Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

John Paul II named Saints Cyril and Methodius Co-Patrons of Europe on December 31 1980. This was followed by naming Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Co-Patronesses of Europe. All of this was preceded by Paul VI proclaiming Saint Benedict Patron of Europe.

The fact that St. Benedict is principal Patron of Europe sheds light on Cardinal Ratzinger taking the name Benedict XVI. He has seen a radical interdependence of Judeo-Christian faith and Greek-European thought – concretely a metaphysics of being, but now, not as substance but as “relation,” - such that the Greek European mind belongs to Revelation and therefore faith. His mission is what he said it was: “Initially, in speaking of the Pope's legacy, I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.”[1] Hence, Benedict XVI is not flooding the world with new encyclicals, but driving hard on one point: crossing the epistemological threshold to the Person of Christ. The goal is to undergo and recognize the internal but real ontological experience of self-mastery and self transcendence in that offering of self in deeds of prayer and love to the revealing Christ. Such will enable us to “intellegere,” or as he says, to legere to read, ab intus, from within. That is, to experience doing what Christ does in His immanent Trinitarian Life that translates itself into prayer and mercy, so that it be our experience, and therefore our reading of Who He is from within ourselves and transferring it to Him such that we know Who He is and can say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

As Cardinal Ruini of the diocese of Rome says, “In the language of theology, we could say that the Pope is confronting, in his style and in an innovative manner, the central question of apologetics, or – in today’s preferred phrase – of fundamental theology.”[2] As the Pope says in the excerpt from his book to be published this spring (2007), “first of all… I trust the Gospels… I wished to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the true Jesus, as the `historical Jesus’ in the true sense of the expression.”[3] In a word, Benedict wants to offer a world that has lost living faith in Jesus Christ, and in the young, one that never has had it, that the Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is Christ. This is a major part of his fundamental work “Introduction to Christianity.” His grounding insight is taken from St. Luke where Jesus reveals himself to be prayer, and the apostles/evangelists see Him at prayer to the Father and share in that prayer. All knowledge of the hidden Person of Jesus begins there and He is recognized there. “Peter had grasped and expressed the most fundamental reality of the person of Jesus as a result of having seen him praying, in fellowship with the Father. According to Luke, we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”[4] Once the Person of Christ is experienced, the believing observer is then in a position to enter into the theology of the Trinity where the Father is the act of engendering the Son, and the Son is the act of glorifying the Father. They are not “Beings” or “Substances” who act accidentally as is affirmed in the received metaphysics of substance. Rather, Benedict is saying, “with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person… The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an `I’ which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be `off duty;’ here there is no `I’ separate from the work; the `I’ is the work and the work is the `I.’”[5]

As John Paul II, Benedict XVI feels the supreme burden of doing what Sts. Cyril and Methodius did, and leading the Church in it. Both Popes call the process “The New Evangelization.” By it Benedict says, “Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, will to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man’s fundamental question is: How will this be realized – becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness?
“To evangelize means: to show this path – to teach the art of living. At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Lk. 4, 18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness – rather: I am that path.
“The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice – all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.
“This is why we are in need of a new evangelization – if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science –this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life – he who is the Gospel personified.” (…)
“This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and uninterrupted and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to `classic’ evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.”

What is the historical precedent offered to us Sts. Cyril and Methodius?

The Mission of Cyril And Methodius

Encyclical Letter of John Paul II “In Commemoration of the Eleventh Centenary of the Evangelizing Work of Saints Cyril and Methodius"

In a word, they leave behind the classic Greek culture that they know. They bring Sacred Scripture with them. They live the life of the Slavic tribes; learn their culture and their language. They translate the Greek Scriptures into Slavic by creating an alphabet thus giving them their first literature. They celebrate the Mass in Slavic and go to Rome for approval twice. John Paul II marks the following points:

“The event which was to determine the whole of the rest of their olives was the request made by Prince Rastislav of Greater Moravia to the emperor Michael III, to send to his peoples `a Bishop an teacher… able to explain to them the true Christian faith in their own language.’”
“(T)hey took with them the texts of the Sacred Scriptures needed for celebrating the Sacred Liturgy, which they had prepared and translated into the Old Slavonic language and written in a new alphabet, devised by Constantine the Philosopher and perfectly adapted to the sounds of that language. The missionary activity of the two Brothers was accompanied by notable success, but also by the understandable difficulties which the preceding initial Christianization, carried out by the neighboring Latin Churches, placed in the way of the new missionaries.
“In Rome pope Hadrian II… received them very cordially. He approves the Slavonic liturgical books, which he ordered to be solemnly placed on the altar in the Church of Saint Mary ad Praesepe, today known as Saint Mary Major, and recommended that their followers be ordained priests.”
“The new sovereign of Greater Moravia, Prince Svatopluk, also ssubsequently showed hostility to the work of Mehodius. He opposed the Slavonic liturgy and spread doubts in Rome about the new Archbishop’s orthodoxy. In the year 880 Methodius was called ad limina Apostolorum, to present once more the whole question personally to John VIII. In Rome, absolved of all the accusations, he obtained form the Pope the publication of the Bull Industriae Tuae, which, at least in substance, restored the prerogatives granted to the liturgy in Slavonic by Pope John ‘s predecessor Hadrian II. “
“In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language , they had to make an afford to gain a good grasp of the interior world of those to whom they intended to proclaim the word of God in images and concepts that would sound familiar to them. They realized that an essential condition of the success of their missionary activity was to transpose correctly biblical notions and Greek theological concepts into a very different context of thought and historical experience. It was a question of a new method of catechesis.”

“Previously, Constantine and his fellow workers had been engaged in creating a new alphabet, so that the truths to be proclaimed and explained could be written in Old Slavonic and would thus be fully comprehended and grasped by their hearers. The effort to learn the language and to understand the mentality of the new peoples to whom they wished to bring the faith was truly worthy of trhe missionary spirit. Exemplary too was their determination to assimilate and identify themselves with all the needs and expectations of the Slav peoples. Their generous decision to identify themselves with those peoples’ life and traditions, once have purified and enlightened them by Revelation, made Cyril and Methodius true models for all missionaries who in every period have accepted Saint Opal’s invitation to become all things to all people in order to redeem all.

Autonomy and subsidiarity: “At this point it is an unusual and admirable thing that the holy Brothers, working in such complex and precarious situations, did not seek to impose on the peoples assigned to their preaching either the undeniable superiority of the Greek language and Byzantine culture, or the customs and way of life of the more advanced society in which they had grown up and which necessarily remained familiar and dear to them. Inspired by the ideal of uniting in Christ the new believers, they adapted to the Slavonic language the rich and refined texts of the Byzantine liturgy and likewise adapted to the mentality and customs of the new peoples the subtle and complex elaboration of Greco-Roman law. In following this programme of harmony and peace, Cyril and Methodius were ever respectful of the obligations of their mission…. Thus though subjects of the Eastern Empire and believers subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, they considered it their duty to give an account of their missionary work to the Roman Pontiff. They likewise submitted to his judgment, in order to obtain his approval, the doctrine which they professed and taught, the liturgical books which they had written in the Slavonic language, and methods which they were using in evangelizing those peoples.”

Benedict has shown us the alternative to this crisis of faith that embroils Europe: the model of Spengler, or the model of Toynbee. Spengler “believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: First comes the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death… a natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demes, despite every effort to stop it…. But as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.”
“Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material profess and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism. If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: The religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the `heritage of Western Christianity.’ Rather than a biologistic vision, he offered a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.”[9]

The Future: “One can see properly only with the heart”

In 1970, Benedict said: “only he who gives himself creates the future. The man who simply tries to instruct, who wants to change others, remains unfruitful.... To put this more positively: the future of the Church, once again as always, will be re-shaped by the saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we re scarcely able any longer t become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can sees only with his heart, then how blind we all are?”[10]

As Sts. Cyril and Methodius, we must enter into and stay in the mainstream of society, muddied as it is, in order to be “other Christs.” There, as John Paul II said at the canonization of St. Josemaria Escrivá: “To raise the world to God and transform it from within: this is the ideal the holy founder points out to you…”
We must foster a new culture, new legislation, new fashions, in keeping with the dignity of the human person and with its destiny to the glory of the children of God in Jesus Christ. Christians have to be found in ipse ortu rerum novarum at the very origin of `the new things,’ in the genesis of the positive transformations of persons and society. This is a positive task: a renovation, a regeneration, an improvement. It is not enough, therefore, to lament today’s culture, the prevailing styles of dress, the current laws. It is not enough to criticize the problems we see around us, or to pine for a better past. The apostolate is not a matter of being nostalgic, but of being rebels. Christians yearn for a better future, filled with hope. The future belongs to our freedom and that, to a great extent, it depends on us. And by our human experience we know that the future is forged through passionate commitment through courage, and through God’s grace. We have to passionately love the world: this world – and transform it and building it on the dignity of the human person who is the protagonist of freedom and secular autonomy. Or better, theonomy.

Is Europe the Primal Cultural Incarnation of Christianity, and Is Christianity European?

Pace the fact that Judeo-Christianity originated outside of Europe, and that “European” is not a monolithic cultural mass, the answer is: Yes! But with the massive rider and caveat that we not understand Judeo-Christianity as a European experience that arose from within Europe.

Again, we are asking whether Europe is part of Christian revelation in the way the believing subject is part of revelation, and therefore Greek metaphysical thought will always be attached to it? Benedict gave this response at Regensburg: “This inner rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history – it is an even which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.”

Revelation and Faith in the Mind of Joseph Ratzinger
-Involves Both Object and Subject-

The subject experiencing itself as gift (self transcendence) to the revealing Person of Christ is a constitutive part of the revelation of the Person of Christ. Epistemologically, like is known by like. This holds because to know is experience being one with the object known. The Bible uses “know” for the spousal union of husband and wife. “To Know” by mediation such as empirical perception of the senses or the abstract concept is substitution for the lack of ontological “oneness” with the other. This is not subjectivism (and therefore the prolegomenon to relativism) but its exact contrary in a more radical realism. The only reality that I experience directly and immediately is myself. Only I exercise my free self-determination. This experience of personal and intimate freedom is inalienable and incommunicable to another. However, if I experience in myself what the other experiences in himself or herself, and then transfer that most personal and inalienable experience that I become conscious of, to them, I become conscious of them as I am conscious of myself. This is the maximum of realism.

This was the core of Benedict’s habilitation thesis. In his study of Bonaventure’s notion of revelation and faith, he found that “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.”[11] This is equivalent to saying that if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one to hear it, there is no “sound.” There is reverberation of sound waves in the air, but there is no “sound” because sound demands the auditory sensibility of a subject to receive and become that reverberation – which, in turn, becomes “sound” in the ear/brain/person. This is the mind of Bishop George Berkeley that I think is correct. It is realist, but realist through the experience of the Being “I” who experiences himself being subjectively affected. That is, there is a subjective component to the very meaning of “experience” that mediates (and therefore distorts) between the reality and the real self.

Needless to say, this portion of Benedict’s habilitation thesis was rejected by Michael Schmaus, “who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, [and] saw in these not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”[12] It is interesting to see in this epistemological subjectivity Benedict’s call to integrate the positive element of the Enlightenment in the synthesis that he and John Paul II had forged with Vatican II in the formulation of the “new evangelization.”

This epistemology combines with Benedict’s understanding of the interplay between Judaic faith and Greek philosophy. We will see below how God’s revealed name, Yahweh, became “Being,” and how Greek Being became the “One” of Parmenides and Plato, etc. So also, the turn to the “cogito” in Descartes that was subjectivity, and then, lamentably, subjectivism and relativism, has been assumed and purified by perceiving the experience and therefore ontological character of the “I” in the real imaging of the Divine Persons.

So also, the analogy can be made with Europe as the receptive cultural subject that lived Christ and built itself as the believing incarnation of the “I –gift” of Christ. The present day dwindling of this Christian experience in Europe sets the stage for a redoing of the ninth century apostolic adventure of Cyril and Methodius today, but perhaps on a global scale. The demise of Europe as the engendering Christian culture raises the challenge of forming world wide, Christian culture built not on political structures such as “Christendom” but on the truth of the dignity of the human person as revealed in Jesus Christ. Such a culture would be thoroughly Christian and thoroughly secular since Christ is fully human and the revelation of what it means to be man.

If European Culture Belongs to Divine Revelation, Would The Disappearance of Christian Culture in Europe Be Catastrophic?

On the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, 2007, Benedict said:

“The whole of the Second Vatican Council was truly stirred by the longing to proclaim Christ, the Light of the world, to contemporary humanity. In the heart of the Church, from the summit of her hierarchy, 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 centre could no longer be Europe or even what we call the West and the North of the world. The need to work out a new world political and economic order was emerging but, at the same time and above all, one that would be both spiritual and cultural, that is, a renewed humanism. This observation became more and more obvious: a new world economic and political order cannot work unless there is a spiritual renewal, unless we can once again draw close to God and find God in our midst. Before the Second Vatican Council, the enlightened minds of Christian thinkers had already intuited and faced this epochal challenge. Well, at the beginning of the third millennium, we find ourselves in the midst of this phase of human history that now focuses on the word "globalization."
Faith as Experience is Translated into Concepts of Reason:

What is presupposed above is the full translation of Christian faith experience into anthropology. Faith must become reason in the sense that the revelation of the Person of Christ must be rendered into a metaphysic, and not considered an exception to man.[13] As Yahweh became “Being,” so also Christ must be rendered “Being.” But since Christ is pure relation to the Father, then the “Being” of Christ must be understood in ways other than the abstract conceptualization of in-itself substance. A new metaphysic must be sought where to be must be understood as to-be-in-relation.
This, of course, is not perceived through the experience of external sensation. Nor is it conceived conceptually where the concept is iconic as a sign of the object perceived through the sense. What must take place is the acceptance of the self as relation as a valid experience of being, in fact more real than any sensible experience, and the formulation of a metaphysics to account for it.

Let’s look at Benedict’s account of the methodology of the mutual transference between Israel and Greece at the time of the Exile and afterwards. Of old, the text of Genesis aimed at establishing “the name `Yahweh’ as the definitive name of God in Israel, on the one hand by anchoring it historically in the origins of Israel’s nationhood and the sealing of the covenant, and on the other by giving it a meaning. The latter was accomplished by tracing back the incomprehensible word `Yahweh’ to the root hayah = to be.” This was faith becoming reason. “This illumination of the name `Yahweh’ by the little word `Being’ (I AM) was accompanied by the second attempt at clarification consisting of the statement that Yahweh is the God of (Israel’s) fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This means that the concept of `Yahweh’ was to be enlarged and deepened by the equation of the God so described with the God of Israel’s fathers, a God who had probably been addressed for the most part by the names El and Eloim.

“Let us try to visualize clearly what kind of image of God arises in this way. First, what does it mean when the idea of Being is here brought into play as an interpretation of God? To the Fathers of the Church, with their background of Greek philosophy, it seemed a bold and unexpected confirmation of their own intellectual past, for Greek philosophy regarded it as its decisive discovery that it had discovered, behind all the many individual things with which man has to deal daily, the comprehensive idea of Being, which it also considered the most appropriate expression of the divine. Now the Bible too seemed to be saying precisely the same thing in its central text on the image of God. It is not surprising if this seemed an absolutely amazing confirmation of the unity of belief and thought, and in fact the Fathers of the Church believed that they had discovered here the deepest unity between philosophy and faith, Plato and Moses, the Greek mind and the biblical mind. So complete did they find the identity between the quest of the philosophical spirit and the acceptance which had occurred in the faith of Israel that they took the view that Plato could not have advanced so far on his own but had been familiar with the Old Testament and borrowed his idea from it. Thus the central concept of the Platonic philosophy was traced back to revelation; people did not dare to attribute an insight of such profundity to the unaided power of the human mind.”[14]

Also, the Other Way Round: “The text of the Greek Old Testament, which the Fathers had before them, could very well suggest such an identity of thought between Plato and Moses, but the dependence is probably the other way round; the scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek were influenced by Greek philosophical thinking and interpreted the text from this angle; the idea that here the Hellenic spirit and the faith of the Bible overlapped must already have inspired them; they themselves built the bridge, so to speak, from the biblical concept of God over to Greek thought if they translated the `I AM WHO AM’ of verse 14 by `I am He that is.’ The biblical name for God is here identified with the philosophical concept of God. The scandal of the name, of the God who names himself, is resolved in the wider context of ontological thinking; belief is wedded to ontology. For to the thinker it is a scandal that the biblical God should bear a name. Can this be more than a reminder of the polytheistic world in which the biblical faith had at first to live? In a world swarming with gods Moses could not say, `God sends me,’ or even `The God of our fathers sends me.’ He knew that this meant nothing, that he would be asked, `Which god?’ But the question is, could one have ever given the Platonic `Being’ a name and referred to it by this name as a kind of individual?”[15]
Israel and Europe

As Greek thought translated the Judaic Yahweh into Supreme Being, the God of the Jews who speaks to man, Person to person, translated Supreme Being into Love: Agape.

This experience of the Supreme Being as Love has been lost and replaced by the unilateral experience of sense perception and the positivistic ideology that now accompanies it. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger asked: “Above all, what is European culture, and what has remained of it? Is European culture perhaps nothing more than the technology and trade civilization that has marched triumphantly across the planet? Or is it instead a post-European culture born on the ruins of the ancient European cultures?... The victory of the post-European techno-secular world and the universalization of its lifestyle and thinking have spread the impression – especially in the non-European countries of Asia and Africa – that Europe’s value system, culture, and faith – in other words, the very foundations of its identity – have reached the end of the road, and have indeed already departed from the scene. From this perspective, the time has apparently arrived to affirm the value systems of other worlds, such as pre-Colombian America, Islam, or Asian mysticism.
“At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.”[16]

Further: Ratzinger ends his talk announcing this insightful yet chilling fact:

“The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized – so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals – the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. 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 today. Left untreated, it could 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.”[17]

Repeating Sts. Cyril and Methodius:

[1] Benedict XVI, October 16, 2005
[2] Cardinal Camillo Ruini, “To Preach the Truth of Jesus Christ,” Inside the Vatican, January 2007 46.
[3] Ibid 15.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 149.
[6] J. Ratzinger, June 23, 2001.
[7]John Paul II, Slavorum Apostoli, 13.
[8] Benedict XVI, “Europe and Its Discontents,” First Things, January 2006, 19.
[9] Ibid 20.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1970) 99-102.
[11] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1997) 108.
[12]Ibid. 109.
[13] See the reference in previous blogs to Ratzinger’s article, “The Notion of Person of Theology” in Communio, Fall 1990.
[14] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 78-79.
[16] J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Roots of Europe” in Without Roots Basic Books (2006) 65-66.
[17] Ibid 74.

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