * * *

Let us go by steps: The Word of God is the total meaning of reality, and knowing that Word is what we mean by realism. Man becomes real insofar as he is “hearer of the Word. That Word of God is the Person of Christ, and knowing the Person of Christ is the meaning of salvation: This is eternal life: Knowing you the one true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17, 3).

Absolute Reality: The Word of God

Benedict XVI opened the Synod of 2008 making what Scott Hahn called a “breathtaking”[14] claim concerning the Word of God. The pope asserted that “only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality… it is reality” And he calls for a revamping of our way of thinking: “we must change our concept of realism…. Realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent.” He even goes so far as to say that the material cosmos was created only to make space for the encounter between the human person and the Word of God: “Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love.”[15]

Louis Bouyer quotes Deuteronomy, 6, 4: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone” and comments: “God here bursts into our world to impress us by his presence which has become a tangible one. But on every page of the Bible the divine Word defines itself or better manifests itself in this way. It is not a discourse, but an action: the action whereby God intervenes as the master in our existence.”[16] Bouyer asserts that “the divine Word, like every word worthy of the name, (is) an action, a personal intervention, a presence which asserts and imposes itself, but since it is the Word of the Almighty, it produces what it proclaims by its owner…. This conviction is so strong that even the ungodly in Israel could not escape from it. The unfaithful kings torment the prophets to prophesy what pleases them or at least to keep silent because they are persuaded that the moment the divine Word makes itself heard, even through the mouth of a simply shepherd like Amos, it goes straight toward its fulfillment.”[17]

Dialogical Anthropology

As we will see below, Joseph Ratzinger’s thesis on Revelation and Faith in the High Middle Ages and in the Fathers disclosed Revelation to be an act before being a written word or a concept. And concomitantly, he showed faith to be a reciprocal act resonating with the action that is Revelation, the Person of Christ. On Ratzinger’s own account,[18] these notions that were initially rejected, found their way into the Conciliar document Dei Verbum.

This marked a major turning point in the Conciliar epistemology which was noted by Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his written summary of the Synod.[19] He offered that the dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum marked a real turning point in the manner of dealing with Divine Revelation. Instead of privileging, as before, the noetic dimension of truths to be believed in, the Council Fathers emphasized the dynamic and dialogic accent[20] of Revelation as personal self-communication of God. What is at stake here is a transition of anthropologies, and therefore, epistemologies. The Greek objectified anthropology of substance-accident as substratum of the noetic epistemology of sensible perception and conceptual abstraction yields its exclusivity to a complementary dialogical anthropology of experience of self-transcendence and consciousness. Ouellet’s statement, “instead of privileging, as before, the noetic dimension of truths to be believed in” to “the dynamic and dialogic accent of Revelation as personal self-communication of God” is a passage from conceptual-objectified thought to consciousness of directly experienced reality. There is continuity here in that there is not loss of reality but only a heightened experience of it and a more intense realism. We are here at the epistemological threshold that was crossed in the Second Vatican Council and yet to be crossed by the intelligentsia of the Church and the world. And it is precisely here that George Weigel mistakenly considers “Caritas in Veritate” to be a lapse in continuity as was “Populorum Progressio.” To the contrary, both encyclicals, while less conceptually “clear” quoad nos are more profoundly realist and potentially effective. Because of this, I quote at length from Ouellet’s summary:

“Briefly, the written or transmitted Word of God is a word of dialogue and also trinitarian. Offered to man in Jesus Christ to introduce him to trinitary communion and to find his full identity. According to John's prologue, this personal Word of God calls to humanity and immediately poses the question of reception : « But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God » (Jn 1 :12).

“God speaks and, because of this, man is a called-upon being. This anthropological dimension of Revelation is laconically expressed in the Constitution Dei Verbum 2 : « through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature ». The Fathers of the Church have used the traditional doctrine of Imago Dei on this anthropological theme.”

These two paragraphs are telling as answer to Weigel’s query as to the “hermeneutic of rupture” or “hermeneutic of continuity.” They are telling us that the human person is not to be grasped in his deepest reality through sensible perception and the abstract “individual substance of a rational nature.” Rather the human person is to be understood as “a called-upon being” whose way of knowing is not “noetic”[21] in the sense of facultative formation of ideas and propositions of ideas, but rather “dynamic and dialogic.” Man’s being is made to hear and therefore to become the Word heard, and in so becoming, to become conscious of that Word as a constitutive part of experience.

In a word, the human person comes “to know” the Word of God by becoming the Word of God. We have here the most profound ontological foundation of epistemology. To know is to be one being with the known. In Genesis 4.1, “Adam knew his wife and she conceived.” That is, he became one flesh, one being, with her. In Aparecida, Brazil in 2007, Benedict XVI asked the question: “What is real?” He answered: “God.” And continued: “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.” He then asked more deeply: “who knows God?” He answered: “only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him.” [22]

Such a radical understanding of the situation demands that one must “become God” in order “to know” God. Or, in other words, one would have to become Christ, in order to know the Father.

Theological Epistemology

Benedict has given us two texts of supreme importance concerning his habilitation thesis of 1955 the first part of which was rejected by Michael Schmaus, and has just been published in German. In the texts which Benedict intimates had impact in the crafting of Dei Verbum, he makes equally breathtaking disclosures concerning the nature of Revelation and Faith. On the one hand, Revelation is not a word that is written down as Scripture. He is emphatic that Scripture is not revelation, but contains it as its residue and consequence. He is even more emphatic that Revelation takes place only when there is someone who hears it and becomes it. He will say that “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.”

Benedict calls this “theological epistemology.”[23] I would offer that this is epistemological topsy-turvydom for those of us in the twenty first century. We have been completely indoctrinated over the last five centuries into a culture where reduction to the physical-empirical by concepts and judgments proven by empirical evidence is the yellow-brick road to realism, and everything else is subjective whim and relativism. The point that is being developed here is that the turn to the subject- the “I” - is not a turn to thought and relativist subjectivism but to being and supereminent realism..

Without doing a formal and unique phenomenology of the acting subject such as Wojtyla did in a philosophic bent[24], Benedict works historically by making appeals to Scripture, the tradition of the Church from the Fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa and then to the High Middle Ages and Bonaventure’s theology of salvation history.

He first appeals to St. Paul in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “You can have Scripture without having revelation. For revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith.” We can read here his address to the 2008 Synod on the Word of God. That is, one receives Revelation only when actually becomes the Word of God. The Word of God is reality, revelation only becomes real when one becomes the Word. One must enter into the act of the revealing Word Who is the Person of the Logos, i.e. one must become self-gift in the act of hearing and taking in. Otherwise, we read the words of Scripture but no revelation takes place, the revelation that is the Person of the Word. One becomes that Person only by an action, the action of self-transcending. One cannot be in a state of stasis of being in and for oneself and receive the Revelation of Who God is a triple Self-gift. Yes, we can know about God, but we would not yet know God. This is the reason Benedict makes so much of our Lady’s hearing the Word of God and doing it (“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it, [Lk. 11, 28]. Benedict asserts: “We can only receive and hold fast to the uttered word if we are involved inwardly. If something does not touch me, it will not penetrate; it will dissolve in the flux of memories and lose its particular face… Only by understanding [and by “understanding” Benedict has had recourse elsewhere[25] to the Latin intellegere = ab intus legere {to read from within}] do I receive reality at all; and understanding, in turn, depends on a certain measure of inner identification with what is to be understood. It depends on love. I cannot really understand something for which I have no love whatsoever. So the transmission of the message needs more than the kind of memory that stores telephone numbers: what is required is a memory of the heart, in which I invest something of myself. Involvement and faithfulness are not opposites: they are interdependent.”[26] Notice the implications: if the Word of God is the ultimate reality that is the very reason for the creation of the world such that the world is created to be the “space” for the Word to exist “outside of” God, hearing the Word of God by becoming it gives one the absolute and meaning of everything else. More explicitly, if I become revelation because that is what faith means, then revelation takes place in me.

But it will not be subjectivism because I will have had to go through a conversion to go out of myself to become “like” Him Who is nothing but “out of Himself” as Son and pure relation to the Father. I will have to have gone through a “death event”[27] that is Baptism where faith is its action of self transcendence. We are immersed three times in the water that is the symbol of death. That experience of going out of myself to believe is about the ontological reality that is myself as “another Christ:” “I live; no, not I; Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2, 20).

“A New Trajectory of Thinking”

In the first part of his habilitation thesis, “Offenbarüngsvertändnis und Geschichtstheologie Bonaventuras,” which was rejected in 1955 by Michael Schmaus and published for the first time now (September of 2009 by Herder, ) – in German - Josef Ratzinger proposed – or better, re-proposed[28] – the decisive epistemology explaining the source of the absolute and the imperious need for meaning in human intelligence. That source is the recovery of the ontological “I” as the decisive likeness to the “I am” of Jesus Christ as in this triple expose in John 8: “Unless you believe that I am [εγω ειμί],you will die in your sins;”[29] “When you lift up the Son of Man you will know that I am [εγω ειμί],[30] “Before Abraham came to be, I am [εγω ειμί] .”[31] And, of course, these three affirmations of the divine Absolute Self in the Father and His Word are resonances of the εγω ειμί of Exodus 3, 14 where Yahweh reveals Himself as “I Am” to Moses.

The result of Ratzinger’s analyses disclosed that the meaning of “Revelation” in the High Middle Ages had nothing to do with what we have come to understand by revelation. For us “it has even become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as ‘revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages.”[32] And now he comes to the epistemological threshold that we must cross if we are to enter into realism. “Here, ‘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.”[33] This point is the burden of the paper. That act which is “revelation” is the very Person of Christ, the “I am” which has lived out the self-gift (relation) to the Father on the Cross.[34] that we must mimic and with which we must resonate.

This decisive theological epistemology results from the experience and consciousness of becoming like God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. His fundamental message is that Christian Revelation is not Scripture but a Person, and that this Person is an action.

Faith, then, is the action that resonates with the action that is Revelation. Since like is known by like, there is an immediate experience and consciousness of both the divine Person of the Son and oneself as image and likeness.

There is no English translation as yet of the above text, but we have two authoritative autobiographical accounts of it that are as straightforward as they are mysterious. The one is from his autobiographical “Milestones…,”[35] the other from “The Question of the Concept of Tradition: A Provisional Response.”[36] Both texts assert that 1) Revelation is the relational act of the Person of the Son of God as obedience to the Father to death and for us. Revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not identical with it. 2) The person who receives Revelation becomes a part of it as source of it. Without the reception by a subject, the “veil” of “re-vel-ation is not removed. The “veil” is that “in-itselfness” which does not enter into the act of self gift that is Revelation itself. As the revealing Person is light, the receiving person becomes light in himself, and thus becomes part of that revelation in himself. Hence, revelation is not an object like a book that we can carry about with us. As the pope says, “You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence.”[37]

Benedict set out the first three theses of his “Behold the Pierced One” to make the above point. The first two theses establish from Scripture that the divine Person of Christ as pure relation to the Father is prayer. He offers Luke’s 6, 12; 9, 18 and 9, 28 to show that “the essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality.” Concretely, Luke 6,12 relates that “the calling of the Twelve proceeds from prayer, from the Son’s converse with the Father.”[38] Luke 9, 18 testifies that it is because the apostles entered into the prayer of Jesus in His converse with the Father that they knew Him and were able to testify that He was “the Christ of God.” Matthew 16, 17 discloses more fully that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven.” As John Paul II commented in Novo Millennio Ineunte[39], that “‘flesh and blood’ is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of ‘revelation’ is needed… Luke gives us an indication …when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus ‘was praying alone’… 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… ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’”[40]

This second citation of Luke at 9, 18 is perhaps the clearest presentation of pope’s understanding of “theological epistemology.” His “Thesis 3”[41] states: “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.” It is most important to understand his development here against the background of his Christology in Introduction to Christianity. There he announces the revolution that must take place in man’s perception of the world due to the revelation and theological elaboration of the meaning of the human person as relation in the light of the divine Person being the act of self-gift. That is, if the divine Persons are total self-gift, and man is created in the image and likeness of those Persons, then the created human person must achieve his full development by coming to self-gift, or relation.

Benedict had just taken Augustine’s theological elaboration that “the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving… In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’”[42]

Such a remark in such a setting and by such an author who is the sitting pope with this recently re-published 1968 text is “breathtaking” if we grasp the stakes and the connection to his most recent (2008) remarks on the radical realism of the Word of God, as well as the assertion of his habilitation thesis that Revelation is an ontological “action” as the delivery of the divine Person Himself.

Following through with this metaphysical and epistemological assertion that the meaning of Person in God is not “substance”[43] but “relation” that is not “accident,” he logically offers the Christology that “with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office; the office is the person. The two are no longer separable. Here there is no private area reserved for an ‘I’ that remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be ‘off duty,’ here there is no ‘I’ separate from the work; the ‘I’ is the work, and the work is the ‘I.’”[44] With this, Benedict is calling for a metaphysical anthropology that is working on a strictly existential level without jettisoning intelligibility but calling for a new and higher level. As he says, “‘person’ does not lie on the level of essence, but of existence”[45] and there becomes intelligible as conscious experience of self going away from self. This is Christian faith. It is the kind of cognition that is not conceptual as abstractive and reductive. It is experiential in that faith is the person himself with the intelligibility of the “who” of the person himself. This intelligibility is directly experienced without mediation and is therefore most intelligible and most real. Consciousness accrues to this experience, and is the background to all meaning.

But even before revelation was encountered from without, there was already the consciousness and intelligibility of what has been called “natural law” but which in reality was the “law of the person.” Benedict talked about it in terms of an “ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine.” [46]This “ontological tendency” “resonates with some things and clashes with others. He calls it “the god-like constitution of our being” that is not “a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.”[47] It is rather “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.”[48] What is it? The action of Christ’s Self-gift from without that is Revelation.

This understanding of Revelation and Faith as two interpersonal resonating ontological self-gifts was retarded in the Middle Ages due to the failure to apply the above Christology of Person-as-relation to anthropology. Constitutive relationality was seen to apply to the divine Persons in Trinity and Christology, but not to anthropology. Man was an exception. The pope comments: “This seems to me also the limit of St. Thomas in the matter, namely, that within theology he operates… on the level of existence, but treats the whole thing as a theological exception, as it were. In philosophy… he remains faithful to the different approach of pre-Christian philosophy”[49] which remained on the level of “essence” where knowledge would by universal and absolute only when abstractive and objectifying.[50]

The significance of Joseph Ratzinger’s partially rejected thesis on “Revelation and Salvation History in Bonaventure” has come to remedy this in the part he played in the crafting of Dei Verbum of Vatican II. Therefore, the deceptive simplicity of his “Thesis 3” in Behold the Pierced One becomes the key to a “new trajectory of thinking”[51] that would enable a “new metaphysical interpretation of the ‘humanum’ in which relationality is an essential element.”[52] This key would extent from overcoming the “dictatorship of relativism”[53] to a new global economy.

Broadening Reason

On November 6, 1992, Joseph Ratzinger was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France, replacing Andrei Sakharov. In his acceptance speech, he appealed to a trans-democratic, trans-empirical reason that can ground freedom. He observed that “freedom can abolish itself, become sick of itself, once it has become empty. This too we have experienced in our century: a majority decision can have the effect of destroying freedom.”[54] Reason grounds freedom only if it comes to ethical conviction which, “in turn cannot come from a purely empirical reason.” It must come from a free and experiential faith. He then asserted: ‘This is …how I see the public mission of the Christian Churches in the world of today. It is in conformity with the Church’s nature that she be separate from the State and that her faith not be imposed by the State, but rest on freely acquired convictions.”

As pope, in the space of two years, Benedict XVI gave four major addresses on the theme of “broadening reason” by the experiential engagement of the person with Judeo-Christian faith: Regensburg September 12, 2006, Address to European Professors (June 24, 2007); The Sixth European Symposium of University Professors (June 7, 2008); Lecture at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” January 17, 2008. In each of these, Benedict called for the “broadening of reason” by the experience of faith as self-transcendence. One can see more by becoming more.

At Regensburg he points to the Exile in the sixth century as the occasion of the confluence of Abrahamic experiential faith and Greek reason which – to the benefit of both - globalized Old Testament faith and absolutized Greek metaphysics. He ends: “The intention here is…broadening our concept of reason… We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way.” That “new way” is done not with propositional knowing, but with our feet. As Philip said to Nathanael: “Come and see” (Jn. 1, 45). To the European Professors in 2007, he remarked: “The concept of reason needs… to be ‘broadened’ in order to be able to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical.” At the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors which had as its theme “Widening the Horizons of Rationality,” he quoted himself: “Christian faith opted… against the gods of the various religions and in favor of the God of the philosophers, that is, against the myth of custom and in favor of the truth of Being itself and nothing else.”[55] He insists on the point that faith is note merely “informative” but “performative” meaning that it “cannot be enclosed within an abstract world of theories, but it must descend into the concrete historic experience that reaches humanity in the most profound truth of his existence.” Finally, in his presentation to the university “Sapienza,” he again insists that “truth is never purely theoretical” but must be tied to action that makes us “good.” He goes on that “Truth means more than knowledge” which means that it is a consciousness of the self in a “performative” state of imaging the God Who alone is Good.

[1] Caritas in Veritate #53.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office,” Ignatius (2008)52.

[3] G. Weigel, “Caritas in Veritate in Gold and Red,” National Review July 7,2009.

[4] G. Weigel, “National Review,” July 13, 2009.

[5] Ibid

[6] Weigel made a similar criticism of Sollicitudo as he is making of Caritas. He railed against John Paul II’s assessing liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism as imperfect and in need of correction. He saw the hand of “those Catholic intellectuals and activists who did believe in ‘moral equivalence’ between ‘the blocs,’ and the enduring influence in the Curia of Paul VI’s Ostpolitik and its ‘evenhandedness’ between East and West;” G. Weigel, Witness to Hope Cliffside Books, (1999) 559-560.

[7] John Paul II wrote: “We can re-discover and, as it were, re-read the magisterium of the last Council in the whole previous magisterium of the Church, while on the other we can rediscover and re-read the whole preceding magisterium in that of the last Council. It would seem that the principle of integration, thus conceived and applied, is indirectly the principle of the Church’s identity, dating back to its first beginnings in Christ and the Apostles. This principle of identity operated in the Council and must continue to do so, integrating the whole patrimony of faith with and in t he consciousness of the Church;” John Paul II Sources of Renewal, Harper and Row, (1979) 40..

[8](T)his human person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission… the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

“This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church’s social doctrine. The Church has gradually developed that doctrine in a systematic way, above all in the century that has followed the date we are commemorating, precisely because the horizon of the Church’s whole wealth of doctrine is the human being in his concrete reality as sinful and righteous;” John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus,” 53.

[9] “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word mad flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”

[10] “If man is the only earthly creature God has wanted for its own sake, [he]can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”

[11] Benedict XVI, ‘Caritas in Veritate” #11.

[12] Sandro Magister [Chiesa; posted 6/22/05] commenting on Cardinal Camillo Ruini’s presentation of Bishop Agostino Marchetto’s book: “The Ecumenical Council of Vatican II: A Counterpoint to Its History.” Ruini noted that the interpretation of Vatican II has been dominated by the Bologna School of Alberto Alberigo. The interpretation of the Council is the following: the documents of the Council are the product of human parliamentarianism and therefore have no magisterial security. The Council as parliament is an “event” which is pervaded by a “spirit.” That “spirit” must be interpreted by “experts” who pass it on to the Church.

Note that this is precisely the interpretation with which Weigel assesses CV with. The words are foolishness and the result of parliamentary conflicting forces: “red,” and “gold.” The words of CV are not to be taken seriously and the experts will inform us as time goes on.

Note also, that Ratzinger hit this theme hard in the “Ratzinger Report:” “The reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their true spirit. If thus rediscovered in their truth, those great texts will make it possible for us to understand just what happened and to react with a new vigor” Ignatius (1985) 40. He also did it in his 12/22/05 Address to the Roman Curia:

[13] Gaudium et Spes #24.

[14] S. Hahn, “Covenant and Communion” Brazos Press (2009) 22.

[15] Benedict XVI, Keynote Address, Synod on The Word of God, October 7, 2008.

[16] Louis Bouyer, “Eucharist,” UNDP (1968) 32.

[17] Ibid 33.

[18] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977,” Ignatius (1997) 109; “Salt of the Earth,” …….

[20] Instrumentum Laboris 4.

[21] “Instead of privileging, as before, the noetic dimension of truths to be believed in, the Council Fathers emphasized the dynamic and dialogic accent of Revelation as personal self-communication of God. Thus they put down the bases for a more vivid encounter and dialogue between God who calls and His people who respond;” Report Before the Discussion of the General Reporter, H.Em. Cardinal March Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec (Canada).

[22] Consider Mt. 11, 27: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

[23] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 26.

[24] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person” Reidel (1979).

[25] Ibid 25. It is important here to realize that the only person I experience in the use of my freedom is myself. Therefore, crossing the threshold to perceiving the experience I have of myself in the free act, I must do a phenomenology of my act to realized that am not thought but being, and then, experiencing myself exercising common action with another, transfer to him the conscious experience I have of myself. Hence, I can know him ab intus from within. That means that I would know the other person not as object, but as subject in his proper subjectivity.

[26] J. Ratzinger, “Seek That Which Is Above,” Ignatius (1986) 101.

[27] See J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” in The Nature and Mission of Theology, Ignatius (1995) 51.

[28] “Re-proposed” because this theological epistemology is quite settled in the Greek Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa, etc. Bonaventure is taking up and representing the Greek Christian mind in the Mediaeval period

[29] Jn. 8, 24.

[30] Jn. 8, 28.

[31] Jn. 8, 58.

[32] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977” Ignatius (1997) 108.

[33] Ibid

[34] Benedict insists on the revelation of the Person of Christ as Person-act. The “I” of Christ is His act. Person and office are identical. The esse and agere of Christ, His word and His very “I” are one and the same thing. Benedict insists:

[35] “But (Michael Schmaus) also did not like the result of my analyses. I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologians of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of `revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has been become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as `revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, `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,’ 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 Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scripture (`by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scriptura is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given. At the moment, however, the burning question was the habilitations thesis, and Michael Schmaus, who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, saw in these theses not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation;” J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927- 1977” Ignatius (1997) 108-109.

[36] “You can have Scripture without having revelation. For revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith. The non believer remains under the veil of which Paul speaks in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He can read Scripture and know what is in it, can even understand at a purely intellectual level, what is meant and how what is said hangs together – and yet he has not shared in the revelation. Rather, revelation has only arrived where, in addition to the material assertions witnessing to it, its inner reality has itself become effective after the manner of faith. Consequently, the person who receives it also is a part of the revelation to a certain degree, for without him it does not exist. You cannot pout revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around wit you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence;” J. Ratzinger, “God’s Word, Scripture, Tradition, Office,” (2008) 52.

[37] Cf. previous footnote 18.

[38] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 18.

[39] January 6, 2001.

[40] Ibid #20.

[41] P. 25.

[42] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius (2004) 184.

[43] Consider the following remarks of Ratzinger on the uselessness of the philosophic category of “substance” in theology:

[44] J. Ratzinger, op. cit. 203.

[45] J. Ratzinger, “The Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall 1990) 449.

[46] J. Ratzinger, “On Conscience,” Ignatius (2007) 32.

[47] It is important to understand that the ultimate ground of knowing is not concepts as content, but rather being, and in this case, the being of “I.” Moral knowing is not a deduction from first principles as concepts but immediate cognition by the inclination of the entire being of the “I” for the divine. Newman saw this, and now I come to understand that this is the insight of Grisez et al.

[48] Ibid

[49] J. Ratzinger, “The Notion of Person in Theology,” op. cit 449.

[50] Ratzinger considers the ideal of objectification as the condition of achieving truth in Scripture, history, and even in physics, to be “an absurd abstraction;” J. Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Conflict” in God’s Word …, Ignatius (2008) 101.

[51] Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate,” #53.

[52] Ibid. #55.

[53] Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice” Monday 18 April 2005.

[54] J. Ratzinger, “Society Needs Common Moral Tenets,” L’OR n. 6 -10 February 1993, 15.

[55] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 142.