Benedict’s Thinking – II

Benedict’s Thinking – II posted in Eleison Comments on July 16, 2011

If one divides into four parts Bishop Tissier’s study of the thinking of Benedict XVI, then the second part presents its philosophical and theological roots. By analyzing the philosophy first, the Bishop is following Pius X’s great Encyclical “Pascendi.” If a wine bottle is dirty inside, the very best of wine poured into it will be spoiled. If a man’s mind is disconnected from reality, as it is by modern philosophy, then even the Catholic Faith filtered through it will be disoriented, because it will no longer be oriented by reality. Here is Benedict’s problem.

Like Pius X before him, the Bishop attributes the prime responsibility for this disaster of modern minds to the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel KANT (1724–1804), who finalized the system of anti-thought, prevailing now everywhere, which excludes God from rational discourse. For if, as Kant claimed, the mind can know nothing of the object except what appears to the senses, then the mind is free to reconstruct the reality behind the sense appearances however it may like, objective reality is dismissed as unknowable, and the subject reigns supreme. If the subject needs God and postulates his existence, well and good. Otherwise, so to speak, God is out of luck!

Bishop Tissier then presents five modern philosophers, all grappling with the consequences of Kant’s subjective folly of putting idea over reality and subject over object. The two most important of them for this Pope’s thinking might be Heidegger (1889–1976), a father of existentialism, and Buber (1878–1965), a leading exponent of personalism. If essences are unknowable (Kant), then there remains only existence. Now the most important existent is the person, constituted for Buber by intersubjectivity, or the “I-You” relationship between subjective persons, which for Buber opens the way to God. Therefore knowledge of the objective God is going to depend on the subjective involvement of the human person. What an insecure foundation for that knowledge!

Yet involvement of the human subject will be the key to Benedict’s theological thinking, influenced firstly, writes the Bishop, by the renowned School of Tuebingen. Founded by J.S. von Drey (1777–1853), this School held that history is moved by the spirit of the age in constant movement, and this spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Therefore God’s Revelation is no longer the Deposit of Faith closed at the death of the last Apostle, and merely made more explicit as time goes on. Instead, it has a constantly evolving content to which the receiving subject contributes. So the Church of each age plays an active and not just passive part in Revelation, and it gives to past Tradition its present meaning. Is this beginning to sound familiar? Like the hermeneutic of Dilthey? See EC 208.

Thus for Benedict XVI God is not an object apart nor merely objective, he is personal, an “I” exchanging with each human “You.” Scripture or Tradition do come objectively from the divine “I,” but on the other hand the living and moving “You” must constantly re-read that Scripture, and since Scripture is the basis of Tradition, then Tradition too must become dynamic by the subject’s involvement, and not just static, like Archbishop Lefebvre’s “fixated” Tradition. Similarly theology must be subjectivized, Faith must be a personal “experiencing” of God, and even the Magisterium must stop being merely static.

“Accursed is the man that puts his trust in man” says Jeremiah (XVII, 5).

Kyrie eleison.

Jeremiah’s Politics

Jeremiah’s Politics posted in Eleison Comments on March 27, 2010

As Jeremiah is the Old Testament prophet for Passiontide, so he is also the prophet for modern times. His being the prophet for Passiontide is apparent from the Holy Week liturgy where, to express her grief for the Passion and Death of Our Lord, Mother Church draws heavily on Jeremiah’s “Lamentations” for the destruction of Jerusalem in 588 B.C. Jeremiah’s being the prophet for our own times was the view of Cardinal Mindszenty, no doubt because the Cardinal saw the sins of his own world calling even more for the denunciations of Jeremiah than did those of Judah, and leading just as surely to the destruction of our present sinful way of life.

Now in the domain of politics and economics, a number of commentators today (accessible on the Internet) clearly see that destruction coming, but they do not connect it with religion, because either they, or the bulk of their readers, starting from below, do not think upwards. Jeremiah on the contrary, starting from above with his dramatic call from God (Chapter I), sees politics, economics, everything, in the floodlight of the Lord God of Hosts. Thus after denouncing at length the horrifying perfidy of Judah and its sins against God and after announcing Judah’s punishment in general (Ch. II-XIX), he makes political prophecies in particular: the Judeans will be taken captive to Babylon (XX), with their King Sedecias (XXI), and Kings Joachaz, Joakim and Joachin will all be punished (XXII).

Such prophecies do not make Jeremiah popular. The priests of Jerusalem arrest him (XXVI), a false prophet defies him (XXVII), King Joakim himself seeks to destroy the prophet’s writings (XXXVI), and finally the princes of Judah throw him down a muddy well to die, from which he is only rescued by an Ethiopian (XXXVIII). Immediately Jeremiah ventures back into politics, by urging – in vain – King Sedecias to surrender to the Babylonians, which would have spared the King great suffering.

Obviously the secular and religious authorities of decadent Jerusalem did not like what the man of God was telling them, but at least they had enough sense of religion to take him seriously. Would not today both Church and State dismiss him as a “religious nutcase” and tell him to “stay out of politics”? Have not Church and State alike today so cut politics loose from religion that they are blind to how profoundly their godless politics are branded by their very godlessness? In other words, men’s relation to their God impregnates and governs everything they do, even when that relation is on men’s part one of utter indifference towards God.

So if any of us follow this year an Office of “Tenebrae” (“darkness”), let Jeremiah’s grief for Jerusalem laid waste evoke for us not only Mother Church’s sorrow for the Passion and Death of Our Divine Lord, but also the Sacred Heart’s own measureless grief for an entire world sinking into sins which will bring down its utter destruction, unless we heed the plaintive cry of “Tenebrae”: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord thy God.”