Saturday, August 27, 2005

Today's Task: To Experience God

1) "Jesus makes himself our travel companion in the Eucharist, and, in the Eucharist … effects a 'nuclear fission' in the depths of our being…Only this profound explosion of goodness that overcomes evil can give life to the other transformations necessary to change the world," the Pope said summarizing the message he left with the young people in Cologne.”[1]

“`Nuclear fission’ in the depths of our being” is a fitting metaphor for the Eucharist as the act of Christ’s self gift on the Cross. We are baptized into becoming Him as Body, and therefore empowered to make His self-gift ours.[2] The point is that when one enters the Church by the death event of Baptism, and is made one flesh with Him in the Eucharist, one becomes the “I” of Christ Himself. This is the “New Man” making up the Whole Christ, Head and Body. Therefore, in that we are “one” (not merely united) with Christ, we are to have the same act as Christ: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15, 12). This act is the gift of oneself to the point of death.

2) The Major Crisis of Our Time: The Absence of God:

Benedict opened the homily with reference to the “presence of Christ.”

“The greatest `crisis’ facing the Church and the world is `the absence of God’ – a culture and way of life without any transcendent dimension, without any orientation toward eternity, toward the sacred, toward the divine. And that the `solution’ to this `crisis’ is quite simple to express in a phrase: the world needs `the presence of God.’
Benedict had long argued that the `absence of God’ in the modern world, the `secularization’ of modern `globalized’ society, has created a society in which the human person no longer has any sure protection against the depredations of power or, more importantly, any clear understanding of the meaning and ultimate destination of his life.
Yet his call to reorient human culture toward God has never meant an abandonment of the search for social justice. Rather, it has always been a challenge to place that search within the Christian context of repentance and belief in the Gospel….
Benedict was elected by his fellow cardinals, including many from very poor countries, because they agreed with him about the need for a Pope who could preach the priority of God, and in so doing, lay the only secure foundation for a just society.”

2) The cause of this absence: We have lost the experience of God.

In sum: We have lost the experience of ourselves as images of God. When we experience self as imaging God, we experience God.
One experiences self in the act of self-transcendence. This is par excellence the act of Christian faith, and any action that is service to others approaching martyrdom asymptotically (or in fact).

John Paul II says:

“The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this `commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. It is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of `accepting as true what God has revealed.’
“When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person”
(underline in original).[4]

Causes for the loss of the experience of the self:

1) Bourgeois mentality: Cardinal Francis George proposed the explanation of this thesis by the confrontation of God as all powerful and the greatest asset of man being his freedom. In order to affirm and bolster man’s freedom in this zero sum confrontation, Nietzsche declared God dead. We kill God and command freedom to flourish.
But there is a “soft” way of getting rid of God: trivialize Him by reducing Him to a hobby engaged in during leisure time (“If you go to Mass on Sunday [Saturday evening to leave Sunday free for the serious business of recreation and sports], good; and if you don’t go, that’s good too);

2) Relativize the epistemology. Instead of conversion from the bourgeois attitude and life-style, formulate a philosophy of “disengagement” from the harsh realities of an authentic life. Truth as conformity of the self to the created order of things is replaced by the disengaged self, creating certainty (truth) by the method of the clear and distinct idea.[5]

These two causes – “bourgeois life-style” (and therefore bourgeois mentality) and “epistemology restricted to sense perception” (and therefore, all is relative) - are reciprocal. To be bourgeois eliminates the experience of the self as intrinsically relational as self transcending, i.e., service to persons and conformity to “nature.” And if the human person is in reality intrinsically relational as imaging the divine Persons (who are intrinsically relational), then the bourgeois turn to self violates the deepest longings of the person to-be-for-other. The experience of acting on that longing never takes place. Once the experience of the self is dropped from the picture, we are left with only the experience of sensation and perception, which is experience on a different level than the self. Sensation is a noetic act of the person, but involves the mediation of sense organs, central nervous system and brain that transforms the “particles” and “waves” into our “world” of rainbows, red dresses, and smooth, solid surfaces. It is not an immediate access to being, but mediate. Only the immediate access to being that is the self made in the image and likeness of God gives us an experience of God. Knowledge through sensation can tell us about God. Experience of the “I” in the free determination of self to be gift (relation) gives us a direct experience of God. The recovery of Theism in the third millennium depends on the recovery of this experience.

The Task

Purify and Assimilate Modernity by rendering the Faith rationally

On the day after his election as Pope, Benedict XVI said in the homily of first papal Mass:

“With the Great Jubilee the Church was introduced into the new millennium carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the world through the authoritative re-reading of Vatican Council II. Pope John Paul II justly indicated the Council as a `compass’ with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted, `I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this council of the 20th century gave us.
I too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church. Precisely this year is the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of this conciliar assembly (December 8, 1965).
With the passing of time, the conciliar documents have not lost their timeliness; their teachings have shown themselves to be especially pertinent to the new exigencies of the Church and the present globalized society.”

Now: the Challenge and The Choice: The Meaning of the Second Vatican Council

Then- Cardinal Ratzinger sizes up the choice that confronts us:

“Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith?
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.
“And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let s call it epochal, struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”
Robert Moynihan says: “You use the phrase `epochal struggle…'

“Well, at the very least, that means it is a struggle of enormous historical importance…”

“Yes, certainly…”

Ratzinger continued:

“And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith (underline mine).
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous.“That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith.”
Ratzinger then points to Augustine:
“Augustine, as you know, was a man who, on the one hand, had studied in great depth the great philosophies, the profane literature of the ancient world.“On the other hand, he was also very critical of the pagan authors, even with regard to Plato, to Virgil, those great authors whom he loved so much.“He criticized them, and with a penetrating sense, purified them.” “This was his way of using the great pre-Christian culture: purify it, heal it, and in this way, also, healing it, he gave true greatness to this culture. Because in this way, it entered into the fact of the incarnation, no? And became part of the Word’s incarnation.”

* * * * * * * *

My precis of the Method at stake: 1) To recover the subject as being by the experience of the self in the moral act. Then, to describe that ontological subject empirically (phenomenologically). This appears in Ratzinger’s (“Milestones…”): No believer, no revelation. Likewise in modern empirical thought: no seer, no rainbow; no hearer, no sound (see below). The being of the self is tranposed to the being supporting the perceptum. Hence, once we regain the experience of the self as real being – in fact, the privileged locus for the encounter with the act of existence and metaphysical enquiry (Fides et Ratio #83) – we regain the experience of God.

* * * * * * * *

The Negativities of Modern Philosophy:

John Paul II commented: “In fact, about 150 years after Descartes, all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside. This was the time of the Enlightenment in France, when pure rationalism held sway. The French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, knocked down the altars dedicated to Christ, tossed crucifixes into the streets, introduced the cult of the goddess Reason. On the basis of this, there was a proclamation of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The spiritual patrimony and in particular, the moral patrimony of Christianity were thus torn from their evangelical foundation. In order to restore Christianity to its full vitality, it is essential that these return to that foundation.
“Nevertheless, the process of turning away from the God of the Fathers, from the God of Jesus Christ, from the Gospel, and from the Eucharist did no bring about a rupture with a God who exists outside of the world. In fact, the God of the deists was always present; perhaps He was even present in the French Encyclopedists, in the work of Voltaire and of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and even more so in Isaac Newton’s…modern physics.
“This God, however, is decidedly a God outside of the world… The rationalism of the Enlightenment put to one side the true God – in particular, God the Redeemer.
“The consequence was the man was supposed to live by his reason alone, as if God did not exist. Not only was if necessary to leave God out of the objective knowledge of the world… it as also necessary to act as if God did not exist, as if God were not interested in the world. The rationalism of the Enlightenment was able to accept a God outside of the world primarily because it was an unverifiable hypothesis. It was crucial, however, that such a God be expelled from the world.”

This is the nub of modern philosophy known as “The Enlightenment.”

The Positivities of Modern Philosophy:

Subjectivity and the Empirical

(“To Go Beyond an Unfruitful and Overly Narrow Apologetic to a True Synthesis with the Positive Elements of Modernity:” Ratzinger below)

[Outline: 1) George Berkeley discovers the ontological value of sensible empiricism in the (undisclosed) experience of the perceiving subject. 2) Hegel potentially resolves the mind/body dualism by combining the autonomous rationalism of Kant with the empirical/sensible Romanticism of Herder. He does this by introducing Mind into Matter that develops into its true self by the dialectic process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis that characterizes history. 3) Read back into both authors the work of Karol Wojtyla who combines phenomenology and metaphysics to explain the experience of the human “I” in the moral act which is Christian faith. 4) By so doing, the “true” intent of Vatican II is achieved. Cardinal Ratzinger: “It seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith. Because it was the Council Father’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous. That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith.”[8]]

The Great Discovery of Modern British Empiricism of the 17th and 18th centuries: Sensation is as much the act of the subject as well as the object. “The normal, unreflecting person thinks of color or sweetness as being in the dress or the candy; places the pain in the tooth, the tingling in the foot. The real ontological locus of all these, Descartes asserts, is in the mind. They are all ideas which are, indeed, brought about by certain properties of dress, candy, tooth, foot, but their place is in the mind.”[9] We don’t agree with Descartes’ radical subjectivism, but a great contribution to thought was made in directing full attention to the subject.
It’s true to say, and everyone knows it (“I’m forever chasing rainbows”), the rainbow is the outcome of the sun, the raindrops and your own vision. But so also is everything else we perceive through sensation. The following may be helpful:

“Perception takes place by means of sense-organs, though the ingredient in it of sensation, experienced as such, varies greatly as between the different senses. In touch I suppose we come nearest to sensation without perception; in sight to perception without sensation. But the two most important things to remember about perception are these: 1) that we must not confuse the percept with its cause. I do not hear undulating molecules of air; the name of what I hear is sound. I do not touch a moving system of waves or of atoms and electrons with relatively vast empty spaces between them; the name of what I touch is matter. 2) I do not perceive any thing with my sense-organ alone, but with a great part of my whole human being. Thus, I may say, loosely, that I `hear a thrush singing.’ But in strict truth all that I ever merely `hear’ – all that I ever hear simply by virtue of having ears – is sound.”[10]

Barfield’s conclusion on this point: “On almost any received theory of perception the familiar world – that is, the world which is apprehended, not through instruments and inference, but simply – is for the most part dependent upon the percipient.” And he goes on, “as the organs of sense are required to convert the unrepresentative particles into sensations for us, so something is required in us to convert sensations into `things’… On the assumption that the world whose existence is independent of our sensation and perception consists solely of `particles,’ two operations are necessary... in order to produce the familiar world we know. First, the sense-organs must be related to the particles in such a way as to give rise to sensations; and secondly, those mere sensations must be combined and constructed by the percipient mind into the recognizable and nameable objects we call `things.’”[11]

Berkeley and Hegel:

The contribution of Berkeley consists in affirming that what we perceive through sensation is really there, because we are really here perceiving it. It is the real and actual experience of the self perceiving through the senses that gives evidence that what we perceive is not merely a subjective activity of the mind but a real existent inferred from our real existence that we experience. We do not experience the being of the thing. We experience only the sensation. But we have a direct experience of ourselves as being acting in the perception.
The contribution of Hegel consisted in re-introducing the subject - that had been discovered but existentially “disengaged” by Descartes – into the existential, and therefore, objective - flow of history. The defect was that he conceptualized the solution in terms of an ideological creation, the“Geist” (World-Spirit) who emerged by the dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, not in terms of the ultimately real individual person. He did not have what Karol Wojtyla was to disclose in his (our) time: the experience of the self as being (not consciousness). Wojtyla offered the acting person. Hegel glimpsed the solution in terms of a rationally fabricated absolute. But the makings of the solution were present. He opened modern thought to the possibility of discovering the experience of the self existentially in the material development of history while holding on to its spiritual autonomy as exemplified in Kant. Charles Taylor proposed: “I would like to claim that this ambition of combining the fullest rational autonomy with the greatest expressive unity was also central to Hegel’s philosophical endeavour. In this he was at one with his Romantic contemporaries. What separates them is that Hegel took a different path to reach this goal; and it is precisely this difference which makes his attempt to achieve this perhaps impossible synthesis the most impressive and continuingly fruitful of that time.
“What separates Hegel from his Romantic contemporaries is his insistence that the synthesis be achieved through reason. For many thinkers of the Romantic generation this seemed an impossible demand.”[12] In another place, he said: "It as a basic principle of Hegel’s thought that the subject and all his functions, however `spiritual,’ were inescapably embodied; and this in two related dimensions: as a `rational animal,’ that is, a living being who thinks; and as an expressive being, that is, a being whose thinking always and necessarily expresses itself in a medium.”[13]

The Contribution of John Paul II to the Healing of Modernity by the Faith Rendered Philosophically

Josef Ratzinger once remarked: “God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experienced. The pope expressly opposes the limitation of the concept of experience which occurred in Empiricism; he points out that the form of experience elaborated in the natural sciences is not the only kind, but that there are also other forms which are no less real and important: moral experience, human experience, religious experience. But this experience is, of course, also reflected upon and verified in its rational content.”[14]

1) An Anthropological Rendering of the Act of Faith: “To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An absolute person – or better, a personal Absolute.
“The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this `commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. It is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of `accepting as true what God has revealed.’”

2) A Phenomenological Rendering of that Act:

“In Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, we read that "the human being, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself or herself except through a disinterested gift of himself or herself" (24)….

"As I said earlier, in the experience of self-determination the human person stands revealed before us as a distinctive structure of self-possession and self-governance. Neither the one nor the other, however, implies being closed in on oneself. On the contrary, both self-possession and self-governance imply a special disposition to make a "gift of oneself," and this a "disinterested" gift. Only if one possesses oneself can one give oneself and do this in a disinterested way. And only if one governs oneself can one make a gift of oneself, and this again a disinterested gift. The problematic of disinterestedness certainly deserves a separate analysis, which it is not my intention to present here. An understanding of the person in categories of gift, which the teaching of Vatican II reemphasizes, seems to reach even more deeply into those dimensions brought to light by the foregoing analysis. Such an understanding seems to disclose even more fully the personal structure of self-determination.
"Only if one can determine oneself—as I attempted to show earlier—can one also become a gift for others. The Council's statement that "the human being...cannot fully find himself or herself except through a disinterested gift of himself or herself" allows us to conclude that it is precisely when one becomes a gift for others that one most fully becomes oneself. This "law of the gift," if it may be so designated, is inscribed deep within the dynamic structure of the person. The text of Vatican II certainly draws its inspiration from revelation, in the light of which it paints this portrait of the human being as a person. One could say that this is a portrait in which the person is depicted as a being willed by God "for itself" and, at the same time, as a being turned "toward" others. This relational portrait of the person, however, necessarily presupposes the immanent (and indirectly "substantial") portrait that unfolds before us from an analysis of the personal structure of self-determination….
"I have attempted, however, even in this short presentation, to stress the very real need for a confrontation of the metaphysical view of the person that we find in St. Thomas and in the traditions of Thomistic philosophy with the comprehensive experience of the human being. Such a confrontation will throw more light on the cognitive sources from which the Angelic Doctor derived his metaphysical view. The full richness of those sources will then become visible. At the same time, perhaps we will better be able to perceive points of possible convergence with contemporary thought, as well as points of irrevocable divergence from it in the interests of the truth about reality.”

In difficult but telling passage of his major philosophic work: The Acting Person, Karol Wojtyla states his achievement, glimpsed by Berkeley and fulfilling Hegel. Like Augustine in his relation to the pagan authors like Plato and Virgil, he purifies the modern achievements of empiricism and subjectivity by his philosophic rendering of the faith by using phenomenology and thomistic metaphysics. No less, he opens an access to being, not through conceptual knowing, but by the experience of the self in moral action – an access without the mediation of thought but registered in consciousness. He was able to say in Fides et Ratio #83 that the human person is privileged locus for the encounter with act of existing. With this, he is able to recover all the insights of subjectivist and empiricist modernity for a penetration into the believing person, while making the “I” as image of God – i.e., Jesus Christ - the ontological and defining center of anthropology and morality. Only with this achievement, can we come to experience the presence of God and communicate that present to our contemporaries.

“The consequence of the reflexive turn of consciousness is that this object – just because it is from the ontological point of view the subject – while having the experience of his own ego also has the experience of himself as the subject. In this interpretation `refexiveness’ is also seen to be an essential as well as a very specific moment of consciousness. It is, however, necessary to add at once that this specific moment becomes apparent only when we observe and trace consciousness in its intrinsic, organic relation to the human being, in particular, the human being in action. We then discern clearly that it is one thing to be the subject, another to be cognized (that is, objectivized) as the subject, and a still different thing to experience one’s self as the subject of one’s own acts and experiences… This discrimination is of tremendous import for all our further analyses, which we shall have to make in our efforts to grasp the whole dynamic reality of the acting person and to account for the subjectiveness that is given us in experience.
Indubitably, Man is, first of all, the subject of his being and his acting; he is the subject insofar as he is a being of determinate nature, which leads to consequences particularly in the acting. In traditional ontology that subject of existing and acting which man is was designated by the term suppositum – ontic support – which, we may say, serves as a thoroughly objective designation free of any experiential aspects, in particular of any relation to that experience of subjectivity in which the subject is given to itself as the self, as the ego. Hence suppositum abstracts from that aspect of consciousness owing to which the concrete man – the object being the subject – has the experience of himself as the subject and thus of his subjectivity. It is this experience that allows him to designate himself by means of the pronoun I. We know I to be a personal pronoun, always designating a concrete person. However, the denotation of this personal pronoun, thus….
Hence not only am I conscious of my ego (on the ground of self-knowledge) but owing to my consciousness in its reflexive function I also experience my ego. I have the experience of myself as the concrete subject of the ego’s very subjectiveness. Consciousness is not just an aspect but also an essential dimension or an actual moment of the reality of the being that I am, since it constitutes its subjectiveness in the experiential sense.”

The above is a theological and philosophical rendering of how the “nuclear fission” that is the Eucharist as divine act, when lived and cognized as lived, can be made intelligible and communicated first experientially (the “New Evangelization”), and then rationally.

1] Benedict XVI’s Summary of Cologne, August, 2005: Zenit August 24, 2005
[2] Ratzinger shows the radical transformation of the believer into the very subjectivity of Christ. In Gal. 2, 20, he says, “I live, no not I; Christ lives in me.” Ratzinger goes to Paul’s 1 Cor. 12, 12 to drive home that there is an ontological radicality here, and not merely metaphorical. He quotes, “For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, many as they are, form one body, so also is it with Christ;” and comments: “Paul does not say `as in an organism there are many members working in harmony, so too in the Church,’ as if he were proposing a purely sociological model of the Church, but at the very moment when he leaves behind the ancient simile, he shifts the idea to an entirely different level. He affirms, in fact, that, just as there is one body but many members, `so it is with Christ’ (1 Cor. 12, 12). The term of the comparisons is not the Church, since, according to Paul, the Church is in no wise a separate subject endowed with its own substance. The new subject is much rather `Christ’ himself and the Church is nothing but the space of this new unitary subject, which is, therefore much more than mere social interaction.” The point is that when one enters the Church by the death event of Baptism, one becomes the “I” of Christ Himself.
[3] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday (2005) 4-5.
[4] Be Not Afraid, Interview between John Paul II and Andre Frossard, St. Martin’s Press (1984) 67.
[5] "(T)his structure now replaces the concept of God and necessarily excludes it, since it takes its place. This systematic exclusion of the divine from the shaping of history and human life, referring to the definitiveness of scientific insight, is perhaps the genuinely new, and at the same time the truly threatening, element in that strange product of Europe that we call Marxism. I now assert that this same combination, in weaker forms, is active in the life of the Western world even outside Marxist thinking (he is talking of Western/American capitalism here). If it were to succeed in establishing itself definitively, this would ... be the end of what could make Europe a positive force in the world" (bold mine). (Turning Point For Europe? Ignatius, 1994, p. 125).
[6] Benedict XVI, “You Are Peter,” Inside the Vatican May 2005 p. 28.
[7] John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Knopf (1994) 52-53.
[8] Robert Moynihan, The Spriital Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, “Let God’s Light Shine Forth” Doubleday (2005) 35.
[9] Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, Harvard University Press (1989) 162.
[10] Owen Barfield, Saving Appearances, Wesleyan (1988) 20
[11] Ibid 24.
[12] Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society, Cambridge University Press (1979) 12.
[13] Ibid.18.
[14] Communio 22 (Spring, 1995) 110.
[15] Andre Frossard, Be Not Afraid, St. Martin’s Press (1982) 66-67.
[16] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination “ in Person and Community Lang (1993) 193-195.This paper was presented by then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla at an international conference on St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and Naples, 17-24 April 1974.
[17] The Acting Person, D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 42-46.
Rev. Robert A. Connor

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