Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Mind of Benedict XVI: “If the Eye Were Not Solar, It Could Not Recognize the Sun” (Goethe)

1)From Cardinal Ratzinger’s Homily in Mass Before Conclave: “Jesus Christ: `The Measure of True Humanism’” (April 19, 2005):
a) Relativism: “How many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc….
To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of `doctrine,’ seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the `I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure.”

b) Truth: “We have another measure: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism.” How does this affect truth as absolute? Jesus Christ said: “I have called you friends (Jn. 15, 15). Ratzinger says, “The Lord defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart.
He gives us his confidence; he gives us the power to speak with his `I:’ `This is my body,’ and `I absolve you.’ He entrusts his body to us, the Church. He entrusts his truth to our weak minds, our weak hands, the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…”
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2)From Previous Writings:

Positivism as cause of relativism, nihilism and ultimately terrorism: the absence
of truth in relativism clears the runway for ideologies and the nihilism of terrorism. The ideologies that spawn terrorism fill the vacuum left by the absence of the absoluteness of truth. Positivism is the methodology that has created that vacuum.
To the assertion and question put to him in 1993, “nihilism is rapidly taking the place of Marxism. How do you analyze this divorce between faith and modernity?,” Ratzinger responded:

“It is explained by the encroachment of relativism and subjectivism, an inevitable consequence of a world overwhelmed by the alleged certainties of natural or applied science. Only what can be tested and proved appears as rational. [Sensible] (e)xperience has become the only criterion guaranteeing truth. Anything that cannot be subjected to mathematical or experimental verification is regarded as irrational.
“This restriction of reason [to the experience of the senses] has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God, cannot be subjected to rational experience, verified by mathematical formulae. And so they are left to subjective sensibility alone. This is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living, handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened.
The great ideologies have been able to give a certain ethical foundation to society. But today, Marxism is crumbling and liberal ideology is so split into fragments that it no longer has a common, solid, coherent view of man and his future. In the present situation of emptiness, there looms the terrible danger of nihilism, that is to say, the denial or absence of all fundamental moral reference for the conduct of social life. This danger becomes visible in the new forms of terrorism (my underline).
Even though perverted, the political, social terrorism of the 1960’s had a certain kind of moral ideal. But today, the terrorism of drug abuse, of the Mafia, of attacks on foreigners, in Germany and elsewhere, no longer has any moral basis. In this era of sovereign subjectivity, people act for the sole pleasure of acting, without any reference other than the satisfaction of `myself.’
Just as the terrorism that was born from the Marxism of yesterday put its finger on the anomalies of our social order, in the same way the nihilistic terrorism of today ought to show us the course to be followed for a reflection on the bases of a new ethical and collective reason”
(Interview in Catholic World Report, January 1993, 54)

3)Christian Faith: “More [Like] An Expedition Up a Mountain Than a Quiet Evening Spent Reading in Front of the Fire” (Faith and the Future [1970] 50).

Faith is not a series of ideas abstracted from sensible experience. It is not reducible to creeds and dogmas. Dei Verbum #5 of Vatican II called faith “obedience.” “`The obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16, 26; cf. Rom. 1, 5; 2 Cor. 10, 5-6) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making `the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals.” And the revelation of God is not concepts but the very Person of the Son. John Paul II, as Cardinal, said, “Faith, as these words show, is not merely the response of the mind to an abstract truth. Even the statement, true though it is, that this response is dependent on the will does not tell us everything about the nature of faith. `The obedience of faith’ is not bound to any particular human faculty but relates to man’s whole personal structure and spiritual dynamism. Man’s proper response to God’s self-revelation consists in self-abandonment to God. This is the true dimension of faith, in which man does not simply accept a particular set of propositions, but accepts his own vocation and the sense of his existence” (Sources of Renewal 20).
Cardinal Ratzinger presents the act of faith as a personal experience that is a conversion of the whole self and like unto a death event:

“I refer to the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he describes the Christian as a person who is distinguished both by a revolutionary, personal experience and also by an objective reality. St. Paul says, `I live, no longer I, but Christ lives within me’ (Gal 2, 20). This sentence comes at the end of that short spiritual autobiography which Paul works up right before his readers’ very eyes. He does this, not to gain glory for himself, but to clarify the message which has been entrusted to him, and he does so by making reference to his own personal history as it had been lived with Christ and with the Church. This explanation of his life leads him, so to speak, even further – from the outside to the inside. First he describes the external events of his vocation and his path through life; then in a single sentence, as clear as a lightning bolt, the inner event that took place during all of this, and is the ground of it all, is made clear. This inner event is at once personal and objective. It is the most personal of experiences and at the same time indicates what is the objective essence of Christianity for each one of us. It would be a weak oversimplification to put it this way: becoming and being a Christian depend on conversion. But that would be headed in the right direction. Yet conversion according to Paul is something much more radical than a mere revision of a few opinions or attitudes. It is a death event. In other words it is the replacement of the subject – of the `I.’ The `I’ ceases to be independent and to be subject existing in itself. It is torn from itself and inserted into a new subject. The `I’ does not perish, but must let itself diminish completely, in effect, in order to be received within a larger `I’ and, together with that larger `I,’ to be conceived anew” (The Church as an Essential Dimension of Theology (1986) reprinted as “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology” in The Nature and Mission of Theology Ignatius (1995) 50-51).

This experience of the “I” as self-transcending in the act of faith gives the truth of the human person as created in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God. It gives a knowledge of the freedom and dignity of the self that is beyond but grounds all further knowledge through conceptual abstraction from the experience of the senses. When Cardinal Ratzinger was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France, taking the place of Andrei Sakharov, he said:

“In fact, institutions cannot maintain themselves and be effective without common ethical convictions. These, in turn, cannot come from a purely empirical reason. The decisions of the majority will themselves remain truly human and logical only if they presuppose the existence of a basic humanitarian sense and respect this as the true common good, the condition of all other goods. Such convictions require corresponding human attitudes, and these in turn cannot be developed unless the historical foundation of a culture and the ethical, religious judgments it contains are taken into consideration. For a culture and a nation to cut itself off from the great ethical and religious forces of its history amounts to committing suicide. Cultivating the essential moral judgments, and maintaining and protecting them without imposing them by force seems to me to be a condition for the survival of freedom in the face of all the forms of nihilism and their totalitarian consequences.
This is also 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…. `Christ does not triumph over anyone unless the person himself wishes it. He triumphs only by convincing: for he is the Word of God’”
(L’Osservatore Romano, N. 6 – 10 February 1993, 15).

The Emergence of Conscience. The Toast of Cardinal Newman: “To Conscience First, To the Pope Afterwards” (Letter of Norfolk): the truth of the human person is not achieved through the method of positivism as through the experience of the senses that leads to abstraction and reduction. It comes from the experience of the “I” in the moment of self-transcendence that is moral where the whole self is delivered to the revealing Person of Christ. When Christ stands before the person and calls for the response of faith, the “I” exercises mastery of self, takes itself into its own possession as delivers itself up as gift. This activation is the crossing-of-the-threshold from object to subject and raises the consciousness of the person to “knowledge” of self dignity and freedom. It is the state of the “original solitude” of Adam who obeyed the divine command to name the animals, which initiated the history of man as person-in-act. Helen Keller is the modern example of this rite of passage. Conscience now is activated, and Cardinal Ratzinger comments:

“This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is 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 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”[underline mine] (“Conscience and Truth,” Catholic Conscience, Foundation and Formation, The Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, Braintree, Mass., p. 20).

On the basis of the above, it is impossible to tag Benedict XVI with the moniker of “rigid” or even “conservative” except in the sense of seeking truth by the most open and existentialist self-transcendence. As he said in the Conclave homily on Monday, “Truth and charity coincide in Christ. In the measure that we come close to Christ also in our life, truth and charity are fused. Charity without truth would be blind; truth without charity would be like `a clanging cymbal’ (1 Cor. 13, 1).”

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