Sunday, February 07, 2010

Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time 2010: Benedict's Understanding of Revelation and Faith

Two Texts:

a) Isaiah 6, 8: “’Here I am,’ I said, ‘send me!”

b) Luke 5, 5: “Put out into the deep”

From the texts of Benedict XVI below, the effective proclamation of the Word of God can come only as the result of an identification and becoming of the Word of God in one’s very self. One can only understand (intellegere: ab intus legere – to read from within) the Word as Revelation of the Transcendent God by becoming that Word. And since the Word is the Person of Christ as pure relation to the Father, one can “hear” the Word only by taking the Word within oneself and living Him. Our Lady was the first human to so hear, and so to incarnate the Logos. We must do the same to be able to be sent to men and be heard and recognized by them. This demands that we put out into the deep. I offer below the mind of Benedict XVI on the meaning of Christian Revelation and Christian Faith.

Benedict XVI’s Mind:

Since Revelation is an action, faith must also be an action. Revelation is the “action” that is the Person of Jesus Christ as Self-gift to the Father as Love and obedience, and to us Love-to-death. Hence, the supreme act of revelation of Christ is His death on the Cross. Since like is known by like, the act of faith has to be the same kind of act as the act of revelation. As revelation of Self-gift is by death on the Cross, so faith whose sacrament is Baptism with its triple immersion in the water of death is a death event by conversion of the self into the Self of Christ.

Since the Person of Christ is revelation by Self-gift, so also the believer by a like gift of self becomes “another Christ” and therefore the Revelation, which is the very Person of Christ, takes place within the believer as his very self in that that self is Christ. And he is Christ insofar as he is in a state of being out-of-himself.

This tastes so much of immanentism and Modernism, yet it is the recovery of the best of Mediaeval theology (Bonaventure) which is built on and developing the theology of the Fathers, especially Gregory of Nyssa. Recall his homily On Beatitude: “Similarly, from the Lords’ saying: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God, we are to learn that blessedness does not lie in knowing something about God, but rather in possession God within oneself.

“I do not think that these words mean that God will be seen face to face by the man who purifies the eye of his soul. Their sublime import is brought out more clearly perhaps in that other saying of the Lord’s: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ This teaches us that the man who cleanses his heart of every created thing and every evil desire will see the image of the divine nature in the beauty of his own soul. I believe the lessons summed up by the Word in that short sentence was this: You men have within you a desire to behold the supreme good. Now when you are told that the majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible , his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do mot despair because you cannot behold the object of your desire. If by a diligent life of virtue you wash away the film of dirt that covers your heart, then the divine beauty will shine forth in you.

“Take a piece of iron as an illustration. Although it might have been black before, once the crust has been scraped off with a whetstone, it will begin to shine brilliantly and to reflect the rays of the sun. So it is with the interior man, which is what the Lord means by the heart. Once a man removes from his soul the coating of filth that has formed on it through his sinful neglect, he will regain his likeness to his Archetype, and be good. For what resembles the supreme Good is itself good. It he then looks into himself, he will see the vision he has longed for. This is the blessedness of the pure of heart: in seeing their own purity they see the divine Archetype mirrored in themselves.

“Those who look at the sun in a mirror, even if they do not look directly at the sky, see its radiance in the reflection just as truly as do those who look directly at the sun’s orb. It is the same, says the Lord, with you. Even though you are unable to contemplate and see the inaccessible light, you will find what you seek within yourself, provided you return to the beauty and grace of that image which was originally placed in you. For God is purity; he is free from sin and a stranger to all evil. If f this can be said of you, then God will surely be within you. If your mind is untainted by any evil, free from sin, and purified from all stain, then indeed are you blessed, because you light is keen and clear. Once purified, you see things that others cannot see. When the mists of sin no longer cloud the eye of your soul, you see that blessed vision clearly in the peace and purity of your own heart. That vision is nothing else than the holiness, the purity, the simplicity and all the other glorious reflections of God’s nature, through which God himself is seen.”

Now Consider the thought of Benedict XVI’s habilitation thesis “Offenbarungsverstandnis und Geschichtstheologie Bonaventuras” (Revelation and Salvation History in Bonaventure) [1955]:

“Revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith. The nonbeliever remains under the veil of which Paul speaks in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians. He can read Scripture and know what is in it, can even understand at a purely intellectual level, what is meant and how whet is said hangs together – and yet he has not shared in the revelation. Rather, revelation has only arrived where, in addition to the material assertions witnessing to it, its inner reality has itself become effective after the manner of faith. Consequently, the person who receives it also is a part of the revelation to a certain degree, for without him it does not exist. You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence.”[1]

This quote was produced in 1965 during the final year of the Council’s work, together with Karl Rahner. The two published volume 25 of the “Quaestiones Disputatae” under the title “Revelation and Tradition, QD 17.” In 1998, Ratzinger published his autobiography “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977” in which he gave the historical background to his habilitation thesis (and the rejection of the first properly theological part of it by Michael Schmaus for reasons of its supposed “Modernism”), and gave a similar (and perhaps clearer) presentation of it:

“But he [Schmaus] also did not like the results of my analysis. I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologians of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of ‘revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has even become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as ‘revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, ‘revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, 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. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussions on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This is turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (‘by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given. At that moment, however, the burning question was the habilitation thesis, and Michael Schmaus, who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, saw in these theses not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concepts of revelation.”[2]

Henri de Lubac commented re: Fr. Teilhard de Chardin: “He professes that… God ‘truly inserted himself in the cosmos,’ that ‘the transcendent became partially immanent,’ that he ‘descended into nature in order to superanimate it and to lead it to him.’ It is in acting with full knowledge of the case that he rejects Modernism, in its twofold form, critical and mystical. For Modernism, Jesus is ‘a fruit of human, immanent evolution;’ for Teilhard, as for any Catholic, he is ‘the encounter of the ascending participated being and the unparticipated Being to whom he is returning.’ While the Modernist ‘volatilizes’ Christ and dissolves him in the world, Teilhard, who feels’ fundamentally other, helping God,’ would like ‘to concentrate the world in Christ’ [my bold italics]. But that would be only a dream, let us say a myth, a gnosis, an ideology, or, as Teilhard ways, an ‘imagination,’ without the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, true man and true God. “If our Lord Jesus Christ has not personal and objective reality, the whole Christian religious current evaporates.’”[3]


The next point must be experience. There are difficulties in this concept. There is the notion of experience as “the immediate awareness of reality” based on von Balthasar. He observes, “From this perspective, Christian experience can mean only one thing, namely, that one’s own existence grows into the existence of Christ, since Christ increasingly ‘in-form’ the life of the believer: “until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4, 19). This must be relational existence as gift to Christ in the act of faith, and because of being activated so relationally by grace, one becomes gift to the others.

This notion of experience is contrasted with that of Schillebeeckx who “is not talking about a personal experience of Christ but about actualizing the memory of a human being against the background of the contemporary freedom of consciousness.”

Leo Scheffczyk remarks: “It can even be doubted whether this experience is religious at all, and not rather, for the most part, an experience of the present, supercharged with ‘Jesuanism.’ No kind of personal encounter with Christ occurs here, only the recalling of his example. As we shall say later, where the category of ‘devotion’ disappears, there can be no personal experience in the form of a direct encounter. Here there are not grounds, evidently, for a re al experience of ist Person of Jesus Christ; unconsciously, perhaps, they are not even being looked for, for in doing so one would find oneself in the thick of theological, and positively mystical thought, which the author rejects as ‘the parrot-like repetition of a once-heard kerygma.’”[4]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “The Question of the Concept of Tradition,” in “God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office” Ignatius (2008) 52.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977” Ignatius (1997) 108-109;

[3] Henri de Lubac, “The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin,” Theology in History Ignatius (1996) 556-557.

[4] Leo Scheffczyk “Devotion to Christ as a Way of Experiencing Him” in Faith in Christ and the Worship of Christ Ignatius (1986) 208-210.

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