Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The "Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform" of "Deus Caritas Est"

The Challenge:

“Here is the problem: 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 us call it epochal struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”

You use the phrase `epochal struggle’… I said…

“Yes.”

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

`Yes, certainly…’

“And it seems to me,” he continued, `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 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” ("The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI: "Let God's Light Shine Forth" - Interview of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger by Robert Moynihan. Doubleday [2005] 34-35)


* * * * * * * *

Précis of Response:

The response to this epochal struggle is to pass from knowledge as an objectifying process to a knowledge of the subject as subject, i.e. as “I,” where being is revealed to be intrinsically relational, as well as experienced to be so above all in spousal love. This knowledge of the subject as “I” is then applied to “the three circles of questions” that had formed at the time of the Second Vatican Council and had to be answered. “First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined… Second it was necessary to give a new definition t the relationship between the Church and the modern state… Third… the problem of religious tolerance – a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions.”

The answers to the “three circles” are all the same: the “I” as self-gift. The answer to the first is: “reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational… Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason.”
[1] This is because the food of reason is being, and faith – the act of the “I” as gift to the revealing Christ – is the act that transfigures the being of the “I” believing, and offering it to reason so that it can be itself. The answer to the second, in Benedict’s “Interpreting Vatican II" on December 22, is precisely the United States. “People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern state that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.” The answer to the third is: “The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church” (Lumen Gentium #8). The Catholic Church is not an object as a structure, but a Subject, Christ Himself. The Church is not the Whole Christ, because she is not the Head, but the Body of the Subject. She is “the space into which this new subject [the believer who makes the gift of self to death in the sacrament of faith that is Baptism] can move.”[2] Ratzinger affirms that “the Church is in no wise a separate subject endowed with its own subsistence. 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. It is an application[3] of the same Christological singular found in the Letter to the Galatians.”

The reason for "Deus Caritas Est" is to help the Church become itself by gaining entry into the “I” of Christ by assimilating sensual eros into self-giving agape and experiencing being Christ and achieving the consciousness that accrues to that experience so as to answer these “three circles of questions.” This is the “hermeneutic of continuity and reform” that Benedict likens to the work of St. Thomas Aquinas “who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time.”

* * * * * * * * * *

This is not an encyclical on love or charity as we usually understand it. It is an encyclical designed to give the interpretive key to understand the texts and assimilate the meaning of the Second Vatican Council. That key is the meaning of “person” as subject that is intrinsically and constitutively relational. It attempts to do this by challenging the reader to integrate the total striving of his persona as enfleshed spirit into the total gift of self to God and to men. Eros is to be assimilated into agape.

That done, on December 22, 2005, Benedict had addressed the Roman curia with the question: “Why has the implementation of the council in large parts of the church thus far been so difficult?” And he answers: “Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutic, the correct key to its interpretation and application.” He explains: “The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.”

The Hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture: this interpretation “risks ending in a split between the preconciliar church and the postconciliar church.” This split is caused by accepting only one way of experiencing reality: sense experience and abstract concepts. Instead of seeing the Church as a living Subject, the “I” of the Whole Christ, Head (Bridegroom) and Body (Bride: Church), it views the Church as a structure. Ratzinger offer the scriptural image of the Church arming itself with organizational structures as David was dressed in the armor of Saul to do battle with Goliath. He found himself to be impeded and had to strip to loin cloth and sling shot and empowered by the Lord. Likewise, Ratzinger said the only thing the Church needs is what the Lord gave her: the sacraments of Baptism and Orders together with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The rush to embed the laity in “ministries” today is one of the most egregious examples.
The Hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture: this interpretation "risks ending in a split between the preconciliar church and the postconciliar church." This split is caused by accepting only one way of experiencing reality: sense experience and abstract concepts. Instead of seeng the Church as a livng Subject, the "I" of the Whole Christ, Head (Bridegroom) and Body (Bride: Church [Our Lady]), it views the Church as a structure. Ratzinger offers the scriptural image of the Church amring itself with organizational structures in the same vein as Saul dressed David in his armor to do battle with Goliath. David found himself to be impeded and had to strip to loin cloth, sling shot and the power of the Lord. Likewise, Ratzinger insists that the Church needs only what the Lord gave her: the sacraments, particularly Baptism and Orders dynamized with the self-gift of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The epistemological root of this hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture is the demand to reduce all knowing to concepts and structures corresponding to those concepts. For example, Christopher Ferrara of Latin Mass magazine, writes, “In the decades following the Council, the Church has been overtaken by a cloud of neologisms lacking any of the the classical precision of Catholic doctrine: `ecumenisms,’ `ecumenical venture,’ `dialogue,’ `ecumenical dialogue,’ `dialogue with the world,’ `interreligious dialogue,’ `collegiality,’ `partial communion,’ `imperfect communion,’ `reconciled diversity,’ `the Church of the new Advent,’ `the new springtime of Vatican II,’ `the new Pentecost,’ `the new Evangelization,’ `the civilization of love,’ `the purification of memory,’ `solidarity,’ `the globalization of solidarity,’ `the Spirit of Assisi’…" Ferrara goes on: "As dramatic as the claim may seem, our forty years of experience with the effects of `ecumenism'and `dialogue' demonstrate that the introduction of these pseudo concepts into Catholic thinking was nothing short of a diabolical strategem to confuse, divide and wreak havoc upon the human element of the Church without the Church ever having imposed upon the faithful an actual doctrinal error, which of course is impossible. Quite the contrary: the pseudo-concepts in question cannot be called doctrinal errors as such because they are not reducible to a proposition whose words would signify the formal contradiction of a Catholic teaching. Indeed, the terms `ecumenism' and `dialogue' contain nothing heterodox in themselves; like actual viruses, these terms remain theologically inert until they come into contact with something they can infect. Hence when neo-Catholics say that traditionalists `dissent' from `ecumenism,' for example, they are unable to articulate precisely what it is about this notion that requres our assent. That is because `ecumenism' has no real doctrinal content" (Christopher A. Ferrara, Latin Mass Summer 2004, 12).


The encyclical, then, is laying the groundwork for a lived change of attitude and consciousness with regard to the whole of reality. It is at work to provoke the exercise of an experience beyond the sensible, that eros become agape, and develop a consciousness that is in continuity with the Church of always. "It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters -for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that expres the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within. On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change... For example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus striipped of its true meaning. Consequently it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of theinner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

"It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

"The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern state with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt. 22, 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time" (Benedict XVI, "Interpreting Vatican II," Dec. 22, 2005).

Benedict XVI is offering the human experience of love in the broad spectrum from sensual striving for self-gratification to self-gift to death for the other as the way to enter the horizon of the subject without jettisoning the object. He focuses our attention on love not merely as an action one does or performs as “substance-standing-in-itself” performing accidental activities. Rather, he focuses on “love” as the ontological content – the very “stuff” - of the divine Persons, Jesus Christ and, therefore, the human person. In the example of religious freedom above, it is because of the freedom of the "I" to determine self that religion must not be imposed by the state. It is not because there is no truth or that relativism reigns, but the person has the obligation to pursue the truth, and finding it, to impose it on himself. This is the first inalienable right found in Christian anthropology.

In a word, the encyclical has swung the camera from the horizon of objects grounded in the experience of the senses and characterized by abstract thought, to the horizon of the subject where love is not merely what one does, but what one partially experiences self to be: self gift.

The experience of Jesus Christ in a living act of faith is the entrance to this epistemological horizon since as Person, He is both divine and human. Jesus Christ is both the meaning of subject, “I,” and the revelation of its dynamic as pure relation to the Father. To be an “I” means to be a dynamic of being “for” the other. There is no such thing as an “I” that is alone and in self. Benedict is trying to set the stage and describe the experience – which is love as self-gift (agape) – whereby we can finally enter into the depths of Vatican II and the teachings of John Paul II. This was his stated purpose as pope on April 20 when he said, first with regard to Vatican II: “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… 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.”;[4] and then with regard to Ecumenism: “Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome… the current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty. He is aware that to do so, expressions of good feelings are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism.”[5]

Benedict went to pains to explain the inadequate state of scholastic theology prior to Vatican II in its treatment of Jesus Christ as an “exception” to the human person. Christ had been understood from the side of the Trinity, “from above” as it were, while man was to be understood from the side of substantial animality “from below,” a substantial-in-itself endowed with reason and free will. Vatican II made a correction to this by asserting that Jesus Christ “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”[6] In his treatment of the “person in theology,” he remarked that “In Antiquity philosophy was limited entirely to the level of essence. Scholastic theology developed categories of existence out of this contribution given by Christian faith to the human mind. Its defect was that it limited these categories to Christology and to the doctrine of the Trinity and did not make them fruitful in the whole extent of spiritual reality…. The contribution of Christian faith to the whole of human thought is not realized; it remains at first detached from it as a theological exception, although it precisely the meaning of this new element to call into question the whole of human thought and to set it on a new course.
“This brings us to the second misunderstanding that has not allowed the effects of Christology to work themselves out fully. The second great misunderstanding is to see Christ as the simply unique ontological exception which must be treated as such. This exception is an object of highly interesting ontological speculation, but it must remain separate in its box as an exception to the rule and must not be permitted to mix with the rest of human thought…”[7]

Epistemological Liberation

The fundamental correction that had to be made to liberate Christian revelation from the epistemological box in which it had been placed was to apply the meaning of Jesus Christ as Person to man as person. That box, of course, is the first order experience on the level of sensation and concept formation. The entire gamut of reality had been restricted to that limit, which Cardinal Ratzinger called the “Dictatorship of Relativism” and graphically portrayed as the lion that had pounced and partially devoured the lamb in the 1158 bas-relief of the Apulian town of Troy. He remarked, “The lion – does it not embody the historical attempt of theology to dominate faith? Does it not embody that violentia rationis – that despotic and brutal reason that Bonaventure would castigate a century later as distortion of theological thinking?”[8]

But, how do we escape from the “box?” Ratzinger offers the theologically elaborated meaning of person in the Trinity in metaphysical terms that would enable translation to the meaning of the human person. I would suggest this as the core insight for the reader of his “Introduction to Christianity.” In objective terms, he describes the ontological “I” of the First Person of the Trinity whose very name is relational: “Father:” He remarks: “the `three person’ who exist in God … are not substances … but the relatedness whose pure actuality (`parcel of waves’!) does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: `He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God. Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. `Father’ is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being-for the other is he Father; in his own being-in-himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.”[9] And then, more explicitly: “this means that the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving, `wave’ not `corpuscle’… In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the `accident’s,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the `individual.’”

What Ratzinger is saying here and will suggest in other works more explicitly as the real entrance into theology and catechism is the life of prayer and catechumenate as the act of giving the self being the true likeness to the object-now-subject-to-be-known. John Paul II had done this with his thesis on “Faith According to St. John of the Cross” where he found the dark night of the soul to be the absence of conceptual thought, and the proportionate medium of likeness for there to be knowledge was the very self that had gone out of itself to be relation. In a word, here is where Ratzinger and Wojtyla were one and the same on “crossing the threshold of love” into the horizon of the “I.” The key is: if the object to be known is a subject, and knowing is the identity between knower and known, then in order to know an “I,” one must become “I” as the other is “I.” There are no mediums of likeness to the subject “I” that is not an object – which is inadequate. If God is relation as self-gift, then one must become self-gift to “understand” (intellegere= ab intus legere) as reading the other “I” from within one’s own “I.”

Hence, Ratzinger is calling for a “revolution” in thought in order to adequately deal with Christian revelation that is not simply objectified thought as categories from below (sensible experience), but the experience of self-transcendence to be an adequate likeness to the “I” of Jesus Christ that is Revelation. Anything less than that is not false but inadequate, yet highly vulnerable to falsification. He said: “Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on pohilosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable.”[10]

This is no passing observation. In a later lecture, he remarks, “Something methodologically decisive for all human thinking becomes visible here. The seeming exception [Jesus Christ] is in reality very often the symptom that shows us the insufficiency of our previous schema of order, which helps us to break open this schema and to conquer a new realm of reality. The exception shows us that we have built our closets too small, as it were, and that we must break them open and go on in order to sees the whole.

“This is the meaning of Christology from its origin: what is disclosed in Christ, whom faith certainly presents as unique, is not only a speculative exception; what is disclosed in truth is what the riddle of the human person really intends. Scripture expresses this point by calling Christ the last Adam or `the second Adam.’ It thereby characterizes him as the true fulfillment of the idea of the human person, in which the direction of meaning of this being comes fully to light fort the first time. If it is true, however, that Christ is not the ontological exception, if from his exceptional position he is, on the contrary, the fulfillment of the entire human being, then the Christological concept of person is an indication for theology of how person is to be understood as such.”[11]

The Impact of Trinitarian Theology on Christology

Action of Christ: From there, Ratzinger takes the reader of “Introduction to Christianity” through the Christology in which person is not a substance Who acts, but a being whose very to be is to-be-“for” the Other. Among other things, he says: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an `I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be `off duty;’ here there is no `I’ separate from the work; the `I’ is the work and the work is the `I.’”[12]
Word of Christ: In like manner, with regard to the speech of Jesus who is the Logos of the Father, Ratzinger says, “ Inasmuch as Christian faith leads us away from all mere ideas, from any independent body of teaching, to the `I’ of Jesus, it leads towards an `I’ which is complete openness, all `Word,’ all `Son.’ We had also already considered the fact that the concepts `word’ and `son’ are intended to convey the dynamic character of this existence, its pure `actualitas.’ Word never stands on its own; it comes from someone, is there g to be heard, and is therefore meant for others. It can only subsist in this totality of `from’ and `for.’ We could accordingly summarize the whole in the formula, `Christian faith is not related to ideas but to a person, an `I,’ and to one that is defined as `word’ and `son,’ that is, as `total openness’.”[13]

The Impact of Christology on Anthropology

Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes #22, applied the above to anthropology in #24: “Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, 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. It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only a sincere giving of himself.”
What we have here is applied Christology. Where Christ is His word, the human person must master self in order to get possession of self to, in turn, be able to govern self and to, again in turn, be able to make the gift of self. And this always presupposing the absolute need to be affirmed as engendered by God which is divine love, human love and affirmation. Man is both a substantial and relational being in equal parts because as we saw Josef Ratzinger say above, “relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality.”
As a result, the human person becomes what he does. If he makes the gift of self, he becomes ever more the Christ who is total self-gift to the Father. At a previous moment, I wrote the following:
“The dynamic seems to be mutual interaction of structure and relation in the simultaneous moment of self-determination. The more he receives, the more he is himself. The more he is himself, the more he is able to give, the greater the outreach and depth of the relation. Again, the more I relate the more I become myself; the more I become myself, the more I relate. First agere precedes esse, then esse precedes agere. This is the free moral moment of `personagenesis.’ The whole process must begin with a minimum self[14] who chooses this act in behalf of another person. But to chose this act, I am co-creating – letting the Divine Motion actualize through me and in me – a more definite, determined, actualized `Me.’ I most literally achieve myself, determine, fulfill, actualize, `substantialize’ myself at the precise moment that I transcend myself (relate) and give myself away to another in act. I become what I do. Esse sequitur agere. Then, I do what I have become. And, besides, the moral correctness of the act – if done true-to-being – translates into joy, because it is an `ek-stasis’ of the self which is what it means to be in the image of the Trinitarian Persons. The free process of transcending relation is so ontologically profound that, as it takes place, the `to be’ (esse) coalesces into an ever increasingly substantial structure. This structure, the more developed `I,’ now a-growing, in turn self-determines in ever more extensive and profound choices of self-gift. The result is an ever increasing relationality and intrinsic existence, the asymptote of which, in the order of grace, is to be `alter Christus.
“This coincides with the notion that man as person is an `unfinished being’ who is his own project. Of course, there must be some minimum of substantiality given with the creation of man, because every relation of love (and creation is an immense act of love) coalesces into some ontological structure. `The dynamic structure of self-determination tells man every time anew that he is simultaneously given to himself as a gift and imposed upon himself as a task… as someone who is an assignment to himself.’ Ratzinger sums up this dynamic as exemplified in John Henry Newman: `All of Newman’s life was a process of conversion; he “transformed” himself often, and in this way remained always himself while becoming ever more himself.”[15]/[16]

The Encyclical: Eros Becomes Agape: Person as Relation

Pre-Christian, or extra-Christian eros which is sensible desire for self must become the Christological total gift of the whole person as enfleshed spirit, agape. In the encyclical, Benedict says, “Eros, reduced to pure `sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere `thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great `yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere” (5).
The point of the encyclical is to put forward the notion of the human person as a single thrust tending to the self-gift of agape that assimilates eros. It says, “eros and agape – ascending love and descending love – can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the greats promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to`be there for’ the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift” (7).

The Challenge: Interpreting Vatican II’s Three Circles of Questions

“Deus Caritas Est” is the groundwork to be able to help assimilate the teachings of Vatican II. On December 22, 2005, Benedict addressed the Roman Curia saying: “(Vatican Council II), with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.”
There have been two different interpretations of Vatican II: “the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and “the hermeneutic of reform.” Benedict begins the encyclical speaking of the problem of language.

Lacking time to develop this at length, I go back to the “précis” and insert it here in its truncated form. Then, I offer elements of Ratzinger’s theological formation with the intention of developing how the “I – gift” is the hermeneutic key to interpreting Vatican II with continuity (the Church as the “I” of Christ in development) and true reform:

a) Benedict’s theological formation:

Sources of Insight (“I” as Being-In-Relation) in Benedict XVI

The overriding insight that Benedict carries within him is his initial formation in Theology that is semantically expressed in the autobiography “Milestones.”[17] It begins with his exposure to the meaning of conscience in John Henry Newman,[18] carries through Steinbuchel’s “The Revolution of Thought” where he is introduced to the demise of mechanism and introduced to the new epistemological stance of relativity (Einstein) and quantum mechanics (Bohr and Heisenberg). From there, he was formed in the thought of Romano Guardini through F.W. Maier who taught New Testament exegesis. Ratzinger remarks, “I listened to and assimilated all of Maier’s lectures with the greatest attention. Exegesis has always remained for me the center of my theological work. Maier is to be thanked for the fact that, for us, Sacred Scripture was `the soul of our theological studies,’ as the Second Vatican Council would later require. Even if I gradually became more aware of the weaknesses in Maier’s approach… still, everything I heard from him and learned by way of method remains fundamental to me.”[19] Guardini taught him The Church as awakening liturgical act, i.e., liturgy as living faith in the living enfleshed “I Am” of Jesus Christ. The Person of Christ is the Revelation behind Scripture. There in that the liturgical act that is prayer one finds the consciousness of being Christ and the reflection on that consciousness that was theology. “All of lived with a feeling of radical change that had already arisen in the 1920s, the sense of a theology that had the courage to ask new questions and a spirituality that was doing away with what was dusty and obsolete and leading to a new joy in the redemption. Dogma was conceived, not as an external shackle, but as the living source that made knowledge of the truth possible in the first place. The Church came to life for us above all in the liturgy and in the great richness of the theological tradition.”[20]

G. Soehngen was a philosopher doing theology who next introduced Ratzinger to patristics, especially Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, Thomas, and then Luther, Pascal and Newman. He comments on Soehngen – and this had a huge influence on Ratzinger - that “he was never satisfied in theology with the sort of positivism that could usually be detected in other subjects. Rather, he always asked the question concerning the truth of the matter and hence the question concerning the immediate reality of what is believed.”[21] Ratzinger inherited the metaphysical temper that characterizes all his theological insights that revolve around the person as subject.
Now, at the level of the habilitation thesis to become a university professor, he passed to the hands of Michael Schmaus, where his work (no thanks to Schmaus) coalesced into the Bonaventurian insight[22] that where the self is not given, no Revelation takes place since the self, the “I,” is the site of the experience of the Person of Christ Who is the Revelation of the Father. He affirmed, “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 is 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…”[23]

b) This knowledge of the subject as “I” is then applied to “the three circles of questions” that had formed at the time of the Second Vatican Council and had to be answered. “First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined… Second it was necessary to give a new definition t the relationship between the Church and the modern state… Third… the problem of religious tolerance – a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions.”

The answers to the “three circles” are all the same: the “I” as self-gift. The answer to the first is: “reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational… Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason.”[24] This is because the food of reason is being, and faith – the act of the “I” as gift to the revealing Christ – is the act that transfigures the being of the “I” believing, and offering it to reason so that it can be itself. The answer to the second, in Benedict’s “Interpreting Vatican II on December 22, is precisely the United States. “People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern state that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.” The answer to the third is: “The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church” (Lumen Gentium #8). The Catholic Church is not an object as a structure, but a Subject, Christ Himself. The Church is not the Whole Christ, because she is not the Head, but the Body of the Subject. She is “the space into which this new subject [the believer who makes the gift of self to death in the sacrament of faith that is Baptism] can move.”[25] Ratzinger affirms that “the Church is in no wise a separate subject endowed with its own subsistence. 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. It is an application[26] of the same Christological singular found in the Letter to the Galatians.”

The reason for "Deus Caritas Est" is to help the Church become itself by gaining entry into the “I” of Christ by assimilating sensual eros into self-giving agape and experiencing being Christ and achieving the consciousness that accrues to that experience so as to answer these “three circles of questions.” This is the “hermeneutic of continuity and reform” that Benedict likens to the work of St. Thomas Aquinas “who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time.”




[1] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1988) 218.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” The Natuare and Mission of Theology, Ignatius (1995) 51-52.
[3] Ibid. 54.
[4] First Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI At the End of the Eucharistic Concelebration with the Members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, Wed. 20 April 2005.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Gaudium et Spes, #22.
[7] “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 449.
[8] J. Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth, Ignatius (1992) 202-203.
[9] J. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity Ignatius (1990) 131.
[10] Ibid. 132.
[11] “Concerning the Notion of Person… op. cit. 450.
[12] J. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity… op. cit. 149.
[13] Ibid. 155.
[14] “Having come substantially into existence, man changes one way or another with al his actions and with al that happens in him: both these forms of the dynamism proper to hm make something of him and at the same time they, so to speak, make somebody of him;” K. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, 96-97.
[15] 30 Days July-August, 1990, 59.
[16] R. Connor, “The Person as Resonating Existential,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. Vol LXVI, No. 1, 47-48.
[17] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones, Memoirs 1927-1977,” Ignatius (1997).
[18] See Ratzinger’s “Conscience and Truth” in Proceedings of The tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center 1991) 7-27.
[19]“Milestones…” Op. cit. 52-53.
[20] Milestones… op. cit. 57.
[21] Ibid. 56.
[22] “From this perspective, we can now understand in a new way why Bonaventure holds that the content of faith is found not in the letter of Scripture but in the spiritual meaning lying behind the letter. Furthermore, we can see why it is that for Bonaventure, Scripture simply as a written document, does not constitute revelation whereas the understanding of Scripture which arises in theology can be called revelation at least indirectly. We can easily understand this in view of the process of revelation itself; for in this process, `revelation’ is understood to consist in the understanding of the spiritual sense…. Here we gain a new insight into the identification of sacra scriptura and theologia. Only Scripture as it is understood n faith is truly holy Scripture. Consequently, Scripture in the full sense is theology, i.e. it the book and the understanding of the book in the faith of the church. On the other hand, theology can be called Scripture, for it is nothing other than the understanding of Scripture; this understanding, which is theology, brings Scripture to that full fruitfulness which corresponds to its nature as revelation;” The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, Franciscan Herald Press (1989) 66-67.
[23] Ibid. 108-109.
[24] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1988) 218.
[25] J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” The Nature and Mission of Theology, Ignatius (1995) 51-52.
[26] Ibid. 54.