Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Pentecost and Benedict XVI

Class @ Our Lady of Peace, New Providence, N.J., May 13, 2005.

1)The Tower of Babel and Pentecost.

“But let us come at last to the main question. What is the real Christian message of Pentecost? What is this `Holy Spirit’ of which it speaks? The Acts of the Apostles gives us an answer in the form of an image; perhaps there is no other way of doing it, since the reality of the Spirit largely escapes our grasp. As the story is told, the disciples were touched by fiery tongues and found themselves speaking in a manner which some (the “positivists”) regarded as drunken stammering, a meaninglessness, useless babbling, while others, from all parts of the then known world, each heard the disciples speaking in his own tongue.
In the background of this text is the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel; the two stories, taken together, provide us with a penetrating insight into the theology of history. The Old Testament account tells us that human beings, their sense of independence augmented by the progress they had made, attempted to build a tower that would reach heaven. That is, they believed that by their own powers of planning and constructing they could even build a bridge to heaven, make heaven accessible to themselves by their own efforts, and turn human beings into gods. The result of their effort was the confusion of tongues. The human race, which sought only itself and looked for salvation in the satisfaction of a ruthless egoism by means of economic power, suffered instead the consequence of egoism, which is the radical hostility of each to his fellows, so that no one can understand anyone else and therefore even egoism inevitably remains unsatisfied.
The New Testament account of Pentecost picks up these same ideas. It implies the conviction that contemporary mankind is sundered to its very roots; that is characterized by a superficial coexistence and a hostility which are based on self-divinization. As a result, everything is seen in a false perspective; human beings understand neither God nor the world nor their fellows nor themselves. The `Holy Spirit’ creates such an understanding because he is the Love that flows from the cross or self-renunciation of Jesus Christ.
We need not attempt here to reflect on the various dogmatic connections that are implied in such a description. For our purpose it is enough to recall the way Augustine tried to sum up the essential point of the Pentecost narrative. World history, he says, is a struggle between two kinds of love: self-love to the point of hatred for God, and love of God to the point of self-renunciation. This second love brings the redemption of the world and the self.
In my opinion it would already be a giant step forward if during the days of Pentecost we were to turn from the thoughtless use of our leisure to a reflection non our responsibility; if these days were to become the occasion for moving beyond purely rational thinking, beyond the kind of knowledge that is used in planning and can be stored up. To a discovery of spirit, of the responsibility truth brings, and of the values of conscience and love. Even if for a moment we were not to go a step further into the properly Christian realm, we would already be touching the hem of Christ and his Spirit.”

The Tower of Babel: “Dictatorship of Relativism”
(exclusiveness of the experimental method)

2)There are three levels of experience: empirical, experimental and “existential.

Empirical and Experimental (2): Nihil in intellectu nisi in sensu: “that immediate and uncritical perception by the sense that is common to all of us. We see the sun rise; we see it set. We see a train pass. We see colors; and so forth. This manner of experience is, certainly the beginning of all knowledge, but it is always superficial and inexact. And therein lies its danger. Because of its immediate certainty, it can be an obstacle to deeper knowledge…” Galileo confronted “empirical” empiricists (Aristotelians) as a Platonists insisting that thought trumps immediate experience. “Galileo rejected what everyone can see. The same is true of the laws of gravity, which never actually occur in reality as Galileo formulated them but are a mathematical abstractions and, for that reason, also contrary to our immediate experience. Modern natural science is built on the rejection of pure empiricism, on the superiority of thinking over seeing” (my underline)….

“It is only when the intellect sheds light on sensory experience that his sensory experience has any value as knowledge and that experiences thus become possible.”

Ratzinger makes the major point here that “the structure of the experience of faith is completely analogous to that of the natural sciences; both have their source in the dynamic link between intellect and senses from which there is constructed a path to deeper knowledge.

But we must point, here, also to a crucial difference. In a scientific experiment, the object of experience is not free. The experiment depends, rather, on the fact that nature is controlled… [Heidegger calls it “set-up”; Brague says: “Because we have removed from it everything that might be a a freedom (vagueness, contingency, etc.), it can become the object of science.” “In this connection, L. Kolakowski has made the interesting observation that the way in which the natural sciences deal with nature is actually a form of necrophilia. They dissect it as though it were a dead object and, in this form, are able to control it. If we apply this thought also to the human sciences, we might conclude that their way of dealing with human beings is likewise a kind of necrophilia. The fact that a similar way of dealing with faith and with God must of necessity lead to a God-is-dead theology need hardly be elaborated.”

(Let me add: This is where right thinking feminists insist on the damage done by male dominated epistemology) .

Tongues of Fire at Pentecost

Autobiographical Anecdote of Benedict XVI: Intellectual Formation.
“Glottlieb Soehngen had immediately read my habilitation thesis; he had accepted it enthusiastically and even quoted from it frequently in his lectures. Professor Schmaus, the other reader, was a very busy man, and so he left the manuscript untouched for a couple of months. From a secretary I found out that he had finally begun reading it in February. At Easter of 1956 he put out a call to German-speaking experts in dogma for the purpose of holding a congress in Koenigstein… During the Koenigstein congress Schmaus called me aside for a brief private conversation, during which he told me very directly and without emotion that he had to reject my habilitation thesis because it did not meet the pertinent scholarly standards. I would learn details after the appropriate decision by the faculty. I was thunderstruck. A whole world was threatening to collapse around me. What was to become of my parents, who in good faith had come to me in Freising, if I now had to leave the college because of my failure? And all of my future plans would likewise collapse, since these, too, were all contingent on my being a professor of theology. I thought of applying for the position of assistant pastor in the parish of Saint Georg in Freising, which came with a house; but this solution was not particularly consoling….

(What had happened?)

“In my research I had seen the study of the Middle Ages in Munich, primarily represented by Michael Schmaus, had come to almost a complete halt at its prewar state. The great new breakthroughs that had been made in the meantime, particularly by those writing in French, had not even been acknowledged. With a forthrightness not advisable in a beginner, I criticized the superseded positions, and this was apparently too much for Schmaus, especially since it was unthinkable to him that I could have worked on a medieval theme without entrusting myself to his direction. The copy of my book that he used was in the end full of glosses of all colors in the margins, which themselves left nothing to be desired by way of forthrightness. And while he was a t it, he expressed irritation at the deficient appearance of the graphic layout and at various errors in the references that had remained despite all my efforts.
“But he 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 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. 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.’ Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (`by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.”

The Point: The empirical and experimental experience of the words of Sacred Scripture are not the content of Revelation. Only the Person of Jesus Christ is. Hence, we need to understand an epistemology of the subject besides an epistemology of objects. How do we know an “I” as distinct from an “it” as “thing.”

Existential experience:
“In `existential experience,’ on the contrary, the decisive factor is not control but letting oneself be controlled and the new way of `going where one would rather not go’ that is thus made possible… Let us quote Hans Urs von Balthasar on this subject: `It can be said with certainty that there is no Christian experience that is not the fruit of the overcoming of one’s own self-will or, at least, the determination to overcome it. And with this self-will we must include also all our willful efforts to evoke religious experiences on the basis of our own initiative and by our own methods and techniques.’ `It is only when we renounce all partial experiences that the wholeness of being will be bestowed upon us. God requires unselfish vessels into which to pour his own essential unselfishness.’
“I regard the last point as essential. To say that God is Trinitarian means, in fact, to confess that he is self-transcendence, `unselfishness,’ and, consequently, that he can be known only in what reflects his own nature. From this there follows an important catechetical conclusion: the being-led to a religious experience, which must start in the place where man finds himself, can yield no fruit if it is not , from the beginning, directed to the acquisition of a readiness for renunciation. The moral training that, in a certain sense, belongs to the natural sciences, as does the asceticism of transcendence, becomes more radical here because of the meeting of the two freedoms…. The possibility of `seeing’ God, that is, of knowing him at all, depends on one’s purity of heart, which means a comprehensive process in which man becomes transparent, in which he does not remain locked in upon himself, in which he learns to give himself and, in doing so, becomes able to see. From this perspective of Christian faith, we might say that religious experience in its most exalted Christian form bears the mark of the Cross. It embraces the basic model of human existence, the transcendence of self. The Cross redeems, it enables us to see. And now we discover that the structure of which we are speaking is not just structure; it reveals content as well.”

The Biblical Example: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. They talk “thing” (water). He suggests water of eternal life. She, unknowingly, asks for it. He challenges her to transcend herself by telling the truth about herself: Bring me your husband. She answers: I have no husband. She reveals self. He then reveals Self: “I, who speak with you, am he.” I.e., to know self-gift, one must become self-gift. One experiences Christ and knows Him when one experiences self as self-transcending. Ratzinger will say importantly below: “One must know oneself as one really is if one is to know God” And one knows self only when there is the existential experience of self-gift, of telling the truth about self which is already the faith of entrusting self to the Other. Keep in mind that the only “I” you can experience is your own “I.” You experience that when you freely determine self, i.e., master self, get possession of self and therefore are able to make the gift if you so choose. Then, when you do that, you experience yourself as imaging God and therefore you are like Him who is the image of God as pure Relation: Logos. You know yourself as image, and you know Him who is the prototypical image. You are then able to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God [by nature]” because I, too, am Christ the Son of the living God [by sacramental and participation].
Therefore, we do not know God they way we are in ourselves, but the way He is in Himself. And we do this by this internal experience of self-determination that is the act of faith as act of the whole person, and not merely an accidental act of the accidents (faculties) of intellect and will. The whole self must be given, which is symbolized in the changing of the name of Simon, son of John into Peter. The name of Jesus Christ is “cornerstone” (Acts 4, 11). The name of one who “knows” Him, who reads Him from within the self (intellegere: legere ab intus), knows Him as a Self, an “I.” This is knowing without objectification or reduction to abstraction.

Josef Ratzinger on John 4: The Samaritan Woman and the Experience of God

“This periscope seems to me to be a beautiful and concrete illustration of what we have just been saying. It opens with the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the context of a normal, human, everyday experience – the experience of thirst, which is surely one of man’s most primordial experiences. In the course of the conversation, the subject shifts to that thirst that is a thirst for life, and the point is made that one must drink again, must come again and again to the source. In this way, the woman is made aware of what in actuality she, like every human being, has always known but to which she has not always adverted: that she thirsts for life itself [Zoë] and that all the assuaging that she seeks and finds cannot slake this living, elemental thirst. The superficial `empirical’ experience has been transcended.
“But what has been revealed is still of this world. It is succeeded, therefore, by one of those conversations on two levels that are so characteristic of Jon’s technique of recording dialogue, the Johannine `misunderstanding,’ as it is called by the exegetes. From the fact that Jesus and the Samaritan woman, though they use the same words, have in mind two very different levels of meaning and, separated thus by the ambiguity of human speech, are speaking at cross-purposes, there is manifested the lasting incommensurability of faith and human experience however extensive that experience may be. For the woman understands by “water’ that of which the fairy tales speak: the elixir of life by virtue of which man will not die and his thirst for life that is familiar to her, whereas Jesus wants to reveal to her the true life, the Zoë.
“In the next stage, the woman’s full attention has been attracted to the subject of a thirst for life. She no longer asks for something, for water or for any other single thing, but for life, for herself. This explains the apparently totally unmotivated interpolation by Jesus: `Go and call your husband!’ (Jn. 4, 16), It is both intentional and necessary, for her life as a whole, with all its thirst, is the true subject here. As a result, there comes to light the real dilemma, the deep-seated waywardness, of her existence: she is brought face to face with herself. In general, we can reduce what is happening to the formula: one must know oneself as one really is if one is to know God. The real medium, the primordial experience of all experiences, is that man himself is the place in which and through which he experiences God. Admittedly, the circle could also be closed in the opposite direction: it could be said that it is only by first knowing God that one can properly know oneself.
“But we anticipate. As we have said, the woman must come first to the knowledge of herself, to the acknowledgement of herself. For what she makes now is a kind of confession: a confession in which, at last, she reveals herself unsparingly. Thus a new transition has occurred –to preserve our earlier terminology, a transition from empirical and experimental to `experiential’ experience, to `existential experience.’ The woman stands face to face with herself. It is no longer a question now of something but of the depths of the I itself and, consequently, of the radical poverty that is man’s I-myself, the place where this I is ultimately revealed behind the superficiality of the something. From this perspective, we might regard the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as the prototype of catechesis. It must lead from the something to the I. Beyond every something it must ensure the involvement of man himself, of this particular man. It must produce self-knowledge and self-acknowledgment so that the indigence and need of man’s being will be evident.
“But let us return to the biblical text! The Samaritan woman has achieved this radical confrontation with her own self. In the moment in which this occurs, the question of all questions arises always and of necessity; the question about oneself becomes a question about God. It is only apparently without motivation but in reality inevitable that the woman should ask now: How do things stand with regard to adoration, that is, with regard to God and my relationship to him? (cf. Jn 4, 20). The question about foundation and goal makes itself heard. Only at this point does the offering of Jesus’ true gift become possible. For the `gift of God’ is God himself, God precisely as gift – that is, the Holy Spirit (cf. v10-24). At the beginning of the conversation, there seemed no likelihood that his woman, with her obviously superficial way of life, would have any interest in the Holy Spirit. But one she was led to the depths of her own being the question arose that must always arise if one is to ask the question that burns in one’s soul. Now the woman is aware of the real thirst by which she is driven. Hence, she can at last learn that it is for which this thirst thirsts.
“It is the purpose and meaning of all catechesis to lead to this thirst. For one who knows neither that there is a Holy Spirit nor that one can thirst for him, it cannot begin otherwise than with sensory perception. Catechesis must lead to self-knowledge, to the exposing of the I, so that it lets the masks fall and moves out of the realm of something into that of being. Its goal is conversion, that conversion of man that results in his standing face to face with himself. Conversio (`conversion,’ metanoia) is identical with self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is the nucleus of all knowledge. Conversio is the way in which man finds himself and thus now the question of all questions: How can I worship God? It is the question that means his salvation; it is the raison d’etre of catechesis.”
Pentecost contrasts with Babel in that the Apostles are speaking Christ with the giftedness that the Spirit gives them. And those hearing, are moved by the same Spirit to self-transcend, and therefore hear.

The Father is Self-gift. The Son is Self-gift. The Spirit is the Self-gift of the Father and the Son. Hence, the Spirit is the Personification of the Gift of self, the true meaning of “Love.” First, in God, who gives Self in Creation, and then in Redemption. Only one who has received the Spirit can “know” Christ, “re-cognize” Him by “cognizing” Him in the existential experience of giving themselves like the Samaritan woman. She received the water of life (Zoë) that is the Holy Spirit and engendered Christ in her such that she could re-cognize Him in “I who speak with thee am He” (Jn. 4, 26). At Pentecost, the apostles speak and the 3,000 hear the same Word. Moved by the Spirit, they “understand” each other (intellegere = legere [to read] ab intus [from within]). That is the task of the apostolate today known as the “new evangelization.”

This is the formation of his mind: to understand (to know) is to become one being with the subject to be known. This is not achieved by experience through the external perception, which reduces the perceived reality to an object. St. Thomas suggested that “whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver.” That is, it is not sensed nor intellectually grasped as it is in itself, but as the knower is in himself. Hence, since we are both matter and spirit, we spiritualize what is apparently just matter, and we materialize what is just spirit. That’s why we need images and examples to understand very abstract things.

But more is involved here. Abstractions are not real since they don’t exist “outside” the mind. Only individuals exist and are real. God is real as a Communio of Three “I.” as Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is “I,” the Son is “I,” and the Holy Spirit is “I.” But each “I” is a relation in opposing directions. The Father is the act of engendering the “I” of the Son. The “I” of the Son is the obeying and glorifying of the “I” of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the personification of the “I-gift” of the Others. God is not a substance in the sense that we use the word as category for a created thing. God is an irreducible plurality of three “I’s” that are so one that one cannot be without the others. This prototypical "communio."
Since we are trying to understand God, and God is not part of the world, and “He” is three “I’s,” we cannot render him an object as another object. Hence, we cannot know the Son experientially as an object. We must know Him as Subject.

1 comment:

Elaine said...

Hi Father. Cool blog. I noted that Benedict XVI's Angelus message for today, Trinity Sunday, reiterates the points you mention!

"Jesus has revealed to us the mystery of God. He, the Son, has made us know the Father who is in heaven, and has given us the Holy Spirit, the Love of the Father and of the Son. Christian theology summarizes the truth about God with this expression: only one substance in three persons. God is not solitude but perfect communion. For this reason, the human person, image of God, is fulfilled in love, which is the sincere gift of oneself. "

Much to consider...

Best regards,