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June-July 2014

“I Know Not the Man”

Pope Francis: The Natural Child of Pope Benedict XVI


~ Part II ~

Joseph Ratzinger: The Architect of the New Epistemology

I have examined in detail Joseph Ratzinger’s philosophy and theology in quite a number of articles, the most extensive treatment being found in The Quintessential Evolutionist [CO, Feb. 2009]. I don’t intend to repeat all of that here, but only offer a summary of what is relevant to our subject: the new epistemology. I refer the reader to my previous articles for thorough documentation.

The Denial of Substance

The entire structure of the new epistemology is predicated upon the denial of the concept of substance. The motivation for this, as described by Pius X in Pascendi, is the alleged necessity of subjecting the Faith to science. Specifically, this involves a surrender to the view of physical reality as postulated by reductive atomic and quantum physics. Joseph Ratzinger explicitly rejects the validity of the traditional concept of “substance,” even going so far as to apply this rejection specifically to the doctrine of Transubstantiation:

…the medieval concept of substance has long since become inaccessible to us. In so far as we use the concept of substance at all today we understand thereby the ultimate particles of matter, and the chemically complex mixture that is bread certainly does not fall into that category. (Faith and the Future, p. 14).

We must note here that since the “ultimate particles of matter” are constantly in movement, dissolution, and radical change, then the concept of “evolution” becomes the fundamental characteristic of all physical being. There is no such thing as substantial physical being. Everything is reduced to evolving “relationships.”

This rejection of the concept of substance is applied by Joseph Ratzinger not only to physical objects such as bread, but also to God:

In this connection I should like to mention briefly two other aids to thought provided by physics. E. Schrõdinger has defined the structure of matter as 'parcels of waves' and thereby hit upon the idea of a being that has no substance but is purely actual, whose apparent 'substantiality' really results only from the pattern of movement of superimposed waves. In the realm of matter such a suggestion may well be physically, and in any case philosophically, highly contestable. But it remains an exciting simile for the actualitas divina, for the idea that God is absolutely 'in act' (and not 'in potency'), and for the idea that the densest being – God – can subsist only in a multitude of relations, which are not substances but simply 'waves', and therein form a perfect unity and also the fullness of being.... (Introduction to Christianity, p. 175).

To assert that God “can subsist only in a multitude of relations” amounts to a complete inversion of Thomistic metaphysics. The “pure act” of God’s Being is not in any way to be identified with the category of “relations” but with “subsistens esse” — the absolutely necessary truth of our Faith that God is the only substance (the term is used here analogically) Who exists absolutely of Himself and within Himself (and therefore with a specific Nature which He has communicated to us through the Truths of Revelation and the Deposit of Faith). This is the meaning of God’s Name which He reveals to Moses — "I AM WHO AM." It needs also to be strongly asserted that the Relations within the Trinity between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost do not in any way fall into the category of accidental relations that inhere to created substances, but are rather integral to that subsistens esse (and therefore integral to His Revelation of Who HE IS).

It only remains for us, finally, to examine Joseph Ratzinger’s denial of substantial nature to the human soul. In his book Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (p. 259), He writes:

The soul is our term for that in us which offers a foothold for this relation [with the eternal]. Soul is nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with love eternal.

And further:

The challenge to traditional theology today lies in the negation of an autonomous, 'substantial' soul with a built-in immortality in favour of that positive view which regards God’s decision and activity as the real foundation of a continuing human existence. (p. 150)

This reduction of God, man, and all created things to the category of ongoing relationships necessitates the enshrinement of Evolution as the fundamental concept of all of philosophy and theology. This is the third principle with which Pius X pinholes the mind of the Modernist. Joseph Ratzinger’s subjection of all things, both divine and human, to the principle of evolution has been examined carefully in my article A Living Host (CO, Dec. 2011 & Jan. 2012). As a consequence of this surrender, out the window has gone virtually everything that necessitates any concept of substantial nature: the state of Original Innocence, Original Sin, Sanctifying Grace, the traditional truth concerning Baptism, the doctrine of Transubstantiation, etc.

Most relevant to our topic here, however, is what all this necessarily entails in regard to how man comes to know God. It is here that the Church’s present prostitution to the world finds its genesis and constant nourishment.

Immanentism: The Fourth Pillar of Modernism

It must be re-emphasised that the retreat away from traditional Epistemology — this retreat entailing an at least implicit denial that the Life of Christ is the intellectual light of the human soul — necessitates a descent into the interior of man. As pointed out very clearly by Pope Pius X in Pascendi, the agnosticism of the Catholic Modernist does not terminate in a denial of the idea of personal faith, but rather perverts and inverts its origin. And in doing so, it necessarily also denies the absoluteness of
objective Revelation.

Having denied man’s natural ability to know or respond to the Truth which comes down from Heaven (dogma and doctrine), the Modernist is forced to retreat to that which is in a process of becoming, and which evolves from below. Pius X aptly designates what Modernists conceive to be the true source of revelation as lying in the “religious sense.” The religious sense has its origin in a “spark of the divine” (Henri de Lubac calls it an “Ikon” of the divine) within all human beings which is seeking full expression and knowledge of truth through the evolutionary process. In other words, the true source of knowledge, sanctification, deification lies within man. This explanation which places the interior of man as the origin of our knowledge of the divine is designated by Pius X with the term Immanentism.

The “pure” Modernist is of course a pure Immanentist, and therefore a pure Pantheist, identifying divinity entirely with this process of evolutionary development and manifestation. But all forms of Modernism, to one degree or another, are pantheistic in that they place some element of the divine within human nature itself. These “less pure” forms are designated by Pius X as “moderate Modernism.” We must not conclude that because such Modernism is not “pure” it constitutes less of a threat to the Catholic Faith. Pure Pantheism is relatively easy to detect. Moderate Modernism, on the other hand, works by way of what the Pope calls “arts entirely new” in order to penetrate into and destroy true Catholicity with a subtlety and deceptiveness that is often very difficult to detect or unravel.

At the core of this destructive activity is what Modernism does to the concept of Catholic Revelation. Succinctly stated, if man does not possess a fixed substantive nature which is in possession of the same intellectual light at all stages of human history, but rather must be seen as living in various stages of physical, intellectual, and spiritual evolution, then Revelation also must be seen as an evolving phenomena. For the moderate Catholic Modernist who still believes in a transcendent God this entails that God necessarily also must become involved in this evolutionary process. Thus we have the concept of ongoing and developing Revelation. God’s primary way of working with man lies within the “religious sense” — this “Ikon” of the divine ever seeking new truth and revelation. The whole concept of immutable, absolute truth is thus severely weakened or destroyed.

The Immanentisation of the Deposit of Faith

As a self-proclaimed Catholic, the moderate Modernist is faced with a most daunting challenge; the existence of what Catholics call the Deposit of Faith. The first line of Pius X’s great encyclical on Modernism reads: “One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints….” The Catholic Church possesses two-thousand years of history intimately entwined with this “guarding”: Church Councils, condemnation of heresies, excommunications, schisms, the incredible amassing of theological and dogmatic treatises, encyclicals, etc. To altogether deny the concept of the Deposit of Faith would therefore be equivalent to denying the Church’s own history, and thus its own unique being. And it would necessitate the absolute abandonment of the subterfuge by which the Modernist can still credibly call himself Catholic.

The solution for the Modernist must therefore lie in “arts entirely new” which, while retaining the Deposit of Faith, and even claiming submission to the entirety of the Deposit of Faith (as do both Popes Francis and Benedict), profoundly vitiate its centrality in the act of faith itself so as to “free up” the concept of doctrine from any notion of “static” absoluteness, and thus permit Revelation to become part of the evolutionary process. The following analysis will explore this “art” in the thought and writings of Benedict XVI, and thus prepare us for understanding the young Pontificate of Francis:

Joseph Ratzinger’s view of the nature of doctrine (and consequently the Deposit of Faith) is amply laid out in his book Introduction to Christianity:

Our consideration of the history of the Apostles' Creed has led us to the recognition that here, in the baptismal formulary, Christian doctrine stands before us in its original shape and, thus, also in its primitive form, what we today call “dogma.” Originally there was no such thing as a series of doctrinal propositions that could be enumerated one after another and entered in a book as a well-defined body of dogmas. Such a notion, which today may be difficult to resist, would have to be described as a misconception of the nature of the Christian assent to the God revealed in Christ [out the window goes the Baltimore Catechism, not to mention the Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent]. The content of the Christian faith has its inalienable place in the context of the profession of faith, which is, as we saw, in the form of assent and renunciation, a conversion, an about-turn of human existence into a new direction of life. In other words, Christian doctrine does not exist in the form of discrete propositions but in the unity of the symbolum, as the ancient Church called the baptismal profession of faith. This is probably the moment to look rather more closely at the meaning of this word. Symbolum comes from symballein, meaning in English: to come together, to throw together. The background to the word's etymology is an ancient usage: two corresponding halves of a ring, a staff, or a tablet were used as tokens of identity for guests, messengers, or partners to a treaty. Possession of the corresponding piece entitled the holder to receive a thing or simply to hospitality. A symbolum is something that points to its complementary other half and thus creates mutual recognition and unity. It is the expression and means of unity.

Thus in the description of the creed or profession of faith as the symbolum we have at the same time a profound interpretation of its true nature. For in fact this is just what the original meaning or aim of dogmatic formulations in the Church was: to facilitate a common profession of faith in God, common worship of him. As sym-bolum, it points to the other person, the unity of spirit in the one Word. To this extent, dogma (or symbol, respectively) is also always, as Rahner has rightly pointed out, an arrangement of words that from a purely intellectual point of view could have been quite different yet, precisely as a form of words, has its own significance – that of uniting people in the community of the confessing word. It is not a piece of doctrine standing isolated in and for itself but is the form of our worship of God.... (pp. 96-98)

A few paragraphs later, he draws the astounding conclusion:

This discovery also points, it is true, in another direction: even the Church herself, as a whole, still holds the faith only as a symbolum, as a broken half, which signifies truth only in its endless reference to something beyond itself, to the entirely Other. It is only through the infinitely broken nature of the symbol that faith presses forward as man's continual effort to go beyond himself and reach up to God. [All bold emphasis in the above quotes is mine – italics are Joseph Ratzinger's].

Individual Catholic doctrines, in other words, are not statements of absolute truth, and their “arrangement of words” could have been “quite different”; the Catholic Church is not in full possession of the God’s Revelation but is only a “broken” half, ever in movement towards the fullness of truth. The real purpose of a confession of doctrine, therefore, is not the achievement of union of our minds and hearts with objective truth, but rather to effect a unity with other believers in our common evolutionary assent towards God.  

All of this is also in total accord with Cardinal Ratzinger’ position expressed in his autobiographical work Milestones (Memoirs 1927-1977) in which, while discussing his preparation for his thesis on Bonaventure, he wrote:

At this time the idea of salvation history had moved to the focus of inquiry posed by Catholic theology and this had cast new light on the notion of revelation, which neoscholasticism had kept too confined to the intellectual realm. Revelation now appeared no longer simply as a communication of truths to the intellect but as a historical action of God in which truth becomes gradually unveiled.

The Deposit of Faith: Retained and Rejected

Thus, by “arts entirely new”, the Deposit of Faith has at the same time been both retained and dethroned. It has been retained as a confession of faith necessary in order to effect union among the faithful, while having been rejected as containing immutable Truth. And since it is no longer seen as containing the Life of Christ which is the light of men, then it need not be taught or preached. It can be affirmed on occasions when one’s Catholicity is challenged, while being relegated to the background at all other times. It can be affirmed in principle (in “confession”) while at the same time being denied in practice. It justifies silence towards Catholic Truth while claiming that this is an act of prudence, and of mercy to the poor. Such are the “arts entirely new” which constitute the Pharisaism of our time.

To know not the Word, is to know not the Man Jesus Christ. To engage in a purported “missionary discipleship” or New Evangelization that omits or de-emphasises the Sacred Deposit of Faith knows neither man nor woman.



To conclude in the August-September edition with "Pope Francis: The Natural Child of the New Epistemology."



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