Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The non-paradoxical thrust of Pope Benedict XVI's magisterium

On 11 May 2007, the same day on which the Holy Father addressed the assembly of Latin American bishops to open CELAM’s conference in Brazil, his vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, gave an address at a Book Fair in Turin, Italy. This address reveals even further the tone deafness of those commentators, like John Allen, who fail to grasp the very foundation of what Vatican expert Sandro Magister has called "the great magisterium of Joseph Ratzinger." In fact, it is Magister’s post "The Best Hypothesis": The Humble Proposal of the Church of Ratzinger and Ruini, that gives us the complete text of Cardinal Ruini’s address. I will not re-post the entire address, for those interested, follow the link and read it. I will merely focus on those parts that reaffirm that Pope Benedict was neither being insensitive nor thoughtless in remarks about the Christian faith purifying the native religions of the Americas.

“A widely held historical-theological hypothesis,” Cardinal Ruini observes at the beginning of his address, “maintains that the unilateral insistence upon this distinction [between reason and faith], which asserted itself in the ‘second scholastic’ period, or at the very beginning of the modern age, contributed to the marginalization of Christianity and theology from cultural developments, by involuntarily providing this [exaggerated distinction] with theological legitimacy.” Recognizing “the divine and transcendent character of Christian revelation, above all in its center which is Jesus Christ,” is what permits us to understand properly the necessary distinction between faith and reason, the natural and the supernatural, God and man, which means neither selling it short nor pushing it too far. This is what clears space for theology, which is faith seeking understanding.

With this we go to the heart of what Cardinal Ruini offers in support of the basic thrust of Pope Benedict XVI’s magisterium:

“The profound stripping of illusions produced in the area of liberation theology by the events of 1989 [the collapse of the Eastern Bloc countries and demise of Marxism-Leninism to which many liberation theologians had hitched their wagons] drove a number of its exponents toward positions marked by relativism. So many of these, together with not a few other theologians, moved in this direction that the results took on a variety of names such as ‘the theology of religions,’ according to which fundamentally not only Christianity, but also the many religions of the world, with the peoples and cultures that make reference to them - and which are imagined to have been often the object of both political and religious imperialism and colonialism on the part of Christians - are thought to constitute in reality, next to historical Christianity, autonomous and legitimate ways of salvation.

“Thus is abandoned the fundamental and truly foundational truth of the faith, which is highly evident in the New Testament and is the primary source of the Church’s missionary dynamism in the first centuries, and according to which Jesus Christ, in his concrete identity as Son of God who became man and lived within history, is the only Savior of the entire human race, and even of the entire universe.

“The declaration 'Dominus Iesus’ from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in forcefully reaffirming this truth, did nothing more than give expression to the Church’s essential mission. The book that I have already cited by then-cardinal Ratzinger [Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions, Ignatius Press, 2004] brings to light how in specific forms of the theology of religions there is at work the principle of ‘latet omne verum,’ which in certain aspects ties together the relativism now widespread in the West and the approach to the divine found in the great Eastern religions, and also in the thought of late antiquity that opposed Christianity precisely in these terms. In various theologians this relativistic shift is accompanied by the assertion, still not abandoned, of the primacy of praxis; this alone is held to be decisive for salvation, and dialogue, or even the unity among religions, should resolve itself through this.”

Moving forward on the issue of inculturation: “From this last point of view, the then-cardinal Ratzinger advanced (op. cit., pp. 57-82) a proposal that was rather innovative with respect to the theological hypotheses most widespread today, and for me it is truly convincing: to abandon the idea of the inculturation of a faith that is culturally neutral in itself, which would be transplanted into different cultures regardless of their religions, and have recourse instead to the encounter of cultures (or “interculturality”), based upon two strong points.

1) “On the one hand, the encounter of cultures is possible and is constantly taking place because, in spite of all of their differences, the men that produce them share the same nature and the same openness of reason to the truth.

2) “On the other hand, the Christian faith, which was born from the revelation of the truth itself [Jesus Christ], produces what we might call the ‘culture of faith,’ the characteristic of which is that it does not belong to a single specific people, but can subsist in any people or cultural subject, entering into relation with the individual culture and encountering and co-penetrating it. This is concretely the unity, and also the cultural multiplicity and universality, of Christianity.”

Finally, looking back to Joseph Ratzinger’s habilitation thesis on revelation according to the Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, Cardinal Ruini refers “to the analysis of the nature of divine revelation that Joseph Ratzinger had elaborated in the study of Saint Bonaventure by which he intended to attain his academic teaching qualifications and is summarized in his book Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius Press, 1998). That is, revelation is above all the act by which God manifests himself, and not the objective (written) result of this act. In consequence, the very concept of revelation includes the subject who receives and comprehends it - specifically, the people of God in the Old and New Testament - given that, if no one perceived the revelation nothing would have been unveiled, no revelation would have taken place.

“Thus revelation precedes Scripture and is reflected in it, but it is not simply identical with it, and Scripture itself is linked to the subject that welcomes and understands both revelation and Scripture, or the Church. Concretely, Scripture is born and lives within this subject.”

All emboldened, underlined and bracketed words are mine.

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