Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lent 2006: The Mind of Benedict XVI

“He who does not give God gives too little:” Mother Teresa

Agape is given to Eros

The best presentation of the eros/agape relation, to my mind, is the following text of Benedict XVI given to a Workshop of Bishops in Texas in 1990: It speaks to the huge problem – unsolved for centuries – of the relation of grace and nature; or, better, whether the human person is a “pure nature” with a natural end whereupon grace is “added” to that “pure nature” to “raise” it to the supernatural order and a supernatural end. The entire presentation of the Second Vatican Council responds to this question that man is made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore is not a pure nature, but rather is a “person” ontologically constituted “image” God and therefore destined for union with God. The person cannot activate that image without the Love of God that is called “grace” and become “like” God. Hence, the human person, as image, is the meaning of “eros” with a tendency to the divine fulfillment of seeing God in the Face, but totally incapable of achieving that fulfillment without the gift of Agape to make him/her “like” God.

Benedict XVI took his lead from St. Basil who said: “`The love of God is not founded on a discipline imposed on us from outside, but is constitutively established in us as the capacity and necessity of our rational nature.’ Basil speaks in terms of `the spark of divine love which has been hidden in us,’ the expression which was to become important in medieval mysticism. In the spirit of Johannine theology Basil knows that love consists in keeping the commandments. For this reason, the spark of love, which has been put into us by the Creator, means this: `We have received interiorly beforehand the capacity and disposition for observing all divine commandments… These are not something imposed from without.’ Referring everything back to its simple core, Augustine adds: `We could never judge that one thing is better than another, if a basic understanding of the good had not already been instilled in us’” (bold mine).

Benedict comments: “This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.

“The possibility for and right to mission rest on this anamnesis of the Creator which is identical to the ground of our existence. The gospel may, indeed, must be proclaimed to the pagans because they themselves are yearning for it in the hidden recesses of their souls (cf. Isaiah 42, 4). [This is the meaning of eros]. Mission is vindicated then when those addressed recognize in the encounter with the word of the gospel that this indeed is what they have been waiting for. In this sense, Paul can say: the gentiles are a law to themselves – not in the sense of the modern liberal notions of autonomy which preclude transcendence of the subject, but in the much deeper sense that nothing belongs less to me than I myself. My own I is the site of the profoundest surpassing of self and contact with him from whom I came and toward whom I am going….

“Accordingly, everything which does not come from the subject is thought to be externally imposed. But the situation is really quite different according to the anthropology of conscience [i.e. the anthropology of eros] which we have tried to come to an appreciation of in these reflections. The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself [This “assistance” is Agape]. But this `from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but ordered to it. It has maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign, but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to the truth…
(inserts, bold and underline mine).

“The true sense of the teaching authority of the pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The pope does not impose from without. Rather he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast[1] [of John Henry Newman] to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded, and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation as well as oby the pressures of social and cultural conformity.”[2]



Faith as self-in-motion toward the Other: Eros: We must be in motion. We must be in relation toward another. We cannot be in isolation. We must be on pilgrimage. Our fulfillment is always in relation to another. No one becomes a Christian in isolation. No one becomes a Christian by reading a book. One becomes a Christian only by hearing and obeying. “A word… is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence.”[3] In fact, as then-Fr. Josef Ratzinger once (1969) said: “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 well worthwhile.”[4] However, in faith, it is God who acts as Word (speech), and man who is active as listening

Christianity is not Asiatic mysticism –“in itselfness”- that can be categorized as “an attitude that does not tolerate any other element superior to itself.”[5] In Asiatic mysticism, it is man who acts, not God precisely because man is fused with God. “What is characteristic for this mysticism is the experience of identity: the `mystic’ sinks down into the ocean of the all-one, irrespective of whether this is portrayed, with emphatic theologia negativa, as `nothingness’ or, in a positive sense, as `everything.’ In the final stage of such an experience, the `mystic’ will no longer be able to say to his God, `I am Yours;’ the expression he uses is `I am You.’”[6]

Insufficiency of self: “To be a Christian… means first and foremost that we acknowledge our own insufficiency and allow him – the Other who is God – to act in us…. (T)he sin of Adam was really not his wanting to be like God; this, after all, is the call the Creator himself has given to human beings. Adam’s failure was to have chosen the wrong way of seeking likeness to God and to have excogitated for himself a very shabby idea of God. Adam imagined that he would be like God if he could subsist solely by his own power and could be self-sufficient in giving life to himself as he saw fit. In reality, such a mistaken quest of an imagined divination leads to self-destruction, for even God himself, as the Christian faith teaches us, does not exist in isolated self-sufficiency but is fully divine only as infinitely needing and receiving in a dialogue of love and as giving himself freely and without limit. Human beings become like God only when they enter into this same movement; when they stop trying ot create themselves and, instead, allow God to create them.”[7]

Notice that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel compare very badly as great religious figures with the religious personalities of Asia. “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, with all their wiles and tricks, with their ill-temper and their inclination to violence, seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucius, or Lao-tzu, but even such great prophetic characters as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not entirely persuasive in such a comparison.”[8]

We need “development:” (including the Asiatic mystics). Therefore, we must leave the flesh pots of our self-sufficiency. By absolutizing ourselves in our self-sufficiency, we have rendered everything relative: a “Dictatorship of relativism.[9]” Signs of this grave error are: drugs and terrorism.

Drugs: “are the result of despair in a world experienced as a dungeon of facts, in which man cannot hold out for long… (T)he core is a protest against a reality perceived as a prison. The `great journey’ that men attempt in drugs is the perversion of mysticism, the perversion of the human need for infinity, the rejection of the impossibility of transcending immanence, and the attempt to extend the limits of one’s own existence into the infinite. The patient and humble adventure of asceticism, which, in small steps of ascent, comes closer to the descending God, is replaced by magical power, the magical key of drugs – the ethical and religious path is replaced by technology. Drugs are the pseudo-mysticism of a world that does not believe yet cannot get rid of the soul’s yearning for paradise. Thus, drugs are a warning sign that points to [something] very profound: not only do they disclose a vacuum in our society, which that society’s own instruments cannot fill, but they also point to an inner claim of man’ nature, a claim that asserts itself in a perverted form if it does not find the correct answer.”[10]

Terrorism: “a protest against the world as it is and the desire for a better world.” It is a “messianic expectation transposed into political fanaticism. Faith in life after death had broken down, or at least had become irrelevant, but the criterion of heavenly expectation was not abandoned: rather, it was not applied to the present world. God is not longer seen as one who genuinely acts, but the fulfillment of his promises was demanded” – however, now from ourselves. “Disgust at the intellectual and spiritual emptiness of our society, yearning for what is completely different, the claim to unconditional salvation without restrictions and without limits – this is,, so to speak the religious component in the phenomenon of terrorism, which gives it the impetus of a passion focused on a totality, its uncompromising character and the claim to be idealistic. All this becomes so dangerous because of the decisively earthly character of the messianic hope: something unconditional is demanded of what is conditional, something infinite is demanded of what is finite. This inherent contradiction indicates the real tragedy of this phenomenon in which man’s great vocation becomes the instrument of the great lie.”[11]



“Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity” (Mt. 9, 36).

The Goal of Lent 2006: To Give Agape to Eros.

In the Lenten letter for 2006, Benedict took from the John Paul II the insight: “There is a `divine limit imposed upon evil,’ namely, mercy.”

Therefore, for Lent, “the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of humankind and people does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions.

“Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the question of humanity…

“Even in this era of global interdependence, it is clear that no economic social or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed.

“Those who act according to the logic of the Gospel live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and, like him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbors.

“They see it as an inexhaustible mystery, worthy of infinite care and attention. They know that he who does not give God gives too little; as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta frequently observed, the worst poverty is not to know Christ.

“Therefore, we must help others to find God in the merciful factof Christ. Without this perspective, civilization lacks a solid foundation.”

[1] In his letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman remarked: “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into afterdinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, - still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”
[2] J. Ratznger, Keynote Address: “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center (1991) 19-22.
[3] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor,” #88.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1971) 50.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,” Ignatius (2004) 32.
[6] Ibid. 33.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 25.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance,’ op. cit. 41.
[9] J. Ratzinger, Homily at the Mass, the morning of the Conclave (April 19, 2005) that rendered him pope.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe?” Ignatius (1994) 20.
[11] Ibid. 21-22.

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