Friday, January 26, 2007

The "korrekt" Christian

One of the main thrusts of my own teaching is that theology is practical, useful, and even necessary for the Christian life. My own ad hoc and largely self-directed theological education, taking its cue from my studies in Continental Philosophy, finds root in the thought of two European priests, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Msgr. Luigi Giussani and, hence, in the the Communio and Communion and Liberation schools. Both of these movements are about applying faith to life through the medium of theology. Thus, it is through them that, in the mid-nineties, I began reading the works of a leading scholar affiliated with both of these schools, one Joseph Ratzinger. One of my dearest desires is to form a CL School of Community.

In the current issue of Commonweal there is an excellent article on theologian August Adam and his influence on Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI by Church historian, Ulrich Lehner. One gets an idea of the primal influence of Adam (brother of Karl Adam) on the Holy Father when, as noted by Lehner in the article, a few years ago, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said: "[Adam's] book The Primacy of Love was a key reading of my youth". In no way is the influence made more manifest than in Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.

The particular passage of the encyclical that reveals the affect of one key concept of Adam's is number 18, in which we read "If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties', then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper', but loveless."

The concept of Adam's that the Pope is drawing on, according to Lehner, is that of "proper Christians". The particular work of Adam's in which this concept is introduced is Tension and Harmony: About the Value of Dogma for Personal Life. Without addressing it here, I would point out that dogma does, indeed, have value for our personal lives. In his article, Lehner quotes this passage about Adam's description of the "proper", or in Deutsch, "korrekt", priest:

"His clothes are proper from the Roman collar down to his shoes - everything exactly according to the directives . . . He holds the church in proper order, Mass always starts on time, the homilies are well prepared. He promptly answers and acts if his sheep come to him, but their hearts are never set on fire by him. Everything he does has something impersonal about it, like at the post office, or at the bank. He is 'proper' in everything he does . . . but he lacks a mysterious something, a grain of salt and a speck of ambergris". Before addressing what is lacking, let me first address the word ambergris. According Merriam-Webster, ambergris is "a waxy substance found floating in or on the shores of tropical waters, believed to originate in the intestines of the sperm whale, and used in perfumery". Okay, now to that "mysterious something" - it is nothing less than "selfless love," or, agapé.

With very little imagination, one can translate this to Christians in any state of life. Adam's concept of "the proper Christian", at least at first glance, seems to articulate what I was groping after last Friday in my post Kindness: An essential part of agapé.

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