Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Benedict's Diagnosis and Prognosis of the [European] American - Global Crisis

The Economy is Secular Trust that is Grounded on Christian Faith

Benedict XVI asserts that only the “Word of God” is reality. Read this again:

If We Don't Trust Christ, We Will Not Trust Each Other

"Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch, is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent."[1]

"Everything else is “secondary reality.” That includes matter, success and money. Money is simply numbers that are assigned for the ontological value of the working person. He also insists on the “broadening of reason” – something which could only take place if reason were informed by the “Word of God.” But the “Word of God” is not primarily the spoken word, not even Sacred Scripture. Benedict’s habilitation thesis asserts that “revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down.”
[2] The Word of God is primarily a Divine Person – the Logos of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”[3] – Who can only be known by becoming that Person.

“Like is known by like.”
[4] Scripture reads: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27). The Son is nothing but pure relation to the Father. His very “to be” is the act of obedience and glorification of the Father. Joseph Ratzinger does this metaphysical equivalency of Person and act when he says: “what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an ‘I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be ‘off duty;’ here there is no ‘I’ separate from the work; the ‘I’ is the work and the work is the ‘I.’”[5]

To know the Person of Jesus Christ is the work of faith. But faith as a way knowing is a mimicking of the action of the Logos revealing. In that same explanation of his thesis, Ratzinger remarked that as revelation is an “act in which God shows himself,” so also faith is an act where by the Word is received in the believer. It is important to be precise and clear in this – for us steeped in objectified knowing – revolutionary point, Ratzinger says: “the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.” In a word, the believer must become “another Christ” in act in order to experience in oneself and “know” (become conscious of) Christ. That is to say, “only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him.”
[6] Faith, then, is not merely knowing “about” God, but experiencing God in Jesus Christ. “God cannot be made known with words alone. One does not really know a person if one knows about this person second handedly. To proclaim God is to introduce to the relation with God: to teach how to pray. Prayer is faith in action. And only by experiencing life with God does the evidence of His existence appear.”[7]

Faith as prayer is an anthropological act. It is aptly described as the metaphysics of self-gift, which when in place as a steady attitude toward God becomes a persistent attitude of relation among created persons. As such, that attitude of trust is the foundation of human society in all its parts, including the economic. Where the experience of the human face of God has decayed, which is the Person of Jesus Christ, then God has effectively disappeared from the experience of a society in its intrinsic working parts. He is not denied outright, but relegated to a “hobby.” He survives, but is not a “player.”

N.Y. Post op ed columnist Linda Chavez wrote quoting Niall Ferguson: “Money is a matter of belief, even faith: belief in the person issuing the money he uses or the institution that honors his checks or transfers. Money is… trust inscribed.”
[8] She continued: “And once trust breaks down, the system itself collapses. What is worrisome in today’s troubled economy is that trust seems to be dissolving before our eyes.

“Why have banks stopped lending? Why are people pulling their money out of the stock market, driving down the Dow and NASDAQ? Why are people afraid to buy houses? It all boils down to trust.

“Banks don’t trust that debtors – companies, individuals, even other banks – will pay back the money they lend, so they stop lending. Investors don’t trust that companies will be able to earn profits in the near future, so they stop investing. Ordinary people don’t trust that the home they buy will be worth what they paid for it in a year or even a few months, so they hesitate buying.

“This breakdown in trust feeds on itself. Distrust becomes a self-perpetuating and contagious.”

Recent Remarks of Benedict XVI on the Economic Crisis


During a meeting with pastors and clergyof the diocese of Rome which took place yesterday in the Hall of Blessingsin the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Benedict XVI answered eight questions putto him concerning such matters as the world economic crisis, the formationof priests, evangelisation, the educational emergency and the value of theliturgy. Benedict XVI explained that the Church has the duty to present areasonable and well-argued criticism of the errors that have led to thecurrent economic crisis. This duty, he said, forms part of the Church'smission and must be exercised firmly and courageously, avoiding moralism butexplaining matters using concrete reasons that may be understood byeveryone. Referring to his forthcoming social Encyclical, the Pope then presented asynthetic overview of the crisis, analysing it at two levels. First heconsidered the macroeconomic aspects, highlighting the shortcomings of asystem founded on selfishness and the idolatry of money, which cast a shadowover man's reason and will and lead him into the ways of error. Here theChurch is called to make her voice heard - nationally and internationally -in order to help bring about a change of direction and show the path of truereason illuminated by faith, which is the path of self-sacrifice and concernfor the needy. The second aspect of the Holy Father's analysis concerned the sphere ofmicroeconomics. Large-scale projects for reform, he said, cannot come aboutunless individuals alter their ways. If there are no just people, then therecan be no justice. Hence he invited people to intensify their humble,everyday efforts for the conversion of hearts, an undertaking that above allinvolves parishes whose activity is not just limited to the local communitybut opens up to all humanity.

Ratzinger on Spengler and Toynbee

[In Place of “Europe,” Read “United States”]

“At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.

“Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted.

“Which brings us to the problems of the present. There are two opposing diagnoses of the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: First comes the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argued his thesis with examples culled from the history of cultures demonstrating the law of the natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture—following the example set by previous cultures during their decline—but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.

“Spengler’s “biologistic” thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material progress and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism. If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: The religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the “heritage of Western Christianity.” Rather than a biologistic vision, he offered a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.

“Which leads us to the question of whether Toynbee’s diagnosis is correct. If it is, then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of what remains of Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind. Which factors will guarantee the future, and which have allowed the inner identity of Europe to survive throughout its metamorphoses in history? To put it more simply, what can still promise, today and tomorrow, to offer human dignity to life?”[10]

[1] VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2008
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1998) 109.
[3] John, 1, 1
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 25.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 149.
[6] Benedict XVI, Brazil, October 17, 2007.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “The New Evangelization,” 2000.
[8] “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.”
[9] Lind Chavez, “As Trust Dissolves Before Our Eyes,” N.Y. Post, Saturday, December 20, 2008 A 23.
[10] Benedict XVI First Things 159, January 2005, 16-22

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