November 30, 2007

Considering certain recent discussions on this website, readers might find the release today of Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Spe salvi, of some interest.

In particular, the Holy Father stresses that Christianity is not a religion of political revolution:

“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or Bar- Kochba. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”

However, as Pope Benedict explains, this truth was lost in the modern world, beginning “with particular clarity in the thought of Francis Bacon.”  After quoting Bacon on the “triumph of art over nature,” he goes on to write:

“Anyone who reads and reflects on these statements attentively will recognize that a disturbing step has been taken: up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay ‘redemption’. Now, this ‘redemption’, the restoration of the lost ‘Paradise’ is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level”€”that of purely private and other-worldly affairs”€”and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world. This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope.”

The Baconian vision, the Holy Father says, culminated in the destruction wrought by the French Revolution and by Marxism:

“Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.”

This is the great error of the modern world: “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.”  Thus:

“Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what ‘life’ really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of the word of hope that we encountered in the Baptismal Rite: from faith I await ‘eternal life’”€”the true life which, whole and unthreatened, in all its fullness, is simply life. Jesus, who said that he had come so that we might have life and have it in its fullness, in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), has also explained to us what ‘life’ means: ‘this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn 17:3). Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life.”

That relationship with Christ, however, is not merely individualistic; it draws us into a relationship of love with all who have a similar relationship with Christ.  And that relationship between men has a transformative nature:

“In this regard I would like to quote the great Greek Doctor of the Church, Maximus the Confessor (“€  662), who begins by exhorting us to prefer nothing to the knowledge and love of God, but then quickly moves on to practicalities: ‘The one who loves God cannot hold on to money but rather gives it out in God’s fashion … in the same manner in accordance with the measure of justice.’ Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others.”

Using the example of Saint Augustine, who intended to live a life of contemplation after his conversion to Christianity but ended up serving his fellow Christians as bishop of Hippo, the Holy Father writes: “Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.”

There is much, much more, including a perceptive discussion of the first verse of Hebrews and the difference between the traditional Catholic exegesis of it and the Protestant one.  In this short space, I can’t do it justice; go and read it for yourself.  I’ll end, though, with one final quotation that sums up beautifully the corporate nature of Christianity that the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) still maintains in the face of the radical individualism of the modern world:

“Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.”


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