Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zenit: Pope's Homily Durning Mass at St. Patrick's

Pope's Homily Durning Mass at St. Patrick's

"Communicate the Joy Born of Faith and the Experience of God’s Love"

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily Benedict XVI gave today during a Mass he said in St. Patrick's Cathedral for clergy and religious.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people "from every nation under heaven" (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!

In this morning’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity -- the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity -- has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God. As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as "a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit" (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life -- our salvation -- can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: "Choose life!" (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and "institutional" to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who -- as Cardinal Egan has reminded us -- was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land. I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers -- here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne -- have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, "from the outside": a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to "enter into" the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. "O Lord, my God," the Psalmist sings, "when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: "where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace" (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation. Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly "geometer", compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring "a fresh, spiritual way of thinking" (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing "intellectual" conversion as necessary as "moral" conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission?

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear "what the Spirit is saying" to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.
Was not this unity of vision and purpose -- rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice -- the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, or of the legacy of the generations of religious and priests who quietly devoted their lives to serving the People of God in countless schools, hospitals and parishes.

Here, within the context of our need for the perspective given by faith, and for unity and cooperation in the work of building up the Church, I would like say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. I also encourage you to cooperate with your Bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the Church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all -- Bishops, clergy, religious and laity -- move forward in hope, in love for the truth and for one another.

Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity -- as Saint Paul has told us -- of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as "manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all" (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church’s divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church’s mission. You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body.

You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as wells as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!
Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all the enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass on to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!

The spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God. As we celebrate this Eucharist, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to know him in the communion of the Church, to cooperate in building up his Mystical Body, and in bringing his saving word as good news to the men and women of our time. And when we leave this great church, let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God’s grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the new Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Zenit: Pontiff's Address at Ecumenical Prayer Service

Pontiff's Address at Ecumenical Prayer Service

"A Faithful Witness to the Gospel Is As Urgent As Ever"

NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Friday at an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph's Parish.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My heart abounds with gratitude to Almighty God -- “the Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) -- for this blessed opportunity to gather with you this evening in prayer. I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his cordial welcome, and I warmly greet all those in attendance representing Christian communities throughout the United States. May the peace of our Lord and Savior be with you all!

Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable work of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others. The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world. I encourage all of you to persevere, always relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we strive to serve by bringing about “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name” (Rom 1:5).

We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul -- a “prisoner for the Lord” -- delivers his ardent appeal to the members of the Christian community at Ephesus. “I beg you,” he writes, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). Then, after his impassioned litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers that Jesus, having ascended into heaven, has bestowed upon men and women all the gifts necessary for building up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-13).

Paul’s exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the “one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32), which has always been the distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf. Acts 2:42), and the force drawing others to join the community of believers so that they too might come to share in the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14).

Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency between peoples even when -- geographically and culturally speaking -- they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into individualism. The expanding use of electronic communications has in some cases paradoxically resulted in greater isolation. Many people -- including the young -- are seeking therefore more authentic forms of community. Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia -- communion with the Church in every age -- is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, “just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42).

The core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on “lofty words” or “human wisdom” (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul’s preaching and that of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and “him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae -- symbola -- which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; "Unitatis Redintegratio," 2).

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is “objective”, relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the “knowable” is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of “personal experience”.

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.

Only by “holding fast” to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the “reasons for our hope”, so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son’s passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed).

May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts with hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," 8); for without it, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let us give thanks to Almighty God for the progress that has been made through the work of his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the personal sacrifices made by so many present and by those who have gone before us.

By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God alone, I am confident that -- to borrow the words of Father Paul Wattson -- we will achieve the “oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of love” that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.

I thank you all.

© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Friday, April 18, 2008

Zenit: Benedict XVI's Address to United Nations

Benedict XVI's Address to United Nations

"Human Rights ... Must Be Respected As an Expression of Justice"

NEW YORK, APRIL 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the U.N. General Assembly. The Pope spoke first in French, then in English.

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Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I begin my address to this Assembly, I would like first of all to express to you, Mr President, my sincere gratitude for your kind words. My thanks go also to the Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, for inviting me to visit the headquarters of this Organization and for the welcome that he has extended to me. I greet the Ambassadors and Diplomats from the Member States, and all those present. Through you, I greet the peoples who are represented here. They look to this institution to carry forward the founding inspiration to establish a "centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends" of peace and development (cf. Charter of the United Nations, article 1.2-1.4). As Pope John Paul II expressed it in 1995, the Organization should be "a moral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a ‘family of nations’" (Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 50th Anniversary of its Foundation, New York, 5 October 1995, 14).

Through the United Nations, States have established universal objectives which, even if they do not coincide with the total common good of the human family, undoubtedly represent a fundamental part of that good. The founding principles of the Organization -- the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance -- express the just aspirations of the human spirit, and constitute the ideals which should underpin international relations. As my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II have observed from this very podium, all this is something that the Catholic Church and the Holy See follow attentively and with interest, seeing in your activity an example of how issues and conflicts concerning the world community can be subject to common regulation. The United Nations embodies the aspiration for a "greater degree of international ordering" (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 43), inspired and governed by the principle of subsidiarity, and therefore capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules and through structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of peoples. This is all the more necessary at a time when we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world’s problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community.

Indeed, questions of security, development goals, reduction of local and global inequalities, protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate, require all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law, and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. I am thinking especially of those countries in Africa and other parts of the world which remain on the margins of authentic integral development, and are therefore at risk of experiencing only the negative effects of globalization. In the context of international relations, it is necessary to recognize the higher role played by rules and structures that are intrinsically ordered to promote the common good, and therefore to safeguard human freedom. These regulations do not limit freedom. On the contrary, they promote it when they prohibit behaviour and actions which work against the common good, curb its effective exercise and hence compromise the dignity of every human person. In the name of freedom, there has to be a correlation between rights and duties, by which every person is called to assume responsibility for his or her choices, made as a consequence of entering into relations with others. Here our thoughts turn also to the way the results of scientific research and technological advances have sometimes been applied. Notwithstanding the enormous benefits that humanity can gain, some instances of this represent a clear violation of the order of creation, to the point where not only is the sacred character of life contradicted, but the human person and the family are robbed of their natural identity. Likewise, international action to preserve the environment and to protect various forms of life on earth must not only guarantee a rational use of technology and science, but must also rediscover the authentic image of creation. This never requires a choice to be made between science and ethics: rather it is a question of adopting a scientific method that is truly respectful of ethical imperatives.

Recognition of the unity of the human family, and attention to the innate dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect. This has only recently been defined, but it was already present implicitly at the origins of the United Nations, and is now increasingly characteristic of its activity. Every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments. The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage. What is needed is a deeper search for ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation.

The principle of "responsibility to protect" was considered by the ancient "ius gentium" as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed: at the time when the concept of national sovereign States was first developing, the Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, rightly considered as a precursor of the idea of the United Nations, described this responsibility as an aspect of natural reason shared by all nations, and the result of an international order whose task it was to regulate relations between peoples. Now, as then, this principle has to invoke the idea of the person as image of the Creator, the desire for the absolute and the essence of freedom. The founding of the United Nations, as we know, coincided with the profound upheavals that humanity experienced when reference to the meaning of transcendence and natural reason was abandoned, and in consequence, freedom and human dignity were grossly violated. When this happens, it threatens the objective foundations of the values inspiring and governing the international order and it undermines the cogent and inviolable principles formulated and consolidated by the United Nations. When faced with new and insistent challenges, it is a mistake to fall back on a pragmatic approach, limited to determining "common ground", minimal in content and weak in its effect.

This reference to human dignity, which is the foundation and goal of the responsibility to protect, leads us to the theme we are specifically focusing upon this year, which marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science. Human rights are increasingly being presented as the common language and the ethical substratum of international relations. At the same time, the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights all serve as guarantees safeguarding human dignity. It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights.

[The Pope continued in English]

The life of the community, both domestically and internationally, clearly demonstrates that respect for rights, and the guarantees that follow from them, are measures of the common good that serve to evaluate the relationship between justice and injustice, development and poverty, security and conflict. The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security. Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace.

The common good that human rights help to accomplish cannot, however, be attained merely by applying correct procedures, nor even less by achieving a balance between competing rights. The merit of the Universal Declaration is that it has enabled different cultures, juridical expressions and institutional models to converge around a fundamental nucleus of values, and hence of rights. Today, though, efforts need to be redoubled in the face of pressure to reinterpret the foundations of the Declaration and to compromise its inner unity so as to facilitate a move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests. The Declaration was adopted as a "common standard of achievement" (Preamble) and cannot be applied piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices that merely run the risk of contradicting the unity of the human person and thus the indivisibility of human rights.

Experience shows that legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactments or normative decisions taken by the various agencies of those in power. When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal. The Universal Declaration, rather, has reinforced the conviction that respect for human rights is principally rooted in unchanging justice, on which the binding force of international proclamations is also based. This aspect is often overlooked when the attempt is made to deprive rights of their true function in the name of a narrowly utilitarian perspective. Since rights and the resulting duties follow naturally from human interaction, it is easy to forget that they are the fruit of a commonly held sense of justice built primarily upon solidarity among the members of society, and hence valid at all times and for all peoples. This intuition was expressed as early as the fifth century by Augustine of Hippo, one of the masters of our intellectual heritage. He taught that the saying: Do not do to others what you would not want done to you "cannot in any way vary according to the different understandings that have arisen in the world" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, 14). Human rights, then, must be respected as an expression of justice, and not merely because they are enforceable through the will of the legislators.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As history proceeds, new situations arise, and the attempt is made to link them to new rights. Discernment, that is, the capacity to distinguish good from evil, becomes even more essential in the context of demands that concern the very lives and conduct of persons, communities and peoples. In tackling the theme of rights, since important situations and profound realities are involved, discernment is both an indispensable and a fruitful virtue.

Discernment, then, shows that entrusting exclusively to individual States, with their laws and institutions, the final responsibility to meet the aspirations of persons, communities and entire peoples, can sometimes have consequences that exclude the possibility of a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person. On the other hand, a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help to achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favours conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace. This also provides the proper context for the inter-religious dialogue that the United Nations is called to support, just as it supports dialogue in other areas of human activity. Dialogue should be recognized as the means by which the various components of society can articulate their point of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals. It pertains to the nature of religions, freely practised, that they can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life. If at this level, too, the religious sphere is kept separate from political action, then great benefits ensue for individuals and communities. On the other hand, the United Nations can count on the results of dialogue between religions, and can draw fruit from the willingness of believers to place their experiences at the service of the common good. Their task is to propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, coexistence, rights, and reconciliation.

Human rights, of course, must include the right to religious freedom, understood as the expression of a dimension that is at once individual and communitarian – a vision that brings out the unity of the person while clearly distinguishing between the dimension of the citizen and that of the believer. The activity of the United Nations in recent years has ensured that public debate gives space to viewpoints inspired by a religious vision in all its dimensions, including ritual, worship, education, dissemination of information and the freedom to profess and choose religion. It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights. The rights associated with religion are all the more in need of protection if they are considered to clash with a prevailing secular ideology or with majority religious positions of an exclusive nature. The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building the social order. Indeed, they actually do so, for example through their influential and generous involvement in a vast network of initiatives which extend from Universities, scientific institutions and schools to health care agencies and charitable organizations in the service of the poorest and most marginalized. Refusal to recognize the contribution to society that is rooted in the religious dimension and in the quest for the Absolute – by its nature, expressing communion between persons – would effectively privilege an individualistic approach, and would fragment the unity of the person.

My presence at this Assembly is a sign of esteem for the United Nations, and it is intended to express the hope that the Organization will increasingly serve as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family. It also demonstrates the willingness of the Catholic Church to offer her proper contribution to building international relations in a way that allows every person and every people to feel they can make a difference. In a manner that is consistent with her contribution in the ethical and moral sphere and the free activity of her faithful, the Church also works for the realization of these goals through the international activity of the Holy See. Indeed, the Holy See has always had a place at the assemblies of the Nations, thereby manifesting its specific character as a subject in the international domain. As the United Nations recently confirmed, the Holy See thereby makes its contribution according to the dispositions of international law, helps to define that law, and makes appeal to it.

The United Nations remains a privileged setting in which the Church is committed to contributing her experience "of humanity", developed over the centuries among peoples of every race and culture, and placing it at the disposal of all members of the international community. This experience and activity, directed towards attaining freedom for every believer, seeks also to increase the protection given to the rights of the person. Those rights are grounded and shaped by the transcendent nature of the person, which permits men and women to pursue their journey of faith and their search for God in this world. Recognition of this dimension must be strengthened if we are to sustain humanity’s hope for a better world and if we are to create the conditions for peace, development, cooperation, and guarantee of rights for future generations.

In my recent Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I indicated that "every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs" (no. 25). For Christians, this task is motivated by the hope drawn from the saving work of Jesus Christ. That is why the Church is happy to be associated with the activity of this distinguished Organization, charged with the responsibility of promoting peace and good will throughout the earth. Dear Friends, I thank you for this opportunity to address you today, and I promise you of the support of my prayers as you pursue your noble task.

Before I take my leave from this distinguished Assembly, I should like to offer my greetings, in the official languages, to all the Nations here represented.

Peace and Prosperity with God’s help!

[The Pope repeated the above greeting in French, Spanish, Arab, Chinese and Russian]

Peace and Prosperity with God’s help!

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Joseph Ratzinger, Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture

From First Things:
Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Thursday, April 17, 2008, 6:24 AM

Every year the Institute on Religion and Public Life, publisher of First Things, sponsors the Erasmus Lecture in New York City. In 1988, that lecture was delivered by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.


In Wladimir Solowjew’s History of the Antichrist, the eschatological enemy of the Redeemer recommended himself to believers, among other things, by the fact that he had earned his doctorate in theology at Tübingen and had written an exegetical work which was recognized as pioneering in the field. The Antichrist, a famous exegete! With this paradox Solowjew sought to shed light on the ambivalence inherent in biblical exegetical methodology for almost a hundred years now. To speak of the crisis of the historical-critical method today is practically a truism. This, despite the fact that it had gotten off to so optimistic a start.

Within that newfound freedom of thought into which the Enlightenment had launched headlong, dogma or church doctrine appeared as one of the real impediments to a correct understanding of the Bible itself. But freed from this impertinent presupposition, and equipped with a methodology which promised strict objectivity, it seemed that we were finally going to be able to hear again the clear and unmistakable voice of the original message of Jesus. Indeed, what had been long forgotten was to be brought into the open once more: the polyphony of history could be heard again, rising from behind the monotone of traditional interpretations. As the human element in sacred history became more and more visible, the hand of God, too, seemed larger and closer.

Gradually, however, the picture became confused. The various theories increased and multiplied and separated one from the other and became a veritable fence which blocked access to the Bible for all the uninitiated. Those who were initiated were no longer reading the Bible anyway, but were dissecting it into the various parts from which it had to have been composed. The methodology itself seems to require such a radical approach: it cannot stand still when it scents the operation of man in sacred history. It must try to remove all the irrational residue and clarify everything. Faith itself is not a component of this method, nor is God a factor to be dealt with in historical events. But since God and divine action permeate the entire biblical account of history, one is obliged to begin with a complicated anatomy of the scriptural word. On one hand there is the attempt to unravel the various threads (of the narrative) so that in the end one holds in one’s hands what is the “really historical,” which means the purely human element in events. On the other hand, one has to try to show how it happened that the idea of God became interwoven through it all. So it is that another “real” history is to be fashioned in place of the one given. Underneath the existing sources–that is to say, the biblical books themselves–we are supposed to find more original sources, which in turn become the criteria for interpretation. No one should really be surprised that this procedure leads to the sprouting of ever more numerous hypotheses which finally turn into a jungle of contradictions. In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, and by which component parts this can be traced back through the text.

Such a state of affairs could not but generate a counterreaction. Among cautious systematic theologians, there began the search for a theology which was as independent as possible from exegesis. But what possible value can a theology have which is cut off from its own foundations? So it was that a radical approach called “fundamentalism” began to win supporters who brand as false in itself and contradictory any application of the historical-critical method to the Word of God. They want to take the Bible again in its literal purity, just as it stands and just as the average reader understands it to be. But when do I really take the Bible “literally”? And which is the “normative” understanding which holds for the Bible in all its particularity? Certainly fundamentalism can take as a precedent the position of the Bible itself, which has selected as its own hermeneutical perspective the viewpoint of the “little ones,” the “pure of heart.” The problem still remains, however, that the demand for “literalness” and “realism” is not at all so univocal as it might first appear. In grappling with the problem of hermeneutics another alternative process presents itself: the explanation of the historical process of the development of forms is only one part of the duty of the interpreter; his understanding within the world of today is the other. According to this idea, one should investigate the conditions for understanding itself in order to come to a visualization of the text which would get beyond this historical “autopsy.” In fact, as it stands, this is quite correct, for one has not really understood something in its entirety simply because one knows how to explain the circumstances surrounding its beginning.

But how is it possible to come to an understanding which on one hand is not based on some arbitrary choice of particular aspects, but on the other hand allows me to hear the message of the text and not something coming from my own self? Once the methodology has picked history to death by its dissection, who can reawaken it so that it can live and speak to me? Let me put it another way: if “hermeneutics” is ever to become convincing, the inner harmony between historical analysis and hermeneutical synthesis must first be found.

To be sure, great strides have already been made in this direction, but I must honestly say that a truly convincing answer has yet to be formulated. If Rudolph Bultmann used the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as a vehicle to represent the biblical word, then that vehicle stands in accord with his reconstruction of the essence of Jesus’ message. But was this reconstruction itself not likewise a product of his philosophy? How great is its credibility from a historical point of view? In the end, are we listening to Jesus or to Heidegger with this approach to understanding? Still, one can hardly deny that Bultmann seriously grappled with the issue of increasing our access to the Bible’s message. But today, certain forms of exegesis are appearing which can only be explained as symptoms of the disintegration of interpretation and hermeneutics. Materialist and feminist exegesis, whatever else may be said about them, do not even claim to be an understanding of the text itself in the manner in which it was originally intended. At best they may be seen as an expression of the view that the Bible’s message is in and of itself inexplicable, or else that it is meaningless for life in today’s world. In this sense, they are no longer interested in ascertaining the truth, but only in whatever will serve their own particular agendas. They go on to justify this combination of agenda with biblical material by saying that the many religious elements help strengthen the vitality of the treatment. Thus historical method can even serve as a cloak for such maneuvers insofar as it dissects the Bible into discontinuous pieces, which are then able to be put to new use and inserted into a new montage (altogether different from the original biblical context).

The Central Problem

Naturally, this situation does not occur everywhere with the same starkness. The methods are often applied with a good deal of prudence, and the radical hermeneutics of the kind I have just described have already been disavowed by a large number of exegetes. In addition, the search for remedies for basic errors of modern methods has been going on for some time now. The scholarly search to find a better synthesis between the historical and theological methods, between higher criticism and church doctrine, is hardly a recent phenomenon. This can be seen from the fact that hardly anyone today would assert that a truly pervasive understanding of this whole problem has yet been found which takes into account both the undeniable insights uncovered by the historical method, while at the same time overcoming its limitations and disclosing them in a thoroughly relevant hermeneutic. At least the work of a whole generation is necessary to achieve such a thing. What follows, therefore, will be an attempt to sketch out a few distinctions and to point out a few first steps that might be taken toward an eventual solution.

There should be no particular need to demonstrate that on the one hand it is useless to take refuge in an allegedly pure, literal understanding of the Bible. On the other hand, a merely positivistic and rigid ecclesiasticism will not do either. Just to challenge individual theories, especially the more daring and dubious ones, is likewise insufficient. Likewise dissatisfying is the middle-ground position of trying to pick out in each case as soon as possible the answers from modern exegesis which are more in keeping with tradition. Such foresight may sometimes prove profitable, but it does not grasp the problem at its root and in fact remains somewhat arbitrary if it cannot make its own arguments intelligible. In order to arrive at a real solution, we must get beyond disputes over details and press on to the foundations. What we need might be called a criticism of criticism. By this I mean not some exterior analysis, but a criticism based on the inherent potential of all critical thought to analyze itself.

We need a self-criticism of the historical method which can expand to an analysis of historical reason itself, in continuity with and in development of the famous critique of reason by Immanuel Kant. Let me assure you at once that I do not presume to accomplish so vast an undertaking in the short time we have together. But we must make some start, even if it is by way of preliminary explorations in what is still a largely uncharted land. The self-critique of historical method would have to begin, it seems, by reading its conclusions in a diachronic manner so that the appearance of a quasi-clinical-scientific certainty is avoided. It has been this appearance of certainty which has caused its conclusions to be accepted so far and wide.

In fact, at the heart of the historical-critical method lies the effort to establish in the field of history a level of methodological precision which would yield conclusions of the same certainty as in the field of the natural sciences. But what one exegete takes as definite can only be called into question by other exegetes. This is a practical rule which is presupposed as plainly and self-evidently valid. Now, if the natural science model is to be followed without hesitation, then the importance of the Heisenberg principle should be applied to the historical-critical method as well. Heisenberg has shown that the outcome of a given experiment is heavily influenced by the point of view of the observer. So much is this the case that both the observer’s questions and observations continue to change themselves in the natural course of events. When applied to the witness of history, this means that interpretation can never be just a simple reproduction of history’s being, “as it was.” The word “interpretation” gives us a clue to the question itself: every exegesis requires an “inter,” an entering in and a being “inter” or between things; this is the involvement of the interpreter himself. Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming to know.

Here, then, is the question: how does one come to be interested, not so that the self drowns out the voice of the other, but in such a way that one develops a kind of inner understanding for things of the past, and ears to listen to the word they speak to us today?

This principle which Heisenberg enunciated for experiments in the natural sciences has a very important application to the subject-object relationship. The subject is not to be neatly isolated in a world of its own apart from any interaction. One can only try to put it in the best possible state. This is all the more the case with regard to history since physical processes are in the present and repeatable. Moreover, historical processes deal with the impenetrability and the depths of the human being and are thus even more susceptible to the influence of the perceiving subject than are natural events. But how are we to reconstruct the original historical context of a subject from the clues which survive?

We need to introduce at this point what I have already called the diachronic approach to exegetical findings. After about two hundred years of exegetical work on the texts, one can no longer give all their results equal weight. Now one has to look at them within the context of their particular history. It then becomes clear that such a history is not simply one of progress from imprecise to precise and objective conclusions. It appears much more as a history of subjectively reconstructed interrelationships whose approaches correspond exactly to the developments of spiritual history. In turn, these developments are reflected in particular interpretations of texts. In the diachronic reading of an exegesis, its philosophic presuppositions become quite apparent. Now, at a certain distance, the observer determines to his surprise that these interpretations, which were supposed to be so strictly scientific and purely “historical,” reflect their own overriding spirit, rather than the spirit of times long ago. This insight should not lead us to skepticism about the method, but rather to an honest recognition of what its limits are, and perhaps how it might be purified.


A Self-Criticism of the Historical-Critical Method on the Model of How the Method Was Taught by Martin Dibelius and Rudolph Bultmann

In order not to let the general rules of the method and their presuppositions remain altogether abstract, I would like to try to illustrate what I have been saying thus far with an example. I am going to follow here the doctoral dissertation written by Reiner Blank at the University of Basel, entitled “Analysis and Criticism of the Form-Critical Works of Martin Dibelius and Rudolph Bultmann.” This book seems to me to be a fine example of a self-critique of the historical-critical method. This kind of self-critical exegesis stops building conclusions on top of conclusions, and from constructing and opposing hypotheses. It looks for a way to identify its own foundations and to purify itself by reflections on those foundations. This does not mean that it is pulling itself up by its own bootstraps. On the contrary, by a process of self-limitation, it marks out for itself its own proper space. It goes without saying that the form-critical works of Dibelius and Bultmann have in the meantime been surpassed and in many respects corrected in their details. But it is likewise true that their basic methodological approaches continue even today to determine the methods and procedures of modern exegesis. Their essential elements underlie more than their own historical and theological judgments and, to be sure, these have widely achieved an authority like unto dogma.

For Dibelius, as with Bultmann, it was a matter of overcoming the arbitrary manner in which the preceding phase of Christian exegesis, the so-called “Liberal Theology,” had been conducted. This was imbued with judgments about what was “historical” or “unhistorical.” Both these scholars then sought to establish strict literary criteria which would reliably clarify the process by which the texts themselves were developed and would thus provide a true picture of the tradition. With this outlook, both were in search of the pure form and of the rules which governed the development from the initial forms to the text as we have it before us today. As is well known, Dibelius proceeded from the view that the secret of history discloses itself as one sheds light on its development. But how does one arrive at this first premise and to the ground rules for further development? Even with all their particular differences, one can discover here a series of fundamental presuppositions common to both Dibelius and Bultmann and which both considered trustworthy beyond question. Both proceed from the priority of what is preached over the event in itself: in the beginning was the Word. Everything in the Bible develops from the proclamation. This thesis is so promoted by Bultmann that for him only the word can be original: the word generates the scene. All events, therefore, are already secondary, mythological developments.

A further axiom is formulated which has remained fundamental for modern exegesis since the time of Dibelius and Bultmann: the notion of discontinuity. Not only is there no continuity between the pre-Easter Jesus and the formative period of the church; discontinuity applies to all phases of the tradition. This is so much the case that Reiner Blank could state, “Bultmann wanted incoherence at any price.”

To these two theories, the pure originality of the simple word and the discontinuity between the particular phases of development, there is joined the further notion that what is simple is original, that what is more complex must be a later development. This idea affords an easily applied parameter to determine the stages of development: the more theologically considered and sophisticated a given text is, the more recent it is, and the simpler something is, the easier it is to reckon it original. The criterion according to which something is considered more or less developed, however, is not at all so evident as it first seems. In fact, the judgment essentially depends upon the theological values of the individual exegete. There remains considerable room for arbitrary choice.

First and foremost, one must challenge that basic notion dependent upon a simplistic transferral of science’s evolutionary model to spiritual history. Spiritual processes do not follow the rule of zoological genealogies. In fact, it is frequently the opposite: after a great breakthrough, generations of descendants may come who reduce what was once a courageous new beginning to an academic commonplace. They bury it and disguise it by all kinds of variations of the original theory until it finally comes to have a completely different application.

One can easily see how questionable the criteria have been by using a few examples. Who would hold that Clement of Rome is more developed or complex than Paul? Is James any more advanced than the Epistle to the Romans? Is the Didache more encompassing than the Pastoral Epistles? Take a look at later times: whole generations of Thomistic scholars have not been able to take in the greatness of his thought. Lutheran orthodoxy is far more medieval than was Luther himself. Even between great figures there is nothing to support this kind of developmental theory.

Gregory the Great, for example, wrote long after Augustine and knew of him, but for Gregory the bold Augustinian vision is translated into the simplicity of religious understanding. Another example: what standard could one use to determine whether Pascal should be classified as before or after Descartes? Which of their philosophies should be judged the more developed? Further examples could be mentioned to illustrate the whole of human history. All judgments based on the theory of discontinuity in the tradition and on the assertion of an evolutionary priority of the “simple” over the “complex” can thus be immediately called into question as lacking foundation.

But now we must explain in an even more concrete way what criteria have been used to determine what is “simple.” In this regard there are standards as to form and content. In terms of form, the search was for the original forms. Dibelius found them in the so-called “paradigm,” or example narrative in oral tradition, which can be reconstructed behind the proclamation. Later forms, on the other hand, would be the “anecdote,” the “legend,” the collections of narrative materials, and the “myth.”

Bultmann saw the pure form in the “apothegm,” “the original specific fragment which would sum things up concisely; interest would be concentrated on the word [spoken by] Jesus at the end of a scene; the details of the situation would lie far from this kind of form; Jesus would never come across as the initiator . . . everything not corresponding to this form Bultmann attributed to development.” The arbitrary nature of these assessments which would characterize theories of development and judgments of authenticity from now on is only obvious. To be honest, though, one must also say that these theories are not so arbitrary as they may first appear. The designation of the “pure form” is based on a loaded idea of what is original, which we must now put to the test.

One element of originality is what we have just encountered: the thesis of the priority of the word over the event. But this thesis conceals two further pairs of opposites: the pitting of word against cult and eschatology against apocalyptic. In close harmony with these is the antithesis between Judaic and Hellenistic. Hellenistic was, for example, in Bultmann, the notion of the cosmos, the mystical worship of the gods and cultic piety. The consequence is simple: what is Hellenistic cannot be Palestinian, and therefore it cannot be original. Whatever has to do with cult, cosmos, or mystery must be rejected as a later development. The rejection of “apocalyptic,” the alleged opposite of eschatology, leads to yet another element: the supposed antagonism between the prophetic and the “legal” and thus between the prophetic and the cosmic and cultic. It follows, then, that ethics is seen as incompatible with the eschatological and the prophetic. In the beginning there was no ethics, but simply an ethos. What is surely at work is the by-product of Luther’s fundamental distinction: the dialectic between the law and the gospel. According to this dialectic, ethics and cult are to be relegated to the realm of the law and put in dialectical contrast with Jesus, who, as bearer of the good news, brings the long line of promise to completion and thus overcomes the law. If we are ever to understand modern exegesis and critique it correctly, we simply must return and reflect anew on Luther’s view of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. In place of the analogy model which was then current, he substituted a dialectical structure.

However, for Luther all of this remained in a very delicate balance, whereas for Dibelius and Bultmann, the whole degenerates into a development scheme of well-nigh intolerable simplicity, even if this has contributed to its attractiveness.

With these presuppositions, the picture of Jesus is determined in advance. Thus Jesus has to be conceived in strongly “Judaic” terms. Anything “Hellenistic” has to be removed from him. All apocalyptic, sacramental, mystical elements have to be pruned away. What remains is a strictly “eschatological” prophet, who really proclaims nothing of substance. He only cries out “eschatologically” in expectation of the “wholly other,” of that transcendence which he powerfully presents before humanity in the form of the imminent end of the world.

From this view emerged two challenges for exegesis. First, exegetes had to explain how one got from the unmessianic, unapocalyptic, prophetic Jesus to the apocalyptic community which worshiped him as Messiah; to a community in which were united Jewish eschatology, stoic philosophy, and mystery religion in a wondrous syncretism. This is exactly how Bultmann described early Christianity.

Second, exegetes had to find a way to connect the original message of Jesus to Christian life today, thus making it possible to understand his call to us.

According to the developmental model, the first problem is relatively easy to solve in principle, even though an immense amount of scholarship had to be dedicated to working out the details. The agent responsible for the contents of the New Testament was not to be found in persons, but in the collective, in the “community.” Romantic notions of the “people” and of its importance in the shaping of traditions play a key role here.18 Add to this the thesis of Hellenization and the appeal to the history-of-religions school. The works of Gunkel and Bousset exerted decisive influence in this area.

The second problem was more difficult. Bultmann’s approach was his theory of demythologization, but this did not achieve quite the same success as his theories on form and development. If one were allowed to characterize somewhat roughly Bultmann’s solution for a contemporary appropriation of Jesus’ message, one might say that the scholar from Marburg had set up a correspondence between the nonapocalyptic-prophetic and the fundamental thought of the early Heidegger. Being a Christian, in the sense Jesus meant it, is essentially collapsed into that mode of existing in openness and alertness which Heidegger described. The question has to occur whether one cannot come by some simpler way to such general and sweeping formal assertions.

Still, what is of interest to us here is not Bultmann the systematician, whose activities came to an abrupt halt in any case with the rise of Marxism. Instead, we should examine Bultmann the exegete who is responsible for an ever more solid consensus regarding the methodology of scientific exegesis.


The Philosophic Source of the Method

At this point the question arises, how could Dibelius’ and Bultmann’s essential categories for judgment–that is, the pure form, the opposition between apocalyptic and eschatology and so on–present such evidence to them that they believed they had at their disposal the perfect instrument for gaining a knowledge of history? Why is this system of thought taken without question and applied in large part even today? Most of it has simply become an academic commonplace, which precedes individual analysis and appears to be legitimized almost automatically by application. But what about the founders of the method? Certainly, Dibelius and Bultmann already stood in a tradition. Mention has already been made of their dependence on Gunkel and Bousset. But what was their dominant idea? With this question, the self-critique of the historical method passes over to a self-criticism of historical reason, without which our analysis would get stuck in superficialities.

In the first place, one can note that in the history-of religions school, the model of evolution was applied to the analysis of biblical texts. This was an effort to bring the methods and models of the natural sciences to bear on the study of history. Bultmann laid hold of this notion in a more general way and thus attributed to the so-called scientific worldview a kind of dogmatic character. Thus, for example, for him the nonhistoricity of the miracle stories was no question whatever anymore. The only thing one needed to do yet was to explain how these miracle stories came about. On one hand the introduction of the scientific worldview was indeterminate and not well thought out. On the other hand, it offered an absolute rule for distinguishing between what could have been and what had to be explained only by development. To this latter category belonged everything which is not met with in common daily experience. There could only have been what now is. For everything else, therefore, historical processes are invented, whose reconstruction became the particular challenge of exegesis.

But I think we must go yet a step further in order to appreciate the fundamental decision of the system which generated these particular categories for judgment. The real philosophic presupposition of the whole system seems to me to lie in the philosophic turning point proposed by Immanuel Kant. According to him, the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason, which have remained, as it were, the small opening through which he can make contact with the real, that is, his eternal destiny. For the rest, as far as the content of his intellectual life is concerned, he must limit himself to the realm of the categories. Thence comes the restriction to the positive, to the empirical, to the “exact” science, which by definition excludes the appearance of what is “wholly other,” or the one who is wholly other, or a new initiative from another plane.

In theological terms, this means that revelation must recede into the pure formality of the eschatological stance, which corresponds to the Kantian Split. As far as everything else is concerned, it all needs to be “explained.” What might otherwise seem like a direct proclamation of the divine can only be myth, whose laws of development can be discovered. It is with this basic conviction that Bultmann, with the majority of modern exegetes, read the Bible. He is certain that it cannot be the way it is depicted in the Bible, and he looks for methods to prove the way it really had to be. To that extent there lies in modern exegesis a reduction of history into philosophy, a revision of history by means of philosophy.

The real question before us then is, can one read the Bible any other way? Or perhaps better, must one agree with the philosophy which requires this kind of reading? At its core, the debate about modern exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate. Only in this way can it be carried on correctly. Otherwise it is like a battle in a mist. The exegetical problem is identical in the main with the struggle for the foundations of our time. Such a struggle cannot be conducted casually, nor can it be won with a few suggestions. It will demand, as I have already intimated, the attentive and critical commitment of an entire generation. It cannot simply retreat back to the Middle Ages or to the Fathers and place them in blind opposition to the spirit of the present age. But neither can it renounce the insights of the great believers of the past and pretend that the history of thought seriously began only with Kant.

In my opinion the more recent debate about biblical hermeneutics suffers from just such a narrowing of our horizon. One can hardly dismiss the exegesis of the Fathers by calling it mere “allegory” or set aside the philosophy of the Middle Ages by branding it as “precritical.”


The Basic Elements of a New Synthesis

After these remarks on the challenge of a self-critique of the historical method, we now find ourselves confronted with the positive side of the problem, how to join its tools with a better philosophy which would entail fewer drawbacks foreign to the text, which would be less arbitrary, and which would offer greater possibilities for a true listening to the text itself. The positive task is without a doubt even more difficult than the critical one. I can only try to conclude these remarks by trying to carve out a few narrow footpaths in the thicket, which may perhaps point out where the main road lies and how it is to be found.

In the midst of the theological, methodological debate of his day, Gregory of Nyssa called upon the rationalist Eunomius not to confuse theology with the science of nature. (Theologein is not physiologein.) “The mystery of theology is one thing,” he said, “the scientific investigation of nature is quite another.” One cannot then “encompass the unembraceable nature of God in the palm of a child’s hand.” Gregory was here alluding to one of the famous sayings of Zeno: “The open hand is perception, the clapping hand is the agreement of the intellect, the hand fully closed upon something is the recording of judgment, the one hand clasped by the other is systematic science.”

Modern exegesis, as we have seen, completely relegated God to the incomprehensible, the otherworldly, and the inexpressible in order to be able to treat the biblical text itself as an entirely worldly reality according to natural-scientific methods.

Contrary to the text itself, physiologein is practiced. As a “critical science,” it claims an exactness and certitude similar to natural science. This is a false claim because it is based upon a misunderstanding of the depth and dynamism of the word. Only when one takes from the word its own proper character as word and then stretches it onto the screen of some basic hypothesis can one subject it to such exact rules. Romano Guardini commented in this regard on the false certainty of modern exegesis, which he said “has produced very significant individual results, but has lost sight of its own particular object and generally has ceased being theology.” The sublime thought of Gregory of Nyssa remains a true guidepost today: “these gliding and glittering lights of God’s word which sparkle over the eyes of the soul . . . but now let what we hear from Elijah rise up to our soul and would that our thoughts, too, might be snatched up into the fiery chariot . . . so we would not have to abandon hope of drawing close to these stars, by which I mean the thoughts of God . . .”

Thus the word should not be submitted to just any kind of enthusiasm. Rather, preparation is required to open us up to the inner dynamism of the word. This is possible only when there is a certain “sympathia” for understanding, a readiness to learn something new, to allow oneself to be taken along a new road. It is not the closed hand which is required, but the opened eye. . . .

Thus the exegete should not approach the text with a ready-made philosophy, nor in accordance with the dictates of a so-called modern or “scientific” worldview, which determines in advance what may or may not be. He may not exclude a priori that (almighty) God could speak in human words in the world. He may not exclude that God himself could enter into and work in human history, however improbable such a thing might at first appear.

He must be ready to learn from the extraordinary. He must be ready to accept that the truly original may occur in history, something which cannot be derived from precedents but which opens up out of itself. He may not deny to humanity the ability to be responsive beyond the categories of pure reason and to reach beyond ourselves toward the open and endless truth of being.

We must likewise reexamine the relationship between event and word. For Dibelius, Bultmann, and the mainstream of modern exegesis, the event is the irrational element. It lies in the realm of mere facticity, which is a mixture of accident and necessity. The fact as such, therefore, cannot be a bearer of meaning. Meaning lies only in the word, and where events might seem to bear meaning, they are to be considered as illustrations of the word to which they have to be referred. Judgments which derive from such a point of view are certainly persuasive for people of today, since they fit nicely into their own patterns of expectations. There is, however, no evidence in reality to support them. Such evidence is admissible only under the presupposition that the principle of scientific method, namely that every effect which occurs can be explained in terms of purely immanent relationships within the operation itself, is not only valid methodologically but is true in and of itself. Thus, in reality there would be only “accident and necessity,” nothing else, and one may only look upon these elements as brute facts.

But what is useful as a methodological principle for the natural sciences is a foregone banality as a philosophical principle; and as a theological principle it is a contradiction. (How can any or all of God’s activity be considered either as accidental or necessary?) It is here, for the sake of scientific curiosity, too, that we must experiment with the precise contrary of this principle, namely, that things can indeed be otherwise.

To put it another way: the event itself can be a “word,” in accord with the biblical terminology itself. From this flow two important rules for interpretation.

(a) First, both word and event have to be considered equally original, if one wishes to remain true to the biblical perspective. The dualism which banishes the event into wordlessness, that is meaninglessness, would rob the word of its power to convey meaning as well, for it would then stand in a world without meaning.

It also leads to a docetic Christology in which the reality, that is the concrete fleshly existence of Christ and especially of man, is removed from the realm of meaning. Thus the essence of the biblical witness fails of its purpose.

(b) Secondly, such a dualism splits the biblical word off from creation and would substitute the principle of discontinuity for the organic continuity of meaning which exists between the Old and New Testaments. When the continuity between word and event is allowed to disappear, there can no longer be any unity within the Scripture itself. A New Testament cut off from the Old is automatically abolished since it exists, as its very title suggests, because of the unity of both. Therefore the principle of discontinuity must be counterbalanced by the interior claim of the biblical text itself, according to the principle of the analogia scripturae: the mechanical principle must be balanced by the teleological principle.

Certainly texts must first of all be traced back to their historical origins and interpreted in their proper historical context. But then, in a second exegetical operation, one must look at them also in light of the total movement of history and in light of history’s central event, Jesus Christ. Only the combination of both these methods will yield understanding of the Bible. If the first exegetical operation by the Fathers and in the Middle Ages is found to be lacking, so too is the second, since it easily falls into arbitrariness. Thus, the first was fruitless, but the rejection of any coherence of meaning leads to an opinionated methodology.

To recognize the inner self-transcendence of the historical word, and thus the inner correctness of subsequent rereadings in which event and meaning are gradually interwoven, is the task of interpretation properly so-called, for which appropriate methods can and must be found. In this connection, the exegetical maxim of Thomas Aquinas is quite to the point: “The duty of every good interpreter is to contemplate not the words, but the sense of the words.”

In the last hundred years, exegesis has had many great achievements, but it has brought forth great errors as well. These latter, moreover, have in some measure grown to the stature of academic dogmas. To criticize them at all would be taken by many as tantamount to sacrilege, especially if it were to be done by a nonexegete. Nevertheless, so prominent an exegete as Heinrich Schlier previously warned his colleagues: “Do not squander your time on trivialities.” Johann Gnilka gave concrete expression to this warning when he reacted against an exaggerated emphasis by the history-of-traditions school.

Along the same lines, I would like to express the following hopes:

(a) The time seems to have arrived for a new and thorough reflection on exegetical method. Scientific exegesis must recognize the philosophic element present in a great number of its ground rules, and it must then reconsider the results which are based on these rules.

(b) Exegesis can no longer be studied in a unilinear, synchronic fashion, as is the case with scientific findings which do not depend upon their history but only upon the precision of their data. Exegesis must recognize itself as a historical discipline. Its history belongs to itself. In a critical arrangement of its respective positions within the totality of its own history, it will be able, on one hand, to recognize the relativity of its own judgments (where, for example, errors may have crept in). On the other hand, it will be in a better position to achieve an insight into our real, if always imperfect, comprehension of the biblical word.

(c) Philological and scientific literary methods are and will remain critically important for a proper exegesis. But for their actual application to the work of criticism–just as for an examination of their claims–an understanding of the philosophic implications of the interpretative process is required. The self-critical study of its own history must also imply an examination of the essential philosophic alternatives for human thought. Thus, it is not sufficient to scan simply the last one hundred and fifty years. The great outlines of patristic and medieval thought must also be brought into the discussion. It is equally indispensable to reflect on the fundamental judgments made by the Reformers and the critical importance they have had in the history of exegesis.

(d) What we need now are not new hypotheses on the Sitz im Leben, on possible sources or on the subsequent process of handing down the material. What we do need is a critical look at the exegetical landscape we now have, so that we may return to the text and distinguish between those hypotheses which are helpful and those which are not. Only under these conditions can a new and fruitful collaboration between exegesis and systematic theology begin. And only in this way will exegesis be of real help in understanding the Bible.

(e) Finally, the exegete must realize that he does not stand in some neutral area, above or outside history and the church. Such a presumed immediacy regarding the purely historical can only lead to dead ends. The first presupposition of all exegesis is that it accepts the Bible as a book. In so doing, it has already chosen a place for itself which does not simply follow from the study of literature. It has identified this particular literature as the product of a coherent history, and this history as the proper space for coming to understanding. If it wishes to be theology, it must take a further step. It must recognize that the faith of the church is that form of “sympathia” without which the Bible remains a closed book. It must come to acknowledge this faith as a hermeneutic, the space for understanding, which does not do dogmatic violence to the Bible, but precisely allows the solitary possibility for the Bible to be itself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More from Robert George on Embryo Ethics

Embryo Ethics: On the Biological and Moral Status of Nascent Human Life (part 1)
Robert P. George - 04/14/08

Questions of whether human beings have spiritual souls needn’t be engaged in arguments about whether human embryos are human beings. And one need not appeal to any theology of ensoulment to assert that there is a rational basis for treating all human beings—including those at the embryonic stage—as creatures possessing intrinsic worth and dignity. Question of ensoulment and the eternal fate of human beings who die before birth are, to be sure, interesting theological questions, but they are irrelevant to the moral debate and the question of public policy. [2]

But is it not relevant in so far as the soul is the substantial form of the body? Now, do we have to determine whether human beings have a spiritual soul before we can argue that the 'right to life' is inviolable? Or, if human beings are no different from other animals, is it licit to kill them, just as it is licit to kill other animals (for the sake of food, etc.).

Embryo Ethics: On the Biological and Moral Status of Nascent Human Life (part 2)
Robert P. George - 04/15/08