Friday, May 16, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe, by Alexander Koyré, , at sacred-texts.com,
Nicholas of Cusa denies the finitude of the world and its enclosure by the walls of the heavenly spheres. But he does not assert its positive infinity; as a matter of fact he avoids as carefully and as consistently as Descartes himself the attribution to the universe of the qualification "infinite," which he reserves for God, and for God alone. His universe is not infinite (infinitum) but "interminate" (interminatum), which means not only that it is boundless and is not terminated by an outside shell, but also that it is not "terminated" in its constituents, that is, that it utterly lacks precision and strict determination. It never reaches the "limit"; it is, in the full sense of the word, indetermined. It cannot, therefore, be the object of total and precise knowledge, but only that of a partial and conjectural one.9 It is the recognition of this necessarily partial—and relative—character of our knowledge, of the impossibility of building a univocal and objective representation of the universe, that constitutes—in one of its aspects—the docta ignorantia, the learned ignorance, advocated by Nicholas of Cusa as a means of transcending the limitations of our rational thought. (7-8)Of course this judgment presumes that Aristotle and his followers are right in holding that the universe is finite.
The universe of Nicholas of Cusa is an expression or a development (explicatio), though, of course, necessarily imperfect and inadequate, of God—imperfect and inadequate because it displays in the realm of multiplicity and
separation what in God is present in an indissoluble and intimate unity (complicatio), a unity which embraces not only the different, but even the opposite, qualities or determinations of being. In its turn, every singular thing in the universe represents it—the universe—and thus also God, in its own particular manner; each in a manner different from that of all others, by "contracting" (contractio) the wealth of the universe in accordance with its own unique individuality.
The metaphysical and epistemological conceptions of Nicholas of Cuss, his idea of the coincidence of the opposites in the absolute which transcends them, as well as the correlative concept of learned ignorance as the intellectual act that grasps this relationship which transcends discursive, rational thought, follow and develop the pattern of the mathematical paradoxes involved in the infinitization of certain relations valid for finite objects. Thus, for instance, nothing is more opposed in geometry than "straightness" and "curvilinearity"; and yet in the infinitely great circle the circumference coincides with the tangent, and in the infinitely small one, with the diameter. In both cases, moreover, the center loses its unique, determinate position; it coincides with the circumference; it is nowhere, or everywhere. But "great" and "small" are themselves a pair of opposed concepts that are valid and meaningful only in the realm of finite quantity, the realm of relative being, where there are no "great" or "small" objects, but only "greater" and "smaller" ones, and where, therefore, there is no "greatest," as well as no "smallest." Compared with the infinite there is nothing that is greater or smaller than anything else. The absolute, infinite maximum does not, any more
than the absolute, infinite minimum, belong to the series of the great and small. They are outside it, and therefore, as Nicholas of Cusa boldly concludes, they coincide.
Another example can be provided by kinematics. No two things, indeed, are more opposed than motion and rest. A body in motion is never in the same place; a body at rest is never outside it. And yet a body moving with infinite velocity along a circular path will always be in the place of its departure, and at the same time will always be elsewhere, a good proof that motion is a relative concept embracing the oppositions of "speedy" and "slow." Thus it follows that, just as in the sphere of purely geometrical quantity, there is no minimum and no maximum of motion, no slowest and no quickest, and that the absolute maximum of velocity (infinite speed) as well as its absolute minimum (infinite slowness or rest) are both outside it, and, as we have seen, coincide.
Nicholas of Cusa is well aware of the originality of his thought and even more so of the rather paradoxical and strange character of the conclusion to which he is led by learned ignorance.11It is possible [he states] that those who will read things previously unheard of, and now established by Learned Ignorance, will be astonished.
Nicholas of Cusa cannot help it: it has, indeed, been established by learned ignorance12. . . that the universe is triune; and that there is nothing that is not a unity of potentiality, actuality and connecting motion; that no one of these can subsist absolutely without the other; and that all these are in all [things] in different degrees, so different that in the universe no two [things]can be completely equal to each other in everything. Accordingly, if we consider the diverse motions of the [celestial] orbs, [we find that] it is impossible for the machine of the world to have any fixed and motionless center; be it this sensible earth, or the air, or fire or anything else. For there can be found no absolute minimum in motion, that is, no fixed center, because the minimum must necessarily coincide with the maximum]
[paragraph continues] Thus the centrum of the world coincides with the circumference and, as we shall see, it is not a physical, but a metaphysical "centrum," which does not belong to the world. This "centrum," which is the same as the "circumference," that is, beginning and end, foundation and limit, the "place" that "contains" it, is nothing other than the Absolute Being or God.
You will remember that my spiritual search had by this time led me to the conviction that a genuine Christian revelation directed to the whole of humanity would require the existence of a stable institution of some sort, endowed permanently with the charism of infallibility. The purpose of this gift would be, quite simply, to enable Christians to distinguish with certainty true doctrine from false doctrine (heresy) Now, clearly, if God has given the gift of infallibility to his Church, there must be some identifiable authority or agent within her capable of exercising that gift – of putting it to work, so to speak. And Catholics, as is well known, believe that the ‘college of bishops’ – the successors of the Apostles, led by the Pope, the successor of St. Peter – constitute that authority. They can exercise the gift in several ways (as explained by Vatican Council II in article 25 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). The whole group (the ‘college of bishops’) can teach infallibly, either gathered together in Councils that their leader, the Pope, recognizes as “ecumenical” (that is, sufficiently representative of the whole Church), or even, under certain conditions, while remaining dispersed around the world. Finally, the Pope even when speaking alone is guaranteed the charism of infallibility in his most formal (ex cathedra) pronouncements.
Now, what does the Eastern Orthodox communion see as the agent of the infallibility it claims for itself? In fact, it recognizes only one of those forms of teaching mentioned above. Let us highlight this answer:
Proposition 1: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of ecumenical councils.
However, does this mean that the Orthodox recognize the authority of all the same ecumenical councils that we Catholics recognize? Unfortunately not. While our separated Eastern brethren claim that, in principle, any ecumenical council between Pentecost and Judgment Day would enjoy the charism of being able to issue infallible dogmatic decrees, they in fact recognize as ecumenical only the first seven councils: those that took place in the first Christian millennium, before the rupture between East and West. Indeed, even though they claim theirs is the true Church, they have never, since that medieval split, attempted to convoke and celebrate any ecumenical council of their own. For they still recognize as a valid part of ancient tradition the role of the See of Peter as enjoying a certain primacy – at least of honor or precedence – over the other ancient centers of Christianity (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria). After all, the first-millennium historical evidence is abundantly clear to practically all historians that confirmation (not necessarily convocation) by the Bishop of Rome was seen by both Eastern and Western Christians as essential in order for a council to qualify as being truly ecumenical.
Does this mean, then, that the Orthodox theology falls into the same illogical trap which we discussed yesterday in connection with certain Protestant and Anglican theories, namely, the absurd postulation of a merely temporary church infallibility? Not quite. For mainstream Orthodox theologians, as I understand them, would prefer to say, rather, that for a thousand years we have had a situation of interrupted infallibility. The interruption, they would maintain, has been caused above all by the ‘ambition’, ‘intransigence’ or ‘hubris’ of the bishops of the See of Peter, who are said to have gradually exaggerated their privileges to the point of seriously overstepping the due limits of the very modest primacy bestowed on them by Jesus. However (it is said), once the papacy comes to recognize this grave error and so renounces its claims to personal infallibility and universal jurisdiction over all Christians – ‘novel’ doctrines solemnly defined only as recently as 1870 – why, then the deplorable schism will at last be healed and the whole Church, with due representation for both East and West, will once again be able to hold ecumenical councils. As such, these will be endowed, as before, with the capacity to issue infallible dogmatic decrees.
Now, while this position might seem plausible at first sight, or at least, not obviously unreasonable, it involves serious problems. Our separated Eastern brethren are acknowledging that any truly ecumenical council will need to include not only their own representatives, but also those of the Bishop of Rome, whose confirmation of its decrees would in due course be needed, as it was in those first seven councils of antiquity. Well, so far so good. But does this mean the Orthodox acknowledge that the Pope’s confirmation of a council in which they participate will not only be necessary, but also sufficient, as a condition for their own recognition of it as ecumenical and infallible? Unfortunately, the answer here is again in the negative. And it is the Easterners’ own history which has, as we shall now see, re-shaped their theology on this point during the last half-millennium.
After the East-West rupture that hardened as a result of the mutual excommunications of 1054 and the brutal sack of Constantinople itself by Latin crusaders in 1204, two ecumenical councils were convoked by Rome for the purpose of healing the breach. They were held, respectively, at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439, with Eastern Christendom being duly represented at both councils by bishops and theologians sent from Constantinople. And in both cases these representatives ended up fully accepting, on behalf of the Eastern Church, the decrees, promulgated by these councils, that professed the true, divinely ordained jurisdiction of the Successors of Peter over the universal Church of Christ – something much more than a mere primacy of honor. And these decrees were of course confirmed by the then reigning popes.
Why, then, did neither of these two councils effectively put an end to the tragic and long-standing schism? Basically because the Eastern delegations to Lyons and Florence, upon returning to their own constituency, were unable to make the newly decreed union ‘stick’ and take practical effect. At Constantinople, the nerve-center of the Byzantine Empire, deep suspicion and even passionate hostility toward the Latin ‘enemies’ were still very strongly ingrained in the hearts and minds of many citizens – great and small alike. The result was that politics and public opinion trumped the conciliar agreements. The Eastern Christians as a whole simply refused to acquiesce in the idea of allowing that man – the widely feared and detested Bishop of Rome – to hold any kind of real jurisdiction over their spiritual and ecclesiastical affairs.
As a result, in order to justify this continued separation from Rome, the Orthodox have had to nuance their position on the infallibility of ecumenical councils. They have had to maintain that the participation in a given council of bishops representing the whole Church and the confirmation of their decrees by the Pope, while undoubtedly necessary, is still not sufficient to guarantee the true ecumenical status and infallibility of that council. For over and above the fulfilment of those conditions, it is also necessary (according to standard Orthodox ecclesiology of recent centuries) for the faithful as a whole in both East and West – not just the pope and bishops or even the entire clergy – to accept that council’s decrees as expressing the true faith.3 So the simple Proposition 1 set out above now becomes:
Proposition 2: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole Church.
In the post-Enlightenment Western world wherein opposition to ‘clericalism’ (real or imagined), and the ideas of democracy and popular sovereignty have long enjoyed great political popularity, this Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, with its emphasis on the role of the laity, will inevitably sound attractive to many. Indeed, some neo-modernist, dissident Catholic advocates of ‘liberation theology’ and a ‘People’s Church’ have in recent decades been advocating some such ‘democratization’ of church structures and procedures as a remedy for so-called ‘Roman centralism’. But on closer inspection a fatal logical flaw in the Orthodox theory comes to light. For if the crucial factor in deciding whether a given council’s teaching is infallible or not depends on how it is received by the rank-and-file membership of “the whole Church”, then it becomes critically important to know who, precisely, constitutes “the whole Church”. How are her members to be identified? Who has ‘voting’ rights, as it were, in this monumental communal decision whether to accept or reject a given council’s doctrinal decrees?
In answer to this question, our Eastern friends certainly cannot say that for these purposes “the whole Church” consists of all who profess faith in Christ, or all the baptized. For on that basis the Orthodox would rule out as ‘un-ecumenical’ (and thus, non-infallible) not only the second-millennium councils recognized by Rome and the Western Church, but also the seven great councils of the first millennium which they themselves recognize in common with Catholics! For each one of those councils was rejected by significant minorities of baptized persons (Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, etc.) who professed Christianity. It is equally clear that they cannot define “the whole Church” as Catholics do, namely, as consisting of all those Christians who are in communion with Rome, the See of Peter, Prince of the Apostles. For on that basis the Orthodox would disqualify themselves as being part of “the whole Church”, given that they have not been in communion with Rome for the best part of a thousand years. Could they perhaps try to define “the whole Church” in terms of communion with their own present patriarchal See of Constantinople? As far as I know, no Orthodox theologians themselves would dare to go that far, not only because they cannot deny that this See was itself in heresy at certain periods of antiquity, but above all because it did not even exist for three centuries after Christ was on earth. So it could not possibly claim – and never has claimed – any privileged status at the level of revelation and divine law. (The Orthodox agree with Catholics, and with nearly all other professing Christians except the Mormons, that revelation was completed in the first century A.D., at the time of Christ and the Apostles.)
In short, any Orthodox attempt to formulate a theological definition of “the whole Church” in terms of any empirically verifiable criterion – for instance, as the community of those who have undergone the visible, audible and tangible sacrament of baptism, or of those who visibly and audibly call themselves Christians, or of those who visibly and audibly profess their communion with certain publicly identifiable prelates who in turn hold ecclesiastical office at some fixed, highly visible and publicly identified city – any such attempt will land our Eastern brethren in impossible absurdities. So the only other course open to them, logically, is to attempt to define “the whole Church” in terms of an empirically unverifiable criterion, namely, adherence to true, orthodox doctrine. Unlike cities, sayings and sacraments, doctrinal orthodoxy cannot be recognized as such by any of the five senses. It cannot, as such, be seen, touched or heard, only discerned in the mind and heart.
Having inevitably resorted to this seemingly reasonable criterion – trying to define the true Church as that which teaches true doctrine – it is no accident that the main body of Eastern Christians began to call their communion the “Orthodox” Church after their rupture with Rome. Why do they not recognize as constituent parts of the “whole Church” those baptized, Christ-professing Aryans, Nestorians, etc., who rejected one or more of the seven first-millennium councils? The answer is deceptively simple: “Why, because they were unorthodox, of course! They lapsed into heresy while we – and up till that time the Latin Church under Rome as well – maintained the true faith.”
Now that the Orthodox position regarding infallibility and ecumenical councils has been further specified, we can reformulate it a third time, replacing the expression “the whole Church” at the end of Proposition 2 with another which clarifies what is meant by those three words:
Proposition 3: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.
But here, I am afraid, we come face to face with the fundamental logical flaw in the whole Eastern Orthodox account of how we can know what – if anything – God has revealed to mankind. Since Christ founded his Church on earth to be a visible community, we cannot define her in terms of an invisible criterion – possession of doctrinal truth – without falling into absurdity. The flaw this involves is that of a circular argument – or, if you like, including the term to be defined within the definition itself. This results in a mere tautology: a self-repeating affirmation that provides no information at all.
We can see this more clearly if we recall once again the basic purpose of all the above three Eastern Orthodox propositions in bold type: they aim to identify and point out to us the organ of that infallible church teaching which needs to exist – and to be clearly recognizable – if there is to be any credible public divine revelation. For the very concept of divine revelation implies the communication of clear and certain knowledge of something (even if that ‘something’ is itself – like the Trinity and the Incarnation – profoundly mysterious and not fully comprehensible to our finite minds). But suppose the Supreme Being were to “reveal” some message to humanity in general through the agency of avowedly fallible messengers – modest prophets who could announce their message to us (whether in speech or in writing) only in something like the following terms: “Well, I think God has said and done such-and-such, and I’m personally pretty confident that such-and-such is what he means by what he has said; but, mind you, I could be wrong”. In that case, of course, the rest of us could have no clear and certain knowledge at all of the divine mind and intention. God would in fact be revealing to us nothing at all – certainly nothing which we could accept with that firm, unconditional faith which the Scriptures take for granted as the appropriate response of Christians to God’s Word.
Keeping in mind, then, that the whole purpose of an infallible church authority is simply to enable Christians to distinguish revealed truth clearly and certainly from falsehood and heresy, we can formulate once again the Eastern Orthodox proposition, rewording Proposition 3 above so as to ‘unpack’ the word “infallible”, spelling out its epistemological import:
Proposition 4: Christians can come to know with certainty what is true doctrine by recognizing the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.
The words italicized above lay bare the underlying circularity – the tautology – that vitiates the logical coherence of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, therefore destroying its rational credibility. We want to know how to identify true Christian doctrine with certainty; but the proffered answer to our problem assumes we already know the very thing we are seeking to discover! We are being told, “To discover what is true Christian doctrine, you must pay heed to the teaching of those who adhere to true Christian doctrine”!
Not long after I came to the firm conclusion that Eastern Orthodoxy was illogical, so that its claim to infallibility could not be sustained, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Mass of the Easter Vigil in 1972. My long journey had been completed, something for which I continue daily to give thanks to God.
It remains only to add that, in the thirty-five years since I returned to full communion with the one Church founded by Christ, my conviction as a Catholic has only become stronger. For the Orthodox Church today is by no means in the same condition as it was then. The very features which had most attracted me to it back then have now largely faded into a twilight of doubt and confusion. For some centuries the tenacity of the Orthodox in adhering strictly to their ancient, stable liturgical traditions, together with their relative isolation from the post-Enlightenment West, combined to act as a quite powerful antidote, in practice, to the effects of the ingrained ‘virus’ of illogicality that we have just exposed. But in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus – an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible ‘Rock’ of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter – is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.
From my reading on Eastern church affairs in recent years, I have the impression that many Orthodox theologians and bishops have now severely qualified or even surrendered any serious claim to infallibility on the part of their Church. Also, there is no longer any unity, any identifiable “official” position of Orthodoxy as such, in regard to unnatural methods of birth control. Some authorities continue to reprobate these practices, while others – probably the majority by now – condone them. Increasingly, Orthodox married couples are advised just to follow their own conscience on this issue – in dialogue, if possible, with a priest who is trusted as ‘spiritual father’.4
A traditionally-minded Orthodox apologist might reply, of course, that confusion and dissent on these and many other matters are also rampant within Roman Catholicism, and indeed, to a large extent have spread to Orthodoxy as a result of powerful liberal and neo-modernist influences going virtually unchecked in our own communion, especially since Vatican Council II. This objection, unfortunately, is all too well-founded as far as it goes. But it misses the vital point for present purposes, which is that the admittedly grave confusion in contemporary Catholicism is not due to its own underlying epistemic structure – its own fundamental theology of revelation. It is due rather to what many of us Catholics would see as a temporary weakness at the practical level: the level of Church discipline and government. We have witnessed a failure of many bishops, and arguably even recent popes, at times, to guard and enforce with sufficient resolve that doctrine which remains coherently and infallibly taught in theory and in principle by the Catholic magisterium. A solution to the present problems will not require the reversal of any Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it will involve the more resolute insistence, in theory and in practice, on our existing doctrines. (This insistence, it is true, will probably need to include further authoritative papal interpretations of certain Vatican II texts whose ambiguity or lack of clarity betray something of the conflicting pastoral, philosophical and theological tendencies that were all too apparent among the Council Fathers themselves.)
In Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, the currently growing problem of internal confusion and division goes down to a deeper level. It is rooted in unsound principle, not just defective practice. It is a problem involving the essential defining feature of the Orthodox communion over against Catholicism, namely, its fateful medieval decision to repudiate the full primacy and authority of that ‘Rock’ established by Christ in the person of Blessed Peter and his successors in the See of Rome. Perhaps, if more of our Orthodox brethren can come to recognize the underlying logical flaw in their ecclesiology that I have tried to pinpoint and explain in this talk, we shall see more fruitful ecumenical progress toward the restoration of full communion.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Will Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming social encyclical be understood by a culture that divides everything into Left and Right?
Saint Pius X, a Backward Pope? No, an Unprecedented Cyclone of Reform A 1300-page study treatise written by a great scholar overturns judgments of the antimodernist pope. The new Code of Canon Law he created had tremendous effects. It reinforced more than ever the public role and freedom of the Church with respect to the world
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Joseph Ratzinger Eschatology (paper - 978-0-8132-0633-2)
Joseph Ratzinger Eschatology (cloth - 978-0-8132-0632-5)
8 Keys to Reading Joseph Ratzinger's Work
Suggested by Archbishop Forte
ROME, JUNE 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto recently presented eight keys for reading Joseph Ratzinger's theological work.
The archbishop, a member of the International Theological Commission, presented his ideas at the closing the first course of Specialization in Religious Information, organized by the University of the Holy Cross.
The prelate began his address June 17 by presenting, as the first key, an analysis of the historical and cultural context in which the theological work matured of the man who today is Benedict XVI.
After 1968, when the "age of utopia" and its vision of an essentially "useless" God came to the fore, Ratzinger's work began to develop its anti-ideological conviction, said Archbishop Forte, 56.
Moreover, after 1989, when the "age of disenchantment" and the idea of the "death" of God prevailed, Ratzinger's challenge was to "propose horizons of meaning, joy and hope," the Italian archbishop said.
During this period, Joseph Ratzinger elaborated the concept of "Deus caritas," which shows that the topic of his first encyclical was "long in maturing," observed Archbishop Forte.
The second key is the task Joseph Ratzinger assumed with his theology: "to give witness with the service of the intelligence to the Word amid the words of men," that is, "a 'diakonia' [service] to truth in the house of truth," namely, the Church.
In fact, "God is not found in solitude" but in a "community that remembers and narrates and which, at the same time, interprets the truth that has been transmitted to us," said Archbishop Forte.
The third key is the meaning of believing. Quoting Ratzinger himself, in his "Introduction to Christianity," Archbishop Forte said that to believe "means to give one's assent to that sense that we are not capable of building ourselves, but only to receive it as a gift, so that it is enough to accept him and abandon ourselves to him."
Illustrating the fourth key to the reading, the archbishop said that the God in whom one believes, can only be a personal god, God the Father, who is revealed in biblical history as the living God, that is, the God of Jesus Christ. An unknown God cannot be loved. Only a personal one can be loved, one who addresses us and who, at the same time, we can address.
In this context, the relationship between man and God must be characterized by the move from "dualism," which has opposed the human and the divine, faith and reason, in many periods of the modern spirit, to "meeting" and correspondence.
According to the fifth key of Ratzinger's thought, "the human and divine meet but are not confused in Jesus Christ," noted the prelate. God is not the answer to man's expectation, but is always superior; "he is the beyond who overtakes, disconcerts and troubles us."
The sixth key is the vision of the Church as the place where God dwells. "The Church must always live in docility to the Spirit and must be ready to acknowledge resistances to the Spirit," Archbishop Forte observed, indicating the importance of admitting faults of the past.
The seventh key, the vision of the beyond, eschatology, is a "dominant theme in Ratzinger's thought" and affects first of all the identity of the Christian: "a prisoner of the future of God," who must measure his decisions on the horizon of the infinite God, according to the archbishop.
In this connection, "the Christian lives in an anticipated and anticipating experience of the last things," through faith and the sacraments, but is also "critical reserve" because at times the Christian goes against the current.
The last stage illustrated by Archbishop Forte was the image that summarizes this theological work -- Mary -- synthesis of ecclesiology: "a concrete and personal icon in which the coordinates of Christian thought are expressed."
The archbishop concluded his address highlighting the differences between Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If Pope Karol Wojtyla was a personalist anthropologist, he said, then Pope Joseph Ratzinger is a theologian who is "almost a catechist," bearer of the possibility of the meeting of different traditions and cultures.
The course of Specialization in Religious Information took place March 3-June 16. During the course, professors of several pontifical universities and athenaeums of Rome alternated in addressing topics relative to religious information, to offer some keys to its reading in order to understand the Catholic Church better.
Another copy of Biblical Interpretation in Crisis by Joseph Ratzinger