C.S. Lewis said that he could never become a Roman Catholic, not because of what they believe today, but because the “viva vox” setup means that you can never quite know what you’ll get to “receive with docility” in the future.
You might have guessed from my rather lighthearted title, that this is going to be a kind of silly post. But before we get into the thicket of Ratzinger’s writings, I'd like to establish the mood for you.
Good morning starshine
The earth says hello
You twinkle above us
We twinkle below
David Waltz has noted that my comment that Pope Benedict XVI is functionally a pantheist is somehow “silliness”. Maybe David is right. Maybe I was just being too kind, and that was silly. Some further reading gives me the sense that Ratzinger is pretty much a full-blown pantheist.
Good morning starshine
You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
Our early morning singing song
One of the first places to look regarding Ratzinger’s beliefs [that is, his own personal beliefs, which may vary from “official” Church teaching, and yet which he seems to hold in some other non-official compartment of his brain] is in his first book, “Introduction to Christianity”. By the time he wrote this in 1969, at about age 42, he was already a world-leading theologian [and I would say that by age 42, your life and worldview are pretty well firmly established]; having been the “chief theological advisor [at Vatican II] for the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings”. This work itself is advertised as Ratzinger’s “remarkable elucidation of the Apostle’s Creed” and “an excellent, modern interpretation of the foundations of Christianity” (from the back cover).
In the section “Christology and the Doctrine of Redemption,” Ratzinger outlines Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo” but then says that “the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light….For the time being it will suffice to say that things immediately look different when, in place of the division of Jesus into work and person, it becomes clear that with Jesus Christ it is not a question of a piece of work separate from himself, of a feat which God must demand because he himself is under an obligation to the concept of order; that with him it is not a question … of having humanity, but of being human. And how different things look further on when one picks up the Pauline key, which teaches us to understand Christ as the “last man” – the final man, who takes man into his future, which consists of his being not just man but one with God.”
Well, that’s one way of looking at Anselm’s theology. And one might have some hope that if this pope is quoting and explicating Paul’s theology, there may be some good hope indeed.
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song
But rather than turning to Paul, Ratzinger turns to the writings of (at the time, under official condemnation) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin [pronounced “shar-dan”].
We have now reached the point at which we can try to summarize what we mean when we confess, “I believe in Jesus Christ, only begotten son our Lord”. After all that has gone before we shall dare to say first: Christian faith believes in Jesus as the exemplary man (this is probably the best way to translate accurately the above-mentioned Pauline concept of the “Last Adam”).(175)Now, I apologize that I am being a bit long-winded with this citation. But we are all about context here. In this selection on “Christology and Soteriology,” Ratzinger is not only giving a big introduction to Teilhard de Chardin, but he is explicating him and is in some way attributing this explication to Paul. Ratzinger does not want you to miss this point he is about to make.
...If Jesus is the exemplary man, in whom the true figure of man, God’s intention for him, comes fully to light, then he cannot be destined to be merely an absolute exception, a curiosity, in which God demonstrates to us just what is possible. His existence concerns all mankind. The New Testament makes this perceptible by calling him an “Adam”; in the Bible this word expresses the unity of the whole creature “man”, so that one can speak of the biblical idea of a “corporate personality” [emphasis added]. So if Jesus is called “Adam” this implies that he is intended to gather the whole creature “Adam” in himself. But this means that the reality which Paul calls, in a way that is largely incomprehensible to us today, the “body of Christ” is an intrinsic postulate of this existence, which cannot remain an exception but must “draw to itself” the whole of mankind (cf John 12:32).(176)
It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin’s that he re-thought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency towards the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. Let us listen to his own words: the human monad [monad being Ratzinger’s word; Teilhard de Chardin’s words are in “quotes”] “can only be absolutely itself by ceasing to be alone”. In the background is the idea that in the cosmos, alongside the two orders or classes of the infinitely small and the infinitely big, there is a third order, which determines the real drift of evolution, namely the order of the infinitely complex. It is the real goal of the ascending powers of growth or becoming; it reaches a first peak in the genesis of living things and then continues to advance to those highly complex creations which give the cosmos a new centre: [emphasis added] “Imperceptible and accidental as the position which they hold may be in the history of the heavenly bodies, in the last analysis the planets are nothing less than the vital points of the universe. It is through them that the axis now runs, on them henceforth concentrated the main effort of an evolution aiming principally at the production of large molecules.”
The examination of the world by the dynamic criterion of complexity thus signifies “a complete inversion of values. A reversal of the perspective.”
But let us return to man. He is so far the maximum in complexity. But even he as a mere man-monad cannot represent an end; his growth itself demands a further advance in complexity: “At the same time as he represents an individual centred on himself (that is, a ‘person’), does not Man also represent an element in relation to some new and higher synthesis?” That is to say, man is indeed on the one hand already an end that can no longer be reversed, no longer be melted down again; yet in the juxtaposition of individual men he is not yet at the goal but shows himself to be an element, as it were, that longs for a whole which will embrace it without destroying it. Let us look at a further text, in order to see in what direction such ideas lead: “Contrary to the appearances still accepted by Physics, the Great Stability is not below – in the infra-elemental – but above – in the ultra-synthetic.”
So it must be discovered that “If things hold and hold together, it is only by virtue of ‘complexification’, from the top”. I think we are confronted here with a crucial statement; at this point the dynamic view of the world destroys the positivistic conception, so near to all of us, that stability is located only in the “mass”, in hard material. That the world is in the last resort put together and held together “from above” here becomes evident in a way that is particularly striking because we are so little accustomed to it.
This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin which it is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. (177-178)
Unfortunately, I’ll have to pause here because this post is already long enough. We should keep in mind two things. Even though Ratzinger wrote this in 1969, he took pains to reiterate the principle at later times, one notably in his 1991 work "Called to Communion": "Throug baptism, answers Paul, we are inserted into Christ and united with him as a single subject; no longer many alongside one another, but "only one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:16; 26-29). Only Christ's self-identification with us, onlyour fusion into unity with him, makes us bearers of the promise." (33)
In my next installment, I’ll get into the really “pantheistic” stuff.