Thursday, October 18, 2007

St. Luke and Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI exclaims in the foreword to “Jesus of Nazareth:” “I trust the Gospels” The reason he trusts them is due to the unique affirmation of Luke that Jesus is the true prophet announced by Moses in Deuteronomy: “And the Lord said to me, ‘This was well said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him’” (Deuteronomy 18, 18).

Moses spoke to God face to face, but he did not “see” God face to face. “You shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33, 23). But in the case of Jesus, things are different. The prologue of St. John’s Gospel reads: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn. 1, 18).” The pope goes on: “What was true of Moses only in fragmentary form has now been fully realized in the person of Jesus: He lives before the face of God, not just as a friend, but as a Son; he lives in the most intimate unity with the Father.

“We have to start here if we are truly to understand the figure of Jesus as it is presented to us in the New Testament; all that we are told about his words, deeds, sufferings, and glory is anchored here. This is the central point, and if we leave it out of account, we fail to grasp what the figure of Jesus is really all about, so that it becomes self-contradictory and, in the end, unintelligible. The question that every reader of the New Testament must ask – where Jesus’ teaching came from, how his appearance in history is to be explained – can really be answered only from this perspective. The reaction of his hearers was clear: This teaching does not come from any school. It is radically different from what can be learned in schools. It is not the kind of explanation or interpretation that is taught there. It is different; it is interpretation ‘with authority.’”

The point that Benedict made in Brazil last May 13th is apposite: “Only God knows God.” And therefore, only God sees God in the face. The telling scriptural quote is Matt 11, 27: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus Christ Reduced Positivistically

The exegesis of the last two centuries has been dominated by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that spawned the philosophy of empirical positivism. Ratzinger remarked in 1988: “One can not that in the history-of-religions school, the model of evolution was applied to the analysis of biblical texts. This was an effort to bring the methods and models of the natural sciences to bear on the study of history. Bultmann laid hold of this notion in a more general way and thus attributed to the so-called scientific worldview a kind of dogmatic character. Thus, for example, for him the non historicity of the miracle stories was no question whatever anymore. The only thing one needed to do yet was to explain how these miracle stories came about. On one hand the introduction of the scientific worldview was indeterminate and not well thought out. ON the other hand, it offered an absolute rule for distinguishing between what could have been and what had to be explained only by development. To this category belonged everything which is not met with in common daily experience. There could only have been what now is. For everything else, therefore, historical processes are invented, whose reconstruction became the particular challenge of exegesis.

Kantian Background

Ratzinger continues: “But I think we must go yet a step further in order to appreciate the fundamental decision of the system which generated these particular categories for judgment. The real philosophic presupposition of the whole system seems to me to lie in the philosophic turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant. According to him, the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason which have remained as it were the small opening through which he can make contact with the real, that is, his eternal destiny. For the rest, as far as the content of his intellectual life is concerned, he must limit himself to the realm of the categories. Thence comes the restriction to the positive, to the empirical, to the ‘exact’ science, which by definition excludes the appearance of what is ‘wholly other,’ or the one who is wholly other, or a new initiative from another plane.

“In theological terms, this means that revelation must recede into the pure formality of the eschatological stance, which corresponds to the Kantian split. As far as everything else is concerned, it all needs to be ‘explained.’ What might otherwise seem like a direct proclamation of the divine, can only myth, whose laws of development can be discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, read the Bible. He is certain that it cannot be the way it is depicted in the Bible, and he looks for methods to prove the way it really had to be. To that extent there lies in modern exegesis a reduction of history into philosophy, a revision of history by means of philosophy.”

Luke Reads Christ’s Words and Actions From Within the Experience of Prayer. So Must Exegesis.

Ratzinger – Benedict XVI trusts the Gospels because it is uniquely Luke who shows that the very Person of Jesus reveals Himself to be the relational action of prayer. Therefore, everything Jesus did or said cannot be reduced to the cultural, psychological, geographical, historical, hormonal (if you will)… Luke reports that the very Person of Jesus is the action of prayer. He is reporting that when the “I” of the Logos takes on flesh, the relationality of His Being assumes the human will of Jesus of Nazareth and He freely wills to be Who He is, Word spoken and speaking to the Father: Abba. This is irreducible to cosmic conceptual categories.

Ratzinger offers the three principal lucan sites: Lk. 6, 12, Lk. 9, 18 and Lk. 9, 28, the most important, perhaps, being Lk. 9, 18: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered and said, “john the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’
“And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am/’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God.’”

Ratzinger comments: “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.
“Thus we have arrived at both the very basis and the abiding precondition of the Christian confession of faith: only by entering into Jesus’ solitude, only by participating in what is most personal to him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity. This is the only way to understand him and to grasp what ‘following Jesus’ means. The Christian confession is not a neutral proposition; it is prayer, only yielding its meaning within prayer. The person who has beheld Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and has come to understand him from within is called to be a ‘rock’ of the Church. The Chruch arises out of participation in the prayer of Jesus.”

As Guardini said it: “The person of Jesus is unprecedented and therefore measurable by no already existing norm. Christian recognition consists of realizing that all things really began with Jesus Christ; that he is his own norm – and therefore ours – for he is Truth.”

“Christ’s effect upon the world can be compared with nothing in history save its own creation: ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ What take s place in Christ is of the same order as the original act of creation, though on a still higher level. For the beginning of the new creation is as far superior to the love which created the stars, plants, animals and men. That is what the words mean: ‘I’ have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?’ (Lk. 12, 49). It is the fire of new becoming; not only ‘truth’ or ‘love,’ but the incandescence of new creation.

“How earnest these words are is clear from those that follow: ‘But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!’ ‘Baptism’ is the mystery of creative depths: grave and womb in one. Christ must pass through them because human hardness of heart does not allow him to take the other road. Down, down through terrible destruction he descends, to the nadir of divine creation whence saved existence can climb back into being.”
[1] Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 6.
[1] Ibid.
[1] “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” January 27th 1988 at St. Peter’s Church in New York, N.Y.
[1] Ibid.
[1] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[1] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1954) 306-307.
[1] Ibid

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