Saturday, 8 September 2012

Warning Against The Intellectualization Of The Faith And Of Theology

Pope Benedict XVI, during a recent homily, has warned that our Faith is in danger of becoming “a game of the intellect”.  The English translation of the homily is available here: or you can read it below.

"It is proper for the Church as for Israel to be full of gratitude and joy"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Still resounding profoundly in me are the words with which, three years ago, Cardinal Schönborn gave us an exegesis on this Gospel: the mysterious correlation of the intimate with the external and what renders man impure, what contaminates him and what is pure. Hence, today I do not wish to offer an exegesis also of this same Gospel, or I will do so only marginally. I will try, instead, to say a word on the two Readings.

In Deuteronomy we see the “joy of the law”: law not as constraint, as something that takes our liberty away, but as a present and gift. When other people look to this great people -- so says the Reading, so says Moses -- then they will say: What wise people! They will admire the wisdom of this people, the equity of the law and the closeness of the God who is by their side and who responds to them when He is called. This is Israel’s humble joy: to receive a gift from God. This is different from triumphalism, from pride of what comes from themselves: Israel is not proud of its law as Rome could be of Roman law as a gift to humanity, as France, perhaps, of the Napoleonic Code, as Prussia of the PreuBisches Landrecht, etc. – works of law which we recognize. But Israel knows: it did not make this law itself, it is not the fruit of its genius, it is a gift. God showed it what law is. God gave it wisdom. The law is wisdom. Wisdom is the art of being men, the art of being able to live well and of being able to die well. And one can live and die well only when the truth has been received and when the truth indicates the way. To be grateful for the gift that we did not invent, but which was given to us as gift, and to live in wisdom; to learn, thanks to God’s gift, to be men in an upright way.

The Gospel shows us, however, that there is a danger -- as is also said directly at the beginning of today’s passage of Deuteronomy: “do not add, do not take away anything.” It teaches us that, with the passing of time, added to God’s gift are applications, works, human customs, which, growing, hide what is proper to the wisdom given by God, so as to become a real chain that must be broken, or of having the presumption: we invented it!

But let’s come to us, to the Church. According to our faith, in fact, the Church is Israel which has become universal, in which all become, through the Lord, children of Abraham; Israel became universal, in which the essential nucleus of the law persists, deprived of the particularities of time and of people. This nucleus is simply Christ himself, the love of God for us and our love for Him and for men. He is the living Torah, the gift of God for us, in whom we now receive all the wisdom of God. In being united with Christ, in “walking together” and “living “ with Him, we ourselves learn how to be men in a just way, we receive the wisdom that is truth, we know how to live and die, because He himself is the Life and the Truth.

Hence, it is proper for the Church as for Israel to be full of gratitude and joy. “What people can say that God is so close to them? What people have received this gift?” We did not make it, it was given to us. Joy and gratitude for the fact that we can know Him, that we have received the wisdom of living well, which is what should characterize the Christian. In fact it was thus in the Christianity of the origins: being liberated from the darkness of going hesitantly, from ignorance -- what are these things? Why are they? How must I go forward? -- having become free, being in the light, in the fullness of truth. This was the fundamental awareness. A gratitude that radiated the surroundings and thus united men in the Church of Jesus Christ.

But the same phenomenon is also in the Church: human elements are added and lead either to presumption, to so-called triumphalism that boasts of itself instead of praising God, or to the chain that must be removed, broken and crushed. What must we do? What must we say? I think that we find ourselves precisely in this phase, in which we see in the Church only what is made by ourselves, and the joy of the faith is spoiled; which we do not believe any more and do not dare to say any more: He has indicated to us who is the truth, what truth is, He has shown us what man is, He has given us the justice of the upright life. We are concerned only with praising ourselves, and we fear being bound by regulations that hamper our liberty and the novelty of life.

If we read today, for example, in the Letter of James: “you were generated through a word of truth,” which of us would dare to rejoice in the truth which has been given to us? The question arises immediately: but how can one have the truth? This is intolerance! Today the idea of truth and of intolerance are almost completely fused together, and thus we no longer quite dare to believe in truth or to speak of truth. It seems to be far away, it seems to be something to which it is best not to take recourse. No one can say: I have the truth -- this is the obedience that moves us -- and, rightly so, no one can have the truth. It is truth that possesses us, it is something living! We are not its possessors, rather, we are gripped by it. Only if we let ourselves be guided and moved by it, we remain in it, only if we are with it and in it, pilgrims of the truth, then it is in us and for us. I think that we have to learn again this “not-having-the-truth.” As no one can say: I have children -- they are not a possession of ours, they are a gift, and as gift of God they are given to us for a task -- so we cannot say: I have the truth, but truth has come to us and drives us. We must learn to be moved by it, to be led by it. And then it will shine again: if it itself leads us and penetrates us.

Dear friends, we want to ask the Lord to make us this gift. Saint James says to us today in the Reading: you must not limit yourselves to listening to the Word, you must put it into practice. This is a warning against the intellectualization of the faith and of theology. One of my fears at this time, when I read so many intelligent things is that it becomes a game of the intellect in which “we pass the ball,” in which everything is only an intellectual world that does not penetrate and form our life, and which, hence, does not introduce us into the truth. I think that these words of Saint James are addressed in fact to us as theologians: not only to listen, not only the intellect -- but to let ourselves be formed by truth, to let ourselves be guided by it! Let us pray to the Lord that this will come about, and that thus the truth will become powerful over us, and that it will gain force in the world through us.

The Church has put the word of Deuteronomy -- “where is there a God who is as close as our God is close to us, every time we invoke Him?” -- in the center of the Divine Office of Corpus Domini, and has thus given it a new meaning: where is there a people to which its God is so close as our God is to us? This has become a full reality in the Eucharist. Certainly, it is not only an external aspect: someone can be close to the tabernacle and, at the same time, be far from the living God. What counts is interior closeness! God has become so close that He himself is a man: this should always disconcert and surprise us anew! He is so close that He is one of us. He knows the human being, the “taste” of the human being, He know him from within, has tested him with his joys and sufferings. He is close to me as man, close “within call”-- so close that he hears me and that I can know: He hears me and listens to me, even if perhaps it is not as I imagine it.

Allowing myself to be filled again by this joy: where is there a people to which God is so close as our God is to us? So close as to be one of us, to touch me from within. Yes, to enter into me in the Holy Eucharist, and that that is also disconcerting. On this process, Saint Bonaventure once used in his Communion prayers a formulation that shakes one, almost frightens one. He says: my Lord, how did it possibly come into your mind to enter into the filthy latrine of my body? Yes, He enters into our misery, he does so knowingly and does so to penetrate us, to cleanse and renew us so that, through us, in us, truth will be in the world and salvation brought about. Let us ask the Lord forgiveness for our indifference, for our misery that makes us think only of ourselves, for our egoism which does not seek the truth, but which follows our own habits, and which perhaps often makes Christianity seem like a system of habits. Let us ask Him to enter into our souls forcefully, that He make himself present in us and through us – and thus that joy is born also in us: God is here, and He loves me, He is our salvation! Amen.

L’Osservatore Romano, Italian edition, September 5, 2012

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