Saturday, October 07, 2006

Similarity Between Lepanto and Now

1) Prior to 1571, it is a commonplace to note the downturn of a lived spirituality in the Church and the need of reform. The outcome of that loss of self-transcendence in the act of faith was the rationalist and positivist state of reason that took the name of Occam, a decayed scholastic essentialism that reduces being to the names we give it. Everything is extrinsic to everything else as the names we give things are distinct from one another. It ends up a kind of Logicism of concepts imposing itself on reality and reducing the way it really is to the way we think. Louis Bouyer says: “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 Protean figure impossible to apprehend?”[1] He goes on: “In these circumstances, a grace that produces a real change in us, while remaining purely the grace of God becomes inconceivable. If some change is effected in us then it comes from us, and to suppose it could come also and primarily from God amounts to confusing God with creature.”[2] Further on, he remarks: “Whether we take the theory of extrinsic justification, or the completely subjectivist view of faith (shutting faith up in itself, instead of seeing it as the means enabling the human mind to be drawn to God and to transcend itself), or that of the sovereignty of God confused with an arbitrariness fundamentally due to anthropomorphism, or a concept in of the word of God that both opposes it to any ecclesiastical institution and makes it incomprehensible, and even incapable of formulation – non of this is a Protestant innovation.”[3] It is all to be laid at the feet of a rationalism deriving from a reason that has lost the experience of transcendent being, the transcendent being that is the person of the believer.

In such a state, neither the West that had become rationalist, nor the Muslim (Ottoman) East that does not know reason. As Benedict XVI said in his Regensburg address: “For Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality….God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us.”

As a result, the struggle with the Muslims of 1571 was not dialogue but war – because of a pernicious lack of reason on both sides.

2) Now, Benedict has said in explaining why there was a need for a “universal catechism” in 1992: “The reason is that today we are in a situation exactly like that at the time of the Council of Trent, which, held in the middle of the 16th century, marked the dawn of modern times.

“Now we are close to the end of a millennium and in an entirely new historical period, indicated by schemas of thought, science, technology, culture and civilization, breaking completely with all that we knew previously.

“That is why it was necessary to reformulate the logic and the sum total of the Christian faith. This is the fruit of a reflection, over some years, by the universal Church to rethink, re-articulate and bring up-to-date her doctrine.”

Benedict goes on to say in response to the observation that “you go as far as to say that nihilism is rapidly taking the place of Marxism. How do you analyze this divorce between faith and modernity? “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.”[4]

In 1961, Ratzinger preached the following: “It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of people incapable of relating to God… We have reached the stage where a kind of person has developed in whom there is no longer any starting point for the knowledge of God.”[5]

The result: “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”[6]

The Solution: Only the radical self-transcendence of prayer that is living faith can restore the illumination – transfiguration – of being to reason. This being and its transfiguration is the “I” of the believer going out of self as response to the total revelation of God to man that is Jesus Christ.

That prayer is preferentially the rosary. John Paul II said in 2002: “In continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter `Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited the people of God to `start afresh from Christ,’ I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the fact of Christ."

This was the experience at Lepanto that brought about only an extrinsic and temporary solution. The same faith and exercise of that faith in praying the rosary now, daily, the 20 mysteries meditated and prayed will bring about an interior change in both East and West.

[1] L. Bouyer, “The Spirit and Form of Protestantism,” Scepter, 184.
[2] Idem 185.
[3] Idem 194.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “And Marxism Gave Birth to… NIHILISM,” Catholic World Report, January 1993, 52, 54.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “What it means to be Christian” Ignatius (2006) 24-25.
[6] John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, #5.

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