A chip off the old block

So much of what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in the first part of Deus caritas est is quite familiar to me – and subsequently I hope also to readers of WDTPRS.

For example, I just placed online my previous work on the prayers for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In glancing at the first time I wrote about the Collect of that Mass, in the first year of this series back in 2000, I cite several of the sources in which Benedict is quite well versed.

This is to be explained quite simply. First, I have read closely and extensively the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. Secondly, I have some of the same background since I was able long ago to avail myself of still solid Thomistic/Aristotelean philosophical formation at the then College of St. Thomas in St. Paul (MN – USA) in the ’80s, before the department (and school), morphed into something less Catholic and less systematic. Lastly, when I worked in the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio, which house the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was audacious enough to stop His Eminence in the when I ran into him (fairly often as it turned out) and ask him questions. As a matter of fact, then Cardinal Ratzinger actually suggested to me my thesis topic for my STL in Patristics.

Oh yes, that is the other point of connection: my field is Patristic Theology with a focus on St. Augustine of Hippo. Joseph Ratzinger also began in Patristics, with Augustine, and his love of the Fathers has never left him. Ergo, there are bound to be many points of contact between the the one who forms and the one who is formed. To echo Robert Sanderson (Bishop of Lincoln +1663) “Am not I a child of the same Adam … a chip of the same block, with him?”.

Let’s look at some points of contact in one of my WDTPRS articles and the Pope’s new encyclical. These points of contact not perfect anticipations, but they reveal a forma mentis. I am doing this in no way to seem self-serving. Rather, I want to show that similar foundations and attentive study can, over time, guide and direct though along the same paths as those trod by another. I am sure that others can do this comparison with their own writings. At least I hope they can!

From WDTPRS in 2000:

Commonly used, “love” today usually refers not to the kind of love which is really Christian “charity”, that sacrificial love which in seeking always the good of the other resembles the sacrificial love of Christ, the theological virtue that permits us to love as images of God. Bob can “love” his Ferrari, Susie can “love” her kitty, and without doubt we all “love” baseball and spaghetti. We can talk about the different tenors of love, such as the love of benevolence, or of complacence, of enemies, concupiscence. But we are called to a special sort of love in this prayer… true charity: the infused virtue which makes it possible for us to love God for His own sake and love all those who are made in His image. This is more than benevolence or tolerance, more than appetitive desire. Love is not merely a response to some appetite, like seeing a beautiful member of the opposite sex, a well-turned double-play, or a plate of spaghetti all’amatriciana. It isn’t the sloppy gazing of passion drunk sweethearts or what we see on TV primetime. I call that luv. Real love is the adhesion of the will to an object which is grasped by the intellect to be good. Real love, the sort of love invoked in our prayer, is an act of will. This love delights in the other and is informed by a longing for the good of the other. It makes two resound with one spirit. Love, in the sense this prayer offers, is an act of will based on the work of a discerning intellect that is reshaped and informed by grace.

From DCE in 2005:

2. God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives, and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are. In considering this, we immediately find ourselves hampered by a problem of language. Today, the term “love” has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings. Even though this Encyclical will deal primarily with the understanding and practice of love in sacred Scripture and in the Church’s Tradition, we cannot simply prescind from the meaning of the word in the different cultures and in present-day usage.

Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word “love”: we speak of love of country, love of one’s profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbour and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison. So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?

From WDTPRS in 2000:

We come back to the connection of knowledge and love, mentioned above. It seems to me that these two are so closely related that they cannot be easily distinguished at times. I am willing to bet that all of us have had the experience of getting to know something or someone and then, “falling in love.” Billy might be fascinated by bugs. From this love for bugs he simply must come to know everything there is to know about them, thus setting the stage for a brilliant career in entomology. On the other hand, we get to know a person or a city and, the more we learn about this complex object of our intellectual effort, we slowly come to appreciate their beauty and come even to a genuine love. Simply put, when we love someone, we want to know everything about him or her and the more we learn the more we love. This is how we must be with God: constantly seeking to understand Him more and more so as to love Him more and more, and by that very love coming to understand things about God that, without love, would not be possible for us to learn. The desire for both love and knowledge are built into who we are and we have a relationship with the objects of both love and knowledge.

From DCE in 2005:

17…. In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word. It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all man’s potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak. Contact with the visible manifestations of God’s love can awaken within us a feeling of joy born of the experience of being loved. But this encounter also engages our will and our intellect. Acknowledgment of the living God is one path towards love, and the “yes” of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all- embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never “finished” and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself.

From WDTPRS in 2000:

The great 13th century saint and doctor of the Church Bonaventure described “ecstatic knowledge.” This kind of knowledge is merely the product of abstract investigation. Rather, it starts first from standing back and contemplating. By contemplation, the knower becomes engaged with the object, becomes fascinated by it and wants to know it more deeply. This longing draws the knower into the object. Consider: we can study about God and our faith. But really the object of study is a living Person, not a set of abstractions. We need the sort of knowledge of God that draws us into Him. This is a “knowledge” which reaches into us, seizes us, pulls us into itself and transforms us. To experience God’s love is to have certain knowledge, more certain than any knowledge which can be arrived at by means of merely rational examination (but not in opposition to it).

From DCE in 2005:

5. … . Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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