Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ratzinger on Eschatology in Escriva

Given that the Parousia, in the mind of the Fathers of the Church, does not coincide simply with the Second Coming but is present now, and given that the Christian consciousness has been dominated by the Joachimite (of Fiore) absence of Christ since the 13 th century, the assertions of St. Josemaria Escriva are most telling for the recovery of the Christian experience and Christian consciousness. Cardinal Ratzinger says as much.

Inaugural message at the Opening Ceremony of the symposium “Holiness and the World”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

‘A song of praise to God arises from this vale of tears. Around God’s throne there is a growing choir of the redeemed, whose lives are now a selfless progress of love and glorification. Not only in heaven are these voices heard; they rise from us too, for a call comes to us from the throne, from the seat of God: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great” (Rev 19:5). It is an appeal to us too, here and now, to join in this eternal liturgy.’

I spoke these words a little over a year ago, in May 1992, in the homily at one of the Masses celebrated in thanksgiving for the beatification of Josemaría Escrivá.

It was only logical that, on such an occasion, I should evoke the heavenly liturgy: every beatification is an act whereby the Church, recognizing that one of her children has merited to enter the intimacy of God, should proclaim the convocation of heaven and earth. The Christian people, making its pilgrim way on earth, sometimes through great difficulties and bitter experiences, knows that it is part of something much bigger – the City of the saints which, begun and shaped on earth, will fill heaven.

It was logical, I say again, that in the thanksgiving Mass for a beatification, these essential perspectives of the Christian faith should be evoked and remembered: is not the Eucharistic celebration the point at which the Church confesses and shares more deeply in that union between earth and heaven which beatifications and canonizations speak to us about? But is it also logical to evoke similar perspectives on the present occasion, at the start of a scholarly meeting? A symposium: is that the proper place to make mystical and pious observations? Is it not rather the moment to allow scholarship to do its work, whether the scholarship that works on the data of history, subjecting the texts of the past to critical analysis, or that which engages in more abstract analysis, dealing in concepts and seeking proofs?

Theology, which is science in the fullest sense of the word, undoubtedly does produce some results when scholarship is applied to it. Despite that, it is not out of order to evoke in this context what goes on in heaven; indeed, one needs to do that, because theology only makes sense when viewed from that perspective. Thomas Aquinas coined a formula to describe this, a justly famous one and widely repeated: theology is a form of knowledge subordinate to the knowledge that God has and the knowledge that saints have. This statement is couched in Aristotelian terms and reflects those texts in which Aristotle showed that the sciences are not unconnected intellectual worlds, but bodies of knowledge which are connected with one another, in such a way that some are based on others and therefore are subordinate to others. These ideas about the interconnections between the sciences were worked out by Thomas Aquinas when he was establishing the bases of theology.

The Christian is a wayfarer, someone who does not see God, although the word of revelation gives him some insight into the mystery. Therefore, he does have knowledge, but for it he is dependent on the knowledge of another. Theology, which is born of faith, is, then, subordinate to the knowledge that God has of himself and in which the saints now partake in a direct and definitive way.

In describing things in this way, St. Thomas wanted to stress that the human heart’s yearning for truth, and more so the Christian’s, a yearning which is the origin of theology, is not the result of some illusion, is not some desire fated always to remain unfulfilled; it in fact represents a capacity God has inscribed on our spirit and a desire he will one day quench. Theology will find its ultimate outlet in vision, in that vision which is already a reality for the saints.

But to consider theology as a branch of knowledge subordinate to God’s knowledge and that of the saints, not only implies a tension towards eschatology, towards the final consummation, that moment when the truth, already glimpsed, made known through words, is fully revealed and we have that ultimate knowledge that belongs to the saints. It also implies, given the very nature of theology, a reference to that living union with God which is attainable, even on earth, by those who, putting their faith in the word of God, make that word their own and give their heart entirely to it. For God is at one and the same time, and inseparably, truth, goodness and beauty, and the unitive force of love not only leads one to let oneself be pierced by his love; it also leads one to study his truth.

The theologian should be a man of scholarship; but he should also, precisely because he is a theologian, be a man of prayer. He must pay attention to the developments in history and scholarship, but, even more than that, he needs to listen to the testimony of those who, having gone the full way on the path of prayer, have, even in this life, attained the highest reaches of divine intimacy; that is, the testimony of those who, in ordinary language, we call saints. As we have already pointed out elsewhere, (J. Ratzinger, To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope and Love, New York, 1991, p. 33.) the knowledge of God, saints tell us, is ‘the reference-point for theological history; it is what keeps it right. In this sense, the work of theologians is always “secondary” to the real experience of saints. Without this point of reference, without being firmly anchored in such experiences, theology ceases to be real.’

Practicing theology, devoting oneself to theological research and teaching, does not mean carrying out a cold, disembodied work; it means concerning oneself with a God who is love, and who is reached by love.

Now that the cleft between ‘theologians’ and ‘spirituals’ which developed at the start of the modern age is a thing of the past, as is also the severe intellectualism which was one of the extremes of the Enlightenment stance, contemporary theology proclaims that there is indeed a close connection between theology and spirituality, thereby inviting spirituality back into the great Christian tradition. Therefore, it makes eminent sense to organize – as the culmination of a year designed to celebrate a beatification – a symposium; and it also makes sense that the words which open this session should evoke the heavenly liturgy, the choir of angels and saints who have attained the vision of God: for theology draws its nourishment from that vision and from anticipation of it in contemplative prayer.

So it is appropriate and even necessary for us as theologians to listen to what the saints have to say, in order to discover what their message means: it is a multifaceted message, for there are many saints, and each has been given his or her own charism; and at the same time it is only one message because the saints refer us to the one and only Christ, to whom they are joined and whose richness they help us to see. In this diverse yet unique symphony that is, as Möhler would say, the Christian tradition,
what particular emphasis does Josemaría Escrivá bring? What impulse does he give theology? It is not for me to answer these questions: the speakers at this congress will tell us what they think, and to what they have to say will be added the thoughts of those who, sharing the spirit of Josemaría Escrivá and on account of his message, will devote themselves, as time goes by, to teaching and theological research.

However, there is something which one immediately notices when one comes in contact with the life of Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer and his writings – a very vivid sense of the presence of Christ. ‘Stir up that fire of faith. Christ is not a figure that has passed. He is not a memory that is lost in history. He lives! “Jesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula”, says Saint Paul, – “Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday, and as he will be for ever”,’ wrote Josemaría Escrivá in The Way (584). This Christ who is alive is also a Christ who is near, a Christ in whom the power and majesty of God make themselves present through ordinary, simple human beings.

One can, then, speak of Josemaría Escrivá having a marked and special type of Christ-centeredness, in which contemplation of Jesus’ life on earth and contemplation of his living presence in the Eucharist lead one to discover God; and from God they throw light onto the circumstances of our everyday life. ‘The fact that Jesus grew up and lived just like us shows us that human existence and all the ordinary activities of men have a divine meaning. No matter how much we may have reflected on this’, he goes on, ‘we should always be surprised when we think of the thirty years of obscurity which made up the greater part of Jesus’ life among men. He lived in obscurity, but for us that period is full of light. It illuminates our days and fills them with meaning, for we are ordinary Christians who lead an ordinary life, just like millions of other people all over the world.’(Christ is Passing By, 14).

There are two things we can learn from these reflections on the life of Jesus, from the deep mystery of the fact that God not only became man but also took on the human condition, making himself the same as us, except for sin (Heb 4:15). First of all is the universal call to holiness, to whose proclamation Josemaría Escrivá made such a contribution, as Pope John Paul II recalled in his homily during the beatification Mass. But also, to give body to this call, there is the recognition that holiness is reached, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, through ordinary life.

Holiness consists in this – living our daily life with our sights fixed on God; shaping all our actions to accord with the Gospel and the spirit of Faith. Each and every theological understanding of the world and of history derives from this core reality, as many passages in the writings of Josemaría Escrivá so clearly and incisively show. ‘This world of ours,’ he proclaimed in a homily, ‘is good, for so it came from God’s hands. It was Adam’s offence, the sin of human pride, which broke the divine harmony of creation. But God the Father, in the fullness of time, sent his only-begotten Son to take flesh in Mary ever Virgin, through the Holy Spirit, and re-establish peace.

In this way, by redeeming man from sin, “we receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:5). We become capable of sharing the intimacy of God. In this way the new man, the new line of the children of God (cf. Rom 6:4-5), is enabled to free the whole universe from disorder, restoring all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:9-10), as they have been reconciled with God (cf. Col 1:20).’(Christ is Passing By, 183).

In this splendid passage, the great truths of the Christian faith (the infinite love of God the Father, his goodness which is responsible for creation, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, divine filiation, identification of the Christian with Christ…), are linked up to shed light on the life of the Christian, particularly the Christian living in the midst of the world, with all his complex secular involvements. Underlying dogmatic insights are projected onto everyday life, and that life is encouraged to rethink, to really take to heart, the Christian message in its entirety; a spiral movement is set in motion, which involves and supports theological reflection.

But, as I said before, it is not for me to do that work, but simply to launch this symposium. I hope that what I have said, and my desire that your study of Josemaría Escriva’s spiritual message, will contribute to the development of theology to the benefit of the whole Church.

Inaugural message at the Symposium “Holiness and the World” on the founder of Opus Dei, organized by the Faculty of Theology of the Roman Atheneum of the Holy Cross, from 12 to 14 October at the Palazzo Apollinare di Roma.

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