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The Rosmini Rehabilitation – When To Be is Not To Be

[With regard to the existence of things, the question has been raised as to whether, in the ideal order, the possible is antecedent to the actual. The consideration here does not touch on the real or physical order, in which it is conceded by Scholastics that the potentiality of creatures precedes their actuality. The unique actuality, pure and simple (as against such theorists as von Hartmann, maintaining an absolute primitive potentiality of all existence), that necessarily precedes all potentiality, is that of God, in Whom essence and existence are identical. We are concerned with the question: Is the concept of a possible entity prior to that of an existing one? Rosmini answers this question in the affirmative. The School generally takes the opposite view, maintaining the thesis that the primitive idea is of existent entity — that is, essence as actualized and placed outside of its causes — in the concrete, though confused and indeterminate. Such an idea is of narrow intension, but extensively it embraces all being. The thesis is supported by various considerations, such as that the essence is related to its existence as potential to actual, that the act generally is prior to potentiality, and that this latter is known, and only known, through its corresponding actuality. Or, we know the possible being as that which may be, or may exist; and this necessary relation to actual existence, without which the possible is not presented to the mind, indicates the priority, in the line of thought, of the actually existent over the merely possible. Existence is thus seen to be in some sense distinguished from the essence which it actuates. []

By James Larson

The Rosmini Rehabilitation: The Ratzinger Agenda

When To Be Is Not To Be

Recognizing that most readers probably are not familiar with the name Rosmini, I shall begin by asking them to persevere. In recent articles I have explored Cardinal Ratzinger’s attacks in his private writings upon the perennial truths of Magisterial documents such as the Syllabus of Pius IX, the Syllabus and encyclical Pascendi of Pius X, and also the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission under Pius X. What is about to unfold is an examination into what I believe constitutes his first attack upon a previous document of the Magisterium in his official capacity as Prefect of the CDF. As we shall see, this effort is aimed at the very heart of our faith, and especially at the Church’s infallible dogma of Transubstantiation.

One of the most difficult things for the human heart to suffer is a shattering of trust. This is especially true when the person who is the subject of our trust has been integral to our deepest religious beliefs. Probably no one reading this article needs to be told of the almost unlimited number of such cases involving bishops, priests, nuns, brothers, lay teachers, etc. which have occurred among the Catholic faithful in the last 35 years. During this period of devastating chaos many Catholics have felt deep solace in the belief that they could still place their trust in a “few good men”, who have been given by God to protect the universal Church from the attacks of its enemies. If we were to take a poll as to who these good men were in the estimation of orthodox Catholics, certainly first place would go to Pope John Paul II. Almost surely, second place would be awarded to Cardinal Ratzinger.

I am certainly one of those who for most of his 23 years as a Catholic would have followed this line of thinking. It has therefore been a great shock for me to discover the extraordinary non-orthodoxy of Cardinal Ratzinger. At least some of his books contain statements which are simply heretical. I believe that they all contain much “fuzziness” – that sort of convoluted writing which should set off an alarm in discerning readers who possess a good sense of the Catholic Faith. One of the primary characteristics of heterodox theologians and writers is that they treat with bewildering complexity and confusion the same subjects which in the past have been dealt with by Popes, Church documents, and good spiritual writers in commendable clarity and simplicity. Encountering such writing (or speaking), the red flags should go up for an orthodox Catholic, and stay up. What is most disturbing about this situation is the failure of very intelligent and learned Catholics to discern this lack of orthodoxy on Cardinal Ratzinger’s part, despite the extent of his published writings. The covers of several of his books are replete with praise and recommendations from many of those authors, priests, theologians, and even cardinals, upon whom many of us have come to rely for guidance in our faith.

I have considered compiling these violations of Catholic teaching, and I may do so in the future. I have come to the conclusion, however, that far more important than a thorough cataloging of these errors is a penetration into the agenda and the methodology which is at their root. It has occurred to me, in fact, that the reason the specific errors of Cardinal Ratzinger have gone largely undetected is a failure to understand the nature of this agenda, or even that there exists such an agenda.. It is to remedy this situation that the following is offered:

On 1 July, 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a NOTE on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees Concerning the Thought and Work of Fr. Antonio Rosmini Serbati. The Note was signed by Cardinal Ratzinger and confirmed by Pope John Paul II. Its decision reads as follows:

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following an in- depth examination of the two doctrinal Decrees, promulgated in the 19th century, and taking into account the results emerging from historiography and from the scientific and theoretical research of the last ten years has reached the following conclusion: The motives for doctrinal and prudential concern and difficulty that determined the promulgation of the Decree Post obitum [issued by the Holy Office and confirmed by Pope Leo XIII on 14 Dec, 1887] with the condemnation of the “40 Propositions” taken from the works of Anthony Rosmini can now be considered superseded. This is so because the meaning of the propositions, as understood and condemned by the Decree, does not belong to the authentic position of Rosmini, but to conclusions that may possibly have been drawn from the reading of his works.”

We shall be quoting further from this document, but let us now turn to some of the condemned propositions (they are to be found in Denzinger 1891ff.). Please keep in mind that, despite the impression which may be given by the last sentence in the above quote, all of the following are taken from Rosmini’s works. They are his words, and not conclusions which someone else has drawn from reading these works. We will begin with some of those which deal with the relationship between God and His creation, between Infinite Being and finite being. Again, I ask for perseverance. Heterodox philosophers are not known for the clarity of their propositions. I can assure the reader, however, that after a short period of suffering and possible vertigo, clarity shall return:

#4 “Indeterminate being, which without doubt is known to all intelligences, is that divine thing which is manifest to man in nature.”
#6 “In the being which prescinds from creatures and from God, which is indeterminate being, and in God, not indeterminate but absolute being, the essence is the same.”
#12 “There is no finite reality, but God causes it to exist by adding limitation to infinite reality. – Initial being becomes the essence of every real being. – Being which actuates finite natures, and is joined with them, is cut off by God.”
#18 “The love by which God loves Himself even in creatures, and which is the reason why He determines Himself to create, constitutes a moral necessity….”
#19 “The Word is that unseen material, from which, as it is said in Wisdom 11:18, all things of the universe were created.”

Despite some characteristic “fuzziness” and convoluted phrasing, there is no doubt that we are here dealing with clear statements of pantheism. There is simply no way that anyone can say that finite reality comes to exist through a limiting of infinite reality, and that the essence of the being which is in God and the being which is in creatures are the same, without this constituting pantheism. Nor is there any way that one can say that the love which “determines” God to create constitutes a moral necessity, without violating the non-dependence of God or the absolute gratuitousness of His relationship to creatures. Finally, it is impossible that these statements, considering their objective content, could be placed in any larger “system” or context which would clear them of their heretical content.

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia renders a very good explanation of the Rosminian system of ontology. Rosmini postulates three types of being: Absolute, ideal, and real. Absolute Being is identical with God’s Nature and outside of man’s immediate experience. The other two types of being are within man’s experience, and are named ideal being and real being. Ideal being is universal, simple, immutable, eternal, and indeterminate. Real being is determinate, contingent, temporal, and almost infinitely manifold and varied. Real being is, in fact, what we experience in all the varied, individual things of our world.

What makes the Rosmini system fuzzy and difficult to understand is his concept of “ideal being.” The Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Ideal being [in the Rosmini system] is not God, but we may call it, says Rosmini, an appurtenance of God, and even Divine, for its characteristics are not those of created finite things, and its ultimate source must be in God.” All creation, according to Rosmini, is therefore a creation “out of” God (or “from the Word” as proposition #19 would have it). It is a “limiting” of that unlimited “ideal being” (also called “initial” being) which is “in” God. This is pure pantheism, and a clear denial of creation ex nihilo. On the other side of the Rosmini coin, all of our perceptions of real things involve a direct knowledge and contact with “ideal being” which is an “appurtenance” of God, is in God, and therefore may be called Divine. This constitutes the heresy of “ontologism”, the belief that human intelligence has a direct intuitive knowledge of God or “the Divine” in its knowledge of created things.

Rosmini’s errors were certainly not limited to ontology or cosmology. The following constitutes a Trinitarian and Christological heresy: #26 (in part): “The Word, insofar as it is the loved object, and insofar as it is the Word, that is the object subsisting in itself, known by itself, is the person of the Holy Spirit.” It is difficult for us to imagine a seminary-trained priest of the 19th century proclaiming that Christ is the Holy Spirit. To do so is simply to deny the real distinctions between the Three Divine Persons which is integral to belief in the Trinity.

Another Christological heresy: #27: “In the humanity of Christ the human will was so taken up by the Holy Spirit in order to cling to objective Being, that is to the Word, that it (the will) gave over the rule of man wholly to Him, and assumed the Word personally, thus uniting with itself human nature. Hence, the human will ceased to be personal in man, and, although person is in other men, it remained nature in Christ.” This would appear to be simply a repetition of the Monothelite heresy of the seventh century which taught that the union of the Divine and human natures in the one Divine Person of Christ only involved the possession and activity of one will – the Divine. Under such an erroneous “Christology” the obedience of Christ to the Cross would have meant nothing – His human nature being only an “un-willing” operation of the Divine Will.

We conclude with his Eucharistic heresies:

#1919: “We think that the following conjecture is by no means at variance with Catholic doctrine, which alone is truth: In the Eucharistic sacrament the substance of bread and wine becomes the true flesh and true blood of Christ, when Christ makes it the terminus of His sentient principle, and vivifies it with His life; almost in that way by which bread and wine truly are transubstantiated into our flesh and blood, because they become the terminus of our sentient principle.”
#1921: “In the sacrament of the Eucharist by the power of words the body and blood of Christ are present only in that measure which corresponds (a quell tanto) to the substance of the bread and wine, which are transubstantiated; the rest of the body of Christ is there through concomitance.”

We should note, before going on, that Rosmini uses the word “transubstantiated” in a manner that does not correspond with Catholic doctrine. In no way is he speaking of that conversion of the entire substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which conversion the Council of Trent defines as Transubstantiation. His use of the word is therefore a matter of blatant intellectual deception.

Rosmini himself gave little sign of obstinacy to Church discipline during his life.. The above condemnations were issued approximately 32 years after his death, and the majority of the condemned propositions occur in works published posthumously. In 1849, six years before his death, two of his works were condemned, a decision he immediately accepted. In 1854 all of his published works were examined, and the case was dismissed with, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “nothing disparaging to the author.” This, of course, did not constitute an endorsement of the orthodoxy of the author’s then published works, and certainly not of those works published posthumously, from which most of the condemned propositions are taken. Upon further examination of his works published both before and after his death the Holy Office (with the confirmation of Leo XIII) issued the condemnations of the 40 propositions.

There is absolutely no question but that the propositions which we have examined (and others as well) are not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. What, therefore, can it possibly mean when the CDF Note makes the following statement?

“The motives for doctrinal and prudential concern and difficulty that determined the promulgation of the Decree Post obitum with the condemnation of the “40 Propositions”…can now be considered superseded. This is so because the meaning of the propositions, as understood and condemned by the Decree, does not belong to the authentic position of Rosmini, but to conclusions that may possibly have been drawn from the reading of his works.”

All the propositions condemned are admittedly taken from Rosmini’s own statements and works. We have the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia that these teachings are indeed part of the “Rosmini system”. Further, there exists a publishing group called Rosmini House in Durham, UK dedicated to the publishing of Rosmini’s teachings. A study of these teachings to be found on their website, certainly confirms that they are an integral part of his system of thought. We have every right, therefore, to question the validity of the CDF statement that the obvious meanings of many of these propositions do not belong to “the position of Rosmini.”

The most astounding thing about the CDF document is that immediately after making the above statement, we then read the following assertion:

“At the same time the objective validity of the Decree Post obitum referring to the previously condemned propositions, remains for whoever reads them, outside of the Rosminian system, in an idealist, ontologist point of view and with a meaning contrary to Catholic faith and doctrine.”

In other words (according to the reasoning of the CDF document): What Rosmini said, he did not really say. But what Rosmini said that he did not really say is condemned outside of what he really said if interpreted in the obvious sense which he obviously meant but which is not really a part of what he said. All of this would seem to be Orwellian Newspeak at its worst. When confronted with such violations of simple intelligence, we must certainly seek the deeper reasons.

I believe that there is a profoundly disturbing reason for all this apparent confusion. Thus far I have dealt with the reality and concept of being, and the war that is being conducted against it. In Thomistic ontology, the flaming swords which guard the gate to being, and therefore to all reality, are the Principle of Contradiction and the Principle of the Excluded Middle. These are the logical principles inscribed in our hearts and minds by God which are the foundations of all our perception of reality. These principles simply say that a thing either is or it is not, that a thing cannot both be and not be, and that we do not have a third alternative – something, as it were, in the middle between being and non-being. To dismiss either of these two metaphorical angels guarding the door of being is to swing open wide the doors of Hell, and to surrender ourselves to intellectual insanity – with moral and emotional insanity a short distance down the road.

For any orthodox Catholic, these Principles of Being are intimately tied to the inerrancy of the Magisterium and the necessary conviction that, because the Magisterium is a true expression of God’s unchangeable being and truth, something cannot at one moment be taught as essential truth, and at some future time be taught as false; or its corollary, that something cannot at one time be condemned as error, and subsequently be taught as free from error. Satan’s strategic plan against all Catholics must therefore include the attempt to make us believe that the Church’s Magisterium has violated this principle of reality, and that we must therefore accept the fact that the Magisterium can and has contradicted itself in its fundamental nature as guardian of the truth.. There is no question but that the CDF rehabilitation of Rosmini has given the definite impression that this is exactly what has been done by the Magisterium (even though, as we have seen, it has not actually been done since it leaves intact the condemnation of these propositions if they are interpreted in what we have shown to be their obvious “idealist, ontologist” – in other words, pantheistic – point of view).

The CDF attributes the 19th century condemnation of these 40 Propositions of Rosmini primarily to the renewal of Thomism promoted by Pope Leo XIII. According to the Note, this subjection of all studies to Thomistic philosophy and theology was a provisional or temporary policy adopted by the church “to oppose the risk of an eclectic philosophical approach.” And further, “The adoption of Thomism created the premises for a negative judgment of a philosophical and speculative position, like that of Rosmini, because it differed in its language and conceptual framework from the philosophical and theological elaboration of St. Thomas Aquinas.”

We have now reached the heart of the problem. What is at stake here is Thomism, and all that it teaches us about God, man, and the nature of being. I fully believe that the real reason behind the Rosmini rehabilitation is an agenda to implement alternatives to Thomistic philosophy and theology. And as I have said in previous writings, the central point of contention in this war against Thomism, and against both the being of God and man, is the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Embarrassed by an ontological teaching concerning being, substance, and accidents – a teaching which directly contradicts the reductive philosophy of modern analytical science – these men are intent on establishing an alternative to Thomistic ontology, and to the doctrine of Transubstantiation which “incarnates” this philosophy into Catholic doctrine and belief. The Holy Spirit indeed does prevent any magisterial document from outright contradiction of the defined doctrine of Transubstantiation (or any other doctrine), but It does not necessarily protect us from the confusion generated by non-doctrinal elements in documents such as this Note, even though they be issued by the teaching office of the Church.

Readers may remember Cardinal Ratzinger’s words quoted earlier in this book, and taken from his press release that accompanied the CDF document titled Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (May 24,1990), in which he says that this document “states – perhaps for the first time – that there are magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy.” There certainly is no problem with the notion that not all that is contained in documents issued by the Magisterium constitute doctrinal statements. Papal encyclicals, for instance, contain things which are not doctrinal, not subject to the criteria of infallibility, and therefore susceptible to change. We have just witnessed what may be the most classic case of this sort of non-binding teaching in the non-sense of the CDF Note. The problem, however is that Cardinal Ratzinger, in his private writings, is applying this criteria of being “provisional” and “capable of being superseded” to doctrinal formulations of the Magisterium of many previous Popes (as I have already documented). And in the Note which we have been examining, he seems to be trying to make it appear as though this superseding of doctrine is possible within the Magisterium itself.

The ultimate target I believe, as I have said before, is the doctrine of Transubstantiation. In the year 2000 there appeared (in German) Cardinal Ratzinger’s book God and the World, Believing and Living in Our Time (English edition Ignatius Press, 2002). The Work actually consists of conversations with journalist Peter Seewald. In their discussion of the Real Presence, Mr. Seewald makes the following statement concerning Cardinal Ratzinger’s proclaimed belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “But anyone can see that the wine remains wine…” Cardinal Ratzinger’s reply is as follows:

“But this is not a statement of physics. It has never been asserted that, so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed. The transformation reaches down to a more profound level. Tradition has it that this is a metaphysical process. Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that it is changed from within and Christ truly gives himself in them [emphasis mine].”

In the seven pages of the interview which deal with the Eucharist, Cardinal Ratzinger uses the word “transubstantiation” or “transubstantiated” four times. Like Rosmini, he uses the word in a fashion which violates its meaning. While repeatedly using the word, he is personally contradicting the Church’s defined doctrine of Transubstantiation – that the entire substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, only the accidents (appearances) remaining – and is instead embracing consubstantiation (the belief that Christ is in, under, or with the bread) under the guise of transubstantiation.

It only makes sense, therefore, that on the previous page of this book he states that “Luther held out (against Calvin, etc.) in favor of transubstantiation here, with great emphasis….” The Cardinal has simply changed the meaning of the word transubstantiation so that it is similar to the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. The notion that Luther held on to the belief in Transubstantiation is a total absurdity. He detested both St. Thomas and the doctrine of Transubstantiation. In his Large Catechism he writes: “What then is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine…” As the Lutheran Formula of Concord states, “Just as in Christ two distinct unchanged natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper the two substances, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here upon earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament.” (#37). The Lutheran formulation for the real presence is “in pane, sub pane, cum pane” – “in the bread, under the bread, with the bread” (#38).

Neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor anyone else can make the Magisterium contradict itself on matters of faith and morals. But he and others possess many subtle means (including private statements and writings, and also non-doctrinal elements in magisterial documents) of making it appear that this is not only possible, but that it has already happened. Worse yet, they can make Catholics believe it is not only permissible but that it is also perfectly sane Christianity. Arch-Modernists like Gregory Baum immediately seized on the Rosmini rehabilitation to reinforce that very line of thinking and to bolster the heretical view of a fallible Magisterium. “We are bound to ask with Ratzinger,” wrote the supercilious Baum, “whether there is an internal contradiction in the magisterium. Were the solemn declarations of Boniface VIII and the Council of Florence [regarding estra ecclesiam, nulla salus] wrong?” And having encouraged such questions, the Cardinal can hardly complain about the heresy they engender, or the loss of faith among Catholics which is the inevitable fruit of the filtering down of these errors. Baum concludes: “I would argue – these declarations were wrong. The magisterium has made mistakes. The church [sic], guided by the Spirit is forever learning.” (National Catholic Reporter, 25/1/02). May we not safely assume that this conclusion which the Modernist has greeted with conscious rejoicing, is also being assimilated viscerally by the average Catholic?

It would seem, on the other hand, that faithful and even militant Catholics cannot comprehend what is seen so easily by the enemy. How many “orthodox” Catholics have read the above-quoted passage from Cardinal Ratzinger on the Real Presence and have not blinked an eye or uttered a protest? The obvious answer to this question begs another: How close are we all to that mental and moral insanity which concludes that “To be is not to be”?

The Ratzinger Eucharistic Heresy

Having just read Cardinal Ratzinger’s recently published book, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003), I offer the following quote from one of its chapters titled The Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament:

“The transformation happens, which affects the gifts we bring by taking them up into a higher order and changes them, even if we cannot measure what happens. When material things are taken into our body as nourishment, or for that matter whenever any material becomes part of a living organism, it remains the same, and yet as part of a new whole it is itself changed. Something similar happens here. The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same , they have become profoundly different.” (God is Near Us, p.86) [emphasis mine]

Those who read my article concerning the Rosmini rehabilitation in the February CO are familiar with my contention that the real reason behind this “superseding” of the 40 condemned propositions of Rosmini (which occurred under Pope Leo XIII) is the attempt to supersede the metaphysics of St. Thomas and, especially, to change the meaning of the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation. Condemned proposition #29 (Denz. #1919) from Rosmini’s writings reads as follows:

“We think that the following conjecture is by no means at variance with Catholic doctrine, which alone is truth: In the Eucharistic sacrament the substance of bread and wine becomes the true flesh and true blood of Christ, when Christ makes it the terminus of His sentient principle, and vivifies it with His life; almost in that way by which bread and wine truly are transubstantiated into our flesh and blood, because they become the terminus of our sentient principle.”

The similarities between these two passages are absolutely extraordinary. They should leave no doubt in our minds that the real agenda behind the Rosmini rehabilitation is the attempt to change our whole metaphysical understanding of reality by changing the way we understand the Eucharist. In order to understand this agenda and its methodology it is extremely important to understand that it is being done from within classical terminology. Cardinal Ratzinger continues to use the terms “transubstantiation”, “substance”, and “change of substance”, but is now employing these terms is ways that are meant to totally change the way the Church has previously used them. And since the one place wherein the understanding of these terms is solemnly defined is the dogma of Transubstantiation, then the primary object of this “war against being and substance” is precisely this dogma.

Finally, it is equally important, if we are successfully to defend the traditional dogma, to understand that Transubstantiation necessitates a real physical change in the nature of bread and wine (the reader will note that in the portion of Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote which I have rendered in bold type that he specifically denies any such “physical” change). In Thomistic Metaphysics (and absolutely integral to the traditional understanding of Transubstantiation) all physical properties or accidents inhere in a substance. Substance, in other words, is not some sort of real being “way down there” or “way out there”, underneath and distinct from physical reality. It is absolutely integral to the real physical existence of any physical substance, whether it be bread or the Body of Christ. It is this substantial being which is truly “physically” changed through the miracle of Transubstantiation, the accidental properties of being alone remaining. It is precisely this meaning of substance which Cardinal Ratzinger denies because he appears to have succumbed to the secular world-view that all physical reality is reducible to quantified particles (molecules, atoms, etc.). He must therefore make “substance” and “substantial change” into realities which are “metaphysical” in a sense which is totally opposed to the Thomistic understanding, and also to the traditional understanding of the Eucharistic change of substance. In my Rosmini article I quoted the following from Cardinal Ratzinger’s God and the World, Believing and Living in Our Time (Ignatius Press, 2000):

But this (transubstantiation) is not a statement of physics. It has never been asserted that, so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed . The transformation reaches down to a more profound level. Tradition has it that this is a metaphysical process. Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that it is changed from within and Christ truly gives himself in them.”[again, bold emphasis is mine].

Since he does not believe that physical reality is really changed, then Cardinal Ratzinger must also refuse to believe that the entire substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the accidents alone remaining. And he also therefore believes, like Luther, that instead of Christ alone being there in His Substance, He is rather there now in the Bread and Wine. In other words, Cardinal Ratzinger appears to have embraced the heresy of consubstantiation.

Authored by: James Larson – © 2008


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