Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints Day 2006

1) The “Failure” of Christ

Ratzinger (1964): “It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of people incapable of relating to God. AS a result of spiritual and social developments, it is said, 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…. Indeed, that even we who are trying to be believers often feel as if the reality of God is being withdrawn from between our hands. Do we not ourselves often begin to ask where he is amid all the silence of this world? Do we not ourselves often have the feeling that, at the end of all our thinking, we have only words in our grasp, while the reality of God is farther away than before?

“And that takes us to a further step. I believe the real temptations for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three or one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us.”

- The Experience of St. Josemaria Escriva:

“Let me tell you about an event of my own personal life which happened many years ago. One day I was with a friend of mine, a man with a good heart but who did not have faith. Pointing toward a globe he said, "Look, from North to South, from East to West." "What do you want me to look at?" I asked. His answer was: "The failure of Christ. For twenty centuries people have been trying to bring his doctrine to men's lives, and look at the result." I was filled with sadness. It is painful to think that many people still don't know our Lord, and that among those who do know him, many live as though they did not. But that feeling lasted only a moment. It was shortly overcome by love and thankfulness, because Jesus has wanted every man to cooperate freely in the work of redemption. He has not failed. His doctrine and life are effective in the world at all times. The redemption carried out by him is sufficient, and more than sufficient.”[2]

And Yet, The time is now here; the kingdom of God has come:”

Therefore, the question is: “What is all this array of dogma and worship and Church, if at the end of it all we are still thrown back onto our own poor resources? That in turn brings us back again, in the end, to the question about the gospel of the Lord: What did he actually proclaim and bring among men?”

The answer: “`The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel’ (Mk. 1, 15).

`The time is accomplished: the kingdom of God has arrived.’ Behind this saying lies the whole history of Israel… (T)here had grown up in Israel the demand for a kingdom that would not be any human rule, but the kingdom of God himself; the kingdom of God, in which He, the true ruler of the world and of history, would reign supreme. He, who is himself truth and righteousness, ought to rule everyone, so that well-being and justice among men should at last really be the only ruling powers… The time is now here; the kingdom of God has come
(J. Ratzinger, "What It Means to Be a Christian," op. cit. 27-28).

What is the Kingdom of God? A Person!

John Paul II wrote: “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed.”[3]

John Paul II also clarifies that the kingdom of God is not the Church, but that it cannot be separated from the Church. “It is true that the Church is not an end unto herself since she is ordered toward the kingdom of God of which she is the seed, sign and instrument. Yet, while remaining distinct from Christ and the kingdom, the Church is indissolubly united to both. Christ endowed the Church, his body, with the fullness of the benefits and means of salvation. Christ endowed the Church, his body [the Church is body, Christ is head: they are one, but they are not the same] with the fullness of the benefits and means of salvation. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, enlivens her with his gifts and charisms, sanctifies, guides and constantly renews her. The result is a unique and special relationship which, while not excluding the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries, confers upon her a specific and necessary role; hence the Church’s special connection with the kingdom of God and of Christ, which she has `the mission of announcing and inaugurating among all peoples.’
“It is within this overall perspective that the reality of the kingdom is understood.”

Discrepancy between Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven: Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202) Splits Them.

Because of the “failure” of the anticipated Kingdom of God to appear in time, Benedict preached that “Christian theology, which was very soon confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But theology did not thereby provide an answer." [5]

The Theological Work of Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202)

Benedict’s doctoral thesis included this major point which dominates all thinking after Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202). Joachim introduced an entirely new perspective of history that dominates us today. Before Joachim, “For the first thousand years of Christian theology, Christ is not the turning-point of history at which a transformed and redeemed world begins, nor is He the point at which the unredeemed history prior to His appearance is terminated. Rather, Christ is the beginning of the end. He is `salvation’ in as far as in Him the `end’ has already broken into history. Viewed from an historical perspective, salvation consists in this end which He inaugurates, while history will run on for a time, so to say, per nefas and will bring the old aeon of this world to an end. The idea of seeing Christ as the axis of world history… appears clearly for the first time in Joachim… Consequently Joachim became the path-finder within the church for a new understanding of history which to us today appears to be so self-evident that it seems to be the Christian understanding. It may be difficult for us to believe that there was a time when this was not the case…. It should be clear that the church and redemption are rendered historical in an entirely new way which cannot be a matter of indifference for the history of dogma nor for systematic theology…. (A) new eschatological consciousness develops here, and it is demanded precisely by the new manner in which the church as it has existed up to the present is interpreted historically” [6]

The large negative point Joachim makes is that Christ is not the be all and end all of history, but merely a turning point, after which we await a new heaven and a new earth in a third aeon of the Holy Spirit after the Father and the Son. Christ is not the end as well as the beginning and meaning of all history. He is a “turning point.” Benedict asserts that “Joachim concludes that a truly good and redeemed history is yet to come since an unredeemed and defective history continues after Christ. But this redeemed history is not at hand, as he understands it with gratification. Indeed, it has been growing for a long time in a hidden way, and it must soon burst forth in the open.”[7]
This overturns the consciousness of 1,000 years of Christian persuasion that sanctity was achieveable by identity with the Person of Christ who is very God Himself in the flesh of this world. This change of consciousness persists to the present day by turning us toward ourselves as agents of a new age of aquarius or new world order. In a word, Christ is left out of the picture as, at most, a turning point in the history of a new moral and political order.

Benedict’s Response:

“For what is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history. As marvelous as the knowledge is that has been opened up for us by biblical scholarship in our century (that is, that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people), it can also disappoint and unsettle us when we look at real history, which is in truth no kingdom of God.”

The Christology at the Root of this Response: There is only one Person in Jesus Christ, the divine Logos. There are two “natures,” but only one Person. The relation of the two “natures” considered from the viewpoint of the will, the human and the divine, is not a parallelism, but a “compenetration.” That means, first, that we get straight that wills don’t will. Persons do. It is only subjects as persons who will. And if the gift of self of the divine Logos is such that he is so fully the man as Jesus of Nazareth that He has “become [our] sin” (2 Cor. 5, 21), then the human willing is done by a divine Person (See J. Ratzinger, "Journey Towards Easter" Crossroad [1987] 88-90).

Benedict signed the declaration "Dominus Iesus" on September 5, 2000. Commenting on it, he said that religious relativism ("one religion is as good as another") "is the refusal to identify the unqiue historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth with he reality of God, the living God himself, since it is held that absolute being, or the absolute being, can never be completely and finally revealed in history. In history, it is said, there are only models, ideal figures, who point us toward the Wholly Other, who as such cannot be apprehended historically. Some more moderate theologians do indeed recognize Jesus Christ as true God and true man but are of the opinon that on account of the limitations of the human nature of Jesus, the revelation of God in him cannot be seen as final and complete but always has to be seen in relation to other possible revelations of God, like the great religious figures of mankind and the founders of religions. In this way, objectively speaking, the erroneous notion is introduced that the religions of the world are complementary to the Christian revelation. That means that the Church, dogma, and sacraments can have no absolute and necessary value. Attributing an absolute character to these limited media, and even regarding them as instruments for a real encounter with the truth of God, it is held, would mean elevating something particular to an absolute status and mis-representing the reality of God, the Wholly Other who is never at our disposal.

"In view of these objections, insisting that there is a universal, binding, and valid truth in history, which became flesh in Jesus Christ and is handed on through the faith of the Church, is regareded as a kind of fundamentalism, as an attack upon the modern spirit, and as a threat to tolerance and freedom" (J. Ratzinger, "Presentation of the Declaration `Dominus Iesus,'" Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith - The Church as Communion Ignatius [2005] 210-211).

Notice that the Christological truth concerning the absolute character of the Being and Truth of Jesus Christ depends on the "compenetration" of the humanity - or will - of the man Jesus of Nazareth by the divine Person of the Logos such that when he (Jesus of Nazareth wills), it is the willing of the divine Logos-Person. Only thus is the absolute in the contingent and the eternal in time. If there is a "parallelism" such that the human will "wills" as autonomously independ- ent of the divine Person as accident in a metaphysic of substance, then that human will would not be the human willing of the divine, Absolute Person in created time and space.

Ratzinger goes on to insist that we must not give "up the claim of the Christian faith that in Christ we have received as a gift from God the final and complete revelation of the mystery of God's salvation. This way of thnning should be avoided, as it is imbued with a religious relativism that leads to the assumption that `one religion is just as good asnantoher' (Redemptoris Missio, #36)" (Ibid 214-215).

That changes things. That means that there is nothing “human” that is not divinized. God Himself has entered into time, space and history. That means, ultimately, that the absolute beginning and end of all things is spatially and temporally present as this individual, Jesus of Nazareth. That means that He could not be merely a turning point in history, but its complete and total consummation. That all “progress” that could possibly be made in history - be it scientific, technological, psychological, social, political, economic, etc. – its supreme zenith has already been given, and it is the task of each human person to find himself (and the meaning of himself) in that zenith. This also means that all the dualisms that appear as parallelisms – supernatural-natural, grace-nature, faith-reason, Church-State, male-female, priest-layman - must be re-interpreted in this compenetration of the created “natural” by the divine Person of the Logos. They all become “communions” in which to Be = to Be for, and one cannot be without the other.

Epistemological About-Face:

In fact, one enters the perspective that the only really real is the Person of Christ because He is the Absolute, and that one becomes real only by being in relation to Christ. This is achieved by prayer which is made possible by the sacrament of faith that is Baptism and perfected in the Eucharist as Sacrament of intimacy. Then, the experience of the really real is the experience of the “I” in its self-transcendence, or going out of self as gift to the revealing Person of Christ. Then, the perceptions of the senses are seen to be what they are in truth: not experiences of the really real as it is, but subjective receptions of the extra-mental reality as it impinges on sense organs. We attribute reality to what we sense because of the experience of the self as reality that is experiencing the sensation.

These seem to be the epistemological conclusions that are inexorable once we understand that Jesus Christ is truly God and man and it is He Who is ultimately real. Benedict finds in modern quantum physics an important confirmation and analogy to this theological epistemology. In a word, the external senses do not grasp the existent reality as it is. It grasps only aspects of it. “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…. 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… 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.’”[8]

The epistemological importance of the above is the following: Sensation is a subjective entering into the world. It is not objective in the sense that we sense things as they really are. The sense organs are receptive, but they are selective in their receptivity. Hence, only part of the real is taken in. Benedict says: “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 experiments, 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.”[9]

The Key to Resolving the Scandal of the "Failure of Christ: Jesus Christ is the Personal Absolute, the Absolute Person, as this concrete individual man, Jesus of Nazareth. Not only union with Him, but the mysterious identity of becoming Ipse Christus by sacramental life is the key to the presence of the Kingdom on earth here and now. Transformation into Christ is the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It is continuously taking place - invisibly. You, in your ordinariness, by living the gift of self that is Christ, are the presence of the Kingdom, the fulfillment of “Thy Kingdom come.”

Jesus Christ has not failed. He is the hidden God. His success is hidden to the external senses.

Benedict says: “For all of us, God is the origin from which we come and yet still also the future toward which we are going. And that means, furthermore, that for all of us God cannot be found except by going to meet him as the One who is coming, who is waiting for us to make a start and demanding that we do so. We cannot find God except in this exodus, in going out from the coziness of our present situation into what is hidden; the brightness of God that is coming. The image of Moses, who had to climb up the mountain and go into the cloud to find God, remains valid for all ages. God cannot be found – even in the Church – except by our climbing the mountain and entering into the cloud of the incognito of God, who in this world is the hidden One…."[10]

“(T)he real sign that he chose is hiddenness, from the wretched people of Israel to the child at Bethlehem to the man who dies on the Cross with the words, `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mt. 27, 46). This sign of hiddenness points us toward the fact that the reality of truth and love, the actual reality of God, is not to be met within the world of quantities but can be found only if we rise above that into a new order….

“The first thing we have to accept is, ever and again, this reality of an enduring Advent. If we do that, we shall begin to realize that the borderline between `before Christ’ and `after Christ’ does not run through historical time, in an outward sense, and cannot be drawn on any map; it runs through our own hearts. Insofar as we are living on a basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are `before Christ.’ But in this time…, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less `before Christ,’ and certainly not `after Christ,’ but truly with Christ and in Christ: with him who is indeed Christ yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13, 8).”
* * * * * * * *

Popularized Theology of Redemption: St. Anselm in the West: “As False As It Is Widespread”

This recasting of historical consciousness away from Christ and into an age of the Spirit and heaven in the future basically removes redemption from the personal intimacy of the person with Christ. In the Western theology, it casts redemption into an objectified system of placating infinite injustice by the need for the Incarnation of God Himself to pay the price. Benedict sums up Anselm’s soteriology as a system where grace doesn’t reach the person who is “left bereft of grace, at the mercy of his own achievements and merits.”[13]

In a word, grace is “reified.”[14] It is a thing. It is not personal. Benedict sums up: “The theology of the West thought out a precise system: it says that God has been infinitely offended by sin, so that an infinite satisfaction was necessary. This infinite satisfaction, which no finite man could make, was achieved, it says, by Christ, the God-man. The individual receives this redemption through faith and baptism, so that he is pardoned with respect to original sin, which is prior to all particular sins and which is irredeemable by himself alone. He has to stand on his own, however, on the new ground that has thereby been won. When he steps into the arena of Christian life, he cannot get rid of the feeling that in this system grace seems to be referred to a sphere that has nothing to do with him personally, and he himself, in his moral struggles, seems to be left bereft of grace, at the mercy of his own achievements and merits. Thus, in the system, the idea of redemption is in fact salvaged, yet it has no effect in life; rather, it stands somewhere in the background, in the realm of magnitude of infinite offense and satisfaction that is impossible for us to grasp, while our own existence stands amid the same difficulties and temptations as if this whole construct were simply not there”[15](underline mine)

Benedict then turns to the East: “Eastern theology explained redemption as the victory won by Christ over sin, death, and the devil. These world powers were defeated by the Lord once and for all, it says, and thus he redeemed the world. But again, when we look at the reality of our lives, who would still dare to maintain that the power of sin has been defeated? We know only too well, from our own lives and the temptations we meet, how much power it still wields. And who could seriously pronounce that death has been overcome?”[16]

[1] Josef Ratzinger, “What It Means To Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 24-26.
[2] Josemaria Escriva, “The Great Unknown” Christ is Passing By # 129.

[3] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, #18.
[4] Ibid. 19.
[5] Josef Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” op. cit. 28-29.
[6] Josef Ratzinger, “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Herald Press (1989) 106-107.
[7] Ibid 108.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 124-125.
[9] Ibid 125
[10] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” op. cit 36-37.
[11] Ibid 39-40.
[12] J. Ratzinger “Introduction to Christianity,” op. cit 214.
[13] Ibid 32-33.
[14] “What is grace? This question thrusts itself upon our text. Our religious mentality has reified this concept much too much; it regards grace as a supernatural something we carry about in our soul. And since we perceive very little of it, or nothing at all, it has gradually become irrelevant to us, an empty word belonging to Christian jargon, which seems to have lost any relationship to the lived reality of our everyday life. In reality, grace is a relational term: it does not predicate something about an I, but something about a connection between I and Thou, between God and man…. Grace in the proper and deepest sense of the word is not some thing that comes from God; it is God himself. Redemption means that God, acting as God truly does, gives us nothing less than himself. The gift of God is God – he who as the Holy Spirit is communion with us;” Josef Ratzinger, “My Word Shall Not Return to me Empty,” Mary the Church at the Source, Ignatius (2005) 67-68.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid. 33.

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