Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Response to R. R. Reno's "Rahner, the Restorationist" - First Things, May 2013

Re: R. R. Reno's “Rahner, The Restorationist,” First Things May 2013, 45-51.

After losing heart in the Rahnerian project of integrating traditional scholasticism and Enlightenment subjectivity via the transcendental method, R. R. Reno, editor of First Things, finds that we are in an "emergency situation" to affirm the truth of Jesus Christ as “the seminal force in all that is true and noble in human history….” But we will have to do this with an act of faith that is “naked and vulnerable” in the public square, but not buttressed as it once was " by philosophers, poets, artists, and ... composers.”

                Reno’s disenchantment has come from the unreality of conceptual conservatism a la Rahner’s traditional scholasticism, hyped by the transcendental method (in knowing: “pre-apprehension of being;” for Christ: “supernatural existential”), in the face of the bulldozing secularism with its in-your-face-realism, that has dumbed down the last vestiges of the Transcendent God and the dignity of the human person. He is fed up with “the idea of Christianity” and the apologetic by argumentation. He wants “ballast” and metaphysical realism that will stand up and take the beating of living the truth of Christ “at the center rather than the periphery.” And he wants this “taking full possession of the best of modernity while still remaining loyal to Christ.” However, he sees it as a hard choice: “Christ or culture?”

                I would suggest that his hopes placed in Rahner were not irretrievably mistaken. The difficulty was that the whole project was cast on the wrong epistemological level. As Reno presents him, Rahner wanted to save the pre-eminence of God, a realism of Being of true metaphysical heft while incorporating the subjectivity of the Enlightenment via the transcendental method. It fell apart because it was trying to play a concert written in D minor in the key of G. Same melody but different key.

                The absolute uniqueness of Vatican II was its exclusive interest in describing the faith as reception of the Word from within the subject, the believer, and not about the object “out there,” the abstract truth. Wojtyla wrote that “the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe?’ ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’” (Sources of Renewal 17).

                This changes everything. One starts from within the subject of the Virgin whose act of faith is the ontological transcending of self - the believing subject -  whereby she takes in (receives) the Word and gives Him real flesh. Her own. With Him in her, and taking her flesh as His own, she becomes “another Christ” and dashes off to do service to Elizabeth (what we would call "mission"). This is the anthropological meaning of faith. It is also the metaphysics of becoming “another Christ:”  “I live; no not I. Christ lives in me” (Gal 2. 20). Its sacrament is Baptism whose denouement is achieved only in “hearing the Word of God and doing it” (Lk. 11, 28). And this "doing" that is faith takes the form of working in the secular world as an act of self-gift in obedience to the Father whereby one becomes “another Christ.” It will not be the “hard choice:” “Christ or culture.” It can only become truly culture by working in service to others in the world that one becomes Christ. If faith does not become culture, then what we call "faith" is not faith, and "culture" is not culture. It is no longer a dichotomy of Christ or the world, but as God-man, Christ is the meaning of world, work and secularity. In fact, the culture will only be truly secular as free and responsible when it is developed from within by believers who make the gift of their whole selves in the exercise of work in the world. This is the meaning of the Magisterium when it speaks of “secularity as characteristic” (Christifideles Laici #15) of the lay faithful. It is not holiness achieved outside the world and inserted into it, but divinization achieved because of it. See Pope Francis on “Clericalism.”

                Thus, we are not looking for a “new integralism” with “faith working in harmony with the best aspects of modern secular culture. Rather faith, as action of the whole man working as self-gift, creates and becomes secular culture. Rahner was on to something with his “transcendentals” that were on loan from the Enlightenment, but it was an integration that was false from the beginning. The subjectivity of the Enlightenment beginning with Descartes down to (perhaps) Kant is the self as consciousness. This subjectivity promoted from Descartes on became ontological in the hands of Wojtyla’s meaning of “experience” (not Rahner’s two transcendentals) of the “I” as “lived.” This “lived experience” gives us an ontological “I” that has become the anthropology of Gaudium et spes #24 (“man, the only being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself”) and yields a new metaphysics of “being,” that is constitutively relational as image of the divine Persons. Hence, it is only by living out ontologically this relationality of becoming “another Christ” that Simon (becoming “Rock” as Christ is “Cornerstone”) was able to know Who Jesus Christ was: “the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt. 16, 16). As Ratzinger explained in “Behold the Pierced One” (25) “like is known by like’). Hence, we know the Son by becoming the Son from within the secular world of work. Enough of integralisms! The supernatural is the transcending of the self within the secular and creates it, motivated by the Love that is grace. It all takes place here. Christ lives! The eschatology is now.

                The martyrdom and victimization that results from the dichotomy of grace and nature on your reading is admirable and noble but negative and pessimistic. The world is ours, and it is ours for the taking, not unlike the Promised Land for the Jews who dared to trust the Word of God like Josue and Caleb.  In an interview with Robert Moynihan, Ratzinger confronted with the same alternative as Reno (“Christ or culture”) proposed: “And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time… to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith… to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it…” (“Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” 35). 
   Indeed, Christ is the meaning of reality and realism. I quote Benedict XVI at length in this breathtaking assertion:
   "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 idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more 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. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of 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. The one 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 the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is the one 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" (Keynote Address to the Synod on the Word of God, October 6, 2008). 


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