JAMES LARSON: "The great tragic mistake of the [Vatican II] Phenomenologists & Personalists is their belief, as we have already noted, that the God of Thomistic philosophy is "self-enclosed" and therefore cannot be satisfying to the desperate aspirations of modern man"
Many readers who eagerly anticipated his recent interview on EWTN have expressed their deep disappointment with Cardinal Ratzinger. But estimations and expectations of the Cardinal have always been unrealistically high - based more on impressions than the sort of sobering analysis offered by the author last month and again here.
The Heart of Betrayal
In his rather massive (960 page) biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, George Weigel has the following to say in regard to Pope John Paul II's appointment of Joseph Ratzinger to the position of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Those willing to look beyond the caricature [of Ratzinger as a gloomy Inquisitor] when Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of CDF could find several important clues to John Paul II's thinking about the Church's post-conciliar theological situation.
….Ratzinger's appointment also suggested that the Pope wanted CDF to interact with the international theological community in a thoroughly contemporary way. John Paul did not appoint a medievalist or a patristics scholar as Prefect of CDF. He appointed a theologian who had been deeply and critically engaged with contemporary philosophy and ecumenical theology.
Cardinal Ratzinger was the first man in his position in centuries who did not take Thomas Aquinas as his philosophical and theological master. The Pope respected Thomism and Thomists, but he broke precedent by appointing a non-Thomistic Prefect of CDF. It was a clear signal that he believed there was a legitimate pluralism of theological methods, and that this pluralism ought to be taken into account in the formulation of authoritative teaching (p. 443-44).
Those who have read my recent three part article in Christian Order titled The War Against Being are already familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger's negation of the Syllabus of Pius IX, the Syllabus and encyclical Pascendi of Pius X, and the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission during the reign of Pius X. They are also aware of the Cardinal's absolutely outrageous statement that "perhaps for the first time" the Church is now stating (in the CDF document The Nature and Mission of Theology) "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."
One can well imagine the response of a Pius X, Leo XIII, Pius IX or the many Popes before them to the assertion that their condemnations of Liberalism and Modernism were provisional. In fact, Pope St. Pius X, in his Motu Proprio Praestantia Scripturae, pronounced an ipso facto excommunication upon any one who would presume to contradict or "endeavour to destroy the force and the efficacy" of his Syllabus or of his encyclical Pascendi.
Just as preposterous, however, is the notion that the philosophy of St. Thomas is something which is a matter of personal option. Pius X states in Pascendi that "To deviate from Aquinas, in metaphysics especially, is to run grave risk", and Pius XI flatly declares that "Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest (encyclical Studiorum Ducem,#11)."
All this, as I have said, is discussed in the third part of my article The War Against Being in last month's edition. I have offered it again here simply as a refresher and preamble to what will hopefully be a deeper penetration into what constitutes this betrayal of true Catholic philosophy and theology by the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF.
The dominant impression received and shared by many traditional Catholics in their attempt to read "modern" Catholic philosophical and theological works is, strangely enough, best encapsulated in the word "fuzzy." One comes away from their writings with the conviction that, yes indeed, they were trying intently to say something; they worked very hard at it, used a lot of words, and some very convoluted phraseology and sentencing. But at the end of it all, one is most likely left scratching his head and exclaiming, "What was that!" One example of such convoluted writing which most often sticks in my mind is Pope Paul VI's phrase "the development of the development of peoples." Does anyone really know what that means?
Now we may take all this fuzzy stuff and conclude that it is just some sort of mental aberration. However, I believe such a dismissal to be deeply unsatisfactory. The people doing this "stuff" are all too educated, there are too many of them, and they are all too consistent with one another in their negations of Thomistic philosophy, and especially Thomistic metaphysics. In other words, there is a method to their madness; and it is precisely this madness which we intend here to explore.
The vehicle which we shall use is a very small book written by Cardinal Ratzinger titled Many Religions – One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World (originally published in Germany in 1997, and then published by Ignatius Press in 1998). I do not wish to here become distracted by what is obviously the main theme of the book. I simply wish to target some very small passages which speak volumes about our subject.
The first passage is to be found in the foreword written by Scott Hahn. I quote it because he quotes Ratzinger (and is in full agreement with his statement):
"Yet, more than a mere blueprint, the Bible is theology's singular authority. Later in the same work (Principles of Catholic Theology), Cardinal Ratzinger adds: 'The normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture.' And finally he addresses the Bible as the fulfillment of theology: 'Scripture alone is theology in the fullest sense of the word, because it truly has God as its subject; it does not just speak of him but is his own speech.'"
It is extraordinary that any Catholic theologian should conclude that the Bible is theology's singular authority, or that scripture alone is theology in the fullest sense. Such statements are incompatible with the Catholic belief that Christ is the Head of His Church and that He established it with an infallible Magisterium. Much as it did for Luther, however, such sola scriptura theology does pave the way for the rejection of Scholastic philosophy and theology. The passages which we shall next examine will make this clear.
A "self-enclosed relationally bound" God?
On page 76 of the Ignatius Press edition we read the following:
"Thus the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship; and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy (p. 75)."
The notion that the God of Thomistic philosophy and theology is "self-enclosed" is one of the grandest absurdities ever penned. We shall examine this "self-enclosed" God of St. Thomas shortly. Meanwhile, we need to persevere with more of Cardinal Ratzinger:
"As a result of this struggle [between faith and reason], a new philosophical category – the concept of "person" – was fashioned, a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very centre of philosophical thought….The meaning of an already existing category, that of "relation", was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relation moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relation subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence. In this context, covenant would be the response to man's imaging of God; it would show us who we are and who God is. And for God, since he is entirely relationship, covenant would not be something external in history, apart from his being, but the manifestation of his self, the "radiance of his countenance (p. 76-77)."
Now, I realize at this point that many of us might be having an attack of the fuzzies. I have placed several phrases of the above in bold print in order to help us discern a pattern. Hopefully this will become even more clear after one more quote, and the discussion which follows:
"It belongs to God's nature to love what he has created ; so it belongs to his nature to bind himself and, in doing so, to go all the way to the Cross (p. 73-74)."
We will begin by stating flatly that it does not belong to God's Nature "to bind Himself" to what He has created. At the very centre of the absolute distinction which exists in Catholic theology between the Being of God and the being of all things created, is the gratuitousness of all the relations between God and man. We may certainly speak of the necessary faithfulness of God to His promises to man (since God is Truth and cannot lie), but we may never speak of any such bond as belonging "to His Nature." All of God's acts of mercy towards man, including the Incarnation and Death of Our Lord, are acts of His gratuitous mercy.
St. Thomas's very clear teaching on this point is in full contradiction to that of Cardinal Ratzinger:
"As the creature proceeds from God in diversity of nature, God is outside the order of the whole creation, nor does any relation to the creature arise from His nature; for He does not produce the creature by necessity of His nature, but by His intellect and will…." (Summa, I, 28,1&3).
Pantheistic and Gnostic
Firstly, we should note that any denial of this absolute discontinuity between the Nature of God and His creature must always end up in some sort of pantheism. This discontinuity must always remain, even in our consideration of the full depths of the meaning of the Incarnation and the fact that in Christ God has also taken on our nature. God has indeed become man, but man will never become God, regardless of how much we may speak of the "divinization" of man in the Beatific Vision.
Secondly, to be faithful to the Church-embraced philosophy of St. Thomas does not at all mean that we are embracing a "self-enclosed" God. Anyone familiar with St. Thomas's philosophy and theology must know the absolute absurdity of this claim.
God is, in Thomistic philosophy, Infinite Act-ivity. He is Infinite Intellect and Infinite Will. He is, therefore, Infinite Love. This Love has existed from all eternity between Three Infinite Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God's Love, while being totally Active and Self-sufficient, is also totally "other"-directed:- the Trinity being a community of love between Three Infinite Persons. This Love and these Relationships within the Trinity are therefore to be seen by us as absolutely necessary to God's Being and Nature.
However, God's creation (and God's love for His creation), is not to be seen in any way a necessity of His Being, or any kind of necessary bond - but rather an extraordinary, mysterious, and entirely gratuitous "overflowing" (for want of a better word) of His merciful Love. For Cardinal Ratzinger to make God's Nature to be entirely relationship and His covenant with man to be a manifestation of his self (sic) is to destroy this absolutely foundational distinction between God and man. This is the core of all pantheistic belief systems. And as we have already noted (but I believe it bears repeating) the Incarnation and Death of Our Lord does not erase this distinction.
Throughout history it has always been the dynamic of pantheistic and Gnostic heresies to do just this: to erase the absolute distinction between God and man; to turn Jesus Christ into a Man-God (as versus the God-Man) Who leads the rest of us up through evolutionary progress to "become as Gods."
Modern philosophy and science
Finally, we need to examine Cardinal Ratzinger's statement that "As a result of this struggle [between faith and reason], a new philosophical category – the concept of "person" – was fashioned, a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very centre of philosophical thought."
First, we should realize that whatever Cardinal Ratzinger and his contemporaries have done in their efforts to circumvent Scholastic Philosophy (this means all their contemporary methods and philosophical approaches which might seems so "fuzzy" to us) they have grown out of an attempt to solve some sort of struggle between faith and reason. As we have seen in The War Against Being, however, this struggle between what Cardinal Ratzinger calls faith and reason really amounts to a struggle between faith and reductive analytical science. And since this bogus "science" has absolutely no capability to grasp substantial reality, it is really a straw-man.
The modern philosophical approaches which are the fruit of this "grappling" with modern science should therefore never have happened if these theologians and philosophers had ever really grasped not only the nature of Thomistic metaphysics but also the simplest fact about even the simplest created thing: that its substantive nature cannot be reduced to quantitative analysis.
Centrality of "person"?
Secondly, we must recognize that the very core of this "fuzziness" has come to rest upon what Cardinal Ratzinger calls "a new philosophical category – the concept of 'person'," which, according to the Cardinal, is "the very centre of philosophical thought."
We must first note that there is nothing new in the philosophical concept of "person." In Thomistic philosophy "person" is defined simply as "an individual substance of a rational nature" (the definition of Boethius accepted by St. Thomas).
There are, of course, two basic kinds of persons: those who are self-subsistent but created and dependent (angels and men), and those Who are Infinite, Eternal, and absolutely Independent from creation (The Three Persons of the Trinity).
The key point here, however, is that according to St. Thomas and proper Catholic theology the One Divine Nature of God (His Supreme Being) must be seen as being the "very centre of theological thought", and that the Persons of the Godhead must be seen as subsisting in this One Divine Being and Nature. Regarding the Son, for instance, St. Thomas says, "The Word proceeding therefore proceeds as subsisting in the same nature; and so is properly called begotten, and Son (Summa,I,2,2)." The elevation of "person" to the status of being "the very centre of all philosophical thought" necessarily therefore tends to contradict the "subsistence" of all Divine Personhood in the Being of God. It therefore undermines the Unity of the One Divine Nature, and consequently the ontological roots of all creation in the One Being of God.
The heart of the betrayal of St. Thomas and Scholastic Philosophy is therefore rooted in an act of cowardice before the hubris of modern analytical science. Having retreated from the Thomistic doctrine concerning the substantial nature and being of created things (the philosophical concept of hylemorphism), the modern theologian now logically retreats from the absolute Nature of the Being of God.
In making God fundamentally relational, he must also retreat from the Infallible Magisterium, since it is the single most vivid witness to God's unchangeable Being on this earth. If God is relational, then so also must be truth. It is not accidental, therefore, that for Scott Hahn and Cardinal Ratzinger scripture has now become theology's singular authority, that "Scripture alone is theology", and that in the opinion of Cardinal Ratzinger the Church "perhaps for the first time" now recognizes that there are "magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter."
To make sola scriptura the only real basis for our knowledge of God (theology), while at the same time undermining the inerrancy of the Magisterium is to relegate faith to total subjectivism. It is, in other words, Protestantism.
Perishing with a "personalist" whimper
It is no wonder, therefore, that this entire philosophical movement is called "Personalism." It is not a malicious thing, at least on the surface. It appears to emphasize the Person of Jesus, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the Person of the Father, and the personal manner of each individual's sanctification as being created in the image of God. This is all true, and we certainly need this emphasis. But personhood if it is not fully subjected to Being and the objective Nature of God becomes the vehicle for the substitution of man's becoming for God's Being.
Underneath all of this promotion of "person" as being the fundamental category of philosophy is a terrible cowardly betrayal of the very Being of God and man. It is nothing less than a wholesale retreat from Who God Is as taught by Catholic metaphysics and theology.
And, tragically, what is not realized is that without the basis of God's Supreme Being found in Thomistic metaphysics, this "Personalism" is being ravaged because it is a philosophical home built on sand. How many documents and millions of words we have had from our Church during the past four decades concerning the dignity of the human person and the family. Yet how ravaged the family has become, and how "undignified" is the "new philosophical category of person" in the face of hundreds of millions of abortions.
I believe it was T.S. Elliot who said that the world will perish neither by water nor fire, but with a whimper. It may be possible, however, that in its spiritual life it will first perish with the hugs of millions of persons in some sort of relationship conceived as personal love.
Go to Thomas!
All of this need not be. The great tragic mistake of the Phenomenologists and Personalists is their belief, as we have already noted, that the God of Thomistic philosophy is "self-enclosed" and therefore cannot be satisfying to the desperate aspirations of modern man. It is as though they have never read the Summa Theologica. To do so, and to spend time meditating on the Nature of God set forth particularly in the first part of that marvelous work, is to come to an appreciation why St. Thomas spent much time resting his head upon the Tabernacle. Pope Pius XI, in Studiorum Ducem, writes:
"This humility, therefore, combined with the purity of heart We have mentioned, and sedulous devotion to prayer, disposed the mind of Thomas to docility in receiving the inspirations of the Holy Ghost and following His illuminations, which are the first principles of contemplation. To obtain them from above, he would frequently fast, spend whole nights in prayer, lean his head in the fervour of his unaffected piety against the tabernacle containing the august Sacrament, constantly turn his eyes and mind in sorrow to the image of the crucified Jesus; and he confessed to his intimate friend St. Bonaventura that it was from that Book especially that he derived all his learning. It may, therefore, be truly said of Thomas what is commonly reported of St. Dominic, Father and Lawgiver, that in his conversation he never spoke but about God or with God.
…."The aim of the whole theology of St. Thomas is to bring us into close living intimacy with God."
Where were the minds and hearts of these older philosophers and theologians like Cardinal Ratzinger when they were studying St. Thomas (as they surely did)?
In Part I, Question 6, Article 1of the Summa, for instance, we read: "All things by desiring their own perfection, desire God Himself, in as much as the perfections of all things are so many similitudes of the divine being." This means, for instance, that the desire of a young woman for love and fulfillment may be relatively fulfilled by a husband and children, but can only be fully realized in love of God; that all of the aspirations of a young person to rid their lives of confusion and frustration, and to be firmly established in all truth and certainty, are only satisfied in the wisdom of which we are speaking; that only by understanding what is taught about God by the Church and St. Thomas can all those questions of the human heart as to why there is evil and suffering in the world be answered .
It also means that what is genuine in the thirst of an alcoholic, the hunger of obesity, the lust of an adulterer, the cynicism of a prostitute, the rage of a killer, the ennui of an existentialist, the honest contempt of Christian hypocrisy by the atheist, can only be understood and turned to good through that wisdom. For there is no sentiment, aspiration, doubt, confusion, temptation. weakness, or sin in this generation or any other - past, present, or future - it cannot satisfy, solve or overcome. This will always be true as long as there is openness in the human heart to receive the truth. If that openness be not there, then no amount of personal condescension to human weakness by God, Pope, Father, or Mother will ever bring a child of this world back to God and His Love and Truth.
The only reason I can see for these "modern" philosophers having found some sort of justification for making God "entirely relational," therefore, was a need on their part to bring God down to an earth which they think is more profound than Heaven.
It may just be possible that Europe and much of the West, having gone through two Word Wars and all the assaults against Christian civilization over the past several centuries, has been so nailed to a cross of weariness and pain that it can no longer accept a God Who does not acknowledge the superior depths of man's suffering. God's objective Being, in their minds, must now give way before the aspirations and demands of modern man suffering on the cross of his own sins. The passion of sinful man, to such people, has become ontologically more real than the suffering Love of God.
Such philosophy is indeed a "winter of discontent." Any springtime of renewal must entail its rejection, and a complete return to the wisdom of St. Thomas.