Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand" - Proslogion

The large point of Anselm is his deployment of the second tier of experience where one enters into the horizon of the “subject” as complementary to the “object.” Karol Wojtyla sets up these two tiers in the opening lines of his “Introduction” to “The Acting Person.” There he introduces the work under the rubric: “The Meaning of ‘Experience’:

“The inspiration to embark upon this study came from the need to objectivize that great cognitive process which at its origin may be defined as the experience of man: this experience, which man has of himself, is the richest and apparently the most complex of all experiences accessible to him. Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”

In a later study, Wojtyla introduces the connection of this experience of the self, and the sense of consciousness that accompanies it. He says: “In order to interpret the human being in the context of lived experience, the aspect of consciousness must be introduced into the analysis of human existence. The human being is then given to us not merely as a being defined according to species [that is the Aristotelian reduction of man to the category of “rational animal”], but as a concrete self, a self-experiencing subject. Our own subjective being, and the existence proper to it (that of a suppositum) appear to us in experience precisely as a self-experiencing subject. If we pause here, this being discloses the structures that determine it as a concrete self. The disclosure of these structures constituting the human self need in no way signify a break with reduction and the species definition of the human being – rather, it signifies the kind of metholdological operation that may be described as pausing at the irreducible. We should pause in the process of reduction, which leads us in the direction of understanding the human being in the world (a cosmological type of understanding), in order to understand the human being inwardly. This latter type of understanding may be called personalistic. The personalistic type of understanding the human being is not the antinomy of the cosmological type but its complement.”[2]
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of these words. In them Wojtyla introduces the reader – particularly in the West where the rational has been limited to only the scientific method, and everything outside the method is irrational – to the realism of the subject which had been consigned (if we may) to the dustbin of subjectivism and relativism. It is unspeakably important to recover being as subject and subject as being where the person – the subject “I” - “constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”[3]
To write this truth large, Anselm is saying that faith – as act of the whole person transcending self in response to the Person Who is the Revelation of the Father, Jesus Christ – gives us an experience of our “I” as Being that enlightens reason fulfilling the desire of the human person to “know” the divinity. Revelation is not a series of conceptual abstractions that form or fit categories of the mind. Revelation is a Person. Truth is a Person. Christianity is not a religion of the Book. It is an existential experience, or it is not revelation. And it takes place “in” me as I become “another Christ” by mimicking the self-gift that Christ is as Relation-Mission from the Father.
Hence, Anselm’s affirmation that “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand.”
This point of Anselm that was the beginning of the flourishing of intelligence for the high middle ages, of which Thomas and Bonaventure were the zenith, is the broadening of reason that Benedict asks for the present moment (a new “Axial Age”?).

“Up now, slight man! Flee, for a little while, your occupations; hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms xxvii. 8). And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you” … For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand.

John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio:

"15. The truth of Christian Revelation, found in Jesus of Nazareth, enables all men and women to embrace the “mystery” of their own life. As absolute truth [my emphasis], it summons human beings to be open to the transcendent, whilst respecting both their autonomy as creatures and their freedom. At this point the relationship between freedom and truth is complete, and we understand the full meaning of the Lord's words: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).

Christian Revelation is the true lodestar of men and women as they strive to make their way amid the pressures of an immanentist habit of mind and the constrictions of a technocratic logic. It is the ultimate possibility offered by God for the human being to know in all its fullness the seminal plan of love which began with creation. To those wishing to know the truth, if they can look beyond themselves and their own concerns, there is given the possibility of taking full and harmonious possession of their lives, precisely by following the path of truth. Here the words of the Book of Deuteronomy are pertinent: “This commandment which I command you is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that you can do it” (30:11-14). This text finds an echo in the famous dictum of the holy philosopher and theologian Augustine: “Do not wander far and wide but return into yourself. Deep within man there dwells the truth” (Noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. In interiore homine habitat veritas).(21)
These considerations prompt a first conclusion: the truth made known to us by Revelation is neither the product nor the consummation of an argument devised by human reason. It appears instead as something gratuitous, which itself stirs thought and seeks acceptance as an expression of love. This revealed truth is set within our history as an anticipation of that ultimate and definitive vision of God which is reserved for those who believe in him and seek him with a sincere heart. The ultimate purpose of personal existence, then, is the theme of philosophy and theology alike. For all their difference of method and content, both disciplines point to that “path of life” (Ps 16:11) which, as faith tells us, leads in the end to the full and lasting joy of the contemplation of the Triune God. "

[1] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 3.
[2] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Lang (1993) 213.
[3] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio,” #83.

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