Monday, March 24, 2014

In View of the Next Post: Ratzinger's "Broadening Reason"

The Task of Benedict XVI: Broaden Reason
As Antidote to False Modernism

“We will succeed in (broadening our concept of reason and its application) only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons” Benedict XVI, Regensburg 2006

The Restriction of Reason: As far back as 1993, Joseph Ratzinger explained that relativism and subjectivism were the product of a reason starving for the absolute and the infinite that had been methodically restricted and silenced by the alleged certainties of natural or applied sciences. He said that “this restriction of reason has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God cannot be subjected to rational experience, certified by mathematical formulae. And so they are left to subjective sensibility alone. This is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living, handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened.”[1] And then, presciently, he observed that “in the present situation of emptiness, there looms the terrible danger of nihilism, that is to say, the denial or absence of all fundamental moral reference for the conduct of social life. This danger becomes visible in the new forms of terrorism.”[2]

            John Paul II pronounced the same diagnosis over the state of reason and the projected fallout: “Reason… has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift it is gaze to the heights, to daring to rise to the
truth of being.”[3]

            What has been lost to reason – wherever the gift of self has been lacking and “acedia” (accedie)[4] as a turning back on self has dominated - is full access to reality as the being of the believing person. That access is the experience of the act of being of the believing person without the diminishment or distortion by mediations such as sensible perception or conceptualizations.

            The theology that stands behind the above is the following: the human person has been created in the image and likeness of the divine Persons. Since they are pure relations vectoring in different directions like Father engendering Son, Son glorifying Father, Spirit personifying the “opposing” relational self-gift of the Two, no one can be given without the other two. If there were no Father, there would be no Son since the Father is the very act of engendering the Son, etc. Hence, the God of the three irreducibly different Relations is “One” as a “communio” where each needs the other to be.

            Made in the image of the Son, the human person is also a relation, but created, and therefore with the need to activate the relation that will be self-gift in obedience to God and in the service of the others. The exegesis of John Paul II in the “Theology of the Body” discloses the activation of self-awareness of Adam when he (Adam) accepts the relation of obedience to the Creator in the act of naming the animals. The resulting state of “being alone” signifies that Adam had crossed the threshold from simply being aware of “things” as objects to becoming aware of self as “I,” a subject. He thus experienced being alone as a subject in a universe of objects.

            This cognition is not conceptual (yet) since it is simply mirroring the act of self-dominion and self-determination to be the self-gift of obedience. All the other acts of cognition that are directed toward sensible phenomena are conceptual. This particular act produces a different type of experience with the type of cognition that we call “consciousness.”[5] It is important to note that consciousness of the self only takes place
on the occasion of the self-transcendence of the self, i.e., when the “I” experiences itself receiving self-identity from another as from the mother from conception onward, mastering self to make the gift to another. Wherever there is the act and experience of self-transcendence, there is consciousness on the level of the subject as subject.

            The content of that consciousness, when it is self-gift, is a consciousness of God, and this because wherever there is a relation that is self-transcending, there is divinization. And, as Benedict said in Brazil in May of 2007: “Only God knows God.”[6] Of course, this is only to repeat Matthew 11, 27: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

            And, to finish this brief but intense “foreword,” let me present Ratzinger’s compressed “theological epistemology:”

  • Scripture reveals the Person of Jesus Christ to be prayer: Lk. 6, 25; Lk. 9, 18; Lk. 9, 28.
  • Like is known by like.
  • Therefore, only he who experiences himself to be such and so in the act of self-giving prayer, experiences himself to be another Christ, “Ipse Christus.” The ontological architecture of one who truly prays is an activated relationality, and will be called “Petros” by Him Who is “Corner Stone,” the paradigm of relationality.
  • Only then, by reflection on the consciousness of the self in prayer, will such an active believer be able to conceptualize the content of his self-consciousness and transfer to Jesus of Nazareth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). 
This, and this alone, is the reconstitution of reason to know the living God experientially, and to create the context within which all subsequent knowledge finds “meaning.”

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

Benedict announced in his “The New Evangelization” (2000) that the crisis of our times is the knowledge of God.

“The true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God,’ the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity… Everything changes, whether God exists or not. Unfortunately – we Christians also often live as if God did not exists (‘si Deus no daretur’). We live according to the slogan: God does not exist, and if he exists, he does not belong.”[7]

            The reality is that “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (Jn. 1, 18). Therefore, if the Word – Jesus Christ - became flesh in my historical time and space, i.e., within the domain of my experience that involves not only empirical sensation, but also, and particularly my total experience as a subject – then I am capable of that experience of Jesus Christ in myself.

The crucial question then becomes: if the divine Person is a man like me, then to know Him means that I have to understand who I am as man. That is, what does it mean to be man as a who?[8] The received report from antiquity and the Middle Ages prior to the Cartesian turn to the subject claims objectively that man is a rational animal. But the question we ask ourselves now is: who am I? Joseph Ratzinger tackles the question of the identity of the ego directly under the rubric of “self-love” and turns to Scripture for help.

He finds contradictory texts like “For whoever would save his life (his soul) for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8, 35); or “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14, 26).

On the other side, he finds “we are told we must love our neighbor ‘as yourself.’ But this means that self-love, the affirmation of one’s own being, provides the form and measure for love of one’s neighbor too. According to this self-love remains a natural and necessary thing without which love of neighbor would lose its foundation.”

Ratzinger assesses the contradiction by confronting the fact that one cannot love self if one is an egotist. “One could almost talk of an anthropological circle: to the extent that people are always seeking themselves, would like to bring about their own self-realization, and are intent on the success and fulfillment of their ego, this ego becomes objectionable, annoying, and unsatisfactory. It dissolves itself into a thousand forms, and in the end all that remains is the flight from oneself, the inability to stand oneself, the recourse to drugs or to the myriad other forms of self-contradictory egoism.” In fact, it is possible to accept oneself only if there is affirmation by another that one is good, and with the personal identity that accrues from that, one masters and determines self to go out of self in the service of the other.

What is being stated here is the key to the theological anthropology of the human person as a “resonating existential”[9] who achieves fullness of being – becoming oneself – by the achievable gift of oneself. The resonation is the (a) finding of self – the subsidiarity of personal autonomy by the (b) giving of oneself in solidarity. I say “achievable” because spousal love is pointed in this direction and takes its meaning from it while martyrdom in the shadow of the Cross of Christ is its crowning achievement

Faith is a gift from God. It is a grace as an act of love that makes me capable of saying yes to the audible announcement of the Word through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. But faith is not fully faith until it becomes an act of obedience of my whole self, just as a word is not really “heard” until it is put into practice and lived.

As primitive terrain for entering into the mind of the present pope, one must remember that his “habilitation” thesis to be a professor of theology in Germany was precisely on this topic. It was rejected by the then reigning German dogmatist Michael Schmaus and destined to become a determining principle of Vatican II. It basically proposed that the believer had to undergo the experience of self-gift in order to “know” the revealing Subject behind the words of Scripture (whose ontological profile and architecture was Self-gift, and this because only “like knows like”). Biblically, spouses “know” one another by becoming one flesh. In the absence of this ontological one-fleshedness, there is the so-called “intentional” oneness via mental signs or sensible perceptions. This is knowing on the level of conceptual common sense and scientific knowing.

 But there is another level. There is the subject that has been disclosed to us by the 300-400 years of so-called “Enlightenment” philosophy. The “I” from Descartes to the present day has been erroneously but understandably identified as consciousness since we have no noetic access to self except through thought. But that does not mean that the “I” is thought. Wojtyla has had the immense sensitivity and philosophical intelligence to glimpse behind the phenomenon “consciousness” to its root and cause, which is the ontological reality of the “I” as Being.

Concerning faith and experience, Benedict XVI observed in the synod bishops of Asia (1998): “Various Fathers have correctly stated that for the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel one’s own spiritual experience is a fundamental condition. Only those who know God through a personal encounter can make God known to others: only those who live in a deep relationship with Christ can guide others to communion with the Lord.” He goes on to caution: “However, it is important to distinguish between faith and experience. Faith is a gift from God, almost an anticipation given to us by divine love, which precedes our action. In faith, God opens his heart to us and communicates himself; experience is thus the appropriation and personalization of faith. Therefore, faith is common and universal; the experience of it is in itself personal and individual. Only faith unites and synthesizes our always fragmentary experiences; faith is the criterion and measure of experience, the guide that gives us light on the path of our experience.”[10]

            Just so that it stand here clearly, I repeat Ratzinger’s discovery of the mediaeval Bonaventurian notion of revelation and faith:

“Revelation is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This is turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola Scriptura…because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given.”[11]

In the actual thesis, he wrote:

“As far as I can see, at no time does Bonaventure refer to the Scriptures themselves as ‘revelation.’ He speaks of revelare and facies revelata primarily when a particular understanding of Scripture is involved, namely that ‘manifold divine wisdom’ which consists in grasping the three-fold spiritual sense of Scripture – the allegorical, the anagogical [mystical] and the tropological [figurative]…. (W)e grasp that which we are to believe not from the letter of Scripture, but first of all by the use of allegory. The letter by itself is merely the water which is transformed into wine in the spiritual understanding; the letter is one which must be changed into bread… Consequently that which is properly New Testament does not consist in a new book, but in the Spirit who makes these books full of life. Here, therefore, ‘revelation’ is synonymous with the spiritual understanding of Scripture; it consists in the God-given act of understanding, and not in the objective letter alone. Only those who understand Scripture spiritually have a ‘facies revelata’… Furthermore, we must say that while only Paul speaks expressly of being taken up into the third heaven, this was not a privilege of Paul alone. Rather, it was granted to all the Apostles and inspired writers of Scripture; for it is identical with the process of inspiration. This means that since Scripture is born from a mystical contact of the hagiographers with God, it can be understood ultimately only on a level which must be called ‘mystical.’ It is clear that the meaning of Scripture lies on the level of the visio intellectualis; anyone who approaches Scripture on the level of the visio corporalis or spiritualis will necessarily miss its meaning.

Ratzinger continues: “From this perspective, we can now understand in a new way why Bonaventure holds that the content of faith is found not in the letter of Scripture but in the spiritual meaning lying behind the letter. Furthermore, we can see why it is that for Bonaventure, Scripture simply as a written document does not constitute revelation whereas the understanding of Scripture which arises in theology can be called revelation at least indirectly. We can easily understand this in view of the process of revelation itself; for in this process, ‘revelation’ is understood to consist precisely in the understanding of the spiritual sense.”[12]

            Ratzinger here confronts the question if this is subjectivism (“subjective actualism”): “Such an idea has no foundation in the intellectual world of Bonaventure. For the deep meaning of Scripture in which we truly find the ‘revelation’ and the content of faith is not left up to the whim of each individual. It has already been objectified in part in the teachings of the Fathers and in theology so that the basic lines are accessible simply by the acceptance of the Catholic faith, which… is a principle of exegesis. Here we gain a new insight into the identification of sacra scriptura and theologia. Only Scripture as it is understood in faith is truly Holy Scripture. Consequently, Scripture in the full sense is theology, i.e. it is the book and the understanding of the book in the faith of the church. On the other hand, theology can be called Scripture, for it is nothing other than the understanding of Scripture; this understanding, which is theology, brings Scripture to that full fruitfulness which corresponds to its nature as revelation…. In the light of this, it should be obvious enough what a difference lies between Bonaventure’s view and any actualistic misinterpretation of it. We can express this difference as follows. The understanding which elevates the Scripture to the status of ‘revelation’ is not to be taken as an affair of the individual reader; but is realized only in the living understanding of Scripture in the Church. In this way the objectivity of the claim of faith is affirmed without any doubt. If we keep this in mind, we can say that without detriment to the objectivity of the faith, the true meaning of Scripture will be found only by reaching behind t he letters. Consequently, the true understanding of revelation demands of each individual reader an attitude which goes beyond the merely ‘objective’ recognition of what is written. In the deepest sense, that understanding can be called mystical to distinguish it from all natural knowledge. In other words, such an understanding demands the attitude of faith by which man gains entrance into the living understanding of Scripture in the Church. It is in this way that man truly receives ‘revelation.’”[13]

            But this “going beyond the merely ‘objective’ recognition of what is written” and reaching the “deepest sense, can be called mystical to distinguish it from all natural knowledge,” is achieved by what Ratzinger describes in his Thesis 3 of “Behold the Pierced One.” It is here in the prayer that is self-gift that one not only knows conceptually, but experientially, the Person-Subjectivity-“I,” of the Revealer Jesus Christ: “In Thesis 1 we saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and, indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls ‘Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44). Where there is no Father there is no Son. Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, is nothing but relationship with God, the Father… Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which j(as we have seen) is an act of love, of self-giving, which (as we have seen) is an act of love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him or even being an obstacle to the rigorous purity of critical knowing. On the contrary, it is the basic precondition if real understanding, in the sense of modern hermeneutics – i.e., the entering-in to the same time and the same meaning – is to take place.”[14]

            Now, clearly, this prayer is an experience of the subjective “I” of the whole person. It is the personalization of faith, without which faith would not be completely faith. It is a lighting-up of the being of the “I” of the believer. It is the key to the relation of faith and reason, for reason would not be illuminated to the fullness of Being that the “I” of the believer discloses in its transfiguration of the self-transcendence. There is no distorting medium (sensible percept nor concept) between the praying believer and reason. Notice: as the Person of Christ was transfigured as radiant light and energy “as he prayed” (Lk. 9, 28), so also the reason of the believer is suffused with the light of the being of the subject of the believer in his act of prayer. I would suggest that this is the context to understand the remark of John Paul II in #83 of Fides et Ratio:” “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”


            The epistemological starting point for the Enlightenment was to take the “I,” the “res cogitans,” the phenomenon of consciousness as self-justified given and to proceed deductively or inductively from there. The immediate and necessary consequence of that was the bifurcation of “reality” into a dualism of thought and empirical thing. The notion of experience did not surface. This was understandable. It had never surfaced before since - outside of Augustine’s Confessions - there was no attention focused on subjectivity as a horizon to be considered in itself in the ancient and mediaeval world.  The entire history of thought has been classified by John Courtney Murray and Bernard Lonergan in terms of “classicism.” Murray remarked that “classicism designates a view of truth which holds objective truth, precisely because it is objective, to exist `already out there now” (to use Bernard Lonergan’s descriptive phrase). Therefore, it also exists apart from its possession by anyone. In addition, it exists apart from history, formulated in propositions that are verbally immutable.”[15] It is only within the context of the “recovery” of the “I” as reality prior to objectification by reflective, conceptual knowing that the notion of experience as “contact” with reality becomes meaningful.

          Joseph Pieper opens a short entry on “Experience” with the observation that “experience is knowledge coming from direct contact with reality.”[16] Wojtyla makes the same point but textured philosophically: “the fundamental meaning of experience must be firmly rooted not only in psychology but also in anthropology as a whole. In order to grasp this meaning, we must emphasize two elements of it that are in some way constitutive… The first element of experience can be defined as a ‘sense of reality,’ placing the accent on reality – on the fact that something exists with an existence that is real and objectively independent of the cognizing subject and the subject’s cognitive act, while at the same time existing as the object of that act. Because of this, the structural whole of experience also contains a second element, which can be defined as a ‘sense of knowing.’”[17] In a word, experience is a knowledge either of sense or reason based on the real, which we take ultimately to be being. And it is the most basic and foundational. Wojtyla remarks on this: “Experience is always the first and most basic stage of human cognition, and this experience, in keeping with the dual structure of the cognizing subject, contains not only a sensory but also an intellectual element. For this reason, one could say that human experience is already always a kind of understanding. It is thus also the origin of the whole process of understanding, which develops in ways proper to itself, but always in relation to this first stage, namely, experience. Otherwise I see no possibility of a consistent realism in philosophy and science.”[18]


Experience becomes a problematic word particularly in the period of 19th century “Modernism” that located revelation as immanentized in the subjectivity of the believer, which in turn reduced immutable doctrine (conceptual dogma) to historical and psychological development. Murray had the following to say:  historical consciousness, while holding fast to the nature of truth as objective, is concerned with the possession of truth, with man’s affirmations of truth… The Church in the 19th century, and even in the 20th, opposed this movement toward historical consciousness. Here, too, the reason was obvious. The term of the historical movement was modernism, that `conglomeration of all heresies,’ as Pascendi dominici gregis called it. The insight into the historicity of truth and the insight into the role of the subject in the possession of truth were systematically exploited to produce almost every kind of pernicious `ism,’ unto the destruction of the notion of truth itself – its objective character, its universality, its absoluteness. These systematizations were false, but the insights from which they issued were valid. Here again a work of discernment needed to be done, and was not done. To be quite summary about it, this work had to wait until Vatican Council II.” [19]

            This remark is important and nuanced. Murray is taking about Modernism as a false systematization but true as insight. Let us consider what the modernists, and concretely George Tyrrell, mean by “experience. In an unpublished lecture entitled “Revelation and Experience”[20] reported by Allesandro Maggiolini, we find

“Tyrrell, referring to revelation, suggests the need to clarify whether this  revelation consists ‘in certain divine statements, or in certain spiritual experiences about which man makes statements that may be inspired by those divine experiences, yet are not divine but human statements’ (RE, 130). In the same context, Tyrrell observes that we must ask how revelation occurs: ‘By way of statements, or by way of experience?.... Does God, disguise himself as one who thinks in human categories and speaks in human words; or has he some proper and natural mode of communication, some way of affecting the soul, moving the will, kindling the heart, that reveals him as the sun is revealed by its heat and brightness?’ (RE, 131-32). The work of expressing revelation in statements falls to the "plain man," to "common sense," and, therefore, to Scholasticism, which ‘is just a philosophy of common sense’ (RE, 133). On closer inspection, however, Scholasticism turns out to be radically deficient. Tyrrell's well-crafted examination of Scholasticism seems to give particular prominence to two motifs. The first is the incommensurability of human words and thoughts, indeed of everything human, with the reality of God, hence, their incapacity to reveal God as he is. Refusing to acknowledge this incapacity, Neo-scholasticism strives to understand the primordial form of revelation propositionally. But the only result of this effort is an infinite regress from proposition to proposition. ‘Altogether,’ concludes Tyrrell, ‘I do not think that the idea of a divine statement directly addressed to the prophet's intellect is quite coherent or thinkable. Such a statement needs a supplementary revelation as to its divine origin and content, and this supplementary revelation cannot be a statement without raising the same problem" (RE, 135). It becomes necessary to break the circle by conceiving of the primordial revelation as an experience. The second principal motif of Tyrrell's critique has to do with the absolute character that propositions would have if they were understood as a ‘direct revelation’ of God. For Tyrrell, this absoluteness is problematic, indeed, ‘untenable.’ ‘Divine truth I still think is revealed to us not as a statement but as a thing—just as beauty or love is revealed to us. We may utter it in statements or receive it through a statement, but what we apprehend is not a statement but an experience’ (RE, 138).”

Ultimately, Maggiolini goes on, Tyrrell “interprets revelation as an ‘interior’ and personal experience to which every ‘exterior’ factor, whether historical or theological, is subordinate. ‘In other words, the teaching from outside must evoke a revelation in ourselves. The prophet’s experience must become experience for us. It is to this evoked revelation that we answered by the act of faith, recognizing it as God’s word in us and to us. Were it not already written in the depths of our being, where the spirit is rooted in God, we could not recognize it.’ Therefore, ‘without personal revelation, there can be no faith, nothing more than theological or historical assent. Revelation cannot be put into us from outside. It can be occasioned, but it cannot be caused, by instruction.’”[21]

            The heart of Tyrrell’s Modernism instantiates the overview of Pascendi’s general take on Modernist notion of experience: “religious immanence.” Critiquing this, Pius X’s Pascendi states that “the first actuation… of every vital phenomenon – and religion (…) belongs to this category – is due to a certain need or impulsion; but speaking more particularly of life, it has its origin in a movement of the heart, which movement is called a sense. Therefore, as God is the object of religion, we must conclude that faith, which is the basis and foundation of all religion, must consist in a certain interior sense, originating in a need of the divine. This need of the divine, which is experienced only in special and favorable circumstances, cannot of itself appertain to the domain of consciousness, but is first latent beneath consciousness, or, to borrow a term from modern philosophy, in the sub-consciousness, where also its root lies hidden and undetected” (emphasis mine).

The “Adequate” Response to Modernism

John Courtney Murray had affirmed that historical consciousness had overtaken “classicism” without giving up absolute truth but finding it in the self-experience and consciousness of the ontological subject. Classicism was not jettisoned but incorporated within this larger epistemological method which gave it context and meaning. He went on to affirm, however, that “The Church in the 19th century, and even in the 20th, opposed this movement toward historical consciousness. Here, too, the reason was obvious. The term of the historical movement was modernism, that `conglomeration of all heresies,’ as Pascendi dominici gregis called it. The insight into the historicity of truth and the insight into the role of the subject in the possession of truth were systematically exploited to produce almost every kind of pernicious `ism,’ unto the destruction of the notion of truth itself – its objective character, its universality, its absoluteness. These systematizations were false, but the insights from which they issued were valid. Here again a work of discernment needed to be done, and was not done. To be quite summary about it, this work had to wait until Vatican Council II.
            “The sessions of the Council have made it clear that, despite resistance in certain quarters, classicism is giving way to historical consciousness.”[22]

The Meaning of Revelation and Faith in Joseph Ratzinger

            Michael Schmaus had accused Joseph Ratzinger of Modernism. The latter comments: “At that moment… the burning question was the habilitation thesis, and Michael Schmaus, who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, saw in these theses a not at all faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”[23] Ratzinger, interpreting Bonaventure, was clearly identifying revelation as taking place in the subjectivity of the believer in that the Revealer and the believer became similar (“like”) as self-gift. They experience in themselves a similar (as much as can be expected between uncreated Person and created) act of self-giving such that the “oneness” that is knowing can take place. The likeness to Christ as relation/self-gift was freely activated in the believer by the moral act of self-mastery that makes self-gift possible. Cor ad Cor loquitur. In a word, Ratzinger, as well as Bonaventure, was talking about an ontological subject entering into the total self-gift of prayer. The believing subject must experience in himself what the Revealer experiences in Himself.[24]

            In a keynote address on conscience and truth, Ratzinger grounds the awareness of good and evil in an empirical ontological experience within. Transcending the negativity of Enlightenment empiricism that denies the derivation of ought from is, as well as the Kantian idealist consignment of moral value to ontological bereft categories of the practical intellect, Ratzinger crafts his own terminology of “anamnesis” as the recall of moral value from the experience of an “ontological tendency.” This ontological tendency is an experience that is hidden beneath the consciousness of “good” and “evil” that is causing it. As Pieper and Wojtyla remark, there is no experience that is not realist, and by realism we mean contact with being. And the being that we are talking about is the being of the person as subject, about which John Paul II remarked 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.”

Nevertheless, this internal experience and concomitant consciousness that precedes conceptual revelation from without looks very much like the modernism of George Tyrrell seen above where he says that “the teaching from outside must evoke a revelation in ourselves. The prophet’s experience must become experience for us. It is to this evoked revelation that we answered by the act of faith, recognizing it as God’s word in us and to us. Were it not already written in the depths of our being, where the spirit is rooted in God, we could not recognize it.”  This statement could be an orthodox account of what will be presented below were it not for the fact that it terminates in the heresy of “vital (religious) immanence” which, being so close to the truth, becomes “the synthesis of all heresies.”[25]  Murray remarked: “These systematizations [Tyrrell, Loisy, etc.] were false, but the insights from which they issued were valid. Here again a work of discernment needed to be done, and was not done. To be quite summary about it, this work had to wait until Vatican Council II.”[26]

A Suggestion for Discernment Between Ratzinger and Modernism

Ratzinger is talking about the experience of being; Tyrrell uses the word “experience” but misuses it since he does not understand it as contact with reality. He is talking about thought.
John Henry Newman and Joseph Ratzinger would agree that there is something inside us that has been implanted there by God in the moment of our creation in the image and likeness of the divine Persons. It is an ontological implant, and as tendency, relational. In a letter responding to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman remarked: “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into afterdinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please, - still, to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards.”[27] What is implanted in our very being by the Creator in the moment of creation is a yearning for the Absolute. It is a being-based yearning which reaches out for the supernatural since we do not experience in the sensible world the answer to that yearning. The Person of the Redeemer, as an individual man, stands before us and announces Himself to be (1) the “I Am” (Jn. 8, 24, 28, 58) first announced in Exodus 3, 14, and (2) “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14, 6). The response to that personal Absolute produces a “like” divinization in the believer as “alter Christus” that becomes an internal experience, and a consciousness that enables the believer to know and to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 15), which in turn puts him in possession of eternal life (Jn. 17, 3).

The pope, then, does not impose but proposes to the yearning and the freedom that alone can respond. Man is not a stimulus-response organism but a free self-determining being, the only earthly being God has willed for itself (Gaudium et spes #24).  This “only earthly being God has willed for itself” means that the human person is autonomous (better: “theonomous” since there is no autonomy without creation and grace) as self-determining. He is not driven blindly by natural necessity but must propose truth and goals to himself for himself. But these truths are present to him in conscience, not as a set of retrievable concepts and ready-made principles, but as a consciousness that we call “conscience.” Ratzinger first quotes from St. Basil who says, “The love of God is not founded on a discipline imposed on us from outside, but is constitutively established in us as the capacity and necessity of our rational nature.”[28] Ratzinger then explains:

            “This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[29]
Ratzinger is pointing to the internal – “immanent” if you will – experience in the human person as a result of the ontological tending to the divine by its original metaphysical architecture. This to say that the being of man appears to be constitutively relational to God. The orientation to the divine is ontological, and therefore “natural.” The “supernatural” will consists not in the orientation and tendency to the divine, but the actualization of the relationality as self-gift that is stimulated by the love from God that is grace.

            Corresponding to the tendency from within, there is the revelation from without that is not a merit of ours. It is a Love, a grace. Ratzinger affirms: “Faith is not a merit of mine; it is not the fruit of the depth of my interior journey, but an anticipation given by God to our poverty. To believe is to submit to divine sovereignty, an insertion into the common measure of the Word of God. An arrogant faith would be a contradiction, would seem an absolutizing of one’s own doctrine, whereas faith is actually a stripping of oneself and communion with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who made himself the servant of God and our servant.”[30]

In contrast to Modernism, the poverty of the human person needs the exterior revelation to fulfill himself/herself as person. It can’t be demanded as a right of nature but a yearning from the poverty of the created image. When it is given, like love it is given freely. The exterior revelation is not simply an “occasion” for the workings of the essential inner dynamic. As Ratzinger says it, “The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but ordered to it. It has a maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign, but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to the truth.”[31] This is the reason why Newman’s toast to conscience must precede the toast to the pope. There would not be a pope if there were no conscience needing the elucidation from without as to what man must do to achieve that he most wants: eternal life. Man is urgently seeking the absolute in a world culture dominated by relativistic and positivistic activism.  Ratzinger concludes his thought by remarking that “the anamnesis of the creator extends from within us outward toward the redeemer, and how everyone may see him as redeemer, because he answers our own innermost expectations.”[32]


There is a residual difficulty to understand Benedict XVI as there was to understand John Paul II. It consists in replacing one kind of theological imagination for another. The Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God has been understood “up there,” the Judgment is “at the end of time,” and the important part of men is their souls, not their bodies.

There is reluctance to reach the core of the mind of Benedict as there was also with regard to the mind of John Paul II. Pace the philosophical difficulty of reading John Paul II and the mystical and apparently much simpler depths of Benedict XVI, the real difficulty is the fact that we are not dealing with essences, definitions and principles to be abstracted into conceptual categories. We are always dealing with the mysteriousness of the divine Persons and the person of man.

The great crisis of our times is man’s unhappiness. He has pleasures, but he does not have joy. Joy is the result of fulfilling oneself as being and as person. Experientially, only love gives joy.
            Since God has revealed Himself to be Love, man must know God in order to know Love. But it turns out that the only way to know love is to love, and therefore, the only way to know God is be God.

            This is the task of Benedict XVI. To move the Church from an epistemology of facts and concepts in which we are culturally enmeshed, to an epistemology of the experience of Love so as to know Him Who is Love. As he says at the end of his “New Evangelization,” “If we take the Christian message into well-thought-out consideration, we are not speaking about a whole lot of things. In reality, the Christian message is very simple: We speak about God and man, and this way we say everything.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “And Marxism Gave Birth to… NIHILISM,” Catholic World Report, January 1993, 54
[2] Ibid
[3] John Paul II, “Fides et ratio” (1998) #5.
[5] A modern day example that is a paradigm of this transition from objective cognition to subjective consciousness (that is not subjectivism) is Helen Keller’s discovery of her “I” in the naming of the water with Ann Sullivan in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1887. See Walker Percy, “The Message in the Bottle, Noonday Press (1995) 34-35.
[6]Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth;” APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 13, 2007 (Zenit).
[7] A conference given during the Jubilee of catechists, 2000. Published Vatican City, June 23, 2001.
[8] In a similar context, Ratzinger once remarked: “What does the Church believe? This question includes the others: who believes and how should one believe? The Catechism has dealt with both fundamental questions: the question of ‘what’ to believe and of ‘who’ believes, as one question with an interior unity. In other words, the catechism illustrates the act of the faith and the content of the faith in their inseparability;” J. Ratzinger, “What Does the Church Believe?” Catholic World Report, March 1993, 27. Succinctly, the “what” of faith is the “who” of the believer who has become the “I” of Christ. The strangeness of this is somewhat clarified if we say that the Person of Jesus Christ is the content or “what” of revelation which becomes mine insofar as I become Him by replicating His “form” of self-gift by going out of myself to him (prayer) and in the service of others (work).
[9] I offer the conclusion of my paper “The Person as Resonating Existential:” “My effort consists in proposing a metaphysical solution for the phenomenological description of self-determination. This proposal consists in seeing substance and relation as two resonat­ing dimensions manifesting a deeper core, a kind of Heisenberg con­stant, which is the act of existence itself [the thomistic intensive esse]. As an act of existence, the person would be unconceptualizable, not as lacking intelligibility but as a superfluity of it, while yet manifesting facets variously, now as act, now as growing (or diminishing) structure in a resonating mutual causality. Since all ethical and social structure flows from what we understand person to be, the ramifications of such a proposal as offered above are many and deep. Such a notion represents a task to be achieved, a project for the next millennium;” Robert A. Connor, “The Person as Resonating Existential,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly Vol. LXVI, No. 1 (1992) 39-56.

[10] L’Osservatore Romano, N. 22, 3 June, 1998, 16.
[11] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1997) 108-109.
[12] J. Ratzinger, “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure,” Franciscan Herald Press (1989) 62-66.
[13] Ibid 67-68.
[14] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 26.
[15] John Courtney Murray S.J., Appendix III to the document Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II, Paulist Press (1966).
[16] J. Pieper, “An Anthology,” Ignatius (1989) 102.
[17] K. Wojtyla, “The Problem of Experience in Ethics,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 115.
[18] K. Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” ibid. 188.
[19]John Courtney Murray, S.J. op. cit.
[20] G. Tyrrell, “Revelation as Experience: An Unpublished Lecture of George Tyrrell, Heythrop Journal 12 (1971) 130-149.
[21] Allesandro Maggiolini, “Magisterial Teaching on Experience in the Twentieth Century: From the Modernist Crisis to the Second Vatican Council,” Communio 23 (Summer 1996) 231.
[22] Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II, Paulist Press (1966), Appendix III by John Courtney Murray, S.J.
[23] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” op. cit 109.
[24] Ratzinger makes the analogy with modern quantum physics: “We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive a a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject. This too, mutatis mutandis, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it penetrates the center of individuality, and the more it engages the beholder’s individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in pure objectivity. Thus, wherever an answer is presented as unemotionally objective, as a statement that finally goes beyond the prejudices of the pious and provides purely factual, scientific information, then it has to be said that the speaker has here fallen a victim to self-deception. This kind of objectivity is quite simply denied to man. He cannot ask and exist as a mere observer. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality ‘God’ can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God - the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by co-operating in the experiment does one ask at all, and only he who asks receives an answer;” Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius (1990)125.
[25] “Iam systema universum… ut omnium haereseon conclectum.” Pascendi Dominici Gregis, #39 (Acta IV, 93. Russell Hittinger remarks that “For Pius X, not just one, but virtually all sectors of sacred doctrine were being reduced to evolving historical constructs;” in “Pascendi Dominici Gregis at 100” in Nova et Vetera Fall 2007, Vol 5, no. 4, 843.
[26] Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican Council II, Paulist Press (1966), Appendix III by John Courtney Murray, S.J.

[27] “Letter of Norfolk,” in Works of Cardinal Newman: Difficulties of Anglicans II, Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics (1969) 261.
[28] Regulae fusius tractatae Resp. 2, 1 PG 31, 908.
[29] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center (1991) 19-20.
[30] J. Ratzinger, “L’Osservatore Romano,” op. cit.
[31] Ibid. 21.
[32] Ibid. 24.

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