Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lepanto Redux

The First Lepanto: 1571 A.D.

Two Culture Wars

1) the secularization of the “Res Publica Christiana,” a single society ruled jointly by mitre and sword (Pope and Emperor) that morphed into the nation-states in the 14-15th centuries; 2) Christendom and Islamic Fundamentalism.

History Leading up to the confrontation of the Islamic Ottoman Empire with the Holy Roman Empire, there was a breakdown in Christian life – a lived faith – certainly beginning in the split between East and West in 1054. Taking into account the lag time for consciousness to follow experience, the high medieval period of the great theologians, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, reached its peak of the union of faith and reason in the 13th century. It then began to decline through Duns Scotus (as observed in Benedict’s Regensburg reference to his voluntarism being above intelligibility) into Occam’s[1] Nominalism (with its similar understanding of God’s a-metaphysical transcendence[2]) that was the severe decay of scholasticism. As evidenced below in footnotes 1 and 2, Nominalism of Occam evidenced the same irrationalism and fundamentalism as Islam. This then segued into modern Enlightenment rationalism as it had vitiated the positive aspects of the Protestant Reform. That rationalism that accompanied the loss of living faith in European culture in the 14the and 15th centuries and clashed with an aggressive Islam is symmetrical with our situation today

To our dismay, both the Reform and the Counter-Reform[3] beginning with the Council of Trent (1545) deployed this scholastic philosophy of William of Occam. It was not until the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II and Benedict XVI that the Church has deployed an epistemology (the metaphysics of the subject as a rational account of the Being as the acting (believing) “I”).

The Mission of Benedict XVI

As Benedict remarked on Polish Television in October 2005: “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.”[4]

Returning to the historical antecedents, with the victory over the Greco-Christian Constantinople in 1453 by the Turks, the breakdown or the Holy Roman Empire into the nation-states (Italy-Spain-France-etc. etc.), Moscow declaring itself to be the third Rome and thus presenting “itself as a new metamorphosis of the Holy Roman Empire, as a distinct form of Europe, which nevertheless remained tied to the West and was increasingly oriented toward it, even to the point that Peter the Great sought to turn Russia into a Western country”[5] - Islam attacked. The Catholic center had not held and the entire culture was splitting and disintegrating.

Enter the new Crusade galvanized by Pius V under the patronage of our Lady of the Rosary!

St. Pius V was the great reform pope after the Council of Trent. His greatest triumph though in international politics was the naval victory of the Catholic fleet against the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto. Victory was attributed to the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Battle of LepantoThe greatest triumph of St. Pius V in international politics was the naval victory over the Turks at Lepanto (October 7, 1571) - a battle fought off the coast of Lepanto, Greece. This was the first major defeat of the Muslims. This victory was attributed to the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose aid was invoked through praying the rosary. To commemorate this event, St. Pius V instituted on October 7 the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and inserted the title”Help of Christians” in the Litany of the Virgin Mary.Historical details of the BattleThis Battle of Lepanto was a battle between the Catholic fleet over the fleet of the Ottoman Empire. The Catholic armada was said to consist of over 200 galleys, mostly Venetian and Spanish, and commanded by Don Juan of Austria. This Catholic armada engaged a Turkish fleet of 300 ships inside the entrance of the Gulf of Lepanto. The Turks suffered a crushing defeat in spite of their superior numbers. This the Catholics attributed to the aid of strength provided them through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Georgios Rigas
N a f p a k t o s the Jewel of the Corinthian Gulf , where the famous Naval Battle of Lepanto took place on Oct 7 , 1571 .The Gulf of Lepanto is a long arm of the Ionian Sea running from east to west and separating the Pelloponnesian peninsula to the south from the Greek mainland to the north.
Jutting headlands divide the Gulf into two portions: the inner one, called the Gulf of Corinth today , ends with the isthmus of the same name , and the outer one is an irregular , funnel-shaped inlet now called the Gulf of Patras. For six weeks Ali Pasha's ships had been anchored inside the fortified harbor of Lepanto located in the gulf's inner portion, and on October 5 they began to move slowly westward past the dividing headlands into the outer Gulf of Patras. Still unsure of the enemy's position , Ali Pasha ordered his fleet to drop anchor for the night in a sheltered bay fifteen miles from the entrance to the inlet, where it remained all the next day anxiously awaiting the return of the scouting vessels. Around midnight Kara Kosh reached the anchorage with the news that the Christian fleet was then at Cephalonia , an Ionian island almost directly opposite and parallel to the mouth of the Gulf of Lepanto. With the first light of dawn the following morning , October 7 , 1571 , lookouts stationed high on a peak guarding the northern shore of the gulf's entrance signaled to Kara Kosh that the enemy was heading south along the coast and would soon round the headland into the gulf itself. The signal was relayed to Ali Pasha , who gave the order to weigh anchor. Everyone scrambled to battle stations and , as the fleet advanced , strained for the first sight of the enemy force.
The Christian fleet had started to move southward toward the Gulf of Lepanto. Now only fiteen miles of open water separated the forces of Islam and those of Christendom. The Turkish fleet , which numbered over two hundred and thirty galleys and one hundred auxiliary vessels , Ali Pasha commanded the center squadron , which faced the one commanded by Don Juan of Austria.
According to naval practice in those days , the moment two rival fleets finally assumed their respective battle formations , the leader of one would fire a piece of artillery as a challenge to fight , and the opponent would answer by firing two cannon to signify that he was ready to give battle. This day it was the Turks who made the challenge , and the sharp report from Ali Pasha's flagship was quickly followed by double round from Don Juan's artillery. At this time a large green silk banner , decorated with the Moslem crescent and holy inscriptions in Arabic , was hoisted on the Turkish flagship.
Now the setting was complete. The cross and the crescent fluttered aloft , symbolizing the two religions and the two hostile Civilizations of Christendom and Islam , whose forces were about to meet in the decisive battle of their long and bitter holy war. With the very first barrage many Turkish galleys were sunk and over a score badly damaged. After an hour of heavy fighting it was captured , the first Christian prize of the battle. The Christians were more than a match for them. In fact , they fought with such incredible ferocity that the battle soon became a slaughter. The defeat of the Turk's right wing was complete. Not one galley escaped. Those that were not sunk , burned , or grounded ashore were captured by their Christian opponents. The whole battle was over by four o'clock that afternoon , even though many of the Christian galleys were still giving chase to the Turkish ships and other solitary escaping Turkish vessels. The waters of the gulf for miles around were stained red from the great amount of blood shed that day and the sea was strewn with the bodies of both victors and vanquished. At sunset there were signs of approaching bad weather , Don Juan ordered the fleet to regroup quickly and head for a sheltered bay near the northwestern limits of the gulf. Around midnight they anchored in the bay and immediately all the fleet's leaders , with the exception of those badly wounded , came on board.
Don Juan's galley gatherd to congratulate him and celebrate the victory. The losses suffered by the Holy League fleet were between seven and eight thousand killed and about twice that number wounded , and only ten or fifteen ships had been sunk during the battle. These losses were comparatively light. Of the three hundred and thirty Turkish ships , fewer than fifty managed to escape and most of them were burned because they could not be made sufficiently seaworthy for further use; one hundred and seventeen Moslem galleys were captured intact and the rest were sunk or destroyed after they had been run ashore by the fleeing Turks. A large majority of the seventy-five thousand men who had entered the battle on the Moslem side were killed , five thousand were taken prisoner (with at least twice that number of Christian galley slaves liberated) , and only a few were able to escape either by ship or by swimming ashore. Turkey , for the first time in several centuries , was left without a navy.
Word of the fleet's splendid victory at Lepanto preceded Don Juan's return and quickly spread throughout Europe. The Republic of Venice was the first allied state to receive the happy news. The Doge quickly ordered a week of public celebrations and the seventh of October was declared a perpetual holiday in memory of the Battle of Lepanto. Hundreds of poems , songs , and paintings were produced all over Christendom in commemoration of the victory. All of Christendom took heart.
The famous Spanish writer ,
Miguel de Cervantes , who himself was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto , serving in the Spanish infantry , and who had also been a captive of the Barbary pirates until ransomed , recounted many of his experiences in the novel Don Quixote. The Battle of Lepanto marked the end of Turkish naval supremacy and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire's decline on both land and sea. Perhaps the most important result of the battle was its effect on men's minds: the victory had ended the myth that the Turks could not be beaten.
The Turkish fleet had 208 Galleys, 66 small ships; The Christian fleet about the same number. The crusaders lost 17 ships and 7,500 men; 15 Turkish ships were sunk and 177 taken, from 20,000 to 30,000 men disabled , and from 12,000 to 15,000 Christian rowers, slaves on the Turkish Gaileys, were delivered. Though this Victory did not accomplish all that was hoped for, since the Turks appeared the very next year with a fleet of 250 ships before Modon and Cape Matapan, and in vain offered battle to the Christians, it was of great importance as being the first great defeat of the infidels on the sea.

The Origin of Europe: Christian Culture

The Holy Roman Empire: Rome (313 A.D.: Constantine’s “conversion” [Pax Romana] A.D.) à Constantinople (shift from Rome in 800-880 A.D. with Charlemagne as emperor to Byantium with mission to the slavs [Cyril and Methodius]) à Moscow. In1453 A.D. Greek Constantinople conquered by the Islamic Turks finishing off Greco-Christian culture of Byzantium and passing it à to Renaissance humanists in Italy). A temporary galvanizing of Christendom after the victory at Lepanto attributed to Our Lady and the recitation of the Holy Rosary. However, Enlightenment rationalism begins in 1620 ending in à Breakdown of Christian Culture in the French Revolution (1789). As the United States developed a separation of Church and State as institutions, France separated religion and civic order (quite different from the United States) that now became secularized. The United States developed a “secularity” while Europe declined into “secularism” (no God or the Deist God of non-involvement with men). Reason loses it “evidential character” of experiencing God because of its rationalist character, i.e. only what is conceptual and sensibly measurable (positivism) is true and real. Marxism arises as the response to the injustice of the capitalistic injustice of the separation of capital and labor (failure to formulate Christian social doctrine in terms of the metaphysics of the subjectivity of the human person). The Church was tardy in formulating its doctrine of social justice (appearing for the first time explicitly in Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum”). Marxism economism collapses of its own weight because of its false and reductive anthropology. However, Benedict XVI, at this very moment, strongly warns that “The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that, although the fallacy of the Communist economy has been recognized, its moral and religious fallacy has not been addressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem, and left untreated, it can lead opt the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.”[6]

The Second Lepanto: 2006

George Weigel has published a piece entitled “Europe’s Two Culture Wars.”[7] These two culture wars in 2006 are similar to the situation in Europe preceding the Ottoman invasion in 1571. He calls them, “Culture War A,” and “Culture War B.” He writes: “The aggressors in Culture War A are radical secularists, motivated by what the legal scholar Joseph Weiler has dubbed `Christophobia.’ They aim to eliminate the vestiges of Europe’s Judeo-Christian culture from a post-Christian European Union by demanding same-sex marriage in the name of equality, by restricting free speech in the name of civility, and by abrogating core aspects of religious freedom in the name of tolerance.”[8]

“The Aggressors in Culture War B are radical and jihadist Muslims who detest the West, who are determined to impose Islamic taboos on Western societies by violent protest and other forms of coercion if necessary, and who see such operations as the first stage toward the Islamification of Europe – or, in the case of what they often refer to as al-Andalus, the restoration of the right order of things, temporarily reversed in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella.”[9]

He then proclaims: “The question Europe must face, but which much of Europe seems reluctant to face, is whether the aggressors in Culture War A have not made it exceptionally difficult for the forces of true tolerance and authentic civil society to prevail in Cultured War B.”[10]

This is the major thesis of Benedict. The entire force of his Regensburg talk is that Judeo-Christian faith had become reason as it became Hellenized. And becoming Hellenized was tantamount to becoming a subject and object of reason. This lifted the faith of Israel from a parochical and narrow cultic ethnic religion to universal religion where Yahweh was not just the God of the Jews, but the Creator of the cosmos and all that is in it. He was understood to be the God of the 72 peoples (Septuagint) that populated the earth. He was God like no other. Jesus Christ was not to fit in the pantheon of the mythical gods as Zeus or Jupiter, but was to be identified with the transcendent God of Greek Metaphysics, Platonic or Aristotelian. The Fathers of the Church opted to explain Christ as “homoousios” (one in being) with the Father, and Trinitarian theology and Christology became a work of transforming the being of the Greeks from substance into relation, and distinguishing person and nature.

The thesis of Benedict – that is epistemological - asserts that reason cannot be reason without faith.

Thesis: Reason lives in the Vision of Being: the “I” in the act of believing

"A critique of modern reason from within”

“There was a young fellow from Trinity/
Who took the square root of infinity/
But the number of digits/
Gave him the figits/
He dropped Math and took up Divinity."
(George Gamow)

Benedict XVI ended his Regensberg talk on September 12, 2006: “And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly….
“The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application….“We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons….
“Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

“A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time… modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which it methodology has to be based.
“Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding….“The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time”

The Goal @ Regensburg: Save Reason

Précis: Reason has been narrowed (and damaged) in both Islam and the West. In Islam, by political theocracy. In the West, by a progressive rationalism that segued into the totalitarianism of scientific methodology and its concomitant relativism. Whatever is not reducible to theocratic ideology or measured external sensation is considered unreal. The Being of the “I” has simply not been an object of consideration, or has been camouflaged by consciousness (which, in reality, is the window of its disclosure). Since the “I” is the only Being that can be experienced in the moment of moral action without mediation of sensation nor concept, the moment has arrived for its recovery as absolute (and therefore universal) reality within the window of subjective experience where consciousness (not concept) is its noetic correlate. Such a move would introduce us into a hitherto lost realm of realism, and the recovery of reason without jettisoning the considerable progress that the Enlightenment from the 17th century has provided us. In the end, we could all talk – dialogue – with respect for legitimate pluralism bolstered and girded within a grounding of absolute being and its intrinsic rationality. In such an account, tolerance depends on the absolute truth, not on relativism.

The “Loss” of Reason (Wisdom) in the West

Dictatorship of Relativism:

Reason is built to experience and become conscious of Being. It has been dumbed down to a narrow experience of Being as sensible, measurable “facts” that are catalogued into infinite data bases. John Paul II said that “reason, rather than voicing the human orientation toward truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned”[11] (my underline).

It is important to understand that there are two levels of experience: that of the external senses, and that of moral experience. John Paul II insisted that both levels of experience are, as experience, empirical. That is, they both are about reality and being, not about thought or emotion, etc. In his “The Acting Person,” he put it this way: “Man’s experience of anything outside or himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”[12] This means that the “I” of the person sensing experiences not only the thing perceived, but also the “I” in the act of perceiving. Therefore there is always a double access to the reality of being. In “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” John Paul II put it this way: 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 fct, 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 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, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God.”[13]

This is an amazing statement on the level of philosophical discourse since it discloses what all of modern philosophy has been unable to disclose until reason is united to faith experience: that absolute values like the good and the true are experienced in the empirically existential singular. It is the fundamental thesis of the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” that the human person experiences the absolute good in experiencing himself as imaging the God who alone is Absolute Good. “Veritatis Splendor” segues from #9 to #19 as follows: “There is only one who is good” (Mt. 19, 17); “If you wish to be perfect” (Mt. 19, 21); “Come, follow me” (Mt. 19, 21). "Let us rejoice and give thanks, for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (…). Marvel and rejoice." It then culminates in #21 identifying the human person with Christ Himself: “we have become Christ!’”

After the collapse of Communism, Josef Ratzinger published an interview[14] in 1993 in which he answered the question: “How do you analyze this divorce between faith and modernity? Ratzinger: “It is explained by the encroachment of relativism and subjectivism, an inevitable consequence of a world overwhelmed by the alleged certainties of natural or applied science. Only what can be tested and proved appears as rational. Experience has become the only criterion guaranteeing truth. Anything that cannot be subjected to mathematical or experimental verification is regarded as irrational.

“This restriction of reason has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God cannot be subjected to rational experience, verified by mathematical formulae. And so they are left to subjective sensibility alone. This is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living, handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened.

“The great ideologies have been able to give a certain ethical foundation to society. But today, Marxism is crumbling and liberal ideology is so split into fragments that it no longer has a common, solid, coherent view of man and his future. In the present situation of emptiness, there looms the terrible danger of nihilism, that is to say, the denial or absence of all fundamental moral reference for the conduct of social life. This danger becomes visible in the new forms of terrorism.”

In the West, this terrorism takes the form of the quiet elimination of the person as a subject and rendering him an object. The restriction of reason to the scientific method renders any and every other experience outside of the empirically measurable-sensible as “irrational” and obligatorily to be reduced. Every experience of the subject as Being must be reduced to the object. It must be rendered “legible to the computer.” In another place, Benedict had written: “The Book of the Apocalypse speaks of the enemy of God, the beast. The beast – the counterpower – does not bear a name but a number – 666 – the sees tells us. The beast is a number and translates into numbers. What that means is known to us who have experienced the world of the concentration camps: Its horror was due to the fact that the camps obliterated faces, annihilated history, and turned human beings into interchangeable parts of a huge machine. Human beings were identified by their functions, nothing more. Today we must fear that the concentration camps were only a prelude, and that the world, in accord with the universal law of the machine, may adapt itself completely to the organization of the concentration camps. For in a place where only functions exist, human beings can only be a kind of a function. The machines that human beings have constructed will stamp on people the sign of the machines. It is necessary to render human beings legible to the computer, and this is only possible if human beings are translated into figures. Everything else remaining in human beings becomes unimportant. Whatever is not a function is nothing. The beast is a number that transforms people into numbers. But God has names and calls us by name. He is a Person who seeks other persons. He has a countenance and he seeks our countenances. He has a heart, and he seeks our hearts. For him we are not functions of the great machine of the world; precisely those persons who have no automatic function are is people. To have a name means the possibility of being called, and it means communion. For this reason Christ is the true Moses, the fulfillment of the revelation of the name. He did not come to bring a new word as a name, but much more; he was himself the fact of God, he was the name of God; he was the possibility even for God to be called `you,’ to be called as a Person and as heart.”

The Loss of the “Primal Evidential Character” (Experience of the “I”): The Loss of Reason (Nihilism) and The Abolition of Man:

In his “Turning Point for Europe,” Benedict said: “The problem of the modern period, that is, the moral problem of our age, consists in the fact that it has separated itself from this primal evidential character. In order genuinely to understand this process, we must describe it still more precisely. It is characteristic of thought marked by the natural sciences to posit a gulf between the world of feelings and the world of facts. Feelings are subjective, facts are objective. `Facts,’ that is, that which can be established as existing outside ourselves, are as yet only `facts,’ naked facticity. It belongs to the world of pure fable to attribute any qualities of a moral or aesthetic nature to the atom beyond its mathematical determinations. But the consequence of this reduction of nature to facts that can be completely grasped and therefore controlled is that no moral message outside ourselves can now come to us. Morality, just like religion, now belongs to the realm of the subjective; it has no place in the objective. If it is subjective, then it is something posited by man. It does not precede vis-à-vis us: we precede it and fashion it. This movement of `objectification,’ which permits us to `see through’ things and to control them, essentially knows no limits. Auguste Comte called for a physics of man: gradually, even the most difficult object of nature – man – must become scientifically comprehensible, that is, subordinate to the knowledge of the natural sciences. Thus one would see through man in precisely the same way as one sees through matter. Psychoanalysis and sociology are the fundamental ways to fulfill this demand. One can now (so it seems) explain the mechanisms whereby man came to believe that nature expresses a moral law. Naturally, the man who has been `seen through’ is no longer a man at all – it belongs to the essence of such knowledge that he, too, can be only pure facticity now: `If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world,’ writes Lewis. The theories of evolution, developed into a universal view of the world, confirm this optic and attempt at the same time to compensate for it. Naturally (so they say), everything has become what it is without any logic or, more correctly, through the sheer logic of facts.”[16]

Nihilism: Loss of Meaning
(Meaning comes from the experience of the self as real and good)

(The World is a Bad Place)

The Icon of Nihilism in the West: Drugs, the Revolt against “Facts”

Benedict XVI: “Drugs are a form of protest against facts. The one who takes them refuses to resign himself to the world of facts. He seeks a better world. Drugs are the result of despair in a world experienced as a dungeon of facts, in which man cannot hold out for long. Naturally, many other things are involved, too: the search for adventure; the conformity of joining in what others are doing; the cleverness of the dealers, and so on. But the 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’s nature, a claim that asserts itself in a perverted form if it does not find the correct answer.”[17]

The Icon of Nihilism (The Absence of Reason) in Islam: Terrorism, the Revolt Against a “Bad World”

Benedict XVI: “Terrorism’s point of departure is closely related to that of drugs: here, too, we find at the outset a protest against the world as it is and the desire for a better world. On the basis of its roots, terrorism is a moralism, albeit a misdirected one that becomes the brutal parody of the true aims and paths of morality. It is not by chance that terrorism had its beginning in the universities, and here once again in the milieu of modern theology, in young people who at the outset where strongly influenced by religion. Terrorism was at first a religious enthusiasm that had been redirected into the earthly realm, 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 was no longer seen as one who genuinely acts, but the fulfillment of his promises was demanded just as it had always been, and, indeed, with a new vigor. `God has no other arms but ours’ – this now meant that the fulfillment of these promises can and must be carried out by 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 limit – 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 if finite. This inherent contradiction indicates the real tragedy of this phenomenon in which man’s great vocation becomes the instrument of the great lie.”

“The false dimension in terrorism’s promise was, however, concealed, as far as the average participant was concerned, by connecting the religious expectation to modern intellectuality. This means, first, that all traditional moral criteria are dragged before the tribunal of positivistic reason, `called into question’ and `seen through’ as unproven. Morality does not lie in Being but in the future. Man must devise it himself. The sole moral value that exists is the future society in which everything that does not exist now will be fulfilled. Thus morality in the present consists in working for this future society. Accordingly, the new moral criterion states: `Moral’ is what serves to bring about the new society…

“It is only on closer inspection that one sees the cloven hoof in its entirety and hears Mephistopheles sneering. `“Moral” is whatever creates the future:’ on this criterion, even murder can be `moral;’ even the inhuman must serve on the path to humanity. Fundamentally, this is the same logic as that which says that even embryos may be sacrificed for `genuinely high-quality scientific results.’ And the concept of freedom here is the same as that which teaches us that it must be a part of a woman’s freedom to get rid of a child that stands in the way of her self-realization.”


Benedict XVI ended his discourse in Regensburg with: “The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.
“Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary tot e nature of God,’ said Manuel II… It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.”

First, it is critical to understand that “What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational…. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason.”[19] And the deep reason for this is reason’s need for being in its absoluteness of which it is deprived when it is able only to access being in sensible perception. The unique source of reason’s unmediated access to Being as absolute is the “I” of the believer in his act of self-transcendence, of going out of himself as gift to the Revealer. Such an act reveals not only who the Revealer is, but who also is the believer.

John Paul II said it like this: “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.”

Islam is “Faith” as Conceptual Ideology, not Anthropology: Theocratic Fundamentalism

The reality is that Islam does not live faith as an anthropological act. It is a conceptual act that leads to prayer and fasting, but this worship more than faith. John Paul II suggested this when he said: “Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.
“Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is als0 mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.”[21]

This is the reason that the Koran is recited, not read. David Burrell remarks: “We have already seen how the Qur’an is not so much read as recited in the Muslim community, so that verses chanted and heard in a recurring fashion have the effect of shaping lives by offering spontaneous phrases with which to guide action. And quite consciously so, since the term Qur’an means `a reciting,’ and so it was delivered to Muhammad, who was then told often enough to recite what he heard. Western writers cannot resist the expression `sacramental’ when remarking on the role which recitation of the Qur’an plans in Muslim life, for `reciting of the sacred words is itself a participation in God’s speech.”[22] In this regard, Sandro Magister’s remark that “the Koran is not the equivalent of the Christian Scriptures: it is the equivalent of Christ” is apposite.

Since Christian faith is an obedience of self-gift, and therefore, free, it is significant that faith in Islam is not free. And the result of this is the failure to have any notion of true “secularity” based on the “consciousness” of the self-transcending believer and the consequent dualism of Church and State as consequence. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger had this comment:

“The modern idea of freedom is thus a legitimate product of the Christian environment; it could not have developed anywhere else. Indeed, one must add that it cannot be separated from this Christian environment and transplanted into any other system, as is shown very clearly today in the renaissance of Islam;

the attempt to graft on to Islamic societies what are termed western standards cut loose from their Christian foundations misunderstands the internal logic of Islam as well as the historical logic to which these western standards belong, and hence this attempt was condemned to fail in this form. The construction of society in Islam is theocratic, and therefore monist and not dualist; dualism, which is the precondition for freedom, presupposes for its part the logic of the Christian thing.

In practice this means that it is only where the duality of Church and state, of the sacral and the political authority, remains maintained in some form or another that the fundamental pre-condition exists for freedom. Where the Church itself becomes the state freedom becomes lost. But also when the Church done away with as a pubic and publicly relevant authority, then too freedom is extinguished, because there the state once again claims completely for itself the justification of morality; in the profane post-Christian world it does not admittedly do this in the form of sacral authority but as an ideological authority – that means that the state becomes the party, and since there can no longer be any other authority of the same rank it once again becomes total itself. The ideological state is totalitarian; it must become ideological if it is not balanced by a free but publicly recognized authority of conscience. When this kind of duality does not exist the totalitarian system in unavoidable.

“With this the fundamental task of the Church’s political stance, as I understand it, has been defined; its aim must be to maintain this balance of a dual system as the foundation of freedom. Hence the Church must make claims and demands on public law and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere. Hence it must also take care on the other hand that Church and state remain separated and that belonging to the Church clearly retains its voluntary character.”

Self-Hatred in the West: “Debonair Nihilism”[24]

Experiencing the “Good”

Being Loved: “Grace”

The experience of the value good is discovered in the experience of the “I” when there is self-transcendence as self-gift. This is the prime moral act that is Christian faith. The whole self must be given. The experience of that act is the consciousness that accrues to it of the good ness of the self as image of the only One Who is Goodness itself, God. Only God is good. Hence, the value good is not arrived at by reasoning and less by deduction, metaphysical or otherwise, but by direct unmediated experience of the self in the act of going out of self.

This experience must be anticipated by the experience of being loved by God and by parents. If this is not given, then the person lacks identity, and ultimately the impossibility of self-mastery to begin the process of becoming good by free self-governance. This has profound psychological presuppositions and ramifications.

In this regard, Benedict XVI says: “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 accept 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 to 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. This is root of the phenomenon known as hospitalism. When the initial harmony of our existence has been rejected, when that psycho-physical oneness has been ruptured by which the `Yes,’ it is good that you are alive’ sinks, with life itself, deep into the core of the unconscious – then birth itself is interrupted; existence itself is not completely established….

The Cross: “The Cross is the approbation of our existence, not in words, but in an act so completely radical that it caused God to become flesh and pierced this flesh to the quick; that, to God, it was worth the death of his incarnate Son. One who is so loved that the other identifies his life with this love and no longer desires to live if he is deprived or it; one who is loved even unto death – such a one knows that he is truly loved. But if God so loves us, then we are loved in truth…. Life is worth living.”[25]

Loving: The Gift of Self

In his habilitation thesis: “Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing the Christian Ethic on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler” John Paul II establishes in his first chapter (“The Ethical Ideal and the Principle of the `Sequela Christi’”) that one experiences the perfection of the good in oneself by the action of following Christ. He develops this idea in “Veritatis Splendor” when he proposes from Scripture the encounter of the Christ with the Rich Young Man. The youth calls Christ, “Good Master” to which Christ responds “There is only one who is good” (Mt. 19, 17). “Only God can answer the question about what is good, because he is the Good itself.”[26] Then, “If you wish to be perfect” (Mt. 19, 21), live the commandments. That done, what is still lacking consists in: “Come, follow me” (Mt. 19,21). The action, interior and exterior, of following Christ “is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality” (VS #19). John Paul says: “Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (Phil. 2, 5-8). Then, “having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 13, 27). By the work of The Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it `clothes him’ in Christ (cf. Ga. 3, 27): `Let us rejoice and give thanks,’ exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, `for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (…) Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!’” (VS #21).
The point: Only the one who – as image of God Who alone is good - follows Christ – the perfect image of the Father (Col. 1, 15) - in action, interiorly and exteriorly, experiences being good.

If, in the West, we are working only on the level of sensible experience and reasoning abstraction, and not making the gift of self, then the population is mired in what the medieval theologians called acedia: “ kind of sadness… more specifically, a sadness in view of the divine good in man. This sadness because of the God-given ennobling of human nature causes inactivity, depression, discouragement… The opposite of acedia is not industry and diligence, but magnanimity and that joy which is a fruit of the supernatural love of God. Not only can acedia and ordinary diligence exist very well together,; it is even true that the senselessly exaggerated workaholism of our age is directly traceable to acedia, which is a basic characteristic of the spiritual countenance of precisely this age in which we live…. This sorrow is a lack of magnanimity; it lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian. It is a kind of anxious vertigo that befalls the human individual when he becomes aware of the height to which God has raised him. One who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great n order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness. Acedia is a perverted humility; it will not accept supernatural goods because they are, by their very nature, linked to a claim on him who receives them.”[27]

Benedict XVI said, with regard to this pernicious self-hatred:

“Western self-hatred… is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

“Multiculturalism, which is so opassinately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own thongs. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God….

“Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.”

Conclusion: There is truth, and it is absolute. That Truth is the Incarnate God Who is Jesus Christ. The Absolute Good is the divine Person Jesus Christ Who has taken the total humanity of Jesus of Nazareth as His very Self. Jesus Christ, as Totally God and totally man, must be understood on two levels. Benedict said on October 4, 2006: “We must never lose sight of either of these two elements, since if we only proclaim the heavenly dimension of Jesus , we run the risk of making him an ethereal and evanescent being, while if we only recognize his concrete role in history, we run the risk of neglecting his divine dimension, which is his proper description”[29] He went on: “Our knowledge of Jesus is in need above all of a living experience: Another person’s testimony is certainly important, as in general the whole of our “Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or several witnesses. But we ourselves must be personally involved in an intimate and profound relationship with Jesus.” And finally: “Adherence to Jesus can be lived and witnessed even without doing sensational works.”[30]


Only the experience of Christ in prayer, concretely praying the rosary through our Lady will give us this experience of Christ that will restore reason and make us capable of dialogue and the creation of a world culture based on the human person, the prototype of whom is Jesus Christ.

[1] “What, in fact, is the essential characteristic of Occam[s thought, and of Nominalism in general, but a radical empiricism, reducing all being to what is perceived, which empties out, with the idea of substance, all possibility of real relations between beings, as well as the stable subsistence of any of them, and ends by denying to the real any intelligibility, conceiving God himself only as a Protean figure impossible to apprehend?” Bouyer concludes to the concrete consequences: “(I)t follows that grace, to remain such, that is, the pure gift of God, must always be absolutely extrinsic to us; also, faith, to remain ours, so as not to fall into that externalism that would deprive man of all that is real in religion, must remain shut up within us. For to suppose that dogmas defined by some external authority, that rites whose content surpasses in any way our personal experience, could be essential to our faith would be to alienate us from ourselves, to place our life in something that does not, cannot, concern us, condemned, as it is, to be not only external but totally foreign to us. In such a system, every being is doomed to remain a monad impenetrable by any other or else become a prey to confusion to the dissolution, pure and simile, of its individuality;” Louis Bouyer, “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism,” Scepter (original 1956) 184-185.
[2] “Inside such a framework, the sovereignty of God is no more than a total independence of all that could be considered as laws of reality, whether the moral law or the logical principles indispensable to thought. To say that God is all-powerful would amount to saying that he could make good evil and vice versa, making a being other than it is; otherwise, it means nothing at all. For if being is no more than a word without content, infinite being cannot be other than the indefinite, pure and simple. Under such conditions, it seems quite natural that God may `declare just’ the sinner, leaving him as much a sinner as before; that he may predestine some to damnation, just as he predestines others to salvation. If he did not do so, nothing would distinguish him from us; his transcendent sovereignty would disappear. Doubtless he could remain greater than us, but within the same order. He would no longer be sovereign” (emphasis mine); Ibid 185-186.
[3] “The whole tragedy of Protestantism can be grasped only when it is borne in mind that the first Catholics to attempt its refutation, being themselves confined in the same framework of ideas as the Reformers, could not oppose them without rejecting the truth contained in what they affirmed. There was no escape from these dilemmas: either a grace that saves us by itself and so saves us without affecting us, or a grace that saves us with our independent collaboration, so that, properly speaking, it is we who have to save ourselves; either a faith that is faith in our faith, in our direct experience, and ultimately in it alone, or a faith that is but a pure and simple withdrawal from ourselves; either a God who is all, while man and the world are literally nothing, or man and a world having real powers and value, though limited, and a God who is no more than the first in a series, a creature magnified, but not the creator; … The debate between Luther and Erasmus is one of the first and more remarkable examples of this impasse. It shows up clearly the inability of Catholic thinkers contemporary with the Reformers, both prisoners of a vitiated philosophy, to admit what was positive in the Reformation and to lay bare the root of its errors…. (A) prisoner, like Luther, of the nominatlist categories, Erasmus was incapable of formulating clearly the true answer: that grace is grace, a pure gift of God, not in giving us nothing real but in giving us, insofar as we remain dependent on it, the reality we are incapable of acquiring by ourselves. Far from seeing this, he tried to salvage the free will of man without recourse to grace… It is exactly the same as Luther’s [view], except that it chooses the opposite horn of the dilemma;” Ibid. 187-188.
[4] October 16, 2005.
[5] Benedict XVI, “Europe and Its Discontents,” First Things, January 2006, 17.
[6] Ibid. 20.
[7] G. Weigel, Commentary May 2006.
[8] Ibid 30.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio,” #5.
[12] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 3.
[13] John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Knopf (1994) 33-34.
[14] J. Ratzinger and Henri Ting, “And Marxism Gave Birth to… NIHILISM,” Catholic World Report, January 1993, 52-55.
[15] J. Ratzinger, “The God of Jesus Christ,” Franciscan Herald Press (1979) 15-16.
[16] J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe?” Ignatius (German 1991) 31-33.
[17] Ibid 20.
[18] Ibid. 21-22.
[19] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation in a Pluralistic Democracy?” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1988) 218.
[20] Andre Frossard and John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” St. Martin’s Press (1984) 67.
[21] John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Knopf (1994) 92-93.
[22] David Burrell, “Freedom and Creation in Three Traditions,” UNDP (1993) 180.
[23] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation….” Op. cit. 162-163.
[24] Weigel remarked: “Europe’s soul-withering skepticism goes hand in hand with what Alan Bloom once styled `debonair nihilism’ – a nihilism that , in its indifference to everything beyond the imperial self, has made its own contribution to the continent’s unwillingness to create the future by creating successor generations;” “Europe’s Two Culture Wars,” op. cit. 34.
[25] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-81.
[26] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #9.
[27] Josef Pieper, “On Hope,” Ignatius (1986) 54-56.
[28] Benedict XVI, “Europe and Its Discontents” op. cit. 21-22.
[29] Zenit. Vatican City, Oct. 4, 2006.
[30] Ibid

1 comment:

Fr. V said...

Thanks for this excellent reflection on Lepanto, Regensburg, and Islam.