Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Woman Who Defied Hitler "Was Inspired by Newman"

The context to better appreciate the article below (courtesy of John Powers) is Joseph Ratzinger’s Address on Conscience and Truth[1] grounded on John Henry Newman: To wit:

“When the subject of Newman and conscience is raised, the famous sentence from his letter to the Duke of Norfolk immediately comes to mind: ‘Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into afterdinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, - still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.’”[2]

Below, Ratzinger continues:

“The dominance of the idea of conscience in Newman does not signify that he, in the nineteenth century, and in contrast to ‘objectivistic’ neoscholasticism, espoused a philosophy or theology of subjectivity. Certainly, the subject finds in Newman an attention which it had not received in Catholic theology perhaps since Saint Augustine. But it is an attention in the line of Augustine and not in that of the subjectivist philosophy of the modern age. On the occasion of his elevation to Cardinal, Newman declared that most of his life was a struggle against the spirit of liberalism in religion; we might add, also against Christian subjectivism, as he found it in the Evangelical movement of his time and which admittedly had provided him the first step on his lifelong road to conversion. Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truthless world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Much more than that, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: ‘I loved to choose and see my path; but now Lead thou me on!’ Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: ‘No one can have a more unfavorable view than I of the present state of the Roman Catholics.’[3]

The question that must be asked: how does Newman find objective truth in the subject without being subjectivistic? Ratzinger responds: the ontological subject-person as tendency toward the Absolute, and therefore toward this, and not toward that. In a word, the ontologically real person as image of the divine Persons who are constitutively relational. Hence, ontological tension that is registered by intelligence.

“ (T)he first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us , that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable concepts. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one, whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[4]

The statement is enormous. It contains the following metaphysical anthropology: 1) the human person images God ontologically as a relation that tends toward God as the Absolute. 2) This “ontological tendency” yields a pre-conceptual knowing – an “anamnesis” - that is a consciousness of value, good and/or evil. Consequently, good and evil are intellectually known but not as “a store of retrievable concepts.”

This has been the great conundrum of all Enlightenment philosophy. That is, the last 500 years of philosophic thought has offered that: either value came from the sensible empirical and was reducible as “epiphenomenon” to it; or value came from the mind and its categorical imperatives. In the former, value could not be absolute. In the latter, it could not be real. In the Ratzinger formulation, value is intellectual as consciousness but empirically grounded in the being of the person who images the divine Relations of the Trinity as “ontological tendency.” This means that being is not “reducible” to the category of substance as “thing-in-itself” but a relational dynamic as described in Gaudium et spes #24: “man… finds self by the sincere gift of self.”

This being the case, the human person is tending toward, and in search of, the real, ontological Absolute. Not finding it in the quotidian, empirical contingent, there is an openness to Revelation – which is not an imposition on the conscience of man, but an answer that it is seeking to assuage the inkling of the “anamnesis.” Hence, the toast of Newman first to conscience and then to the pope. Ratzinger continues: “The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but ordered to it. It has maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign, but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to the truth.”[5] Ratzinger clarifies this further: “The true sense of the teaching authority the pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The pope does not impose from without. Rather he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation [the ontological tendency imaging the diving Persons that we bear within us] as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity.”[6]

Notice that Ratzinger began this address with reference to the “justifying power of the erroneous conscience”[7] resulting from the so-called invincible ignorance, say, of a Hitler. Ratzinger remarked: “I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of the justifying power of the subjective conscience – that, in other words, a concept of conscience that leads to such results must be false. Firm, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples that follow from it do not justify man.”[8]

A Deliberate Scotosis[9]

Such an idea of conscience is purely on the level of the conceptual without consideration of ontological reality. And Ratzinger’s large point is that you think the way you live. That is, “not to see it is guilt.”[10] The ontological tendency can be blunted by the willful refusal to act in accord with it, and so it is silenced. There is guilt in this silence. “It is not seen because man does not want to see it. The ‘no’ of the will that hinders recognition is guilt. The fact that the signal lamp does not shine is the consequence of a deliberate looking away from that which we do not wish to see.”[11]

Woman who defied Hitler ‘was inspired by Newman’

By Simon Caldwell
3 April 2009

Cardinal John Henry Newman was an inspiration of Germany's greatest heroine in defying Adolf Hitler, scholars have claimed.

New documents unearthed by German academics have revealed that the writings of the 19th-century English theologian were a direct influence on Sophie Scholl, who was beheaded for circulating leaflets urging students at Munich University to rise up against Nazi terror.

Scholl, a student who was 21 at the time of her death in February 1943, is a legend in Germany, with two films made about her life and more than 190 schools named after her. She was also voted "woman of the 20th century" by readers of Brigitte, a women's magazine, and a popular 2003 television series called Greatest Germans declared her to be the greatest German woman of all time.

But behind her heroism was the "theology of conscience" expounded by Cardinal Newman, according to Professor Günther Biemer, the leading German interpreter of Newman, and Jakob Knab, an expert on the life of Sophie Scholl, who will later this year publish research in Newman Studien on the White Rose resistance movement, to which she belonged.

Their findings include correspondence between Scholl and her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, a German army officer, to whom she gave two volumes of Newman's sermons when he was deployed to the eastern front in May 1942.

On arriving in the town of Mariupol, Russia, Hartnagel saw corpses of Soviet soldiers who had been shot by their German guards and began to hear reports of mass killings of local Jews.

He later wrote to Scholl to say that reading Newman's words in such an awful place were like tasting "drops of precious wine".

"What a fallacy it is to take nature as our model for our actions and to describe its cruelty as 'great'," he said in a letter of July 1942. "But we know by whom we were created and that we stand in a relationship of moral obligation to our creator. Conscience gives us the capacity to distinguish between good and evil."

Mr Knab has identified Hartnagel's words as being taken verbatim from a sermon given by Newman called "The Testimony of Conscience".

Newman taught that conscience was an echo of the voice of God enlightening each person to moral truth in concrete situations. Christians, he argued, had a duty to obey a good conscience over and above all other considerations.

Lieutenant Hartnagel's convictions later led him to protest against the mass murders of the Jews.

On January 22 1943 he was evacuated on the last plane out of Stalingrad before the city fell to the Russians in a battle that would mark a turning point in the war.

But by the time he returned to Germany Sophie was dead, executed along with Hans and her friend, Christoph Probst. in Stadelheim Prison, Munich, after making her own protest against Hitler's tyranny.

Under questioning from the Gestapo Scholl said she had been compelled by her Christian conscience to peacefully oppose Nazism.

Sophie and Hans both asked to be received into the Catholic Church an hour before they were executed but were dissuaded by their pastor who argued that such a decision would upset their mother, a Lutheran lay preacher.

Fr Dermot Fenlon, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory who was given excerpts of Mr Knab's findings to include in a speech on Newman in Milan last week, said the originality of the research was that it showed the clear "centrality" of Newman to Hans and Sophie Scholl.

He said: "Knab has identified the presence of Newman in correspondence, in diaries and in the analysis of correspondence, particularly between Sophie and Hartnagel. He has shown how that influence became operative at a critical moment."

He added: "The religious question at the heart of the White Rose has not been adequately acknowledged and it is only through the work of Guenter Biemer and Jakob Knab that Newman's influence... can be identified as highly significant."

In his speech Fr Fenlon explained that Sophie, a Lutheran, was introduced to the works of Newman by a scholar called Theodor Haecker, who had written to the Birmingham Oratory in 1920 asking for copies of Newman's work, which he wanted to translate into German.

On reading Newman, Haecker converted to Catholicism and he later became such an outspoken critic of Nazism that he was forbidden to publish his work by the regime. Early in the Second World War he became a good friend of the Scholls and a direct inspiration of the White Rose movement, which opposed Nazism by circulating thousands of leaflets telling German Christians that they had a "moral duty" to rise up against Hitler, the "messenger of Anti-Christ".

The movement, made up mostly of German students, also condemned the persecution of the Jews in 1942 - the year Hitler began to implement the Final Solution - as the "most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history".

Much of the language of the fourth pamphlet in particular directly echoed Newman's theology, said Fr Fenlon.

He said: "Newman's influence on the movement took the form of a light which questioned the darkness."

"Newman had won Haecker to the Church," he said. "Haecker sought to win the younger generation to Newman understood on his own terms."

He added: "When, as we are allowed to hope, Newman is beatified by a German pope, it might seem reasonable to see it as the fruit of a movement which began in Birmingham and found its most impressive expression in the Third Reich."

It was through Haecker that the young Joseph Ratzinger - the future Pope Benedict XVI - learned to admire Newman, who died in Birmingham in 1890. The Pope is so keen to beatify Newman that he asks about the progress of his Cause on a regular basis.

At present a panel of theologians is considering whether the inexplicable healing of an American man "bent double" by a crippling spinal disorder is the miracle needed for Newman's beatification to proceed.

Newman's theology of conscience was explained by Fr Ian Ker, the Oxford theologian and Newman biographer, during a speech at the same Milan conference.

In the speech called "Newman, Modernity and Conscience", Fr Ker said Newman believed conscience was "sovereign" but not "autonomous".

"The conscience is the spokesman not of the individual personality or temperament but of God," he said.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” On Conscience Ignatius (2007)11-41.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid 25

[4] Ibid 32.

[5] Ibid 34.

[6] Ibid 36.

[7] Ibid 17.

[8] Ibid 19.

[9] Scotosis: “Let us name such an aberration of understanding a scotosis, and let us call the resultant blind spot a scotoma. Fundamentally, the scotosis is an unconscious process. It arises, not in conscious acts, but in the censorship that governs the emergence of psychic contents. Nonetheless, the whole process is not hidden from us, for the merely spontaneous exclusion of unwanted insights is not equal to the total range of eventualities. Contrary insights do emerge. But they may be accepted as correct, only to suffer the eclipse that the bias brings about by excluding the relevant further questions”; etc. etc.; from B. Lonergan’s “Insight,” Part I, 116.

[10] Ibid 20.

[11] Ibid 20.

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