Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Ratzinger Constant: The Absolute

Plagued by Relativism

The present state of affairs is a dictatorship of relativism in which there is no absolute (save – contradictorily - that “everything is relative”) and its necessary corollary: the absence of God (on the understanding that God is Absolute). Benedict XVI, on the morning of his election as pope, remarked: “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St. Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph. 4, 14) comes true.

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be `tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”[1](emphasis mine).

Yearning for the Absolute

1) Human reason yearns for the absolute. It is constitutively oriented to be one Being (to know, to possess) with the Transcendent Creator because it has been made being in the image and likeness of the Creator-Being. It has no ontological right to this because it is creature-being, not Creator-Being, and cannot achieve it by its own power. Yet it necessarily tends toward it, and cannot become fully itself without it.

2) Ratzinger accounts for this experience in terms of conscience and platonically:

“(I)t is finally time to arrive at some conclusions, that is, to formulate a concept of conscience. The medieval tradition was right, I believe, in according two levels to the concept of conscience. These levels, though they can be well distinguished, must be continually referred to each other. It seems to me, many unacceptable theses regarding conscience are the result of neglecting either the difference or the connection between these two levels in the concepts synderesis and conscientia [remembering what is the good, and what is the good to be done here and now]…. I would like… without entering into philosophical disputes, to replace this problematic word [synderesis] with the much more clearly defined Platonic concept of anamnesis…. The word anamnesis should be taken to mean exactly that which Paul expressed in the second chapter of his Letter to the Romans: `When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do no have the law. They show that what the law requires is written n their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness… (2, 14 f).’ The same thought is strikingly amplified in the great monastic rule of Saint Basil. Here we read: `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,’ an 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 pout 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.’[2]
"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 naturae points to and seeks.”[3]

Therefore, there is the Right and Need to Evangelize: “… 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).”[4]

Newman’s Toast first to Conscience, and then later, to the Pope.

“We can now appreciate Newman’s toast first to conscience and then to the pope. The pope cannot impose commandments on faithful Catholics because he wants to or finds it expedient…. The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. 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.”[5]

No Conscience, no Pope: “…the toast 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 or 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 by the pressure of social and cultural conformity.”[6]

Gaining the “I” but Losing the Absolute

Disengagement from the Absolute: Descartes disengaged reason from reality/being. He never had a true and full tactile and emotional experience of being loved by the mother in that he “lost his mother when he was little more than a year old. She died in childbirth, and her newborn baby died with her. We can visualize the sickly schoolboy, with his chronic chest ailments, his need for prolonged sleep… From what we have seen in preceding chapters, it becomes quite clear that we encounter in Cartesian rationalism a pure masculinization of thought. [One controls reality, not listens to it] There is nothing childlike left in man’s gaze. The hand of Wisdom, Sophia, the maternal, is rejected, and a proud intellect lays claim to omnipotence. Goethe was to perceive the craze and destructiveness in all this: modern man, the un-historical, uprooted self-reliant victor, is a haunted fugitive. The march of conquest is actually a flight in perpetuity, and the only resting place, the haven of delivery, is the Eternal Feminine.”[7]

Once Descartes has made his error and centered on the self as source of mental certainty and not as experience of the real, the entire intellectual world marched in the procession behind the self disguised as thought, leaving reality dumbed down – “disengaged” in the terminology of Charles Taylor[8] - to sense experience, and relativist subjectivism to rule the day. The experience of the “I” as Being evaporated before it could be disclosed. Not until quantum physics (the Romanticism of Herder and Goethe could not mount any significant opposition to match the success of positivist technology) and the Second Vatican Council made public by John Paul II and now Benedict confronting Islam, is there a drum beat about the reality and absoluteness of the “I.”

The difficulty is that the “eye” of the “I” is consciousness disguising itself as the “I.” And confusing consciousness with concept, we – as Kant - tend to consign the qualitative experiences of the ontological “I” with categories or a prior’s of the intellect’s architecture or abstractive power. We are always seeking the real through consciousness and concepts and confuse the self with them.

Reality then is relegated to sensible perception and “facts” which are judgments of reason. It is not reason “seeing” but reason “deciding” from a quasi interior control panel.

Benedict, lamenting the epistemological confusion, says: "`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."[9]

The Recovery

This takes us back 2,600 years to the Ionian philosophers beginning roughly with Thales in 640 B.C. Benedict said: “Contemporary scholarship is coming to see more and more clearly that there are quite amazing parallels in chronology and content between the philosophers’ criticism of the myths in Greece and the prophet’s criticism of the gods in Israel. It is true that the two movements start from completely different assumptions and have completely different aims; but the movement of the logos against the myth, as it evolved in the Greek mind in the philosophical enlightenment, so that in the end it was bound to involve the fall of the gods, has an inner parallelism with the enlightenment which the prophetic and Wisdom literature cultivated in its demythologization of the divine powers in favor of the one and only God. For all the differences between them, both movements coincide in their striving towards the logos.”[10]

In Regensburg, Benedict explained how Judaic faith and Greek philosophy met at the time of the Exile in the 6th century B.C. in Babylon (Baghdad). There, they interchanged values. Judaic faith gave Monotheism to the Greeks, while the Greeks gave the Israelites the power to translate the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into the universal creator of the universe. Benedict said:

“This inner rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an even of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history – it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”[11]

The Resonance of Faith and Reason in the Babylonian Exile (586 B.C. – 538 B.C.)

From Local Deity to Creator of the Universe

Overview: Israel moves from the consciousness of the experience of Abrahamic and Mosaic faith – that God is Lord, but only of the Israelites – to the concept that this God of Israel is Creator of all that is, and therefore the One God. This is the enlightenment to monotheism, away from the polytheism of the myths. The enlightenment took place because of the experience of the removal – suffering – of Israel from its land, its temple, and therefore its cult. In a word, Israel had to go through the suffering of being and knowing that it was the people of God without its land or its temple and cult, and living that reality – that faith experience - in the exile of Babylon. That is, Israel continued to be God’s people even in exile, and therefore God’s people universally.

This universalization took conceptual formulation in the Wisdom literature of the prophets and in the Greek translation of the Septuagint [the presumed number of peoples of the world]. In a word, they did away with the gods in the process of growth of reason that Benedict calls “Hellenization.”

It is suggestive to consider whether we are in much the same situation today with regard to the hegemony of empirical science and positivist/analytic thought? Do we adore what we perceive and measure through our senses as an idol – considering it to be the real - leaving out the worship of the one true God who transcends perception? Are we in a state similar, or perhaps even worse (since we look for no transcendence even intra-cosmically) than 5th century Eastern pagans? It must be kept in mind that Kant had it right when he understood that God, the soul and morality were not to be found in the world of external perception, and thereby tucked them into the structure of our rational architecture. In fact, the actual development of science has taught us that perception is a myth; that what we sensibly perceive is not really there such as we perceive it; that the really real is perceptively and conceptually indeterminable (Heisenberg). Owen Barfield suggest that the whole cant of modern thought is an “idolatry” of the perceived, but that the “perceived” is really the way we take in what’s there. In its medieval formulation: “what is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” There really is no rainbow, just moisture and refracted light. Color is our way of receiving differing wave lengths of light. We see colors, but there are no colors without the receiving eye. This is not subjectivism. It is parsing out what was aboriginal perception and knowing before the split into subject and object. Berkeley suggests, and Wojtyla affirms, that the experience of the real is the experience of the self when it transcends itself. Being or “the real” is the experience of the self as gift. And it is in the experience of the self as going out of self to another that there is an experience of God, since to experience the reality of the self as relational is to experience the divine Person of the Son as pure relation to the Father.

The task today is to transcend – not eliminate – the fascination and idolatry of perception and the use of reason as art with the technology that has given it so much prestige. In a word, in the West science and technology is the equivalent of 6th century pagan myth that must be confronted and purified so as to enter into synthesis with the truth of the Creating God, and man as His image.

“Marduck” and the Creator

The thesis that Benedict proposes is that faith seeks reason in order to achieve its full stature as faith, just as reason seeks faith as radiance of Being to become fully reason. Then-Josef Ratzinger takes on the topic of Creation in the Old Testament.

“The first thing to be said is this: Israel always believed in the Creator God, and this faith it shared with all the great civilizations of the ancient world. For, even in the moments when monotheism was eclipsed, all the great civilizations always knew of the Creator of heaven and earth…In Israel itself the creation theme went through several different stages. It was never completely absent, but it was not always equally important…The moment when creation became a dominant theme occurred during the Babylonian Exile…. Israel had lost it land and its temple. According to the mentality of the time this was something incomprehensible, for it meant that the God of Israel was vanquished – a God whose people, whose land, and whose worshipers could be snatched away from him. A God who could not defend his worshipers and his worship was seen to be, at the time, a weak God. Indeed, he was no God at all; he had abandoned his divinity. And so, being driven out of their own land and being erased from the map was for Israel a terrible trial: Has our God been vanquished, and is our faith void?

“At this moment the prophets opened a new page and taught Israel that it was only then that the true face of God appeared and that he was not restricted to that particular piece of land. He had never been: He had promised this piece of land to Abraham before he settled there, and he had been able to bring his people out of Egypt. He could do both things because he was not the God of one place but had power over heaven and earth. Therefore he could drive his faithless people into another land in order to make himself known there. And so it came to be understood that this God of Israel was not a God like the other gods, but that he was the God who held sway over every land and people. He could do this, however, because he himself had created everything in heaven and on earth. It was in exile and in the seeming defeat of Israel that there occurred an opening to the awareness of the God who holds every people and all of history in his hands, who holds everything because he is the creator of everything and the source of all power.

“This faith now had to find its own contours, and it had to do so precisely vis-à-vis the seemingly victorious religion of Babylon, which was displayed in splendid liturgies, like that of the New Year, in which the re-creation of the world was celebrated and brought to its fulfillment. It had to find its contours vis-à-vis the great Babylonian creation account of Enuma Elish, which depicted the origin of the world in its own fashion. There it is said that the world was produced out of a struggle between opposing powers and that it assumed its form when Marduk, the god of light, appeared and split in two the body of the primordial dragon. From this sundered body heaven and earth came to be. Thus the firmament and the earth were produced from the sundered body of the dead dragon, but from its blood Marduk fashioned human beings. It is a foreboding picture of the world and of humankind that we encounter here: The world is a dragon’s body, and human beings have dragon’s blood in them. At the very origin of the world lurks something sinister, and in the deepest part of humankind there lies something rebellious, demonic, and evil. In this view of things only a dictator, the king of Babylon, who is the representative of Marduk, can repress the demonic and restore the world to order.

“Such views were not simply fairy tales. They expressed the discomfiting realities that human beings experienced in the world and among themselves. For often enough it looks as if the world is a dragon’s lair and human blood is dragon’s blood. But despite all oppressive experiences the scriptural account says that it was not so. The whole tale of these sinister powers melts away in a few words: `The earth was without form and void.’ Behind these Hebrew words lie the dragon and the demonic powers that are spoken of elsewhere. Now it is the void that alone remains and that stands as the sole power over against God. And in the fact of any fear of these demonic forces we are told that God alone, who is the eternal Reason that is eternal love, created the world and that it rests in his hands. Only with this in mind can we appreciate the dramatic confrontation implicit in this biblical text, in which all these confused myths were rejected and the world was given its origin in God’s Reason and in his Word. This could be shown almost word for word in the present text – as, for example, when the sun and the moon are referred to as lamps that God has hung in the sky for the measurement of time. To the people of that age it must have seemed a terrible sacrilege to designate the great gods sun and moon as lamps for measuring time. Here we see the audacity and the temperateness of the faith that, in confronting the pagan myths, made the light of truth appear by showing that the world was not a demonic contest but that it arose from God’s Reason and reposes on God’s Word. Hence this creation account may be seen as the decisive `enlightenment’ of history and as a breakthrough out of the fears that had oppressed humankind. It places the world in the context of reason and recognized the world’s reasonableness and freedom. But it may also be seen as the true enlightenment from the fact that it put human reason firmly on the primordial basis of God’s creating Reason, in order to establish it in truth and in love, without which an `enlightenment’ would be exorbitant and ultimately foolish”
[12] (underline mine).

The Present “Myth” of Scientific Reason

(The “myth” is the arbitrary dogma that something is not real if you can’t make a model of it)

Ratzinger on the New Physics: “We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject. This too, mutatis mutandis, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it penetrates the center of individuality, and the more it engages the beholder’s individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in our objectivity. Thus, wherever an answer is presented as unemotionally objective, as a statement that finally goes beyond the prejudices of the pious and provides purely factual, scientific information, then it has to be said that the speaker has here fallen a victim to self-deception. This kind of objectivity is quite simply denied to man. He cannot ask and exist as a mere observer. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality `God’ can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God – the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by co-operating in the experiment does one ask at all, and only he who asks receives an answer.”[13][14]

Earlier Ratzinger said: “The physicist is becoming increasingly aware today that we cannot embrace given realities – the structure of light, for example, or matter as a whole – in one form of experiment and so in one form of statement; that on the contrary from different sides we glimpse different aspects, which cannot be traced back to each other. We have to take the two together – say the structure of corpuscle and wave – without being able to find any all-embracing aspect – as a provisional assessment of the whole, which is not accessible to us as a unified whole because of the limitations implicit in our point of view. What is true here in the physical realm as a result of the deficiencies in our vision is true in an incomparably greater degree of the spiritual realities and of God. Here too we can always look from one side and so grasp only one particular aspect, which seems to contradict the other, yet only when combined with it is a pointer to the whole which we are incapable of stating or grasping. Only by circling round, by looking and describing from different, apparently contrary angles can we succeed in alluding to the truth, which is never visible to us in its totality.

“The intellectual approach of modern physics may offer us more help here than the Aristotelian philosophy was able to give. Physicists know today that one can only talk about the structure of matter in approximations starting from various different angles. They know that the position of the beholder at any one time affects the result of his questioning of nature. Why should we not be able to understand afresh, on this basis, that in the question of God we must not look in the Aristotelian fashion, for an ultimate concept encompassing the whole, but must be prepared to find a multitude of aspects which depend on the position of the observer and which we can no longer survey as a whole but only accept alongside each other, without being able to make any statement about the ultimate truth? We meet here the hidden interplay of faith and modern thought. That present-day physicists are stepping outside the structure of Aristotelian logic and thinking in this way is surely an effect already of the new dimension which Christian theology has opened up, of its need to think in `complementarities.”

“In this connection I should like to mention briefly two other aids to thought provided by physics. E. Schrödinger has defined the structure of matter as `parcels of waves’ and thereby fallen upon the idea of being that has no substance but is purely actual, whose apparent `substantiality’ really results only from the pattern of movement of superimposed waves. In the realm of matter such a suggestion may well be physically, and in any case philosophically, highly contestable. But it remains an exciting simile for the actualitas divina, for the absolute, `being-act’ of God, and for the idea that the densest being – God – can subsist only in a multitude of relations, which are not substances but simply `waves,’ and therein form a perfect unity and also the fullness of being.”

No Absolute in Sensible Perception: Heisenberg

“Take Planck’s quantum theory. No doubt, you know that when Planck first tackled the subject he had no desire to change classical physics in any serious way. He simply wanted to solve a particular problem, namely the distribution of energy in the spectrum of a black body. He tried to do so in conformity with all the established physical laws, and it took him many years to realize that this was impossible. Only at that stage did he put forward a hypothesis that did not fit into the framework of classical physics, and even then he tried to fill the breach he had made in the old physics with additional assumptions. That proved impossible, and the consequences of Planck’s hypothesis finally led to a radical reconstruction of all physics.” [16]

This means that what we see is not what we get. What we see macroscopically in perception is not what is there subatomically. As we saw above in Owen Barfield, “physics has ended by having to conclude that all qualities are `secondary’ in this sense, so that the whole world of nature as we actually experience it depends for its configuration on the mind and sense of man. It is what it is because we are what we are. Thus our common assumption that the main effort of human thinking has been to make a mental replica of a pre-existent outer world is incompatible even with the scientific approach to things out of which it arose. This assumption is indeed determined by science; but by a science of the day before yesterday."

The new physics is telling us that the way we perceive reality is not the way it is. It is not that it is not there, but that the perception we have of it is the way we are, not the way it is. And so, it comes down to asking how we know that reality is really there since we don’t experience it as it really is.

The proposal that is in the thought of Wojtyla as philosopher and John Paul II as pope is: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”[17] This means that the most real access to reality is the experience of the self in the free moral act of total self-gift. This means that I know the real when I know myself freely acting, and the experience of myself in the act of experiencing the world through the senses gives realism to the sensation. Hence, “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.” John Paul entitled chapter III of Fides et Ratio: “Intellego Ut Credam:” I know in order to believe, because it is only by the acting of believing, of trusting in another, is my reason enlightened by the Being of the person of the believer.

Jesus Christ: The Only Concrete Absolute: God and Man

“To believe is to entrust this human I, in all it transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An Absolute person – or better, a personal Absolute.”[18]

As we know, Nathanael posed a weighty prejudice to him: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46a). This expression is important for us. It allows us to see that, according to the Jewish expectations, the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village, as was the case of Nazareth (cf. also John 7:42). At the same time, however, it shows the freedom of God, who surprises our expectations, manifesting himself precisely there, where we least expect him. Moreover, we know that, in reality, Jesus was not exclusively "from Nazareth," but that he was born in Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Nathanael's objection, therefore, had no value, as it was founded, as often happens, on incomplete information. Nathanael's case suggests to us another reflection: In our relationship with Jesus, we must not only be content with words. Philip, in his reply, presents a significant invitation to Nathanael: "Come and see" (John 1:46b). 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. In a similar way, the Samaritans, after having heard the testimony of the compatriot whom Jesus had met at Jacob's well, wished to speak directly with him and, after that conversation, they said to the woman: "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world" (John 4:42). Returning to the scene of the vocation, the evangelist tells us that, when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: "Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him" (John 1:47). It was praise that recalls the text of a psalm: "Happy those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2), but which arouses Nathanael's curiosity, who, surprised, replies: "How do you know me?" (John 1:48a). Jesus' answer at first is not understood. He said to him: "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree" (John 1:48b).…Anyway, what counts most in John's narration is the confession of faith that Nathanael professes at the end in a limpid way: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). Although it does not reach the intensity of Thomas' confession with which John's Gospel ends: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28), Nathanael's confession has the function to open the terrain to the fourth Gospel. In the latter a first and important step is taken on the path of adherence to Christ.

[The Point:]

"Nathanael's words present a double and complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: He is recognized both by his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the only-begotten Son, as well as by his relationship with the people of Israel, of whom he is called King, an attribution proper of the awaited Messiah. 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."

The Regensburg Solution

“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…(my emphasis).

“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 Regensburg 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, there is no experience of the self as gift (faith) to a revealing Person (God in Christ). Hence, there is no experience of the self as good with freedom of autonomy and rights. Reason is prohibited from access to Being as Absolute within time and space. Hence, reason, searching for the Absolute, withers.[19]

In the West, reason has entered a self-imposed restriction to accept as real only what is sensible and mathematically measurable: the scientific method. Outside of that, there is only subjective un-reality. This means that God, the soul and morality are left to subjective whim and ungrounded. The real “I” that is the Being made in the image of God is camouflaged as subjective consciousness.

How? Go Out of Self and Experience of the Absolute

The core of the renewal of moral theology consists in an empirical experience of the value, “good” by the experience of the self going out of itself to the revealing Person of Jesus Christ. Being God, only Christ can demand all: the Absolute. Only one who has gone out self – even to the point of martyrdom - experiences peace and joy, that are signs of acting according to who one is. Morality – the good – is conformity with Being – who one is, and Who one images.

This is hugely important. The entire Enlightenment philosophy has not known how to encounter the “good” empirically as Absolute since the sensible, contingent, individual reality is precisely what we mean by not-absolute, not permanent, not universal, etc. However, this recovery of the experience of the “I” that Wojtyla saw in the living faith of St. John of the Cross, and his rational account of it by the description of the experience of self possession, self-governance, self-determination, he was able to disclose the above as experiences of the “I” that is made possible precisely by his consciousness of them. Hence, the “I” is not consciousness, but the instrument of seeing what is going on as experience, and hence the Being of the “I” as protagonist of its own interior dynamic and exterior action.

Notice the defining work of Benedict in the struggle with his thesis director Michael Schmaus over precisely this point: The act of faith is an anthropological act of the believing subject. “Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requries a someone who apprehends it.”[20]

But this supreme moral act that is self-transcendence to the risking of one’s life is Christian faith. Benedict XVI asks: “What, in the light of the Bible, is `faith’? And let us again affirm clearly: it is not a system of semi-knowledge, but an existential decision – it is life in terms of the future that God grants us, even beyond the frontier of death… 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.”[21]

John Paul II says: “It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).”[22]

Then, John Paul introduces the connection between faith and martyrdom (suffering for love): “Only conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel, can lead the believer to the supreme witness of martyrdom.”[23] He then insists: “Martyrdom, accepted as an affirmation of the inviolability of the moral order, bears splendid witness both to the holiness of God’s law and to the inviolability of the personal dignity of man, created in God’s image and likeness. This dignity may never be disparaged or called into question, even with good intentions, whatever the difficulties involved.”[24]


The Philosophy

Josef Seifert suggests that Wojtyla has been the first to approach the reality of Being, not from the angle of consciousness, but from the angle of action, and therefore, from living Abrahamic faith. His approach is to a description of feelings as experiences that disclose the ontological architecture of the self when exercising self-mastery. This was new, particularly when wedded to a metaphysic of being.[25]

Ratzinger also works in this mold borrowing from Josef Pieper and von Balthasar: “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 e is to subsist.”

Theological Background: Adam disengages himself as subject in the act of naming the animals. John Paul II says: “Up to this moment, man is the object of the creative action of God-Yahweh, who at the same time, as Legislator, sets the conditions of the first covenant with man. Already this divine act underlines man’s subjectivity. Subjectivity finds a further expression when the Lord God `formed every kind of animal of the field and all the birds of the air and brought them to the man’ (male) `to see what he would call them’ (Gen. 2, 19). Thus, the first meaning of man’s original solitude is defined based on a specific `test’ or on an examination that man undergoes before God (and in some way also before himself). Through this `test,’ man gains the consciousness of his own superiority, that is, that he cannot be put on a par with any other species of living beings on the earth.”

Then, importantly, John Paul says: “Self-knowledge goes hand in hand with knowledge of the world, of all visible creatures, of all living beings to which man has given their names to affirm his own dissimilarity before them…. He is not only essentially and subjectively alone. In fact, solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity, which constitutes itself through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is `different’ from the visible world, from the world of living beings.”

Naming the animals and tilling the garden are twin modes of subduing the earth. John Paul says that the analysis of these verses of Genesis 2 “has brought us to surprising conclusions with regard to anthropology, that is, the fundamental science about man, contained in this book. In fact, in relatively few sentences, the ancient text sketches man as a person with the subjectivity characterizing the person.

“When God-Yahweh gives to the first man, formed in this way, the commandment concerning all the trees that grow in the `garden in Eden,’ above all the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this adds the aspect of choice and self-determination (that is, of free will) to the outline of man described above. In this way, man’s image as a person endowed with his own subjectivity appears before us as finished in its first sketch.

“The concept of original solitude includes both self-consciousness and self-determination. The fact that man is `alone’ contains within itself this ontological structure, and at the same time, it indicates authentic understanding. Without this, we cannot correctly understand the next words, which constitute the prelude to the creation of the first woman, I want to make a help’…

“This man, about whom the account of the first chapter says that he has been created `in the image of God,’ is manifested in the second account as a subject of the covenant, that is, a subject constituted as a person, constituted according to the measure of `partner of the Absolute,’ inasmuch as he must consciously discern and choose between good and evil, between life and death.”

Insofar as the human person has crossed the threshold of subjectivity by mastering self to name the animals and till the garden, he has actualized himself as Absolute as God is Absolute. He is “Partner of the Absolute.” Man has power over himself that he has now actualized and entered into subjectivity analogous to God’s triple Subjectivity. “Man is `alone:’ that is to say that through his own humanity, through what he is, he is at the same time set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself. The anthropological definition contained in the Yahwist text in its own way approaches the theological definition of man that we find in the first creation account (`Let us make man in our image and our likeness,’ Gen. 1, 26).”

Aboriginal Historical Background: “Ernest Cassirer, dealing with language in his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, showed how the history of human consciousness was not a progress from an initial condition of blank darkness toward wider and wider awareness of a pre-existent outer world, but the gradual extrication of a small, but a growing and an increasingly clear and self-determined focus of inner human experience from a dreamlike state of virtual identity with the life of the body and of its environment. Self-consciousness emerged from mere consciousness. It was only in the course of this process that the world of `objective’ nature, which we now observe around us, came into being. Man did not start on his career as a self-conscious being in the form of a mindless or thoughtless unity, confronting a separate, unintelligible objective world very like our own, about which he then proceeded to invent all manner of myths. He is not an onlooker, learning to make a less and less hopelessly inaccurate mental copy. He has had to wrestle his subjectivity out of the world of his experience by polarizing that world gradually into a duality. And this is the duality of objective-subjective or outer-inner, which now seems so fundamental because we have inherited it along with language. He did not start as an onlooker: the development of language enabled him to become one.

“Let us digress for a moment and examine the other, the received view, that the history of human thought is the history of an onlooker learning to make a better and better mental copy of an independent outer world. All positivist science is based on mathematics and physics; and modern physics originally set out to investigate nature as something existing independently of the human mind. But this was a postulate which it had more and more to abandon as time went on. At a quite early stage a distinction was made between `primary’ qualities, such as extension and mass, which were assumed to inhere in matter independently of the observer, and `secondary’ qualities like color, which depend on the observer. Roughly speaking, physics has ended by having to conclude that all qualities are `secondary’ in this sense, so that the whole world of nature as we actually experience it depends for its configuration on the mind and sense of man. It is what it is because we are what we are. Thus our common assumption that the main effort of human thinking has been to make a mental replica of a pre-existent outer world is incompatible even with the scientific approach to things out of which it arose. This assumption is indeed determined by science; but by a science of the day before yesterday.

“Early man did not observe nature in our detached way. He participated mentally and physically in her inner and outer process.”

[1] Cappella Papale: Mass of the Conclave: Homily of His Eminence Card Joseph Ratzinger Dean of the Colleges of Cardinals, Vatican Basilica, Monday 18 April 2005.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center, (1991) 19-21.
[3] Ibid. 19-21.
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid. 21
[6] Ibid. 22.
[7] Karl Stern, “The Light From Woman,” Farrar Straus Giroux (1965) 91-105.
[8] “Descartes gives Augustinian inwardness a radical twist and takes it in a quite new direction, which has also been epoch-making. The change might be described by saying that Descartes situates the moral sources, within us…. The internalization wrought by the modern age, of which Descartes’s formulation was one of the most important and influential, is very different from Augustine’s. It does, in a very real sense, place the moral sources within us. Relative to Plato, and relative to Augustine, it brings about in each case a transposition by which we no longer see ourselves as related to moral sources outside of us, or at least not at all in the same way. An important power has been internalized…. The Cartesian soul frees itself not by turning away but by objectifying embodied experience. The body is an inescapable object of attention to it, as it were. It has to support itself on it to climb free of it…. But this different ontology, and hence different theory of knowledge, and thus revised conception of dualism cannot but result in a very different notion of the self-mastery wrought by reason. This cannot mean twhat it meant for Plato, that one’s soul is ordered by the Good which presides over the cosmic order which one attnds to and loves. For there is no such order. Being rational has not to mean something other than being attuned to this order. The Cartesian option is to see rationality, or the power of thought, as a capacity we have to construct orders which meet the standards demanded by knowledge, or understanding, or certainty;” Charles Taylor, “Sources of the Self,” Harvard University Press, (1989) 143-147.
[9] J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe?” Ignatius (German 1991) 31-33.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 95-96.
[11] Benedict XVI, Regensburg, September 12, 2006.
[12] J. Ratzinger, “`In the Beginning…’” Eerdmans (1995) 10-14.
[13] J. Ratzinger, “Intro…” op. cit. 125 (1990 edition).
[14] Earlier (1988), Benedict said: “at the heart of the historico-critical method lies the effort to establish in the field of history a level of methodological precision which would yield conclusions of the same certainty as in the field of the natural sciences…. Now, if the natural science model is to be followed without hesitation, then the importance of the Heisenberg principle should be applied to the historical-critical method as well. Heisenberg has shown that the outcome of a given experiment is heavily influenced by the point of view of the observer. So much is this the case that both the observer’s questions and observations continue to change themselves in the natural course of events. When applied to the witness of history, this means that interpretation can never be just a simple reproduction of history’s being, `as it was.’ The word inter-pretation gives us a clue to the question itself: Every exegesis requires an `inter,’ an entering in and a being “inter’ or between things; this is the involvement of the interpreter himself. Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming to know…
“Here, then, is the question: How does one come to be interested, not so that the self drowns out the voice of the other, but in such a way that one develops a kind of inner understanding for things of the past, and ears to listen to the word they speak to us today?
“This principle which Heisenberg enunciated for experiments in the natural sciences has a very important application to the subject-object relationship. The subject is not to be neatly isolated in a world of its own apart from any interaction.” [14] J. Ratzinger, “Foundations and Approaches of Biblical Exegesis,” Origins February 11, 1988, Vol. 17: No. 35, b.

[15] J. Ratzinger, Ibid. 123-125.
[16] Werner Heisenberg, “Physics and Beyond, Encounters and Conversations,” Harper and Row, (1971) 147-148.
[17] John Paul II, Fides et Ratio #83.
[18] Andre Frossard, John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” St. Martin’s Press (1984) 66.
[19] “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”[19] J. Ratzinger, , “A Christian Orientation in a Pluralistic Democracy?” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1988) 162-163.
[20] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” Ignatius (1997) 108.
[21] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press, (1971) 50.
[22] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor,” #88.
[23] Ibid. 89.
[24] Ibid. 92.
[25] “I do not know any work in contemporary philosophy which addresses itself in an equally original way to this key topic of metaphysics and to an issue of such significance for ethics: the person. It is perhaps not since the time of Augustine that a philosopher as deeply committed to the truth and to the great philosophical tradition as Wojtyla has moved so far beyond a metaphysics of being and substance in general, and gone into the metaphysics of the personal being as actualized in consciousness and freedom And while Augustine’s profound insights into the nature of the person, deeply inspired by Plotinus, are inserted in theological contexts (notably in De Trinitate), The Acting Person is a `purely’ philosophical work which applies a rigorous phenomenological-philosophical method to its topic.”[25] Seifert then goes into the significant specifics: “The Book (`The Acting Person’) is full of discoveries which properly belong to its author. The philosophical originality of the work manifests itself especially in the deliberate attempt to overcome a one-sidedness in the philosophical approach to the person which has dominated philosophy since Descartes, but which actually goes back to Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. The one-sidedness in question lies in approaching the person primarily through knowledge and cognition. The book The Acting Person tries to correct this one-sidedness by viewing the person primarily as he manifests himself in action, and action as it reveals the person. This approach itself is highly original; so are those philosophical investigations in the book which elucidate the essence of freedom and of `man-acts.’” He goes on: “The book is free from a voluntaristic misinterpretation of the person which severs the link between will and reason, between action and truth. To be sure, the emphasis on the person as revealed through his free acts (actions) is intended to be more than merely complementary to the traditional modern emphasis on the person as a rational, knowing being. The thesis clearly seems to be that in acting as it involves free self-possession, self-determination, and self-governance, the person qua person realizes and shows himself most profoundly, especially in the morally good action.” (Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) As Philosopher And The Cracow/Lublin School of Philosophy,” Aletheia, Vol II (1981) 131-132).
Seifert then goes on to highlight Wojtyla’s unique work on the experience of the “I” (as being) by his particular use of phenomenology that transcends both Aristotelian and phenomenological traditions. Seifert suggests the thesis I am trying to deploy here, namely that “there is no real being in the world with which we stand in experiential contact and which is as rich as man; that, whatever else may be the object of human experience in some sense (Ideas and Ideals in the sense of the Platonic eide or Forms, religious objects of experience, etc.), these are not fully objects of experience and are not given to us in the wealth and diversification in which man is experienced by man. No being which is directly accessible to our `normal’ experience in the world, such as animals, plants, or works of art, etc., is of as rich a content as man.” (Ibid131-132). Seifert then goes on to show how Wojtyla’s work is the key to the purification of the subjectivistic deviation of the Enlightenment and its consequent dualism. He says: “For both in empiricism and in Kant we find an opposition between experience and cognition. Experience is reduced either to amorphous sense-impressions or to sense-perceptions (as formed by some basic laws of association or by the apriori forms of intuition: temporality and spatiality). Thinking seems then to `form’ experience, in fact to superimpose structures upon experience which deviate from it or at least originate in something else than experience (a transcendental structure of the ego).
[26] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[27] John Paul II, “Man and Woman He Created Them, A Theology of the Body” (henceforth TOB), DSP (2006) 5.4, 148.
[28] Ibid. 150.
[29] Ibid. 151.
[30] Ibid. 151.
[31] Owen Barfield, “The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays,” Wesleyan University Press (1987) 16-17.