Friday, April 22, 2005

Revelation is an act

Not an object Via this WSJ article on B16, I found a review of Raztinger's book, Milestones: Memoirs 1927–1977, by none other than Richard Neuhaus. It's interesting because it gives us a look at B16 the theologian and scholar, before he took on his role as a defender of doctrine under JPII. Example:
[Ratzinger] was most deeply engaged by biblical scholarship and writes that "exegesis has always remained the center of my theological work." His academic career was almost derailed when his Habilitation (the degree beyond the doctorate and necessary for teaching) was not accepted the first time around. He wrote on the concept of revelation in the High Middle Ages, and especially in Bonaventure, and offended a teacher who thought himself to be the expert on such questions. Much Catholic theology, he says, had fallen into the habit of referring to Scripture—or to Scripture and tradition—as "the revelation," as though it were a thing. From Bonaventure he learned that revelation is always an act. "The word ‘revelation’ refers to the act in which God shows himself, and not to the objectified result of this act. Part and parcel of the concept of revelation is the receiving subject. Where there is no one to perceive revelation, no re–vel–ation has occurred because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it." Later, as a peritus (theological expert) at the Council, he would come to see the importance of recognizing the Church as the apprehending subject in revelation. Theologians at the Council began to speak of the "material completeness" of the Bible, and Ratzinger suggests that this "catchword" resulted in a curious and mischievous version of sola scriptura. "This new theory, in fact, meant that exegesis now had to become the highest authority in the Church," he observes. Everything was to be subjected to the judgment of biblical scholarship, and biblical scholarship was understood in "scientific" historical–critical terms. The consequence is that "faith had to recede into the region of the indeterminate and constantly changing that is the very nature of historical or would–be historical hypotheses." Although the idea of the Bible’s "material completeness" was rejected by the Council, the after–life of the phrase has distorted the way in which the Council has often been understood. "The drama of the post–Conciliar era," Ratzinger writes, "has been largely determined by this catchword and its logical consequences."
Clearly, Ratz is no dummy. That's a sharp insight. Also no dummy is Francis Poretto, whose subject this morning is quite close to mine. On the subject of wisdom, he wrote:
Humility is the only virtue that makes it possible to absorb lessons from the knowledge and virtues of others. The imprudent man will not learn prudence until he recognizes his own folly and the losses he could avoid by recourse to prudence. The unjust man will not learn justice until he suffers under the lash of his own cruelty and recognizes the reflexive, recursive nature of the Confucian Rule. And so forth. But any such transformation of the mind must be preceded by an opening of the heart. The man who would learn from others must first accept that they and their histories have something to teach him -- that he is not capable of deducing all truths from his personal grain of sand. This is a hard lesson. The greater one's native intelligence, the harder it is to accept.
Bing-o! I'm not being anti intellectual when I say that we owe the brightest among us a great deal, but we do not owe them everything. Being really bright brings with it its own dangers, and refusing the insight of others looms large among them. If you're really bright there is a serious temptation to dismiss others who disagree with us as intellectually second rate, without really taking the time to understand what they've said. The danger only multiplies considerably when we consider the other voice to be of a lesser station than we. Ratzinger's insight is to say that this is true even when one's subject is the Bible. When we close the Bible off as if it were self contained object, our discussion closes off, almost immediately, everyone who is not of a literary-intellectual bent. Their criticisms suddenly become moot. The other, very Catholic point, is that one should not make the Bible an object. There exists no objective point of view from which a human reader can access the Bible. A human brings himself to it, along with his personal history, both of which are God given gifts. His readings are likely to contain things that are deeply personal. He has to recognize that other people and other readings contain similarly personal things. If revelation is an act, anyone can witness it and an intellectual can't steamroll others on the strength of his much vaunted intellect alone. A Godly encounter is not about muscling our way into an object like a book, it is about opening our hearts. This is not an invitation to chaos either, because we hold that God would not contradict himself through the messages we get from him. If there is a contradiction, then our God given reason needs to be put to work to find out where it is. This is not at all the same result as simply letting the brains go after the truth. This approach mediates the intellectuals through lifting and elevating the dignity of every Christian; it says that even the simple may have something of importance to share with us. The intellectual sorts and makes sense of the evidence presented to him; he can't pick and choose his sources in advance. This view also emphasizes the importance of the first person point of view over the third person. It doesn't dismiss objectivity, but it does remind us that true objectivity is always going to be elusive, something we loose sight of all too easily. A truly human culture needs to keep that in mind, lest objectivity be used as a mask for a private triumph of the will.

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