Tuesday, May 20, 2008
... Henri de Lubac’s most important contribution to Catholic theology was a sustained analysis of the relation between nature and grace. In the 1930s he argued that standard theologies of the neoscholastic tradition used a metaphysically rigid, dualistic account of human destiny that ironically confirmed rather than overcame the modern suspicion that our everyday lives and concerns (nature) have no intrinsic contact with or need for the life of faith (grace). Instead of overcoming the dualisms that have tended to drive modern thought and life toward contrastive and fruitless antinomies, neoscholasticism unwittingly absorbed the tendency into itself.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi ("Saved in Hope")
According to John Allen Jr., Benedict XVI's second encyclical Spe Salvi might be considered a 'Greatest Hits' collection of core Ratzinger ideas -- "a compilation of core concerns, his idees fixes over almost sixty years now of theological reflection":
Having just finished Benedict's second encyclical today -- in between naps, as is the tendency these days with a new youngster in the household -- I'm really at a loss as to what to offer in the way of blogging or commentary. I read it online, but suffice to say it's one of those texts where if I had a highlighter, I'd easily run out of ink. Then again, that's often the case when reading Ratzinger / Benedict XVI.
So what follows are some notes, impressions and passages which particularly struck me, perhaps as impetus for discussion by our readers.
Benedict begins by exploring the relationship between hope and faith in the Christian scriptures and the early Church. Benedict poses the question each of us must ask ourselves:
The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?
In sections 10-12 Benedict addresses the human condition without hope, the dual fascination and repulsion at the prospect of our soul's immortality; he addresses to some understandable misconceptions one might have concerning the meaning of "eternal life":
The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John's Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.
Modernity and "the ideology of human progress"
Benedict asks: "How could the idea have developed that Jesus's message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the “salvation of the soul” as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?" -- this is a familiar charge that is, with respect to some articulations of Christianity, legitimate.
Benedict looks to "the modern age", when spiritual concerns were supplanted by scientific knowledge and man embraced "the ideology of human progress"; where reason and freedom were heralded "to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community." (This seduction of humanity by positivism and the reduction of reality to techne is another familiar theme in Ratzinger, discussed for instance in the forward to Introduction to Christianity).
Benedict looks at the French Revolution ("an attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality") and Marxism ("with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized") -- as representative of modern man's futile attempts to establish the 'Kingdom of God' on earth:
Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now. The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics—from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change.
In section 21, Benedict gives the perfect paragraph-length summary of the ambitions of Marxism and where it failed:
Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.
In section 23, Benedict again returns to the core message of his Regensburg address -- not a commentary on Islam (as emphasized by the press) but rather the restoration of reason to its proper place, in relation to faith:
If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise urgently in need of integration through reason's openness to the saving forces of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason become truly human.
The Social Dimensions of Spe Salvi
Benedict calls for "a self-critique of modernity in dialogue with Christianity"; Christians too must "learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer. Flowing into this self-critique of the modern age there also has to be a self-critique of modern Christianity, which must constantly renew its self-understanding setting out from its roots."
I'm struck by Benedict's addition of the phrase "what Christianity cannot offer" -- it is opportune, given the myriad presentations of Christianity in our age, from televangelists preaching a "gospel of wealth" and material success to those for whom Christian praxis is reduced to a politicized, revolutionary program for class warfare. Benedict is reputedly working on a third encyclical devoted to social issues, but I found this section on "the true shape of Christian Hope" very relevant:
Material progress is incremental. Man slowly gains a mastery of technique and power over his natural surroundings. But we cannot speak similarly of humanity's moral evolution:
. . . in the field of ethical awareness and moral decision-making, there is no similar possibility of accumulation for the simple reason that man's freedom is always new and he must always make his decisions anew. These decisions can never simply be made for us in advance by others—if that were the case, we would no longer be free. Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning.We can learn from the "lessons of history," the knowledge and "moral treasury" of previous generations -- or we can choose to reject it. This responsibility falls upon each generation.
What are the implications? -- First, according to Benedict:
The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order."Secondly:
"Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man's freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all."Consequently:
... every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed. Yet every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom; hence, always within human limits, they provide a certain guarantee also for the future. In other words: good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside.I could not help but see in this section shades of Benedict's critique of certain aspects of liberation theology and it's call for the overthrow of "structures of injustice" and a reduction of the gospel to "politico-messianic hope and praxis" (see Preliminary Notes on Liberation Theology by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, circa. 1984).
There is present in this encyclical an "Augustianian realism" (characteristically Ratzinger) -- a lucid awareness of man's capacity for good and evil, and the inherent limitations placed upon man's striving by his nature.
Thus we are reminded that our scientific and technological achievements "opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. . . . If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world."
Benedict counters the criticism that Christianity's promise of eternal life is "falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation":
Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.Referring to Maximus the Confessor - this love of God and communion in Christ manifests itself in charity to others, is essentially other-oriented: "Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others. . . . Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others."
In what does our redemption consist?
"It is not science that redeems man," says Benedict. Rather, "man is redeemed by love." Not a merely human love subject to fickleness and dissolution, but an everlasting and unconditional love:
"He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). . . .
Prayer as Response of Christian Hope
"How can Christians learn, articulate and exercise this hope in Christ? -- Benedict responds: "A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer." When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God." He refers to Augustine's example of stretching, expanding, purifying our hearts of vinegar to make room for God's honey.
To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. . . .Prayer can never be merely individual or self-preoccupied; genuine prayer is that which turns us toward others, in solidarity with our neighbor and communion in the Church:
"For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly. We become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others. Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the “perverse end”. It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God. Only in this way does it continue to be a truly human hope."
Benedict on human suffering
In sections 35-40, he embarks on a profound meditation on human suffering ("The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer") as a context for Christian hope:
"It is not by fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love . . . A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society. . . . the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity."Needless to say, it is only through the transformative hope that God brings that we as Christians can embrace suffering in this manner. Here Benedict recommends a revival of the practice of offering up our daily inconveniences and sufferings in Christ, an expression of our hope:
What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.Benedict devotes the latter section of his encyclical (sections 40-48) on the Last Judgement as a manifestation of Christian hope (together with a rich, theological exploration of Purgatory and man's purification from sin in Chrisitan thought). "I am convinced," says Benedict, "that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life."
The following passage offers much food for thought (and some questions as well):
47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning-it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice-the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together-judgement and grace-that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).
Benedict closes his encyclical with a beautiful homage to our Holy Mother Mary, the exemplification of Christian hope:
"With her 'yes' she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14)."
Additional Commentary on Spe Salvi
The Catholic News Agency reports that over one million copies the new encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, have been sold since it was released on November 30.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ
On eve of pope's Brazil trip, Sobrino defends liberation theology", by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter May 8, 2007:
On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s departure for Brazil, his first trip to Latin America, one of the region’s best-known Catholic theologians – whose work recently drew a negative review from the Vatican – has spoken out forcefully in defense of liberation theology and its “option for the poor.”
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI on "Faith, Reason and the University" (Regensburg, 2006)
In 1969, following a tense period at the University of Tübingen (see The difficult years, by Gianni Valente 30 Giorni May 2006), Joseph Ratzinger received the invitation to teach at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria.
Having turned down the initial invitation in 1967, he remarks in Milestones that "I was still dean [of the faculty of theology at Tübingen], but the exhausting controveries I experienced during academic meetings had changed my attitude". So it was with understandable relief that he accepted the invitation. Ratzinger would later reflect on his years as "a time of fruitful theological work" and of "acquiring a theological vision that was ever more clearly my own" (Milestones p. 149/150).
The website of the University of Regensburg proudly features a section devoted to Pope Benedict's years at Regensburg, where he was appointed in 1969 as a professor of dogmatic theology. For B16 history buffs, the website posts a number of wonderful artifacts, including a newspaper announcement and certificate of his appointment, along with his later appointment to the International Papal Theological Commission.
On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI was again welcomed to the university, to give an address to students and faculty. His lecture was titled "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections", the text of which is available at the Vatican website.* While I'll highlight a few points, I recommend a reading of the full text -- it is "vintage Benedict": at once stimulating and provocative.
The Pope spoke about his days teaching at the University of Bonn, of the dialogue between departments, "working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason." By way of illustration he mentions an exchange "by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both, and proceeds to mention one point, "itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole," as a starting point for his reflections on the relationship between faith and reason:
In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".In answer to this question, Benedict contends that there exists "the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God," pointing to the Christian understanding that "God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."
Benedict goes on to discuss the significance of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament -- the Septuagint -- which fosters this encounter between biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry ("From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God's nature.")
According to Benedict, this integration of faith and reason is at the heart of the Christian conception of God. He notes that there arose in the history of Christianity itself schools of thought which have endangered this very conception, and which, when taken to their logical conclusion, are found to be profoundly incompatible. I personally found the following passage one of the more provocative and stimulating:
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV). God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love transcends knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is λογικὴ λατρεία - worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).
According to Benedict, this "inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry" is not only at the very heart of Christianity, but in the historical origins of Europe as well: "this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe."
In the latter half of his lecture, Benedict voices his concerns with the call for the "dehellenization" of Christianity -- of severing Christianity from its Greek heritage. He observes three stages of this program of dehellenization:
Rather, what is called for is a "broadening of our concept of reason and its applications," overcoming "the self-imposed limitation of reason" to that which is emperically verifiable, and a true restoration of theology to its place in the university, in genuine dialogue with the sciences -- "not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith." Only then, says Benedict, "do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."
In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. . . .The subject of this lecture is certainly a familiar one to Benedict. Shortly after his election, Zenit News featured an interview with Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College, who spoke on Benedict XVI's Commitment to Faith and Reason in Universities. O'Donnell predicted that the Holy Father's experience as a university professor would have an influence over his pontificate, and that he would carry on Pope John Paul II's legacy "by stressing the synthesis of faith and reason in the Catholic intellectual tradition."
. . . I think that our current Holy Father will continue the good work initiated by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic constitutions "Sapienta Christiana" and "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."Responses to the 2006 Regensburg Address
* In reading Benedict's speech I was relying on, and quoting from, the Provisional Text of the Regensberg address, on the website of Vatican Radio. In comparing it to that which is posted on the Vatican website, I see there are some minor variations in translation but I trust the meaning is essentially the same.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Impressions of "Radical Orthodoxy"
Pontifications -- echoing Pastor John Wright -- asks: "Is Radical Orthodoxy radical and orthodox?":
No doubt the radical orthodox theologians are doing important work that needs to be done. It is crucial that the nihilism of post-modernity be confronted and exposed. But the world cannot be saved by a philosophy, not even a philosophy of incarnation. It cannot even be saved by a brilliant theology. It can only be saved by Jesus Christ. He, and he alone, is our gospel.Some of my friends are rather enthusiastic endorsers of this movement. And while The Chronicle of Higher Education hails it as ""biggest development in theology since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door," I honestly haven't taken much time to dip into it. In fact, I confess that I have difficulty even summoning the urge to investigate it for a number of reasons:
First, it seems that many works in 'Radical Orthodoxy' presuppose a graduate degree in philosophy on the part of the reader. As Charles W. Allen explains in "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism for Dummies" (Encounter Summer 2003 -- his own attempt at clarifying RO):
. . . [Radical Orthodoxists] aren't making many efforts to communicate beyond academic circles. To read them at all, you have to be at least somewhat familiar, first, with "classic" writers like Plato, Plotinus, Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nyssa, Thomas Aquinas, and their favorite whipping boy, John Duns Scotus. Then, as if that weren't enough, you have to stay current with post-structuralists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Giles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Michel de Certeau, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and other recent French theorists. (Non-Gallic thinkers, it seems, are cited only when necessary, and I gather that most German-speakers -Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger - have to be dead.)I majored in philosophy and theology in college, and despite my indulgement in your typical Bacchanalian festivities, managed to retain a good amount of knowledge in the basics. That said, at that time I had precious little interest in the French post-structuralists (fashionable as they were) and when I find a new theological movement that (from what I hear) demands a familiarity with such -- well, I find it a little intimidating.
Likewise, as the Pontificator says, "whether the radical orthodox folk are worth engagement probably depends on how much time one has on one’s hands and what one intends to do with the reading." Besides the usual distractions (such as blogging), there seems to me far worthier voices in the Catholic tradition to spend my free time with.
Finally, among the turning points in my own path to Rome was my taking into account the vast riches of Christianity and the figures I had studied up to that point: the early Church Fathers, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Duns Scotus, St. Thomas Aquinas. It struck me as rather curious, and moreover, something of a scandal, to study these pivotal figures in Christian thought at a Lutheran college -- the bulk of them, of course, Catholic -- to claim an appreciation for what they had to offer, and all the while (I came to recognize) distancing myself from the very Church to which they belonged.
Perhaps I am a bit naive in thinking thus, and I certainly mean no disprespect to all those who are representative of the 'Radical Orthodoxy' movement -- professors and scholars who are undoubtedly far more learned than I. However, I admit that as a convert, one of the first impressions I had upon hearing about this bold new project, as with any other contemporary intellectual movement in the Protestant tradition, was the sense of "having one's cake and eating it to."
What I mean is the fact that, from what I understand, a good number of participants in "Radical Orthodoxy" draw from the riches of St. Augustine and the Ressourcement theologians (Ratzinger, von Balthasar, De Lubac, et al.), and yet do so as Protestants. As The Pertinacious Papist remarked when I had inquired his personal impression of "Radical Orthodoxy":
"I've only heard rumblings, and I don't give it much more expectation than the latest of many attempts to render Christianity fashionably cool by Protestants who want to remain orthodox. All this "re-packaging" !!! Why not just CATHOLICISM?"Well, why not?
In "Timid, Theological Radicals" The Japery October 18, 2005), Fr. Jape's own assessment of RO ("a really Catholic critique of modernity that falls short of recognizing the need to be Catholic," he mentions that Russel Reno came to just such a turning point, an account of which is given in Out Of The Ruins (First Things 150 February 2005):
On a Saturday in mid-September of last year, the feast day of St. Robert Bellarmine, I was received into the Catholic Church. I pledged to believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. The priest anointed me with the oil of confirmation. I exchanged the sign of peace with gathered friends and, after long months of preparation, I received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.Two years after the publication of In the Ruins of the Church, "a kind of manifesto against such a move from Canterbury to Rome," Reno went a step further:
“I will obey my faithless abbot,” I insisted to myself. “Why?” I asked. “Because my theory requires it,” I replied. “But then to what am I loyal -- to my theory, or to what God is telling me in the strange instrument of an increasingly apostate church?” By spring of 2004 the answer was clear. I was loyal only to my theory. The words of St. Augustine haunted me: “What am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?"We can discuss post-modernism -- or, in this case, "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism" -- to our heart's content, but it seems to me that any Protestant scholar with a genuine interest in "remaining orthodox" in this day and age will ultimately be obliged at some point to consider the claims of the Catholic Church. For it seems to me, no genuine appeal to "orthodoxy" can be made unless it is from within the very Church founded by Christ himself. (Consider for a moment the witness of just a few contemporary converts in the 20th century, many of whom having arrived at this very conclusion: Fr. Neuhaus, Fr. George Rutler, Scott Hahn, James Akin, Jay Budziszewski, Peter Kreeft, Avery Dulles, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, Thomas Howard, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Alisdair MacIntyre . . . et al.).
Responding to the Pontificator's post, Patrick X. Gardner shares a similar concern:
All in all, I think that RO asks important questions, whether or not they are wholly original questions, and whether or not their answers hit the nail on the coffin. Where they cozy up to ressourcement theology, I tend to read with my head nodding. But I find a paradox in the fact that much of the RO “theory” attempts to give the church a huge muscle over secular and godless thought, while it’s esoteric jargon limits it to the academic elite and stops it from having any strengthening effect on the living church. Truly, an avid army of seminarians is needed to devote time translating RO back into english to start with! But overall, my greatest problem with RO: its ecclesial ambiguity. Where is its home? I tend to think a huge problem with its ineffectiveness is that it is not grounded in any determinate body of Christ. How then ultimately affect a “movement” of Christ’s members in a substantial and spiritually rich way? Also, a little more direct engagement with Scripture wouldn’t hurt:)and, likewise, Michael Liccione:
. . . It could be argued that such is the same in spirit as what Aquinas attempted with Aristotelianism in the thirteenth century. And it can be quite a useful exercise for religious professionals. But aside from some defects noted by others, I have one major beef with both ["Radical Orthodoxy" and "The Emerging Church"] movements: they evade what I consider the most important theological question of our time.
In the interest of fairness, Eric Lee reminds us that "it depends on who you read," and that the criticisms offered by Pastor John Wright were "from within" the tradition, having himself taught a class on the subject. Lee also provides a very helpful rundown of some contributors to the RO series: James K. A. Smith, William Cavanaugh, Conor Cunningham, Tracy Rowland, and Daniel M. Bell.
Likewise, see this compilation of posts on Radical Orthodoxy by David Jones; Dixon Kinser's introductory blog-post: Thoughts on Something Called Radical Orthodoxy, and a nearly exhaustive bibliography of resources related to Radical Orthodoxy (both pro- and con) maintained by Jerry Stutzman, Calvin Theological Seminary (.pdf format).
No doubt my personal lack of enthusiasm about this theological project will come as a disappointment to some of my friends, and perhaps it would behoove me to look into this further before dismissing it altogether. So, I will make this concession to my readers who favor the movement: recommend ONE book in the RO series that you would particularly like me to read this year, tell me why it impressed you, and I'll make a good effort to do so. (Note: Tracy Rowland's Culture & Thomist Tradition after Vatican II need not count, as it is already on my reading list).
Peace in Christ.
Friday, June 17, 2005
On "The Preferential Option for the Poor"
Catholics who are the least bit aquainted with the social doctrine of the Church have encountered the term "preferential option for the poor." According to Charles Curran, the phrase has its origins in the "liberation theology" espoused by radical Catholic theologians in Latin America (excerpt from Catholic Social Teaching Georgetown UP, 2002).
In an article for the U.S. Catholic (Why the preferential option for the poor is not optional, November 1997), Jack Jezreel chronicles the use of the phrase from a 1979 pastoral document by the Latin American Bishops, to the 1986 statement "Economic Justice for All", revisited in 1994's "Communities of Salt and Light", as well as pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
[Update 6/19/05 -- According to one reader, the phrase "first appeared in official episcopal documents in the SECOND Latin American Episcopal Conference, that of Medellin, in 1968 -- the Liberation Theology movement in many ways grew out of this meeting. It is in the last pages of the Medellin documents, under the heading "Preferencia y Solidaridad"." Thanks!]
Pope John Paul II spoke of this preferential option on many occasions, preferring the term "preferential love for the poor" -- the website The Social Agenda, a collection of Magisterial texts compiled by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, from which we offer two excerpts that convey a sense of this "preferential option":
It will not be superfluous therefore to reexamine and further clarify in this light the characteristic themes and guidelines dealt with by the Magisterium in the recent years. Here I would like to indicate one of them: the preferential option or love of preference for the poor. This is an option, a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning our ownership and the use of goods. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 42)
In seeking to promote human dignity, the Church shows a preferential love of the poor and voiceless, because the Lord has identified himself with them in special way (cf. Mt 25:40). This love excludes no one, but simply embodies a priority of service to which the whole Christian tradition bears witness. This love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future. (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 34)
It should not suprise us that the phrase itself is subject to a wide variety of interpretations, often reflecting the political and spiritual orientation of the individual.
For instance, operating in the spirit of St. Francis, the Catholic Worker movement advocates the adoption of voluntary poverty. According to the Catholic Worker "Manifesto" Aims and Means:
"The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge and belief in love." (Dorothy Day) By embracing voluntary poverty, that is, by casting our lot freely with those whose impoverishment is not a choice, we would ask for the grace to abandon ourselves to the love of God. It would put us on the path to incarnate the Church's "preferential option for the poor."
In his thoughtful post Blessed Are They The Poor in Spirit: A Catholic View of Economics (Cooperatores Veritatis June 7, 2003) Greg Mockeridge contends that the "preferential option" entails the necessary inclusion of those in need, helping the poor to better themselves, to improve their economic conditions by putting their creativity to use in the workplace and becoming financially self-sufficient:
The genius in the cultivation of resources and economic success finds its fulfillment in the preferential option for the poor. A society whose economic activity is exclusive to anyone because of race or social class cannot truthfully claim economic prosperity despite superficial appearances of it. In ignoring the poor, society not only fails in its duty to help those in need, but also deprives itself of the beneficial contribution of ingenuity that is gained by those who, through their circumstances, have discovered ways to make astoundingly productive use from the most meager resources. Growing up in a large blue-collar family myself, I know first hand how to make abundances from the scantiest of means. This sort of ingenuity has been the hallmark of American economic prosperity. We have seen immigrants come to this country with nothing more than faith in God and gratitude for their freedom build economic empires. The preferential option for the poor is not a political play toy exploiting the needy by creating an unhealthy dependence on government programs nor is it "...exclusive or discriminatory toward other groups", (Centesimus Annus n 57), but a recognition that the economic chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
In Reforming Our Attitudes (Religion & Liberty September / October 1995), Fr. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, discusses how we can practice Christian charity in ways which recognize the innate human dignity of the poor:
First, we can no longer believe that the call of compassion is satisfied by simply writing a check. The poor are asking for much more than our money. We must begin to make the more difficult sacrifices of our time, energy and talents. We must go to the poor where they live and enter into their poverty in order to help them rise above it. In our efforts to help those suffering the effects of poverty, dollars may be the least important consideration.
Another attitude that must change is our tendency to believe that as individuals we cannot make a meaningful contribution. When faced with a homeless person, the temptation is to think “What could I, with my limited experience and resources, do?” We therefore turn to simply giving money. We need to rethink this response and consider other ways we can contribute; perhaps volunteering at a private shelter, or maybe starting a shelter where there is none, or even having a conversation with a homeless person, as a person, and ask them what they truly need. This is the more radical approach because it requires that we listen to the poor and allow them to become part of the solution — not just the target of our pity.
A third attitude we must adopt is that we no longer view the poor as incapable. One of the most egregious faults of current government programs is the hidden assumption that the poor will always remain poor. While admitting that some people suffer from more than the effects of poverty which prevent them from becoming productive members of society, many of those receiving government assistance can contribute to the elevation of their standard of living. The poor themselves have to be a part of the solution to their own problems. Requiring some level of participation and responsibility on the part of individuals will offer the opportunity for more than dollars or a job, it will offer the opportunity for self-esteem.
Fr. Sirico's approach strikes me as being suprisingly close to Dorothy Day's -- at least in spirit, if not in policy. Browse through her extensive writings and you'll encounter a strong believer in personal responsibility and self-empowerment, highly critical of state-sanctioned welfare and handouts which leave the poor in a state of dependency.
Contrary to the Catholic Workers of today who indulge in either general dismissals or denunciations of "the neocons", I believe Ms. Day would have the desire and the capacity to truly listen to somebody like Fr. Sirico, or Michael Novak for that matter. They may not see eye to eye on the merits of the free market, but it's likely that they would have discovered common ground in an appreciation of the personalism and social thought of Pope John Paul II.
In his pastoral letter A Time for Honesty, addressing the scandal of "pro-choice politicians" and the argument that "the Church has many social teachings and abortion is one of them," Rev. John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, took a moment to clarify the Church's position on social teaching -- given the nature of this post it seems fitting to close with his words:
The Church's social teaching is a diverse and rich tradition of moral truths and biblical insights applied to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of our society. All Catholics should form and inform their conscience in accordance with these teachings. But reasonable Catholics can (and do) disagree about how to apply these teachings in various situations.
For example, our preferential option for the poor is a fundamental aspect of this teaching. But, there are legitimate disagreements about the best way or ways truly to help the poor in our society. No Catholic can legitimately say, "I do not care about the poor." If he or she did so this person would not be objectively in communion with Christ and His Church. But, both those who propose welfare increases and those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment made by those entrusted with the care of the common good. It is a matter of conscience in the proper sense.
Related Links & Resources
The online archives of The Acton Institute offer much food for thought on how we can engage in effective compassion and assist the poor and financially impoverished. Here are just a few:
Update - A good follow-up discussion of this issue at the Catholic legal theory blog Mirror of Justice:
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Cardinal Ratzinger's Struggle Against Marxism
Kevin Miller and Paul Rex have blogged on the republication of Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity in Italy, reported by Zenit.Org. The 12th edition of this famous text features a new introduction by the Cardinal, in which he "assesses the effects of the last 30 years on the Church" and expresses the belief that "1968, the year of student revolutions, and 1989, the pivotal year for Marxism's decline, are key to understanding the late 20th century.
Marxism has often been described as a "secular religion," expressing a comprehensive worldview, conception of human nature rooted in historical determinism. So engaging was "the Marxist doctrine of salvation" that many struggle with it's demise, and with great difficulty coming to grips with its legacy of suffering and oppression.
"Suffice it to think of how discreet the discussion on the horrors of the Communist 'gulags' has been, and the little that Alexander Solzhenitsyn's voice has been heard: Nothing is said about all this," he affirms.
According to Ratzinger, the ultimate effect of Marxism was a pragmatism which justified the use of terror as the instrument of the good. "When the time came that all could see, if only on the surface, the ruins caused in humanity by this idea, people preferred to take refuge in a pragmatic life and publicly profess contempt of ethics."
Introduction to Christianity was first published in 1968, when protestors battled the police on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and a flurry of radical student-uprisings swept across Western Europe. As John Allen Jr. notes in his biography, at the time that Cardinal Ratzinger was teaching, "the theology faculties of Tübingen became 'the real ideological center' of the movement towards Marxism, -- home, for instance, to the German philosopher Ernest Bloch, author of Principle of Hope, a Marxist analysis of Christianity and social change and whom Ratzinger remarked "made Heidegger contemptible for being petty bourgeois." 2
It was a period in which students and faculty alike fell victim to the indoctrination of Marxism, where the Cross of Christ was denounced as a "sado-masochistic glorification of pain," where the Church was accused as sharing in "the capitalist exploitation of the poor," and traditional Catholic theology of "propping up the system." And while Germany never embraced the violence that marked other protests, says Allen, they made full use of the theory and language of violent revolution, enough to warrant alarm of Germans who lived a few miles away from a Communist state.
Ratzinger would join two Lutheran theologians at Tübingen in confronting the Marxist presence on campus ("we saw the confessional controversies we had previously engaged were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having, together, to bear witness to our common faith"). After three years, however, he grew tired of student opposition (he and Fr. Hans Kung were both subject to constant student sit-ins and occupations of the pulpit), and decided to lend his support to establishing the Univeristy of Regensburg. His years at Tübingen revealed to him:
"a new spirit creeping in, a spirit in which fanatical ideologies made use of the spirit of Christianity . . . the unanimous will to serve the faith had come to pieces. Instead there was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel. That experience made it clear to me that the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the council. . . . I did see how real tyranny was exercised, even in brutal forms . . . anyone who wanted to remain a progressive in this context had to give up his integrity." 3In Milestones Ratzinger explains further the dangers he perceived in Marxism:
. . . the destruction of theology that was not occuring (through its politicization as conceived by Marxist messianism) was incomparably more radical [then Bultmann's existentist Christianity] precisely because it took biblical hope as its basis but inverted it by keeping the religious ardor but eliminating God, and replacing him with the political activity of man. Hope remains, but the party takes the place of God, and along with the party, a totalitarianism that practices an atheistic sort of adoration ready to sacrifice all humaneness to its false God. I myself have seen the frightful face of this aetheistic piety unveiled, its psychological terror, the abandon with which every moral consideration could be thrown overboard as a bourgeois residue when the ideological goal was at stake.4