Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Comment From a Reader: "What's All the Fuss About?"

Comment from a reader: “I have read a great deal of religious writing since I became a Catholic convert in my 20s. I am not boasting when I say that I have read mush of Pius XII, Pius X, Leo XIII, Garrigou-Lagrange, the catechism of the Church & the Council of Trent and, of course, much of S. Josemaria. I have a degree in English literature and education. Why is it that I find much of modern religious writing so hard to grasp, understand and take in - especially Pope John Paul II [I have read much of him and just can't see what everyone thinks is so extraordinary].I always want to stop and ask: What does that mean exactly (e.g. Family become what you are or we are called to communion in the Trinity) A good friend of mine went to talks of Familaris Consortio and gave up saying:
1. That’s been said before, it’s obvious. 2.It's so deep we are not meant to understand it.
Have you ever met anyone else who dared to say such a thing? Maybe there is something wrong with me! I have listened to many fine and excellent priests of Opus Dei talking about John-Paul II, but I just can't see what the fuss is about. Thank you. I would like your comments.”

I comment on this observation again (I commented in a previous blog), since I think the depth of John Paul II and Ratzinger-Benedict is being missed and in a widespread manner. Today, being the anniversary of death, and looking over older references, let me say the following:

In John Paul II’s “Sources of Renewal,” which is the catechism he wrote for his diocese of Krakow concerning the Second Vatican Council, he began with the major insight that the Council represented an “enrichment of faith.” By “enrichment of faith,” he meant the acknowledgement of a consciousness of Christ that accompanies the experiences of faith as a going-out-self by the “Subject” that is the Church. What is “new” about Vatican II, John Paul II and Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, is not any addition to the conceptual content of faith as a “deposit,” but the consciousness (and conceptual reflection on it) that is the context of conceptual faith. Notice that Wojtyla says: “If we study the Conciliar magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe?’ or ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’ They endeavored to answer this question in the broad context of today’s world, as indeed the complexity of the question itself requires.”[1]

The answer that he gives is: “The question…calls for that truth [pure doctrine in a conceptual state] to be situated in the human consciousness and calls for a definition of the attitude, or rather the many attitudes, that ago to make the individual a believing member of the Church. This would seem to be the main respect in which the Conciliar magisterium has a pastoral character, corresponding to the pastoral purpose for which it was called. A ‘purely’ doctrinal Council would have concentrated on defining the precise meaning of the truths of faith, whereas a pastoral Council proclaims, recalls or clarifies truths for the primary purpose of giving Christians a life-style, a way of thinking and acting. In our efforts to pout the Council into practice, this is the style we must keep before our minds. In the present study… we shall concentrate on the consciousness of Christians and the attitudes they should acquire.”[2]

Therefore, the “enrichment” consists in observing that the Church is a Subject – i.e. personal as the body of the Subject Christ [the Whole Christ] – who is a person (Our Lady: another Christ) and who says “Yes” and therefore has a consciousness and a memory of experiencing the Person of Christ within her.

Chapter II is entitled “Faith as God’s gift, and also as man’s conscious attitude.” Notice that “attitude” is not a conceptual knowing, but an orientation either toward self or toward another and away from self. That chapter deals with Dei Verbum 5 of Vatican II which describes the act of faith as involving the whole person, and not simply the faculties of intellect and will. Wojtyla says that “‘the obedience of faith’ is not bound to any particular human faculty but relates to man’s whole personal structure and spiritual dynamism… This implies, at least in principle and as an existential premise, that man has the free disposal of himself, since by means of faith he ‘abandons himself wholly to God.’”[3] He goes on to distinguish conceptual faith from consciousness-faith (which is Tradition): “Awareness of faith is not identical with knowledge, even with a complete knowledge of the content of revelation; rather it is based on the existential factor, since it is faith that gives meaning to human existence. The believer’s whole existence constitutes his response to the gift of God [this is Wojtyla’s thesis: “Faith According to St. John of the Cross”) which is revelation. The postulate of conscious faith should be understood accordingly.”[4]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This understanding of faith blends with that of Joseph Ratzinger that appears on pp. 108-109 of “Milestones…” and pp. 29-30 of “Handing on Faith and Sources of Faith” in Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief, both of which are derived from his “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure” and the notion of historical consciousness. Ratzinger’s theological development of the meaning of being as relation is one with the grasping of knowledge as historical and consciousness before it is concept, and consciousness as context of conceptual knowing.

This is merely a suggestion to show the depths at which both John Paul II and Benedict XVI are working in what appears to be mere cliché or “stuff we already know.”

[1] K. Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” Harper and Row (1979) 17.
[2] Ibid 18.
[3] Ibid 20.
[4] Ibid 24.

No comments: