Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Short-Form of "Secularity" @ ND Conference on Modernity


  • Accept modernity in so far as it is the turn to the subject – “I”
  • Purify the "I" of the Cartesian contamination of subjectivism - the "pure consciousness" of the cogito - by accounting for the experience of it as ontological agent of Christian faith
  • Incarnate it as ontological autonomy-theonomy (self-determination/self-gift) of the "I" that is "secularity," which in turn transcends secularism (there is no God save the unencumbered self) and theocracy (Islam).
  • Secularity is a subjective reality that is existential and unreduced. Secularism and theocracy are reductive ideologies that abstract from the "I" of the human person. (Hanna Arendt once remarked: "Ideology is not the naive acceptance of the visible [of the real], but the intelligent cancellation of it.")


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 as consciousness is its bequeathing us with a dictatorship of relativism that morphs into skepticism and nihilism.


Today, Turkey is a microcosm of the global crisis. It is both secularist in constitution and theocratic in existential makeup. Politically, it is religion-neutral while de facto populated by a margin of 71 million Muslims to 130,000 Christians, 5,000 of whom are Orthodox.

Bartholomew I needed help and Benedict came to give it. However, what Benedict wants above all is the union of Orthodox and Catholics – to heal a 1000 year rift – so as to represent the Face of Christ, the one true Church of East and West - breathing with both lungs and unshattered by schism – such that Islam, which is, at root, a Christian heresy, can recognize Him and respond. The hope is that conversion will follow by both Islam and Protestantism.

Secularism and theocracy are the result of dumbing-down Christian faith to a conceptual ideology – to being an object. In the West, faith is reduced to an ideology of rules, regulations, dogmas and institutional growth while leaving the subject – the believer as person - unencumbered by Truth and Goodness as absolutes. The experience of these absolutes has not been unrecognized – or better ignored – in common experience, and if recognized these absolute values are consigned to the structure of thought itself, which by definition is not real; in the Islamic East, faith is confused with belief as an ideology of theocratic monism where church and state must be one.

Benedict XVI’s Challenge to the West: "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."

His response: Accept the “I,” but not as consciousness. Purify it by showing that Christian faith is the act of the whole self as real being: self-gift.[2]

“That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith·"

What does “purify” the “I” mean? Restore it to reality by the double means of revelation (Ratzinger) and the philosophy of experience (Wojtyla). 1) Recover the meaning of faith in Scripture and Tradition[3] as an experiential knowing of God (and self). 2) Do a phenomenology of faith (Wojtyla with St. John of the Cross) and complement it with the Thomistic metaphysics in terms of the experience of the self as believer (self-transcending).[4]

Lorenzo Albacete of Communione and Liberazione comments on the meaning of "experience," the "I," and "truth." He says: "The verification of the correspondence between the constitutive desires of the heart and the objects encountered by the `I' is what Giussani calls experience, and this is at the heart of his thought. A posture is more real and true the more it corresponds to that objective, interior trace found at the roots of the I. This correspondence is what is called truth. An education in reason is an education on the relation between experience and truth" ("The Road of Reason" in Traces Vol. 8, NO. 9, 2006, 51).


- Revelation: “(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.”[5]
- Scriptural Paradigm: Abraham’s obedience.

- John 4: Encounter between Christ and the Samaritan Woman.

- Ratzinger's “Milestones” (108): “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 discussion 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 in 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.”[6]


- The Fathers at Vatican II were not interested in this or that truth of faith, but rather, what does it mean to be a believer – a believing subject.

- VS #88: “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.”

The act of faith as the ontological experience of self-gift (prayer) produces a consciousness of self as “another Christ” and upon reflection becomes conceptual as in “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). The reality that is experienced in the believer is grounded in the response to the one Absolute reality of God Himself become man. As Benedict says: “Like is known by like”[7] Only by the act of self-gift (faith) does the believer experience himself as “I” and as being (being because there is precisely “experience” at the moment of self-mastery and freedom). One can only experience the “I” of another, and therefore “know” him/her by experiencing oneself in self-determination and transferring that experience and the accruing consciousness to the other as another “I.” Only thus can we know (“intellegere = ab intus legere) a subject, and a fortiori Jesus Christ.

This likeness to the Person of Christ by living faith (prayer) produces the consciousness of self worth, freedom, rights that become political consciousness.

Theological Epistemology Becomes Political Epistemology:

The consciousness of the dignity of the self as “another Christ” and the right to exercise the freedom of self determination that is exercised in the act of Christian faith is the same consciousness as the self-evident truths that ground the secular political order of democracy.

Therefore, the consciousness of the self-evident truths of the human person as citizen is Christian faith. The first of these truths is secularity which is the freedom of religious autonomy (self-determination) before the state. Hence, the separation of Church and State as institutions is a truth founded on the Christian experience of living faith. Secularity is a Christian truth lived in the exercise of Christian faith. Christianity promotes this dualism of the person and state.[8] Wherever the person does not experience self transcendence there is monism that ultimately becomes state tyranny.


Secularity stands as a Christian experience, 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[9] 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”

[1] Javier Echevarria, Letter, November 28, 1995, #20.
[2] “And it seems to me,” he continued, `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, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous;” (The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, `Let God’s Light Shine Forth,’ ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday [2005] 34-35).
“(T)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 lesson 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 he majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible, his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do not 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….
“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 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 your sight 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;” Gregory of Nyssa, “De Beatitudinibus:” PG 44, 1270-1271; Second reading from Saturday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time.
[4] “God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experienced. The pope expressly opposes the limitation of the concept of experience which occurred in Empiricism; he points out that the form of experience elaborated in the natural sciences is not the only kind, but that there are also other forms which are no less real and important: moral experience, human experience, religious experience (34). But this experience is, of course, also reflected upon and verified in its rational content.” J. Ratzinger, “God in Pope John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Communio 22 (Spring, 1995) 110.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Faith in the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1971) 50.
[6] J. Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 Ignatius 107-109.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) Thesis 3.
[8] This identity of theological and political consciousness was conceptualized by Leo XIII when he placed “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;” John Courtney Murray, S.J., “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic Thought on Church and State in the Light of History,” Theological Studies, Vol. X, June 1949, no. 2, 220.

[9] “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.
[10] Joseph Ratzinger, “Theology and the Church’s Political Stance,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1987) 162-163.

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