Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Caritas in Veritate" and Eschatology

Let’s tie things together! The first three encyclicals of Benedict XVI are God is Love, We hope and Love is reality here and now. Again, he is saying that Christ is God’s Love in which we live in hope, in the historical here and now.

What does this have to do with eschatology and the spirit of Opus Dei? Everything.

The eschatology that we will be presenting teaches that Christ is not now; we will die and be judged by Him in a life after this, and finally He will come at the end of the world. Basically, we will be presenting the eschatology of the present state of secularization that, according to Ratzinger, would have been unthinkable 200 years ago.

In the interim, what has happened? Christians, like John the Baptist, have been scandalized by “the failure” of Christianity. As you recall, John preached “the Messiah as the judge with the winnowing fan in his hand that would separate the chaff from the grain and throw the chaff once and for all into eternal fire. He had portrayed him as one who would cast out this adulterous generation and, in need by, raise up children of Abraham from the very stones to replace the faithless people who called themselves the children of Abraham. Above all, amid the fearful ambivalence of this world where we are constantly waiting and hoping in darkness, John had expected and proclaimed a clear message: that the day would finally come when the hopeless darkness would be dispelled in which human beings wander to and fro and know not where they are going. The ambviguity would disappear, and men would no longer have tgo grope their way in the endless mist but woulde know for certain that this and no other is God’s unequivocal claim on them, that this and no other is their situation in relation to God…

“God’s presence had begun…but what a difference from what John had imagined! No fire fell from heaven to consume sinners and bear definitive witness to the just; in fact, nothing changed at all in the present would. Jesus went about preaching and doing good in the land, but the ambiguity remained.”[1]

This “ambiguity” before our senses is our scandal. We expect – as John – big spectacular things to happen that are empirically (to our senses) verifiable. And the result is that we lose faith. Like Thomas, unless we see with our senses, we will not believe.

Consider the tale told by our Father:

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.”[2]

Now, consider the exact parallel to that in Ratzinger. He proposes that “What really torments us today, what bothers us much more [than whether there are 3 Persons in God or 2 natures in Christ] 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”[3](my underline).

So what happened? Ratzinger gives this astounding insight: 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. 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”[4] (underline mine).

The question, then, is what epistemological horizon are we living in? This is the eschatological question: What is real? John the Baptist did not see it. He sent messengers with the question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Lk. 7, 19). And the response is the whole of the Ratzinger opus: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense [scandal] at me!” (Lk. 7, 22-23).

John Paul II made the exegesis of this text that Benedict is making through his encyclicals as pope: “Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that loved is present in the world in which we live – an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty – in contact with the whole historical ‘human condition’ … Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is ‘love.’”[5]

The question imposes itself: What is real? In Brazil in May of 2007, Benedict XVI asked the question::

“What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems "reality"? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of "reality" and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.

“The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God.”

Benedict then launches into the anthropological con-version that must take place in us such that we be able to re-cognize “Love” (Agape) that is present in the world here and now. (In a word, “Christ lives!”). Obviously, re-cognition demands that we possess in ourselves cognitively-experientially what we re-cognize outside of us. That change consists in becoming the Love that is self-giftedness. In a word, one must become “alter Christus” in order to be able to re-cognize the Christ that is present in the world now. Benedict then asks: “who knows God? … For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18).[6] This anthropological shift, necessary to experience God as pure relationality, is sitting in the scriptural verse: “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” (Matt. 11, 27).

Benedict makes an even more forceful appeal to the Person of Christ, the Word of God, as the true reality in his keynote address at the Synod on the Word of God in October 2008:

“At the beginning of our Synod the Liturgy of the Hours proposes a passage from Psalm 18 on the Word of God: praise for His Word, expression of the joy of Israel in learning it and, in it, to learn about His will and His face. I would like to meditate on a few verses of this Psalm with you.

“It begins like this: “In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet”. This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which we must base our life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, but a breath. As soon as it is pronounced, it disappears. It seems like nothing. But already the human word has incredible force. It is words that create history, it is words that form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.

“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. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.”

All of this is the burden of the present encyclical. “Caritas in Veritate” means: the world is in a desperate need of development to experience what is real. “Tangible things, … success, … career, … money, … are of a “secondary order.” They are not really real. The only reality is the Word of God Who is a Person, a divine Person – nothing but ure relationality to the Father - Who is also man. And that Person is the Kingdom of God: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast our demons then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11, 20). This encyclical is an eschatological encyclical par excellence. The Kingdom of God, Heaven, death, judgment are not to be pushed out of the “now” and into the future. They are now.

The reason they have been pushed out of the physical world and off to an ethereal “heaven” is the loss of the experience of the self as relation (which in effect is the experience of God) that has accelerated in the last 200 years. Ratzinger mentions that “Two hundred years ago, the assertion that the Christian hope [my underline] was illusory would have been completely meaningless for most people in Europe. Though that assertion was in fact made, it remained for most people insubstantial and inconsequential, because the presence of Christianity governed their sense of reality. The Christian message was continually engaged in demonstrating its own reality as something on whose basis one could live and die. The joy which such certitude brought forth, even amid a host of afflictions, found expression in the radiant beauty of Baroque church-building and music. Today, we are faced with a phenomenon of an absolutely contrary kind. To maintain today that Christianity is the reality which bears up the world is to make an empty claim so far as the average person is concerned. For many, Christianity is nothing more than a gush of pious words which only the naïve could accept as a substitute for reality. And these two attitudes [my emphasis] dispose one to hear the same text in completely different ways. What we hear reflects the persons we who listen are and not simply what it is we are listening to.”[7]

Hence the topic of eschatology is the topic of Christianity itself. It is also the topic of Opus Dei. What else is the Word but the instantiation of the Kingdom of God by each one becoming “another Christ,” and becoming so in the achievement of self-gift in secular work. The Kingdom is present in the historical and physical here and now to the extent that there are person making the gift of self in work. Hence, The Kingdom 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.”[8] And so, the Kingdom is invisible to the eye, and as such become a scandal.

“Caritas in Veritate”
is such a scandal. All the commentaries that I have seen so far are scandalized. Weigel, Novak, Thomas Reese, S.J. all construe the encyclical to be a “left” leaning affair in that relationality and solidarity are constitutive to it. Weigel, for example, is looking for free market subsidiarity without the solidarity of the personal self-gift which he takes to be “red” socialism (attributable to the Pontifical Council of Peace and Justice). Even Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. seems to miss the ontological “constitutiveness” of the relationality. He says: “The Trinitarian and relational understanding of being in this encyclical shows the relation between our head and our deeds. Thinking properly is a precondition to acting properly. Of course, Aquinas said this long ago, but it is nice to see it here.”

I take the relational dimension to be far more than a “thinking” point. It is an experiential ontological point whereby we become who we are; i.e. if it is true that we image the divine Persons, that Jesus Christ is the prototype of man (GW #22) and the adequate anthropology reads that “man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes #24). This is constitutiveness, not mere accidents of a substance. Benedict does not mean that Charity is a virtue. It is a Personal Reality.

The misunderstandings of “Charity in Veritate” seem to have their root in the assumption and presumption of Greek anthropology that perceives man – sensibly - “from below” as “substance of a rational nature;” in brief, a rational animal. It is precisely here that Benedict is in the process of affecting a revolution. In 1967, after the Council, he launched the challenge that must rock the Church and the world. It is now, perhaps, that the moment has come for that challenge to be heard and understood. It is found in the prayer of Christ to the Father exhorting “that they be one as we are one” (Jn. 17, 23). It reads in the following way concerning the meaning of the divine Person:

“It [the divine Person of the Father] is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving… In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’ Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: ‘In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable.”[9]

All the misperceptions concerning this encyclical and the previous two are rooted in the exegesis of this text.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 75.

[2] St. Josemaria Escriva “The Great UnknownChrist I Passing By Number 129

[3] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means To Be a Christian” Ignatius (2006) 25-26.

[4] Ibid 28-29.

[5] John Paul II, “Dives in Misericordia” #3.

[6] Benedict XVI, Pope's Opening Address for Aparecida Conference: CELAM, "Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!" APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 13, 2007.

[7] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” 21.

[8] John Paul II, “Mission of the Redeemer,” #18.

[9] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 184.

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