Thursday, April 06, 2006

More on "Deus Charitas Est:" Eros Imaging Agape

"Deus Caritas Est as Fruit of Benedict XVI's Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council".

State of Affairs: Vatican II and John Paul II have not been understood nor assimilated by the Church:

“Initially, in speaking of the Pope's legacy, 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.”[1]

Josef Cardinal Ratzinger interviewed by Robert Moynihan:

The Challenge: Faith and Modernity

“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…


`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.”

Benedict XVI’s allusion to Dante and Aristotle:

In contrast to Aristotle whose prime mover is self thinking thought moving the universe by attraction, Benedict offers Dante’s experience of the “mind struck by lightning… by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”[2] The God of revelation, who is revealed as Άγάπη, creates έρος as image and likeness and moves it and the rest of creation with a personal love (#9).

The large burden of this encyclical is to help the Church exercise a “hermeneutic of continuity and reform” whereby the documents of Vatican II and the 14 encyclicals of John Paul II are understood and assimilated in the light of all the previous teaching of the Church, and at the same time to assimilate and “transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.”

Benedict does this by undertaking the task that he set for philosophy in 1967 when he wrote “Introduction to Christianity.” He then said: “Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: `In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ 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 he task imposed on philosophy 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.”[3]

The Task at Hand: How to bring about this “revolution in man’s view of the world” and to end “the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance.” Benedict has opted to confront the mental disfunctionality with regard to the Second Vatican Council which he has termed “the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.”[4] By this, he is referring to “a split between the preconciliar church and the postconciliar church.”[5] This split “asserts that the texts of the council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless.”[6] This split demands a return to the texts of the Council, but “because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the council’s deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.”[7]
The task then is to develop “a hermeneutic of continuity and reform.” Benedict says that the hermeneutic of continuity and reform “was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his speech inaugurating the council on Oct. 11, 1962, and later by Pope Paul VI in his discourse fort the council’s conclusion on Dec. 7, 1965.” John XXIII announced that the council wishes “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion. Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only withy antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us.” Benedict quoted that “It is necessary that `adherence to all the teaching of the church in its entirety and preciseness’ be presented in `faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another,’ retaining the same meaning and message.”[8]

The Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform: “Deus Charitas Est.”

The encyclical opens: “God is love, and he who aides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1Jn. 4, 16), gives us a new meaning of God and ourselves. It lifts God from the realm of static Object to dynamic Subject. Benedict has been at pains to explain, in the past and most recently, that Revelation is not a series of ideas – as Christianity is not a religion of the book - but the disclosure of a Person. In his autobiography, he said that “`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.” As a result, “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.”[9] Revelation is the Person of Christ. And the knowledge of that Person, whom we have seen as “pure relation to the Father,” is to become a like relation – a gift of self – whereby we would experience being Christ. In this way, we would know Him in a subjective experience rather than reducing Him to an objectified substance. In this way, we could engage in a hermeneutic of continuity and reform rather than the discontinuity concerning the meaning of words that has disconcerted many. In a word, the continuity and the reform have to take place on the level of the experience of Christ-as-Person (“I Am”) that one has been assimilated to.

John Paul II in his “Sources of Renewal” (Catechetics of Vatican II) for the diocese of Krakow spoke of the “Enrichment of Faith” as asking the question, “What does it mean to be a believer” rather than the question, “What about this or that truth of faith as an abstract concept.” He then divided the entire work into two sections: Attitude and Consciousness. “Attitude” is the self-transcendence of being gift of self; “Consciousness” is the noetic accompaniment of this experience which is the knowledge of self as another Christ. He then placed the core conciliar texts under these two headings (which, in passing, are taken from the Christian anthropology of Gaudium et Spes #24: “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 this true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”

On December 22, Benedict said as much: “It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived.”[10]

Άγάπη – Έρος

“New Thinking on this truth,” “new and vital relationship with it,” “informed understanding of the truth expressed,” “reflection on faith … requires that this faith be lived.”

Benedict begins his epistemological adventure starting with Scripture. God is revealed to be love in the sense of agape. To be nothing but relation – a Self that is nothing but gift - is totally mysterious to an epistemology that is grounded in sense experience from which abstract, objectifying thought is taken. The theological epistemology prior to the council worked in precisely that objectifying horizon and found itself uncomfortable with the terminology and logic of Vatican II. Also, the modern world in three critical areas, had moved beyond objectifying thinking and hence the terminology and logic that the faith had been couched in. Benedict offered three areas in which this epistemological discontinuity had to be confronted: the relationship between faith and modern science, natural (as in modern physics) and historical (as in critico-historical method); the relationship between the faith and the modern state (the success of the early United States as to religious freedom and separation of Church and State); the relation of the Christian faith and world religions (confronting the challenge of a global culture with subsidiarity).

Going back to what we saw at the beginning, “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?” Benedict’s answer: “the light of the faith has … the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights.” But the key is to recover the “I” and the intrinsic relationality of the “I” that modernity has seen and experienced but vitiated by subjectivism and relativism.

The line of thought of DCE is:

God is agape. Biblical faith gives an image of God - transcending Greek pagan thought as in Aristotle – as personal Creator and loving providence of all. He is offering the Church – now magisterially - what he said in 1967 concerning the meaning of “Person in the Trinity:” “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 `accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the `individual.’”[11]

Man is eros as image of Agape. Eros is man’s very nature. He is not “pure nature” who loves “accidentally” as a substance, but is intrinsically relational as imaging Agape. This is also new, not only for secularized thought[12], but for the scholastic theology/philosophy prior to Vatican II.[13] Rather, eros images agape as spousal desire. Benedict alludes to the anthropology of work and crossing the threshold into the “original solitude” which God saw as “not good” since Adam was made in the image of the “We” of the Creator. Recreated as male and female, “eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (11).

· Jesus Christ reveals Agape in the flesh. This harkens back to Gaudium et Spes #22 which states that “Christ the new Adam in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself.” Christ is not an exception[14] to man (as the divine would be to a “pure” rational substance) but the prototype. Since there is only one Person in Christ, the divine Logos, and we have been grafted into Him sacramentally to be, do and feel as He, His self-gift to death is the revelation of the meaning of ourselves as eros. Benedict explains that the nature of agape is the nature of eros, and that if Agape is self-gift as “that turning of God against himself,” so also eros. The pope uses the term “self-gift” three times in a very short #13, and explicitly states: “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” This is the purification and maturation of eros by Agape in that “The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood.”

· #16: The Epistemological Question “can we love God without seeing him? And the Anthropological Question, “can love be commanded” raises the anthropological question concerning the structure of the human person as subject: “I.” The whole of the binomial of Agape-eros is to locate us in a different epistemological horizon from sense experience (although it starts in sense experience). He is presenting – without apologetic – the experience of being a person as imaging the divine Persons as pure Relations. It is the inner dynamics of becoming a person as subject, an “I,” in a way different from being an object. It is therefore a different way of knowing. It is experiencing being the other within oneself, and therefore knowing “from the inside.”

a) Benedict challenges: “No one has ever seen God, so how could we love him? Moreover, love cannot be commanded…” He responds that God is made visible in Jesus Christ and we experience Him through “men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist.” The result of the affirmation by Christ produces joy: ultimately, the “Good News.” We see God by the joy we experience in accepting ourselves, and this because we have been affirmed.[15]
Once we are affirmed and have an identity, then we are in a position to master self in order to take possession of self. That done, we are then in a position to make the gift of self, whereby the undifferentiated tendency of eros is directed to the Father as another Christ. By experiencing self-gift in me, I experience within myself who Jesus Christ is, and I am able to say: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 15). That being so, the command to love is not an extrinsic imposition on me as “pure nature” but a call to be my very self as image of Agape.[16] I am now in a position to love not with my heart only, but with Christ’s. “Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that , in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know” (#18). I now look at people from the perspective of Jesus Christ. “I can give them the look of love which they crave.”

[1] Benedict XVI's Interview on Polish Television John Paul II: "He is Always Close to Me," Vatican City, Oct. 16, 2005
[2] Paradiso – Canto XXXIII
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 132.
[4] Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Papal Address to the Roman Curia Dec. 22, 2005; Origins, January 26, 2006 Vol 36, No. 32, 536.
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Benedict XVI, Interpreting Vatican II… op. cit.
[9] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977” Ignatius (1998) 108.
[10] Origins, January 26, 2006, op. cit. 537
[11] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” op. cit. 132.
[12] From Descartes on, the human person is a dualism of “I” as pure consciousness and not being; the body is “thing” as machine. There is no ontological unity of the person as enfleshed spirit and no intrinsic tendency as eros. It is a rationalism in which there is no experience of the enfleshed “I” which is then replaced by consciousness. Being evaporates into thought and empirical sensation the whole of which becomes empirical positivism.
[13]A rationalist corruption in scholastic philosophy and theology took place ostensibly from Cajetan and Baius/Jansenius onward. The corruption was a dumbing down of the intrinsic tendency of the being of man to the direct vision of God that was ever present in St. Augustine and St. Thomas and all the great mediaeval theologians. It seems that the being of nature was reduced to tending toward a purely natural end– not supernatural - so as to save the gratuitousness of divine grace. The imaging of God took place by the presence of substantial attributes - intelligence and free will - in the created person. Grace was superadded as a second ontological tier made supernatural acts, ultimate among them the vision of God, possible. Baius and Jansenius on the one hand with regard to Augustine; Cajetan, Bañez, Ferrara down to Gardeil, Garrigou-Langrange, Boyer, Descoqs, etc. with regard to St. Thomas. See de Lubac’s “Augustinianism and Modern Theology,” Herder and Herder (1968) and “The Mystery of the Supernatural,” Herder and Herder (1967).
[14] “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;” “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 449.
[15] Benedict explains the theological anthropology of joy: “the root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot a thou.
“Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable t us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist;” “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[16] “`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’ [eros]. Basil speaks in terms of `the spark of divine love which has been hidden in us [eros],’ 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 [eros], 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 [eros]. 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 [eros imaging Agape] 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 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…”Conscience and Truth,” The Pope John Center Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop Dallas, Texas (1991) 19-22.

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