Sunday, October 01, 2006

Regensburg and Opus Dei's 10/2/1928

Precis: “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.”[1] Having been Hellenized both as Old Testament and as New, Judeo-Christian Faith has undergone de-Hellenization in the last half of the second millennium The result is that faith becomes relativized as a mere “denomination” and reason “has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge” [Fides et Ratio #5] that is mere “facticity.” Only the recovery of a lived faith by the many will yield the “transfiguration” of Being in the believer and restore reason for the sake of dialogue in a world destined to become “one.”

1) 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”[2](emphasis mine).

2) Jesus Christ responded to the rich young man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk. 10, 18; cf. Lk 18, 19). When Robert Moynihan reached for an overarching summary of Josef Ratzinger’s mind, he remarked: “Over the past 30 years, not only the cardinals who elected Ratzinger as Pope, but many Catholics, and other men and women of good will around the world, have come to agree with Benedict that the greatest `crisis’ facing the Church and the world is `the absence of God’ – a culture and way of life without any transcendent dimension, without any orientation toward eternity, toward the sacred, toward the divine. And that the `solution’ to this `crisis’ is quite simple to express in a phrase: the world needs `the presence of God.’”[3]

3) The absence of the absolute, which is the absence of God = the loss of reason. The profound reason for this is that Being (which is the Absolute) is the stuff that reason feeds on. Reason is personal-being’s way of becoming all things.

Being as “Evidential:” The tendency of personal Being discloses an internal intelligible content. We have always referred to this as “natural law,” but now it takes on the development of being “the law of the person.” Benedict refers to this tendency as “anamnesis” - non-amnesia - thereby replacing the stoic word “synderesis.” By doing this, he replaces the epistemological horizon of “principles” by a horizon of the experience of Being and the consciousness accruing to it. He says: “I would like… to replace this problematic word with the much more clearly defined Platonic concept of anamnesis. It is not only linguistically clearer and philosophically deeper and purer, but anamnesis above all also harmonizes with key motifs of biblical thought and the anthropology derived therefrom. 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 not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on 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 rationale nature.’ Basil speaks in terms of `the spark of diving 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 before hand 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.’
“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 it echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.
“The possibility for and right to mission rest on this anamnesis of the creator which is identical to the ground of our existence. The gospel may, indeed, must be proclaimed to the pagans because they themselves are yearning for it in the hidden recesses of their souls.”

Benedict refers to C. S. Lewis and his cross-cultural work on the natural law known globally as the “Tao.” Benedict said: "There is an objective connection between this and the conviction that was common to almost the whole of mankind before the modern period, the conviction that man’s Being contains an imperative; the conviction that he does not himself invent morality on the basis of calculations of expediency but rather finds it already present in the essence of things. Long before the outbreak of terrorism and the invasion by drugs… C. S. Lewis points to the fatal danger of the abolition of man that lies in the collapse of the foundations of our morality, emphasizing the evidential character of mankind as a whole on which the existence of man qua man rests. He reviews all the great cultures to show the existence of this evidential character.” [5] Lewis points to the Greeks – Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics; he emphasizes the Chinese teaching of the Tao and the Rta in early Hinduism. He also refers to the law of Israel “which links cosmos and history and intends to be an expression of the truth of man as well as of the truth of the world as a whole.”[6]

The Collapse

The Loss of the "Primal Evidential Character:" Benedict: “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 can not 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.”[7]

I hasten to add here that the Being of the subject, man – the human person - , is objective in that it is not thought, nor consciousness, nor the product of thought. Benedict is saying that the tendency of the being of the human person, made in the image and likeness of the divine Persons Who are constitutively Tendencies in themselves: Father is the act of engendering the Son; the Son is the act glorifying the Father; the Spirit is the act of the self-gift of the two, that tendency is objective to the knowing subject that is the person. That objective tendency of the image of God, the human person, becomes illuminated as the absolute source of intelligibility of human reason when the human person makes the act of faith in the Person of Christ. That is, when one goes out of self in self-abandonment to the revealing Person of Christ, the being of the believing person is illuminated as absolute and revives reason that is straining and yearning for its disclosure.

This was the message of Benedict at Regensburg. He described how the faith of Israel became existentially strained in the Exile of the 6th century B.C. The temple, the cult and their memory of being God’s people were lost or waning. The “fertility religions were severe temptations for Israel for centuries, tempting it to abandon the covenant and to enter into the religious milieu of the time. Through the fertility cults the serpent speaks to the human being: Do not cling to this distant God, who has nothing to offer you. Do not cling to this covenant, which is so alien to you and which imposes so many restrictions on you. Plunge into the current of life, into its delirium and its ecstasy, and thus you will be able to partake of the reality of life and of its immorality.”[8] It was not that the paradise narrative took its final literary form. The Pentateuch was put together. In close proximity to Greek philosophy and culture and the translation of the Scripture into the Septuagint (the 70 known peoples of the earth), Judaism becomes rational. Yahweh becomes the supreme Being not only for the Jews, but for the entire world. Reciprocity takes place: Greek philosophy breaks from the mythical cosmological gods and becomes monotheist; Judaism becomes rational and universal for human reason. And not only at the moment of the Exile, but at the moment of the appearance of Jesus Christ. The Fathers of the Church opted to explain Christ not in terms of the gods, but in terms of Greek philosophy. The struggle of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon and Constantinople from the 3d to the 7th centuries was a Hellenization that became intrinsic to the revelation of three Person in One God, and two nature in the single Person of the Logos.

This autonomy and power of reason has dwindled in the Enlightenment where we have lost the access to Being through the loss of the experience of it in the act of faith as an act of ontological self-transcendence. “Reason,” John Paul said, “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”[9] (emphasis mine).

The Recovery
The Personal Experience of the Absolute

If only Absolute Being can resuscitate reason, then only God can resuscitate reason. And Jesus Christ is the Logos of the Father Who has intruded and erupted into His creation occupying time and space. He is every totally man and God simultaneously in His Person. His act of existence [Ipsum Esse Personale] dynamizing his humanity is that of the Absolute, the second Person of the Trinity [Cf. S. Th. III, 17, 2, ad.2]. John Paul said: “In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ’s revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture, but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father… Through this revelation, men and women are offered the ultimate truth about their own life and about the goal of history.”[10]

The Radical Experience of the Absolute in the Ordinary: The Foundation of Opus Dei, October 2, 1928.

"Tuesday, October 2, 1928, feast of the Guardian Angels, was the second day of a week-long retreat for diocesan priests being given in the house of the Vincentians in the outskirts of Madrid. The six priests attending the retreat had =celebrated Mass, breakfasted, prayed part of the Breviary together, and read some passages from the New Testament. AT 10,00 A.M., the twenty-six-year-old Fr. Escriva went to his room.

“Alone there, he immersed himself in reviewing notes he had brought to the retreat. These notes recorded a series of graces and inspirations God had conferred on him in answer to ten years of intense prayer, during which he had repeatedly made his own the response of the blind beggar who, when Christ asked what he wanted, responded: `Lord, that I may see.’ He knew that God wanted something specific from him, but the insights he had were so fragmentary and incomplete that he could not make out what it was. Later in his life, he could often describe the graces he had received before October 2, 1928, as only `inklings’ of what God wanted of him.

“As the sound of the bells of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels drifted through the window, pealing to celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angels, the missing elements were added, and the picture suddenly came into focus. Escriva saw that God wanted there to be a portion of his Church made up of people who would dedicate themselves to incorporating into their own lives and to spreading to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues the joyous message that God calls everyong to sanctity, regardless of age, social condition, profession, or marital status.

“A private note taken by Escriva in 1930 records, in almost telegraphic fashion, a series of ideas that may summarize the content of his October 2 vision: `Plain Catholics. The mass of dough being leavened and rising. Our thing is what is ordinary, with naturalness. The means: professional work. Everyone a saint!’ A French author, Francois Gondrand, has given us a poetic version of the same ideas:

"Thousands – millions – of souls, covering the whole face of the earth, raise their prayers to God. Generation upon generation of Christians, submerged in all the world’s activities, offer God their work and the thousand-and-one concerns of their daily lives. Hour after hour of hard, conscientious work: an offering that rises up like precious incense from the four corners of the globe…. A multitude of people, rich and poor, young and old, from every country and of every race….Millions and millions of souls spread out in time and space, covering the whole surface of the earth with their invisible influx…;l Thousands – millions – of souls, like an unending peal of bells echoing toward heaven, the chimes mingling as they echo up and up."

“We don’t know whether Escriva’s vision was more like his terse 1930 note or like Gondrand’s lyrical rendition or quite different from either of them. When Escriva spoke or wrote in later years about the events of October 2, 1928, the references were invariably brief and sketchy. They often cam down to the laconic statement: `I saw Opus Dei.’

“In his earliest surviving written account of the foundational event, dated October 2, 1931, Escriva says, `I received the illumination about the entire Work.’ It involved a `clear general idea’ of his mission, but did not include all the details. `God our Lord,’ Escriva once commented, `treated me like a child. He didn’t show me all the weight at once but led me forward bit by bit. You don’t give a small child four things to do at the same time. You give him one, and then another, and when he has finished that, another. Have you seen a little boy playing with his father? The child has some colored blocks of different shapes and sizes. And his father tells him, `Put this one here, and that one there, and the red one over there.’ And at the end, a castle!’”

Remarks of Benedict XVI on Opus Dei's Founding
“I have always been impressed by Josemaria Escriva’s explanation of the name `Opus Dei:’… Escriva knew he had to found something, but he was also conscious that what he was founding was not his own work, that he himself did not invent anything and that the Lord was merely making use of him. So it was not his work, but Opus Dei (God’s Work). He was only the instrument of God’s action.

“In thinking about this, I remember the Lords’ words in John’s Gospel: `My Father is working still’ (5, 7)… There are those who think that after creation, God `withdrew’ and took no further interest in our daily affairs. To this way of thinking, God can no longer enter the fabric of our daily lives. But we have a denial of this in Jesus’ words. A man open to God’s presence realizes that God is always working and is still working today: we must therefore let him in and let him work….

“All this helps us understand why Josemaria Escriva did not claim to the `founder’ of anything, but only someone who wanted to do God’s will and second his action, his work, precisely, God’s. In this regard, Escriva de Balaguer’s theocentrism, consistent tithe Jesus’ words, means being confident that God did not withdraw from the world, that God is working today, and that all we have to do is put ourselves at his disposal, make ourselves available to him, and responsive to his call, is an extremely important message. It is a message that helps us overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time: the claim, that after the big band’ God withdrew from history. God’s action did not stop with the `bid band but continues in time, both in the world of nature and in the human world.”

It is important here to note that Benedict views the founding of Opus Dei as the experience of the Absolute intruding into the time and space of His creation in the person of Josemaria Escriva, and in a foundational and definitive way. Opus Dei is the formational instrument to facilitate the experiential openness to the Absolute in the ordinary work and family events of secular life – which will also rejuvenate reason.

Benedict then downplays the notion of “heroic virtue” as the key to sanctity: “Being holy does not mean being superior to others: indeed, a saint can be very weak and make many blunders in his life. Holiness is profound contact with God, being a friend of God; it is letting the Other act, the One who really can guarantee that the world is good and happy. If therefore St. Josemaria speaks of the common vocation to holiness, it seems to me that he is basically drawing on his own personal experience, not of having done incredible things himself, but of having let God work….

“All this has enabled me to discern more clearly the profile of Opus Dei, this surprising link between absolute fidelity to the great tradition of the Church and to her faith, with a disarming simplicity and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, in the academic world, in the world of work, in the world of economics, etc. Those who have this link with God, those who have this uninterrupted conversation with him, can dare to respond to these challenges and are no longer afraid because those who are in God’s hands always fall into God’s hands. This is how fear disappears and, instead, the courage is born to respond to the contemporary world.”

The Challenge

Benedict's response:

“Here is the problem: Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith”
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.
“And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let us call it epochal struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”

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


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

`Yes, certainly…’

“And it seems to me,” he continued, `that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous.
“That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith”
(The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, `Let God’s Light Shine Forth,’ ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday [2005] 34-35).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation in Pluralist Democracy?” Church, Ecumenism and Politics Crossroad (1988) 218
[2] 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.
[3] R. Moynihan, “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” Doubleday (2005) 4-5.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center (1991)19-20.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point For Europe?” Ignatius (1994) 28-40.
[6] Ibid. 30
[7] Ibid. 32.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “1In the Beginning…’” Eerdmans (1995) 65-70.
[9] John Paul II, Fides et Ratio #5.
[10] Ibid. #12.
[11] John Coverdale, “Uncommon Faith,” Scepter (2002) 13-14.
[12] L’Osservatore Romano, N. 41 – 9 October 2002, p. 3.

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