Archive for the 'Pope Benedict XVI' Category

Final Judgement

Joseph Ratzinger writing in his 1977 work, Eschatology, puts forth his view on the final judgment. In the end, it is not Christ who condemns, but we ourselves.

Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In himself he is sheer salvation. Anyone who is with him has entered the space of deliverance and salvation. Perdition is not imposed by him, but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.

Behind the apparent diversity of ideas; patient investigation can discern a unified fundamental perspective. In death, a human being emerges into the light of full reality and truth. He takes up that place which is truly his by right. The masquerade of living with its constant retreat behind posturings and fictions, is now over. Man is what he is in truth. Judgment consists in this removal of the mask in death. The judgment is simply the manifestation of the truth. Not that this truth is something impersonal. God is truth; the truth is God; it is personal.

Catholic University of America Press, 1988


Participation in the Eternal Law

How is the natural law linked to the eternal law of God? The latter is the source of the former. Read the previous post for some context pertaining to what follows.

The eternal law is identical with God’s creative wisdom and providential governance of the world, which are as radically interior to the world and everything in it as they are transcendent of that world. In this sense, then, everything in the world is an expression of God’s eternal law – his creative wisdom – and finds its true or complete identity only in that law and wisdom…

As Ratzinger points out, the consequence is that the world – created being – is saturated with divine reason, indeed is constituted by divine reason. According to this view, the world can never be understood as simply pre-rational (as not yet participating in, and embodying, logos) because its internal order shares in divine reason. Indeed, it is in itself an expression of divine reason.

The result is that the world is not simply matter with certain physical properties that confronts human reason as object. Rather, the world in all of its physicality is itself saturated with meaning for its highest fulfillment in specifically human being. When the mind engages being, in other words, it is engaging what is primordially rational.

— David S. Crawford, “Natural Law and the Body,” Communio XXXV (Fall 2008). Emphasis original.

“The world… is in itself an expression of divine reason.” “[T]he world in all of its physicality is itself saturated with meaning…” “When the mind engages being… it is engaging what is primordially rational.” Chew on that for a while.

Re-thinking Divine Reason

Here’s some food for thought, courtesy of the latest issue of Communio (XXXV, Fall 2008).

All that is exists because it was thought by God. Therefore all creation can be seen as ontologically bearing that mark of divine reason; all creation meaning what is material and what is immaterial (e.g. reason, intellect, nous, etc.). In the context of natural law and the phenomenon of conscience, man participates in the divine reason by way of the memory (anamnesis) implanted in him at his beginning. In this way when man thinks (as a created being), he re-thinks the divine reason of which he is a part.

It follows from this traditional view that that human thinking is the re-thinking of being itself. Man can re-think the logos, the meaning of being, because his own logos, his own reason, is logos in the one logos, thought of the original thought, of the creative spirit that permeates and governs his being.

— Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, quoted in the Communio XXXV essay by David S. Crawford entitled “Natural Law and the Body.”

Confronting Death

celtic-crossIn Chapter IV of Eschatology, Joseph Ratzinger follows, in broad outlines, how death has been understood from ancient Israel to the Christian century. Ratzinger begins the chapter by noting how death is not being confronted in our world. We wish to ignore death, and if we must die (as if we have a choice) we wish it to come quickly without warning. We are scared to death of death. As such, we come up with ways to trivialize it in order to lessen its sting. Death may be joked about or it may be the object of entertainment; but it may never be discussed seriously. Thus we are left with a confused understanding of death in society. On the one hand we wish to ignore death so as to not think about it, but on the other hand we wish to speak about it as freely as we would tea. It is as if the pink elephant is in the room and we have chosen to acknowledge it, but not as a pink elephant. Instead we point to the pink elephant and talk about it as if it were a nice piece of furniture. Death is an uncomfortable subject, but the consequences of ignoring it are profound.

In the last analysis, of course, the covert aim of this reduction of death to the status of an object is just the same as the bourgeois taboo on the subject. Death is to be deprived of its character as a place where the metaphysical breaks through. Death is rendered banal, so as to quell the unsettling question which arises from it. Schleiermacher once spoke of birth and death as “hewed out perspectives” through which man peer into the infinite. But the infinite calls his ordinary life-style into question. And therefore, understandably, humankind puts it to the ban. The repression of death is so much easier when death has been naturalized. Death must become so object-like, so ordinary, so public that no remnant of the metaphysical question is left within it.

The metaphysical question, of course, is one that regards our life and how we live it; but more acutely is it a question of what it means to exist in this life. If we know one thing with certainty it is that death takes us away from this life. This being so, the natural question is – what does this life mean? If we ignore death, we ignore its meaning. If we ignore the meaning of death it is unlikely that we will ever contemplate the meaning of life.

Yet as Christians we know that we are not to fear death, much less ignore it. In fact, the Lenten season can be seen as a contemplation of death – the suffering and death of Our Lord, as well as the dying to ourselves that takes place in our Lenten penances. These 40 days, we journey with the Lord as he approaches the Cross to suffer and die for our sins, but we know that death does not have the final word. During the Easter season we will celebrate the glorious victory of Our Lord over death. In light of His resurrection, we know that through death comes life. The lives of the martyrs have also taught us as much. They are able to joyfully face death because they have found true meaning in this life which entails a powerful hope for the life to come. Death has no power over the martyr. If we are truely living our lives cruciform, in the manner of Christ, we are all martyrs. It is when we pick up our cross daily to follow Christ that we find true happiness. This is the paradox that is at the very heart of Christianity. It is only in death that we find life.

More Ratzinger

In the last post I provided a brief passage from Joseph Ratzinger’s 1977 work, Eschatology, regarding his approach to exegesis (which I collapsed into historical method). As I noted Ratzinger views history as something alive, not something discrete to be studied like scientific datum. The present cannot be viewed without reference to the past, just as the past cannot be interpreted without taking into account the present, including all subsequent history. Here is more of the same from Ratzinger, but this time with a little more gusto.

The word of Jesus only persists as something heard and received by the Church. After all, it can scarcely enter the historical arena save by being heard and, once heard, assimilated. But all hearing, and so all tradition, is also interpretation…

Accordingly, the Gospel does not confront the Church as a self-enclosed Ding-an-sich [thing in itself]. Herein lies the fundamental methodological error of trying to reconstruct the ipsissima vox Jesu [the very voice of Jesus] as a yardstick for Church and New Testament alike. Realizing this should not turn us into sceptics, even though we are touching here on the limits of historical knowledge. Jesus’ message becomes intellegible for us through the echo effect it has created in history. In this echo, the intrinsic potential of that message, with its various strata and configurations, still resounds. Through its resonance we learn more about the real than we shall ever do from free-floating critical reconstructions…

Only as the actual course of history unfolds does reality fill the [literary] schema [of the gospels] with content and shed light on the meaning and interrelatedness of its various aspects. The fundamental and all-important hermeneutical insight here is that subsequent history belongs intrinsically to the inner momentum of the text itself. That is: it does not simply provide retrospective commentary on the text. Rather, through the appearing of the reality which was still to come, the full dimensions of the word carried by the text come to light. For this reason, the interpretation of these texts must, by its very nature, incomplete. For this reason also, a generation later, John could penetrate in authoritative fashion the depth of the word, and understand what was meant by it with greater purity than could his predecessors. For this reason, once again, his [John’s] own message is not simply a subsequent adaptation of the word to a changed situation, but reproduces the inner movement of the word itself. For this reason, finally, that kind of reconstruction which confines itself to the text in its earliest form and permits interpretation only on that basis is fundamentally out of order… Only through the harvest of historical experience does the word gradually gain its full meaning, and the schema fill itself with reality. In contrast, by insisting on definitive conclusions drawn from the most primitive wording the exegete can reconstruct, one condemns oneself to idling with an empty schematism. And so the reader himself is taken up into the adventure of the word. He can understand it only as a participator, not as a spectator.

As a point of clarification, in the preceding text Ratzinger is bringing up John – as in the Evangelist, John – because of the way John’s gospel is more theologically “robust” than that of the synoptic gospels. Instead of seeing John as re-interpreting the message of Jesus because of a new (and unexpected) situation in the Church (i.e. the end of time had not come), Ratzinger prefers to see John as a continuation of his predecessors and the message of Jesus itself. It was only in time that the full import of the words of Christ began to take hold in the Church. Ratzinger would argue that this is why the other Evangelists do not have the theological understanding of John. It took time for the word to grow in the Church – we could even say that it is growing still. As Ratzinger writes elsewhere, all four gospels must be read “as a choir of four,” no one pited against the others.

Ratzinger on Historical Method

For some reason, I know not why, I am fascinated by the question of historical knowledge. So what exactly can we “know” from the study of history? I often think that many of us have too bold an epistemology when it comes to history. I was happy to read that Joseph Ratzinger, once Cardinal and now Pope, in the opening pages of his 1977 work Eschatology, lays out his thoughts on the historical method as it relates to exegesis. In typical Catholic fashion he takes a view of history that is more incarnational in nature. Rather than seeing the past as a set of datum to be studied and analyzed, Ratzinger sees the past as part of the present. History is never just history; it is a living history. In Eschatology (Catholic University of America Press, 2007), Ratzinger writes:

It is according to this nonhistorical model of the natural sciences that exegetical results are very largely assessed today. They are thought of as a sum of fixed results, a body of knowledge with immaculate credentials, acquired in such a fashion that it has left behind its own history as a mere prehistory, and is now at our disposal like a set of mathematical measurements. The measuring of the human spirit, however, differs from the quantification of the physical world. To follow the history of exegesis over the last hundred years is to become aware that it reflects the whole spiritual history of that period. Here the observer speaks of the observed only through speaking of himself: the object becomes eloquent only in this indirect refraction. Now this does not mean that at the end of the day all we know is ourselves. Rather are we faced at this point with a kind of knowledge familiar to us from philosophy. (Not that the two are identical, nevertheless, they have a family resemblance.) The “results” of the history of philosophy do not consist in a catalogue of formulae which can be totted up into a final sum. Instead, they are series of raids on the deep places of being, carried out according to the possibilities of their own time. The history in which these explorations were made remains a living history, not a dead prehistory. As philosophizing continues, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas do not become prehistory: they remain the originating figures of an enduring approach to the Ground of what is. In their way of thought, and its access to the Origin, a certain aspect of reality, a dimension of being, is caught as in a mirror. None of them is philsophy or the philosopher.It is the multivalent message of the entire history, and its overall critical evaluation, that truth is disclosed and with it the possibility of fresh knowledge. Something analogous is true of such a foundational text as the Bible. Here, too, and especially where the heart of the scriptural message is concerned, there is no such thing as a definitive acquisition of scholarship: no interpretation from the past is ever completely old hat if in its time it turned to the text in true openess. Unfortunately, historical reason’s criticism of itself is still in its infancy. But one thing is certain: to employ in this domain the pardigm of knowledge characteristic of the natural sciences is fallacious. Only by listening to the whole history of interpretation can the present be purified by criticism and so brought into a position of genuine encounter with the text concerned.

Pope Approves of Holocaust Denials

Or so the news report would lead you to believe…

It’s nothing new to say that journalism in our day isn’t very good. I’m not sure it ever was. If you read any bit of history from the dawn of the newspaper age to ours, you’ll see that news outlets have always been prone to pushing one agenda or another, sometimes with a passion. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing; it would just be more honest to admit it. The idea of objective journalism, to my mind, is a completely false notion. How someone could ever manage to not bring their views and inherent biases into their work is beyond me, and I think it is foolish to pretend otherwise. Having said that, what irks me about today’s journalists is that they pretend to be fair and balanced (Fox News!) when it is obvious that they are not. Intellectual honesty is far too uncommon.

One of the worst news organizations, when it comes to religious news, has to be Fox News. For some time now I have watched as they have reported one bizarre “religion” story after another, usually with the obvious insinuation that they are putting the spotlight on religious intolerance. Now to be fair, Fox News is hardly alone in this. All of the so-called mainstream media outlets do this, but Fox News seems to be given to sensationalism more than the others.

This morning, as I happen to have the TV on, I see Fox News is reporting a scintillating story about a holocaust denying bishop being welcomed back into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI!


It seems that some bishops of the traditionalist variety (i.e. Lefebvrists) have had their excommunication lifted by Pope Benedict recently. And it happens to be the case that one of these, a Brit, has historical difficulties with the holocaust as an actual event. They have him on tape saying the darndest things.

As I’m watching this, I’m thinking to myself. Looks like we’ve found another nitwit. Our Church has its allotted share, and unfortunately some are bishops (although, I am happy to say, far less than is often imagined). Apparently, this shocks some people. It makes for a good news story, at any rate.

As I keep listening to this fascinating report, the Fox News reporter lets us know that “this is just the latest incident between the Jewish Community and the Vatican”


I’ll leave that one alone. The cable news outlets don’t do nuance. It’s not good for ratings.

Now, I know very little about this story; but the first thing that should be said, and it is embarrassing to have to point this out, is that one is allowed to hold incredibly wrong-headed opinions about any number of things and remain a Catholic in good standing. I can believe the earth is flat, that blacks are thugs, or that women belong in the kitchen, and it doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever on my canonical status in the Catholic Church. It just makes me a bloomin’ idiot. And, thankfully, idiots are welcome in the Church, as are hypocrites. Imperfection (and sin) is not a barrier; it is a regrettable fact of humanity and the basis for the doctrine of Original Sin.

Not knowing an awful lot about this story, my guess is Pope Benedict knew about this bishop’s views and that it had no bearing on his decision to lift his excommunication. Now, I am no canon lawyer, but, to put it too simply, the very basic condition for excommunication is a persistent and obstinate denial of the Catholic faith in all the ways in which that can manifest itself. As a point of reference, Fr. Hans Kung has never been excommunicated, but I dare say there are many who think he is or has been. At any rate, it seems our dear Pope knows his canon law better than the Fox News reporter, but we can hardly fault the reporter for that.

It’s frustrating to be a Christian and read (and watch) all of the horrendous news coverage there is out there regarding our faith. It seems the stupidity is only heightened when the topic is the Catholic Church. Far too many news outlets seem to be writing the next storyline for Dan Brown rather than intelligently reporting the news. This is not to say there are no good instances of religious news coverage. The death of Pope John Paul II with the subsequent election of Pope Benedict XVI come to mind, but the exception only proves the rule.

I am usually not a complainer or a whiner (or so I tell myself), so to make up for the preceding rant, I will be on the lookout for journalists that cover religious news well. I know they are out there. Thomas Peters of the American Papist blog has pointed them out on occasion, while also noting the egregious reporting in other cases. It should also be noted that some very good priests are religion correspondents for several of the major TV news outlets, not to mention George Weigel’s good work with NBC News and Newsweek. Then there is Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal.

There. I feel better already.

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