Tuesday, December 20, 2005

December 14, 2005: Feast of St. John of the Cross

1. Benedict XVI Commenting on His Mission as Pope:

“I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.”

The Experience of St. John of the Cross as Core of Vatican II:

A - The Figure of Jan Tyranowski: Key to the formation of the mind of John Paul II on the experience of St. John of the Cross. Faith is a moral act of the whole person whereby God is experienced in the self when the self is given as gift. This yields a consciousness that is pre-conceptual and traditionally called “mystical:”

“(Tyranowski)…a very simple man who was one of those unknown saints, hidden amid the others like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns. He disclosed to me the riches of his inner life, of his mystical life. He had cut short his studies to work as a tailor in his father’s workshop: this work better suited his inner life. Under the occupation he was a real master of spiritual life for many young people united in a `living rosary’ round my parish. His name was John. In his words, in his spirituality and in the example of a life given entirely to God alone, he represented a new world that I did not yet know. I saw the beauty of the soul opened up by grace. I was not yet thinking of the priesthood when he gave me, among other books, the works of St. John of the Cross, of whom he was the first to speak to me. He belonged to this school.
Later, when I was a theology student, I learnt Spanish on my own in order to be able to comment on the thought of the Mystical Doctor in my doctoral thesis, which was begun in Krakow and continuted in Rome at the Angelicum. The final examination took place in two parts, in Rome and in Krakow. But that is not the important point. What counts is what I we to the admirable person, unknown by the world, whose memory I have just evoked – the revelation of a universe. The shock was comparable to the one I felt, as I told you just now, in the depths of my metaphysical forest.”

From the “Kalendarium” (diary): “February 1940 – He (Wojtyla) meets Jan Tyranowski. `With regards to my vocation to the priesthood, I owe very much to the late Jan Tyranowski, about whom I once wrote in Tygodnik Powszechny (Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, The Nest From Which I Came; see also entry for September 1940).
“Fragments of an article about Jan Tyranowski:”

[The point of the following implies that the personality and the impact thereof on Wojtyla and all the others derived from Tyranowski’s identification with the mind and spirit of St. John of the Cross.] In May of 1949, Wojtyla wrote:

“This man was not a fiction or a symbol, but a real living person. His name was Tyranowski. Jan Tyranowski. He lived in Krakow, in Debniki, at 15 Rozana Street. He was born in 1900 and died in March of 1947… His family was of a typical suburban middle class… It is worth noting that Jan’s demeanor, for example, the way he wore his watch, his expressions, all of the many details that reflect the social environment, were totally consistent with that environment. The entire difference was hidden within, and it was from within that all his external habits obtained their particular character. Jan guided his inner life according to the book Mistyka by Fr. Semenenko. Later, however, St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of the Child Jesus became his chief spiritual masters. They were not only his masters, they led him to discover himself, they explained and justified his own life.
"Jan’s death was indeed a form of self-sacrifice. Jan approached it consciously; he wished it and prayed for it…"

Earlier, in 1945, the 25 year old Wojtyla wrote:

“At this point, our recollections require some comments about the very methodology of expressing these memories about January. Because it is not easy to remember this man, he cannot be understood as a mere compilation of the events of his life. For us, events did not define January. External actions could never tell us everything about him. If every contact with a person leaves us with some general impression, so also our impressions and judgments of Jan were formed by our contact with him over the period of several years. Our impressions of Jan grew from regarding him as an aging, pious gentleman to a personal conviction that we were dealing with someone who was indeed a saint. So our internal experience of Jan overcame our resistance and reservations, and his personality became indelibly imprinted on us. It is this personality which is the subject of these reminiscences, as is his humanity which is so transfigured that his words and deeds were but a meager reflection of it. For his words and deeds must have seemed very ordinary to anyone who was not drawn into the orbit of Jan’s interior life. No, Jan could not be known from the outside, he had to be experienced and tested from within[3].
“Our road to knowing Jan was so much the harder because he brought with him a concept of life that was totally foreign to us. He wanted to draw his listeners to this new life. He was the apostle and teacher of this new concept. This is the essence of the matter: he was an apostle. With his very being, he gave witness to the truth he was proclaiming….
Imagine, if you will, these young people who judged Jan quite skeptically, who carried within them an inflated concept of their own self-sufficiency and arrogance typi8cal of their age. And each one of them asked: what does this man want of me? What is it that he finds lacking in me? For it became apparent very quickly that Jan already possessed, was totally unknown to them. This was not a question of a lecture, of learning some new facts, but of reforming one’s life and attitudes – a life which, until now, seemed quite good, virtually perfect, inviolable, impervious to all external influences, especially the influence of some overly pious old man. Each of us tenaciously challenged the truth of Jan’s words and was reluctant to overcome his reservations,...He proved to us that God could not only be studied, but also lived….
“The main element of his interior life, however, was contemplation. For him, this did not mean a reasoned analysis of God’s truths, a pure thought exercise. His aim was to become enamored of the subject under contemplation; he sought not a dry exercise of the mind, but a full exercising of the spirit...
“He was an apostle of God’s greatness, God’s beauty, and God’s transcendence. This he learned from his spiritual guide, St. John of the Cross. God exists within us not so we can stifle Him in the narrow confines of our human spirit; God is within us to tear us away from ourselves toward His supernatural transcendence. That was also the main goal of Jan’s strivings. In this he was the strongest, the clearest, the most convincing, and the most apostolic. God is within us. Jan know this. One could often meet him along the banks of the Wisla (Vistula River), or in his own home, explaining to some young listeners the essence of God’s virtues, the methods of meditation or the mysteries of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

B - The Impact of St. John of the Cross on “Dei Verbum” of the Second Vatican Council, evident in the commentary of John Paul II:

The Pope contrasts (complementarity, not contradiction) the “definition” of faith from Vatican I from the “description” of faith in Dei Verbum of Vatican II:

“Personally I would not discount the old catechism definition which I learned at primary school: faith is `to admit as truth what God has revealed and what the Church gives us to believe.’ However, I will not send you back to the catechism, for this definition, as it stands, can incur the criticism that it does not attach sufficient importance to the person, the subject that experiences faith, even though the very phrase `admit as truth’ clearly implies the existence of the subject…. These admirable compact and precise words do not yet speak of faith but of Revelation. Revelation is `God communicating himself.’ It thus possesses the character of a gift or a grace: a person-to-person gift in the communion of persons….
"All this concerns Revelation. What about faith?
We read further on in the same text: `To God who reveals himself we must bring the obedience of faith by which man entrusts himself entirely, freely, to God, bringing to him who reveals the complete submission of his intelligence and heart and giving with al his will full assent to the Revelation which he has made.’ Thus faith is man’s reply to the Revelation by which God `communicates himself.’ The constitution Dei Verbum expresses perfectly the essentially personal character of faith.

“In the words `man entrusts himself to God by the obedience of faith,’ ne must see, if only indirectly, the thought that faith, as response to the revelation by which God `gives himself to man,’ implies through its internal dynamism a reciprocal gift on the part of man, who in a way `also gives himself go God.’ This gift of oneself is the profoundest and most personal structure of faith.
“In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with the gift of a bit of himself, but with the gift of his whole person. Of course, in this reciprocal relationship the disproportion remains.

“So misapprehension is frequent. Those who say, `faith is a gift,’ implying that they have not received it, are at the same time both right and wrong. Right, because there really is a gift on the part of God. Wrong, because this gift is not one of those which require only a banal acknowledgement of receipt; it only takes effect when there is reciprocity” (
Frossard/John Paul II, "Be Not Afraid", St. Martin's Press [1984] 62-68).

At this point, John Paul II clarifies any apprehension of Pelagianism that we respond by our own powers alone: Man needs to be loved by God to achieve the identity of being an “I” in order to be able to master self, take possession of self, and then to make the free gift of self that is faith. This loving affirmation by God is called “grace.” Grace is not a “thing” but the relation of the divine Person to us, affirming us and therefore empowering us. Thus this self-gift must be preceded by a divine affirmation that is “an inner action of the Holy Spirit and that it depends entirely and essentially on this action.”

The large picture here is the move from an objectified epistemology of faith to a subjective epistemology of personal experience and therefore a consciousness of the Person of Jesus Christ as revelation of the Father. It is the move from understanding faith as a series of concepts or sets of propositions to a life style of self-giving in response to the gift of the Son Who is the Gift of the Father. John Paul II notes this difference:

“I have already drawn your attention to the difference between the catechism formula, `accepting as true all that God reveals,’ and surrender to God. In the first definition faith is primarily intellectual, in so far as it is the welcoming and assimilation of revealed fact. On the other hand, when the constitution “Dei Verbum” tells us that man entrusts himself to God `by obedience of faith,’ we are confronted with the whole ontological and existential dimension and, so to speak, the drama of existence proper to man.
“In faith, man discovers the relativity of his being in comparison with an absolute I and the contingent character of his own existence. 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.’
“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."

To Appropriate St. John’s Understanding of Faith Demands a Confrontation, Purification and Assimilation of Enlightenment Philosophy.[5]

This involvement of the entire self in the act of faith, when reflected on by reason using the method of phenomenology, is rendered under the concept of “experience.” But this involves a radical confrontation with the philosophical dualism that has come down to us from the Enlightenment. “Experience” in the Enlightenment has been identified exclusively with the sensible world and radically “disengaged” from the “I.” The “I” is pure consciousness. There is no such thing as an “experience” of consciousness.

As we have seen, the formulation of faith in Vatican Council I, “can incur the criticism that it does not attach sufficient importance to the person, the subject that experiences faith, even though the phrase `admit as truth’ clearly implies the existence of the subject.”[6] Wojtyla’s use of phenomenology has enabled him to discover that “experience” always involves the subjectivity of the “I,” an action of the “I,” and contact with the “reality” of being. After writing his doctoral thesis on “Faith According to St. John of the Cross,” Wojtyla sought out this philosophic method to explain what he had found in St. John of the Cross’s rendering of faith as “a dark night” (without concepts) and found that it was precisely the experience of the whole self – obeying – that was the likeness to the divine Person (Jesus Christ, the enfleshed Logos) who revealed the Father. This enabled him – and the other fathers of the Council – to “purify” the Cartesian turn to the subject “existentializing” it by disclosing that it is precisely in experience, especially the experience of self-transcendence – that faith can be rendered “reasonable.” Faith then becomes rendered anthropologically and therefore metaphysically, and made accessible to the whole domain of moral action. The act of faith as self-gift becomes the explanatory core of sexuality and the entire social doctrine of the Church. Faith becomes “reasonable” and accessible to ordinary, quotidian life, and thus be able to ontologically ground the social doctrine of the Church. This constitutes the revolution of Vatican II and the resolution of the hitherto insoluble dualism of Enlightenment modernism. In brief, it reads: “man, the only earthly creature that God has willed for itself [meaning: “creature with the power of self-determination, i.e. freedom of self-mastery], can fully discover his true self [the “I”] only in a sincere giving of himself [the self-transcendence of faith]” (Gaudium et Spes #24). And this because Christ said, “when praying to the Father `that they may all be one… even as we are one’ (Jn. 17, 21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love” (Ibid.).

What Had Wojtyla Done?

Wojtyla translated the phenomenological work of Max Scheler: Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die Materiale Wertethik (1916) and wrote his own habilitation thesis : “Valutazioni Sulla Possibilita di Costruire L’Ethica Cristiana Sulle Basi del Sistema di Max Scheler.” He finds Scheler’s work on the intentionality of emotions incapable of describing the Christian “experience” of the radical absolute call to self gift to the point of martyrdom. Even though Scheler opposed Kant’s philosophy of consciousness, he never transcended it by reaching the experience of the “I” as being, but remained on the level of the faculties of the “I” and emotion. Hence, he said, “The person, in Scheler’s view, is in no sense a being, but is merely a unity of experiences…. The person is not a being, but solely and exclusively a consciousness. This is a consciousness of being a person, but this is ot the objective being of the person… values are merely contents of consciousness… They do no perfect the person’s being… Every value, including moral value, is merely an intentional object of feeling. The person’s intentional feelings of moral value, however, cannot be equated with the real perfection of the person’s being through moral value. Thus Scheler’s system allows us to witness the perfectionistic tendencies that pervade consciousness, but it does not allow us to construct a truly perfectionist ethics. This is, as in Kant, a consequence of an idealistic understanding of consciousness. Consciousness is understood realistically when it is connected with the person’s being as its subject, when it is an act of this being.”[7]

Hence, Wojtyla constructed his own brand of phenomenology, that of inspecting the acting person and the experience of the “I” as being, mirrored in consciousness. He asserts: “My lived experience discloses not only my actions but also my inner happenings in their profoundest dependence on my own self. It also discloses my whole personal structure of self-determination, in which I discover my self as that through which I possess myself and govern myself – or, at any rate, should possess myself and govern myself. The dynamic structure of self-determination reveals to me that I am given to myself and assigned to myself. This is precisely how I appear to myself in my acts and in my inner decisions of conscience: as permanently assigned to myself, as having continually to affirm and monitor myself, and thus, in a sense, as having continually to `achieve’ this dynamic structure of my self, a structure that is given to me as self-possession and self-governance. At the same time, this is a completely internal and totally immanent structure. It is a real endowment of the personal subject; in a sense, it is this subject. In my lived experience of self-possession and self-governance, I experience that I am a person and that I am a subject.”[8]

2. Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger) on the Meaning of EXPERIENCE in the Mind of John Paul II:

“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."[9]

- The Testimony of John Paul II:

“The fact that human knowledge is primarily a sensory knowledge surprises no one. Neither Plato nor Aristotle nor any of the classical philosophers questioned this. Cognitive realism, both so-called naïve realism and critical realism, agrees that `Nihil est in intellectu, quod prius non fuerit in sensu’ (`nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses’). Nevertheless, the limits of these `senses’ are not exclusively sensory. We know, in fact, that man not only knows colors, tones, and forms; he also knows objects globally – for example, not only all the parts that comprise the object `man’ but also man in himself (yes, man as a person). He knows, therefore, extrasensory truths, or, in other words, the transempirical. In addition, it is not possible to affirm that when something is transempirical it ceases to be empirical.

"It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, I the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: `No one has ever seen God’ (cf. Jn. 1, 18). If God is a knowable object – as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach – He is such on the basis of man’s experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the point of departure for Immanuel Kant’s study of ethical experience in which he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer – of which we talked earlier – is in a certain sense the first verification of such a reality.” [10]

Ratzinger on the Theology of Experience

Ratzinger lays out different stages of experience with corresponding levels of knowledge. (1) empirical experience: (Nihil in intellectu nisi per sensum)What you see is what you get, or at least, think you get. “We see the sun rise; we see it set. We see a train pass. We see colors; and so firth. This manner of experience is, certainly, the beginning of all knowledge, but it is always superficial and inexact. And therein lies its danger.”[11] He goes on to say, “`empirical experience’ is the necessary starting point of all human knowledge, it becomes false if it does not let itself be criticized in terms of knowledge already acquired and so open the door to new experiences.”[12] (2) experimental experience: (Nihil in sensu nisi per intellectum) Intelligence “sets up” the experiment that gives us a new experience. This is science. Reason controls and subdues nature to yield new experiences that in turn yield knowledge. The only difficulty with this is the control and the subduing turns reality from subject into object and literally “kills” it. The scientific method becomes tyrannous and tends to admit of no rationality outside of sensation. This means that the vital questions of absolutes, truth, good, God, the nature of man, etc. must be reduced to matter and experimental sensation. Freedom falls outside of this kind of experience. Behold the root of the "dictatorship of relativism." (3) Existential experience: this is the experience of the “I” as free self-determination. It is fundamentally Christian as faith-response. It is always mastering sensible drives and instincts so as conform self to truth of the revelation.

John Henry Newman on Causality: Experienced Only in the "I"

In his Grammar of Assent, he asserts – in agreement with David Hume – we do not experience causality through the senses, but rather in the existential “I” at the moment of free action. He says, “It is to me a perplexity that grave authors seem to enunciate as an intuitive truth, that every thing must have a cause. If this were so, the voice of nature would tell false; for why in that case stop short at One, who is Himself without cause? The assent which we give to the proposition, as a first principle, that nothing happens without a cause, is derived, in the first instance, from what we know of ourselves; and we argue analogically from what is within us to what is external to us. One of the first experiences of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this willfulness, begin to restrain him, and to bring his mind and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experiences of cause and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience, that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such, are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing about physical phenomena as causes. Accordingly, wherever the world is young, the movements and changes of physical nature have been and are spontaneously ascribed by its people to the presence and will of hidden agents, who haunt every part of it, the woods, the mountains and the streams, the air and the stars, for good or for evil; - just as children again, by beating the ground after falling, imply that what has bruised them has intelligence; - nor is there anything illogical in such a belief. It rests on the argument from analogy.
As time goes on… when we witness invariable antecedents and consequents, we call the former the cause of the latter, though intelligence is absent, from the analogy of external appearances. At length we go on to confuse causation with order; and, because we happen to have made a successful analysis of some complicated assemblage of phenomena , which experience has brought before us in the visible science of things, and have reduced them to a tolerable dependence on each other, we call the ultimate points of this analysis, and the hypothetical facts in which the whole mass of phenomena is gathered up, by the name of causes, whereas they are really only the formula under which those phenomena are conveniently represented…. That all the particles of matter throughout the universe are attracted to each other with a force varying inversely with the square of their respective distances, is a profound idea, harmonizing the physical works of the Creator; but even could it be proved to be a universal fact, and also to be actual cause of the movements of all bodies in the universe, still it would not be an experience, any more than is the mythological doctrine of the presence of innumerable spirits in those same physical phenomena.”

Karol Wojtyla on Causality

(“I” as Cause of My Own Act: Xt’s priesthood)

Karol Wojtyla does the phenomenological description of this huge insight. “In phenomenological experience, I appear as someone who possesses myself and who is simultaneously possessed by myself. I also appear as someone who governs myself and who is simultaneously governed by myself. Both the one and the other are revealed by self-determination: they are implied by self-determination and also enrich its content. Through self-possession and self-governance, the personal structure of self-determination comes to light in its whole proper fullness.

In determining myself – and this takes place through an act of will – I become aware and also testify to others that I possess myself and govern myself. In this way, my acts give me a unique insight into myself as a person. By virtue of self-determination, I EXPERIENCE in the relatively most immediate way that I am a person. Of course, the path from this experience to an understanding that would qualify as a complete theory of the person must lead through metaphysical analysis. Still, EXPERIENCE is the indispensable beginning of this path, and the lived experience of self-determination seems to be the nucleus of this beginning….

(B)oth 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…

Only if one can determine oneself… 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. The `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 [Gaudium et Spes #24] 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… 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” (overkill by capitalization mine).[14]

Experience and the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Prayer is Applied Faith”

(Cardinal Josef Ratzinger)

“In a certain sense, the fourth part (of the Catechism of the Catholic Church), which is devoted to prayer, recapitulates the preceding parts: prayer is applied faith. It is inseparable tied to the world of the sacraments. On the one hand, the sacraments presuppose personal prayer. On the other hand, they guarantee it a stable orientation, inserting it into the common prayer of the Church and thus into Christ’s dialogue with the Father. But prayer and morality are also inseparable: only when man turns to God does he find the paths leading to his true being. From prayer we continually receive the correction we need; reconciliation with God makes possible reconciliation among ourselves.”

Notice that the fourth part, prayer, is the common experiential thread of the previous three parts: Creed, Sacraments, Morality. At the press presentation of the Catechism in 1992, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked if the Catechism was about morality. He remarked:

“The Catechism is about morality, but about much more, too. It deals with man, but its treatment reflects the conviction that it is impossible to separate the question of man from the question of God. We do not speak rightly about man unless we also speak about God. But we cannot speak rightly about God unless God himself tells us who he is. For this reason, the moral instruction offered by the Catechism cannot be severed from what the text says concerning God and God’s history with us. The Catechism must be read as a unity. We misread the passages concerned with morality when we detach them from their context, that is, from the Creed and from the doctrine of the sacraments. For the Catechism’s fundamental anthropological proposition is that man is created in God’s image and is thus like God. Everything the text says about the rectitude of human behavior rests upon the recognition of this central truth. This truth also grounds those rights that are inherent in man from conception to the final moment of his existence. No one has to give man these rights, no one can take them from him: he has them of himself. It follows that the image of God is also the basis of human dignity, which in every man is inviolable simply because he is man.”[15]

But, it must be noted that, for all of the above, the Revelation of Jesus Christ cannot be captured in a book. Jesus Christ as Person is the Revelation of the Father. The experience and consciousness of His Person cannot be substituted even by the words of Sacred Scripture. As the young Ratzinger noted about his early discoveries and the controversy over his habilitation thesis:

“But he [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 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.”

Therefore, Catholicism cannot be reduced to the book. He commented in an interview: “Now, I have my doubts as to whether the quintessentially Catholic, as a living structure, can be captured in a formula. One can try to indicate the essential elements, but it requires more than just knowing something about it, as I can, for example, know something about a party program. It is an entrance into living structure, and it comprise the totality of one’s life plan. For this reason, it can never, I think, be expressed in words alone. It has to be a way of living, of lived identification, a merging with a way of thinking and understanding. The two things enrich each other.
Of course, it is possible to specify crucial points, namely, that tin the first place we believe in God, and a God who knows man, who enters into relation with men, and who is accessible to us, has become accessible in Christ, and who makes history with us. Who has become so concrete to us that he has also founded a community.
But I would say that all of this becomes understandable only when one sets off on the way. Thinking and living belong together; otherwise there is, I believe, no understanding of the Catholic reality” ("Salt of the Earth," Ignatius [1997] 19).

On another occasion, he asked

“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 measure, its ordinances, and its very freedom. Certainly a life lived by faith resembles more an expedition up 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 worth while”
[17](underline and emphasis mine).

The Experience of Self-Gift as Contemplative Life in Secular Work:

“For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.
Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. Therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire.
The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer. And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases. For who are silent? Those of whom it is said: Because evil has abounded, the love of many will grow cold.
The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.
And all my desire is before you. What if the desire of our heart is before him, but not our groaning? But how is that possible, since the groaning is the voice of our desire? And therefore it is said: My groaning is not concealed from you. It may be concealed from men, but it is not concealed from you. Sometimes God’s servant seems to be saying in his humility: My anguish is not concealed from you. At other times he seems to be laughing. Does that mean that the desire of his heart has died within him? If the desire is there, then the groaning is there as well. Even if men fail to hear it, it never ceases to sound in the hearing of God.”

St. Josemaria Escriva on Contemplation:

“Asceticism? Mysticism? Whether asceticism or mysticism, what’s the difference? Either way, it is a gift of God’s mercy. If you try to meditate, Our Lord will not deny you his assistance. Faith and deeds of faith are what matter: deeds, because, as you have known frm the beginning and as I told you clearly at the time, the Lord demands more from us each day. This is already contemplation and union. This is the way many Christians should live, each one forging ahead along his own spiritual path (there are countless paths) in the midst of the cares of the world, even though he may not even realize what is happening to him.”[19]


Wojtyla introduced his doctoral thesis on St. John indicating his dependence on experience that Wojtyla would emulate in his own lived intellectual itinerary:

“(T)here are others [sources] that contributed to the elaboration of St. John’s theological system. The first is the study of the Gospel and of Sacred Scripture in general, with which St. John of the Cross was so well acquainted. His writings testify to this.
The second is experience. We have already spoken of the experience of others as described in the mystical literature that St. John read. Now we refer to his own experience, whether drawn from his contact with other souls in spiritual direction or from his own interior life. And here, it seems, we touch a constitutive element of his works. They are not simply speculative treatises on mystical theology; they are a witness to mystical experience. We would say that speculative theology provided the principles, the spiritual authors gave the terminology and a vast area of comparative study, but the writings of St. John of the Cross are the fruit of experience. It was a vital experience of the supernatural reality that is communicated to the soul, a dynamic experience of participation in the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity, and, finally, an experience of the unifying power of that which serves as a `means of union’ with God.
Considering all this, we are faced with an important task. By means of testimony verified for the most part by St. John’s personal experience, we learn what faith is as a means of union with God.”

[1] Interview with Polish Television on October 16, 2005.
[2] Andre Frossard and Pope John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” St. Martin’s Press (1984) 18-19.
[3] Notice the remark of John Paul II to George Weigel on March 7, 1996 about various biographical efforts to portray him as “statesman:” “They try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside;” Witness to Hope, Cliff Street Books (1999) 7.
[4] Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla Marian Press [Marians of the Immaculate Conception] (2000) 66-70.
[5]“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 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 us call it epochal, struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”
“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;” J. Ratzinger, “Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. R. Moynihan, Doubleday (2005)34-35.
[6] John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” op. cit. 62.
[7] K Wojtyla, “In Search of the Basis of Perfectionism in Ethics,” Person and Community, 1993) 53-54.
[8] Karol Wojtyla,”Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 214.
[9] Josef Ratzinger, “God in Pope John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Communio 22 (Spring, 1995) 110.
[10] John Paul Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Knopf (1994) 33-34.
[11] Josef Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 347.
[12] Idem.
[13] John Henry Newman, Grammar of Assent, UNDP ([1870] 1992) 70-71.
[14] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community (1993) 192-193.
[15] Josef Ratzinger, “Gospel Catechesis, Catechism,” Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius (1997) 14-15.
[16] J. Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 Ignatius 107-109.
[17] Josef Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1971) 50.
[18] St. Augustine, In Psalm 37, 13-14: CCL 38, 391-392.
[19] St. Josemaria Escriva, “Towards Holiness” in Friends of God, Scepter (1981) 268.
[20] Karol Wojtyla, “Faith According to Saint John of the Cross,” Ignatius (1981)21-22.
[21] Both quotes are from von Balthasar “Gotteserfahrung biblisch und patristisch,’ in IKZ 5 (1976) 500.
[22] J. Ratzinger, “The Anthropological Element in Theology,” Principles of Catholic Theology op. cit., 349-350.
[23] “To know reality is to have a correct representation of things – a correct picture within of outer reality, as it cam to be conceived. Descartes declares himself “certain that I can have no knowledge of what is outside me expect my means of the ideas I have within me” (Letter Gibieuf, 19 January 1642; Descartes: Philosophical Letters, Tran. Anthony Kenny [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970 {123}]… “bodies are not properly speaking known by the senses or oby the faculty of the imagination, but by the understanding only, and… they are not known from the fact that they are seen or touched, but only because they are understood;” Meditations IX -1 26.
[24] J. Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 Ignatius 107-109.
[25] J. Seifert, “Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) As Philosopher and the Cracow/Lublin School of Philosophy,” Aletheia, vo. II (1981) 132.
[26] Fides et Ratio #83.
[27] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, #88.
[28] Andre Frossard-John Paul II, Be Not Afraid, St. Martin’s Press (1984) 67.

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