December 30, 2006

Excerpt from Ratzinger's Truth and Tolerance

Along with GK Chesterton, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) is the author I'd most like to have read all of without having actually to read it all. How could anyone anyway given his prodigious output? (Here insert Jackie Mason shrug & hopeless look.) But one can dabble, so I checked Truth & Tolerance out of the library. Here's a nugget:
If we set the principal actors in the covenant-event of Israel against the religious personalities of Asia, then first of all we feel remarkably uncomfortable. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, with all their wiles and tricks, with their ill-temper and their inclination to violence, seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucius, or Lao-tzu, but even such great prophetic characters as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not entirely persuasive in such a comparison...

Disputing about the "scandal" makes no sense here; it merely opens the way to the real question. From the point of view of the history of religions, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really are not 'great religious personalities'...For here, in contrast to mysticism, God is the one who acts, and it is he who brings salvation to man. Once again, it was Jean Danielou who astutely perceived this. What he has to say about this deserves to be quoted at length. "For syncretism," he says,
Those who are saved are the inward-looking souls, whatever the religion they profess. For Christianity, they are the believers, whatever level of inwardness they may have achieved. A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics. "We are not great religious personalities", Guardini once said; "we are servants of the Word." Christ himself had said that St. John the Baptist might well be "the greatest among the children of men", but that "the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he" (see Lk 7:28). It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ.
It could be at once objected that in Christianity, too, there is a distinction between the saint and the ordinary worshipper, between the mystic and the ordinary believer, for whom the direct experience of God is inaccessible. There is no doubt that this distinction exists, but it is secondary. It does not distinguish between two kind of religion, between the possession of religious reality and mere borrowed piety that has to make do with symbols because the power of mystical absorption is lacking...If the decisive thing is, not one's own religious experience, but the divine call, then in the last resort everyone who believes in that call is in the same situation: each is being called in the same way. While in mystical religion the mystic has "firsthand" and the believer "secondhand" religion, here just God alone deals at "first hand". All men without exception are dealing at second hand: servants of the divine call.

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