The Quintessential Evolutionist
First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact be changed. In this way they pass to what is practically their principal doctrine, namely evolution.
(Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, #26)
Creationists have often pointed out that evolution is at the heart of the crisis which faces modern man. I know of no better testimony to this truth than a little booklet titled The Surrender to Secularism (1967 – Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation), written by Most Rev. Cuthbert M. O’Gara, former bishop of Yuanling, China. He relates the following:
“When the Communist troops over-ran my diocese they were followed in very short order by the propaganda corps – the civilian branch of the Red forces – an organization, if anything, more disciplined, more zealous, more fanatical, then the People’s Army of Liberation itself. The entire population, city and countryside, was immediately organized into distinctive categories – grade school and high school pupils and teachers (Catholic, Protestant and pagan), merchants, artisans, members of the professions, yes, and even the lowly coolies. Everyone, for a week or more, was forced to attend the seminar specified for his or her proper category and there, willy-nilly in servile submission, listen to the official Communist line.
“Now what, I ask, was the first lesson given to the indoctrinees? One might have supposed that this would have been some pearl of wisdom let drop by Marx, Lenin or Stalin. Such however was not the case. The first, the fundamental, lesson given was man’s descent from the ape – Darwinism! …. Darwinism negates God, the human soul, the after-life. Into this vacuum Communism enters as the be-all and the end-all of the intellectual slavery it has created. In the Red prison in which I was held, the slogan, ‘Bring your mind over to us and all your troubles will end,” was hammered into the minds of the prisoners with brutal and numbing monotony. Nothing but a groveling holocaust of the human person can satiate the lust for dominance of Peking’s Red Regime.”
Bishop O’Gara goes on to state, and give evidence for, the fact that all forms of atheism, including the militant forms of secularism which rule our modern societies, demand this holocaust of the human person. It matters little whether we are dealing with Communism, Socialism, Nazism, abortion, the whole secular culture of perversity and death, the exclusion of God from public education, the crisis within the Church, or a whole host of other individual and social agendas – all are intimately related, and have as a powerful causative factor, belief in Darwinian Evolution.
We also need to emphasize that the destructive effect of evolutionary theory is not only manifested by its effect upon man’s concept of himself as simply a glorified animal (with all the degrading consequences that this implies), but also in terms of “Social Darwinism” which, in one form or another, now perceives the evolutionary future to be manipulable and controllable by man himself. The 20th century was strewn with hundreds of millions of victims of such plans for “social engineering” (Communism, Nazism, the world-wide agenda of Planned Parenthood and the population policies of the UN). And this new century has opened with the prospect and reality of such technology now being applied to the deepest structures of human genetics and life.
All this is terrifying. And yet I would suggest that evolutionary thinking and theory is capable of penetrating even further into the soul of man, and has in fact already done so.
Most of those involved in the Catholic creationist movement are well aware that Pope Benedict XVI believes in evolution. Few, however, appear to be aware of the depths to which evolutionary thinking has penetrated into the philosophy and theology of Joseph Ratzinger. It will be the purpose of this article to explore this depth through examination of his writings.
I wish to emphasize that I will be often using his lay name in order to make it clear that I can make no absolute judgments about his present state of thinking as Pope. On the other hand, I will also sometimes be designating his specific status as either Cardinal or Pope when quoting some particular work. We should also know that Joseph Ratzinger has himself made it clear that his thinking on all the essentials has remained fundamentally the same over the years, spanning from the beginning of his priesthood up to the time of his becoming Pope.
Revelation as Relationship:
In his 1998 book Milestones (Memoirs 1927-1977), Cardinal Ratzinger writes about his own intellectual development. In discussing his preparation for his habilitation (the degree which qualifies a Person to hold a chair in a German university – obtained by writing a book proposing and defending a thesis, which is then judged by an academic committee), he writes:
“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. Therefore, I was to try to discover whether in Bonaventure there was anything corresponding to the concept of salvation history, and whether this motif – if it should exist – had any relationship with the idea of revelation.”(p.104)
Three pages later he reaches the following conclusion:
“I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologians of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of ‘revelation’, by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has even become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as ‘revelation’. Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, ‘revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act [read “Dogma”]. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation’.”
Before entering into a discussion of these passages it is necessary to state that the basic thesis presented here – that the High Middle Ages (the 13th century) knew nothing of a concept of Revelation as being constituted by “all the revealed contents of the faith”, which are revealed by God to the intellect of man, is simply not true. St. Thomas, who represents the essence of 13th century theology, writes:
“It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God, besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee (Isa. lxvi. 4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. (ST, Pt. I, Q.1, A.1.)
The reader should notice that the above quote from St. Thomas comes from the very first Article in Question I of Part I of the Summa Theologica. St. Thomas was concerned to immediately establish the absolute foundation upon which our faith is founded – Objective Revelation. In fact, in the very first line of his reply found in the Second Article, he quotes St. Augustine:
“Augustine says (De Trin. Xiv. 1), to this science alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened. But this can be said of no science except sacred doctrine. Therefore sacred doctrine is a science.”
Returning now to Joseph Ratzinger’s statements from his memoirs, we need to extract the essential thesis: “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.” And, as a corollary to this astounding statement, we need to place the following: “The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act [read “Dogma”]. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation’.”
What is embraced here is a theological position which places evolution at the very heart of the nature of truth as known and embraced by man. What is more, it places evolution as the modus operandi of God’s evolving revelation to man. Revelation, in Joseph Ratzinger’s view, is always primarily “act” and not “object” because it is not fundamentally a matter of the revelation of God’s Immutable Being and the Truths concerning that Being, but rather an expression of the ever-evolving relationship between God and man. This is why, in the above quotation, Joseph Ratzinger concludes that “the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation’. Consequently, as noted in previous articles, for Joseph Ratzinger and the “new theologians”, “relationship” has replaced Being (and the “Truth” of Being) as the fundamental concept in philosophy and theology. If truth is an historical process of gradual “unveiling”, rather than the revelation of immutable dogma in a Deposit of Faith, then truth is not constituted by the possession of objective certainty, but rather an evolutionary experience between God and man. Revelation, in other words, is evolving relationship. Any dogmatic formulations must also therefore be subject to change or, in the terminology of Joseph Ratzinger, “essentialization.”
The reader naturally should be puzzled. What possible motive could someone like Joseph Ratzinger have for wanting to make Revelation and Truth into evolving phenomena? It has been my contention woven throughout my previous articles that the primary motivation for such aberrations is the perceived necessity to bring the faith into line with reductive physical science. Joseph Ratzinger gives extraordinary testimony to this thesis in his book Introduction to Christianity (1968). We do well to note that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a new 19 page preface for the Ignatius Press 1990 English edition of this work in which he re-affirms the book’s essential contents.
After discussing what he claims to be contradictory elements in the doctrine of the Trinity, Father Ratzinger went on to state the following:
“The Jansenist Saint-Cyran once made the thought-provoking remark that faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace [author’s note: We do well here to remember de Lubac’s statement that “paradox exists everywhere in reality, before existing in thought…. Oppositions in thought express the contradiction which is the very stuff of creation.” This notion that contradiction is the very fabric of created reality is extremely popular in Modernistic theology and philosophy. It is this theological position which facilitates Modernism being the “synthesis of all heresies”, since many heresies are obviously in contradiction to one another]. He thereby expressed in the realm of theology a discovery that today in physics, as the law of complementarity, belongs to the realm of scientific thought. The physicist is becoming increasingly aware today that we cannot embrace given realities – the structure of light, for example, or of matter in general – in one form of experiment and in one form of statement; that, on the contrary, from different sides we glimpse different aspects, which cannot be traced back to each other. We have to take the two together – say, the structure of particle and wave – without being able to find a comprehensive explanation – as a provisional assessment of the whole, which is not accessible to us as a unified whole because of the restrictions implicit in our point of view. What is true here in the physical realm as a result of the limitations in our ability to observe is true to an incomparably greater degree of the spiritual realities of God. Here, too, we can always look from one side and so grasp only one particular aspect, which seems to contradict the other, yet only when combined with it is a pointer to the whole, which we are incapable of stating or grasping. Only by circling round, by looking and describing from different, apparently contrary angles can we succeed in alluding to the truth, which is never visible to us in its totality.” (p.173-74).
Father Ratzinger does not leave us totally in the realm of the abstract. The doctrine which he is specifically discussing, and to which he applies these criteria of understanding, is the Trinity. He first informs us that dogmatic terms used to define the Trinity ( he specifically mentions the terms persona, omousious, and the concept of “proceeding.”) were all once condemned as being heretical. He then states: “One must say, I think, that these condemnations of the later formulas of faith form an intimate part of them: it is only through the negation, and the infinite indirectness implicit in it, that they are usable. The doctrine of the Trinity is only possible as a piece of baffled theology, so to speak.”
We need to understand the profound distortion contained in this passage. The theological concepts mentioned by Fr. Ratzinger were all condemned when used falsely or confusedly. However, any honest historical examination of this subject reveals the nature and sources of such confusion, while at the same time it also reveals the profound aptness and intellectual acuteness of the final employment of these terms in formulating doctrinal definitions concerning the Trinity. Thus, when used rightly in regard to he doctrine of the Trinity, they are not in any way mere pieces of “baffled theology,” but are technical theological terms which profoundly reveal truths which supply us with very real and essential, if limited, positive knowledge of the Trinity.
Having said this, let us proceed with Father Ratzinger’s analysis of the role which modern physics plays in our contemporary understanding of the faith:
“The intellectual approach of modern physics may offer us more help here than Aristotelian philosophy was able to give. Physicists know today that one can only talk about the structure of matter by approaching the subject from various angles. They know that the position of the observer at any one time affects the result of his investigation of nature. Why should we not be able to understand afresh, on this basis, that in the question of God we must not look, in the Aristotelian fashion [and, obviously, criticism of St. Thomas is also here intended], for an ultimate concept encompassing the whole but must be prepared to find a multitude of aspects that depend on the position of the observer and that we can no longer survey as a whole but only accept alongside each other, without being able to say the final word on the subject? We meet here the hidden interplay of faith and modern thought. That present-day physicists are stepping outside the structure of Aristotelian logic and thinking in this way is surely an effect already of the new dimension that Christian theology has opened up, of its need to think in ‘complementarities’ [which, as Fr. Ratzinger has already noted, are often contrary to one another and are therefore also “contradictories”].
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….” ( Ibid, p. 176-77)
And, having dissolved all substantiality in our concept of God, Father Ratzinger then moves on to denying the possibility of our possessing any purely objective knowledge of God:
“We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature in itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of what is characteristically ours, a bit of the human subject. This too, mutatis mutandis, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it penetrates the center of individuality; and the more it engages the beholders individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in pure objectivity.” (p. 175).
We can only add that, since God is by definition infinitely “higher”, then according to Joseph Ratzinger’s criteria there can be no “objectivity” whatsoever in our understanding of God . He must always remain totally baffling to us.
The great tragedy of all this is that if Joseph Ratzinger had taken seriously God’s Word in the Old Testament, and had dutifully followed the mandates of earlier Popes concerning the absolute centrality of St. Thomas in priestly studies, none of this prostitution to the silliness of the modern scientific worldview would have been necessary. In the Books of Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus, we read:
“Nothing may be taken away, nor added, neither is it possible to find out the glorious works of God: When a man hath done, then shall he begin: and when he leaveth off, he shall be at a loss.” (Ecclus 28:5-6).
For the works of the Highest only are wonderful, and his works are glorious, secret, and hidden.” (Ecclus 11:4).
“And I understood that man can find no reason of all those works of God that are done under the sun: and the more he shall labor to seek, so much the less shall he find: yea, though the wise man shall say, that he knoweth it, he shall not be able to find it.” (Eccl 8:17).
In other words, what the research of modern physics has shown is that it is absolutely impossible for it to penetrate to an understanding of the nature of any created substance. This is so because any analytical science deals only with “accidental” (quantified) reality. The pride of the secular scientist, in other words, necessarily leads him to that state of intellectual confusion which reveals his fundamental ignorance.
A serious study of the cosmology and metaphysics of St. Thomas, on the other hand, would have led him to the wonderfully liberating understanding that the substantial nature of something is what it is simply because God created it as such out of nothing, and that he created our intellects in such a way that our common-sense perception of created substances is normally very reliable because it is a created participation in the light of God’s understanding.
In other words, contrary to the opinion and false science of Joseph Ratzinger, we already know a great deal about God. And this, despite the fact that there is infinitely more to know.
Our analysis of the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, up to this point, has revealed that he has subjected his theological and philosophical thinking to the influence of reductive analytical physics, and that this surrender has necessitated the denial of traditional Catholic teaching in three main areas: the denial of substance; the denial of the law of self-contradiction; and the denial of the nature of dogma as objective, unchanging truth.
The last-mentioned denial – the denial that truth is immutable and non-evolving – is a direct consequence of the belief enshrined in the quote from Father Ratzinger which I offered earlier: “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.” This is in direct contradiction to the teaching of Vatican Council I:
“For the doctrine of faith which God has revealed has not been proposed, like a philosophical invention, to be perfected by human ingenuity; but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared. Hence also, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our holy Mother the Church has once declared; nor is that meaning ever to be departed from, under the pretext of a deeper comprehension of them.”
The Oath Against Modernism contained the following affirmation:
“Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.”
We can know with certainty that Joseph Ratzinger took this oath. We can know with equal certainty that he has violated it in its deepest meaning.
It is necessary at this point to understand something about Modernism. Pius X distinguished between a full-blown Modernism which was wholly immanentistic and, on the other hand, lesser forms of “moderate” Modernism. The“pure” form of Modernism locates the evolution of religious truth totally within human consciousness. Such full-blown Modernism is, in essence, pure pantheism. However, there are other forms of moderate Modernism which, while embodying many of the same principles as this form of extreme Modernism, do not embody “pure” immanentism.
We must not make the mistake, however, in believing that these forms of moderate Modernism are any less dangerous. In fact, the opposite is the case. The “pure” Modernist is, in many ways, easier to recognize. The evolutionary nature of the truth which he preaches is much easier understood as a derivative of pantheism. The methodology of the moderate Modernist, on the other hand, is much more subtle. While recognizing the distinct existence of a transcendent God, he yet denies to this God the Revelation which is contained in a fully contained and closed Deposit of Faith, the contents of which were completed upon the death of the last Apostle. Instead, he makes of God Himself the Supreme Agent in the evolutionary process. And most important, he makes God to be the evolutionary agent not only of physical evolution, but of intellectual, moral, and spiritual evolution. In other words, He makes God to be the prime agent of the evolution of Truth and Dogma. Such is the Modernism of Joseph Ratzinger.
One other thing needs to be said at this point about the particular form of moderate Modernism embraced by Joseph Ratzinger, and for this we need to understand something quite peculiar and seemingly contradictory about the Modernist mentality.
Statements concerning Catholic doctrine can be found in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger which sound quite orthodox, and which appear to flatly contradict other very unorthodox pronouncements made elsewhere on the same subject. In the first case, he appears to be embracing traditional explanations of Catholic doctrine;. In the second, he appears to be negating these same traditional explanations. Interestingly enough, Pope Pius X specifically points out in Pascendi Domenici Gregis that such “double-mindedness”, and exposition of contrary doctrines, is something inherent in the Modernist mentality.
We must not conclude that since a Modernist believes in the evolution of doctrine that doctrine is not important to him. Evolution depends upon both stability and change. It is a dialectical process which requires both a thesis and an antithesis – both the forces of conservativism and radicalism. The Modernist plays both parts and, what is more, he believes it is necessary to do so. Without conservativism there is chaos, and no real evolutionary progress is possible in chaos. Doctrine and Dogma represent this conservative principle, closely tied to authority, within the Church. As Pius X said, the Modernist seeks not to destroy authority, but to stimulate it.
When we apply this evolutionary principle of the dialectic to the realm of truth and dogma we come to see the “logic” of the Modernist duplicity. Pius X attributes this duplicity to the mutual separation which the Modernist makes between science and faith. When addressing fellow intellectuals, for instance, he readily plays the rationalist and radical. But when addressing the faithful from the pulpit he may preach Catholic doctrine very clearly. To the Modernist this duplicity involves no real dishonesty simply because such dialectical “contradictories” between science and faith are necessary to that process of growth which demands the constant purification which science effects in our understanding of religious truth.
The above explanation offers a general analysis of Modernist “duplicity” in regard to doctrine. However, in considering the “modified” Modernism of Joseph Ratzinger, we are faced with an additional peculiarity. Fully believing in Christ, and the fact that Christ founded the Catholic Church, while at the same time believing that there is never any pure objectivity in our knowledge of the truth and that truth is constantly evolving, Father Ratzinger is faced with the question of explaining the role of doctrine in the life of the Church and the individual believer. The following passage from Introduction to Christianity ( p. 96-98) constitutes his answer:
“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 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….”
One and one-half 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.”
The Church, sent by Christ, is the formulator of creeds and symbolum. If the creed, and the truths it contains, is always a broken thing and incomplete, always in “endless reference to something other”, always something which “could have been quite different”, then this is justification for the Church herself to be considered the supreme agent of doctrinal change and evolution. And the Pope becomes the master change-agent and essentializer.
It is profoundly tragic that Fr. Ratzinger never seems to have understood the real and very profound nature of the symbolum. Our confession of faith is called a symbolum not because doctrine is always a broken and incomplete thing, but rather because we are broken. The subjection of our minds and hearts to the objective truth which constitutes the creed and other revealed truths of our faith is what heals our brokenness and ushers us into union with God. It is Revealed, purely-objective Truth, which not only sets us free, but makes us whole. The past forty years of chaos in the Church are the fruit of having rejected this simple fact.
The Three Stages of Intellectual Evolution:
For Joseph Ratzinger, the guided (by God) evolutionary growth of truth has, up to the present time, come in the form of three stages. In his 1970 book, Faith and the Future, Fr. Ratzinger adopts the threefold stages of evolutionary intellectual growth proposed by August Comte:
“Over a hundred years ago the French philosopher and sociologist August Comte distinguished three phases in the historical evolution of human thought: the theological-fictive; the metaphysical-abstract; the positive [the scientific].” (p.3)
It is clear, indeed, that Fr. Ratzinger personally adopts this belief. In Introduction to Christianity, he makes the simple affirmation: “If by means of the historical knowledge we enjoy today we survey the road taken by the human spirit so far as it is visible to us, we shall observe that in the various periods of this spirit’s development there are various basic attitudes towards reality – the magical, the metaphysical, and finally today the scientific (‘scientific’ here being used in the sense in which we speak of the natural sciences).” With a slight variation in terminology, these are obviously the same three stages proposed by August Comte.
These three stages correspond roughly to three historical periods. The first, the “theological-fictive (“magical”), corresponds in Western Judaeo-Christian history to both Old and New Testament times up until the emergence of metaphysical thinking. The second, the “metaphysical-abstract” applies, obviously, to metaphysical speculation, and especially to scholastic philosophy and theology (but also to Greek thought, especially Aristotle). The “positive” or “scientific” stage of thinking is self-explanatory, and is the dominating intellectual state of our current situation.
The Theological-Fictive Stage:
Science, according to Joseph Ratzinger and the historical-critical method of exegesis, has shown us clearly the degree to which scripture is largely composed of human fabrications expressive of the theological-fictive or magical mindset of those persons who composed the scriptures. Because of the primitive intellectual state of these peoples, we are therefore required – in order to distinguish between what is truly from God and what is of human invention – to distinguish between form and content in any particular passage of scripture. Content can simply be defined to be the “spiritual” message which God wishes to pass on to us, while form is constituted by all the rest which is conditioned by particular historical circumstances, literary genres, etc.
Thus, in Faith and the Future, Cardinal Ratzinger applies this historical-critical method to the first 3 chapters of the Book of Genesis:
“The difficulty begins with the very first page of the Bible. The concept presented there of how the world came to be, is in direct contradiction of all that we know today about the origins of the universe….And the problem continues, almost page by page….in the very next chapter new problems emerge with the story of the Fall. How can one bring this into harmony with the knowledge that – on the evidence of natural science – man starts not from above, but from below, does not fall, but slowly rises, even now having only just accomplished the metamorphosis from animal to human being? And what of paradise? Long before man existed, pain and death were in the world. Thistles and thorns grew long before any man had set eyes on them. And another thing: the first man was scarcely self-conscious, knew only privation and the wearisome struggle to survive. He was far from possessing the full endowment of reason, which the old doctrine of paradise attributes to him. But once the picture of paradise and the Fall has been broken in pieces, the notion of original sin goes with it, to be followed logically, it would seem, by the notion of redemption as well.” (page 5-7)
It is certainly no wonder, therefore, that Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, labeled the term original sin as a “certainly imprecise and misleading term”, and then proceeded to describe it as something which is contracted after birth through our relationships with others, and therefore through imitation, rather than it being something inherited at the moment of conception through generation (see my article Point of Departure in Christian Order, March 2004).
Following is an example of Cardinal Ratzinger’s use of the ”form-content” Modernist methodology to bring the Genesis account into subjection to modern science:
“One answer was already worked out some time ago, as the scientific view of the world was gradually crystallizing; many of you probably came across it in your religious instruction. It says that the Bible is not a natural science textbook, nor does it intend to be such. It is a religious book, and consequently one cannot obtain information about the natural sciences from it. One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. Anything else is an image and a way of describing things whose aim is to make profound realities graspable to human beings. One must distinguish between the form of portrayal and the content that is portrayed. The form would have been chosen from what was understandable at the time – from the images which surrounded the people who lived then, which they used in speaking and in thinking, and thanks to which they were able to understand the greater realities. And only the reality [content] that shines through these images would be what was intended and what was truly enduring” (In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, p. 4-5).
Cardinal Ratzinger applies this historical-critical method to the creation account in Genesis. According to the Cardinal, the Genesis account was written during the Babylonian exile. It was written in response to the Babylonian creation account of Enuma Elish, which he describes in the following passage:
“There it is said that the world was produced out of a struggle between opposing powers and that it assumed its form when Marduk, the god of light, appeared and split in two the body of the primordial dragon. From this sundered body heaven and earth came to be. Thus the firmament and the earth were produced from the sundered body of the dead dragon, but from its blood Marduk fashioned human beings. It is a foreboding picture of the world and of humankind that we encounter here: The world is a dragon’s body; and human beings have dragon’s blood in them. At the very origin of the world lurks something sinister, and in the deepest part of humankind there lies something rebellious, demonic, and evil.” (Ibid, p.12).
The Biblical account, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, was written to counter these ideas – to show that the origin of man and all of creation lay not in evil but rather in the loving goodness of God. This is what constitutes the only “content” which is truly enduring (and thus, presumably, the only truly inspired element) in the Genesis account. All the rest can be seen as merely “form” expressing the historically conditioned myths of the people of that time. Thus we presumably do not have to take seriously the six-day creation account, the creation of Adam from the dust of the earth, the creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib, the description of the Garden of Eden, the state of original innocence and integrity, the literal temptation by Satan, the Fall, the description of the effects of original sin, etc.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Cardinal Ratzinger felt impelled to undermine the whole Biblical tradition strongly re-enforced by the Popes of the 19th and first part of the 20th century, which taught the inerrancy and historical accuracy of all of scripture. In his presentation of the CDF document On The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (1990), the Cardinal wrote:
“The text also presents the various forms of binding authority which correspond to the grades of the Magisterium. It states – perhaps for the first time with such candor – that there are magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy. Their kernel remains valid, but the particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction. In this connection, one will probably call to mind both the pontifical statements of the last century regarding freedom of religion and the anti-Modernist decisions of the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the then Biblical Commission….with respect to particular aspects of their content, they were superseded after having fulfilled their pastoral function in the situation of the time.” (from The Nature and Mission of Theology, p.106).
It certainly stretches Catholic imagination to understand how fundamental decisions by previous Popes in regard to the interpretation of the Bible can be “provisional policies.” In order to do so one has to believe that truth itself can be “provisional.” We need only add at this point that the Cardinal’s agenda in regard to “essentializing” previous magisterial teachings was repeated after he became Pope in his Dec 22, 2005 address to the Roman Curia (covered in my May, 2006 article The Suffering Continues).
The Metaphysical-Abstract Stage:
Having thus shown how Joseph Ratzinger and other Modernist theologians work to bring the theological-fictive world of the Bible up to date in accordance with the mandate of modern science, we now proceed to the evolutionary phase of the metaphysical-abstract.
The most serious problem posed for the Modernist in his attempt to promote the idea of the evolution of dogma is the fact that absolutely key dogmas are encapsulated in metaphysical language which is defined very precisely. We have already examined Father Ratzinger’s attempt to effectively dissolve this precision in his treatment of Trinitarian language and concepts: specifically the concepts of “one-in-Being” (homousious), “Person”, and “Procession”. Even more problematic is the dogma of Transubstantiation which, because it necessitates a particular understanding of “substance”, constitutes an invasion into the world of physics. Thus, the problem is stated succinctly by Father Ratzinger in Faith and the Future:
“Jumping over all the other affirmations of the Patristic age, that present obstacles to us today, let us take but a single example from medieval dogma, one that recently has aroused much interest: the doctrine of transubstantiation, of the essential change of the eucharistic offerings. As it is, the subtle meaning of this definition can be represented by the ordinary intellect only in a rough and ready manner, so that what is indicated is bound to seem for ever unattainable, especially as there is the additional difficulty, that 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). (this subject is discussed more fully in my Feb, 2004 Christian Order article, The Rosmini Rehabilitation).
In other words, we have here an intractable situation. As we have already seen, the Modernist is backed into the proverbial corner by the teaching of Vatican I which states that neither the formulations nor meanings of defined dogma can be altered. If these dogmas are to be subjected to evolutionary change, therefore, we are faced with the necessity of changing the very meaning of dogma itself, including the last-mentioned dogma of Vatican I which states that they cannot be changed. We are, in other words, faced with changing the very nature of faith itself.
The Positivistic Stage
Changing the Meaning of Faith:
The third stage in the evolution of human thought, the one which we are in right now, and which has made necessary the “essentialization” of the other two historical periods of human spirituality and thought, is the “positivistic,” or scientific, stage. This is the stage which, according to Fr. Ratzinger, is the defining mentality of our age:
“It seems incontrovertible that today the mentality described by Comte is that of a very large section of human society. The question about God no longer finds any place in human thought. To take up a well-known saying of Laplace, the context of the world is self-contained and the hypothesis of God is no longer necessary for its comprehension. Even the faithful, like travelers on a sinking ship, are becoming widely affected by an uneasy feeling: they are asking if the Christian faith has any future, or if it is not, in fact, more and more obviously being made obsolete by intellectual evolution. Behind such notions is the sense that a great gulf is developing between the world of faith and the world of science – a gulf that cannot be bridged, so that faith is made very largely impracticable.” (Ibid, p. 4-5)
Because of this “gulf” which exists between the traditional faith and the world of science, Father Ratzinger informs us that the “plethora of definitions” which the Church has “accumulated in the course of history” has become a “burden.” The irreconcilable nature of such dogmas with the modern positivistic and scientific intellectual consciousness makes the traditional content of the faith “oppressive” to the modern believer. Thus we are faced with the supposed necessity of either setting aside these doctrines as historically provisional, or of engaging in a task of “essentialization” which seeks to determine what constitutes the “content” behind the “form” of such definitions, and therefore altering the traditional understanding of the terms used in these definitions. This, of course, is precisely what Cardinal Ratzinger did in regard to the terms “original sin” and “transubstantiation.”
I think we must pause at this moment to understand the broader implications of these teachings. Any truly “sensitive” Catholic, if he accepts the truth of Joseph Ratzinger’s analysis and conclusions, should feel betrayed not only by the Church but also by God. This betrayal is multi-leveled. The Bible, which for two thousand years was considered to be inspired and a totally reliable source of truths on all levels of man’s existence is now shredded of virtually all meaning except the symbolical and the allegorical. Catholic dogma which was the absolute sure foundation of faith, and especially catechetical instruction of the young, is now to be essentialized, even to the point of self-contradiction. But even more important the entire traditional understanding of the epistemological structure of the human intellect has now been negated
At the core of all traditional Catholic understanding of both Who God is and also the nature of man, lies the fundamental Biblical idea that man is created in the image of God with an intellect and will that truly reflect, through the analogy of being, God’s intellect and will.
St. Thomas is very specific in this regard. He writes:
“We must needs say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are created the eternal types,” (Pt. I, Q. 84, A.5).
The world of St. Thomas (and therefore the world of traditional Catholicism) is a trustworthy world, because it is a world in which man – his senses, mind and heart – are intimately connected to and reflective of Who God is, and also basically reliable in their knowledge of His creation. It is under such conditions of reliability and correspondence to an objective order of Truth, that trust truly takes root, and hope flourishes.
The world of Joseph Ratzinger, on the other hand, is one in which the disconnect between the human intellect and objective reality and truth is a fundamentally proven fact of historical evolution. It is one in which there is little harmony between human perception and objective reality. The obvious logical conclusion of postulating such a world is that God created man with an intellect oriented towards delusion – towards the perception of shadows that mask reality.
We were led by God and His Church for 2,000 years to believe in creation ex nihilo, in the unique creation of man with a spiritual soul, in an original Paradise free from death and sin, in original sin, in Noah and his ark, in the divine inspiration present in every word of scripture, in sanctifying grace, and in transubstantiation. We are now told these are the “forms” of particular stages in the evolution of human consciousness which must be abandoned or essentialized because they were only provisional expressions of truths which always go beyond the ability of the human intellect to grasp. And it is in the midst of this world of delusions that Fr. Ratzinger asks us now to forget about God and reality as being knowable, and informs us that our new form of faith is not to be founded in knowledge, but rather in trust (we shall examine this point in a moment). One is left with the inevitable question: Why should a man or woman trust such a God?
Having apparently shredded the objective content (defined dogmas) of the faith, Fr. Ratzinger goes on to tell us that there was one thing however which August Comte failed to understand or foresee: namely, that the world of science would also prove to be oppressive, and that man would continue “yearning for faith.” Modern man, now “a prisoner of his own methods” [and an intellectual prisoner of reductive scientific knowledge], longs for a form of faith which will not contradict science, but at the same time will liberate him from the oppressive reductionism of science. We might say that Joseph Ratzinger has spent his entire adult life trying to supply an answer to this yearning, and that his agenda of “essentialization” is entirely devoted to this goal.
His answer, in Faith and the Future, runs as follows:
“The basic form of Christian faith is not: I believe something [particular content or doctrine], but I believe you. Faith is a disclosure of reality that is granted only to him who trusts, loves, and acts as a human being; and as such it is not a derivative of knowledge, but is sui generis, like knowledge, although it is indeed more basic and more central to our authentically human nature than knowledge is.
This insight has important consequences; and these can be liberating, if taken seriously. For this means that faith is not primarily a colossal edifice of numerous supernatural facts [I believe that we can only understand this demeaning phrase to refer to the Deposit of Faith], standing like a curious second order of knowledge alongside the realm of science, but an assent to God who gives us hope and confidence. Obviously this assent to God is not without content: it is confidence in the fact that he has revealed himself in Christ and that we may now live safe in the assurance that God is like Jesus of Nazareth, in the certainty, that is, that God is looking after the world – and me in it. We will have to consider this definition of content more closely in the next chapter. It is already clear, however, that the content is not comparable with a system of knowledge, but represents the form of our trust.” ( p. 20-21).
In other words, the real content of our Faith is not to be identified with the Deposit of Faith. Joseph Ratzinger is absolutely emphatic on this point which is the cornerstone of his new approach to the Faith:
“Let us repeat: at its core faith is not a system of knowledge, but trust. Christian faith is: ‘the discovery of a You….” (Ibid, p.24)
Further, this “discovery of a You” can be fully redemptive without requiring assent to the “content” (dogmas) of the faith:
“A man remains a Christian as long as he makes the effort to give the central assent, as long as he tries to utter the fundamental Yes of trust, even if he is unable to fit in or resolve many of the details [which, of course, are constituted by the Church’s infallible teachings on faith and morals]….As long as this core remains in place, a man is living by faith, even if for the moment he finds many of the details of faith obscure and impracticable [this, of course, means that he cannot or will not practice them].” (Ibid, p. 24-25)
At this point I think we need to understand how much this way of thinking is integral to Pope Benedict XVI. We may have been surprised that the subject of his second encyclical was Hope. It should not have surprised us at all, however, if we had understood this basic structure of his thinking – a structure which entailed the overturning of virtually all the intellectual content (doctrine) of our faith in favor of a faith rooted not in knowledge, but rather in hope and trust. For Pope Benedict XVI, “‘hope’ is equivalent to ‘faith’.” (Spe Salvi, #2). There is no way, however, in which this “hope” of Benedict XVI can be seen as necessarily related to an assent to all the previously defined doctrines of the Church.
To understand how wrong all this, we need the help of St. Thomas. Thomas teaches us that hope is an act of the will (the intellectual appetency) which, like all acts of the will, is a choice based on knowledge which resides in the intellect. Now, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” (Heb 11:1). The knowledge which we call faith is, in other words, not ordinary knowledge. It does not originate through the senses or in our own thinking, but rather through Revelation and Sacred Doctrine. In speaking of Sacred Doctrine as a science, St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine:
“to this science alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened.” (ST, Pt. I, Q.1, A.2)
Hope, in other words, is totally rooted in Faith as its substance, and Faith is rooted in the content of what God has revealed to us. This is why in order to possess Catholic faith, submission to all the defined doctrines of our faith is necessary. Faith is constituted by a submission of both intellect and will to the Sacred Deposit of Faith which God has revealed to us through His Church. Because all doctrine is not, and cannot, be fully understood does not mean that this submission is, or should be, or may be, any less. Faith is not, therefore, equivalent to hope, but rather its requisite. And contrary to what Fr. Ratzinger said in regard to a man remaining a Christian despite the fact that he may “find many of the details of faith obscure and impracticable” (read: cannot be used, accepted or practiced), the absolute obligation to accept the entire Deposit of Faith in order to retain Catholic Faith is still imperative. St. Thomas writes:
“Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article.” (Ibid, II-II, Q.5, A.3).
In the entire length of Spe Salvi, not a single reference is made to Revealed Truth, the Deposit of Faith, Doctrine, or Dogma as having any relation whatsoever to our Hope.
Having sundered both hope and faith from the absolutely objective content of the Deposit of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger is left merely with the existential choice of continuing to believe in the “You” of Jesus Christ, but not the “something” of this Divine Deposit. And since (Christ’s) claim to be both man and God is just as absurd from the positivistic viewpoint as transubstantiation or original sin, then this choice, this hope, this trust, this faith becomes essentially an existential choice with no objective foundation. As such, it can make no claims to exclusivity, and therefore demand no conversion. It must, in other words, adjust itself to pluralism and ecumenism. Again, from Faith and the Future:
“As things are, faith cannot count on a bundle of philosophical certainties [thus Thomism is sent entirely packing) which lead up to faith and support it. It will be compelled, rather, to prove its own legitimacy in advance by reflecting on its own inner reasonableness and by presenting itself as a reasonable whole, which can be offered to men as a possible and responsible choice. To say this is to imply that faith must clearly adjust itself to an intellectual pluralism that cannot ever be reversed, and within this intellectual climate must present itself as a comprehensible offer of meaning, even if it can find no prolegomena in a commonly accepted philosophical system. That means, in the end, that the meaning which man needs becomes accessible in any case only through a decision for a meaningful structure. It may not be proved, but can be seen as meaningful.” (p. 74-75)
Imagine trying to teach such a faith to all the little children who Our Lord instructed us to “suffer” to come unto Him. The victim in all this is not only the Truth. It is also the Innocent.
Authored by: James Larson © 2008