Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Helpful Insight to "Jesus of Nazareth"

Since persons as unique beings – Peter, Mary and Joe – are not known by abstract, universal ideas – man, humanity – but are, in fact, known consciously, there must be a deeper kind of knowing than ideas and concepts. We refer to it as “consciousness.” I become conscious of this person, Peter, and direct myself knowingly toward him. That consciousness is the backdrop or context for every concept or idea I exchange with him in dialogue (or in any other way). It is ultimately what I mean by “meaning,” and in theology by the word “Tradition.” [In passing, I note that Wojtyla’s major contribution to anthropology and epistemology is his work on the experience of the “I” that issues into consciousness as distinct from conceptual, objectifying “knowledge:” The Acting Person pp. 30-59 with particular attention to 43-47].

Benedict’s “theological epistemology”[1] consists in showing that the knowledge of the divine “I” of Jesus Christ comes from doing what Christ does, i.e. communicate with the Father by prayer and deeds of obedience. That is, since like is known by like, one must become “like” Christ by doing what He does. Since the only person I can experience is myself since I alone have dominion to freely subdue myself to act such and so, then I can known Him who acts such and so by freely mastering myself to act such and so. When that happens, I experience in me what Christ experiences in Himself. Cognizing Him in myself, and reflecting on that consciousness in myself such as to form concepts and ideas, I can then transfer them to Him and confess: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 15). I cognize Him in me, recognize Him in Scripture and events, and confess Him to Himself and the entire world.

This is the method of Benedict XVI in his “Jesus of Nazareth.” Benedict sheds the life style and all the trappings of the bookish intellectual without stripping himself of content. Rather, he gains content by subordinating abstractive study for pastoral service. He has done it to be Cardinal of Munich in 1977, to be head of the SCDF [Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] in the early 80’s and now to be Pope in 2005.

The Bear of St. Corbinian (and Augustine)
Accessing Intellectual Depth

Roch Kereszty compares this conduct to Augustine: “When visiting St. Augustine’s tomb in Pavia, Pope Benedict explained that the second stage in Augustine’s conversion took place at the time when Augustine accepted ordination to the priesthood and gave up his contemplative scholarly existence for the sake of the ministry. He devoted himself to learning how to teach the most sublime mysteries of faith to the simplest folks in the city of Hippo. Through all this, he did not cease being a theologian; he merely abandoned the esoteric language and lifestyle of the scholar. Eventually, he succeeded in exptressin ghe deepest theologyin the simplest language, comprehensible for his provincial audience and yet an enduring challenge fot he learned.

“We find a similar development in Josoeph Ratzinger’s life journey. From an early age he felt the vocation to be a theologian; even after ordination, he found teaching and writing, rather than pastoral ministry, to be most congenial to his talents and personality. Then came the unexpected appointment to the archbishopric of Munich-Freising in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. Archbishop Ratzinger explained the irony of his life by telling the legend of the first bishop of Much-Freising, St. Corbinian. As the saint was riding to Rome, a bear ran out of the forest and devoured his horse. The saint ordered the bear to carry his pack to Rome for him. Ratzinger made the bear part of his coat of arms, likening himself to that bear: instead of indulging in theological thinking, writing, and reaching, he had no choice but to carry the heavy pack of St. Corbinian, the burden of the pastoral office. Nevertheless, like St. Augustine, Archbishop Ratzinger did not cease to be a theologian; instead, he learned to teach the deepest mysteries of faith in a language that speaks to ordinary people.”

But the point is much deeper. The search for communicable language moves the whole endeavor right out of the realm of language into the experience of relation between and among persons. Kereszty says: “When Benedict describes the mystery of Jesus’ divine-human identity and his relationship to the Father, he uses, instead of the terminology of the hypostatic union, a concrete personalist language that brings us much closer to participating in the mystery (my underline):

“Jesus’ own ‘I’ is always opened into ‘being with’ the Father: he is never alone, but is forever receiving himself from and giving himself back to the Father. ‘My teaching is not mine;’ his ‘I’ is opened up into the Trinity. Those who come to know him ‘see’ the Father; they enter into this communion of his with the Father. It is precisely this transcendent dialogue, which encounter with Jesus involves, that once more reveals to us the true Shepherd, who does not take possession of us, but leads us to the freedom of our being by leading us into communion with God and by giving his own life.”[3]

“Here we see the goal of Benedict’s book, which in fact should become the goal of a renewed theology. It goes beyond the articulation of concepts for expressing the metaphysical dimension of the Christian mystery, however important this task may be. It aims at helping the ‘I’ of the reader die to its limits and enter into the ‘I’ of Jesus so that the reader may also ‘see’ the Father. This ‘seeing,’ this sharing in the communion between Jesus and the Father, this continuously being ‘unterwegs,’ this never-ending pilgrimage into the unfathomable depth of the Church’s confession of faith, constitutes both the actual practice and the goal of the Christological enterprise. It remains always on the way and yet, if genuine, it always already participates in the reality of the mystery.[4]

Case in point, Kereszty quotes the highly critical Peter Steinfels of the New York Times, who acknowledges the book’s "central case ultimate rests on the coherence and power of its portrait of Jesus as a person for whom 'communion with the Father' was 'the true center of his personality.'" [5]

If Steinfels can get it, and get it through the editors of the New York Times, it may indeed be getting through and widely gettable. Got it?

[1] See “Behold the Pierced One,” p. 26.
[2] Roch Kereszty, “The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth for Theologians,” Communio 34 (Fall 2007) 456-457.
[3] Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 283.
[4] Roch Kereszty, op. cit 472.
[5] Ibid 474.

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