Monday, October 03, 2011

Approach to Christian Faith Experientially

The Major emphasis of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI is to understand Christian faith as experience of personal sanctification, and not merely as a conceptual achievement (reducible to propositional knowing).

Consider this: "(T)he person who receives it (revelation) 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" (J. Ratzinger, "God's Word" Ignatius 2008) 52. Therefore, revelation is the very Person of Christ as revealing the Face of the Father. Revelation cannot be identified with Scripture although it (He) is the source of Scripture and the meaning of Scripture. Revelation takes place to the extent that one becomes "another Christ." Faith, then, is a conversion of self to Christ, and into Christ. Then, as "other Christ," the believer receives Revelation from within himself.

This is not the heresy of Modernism that maintained that revelation comes from man himself, not by the lowering of the self to receive the Person of the Son sent by the Father from without, but that the believer is already in possession of revelation simply from the effervescence of his subconscious - from within. Rather, having received Revelation as Person from without, the believer is conscious of Revelation, now, from within by transformation of self into "another Christ."

Helpful introduction to the reality of the "I" as subject as consciousness in contrast to the hegemony of the reductive and objectifying way of knowing that the pope is waring with: positivism. Consider his remarks in September 2011 at the Bundestag: "The positivist approach to nature and reason, the positivist world view in general, is a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity that we may in no way dispense with. But in and of itself it is not a sufficient culture corresponding to the full breadth of the human condition. Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity. I say this with Europe specifically in mind, where there are concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, reducing all the other insights and values of our culture to the level of subculture, with the result that Europe vis-à-vis other world cultures is left in a state of culturelessness and at the same time extremist and radical movements emerge to fill the vacuum. In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this."

Texts of Walker Percy

"Imagine that you are reading a book about the Cosmos. You find it so interesting that you go out and buy a telescope. One fine clear moonless night you set up your telescope and focus on the brightest star n the sky. It is a planet, not a star, with a reddish spot and several moons. Excited, you look up the planets in your book about the Cosmos. You read a description of the planets. You read a sentence about a large yellowish planet with a red spot and several moons. You recognize both the description and the picture. Clearly, you have been looking at Jupiter.

"You have no difficulty at all in saying that it is Jupiter, not Mars or Saturn, even though the object you are looking at is something you have never seen before and is hundreds of millions of miles distant.

"No imaging that you are reading the newspaper. You come to the astrology column. You may or may no believe in astrology, but to judge from the popularity of astrology these days, you will probably read your horoscope. According to a recent poll, more Americans set store in astrology than in science or God.

"You are an Aries. You open your newspaper to the astrology column and read an analysis of the Aries personality. It says, among other things:

"You have the knack of creating an atmosphere of thought and movement, unhampered by petty jealousies. But you have the tendency to scatter your talents to the four winds.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

Suddenly you realize you’ve made a mistake. You’ve read the Gemini column. So you go back to Aries:

"Nothing hurts you more than to be unjustly mistreated or suspected. But you have a way about you, a gift for seeing things through despite all obstacles and distractions. You also have a desperate need to be liked. So you have been wounded more often than you will admit.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

"The first question is: Why is it that both descriptions seem to fit you – or, for that matter, why do you seem to recognize yourself in the self-analysis of all twelve astrological signs? Or, to put it another way, why is it that you can recognize and identify the planets Jupiter and Venus so readily after reading a bit and taking one look, yet have so much trouble identifying yourself from twelve descriptions when, presumably, you know yourself much better than you know Jupiter and Venus?”[1]

Percy’s Point:

Comment: For the last 300 years, we have progressively lost the experience of ourselves as “I” (subject), replacing that consciousness with a reductive knowledge of things (object -“it,” like Jupiter), which we can clearly name. The only “thing” I can’t name in the universe is “me.” This loss of self-experience and self-consciousness he calls “alienation.” To wit: Boredom with everything because I’m not in it. Performances rather than experiences.

“To begin with, the alienated commuter riding the eight-fifteen actually finds himself in a situation in which his existential placement in the world, the subject-object split, the pour soi – en soi is physically realized. In an absolute partitioning of reality, he is both in the world he is traveling through and not in it. Beyond all doubt he is in Metuchen, New Jersey, during the few seconds the train stops there, yet in what a strange sense is he there – he passes through without so much as leaving his breath behind. Even if this is the one thousandth time he has stopped there, even if he knows a certain concrete pillar better than anything else in the world, yet he remains as total a stranger to Metuchen as if he had never been there. He passes through, the transient possible I through the static indefeasible It. The landscape through which he passes for the thousandth time has all the traits of the en soi, it is dense, sodden, impenetrable, and full of itself; it is exactly what it is, no more, no less, and as such it is boring in the original sense of the word.[2] It is worse than riding a subway through blackness, because the familiar things one sees are not neutral or nugatory; they are aggressively assertive and thrust themselves upon one: they bore…. It is only in the event of a disaster, the wreck of the eight-fifteen, that one is enabled to discover his fellow commuter as a comrade; thus, the favorite scene of novels of good will in the city: the folks who discover each other and help each other when disaster strikes. (Do we have here a clue to the secret longing for the Bomb and the Last Days? Does the eschatological thrill conceal the inner prescience that it will take a major catastrophe to break the partition?)”[3] (Consider the massive interactive sympathy, self-disclosure and self-identity that took place on the occasion of the World Trade Center disaster: “proud to be an American,” flag waving on a superficial level, and perhaps a deeper sense of personal and national identity as we hesitate on the brink of attack).

Comment: the “I” needs to be named, but the name of the “I” cannot be taken from an “it.” Therefore, it needs to be experienced anew, and in a different way.

“The fateful flaw of human semiotics [sign making] is this: that of all the objects in the entire Cosmos which the sign-user can apprehend through the conjoining of signifier and signified (word uttered and thing beheld), there is one which forever escapes his comprehension – and that is the sign-user himself.

Semiotically [in terms of signs], the self is literally unspeakable to itself. One cannot speak or hear a word which signifies oneself, as one can speak or hear a word signifying anything else, e.g., apple, Canada, 7-Up.

The self of the sign-user can never be grasped, because, once the self locates itself at the dead center of its world, there is no signified to which a signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally.”[4]

Proposal: To name the “I,” one must experience it. The first experience of the “I” was Adam in the moment of obedience in the act of subduing the earth by naming the animals. A second is Helen Keller.[5]

John Paul II’s hermeneutic of Genesis 2, 19-20:

“(W)hatever the man called every living creature, that was its name’ (Gn. 2, 19). `The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man [male] there was not found a helper fit for him’ (Gn. 2, 20)”

“All this part of the text is unquestionably a preparation for the account of the creation of woman. However, it possesses a deep meaning even apart from this creation. Right from the first moment of his existence, created man finds himself before God as if in search of his own entity. It could be said he is in search of the definition of himself. A contemporary person would say he is in search of his `identity.’ The fact that man `is alone’ in the midst of the visible world and, in particular, among living beings, has a negative significance in this search, since it expresses what he `is not.’ Nevertheless, the fact of not being able to identify himself essentially with the visible world of other living beings (animalia) has, at the same time, a positive aspect for this primary search….

“Man finds himself alone before God mainly to express, through a first self-definition, his own self-knowledge, as the original and fundamental manifestation of mankind. Self-knowledge develops at the same rate as knowledge of the world, of all the visible creatures, of all the living being to which man has given a name to affirm his own dissimilarity with regard to them. In this way, consciousness reveals man as the one who possesses a cognitive faculty as regards the visible world With this knowledge which, in a certain way, brings him out of his own being, man at the same time reveals himself to himself in all the peculiarity of his being. He is not only essentially and subjectively alone. Solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity, which is constituted through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is `different from the visible world, from the world of living beings.”[6]

The Proposal of John Paul II: Christian Faith

The new/old and different way of experiencing and naming the self is called “Christian faith.”

“To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An absolute person – or better, a personal Absolute.

To surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this `commitment’…[7] (underline in the text)

When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person [8](all emphasis mine).

The experience of praying with Christ to the Father gives the new experience and the new name: from Simon to Peter (Rock) as Christ is Cornerstone.

“As he was praying alone, his disciples also were with him, and he asked them saying” (Luke 9, 18):

“`But who do say that I am?’” Simon Peter answered and said, `Thou are the Christ, the son of the living God.’ Then Jesus answered and said, `Blessed art thou, Simon bar –Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church…” (Matt. 16-18).

[1] Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos, Noonday Press (1996) 5-6.

[2] “The word boredom did not enter the language until the eighteenth century. No one knows its etymology. One guess is that bore may derive from the French verb bourrer, to stuff.” Percy asks: “Why was there no such word before the eighteenth century?” His answer: “Is it because there is a special sense in which for the past two or three hundred years the self has perceived itself as a leftover which cannot be accounted for by its own objective view of the world and that in spite of an ever heightened self-consciousness, increased leisure, ever more access to cultural and recreational facilities, ever more instruction on self-help, self-growth, self-enrichment, the self feels ever more imprisoned in itself – no, worse than imprisoned because a prisoner at least knows he is imprisoned and sets store by the freedom awaiting him and the world to be open, when in fact the self is not and it is not – a state of affairs which has to be called something besides imprisonment – e.g., boredom. Boredom is the self being stuffed with itself” (emphasis mine); Lost in the Cosmos, Noonday (1996) 70-71.

[3] “The Man on the Train,” The Message in the Bottle, (1995) 87.

[4] W. Percy, Lost in the Cosmos, Noonday (1983) 106-107.

[5]“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that `w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name… As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. [She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper]. I felt my way to the dearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and of r the first time I felt repentance and sorrow;” Message in the Bottle, Noonday Press (1995) 34-35.

[6] The Theology of the Body, 36-37.

[7] “It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received until it passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth , and the Life (cf. Jn. 14, 6);” Veritatis Splendor, #88.

[8] John Paul II and Andre Frossard, Be Not Afraid, St. Martin’s Press (1984) 66-67.

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