Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Secularity, A Christian Truth" - Again


Secularity is a Christian Truth. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, said: “Secularity is not a mask. It is something that belongs to the very essence of our way.” His successor said: “Secularity is not simply a juridical from of clothing. It is not some external garb, an outfit adapted to an already existing body, or one of those mass-produced ready-made suits, which people have to adapt their bodies to as best they can. Nor is it a kind of claim to autonomy as regards God, who calls us to total self-giving. Neither does it take as its model the worldliness or the hedonistic ways of certain contemporary cultures.”[1]

He goes on: “(Secularity) is a profound truth of our being Christians, a dimension of our existence which forms one and the same thing with the divine vocation” in baptism… Secularity is something Christian, a Christian way of being and living. In other words, … Christian faith and morality – cannot be judged from the starting-point of a secularity defined a priori. Rather, secularity should be judged and valued – or rather, discovered – from the starting-point …[of baptism], and what the Christian faith reveals to us about man, about the world and about our destiny.”

“Secularity is… a Christian way of being and living.” To understand that we must understand how modernity is a yearning for the infinite, or perhaps better, for the absolute. The tragedy of modernity is that it has bequeathed us with a dictatorship of relativism that morphs into skepticism and nihilism.


Modernity has bequeathed us subjectivity and the self – the “I.” But the “I” was misdiagnosed since the 17th century as consciousness perched on nothing but itself and “disengaged” from the material, contingent and ontological hard world of “things.”

Joseph Ratzinger presents Christianity with the true conundrum. He says: “Here is the problem: Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith”
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.”

The Challenge

His Response: Accept the “I,” but not as consciousness. Purify it by seeing its ontological disclosure in the act of Christian faith. “And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let us call it epochal struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”[3]

The Task

The key is to see through consciousness to the act that produces it, and the ontological grounding of that act. He says: “(F)aith is not a system of semi-knowledge, but an existential decision… (that) resembles more an expedition up a mountain than a quiet evening spent reading in front of the fire.”[4] He sees faith as the act of conversion of the ontological “I” that is not burdened further by the hegemony of substance. He insists that substance has been superseded as the supreme category of being which resonates rather as substance and relation (not as an accident), not unlike the development of quantum physics that engages with physical reality and experiences it as resonating as wave/particle.[5] Substance/relation resonate equally and validly as wave/particle. He forcefully remarks: “Boethius’s concept of person, which prevailed in Western philosophy, must be criticized as entirely insufficient. Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined `person’ as Naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms.” And he points out the meaning of person in Scripture is “not a substance that closes itself in itself, but the phenomenon of complete relativity, which is, of course, realized in its entirety only in the one who is God, but which indicates the direction of all personal being. The point is thus reached here at which… there is a transition from the doctrine of God into Christology and into anthropology.”[6]

Substances cannot self-determine. But subjects can, and do. “Faith is not a system of semi-knowledge” but a consciousness that comes from the moral act of self-transcendence.[7] John Paul II says: “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… Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence.”[8] It is a consciousness of having become “another Christ” by sharing the relativity of the Divine Persons. Reflecting on that consciousness, one is able to conceptualize: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

Self Determination

Therefore, the purification of modernity and its entrance into absolute reality and truth, is the disclosure of the “I”-as-being in the moral action of Christian faith. That disclosure takes place by doing a phenomenology of Christian faith as moral conversion or self-determination.
Once we enter the dynamic of self-determination, we enter into the empirical experience of freedom and secularity. As mentioned, a substance, as defined as thing in itself, cannot determine itself in itself, i.e. as substance. It can do so, as defined, accidentally through faculties. But once we step into the realm of experience (and not abstraction) and try to do a phenomenology of the moral act of the total self gift – say, to martyrdom as in the case of Christian faith – we are into empirical experience of the “I” as being.

Christian faith is introduces us into an ontological horizon of the subject that mirrors the ontological reality of Word Become Flesh. As Christ is the total gift of Self to us in the Incarnation and on the Cross, so also the act of faith is total gift of self asked of us. Here the very “I” is asked to be given as gift. This could only be accounted for if there were such a dynamic as “self-determination” to get self-possession and self-governance to make the gift. It is asked and experienced in spousal love as well as in martyrdom as the final act of faith.

Self-determination is the most profound meaning of human freedom, because only where the self is subdued, possessed and governed can there be this imaging of the Trinitarian and Christological freedom of self-transcendence/self gift. For example, Veritatis Splendor #85 offers the Crucified Christ as “the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom.”
Christology, as proposed in Gaudium et spes #22[9], is prototype and sacramental ground of anthropology. Christ is the meaning of man.
This grounding of the meaning of the autonomy of the human person is the state of the human will in Christ. Benedict forcefully insists on the completion of the Council of Chalcedon by the Council of Constantinople III. There, says Ratzinger, the human will of Jesus is not “parallel” to the divine will. Rather, it is “compenetrated” in that it is the human will of the very Son of God Himself. Therefore, the “Yes” of Christ to the Father is the one personal “Yes” of the Divine “I” with two ontologically distinct wills.[10] Wills don’t will, persons do.


The act of faith in the believer is the mirror image of this Christology of “compenetration” and self-gift. As Christ becomes self-gift as man, this self-revelation calls forth the self from the believer. As Christ experiences the dignity of the divine Self in his humanity, so the believer, who makes a mirror image self-gift in faith, experiences a like dignity-cum-human rights. And so “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.”[11] We could add to this: “and as citizen.” That is, as the self becomes conscious of its dignity and rights as another Christ, it also becomes conscious of being citizen with sacramentally derivative dignity and human rights. Historically in the United States, after 150 years of lived Christian faith, we are witnesses and beneficiaries of these “self evident truths” “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
This consciousness that came from lived Christian faith became the very same evident truths that grounded the American Revolution and civic establishment. Benedict is sensitive to this reality of the United States as he remarked to the Roman Curia last December: “the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.”[12]
This insight that is at the root of American political philosophy was rendered conceptually explicit – a century later - by Leo XIII and enshrined in the major magisterial document “Dignitatis Humanae” of Vatican II. John Courtney Murray commented:
“I consider that by some manner of genius he (Leo XIII) put forth the principle of solution. It is contained in the special twist, so to speak, that he gave to the Gelasian doctrine. Consistently, he posits as the root of the necessity of an `orderly relation’ between the two powers the fact that `utriusque imperium est in eosdem,’ the rule of both is over the same one man. If therefore there is conflict and not harmony between them, the conflict is felt in the depths of the personal conscience, which knows itself to be obligated to both of the powers which are from God. Their harmony therefore is required by the unity and integrity of the human personality. The whole Gelasian doctrine is thus made to grow, from the standpoint of the finality of the diarchy [Church and State] , out of the essential datum, `civis idem et christianus,’ the same one man who is citizen and also a Christian. (underline mine).“(T)he Leonine starting point is not the Church nor are its perspectives social. Its starting point is the dualism within the human person, who is both child of God, member of the Church, and also member of the human community, citizen of a state – endowed in each capacity with a set of rights, which are of different origin but which must be organized into an organic whole. And the principle of organization is the primacy of the spiritu7al aspect of his nature, which implies the fundamental right to have the two powers to which he is subject in harmony with each other. The finality of this harmony is ot a social unity but a personal unity – the integrity of the human personality. It is only by preservation of this integrity that man is truly `free,’ empowered to be n fullness what he is – citizen and Christian. This freedom is a positive empowerment – the full faculty of obeying the law which he knows to have the primacy (the law of Christ as mediated by the Church), under due obedience to the other law to which he is also subject, the human law of the state. Unless these two obediences are in harmony, there is no freedom.
“My point is that this Leonine restatement of the Gelasian doctrine opens in principle the way to the solution of the ancient problem in its modern position – the manner of exercise of the indirect power, the manner of maintaining the primacy of the spiritual under respect for the autonomy of the temporal. [Read here, “secular”]. Leo XIII was in advance of Pius XII in placing `the whole man in his concrete and historical reality at the center of the whole social order in its two components, Church and state, whose dualism corresponds to the dualism in man himself and whose orderly relationship is the exigence of the unity of human personality…. In the developed conditions of modern political society they are not the medieval sacerdotium and imperium, nor yet the Throne and Altar of the confessional state. The are sacerdotium and civis idem et christianus.”[12]

Secularity, a Christian Truth

This autonomy of the humanity of Christ is the large meaning of secularity. Since one becomes another Christ by the radical gift of self that is Christian faith, the metaphysics of this self-gift – the believer as person - is also the ground of being secular citizen. And as faith is self-gift to Christ, citizenship is self-gift as service to Christ and neighbor.

This ability of the self to ontologically “flex” over itself shows two dimensions: creature and image of God. As image of God, the human person tends toward self-gift and the Absolute. As creature, the person is yet-to-be-actualized gift. As image of God, he/she is both sovereign and priest in subduing the self to serve and sanctify respectively. What emerges is the “theonomous self” (sovereign-priest) as citizen, defining center of the truly secular order.


Secularity stands as a personalist peak between Western secularism – be it capitalist or Marxist and Islamic theocracy. The latter two are reductionist objectifications of the political reality of the human person. Concerning the former, Benedict has said that we have not seen the last of Marxism
[13] since we have not yet answered its fundamental question about the reality of the transcendent God. Left unanswered, it will return.

Concerning Islam, he said: “the attempt to graft on to Islamic societies what are termed western standards cut loose from their Christian foundations misunderstands the internal logic of Islam as well as the historical logic to which these western standards belong, and hence this attempt was condemned to fail in this form. The construction of society in Islam is theocratic, and therefore monist and not dualist; dualism, which is the precondition for freedom presupposes for its part the logic of the Christian thing [read; faith]. In practice this means that it is only where the duality of Church and state, of the sacral and the political authority, remains maintained in some form or another that the fundamental pre-condition exists for freedom. Where the Church itself becomes the state freedom becomes lost. But also when the Church is done away with as a public and publicly relevant authority, then too freedom is extinguished, because there the state once again claims completely for itself the justification of morality; in the profane post-Christian world it does not admittedly do this in the form of sacral authority but as an ideological authority – that means that the state becomes the party, and since there can no longer be any other authority of the same rank it once again becomes total itself. The ideological state is totalitarian; it must become ideological if it is not balanced by a free but publicly recognized authority of conscience. When this kind of duality does not exist the totalitarian system in unavoidable.

“With this the fundamental task of the Church’s political stance, as I understand it, has been defined; its aim must be to maintain this balance of a dual system as the foundation of freedom. Hence the Church must make claims and demands on public law and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere. Hence it must also take care on the other hand that Church and State remain separated and that belonging to the Church clearly retains its voluntary character.”

(readjust footnotes from 7 on)

[1] Javier Echevarria, Letter, November 28, 1995, #20.
[2] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, `Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday [2005] 34-35).
[3] Ibid.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Faith in the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1971) 50.
[5]“Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view;” J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” op. cit. 132.
[6] Joseph Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 445.
[7] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor,” #88.
[8] “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling. ..He who is the `image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1, 15), is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his Incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things but sin.”
[9] The human will of Jesus Christ is maintains its autonomy in the presence of the divine will, with the autonomy of the divine Person of the Logos. Benedict says: “the assumption of the human will into the divine will does not destroy freedom, but on the contrary generates true liberty…. We are reminded firmly that there exists a specific will of the man Jesus that is not absorbed into the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes a single will with it, not, however, in a forced way but by way of freedom. The metaphysic duplicity of a human will and a divine will is not eliminated, but in the personal sphere, the area of freedom there is accomplished a fusion of the two, so than this becomes not one single natural will but one personal will;” Josef Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad, (1987) 89.
[10] Andre Frossard and John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid,” St. Martin’s Press (1984) 67.
[11] Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Origins, January 26, 2006; vol. 35; No. 32, 537.

[12] “The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the Communist economy has been recognized, its moral and religious fallacy has not been addressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem, and left untreated, it can lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler;” Benedict XVI, “Europe and Its Discontents,” First Things, January 2006, 20.
[13] Joseph Ratzinger, “Theology and the Church’s Political Stance,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1987) 162-163.


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