Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Benedict-ion II

Benedict's speech again is here.

A less charitable interpretation of Pope Benedict's statement (from the Guardian) here. One I don't totally subscribe to btw.

Aside from the polemic, this tidbit of important info:

In fact, Pope Benedict XVI's short papacy has marked a significant departure from the previous pope's stance on interreligious dialogue.

For Benedict, inter-religious dialogue must occur on the level of "culture"--that is reason. Hence his speech in Germany was how reason must be seen as compatible with faith (by which he means Christian faith). Irrationality, such as violent compulsion in religion, is contrary to God's plan.

John Paul II was a personalist in philosophical terms--much more existential and phenomenological. [When he was readable that is]. He allowed dialuge on the level of faith and did not distinguish so sharply as does Benedict, between reason/faith. John Paul was more a pastor as well. Benedict the theologian.

Ratzinger--er Benedict--is a medievalist. Interestingly he was the first non-Thomist/non-Dominican to hold the post of Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine and Faith (formerly until the 1960s, the Office of the Holy Inquisition).

Ratzinger while not Thomistic is Medieval.

A lot to go into, like the entire history of ancient Greek philosophy and its translation through Christianity and Islam. But a brief thought or two.

Benedict is an Augustinian. In fact he is a medievalist Augustinian. The closest Christian thinker to Benedict, in my mind, is Bonaventure, 13th century Franciscan and friend/sparring partner with Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas was from the Domincan order and was a student of Aristotle. What the meddieval Catholic tradition sought was a union fo the Hellenstic and Biblical frames---that union has been de-coupled through the Renaissance/modernity and Reformation (voluntarism) on the other, what Benedict calls the "de-Hellenization" in his speech.

So Christian medievalists sought to unite the Hellenistic and Christian Biblical frames (emphasis on Christian there are huge differences in the way that Jews, Chrsitians, and Muslims read the Abrahamic tradition).

Thomas sought this union through the Aristotlean notions of form/matter. For Aristotle, the form of a substance is the inner mover/shaper of the matter. The soul Aristotle reasoned is the Form of the Body. Forms are more immanent for Aristotle (than Plato). So in Thomistic theology that comes out as grace is the form of nature. Grace transcends and includes, if you like, nature. Thomas famously said that grace perfects nature not destroys it. While grace is the form of nature, the two have relative boundaries. Later Roman Catholic theology--up until Vatican II--was dominated by the Neo-Thomistic Revival which depicted this nature/grace relationship as like two layers of cake, grace stacked up on top of nature. Though more "earthy" if you like in Thomas himself.

For Bonavneture, in the Augustinian-Platonic frame, nature and grace were separate but given nature's profound wounding in Original Sin, nature needed "illumination" to reach into the realm of grace. This illumiation comes particularly in Bonaventure from/through the Church--as well as in mystical union with God; Bonaventure being one of the greatest Christian mystics, one read in both the Eastern adn Western Chrsitian traditions.

Platonism recall saw everything in the finitie world as a mere glimmer/copy of the eternal pre-existent forms of being---which Augustine placed inside the mind of God and therefore as one with God's essence. So theologically, Augustinian thought is suspect insofar as to any degree of illumination we receive, we are connecting with the Divine Essence--not the Divine as the Divine is for us as in Greek Theology (God's Existence).

The issue only arises in Western Chritian theological discourse because only Augustine and the entire Western theological tradition separated grace from nature. For the Greek Eastern Christians, grace and nature co-arose (a position I find more tenable).

So Benedict is towing a fine line here. He is not trying to return to Thomistic thought per se, although Thoomas/Bonaventure did both hold to the basic compatiblity/capability (in Latin capax) between human reason and the divine.

Benedict's Platonism got him in a thoelogical dispute with Cardinal Kasper (head of interreligious dialogue) over the nature of the Church. Benedict argued that at the feast of Pentecost (see The Book of Acts in the New Testament) the universal Church pre-existed particular (local) churches.

In other words, the unitary Church was already there prior to its actual hstorical instantiation in individual churches. So the Church, Capital C is like a Platonic Form, of which the individual churches of Christianity are just imperfect modifications in time-sapce.

That view not suprisingly supports a unitary, non-transparent Roman Curial System. That view is also countered by the evidence of the entire Patristic era (100-800 CE). The Church was always defined in Greek thought as the communion of saints.

"I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints...."

The Church was not other than the relatinoship/communion (koinonia) of the churhces that confessed the true disicpline and doctrine of the faith. Only a medievalist could say that the unitary [Roman?] church existed first to be lovingly given downward to all the rest.

Not the least of the problems with that theory is that the event known as Pentecost never actually took place--at least not as depicted in teh Book of Acts. The Acts depiction is a theological story, told to make a point of meaning about faith.

So all of Benedict's thought can be seen around the issue of illuminationism and Roman authority. Thomas Aquinas, btw, was not as strong on papal power as was Bonvaenture.

--Buddhist meditation, because it is non-theistic is "mental masturbation".
--Liberation theology is suspect because it questions the right of authoritarian/medieval Church structures.
--Empiricism has forgotten its Platonic roots and hence disallows reasonable discussion of faith (right on that point.....why for most scientists the Laws of Nature are their god).
--Volunatrism/Romanticism/Theologies of the Will (e.g. Duns Scotus) deny the rationality inherent in the divine act.

It is also noticed in his famous break from the early liberal Ratzinger (Ratzinger 1.0) to the later conservative one (2.0). But this break never really occured too much. Ratzinger did participate in the Second Vatican Council as a peritus, theological advisor. He strongly supported the renewl/reform of the Church. For example the Document Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church in theh modern world)--all Conciliar Documents take their names from the first words, in this case "A Light to the Peoples/Gentiles".

But Ratzinger vehemently opposed the final VII document called Gaudium et Spes: Hope and joy. Which begins paraphrasing: The hopes of joy's of man [world], are those of the Church.

It was here that Ratzinger disagreed because the Church needed to reform (Lumen Gentium) because it was the Light--to "illuminate"--the world. The Church was not of the world. It was the light to the world. Not arm in arm with the world and its struggles but above it (medieval). He wanted to reform the Church because he felt its mission down to the world was impaired by out of date modalities. But it was in no way a concession to the idea that the Church itself needed to question basic core structures/beliefs about its superiority. In this regard, Benedict is the true heir of John Paul II's vision.

And just to bring it back to Islam, for a second. In Islam there was a similar set of arguments in their medieval scholastic theologies. Which took place earlier since the Arabs were the ones who actually had the Greeks and were the forefront of Medieterranean civilization at that point.

The argument grew out of the question of the relationship between God and the Quran. Similar to the debate in the Christian circles about whether God's Laws were God's Laws because they were rational or because God made them.

Was the Quran created? If so, then how had God revealed God's Nature in it? For God is not bound by time. Some theologians said yes.

Was the Quran uncreated? This takes care of the Revelation issue but then beg's the question is the Quran another god? Are there two gods? Just as with the Chrsitian example, if God choose the Natural Law because it was right is there another standard by which God is measured? Other thoelogians--particularly more hardline elements (Hanbalis) said yes.

The Ashtarites brilliantly said that the Quran was eternal (uncreated) but existed so in the mind of God---just as Augustine put Plato's Forms in teh mind of God. This allowed certain Ashtartie theologians to say that the Eternal Quran was perfect in the mind of God but was imperfectly mediated/contextualized through human consciousness/language. Hence, they were able to do critical Quranic exegesis.

Unfortunately, to make a simplified version of this, the Ashtarites lost out in the later middle ages. Just as the Bonaventure-Thomistic harmony between reasn/faith lost out to later volunatristic and nominalistic theologies (William of Ockham).

The Hanbali postiion triumphed--which again is a theological issue open to debate. The Hanbali position of the (unquestioned) Eternal Quran being the one we have directly dictated to Muhammad has cost Islam the ability to undertake the historical criticism/contextualization of the Quran necessary for Islamic theologies to reach a modernist wave of development.

The results are in the streets. Islam needs a neo-Ashtari like school of thought. complete with itjihad "the gates of reason". This position would actually be very close to some of Benedict's thoughts on faith/reason.

However, for me, the Ashtarite/Benedct position is actually only at best a substitute position.

It correctly emphasizes the ways in which thought has become too secularized and theologies too dependent on otherness of will of God--like Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodox Reformed theology.

But it can not and does not take into accoutn the modern Kantian critical turn to the subject. And the deconstruction fo the realist mindset. [Empiricism is just realism in drag]. Nor yet the intersubjective hermeneutical turn.

The human mind inherently bifurcates. It must therefore crate mental system that say that reason is comptabile with faith and others that say reason is incopatiable with faith. And that those two systems can not defeat the other finally--except in their own minds. Which is exactly what has happened.

On that level there is no working out of these differing belief systems--at best a non-aggressive sorta of separation of the two (Gould's non-overlapping magisteria). But all of that is deeply disjointed from what is arising. By dissolving those fixed systems into perspectives, then things come better into focus. Why start digging underneath to why people are saying what they are saying, why they believe what they believe, what those beliefs have in the way of light and shadows, and not focus simply on what they said. What the content alone of the beliefs supposedly are.

Benedict's schema can not also account for the fact of states of consciousness. Plato, as I read him, was a Nondual thinker. He attained states of consciousness, normally in Chritian thought, referred to mystical/supernatural. Technically neither mystical nor non-mystical but beyond both. And Benedict tries to fit that into the bubble of reason. So it only takes certain aspctes of Platonism and those even arguably misread.

There is proof, I hold, that reason is automatically compatible with faith nor incompatiable either. I think the question is wrongly framed or rather is a product of an inadequately developed (relative to higher later standards) mode of thought. It can't be solved so much as transcended and then never arisign again in the first place.

I'll do one more on the questions of whether he should have said what he said, practical implications.


At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Travis said...

Hey Chris,

"...which Augustine placed inside the mind of God and therefore as one with God's essence. So theologically, Augustinian thought is suspect insofar as to any degree of illumination we receive, we are connecting with the Divine Essence--not the Divine as the Divine is for us as in Greek Theology (God's Existence)."

Could you elaborate on this a little more? Did Augustine believe Man could know God in His Essence? How was this dealt with in Catholic Tradition?

"The issue only arises in Western Christian theological discourse because only Augustine and the entire Western theological tradition separated grace from nature. For the Greek Eastern Christians, grace and nature co-arose (a position I find more tenable)."

I know this is off topic but if you have the time I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on this. From what I've read recently the major issue between Christian and pagan metaphysics in the Patristic era centered around the loss of personhood in union with God. The Fathers feeling that the Philosophers degraded created being and sought only it's end in the Absolute. Arguing that there is a 'eternal spacing' between Man and God, an an eternal journey with Man infinitely balanced between God and Creation. If my interpretation is correct this is very similar to Ibn Arabi's views in Islamic Sufi tradition, Man is of the Essence but will never actually come to completely know it, the veils are infinite- a unity, but one of distinction. While not viewing it this way dogmatically is the Eastern Christian view that at the highest stages of Theosis the created passes into the uncreated basically speaking of non dualism?

Thanks, Travis


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