Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Kingdom of God 2007


Benedict XVI: “Speaking of God, we are touching precisely on the subject which, in Jesus’ earthly preaching, was his main focus. The fundamental subject of this preaching is God’s realm, the ‘Kingdom of God.’ This does not mean something that will come to pass at one time or another in an indeterminate future. Nor does it mean that better the better world which we seek to created, step by step, with our own strength. In the term ‘Kingdom of God,’ the word ‘God’ is a subjective genitive. This means: God is not something added to the ‘Kingdom’ which one might even perhaps drop.

“God is the subject. Kingdom of God actually means: God reigns. He himself is present and crucial to human beings in the world. He is the subject, and wherever this subject is absent, nothing remains of Jesus’ message.

“Therefore, Jesus tells us: the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way that one may, so to speak, line the wayside to watch its arrival. ‘The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you!’ (cf. Lk. 17, 20ff.).

“It develops wherever God’s will is done. It is present wherever there are people who are open to his arrival and so let God enter the world. Thus, Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person: the man in whom God is among us and through whom we can touch God, draw close to God. Wherever this happens, the world is saved.”

The above statement contains the main overview of the mind of Benedict XVI on “The Kingdom of God.” The major insight consists in understanding that we are not talking about a Kingdom that is independent of the divine Person, and that we could drop off the divine Person and still have a Kingdom of peace, justice, plenty, a “better world through chemistry,” etc. that would be the Kingdom of heaven, but would not be the Kingdom of God. In Bavaria last year (September 2006), Benedict touched on the same theme and said: “God is the subject. Kingdom of God actually means: God reigns. He himself is present and crucial to human beings in the world. He is the subject, and wherever this subject is absent, nothing remains of Jesus’ message. Therefore, Jesus tells us: the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way that one may, so to speak, line the wayside to watch its arrival. ‘The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you!’ (cf. Lk. 17, 20ff.).”

“The Kingdom” in Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

The specific points he develops in the chapter entitled “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God” in his “Jesus of Nazareth” are the following:

1) "The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. A milestone is set up in the flow of time, something new takes place…. The center of this announcement is the message that God’s Kingdom is at hand. A look at the statistics underscores this. The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ occurs 122 times in the New Testament as whole; 99 of these passages are found in the three Synoptic Gospels, and 90 of these texts report words of Jesus.”[2]

2) The Father of the Church, Origen, developed the following crucial insights:

a) The Kingdom is a Person: “Jesus… the autobasileia…[is] the Kingdom in person. Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not geographical dominion like world kingdoms. It is a person; it is he…. (T)he term ‘Kingdom of God’ is itself a veiled Christology… Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in it God himself is present among them, that he is God’s presence.”[3]

b) “(M)an’s interiority [is] the essential location of the Kingdom of God…. The basic idea is clear: The ‘Kingdom of God’ is not to be found on any map. It is not a kingdom after the fashion of worldly kingdoms; it is located in man’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space.”[4]

c) “(T)he Kingdom of God and the Church are related in different ways and brought into more or less close proximity.” It could perhaps be offered that “Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men – '[5] the Church is “nothing more than the space into which this new subject can move.'[6] Ratzinger is explaining the radical transformation of the baptized person into Christ Himself:
“Becoming and being a Christian depends on conversion…. But conversion according to Paul is something much more radical than a mere revision of a few opinions or attitudes. It is a death event. In other words, it is the replacement of the subject. The ‘I’ ceases to be independent and to be a subject existing in itself. It is torn from itself and inserted into a new subject. The ‘I’ does not perish, but in effect it must let itself fall completely in order to be received within a larger ‘I’ and together with it be conceived anew.”[7] This ontological recasting of the identity of the “I” as the exegesis of the “putting on Christ” is perhaps the boldest and most explicit affirmation of the meaning of the Kingdom of God being “here” and “now.” For Christ became present not only in Nazareth 2,000 years ago, and will be present again at the end of time, but He is present now in this time and place in that this person and that, have most literally “become Him” by the radical gift of themselves to death. This radical transformation takes place in the Church and because of the Church. But the Church is not the Kingdom but the sacrament and the space of this transformation. The person-become-Christ is the Kingdom as “another Christ.” [However, this does not mean that the human person has become a divine Person: See below at the end].

d) The Kingdom is an Action: Since the Kingdom is a Person, and the Person of Christ is the action of self-gift to the Father, then the Kingdom is an “action.”[8] Benedict expatiates on that: “There is another important linguistic observation: The underlying Hebrew word malkut ‘is a nomen actionis (an action word) and means – as does the Greek word basileia (kingdom) – the regal function, the active lordship of the king’ (Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theolgie I, p. 67). What is meant is not an imminent or yet to be established ‘kingdom,’ but God’s actual sovereignty over the world, which is becoming an event in history in a new way.”[9] Benedict goes on: “We can put it even more simply: When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and ‘God is really God, which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world… The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour when God is showing himself in history as its Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship.”[10]

The large point is made here. God is here and now, but not yet. “God’s dominion over the world and over history, transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. Its inner dynamism carries history beyond itself. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present. It is present in the liturgy, in Temple and synagogue, as an anticipation of the next world; it is present as a life-shaping power through the believer’s prayer and being: by bearing God’s yoke, the believer already receives a share in the world to come.”[11] This makes sense of such statements as ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk. 1, 15), it ‘has already come upon you’ (Mt. 12, 28), it is ‘in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17, 21).

e) It is small like a seed and invisible like a seed buried in the ground. How could it be otherwise when, as we saw in b) above, the Kingdom is interior as person is interior to himself. The Kingdom will be wherever the person who has become “another Christ” is. So, indeed, “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1, 15), it “has already come upon you” (Mt. 12, 28), is “in the midst of you” (Lk. 17, 21). “What these words express is a process of coming that has already begun and extends over the whole of history. It was these words that gave rise to the thesis of ‘imminent expectation’ and made this appear as Jesus’ specific characteristic.”[12] And, yet for the same reason that we are talking about a divine Person who transcends time and space, and yet continues to be now in time and space by the fact that another person, a human person, has become another Christ by the action that is His Person – self-gift as service-agape. Benedict concludes his chapter III with “Here… it is not simply in Jesus’ physical presence that the ‘Kingdom’ is located; rather, it is in his action, accomplished in the Holy Spirit. In this sense, it is in and through him that the Kingdom of God becomes present here and now, that it ‘is drawing near.’”[13]

The Great Danger: Jesus of Nazareth is Separated from Jesus, the Christ, Son of the living God.

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[14]

“The figure of Jesus of Nazareth remains astonishingly current. Even outside of Christianity he appeals to people: Islam recognizes him as a prophet; in India many people have set up an image of Jesus in their house. The Christ of the Sermon on the Mount, who moved Gandhi so deeply, has become for many non-Christians there a messenger of God’s goodness, in whom the light of eternity shines into the world….

“Yet concurrent with this manifold presence of the figure of Jesus, it is disturbing to note that, within Christianity itself, Christology has been losing its meaning. It started with the effort to rediscover the man Jesus behind the gilded background of dogma, to return to the simplicity of the Gospels… Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us…

“The presence of the figure of Jesus itself is becoming diminished – also with regard to the non-Christian contemporaries who surround us; the figure is transformed from the ‘Lord’ (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men.”

The Third Temptation of Christ[16]

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And he said to him, ‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written ‘The Lord thy God shalt thou worship and him only shalt thou serve.’ Then the devil left him; and behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Mt. 4, 8-11).

Dangerous Replacements for the Kingdom of God

1) Christendom: “The Christian emperors after Constantine immediately tried to make the faith a political factor that would be conducive to the unity of the empire. The kingdom of Christ was not expected to assume the form of a political kingdom with its splendor. The impotence of the faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was now supposedly compensated for by political and military might. In every century, in many forms, this temptation to secure the faith with power has arisen again and again, and over and over the faith has come close to being suffocated in the embrace of power. The battle for the freedom of the Church, the battle over the fact that Jesus’ kingdom cannot be identical to any political construct, must be fought in every century. For the price to be paid for fusing faith and political power, in the final analysis, always consists of placing faith at the service of power and bending it to political standards.”[17]

2) The Revolutionary [Marxism]: “Pilate has the people choose between Jesus and Barabbas. One of the two will be set free. But who was Barabbas? Usually we think only of the formulation found in the Gospel of John: ‘Now Barabbas was a robber’ (Jn. 18, 40). But the Greek word for ‘robber’ had acquired a specific meaning in the political situation in Palestine at that time. It was the equivalent of ‘freedom fighter’ or ‘member of the resistance.’ Barabbas had taken part in an insurrection and furthermore – in this connection – had been accused of murder (Lk. 23, 19, 25). When Matthew says that Barabbas was ‘a notorious prisoner’ (Mt. 27, 16), it shows that he was one of the prominent members of the resistance movement probably the one who actually instigated that uprising. In other words: Barabbas was a messianic figure. The choice, Jesus or Barabbas, is not coincidental: two messianic figures, tow forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even more evident wh4en we reflect that ‘Bar-Abbas’ means ‘Son of the Father.’ It is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement. The last great messianic war of the Jews had been waged in the year 132 B.C. by Bar-Kokhba – ‘Son of the Star.’ The construction of t he name is the same; the same intention is announced. From Origen we learn yet another interesting detail: In many manuscripts of the Gospels, well into the third century, the man in question is called ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – Jesus, Son of the Father. He appears as a kind of doppelganger [double] for Jesus, who of course understood the same claim in a completely different manner. The choice, then, is between a Messiah who wages battle, who promises freedom and an earthly kingdom of one’s own, and this mysterious Jesus, who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?”[18]

3) The Worship of Well-Being and Rational Planning: “If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance? Do we know Jesus at all? Do we understand him? Do we not have to make an effort, today as always, to become acquainted with him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to recommend to us directly that we should worship the devil. He only suggests that we should decide on what is reasonable, choose the advantages of a planned and thoroughly organized world, in which God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev ascribes to the Antichrist a book entitled The Manifest Way to Peace and Welfare in the World, which becomes, so to speak, the new Bible and has the worship of well-being and of rational planning as its actual subject.”[19]

Oprah Winfrey and the “New Age” Kingdom

I copy below remarks by a Warren Smith on a daily series that will be aired by Oprah Winfrey during 2008. It is entitled “A Course in Miracles.” Having no intention to foster a “plot” mentality, but alarmed by the depth and proximity to Catholic teaching, I offer his presentation and assessment of the content:

“Oprah Winfrey will be letting out all the stops on her XM Satellite Radio program this coming year. Beginning January 1, 2008, “Oprah & Friends” will offer a year-long course on the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles.1 A lesson a day throughout the year will completely cover the 365 lessons from the Course in Miracles “Workbook.” For example, Lesson #29 asks you to go through your day affirming that “God is in everything I see.”2 Lesson #61 tells each person to repeat the affirmation “I am the light of the world.”3 Lesson #70 teaches the student to say and believe “My salvation comes from me.”4 By the end of the year, “Oprah & Friends” listeners will have completed all of the lessons laid out in the Course in Miracles Workbook. Those who finish the Course will have a wholly redefined spiritual mindset—a New Age worldview that includes the belief that there is no sin, no evil, no devil, and that God is “in” everyone and everything. A Course in Miracles teaches its students to rethink everything they believe about God and life. The Course Workbook bluntly states: “This is a course in mind training”5 and is dedicated to “thought reversal.”6Teaching A Course in Miracles will be Oprah’s longtime friend and special XM Satellite Radio reporter Marianne Williamson—who also happens to be one of today’s premier New Age leaders. She and Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch co-founded the American Renaissance Alliance in 1997, that later became the Global Renaissance Alliance of New Age leaders, that changed its name again in 2005 to the Peace Alliance. This Peace Alliance seeks to usher in an era of global peace founded on the principles of a New Age/New Spirituality that they are now referring to as a “civil rights movement for the soul.”7 They all agree that the principles of this New Age/New Spirituality are clearly articulated in A Course in Miracles—which is fast becoming the New Age Bible. So what is A Course in Miracles and what does it teach?A Course in Miracles is allegedly “new revelation” from “Jesus” to help humanity work through these troubled times. This “Jesus”—who bears no doctrinal resemblance to the Bible’s Jesus Christ—began delivering his channeled teachings in 1965 to a Columbia University Professor of Medical Psychology by the name of Helen Schucman. One day Schucman heard an “inner voice” stating, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.”8 For seven years she diligently took spiritual dictation from this inner voice that described himself as “Jesus.” A Course in Miracles was quietly published in 1975 by the Foundation for Inner Peace. For many years “the Course” was an underground cult classic for New Age seekers who studied “the Course” individually, with friends, or in small study groups.As a former New Age follower and devoted student of A Course in Miracles, I eventually discovered that the Course in Miracles was—in reality—the truth of the Bible turned upside down. Not having a true understanding of the Bible at the time of my involvement, I was led to believe that A Course in Miracles was “a gift form God” to help everyone understand the “real” meaning of the Bible and to help bring peace to the world. Little did I know that the New Age “Christ” and the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles were everything the real Jesus Christ warned us to watch out for. In Matthew 24 Jesus warned about false teachers, false teachings and the false “Christs” who would pretend to be Him. When I left the New Age “Christ” to follow the Bible’s Jesus Christ, I had come to understand that the “Jesus” of A Course in Miracles was a false “Christ,” and that his Course in Miracles was dangerously deceptive. Here are some quotes from the “Jesus” of A Course in Miracles:

“There is no sin. . . “9
A “slain Christ has no meaning.”10
“The journey to the cross should be the last ‘useless journey.’”11
“Do not make the pathetic error of ‘clinging to the old rugged cross.’”12
“The Name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol. . . . It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray.”13
“God is in everything I see.”14
“The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself.”15
“The oneness of the Creator and the creation is your wholeness, your sanity and your limitless power.”16
“The Atonement is the final lesson he [man] need learn, for it teaches him that, never having sinned, he has no need of salvation.”17

From what we have seen above, it will be important to make clear that:

1) Although we are “other Christs” empowered to share in His configuration as self-gift to the Father, principally through the action of prayer (not without the Cross), we are not God. We are ontologically limited created beings who experience the relative autonomy of freedom to do good by the gift of selves to God and others, or we can sin by turning back on self concomitantly rejecting God and others.

2) Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, is the historically real individual Jesus of Nazareth. To say that “The Name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol. . . . It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray,” is pure vacuous lucubration.

Benedict XVI confronted this mental attitude in the foreword of “Jesus of Nazareth:” “the historical-critical method – specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith – is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, abut is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnatus est - when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.

“If we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion. So if history, if facticity in this sense, is an essential dimension of Christian faith, then faith must expose itself to the historical method – indeed, faith itself demands this…

“(Therefore), (t)he historical-critical method – let me repeat – is an indispensable tool, given the structure of Christian faith.”
[20] [But we must also go back and remember that the historical-critical method is insufficient of itself to reach through sensible phenomena to the person, and less to the very Person of the Son of God, without the deployment of the observer as self-gift and the experience of that "I" - gift transferred to the underlying reality of the Person.]

[1] Benedict XVI, Bavaria, September 14, 2006.
[2] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 47.
[3] Ibid 49.
[4] Ibid 50.
[5] Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium” 1.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “The Church and the Theologian,” Origins May 8, 1986, Vol. 15: NO. 47, 765.
[7] Ibid . 764.
[8] The solution to the modern dilemma: the Jesus of history, or the Christ of faith, is activating faith as self-gift and experiencing Jesus as the Revelation of the divine Self-gift. Perhaps Ratzinger’s clearest statement of this theological epistemology whereby we recognize Jesus as the Christ, and the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth is the following: “For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish officie and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area [“being-as-substance”] 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;’” Introduction to Christianity Ignatius (1990) 149.
[9] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit. 55.
[10] Ibid. 55-56.
[11] Ibid. 56.
[12] Ibid. 57-58.
[13] Ibid. 60.
[14] H. Richard Neibuhr in Kenneth L. Woodward’s “Is this the Jesus you had imagined,” International Herald Tribune, Thursday, February 26, 2004, 6.
[15] J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” Ignatius (2004) 8.
[16] See Ratzinger’s “Looking at Christ” in On the Way to Jesus Christ, Ignatius (2004) 79-106.
[17] Ibid 96.
[18] Ibid 97.
[19] Ibid 98.
[20] Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) Foreword xv-xvi.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

25th Anniversary of Opus Dei as Personal Prelature

Father, how was the Work born?

“The Work was born with the same naturalness with which a spring flows with water; because the water is there, it has to come forth. It is a supernatural phenomenon which we can’t explain humanly. The Lord chose me, a disproportionate instrument so that from the beginning it was clear that the Work is His.

“Some people ask about the theology which explains the birth and development of Opus Dei. They don’t realize that, when the Life-giving Spirit wants to raise up in the Church something new which breaks with the traditional – never totally because there is a chain from the apostolic period -, the first thing He does is establish the pastoral phenomenon, which can be full of a theology. In the case of the Work, it is a most delicate theology, an asceticism that is mystical because we unite action with contemplation in such a way that it’s possible to say that we are totally active and totally contemplative.

“Before provoking one of these pastoral phenomena, the Hierarchy of the Church and the person whom God has wanted to use to raise it up, must examine to see if the life and norm of this new phenomenon are in agreement with the Ecclesiastical Magisterium.

“Besides, it’s necessary to keep in mind that the repetition of acts produces the custom, and from there the juridical norm is born: the law has to proceed from the custom, from the lived pastoral phenomenon.

“The theory comes afterwards. You will write it after the years go by. You will be able to write magnificent treatises on the theology of Opus Dei, the asceticism of Opus Dei, the Mysticism of Opus Dei, the pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei… You yourselves will write all of this. However, it is up to me to do it.

“To think differently is to be mistaken, to not understand how the works of God are born. To found any human society, cultural, sporting…a number of persons must come together, define the ends, look for plans… God acts in another way: first, He raises up the pastoral phenomenon, which leads one to live in a particular way. And when this life has the proper characteristics – because at times it does not have them because they are general – from there comes forth the theory, the theological reflection.”

After Life Comes Law

Motu Proprio Implementing Four Council Decrees
POPE PAUL VI August 6, 1966

“4. Moreover, to carry on special pastoral or missionary work for various regions or social groups which are in need of special assistance, prelatures composed of priests from the secular clergy equipped with special training can be usefully established by the Apostolic See. These prelatures are under the government of their own prelate and possess their own statutes.
It will be in the competence of this prelate to establish and direct a national or international seminary in which students are suitably instructed. The same prelate has the right to incardinate the same students and to promote them to sacred orders under the title of service for the prelature.
The prelate must make provision for the spiritual life of those whom he has ordained according to the above title, and for the continual perfecting of their special training and their special ministry making agreements with the local Ordinaries to whom the priests are sent. He must likewise provide for their proper support, a matter which must be provided for through the same agreements, either from the resources which belong to the prelature itself or from other suitable resources. In like manner he must provide for those who on account of poor health or for other causes must leave the task assigned to them.

Laymen, whether single or married, may also dedicate themselves with their professional skill to the service of these works and projects after making an agreement with the prelature.
Such prelatures are not erected unless the episcopal conferences of the territory in which they will render their services have been consulted. In rendering this service, diligent care is to be taken to safeguard the rights of local Ordinaries and close contacts with the same episcopal conferences are always to be maintained."

Opus Dei and the Aboriginal Church

I would dare to add that the connection between Opus Dei and the juridical figure of the prelature is not particular to Opus Dei. The transferral of Opus Dei from what I would call the "ligature" of the secular institute to the prelature simpy liberates Opus Dei to be what it really is: "a little bit of the Church," in the words of St. Josmaria Escriva. As Pedro Rodriguez remarked: "To think and speak of Opus Dei soon sends us back to what the Church essentially is, to its saving riches. All that Opus Dei is, it is within the mystery of the Church. Consequently, to study Opus Dei one needs to have a good grasp of ecclesiology. The better we understand the Church, the better will we see how the 'little bit' fits in" (P. Rodriguez, "The Place of Opus Dei in the Church" in Opus Dei in the Church Scepter [1994] 1.). And to make that specific, I would refer again to Rodriguez's observation to the "aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church betrween christifideles - called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism - and sacred ministers, who bring in, besides, the 'ministerial' consequences of the sacrament of Order" (Ibid. 38). Thus the Statutes of Opus Dei read: 'The ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay people are so intimately linked that both, in unity of vocation and government, require and complement each other [ad invicem] in striving for the end proper to the prelature.'

"Thus, to the question, What is the ecclesiological nature of Opus Dei? one could reply: 'It is an institution whose internal structure replicates the basic ecclesial articulation between the common priesthood of the faithful possessed by the virtue of baptism, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, possessed by the clerics incardinate in it.'

"So, what we find in Opus Dei, different yet complementing one another, are the two ecclesial forms of participating in Christ's priesthood. We find both the 'substantial' priority of Opus Dei's lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry, and the 'functional' priority of the sacred ministry, in whose head [the prelate] resides the sacra potestas that governs the prelature. The clergy's 'functional' priority was described by the founder when he said that the ministerial priesthood 'impregnates with its spirit our personal life and all our apostolic work.' Opus Dei's Statutes put it more technically: 'Under the prelate's authority, the clergy, by means of their priestly minstry, enliven and inform all of Opus Dei.' But if these terms - inform, enliven - point to a 'functional priority,' they also clearly manifest the 'substantial priority' of Opus Dei's lay faithful. Graphically, the founder told the Work's priests that their task is to be a 'carpet' for others. He wrote: 'In Opus Dei we're all equal. There's only a practical difference: priests are more bound to place their hearts on the floor like a carpet, so that their brothers and sisters may tread softly' (Ibid. 38)."

[1] From St. Josemaria Escriva, Get-together with his sons on October 24, 1964.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

“America is the Only Nation in the World Founded on a Creed”[1]

G.K. Chesterton:“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that al men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.”

The Creed: The Declaration of Independence: The self-evident truths appear in consciousness because of the experience of the self in the transcendence that is prayer, community life and hard work. It is fundamentally a Christian faith-experience that took place in the colonies from 1620 to 1776 in which it exploded as autonomy of self-determination that would not brook the slightest imposition by the British Crown. It was not the unrighteous revolution that took place in France, but the righteousness of the dignity of the person and the natural right to decide about the self. T o wit:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Self-Evidence From Faith-Experience: Historically, North America passed through the experience of 150 years of Christian faith lived by mostly baptized Protestants with benefit of Scripture, prayer and work. As we have seen in previous blogs, the experience of faith as self-gift to the revealing Christ creates a consciousness of self-dignity and rights:“(I)n the beginning, America was Protestant: that point has been emphasized by every historian of the United States. Therefore we turn to the doctrines and the mentality and the social characteristics of what we call Protestantism – or rather, of certain types of Reformers. But also we need to remind ourselves that when we call early America Protestant, we mean that America was Christian. The fundamental Christian convictions… were not undone at the Reformation. Instead, certain of those beliefs received a renewed emphasis from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the other Reformers…. The Protestant Reformers believed that they were reasserting and reviving the teachings of the early Church of Christ….“The vast majority of people in the thirteen Colonies professed the Christian religion in one or another of its Protestant aspects – chiefly in Anglicanism, in Puritanism (an offshoot of Calvinism), or in Presbyterianism (another offshoot of Calvinism)…. This should be borne in mind: despite the ferocity of the Wars of Religion, the similarities among various Christian bodies are more important than their differences, where we have to do with questions of the order of the soul and of the commonwealth. Hideously though Catholics and Protestants often dealt with one another, still their understanding of man and of society had come from one Christian root.”[4]

Go Forward, Not Back

John Henry Murray, S.J. wrote: "The renewal of our American public philosophy does not mean a return to the past. The movement cannot be launched under the slogan, ‘Back to the Founding Fathers!’ Even if we were to execute this maneuver of a return to the past, we would find that the philosophy of the Founding Fathers, good as it was, is not good enough for the political and social needs of todoay, any more than their Deism would be good enough for our contemporary religious needs.

“I have said that the Founding Fathers did their work within the context of an older tradition, the liberal tradition of the West. This was the basic strength of their thought – that it was traditional. But this too was its weakness: for they made contact with the older tradition at a moment when it had already been weakened from within and had begun its decline. We can see this today, both from the standpoint of our scholarship and also from the standpoint of our experience – political, social and economic. Hence, we can see what our problem is today. It is not to go back to the Founding Fathers; you would better say that it is to go forward from the Founding Fathers. Our problem is not to make vital contact with the traditions of civility as these traditions were possessed and restated by the great men of the 18th century. Our problem is to back beyond the 18th century and to make vital contact with the traditions of civility in their purer form before they had been touched oby the rationalism, voluntarism, secularism and individualism of the 18th century England and America. It is only thus that traditions are renewed – first, by a return to their original sources, and then by a restatement of their original principles and inspirations in terms of a later and much altered social reality. This is a large subject….

“Nor are the Founding Fathers themselves good enough, though we can still learn much from them. Our task is not the recapture of a particular moment in the history of the liberal tradition; it is the re-creation of the tradition itself through an understanding of its inner substance and through an adaptation of this substance to the society in which we live. This much, I think, needed to be said in order to measure the magnitude of the task that confronts.”

The Crisis Facing Us Today:

We are confronted by the alternative: a dictatorship of relativism powered by an inexorable biologistic positivism, or a voluntary spiritualization powered by the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals. Joseph Ratzinger presents this in the alternative between Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. He says:

“There are two opposing diagnoses on the possible future of Europe. ON the ond hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: first came the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argues his thesis with ample documentation, culled from the history of cultures, that demonstrated the law of the natural ife cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture – following the example set by previous cultures during their decline – but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.

“Spengler’s ‘biologistic’ thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference bet5rween technological-material progress 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, yo 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 offers a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.”

Toward the end of his remarks, Ratzinger says: “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.”

This is our problem now in reaching the absolute of Jesus the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth, and hence the absolute value of the human person who is the ontological ground of the self-evident truths of this American Body Politic.

[1] John Courtney Murray, “Freedom, Responsibility and the Law,” Catholic Lawyer July 1956.
[2] J. Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, “Without Roots,” Basic Books (2006) 67-68.
[3] Ibid 73-74.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Presentation of Mary

The Church puts Augustine’s exhortation that we become the Mother of Christ as the topic for the Office of Readings. He quotes Scripture:

“Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.” He commented: “As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone. It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and coheirs with himself.

“Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? ‘Of Mother Church,’ I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism; you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ” (emphasis mine).

Let’s go by parts:

1) Mary becomes Mother of Christ by the free act of obedience. From the theological elaboration on the ontological constitution of the divine Persons, Love and Life are identified in Them. In God, to love is to live and to live is to love. “God is Love (αγάπη)" (1 Jn 4, 9). Hence, in the created persons imaging the Divine, the theological description emerges: “man, the only earthly being that God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.” In sexual morality, this will be translated as “love-making must always be open to life-giving.” Therefore, Mary’s act of self-gift that is faith, liberated from the constraints of original sin that would have tended to turn her back on herself, was a co-operative act with the Holy Spirit in the generation of Logos within her.

She was not simply an instrument. She exercised causality. She is really the Mother of God. John Henry Newman said: “Now, what is especially noticeable in these three writers [Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus] is that they do not speak of the Blessed Virgin merely as the physical instrument of Our Lord’s taking flesh, but as an intelligent, responsible cause of it: her faith and obedience being the accessories to the Incarnation, and gaining it as her reward… (T)hey [the three Fathers] unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy Ghost within her soul; that, as Eve forfeited privileges by sin, so Mary earned privileges by the fruits of grace; that , as Eve was a cause of ruin to all, Mary was a cause of salvation to all; that, as Eve made room for Adam’s fall, so Mary made room for Our Lord’s reparation of it; and thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated n effecting a much greater good.”[1]

Transformation into Mothers of Christ

What we have here is the dynamic whereby each is able to become “another Christ.” To become “another Christ” means that each engenders Christ in himself. In other words, One must recall St. Paul’s outrageous metaphysics in his “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2, 20); “The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. He does not say, ‘And to his offsprings,’ as of many; but as of one, ‘And to thy offspring,’ who is Christ” (Gal 3, 16-17); “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are the offspring of Abraham, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3, 28). Augustine comments: “Let us rejoice and give thanks for we have become not only Christians, but Christ (…). Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!”[2]

The dynamic is the bifurcation of the human person in his very self whereby he is able to master his very self. Not simply spirit subduing the matter of the body, but the whole self subduing or mastering himself. The root of this anthropology is the Christology that is implicit in Paul’s Hebrews 9, 14 that reads: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself,” and 9, 15 that speaks about Christ being mediator in the sense of making “the sacrifice of himself.”

The Usefulness of the German Enlightenment To Give an Account

The metaphysical profile for an anthropology of the self subduing and mastering the self emerged in the German philosophy of Herder’s expressivism and Kant’s freedom of autonomy that merged in Hegel’s attempt to integrate these two contradictions that basically implied each other in human experience. Charles Taylor’s most persistent insight yesterday and today can be summed up in the following: “to find a way of life and thought which would unite two powerful aspirations, which were both connected yet opposed. One is to that unity with nature, other men and himself which man demands as an expressive being; the other is to the radical moral autonomy which reached paradigm expression in Kant and Fichte.”[3] The exercise of reason and will while immersed in the inexorable determinism of the natural material world involves a “separation” of mind and matter. Taylor says: “The oppositions are those which arise from breaking up of the original expressive unity. Hence first, man as knowing subject is separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact, not expressive of some idea or purpose. Nature is thus other than mind in not exhibiting any rational necessity or expressive form. And when we push this distinction to its furthest conclusion we have to agree with Kant in attributing whatever degree of necessary form we find in experience to our own understanding rather than to the reality which comes to impinge on this understanding. Since some degree of necessary form is essential to experience, we have to admit that reality as it is in itself, that is, unaltered by any structures that we impose on it, is forever beyond our ken.”[4] And so Kant posited any sort of absolute necessity as coming from categories or structures of our mind that we impose on the brute chaos that comes from the external and extrinsic “other.” At this point, what is interesting is to note how the Enlightenment split between mind and matter bifurcated into two apparently contradictory strains of “experience” as to the nature of the human person. The one strain is characterized by Herder’s analysis of human language (“Treatise on the Origin of Language”) that, he insists, emerged not from the objective mechanism of stimulus sensations and responding squeals, but from the free agency of a subject who “means” something by the utterance. Animals can “get right” that they go through the door with the triangle (not the square) to get the cheese. “But,” says Taylor, “this is clearly not the case with some of the uses of human language. Consider a gamut of activities including disinterested scientific description, articulating one’s feelings, the evocation of a scene in verse, a novelist’s description of character. A metaphor someone coins is right, profound. There is a kind of ‘getting it right’ here. But in contrast to animal signaling, this can’t be explained in terms of success in a task not itself linguistically defined.” Taylor is trying to explain (about Herder) that there must be subjective agency that determines meaning and therefore the “rightness” of words. That is the origin of language. It cannot be reductively “explained.” It can be “described” objectively. An observer can objectively affirm that the dog went through the “right” door to get the bone. But the word “right” must be intentionally – or subjectively – connected by an agent to “door” because of the bone.

So, Kant who rejects that truth, freedom or the absolute can originate outside of reason in the physical, sensible world, and Herder who discovers reason, freedom and the absolute in the physical exercise of language, both coalesce in Hegel combines both in the integral person who exercises reason and freedom by turning on himself and breaking up the flow of necessary nature in him.
Taylor describes it thus: “Thus the major task of philosophy for Hegel can be expressed as that of over-coming opposition [die Aufhebung der Entzweiung]. The oppositions are those which arise from the breaking up of the original expressive unity. Hence first, man as knowing subject is separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact, not exhibiting any rational necessity or expressive form. And when we push this distinction to its furthest conclusion we have to agree with Kant in attributing whatever degree of necessary form we find in experience to our own understanding [the autonomous] rather than to the reality which comes to impinge on this understanding [the heteronymous].”[5]

It is important to note that we have here left the epistemological horizon of the objective and entered that of the subject. They are both experiential, but differently. We have left the objectified anthropology of Aristotle: the “individual substance of a rational nature” that has, indeed, been useful. However, Wojtyla commented: “It [substance] became the dominant view in metaphysical anthropology and spawned a variety of particular sciences, which likewise understood the human being as an animal with the distinguishing feature of reason. The whole scientific tradition… that came down from the Greeks through the Scholastics to Descartes – moved within the framework of this definition and, consequently, within the context of the belief that the essentially human is basically reducible to the world [because everything that is, is also substance].”[6] Within this objective model of the human being, there is no possibility of considering “self-determination.” With the model of being as substance that is “being-in-itself-and-not-in-another,” there can be the determination of accidental parts by accidental parts, as, for instance, the reciprocal causality of the accidents of intellect and will. But the entire substance cannot “determine” itself without contradiction. As a mental construct, it is impossible as self-contradictory that substance “determine” itself.

Jesus Christ, God and Man, is Self-Determining.

However, Jesus Christ, the prototype of the human being, is mediator between Himself and the Father as we saw above in Hebrews 9-11. Within a philosophy of substance, the notion of an “I” being “mediator” between self and another is, as mentioned, self-contradictory. Joseph Ratzinger refines the understanding of this by his development of the meaning of Christology as developed in the Council of Constantinople III (680-681). Ratzinger is quick to point out that Chalcedon (451) indeed defined that there is one divine Person and two natures, but that the relation of those two “natures” embroiled the world in a static Christology and at best left the mind puzzling over how the two natures related such that they were not merely in parallel as a type of “accidents” inserted into a substance that was the divine Person. He also suggests that this set up in parallel of divine nature and human nature was the remote cause of the inheritance of the unresolved parallelisms of grace/nature, supernatural/natural, faith/reason, Church/State. The solution of Constantinople III was to move from the abstract objectification of “nature” to the subjective experience of will. There Ratzinger found that the divine Person assumed the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth as His own. That human will was overlaid with all the sin of all men: “For our sakes he made him to be sin who knew nothing of sin, so that in him we might become the justice of God” (2 Cor. 5, 21). The divine Logos had to defeat the sin that the Father made to reside in the human will, but that was the very will of the divine Person of the Logos. It was His personal human will that was now sinful. This sinfulness He had to defeat in His very Person, and He sweat blood “before His time.”

“Lo! There is blood upon His garment and in His footprints. Whence come these first-fruits of the passion of the Lamb? No soldier’s scourge has touched His shoulders, nor the hangman’s nails His hands and feet. My brethren, He has bled before His time; He has shed blood; yes, and it is His agonizing soul which has broken up His framework of flesh and poured ti forth. His passion has begun from within.”

The humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, which is existentially represented in the human will, is the will of the divine Person. The human will is the very Self of Jesus Christ and He “subdues” and masters it. He subdues His very Self. Expatiating on Constantinople III, Ratzinger comments: “Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: ‘For IP have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills become one in a single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The ‘wondrous exchange,’ the ‘alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange, and only here, that that fundamental change takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world.”[8]

Therefore, The Human Person is Capable of Self-Determining

The lineage from St. Paul’s Hebrews 9-11, through the philosophy of Kant, Herder and Hegel that worked with this double dimension of the human person in history as freedom within the necessity of nature, and now in the light of the self-determining Christ of Constantinople III where He doubles over Himself to determine Self to obedience to death, now opens out into a new metaphysic that comes to light by spying the experience of this self-determination in man, and therefore the metaphysic of an “I” that is quite distinct from substance. It took the sensitivity of Wojtyla to do the phenomenology of this self-determination, discover that it is available to human reason precisely as experience and therefore accountable as a metaphysic of the “I.” Wojtyla does not start with thinking, but with acting. He says:

“The experience of human action refers to the lived experience of the fact ‘I act.’ This fact is in each instance completely original, unique, and unrepeatable… The lived experience of the fact ‘I act’ differs from all facts that merely ‘happen’ in a personal subject. This clear difference between something that ‘happens in the subject and an ‘activity’ or action of the subject allows us, in turn, to identify an element in the comprehensive experience of the human being that decisively distinguishes the activity or action of a person from all that merely happens in the person. I define this element as self-determination.

“This first definition of self-determination in the experience of human action involves a sense of efficacy on the part of the person self: ‘I act’ means “I am the efficient cause’ of my action and of my self-actualization as a subject, which is not the case when something merely ‘happens’ in me, for then I do not experience the efficacy of my personal self.”

This short quote is sufficient to see the metaphysical disclosure that is taking place here by opening up the horizon of the experience of self-determination as the locus of the “I” as being. We are not in the world of the object, but of the subject, and it is a metaphysical world. The Thomistic esse will find its definitive home here in the decades and centuries to come. The “I” is actually the prius of the meaning of being. Wojtyla said as much in Fides et ratio #83: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”

And it is here that we find the metaphysical account of Gaudium et spes #24: man, as unique image of the divine Persons who are pure self-gift; man, who enjoys the freedom of deciding about himself and therefore determining his own ends and his own way to achieve them, finds out who he truly is in his deepest interior, by the sincere giving of himself that is his truth as person as image.

You as Christ’s Mother

If he makes that self-gift by saying “Yes” as Our Lady did, man will discover that he is really “another Christ” since Jesus Christ is the revelation not only who God is, but who he is. Hence, the real meaning of progress is the development of man into his true identity as another Christ, who, in anthropological terms, is service to others, not outside the world and human ordinariness, but precisely in the exercise of the ordinary, the small, the secular and the remunerated.
And, if man discovers that he himself is being transformed into “another Christ” who lives in him, then, he discovers that in fact, by doing the Word of God, he has become not only Christ brother and sister, but also Christ’s mother. To have Christ within you by being “another Christ” is to be His Mother. And then, you must make the others capable of being Christ’s mother by engendering them by making that gift of yourself and affirming them.

[1] John Henry Newman, “The New Eve,” Newman Press, Westminster, Md (1952) 16.
[2] In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 212, 8: CCL 36 216 as in Veritatis Splendor #21.
[3] Charles Taylor, “Hegel,” Cambridge University Press (1975) 76.
[4] Ibid 77
[5] Ibid.
[6] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 211.
[7] John Henry Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion” Discourse 16, Mixed Congregations.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, “ Ignatius (1986) 92-93.
[9] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community Lant (1993) 189.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Core of Benedict's Book "Jesus of Nazareth;" Jesus of Nazareth Is, Indeed, Jesus the Christ: Two Levels of Experiencing the God-Man


State of Affairs

Ratzinger: “In the midst of the crisis that has befallen Christianity in many parts of the world, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth remains astonishingly current. Even outside of Christianity he appeals to people: Islam recognizes him as a prophet; in India many people have set up an image of Jesus in their house. The Christ of the Sermon on the Mount, who moved Gandhi so deeply, has become for many non-Christians there a messenger of God’s goodness, in whom the light of eternity shines into the world. The story related by the Synoptic Gospels about the suffering woman who touched Jesus’ garments from behind and was thus healed surely takes place every today again and again in many different ways.

(The Problem)

“Yet concurrent with this manifold presence of the figure of Jesus, it is disturbing to note that, within Christianity itself, Christology has been losing its meaning. It started with the effort to rediscover the man Jesus behind the gilded background of dogma, to return to the simplicity of the Gospels. Of course, it quickly became evident that the figure of Jesus in the Gospels cannot be reduced to that of a bland philanthropist – that precisely the Jesus of the Gospels, too, bursts open the framework of what is merely human, posing questions and demanding decisions that challenge man to the very depths of his soul. And so it became necessary then to pick and choose even in the Gospels themselves, in order to find a little consolation and not be exposed to any disturbance of one’s own world view. Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us…

“The presence of the figure of Jesus itself is becoming diminished – also with regard to the non-Christian contemporaries who surround us; the figure is transformed from the ‘Lord’ (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men. The Jesus of the Gospels is quite different, demanding, bold. The Jesus who makes everything okay for everyone is a phantom, a dream, not a real figure. The Jesus of the Gospels is certainly not convenient for us. But it is precisely in this way that the answers to the deepest questions of our existence, which – whether we want to or not – keeps us on the lookout for God, for a gratification that is limitless, for the infinite. We must again set out on the way to this real Jesus.”


Ratzinger now confronts the great crisis of the present moment: How to get beyond that which is sensible-empirical to reach the invisible-empirical (“empirical” meaning the reality achieved experientially), i.e., “thing-in-itself,” or the person. He confronts this in his “The Face of Christ in Sacred Scripture” in the book On the Way to Jesus Christ[2] of which the above text is the “Foreword.”

The semantic key is the Old Testament word panim, the Hebrew word for face. The trick is to reconcile the Jewish forbidding of images with the insistence on seeing the “Face of God,” which would seem to be very much an image. However, what Ratzinger finds is that “panim designates the subject, inasmuch as he turns toward others… that is, inasmuch as he is the subject of relationships. Panim is a term that describes relationships. We can say that precisely with the word panim, as the worship of images is eliminated, the concept of the person is established, specifically as a term of relationship.”[3]

In the Case of the Face of Jesus Christ: Only in the pain of self-transcendence can one experience the Person of Christ “from within” and therefore “understand” (intellegere: ab intus legere)- “from within.” Hence, Ratzinger:

“`Already and not yet’ has been called the fundamental attitude of Christian living; what this means becomes evident precisely in this passage. For the next question is now (for all of post-apostolic Christianity, at least): How can you see Christ and see him in such a way that you see the Father at the same time? This abiding question is placed in the Gospel of John, not in the discourses in the Cenacle, but rather in the Palm Sunday account. There it is related that some Greeks, who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, came to Philip – that is, to the disciple who in the Cenacle would voice the request to see the Father. These Greeks present their request to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, an extensively Hellenized part of the Holy Land: ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (Jn. 12, 20-21). It is the request of the pagan world, but it is also the request of the Christian faithful of all times, our request: We want to see Jesus. How can that happen? Jesus response to this request… is mysterious… It is not recorded whether there was an actual encounter between Jesus and those Greeks. Jesus’ answer, instead, opens up a horizon that is completely unexpected at this point. For Jesus sees in this request an indication that the moment of his glorification has come. He suggests in greater detail in the following words how this glorification will come about: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (Jn. 12, 24). The glorification occurs in the Passion. This is what will produce ‘much fruit’ – which is, we might add, the Church of the Gentiles, the encounter between Christ and the Greeks, who stand for the peoples of the world in general. Jesus’ answer transcends the moment and reaches far into the future: Indeed, the Greeks shall see me, and not only these men who have come now to Philip, but the entire world of the Greeks. They shall see me, yes, but not in my earthly, historical life, ‘according to the flesh’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5, 167) [Douay Rheims]; they will see me by and through the Passion. By and through it I am coming, and I will no longer come merely in one single geographic locality, but I will come over all geographical boundaries into the farthest reaches of the world, which wants to see the Father.”[4]

To Cross the Epistemological Threshold, One Needs “The Passion of the Christ”

(Ken Woodward on the Gibson’s Movie)

“Is this the Jesus you had imagined?

“Watching ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ Mel Gibson’s new movie, I kept thinking the following: It is Christians, not Jews, who should be shocked by this film.

Gibson’s raw images invade Americans’ religious comfort zone, which has long since been cleansed of the Gospel’s harsher edges. Most Americans worship in churches where the bloodied body of Jesus is absent from sanctuary crosses or else styled in ways so abstract that there is no hint of suffering.

In American sermons, too, the emphasis all too often is on the smoothly therapeutic: what Jesus can do for me. More than 60 years ago, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: ‘A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom withouot ojudgment through the inistrations of a Christ without a cross.’ Despite its muscular excess, Gibson’s symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that.

‘The Passion of the Christ’ is violent – no question. Although Mel Gibson the believer identifies with a traditionalist movement that rejects Vatican Council II, Mel Gibson the artist here displays a thoroughly Catholic sensibility, one that since the Middle Ages has emphasized Jesus as the suffering savior crowned with thorns. Martin Luther, too, would have recognized in this film his own theology of the cross.

But there is a little twist here. In his pre-released U.S. screenings, Gibson invited mostly conservative evangelical clergy. They in turn responded by reserving huge blocks of movie tickets for their congregations.

And what’s so strange about this? Unlike Gibson’s film evangelical Protestantism is inherently non-visual. As spiritual descendants of the left wing of the Reformation, American evangelicals are heirs to an iconoclastic tradition that produced the ‘stripping of the altars,’ as the historian Eamon Duffy nicely put it. That began in the late 16th century when radical Protestants removed Christ’s body from the cross.

To the Puritans, displays of the body of Jesus represented what they considered the idol worship of the Papists. To this day, evangelical sanctuaries can be identified by their lack of visual stimulation; it is rare to see statues or stained-glass windows with human figures. For evangelicals, the symbols are all in sermon and song: verbal icons. It’s a different sensibility.

For this reason, I think evangelical audiences will be shocked by what they see. And, as Gibson has said repeatedly, he means to shock. Catholics will find themselves on familiar ground: they, at least have retained the ritual of praying ‘the stations of the cross’ – a Lenten practice that, like Gibson’s movie, focuses on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus.

By contrast, Southern Baptists and other mostly fundamentalist churches do not observe Lent, and even Catholics have muted the ancient tradition of fast and abstinence that commemorated the Passion of Jesus.

Indeed, Gibson’s fil leaves out most of the elements of the Jesus story that contemporary American Christianity now emphasizes. His Jesus does not demand a ‘born again’ experience, as most evangelists do, in order to gain salvation. He does not heal the sick or exorcise demons, as Pentecostals emphasize. He doesn’t promote social causes, as liberal denominations do. He certainly doesn’t crusade against gender discrimination, as some feminists believe he did, nor does he teach that we all possess an inner divinity, as today’s nouveau Gnostics believe. One cannot imagine this Jesus joining a New Age sunrise Easter service overlooking the Pacific.

Like Jeremiah, Jesus is a Jewish prophet rejected by the leaders of his own people, and abandoned by his hand-picked socials. Besides taking an awful beating, he is cruelly tempted to despair by a Satan whom millions of church-going Christians no longer believe in, and dies in obedience to a heavenly Father who, by today’s standards, would stand convicted of child abuse. IN short, this Jesus carries a cross that not many Christians are ready to share.

It is easy, of course, to contrast third-millennium Christian mores with the story of Christ’s Passion. Like other Americans, Christians want desperately to know that they are loved, in the words of the old Protestant hymn, ‘just as I am.’

But the love of God, as Dorothy Day liked to put it, ‘is a harsh and dangerous love’ that requires real transformation. It is not the sort imagined by today’s spiritual seekers who are ‘into’ Asian religions.

Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah.

By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it – willingly, Christians believe – for the sins of all.

If the United States were a nation of Bible-readers, not just Bible-owners, I don’t think a film like Gibson’s would cause much fuss. While I do not think that ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is anti-Semitic, I do think it presents Christians with a ‘teaching moment.’

But the lessons have more to do with forgotten Christian basics than with who killed Jesus.”


1) Two (2) Epistemological Experiences: Surface and Depth

The key to the mind of Benedict XVI is the solution to the presence of the Absolute in the relativity that is the contingency of history. That solution is the Person of this individual man Jesus of Nazareth, Who is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God: the Absolute. Hence, the solution to the “dictatorship of relativism” of which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned on the morning of his election as Benedict XVI is the experience, and therefore, the consciousness of the divine Person in the contingent “Face” of the man Jesus of Nazareth.[6]

Hence, there are two epistemological levels at work here: a) the experience of this individual man through the external senses; and b) the experience of the “I” as ontological reality going out of self to become the very “I am” of the revealing Christ. This means not just “following” Christ, but dynamized by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist “to be Christ” by undertaking a giftedness that is one with the divine giftedness.

2) Parousia: “Now” and “Not Yet”

We are in the time of the parousia now leading to Advent. This is normally understood to mean the end time of the Second Coming. Joseph Ratzinger offers quite another hermeneutic. He says:

“We may start with the word ‘Advent’ itself. ‘Advent’ does not, for example, mean ‘expectation,’ i.e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also of the god being worshipped, wh0o bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time. ‘Advent,’ then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God.

“Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that he is present though in a hidden manner; second, that his presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form. His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world….

“When… we hear it repeatedly said during the holy night of Christmas that ‘Today Christ is born,’ it should remind us that what was begun at Bethlehem is meant to increase through our constant new beginnings and that the holy night truly can be, and is, ‘today,’ whenever a human being allows the light of goodness within him to shine through his self-centeredness and egoism. That night is
Today’ whenever the Word’ again becomes ‘flesh’ or genuine human reality. ‘The Christ child comes’ in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord and do not settle for mere exchange of ‘gifts.’

“Advent tells us that he presence of the Lord has already begun but also that it has only begun.”

Kingdom of God

John Paul II: “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed. The result is a distortion of the meaning of the kingdom, which runs the risk of being transformed into a purely human or ideological goal, and a distortion of the identity of Christ, who no longer appears as the Lord to whom everything must one day be subjected (cf. 1 Cor. 15, 27).”[8]

Benedict XVI in “Jesus of Nazareth:” “The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. A milestone is set up in the flow of time; something new takes place. And an answer to this gift is demanded of man: conversion and faith.”[9]

“Something new takes place:” The novelty is the entrance of the second divine Person of the Trinity into time and space by the assumption of the full and complete humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. The humanity of Jesus of Nazareth is an historical individual particularized at that time and in that place. It is an historical contingent that has been assumed by the absolute divine Person Who exercises it as His very Self.

John Paul II, in his “Fides et Ratio” #12 wrote: “In the Incarnation of the Son of God, we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ’s revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolute valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father…” This means that we must deploy two modes of access to the Christ Who stands before us: the empirical verification of this historical man, and the conversion of the inner self such that we are able to experience Him ab intus – from within ourselves, and in the experience of ourselves as open and turned toward Him, to receive Him as Word in obedience. That is, there must be sensible percipere and intellectual intellegere: to read from within ourselves. This opening toward Christ to experience Him as gift to the Father consists in our being gift of self to Him. Like is known by like.

Immanuel Kant

Explicitly Denies the Two Empirical Experiences

These two epistemological experiences must be undergone in order to adequately grasp the integral reality of the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ. The deployment of both levels of experience was methodically denied by Kant’s so-called “transcendental” knowing.

Consider then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1988 critique of Kant’s philosophy as the core and cause of the hermeneutical problem of knowing the full Christ as God and man:

“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 be myth, whose laws of development can he discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, read the Bible.”

3) Response of “Jesus of Nazareth:” Prayer as self-transcending Cross to become “Ipse Christus.”

The response of “Jesus of Nazareth” to this Kantian restriction to external “factualism” (“positivism”) about the historical Jesus is the following:

“We see, then, that the divine lordship, God’s dominion over the world and over history, transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. Its inner dynamism carries history beyond itself. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present. It is present in the liturgy, in Temple and synagogue, as an anticipation of the next world; it is present as a life-shaping power through the believer’s prayer and being; by bearing God’s yoke, the believer already receives a share in the world to come.” He goes on to make the point that “Jesus was a ‘true Israelite’ (cf. Jn. 1, 47) and also that… he transcended Judaism. Nothing of what we have just discovered is lost. And yet something new is here, something that finds expression above all in such statements as ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk 1, 15), it ‘has already come upon you’ (Mt. 12, 28), it is ‘in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17, 21). What these words express is a process of coming that has already begun and extends over the whole of history.”[11]

And the question that one must ask is: how does one transcend “the moment” and “the whole of history.” By what mental operation does one reach “the thing-in-itself” that Kant had declared forbidden territory. Ratzinger answers for the case of Christ: prayer. The “I” that is oneself must match the “I” that is the Other Who is Christ. Since God is three Persons each of Whom is Self-Gift, when the Son takes flesh, the relationality of self-giving to the Father “appears” as prayer. Ratzinger goes particularly to Luke to show that, in fact, “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.”[12]

Prayer as Passion and Cross: The Supreme Act of Transcendence

The only way to understand the book “Jesus of Nazareth” is to pray. It proves out if one goes to the end of the book where one finds “Peter’s Confession” (pp. 287-305) to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). To pray is to rearrange the ontological structure of the person, or better, to activate that structure into gift, even to death. Since that is the structure of the Person of Christ, it must become the structure of the believer whose first and supreme act is to pray.

The radical nature of prayer is stated by Ratzinger in the following: “The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, word. His nature is to speak, to hear, to reply, as we see particularly in Johannine theology, where Son and Spirit are described in terms of pure ‘hearing;’ they speak in response to what they have first heard. Only because there is already speech, ‘Logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘Logos,’ to God. Philosophically, we could pout it like this: the Logos in God is the onto-logical foundation for prayer. The Prologue of John’s Gospel speaks of this connection in its very first sentence: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in communication with God’ (1,1) – as a more precise translation of the Greek προς [to] suggests, rather than the usual ‘with God.’ It expresses the act of turning to God, of relationship. Since there is relationship within God himself, there can also be a participation in this relationship. Thus we can relate to God in a way which does not contradict his nature.”[13]

“Abba” Means Totality of Self-Gift:

Ratzinger shows that the word “Abba” in the mouth of Jesus Christ is absolutely unique; that no Jew would have dared to use the word “Abba” with respect to God. As Joachim Jeremias said: “With the help of my assistants I have examined the prayer literature of ancient Judaism – a large, rich literature, all too little explored. The result of this examination was that in no place in this immense literature is this invocation of God as abba to be found. How is this to be explained? ... Abba and imma are… originally the first sounds which the child stammers. In Jesus’ days they were no longer restricted to children’s talk; they were also used by grown-up sons and daughters to address their parents. Yet their humble origin was not forgotten. Abba was an everyday word, a homely family-word. Now Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always…”[14] Ratzinger says that as a child’s word and as the unique word in the mouth of Jesus Christ, it expresses the radical giftedness of Himself to the Father as the Son. “It [“Abba”] expresses his whole being, and all that he says to God in prayer is ultimately only an explication of his being (and hence an explication of this one word); the Our Father is this same ‘Abba’ transposed into the plural for the benefit of those who are his.”[15]

Again, the point of the book is to understand what must be done today to bring about an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth to be Jesus the Christ so that we can escape from the procrustean positivism of the Enlightenment and, finding Jesus as the Christ, find the true ontological dimensions and weight of ourselves such that we can really begin to build a new culture and civilization of love. If we do not achieve this, we will not be able to understand the Second Vatican Council nor the Magisterium of John Paul II or Benedict. Further, if we do not cross this epistemological threshold, we will not only not be able to create a true and integral humanism. We will not be able to defend ourselves as persons from the onslaught of the diminishment of the person to “thing.”

Therefore, the scene of Mt 16, 13-19 and Luke 9, 18 must be repeated. And that is the burden of the book. The epistemological structure of the scene is presented in a more pithy and formalized way in “Behold the Pierced One” pp. 25-27. But “Jesus of Nazareth” offers the following:

“In Luke… Peter’s confession is connected with a prayer event. Luke begins his account of the story with a deliberate paradox: ‘As he was pray8ing alone, the disciples were with him’ (Lk. 9, 18). The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who – as we reflected at the beginning of this book – speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person. They are privileged to see him in his utterly unique filial being – at the point from which all his words, his deeds, and his powers issue. They are privileged to see what the ‘people’ do not see, and this seeing gives rise to a recognition that goes beyond the ‘opinion’ of the people. This seeing is the wellspring of their faith, their confession; it provides the foundation for the Church.”[16]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” Ignatius (2004) 7-8.
[2] Ignatius (2004) 13-31.
[3] Ibid 18-19.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ,” op. cit. 14-15.
[5] Kenneth L. Woodward, “Is this the Jesus you had imagined,” International Herald Tribune, Thursday, February 26, 2004, 6.
[6] The document “Dominus Iesus” of June 16, 2000, #5 said: “As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn. 14, 6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him’ (Mt. 11, 27) ‘No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him’ (Jn. 1, 18); ‘For in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form’ (Col. 2, 9-10).
[7] J. Ratzinger, “The Meaning of Advent,” Dogma and Preaching, Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 71-72.
[8] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio #18.
[9] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 47.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” St. Peter’s Church, New York, N.Y., January 27, 1988.
[11] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” op. cit. 57-58.
[12] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[13] J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” Ignatius (1986) 25.
[14] Joachim Jeremias, “The Prayers of Jesus,” Fortress Press (1989) 96-97.
[15] J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” op. cit 26-27.
[16] Benedict XVI “Jesus of Nazareth,” op. cit. 291