Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Magisterium and "A Theology of the Body" (TOB)

Some have raised doubts concerning the magisterial authority of “A Theology of the Body” (TOB). It was proposed that only infallible statements of the Pope must be held as valid and binding on conscience as Catholic Faith. All other pontifical statements must be evaluated for their rational cogency and accepted or rejected on the logical merits of argument. Since the TOB was not declared infallible as ex cathedra, it may be considered a “reading” of his private theological work which was completed before his ascending to the papacy.

Charles Curran
has written that TOB belongs to “a particular genre of teaching – the speeches given at the weekly audiences…. As such, talks to general audiences have little or no authoritative character. They are often just greetings to the various people in attendance and exhortations… These talks… have little or no importance from the point of view of authoritative teaching.”[1]

Revelation Is a Person

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation states unambiguously that the Person of Jesus Christ is the full and complete revelation of God the Father. It proclaims: “After God had spoken many times and in various vays through the prophets, ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ (Heb. 1, 1-2). For he sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all men, to dwell among men and to tell them about the inner life of God… As a result, he himself – to see whom is to see the Father (cf. Jn. 14, 9) – completed and perfected Revelation and confirmed it with divine guarantees. He did this by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation.”

Faith: Not Reducible to Dogmatic Propositions:
Not Even Infallible Ones

The immediate goal is to affirm that the faith is not reducible to propositional knowing, but is before all else a gift of the entire self to the revealing Christ such that its natural denouement is martyrdom. Vatican II's Dei Verbum says: “‘The obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16, 26; cf. Rom. 1, 5; 2 Cor. 10, 5-6) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, [my underline] making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals,’ and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him.”[2] Concerning the totality of self-gift to death, “Veritatis Splendor” says: “Through the moral life, faith becomes ‘confession,’ not only before God but also before men: it becomes witness. ‘You are the light of the world,’ said Jesus; ‘a city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 5, 14-16). These works are above all those of charity (cf. Mt. 25, 31-46) and of authentic freedom which is manifested and lived in the gift of self, even to the total gift of self, like that of Jesus, who on the Cross ‘loved the Church and gave himself up for her’ (Eph. 5, 25).”[3]

Two Complementary Experiences of Faith

Joseph Ratzinger recalls the discrepancy he discovered in preparing his thesis in the 1950s concerning faith today, and faith in the 13th century. He relates: “I stumbled upon the unexpected fact that in that period it had not occurred to anyone to characterize the Bible as ‘revelation.’ Nor was the term ‘source’ applied to it. This is not to say that he Bible was held in less esteem then than it is today. Quite the contrary: the respect for it was much more unconditional, and it was clear that theology, by right, can and should be nothing other than the interpretation of Scripture. But their concept of the harmony between what is written and what is lived out was different from contemporary notions. Therefore the term ‘revelation’ was applied only, on the one hand, to that ineffable act which can never be adequately expressed in human words, in which God makes himself known to his creature, and, on the other hand, to act of reception in which this gracious condescension [Zuwendung] of God dawns [consciousness] upon man and becomes revelation. Everything that can be grasped in words, and thus Scripture, too, is then testimony to that revelation but is not revelation itself.”[4]

Ratzinger then explains that Scripture became disengaged from the personal experience of God as “act” in the “event” of Jesus Christ (which is its real “source”) and morphed into becoming a historically probable text to be examined by the methodology of empirical science. In this way, Scripture became merely a historical “source” to find out about the supernatural instead being the “precipitate (or product) of a much greater, perpetually inexhaustible process of revelation.”[5] He then goes on to insist that Scripture – or any words or propositions for that matter - is not in itself revelation (even when the tag of infallibility is attached to them).

So also the texts of the Magisterium that are ordinary and not extraordinary as qualified by the note of infallibility, as in the case of TOB. The texts of the TOB and the theological anthropology found therein are anchored in the faith-consciousness of the Church that depends on the two fundamental foci of the Trinity and Christology (to be presented below). To trivialize them as John Paul II’s private lucubrations that stand on their own rational merits after presenting them for five yours as ordinary magisterium with the characteristics calling for the adherence of mind and will, is not understand the meaning of revelation, faith, Church and Magisterium.

Revelation and Faith Work on Two Levels: Sense and Self

The experience through the senses gives “conceptual” and propositional knowledge. If those concepts or propositions were Magisterial, one would have to know if they were pronounced de fide, de fide definite, sententia communis, etc.[6] The experience of the self as gift gives another kind of knowing that is “consciousness.” Benedict XVI makes this distinction readily available by basing it on the Gospel narrative of the vocation of the apostle Nathaniel.

Case in Point: Benedict’s Wednesday audience September 6, 2006 deals with the vocation of the apostle Nathanael (Bartholomew). We are told that Nathanael heard about Jesus from the apostle Philip as originating in Nazareth. Nathanael, in his sensible and historical perception of the Nazareth of Israel, cannot believe that the Messias could come from that particular place. He is then told: “Come and see.” That is, come and experience for yourself. Work on a different level of experience, and you will come to a different kind of knowledge. This is Benedict’s teaching:
“Philip told this Nathanael that he had found "him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (Jn 1: 45). As we know, Nathanael's retort was rather strongly prejudiced: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1: 46). In its own way, this form of protestation is important for us. Indeed, it makes us see that according to Judaic expectations the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village as, precisely, Nazareth (see also Jn 7: 42).
“But at the same time Nathanael's protest highlights God's freedom, which baffles our expectations by causing him to be found in the very place where we least expect him [the ordinary commonplace: the secular]. Moreover, we actually know that Jesus was not exclusively "from Nazareth" but was born in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2: 1; Lk 2: 4) and came ultimately from Heaven, from the Father who is in Heaven.
“Nathanael's reaction suggests another thought to us: in our relationship with Jesus we must not be satisfied with words alone. In his answer, Philip offers Nathanael a meaningful invitation: "Come and see!" (Jn 1: 46). Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else's testimony is of course important, for normally the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation handed down to us by one or more witnesses.
“However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus; in a similar way, when the Samaritans had heard the testimony of their fellow citizen whom Jesus had met at Jacob's well, they wanted to talk to him directly, and after this conversation they told the woman: "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world" (Jn 4: 42).
“Returning to the scene of Nathanael's vocation, the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!" (Jn 1: 47). This is praise reminiscent of the text of a Psalm: "Blessed is the man... in whose spirit there is no deceit" (32[31]: 2), but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who answers in amazement: "How do you know me?" (Jn 1: 48).
Jesus' reply cannot immediately be understood. He says: "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you" (Jn 1: 48). We do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael's life.
“His heart is moved by Jesus' words, he feels understood and he understands:
"This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man". And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (Jn 1: 49). In this confession is conveyed a first important step in the journey of attachment to Jesus.
“Nathanael's words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: he is recognized both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the People of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements because if we only proclaim Jesus' heavenly dimension, we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being; and if, on the contrary, we recognize only his concrete place in history, we end by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him.”
Note that for the complete grasp of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ, there must be two levels of experience that issue into two hierarchical ways of knowing: the one is sensible empirical by hearing and sight that issues on the level of concept and proposition; the other is the experience of actually “going to see and hear for oneself” which is already an act of self-transcendence toward the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here one experiences both self and Christ in a dialogic encounter, from which issues the “That’s it. That is what my nature points to and seeks:” "This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man"…. "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (Jn 1: 49).

Knowledge and Consciousness

Christopher West offers helpful image to distinguish between "knowledge" and "consciousness." If it is raining outside, metaphysical knowledge would accept this as a given - as an objective reality outside oneself and not determined by oneself. But if it is raining, our experience can and should confirm this. Not only could we look outside and see it, but we could step outside and feel it. Applying the image, if the Church's doctrine on faith and morals is true, our experience can and should confirm this. John Paul's goal is to get us to step into the rain, to experience it, get soaked, and to spend our lives joyfully playin g in the rain like a child. Taking this image a step further, we can recognize the need of childlikeness if we are to experience the objective truth as a liberating good ('unless you turn and become like children' - Mt 18, 3). Some might have a (metaphysical) knowledge of the rain, but be at odds with it internally. If such a person fails to become like a child, he will either live in a state of continual resentment toward the rain, or he will deny its existence and create his own illusory world 'unhindered' by 'undersirous' weather. But herein lies the devil's perennal deception - reality (God) is not a hindrance, it is not undesireous. Submission to reality (God) is ultimate freedom and the fulfillment of every desire. But only a "child" can see this. Only children like to play in thie rain." (Theology of the Body Explained" Pauline Books and Media [2003] 44.)

The Anthropology of Christian Faith

Perhaps the best way to begin to understand this is to consider the metaphysical architecture of the human person as image of God. A congenial approach to that is John Henry Newman’s after-dinner toast that he proposed - first to conscience, and then only afterwards to the Pope. Newman remarked: “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into afterdinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, -still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”[7]

Ratzinger comments: “conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself.”[8] And the reason why the subject has a voice of truth in himself is the presence in him of an “ontological tendency” to act some ways, and not in others. He says: “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.’

“That 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 [non-amnesia, non-forgetting = remembering] 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 nature points to and seeks.”[9]

This is an exciting understanding of anthropology because it explains why revelation is not an imposition on freedom of conscience. Since my whole being is yearning for the explanation of who I am, a question that nothing in the world of sensible experience is able to answer, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the absolute, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, is given to me not an external imposition but as the answer to my deepest longing.

Hence, we first toast the yearning that makes the function of the pope meaningful. Without the question, there is not answer: “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.”[10] He concludes the point: “The pope does not impose from without. Rather he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason 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 of conscience.”[11]

The Authority of Extraordinary and Ordinary Magisterium

1) Authority: Jesus Christ is the source of authority in the Church since He is its author as Head, and the Church His engendered Body. That authority has been passed on sacramentally in Orders. This is not clericalism since the Church of Peter is at the service of the Church of Mary which has a “functional” priority to it, and this because without Mary, there is no Christ, no Church, and therefore, no Peter. Hence, Christ stands ‘before’ the Church and ‘nourishes and cherishes her’ (Eph. 5, 29), giving his life for her. The priest [and fortiori, the pope] is called to be the living image of Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church.”[12]

Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium” says: “Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. Jn. 20, 21[13]). He willed that their successors, the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world. In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided he put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion. This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful, and, proceeding undeviatingly with this same undertaking, it proposes to proclaim publicly and enunciate clearly the doctrine concerning bishops, successors of te apostles, who together with Peter’s successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God.”[14]

Teaching Authority of the Pope as “Ordinary” Magisterium: “This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.”[15]

Note that TOB extends over a period of 5 years (Sept 5, 1979 – Nov 28, 1984). Waldstein highlights that “the Pope speaks (1) as pastor of the universal Chruch, (2) in a form of teaching central to his office of bishop, and (3) on a topic central to the faith.”[16] He continues, “All the signs that surround the Wednesday catecheses and that express John Paul II’s intention make it quite clear that John Paul II intended the Wednesday catecheses to be precisely this: catecheses, not the recitation of private theological works…. The first publication of the text was its delivery by the Bishop of Rome as a cycle of catecheses. The original or authentic text of TOB is the Italian text as delivered by Pope John Paul II and published in the official Insegnamenti series.”[17]

Authority and Infallibility

Someone has suggested that “he [the Pope] is not infallible unless he says he is, and secondly that we need to take his teachings according to the level of authority he gives them. As a rough rule of thumb, I would say the universal catechism is of very high authority as the current teaching of the Chruch, the encyclicals and similar official teaching statements are pretty high, and the Wednesday audiences are much less.”

I) This person equates authority with infallibility. As we saw above, the Pope exercises teaching authority above and beyond “infallibility.” Authority is objective binding power based on ontological generation, in this case, Christ and the Church. The hierarchy (Pope and bishops as successors of the apostles) receive and exercise the authority of Christ as communicated through the sacrament of Orders (the laying on of hands). Infallibility is subjective epistemological certitude. The Pope is authoritative insofar as he acts in persona Christi Capitis (in the person of Christ as Head of the Church), i.e. in all that he does and says concerning faith and morals. This is called “ordinary magisterium” and is proposed in Lumen Gentium #25 in the following way: “This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of t he documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.”

Anyone even casually informed concerning the TOB would have to judge that it falls directly under the rubric of Ordinary Magisterium. To those who pertinaciously insist that the prerogative of infallibility must be attached to a teaching in order to be held, I submit the following remarks of Ratzinger who sees as problematic the statement only “those declarations of the Magisterium issued under the prerogative of infallibility” are acceptable as belonging “to the Church as Christ’s gift.” “Whereas, he goes on, “in all other judgments, the decision would depend on the weight of argument. Initially, this sounds very illuminating, but on close examination it proves to be quite problematical, since it means for all intents and purposes that doctrinal decisions can exist – if at all – solely in situations where the Church may lay claim to infallibility; outside of this sphere, only argument would hold weight. The result is that there could be no certainty shared by the whole community of the Church [underline mine]. It seems to me that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith [underline mine] which radicalizes certain one-sided developments which begin to make their appearance around the High Middle Ages. A parallel may render the issue clearer:

Parallel between Reducing Authoritative Teaching to the Infallible and Minimalism in Sacramental Validity

“From about the thirteenth century on, interest in the conditions necessary for validity begins to push every other consideration to the margin of sacramental theology. Increasingly, everything ceases to matter except the alternative between valid and invalid. Those elements which do not affect validity appear to be ultimately trivial and interchangeable. Thus, in the case of the Eucharist, for example, this is expressed in an every-stronger fixation on the words of consecration; that which is actually constitutive for validity becomes more and more strictly limited. Meanwhile, the eye for the living structure of the Church’s liturgy is progressively lost. Everything other than the words of consecration appears to be mere ceremony, which happens to have evolved into its present form but in principle might just as easily have been omitted. The characteristic nature of liturgy and the irreplaceable liturgical sense cease to be regarded as important,. Falling as they do outside the narrow limits of a legally defined minimalism…. A good part of the liturgical crisis of the Reformation was due to these constrictive tendencies, which are also the key to understanding the liturgical crisis of the present. If today the entire liturgy has become the playground of private ‘creativity,’ which can romp at will just as long as the words of consecration are kept in place, at work is the same reduction of vision whose origin lies in an erroneous development typical of the West but quite unthinkable in the Eastern Church.

“Let us return from this example to the question before us. As a strictly circumscribed juridical category, infallibility first developed with such rigorous clarity in the Middle Ages, as was demonstrated in the controversy with Küng. We must not conclude, however, that previously everything had been left to argument, that is, to scholarly dispute. No one believed it necessary to reduce the living organism of the doctrine of the faith to the skeleton of infallibility but, on the contrary, saw the essential precisely in the vital figure delineated by the rule of faith and the Creed. Both in doctrine and in liturgy, what really matters is lost when one feels obliged to distill a juristical minimum, beyond which everything is left subject to arbitrariness. Here too we would do well to learn to look once more beyond the fence of Western thinking and to make the attempt to understand anew the original vision which has remained largely intact in the East. Certainly, the knowledge that, under special conditions, the gift of making an infallible pronouncement has been conferred upon the Church cannot and ought not to be withdrawn. This, however, is meaningful only so long as such an act of fixing a limit, an act whose necessity is determined by particular circumstances, is embedded in a vital structure of common certainty in faith. More important than the concept of infallibility is therefore that of auctoritas, which, nevertheless, has well-nigh disappeared from our thought. Yet in reality it can never be wholly absent, because it represents a basic presupposition of community life. What would be the result if from now on the state were to enact as a universally binding norm only what can be considered the infallibly correct solution of a given problem? What would happen if the same procedure were mandatory in the economy, in the school or in the family? The crisis of our social organism may be traced, among other causes, to such tendencies and to the misconstrual of democracy as a constant questioning of everything by everyone. States can continue to exist and to be governed only because laws are still regarded as binding (even though subject to revision) when they are issued by the legitimate authority. This comparison limps, of course, because the common teaching of the Church regards other matters than the state’s legislation. Yet it is able to show that auctoritas cannot be reduced to infallibility. For a community which is based essentially upon common conviction, auctoritas is indispensable where its principal tenets are concerned, and precisely an auctoritas whose word can mature and become purer through living development….

Conclusion… binding authority cannot be the prerogative of infallibility alone. It lies in the living, total form of the faith, which as such must always be capable of new expression lest it disappear in the whirl of changing hypotheses.”[18]

Levels of Acceptance: Hierarchy of Truths vs. Theological Notes

Having confused authority and infallibility, the person demanding infallibility as prerogative of acceptance as faith then proceeds to sort out what teachings he will accept or not accept depending on the degree of “authority” (read infallibility). A reading from the philosophy of the street has been expressed thus: “As a rough rule of thumb, I would say the universal catechism is of very high authority as the current teaching of the Church, encyclicals and similar official teaching statements are pretty high, and the Wednesday audiences are much less.” So much for TOB as Wednesday audiences.

By way of example, I include a sampling from Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” TAN (1974):

“The Theological Grades of Certainty

1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."

2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.

4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.

6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata). Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opimo tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called "silentium obsequiosum." that is "reverent silence," does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.”[19]

The large distinction that is being made here is between the authority of the revealing Christ by the Magisterium, and the infallible, non-fallible certitude of the semantic propositions of faith. Since not all teachings of the Magisterium have the note of infallibility attached, the question arises: What are we to accept?

The Pre-History of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Vis a vis “Theological Notes” or “Degrees of Certainty:

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn O.P.: Editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“When in 1989 the ‘revised draft’ of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was submitted for consultation to the whole Catholic Episcopate, one of the main criticisms expressed by a whole group of North American theologians was that this project did not respect the principle of the hierarchy of truths.[20] … Cardinal Ratzinger, President of the Commission, summarized its reply: “the catechism’s very outline was an expression of the hierarchy of truths: the four pillars of catechesis already articulate it in a systematic way, because what matters regarding the hierarchy of truths is the organic unity of the exposition and not, as some critics appear to think, the various degrees of certainty. It is indeed necessary to distinguish clearly between the hierarchy of truths and the degrees of certainty. The catechism must certainly avoid giving the impression that all the statements it contains have the same degree of certainty. It would be neither practical nor desirable constantly to indicate these degrees (de fide, de fide definita, sententia communis, etc.). Rather, the doctrine’s degree of certainty should be evident from the context from the way it is stated, from the doctrinal authority of the statement.
“More important for catechesis is the principle of the organic unity of the exposition.”

What is this “organic unity?” Schönborn indicates that there are two centers to this ellipse which is the Catechism. The one is the Trinity. The other is Christology. They are both relational as personalist. He says: “If the divine economy is a sort of leitmotif running through the new catechism, this economy itself gravitates around a center, i.e., the mystery of the Trinity. He quotes CCC #234: “The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the central mystery of faith and Christian life. It is the mystery of God in himself. Thus it is the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that illumines them. It is the most basic and essential teaching of the ‘hierarchy of truths’ of the faith.”

With regard to the Christological center, he says: “With the Trinitarian mystery there is a second basis to which the other truths of faith must refer in their hierarchy: the mystery of Christ. It can be said that this catechism is profoundly Trinitarian, and it can equally and just as truly be said that it is Christocentric.”

Schönborn goes on to connect this second focus of the ellipse of the Catechism, Christology, to anthropology as in Gaudium et Spes #22. The Catechism does it in #520, but especially in #521. He quotes John Paul II: “Everything that Christ experienced, we must be able to experience in us. By his incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each person” (Gaudium et spes. No. 22, 2). ‘What he lived in his flesh for us and as our model, he communicated to us as members of his body.’”

It is here that TOB fits as essentially connected with the other authoritative (and incidentally, infallible) teachings of the Church. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider a particular case that was surprising to the traditionally formed Catholic readership.

Case in Point:

Image of God: Rational Substance or Relational Person

John Paul II, in the November 14, 1979 Wednesday Address, makes the bold affirmation that “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.”

What is initially shocking about such an affirmation is the traditionally received teaching on the image of God in Catholic theology as an individual endowed with reason and free will, and hence the ability to subdue material creation. In the received philosophic-theological tradition derived from Hellenism (Aristotle) and Boethius, man was taken to be, in Aristotelian and Boethian terms, an “individual substance of a rational nature.” And it was as such that man was considered to be in the image and after the likeness of God.

English theologian Fergus Kerr O.P. found himself astonished that the “neo-Aristotelian philosophy of the rational animal (if that was what was on offer in the seminary textbooks)… should simply be set aside silently, in favour of this innovatory doctrine of sexual difference as the human creature’s way of imaging God.”[23]

Truth to tell, John Paul II was not building the image of God on the difference of sexuality, but on constitutive relationality which is the metaphysical grounding of sexual differentiation and complementarity. John Paul II’s offering of the image of God as relational, spousal (even in celibacy) and between man and woman, sexual union, is built on the Trinitarian communio.

Kerr went to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church and did not find explicit references to sexual union as act of imaging God. He relates: “Nowhere in the Catechism… is there anything to suggest that the ‘image of God’ theology in terms of sexual difference even exists, let alone that it is the common teaching of the Catholic Church."

“Something has happened since 1992. The teaching of Pope John Paul II in the Wednesday Catecheses was evidently not ripe for inclusion in the Catechism. In the Congregation document of 2004, however, this entirely new doctrine [sic] has become the only one. Amazingly, with that characteristic Roman Catholic talent for creative amnesia, the imago Dei theology that has held sway for 2,000 years is never even mentioned!” The document to which Kerr refers, “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God” (written and approved over the signature of Cardinal Ratzinger) says the following: “When a man and a woman unite their bodies and spirits in an attitude of total openness and self-giving, they form a new image of God. Their union as one flesh does not correspond simply to a biological necessity, but to the intention of the Creator in leading them to share the happiness of being made in his image.”

A New Perception of the Sacraments

So much is TOB part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church that a new perception of the sacramental system ("realism") is re-invigorated (originating in St. Paul and developed by Augustine [Colman O'Neill "Sacramental Realism" Scepter 1998]) whereby sexual union in matrimony is the primordial sacrament of creation in Christ whereby the supernatural mystery of Trinitarian self-gift that is the divine Persons, now becomes immanent in human flesh, the self-gift of the human body as person.

The Imaging of God as Relation is Embedded in the Hierarchy of Truths Concerning Trinity and Christology

I. Trinity: The Theology of the Body is the anthropology of the Trinitarian relationality of Persons and the Incarnation of the Logos. It is all of a piece in that the trinity of persons is one God because each of the persons is a distinct dynamic as gift. The Father is the act of engendering the Son. Hence, there can be no Father without Son, and no Son without Father. For, if the Father did not engender the Son, He would not be Father. And since the Spirit is the Love that is self-gift of both the Father and the Son, there can be no Father and Son without the Spirit, nor Spirit without the Father and Son.

II. Christology: Incarnation: The Second Person assumes the concrete human nature of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. Both divine and human natures are of the divine Person and therefore are not in parallel, but “compenetrating” personally. The agent of knowing and willing is/are not the natures but the one Person. Hence, the willing by the Person of Jesus Christ with his human will is maximally autonomous and free, and yet is one (personally) with his divine Will. His humanity is pure relation as total self-gift to the Father.

Hence, the humanity of Christ is perfect image of his divinity. In his humanity, He is perfect image of the divinity. He is at once Self, and image of Self in that He has two complete and perfect natures that are dynamized by one and the same Person. The obedience of his human will is free and autonomous with the freedom of radical self-gift to the Father. This is the prototype of human freedom, i.e. Christ’s obedience to death on the Cross.[24] Therefore, the perfect imaging of God takes place in the humanity of Christ (Col. 1, 15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.”).

III. TOB: Man becomes the image of God in act when as male and female each makes that Christological gift of self.

Conclusion: The authority of TOB derives from already being part of the hierarchy of truths that are accepted in the experience and consciousness of the Person of Jesus Christ. That is to say, John Paul’s account of imaging God takes into account that God has been revealed as a communion of Persons (“We:” “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”[25]), and that man, created in God’s image, actualizes this imaging as a communion of persons. Making a comparison with the authoritative weight of statements in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can make the same point as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (above p. 11) that “it would be neither practical nor desirable constantly indicate these degrees (de fide, de fide definita, sententia communis, etc.). Rather, the doctrine’s degree of certainty should be evident from the context, from the way it is stated, from the doctrinal authority of the statement.”

Hence, John Paul II says: “If, vice versa, we want to retrieve also from the account of the Yahwist text the concept of ‘image of God,’ we can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. The function of the image is that oaf mirroring the one who is the model, of reproducing its own prototype. Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, ‘from the beginning’ not only an image in which the solitude of one Person, who rules the world, mirrors itself, but also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons.

“In this way, the second account could also prepare for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the ‘image of God,’ even if ‘image’ appears only in the first account. This is obviously not without significance for the theology of the body, but constitutes perhaps the deepest theological aspect of everything one can say about man. In the mystery of creation – on the basis of the original and constitutive ‘solitude’ of his being – man has been endowed with a deep unity between what is, humanly and through the body, male in him and what is, equally humanly and through the body, female in him. On all this, right from the beginning, the blessing of fruitfulness descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Gen. 1, 28).

Personally, I was not able to understand what was going on with the mind of John Paul II, nor less TOB, until I suddenly understood that “being” was not to be restricted to the abstract category of substance (to-be-in-self), but rather, as in the divine Persons – and also created persons - “to be” = “to be in relation.” I saw this for the first time in a 1989 reading of Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” concerning the meaning of person in the Trinity. This is the epistemological paradigm shift that must be experienced and recognized to enter into depths of Vatican II and the subsequent Magisteria of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

[1] Charles Curran, “The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II,” Georgetown University Press (2004) 4-5.
[2] Vatican II, “Dei Verbum” #5.
[3] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #89.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Handing on the Faith, and the Sources of the Faith,” Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief Ignatius (2006)29.
[5] Ibid. 30.


[7] Letter to Norfolk, in Works of Cardinal Newman: Difficulties of Anglicans II (Westminster Maryland: Christian Classics (1969) 261.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of The Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas Texas, (1991) 15.
[9] Ibid 20.
[10] Ibid 21.
[11] Ibid
[12] John Paul II, “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” #22.
[13] “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
[14] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium #19.
[15] Ibid #25.
[16] John Paul II, “Man and Woman He Created Them,” Pauline Books and Media (2006) 16.
[17] Ibid
[18] J. Ratzinger, “The Ecclesia Vocation of the Theologian,” The Nature and Mission of Theology, Ignatius (1995) 112-113,
[19] Ludwig Ott, “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,” TAN: “§ 8.
[20] Thomas Rease, S.J.: “In order to answer these and other questions, I recruited 15 scholars in Scripture, catechetics, and systematic, moral, and sacramental theology. Each studied the catechism and wrote papers analyzing it from the perspective of their particular specialties. The first drafts of their papers were discussed at the end of January in a symposium sponsored by the Woodstock Theological Center, a theological research center at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Some of these papers will appear in America and Commonweal, and revised versions of all the papers will be published in a collection later this year by Harper and Row….Third, the catechism makes no attempt to distinguish what is essential from what is less important in its teaching. Everything, from angels to the Trinity, is presented without any consideration of what theologians refer to as the hierarchy of truths. No distinction is made between infallible teaching and theological opinions. Ignoring these distinctions confuses the faithful when something they thought was essential is later placed in doubt or changed;” The Universal Catechism Reaction: Reflections and Responses, ed. Thomas J. Rease, S.J., San Francisco 1990.
[21] Cristoph Schönborn, “The Divine Economy Interwoven Through New Catechetical Work,” Reflections on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #3 in Osservatore Romano [prior to 1993].
[22] Ibid
[23] Fergus Kerr, “Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians,” Blackwell Publishing (2007) 195.
[24] Veritatis Splendor #85: “The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom: he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom.”
[25] Gen. 1, 26.

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