July 15: St. Bonaventure
The mind of Joseph Ratzinger was formed on that of St. Bonaventure, and therefore was present in the document Dei Verbum of Vatican II. The meaning of faith in Dei Verbum of Vatican II is a development from Vatican I. As John Paul II remarked to Andre Frossard:
Remarks concerning the nature of faith as found in Dei Varbum #5 of Vatican II of John Paul II to Andre Frossard (1981): “According to the teaching of the apostles, faith finds its fullness of life in love. It is in love that the confident surrender to God acquires its proper character and this dimension of reciprocity starts with faith.
“Thus while the old definition in my catechism spoke principally of the acceptance as truth ‘of all that God has revealed’ [Vatican I], the conciliar text [Vatican II], in speaking of surrender to God, emphasizes rather the personal character of faith. This does not mean that the cognitive aspect is concealed or displaced, but it is, so to speak, organically integrated in the broad context of the subject responding to God by faith….
“Before I tell you how I am inclined to conceive this commitment, allow me to examine once again the fundamental meaning of this word in the light of the confident surrender to God.
“I have already drawn your attention to the difference between the catechism formula, ‘accepting as true all that God reveals,’ and surrender to God. In the first definition faith is primarily intellectual, in so far as it is the welcoming and assimilation of revealed fact. On the other hand, when the constitution Dei verbum tells us that man entrusts himself ato God ‘by the obedience of faith,’ we are confronted with the whole ontological and existential dimension and, so to speak, the drama of existence proper to man.
“In faith, man discovers the relativity of his being in comparison with an absolute I and the contingent character of his own existence. To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An absolute person - or better, a personal Absolute.
“The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this ‘commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. IPt is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of ‘accepting as true what God has revealed.’
“When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person.
“We know that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ and that at the same time, according to the constitute ion Gaudium et spes , Jesus Christ reveals man to man: ‘The mystery of man is truly illumined only in the mystery of the Word incarnate.”
“Thus these various aspects, these different elements or data of Revelation turn out to be profoundly coherent and acquire their definitive cohesion in man and in his vocation. The essence of faith resides not only in knowledge, but also in the vocation, in the call. For what in the last analysis is this obedience of faith by which man displays ‘a total submission of his intelligence and will to the God who reveals himself’? It is not simply hearing the Word and listening to it (in the sense of obeying it): it also means responding to a call, to a sort of historical and eschatological ‘Follow me!’ uttered both on earth and in heaven.
“To my mind, one must be very conscious of this relation between knowledge and vocation inherent in the very essence of faith if one is to decipher correctly the extremely rich message of Vatican II. After reflecting on the whole of its content, I have come to the conclusion that, according to Vatican II, to believe is to enter the mission of the Church by agreeing to participate in the triple ministry of Christ as prophet, priest and king. You can see by this how faith, as a commitment, reveals to ur eyes ever new prospects, even with respect to its content. However, I am convinced that at the root of this aspect of faith lies the act of surrender to God, win which gift and commitment meet in an extremely close and profound way;” Be Not Afraid, St. Martin’s Press (1981)64-67.
This development from “all that God has revealed” (intellectualist) to “surrender to God” (personalist), takes its root in the mind of Joseph Ratzinger and his presence and activity in the Council concerning that document, and that very point. Ratzinger wrote his thesis in the fall of 1953, and the Council convened from 1962-1965. With regard to the content of Dei Verbum, he commented that
“The Council Fathers did not come together with the intention simply of adopting ready-made texts and, so to speak, rubber-stamping them but, in accord with their office, of struggling to find the word that had to be said in that hour. There was the idea that we had to take the task in hand ourselves, not in order to turn the faith upside down, but, on the contrary, to serve it properly. In this sense, Frings’ introductory speech (which had points in common with that of Cardinal Lienart of Lille) actually put into words the common awareness already present among the Fathers.”
So what did you write in this speech?
“The very first one was not written by me, nor was it a speech in the strict sense. The situation was that proposals had already been worked out in Rome for the composition of the Curia, the commissions. And the expectation was that there would be an immediate vote on the basis of those proposed lists. Now, many of the Father didn’t want that. Then both Cardinal Lienart and Cardinal Frings rose to their feet and said that we cannot simply vote at this time, that we have to get in contact with one another in order to find out who is suitable for what, that the elections have to be postponed. That was the first drumbeat at the beginning of the Council. When you reflect, it wasn’t all that rabid, either. It was normal for them to try themselves to find suitable candidates. That was an impulse that came spontaneously to both of them and that also corresponded to the desires of the assembly.
“The second thing… was that, concretely, when the text on revelation was to be proposed for discussion, Cardinal Frings – and there, admittedly, I did play a part – explained that the text as it was then worded was not an adequate starting point. It was, he said, necessary to start from the ground up, to rework the document within the Council itself. That really sounded the alarm. It was what really first led to the saying that we will rework the texts ourselves.”
The effect of his intervention is to be found in part in #5 of Dei Verbum: “ ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16, 26; cf. Rom 1, 5; 2 Cor. 10, 5-6) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals,’ and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him. Before faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him….”
How does this relate to his thesis of 1953? In short, the Ratzinger thesis can be understood in the following:
“I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologians of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of ‘revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith’ it has even become part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture skimpily as ‘revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, ‘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-action 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 in 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.”
How does this square with his 1953 thesis?
“Now we can also understand why it is that in the programmatic introduction to the Sentence Comentary Bonaventure refers to the theologian as the revelator absconditorum and to theology as the corresponding revelation absconditorum. 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 ‘revelatin’ 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 the 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, this 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.’
“With this, the historico-theological consequences begin to emerge more clearly. For it is obvious that mere faith is only the lowest level of such a mystical penetration into Scripture. The stages of faith are also atages of mysticism; and in such a viewpoint, they are seen naturally as stages of revelation as well. Revelatio refers not to the letter of Scripture, but to the understanding of the letter; and this understanding can increased. If now we were to assume a period of time in which the power of true mystical elevation were granted to all men, then… we could refer to uch a time in an entirely new way as a time of revelation. On the other hand, we would have to admit that the real meaning of the age of the New Testament, which consists in revelation, has been realized up to now in a limited degree. It is clear that Bonaventure does not view this final future revelation to consist in a new Scripture.… Instead, it will consist in a new understanding of the old and enduring Scriptures, which would be closer to the meaning of Joachim himself. For this reason… Bonaventure can emphasize the definitive character of the New Testament despite, or rather, precisely because of his hope for a new revelation.”
St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei:
All of this gives me pause when considering the perspective of the founder of Opus Dei. I repeat texts that I posted yesterday that are apposite to this present-day experience of the present Christ.
“Try never to hold yourself aloof from those scenes. In God’s presence, see yourself as one of the characters there, and react as you would have if, twenty centuries ago, you had really been at our Lord’s side. For Jesus Christ lives. He lives! St. Paul has told us so: Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula! (Hebr. 13, 8) (Family reunion of Opus Dei, April 5, 1971).
Thus St. Josemaria became intimately acquainted with the Son of God’s life on earth. “For we do need to know it well, to have it in our heart and mind, so that at any time, without any book, we can close our eyes and contemplate his life, watching it like a movie. In this way the words and actions of our Lord will come to mind in all the different circumstances of our life.
His contemplation of these texts enabled St. Josemaria to use them in his preaching with extraordinary force, stirring souls to read the life of Jesus. “We have to live in the times of Jesus and become a character in his epoch. The whole secret of our sanctity lies in becoming like Him. He is our model. Therefore we read the Gospels daily, so that we will never lack the fuel that enkindles the fire of our love.
We should read the Gospels with a sincere desire to listen to Jesus, to identify ourselves with him. St. Josemaria advises. “Mingle with the characters who appear in the New Testament. Capture the flavor of those moving scenes where the Master performs works that are both divine and human, and tells us, with human and divine touches, the wonderful story of his pardon for us and his enduring Love for his children. These foretastes of heaven are renewed today, for the Gospel is always true: we can feel, we can sense, we can even say we touch God’s protection with our own hands.”