Archive for August, 2010


The Creation Texts by Walter Brueggemann

August 31, 2010

Hieronymus Bosch, The Creation. c. 1504-1510.

While Genesis 1-2 draw a lot of interpretive attention because they stand first in the biblical text, in fact they need to be understood in terms of an older, already extant liturgical tradition on creation. The primary and proper context in which Israel articulated its creation faith is in doxology, the public, liturgical practice of lyrical, poetic utterance whereby Israel sings its awe and wonder about the glory and goodness of God’s creation (see Psalms 19, 104, 145, 148). Our term “creation stories” is to be understood in the context of that exuberant liturgical tradition.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
This text is a solemn, stately, ordered, symmetrical text that is more like a liturgical antiphon than it is a narrative. It has close affinities to the well-known Enuma Elish, an older Mesopotamian account of creation.. As indicated, however, the creation text with which the Bible begins has been shaped and reshaped as a vehicle for Israel’s faith. Among the many possible interpretive dimensions of the text, we may call attention to the following:

1.  It is widely agreed that Genesis 1:1-2 constitutes a remarkable premise for creation, namely, that disordered chaos (expressed in Hebrew onomatopoetically as tohu wabohu) was already “there” as God began to create:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. (Genesis 1:1-2)

That is, God did not create “from nothing,” but God’s act of creation consists in the imposition of a particular order upon that mass of undifferentiated chaos. For much of the Bible, the energy of chaos (antiform) continues to operate destructively against the will of the Creator, and sometimes breaks out destructively beyond the bounds set by the decree of the Creator (Levenson 1988). It is an interesting example of “imaginative remembering” that much later, in 2 Maccabees 7:28, the tradition finally asserts “creation out of nothing,” a view that since then has predominated in later church traditions of theological interpretation. The insight of the text as we have it, however, is a recognition of the intrinsic contradiction to God’s will, that is present in the “stuff” of creation itself. Thus the Creator makes creation possible, not by a single act, but by the endless reenactment and reassertion of a sovereign will over the recalcitrant “stuff” of chaos.

2.  The peculiar role and character of human persons in creation has been especially important to the derivative theological traditions:

The “male and female” together are created to govern creation (1:26-28). This elemental assertion of the equality of men and women is at the tap-root of the Bible. This assertion has of late been an important claim for the emergence of theological feminism in an effort to subvert longstanding and deeply entrenched patriarchal assumptions that fail to recognize a God-given equality.

The “male and female” together are in “God’s image” (1:27). This latter phrase is not at all developed in the Old Testament, but has become central in subsequent articulations of theological understanding of human personhood. While the phrase “image of God” is open to many interpretations, it is plausible that it refers to the exercise of human sovereignty over creation as a regency for God’s sovereignty (Barr 1968-1969; Bird 1997, 123-54; Børresen 1995). This role for human persons bespeaks both human freedom and human responsibility for the care of the earth.

The notion of “image of God” is reinforced by the imperatives that follow, “subdue and have dominion” (1:27-28). These verbs have often been understood to mean that the man and woman in the image of God are free to use the earth as they wish without restraint (White 1967). Contrary to that notion that the Bible is thus a warrant for environmental abuse and exploitation, Wybrow has shown that the “rape of the earth” has emerged, not from the Bible and this imperative, but from the impulse of Enlightenment autonomy that lacks any covenantal restraint (Wybrow 1991). More plausibly than that misconstrual, which has been given wide articulation, this pair of imperatives intends that human persons in human community should be responsible for the care of the earth and its boundless, God-given fruitfulness for the benefit of all creatures. Thus the imperatives bespeak not unrestrained, indulgent freedom, but a mandate for the community to take responsibility for the well-being of the earth.

3.  The sustained affirmation of this liturgy of creation is that the world (all of heaven, all of earth) is willed by and seen by God to be “good,” that is, lovely, beautiful, pleasing (1:10, 12, 18, 21). This reiterated affirmation that we imagine to be a congregational response to a priestly litany, culminates in verse 31 with the intensified phrase “very good.” This affirmation of the goodness of creation has been decisive for the Jewish and Christian traditions as a foundation for a life-affirming, world-affirming horizon with a determined appreciation of the good of the material world in all its dimensions . . . including sexuality and economics. This tradition will have nothing to do with world-denying, world-denigrating, or world-escaping religious impulses that characterize too much popular faith in U.S. culture.

4.  The liturgical characterization of creation in Genesis 1 culminates in Genesis 2:1-4a with the authorization of Sabbath as a God-given, God-practiced, God-commanded observance. The day of cessation from work declares that God’s creation is, at root, an unanxious environment for life that is not defined by energetic productivity or self-preoccupied consumption, but is defined by the peaceableness that has confidence in the reliability of the world as God’s creation without excessive exertion on the part of God or of humankind.Thus Sabbath is the discipline of pause that celebrates the world as God’s good place for life, and that relishes the human role in creation as “image of God.”

5.  The creation narratives appeal to a common stock of cultural myths and liturgies, with particular reference to Babylonian materials. The use of these materials, however, is an act of powerful subversion whereby the narratives of dominant culture are utilized to voice a claim alternative to the claims of the dominant cultural materials.

The Sabbath became, in the developed traditions of Israel, a primary mark of Jewish life even as it continues to be. Because this text is commonly dated to the exilic period, it is likely that Sabbath became a distinctive mark of Jewishness in the exile when faith was practiced in an alien or hostile cultural environment. Sabbath became the lived testimony of Judaism that the “rhythms of cessation” as trust in the Creator constitute a mighty alternative to the frenzy of production-consumption that marks the world when it does not know that the world belongs safely to the God who has called it “very good.”

It is a widely held assumption of scholarship that this text — along with the Pentateuch — reached its final form during the sixth-century exile. In that context, the claim that the world belongs to the God of Israel is a mighty and daring alternative to the dominant, easily visible claim that the world is governed by Babylonian gods. Thus the liturgy of YHWH’s goodness connects the character of the world to a particularly Jewish vision of God, articulated through the various interpreted points noted above. The text makes large theological claims to be sure, but it functions in and through these cosmic claims to sustain the specific community that relies on this imaginative tradition. That is, its purpose is concretely existential. Given that canonical reality about the final form of the text, it is self-evident that the text is not about “the origin of the world” as that phrase is usually employed, and thus it has no particular connection to the “creation versus evolution” debate or, more broadly, to the issue of “science and religion.” Such expectations of the text, in my judgment, completely miss the point and function of the text in its original setting or in its durable canonical articulation.

Genesis 2:4-25 (together with 3:1-24)
It is clear that this “second creation narrative” is quite distinct from the first, and that it characterizes the origin of the world in a very different way. The two accounts have in common an accent on YHWH’s originary enactment of the world, and on the human creature as the “chief creature” who is responsible for the well-being of all creation.

This text, as the first creation text, has been material that has generated an immense amount of imaginative tradition. We may note three matters in particular from that imaginative tradition.

1.  Unlike Genesis 1:26-28, the male and female creatures in this second narrative are not created “equal in the image of God.” Rather, the man has priority and, according to this tradition, the woman is derivatively formed from his “rib” (Genesis 2:21-22). As might be expected, this narrative account has given grist for a compelling notion of “female subordination,” which has then been translated into model social relationships that privilege men and legitimate patriarchy. It is not surprising that this narrative point has attracted great interpretive attention with the rise of feminist consciousness. Phyllis Trible in particular has made a winsome case against “subordination,” a case that is of immense importance even though her analysis has not been received everywhere as persuasive (Trible 1978, 72-143). In any case, the contrast between 1:26-2 8 and 2:21-22 is noticeable and has provided impetus for ongoing interpretive engagement.

2.  Chapter 3 is to be read along with chapter 2, In chapter 3, the key character alongside the man and the woman is the serpent who utters the “sly voice” of temptation that triggers disobedience and, consequently, exclusion of the human creatures from God’s garden. The particular dramatic development of the narrative is possible only because of the “commanding voice” of the serpent; and yet the narrative expresses neither curiosity about the serpent nor explanation for it. The serpent is a given in the narrative and consequently in the garden. . . a voice that seeks to contradict and counter the compelling, commanding voice of the Creator God.
The serpent, by verses 14-15, stands under a curse. What interests us, however, is the narrative affirmation that the serpent belongs to the creatures of the garden. Rendered theologically, this affirmation means that the seductive voice of evil is intrinsic to the creation; that is, the creation in principle is under siege from evil that contradicts the intention of the Creator. And this in a world called “good” many times in Genesis 1. Taken all together through a combination of antecedent sources, Genesis 1-3 asserts that the good world of God is in potential contradiction to the Creator, a reality sketched more fully in what follows in Genesis 4-11.

3.  As many church people will know, Genesis 3 is the denouement of the creation narrative of Genesis 2. That narrative is understood in Christian interpretation as “the fall” whereby human creation (and ultimately all of creation) has fallen hopelessly and irreversibly into the power and into the habits of sin, so that human persons are irreversibly alienated from God and helpless to alter that condition. In this classical interpretation, human sin is not a series of specific, discrete acts, but it is a continuing strand of related decisions that cumulatively produce alienation from God and helplessness.

This understanding of the “fall” of humanity into the power of sin — a fall that prepares the way for the good news of the gospel — is rooted in the interpretive authority of Paul, especially in Romans 5:12-21, but see also 1 Corinthians 15:2 l-22, 45-49. Paul is paralleled in a recognition of the sorry state of helpless humanity in the near-contemporary Jewish apocalyptic of 2 Esdras (4 Ezra);

It would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning. For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death? And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed? Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly. Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways? Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it because we have lived in perverse ways? (2 Esdras 7:116-124 [v46-54])

That interpretive venture, deeply rooted in experience and deeply insightful of profound helplessness, received in turn more systematic articulation in Augustine, powerful exposition in Luther, and lyrical voice in Milton’s Paradise Lost. This common interpretive enterprise has impacted Western culture in powerful ways and has evoked profound probes of human character in both religious and secular modes.

This interpretive history is of interest for our study, however, precisely because the Old Testament itself features no such teaching about “the fall,” nor does the textual tradition of the Old Testament refer again to the narrative of Genesis 3. To be sure, the prophetic teaching of Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel assert that their contemporaries are hopelessly locked into recalcitrance against God; but nowhere in the Old Testament is that judgment articulated beyond existential disappointment about contemporaries into an ontological principle. The more characteristic view of the Old Testament concerning human sin and human capacity for obedience is expressed in Deuteronomy 30:11-14:

Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too fir away…No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. The Old Testament of course knows about profound sin (see Psalms 32, 38, 51, 130). In these same Psalms, however, there is complete confidence in the readiness of God to forgive. Thus a great accent is placed on repentance with the characteristic affirmation that human persons can repent and that God is ready and able to forgive such repentance, without any lingering disability or alienation. In particular circumstances Israelis said to be beyond hope, but this is regularly a concrete, situational judgment, one never transposed into a more foundational theological claim.

Thus the dominant trajectory of interpretation around this question of sin is very different in Judaism and in Christianity. It is not the case that either interpretive trajectory can be said to be wrong. It is, however, worth noting that the dominant Christian interpretation has entailed an immense act of imaginative exposition beyond the narrative itself that makes no such universal claim out of the narrative of a particular case. In recent time, moreover, there are now probes among Christian scholars suggesting that the decisive interpretation of Paul by Augustine and Luther misconstrued Paul’s intention (E. P. Sanders 1977, on “covenantal nomism”). In any case, it is clear that interpretation is not finished, but is an endless, open-ended project for those who take the text seriously and authoritatively.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis

August 30, 2010

C.S. Lewis

“We have no ‘right to happiness’” is the title of the last thing that C. S. Lewis wrote for publication and it appeared shortly after his death (he died the same day President Kennedy did) in The Saturday Evening Post of 21-28 December 1963. That such a unique moral voice was silenced at the time it was most needed has always struck me as a great sadness. He wrote this within 2-3 years of his beloved wife’s death that ended a happy marriage lasting only slightly more than 3 years. More on that event in Lewis’ life here.

“After all,” said Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A., had deserted Mrs. A. and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B., who had likewise got her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was certainly no doubt that Mr. A. and Mrs. B were very much in love with one another. If they continued to be in love, and if nothing went wrong with their health or their income, they might reasonably expect to be very happy. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their old partners. Mrs. B. had adored her husband at the outset. But then he got smashed up in the war.

It was thought he had lost his virility, and it was known that he had lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B. had bargained for. Poor Mrs. A., too. She had lost her looks — and all her liveliness. It might be true, as some said, that she consumed herself by bearing his children and nursing him through the long illness that overshadowed their earlier married life. You mustn’t, by the way, imagine that A. was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a “right to happiness.”

At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe — whatever one school of moralists may say — that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.

I can understand a right as a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in. Thus, I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom; that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.” I can also understand a right as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and correlative to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A. to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A. has a legal right to do so, and we need bring in no talk about “happiness.”

But of course that was not what Clare meant. She meant that he had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is — or would be if she thought it out — a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke. She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law.

I agree with her, I hold this conception to be basic to all civilization. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute, as in Hegel. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged.

The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is august. In words that are cherished by all civilized men, but especially by Americans, it has been laid down that one of the rights of man is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

What did the writers of that august declaration mean?

It is quite certain what they did not mean. They did not mean that man was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means — including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis.

They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Admittedly this seems at first to reduce their maxim to the tautology that men (in pursuit of happiness) have a right to do whatever they have a right to do. But tautologies, seen against their proper historical context, are not always barren tautologies.

The declaration is primarily a denial of the political principles which long governed Europe: a challenge flung down to the Austrian and Russian empires, to England before the Reform Bills, to Bourbon France. It demands that whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for all; that “man,” not men of some particular caste, class, status or religion, should be free to use them. In a century when this is being unsaid by nation after nation and party after party, let us not call it a barren tautology.

But the question as to what means are “lawful” — what methods of pursuing happiness are either morally permissible by the Law of Nature or should be declared legally permissible by the legislature of a particular nation — remains exactly where it did. And on that question I disagree with Clare. I don’t think it is obvious that people have the unlimited “right to happiness” which she suggests.

For one thing, I believe that Clare, when she says “happiness,” means simply and solely “sexual happiness.” Partly because women like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind. She was rather leftist in her politics, and would have been scandalized if anyone had defended the actions of a ruthless man-eating tycoon on the ground that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. She was a rabid teetotaler; I never heard her excuse an alcoholic because he was happy when he was drunk.

A good many of Clare’s friends, and especially her female friends, often felt — I’ve heard them say so — that their own happiness would be perceptibly increased by boxing her ears. I very much doubt if this would have brought her theory of a right to happiness into play. Clare, in fact, is doing what the whole western world seems to me to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.”

I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”

It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong — unless you steal nectarines.

And if you protest against this view you are usually met with chatter about the legitimacy and beauty and sanctity of “sex” and accused of harboring some Puritan prejudice against it as something disreputable or shameful. I deny the charge. Foam-born Venus. golden Aphrodite. Our Lady of Cyprus. I never breathed a word against you. If I object to boys who steal my nectarines, must I be supposed to disapprove of nectarines in general? Or even of boys in general? It might, you know, be stealing that I disapproved of.

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A.’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” Robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Mr. A.’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause. It is this.

It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion — as distinct from a transient fit of appetite — that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the very thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are found often to be quite untrue. Every experienced adult knows this to be so as regards all erotic passions (except the one he himself is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretensions of our friends’ amours easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last — and sometimes don’t. And when they do last, this is not because they promised at the outset to do so. When two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also — I must put it crudely — good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory. Everyone (except Mr. A. and Mrs. B.) knows that Mr. A. in a year or so may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as for deserting his old. He will feel again that all is at stake. He will see himself again as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the woman.

Two further points remain.

One is this. A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires my say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality — women don’t really care twopence about our looks — by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.

Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will — one dare not even add “unfortunately” — be swept away.


A Brief Theological “History Of The World” (Genesis 1-11)

August 27, 2010

1921 Latin Bible Illustration

Continuing with a series of reading selections from Walter Brueggemann’s An Introduction to the Old Testament

The materials in Genesis 1-11 constitute an especially rich theological resource in. the Old Testament and are at the same time a particularly problematic section of the text. In their final, canonical form, these chapters function to frame the more concrete “historical” materials of the Old Testament in a cosmic perspective and, in sum, they constitute a brief theological “history of the world.” As such, they provide the complex, problematic environment in which Israel’s faith and life are to be understood.

Two long-standing critical problems need to be noted at the outset. First, it is evident that these materials have been appropriated by Israel from older, well-developed cultures. In some cases, we have available parallel texts that are older and which evidence the antecedents to the biblical texts. These texts, moreover, have been formed, used, and transmitted in the great cultic centers of major political powers. They functioned in those contexts, surely liturgically, as founding statements for society, authorizing, legitimating, and ordering certain modes of social relationships and certain forms of social power.

For a long period, since Hermann Gunkel, scholars have referred to these materials, both in the Old Testament and in their cultural antecedents as “myths.” The usage of that term does not imply “falsehood,” as the term might be taken popularly. Rather, after the manner of Joseph Campbell, the term refers to founding poetic narratives that provide the basic self-understanding of a society and its raison d’être, foundational formulations of elemental reality that are to be regularly reiterated in liturgical form in order to reinforce claims of legitimacy for the ordering of society.

The poetic narratives characteristically portray great founding events in which “the gods” are the key actors and the actions undertaken are primordial in that they precede any concrete historical data. The Old Testament clearly emerged in a cultural world where founding myths were commonly shared from one society to another. It is evident that Israel readily participated in that common cultural heritage and made use of the same narrative materials as were used in other parts of that common culture.

Second, as elsewhere in Pentateuchal studies, scholars have been able to detect several strands of tradition that, in the terms set by Julius Wellhausen, are recognized as the hypothetical Priestly (P) and Yahwist (J) sources (Wellhausen 1994). The entwining of these two interpretive strands operates in two quite distinct ways in this material. On the one hand, in the creation materials the two strands are kept distinct from each other, each complete in itself, so that Genesis 1:1-2:4a is assigned to the P source and Genesis 2:4b-3:24 to J.

The two creation traditions stand alongside each other, each with its own integrity. On the other hand, in the extended flood narrative of Genesis 6:5-9:17, the two strands are interwoven into a remarkable literary coherence with Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-12; 8:20-22 forming the basis of J and 6:9-22; 7:13-16; 8:14-19; 9:l-17a the primary articulation of P. It is not necessary for us to delineate the two traditions in detail. It is enough to recognize that the final form of the text is complex, the outcome of a long-term traditioning process wherein different interpretive moments and perspectives rearticulated the ancient memory in terms usable in different contexts.

The prehistory of these canonically shaped chapters in terms of (a) antecedent materials and (b) diversity of sources of tradition is well established and is not in dispute. That prehistory while interesting, is not especially important for theological interpretation of the final form of the text beyond the important awareness that biblical literature did not exist in a cultural vacuum, but in lively engagement with its context.

The materials of these chapters are rich and varied and, no doubt, come from a variety of sources. The easiest distinction to make is between narrative and genealogy. The genealogies are present in chapters 5, 10, and 11. They reflect kinship groups as a way of establishing rootage and legitimacy. It is clear, however, that these genealogies are not to be taken simply as reportage on kinship, but that kinship is used in them metaphorically to characterize many other relationships, social, political, and religious.

Thus “kinship” is a way of speaking about networks of power, legitimacy, and loyalty. In some phases of scholarship these genealogies were unfortunately misunderstood when taken with uncritical literalness, when in fact they are reflective of many serious and defining relationships that are not those of either family or kin. The shockingly long life spans assigned to ancestors in chapter 5, moreover, strikes us as fantastic. When those ages are compared with the older sources, such as the Sumerian King List, it is evident that Israel’s version of these genealogies is sobered and drawn more closely to lived reality; as the life spans are radically shortened in Israelite versions.

The narratives of these chapters include a variety of materials, some of which have not been especially important for subsequent interpretive reflection. Some materials are “aetiologies,” that is, stories told in order to explain the cause or origin of something extant in culture (see Gen 4:17-25; 9:18-28). The brief narrative of Genesis 6:1-4, which seems to reflect a mythical tradition left in its quite primitive form, became, in a later time, a rich source of speculative reflection, but that reflection was not much connected to the normative traditioning of the faith community.

Primary accent in theological interpretation has been placed especially upon the creation texts of Genesis 1:1-2 :4a and Genesis 2 :4b-2 5 with its related narrative in 3:1-24, the narrative of Cain and Abel (4:1-16), the great flood narrative (6:5-9:17), and the account of the Tower of Babel (11:1-9). Each of these narratives reflects older ancient Near Eastern traditions, so that it is impossible to ask questions about “historicity.” Rather, these materials may better be understood as complex, artistic attempts to articulate the most elemental presuppositions of life and faith in Israel, attempts that understood the world in a Yahwistic way. The end result of the interpretative process is a text that provided an imaginative context for the emergence of Israel in the midst of older cultural claims, visions, and affirmations.

The key issue in reading these texts according to the central traditions of church interpretation is to see that the canonizing process of editing and traditioning has taken old materials and transposed them by their arrangement into something of a theological coherence that is able to state theological affirmations and claims that were not intrinsic to the antecedent materials themselves. It is useful to recognize and know something of the antecedent materials; the character of the antecedent materials, however, is not primary in the theological interpretation of the church. Rather interest for such interpretation focuses upon the materials as they have been transposed into a coherent and intentional theological statement, a coherence that is clear in its main lines, even though the transposition has not fully and everywhere succeeded in overcoming all the markings of the earlier versions of the materials.

We may suggest that the materials have been shaped in order to make the following statements possible:

  1. The two creation narratives, in very different modes, articulate that the world (“heaven and earth”) belongs to God, is formed and willed by God, is blessed by God with abundance, is to be cared for by the human creatures who are deeply empowered by God, but who are seriously restrained by God. The creation narratives are an affirmation of the goodness of the world intended by God (see below).
  2. The narratives of Genesis 3:1-24 and 4:1-16, immediately after the affirmation of creation, attest to the profound problematic that is inherent in creation. Creation is said to be recalcitrant and resistant to God’s good intention for the world. This deep, elemental disorder, narratively instigated by the serpent and rooted in disobedience, is enacted as human violence; it is, moreover, reinforced by the odd distortion reported in 6:1-4 wherein the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” entangle inappropriately.
  3. The flood narrative sits at the center of this material as the great disruption of creation. The waters of the flood are understood to be the great primordial power of chaos that now endangers life on the earth at the behest of the creator God. That is, the chaotic waters are here not opposed to the will of the creator, but are an instrument of the will of the creator. It is a remarkable and deeply freighted (vocab: Be laden or burdened with: “each word was freighted with anger.”) moment when God is “sorry” for creation and resolves to “blot out” human beings, thus promptly proposing to abrogate the initial endowment of human creatures in the creation story (Gen 6:6-7).
    ‘While the flood itself is an assertion of God’s wholesale judgment against creation, the biblical narrative is primarily interested in the “exception” of Noah, “a righteous man.” With his family Noah becomes the survivor of the flood and the first of the new humanity that appears post flood and, according to Genesis 9:6, is still “in the image of God” (on which see 1:26; 5:1-2). Thus the deep disruption of the flood is not a total disruption. The flood narrative, for all of the destruction that it articulates, culminates in the divine promise that guarantees the working of creation in life-giving ways (8:22), and the divine promise of covenantal faithfulness toward the creation for all time to come (9:15-I 7).
  4. The narrative material ends in the narrative of 11:1-9, a final statement of human arrogance that challenges God, and that evokes God’s harsh response. The four “narratives of contradiction”-Genesis 3, 4, 6:5-9:17, and 11: 1-9—articulate a steadily intensifying recalcitrance against the will of the Creator that each time evokes God’s harsh response (Miles 1995, 128-46). The generous will of the Creator will not finally be mocked and will not be overcome by creaturely recalcitrance.
    For all of that narrative assertion of resistance to the Creator God, it is to be observed that, alongside a response of anger from God toward the disobedient, in these narratives God also acts graciously and protectively to curb the destructiveness enacted and evoked by the human creatures. Thus after the harsh judgment on the man and woman, God clothes the two of them in order to cover over their newly felt shame (Gen 3:21). After the expulsion of Cain, the murderer, God marks Cain in order to protect him from murder in turn (4:15). As noted, the destructive force of the flood willed by God is unexpectedly concluded with divine promises (8:22; 9:8-17).
    This sequence of narratives ends stunningly with the concluding judgment of 11:1-9 without a compensatory counterpoint from God. As Gerhard von Rad has seen, it is as though the entire narrative complex is designed so that the reading community of faith is left waiting for the appearance of Israel into the world, an appearance accomplished by Abraham and his barren wife Sarah (Gen 11:30; 12:1-3) (von Rad 1966, 67).
    The sum of these narrative parts constitutes a remarkable theological statement. What may have been various “myths of origin” is now transposed into a theological statement of divine judgment and divine rescue, rescue and judgment being the defining categories for the God of Israel and for God’s impingement upon the world in which Israel lives. In that transposed form, then, this material is no longer interested in “origins” and in the sort of generic religious questions that are endlessly fascinating. Now, rather, the text is an attestation to the main themes of Israel’s faith in God.
    Having noticed that judgment and rescue form the focal points for God’s presence and activity in this material, it is important to recognize that while God readily enacts both judgment and rescue in completely free ways, alongside this theological pairing the sum of the material attests as well to the recurring disobedience, arrogance, and violence that profoundly contradict God’s way in the text.
    The capacity to state in this (for Israel) “originary text” this elemental recalcitrance is an astonishing interpretive achievement. Thus the eleven chapters, taken all together, attest that the will and purpose of the Creator God is sovereign, but that sovereignty is deeply and categorically under assault from the outset. This assertion draws close indeed to the lived reality of the world, then and now, in which it is unmistakably clear that creation is in contradiction.
    This way of beginning the Bible, moreover, by appeal to creation, prepared the way for the primal drama of the Bible, namely, redescription or the restoration and mending of a scarred, broken creation to the intent of the Creator. These chapters thus make a fundamental theological affirmation, but they also prepare the way for what is to come. In God’s own way God negates recalcitrant power present in creation to bring human creatures to obedience that makes the world livable.
    It is to be noted that the canonical traditions managed to make this claim precisely by the utilization of older, “mythic” materials that in their antecedent functions were remote from such claims and affirmations.

The Book of Job: An Interpretation by Walter Brueggemann

August 26, 2010

What is the price of Experience do men buy it for a song
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath his house his wife his children
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
And in the witherd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain
William Blake

The Genre Of The Book Of Job
The book of Job lives — rhetorically and theologically — at the edge of the Old Testament. Rhetorically the book takes up older genres and patterns of speech, and fashions them into the most artistic and urbane statement of faith in the Old Testament. Theologically the book takes up old covenantal and sapiential presuppositions, challenges basic premises of Israel’s faith, and refuses any easy resolution of the most difficult theological questions that appear on the horizon of Israel’s faith. It is, moreover, appropriate that the book of Job should follow the book of Psalms in the canonical order, for the book of Job takes up the primary genres of the book of Psalms, especially lament and hymn, weaves them into a new coherent dialogue, and pushes both lament and hymn to an emotional, artistic, and theological extremity. Concerning the genre of the book of Job, Westermann has suggested

that the basic material is that of lament that characteristically engages three parties, the speaker, YHWH, and the adversary;

that the lament has been arranged in the book of Job as a dialogic disputation, a disputation that stands “within the lament”; and

that the dialogic dispute (expressed in forensic language) amounts to a drama wherein we are offered “a dramatizing of the lament”
(Westermann 1981, 11).

Such an analysis of genre indicates that we are dealing with an immensely sophisticated artistic work that is removed from any particular historical context or crisis, and that it stands on its own as a daring explication of the most difficult questions of faith. The book of Job is not for “everyday use” among the faithful, but is an artistic extremity that is peculiarly matched to the extreme crises of life lived in faith. In this artistic achievement, it is clear that the “dramatist” who produced the book of Job did not start from scratch, but was informed by and drew upon already well-established cultural reservoirs of Job-like materials from elsewhere in the ancient Near East.

The centerpiece of the book of Job is the long poetic work of chapters 3:1-42:6, a dispute in two parts that are connected by an extended soliloquy in chapters 29-31. In the dispute in two parts, the several speeches of disputation engage the most unbearable questions of faith While it is commonly said that the poem of Job deals with the “problem of evil,” or the “problem oil theodicy,” it is important at the outset to recognize that the issues taken upç here are not speculative or cerebral, but in fact concern the most intense and~ immediate existential issues of faith, mora1ity and fidelity that grow out of Israel’s older traditions of Torah (as in the book of Deuteronomy) and wisdom (as in the book of Proverbs)

The first part of the dialogic dispute concerns Job’s engagement with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who are representatives of older settled, traditional faith The literature of chapters 3-27 is not in fact a “discussion,” but rather a series of speeches — alternating between Job and friends — that deal with the same issues but do not directly engage each other. In chapters 3-27, the pattern is to have Job’s utterances alternate with speech by his three friends

                Job 3                       Eliphaz 4-5

                Job 6-7                   Bildad 8

                Job 9-10                 Zophar 11

This series of speeches constitutes one “cycle” of exchange, and the process is repeated two more times, though in the third cycle of speeches, the pattern is left incomplete.

Characteristics of Speech: Job and His Friends
In this exchange, it is the case that Job and his friends in fact talk past each other. Job speaks existentially of his dismay and despair due to the unquestioned reality of his obedience to God’s requirements and yet he suffers unbelievably without being able to understand why. His passionate articulation concerns the unbearable interface between obedience and suffering, an interface that ought not to occur according to conventional categories of Israel’s faith. Partly, Job is adamant to state his innocence, more precisely, he wants to kill the reason for his suffering for he, like his friends, can only imagine that suffering is rooted in guilt.

Whereas Job speaks with existential passion, albeit in measured artistic cadences, his friends do not in fact engage him, but simply reiterate the primary claims of Israel’s covenantal-sapiential tradition that the world governed by God is morally reliable, wherein obedience yields prosperity as disobedience yields adversity. The impeccable logic of his friends leads inescapably to the conclusion that Job suffers, and his suffering can only be grounded in disobedience. .Job, for the most part, accepts this premise himself, but then insists that he is entitled to know the charges of disobedience made against him.

Characteristics Of The Dispute
And of course his friends do not answer, because they do not know. Thus the dispute concerns an unbearable mismatch between lived reality and traditional explanations that proceed by their own logic without reference to lived reality. For his part, Job’s integrity is such that he will not deny his own lived reality in order to preserve the tradition of “orthodoxy” or to maintain the reputation of God (See 4 6, 27 5, 31 6 ). Job’s integrity requires truth-telling about his own lived experience, even if that truth-telling clashes with settled traditional explanations and exposes such explanations as inadequate if not fraudulent.

Canonical Job protested against such theologies of explanation which claimed that, starting with a theological premise, one might explain everything in terms of that premise regardless of experience. Israel’s experience was one of suffering, and these theologies failed to demonstrate an adequate grasp of that reality, either minimizing or denying it. By recourse to history; these theologians claimed that every terrible thing that happened to Israel had an explanation, and that this explanation relieved God of responsibility. They preserved God’s reputation by removing him from the human sphere, replacing him with a strict law of retribution The final form of the book of Job embodies a reaction against the historical interpretations of the author’s contemporaries
(Penchansky 1990, 33-34)

This exchange between Job and his friends ends, of course, without resolution, for the drama intends to make clear that there is no way in which to accommodate settled orthodoxy to the wretchedness of Job’s life. The friends finish their speech without yielding to Job’s anguish, Job finishes unpersuaded by the heavy-handed insistence of his friends:

Far be it from me to say that you are right;
   until I die I will not put away my integrity from me
I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go;
   my heart does not reproach me for any of my days
(Job 27 5-6)

The Interlude In Chapters 28-31
At the end of this dispute with “the friends,” the book of Job provides an interlude in chapters 28-31. Chapter 28 is a quite distinctive text. This poem is a meditation on the reality that human wisdom — that is, the wisdom of both Job and his friends — cannot penetrate the mystery of creation that only God knows:

The line of thought in the poem is, rather, this Wisdom, the order given to the world by God, is the most precious thing of all. But while man has eventually found a way to all precious things, he does not find the way to the mystery of creation. Only God knows its place, for he has already been concerned with it at creation If man cannot determine this mystery of creation, it means, of course—this consequence is already envisaged in the poem — that it is out of his arbitrary reach. He never gets it into his power as he does the other precious things. The world never reveals the mystery of its order. One can scarcely go further than this in the interpretation.
(von Rad 1972, 148)

The line of thought in the poem is, rather, this Wisdom, the order given to the world by God, is the most precious thing of all. But while man has eventually found a way to all precious things, he does not find the way to the mystery of creation. Only God knows its place, for he has already bcen concerned with it at creation. If man cannot determine this mystery of creation, it means, of course — this consequence is already envisaged in the poem — that it is out of his arbitrary reach. He never gets it into his power as he does the other precious things.The world never reveals the mystery of its order. One can scarcely go further than this in the interpretation.
(von Rad 1972, 148)

While the poem may have been an independent one, its function and effect in its present location is to make the dispute of chapters 3-27 quite penultimate, indicating that neither Job nor his friends can reach to the bottom of the issue they are discussing In this placement, chapter 28 functions as a harbinger of the conclusion that is to be drawn in 38 1-42:6, namely, that God’s intentionality is beyond human explanation or challenge. Consequently, chapter 28, for all of its elegance, ends in verse 28 — perhaps we should say ends notoriously — with a conventional summons to accept traditional teaching and avoid evil, a summons that is perhaps partially in agreement with the argument of the friends and; against Job, even if the verse does not grant the premises of the friends:

Truly, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom,
and to depart from evil is understanding.
(Job 28:28)

The resolution of the large question of the chapter seeks to situate human persons appropriately vis-à-vis the majesty of the Creator, in a role of obedience of the most practical kind, without access to the mystery that lies behind the tasks of daily life

Job’s Soliloquy
The other material in this interlude is found in Job’s wondrous soliloquy in chapters 29-31. In chapters 29 and 30, Job contrasts his wondrous past when he was socially significant and socially responsible (29) with his present state of powerlessness and social humiliation (30). These two chapters form a basis for the magnificent chapter 31, in which Job articulates in sweeping fashion his own innocence as a man who has singularly acted according to the best ethical norms. In making this case of innocence for himself, Job moves to refute decisively the traditional assumption of his friends that his suffering is rooted in guilt. Job’s bold self-assertion is a denial of guilt and an insistence on his right. This remarkable self-declaration is a “high point of Old Testament ethics” (Fohrer 1974, 14) The statement culminates, moreover, in Job’s defiant insistence in verses 35-37 that he be given particular charges of guilt that are, as his friends allege, the cause of his suffering:

Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would hind it on me like a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.
(Job 31:35—37)

It is clear in this remarkable challenge to the God of heaven that Job still operates on the moral assumption of his friends that guilt follows disobedience. Job has made his most vigorous case inside the rhetoric of the courtroom. In what follows, it will be clear that according to the larger drama of the book, Job has missed the point as radically as have his friends. It is for that reason that Fohrer after full appreciation of Job’s “oath of purity;” can also critique Job’s hubris as voiced in this text:

On the one hand, Job is the righteous, pure, and perfect man who can maintain that he is without sin. On the other hand, he appears as a Promethean and Titanic man from whom God had torn away prosperity and happiness, who confronts God boldly with the conviction that he is perfect in order to triumph over Him, and who wants to force Him to acknowledge his innocence by means of his undisputed righteousness. The fact that he undertakes this with the appearance of and under the cloak of the law only increases the impression of a conflict in this chapter. In this way the formal element of the legal oath of purity in the main part of Job 31 and the legal statements in Job 31:35-37 take effect. They make it possible for Job to act like a conquering hero who is certain that he will win a legally plain and indisputable victory over God, while in reality he adopts a heretical position and on the basis of this subjective good conscience contrasts the false teaching of his friends with a view that is just as false… By means of the structure of the oath of purity and of the role which is played in Job’s appearance before God, the Joban poet calls in question the “pure” righteous conduct and the ethically perfect man, since not without further ado he must also be the trusting man, but he can also be Promethean, Titanic, and heretical.
(Fohrer 1974, 19—20, 21)

Chapters 32-37
In chapters 32-37, there is a continuation of the first cycle of disputes in ; chapters 3-2 7, this time with a fourth friend, Elihu, now introduced for the first time. It is a consensus judgment of scholars that this material is something a disruptive intrusion into the work, so that in an earlier version of the Poetry the concluding formula of 31:40, “The words of Job are ended,” may been followed immediately by the utterance of YHWH in 38:1. In any ease, in 38:1 the second dispute begins, this time between Job and YHWH, a dispute that is continued through the poetry until 42:6. (it is worth noting that in 38:1, the God who speaks is termed YHWH, a name for God that has been used in the initial prose of chapters 1-2, but withheld in the poetry of chapters 3-37. The reintroduction of the name YHWH suggests that the dramatist now wants to call attention to the claim that the God with whom Job struggles — the God of  Israel — is no ordinary God of “religion” but is the true God, Creator of heaven and earth, known in all inscrutable mystery in the faith of Israel.)

The Second Dispute
In this second dispute, YHWH speaks twice (38:1-39;30; 40:6-41:34). The times YHWH addresses Job in an invitation, perhaps a taunting invitation, to engage the dispute (38:2-3;40(l-2). In response Job also speaks twice (40:3-4; 42:1-6). It is evident that YHWH’s utterance is completely disproportionate to that of Job, for YHWH completely dominates the dispute. Conversely, it is evident that before the power, mystery; and eloquence of YHWH, Job has very little to say. That is, Job’s capacity to speak in the first dispute with his three friends is now contrasted with his inability to defend his case before the ultimate disputant.

The whirlwind speeches of YHWH portray YHWH with massive power as sovereign Creator and with an artistic appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the special creatures whom God has created. The self-praise implied in these speeches is an assertion of the immense power of YHWH the Creator that lies well beyond the capacity of job .it is to be noticed that YHWH, in these lyrical utterances, pays no attention toJob~c defiant demands and exhibits no interest in job~ troubles. indeed, Job is, in fact, a profound irrelevance in the large vista of YHWH’s rule. It is not at all clear how this second dispute — a dispute between completely incommensurate parties — is related to the earlier dispute that Job has with his friends. Between the dispute of 3:1-27:23 (plus chs. 32-37) and the dispute of 38:1-42:6, there is a dramatic “disconnect.” It seems plausible, moreover, that this dramatic “disconnect” is exactly the point of the sequence of speeches.

Creature And Creator
From the perspective of the Creator God in the whirlwind, the earlier dispute is about nothing important, so that a quibble about suffering and guilt or innocence is of no significance to the inscrutable mystery of life with God that enwraps the entire human endeavor. God’s self-attestation of “How Great Thou Art” serves to resituate Job and his troubles at the margin of religious seriousness. It is as though the dramatist means to say that the characteristic calculations of covenant and sapiential traditions in Israel’s faith finally count for nothing when the world is ruled by this awesome Creator. Job’s response to the speeches of YHWH are terse and apparently submissive. The first response is one of deference to YHWH, as though job concedes the main point of YHWH’s inscrutable magnificence (40:3-5).

The second response of Job is more enigmatic (42:1-6). With particular reference to verse 6, conventional interpretation has concluded that Job submits to YHWH, and so by implication retracts his earlier defiance and settles for life as YHWH’s trusting Creature:

According to the rnajority of commentators, the general meaning of the passage seems clear: Job stands now as a creature before his God, as a child before his Father. His complaints and protests had in flict never outweighed his hope and trust. He does not now withdraw his claim of innocence, for his conviction on this count is as great as his faith in Cod. Nor does he have to withdraw it, for Yahweh has not repeated the accusations of the three friends. Neither does Job accept with resignation something lie regards as unjust. God, however, has now made known to job a plan and the meaning of a justice that cannot be contained in the straitjacket of the doctrine of retribution. Job, for his part, has come to see that his language had perhaps been disrespectful. He therefore repents and humbly proposes to do penance in dust and ashes.
(Gutiérrez 1987, 86)

But Gutiérrez himself qualifies this conventional reading:

The text in Job thus means: “I repudiate and abandon (change my mind a bout) dust and ashes.”
The phrase “dust and ashes” is an image for groaning and lamentation; in other words, it is an image befitting the situation of Job as described before the dialogues began (see 2:8-12). This, then, is the object of the retraction and change of mind of which this key verse speaks. Job is rejecting the attitude of lamentation that has been his until now. The speeches of Cod have shown him that this attitude is not justified. He does not retract or repent of what he has hitherto said, but he now sees clearly that he cannot go on complaining     his means that in his final reply what Job is expressing is not contrition but a renunciation of his lamentation and dejected outlook. Certain emphases in his protest had been due to the doctrine of retribution, which despite everything had continued to be his point of reference. Now that the Lord has overthrown that doctrine by revealing the key to the divine plan, job realizes that he has been speaking of God in a way that implied that Cod was a prisoner of a particular way of understanding justice. It is this whole outlook that job says he is now abandoning     Job’s answer, of which the new translation just expounded gives a better understanding, represents a high point in contemplative speech about God. Job has arrived only gradually at this way of talking about God. At one point he had even felt God to be distant and unconnected with his life; he had then confronted this God in a hitter lawsuit. Nosi~ however, he surrenders to Yahweh with renewed trust.
(Gutiérrez 1987, 86—87)

It is generally recognized, however, that 42:6 is immensely problematic, perhaps loaded with irony, and likely intentionally ambiguous. Several words in the statement of Job admit of more than one nuance, and the grammar is elusive. As a consequence, it is possible that job’s final statement is no concession to YHWH at all, but an act of defiance that concedes nothing, but only acknowledges tile greater power of the Creator. It is possible, even likely, that the dramatist intends no clear resolution; but he offers only the disputation about insoluble matters with the inescapable Dialogue Partner as the ultimate practice of faith. Jack Miles offers “a thorough and suggestive review of the problem of 42:6 that perhaps culminates only in “a final perseverance.” Miles concludes:

What is primary is whether or not God succeeds in forcing Job’s attention away from God and back upon Job himself. If God can force Job somehow to stop blaming God and start blaming himself, God wins. If God cannot do that, God loses. In contemporary political language, the question is whether God can make his opponent the issue. Despite spectacular effort, God, in my judgment, fails in his attempt to do this, and Job becomes as a result the turning point in the life of God, reading that life as a movement from self-ignorance to self-knowledge.
If God defeats Job, in short, job ceases to be a serious event in the life of God, and God can forget about his garrulous upstart. But if Job defeats God, God can never forget Job, and neither can we. The creature having taken this much of a hand in creating his creator, the two are, henceforth, permanently linked.
(Miles 1995, 429-30)

In the end Job and YHWH, creature and Creator are “permanently linked” in an unequal relationship. YHWH is preoccupied with Job’s own grandeur, Job with his own troubles. And there they are … endlessly.

The Poem Of 3: 1-42:6 And The Prose Narrative Of 42 :7-17
The poem of 3: 1-42:6 is, of course, framed by the prose narrative of 1:1-2:13 and 42:7-17. It may be that these verses are an older folk tale into which the disputatious poetry has been inserted; or it may be that the prose material is a late literary construction designed to “contain” the poetic dispute. Either way, chapters 1-2 as a literary frame present a man who is “blameless (that is, with integrity) and upright,” who is indeed “framed” in the collusion between YHWH and YHWH’s disputatious agent, Satan (1:1, 8; 2:3). The power of this narrative mounting of the drama is, of course, found in the fact that the Job of the poetry is completely unaware of the collusion of YHWH and Satan.

The corresponding prose narrative of 42 :7-17 provides a resolution of the trouble whereby YHWH “restored the fortunes” of Job in 42:10; that verse employs a technical phrase much used in exilic literature to bespeak YHWH’s radical inversion of historical circumstance (see Jeremiah 29:14; 30:18; 32:44; 33:7, 11, 26). It is to be noted that Job is affirmed by YHWH as the one, in contrast to his “orthodox” friends, who has spoken “what is right” (42:7-8). This divine verd let may refer to job’s alleged capitulation in 42:6; or it may refer to Job’s larger defiant discourse, suggesting that this disputatious God delights in disputatious human dialogue. Either wa Job the disputer receives divine approbation.

The narrative suggests full restoration for Job by YHWH, the Creator God:

The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
(Job 42:12-17)

Fackenheim’s Dissent
The matter seems perfectly symmetrical, so that the final state of Job is fully commensurate with the beginning state of this blessed man. It is as though the long poetic disruption of his life were as nothing and Job experiences a return to normalcy. Except a dissent must be filed (to continue forensic categories) as is done by Emil Faekenheim. Fackenheim comments on Jeremiah 31:15 and Rachel who “refuses to be comforted” for her lost children. Fackenheim proposes that among the lost children of Job are six million at “Auschwitz and Ravenbruck.” And then Fackenheim, following A. S. Peake, comments that “no lost child can be replaced”:

Our “annoyance” with and “outrage” at the text — the stern refusal of Rachel to be comforted –is focused, then, on one single fact. This fact haunts, or ought to haunt, the religious consciousness of Jews and Christians alike. To Job sons and daughters are restored; but they are not the same sons and daughters. Children of Rachel have returned from exile; hut they are not the same children.
(Fackenheim 1980, 202)

Job received new children; but he never received back what he had lost. That much is true in the text itself, a truth immensely heightened by Faekenheim’s link of the tribulations of job to the Shoah and all the children lost there and never regained. Thus the restitution of 42:7-17 is crucial for the whole of the narrative; the new well-being, however, should not he overstated, because the last state is not exactly the first state recovered. The last state of restoration is marked by durable loss and Job, like mother Rachel, may do well not to he excessively comforted, even by his brothers and sisters (42:11) who apparently do better with comfort than the three friends at the outset (see 2:11-13; see also Jeremiah 31:15).

An Overview
The book of Job in its three parts of narrative-poetry-narrative is a daring, majestic fugue that renders theological trouble and submissiveness in all of its immense complexity. The whole of the drama is to be fully appreciated in its inexhaustible artistry, and not interpreted so that it is made to conform to any of our ready-made theological packages. A conventional reading of the book brings the crisis of Job to a full restoration, a resolution likely reflected in Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and James 5:11. A more likely reading of the book of Job, however, suggests no such easy resolution, it being, rather, a witness to the enigmatic dimension of faith whereby Job — the man of faith — is endlessly in a relationship with God the Creator that admits of no ready fix. The dramatic power of the book of Job attests to the reality that faith, beyond easy convictions, is a demanding way to live that thrives on candor and requires immense courage. Faith of this kind that pushes deeply beyond covenantal quid pro quos or sapiential consequences that follow from deeds is no enterprise for wimps or sissies.

If we consider the dramatic flow from narrative (1:1-2:13) to poetry (3:1-42:6) to narrative (42:7-17), it is possible to see here a pattern that we have already suggested for the book of Psalms, a pattern of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation:

1:1-2:13      a fully oriented life of faith that is moving toward disorientation;

3:1-42:6      a practice of dispute that is fully marked by disorientation; and

42:7-17       a new orientation that is wrought by YHWH that has within it persistent traces of loss.

Thus the book of Job is a large, imaginative drama of life with God that is inescapable for those who live life in full awareness and voice it with candor, for the savage reality of loss eventually spares none.

Because the book of Job is an artistic construction by artists who know the tradition of Israel and who move beyond the tradition in an enormous act of imagination, it is not possible to suggest any “historical” context for the book. There are linguistic clues to possible datings, but they are only suggestive. It is possible, for a variety of reasons, to suggest that the book of Job is a meditation upon the defining crisis of the exile in ancient Israel, so that the refutation of easy explanations of suffering as a consequence of guilt is a response to the easy “explanations” for the exile in the conventional faith of Israel, most especially on the horizon of the Deuteronomists. The connection between Job and the exile is a suggestive one, but it should not he pressed too far, for the book of Job resists any simplistic “historical” placement.

Gutiérrez’ Way For Job
It is better to say that the book of Job in an artistic way is endlessly contemporary because the inability to reduce raw life to explanation is a perennial human reality. At the outset of the twenty-first century, as things become unglued on a large scale, the artistry of the book of Job invites faith to face the dangers of a connection to a Creator God who is immense in glory but who offers no easy comfort. Such a practice of faith, if honest, may anticipate comforts and settlements here and there; mostly, however, life and faith in a disputatious mode do not shrink from truth-telling that offends friends who comfort and defies the God who self-congratulates. Gutiérrez suggests, out of his mystical sensibility, a way for Job beyond every scheme of retribution:

Inspired by the experience of his own innocence, Job bitterly criticized the theology of temporal retribution as maintained in his day and expounded by his friends. And he was right to do so. But his challenge stopped halfway and, as a result, except at moments when his deep faith and trust in God broke through, he could not escape the dilemma so cogently presented by his friends: if he was innocent, then God was guilty. God subsequently rebuked Job for remaining prisoner of this either-or mentality (see 40:R). What he should have done was to leap the fence set up around him by this sclerotic theology that is so dangerously close to idolatry, run free in the fields of God’s love, and breathe an unrestricted air like the animals described in God’s argument — animals that humans cannot domesticate. The world outside the fence is the world of gratuitousness; it is there that God dwells and there that God’s friends find a joyous welcome.

The world of retribution — and not of temporal retribution only — is not where God dwells; at most God visits it. The Lord is not prisoner of the “give to me and I will give to you” mentality. Nothing, no human work however valuable, merits grace, for if it did, grace would cease to be grace. This is the heart of the message of the book of Job.
(Gutiérrez 1987, 88—89)


Introducing “Imaginative Remembering” — Walter Brueggemann

August 25, 2010


Dr. Walter Brueggemann


I was on a discussion forum recently where someone challenged me to show that the bible was historically accurate. Having seen several Discovery channel/PBS documentaries dealing with Biblical Archaeology, I couldn’t understand how my interlocutor could believe there weren’t more than several thousand.

Well it turns out that the Bible has a significant number of deniers who lurk about the Internet and I’m not speaking about those who reject the Bible as “inspired” text. These are folks who reject any historicity whatsoever. While elsewhere I have discussed the process by which Scripture became the Word of God  but Walter Brueggemann’s explanation of imaginative remembering here also shows how the interplay of imagination, ideology and inspiration cohere in the traditioning process and allows people of faith to find a trustworthy voice.

“Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. A graduate of Elmhurst College, Professor Brueggemann went on to study at the Eden Theological Seminary, receiving his Doctorate of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. from St. Louis University.

He has devoted his life to a passionate exploration of Old Testament theology, with an emphasis on the relation between the Old Testament and the Christian canonical works, the origins and history of Christian doctrine, and the dynamics of Jewish-Christian interactions. An unequaled passion for his subject has resulted in the publication of more than 58 books and hundreds of articles. This particular offering is a reading selection from his 2003 book An Introduction to the Old Testament.

Mark Thiessen Nation, program director at the London Mennonite Center (London, England) has commented of Professor Brueggemann, “No one writing on the Bible is more consistently provocative, interesting, challenging, and imaginative than Walter Brueggemann. I imagine there is no Scripture scholar in America who sells more books or informs more sermons. For those Christians who yearn for serious, biblically informed engagement with our contemporary world there is no one more stimulating to read than Brueggemann. The man rarely writes a boring page. He is thoroughly knowledgeable as an Old Testament scholar — not to mention reasonably informed on theology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and several other fields — and yet he writes with such verve that he is a joy to read.”


The interplay of historical reportage and canonical formation is endlessly complex. The process of that interplay is the work of tradition, the defining enterprise of biblical formation, transmission, and interpretation that we may term “imaginative remembering.”

The remembering part is done in the intergenerational community, as parents tell and retell to children and grandchildren what is most prized in community lore (see Exodus 10:1-2; 12:26; 13:8, 14; Deuteronomy 6:20; Joshua 4:21; and Psalms 78:5-8). One may assume that what is remembered is rooted in some occurrence. Thus, for example, the great exodus narrative surely has behind it some defining emancipatory happening. It is, however, an occurrence to which we have no access, and we cannot make certain the claim for its “happening.” Remembering, moreover, is itself shot through with imaginative freedom to extrapolate and move beyond whatever there may have been of “happening.” Sometimes that imaginative reconstrual is intentional, in order to permit the memory to be pertinent to a new generation.

Thus, for example, the exodus narrative of Exodus 1-15 contains exilic materials in order that the later generation of the sixth-century exile might understand the exodus memory in terms of its own emancipation from Babylon. Sometimes, surely, the imaginative construal that goes beyond “happening” is unworthy and untenable. Either way, the traditioning process of retelling does not intend to linger over old happening, but intends to recreate a rooted, lively world of meaning that is marked by both coherence and surprise in which the listening generation, time after time, can situate its own life.

This act of imaginative remembering, I believe, is the clue to valuing the Bible as a trustworthy voice of faith while still taking seriously our best critical learning. Critical scholarship for a long time has tried to separate “reliable remembering” from imaginative extrapolation, thereby reducing matters to a bare minimum (von Rad 1962, 105—115, 302—305). Current scholarship is in a quite skeptical mood: on the one hand scholars increasingly judge the “historical” claim of the Old Testament to be mostly unreliable and unprovable, and often unlikely (Dever 2001; Finkelstein and Silberman 2001). On the other hand, scholars recognize that the texts are loaded with ideological freight so that they cannot be trusted as reliable (Barr 2000). The recognition of these critical judgments is important and warns against making irresponsible claims for the text.

At the same time, however, one can judge that the imposition of modernist tests of reliability on the text has been deeply wrongheaded and has asked of texts what they did not intend to deliver. Thus what parents have related to their children as normative tradition (that became canonized by long usage and has long been regarded as normative) is a world of meaning that has as its key character YHWH, the God of Israel, who operates in the narratives and songs of Israel that taken as reliable renderings of reality. Given all kinds of critical restraints and awarenesses, one can only allow that such retellings are a disciplined, emancipated act of imagination. It can of course be noted in passing that current skepticism about the text in some scholarly circles is also an act of interpretive imagination rooted in modernist positivism; I have, however, no wish to linger over that awareness.

The notion of the dynamism of the traditioning process is no new awareness in Old Testament studies. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the matrix of Enlightenment rationality; the traditioning process was worked into a defining hypothesis concerning the emergence of Old Testament historical texts according to a series of proposed documents. That scholarly era thought in terms of “documents,” but we may recognize that the proposed “documents” are layers and way-stations in the ongoing traditioning process in the formation of the biblical text.

According to that most influential hypothesis that is still reported in many books, the ongoing tradition of Israel’s “historical remembering” is marked by fixed accent points in the tenth, ninth, seventh, and fifth centuries B.C.E., represented in hypothetical documents respectively designated as the Yahwist (J) the Elohist (F), the Deuteronomist (D), and the Priestly (P) tradition. Each stratum of tradition relied on what was remembered, took what it wanted and could use, neglected what it would not itself use, reformulated and resituated to make a new statement. The final form of the text is a combination of these several major attempts at reformulating the core tradition of that memory.

That hypothesis of documents was governed by a notion of the evolutionary development of Israelite religion that no longer pertains; but the dynamism of the process itself continues to be recognized, albeit in very different form. It was only in the mid-twentieth century that scholarship began to move away from “documents” to “traditions,” but the point of the dynamism is the same in either case. The tradition, including its final form, is a practice of imaginative remembering.

In the traditioning process of telling and retelling in order to make faith possible for the next generation, each version of retelling (of which there were surely many in the long-term process) intends, perforce, that its particular retelling should be the “final” and surely the correct one. In the event, however~ no account of traditioning turns out to be the “final” one, but each act of traditioning is eventually overcome and in fact displaced (“superseded”) by a fresher version. The later, displacing form of the tradition no doubt is assumed to be the “final and correct” one, but is in turn sure to be overcome and, in part, displaced by subsequent versions of the memory.

The complexity of the text evident on any careful reading is due to the happy reality that as new acts of traditioning overcome and partly displace older materials, the older material is retained alongside newer tradition. That retention is a happy one, because it very often happens that a still later traditionist returns to and finds useful older, “discarded” material thought to be beyond use.

The traditioning process that came to constitute the church’s Scripture is not an innocent act of reportage. It is, in each of its variations over time, an intentional advocacy that means to tilt the world of the next generation according to a conviction of faith. I may identity three facets of that intentionality that can be taken into account in our study.

  1. First, I have already noted that the tradition that became Scripture is a relentless act of imagination (D. Brown 1999, 2000). That is, the literature is not merely descriptive of a commonsense world; it dares, by artistic sensibility and risk-taking rhetoric, to posit, characterize, and vouch for a world beyond the “common sense.” The theological aspect of this imagination is that the world is articulated with YHWH as the defining character, even though this character in all holiness defies every attempt to make this character available or accessible in any conventional mode. That theological dimension of Imagination — to render a world defined by the character of YHWH — is matched by a rich artistic sensibility that renders lived reality in song, story; oracle, and law. The artistic aspect of the text is not uniform and one-dimensional; in the narratives of Samuel, for example, or in the poetry of Job or in the metaphors of Jeremiah, we are offered “limit expressions” that render the “limit experiences” of the generation that offers its testimony and that invites “limit experiences” in the listening generation that would not be available without this shared limit language (Ricoeur 1975, 107-45).
  2. Second, it is now widely recognized that the traditioning process is deeply permeated by ideology. The traditioning generation in each case is not a cast of automatons. Rather they are, even if unknown to us and unnamed by us, real people who live real lives in socioeconomic circumstances where they worried about, yearned for, and protected social advantage and property. Indeed, the traditionists surely constitute, every time, a case study in the Marxian insight that “truth” is inescapably filtered through “interest.” And while Marx focused on economic interest, it is not difficult to see in the traditioning process the working of interest expressed through gender, race, class, and ethnic distinctions (Jobling 1998; Schwartz 1997).Because the text is marked by these pressures, it is clear that the text is open, in retrospect, to critique. As David Brown has seen, the later traditioning process may indeed circle back and critique the older, established textual tradition. In doing so, of course, it is important to recognize that each subsequent critique of older tradition (including my own critique) is itself not likely to be innocent; it in turn is reflective of social location and interest.
  3. Third, the religious communities of Judaism and Christianity that take this text to be normative will affirm in a variety of ways that this text is inspired. In this affirmation, the religious communities go beyond critical scholarship that in its characteristic skepticism avoids any such claim. These religious communities make this claim not because they are obscurantist or engaged in special pleading of a decisive kind, but because over time these communities have found these texts to be carriers of and witnesses to the most compelling offer of a meaningful, responsible, coherent life.

The term inspiration of course is not without its own complexity; If we recall the mention of “artistic imagination,” we may for starters say that the biblical text is “inspired” in the way that every gifted artistic accomplishment is inspired. It is recognized that the artist is peculiarly gifted and is able to move beyond ordinary capacity in an extraordinary moment of rendering. To say this much is to say a great deal: that the singers and story-tellers and poets who constituted the Old Testament did indeed reach beyond themselves in an extraordinary way.

But of course when Christians speak of the Bible as “inspired,” we mean to say much more than that. We mean to say that God’s own purpose, will, and presence have been “breathed” through these texts. Such a claim need not result in a literalist notion of “direct dictation” by God’s spirit, as though God were whispering in the ear of a human writer; it is clear that the claim of “inspired” is an inchoate way of saying that the entire traditioning process continues and embodies a surplus rendering of reality that discloses all of reality in light of the holiness of YHWH. Through that disclosure that happens in fits and starts through human imagination and human ideology — but is not finally domesticated by either human imagination or human ideology — we receive a “revelation” of the hiddenness of the life of the world and of God’s life in the world. And because we in the church find it so, we dare to say in the actual traditioning process with trembling lips, “The Word of the Lord.. Thanks be to God.”

Now it will occur to an attentive reader that these three facts of the traditioning process — imagination, ideology, and inspiration — do not easily cohere with each other. Specifically, the force of human ideology and the power of divine inspiration would seem to be definitionally at odds. Precisely! That is what causes the Old Testament to be endlessly complex and problematic, endlessly interesting and compelling. The interplay of human ideology sometimes of a crass kind, of divine inspiration of a hidden kind, and of human imagination that may be God-given (or may not be) is an endlessly recurring feature of the text that appears in many different configurations. It is that interplay of the three that requires that the text must always again be interpreted; the traditioning process, for that reason, cannot ever be concluded, because the text is endlessly needful of new rendering. (A case in point is the way in which the biblical teaching on slavery appeared at a time to be “inspired,” and now can be seen to be ideology [see Haynes 2001].) It is this strange mix that is always again sorted out afresh. It is, however, always a sorting out by church interpreters and scholars who themselves are inescapable mixes of imagination, ideology, and inspiration.

The traditioning process is endless and open-ended. We can, however, make this distinction.

  1. First, there was a long process of traditioning prior to the fixing of the canon as text in normative form. Much of that process is hidden from us and beyond recovery. But we can see that in the pre-canonical traditioning process there was already a determined theological intentionality at work (J. Sanders 1976).
  2. Second, the actual formation of the canon is a point in the traditioning process that gives us “Scripture” for synagogue and for church. We do not know much about the canonizing process, except to notice that long use, including dispute over the literature, arrived at a moment of recognition: Jewish, and subsequently Christian, communities knew which books were “in” and which were not.
  3. But third, it is important to recognize that the fixing of the canon did not terminate the traditioning process. All the force of imaginative articulation and ideological passion and the hiddenness of divine inspiration have continued to operate in the ongoing interpretive task of synagogue and church until the present clay. In Judaism, that continuing traditioning process (which makes its own claims for normative authority) has taken the form of the great Talmuds, midrashic extrapolation, and ongoing rabbinic teaching.

In Christian tradition, we may see the New Testament as an immense act of interpretation of the Old Testament that itself of course became normative for the church (Moberly 1992), Beyond the New Testament, moreover, interpretation has continued both under church authority as well as in scholarly communities that regularly have had a wary relationship with church authority This ongoing interpretation has evoked interpreters who, in every generation and in every context of the church, have rearticulated faith in the intellectual categories and cultural environment where the church has lived. Thus, for example, the core claims of faith were articulated in terms of Neoplatonic Greek philosophy in the early centuries by the Apologists, in the categories of Aristotle by Thomas Aquinas, through humanistic “new learning” by the Reformers and, in our own time, in the categories of Karl Marx in the work of liberation theologians.

It is, moreover, the case that every so often the post-canonical traditioning process has come to exercise decisive control over the biblical text itself, as is variously evident in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, or Calvinist traditions. Post-canonical interpretation characteristically yields a certain casting of Scripture and thus on occasion — in the crisis of reform — the ongoing developed tradition is radically called into question by a fresh attentiveness to the canonical text.

It is in the very character of the text itself to require and generate ongoing interpretation that is itself imaginative and often laden with ideology. The very presence of “the book” in these religious communities bespeaks a kind of unsettled restlessness that characteristically “makes ancient good uncouth,” including ancient interpretation that is rendered “uncouth.” When we ask why the text requires and generates an ongoing interpretive tradition, we may first answer with David Tracy that it is in the character of a “classic” to be a durable source for new disclosures (Tracy 1981). While not from my perspective adequate, Tracy’s formulation of “classic” is immensely important and helpful, for it recognizes that the Bible participates in the properties of great literature that defies any single explanatory reading that is eventually exhausted.

Beyond the claims of “classic,” the faith claim of the church is that the Bible as the church Scripture is without parallel, for it is God-given — given to be sure through the quixotic work of human beings — as originary testimony to the truth of God’s presence in and governance of all creation. Because it is God-given, given as God characteristically gives through the hidden workings of ordinary life, the book endlessly summons, requires, demands, and surprises with fresh reading. The only way to turn the book into a fixed idol is to imagine that the final interpretation has been given, an act of imagination that is a deep act of disobedience to the lively God who indwells this text. The only way to avoid such idolatry is to know that the lively God of the text has not given any final interpretation of the book that remains resistant to our explanatory inclinations.

The traditioning process, when it is faithful, must be disciplined, critical, and informed by the best intelligence of the day. But it must be continued — and is continued — each time we meet in synagogue or church for telling and sharing, for reading and study, each time we present ourselves for new disclosure “fresh from the Word.” There are two postures that characteristically want to terminate the daring process of traditioning. On the one hand, there is a mood in the church—sometimes linked to what is called a “canonical” perspective — that judges that the “true” interpretation has already been given, and all we need to do is reiterate. On the other hand, Schleiermacher’s “Cultured Despisers of Religion” who live at the edge of the church often fail to recognize the “thickness” of the traditioning process, and take the biblical offer at surface meaning, run the matter through the prism of modern rationality, and so dismiss the tradition as inadequate. Either way — by confessional closure or by rationalistic impatience — one misses the world “strange and new” that is generously, with recurring surprise, given in the Scriptures.


Benedict XVI on Modernity and the Politics of the West Part II

August 24, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI greets the audience after arriving for a Young Catholics Youth Rally held at Saint Joseph's Seminary April 19, 2008 in Yonkers, New York.


Continuing the Reading Selections from Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith on his views concerning Modernity and the Politics of the West, particularly the collision of cultures with Islam. A good product description on Amazon: “The first serious assessment of the Pope’s theological vision, this thoughtful volume situates the thought of Benedict XVI within the intellectual history and academic circles of his time, exploring topics such as the interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, Benedict’s relations with other important scholars and theologians, and his attitudes on moral and political theology, western culture, the structure of the Catholic Church, liturgy, and love. It is a common observation that Pope Benedict has been influenced by the thought of St. Augustine in contrast to many of his predecessors in the papacy who were much more strongly influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas. This work therefore addresses the topic of in what way Benedict is an Augustinian. The volume also includes a bibliography arranged thematically for those who want to explore his thought more deeply in a particular area. A penetrating account of the thought of the reigning pontiff, this volume offers a wealth of insight for everyone interested in Pope Benedict.”

Correct Our Course (Three Essential Points)

  1. First, the West needs to appreciate that law is not the opposite of freedom but is its necessary condition;
  2. Second, against all utopian projects, there needs to be an understanding that within human history no absolutely ideal situation will ever exist and a perfected ordering of freedom will never be able to be achieved because it is impossible to eradicate original sin, and all its consequences; and
  3. Thirdly, the leaders of the western world need to bid farewell to the dream of the absolute autonomy of reason [from theology] and of its self-sufficiency. As an aspect of this third course correction there needs to be a recognition that the first service that Christian Revelation delivered to the political order was to liberate it from the burden of being the highest good for humanity.

It destroyed the myth of the divine state, and in its place it put the objectivity of reason. However, Ratzinger warns that this does not mean that it has produced a value-free objectivity, such as is sometimes claimed for sociology “to genuine human reason belongs the morality that is fed by God’s commandments. This morality is not some private affair; it has public significance.” He reiterates the advice that Jeremiah gave to the Jews exiled in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city where God has placed them. He believes that the morality of the exile contains fundamental elements of a positive political ethos. As a general statement of principle, he concludes:

Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” (1 Timothy 2: 2).

The State And Moral Truth: A Platform For Conversation
In Values in a Time of Upheaval Benedict stated that he did not wish to offer a new theory about the relationship between the state and moral truth, he merely wanted to summarize a number of insights that could form a kind of platform that permits a conversation:

  1. The state is not itself the source of truth and morality;
  2. The goal of the state cannot consist in a freedom without defined contents;
  3. Accordingly, the state must receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to that which is good; This outside cannot be ‘pure reason’ however desirable in theory, because, in practice, such a pure rational evidential quality independent of history does not exist. Metaphysical and moral reason come into action only in a historical context;
  4. Christian faith has proved to be the most universal and rational religious culture;
  5. The Church may not exalt itself to become the state, nor may it seek to work as an organ of power in the state or beyond the state boundaries;
  6. The Church remains outside the state… [but] must exert herself with all her vigor so that in it there may shine forth the moral truth that it offers to the state and that ought to become evident to the citizens of the state.

The Church’s Teaching On Economic Ethics
In the more specific context of the Church’s teaching on economic ethics, Ratzinger, like his papal predecessors going all the way back to Leo XIII, has been strongly critical of both utopian socialist and laissez-faire, liberal capitalist theory. He observes that they share common philosophical presuppositions about the relationship of ethics to economics, and a common deterministic core. In his essay “The Church and Economics” he argued that the lives of many people are completely controlled by the laws of the market, while at the same time liberal theorists argue that the market is morally neutral and associated with the promotion of human freedom. He described as “astounding” the presupposition that the laws of the market are in essence good. With reference to the work by P. Scholl-Latour, Afrikanische Totenklage: Der Ausverkauf des Schwarzen Kontinents (Munich, 2001), he has written of the “tragic legacy” and “cruelty of the liberal capitalist system”:

“Behind the superficial solidarity of the developing-nations model has sometimes been hidden the desire to expand the reach of one’s own power, one’s own ideology, one’s own market share. In the process, old social structures have been destroyed, and spiritual and moral forces have been wasted, with consequences that should ring in our ears as an unprecedented indictment.”

Ratzinger thinks it is wrong to rely solely upon putatively ‘value-neutral’ marketplace mechanisms since ‘pre-existing values are always determinants in making market decisions’  He believes that contemporary world economic affairs are driven by a form of liberalism which ‘specifically excludes the heart’ and the ‘possibility of seeing God, of introducing the light of moral responsibility, love and justice into the worlds of work, of commerce and of politics’. He argues that ‘if globalization in technology and economy is not accompanied by a new openness to an awareness of the God to whom we will all render an account, then it will end in catastrophe.” Indeed, he asserts that “any kind of social or political unity that is created without God, or even in Opposition to him, ends like the experiment of Babylon: in total confusion and destruction, in the hatred and violence of universal conflict.”

Is There Common Ground Between Liberals And Christians On The Plain Of Natural Law
In some contemporary schools of Thomism the analogue for the idea of a theologically neutral secular social space is the project of discovering common ground between Liberals and Christians on the plain of natural law. The viability of this project is currently under question by a number of scholars, including those who identify their work with the Thomist tradition. This project received its greatest impetus in. the twentieth century with the scholarship and diplomatic work of the French Thomist Jacques Maritain (1882-1973).

In Faithful Reason John Haldane concluded that anyone reviewing the degree of ideological and moral diversity and conflict exhibited today, half a century after Jacques Maritain’s attempt in The Person and the Common Good, must wonder how feasible is the project of finding common ground between the Thomist and other traditions with reference to natural law.

James V. Schall has also noted that “reading Maritain on rights and values requires a constant internal connection to recognize that what he means by these terms is something very different from what is generally meant by them in the [contemporary] culture.” To the same end, Ernest Fortin has argued that “natural law becomes intelligible only within the framework of a providential order in which the words and deeds of individual human beings are known to God and duly rewarded and punished by him.” In societies where there is no longer a belief in any rational order within creation, or indeed any belief in creation itself, the project of using the language of the natural law tradition to negotiate with non-Christians becomes extremely difficult. This is Benedict’s conclusion also. In Values in a Time of Upheaval he wrote:

Natural law has remained — especially in the Catholic Church — one element in the arsenal of arguments in conversations with secular society and with other communities of faith, appealing to shared reason in the attempt to discern the basis of a consensus about ethical principles of law in a pluralistic, secular society. Unfortunately, this instrument has become blunt, and that is why I do not wish to employ it to support my arguments in this discussion [about the moral foundations of a free state]. The idea of the natural law presupposed a concept of ‘nature’ in which nature and reason interlock; nature itself is rational. The victory of the theory of evolution has meant the end of this view of nature.

Benedict is not saying that he does not believe in natural law. He believes in it because he believes in a divinely created order and he referred to it in Deus Caritas Est. He simply thinks it is a ‘blunt instrument’ for dealing with those who no longer accept a Genesis account of the creation. He recognizes that human rights have remained the last element of the natural law tradition operative within contemporary liberal political cultures, and he suggests that the doctrine of human rights ought today to be complemented by a doctrine of human obligations and human limits. He has not, however, made any pronouncements about the rhetorical effectiveness of the human rights discourse in the promotion of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and the foundation of human dignity.

A Purified Reason
In his essay “Prepolitical Moral Foundations of a Free Republic” he wrote of a need for a polyphonic correlation in which the different religious traditions would open themselves up to the essential complementarity of reason and faith. He stated that there is a necessary correlativity of reason and religion which are appointed mutually to cleanse and heal one another, which mutually need one another, and mutually must recognize this need.  He is not, therefore, a fideist; he does want people to use their intellectual faculty to make judgments about the merits of different social practices. This theme was reiterated in Deus Caritas Est at article 28

From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.

In the following article Benedict endorses the notion of an autonomous use of reason in the world of politics at the same time as noting that the Church has an indirect duty to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run. In this context, the expression “the autonomous use of reason” would appear to mean ‘reason’ in the sense of a prudential or practical judgment made without recourse to any ecclesial authority. In another sense, however, the Church remains involved in the whole process, albeit indirectly, through the judgments of lay Catholics and other Christians and persons of good will who operate with purified reason. A purified reason is the “Magna Carta of all ecclesial service.”

Kantian ‘Pure Reason’ And The Church’s Purified Reason
For Benedict such ‘purified reason’ is something vastly different from Kantian ‘pure reason’. One might say that for Benedict so-called “pure reason” is impure reason. In Deus Caritas Est he concludes that the figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. They are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope, and love. In other words, the saints, rather than the rationality of the Enlightenment, are the true bearers of light in human history and the best models of how to engage the world.

The Problem Of Islam In The Western World
The notion of the importance of a reasoned or reasonable faith most often arises in contemporary discussions about Islam, Significantly, and contrary to popular attitudes, Ratzinger does not believe that the solution to the problem of Islam in the western world is for it to undergo its own eighteenth-century style Enlightenment. Generally, he believes that Muslims do not feel threatened by the Christian moral foundations of the West but by “the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own bases.” He suggests that it is not the mention of God that offends the adherents of other religions but the attempt to build the human community without any reference to God whatsoever. He believes that Islam comes alive as faith precisely when its adherents experience cultures, and, in particular, legal systems, that are God-less. None the less he is concerned that Islam has never really come to grips with the importance of the relationship between faith and reason. In 1988 he wrote:

Already in its emergence Islam is to a certain extent a reversion to a monotheism which does not accept the Christian transition to God made man and which likewise shuts itself off from Greek rationality and its civilization which became a component of Christian monotheism via the idea of God becoming man. It can of course be objected to this that in the course of history there were continually approaches in Islam to the intellectual world of Greece; but they never lasted. What this is saying above all is that the separation of faith and law, of religion and tribal law, was not completed in Islam and cannot be completed without affecting its very core. To put it another way, faith presents itself in the form of a more or less archaic system of forms of life governed by civil and penal law. It may not be defined nationally, but it is defined in a legal system which fixes it ethnically and culturally and at the same time sets limits to rationality at the point where the Christian synthesis sees the existence of the sphere of reason.

In his Regensburg address he was clearly trying to encourage the development of Islamic thought in the direction of a consideration of Greek ideas about reason. In his commentary on the address, James V. Schall made the point that, at their philosophic roots, the two cultures — modern secularism and Islam — are not that much different. He suggests that this is what Benedict implies in his citation from Ibu Hazn concerning voluntarism. Islam and modem secularism share the same voluntarist tendency. They both eschew the possibility that there is an obligatory order of reason. In the case of modernity and post-modernity reality is itself a product of human artifice, of mere human will. In the case of Islam, what is good is defined by reference to the will of Allah. In neither case is there a recognition of a logos inherent in the order of being itself. This is what Ratzinger was driving at, so to speak, in the Regensburg address. He was pleading at least as much with contemporary militant secularists as with contemporary militant Muslims to recognize that they share a common philosophical starting point.

This is not to say that Benedict believes that all Muslims are irrational voluntarists. He acknowledges that Islam is not a uniform thing. There is no single authority for all Muslims, and for this reason dialogue with Islam is always dialogue with certain groups. There is no commonly regulated orthodoxy; no one speaks for Islam as a whole. He does, however, believe that as a tradition Islam needs to engage with the intellectual heritage of Greece. He also believes that the attempt to graft on to Islamic societies what are termed western standards cut loose from their Christian foundations misunderstands the internal logic of Islam as well as the historical logic to which these western standards belong. All such attempts are doomed to failure. He has consistently opposed the American-led western intervention in Iraq. There is no ‘stem’ on which to graft western liberalism and the attempt to do so just fuels the resentment which is one explosive element of the original problem. It plays into the hands of the Islamic terrorists. Benedict believes that for democracy to work it needs a Greco-Christian cultural foundation.

The Rule Of Law
Underlying this position is an implicit belief that the rule of law so central to democracy is the key to the stability of the whole western system. More than anything else Ratzinger’s interventions in the area of political theory have taken the form of exhorting liberal elites to recognize that the rule of law must itself be based on solid foundations, not on the will of the people — whatever that happens to be, which is no more secure a foundation than the will of Allah — but on the logos inherent in creation. Discerning this inherent rationality, this natural order of being itself, requires a synthesis of the gifts of the Greek and Hebraic cultures. If any component of the double helix is severed and mutated then western culture finds itself in crisis, and when the whole framework is broken and mutated then there is an institutional civil war involving theists, moderns, and post-moderns.

Benedict does not believe that this conflict can be resolved by removing Christ and Christianity from western culture. Any attempt to do so will not only be a kind of cultural suicide (which is already far advanced) it will also require a change in social perceptions of the nature and dignity of the human person. Since Christianity and orthodox Judaism are the only theologies on the market, so to speak, which uphold the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, regardless of its social utility, destroying the Judeo-Christian cultural roots of the West will lead to the emergence of a new ruling class with “Social Darwinist” social practices not all that different from those which prevailed in Nazi Germany.

The Suicide Of The West
From Benedict’s perspective the suicide of the West began when people stopped believing in the Christian account of creation and started to sever the intrinsic relationship of faith and reason. With the political arrival of Islam within western countries, including the heartland of what was once Christendom, a new four-cornered battle is emerging between Christians, Muslims, and different varieties of secularists and Nietzscheans. In this context Benedict’s approach is best summarized as: charity to all under the unambiguous standard of the cross, and, if need be, martyrdom and persecution before accommodation. The 265th successor to St Peter will not allow Christ to be placed in any contemporary pantheon. Not on his watch will Christianity be reduced to a mere “booth in the fairground of post-modernity.”


Benedict XVI on Modernity and the Politics of the West

August 23, 2010

A Dictatorship Of Relativism
In his homily at the Mass prior to his election Ratzinger rhetorically asked: ‘how many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking?’ He suggested that the western world was currently in the throws of a dictatorship of relativism that did not recognize anything as definitive and whose goal consists solely of the satisfaction of the desires of one’s own ego. However, while post-modem relativism is replacing the Ten Commandments in the area of private morality, in the area of public morality eighteenth-century ‘Enlightenment’ conceptions of freedom and truth continue to provide the foundation of the dominant political cultures of the West. Paradoxically, these theories are now being used to promote nineteenth-century romantic-movement visions of human dignity, which, at least implicitly, and sometimes quite explicitly, reject the eighteenth-century accounts of reason and morality.

For this reason contemporary public life in the western world has been described as a three-cornered ‘civil war’ of hostile traditions. The pattern of alliances in this war is constantly changing from issue to issue, country to country, and political forum to political forum. This is the political environment in which the Catholic Church finds herself at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Benedict has to navigate between the Charybdis of eighteenth-century-style attacks on the rationality of Christianity and the Scylla of nineteenth-century ‘post-modern’ attacks on Christian conceptions of human dignity and the meaning and purpose of sexuality.

Depending on the context, Benedict’s statements can sound more or less hostile, more or less favorable to the Enlightenment(s). When dealing with conceptions of the meaning and value of human life which have a nineteenth-century neo-pagan Romantic pedigree he tends to implore recourse to reason. When dealing with political philosophies which flow from eighteenth-century thought he reminds his interlocutors that philosophy has always been nourished by religious traditions. He is almost on a weekly basis contending with the theological presuppositions of hostile traditions. He believes that the Church cannot simply retreat into her own ghetto: the Church “cannot enclose men and cultures in a kind of spiritual nature reserve.”

Three Views of Modernity
So what is the framework from within which Benedict operates when judging aspects of contemporary culture? The point is often made that where a person stands on the issue of the culture of modernity depends upon how she or he views the evolution or, in academic parlance, genealogy of this culture. In other words, what is its pedigree, where did it come from? How did we get to this state of civil war among hostile traditions? There are several schools of interpretation, but most can be slotted into one of three academic stables:

(i)       modernity represents the severance of the classical-theistic synthesis: what we have now are free-floating concepts which have lost their meaning once separated / from the whole;

(ii)     modernity represents a mutation of the classical-theistic synthesis since the key concepts once severed from their Christian roots are given new meanings; and

(iii)    modernity is an entirely new culture based on concepts and values which were specifically developed to take the place of the defunct Greek and Christian concepts.

The above categories are not necessarily closed or always exclusive. For example, one can accept Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘first stable’ account of the severance of faith from reason, and the severance of politics and economics from ethics, at the same time as accepting von Balthazar’s ‘first stable’ account of the severance of the true, the beautiful, and the good from one another, as well as agreeing with William T. Cavanaugh, Catherine Pickstock, and John Milbank’s ‘second stable’ account of the emergence of the liberal state as an entity which conies with its own heretical soteriology. They each hold pieces of a puzzle which can be fitted together. Those who study the cultures of modernity and post-modernity are rather like art curators who each work on understanding one or two pieces of a great mosaic in order to discern where they once fitted into the picture. The insights of many scholars can be brought together to get a clearer and larger picture. Some focus on the processes of severance and disintegration, others on the form of the mutation. So the question arises: where does Ratzinger fit into these categories? Is there a stable in which he might feel at home?

Ratzinger’s View
Ratzinger has not written one all-encompassing comprehensive exposition of his own genealogy but he has offered pieces of the puzzle in various books and articles. The first general point to be made is that he has no sympathy at all for the third category which views modernity as something completely new, nor does he have any patience for the doctrine of social evolution and the Hegelian belief in constant progress to which it is closely allied. Ratzinger rejects all materialistic and deterministic theories of history.

The English historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) once made the observation that the Christian view of history is not a secondary element derived by philosophical reflection from the study of history. It lies at the very heart of Christianity and forms an integral part of the Christian faith. As a consequence there is no Christian ‘philosophy of history’ in the strict sense of the word. There is, instead, a Christian history and Christian theology of history. This is essentially the position that Ratzinger has taken since at least the time of his Habilitationsshrift  post-doctoral thesis required for qualification as a professor on the theology of history in the thought of St Bonaventure.

It echoes the position of the German philosopher Josef Pieper who has been one of the seminal influences on the thought of Ratzinger and it resonates with the whole Christocentric trajectory of von Balthasar. Pieper argued that ‘there is no philosophical question, which, if it really wants to strike the ground intended by itself and in itself, does not come upon the primeval rock of theological pronouncements’ and as a consequence “the beginning and end of human history are conceivable only on acceptance of a pre-philosophically traditional interpretation of reality; they are either “revealed” or they are inconceivable.”  

A New History
While this is cold comfort for those who want a philosophy of history, its positive side is that it means that “the Incarnation is not the nth performance of a tragedy already lying in the archives of eternity.” It is an event of total originality. In accord with Dawson, Pieper, and von Balthasar, Ratzinger holds that Christian Revelation is the foundation of a new history which, paradoxically, is experienced as the end of all history:

The beginning and end of this new history is the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, who is recognized as the last man (the second Adam), that is as the long-awaited manifestation of what is truly human and the definitive revelation to man of his hidden nature; for this very reason, it is oriented toward the whole human race and presumes the abrogation of all partial histories, whose partial salvation is looked upon as essentially an absence of salvation.

Ratzinger thus rejects all philosophies of history which would find in the historical process some dynamic outside the theo-drama of God’s offer of grace and the human response to this offer. He describes secular theories of historical progress, especially the Marxist and liberal accounts, as examples of ideological optimism and a secularization of Christian hope. His genealogy of modernity does not follow the school of thinking which reads modernity as an entirely new culture, completely severed from all Christian roots. He believes that it is entangled with the Christian heritage however much secular liberal political elites may want to deny this.

Ratzinger’s Critique Of The Culture Of Modernity
What Ratzinger offers by way of his own contribution to the critique of the culture of modernity is a kind of ‘double helix’ genealogy with reference to two sets of three intellectual moments in which the Hellenic component of the culture was severed from the Christian and in which the Christian component was fundamentally undermined by the mutation of the doctrine of creation. Indeed in both cases the severances are accompanied by mutations.
When faith in creation is lost, Christian faith is transformed into gnosis, and when faith in reason is lost, wisdom is reduced to the empirically verifiable which cannot sustain a moral framework.

With reference to the Christian side of the ‘double helix’, Ratzinger identifies the first moment of severance with the philosophy of Giordano Bruno (1545-1600). He acknowledges that, at first sight, ‘it may seem strange to accuse him of suppressing faith in creation, since he was responsible for an emphatic rediscovery of the cosmos in its divinity’, but he argues that it is precisely this reversion to a divine cosmos that brings about the recession of faith in creation: “Here ‘renaissance’ means relinquishing the Christian so that the Greek can be restored in its pagan purity. In the Greek conception, the world appears as a divine fullness at peace within itself. While for the Christian account of creation, the world is dependent on something other than itself.” Ratzinger concludes that this is the aesthetic prelude to an increasingly prominent idea in the modem mind: the idea that the human dependency implied by faith in creation is unacceptable.

The second significant moment arrives with the thought of Galileo (1564-1642) in which there is also a return to the Greeks, not to their aesthetic insights, but to the mathematical side of Platonic thought. Here Ratzinger writes:

“God does geometry’ is the way [Galileo] expresses his concepts of God and nature as well as his scientific ideal. God wrote the book of nature with mathematical letters. Studying geometry enables us to touch the traces of God. But this means that the knowledge of God is turned into the knowledge of the mathematical structures of nature; the concept of nature in the sense of the object of science, takes the place of the concept of creation. . . Determined by this axiom [‘God does geometry’], God has to become Platonic. He dwindles away to be little more than the formal mathematical structures perceived by science in nature.”

Ratzinger concludes:

A mere ‘first cause’ which is effective only in nature and never reveals itself to humans, which abandons humans to a realm completely beyond its own sphere of influence, such a first cause is no longer God but a scientific hypothesis. On the other hand, a God who has nothing to do with the rationality of creation, but is effective only in the inner world of piety, is also no longer God; he becomes devoid of reality and is ultimately meaningless. Only when creation and covenant come together can either creation or covenant be realistically discussed — the one presupposes the other.”

The third form of deviation from the classical-theistic idea of creation came with Martin Luther (1483-1546). While Bruno and Galileo represent a return to a pre-Christian, Greek, and pagan world, Luther went in the extreme opposite direction. He wanted to purge Christian thought of its Greek heritage, and the Greek element he found most objectionable was the concept of the cosmos in the question of being, and therefore in the area of the doctrine of creation. For Luther, redemption sets humans free from the curse of the existing creation and thus grace exists in radical opposition to creation. Developing an argument taken from Angelo Scola and Rocco Buttiglione, Ratzinger concluded that “without the mystery of redemptive love, which is also creative love, the world inevitably becomes dualistic: by nature, it becomes geometry: as history, it becomes the drama of evil.”

Hegel and Marx
After these three moments in which the doctrine of creation was mutated, the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) tried to resolve the dualism by positing God not as the eternal self-existent Almighty, who stands facing the evil of the world, but rather God who exists in the process of reasoning. He reinterprets the whole of human history as the unfolding of reason. With Karl Marx, the greatest of the left-wing Hegelians, redemption was then construed as something which humanity must achieve through its own efforts by an intellectual and political process.

In the Marxist schema, the place of creation is reoccupied by the category of self-creation, which is accomplished through work. Against the Marxist idea that the human person is someone defined by the capacity to work and produce things, Ratzinger believes that the human person is first of all a being created for worship. Against Marx’s idea that redemption should take a political form, Ratzinger argues that “the only goal of the Exodus [the liberation of the Jews from slavery to Pharaoh] was worship, which can only occur according to God’s measure.” He suggests that this orientation of creation to the rest of the Sabbath is not a peculiarly Christian idea, but that all the great pre-Christian civilizations point to the fact that the universe exists for worship and for the glorification of God.

From this premise he concludes that “the danger that confronts us today in our technological civilization is that we have cut ourselves off from this primordial knowledge which serves as a guidepost and which links the great cultures, and that an increasing scientific know-how is preventing us from being aware of the fact of creation.” As a consequence, “those who reject God’s rest, its leisure, its worship, its peace and its freedom, fall into the slavery of activity.”

On this reading the Christian component of the classical-theistic synthesis was mutated in the above three moments represented by the figures of Bruno, Galileo, and Luther, whose dualist consequences Hegel sought to overcome by a completely new idea of God and history.

The Subversion Of The Greek Strand Of The Helix (Three Moments)
Ratzinger then further identifies three moments in the subversion of the Greek strand of the helix. This subversion was actually the central theme of his famous Regensburg address. This time Luther remains in the trilogy but as the representative of the first rather than third moment. As stated above, the Reformation he fostered sought to sever all the Greek components of the synthesis from the Christian. For Luther, reason was the bastard child of Aristotle brought up by the pimp Thomas Aquinas. Two centuries later the Lutheran Immanuel Kant carried through the programme of severance. Although Ratzinger seems to include Kant as an heir to the Lutheran ‘first moment’ he does say that in his anchoring of faith ‘exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole’ he carried through Luther’s programme with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen.

The second moment in the programme of de-Hellenization arrived in the nineteenth century with Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) as its leading representative. Von Harnack sought to distinguish between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of the philosophers was said to have put an end to worship in favor of morality. He was presented as the father of a humanitarian message. Harnack’s goal was to liberate Christianity from philosophy altogether as well as to purge it of doctrinal elements such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the belief in the Trinity. Ratzinger concludes that the end result of this second moment is that the radius of both science and reason has been severely narrowed and the question of God is made to appear either unscientific or pre-scientific. In this situation any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be ‘scientific’ would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.

The third moment is contemporary and is associated with the anti-European attitude which surfaced in the aftermath of two world wars started in Europe and the rise of Asian and African nationalism in the 1960s. It holds that the synthesis of Greek and Christian thought in the first centuries after Christ was an important project for those times but has no relevance to contemporary non-European cultures. To put the position somewhat crudely, the Greek component may be of some interest to Europeans but it is irrelevant in outback Australia, the highlands of New Guinea, or the safari parks of Kenya. Ratzinger says that there is some element of truth in this position.

Ratzinger’s Genealogy Of Modernity
It is true that a knowledge of classical letters is not necessary for salvation. None the less, Ratzinger believes that the relationship of faith to human reason arose providentially from the junction of the Greek and Hebraic cultures. For him an understanding of this relationship is indispensable. This is the universal cultural patrimony of Catholics across the globe and its importance was also recognized in paragraph 72 of John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio: “In engaging great cultures for the first time the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God who guides His Church down the paths of time and history.”

It is something of a paradox that Luther was hostile to the Greek interest in rationality and yet it was a philosopher deeply influenced by Lutheran pietism who did more than anyone else to drive a wedge between faith and reason and in effect exalt the faculty of reason. The cumulative effect of Luther and Kant was to force a choice between scripture alone and so-called ‘pure’ reason alone. Those who took the path of reason alone tended to instrumentalize Christianity by turning it into a moralism. Thus reduced, the task of evangelizing the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific came to be seen, at least in the 1960s and 70s, as a project of transmitting a Christian moral vision along with helping these peoples to improve their material standards of living, particularly their access to medical treatment. While Ratzinger is not opposed to either the transmission of a moral vision or improving material standards of living, he does believe that to reduce Christianity to these goods is severely to truncate it, and to drain it of its most dynamic, most life-giving elements.

Ratzinger’s genealogy of modernity thus takes the form of both severance and mutation (first and second stable accounts) wherein the classical-theistic synthesis is unraveled through three successive attacks on the doctrine of creation on the one side, and at least three successive attacks on the relationship of faith to reason on the other. Linked to the mutation of the Christian doctrine of creation is the emergence of a notion of human freedom as the ability to pursue any vision of the good which might appeal. Once the relationship between nature and creation has been severed, then the way lies open for the severance of nature and morality and the arrival of the Nietzschean project of the transvaluation of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The Role Of The Church
Politically the end result is that the Church has to contend with the argument that only Enlightenment culture can be constitutive for the identity of Europe, and the countries of the western world generally. Within the culture of modernity different religious cultures can coexist with their respective rights only on the condition and to the degree in which they respect the criteria of this culture, and are subordinated to it. Ratzinger, however, believes that the Church cannot accept this kind of marginalization. In the collection of essays published in 1988 under the tide The Church, Ecumenism and Politics he noted with approval that the early Christians would not allow Christ to be included in the pantheon alongside the pagan gods. They would not pay their dues to the pagan gods and nor would they accept that the life of the polis was the highest good there is.

In this context Ratzinger has been influenced by the work of the German philosopher Robert Spaemann who has warned against a ‘fatal tendency’ to understand Christianity as just one of an ensemble of social forces. According to Spaemann, the Church must understand herself as “the place of an absolute public validity surpassing the state under the legitimizing claim of God.” Ratzinger agrees with this but says that this claim to public validity should not be construed as an opposition to a genuine religious tolerance. He agrees with the basic principle of the conciliar document Diqnitatis humanae that religious observance can never be coerced. None the less, he argues that the state must recognize that a basic framework of values within a Christian foundation is the precondition for its own existence and it must learn that there is a truth which is not subject to consensus but which precedes it and makes it possible.

Included in this judgment is Ratzinger’s assessment that there is no such thing as a theologically neutral state which is the good which the liberal tradition claims to offer. It is logical nonsense. He quotes Rudolf Bultmann’s line that “an unchristian state is possible on principle, but not an atheistic state.” It is at this point that Ratzinger’s thought resonates with much contemporary scholarship from the Radical Orthodoxy and evangelical Protestant stables and also with the Thomist political philosophy of James V. Schall SJ and Alasdair MacIntyre.

The evangelical scholar Oliver O’Donovan has written that “the appearance of a social secularity could only be created by understanding society as a quasi-mechanical system, incapable of moral and spiritual acts,” and, thus, “the false consciousness of the would-be contemporary secular society [or theologically neutral liberal state] lies in its determination to conceal the religious judgments that it has made.” The Anglican John Milbank, and the Catholic William T. Cavanagh, have both traced the mutation in the meaning of the concept of the secular realm. Prior to modem times it referred to this temporal world before Christ’s second coming; it has only recently come to mean a separate social space which is impermeable to grace and the intrusion of theological principles. They argue that within the traditional meaning of the term saeculum society as a whole could never be secular.

The fact that the concept is one of those which has undergone a process of mutation was also recognized by Ratzinger in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in 2003. Here he stated:

“Secularism is no longer that element of neutrality which opens up areas of freedom for everyone. It is beginning to turn into an ideology that imposes itself through politics and leaves no public space for the Catholic and Christian vision, which thus risks becoming something purely private and essentially mutilated.” Similarly, in 2000 he wrote: “the problem with the liberal privatization of religion is that, in the name of tolerance, it favors what is in fact an intolerant suppression of the (ultimately religious) question of this fidelity.”

In The Yes of Jesus Christ: Spiritual Exercises in Faith, Hope and Love, he concluded: “A society that turns what is specifically human into something purely private and defines itself in terms of a complete secularity (which moreover inevitably becomes a pseudo-religion and a new all-embracing system that enslaves people) — this kind of society will of its nature be sorrowful, a place of despair: it rests on a diminution of human dignity.”

In part this diminution of human dignity stems from the fact that the criterion of rationality by which this Enlightenment culture runs is increasingly taken from an experience of technological production based on science. At its most extreme this leads to a scientific domination and manipulation of nature that is problematic in view of the dramatic environmental problems the world now faces and in view of its effects on the very conception of what it means to be human.

Conception no longer needs to be the result of an act of love but can be the result of a laboratory technique; parents are encouraged to abort genetically imperfect babies; the sick and elderly in some countries can now choose to end their lives rather than being a burden on their families. In each of these cases human life is no longer accepted as sacred and inviolable. It has its market value. Ratzinger writes that according to the values of this culture imperfect individuals must be weeded out and the path of planning and production must aim at the perfect man. Suffering must disappear, and life is to consist of pleasure alone. This leads to new forms of coercion and the emergence of a new ruling class.

A New Political Moralism
Ratzinger believes that members of this new ruling class are fostering a “new political moralism” whose key words are justice, peace, and the conservation of creation. He includes Hans Kung’s Weltethos (world ethos) project in this category and he strongly endorses the criticisms of this project by Robert Spaemann. Kung’s project is to try and boil down the values of all the great religious traditions to a short list of moral principles upon which they might all agree. In some ways it is a variation on the Kantian political philosophical project of John Rawls with its concept of “reflective equilibrium.” Neither Spaemann nor Benedict has any opposition to justice, peace, and the conservation of creation per se, but they make the point that the content which is commonly given to these terms by members of the new ruling class is different from what a creedal Christian would give them, and they also believe that the project simply will not work.

Spaemann argues that Kung’s Weltethos reduces religion to being merely ‘a booth in the fairground of post-modernism, adding an ambiguous offer of “sense and meaning beyond death” to the somewhat plausible “be nice to each other.”  This is the very claim of religion’s ‘educated’, ‘benign’, and ‘enlightened’ detractors. For Spaemann any political philosophy which tries to ignore the reality of original sin becomes just another utopian ideology. He asks, why would a chap who is otherwise going to commit adultery refrain from doing so because it might offend the world ethos? If it is not enough for a Christian that Jesus Christ tells him the same thing, why should this person suddenly change his judgment because Muhammad or some other religious figure has joined the chorus? Spaemann concludes that Hans Kung is firmly rooted in the tradition of modernity’s instrumentalization of religion in the service of morals and morals in the service of national preservation.

In other words, Kung’s Weltethos is a kind of warmed-up version of Adolf von Harnack’s nineteenth-century project. Benedict adds to this his judgment that there is no rational or ethical or religious universal formula about which everyone could agree and which could then support everyone, and it is for this reason that the so-called world ethos remains an abstraction. He also cites the judgment of the German historian and anti-Nazi hero Joachim Fest (1926-2006) that “the farther the agreements — which cannot be reached without concessions — are pushed, the more elastic and consequently the more impotent the ethical norms become, to the point that the project finally amounts to a mere corroboration of that unbinding morality which is not the goal, but the problem.” Ratzinger concludes:

“The political moralism that we have lived through, and are living through still, not only does not open the way to regeneration, it actually blocks it. The same also holds therefore for a Christianity and a theology that reduce the core of Jesus message, the ‘kingdom of God’ to the ‘values of the kingdom’ while identifying these values with the main watchwords of political moralism, and proclaiming them, at the same time, to be the synthesis of all religions — all the while forgetting about God, despite the fact that it is precisely He who is the subject and the cause of the kingdom of God.”


Book Recommendation: Happiness and Contemplation by Josef Pieper

August 20, 2010

You will want to buy this book. It will fit perfectly on any bookshelf and I can’t tell you how reaffirming it is to have a very thin volume devoted to Happiness…

“Happiness” Comprehends A Variety Of Meanings
There is nevertheless a fundamental significance, which should never be overlooked, in the very fact that a single word, “happiness,” comprehends such a variety of meanings: the immortal richness of divine life and man’s part in it, as well as the petty satisfaction of a fleeting desire. We venture to assert that this ambiguity reflects the structure of the whole of Creation. St. Thomas puts it this way: “As created good is a reflection of the uncreated good, so the attainment of a created good is a reflected beatitude.”
Now the “attainment of a created good” is  a thing that happens constantly, and in a thousand varied forms. It happens whenever a thirsty man drinks, whenever a questioner receives a flash of illumination, whenever lovers are together, whenever a task is brought to a successful conclusion and a plan bears fruit. And when men call all this “happiness,” they are close to the insight that each gratification points to the ultimate one, and that all happiness has some connection with eternal beatitude. Some connection, if only this: that every fulfillment this side of Heaven instantly reveals its inadequacy. It is immediately evident that such satisfactions are not enough; they are not what we have really sought; they cannot really satisfy us at all.
Andre Gide noted in his Journals  “The terrible thing is that we can never make ourselves drunk enough.”

“Contemplation Is Man’s Ultimate Happiness”
One might take the statement that contemplation is man’s ultimate happiness and say to oneself: “Very well, obviously this refers to the ‘happiness of the philosopher.’ Undeniably there does exist a happiness of knowledge and insight, just as there is happiness in action and ‘happiness of the senses.’ Certainly it can be maintained, with good reason, that the happiness of the perceptive mind surpasses all other forms of happiness in depth and value.”
All very well. Yet to interpret this sentence in this way, to put so special a construction on it, is to ignore its real meaning. For it says not a word about any special happiness that pertains only to the “philosopher.” The dictum speaks of the happiness of man in general, of the whole, physical, earthly, human man. And contemplation is not held up as one among other modes of happiness, even though an especially lofty one. Rather what is says is this: however the human craving for happiness may time and again be distracted by a thousand small gratifications, it remains directed unwaveringly toward one ultimate satisfaction which is in truth its aim. “Among a thousand twigs,” says Vergil in Dante’s universal poem, “one sweet fruit is sought.” The finding of this fruit, the ultimate gratification of human nature, the ultimate satiation of man’s deepest thirst, takes place in contemplation!

The Created Soul And Its Essence
The great teachers of the Occident have always contested (that nature and mind are exclusive concepts). They have steadfastly maintained that here is one being which is in a precise sense both mind and nature simultaneously. This being is the created human soul. “By nature” means : by virtue of creation. All being and activity is “by nature” which – from within the central core of things – flows directly out of the primal impulse of the act of creation, by which creatures have become what they are.
Part of the definition of the created soul, therefore, is that it has received its essence – and along with that its assignment in life – form elsewhere, ab alio, from the shaping and life-giving act of creation. It necessarily follows that in the center of the created soul something happens which is its own act, and therefore an act of mind, but simultaneously a natural process “by virtue of creation.” The desire for happiness is precisely this character; it is “willing by nature,” which is to say an act of the mind and a natural process at one and the same time.

Why Do You Want To Be Happy?
Those…who cannot accept the idea of a desire for happiness inherent in man’s composition; that idea appears to them a slur upon man’s autonomous spirit. Only if we understand man as a created being to the very depths of his spiritual existence can we meaningfully conceive that the will has not the power to not  want happiness. …First the natural desire springs from the innermost core of man’s being; it concerns man’s very own will, unrestricted by any coercion. Therefore it is free. …this desire points right through the human heart back to an ultimate origin which is not human.
Man has not by his own resolve set in motion his desire for happiness; it has not been given to him to desire otherwise. Therefore “freedom” is not the right term here…St. Thomas: The will strives in freedom for felicity, although it strives for it by necessity.” In desiring happiness, then, we are obeying a gravitational impulse whose axis is entirely within our own hearts. But we have no power over it – because we ourselves are this gravitational impulse. When we desire to be happy, something blind and obscure takes place within the mind, which nevertheless does not cease to be a light and seeing eye. Something happens “behind” which we cannot penetrate, whose reason we do not see, and for which we can name no reason. Why do you want to be happy? We do not ask because no one knows the answer.

Happiness Is A Gift
Because our turning toward happiness is a blind seeking we are, whenever happiness comes our way, the recipients of  something unforeseen, something unforeseeable, and therefore not subject to planning and intention. Happiness is essentially a gift; we’re not the forgers of our own felicity…Surely the “attainment of created good” can frequently be brought about by purposeful activity. By cleverness, energy, and diligence one can acquire a good many of the goods which are generally considered adjuncts of the happy life: food and drink house, garden, books, a rich and beautiful wife (perhaps). But we cannot make all these acquisitions, or even a single one of them, quench that thirst so mysterious to ourselves for what we call “happiness,” “reflected beatitude.” No one can obtain felicity by pursuit. This explains why one of the elements of being happy is the feeling that a debt of gratitude is owed, a debt impossible to pay. Now, we do not owe gratitude to ourselves. To be conscious of gratitude is to acknowledge a gift.

Stoic Self-Sufficiency As Happiness
Stoic self-sufficiency may still commando our respect and admiration. There is “greatness” in the unyielding resolve to desire only what is entirely ours, what we ourselves have acquired. As Seneca has expressed it, “The man is happy, we say, who knows no good that would be greater than that which he can give to himself.” Nevertheless the keener eye will not fail to observe behind all the brave banners and heroic symbols the profound non-humanity, the submerged anxiety, the senile rigidity, the tension of such an attitude. And our admiration becomes tinged with consternation and horror as it becomes apparent to us how closely such self-sufficiency verges on despair. “Suppose he lacks his miserable bread? What does that matter to one who lacks not the knowledge of how to go to his death?” (Seneca)

Happy By Virtue Of Being
When it is said that man by nature seeks happiness, the statement obviously implies that by nature he does not already possess it. “In the present life perfect happiness cannot be.” Man is not happy by virtue of his being. Rather his whole existence is determined precisely by the non-possession of ultimate gratification. That, after all, is the significance of the concept of status viatoris. To exist as man means to be “on the way” and therefore to be non-happy. …There is only one Being that is happy by His mere existence.  “To God alone may perfect beatitude be attributed, by virtue of His nature.”
The meaning of the statement is not solely that God is happy….He is his happiness…Any human being who is happy shares in a happiness that is not of himself. For God, however, being an being happy are one and the same; God is happy by virtue of His existence.

The Doctrine Of God’s Unassailable Happiness
“The beatitude of God consists not in the action by which He established the Creation but in the action by which He enjoys himself, needing not the Creation – creaturis non egens. (Aquinas). Belief that the world itself, its roots and the whole of it, is sound, plumb, and in order, could rest upon no firmer foundation than this doctrine of God’s unassailable happiness. If God were not happy, or if His happiness depended upon what happened in the human realm and not upon Himself alone, if His happiness were not beyond any conceivable possibility of disturbance; if there were not, in the Source of reality, this infinitely, inviolably sound Being – we would not be able even to conceive the idea of a possible healing of  the empirical wounds of Creation.
This is confirmed from another angle. The mind considering the course of the world, the mind seeking coherency and plunged more and more hopelessly into confusion by the incoherencies of the world, will in the end inevitably be tempted to  think (and this temptation comes precisely to the deepest and most consistent thinkers): God is not at one with Himself; God is not happy.
That confidence in the wholeness of being, on the other hand, which finds its ultimate support in the absolute happiness of God, is in no way an invalid simplification of historical reality. Rather, we may say that, far from simplifying things, it reveals them as enormously more complicated and tragic – since the incomprehensibility of evil in the world becomes fully apparent against the background of the indestructible happiness of God. Nevertheless, this belief means that as Paul Claudel has formulated it “The terrible words…. ‘In the end truth, perhaps, is sad.’ miss the underlying reality of the world; that, rather, “The great divine joy is the only reality.”

A Thirst For Happiness
Man as he is constituted, endowed as as he is with a thirst for happiness, cannot have his thirst quenched in the finite realm; and if he thinks or behaves as if that were possible, he is misunderstanding himself, he is acting contrary to his own nature. The whole world would not suffice this “natural” nature of man. If the whole world were given to him, he would have to say, and would say: It is too little. Too little, that is, to “gratify entirely the power of desire,” or in other words too little to make him happy….The long expected answer to (What would suffice this thirst of the whole human being?) is God….
(But) he interposes a concept (called) bonum universale. …Perhaps we may translate “the whole good” – goodness so very good that there is nothing in it which is not good, and nothing outside of it which could be good. Nothing than this bonum universale can quench completely and ultimately man’s deepest thirst… “The whole good cannot be found anywhere in the realm of created things; it is encountered in God alone.”

Joy And Happiness
Aquinas would say that Happiness without Joy is unthinkable; but joy and happiness are two different things. …Thomas takes it completely for granted that no full beatitude can be conceived without pleasure, gladness, enjoyment, rapture on the part of the physical, spiritual-sensual being which is man. How could the conceptions of physical well-being seriously be omitted by anyone who believes in the resurrection of the dead? …
We want to have reason for joy, for an unceasing joy that fills us utterly, sweeps us before it, exceeds all measure. This reason, if it exists, is anterior to joy, and is in itself something different from joy. “Joyousness” implies an “about something”; we cannot rejoice in the absolute; there is no joy for joy’s sake….Aquinas:  “Possession of the good is the causes of rejoicing.” This having and partaking of the good is primary; joy is secondary. Aquinas: “Therefore a person rejoices because he possesses a good appropriate to him – whether in reality, or in hope, or at least in memory. The appropriate good, however, if it is perfect, is precisely the man’s happiness…Thus it is evident that not even the joy which follows the possession of the perfect good is the essence of happiness itself…..All beings…desire joy for the sake of the good, and not the converse….Thus it follows that …every joy is consequent to a good and that there exists a joy consequent to that which is in itself the supreme good.”… The “supreme good” and its attainment – that is happiness. And joy is: response to happiness.

Our Participation In Happiness
What does indeed make us happy is the infinite and uncreated richness of God; but our participation in this, happiness itself, is entirely a “creatural” reality governed from within by our humanity; it is not something that descends overwhelmingly on us from outside. That is, it is not only something that happens to us; we are ourselves intensely active participants in our own happiness. …Happiness is an act and an activity of the soul. … But has it not been said that happiness is a gift? …(Aquinas’ reply:) If sight were given to a blind man, he would nevertheless see with his own sense of sight…Happiness is a form of acting which opens all the potentialities of man to fullest realization

An Activity Whose Effects Work Inward
Along with the doing of any work there is an effect which does emerge, but remains hidden within the doer himself, perhaps chiefly as a fruit of insight, as a verbum cordis. Perhaps this fruit can grow only in the course of a man’s dealing with the pliable or resistant matter of a garden, or potter’s clay, or marble; perhaps this is the only way in which it can grow And it may not be that in this processio ad intra in this inward fructation, lies the truly beatifying element which we rightly ascribe to all creative activity?
To repeat: the activity in which we receive the drink which is happiness is by its nature an activity whose effects work inward. This cannot be otherwise, for only in such activity does the acting person actualize himself. Action which reaches outward perfects thework rather than the person who acts. Under those circumstances what happens is that the perfection of the work “does not…include the creator; he is condemned to return to his  lesser ego.”

An Act Of The Intellect
“The essence of happiness consists in an act of the intellect.” …The fulfillment of the act takes place in the manner in which we become aware of reality; the whole energy of our being is ultimately directed toward attainment of insight. The perfectly happy person ….is one who sees…Man, physical, historical, “earthly” man, has a basic craving to see; strictly speaking he craves nothing else; …he lives purely as a see-er: in contemplation. ….Aquinas: “He is happy in that he has what he wants – which having, however, takes place by something other than an act of will.” …” “The happy life does not mean loving what we possess, but possessing what we love.” Possession of the beloved, Aquinas holds, takes place in an act of cognition, in seeing, in intuition, in contemplation. …Thomas is not alone is saying this. The same point is made by Augustine…
Old metaphysics was motivated chiefly by this one question: How is reality to be attained?…. Cognition is essentially seizure of the world, and grasping of reality.  To know is by the nature of knowing to have; there is no form of having in which the object is more intensely grasped…knowing is “the highest mode of having.”…
It is assimilation, the quite exact sense that the objective world, in so far as it is known, is incorporated into the very being of the knower. This indeed distinguishes cognitive from non-cognitive  being: the latter have nothing outside themselves, whereas the knower obtains a share in alien beings in that he knows them, that is to say, in that he takes them into himself and …possesses the “form:” of these alien beings. Material things have closed boundaries; they are not accessible, cannot be penetrated, by things outside themselves. But one’s existence as a spiritual being involves being and remaining oneself and at the same time admitting and transforming into oneself the reality of the world. No other material thing can be present in the space occupied by a house, a tree, or a fountain pen. But where there is mind, the totality of things has room; it is “possible that in a single being the comprehensiveness of the whole universe may dwell.” Aristotle: anima est quodammodo onmia, the soul is at the bottom all that is.” … “Eternal life is knowing Thee.” [John 17:3]

Love Is The Indispensable Premise Of Happiness
Happy is he who sees what he loves. It is only the presence of the thing or person loved that makes for happiness…without love there is no happiness…Love is the indispensable premise of happiness: …Love, then, is necessary for happiness; but it is not enough. Only the presence of what is loved makes us happy, and that presences is actualized by the power of cognition. …”Where love is, there is the eye.” …from the commentary Sentences written by a young Thomas Aquinas.
The meaning is that there are things which the lover alone observes; but above all, that the lover partakes of goods which are withheld from all others, which is to say that higher potentialities for happiness are open to him than to anyone else. Nevertheless, no matter what may be observable to his eye by virtue of love, the activity of the eye is still seeing and not loving…Contemplation is a knowing which is inspired by love….It is the living attainment of awareness. It is intuition of the beloved object.

Elements Of Contemplation
The first element of the concept of contemplation (is) the silent perception of reality. The second is the following: Contemplation is a form of knowing arrived at not by thinking but by seeing, intuition. ….it is a type of knowing which does not merely move toward its object, but already rests in it. The object is present – as a face or a landscape is present to the eye when the gaze “rests upon it.” In intuition there is no “future tension”, no desire directed toward the future, which desire corresponds with the nature of thinking. The person who knows by intuition has already found what the thinker is seeking; what he knows is present “before his eyes.”  This presence, however, this “spatial thereness,” may at any moment be converted into temporal “presence”, which is a tense-form of Eternity. …There inevitably intrudes into the midst of the peace of contemplation, the soundless call to another, infinitely profounder, incomprehensible, “eternal” peace. This is “the call to perfection of the imperfect, which call we name love.” (Aquinas)

Earthly Contemplation
Earthly contemplation …must be imagined as an inner gaze, undistracted by anything form the outside, but troubled within by the challenge to achieve a profounder but unattainable peace. It must be imagined as a satisfaction which desires nothing “else” and yet is not satisfied with itself because in its uttermost depths, yet insuperably remote, a still more complete satisfaction is sensed. This earthly existence can offer us an awareness of “the whole,” of the very essence of all that is “good” for us – a knowing of God, in other words which is the result neither of logical reasoning nor of simple faith. “Human happiness does not consist in the knowledge of God, which is to be had by logical demonstration.”….

Non-seeing “rather kindles the longing rather than gratifies it. The knowledge brought us by faith is knowledge of what is absent. Contemplation, however, including earthly contemplation, is able to quench man’s thirst more than anything else because it affords a direct perception of the presence of God; contemplation is the form in which we partake of the uttermost degree of happiness which this physical, historical existence of ours is capable of holding. “Imperfect beatitude, such as can be had here, consists primarily and principally in contemplation,” that is, in earthly contemplation. “As far as contemplation extends, so far does happiness extend.” …One corollary is that insightful knowledge, spiritual vision, intellectual intuition, is possible for man here on earth; that man’s method of grasping reality is not exclusively thinking, “mental labor…”  The epose of “simple intuition” does exist. This is by no means an incontrovertible assumption but to contest it is also to dismiss the idea of earthly contemplation…The inhumanity of totalitarian labor… based upon the fact… that man is considered as s “worker” even in his intellectual life; he is permitted spare time but no true repose.
Another premise is… we must in some manner be able to partake of the object of this act, the drink called happiness, which means that God is present in the world; He can appear “before the eyes” of one whose gaze is directed toward the depths of things…reality is a creation, and that consequently God is not “outside of the world,” not a Deus extramundanus, but the acting basis of everything that exists…For the Christian earthly contemplation means above all: that back of immediate phenomena, and within them, the Face of the incarnate Divine Logos is visible.

Contemplation Is Widespread
The common element in all the special forms of contemplation is the loving, yearning, affirming bent toward that happiness which is the same as God Himself, and which is the aim and purpose of all that happens in the world. The common element is an approach whose impetus bursts forth from the core of man’s being, feeds on the energy of man’s whole nature, and carries all the powers of that nature along in its dynamic movement. Within that common element the intrinsic force of the craving for happiness is united with the data of all the senses, with the play of the imagination, with the insights of reason, and with faith and the supernatural new life – both these last goods granted as free gifts. Without this love directed toward this object, the re is no true contemplation. Love alone makes it possible for contemplation to satiate the human heart with the experience of supreme happiness. ….
In contemplation, the multiple forces of human nature are always called upon, always at play, Who would wish to term “purely religious” the contemplation which underlies S. Francis of Assisi’s Song to the Sun, or the poems of St. John of the Cross? Nevertheless, it is true that such contemplation obviously has been kindled by meditation on the divine mysteries and by prayer….
The transfiguring experience of divine satiation can come to one in a host of ways. The most trivial of stimuli can bring one to this peak. And this being so, we are brought sharply to the arresting and indeed astounding realization – so opposed is it to everything we are in the habit of thinking about contemporary man – that contemplation is far more widespread among us today than appearances would indicate. The significant features of contemplation can be attained without anyone’s being conscious of it by that name. With this as a clue, more and more new forms of achieving contemplation manifest themselves.

Contemplation In The Precise Sense
Who among us has not looked into his child’s face, in the midst of the toils and troubles of everyday life, and at that moment “seen” that everything which is good, is loved and lovable, loved by God! Such certainties all mean, at bottom, one and the same thing: that the world is plumb and sound; that everything comes to its appointed goal; that in spite of all appearances, underlying all things is peace and salvation, Gloria; that nothing and no one is lost; that “God holds in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is.” Such non-rational, intuitive certainties of the divine base of all that is can be vouchsafed to our gaze even when it is turned toward the most insignificant–looking things, if only it is a gaze inspired by love. That, in the precise sense, is contemplation. And we should have the courage to admit its identity.

The Soul Takes Precedence Over The Eye
The precision of these entries (in Gerald Manley Hopkin’s Journals) proves, among other things, how little contemplation need by-pass or blur the reality of the visible world by, say, premature “symbolization.” Rather, contemplation directs its gaze straight at the heart of objects. In so doing, it perceives in the depths a hitherto hidden, nonfinite relationship. And in that perception lies the peculiar essence of contemplation.

But what actually happens when the soul, as it were, takes precedence over the eye? No one has yet succeeded in providing an adequate descriptive account of that process…part of the nature of contemplation (is) that it cannot be communicated, It takes place in the innermost recesses. There is no observer. And it is impossible to “set it down” because no energy of the soul is left unengaged….

G.K. Chesterton, considering his life in retrospect, said that he had always had the almost mystical conviction of the miracle in all that exists, and of the rapture dwelling essentially within all experience. Within this statement lie three separate assertions: that everything holds and conceals at bottom a mark of its divine origin; that one who catches a glimpse of it “sees” that this and all things are “good” beyond all comprehension; and that, seeing this, he is happy. Here in sum is the whole doctrine of the contemplation of earthly creation.

The Active/Political/Practical Life
The active life contains a felicity of its own; it lies, says Aquinas, principally in the practice of prudence, in the perfect art of the conduct of life. But ultimate repose cannot be found in this kind of felicity …the ultimate meaning of the active life is to make possible the happiness of contemplation. …Aristotle: The whole of political life seems to be ordered with a view to attaining the happiness of contemplation. For peace, which is established and preserved by virtue of political activity, places man in a position to devote himself to contemplation of the truth.”….practical life if not only meaningful but indispensable; it rightly fills out man’s weekday life; that without it a truly human existence is inconceivable. Without it, indeed, the vita contemplativa is unthinkable…. “The truth is that as soon as we are no longer obliged to earn our living, we no longer know what to do with our life and recklessly squander it. (Andre Gide) “One thing is clear: when something is finished, it must be perfect –but what then?” (Gottfried Benn)

Common Features Of The Contemplative Man And The Happy Man
With great sureness of insight, the ancients have asserted that in the contemplative man may be found all the things which distinguish the happy man; and that ordinary speech attributes to both the same characteristics….
For example there is simplicitas, that simplicity peculiar to the gaze of contemplation. The whole energy of the seeing person gathers into a single look…. “Man’s happiness is based upon there being for him an indisputable truth.” (Nietzsche)  Here, in cognition, truth and happiness are conjoined under the aspect of simplicity. Disputation involves pros and cons, arguments and counterarguments, variety of points of view, yes and no. But an indisputable truth, not something that is merely not disputed out of mental sluggishness or doggedness, but a truth which is immune even to interior dispute – that is the simplicitas of possession. … (Aquinas:) man is not capable of an act continuing without interruption. But happiness is not happiness if it does not endure forever without loss; happiness demands eternity…
“There is always one thing which makes for happiness:…the capacity to feel unhistorically.” (Nietzsche)….the happy man needs nothing and no one…It was true of the Christian martyrs, of whom it is told that not even torture could tear them from the happiness of contemplation….Finally repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, form unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not happy…Contemplation’s very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness. Moreover it itself actualizes this freedom by virtue of being intuition.

Concupiscence Of The Eyes
(Aristotle): “We prefer seeing to all else.”  If we did not already know that joy in seeing must be counted among the most elemental, irrepressible, coveted joys of mankind, we could deduce it from the everyday phenomenon of “concupiscence of the eyes.” the hypertrophy of visual curiosity, the morbidity of the contemporary craving to see. We can deduce from the extent of this degeneration which, it seems is imperiling specifically our most elemental and precious powers …” (Aquinas) This, incidentally, may suggest that the greatest menace of our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul….

All The Labor And History Of Man Crowned Only In Intuition
In his memoirs ..George Santayana relates how he used to accompany a friend versed in art through the great picture galleries of the world. And seeing his friend standing, completely absorbed and enraptured, in front of a masterpiece, he thought and says with great earnestness, and with the clear intent of stating a philosophical thesis: “My own load was lifted, and I saw how instrumental were all the labor and history of man, to be crowned, if crowned at all, only in intuition.

The World Unredeemable?
No one who thinks of the world as at bottom unredeemable can accept the idea that contemplation is the supreme happiness of man. Neither happiness nor contemplation is possible except on the basis of consent to the world as a whole. This consent has little to do with “optimism.”  It is consent that may be granted amid tears and the extremes of horror.


Benedict’s Faith II: Beyond Moralism, God is Love

August 19, 2010

A continuation of yesterday’s post…

Bourgeois Pelagianism And The Pelagianism Of The Pious
He wants it to be more obvious that there is actually nothing very romantic or liberating and ultimately really erotic about laissez-faire sex, while, conversely, those whose lives seek an integration of eros and agape paradoxically end up closer to achieving the Romantic ideal of a life narrative which is not only true and good but beautiful. For this to happen, however, the Church has to get her own house in order and here Ratzinger observes that other strains of the Jansenist virus continue to weaken her constitution. In particular he speaks of the twin pathologies of bourgeois Pelagianism and the Pelagianism of the pious. He describes the mentalite of the bourgeois Pelagian as follows: “If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others: I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that.”  

This attitude is a modern version of ‘acedia’ — a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzschean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic. Here Ratzinger is using the adjective ‘bourgeois’ to describe an attitude to life which sociologists like Werner Sombart (1863-1941) and Max Weber (1864-1920) have associated with the upwardly mobile entrepreneurial classes.

It is a technical sociological term and should not be construed as meaning that to belong to any particular class is spiritually defective. Ratzinger himself was from a lower middle-class family. Similarly, the use of the word ‘aristocratic’ in this context means a personality type which prefers the excellent over the serviceable. Here it does not mean ‘born with a title’. Both Sombart and Weber regarded Protestant cultures as ‘bourgeois’ and Catholic cultures as ‘aristocratic’ and ‘erotic’. Weber thought that this helped to explain why Protestant cultures were wealthier. Catholics spent too much time either on their knees praying or around a table feasting. Protestants were more sensible and pragmatic. Their rituals were less elaborate and time consuming, leaving more time for work and making money.

Contrary to the bourgeois spirit Ratzinger argues that the Christian is the person who does not calculate. A Christian with an authentic spirituality does not ask “How much farther can I go and still remain within the realm of venial sin, stopping short of mortal sin?” Rather, the Christian is the one who simply seeks what is good, without any calculation. In this one can hear an echo of the French writer Georges Bernanos, well known as the author of The Diary of a Country Priest and The Dialogues of the Carmelites. Bernanos remarked that “the moment a person feels the need to consult the casuists in order to know the amount starting from which stealing money may be considered a mortal sin, we may say that his social value is nil, even if he abstains from stealing.” In contrast one can find an example of an erotic and aristocratic disposition in the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola:

To give, and not to count the cost,
to fight, and not to heed the wounds, to toil,
and not to seek for rest, to labour,
and not to ask for any reward
save that of knowing that we do thy will.

The Pelagianism of the pious shares the property of not seeing any need for repentance and forgiveness and it is also quite pragmatic, but it falls into another Augustinian category of spiritual disorder, known as presumption:

They [pious Pelagians] want security, not hope. By means of a tough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayers and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love — the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved. The denial of hope in favor of security that we are faced with here rests on the inability to bear the tension of waiting for what is to come and to abandon oneself to God’s goodness.

The Pelagianism of the pious is also part of a broader cultural quest for self-sufficiency. Here Ratzinger speaks of a desire to get rid of all reliance on other people and their inner tension. Just as the Enlightenment sought to reduce religion to morality, he believes that a second reduction is taking place. Morality is being narrowed to the concept of human well-being. The self-help, self-healing, and self-motivating strategies of the New Age Movement are but one prominent example of this reduction. Ratzinger believes that this is farther evidence of a loss of belief in creation and without an understanding of human life as a divinely created gift the door is open for its commercialization. Here all Ratzinger can do is to reiterate the creedal Christian position: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed; each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” His response to the whole raft of contemporary medical practices which treat the human person in some sense as a commodity is encapsulated in the following paragraph:

“To fabricate man and make him a product of our chemical arts or any other technology is a fundamental attack on the dignity of man, who is no longer considered, no longer realized as an immediate creature of God and his immortal vocation. It is essential to respect the unique dignity of man, who is wanted and created immediately by God, through a new miracle of creation. Through cloning the human person becomes our product, a product of our art: thus his dignity as a human person is violated from the start.”

The Treatment Of Homosexuality
The loss of belief in creation and the related idea of there being an intelligent pattern in creation is also linked to the treatment of homosexuality within the Catholic tradition, which Ratzinger as prefect of the CDF upheld in a number of documents. Ratzinger believes that God inscribed “instructions for use” objectively and indelibly in his creation and, consequently, “nature, and with it precisely also man himself, so far as he is part of that created nature, contain that morality within themselves.” For the Church “the language of nature is also the language of morality.” He regards homosexual practices as completely contrary to these “instructions for use” inscribed by God indelibly in his creation:

The call for homosexual partnerships to receive a legal form that is more or less the equivalent of marriage departs from the entire moral history of mankind… If this relationship [marriage] becomes increasingly detached from legal forms, while at the same time homosexual partnerships are increasingly viewed as equal in rank to marriage, we are on the verge of a dissolution of our concept of man, and the consequences can only be extremely grave.

None the less, in this context he has always been careful to distinguish between, the immorality of homosexual acts and the unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, between tolerance and affirmation, and between an unintended homosexual tendency and individual homosexual actions. The most significant document here is entitled ‘Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons’. It includes the following propositions:

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder…It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object ‘of violent malice in speech and in action.. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and law…There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.

The Relationship Between Masculinity And Femininity In The Order Of Creation
Apart from overseeing the promulgation of CDF documents Ratzinger has not devoted much attention to anthropological questions about the relationship between masculinity and femininity in the order of creation. This is more in the territory of the work of Angelo Scola, the leading Italian Communio-circle scholar who is now the patriarch of Venice. The following principles can be found in the works of Scola and have been brought together by David L. Schindler in an essay on Catholic theology and gender. Given the general closeness of the thought of Scola to that of Benedict they may serve as guideposts to Benedict’s likely general approach in this area:

1.  The gender difference should be seen as a perfection.

2.  While Aristotle anchored the meaning of feminine in ‘matter’ and in ‘potency’ rather than in ‘act’, and while Aquinas followed Aristotle on this point, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr anchored the meaning already in ‘act’.

3.  This means that, for those who follow von Balthasar and von Speyer, femininity is a perfection, not a defect.

4.  Men and women are both created in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God, in and through Jesus Christ. What this means is that each images the whole of the Trinity but does so differently.

5.  Men and women are not two halves destined to merge so as to regenerate a lost unity. The dual unity of the sexes does not signify the symmetrical reciprocity as Aristophanes supposed in Plato’s Symposium.

6.  Every form of chauvinism contradicts the creative design.

The work of Scola seeks to link considerations of the nature of femininity and masculinity into the framework of Trinitarian theology. He has argued that a culture that does not accept the Revelation of the Trinitarian God ultimately renders itself incapable of understanding sexual difference in a positive sense. The Trinity is the model par excellence of a relationship of equality within difference. Scola believes that without a Trinitarian theism, or with a merely theistically colored theism, the feminine sex usually ends up being perceived as defective. All of this is consistent with the general approach of Deus Caritas Est.

Sexual Difference Within Contemporary Culture
Ratzinger has also spoken of a kind of extreme denial of the importance and value of sexual difference at work within contemporary culture. He speaks of a technological rationalism that pushes the emotional side of human nature to the irrational periphery and allots a merely instrumental role to the body. Against this he states that the body is not something external to the spirit, it is the latter’s self-expression: its ‘image’.

He notes that Plato would put men and women into barracks and place their children in a state-mn nursery. He thinks this represents a mental condition of despising the body, a kind of spiritualism that refuses to recognize that the body itself is the person. He believes that this kind of egalitarianism actually diminishes the status of women; they are ‘dragged down’ to being ‘undistinguished and ordinary’. It ‘horrifies’ him that people want women to be soldiers and to work as refuse collectors or miners.

Universal Salvation
In his series of essays published in 2005 under the title On the Way to Jesus Christ Ratzinger was critical of a prevalent image of Jesus as someone who “demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us.” The fact that God is love and that Benedict wishes to highlight this dimension of the tradition should not therefore be construed as evidence that he is a universal Salvationist, that is, someone who believes that everyone will be saved. He is firm in his statements that hell and purgatory do exist and he expects that some people do occupy them:

There is no quibbling: the idea of eternal damnation which had taken ever clearer shape in the Judaism of the century or two before Christ has a firm place in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in the apostolic writings. Dogma takes stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of Hell and of the eternity of its punishments.

Hell Is A Challenge To Oneself  And Purgatory
Ratzinger links this stance to God’s unconditional respect for the freedom of his creatures. None the less he also notes that for many of the saints, including St. John of the Cross and St Thérèse of Lisieux, hell is not so much a threat to be hurled at other people as a challenge to oneself to suffer the dark night of the soul that conies with Christian faith. Ratzinger has also been influenced by Joachim Gnilka’s theology of purgatory for which he finds scriptural support in Corinthians 3: 10-15 and the support of the magisterium, most particularly at the Council of Trent.

According to Gnilka, “the purification involved does not happen through some thing, but through the transforming power of the Lord himself, whose burning flame cuts free our closed-off heart, melting it, and pouring it into a new mould to make it fit for the living organism of the body.” By this reading: “Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where man is forced to undergo punishment in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints.”

Ratzinger further notes that the doctrine on the existence of an inter-mediate state was never in dispute between the eastern and western branches of Christianity. It was only called into question by the Reformation in the face of what he calls “objectionable and deformed practice,” such as the sale of indulgences. Ratzinger firmly believes that it is effectual to pray for those in purgatory because “self-substituting love is a central Christian reality and the doctrine of purgatory holds that for such love the limit of death does not exist.” As pope he has affirmed the practice of offering indulgences (though not, of course, in return for money).

Ratzinger also believes that it is not wrong to speak of the immortality of the soul, even though sonic academics have argued for its scrapping and replacement with the concept ‘resurrection in death’. He describes this project as a manifestation of an “anti-Hellenic syndrome skeptical of ontology”, and the phrase ‘resurrection in death’ as something of no pastoral value:

In Lieu of The Concept Of Soul
Historically, it must be affirmed that the concept of soul found in Christian tradition is in no sense a simple borrowing from philosophical thought. In the form in which Christian tradition has understood it, it exists nowhere without that tradition. Christian tradition has seized upon pre-existing insights, elements of thought and language of diverse kinds, has purified and transformed these in the light of faith, and fused them into a new unity.

Although Ratzinger clearly believes in heaven, hell, and purgatory, his works do not specifically make a list of the kind of behavior that may land one in hell. Significantly, however, he does make it clear that he rejects the theory that those who with a clear conscience commit heinous crimes will probably be saved:

It is indisputable that one must always follow a clear verdict of conscience, or at least that one may not act against such a verdict. But it is quite a different matter to assume that the verdict of conscience (or what one takes to be such a verdict is always correct, i.e. infallible — for if that were so, it would mean there is no truth, at least in matters of morality and religion, which are the foundations of our very existence.

The authority commonly presented for a liberal interpretation of the primacy of conscience is Newman’s statement in his Letter Addressed to his Grace the Duke of Norfolk that he would toast conscience first, then the papacy. This is usually interpreted to mean that he put the authority of his own conscience above that of the pope’s. None the less, Ratzinger offers a completely different interpretation.

He says that Newman intended this to be a clear confession of his faith in the papacy, in response to the objections raised by British Liberal Party politician William Gladstone (1809-1898) to the dogma of infallibility. At the same time, against erroneous forms of ultramontanism (unhealthily bloated accounts of the ambit of papal infallibility), he meant it to be an interpretation of the papacy as an office which guarantees, rather than opposes, the primacy of conscience. In other words, Newman was making the point, which Ratzinger himself made prior to assuming the Office of Peter, that the pope cannot do whatever he likes, that the exercise of his prerogative powers are circumscribed by both Scripture and Tradition, that is, by the very data upon which a well—formed conscience relies. Ratzinger suggests that it is difficult today for people to grasp this point because they think on the basis of an antithesis between authority and subjectivity.

Ratzinger Own Account Of Conscience
In addition to offering a correction of the popular interpretation of Newman, Ratzinger has also sought to offer his own account of conscience which he thinks clarifies the medieval tradition. He agrees with the medieval tradition that there are two dimensions to conscience which must be clearly distinguished from each other but remain inseparable, and he believes that problems of interpretation have frequently arisen because scholars neglect either the distinction or the interrelatedness of the two dimensions.

The main stream of medieval scholasticism described the two dimensions of conscience by means of the concepts synderesis and conscientia. The word synderesis is of Stoic provenance and Ratzinger prefers to replace it with the Platonic concept anamnesis (memory). He suggests that this is linguistically clearer, deeper, and purer in philosophical terms.

The word “anamnesis” affirms St Paul’s idea that God’s laws have been written on the hearts of the gentiles (Romans. 2: 14-15) and St Basil’s idea of there being a spark of the divine love innate in each person. St Basil wrote that “the love of God is not based on some discipline imposed on us from outside, but as a capacity and indeed a necessity it is a constitutive element of our rational being.” Consequently, on what Ratzinger calls the ontological level, ‘conscience’ means the primal remembrance of the good and the true.

The second dimension or level is conscientia. Here Ratzinger argues that St Thomas saw conscience, not as a habitus, but as an actus, an action that is performed. It is on this level that an erring conscience obligates. None the less, Ratzinger argues that the fact that one’s conviction is naturally binding at the moment one acts does not mean that one is free of culpability, since “guilt may very well consist in arriving at perverse convictions by trampling down the protest made by the memory (anamnesis) of one’s true being.” The guilt would then lie on a deeper level, not in the act itself, not in the specific judgment pronounced by conscience, but in that neglect of my own being that has dulled me to the voice of truth and made me deaf to what it says within me.

Thus an immoral act is still an immoral act, even if one’s poorly formed conscience permits it. Ratzinger notes that if a person with an erring conscience could be saved then even the SS troops under Hider could be justified and now would be in heaven. He surely thinks that they are more likely not enjoying the beatific vision. Finally, in this context, as a matter of intellectual history, Ratzinger believes that problems have arisen over the meaning of conscience because of the publication of a work in 1942 by Antonin D. Sertillanges OP in which he attributed to St Thomas the teaching of Peter Abelard (1079-1142), although St Thomas’s goal was to refute Abelard. In Ratzinger’s judgment, the modern theories of the autonomy of conscience vis-à-vis the magisterium can appeal to Abelard but not to Thomas.

The Antidote To Moralism
Ratzinger believes that the antidote to moralism and the narrowing of moral theology to mere casuistry is the revival of an understanding that God is love and that the human person is a composite of body and soul, heart and mind, created in God’s own image. It is therefore consistent with his general orientation to the whole territory of ethics that Benedict has called on the Jesuits, the traditional foes of the Jansenists, to rekindle devotion to the Sacred Heart. He has described the 1956 encyclical Haurietis aquas of Pius XII as offering a theology of bodily existence. He believes that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus explicitly invites entry into a spirituality involving the senses, corresponding to the bodily nature of the divine-human love of Jesus Christ. This, he says, is spirituality in the sense of Newman’s motto:

Cor ad cor loquitur “Over against the Stoic ideal of apatheia, over against the Aristotelian God, who is thought thinking itself, the heart is the epitome of the passions, without which there could have been no Passion on the part of the Son.”

Finally, in a reflection on his early patron, Cardinal Frings, Ratzinger has written that Frings and Newman shared a spiritual vision which is encapsulated in the following paragraph from the late fourth-century Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa:

This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment; nor to do good because we hope for rewards. . . On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honour and desire.

This spirituality would seem to be at the core of Ratzinger’s moral theology.


Ratzinger’s Faith: Beyond Moralism, God is Love

August 18, 2010

Reading Selections (Part One) from a chapter of Tracey Rowland’s carefully researched tour or Joseph Ratzinger’s intellectual development titled Ratzinger’s Faith . Associate Professor Tracey Rowland, Dean of the Melbourne John Paul II Institute, is described by Cardinal Pell in the foreword to this book as making progress towards “becoming Australia’s leading theologian.” 

What is the real substance of Christianity that goes beyond moralism?
In a series of sermons preached at the Cathedral of Munster to members of the student chaplaincy in 1964 Ratzinger posed the question: ‘What actually is the real substance of Christianity that goes beyond mere moralism?” The term moralism generally refers to the Kantian rationalist tendency to reduce Christianity to the dimensions of an ethical framework, or to equate faith with obeying a law. Lorenzo Albacete has described it as a modem form of Pelagianism, a belief in salvation through good works and obedience which he suggests can only be overcome by a ‘proper theology of grace in which grace is not presented as something added to and external to the natural law itself [as some Neo-Scholastics would have it], but rather as the possibility of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

In such a theology of grace ‘it is not life according to the natural law or to ethics that saves and fulfils us: more radically, it involves a relationship of Communion with the Person of Jesus Christ. This is essentially the response which the young Ratzinger gave to his own question in the third of his Munster sermons. Ratzinger proposed that the antidote to moralism is the theology of the First Letter of St. John: God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. A theology focused on divine love was his solution.

And Forty-Two Years Later…
Forty-two years later, as a newly elected pope, he published the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, the first paragraph of which announces that being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. The Dei Verbum understanding of Revelation is reiterated here and added to it is a critique of moralism which builds on themes in von Balthazar’s Love Alone is Credible.

Luigi Giussani Influence
It also resonates with the works of Luigi Giussani (1922-2005) who founded the Italian ecclesial movement Communione e liberazione in 1969 in the wake of the outbreak of enthusiasm for Marxism among Italian students and intellectuals. The movement has since produced many significant Italian politicians, journalists, and scholars, the most notable being Rocco Buttiglione (1948- ), an Italian Christian Democrat politician and professor of political science. In his funeral eulogy for Giussani, Ratzinger praised him for understanding that ‘Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story; it is an event. This, in a nutshell, is the message of Deus Caritas Est.

von Balthasar’s ‘Perichoresis’
According to Ratzinger, von Balthasar, and others in the Communio school, the practice of the faith in the pre-conciliar era was hampered by moralism. They take the view that the problems which arose in the post-conciliar were not simply the result of a spreading infection of the 1960s secular liberal virus but were more fundamentally the logical outgrowth of a centuries-long process separating the true and the beautiful from the good. Von Balthasar used the Greek word ‘perichoresis’ for a type of circular dance to describe the Trinitarian relationships which ideally should exist among these three properties (truth, beauty, and goodness), described in philosophical parlance as transcendentals. It was one of his key arguments that at least since the time of the Reformation the relationships among the three have been systematically severed.

Differently defective accounts of human dignity, moral behavior, and spiritualities have followed according to which transcendental is left standing when the others drop out. We can end up with immoral aesthetes at one end of the spectrum, and unattractive and iconoclastic puritans at the other, as well as people who get ‘hooked’ on dogma but who are none the less not very charitable to their neighbors, and people who are kind hearted but ignorant of the truth, together with numerous other permutations and combinations depending on which transcendental or combination of transcendentals is lacking. In any event, when this disjuncture occurs the transcendental of unity is lacking. In the absence of a Christian culture in which the relationship of the transcendentals to one another is clearly visible and culturally embodied, the temptation to moralism is strong.

In von Balthazar’s account of the destruction of the perichoresis of the transcendentals particular emphasis is placed on the problems inherent within the Neo-Scholasticism of the Counter-Reformation, typified by the separation between theoretical and affective theology: While “the theoretical theology of the baroque era proceeded from a fixed “teaching of the Church” as object [the Suárezan insistence on doctrinal propositions] and therefore missed the spiritual, existential dimension which runs through everything biblical; the affective theology of the baroque missed the biblical center and proceeded mystically instead of eschatologically.”

According to this reading the problems faced by the Church in the 1960s and subsequent decades were caused as much by tendencies in post-Aquinas scholasticism as they were by the neo-Dionysian sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll pop culture which arose in the 1960s. Catholic culture was unable to withstand the onslaught of the neo-Dionysians because of an insufficient integration of spirituality and dogma. Consistent with this reading is Peter Henrici’s judgment that a specifically modern Catholic theology existed between Trent and Vatican II. It did not suddenly arise at Vatican II.

The Kantian and Jansenist Tendencies
In significant elements of post Tridentine Catholic culture, the practice of Christian life consisted largely of duties that were performed because one was obliged to do so: “moved by a kind of Christian Pharisaism, Christian existence had become viewed as a meritorious achievement that God commands and by virtue of which one is able to please him.” In short, the very Protestant Kant had become ‘a secret father of the Church.’

The Kantian emphasis upon duty and the notion of the moral as that which is done out of a sense of obligation rather than for the satisfaction of any affection, or even in accordance with any tradition, shares a logical affinity with Jansenism, a quasi-Calvinist heresy which infected the Church in France, Ireland, and countries of the New World where Irish missionaries (who had themselves been infected by the influx of Jansenist clergy from France in. the eighteenth century) were deployed. The two movements (Jansenism and Kantianism) arose in different centuries and in different intellectual cultures, and although Kantian ethics is based on an exaltation of the faculty of reason, and it appears to be the dialectical opposite of Jansenism with its intensely pessimistic outlook for the capacities of fallen human nature, the two movements share the property of making obedience to a legislator (even if in Kant’s case the legislator is reason itself) the driving force behind moral action. They also share the dialectical affinity for fostering a humanism without a religion (the project of Kant), and a religion without a humanism (the effect of Jansenius).

In his various essays Ratzinger has shown that he both understands and is disturbed by the spiritual pathologies which Kantian and Jansenist tendencies have generated among the faithful. After the Council, when a majority of avant-garde theologians seemed to believe that there are no moral absolutes, the hitherto sharp focus on right moral conduct tended to blur. The point which Ratzinger and von Balthasar made was that there could not have been such an implosion of Catholic moral practices within such a short frame of time unless there was something deeply flawed about the motivations behind the pre-conciliar practices.

They concluded that people in the pre-conciliar era had a tendency to live prescriptively, not because they believed that the moral injunctions were life-giving, not because they could see truth, goodness, and beauty in the practices themselves, but because of a fear of eternal damnation. Once the fear was eliminated the motivation holding up the practice dissipated. Referring to the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew. 20: 1-6), Ratzinger wrote: ‘What a strange attitude it is that we no longer find Christian service worthwhile if the denarius of salvation may be obtained even without it!” He added that “becoming a Christian is not taking out an insurance policy, it is not the private booking of an entry ticket to heaven.” Rather, “in its simplest and innermost form, faith is nothing but reaching that point in love at which we recognize that we, too, need to be given something.”

Jansenists And The ‘Maladie Catholique’
Ratzinger has also been acutely aware of the problems generated by Jansenism in the realm of sexuality. He has noted that towards the end of the nineteenth century French psychiatrists coined the phrase ‘maladie catholique’ to describe a “special neurosis that is the product of a warped pedagogy so exclusively concentrated on the Fourth and Sixth Commandments that the resultant complex with regard to authority and purity renders the individual incapable of free self-development.”  Such an experience of faith “leads, not to freedom, but to rigidity and an absence of freedom.”

The maladie was not only fostered by prurient boarding school masters who traumatized teenagers with threats of eternal punishment for moments of impurity, but it was also fostered by the pre-conciliar marriage manuals which reduced the whole complex territory of sexuality to a calculus of marital dues and contractual obligations. Here Ratzinger has been strong in his criticism of the pre-conciliar manualist tradition for its ‘decided rationalism’ which marginalized sacred Scripture and Christology. It ‘no longer allowed people to see the great message of liberation and freedom given to us in the encounter with Christ’ but rather stressed above all the negative aspect of so many prohibitions, so many ‘no’s.

While he acknowledges that these are present in Catholic ethics, he regrets that they were no longer presented for what they really are: the actualization of a great ‘yes.’ Moreover, while biblical citations ‘decorated’ the discourse here and there, the manuals placed an emphasis on natural-law-based casuistry whose appeal was limited to those with a positivist or legalistic mindset or those who were simply fearful of committing sin and looking for moral ‘certitude.’ The casuistry certainly provided guidelines and answers but not a deep understanding of the intrinsic beauty, truth, or goodness of the Christian moral life.

The Pre-Conciliar Manualist Tradition And Post-Conciliar Ethical Traditions
Notwithstanding the conciliar hope that ‘a renewed moral theology would go beyond the natural law system in order to recover a deeper biblical inspiration’, Ratzinger believes that it was precisely moral philosophy that ended by marginalizing sacred Scripture even more completely than the pre-conciliar manualist tradition. While Scripture was absent de facto (according to fact) in the manualist tradition, it was marginalized de iure (according to law) in post-conciliar ethical traditions. It was claimed that Scripture offers only a horizon of intentions and motivations, but it does not enter into the moral contents of action. These contents are left properly to human rationality. Such a conception was then translated into the claim that “ethics is purely rational, so that, in order to open itself to universal communicability and to enter into the common debate of humanity, ethics ought to be constructed solely on the basis of reason.”

God And Rationality
Against these Kantian tendencies, Ratzinger holds that even the Ten Commandments are not to be interpreted first of all as law, but rather as a divine gift. They are not about precepts circumscribed within themselves. They are a dynamic that is open to an ever greater and deeper understanding. Moreover, Ratzinger stresses that Christians cannot prescind from the explicit theism of the first tablet of the Ten Commandments which begins: “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before Me.” Christians “cannot yield on this point: without God, all the rest would no longer have any logical coherence.”

As Ian Markham put it: “You cannot assume a rationality and then argue that there is no foundation to that rationality. Either God and rationality go or God and rationality stay. Either Nietzsche or Aquinas, that is our choice.” Ratzinger would no doubt quibble with equating the Christian option solely with Thomism, but he certainly shares the belief, so succinctly put by Markham, that natural law does not run, so to speak, without theological presuppositions. This point has been argued strongly by the Augustinian scholar Ernest Fortin (1923-2002) and by classical Thomists like Russell Hittinger.

In effect this means that a Catholic account of morality cannot ultimately be successfully defended at the Bar of eighteenth-century-style rationality, jurisdictional questions aside, because that tribunal is fundamentally flawed, as post-modems agree. Positively, however, it does mean that in these post-modern times the battleground moves from the field of ‘pure reason’ and ‘pure nature’ to the theatre of the gods. It becomes your god against my God. Apollo and Dionysius face Christ. At least in many academies the rationalistic shadow-boxing is now passé, though it continues in courtrooms arid government bureaucracies where the dominance of liberal political assumptions precludes any appeal to first principles.

The strongest assertion to be made from the side of Apollo and Dionysius is that they affirm life. They give their blessing to human creativity. They offer a vision of humanism which treats originality and individuality as goods. They take a liberal attitude to sexuality. In sharp contrast they claim that Christ opposed eros  and fostered a religion in which the highest place goes to the celibate male priest who suppresses his sexuality and individuality and even sacrifices his own judgment and creativity to the orders of others in an ecclesial hierarchy with military standards of obedience and self-sacrifice.

Eros And Agape
It is to this charge that Benedict XVI addresses himself in the first part of Deus Caritas Est. Against Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that Christianity killed eros  he declares that eros  and agape are not two distinct realities: there is a symbiotic relationship between the two; one cannot function properly separated from the other.

In support of this reading Angelo Scola concludes that ‘the fulfillment promised by amorous experience has nothing automatic or magic about it; it cannot be produced by ritual gestures or magic practices that avoid our having to commit our personal freedom’, rather “the erotic dimension of love, which does not ask my permission to happen, is fulfilled only in the agapic dimension of gratuitous self-giving.” Unless agape fructifies Eros  it simply dies. Experiments with Eros  which deprive the person of his or her dignity, which commodifies or otherwise dehumanize the person, which treat a person as a mere means to the achievement of some desire of another without any reciprocal self-giving, or which denigrate the body to the status of a mechanical object, cut short the ascent to the divine which is the work of agape. In these situations Eros  ultimately becomes sterile and boring.

Sexuality And Romantic Courtship
Applying this theology one concludes that for Benedict XVI the sexual revolution of the 1960s should be opposed, not on the basis of archaic casuistry, not because sexuality is merely a means to the end of procreation, but rather because the underlying vision of the dignity and meaning of human sexuality offered by 1960s Freudians, Nietzscheans, and New Age sex therapists is really not truly erotic. It is not only destructive of human dignity and integrity but it takes the pathos out of the whole experience. It trivializes sex and undermines romance and courtly love because both romance and courtship presuppose spiritual chivalry. Being prepared for heroic self-sacrifice for the good of another is the very essence of chivalry and the very antithesis of the morality of Nietzsche’s supermen or the feminist superwornan. Just as God and rationality either stay together or reason goes off on its own tangent and becomes violent, sexuality and romantic courtship either remain together or sexuality goes off on its own tangent and becomes banal and depressing. If, in the Nietzschean tradition, all experience is a good in itself, then Benedict XVI can respond that among other things the Nietzschean sola erotica stance operates so as to narrow the range of possible human experiences.

Benedict therefore tends to look on the post-sexual revolution generations with paternal pity, especially those who now belong to the second and even third generation for whom notions like romance, chivalry, courtship, and lifelong love and fidelity are often no longer a part of their memory and personal experience but are at best academic. Members of alphabetically described Generations X and Y often lack the sapiential experience of seeing eros  and agape working together. For many the only advice they were given is that of how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Benedict believes that this situation is not only robbing youth of the chance of forming successful lifelong partnerships, but it is actually sapping the joy from this axiological moment of their life:

Thus today we often see in the faces of the young people a remarkable bitterness, a resignation that is far removed from the enthusiasm of youthful ventures into the unknown. The deepest root of this sorrow is the lack of any great hope and the unattainability of any great love: everything one can hope for is known, and all love becomes the disappointment of finiteness in a world whose monstrous surrogates are only a pitiful disguise for profound despair.

In drawing together the roles of Eros  and agape into a symphonic harmony, and gutting the Catholic tradition of every last remnant of Jansenism which no doubt made Nietzsche’s claim that Christianity killed Eros credible to a generation brought up on the idea that holy people become nuns and priests while the spiritually defective class get married.

Benedict XVI And The Theology Of The Body
Benedict XVI has built on the theology of the body of John Paul II. In his Love and Responsibility and the series of Wednesday papal audiences which came to be labelled the Theology Of The Body, John Paul II launched the first papal assault on the root causes of the maladie catholique. They were the first antidote to the Jansenist and Stoic treatment of sexuality and marital intimacy. They affirmed the intrinsic goodness of human sexuality and placed it within a whole Trinitarian framework encapsulated in the expression ‘the nuptial mystery’. Jansenism was a self-inflicted wound in the life of the Church. Once it has been seen off the stage, the way lies open to commence a battle to reclaim Eros  which the Church, too beset with internal problems at the time, did not undertake in 1968.

While Paul VI at least anticipated many of the problems which would arise if the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexual intimacy were severed, and while Ratzinger agrees with him on this issue, Ratzinger none the less concedes that the theology behind Humanae vitae was ‘relatively slim’. Karol Wojtyla was also of the view that in the midst of the media furor which followed the promulgation of Humanae vitae, authors of various articles and publications spoke out on behalf of a misguided concept of natural law as biological regularity and they in turn “imposed upon the Holy Father, and along with him upon the magisterium of the Catholic Church, an understanding of natural law that in no way corresponds to the Church’s understanding of it.”

Wojtyla’s 1969 essay ‘The Teaching of the Encyclical Humanae vitae on Love’ tried to undo some of the damage by placing the whole encyclical in a context of a theology of love which he later expanded during the early years of his pontificate. Instead of using Stoic categories to analyze marriage and sexuality Wojtyla spoke of love as a gift of the self; of spousal love being the paradigmatic gift of the self, and of the Trinity as the archetype of such a gift.

Michael Waldstein, who has undertaken the definitive translation of John Paul II’s Theology Of The Body lectures, interprets them as an explicitly Trinitarian response to what he terms “Kant’s anti-trinitarian personalism.” Whereas Kant’s personalism glorifies the autonomy of the individual person as ‘the only true value to which everything else must be subordinated’, and whereas for Kant “fatherhood is the worst despotism imaginable and sonship the worst slavery’, within Wojtyla’s personalism there is no glorification of autonomy and no opposition to the situation of dependency that exists in the normal father and son relationship.

Instead human dignity is rooted in a Trinitarian paradigm. Persons can only be understood in a relationship of mutual self-giving. According to John Paul II, the ability to understand these things is undermined by the effects of Cartesian rationality. As Waldstein puts it, “the claim is that the nature of sex has become invisible through our Cartesian glasses.” John Paul II tried to remedy this blindness with his critique of Kantian autonomy and his insistence that the highest meaning of the human body and sexual intimacy is to be found in nothing less than the nuptial mystery of the Trinity. Here we find foreshadowed Benedict’s argument that eros  and agape belong together and that God’s way of loving is the measure of human love.

In article 11 of Deus Caritas Est Benedict declares that ‘marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love is the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa’ and that this close connection between eros  and marriage in the Bible “has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.” It was not some hypothesis doing the rounds of all the tribes of the ancient Middle East but was something uniquely special about the revelation of the Old Testament, reaffirmed and elevated in the new dispensation.

Benedict’s strategy is therefore not so much to prove that Christian ethics are more rational than the alternatives, but to exhort married Christians to demonstrate in culturally embodied practices that they are more true, good, and beautiful; as it were, more erotic:

[In classical times] Christians were able to demonstrate persuasively how empty and base were the entertainments of paganism, and how sublime the gift of faith in the God who suffers with us and leads us to the road of true greatness. Today it is a matter of the greatest urgency to show a Christian model of life that offers a liveable alternative to the increasingly vacuous entertainments of leisure-time society, a society forced to make increasing recourse to drugs because it is sated by the usual shabby pleasures.

Benedict XVI And God Is Love
In short, Ratzinger thinks that Christians will be victorious here because “the actual advance registered by the Christian idea of God over that of the ancient world lies in its recognition that God is love.” No one else has a god who is so much for love. No other tradition begins with a baby in a stable whose birth is announced by a choir of angels and who receives gifts from kings and homage from shepherds while cattle keep Him warm with their breath.

The example Ratzinger chooses to illustrate the principle is taken from the Council of Trent. At that time the Catholic practice of holding Corpus Christi processions was opposed by Protestants who had rejected the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, preferring to regard the sacred host as a mere symbol. The response of the fathers at Trent was that processions “must show forth the triumph of the truth in such a way that, in the face of such magnificence and such joy on the part of the whole Church, the enemies of the truth will either fade away or, stricken with shame, attain to insight.”

Ratzinger suggests that if we remove the polemical element about enemies of the Church being stricken with shame, what we have left is this: “the power in virtue of which truth carries the day can be none other than its own joy.” This is essentially his strategy for dealing with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He wants it to be more obvious that there is actually nothing very romantic or liberating and ultimately really erotic about laissez-faire sex, while, conversely, those whose lives seek an integration of eros and agape paradoxically end up closer to achieving the Romantic ideal of a life narrative which is not only true and good but beautiful.


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