Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Faith, Always a New Act

This 1995 essay by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) is a marvelous piece to meditate on today. Faith and communion, freedom and personal integration in God are relevant topics in our era where there is a lack of understanding of the basics of Christian faith. Without mentioning his name and his work, the author points to Msgr. Giussani’s Communion and Liberation and other ecclesial movements.

 

Let me begin with a brief story from the early postconciliar period. The Council documents – particularly the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, but also the decrees on ecumenism, on mission, on non-Christian religions, and on freedom of religion – had opened up broad vistas of dialogue for the Church and theology. New issues were appearing on the horizon, and it was becoming necessary to find new methods. It seemed self-evident that a theologian who wanted to be up to date and who rightly understood his task should temporarily suspend the old discussions and devote all of his energies to the new questions pressing in from every side.

 

At about this time, I sent a small piece of mine to Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar
HUB.jpgreplied by return mail on a correspondence card, as he always did, and, after expressing his thanks, added a terse sentence that made an indelible impression on me: Do not presuppose the faith but propose it. This was an imperative that hit home. Wide-ranging exploration of new fields was good and necessary, but only so long as it issued from, and was sustained by, the central light of faith.

 

Faith is not maintained automatically. It is not a “finished business” that we can simply take for granted. The life of faith has to be constantly renewed. And since faith is an act that comprehends all the dimensions of our existence, it also requires constantly renewed reflection and witness. It follows that the chief points of faith – God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and sin, sacraments and Church, death and eternal life -are never outmoded. They are always the issues that affect us most profoundly. They must be the permanent center of preaching and therefore of theological reflection. The bishops present at the 1985 Synod called for a universal catechism of the whole Church because they sensed precisely what Balthasar had put into words in his note to me. Their experience as shepherds had shown them that the various new pastoral activities have no solid basis unless they are irradiations and applications of the message of faith. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. This is the purpose of the Catechism. It aims to propose the faith in its fullness and wealth, but also in its unity and simplicity.

 

What does the Church believe? This question implies another: Who believes, and how does someone believe? The Catechism treats these two main questions, which concern, respectively, the “what” and the “who” of faith, as an intrinsic unity. Expressed in other terms, the Catechism displays the act of faith and the content of faith in their indivisible unity. This may sound somewhat abstract, so let us try to unfold a bit what it means. We find in the creeds two formulas: “I believe” and “We believe.” We speak of the faith of the Church, of the personal character of faith and finally of faith as a gift of God, as a “theological act”, as contemporary theology likes to put it. What does all of this mean?

 

Faith is an orientation of our existence as a whole. It is a fundamental option that affects every domain of our existence. Nor can it be realized unless all the energies of our existence go into maintaining it. Faith is not a merely intellectual, or merely volitional, or merely emotional activity -it is all of these things together. It is an act of the whole self, of the whole person in his concentrated unity. The Bible describes faith in this sense as an act of the “heart” [Romans 10:9].

 

Faith is a supremely personal act. But precisely because it is supremely personal, it
St Augustine6.jpgtranscends the self, the limits of the individual. Augustine remarks that nothing is so little ours as our self. Where man as a whole comes into play, he transcends himself; an act of the whole self is at the same time always an opening to others, hence, an act of being together with others (Mitsein). What is more, we cannot perform this act without touching our deepest ground, the living God who is present in the depths of our existence as its sustaining foundation.

 

Any act that involves the whole man also involves, not just the self, but the we-dimension, indeed, the wholly other “Thou”, God, together with the self. But this also means that such an act transcends the reach of what I can do alone. Since man is a created being, the deepest truth about him is never just action but always passion as well; man is not only a giver but also a receiver. The Catechism expresses this point in the following words: “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life.” Paul’s description of his experience of conversion and baptism alludes to faith’s radical character: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” [Galatians 2,20]. Faith is a perishing of the mere self and precisely thus a resurrection of the true self. To believe is to become oneself through liberation from the mere self, a liberation that brings us into communion with God mediated by communion with Christ.

 

So far, we have attempted, with the help of the Catechism, to analyze “who” believes, hence, to identify the structure of the act of faith. But in so doing we have already caught sight of the outlines of the essential content of faith. In its core, Christian faith is an encounter with the living God. God is, in the proper and ultimate sense, the content of our faith. Looked at in this way, the content of faith is absolutely simple: I believe in God. But this absolute simplicity is also absolutely deep and encompassing. We can believe in God because he can touch us, because he is in us, and because he also comes to us from the outside. We can believe in him because of the one whom he has sent “Because he has ‘seen the Father,’ ” says the Catechism, referring to John 6:56, “Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him”. We could say that to believe is to be granted a share in Jesus’ vision. He lets us see with him in faith what he has seen.

 

This statement implies both the divinity of Jesus Christ and his humanity. Because Jesus is the Son, he has an unceasing vision of the Father. Because he is man, we can share this vision. Because he is both God and man at once, he is neither merely a historical person nor simply removed from all time in eternity. Rather, he is in the midst of time, always alive, always present.

 


Trinity Rublev.jpgBut in saying this, we also touch upon the mystery of the Trinity. The Lord becomes present to us through the Holy Spirit. Let us listen once more to the Catechism: “One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit . . . Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God.” It follows from what we have said that, when we see the act of faith correctly, the single articles of faith unfold by themselves. God becomes concrete for us in Christ. This has two consequences. On the one hand, the triune mystery of God becomes discernible; on the other hand, we see that God has involved himself in history to the point that the Son has become man and now sends us the Spirit from the Father. But the Incarnation also includes the mystery of the Church, for Christ came to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” [John 1:52]. The “we” of the Church is the new communion into which God draws us beyond our narrow selves [cf. John 12:32]. The Church is thus contained in the first movement of the act of faith itself. The Church is not an institution extrinsically added to faith as an organizational frame work for the common activities of believers. No, she is integral to the act of faith itself The “I believe” is always also a “We believe.” As the Catechism says, “‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ a ‘We believe.'” We observed just now that the analysis of the act of faith immediately displays faith’s essential content as well: faith is a response to the triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can now add that the same act of faith also embraces God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, his theandric mystery, and thus the entirety of salvation history. It further becomes clear that the People of God, the Church as the human protagonist of salvation history, is present in the very act of faith. It would not be difficult to demonstrate in a similar fashion that the other items of belief are also explications of the one fundamental act of encountering the living God. For by its very nature, relation to God has to do with eternal life. And this relation necessarily transcends the merely human sphere. God is truly God on1y if he is the Lord of all things. And he is the Lord of all things oo1y if he is their Creator. Creation, salvation history and eternal life are thus themes that flow directly from the question of God. In addition, when we speak of God’s history with man, we also imply the issue of sin and grace. We touch upon the question of how we encounter God, hence, the question of the liturgy, of the sacraments, of prayer and morality.

 

But I do not want to develop all of these points in detail now; my chief concern has been precisely to get a glimpse of the intrinsic unity of faith, which is not a multitude of propositions but a full and simple act whose simplicity contains the whole depth and breadth of being. He who speaks of God, speaks of the whole; he learns to discern the essential from the inessential, and he comes to know, albeit oo1y fragmentarily and “in a glass, darkly” [I Corinthians 13:12] as long as faith is faith and not yet vision, something of the inner logic and unity of all reality.

 

Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the question we mentioned at the beginning of our reflections. I mean the question of how we believe. Paul furnishes us with a remarkable and extremely helpful statement on this matter when he says that faith is an obedience “from the heart to the form of doctrine into which you were handed over” [Romans 6:17]. These words ultimately express the sacramental character of faith, the intrinsic connection between confession and sacrament. The Apostle says that a “form of doctrine” is an essential component of faith. We do not think up faith on our own. It does not come from us as an idea of ours but to us as a word from outside. It is, as it were, a word about the Word; we are “handed over” into this Word that reveals new paths to our reason and gives form to our life.

 

We are “handed over” into the Word that precedes us through an immersion in water symbolizing death. This recalls the words of Paul cited earlier: “I live, yet not I”‘; it reminds us that what takes place in the act of faith is the destruction and renewal of the self. Baptism as a symbolic death links this renewal to the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be handed over into the doctrine is to be handed over into Christ. We cannot receive his word as a theory in the same way that we learn, say, mathematical formulas or philosophical opinions. We can learn it only in accepting a share in Christ’s destiny. But we can become sharers in Christ’s destiny only where he has permanently committed himself to sharing in man’s destiny: in the Church. In the language of this Church we call this event a “sacrament”. The act of faith is unthinkable. without the sacramental component.

 

These remarks enable us to understand the concrete literary structure of the Catechism. To believe, as we have heard, is to be handed over into a form of doctrine. In another passage, Paul calls this form of doctrine a confession [cf. Romans 10:9]. A further aspect of the faith-event thus emerges. That is, the faith that comes to us as a word must also become a word in us, a word that is simultaneously the expression of our life. To believe is always also to confess the faith. Faith is not private but something public that concerns the community. The word of faith first enters the mind, but it cannot stay there: thought must always become word and deed again. The Catechism refers to the various kinds of confessions of faith that exist in the Church: baptismal confessions, conciliar confessions, confessions formulated by popes.

 

Each of these confessions has a significance of its own. But the primordial type that serves as a basis for all further developments is the baptismal creed. When we talk about catechesis, that is, initiation into the faith and adaptation of our existence to the Church’s communion of faith, we must begin with the baptismal creed. This has been true since apostolic times and therefore imposed itself as the method of the Catechism, which, in fact, unfolds the contents of faith from the baptismal creed. It thus becomes apparent how the Catechism intends to teach the faith: catechesis is catechumenate. It is not merely religious instruction but the act whereby we surrender ourselves and are received into the word of faith and communion with Jesus Christ.

 

Adaptation to God’s ways is an essential part of catechesis. Saint Irenaeus says a propos of this that we must accustom ourselves to God, just as in the Incarnation God accustomed himself to us men. We must accustom ourselves to God’s ways so that we can learn to bear his presence in us. Expressed in theological terms, this means that the image of God – which is what makes us capable of communion of life with him – must be freed from its encasement of dross. The tradition compares this liberation to the activity of the sculptor who chisels away at the stone bit by bit until the form that he beholds emerges into visibility.

 

Catechesis should always be such a process of assimilation to God. After all, we can only know a reality if there is something in us corresponding to it. Goethe, alluding to Plotinus, says that “the eye could never recognize the sun were it not itself sunlike. The cognitional process is a process of assimilation, a vital process. The “we”, the “what” and the “how” of faith belong together.

 

This brings to light the moral dimension of the act of faith, which includes a style of humanity we do not produce by ourselves but that we gradually learn by plunging into our baptismal existence. The sacrament of penance is one such immersion into baptism, in which God again and again acts on us and draws us back to himself Morality is an integral component of Christianity, but this morality is always part of the sacramental event of “Christianization” (Christwerdung) an event in which we are not the sole agents but are always, indeed, primarily, receivers. And this reception entails transformation.

 

The Catechism therefore cannot be accused of any fanciful attachment to the past when it unfolds the contents of faith using the baptismal creed of the Church of Rome, the so-called “Apostles’ Creed”. Rather, this option brings to the fore the authentic core of the act of faith and thus of catechesis as existential training in existence with God.

 

Equally apparent is that the Catechism is wholly structured according to the principle of the hierarchy of truths as understood by the Second Vatican Council. For, as we have seen, the creed is in the first instance a confession of faith in the triune God developed from, and bound to, the baptismal formula. All of the “truths of faith” are explications of the one truth that we discover in them. And this one truth is the pearl of great price that is worth staking our lives on: God. He alone can be the pearl for which we give everything else. Dio solo basta, he who finds God has found all things. But we can find him only because he has first sought and found us. He is the one who acts first, and for this reason faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church and of the sacraments. Everything that is said in the Catechism is an unfolding of the one truth that is God himself – the “love that moves the sun and all the stars”.


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[From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism. Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 23-34. Original title: Evangelium, Katechese, Katechismus. Streiflichter auf den Katechismus der katholischen Kirche ©Verlag Neue Stadt 1995.

Saint Paul and the Resurrection


Resurrection2.jpgDear brothers and sisters:

“And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. … You are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17). With these heavy words of the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul makes clear how decisive is the importance that he attributes to the resurrection of Jesus. In this event, in fact, is the solution to the problem that the drama of the cross implies. On its own, the cross could not explain Christian faith; on the contrary, it would be a tragedy, a sign of the absurdity of being. The Paschal mystery consists in the fact that this Crucified One “was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4) — thus testifies the proto-Christian witness.

Here is the central key to Pauline Christology: Everything revolves around this gravitational center point. The whole teaching of the Apostle Paul departs from and always arrives at the mystery of the One whom the Father has risen from the dead. The Resurrection is a fundamental fact, almost a previous basic assumption (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12), in base of which Paul can formulate his synthetic proclamation (“kerygma”): He who has been crucified, and who has thus manifested the immense love of God for man, has risen and is alive among us.

It is important to note the link between the proclamation and the Resurrection, just as Paul formulates it, and that which was used in the first pre-Pauline Christian communities. Here one can truly see the importance of the tradition that preceded the Apostle and that he, with great respect and attention, wanted in turn to convey. The text on the Resurrection, contained in Chapter 15:1-11 of the First Letter to the Corinthians, emphasizes well the nexus between “receive” and “transmit.” St. Paul attributes great importance to the literal formulation of tradition; the end of the fragment we are examining highlights: “Whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:11), thus spotlighting the unity of the kerygma, of the proclamation for all believers and for all those who would announce the resurrection of Christ.

The tradition to which he unites is the fount from which to draw. The originality of his Christology is never in detriment to fidelity to tradition. The kerygma of the apostles always prevails over the personal re-elaboration of Paul; each one of his arguments flows from the common tradition, in which the faith shared by all the Churches, which are just one Church, is expressed.

And in this way, Paul offers a model for all times of how to do theology and how to preach. The theologian and the preacher do not create new visions of the world and of life, but rather are at the service of the truth transmitted, at the service of the real fact of Christ, of the cross, of the resurrection. Their duty is to help to understand today, behind the ancient words, the reality of “God with us,” and therefore, the reality of true life.

Here it is opportune to say precisely: St. Paul, in announcing the Resurrection, does not
St Paul preaching.jpgconcern himself with presenting an organic doctrinal exposition — he does not want to practically write a theology manual — but rather to take up the theme, responding to uncertainties and concrete questions that are posed him by the faithful. An episodic discourse, therefore, but full of faith and a lived theology. A concentration of the essential is found in him: We have been “justified,” that is, made just, saved, by Christ, dead and risen, for us. The fact of the Resurrection emerges above all else, without which Christian life would simply be absurd. On that Easter morning something extraordinary and new happened, but at the same time, something very concrete, verified by very precise signs, attested by numerous witnesses.

Also for Paul, as for the other authors of the New Testament, the Resurrection is united to the testimony of those who have had a direct experience of the Risen One. It is about seeing and hearing not just with the eyes and the ears, but also with an interior light that motivates recognizing what the external senses verify as an objective datum. Paul therefore gives — as do the four Evangelists — fundamental relevance to the theme of the apparitions, which are a fundamental condition for faith in the Risen One who has left the tomb empty.

These two facts are important: The tomb is empty and Jesus really appeared. Thus is built this chain of tradition that, by way of the testimony of the apostles and the first disciples, would reach successive generations, up to us. The first consequence, or the first way to express this testimony, is preaching the resurrection of Christ as a synthesis of the Gospel message and as the culminating point of the salvific itinerary. All of this, Paul does on various occasions: One can consult the Letters and the Acts of the Apostles, where it can always be seen that the fundamental point for him is being a witness of the Resurrection.

I would like to cite just one text: Paul, under arrest in Jerusalem, is before the Sanhedrin as one accused. In this circumstance in which life and death are at stake, he indicates the meaning and the content of all his concern: “I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). Paul repeats this same refrain often in his Letters (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9ff, 4:13-18; 5:10), in which he invokes his personal experience, his personal encounter with the resurrected Christ (cf. Galatians 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 9:1).

But we can ask ourselves: What is, for St. Paul, the deep meaning of the event of the resurrection of Jesus? What does he say to us 2,000 years later? Is the affirmation “Christ has risen” also current for us? Why is the Resurrection for him and for us today a theme that is so determinant?

Paul solemnly responds to this question at the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, where he makes an exhortation referring to the “gospel of God … about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).

Paul knows well and he says many times that Jesus was the Son of God always, from the moment of his incarnation. The novelty of the resurrection consists in the fact that Jesus, elevated from the humility of his earthly existence, has been constituted Son of God “with power.” The Jesus humiliated till death on the cross can now say to the Eleven: “All power on heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). What Psalm 2:8 says has been fulfilled: “Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.”

That’s why with the resurrection begins the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to all peoples — the Kingdom of Christ begins; this new Kingdom that does not know another power other than that of truth and love. The Resurrection therefore definitively reveals the authentic identity and the extraordinary stature of the Crucified: An incomparable and most high dignity — Jesus is God! For St. Paul, the secret identity of Jesus, even more than in the incarnation, is revealed in the mystery of the resurrection. While the title “Christ,” that is, “Messiah,” “Anointed,” in St. Paul tends to become the proper name of Jesus and that of Lord specifies his personal relationship with the believers, now the title Son of God comes to illustrate the intimate relationship of Jesus with God, a relationship that is fully revealed in the Paschal event. It can be said, therefore, that Jesus has risen to be the Lord of the living and the dead (cf. Romans 14:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:15) or, in other words, our Savior (cf. Romans 4:25).


Jesus.jpgAll of this carries with it important consequences for our life of faith: We are called to participate from the depths of our being in the whole of the event of the death and resurrection of Christ. The Apostle says: We “have died with Christ” and we believe “that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Romans 6:8-9).

This translates into sharing the sufferings of Christ, as a prelude to this full configuration with him through the resurrection, which we gaze upon with hope. This is also what has happened to Paul, whose experience is described in the Letters with a tone that is as much precise as realistic: “to know him and the power of his resurrection and (the) sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11; cf. 2 Timothy 2:8-12). The theology of the cross is not a theory — it is a reality of Christian life. To live in faith in Jesus Christ, to live truth and love implies renunciations every day; it implies sufferings. Christianity is not a path of comfort; it is rather a demanding ascent, but enlightened with the light of Christ and with the great hope that is born from him.

St. Augustine says: Christians are not spared suffering; on the contrary, they get a little extra, because to live the faith expresses the courage to face life and history more deeply. And with everything, only in this way, experiencing suffering, we experience life in its depth, in its beauty, in the great hope elicited by Christ, crucified and risen. The believer finds himself between two poles: on one side, the Resurrection, which in some way is already present and operative in us (cf. Colossians 3:1-4; Ephesians 2:6), and on the other, the urgency of fitting oneself into this process that leads everyone and everything to plenitude, as described in the Letter to the Romans with audacious imagination: As all of creation groans and suffers near labor pains, in this way we too groan in the hope of the redemption of our body, of our redemption and resurrection (cf. Romans 8:18-23).

In sum, we can say with Paul that the true believer obtains salvation professing with his lips that Jesus is Lord and believing in his heart that God has raised him from the dead (cf. Romans 10:9). Important above all is the heart that believes in Christ and in faith “touches” the Risen One. But it is not enough to carry faith in the heart; we should confess it and give testimony with the lips, with our lives, thus making present the truth of the cross and the resurrection in our history.

In this way, the Christian fits himself in this process thanks to which the first Adam, earthly and subject to corruption and death, goes transforming into the last Adam, heavenly and incorruptible (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20 – 22:42-49). This process has been set in motion with the resurrection of Christ, in which is founded the hope of being able to also enter with Christ into our true homeland, which is heaven. Sustained with this hope, let us continue with courage and joy.

 

Pope Benedict XVI


anno Paolino logo.jpgWednesday Audience

November 2, 2008

Courtesy of Zenit.org

Reading Revelation and the Cosmos: a participation in Divine Truth

Yesterday, Pope Benedict addressed members attending the Plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Clementine Room at the Apostolic Palace. The tells us that faith and reason are not in opposition to each other, that we don’t make and sustain ourselves¬†and that our work is valuable in trying to understand human nature and our relationship with God.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to greet you, the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your Plenary Assembly, and I thank Professor Nicola Cabibbo for the words he has kindly addressed to me on your behalf.

In choosing the topic Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life, you seek to focus on an area of enquiry which elicits much interest. In fact, many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.
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In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the¬†world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.

To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).


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To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos.

Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

The distinction between a simple living being and a spiritual being that is capax Dei, points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject. Thus the Magisterium of the Church has constantly affirmed that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). This points to the distinctiveness of anthropology, and invites exploration of it by modern thought.

Distinguished Academicians, I wish to conclude by recalling the words addressed to you by my predecessor Pope John Paul II in November 2003: “scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine Truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God’s Revelation about man, a Revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ. For this important mutual enrichment in the search for the truth and the benefit of mankind, I am, with the whole Church, profoundly grateful”.

Upon you and your families, and all those associated with the work of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom and peace.

Pope: the Scriptures are a fact of the Church

The concluding homily of Pope Benedict for the Synod of Bishops on the Word of
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God on Sunday, 26 October 2008, Rome.

 

 

Brothers in the Episcopacy and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Word of the Lord, which echoed in the Gospel earlier, reminded us that all of Divine Law is summarized in love. Matthew the Evangelist tells that the Pharisees, after God answered the Sadduceans closing their mouths, met to put Him to test (cf. 22:34-35). One of them, a doctor of law, asked Him: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” (22:36). The question allows one to see the worry, present in ancient Hebrew tradition, of finding a unifying principle for the various formulations of the Will of God. This was not an easy question, considering that in the Law of Moses, 613 precepts and prohibitions are contemplated. How to find which is the most important one among these? But Jesus has no hesitation, and answers promptly: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment” (22:37-38). Jesus quotes the Shemà in His answer, the prayer the pious Israelite recites several times a day, especially in the morning and in the evening (cf. Dt 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Nb 15:37-41): the proclamation of whole and total love due to God, as the only Lord. Emphasis is put on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul and mind. The word mind, diánoia, contains the rational element. God is not only the object of love, commitment, will and feelings, but also the intellect, which should not be excluded from this. Our thinking must conform to God’s thinking. Then, however, Jesus adds something which, in truth, had not been asked by the doctor of law: “The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself” (22:39). The surprising aspect of Jesus’ answer consists in the fact that He establishes a similarity between the first and the second commandments, defined this time with a Biblical formula drawn from the Levitic code of holiness (cf. Lv 19:18) as well. And therefore, the two commandments are associated in the role of main axis upon which all of Biblical Revelation rests: “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too” (22:40).

The Evangelical page we are focusing on sheds light on the meaning of being disciples of Christ which is practicing His teachings, that can be summarized in the first and greatest commandment of Divine Law, the commandment of love. Even the First Reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, insists on the duty of love; a love witnessed concretely in relationships between persons: they must be relationships of respect, collaboration, generous help. The next to be loved is the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the indigent, that is to say those citizens that are without a “defender”. The holy author goes into details, as in the case of the object pawned by one of these poor persons (cf. Ex 22:25-26). In this case, God Himself is the guarantor for the person’s situation.


St Paul apostle.jpgIn the Second Reading, we can find a concrete application of the supreme commandment of love in one of the first Christian communities. Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians, leading them to understand that, while having known them for such a short time, he appreciated them and bore affection in his heart for them. Because of this, he points to them as “an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Th 1:6-7). There is no lack of weaknesses or problems in this recently founded community, but love overcomes all, renews all, wins over all: the love of who, knowing their own limits, docilely follows the words of Christ, the Divine Teacher, transmitted through one of His faithful disciples. “You took us and the Lord as your model, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in spite of great hardship”, the Apostle wrote. He continued: “since it was from you that the word of the Lord rang out — and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for your faith in God has spread everywhere” (1 Th 1:6.8). The lesson that we can draw from the experience of the Thessalonians, and experience that is a common factor in every authentic Christian community, is that love for the neighbor is born from the docile listening to the Divine Word and accepts also hardships for the truth of the divine word and thus true love grows and truth shines. It is so important to listen to the Word and incarnate it in personal and community existence!

In this Eucharistic Celebration, which closes the work of the Synod, we feel, in a particular way, the bond that exists between the loving hearing of the word of God and disinterested service towards the brothers. How many times, in the past few days, have we heard about experiences and reflections that underline the need emerging today for a more intimate hearing of God, of a truer knowledge of His Word of Salvation; of a more sincere sharing of faith which is constantly nourished at the table of the Divine Word! Dear and Venerable Brothers, thank you for the contribution each of you offered in discussing the theme of the Synod: “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church”. I greet you all with great affection. A special greeting goes to the Cardinals, the Delegate Presidents of the Synod and the General Secretary, whom I thank for their constant dedication. I greet you, dear brothers and sisters, who came from every continent bringing your enriching experience. In returning home, give everyone an affectionate greeting from the Bishop of Rome. I greet the Fraternal Delegates, the Experts, the Auditors and the Invited Guests: the members of the General Secretariat of the Synod, all those who worked with the press. A special thought goes for the Bishops of Continental China, who could not be represented during this Synodal assembly. I would like to speak on behalf of them and thank God for their love for Christ, their communion with the universal Church and their faithfulness to the Successor of the Apostle Peter. They are present in our prayers, along with all the faithful who are entrusted to their pastoral care. We ask the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pt 5:4) to give them apostolic joy, strength, and zeal to guide, with wisdom and far-sightedness, the Catholic community of China so dear to all of us.

All of us who have taken part in the work of the Synod will carry with us the renewed knowledge that the Church’s principal task, at the start of this new millennium, is above all to nourish ourselves on the Word of God, in order to make more effective new evangelization, the announcement of our times. What is needed now is that this ecclesial experience reach every community; we have to understand the necessity of translating the Word we have heard into gestures of love, because this is the only way to make the Gospel announcement credible, despite the human weaknesses that mark individuals. What this requires first of all is a more intimate knowledge of Christ and an ever-more docile acceptance of his Word.

In this Pauline year, making the words of the Apostle our own: “I should be in trouble if I failed to [preach the Gospel]” (1 Cor 9:16), I hope with all my heart that in every community this yearning of Paul’s will be felt with ever more conviction as a vocation in the service of the Gospel for the world. At the start of the Synod, I recalled the appeal of Jesus: “The harvest is rich” (Mt 9:37), an appeal we must never tire of responding to whatever difficulties we might encounter. So many people are searching for, sometimes unwittingly, the meeting with Christ and His Gospel; so many have to find in Him a meaning for their lives. Giving clear and shared testimony to a life according to the Word of God, witnessed by Jesus, therefore becomes an indispensable criterion to verify the mission of Christ.


Emmaus Duccio.jpgThe Readings the liturgy offers us today to meditate on remind us that the fullness of the law, as of all the Divine Scriptures, is love. Therefore anyone who believes they have understood the Scriptures, or at least a part of them, without undertaking to build, by means of their intelligence, the twofold love of God and neighbor, demonstrates that in reality they are still a long way from having grasped its deeper meaning. But how should we put into practice this commandment, how can we live the love of God and our brothers without a living and intense contact with the Holy Scriptures? Vatican Council II asserts it is necessary that “easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful” (Cost. Dei Verbum, 22), so that persons, on meeting the truth, may grow in authentic love. This is a requisite that today is indispensable for evangelization. And since often the encounter with Scriptures is in danger of not being “a fact” of the Church, but informed by subjectivity and arbitrariness, a robust and credible pastoral promotion of the knowledge of Holy Scripture, to announce, celebrate and live the Word in the Christian community, becomes indispensable, dialoguing with the cultures of our time, placing ourselves at the service of truth and not of current ideologies, and increasing the dialogue God wishes to have with all men (cf ibid 21). With this in mind, special care should be paid to the preparation of pastors, ready then to take whatever action is necessary to spread Biblical activity with appropriate means. Ongoing efforts to give life to the Biblical movement among lay people should be encouraged, along with the formation of group animators, with particular attention being paid to the young. We must also support the effort to allow faith to be known through the Word of God to those who are “far away” as well and especially those who are sincerely looking to give a meaning to their lives.

Many other reflections should be added, but I will limit myself to underlining that the privileged place where the Word of God rings out, that builds the Church, as has been said many times during the Synod, is undoubtedly the liturgy. In this is where it appears that the Bible is a book of a people and for a people; an inheritance, a testament handed over to readers so that they can put into practice in their own lives the history of salvation witnessed in the text. There is therefore a reciprocal relationship of vital belonging between the people and the Book: the Bible remains a living Book with the people which is its subject which reads it; the people cannot exist without the Book, because it is in it that they find their reason for living, their vocation and their identity. This mutual belonging between people and Holy Scripture is celebrated in every liturgical ceremony, which, thanks to the Holy Spirit, listens to Christ since it is He who speaks when the Scripture is read in the Church and welcomes the Covenant that God renews with his people. Scripture and liturgy converge, therefore, with the single aim of bringing the people to dialogue with the Lord and to the obedience of the Lord’s Will. The Word that leaves the mouth of God, witnessed in the Scriptures, returns to Him in the shape of prayerful response, of a living answer, of an answer of love (cf Is 55:10-11).


Virgin of the Annunciation Angelico.jpgDear brothers and sisters, let us pray that from this renewed listening to the Word of God, guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, an authentic renewal of the universal Church may spring forth, as well as of every Christian community. We entrust the fruits of this Synodal Assembly to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary. I also entrust to Her the II Special Assembly of the Synod for Africa, that will take place in Rome in October of next year. Next March I intend to go to Cameroon to deliver the Instrumentum laboris of that Synodal Assembly to the representatives of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa. From there, God willing, I will go on to Angola to celebrate solemnly the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of that country. Most Holy Mary, who offered your life up as the “servant of the Lord”, so that everything would happen in accordance with the divine will (cf Lk 1:38) and who told us to do whatever Jesus tells us to do (cf Jn 2:5), teach us to recognize in our lives the primacy of the Word that alone can grant us salvation. Amen!

Pope Benedict’s address to the Synod of Bishops

During the Fourteenth General Congregation, Tuesday morning 14 October 2008, after
B16.jpgthe pause, the Holy Father Benedict XVI intervened with a reflection on the Synodal theme.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the work for my book on Jesus offers ample occasion to see all the good that can come from modern exegesis, but also to recognize the problems and risks in it. Dei Verbum 12 offers two methodological indications for suitable exegetic work. In the first place, it confirms the need to use the historical-critical method, briefly describing the essential elements. This need is the consequence of the Christian principle formulated in Jn 1:14 Verbum caro factum est. The historical fact is a constitutive dimension of Christian faith. The history of salvation is not a myth, but a true story and therefore to be studied with the same methods as serious historical research.

However, this history has another dimension, that of divine action. Because of this Dei Verbum mentions a second methodological level necessary for the correct interpretation of the words, which are at the same time human words and divine Word. The Council says, following a fundamental rule for any interpretation of a literary text, that Scripture must be interpreted in the same spirit in which it was written and thereby indicates three
Holy Spirit2.jpgfundamental methodological elements to bear in mind the divine dimension, the pneumatology of the Bible: one must, that is 1) interpret the text bearing in mind the unity of the entire Scripture; today this is called canonical exegesis; at the time of the Council this term had not been created, but the Council says the same thing: one must bear in mind the unity of all of Scripture; 2) one must then bear in mind the living tradition of the whole Church, and finally 3) observe the analogy of faith. Only where the two methodological levels, the historical-critical and the theological one, are observed, can one speak about theological exegesis – of an exegesis suitable for this Book. While the first level today’s academic exegesis works on a very high level and truly gives us help, the same cannot be said about the other level. Often this second level, the level constituted of the three theological elements indicated by Dei Verbum seems to be almost absent. And this has rather serious consequences.

The first consequence of the absence of this second methodological level is that the Bible becomes a book only about the past. Moral consequences can be drawn from it, one can learn about history, but the Book only speaks about the past and its exegesis is no longer truly theological, becoming historiography, the history of literature. This is the first consequence: the Bible remains in the past, speaks only of the past. There is also a second even more serious consequence: where the hermeneutics of faith, indicated by Dei Verbum, disappear, another type of hermeneutics appears of necessity, a secularized, positivistic hermeneutics, whose fundamental key is the certitude that the Divine does not appear in human history. According to this hermeneutic, when there seems to be a divine element, one must explain where it came from and bring it to the human element
Resurrection.jpgcompletely. Because of this, interpretations that deny the historicity of divine elements emerge. Today, the so-called mainstream of exegesis in Germany denies, for example, that the Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist and says that Jesus’ corpse stayed in the tomb. The Resurrection would not be an historical event, but a theological vision. This occurs because the hermeneutic of faith is missing: therefore a profane philosophical hermeneutic is stated, which denies the possibility of entering and of the real presence of the Divine in history. The consequence of the absence of the second methodological level is that a deep chasm was created between scientific exegesis and lectio divina. This, at times, gives rise to a form of perplexity even in the preparation of homilies. Where exegesis is not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology and, vice versa, when theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Scripture in the Church, this theology has no foundation anymore.

Therefore for the life and the mission of the Church, for the future of faith, this dualism between exegesis and theology must be overcome. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of the one reality, what we call Theology. Due to this, I would hope that in one of the propositions the need to bear in mind the two methodological levels indicated in Dei Verbum 12 be mentioned, where the need to develop an exegesis not only on the historical level, but also on the theological level is needed. Therefore, widening the formation of future exegetes in this sense is necessary, to truly open the treasures of the Scripture to today’s world and to all of us.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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