March 16, 2009

Ratzinger's Faith

Through the miracle of the local public library, I borrowed Ratzinger's Faith yesterday. It was full of tasty morsels, such as the distinctions within Thomism and Augustinianism. Before I'd thought of everyone as either a Thomist or an Augustinian but Balthasar and Garrigou-Lagrange are both Thomists so that alone should've given me pause.

As I've blogged before, I find testing (i.e. the necessity of dying literally & figuratively before reward) fascinating because it seemingly contradicts the unearned nature of grace. Of course in our present flawed condition, marked by original sin, our presence on this flawed earth is fitting*. It's less comprehensible with Adam & Eve before the Fall, living in a world with Satan already present. If their test was easier than ours it was still a test. But reading Ratzinger's Faith it seems my question is a very bourgeois one, one far from the mindset of God who is "aristocratic and erotic". The mentality of the aristocratic and erotic is sacrifice regardless of cost or test and focuses on the goal rather than the obstacles to that goal. For the erotically-inclined, obstacles to a love relationship are interesting only in how they can be surmounted. Questions like why are irrelevant, betraying a lack of trust.

I struggle with testing because I associate it with a pointless machoism that uses it to confer status and feed a sense of pride. In the City of Man, testing is completely understandable and manifests itself in primitive societies by rites of passage. It is a necessary hardening process in order that one might provide for oneself and one's family in a world that requires a decent amount of self-sufficiency in order to function. (See Communism as the alternative.) And yet it's obivous we don't need to be hardened in order to be in Heaven, or rather we do need to be hardened but hardened against ourselves. We don't have to be toughened up to see Mary and the saints, but we do have to be changed. Changed, it seems, into the aristocratic.

For the aristocratic, noblesse oblige applies and it's not surprising that John F. Kennedy, raised in boarding schools and in the American aristocracy, would say "we will bear any burden, pay any price" (i.e. not counting the price) in fighting our foes and supporting our allies. Tracey Rowland writes in Ratzinger's Faith:
[Ratzinger] speaks of the twin pathologies of bourgeois pelagianism and the pelagianism of the pious. He describes the mentality of the bourgeois pelagian as follows: 'If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others; I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that.' This attitude is a modern version of 'acedia' - a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzchean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is the bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic...:

'They [pious pelagians] want security, not hope. By means of a tough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayers and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love - the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved. The denial of hope in favor of security that we are faced with here rests on the inability to bear the tension of waiting for what is to come and to abandon onself to God's goodness.'

* - Richard J. Neuhaus writes in American Babylon: "This world, for all its well-earned dissatisfactions, is worthy of our love and allegiance. It is a self-flattering conceit to think we deserve a better world. What's wrong with this one begins with us."

1 comment:

Lee Faber said...

Hi, there are even more differentiations than just thomism or augustinianism...such as Scotism, Albertism, or the various platonisms of the fathers