Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nietzsche in a Nutshell

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of those sexy philosophers that young people love to quote--and is one of the trendiest philosophers of late.

Nietzsche was a writer and a poet and used his artistic skill and literary style to persuasively craft his philosophical message. Ideas marketed well spread faster and more broadly. Hence, even if you've never read a lick of Nietzsche, you have most probably heard of him and his famous phrase: God is dead. Or a friend in college might have bought you a copy of Beyond Good and Evil with the intention of enlightening you. I actually like it when people do that--it means they care.

I've learned that when the Germans do it right, they really do it right (Pieper, Ratzinger, etc.). When Germans do it wrong, they really do it wrong. (Luther, Kant, Marx, etc.)

Dear Freddie is another rebellious ex-Lutheran "PK" (Pastor's Kid). I went to a "Lutheran" university and encountered lots of "ex-PKs" who lost their a Lutheran school. Many of them might not have lost their faith had they gone to a public university I believe.

Nietzsche did not merely lose his faith--he adopted materialism, atheism, nihilism, and had a deep hatred for Christianity. What a meanie!

Actually, if one disbelieves the Christian proposal, it makes sense to hate it. Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God or he is a liar and a lunatic. It's one or the other.

Nietzsche chose the latter, that belief in God's existence is a lie. God lives only in the human mind as the most pervasive of lies. He explains the "God delusion" away through psychological and historical explanations. (I guess he didn't have time to take on St. Thomas Aquinas' philosophical proofs for God's existence!)

Psychologically speaking, Nietzsche believed that man "invented" God out of fear and laziness. He believed that man is afraid of his greatness and/or he is too lazy to live up to his greatness. Thus, man "invents" God (who is really his alter ego) in order to be lazy and "ask for things" he wants or for the things he wants to happen in his life. God as Santa Clause if you will. Praying then, is the lazy man's way of asking God for things instead of "being a man" and making it happen for himself.

God Is Dead.

Nietzsche's phrase "God is dead," is his gripping way of saying "Welcome to adulthood." Basically, man needs to end this false attachment to God (this idea that just coincidentally won't go away...), and be unafraid to conquer himself and the world without God.

Interestingly, the Christian Faith also repeatedly preaches to man to fear not. Scripture is filled with exhortations to not be afraid. John Paul II began his pontificate with the memorable words, "Be not afraid."

Nietzsche's phrase "God is dead," is an affirmation of his adoption of nihilism. (Nihil comes from the Latin word meaning nothing.)For Nietzsche there is no meaning to life, no after life, and there is nothing beyond the material world. There is nothing but the world of sense, of "stuff." There is no truth, no law, and no ideals and ideas.

Man is now God.

The phrase "God is dead," therefore has more to do with man than God. According to Nietzsche, man can now be free of this fictional, "tyrannical" God. It has been said that "God is dead," is the single most important event in the course of Western culture. Perhaps. Regardless, modernity is suffering the consequences of Nietzsche's thought.

Nietzsche emphasized the will over the intellect. He believed that man must choose to confess that God is dead. Man must choose "this truth." This is a very different approach than say, a man coming to not choose truth (how can truth be chosen?), but to discover truth. For him, man's liberation comes from choosing "God is dead." However, once the choice is made, man must live up to this new found freedom. (I want to ask Nietzsche how he can believe in freedom, since freedom is not something material.)

Nietzsche's thought becomes interesting in his insight that many atheists still believe. Isn't that the truth? There are so many people today who claim to be atheists but who live like believers. Nietzsche is critical of these people and claims they are not really free. He notices that man actually wants to believe in something. (I wonder why...)

I guess God isn't really dead--he keeps coming up--especially from atheists. For example, the American Humanist Association has all sorts of anti-God propaganda. During Christmas time, they have a button you can sport that says "O Come Let Us Ignore Him." How can you let me ignore him? You keep bringing him up! It is telling to me that the method by which they propose to ignore God is by wearing a button about ignoring him. Someone who actually does not believe in God does not wear buttons about his non-existence. As I say over and over again, "If you don't believe in God, why do you keep bringing him up?"

Nietzsche also said that man should not believe in anything. (Except you should believe his philosophy, of course. His philosophy that ultimately has no meaning, because there is no such thing as meaning.)

Will to Power.

Nietzsche believed that man must ascend to Super-man. He believed that man must overcome himself and become a new man. Nietzsche also believed in the "transvaluation of values." Basically that man must create his own, new values. The old values of the Christian reduce man to the state of a beggar. The traditional Christian values such as humility and patience, for example, are "slave values."

Nietzsche also did not value peace. The perfect state of the world is rather war. Nietzsche explained that for a Christian to have pity on another human being is harmful since that kind of behavior encourages people to be weak. The good is not to help people, but that which heightens the feeling of power in man. (Sounds like tyranny to me.) So if there was a man drowning in the ocean, the truest way to love him would not be to save his life, but to let him die.

It's a good thing for Nietzsche that his mother and sister were not adherents to his philosophy--otherwise, they would have let him die alone in his insanity instead of caring for him until his death in 1900.

My question to Nietzsche would be: Why should I do this? If there is no meaning in life, if suffering is not redemptive, if there is no purpose or goal to which we are moving toward or for which we were created, then what's the point? If nihilism is true, then everything--including Nietzsche's philosophy--is nothing. If he really believes this then why does he even bother discussing it? If nothing but the material is real, then his ideas don't even exist.

If man can choose what is true and man "chooses" to believe in God, why does Nietzsche have a problem with it? If life is but a power-race, why would Nietzsche care? Let him be the Super-man. Wouldn't that make him the most powerful? Isn't that precisely his goal?


In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, he writes, "Hell is other people."

For the nihilist, this must be true. Especially if life is but a power-struggle and a rat-race.

Benedict XVI explains the consequences of Nietzsche's influence in modernity well:

"And the deep darkness and alienation of our times is shown in the fact that we have powers and abilities but do not know what they are for; we have so much knowledge that we are no longer able to believe and see truth; we are no longer able to embrace the totality. Our philosophy is that of Pilate: "What is truth?" If man has no truth, only abilities, he is fundamentally alienated, and "participation" is only empty play-acting in the dark, deluding man with the notion of freedom and hurting him deeply. There is nothing fortuitous about the strident protests against such empty freedom: man, deprived of truth, has been dishonored."

Nietzsche failed to realize that man is not self-created. He was also unreasonable in expounding that man is or even can be entirely self-sufficient. The historical fact that we live in community (whether it be a village, tribe, town, city, state, country, etc.) should be a clue that we were not meant to be alone and that we are not alone in the universe. Further, Nietzsche was unreasonable because he attempted, in his philosophy, to start from scratch, to throw out the past. Truth (somehow!) began with him. But this is untrue. He was born into a history, a culture and a context. He even used faith as an indirect method of knowledge for which the functioning of life would be impossible. Everyone lives like this but many do not realize it. For example, most people have probably never been to Siberia, but they still believe in its existence. People buy bread at the market everyday having faith it will not be poisoned and this is a reasonable thing to do. As Thomas Merton said, "No man is an island."

Nietzsche also greatly misunderstood the Christian Faith. He was raised a Lutheran, which is a corrupted version of the Faith, but even so he did not have a sense of paradox and mystery. Regarding the paradox of the slave versus free man, Benedict XVI responds well, "Christ overturns the worldview of modern times, it is not evolution or the laws of matter or the "universe" who has the last word but a person! If we know this person and he knows us then we are no longer slaves of the universe and its laws, but free!"

Nietzsche is ultimately unreasonable because he failed to recognize that in his and in each man's heart is the desire for truth, beauty, goodness, and freedom. This is what man was made for. With Nietzsche and with all these "modern philosophers" it truly does come down to a negativity versus a positivity:

Luigi Giussani tells the story about how a young man without faith was forced by his mother to go to confession to him. During the confession, the young man laughed at him and said, "Listen, all that you are trying so forcefully to tell me is not worth as much as what I am about to tell you. You cannot deny that the true grandeur of man is represented by Dante's Capaneus, that giant chained by God to Hell, yet who cries to God, 'I cannot free myself from these chains because you bind me here. You cannot, however, prevent me from blaspheming you, and so I blaspheme you.' This is the true grandeur of man." Father Giussani answered him, "But isn't it even greater to love the infinite?"

The End.

Christians: We are at least half the reason why there are atheists in the world. We are the ones being apathetic. Instead of disregarding the neighborhood nihilist, engage him by making a different proposal for his life. Nietzsche said some pretty right on things. But as Hilaire Belloc said, "Heresies are maintained by the truths they retain." So think critically, make the distinctions, don't fight to win but fight for clarity. And then (maybe) the Christian proposal will be accepted--then maybe, as Benedict XVI said, "all men will realize the truth that man is not redeemed by science, but by love and that redemption will cause liberation of all, for God wills that all be saved," in other words, that all men be happy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI-Conclusion

Descendit de caelis: He came down from heaven. Through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, man has become certain of God. God is no longer an abstract being, "out there," a distant “first cause” of the world. The Incarnation allows all to confess: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave me for himself.” -Galatians 2:20

It is not science that redeems man, but love. No matter what man's circumstances, in the encounter with absolute love man begets absolute certainty. This is the meaning of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the God-man. This is a paradox. This is a mystery. It is almost unbelievable, but it is true. Benedict XVI emphasizes the relevancy of Christ and that what "makes Jesus important and irreplaceable in every age is precisely the fact that he was and is the Son, and that in him God has become man.” If, as the modern scholars often do, the attempt is made to remove "God" from the God-man, then the "man" is simultaneously obliterated. Jesus Christ does not make sense in any other way than as the God-man.

There are those today (much like the Arians of the past) who try to preserve the "purity" of the concept of God. They may believe in God, but he is not something accessible to man. But the Fathers of the Church regarded this as atheism: a God who is untouchable in human affairs is no God. Benedict XVI poses the question, “Do we not find it impossible that man can have a genuine relationship with God in the world?” Modernity has cowered from the God, has reduced his active role in the world, and has therefore retreated to the historical "man" Jesus.

"Pope Benedict has shown how a man of faith and reason, a Christian scholar, can find the face of Jesus in the canonical Gospels, and how others can do the same. Biblical scholars have been given a fine example of a pastoral hermeneutic capable of building up the life of the Church that is grounded in faith, reads Scripture canonically and theologically, and that draws both on the resources of critical exegesis and of the Christian tradition." -Peter S. Williamson

Benedict XVI's is a theologian as well as an evangelist. He enthusiastically invites those who read his writings to enter into that relationship with Jesus Christ which has prompted those reflections which is his personal testimony to the realities he describes. He invites us to sacrificially love others in union with Christ’s self-giving love for us revealed in the cross.

I leave you with these beautiful words of Benedict XVI, especially timely during these fifty days of Eastertide: “Christ summons us to find heaven in him, to discover him in others and thus to be heaven to each other. He calls us to let heaven shine into this world, to build heaven here. Jesus stretches out his hand to us in his Easter message, in the mystery of the sacraments, so that Easter may be now, so that the light of heaven may shine forth in this world and the doors may be opened. Let us take his hand! Amen.”

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI- Part IV.

The Christian Faith is not about being nice. It is not simply about the Golden Rule. And it it certainly not a philosophy. The Faith is an encounter with a person, with the Person.

Christ tells us who man truly is and what man must do to be truly human. He shows us the way, and this way is the truth. He himself is both the way and the truth, and therefore he is also the life which all of us are seeking. He shows us the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life. The true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death…he himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through.” -Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI clarifies that the reason Jesus Christ is so hard to figure out apart from revelation is because he did not leave behind a body of teaching which is separate from his “I.” He did not perform a work that could be distinguished from his “I.” His work is the giving of himself. This is the mystery and beauty of Jesus Christ: that he is not a mere teacher. He himself is simultaneously both teacher and the teaching. Since the person of Jesus is his teaching, the Christian Faith is truly the only personal faith in the form of an encounter. It is not limited to the affirmation or adherence of a particular system, but rather the acceptance of this "person who is his word, of the word as person and of the person as word.”

The Christian proposal is simply this in the words of Benedict XVI: "If we know this person and he knows us, then we are no longer slaves of the universe and its laws, but free."

Benedict XVI provides us with a beautiful meditation regarding the encounter with this person: “Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves."

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI-III.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was given at the proper time.” -Timothy 2:5-6

Descendit de caelis: He came down from Heaven. Why? To bring us God.

The Incarnation is the central creed of the Christian faith. The ancient Christological councils of the Church, notably the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and Constantinople in 381 A.D. developed the Nicene Creed establishing the understanding that Jesus Christ is both God and man. Since the early Church, theologians have been reflecting on the drama of this event trying to more deeply understand the mystery of God and of man.

Benedict XVI expresses, "Jesus is the most human of men, the true man, and thus subscribes to the identity of theology and anthropology."

By becoming man, Jesus Christ unites himself with all the victims of sin and injustice in history. As mediator, the "Son of Man" brings God to man and man to God through his solidarity with men in his life and death. As a fellow man who has suffered the most horrific injustice, he truly knows man's plight.

Through the event of the crucifixion, the God-man becomes the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and in doing so not only fulfills the Law of the Old Covenant but eternally unites and links himself to humanity.

As the Son, Jesus Christ is entirely obedient to the will of the Father. His example provides a way for men to follow him in his obedience. Obedience is a friendship. Jesus Christ knows what man wants and what he was created for: happiness. Communion with Jesus provides communion with God who is the origin of man's being and who is perfect happiness. Only Jesus brings happiness because only Jesus brings God. And Jesus brings God because Jesus is God.

Benedict XVI illuminates, “Jesus who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”

It is in his rejection that God is glorified. It is in the weakness of man that God's sovereignty is established. It is in Christ’s earthly existence that he makes God’s heavenly existence present and known. "If God has descended and is now below, then “below” has also become an “above,” and the old division into “above” and “below” has been shattered.” His death is an act of self-communication. This shattering, this communication, is man’s redemption and it signifies the victory of love over death.

Thus, as Benedict XVI expresses, "Love is the ultimate reason for the Incarnation."

Benedict XVI posits that since the core of Jesus’ personality is prayer, then those who seek to understand him must actively participate in his prayer. He makes an excellent point by illustrating that, for example, medicine can only be learned in the practice of healing. Similarly, “religion can only be understood through religion—and the fundamental act of religion is prayer.” He logically explains that this is what is suggested in the Gospel when John writes “No one can come to him unless the Father draws him.” Without the Father, there is no Son and without the Son, no one can truly know the Father. Prayer then, is “the basic precondition if real understanding is to take place.” If this is true then Benedict XVI is correct in noting that genuine developments in the study of Christology and in theological understanding must be complemented by the “theology of the saints, which is theology from experience.” This experience has its source and origin in the act of love, which is prayer itself. It is this act of self-surrender (which Jesus accomplished so perfectly) by which Christians truly comprise the Body of Christ.

Early in his pontificate, Benedict XVI preached that, “the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People.”

The genius of the gift of the Lord’s prayer, the “Our Father” is that by praying “Our” Father, together as a community, “those who belong to Jesus participate in Jesus’ relationship to God," by sharing in his gesture.

This is, in a sense, a case for the Church.

Regarding the Body of Christ and its mysterious existence as the Church, Benedict XVI clarifies, “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” This insight of Benedict XVI boldly addresses modernity’s current individualistic mentality. This mentality has penetrated even among Christians particularly by the emerging "house church" movement or more radically by those who claim to be Christians without "organized religion."

Theologians of Christology who view Jesus Christ through the mentality of individualism greatly miss the point. The Church is Christ's Body which is comprised of the unity of its members. Followers of Christ do not pray the “My Father” (only Christ could regard God in that way, according to his unique filial relationship with the Father) but the “Our Father.” Further, although Jesus brought an entirely new dimension to humanity’s access to God the Father, he did so within the traditional framework of God’s People, Israel. His dialogue with the Father was also a dialogue with Moses and Elijah as in the Transfiguration account. He did not abolish the Law, but fulfilled it. He did not destroy Israel, but renewed it. The result of which gave the nations "access to the Spirit of revelation and hence to God the Father, the God of Jesus Christ.” Thus, the “Church” truly became Universal, not just for Israel but for all mankind.

This understanding has imperative implications for those who claim to know Jesus outside of the Church. True fellowship with Jesus presupposes that “communication with the living subject of tradition to which all this is linked into communication with the Church.” This is the context given by which one must come to know Jesus Christ. Benedict XVI poses a challenge to denominations of the one Church by clarifying that even the “New Testament book presupposes the Church as its subject.”

It was and continues to be this context, the Church, which provides the understanding that Jesus Christ is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.”

Jesus Christ is both man and “Other.” Benedict XVI writes, “Jesus Christ is he who has moved right out beyond himself and thus the man who has truly come to himself.” Thus, in finding himself in Christ, man is more himself the the more he is with others. (As Lorenzo Albacete would say, "We need community to be truly human.") In this way, man becomes more like Jesus Christ the more open he is to God—by moving “out beyond himself.”

It is precisely in this relation with “the Other” and concretely through others that Jesus Christ shows that the Faith is not primarily about the individual; for the salvation of the mere individual there would be “no need of either a Church or a history of salvation, an incarnation or passion.” Man is himself when he is fitted into the whole and thus the Faith, the encounter with Christ, must be understood in the context of the Church.

Being a Christian is not an individual but a social charisma.

The Christian Faith demands the individual, but wants him for the whole and not for himself. The Faith teaches us to be like God--who created us out of charity and who sent his Son to show us that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI- Part II.

"According to the testimony of Holy Scripture, the center of the life and person of Jesus is his constant communication with the Father.” -Benedict XVI

Jesus Christ's “constant communication” with the Father was in prayer. It is in prayer that the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son is most evident and understood. Paradoxically, it is in the hiddenness of his prayer which most openly expresses the core reality of his personality as “Son” to the apostles and particularly to Peter.

Benedict XVI notes some the numerous titles applicable to Jesus Christ: prophet, priest, rabbi, king, Lord, and Son. But the most appropriate title for Jesus Christ, in light of his constant communication with the Father, is Son. Benedict XVI expresses, "It is the only comprehensible designation for Jesus. It both comprises and interprets everything else.” Thus, the Church’s confession is consistent with Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

According to Benedict XVI, whole of Christology lies is Jesus’ prayer. He recalls the Biblical account of Jesus' prayer at the Mount of Olives. Jesus addresses God as "Abba" which in his native language of Aramaic translates to "Daddy" or "Papa." This was a completely novel way to address Father-God. Jewish custom did not refer to God in such an informal manner. The familiarity by which Jesus addressed God was radical, not only for Jews but also for the pagans of the time. The philosophical rationalists had a concept of God, but "a God to whom one could pray" did not exist for them.

Jesus’ entire existence is relationship with the Father. So integral is this understanding of his personhood that Benedict XVI notes that Jesus even died while praying. ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"-Mark 15:34) Jesus was never alone. Benedict XVI writes, “His whole existence until his final cry on the cross was one single act of reaching out to that Other whom he called Father.” The dignity of his being is all rooted in his relationship to God the Father. While Jesus Christ is also "King" and "Lord," the central name that designates his power is “Son.”

His power lies in his total relativity to the Father.

The evangelist Luke recounts the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. His face and clothes are transfigured before the apostles Peter, James, and John. The significance of the transfiguration is that it revealed that Jesus is not only truly human, but also a truly divine being. His divinity is revealed precisely because of the perfection of his communion with the Father. This communion merits the words of God, "This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!" (Luke 9:28-36)

The mystery of Jesus becomes visible in his prayer. Benedict XVI explains that in this dialogue of love, “Luke has raised the prayer of Jesus to the central Christological category from which he describes the mystery of the Son.”

It is in the solitary speaking with the Father that he comes to men and that men come to him. This theology of Luke is most clearly expressed in his ironic (yet intentional) choice of words: “when he was alone with the disciples.” (Luke 9:18)

Benedict XVI conveys so eloquently that “only by entering into Jesus’ solitude, only by participating in what is most personal to him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can we penetrate to his identity.”

He is Son because of his unceasing prayer. This union and communion signifies his Son-ship to the Father.

Simply put by the God-man, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI- Part I.

In Benedict XVI's spiritual, theological and pastoral writings, it is evident that he is committed to restoring the disconnect caused by modern historical scholarship between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of Faith.”

Benedict XVI points out that the “title of ‘Christ’ has largely given way to the personal name ‘Jesus.’” The title “Christ” implies the Jesus of “faith” as the Church understands and confesses him to be which is the God-man. Leaving the "Christ" out of the title "Jesus Christ" emphasizes his humanity over his divinity which is a reduced understanding of who he is.

This disconnect has been further popularized through the various television documentaries on the life of Jesus. The "Jesus of history" is often contrasted with the "Jesus of faith." Believers and nonbelievers alike have suggested that the historical Jesus (what is exclusively known of him solely by historical evidence) is quite different and oftentimes contradictory to the Jesus understood by those in the Christian tradition and revelation.

Putting fanciful (and fallacious) histories of Jesus aside, a true believer should not disregard the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that the Christian Faith is a historical religion. By becoming incarnate, God entered human history through the life and events of Jesus of Nazareth. Second, because if the Faith is true, it cannot and will not be contradicted with what history (and further science) provides. Benedict XVI calls the method an "indispensable tool." Historical scholarship can aid in understanding Jesus by providing the historical context of the four Gospels.

Benedict XVI clarifies that it is crucial to remember that the method, however, is limited and that not everything that is true about a person can be shown by historical evidence. Oftentimes theories are treated as certainties only later to be disregarded as erroneous. One must also consider the personal agenda of the particular scholar and that historical documents can be found to be inauthentic and misinterpreted.

The restoration of the gap between the supposed “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” is imperative if one is to understand Jesus Christ in the totality of his being. Thus, the “Christian interpretation begins with an act of faith in Christ that is consistent with historical reason but transcends it.” The historical-critical methods that claim to present a purified (apart from the Christian revelation) representation of Jesus are ultimately inadequate. "Jesus only subsists as the Christ and Christ only subsists in the shape of Jesus."

Benedict XVI portrays Jesus beyond the limitations of historical criticism and “draws on the resources of Christian faith which is much more logical, and, historically speaking, much more intelligible than the reconstructions provided by the historical quests of recent decades.”

Simply put, the Christ of Faith is the Jesus of history.

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI-Introduction

When a little boy sees a cardboard box, he is not content to just give it a superficial glance--he wants to look inside the box.

As humans, we are drawn to mystery. The experience of mystery is interesting because it is not that life is not or cannot be understood, but that it can never be fully understood, in its totality. And yet the desire to know and understand remains.

The drama of life is also undeniably one of paradox! St. Paul described this experience of being human so well in his letter to the Romans: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (7:15)

The paradox is that if one approaches knowledge and understanding with this sense of mystery and paradox, one will know and understand more clearly.

This being stated, it is important to adhere to this mentality in trying to answer the question that Jesus Christ posed to Peter and the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?

Characteristic of Jesus’ approach in the gospel accounts, he does not give the apostles a straightforward answer. Yet his words and deeds provide the clues needed to connect the dots on the mystery of his existence.

It is (paradoxically!) a question that he has answered, and that has yet to be answered.

This loss of the importance of recognizing the reality of mystery and paradox (and that reality is mystery and paradox) in the discovery of truth is what has led to the current problems in modern Christological scholarship in trying to unpack who this man Jesus is.

Jesus Christ According to Benedict XVI

I am supposed to write a paper about understanding Jesus Christ according to the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Easy, right?

I think the tricky thing about this paper topic is that it makes Christ out to be something subjective, like truth seems to be these days. But Jesus is not something subjective, especially if He is God. Of course as individuals we experience objective truth in different ways, just like we can all be looking at the same painting and receive something different from it, but the painting itself does not change. It is what it is and Jesus is who He is.

As a believer, I trust Benedict XVI. His writings on the subject are not the infallible teachings of the Magesterium, but he is loyal to the Church (He is the Pope, after all!) and undoubtedly a most learned theologian.

Here's the outline for my paper: I will blog on each part for you in sections. I am pulling this information primarily from his books Jesus of Nazareth, Behold the Pierced One, Introduction to Christianity and his Wednesday Audience messages. I very much recommend the book Behold the Pierced One. It focuses on spiritual Christology--I can't praise it enough.

-Introduction: Paradox and Mystery

I. Jesus or Christ? Jesus Christ? The "historical" Jesus and the "Christ" of faith. Benedict bridges the gap caused by modern scholarship. (The one (Jesus) cannot exist without the other (Christ).

II. The key to understanding Jesus is his communion with the Father. His being is relationship. ("I and the Father are one."-John 10:30)

III. "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."-Timothy 2:5 The connection between Christology, Soteriology, and the Church.

IV. Jesus Christ is not a mere teacher: He is the teaching. The Christian Faith is not a philosophy, but an encounter with a Person.

-Conclusion: Faith and Reason

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to you! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Remember, we have FIFTY days of Easter so be filled with the joy of your happiness in Christ during the entire season and beyond!

My Easter gift to you is this beautiful meditation by our Holy Father from his book Behold the Pierced One...

“Christ summons us to find heaven in him, to discover him in others and thus to be heaven to each other. He calls us to let heaven shine into this world, to build heaven here. Jesus stretches out his hand to us in his Easter message, in the mystery of the sacraments, so that Easter may be now, so that the light of heaven may shine forth in this world and the doors may be opened. Let us take his hand! Amen.”


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pope St. Gregory the Great

Pope St. Gregory the Great reigned from 590-604 A.D. He is the second out of four popes to be called "the Great." His pontificate marked the advent of the medieval papacy. He is considered the fourth doctor of the Church and the founder of medieval spirituality. His feast day is on September 3. (March 12 in the 1962 calendar.) St. Gregory came from a wealthy, privileged and influential background. He was extremely well-educated and Gregory of Tours praised his education as being "second to none."

St. Gregory had a very successful public career and attained a powerful position, urban prefect, by the age of thirty. He also served as a deacon for Pope Pelagius II and later as a papal representative to the Byzantine Court.

St. Gregory was one of the richest men in Rome. Unlike his equally successful colleagues, St. Gregory used his wealth to found seven monasteries in Rome. Forsaking all wealth, he converted to the monastic life in 573 A.D. Throughout his writings it is evident that St. Gregory considered his three years in the contemplative life at St. Andrew's monastery on his family estate as the happiest of his life.

A reticent monk...

St. Gregory was elected Pope after his predecessor, Pelagius II, had surrendered to the deathly plague roaming through Italy at the time. He became the first monk to be elected to the throne of St. Peter and was extremely hesitant to lead a city cursed with plagues, famines, and wars: "Farms and houses were carried away by the floods. The Tiber overflowed its banks, destroying numerous buildings, among them the granaries of the Church with all the store of corn. Pestilence followed on the floods and Rome became a very city of the dead. Business was at a standstill, and the streets were deserted save for the wagons which bore forth countless corpses for burial in common pits beyond the city walls."

He wrote to the Emperor Maurice strongly protesting his election. While he was waiting for a response from the Emperor, St. Gregory, in reaction against the plague, organized a procession to the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin. During the procession, St. Gregory and the people saw a vision of St. Michael, which symbolized that the plague was over.

St. Gregory was unsuccessful in changing the Emperor's or the people's mind on his election to the papacy. It is said that he was so horrified at the news of his election to the Holy See that he considered escaping. There is a legendary story which tells of St. Gregory, horrified at the prospect of becoming Pope, hiding in the forest for three days to avoid consecration! Although it does not seem to be historically accurate, it makes for a dramatic story. Despite his "Great" pontificate, St. Gregory never ceased to regret his election.

"Servant of the Servants of God"

St. Gregory was the first to refer to himself as, "Servus Servorum Dei." The title has been inherited and used frequently by subsequent popes.

Once St. Gregory came to terms with his new role, the word that best describes the last fourteen years of his life and his pontificate is zeal. Although he had a brief pontificate, some consider him the “greatest of the great,” because of his numerous efficacious achievements and his personal devotion and holiness, despite his poor health.

On the political front, St. Gregory, "secured the grain supply for Rome, sent troops against the Lombards, secured defense of Naples, paid ransoms when necessary to buy off soldiers, and was eventually forced to become paymaster, defraying the daily expenses of defending Rome."

The greatest challenge St. Gregory faced politically was regarding the Lombards. He wanted to establish and maintain a peace treaty with the double aim of converting them from their heretical Arian views. His attempts at peace created tension between him and Emperor Maurice because his success would advance the political importance of Rome over the Byzantine Court. Moreover, similar to Pope St. Leo, St. Gregory emphasized Rome's premier position with the rival sees and patriarchs.

It was his involvement with the Lombards which increased the temporal power of the papacy. One is reminded of St. Leo's encounter with Attila the Hun in learning of St. Gregory's famous meeting with the Lombard king, Agilulf, on the steps of St. Peter's. A peace treaty with the Lombards was accomplished in 598 and through his diplomatic progress with the Lombards, the catholization of the Lombards was underway. This was a huge step in the final defeat of Arianism by the 7th C. (Sadly, once Arianism was over, the Islamic invasions were beginning...)

One can not discuss the papacy of St. Gregory the Great without mentioning his commitment and perhaps obsession with reforming abuses prevalent in the Church at the time. He convened a noteworthy council in Rome in the year 595 and promptly abolished acceptance of any fees for ordinations or for the granting of the pallium. He also forbade an old traditional practice of charging very high prices for burying the dead in privileged places in the churches. Other abuses he sought to correct included simony, seizure of land, privileges and ecclesiastical reforms. He wrote in a letter, “We do not wish the purse of the Church to be polluted by shameful gains.”

St. Gregory, a fearless politician and pope, had a deep and great love for the poor. Every day he invited twelve poor people to dine with him. He was criticized for leaving the treasury empty when he died because of his generosity to the poor. He was also a huge defender of religious paintings and deemed them "the books of the unlearned."

Despite these difficult challenges within the city of Rome, St. Gregory believed it was his primary duty to cultivate the spiritual life by his writing and preaching.

"Pastoralis Curae"

St. Gregory's conviction was that preaching was one of the first duties of a bishop. Thus he did not spend time building churches as other popes had and would in the future.

Thus, he was a prolific writer—preserved are 850 letters of his. One of his most important works is his book on pastoral care, which he composed for bishops. St. Gregory felt the weight of his pontificate and the responsibility he had to provide his sheep with good and holy shepherds, the bishops. He was also strongly concerned with bishops being involved in too many worldly and temporal affairs, which admittedly he struggled with himself.

Gregory the "Consul of God"

There is a story that recounts St. Gregory encountering some “Anglo” pagans to which Gregory remarked, “Ah, what a pity that the author of darkness owns such fair faces, and that, with such grace of outward form, they should lack inward grace!”

He is known to the English as "The Apostle of the Island" because he is responsible for England coming to the Faith by sending St. Augustine of Canterbury and monks to proselytize there.

Earlier, St. Gregory had planned to become a missionary to England himself despite Pope Pelagius’ reluctance in giving him permission. However, the people were determined to keep their beloved Gregory in Rome. Later, St. Gregory advised St. Augustine of Canterbury not to destroy the pagan temples in England but to re-consecrate them for Christ. In this way, he set the method for missionaries of the future.

The French historian Jean Leclerq said of Gregory's influence in the Middle Ages, "Everyone...had read him and lived by him." Further, "Gregory's concern with the moral meaning of Scripture, his concerns with suffering and evil, his attitudes defining the proper exercise of power, and his view of the centrality of the church and its sacraments all foreshadow later medieval views, as does his vision of an invisible world of demons and angels surrounding men and women in everyday life ready to wreak havoc or extend aids as executor's of God's will."

St. Gregory's poor health did not prevent him from speaking to his loved ones, his people. One of these such occasions caused him to speak with moving tenderness: “But if my mouth has been silent, do not think that my love has grown cold. It happens sometimes that, even in the midst of the occupations which hinder me, love is glowing in my heart although it can not show itself in deeds….”

His preaching, although not as brilliant and eloquent as the first "Great", “has a simplicity and familiarity that Leo does not know.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us. +

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pope St. Leo the Great

Pope St. Leo the Great is the first of only four popes in Church history to be called "the Great." He reigned 21 years from 440-461 A.D. Of the 265 Popes, he is also one of only two popes to be proclaimed a doctor of the church. His feast day is celebrated on November 10. (April 11 in the 1962 calendar.)

His chief aim was to preserve the unity of the Church, the unity of Christendom. He is thus known to us as the "Doctor of the Unity of the Church."

In his epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul exhorts the Church to "stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not (to be) frightened in anything by your opponents." (Philippians 1:27-28)

Leo, a true lion, was unafraid to strongly use papal power to preserve the unity of Christendom. He rightly understood that the glue that holds the unity of Christendom is obedience and allegiance to the Pope. Here are some of his last words from a letter, "the same medicine must be applied to all wounds in all places, in order that the Lord's flock may all be restored in all churches through the zeal of the shepherds, and so that through concern for charity, all Christ's sheep may feel that they have one shepherd."

Papal Primacy and Unity in Christ

Pope St. Leo the Great understood well his mission and authority in holding the office of St. Peter, the first pope.

It can be argued that the greatest thing Pope Leo did was to strengthen papal power by making a bold claim to the legitimacy of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as the inheritance of the office that St. Peter himself was given by Christ. Leo took seriously Christ's words, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16: 19)

The concern for unity is what motivated Leo to frequently expound the traditional position that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter who is the visible head of the Universal Church. He saw the the bishop of Rome as a "symbol of faith in unity, a sacramental representation of the Church's being one in Christ."

For this reason, Leo strongly fought against the heresies in his day: Priscillianism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Manicheanism, and Monophysitism.

"Peter has spoken through Leo!:" Leo's Tome and the Monophysite Heresy

About 10 years prior to Leo's election to the throne of St. Peter, the third ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Ephesus, had defeated the Nestorian heresy which claimed that in Christ were two persons and that Mary was the "Christokos" (Christ-bearer in Greek) and not the "Theotokos" (God-bearer in Greek). This means that she is only the mother of the human person, not the divine person. However, Jesus is one person, with both human and divine natures. The council defeated this heresy on Christ and thus rightly proclaimed Mary to be the Mother of God, since Jesus is God. (Mother of the Word made flesh, not Mother of God the Father, Creator of the Universe.)

During Leo's pontificate, another attack on orthodox Christology came through the Monophysite heresy. Monophysitism denies the two natures (human and divine) in the one person of Jesus Christ. They believed Christ had only one divine nature. In 449 A.D., the monk Eutyches and his Monophysite followers held the 2nd Council of Ephesus which affirmed this heresy. Pope Leo deemed the council a "Robber Synod," and called the true third general council, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. At the council, Leo's Tome (his book on the Monophysite heresy)was finally read (it had been ignored at the "Robber Synod") and the heresy was defeated. The bishops (only four came from the West, most were from the East) cheered, "Peter has spoken through Leo!" This cry from the (remember, largely Eastern!) bishops should be instructive for those who accuse the papacy of being a man-made or medieval invention. Four centuries after Peter: "Peter has spoken through Leo!"

Powerful words, indeed.

Leo's Tome is called, "the plain man's guide to the doctrine of the Incarnation."

Leo's role in defeating this terrible heresy was integral to preserving the traditional understanding Christ's personhood and nature. His leadership and strength also reaffirmed the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. At this council, Leo rejected the passing of Canon 28 which tried to make the Patriarch of Constantinople equal in authority with Rome.

The Lion versus Attila the Hun, the "scourge of God"

In history, the Huns are remembered as the savages they were. Attila, their leader, was known as "the scourge of God." Interestingly enough, Attila was also a learned man and was fluent in Latin. In 452 A.D., General Orestes was a Roman politician at the time and had conspired with Attila to attack Rome. Pope St. Leo persuaded Attila not to sack the great city. So impressive was this encounter with Attila, that art has preserved its memory and legacy through Raphael's work.

Another impressive, diplomatic encounter occurred when Genseric the Vandal was persuaded by Leo to spare the lives of the Romans by not burning the city. Genseric agreed and he and his men only looted the city.

It is said of Leo that during his time, "he was the only truly great historical figure in either the Church or the civil order...Pope St. Leo the Great was the one man who, by the clarity and vision of the Church as one and universal, and by the force of his own administration, did much to fashion the framework on which European civilization could grow in an essential unity."

Leo the Saint

As Pope, Leo was as fierce as a lion in proclaiming orthodox doctrines and uniformity in disciplines according to canon law. As pastor, he was as gentle as a lamb when dealing with his sheep. In a letter to Anastasius, the Bishop of Thessalonica, he writes, "Although men of priestly rank sometimes do things that are to be reprimanded, yet kindness may have more effect on those who are to be corrected than severity: exhortation than perturbation, love than power."

Like all holy and saintly men, Leo was also humble. On one of his pontifical anniversaries he expressed, "St. Peter rejoices over your good feeling and welcomes your respect for the Lord's own institution as shown towards the partners of His honor, commending the well-ordered love of the whole Church which ever finds Peter in Peter's See, and from affection for so great a shepherd grows not lukewarm over even so inferior a successor as myself."

Pope St. Leo the Great, pray for us. +


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