Monday, February 05, 2007

The Message of Benedict XVI - Apropos of the Office of Readings (today) on St. Bonaventure

In this mornings office of readings, the second reading from Monday of the 5th Week of Ordinary Time offers St. Bonaventure. The following quote has precisely the content that Benedict offers, concerning Bonaventure and the meaning of faith, in his autobiography “Milestones…”(p. 108). It was the nub of his habilitation thesis to become a professor of theology in a German university. It was not understood and misinterpreted as modernist heresy (subjectivism) by Michael Schmaus who rejected it “because it did not meet the pertinent scholarly standards.”[1]

Ratzinger Takes Bonaventure’s Concept of Faith

As presented in other parts of this blog, under the rubric of “Ratzinger,” “Benedict XVI” and “faith,” Benedict understands revelation to the very Person of Christ Himself. Therefore, to “understand” Scripture one must “know” the Person of Christ. And one can “know” the Person of Christ only by experiencing Him in the ontological subjectivity of the self. Then-Josef Ratzinger said: “I had ascertained that in Bonaventure… 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: … 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 thorough my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important fort 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 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…, because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.”[2]

Bonaventure’s Statement on Faith

“The source of sacred Scripture was not human research but divine revelation. This revelation comes from the Father of Light from whom the whole concept of fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives. From him, through Jesus Christ his Son, the Holy Spirit enters into us. Then, through the Holy Spirit who allots and apportions his gifts to each person as he wishes, we receive the gift of faith, and through faith Christ lives in our hearts. So we come to know Christ and this knowledge becomes the main source of a firm understanding of the truth of all sacred Scripture. It is impossible, therefore, for anyone to achieve this understanding unless he first receives the gift of faith in Christ. This faith is the foundation of the whole Bible, a lamp and a key to its understanding. As long as our earthly state keeps us from seeing the Lord, this same faith is the firm basis of all supernatural enlightenment, the light guiding us to it, and the doorway through which we enter upon it. What is more, the extent of our faith is the measure of the wisdom which God has given us. Thus, no one should overestimate his wisdom; instead, he should soberly make his assessment according to the extent of the faith which God has given him.

“The outcome or the fruit of reading holy Scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life. When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied. Then, with all our needs fulfilled, we shall truly know the love that surpasses understanding and so be filled with the fullness of God. The purpose of the Scriptures, which come to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the apostles to which I have referred. In order to achieve this, we must study Holy Scripture carefully, and teach it and listen to it in the same way.

“If we are to attain the ultimate goal of eternal happiness by the path of virtue described in the Scriptures, we have to begin at the very beginning. WE must come with pure faith to the Father of Light and acknowledge him in our hearts. We must ask him to give us, through his Son and in the Holy Spirit, a true knowledge of Jesus Christ, and along with that knowledge a love of him. Knowing and loving him in this way, confirmed in our faith and grounded in our love, we can know the length and breadth and height and depth of his sacred Scripture. Through that knowledge we can come at last to know perfectly and love completely the most blessed Trinity, whom the saints desire to know and love and in whom all that is good and true finds its meaning and fulfillment.”

And this points to the important role of Ratzinger in Vatican II – on this critical point of the meaning of revelation, faith and Scripture - as the peritus of Cardinal Frings who basically called a halt to the voting on the original schemas that were to be voted on and become the documents of the Council.

Benedict’s Impact on Vatican II

Peter Seewald, in an interview with then-Cardinal Ratzinger,[3] asked him: “The Council has been long prepared and planned down to the last detail – until you write a sensational speech for Cardinal Frings. And suddenly everything is again in disarray, and the assembly whose documents have already been worked out has to make a fresh start. What exactly happened?

Ratzinger: “The Council Fathers did not come together with the intention simply of adopting ready-made texts and, so to speak, rubber –stamping them but, in accord with their office, of struggling to find the word that had to be said in that hour. There was the idea that we had to take the task in hand ourselves, not in order to turn the faith upside down, but, on the contrary, to serve it properly. In this sense, Frings’ introductory speech… actually put into words the common awareness already present among the Fathers.”

Seewald: “So what did you write in this speech?”

Ratzinger: “The very first one was not written by me, nor was it a speech in the strict sense. The situation was that proposals had already been worked out in Rome for the composition of the Curia, the commissions. And the expectation was that there would be an immediate vote on the basis of those proposed lists. Now, many of the Fathers didn’t want that. Then both Cardinal Lienart and Cardinal Frings rose to their feet and said that we cannot simply vote at this time, that we have to get in contact with one another in order to find out who is suitable for what, that the elections have to be postponed. That was the first drumbeat at the beginning of the Council…

“The second thing… was that, concretely, when the text on revelation was to be proposed for discussion, Cardinal Frings – and there, admittedly, I did play a part – explained that the text as it was then worded was not an adequate starting point. It was, he said, necessary to start from the ground up, to rework the document within the Council itself. That really sounded the alarm. It was what really first led to the saying that we will rework the texts ourselves…

Seewald: “You also thundered against the neoscholastic rigidity of Rome and severely reproached the Vatican authorities for leading the Church into rigidity...”

Ratzinger: “… (T)here was a very strong desire among the Council Fathers really to venture something new and to leave behind the habitual scholastic framework, also to risk a new freedom. That went from South America to Australia….
“I cannot recall the individual sentences you cited, but it is correct that I was of the opinion that scholastic theology, in the form it had come to have, was no longer an instrument for bringing faith into the contemporary discussion. It had to get out of its armor; it also had to face the situation of the present in a new language, in a new openness. So a greater freedom also had to arise in the Church.”

The Signs of the Times: Justification through Works, Not through Faith.

1) On April 24, 2005, Benedict XVI said: My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas , but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He Himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”

2) On the occasion of his address to the Bishops of Switzerland on November 7, Benedict said: “(I)n all the anguish of our time, faith must truly have priority. Two generations ago, it might still have been presumed natural: one grew up in the faith; in a certain way, faith was simply present as part of life and did not need any special seeking. It needed to be formed and deepened, but seemed something perfectly obvious.

“Today, the opposite seems natural: in other words, that it is basically impossible to believe, and that God is actually absent. The faith of the Church, in any case, seems something that belongs to the distant past.

“Thus, even practicing Christians are of the opinion that it is right to choose for oneself, from the overall faith of the Church, those things one considers still sustainable today. And especially, people also set about fulfilling their proper duty to god through their commitment to human beings, so to speak, at the same time.

“This, however, is the beginning of a sort of `justification through works;’ the human being justifies himself and the world, in which he does what clearly seems necessary yet completely lacks the inner light and spirit.

“Consequently, I believe it is important to acquire a fresh awareness of the fact that faith is the center of all things -- `Fides tua te salvum fecit,’ the Lord said over and over again to those he healed. It was not the physical touch, it was not the external gesture that was operative, but the fact that those sick people believed. And we too can only serve the Lord energetically if our faith thrives and is present in abundance.”

Two Crucial Points:

1) “(F)aith is above all faith in God. In Christianity it is not a matter of an enormous bundle of different things; all that the Creed says and the development of faith has achieved exists only to make our perception of the Face of God clearer. He exists and he is alive; we believe in him; we live before him, in his sight, in being with him and from him. And in Jesus Christ, he is, as it were, with us bodily.

“To my mind, this centrality of God must appear in a completely new light in all our thoughts and actions. Furthermore, this is what enlivens activities which, on the contrary, can easily lapse into activism and become empty.”

2) “We ourselves cannot invent faith, composing it with `sustainable’ pieces, but we believe together with the Church. We cannot understand all that the Church teaches, nor must all of it be present in every life.

“Yet, it is important that we are co-believers in the great `I’ of the Church, in her living `We,’ and thereby find ourselves in the great community of faith, in that great subject in which the `You’ of God and the `I’ of man truly touch each other: in which the past of the words of Scripture becomes the present, times flow into one another, the past is present and, opening itself to the future, allows into time the brightness of eternity, of the Eternal One.”


Globalism: If Christ is the prototype and revelation not only who God the Father is, but who man is (GS #22), we are in the grip of a critical crossroad. By technology, we have become master agents of our own destiny. Does a people who have gone to the moon and have a prolific electronic development t connect with others and subdue nature, still need a redeemer? In his homily on the occasion of the Epiphany (January 6, 2007), Benedict said: “Several spontaneous questions arise: in what sense is Christ still the lumen gentium, the Light of the peoples, today? What point… has the universal journey of the peoples toward God reached? Is it in a phase of progress or of regression? And further: who are the Magi today? How, thinking of today’s world, should we interpret these mysterious figures of the Gospel?”

Benedict answered: During the Second Vatican Council, there “emerged the impelling desire, awakened by the Spirit, for a new epiphany of Christ in the world, a world that the modern epoch had profoundly transformed and that…

for the first time in history, found itself facing the challenge of a global civilization in which the center could not longer be Europe or even what we call the West and the North of the world.”

In a word, positivism cannot give us a universal truth that will order global freedom. The truth of the human person is the only truth that is not accessible through a positivistic, reductive method that can globally order the exercise of freedom while at the same time respecting the autonomous self-determination of nations and individuals.

As he said at Regensburg, “In realty, the modern development of the sciences brings countless positive effects, which must always be acknowledge. At the same time, however, it must be admitted that the tendency to consider true only that which can be experienced constitutes a limitation for human reason and produces a terrible schizophrenia, evident to all, because of which rationalism and materialism and hypertechnology and unbridled instincts, coexist.

“It is urgent, therefore, to rediscover in a new way human rationality open to the light of the divine `Logos’ and to its perfect revelation that is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man. When Christian faith is authentic it does not mortify freedom or human reason; then, why should faith and reason be afraid of one another, if on meeting one another and dialoguing they can express themselves in the best way?”

This new way of human rationality is to renounce the reduction of the self to mere consciousness (the whole of Enlightenment philosophy) and recognize it as the very locus of the experience of Being in the exercise of the free moral act. You discover the “I” as Being and the truth of the human person at the moment of free action preceded by self-determination. That self-determination is experienced, and experience is always accompanied by consciousness that is pre-conceptual. It is the “new way human rationality [becomes] open to the light of the divine `Logos’ and to its perfect revelation that is Jesus Christ, Son of God made man.” (See Ratzinger’s “Behold the Pierced One,” Thesis 3, and his etymology of “intellegere” as “legere ab intus”). In that experience there is a rationality (consciousness) that is other than concepts. It is consciousness that is not the “I” but the rational or intellectual component through which the experience of the “I” takes place, and historically has been the disguise of the “I.”

Living Faith and Consciousness of the “I:” Thomas More in the Tower – And Us?

Roper: Sir, come out! Swear to the Act! Take the oath and come out!

More: Is this why they let you come?

Roper: Yes… Meg’s under oath to persuade you.

More: (Coldly) That was silly, Meg. How did you come to do that?

Margaret: I wanted to!

More: You want me to swear to the Act of Succession?

Margaret: God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the moutht.” Or so you’ve always told me.

More: Yes.

Margaret: Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.

More: What is an oath then but words we say to God?

Margaret: That’s very neat.

More: Do you mean it isn’t true?
Margaret: No, it’s true.

More: Then it’s a poor argument to call it "neat," Meg. When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands) And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one them.

Margaret: In any State that was half good, you would be raised up high, not here, for what you’ve done already. It’s not your fault the State’s three-quarters bad. Then if you elect to suffer for it, you elect yourself a hero.

More: That’s very neat. But look now… If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.

But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and studpidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all… why then perhaps we must stand fast a little – even at the risk of being heroes.

Margaret: (Emotionally) But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?

More: Well… finally… it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.[5]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones, Memoirs 1927-1977),” Ignatius (1997) 107.
[2] Ibid. 108-109.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Salt of the Earth , An Interview with Peter Seewald,” Ignatius (1997) 71-73.
[4] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops of Switzerland, November 7, 2006.
[5] Robert Bolt, “A Man For All Seasons,” Vintage International (1990) 139-141.

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