Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Veni Creator Spiritus." For an Ecology of Man

And of man created male and female. In his pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia, Benedict XVI contests the ideology of "gender." And he strikes a blow in defense of the most contested of the encyclicals, "Humanae Vitae"

by Sandro Magister


ROMA, December 24, 2008 – Wishing a happy Christmas to the Roman curia, two days ago, Benedict XVI in reality addressed the entire Church and the world. As in previous years, this time as well in the pre-Christmas address he wanted to emphasize some of the main outlines of his pontificate.

In 2005, the focus of his address was the interpretation and implementation of Vatican Council II, and the relationship between continuity and renewal in the Church.

In 2006, the pope placed the question of God at the center. Moreover, taking his cue from his trip to Istanbul, he formulated in the clearest way possible his vision of relations with Islam, proposing to the Muslim world the journey already undertaken by Christianity under the challenge of the Enlightenment.

In 2007, Benedict XVI focused on the urgency for the Church to take a missionary approach to all the peoples of the earth.

This year, taking his cue from World Youth Day and from the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, pope Joseph Ratzinger developed a reflection on the Holy Spirit, the most "forgotten" – as he said in Sydney – of the three persons of the divine Trinity, and yet supremely influential over the life of man and of the cosmos.

The entire discourse can be read on the Vatican website, as it is gradually translated into various languages, while the most important sections are presented here below. In these, Benedict XVI reflects first on World Youth Day, and then on the Holy Spirit.

In regard to World Youth Day, the pope overturns the common wisdom – supported also by "Catholic voices" – that reduces these encounters to "a sort of rock festival adapted for ecclesial purposes, with the pope as its star." No, he says. The pope is "entirely and solely the vicar "of the only presence that counts, that of Jesus crucified and risen.

As for the Holy Spirit, Benedict XVI insists first of all that he is "creator." The cosmos bears his marks, as an orderly "mathematical structure" that for this reason is intelligible to the modern natural sciences. But man also bears the marks of the order of creation within himself. His being man and woman "is not an outdated metaphysics," and marriage is "a sacrament of creation." The ideology of "gender," which leaves to each individual the determination over his own sex, in reality ends up destroying instead of protecting. It is an "ecology of man" that is needed, in addition to that of nature. Respect for the order of creation "does not mean the contradiction of our freedom, but its precondition."

By virtue of these considerations, at the end of the paragraph dedicated to the creator Spirit, pope Ratzinger exalts in ringing tones the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" by Paul VI, because it defends "love against sexuality as consumption, the future against the exclusive presumption of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation."

And with this, he rejects the criticisms recently aimed against this encyclical by a prominent cardinal, Carlo Maria Martini.

Here, then, is the bulk of the address read by the pope on December 22, 2008, to the Roman curia gathered in the Sala Clementina:

"Faith in the creator Spirit is an essential element of the Christian creed"

by Benedict XVI

[...] The presence of the Word of God, of God himself in the present hour of history, was also the subject [as well as at the Synod] in the pastoral visits of this year: their true meaning can only be that of serving this presence. On these occasions, the Church makes itself publicly perceptible, and with itself the faith, and therefore at least the question of God. This public manifestation of the faith challenges all of those who seek to understand the present time and the forces at work in it.

It is especially the phenomenon of the World Youth Days that is increasingly becoming the subject of analysis. [...] The analyses in vogue tend to consider these days as a variation of modern youth culture, as a sort of rock festival adapted for ecclesial purposes, with the pope as its star. With or without the faith, these festivals are seen as essentially the same thing, and in this way the idea is to eliminate the question of God. There are also Catholic voices that tend in this direction, viewing all of this as a grand spectacle, beautiful but of little significance for the question of the faith and the presence of the Gospel in our time. They are seen as moments of ecstatic celebration, while in the end leaving everything as it was before, without influencing life in a more profound way.

In this way, however, the uniqueness of these days and the distinctive character of their joy, of their creative power of communion, find no explanation. First of all, it is important to consider the fact that the World Youth Days do not consist only in the one week during which they are made publicly visible to the world. There is a long exterior and interior journey that leads to them. The cross, accompanied by the image of the Mother of the Lord, makes a pilgrimage through the various countries. The faith, in its way, needs to be seen and touched. The encounter with the cross, which is touched and carried, becomes an interior encounter with Him who died on the cross for us. The encounter with the cross elicits from deep within the young people the memory of that God who wanted to become man and suffer with us. And we see the woman whom He has given us as Mother. The solemn Days are simply the culmination of a long journey in which we encounter one another, and together encounter Christ. In Australia, it was no coincidence that the long Via Cruicis became the culminating event of those days. This summarized once again everything that had happened in the preceding years, and pointed to Him who reunites all of us: the God who loves us even to the Cross. In this way, even the pope is not the star around whom everything revolves. He is entirely and solely vicar. He points to the Other who is in our midst. In the end, the solemn liturgy is the center of everything, because there takes place in it that which we cannot accomplish, although we are always awaiting it. He is present. He comes into our midst. The heavens split open, and this makes the earth luminous. It is this that makes life joyful and open, and unites us with each other in a joy that cannot be compared to the ecstasy of a rock festival. Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "Ability does not lie in organizing a feast, but in finding people capable of enjoying it." According to Scripture, joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22): this fruit was abundantly evident during the days in Sydney. Just as a long journey precedes the World Youth Days, so also it leads to the path that follows. Friendships are formed that encourage a different lifestyle, and sustain it from within. The great Days have, not least, the aim of bringing about these friendships, and in this way creating environments of faith, which at the same time are environments of hope and practical charity.

Joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit: in this way, we have come to the central theme of Sydney, which, in fact, was the Holy Spirit. In this retrospective, I would like to make reference in summary fashion to the orientation implicit in this theme. Keeping in mind the testimony of Scripture and Tradition, it is easy to recognize four dimensions of the theme "Holy Spirit."

1. First of all, there is the affirmation that comes to us at the beginning of the account of creation: there, the creator Spirit is described as hovering over the waters, creating the world and continually renewing it. Faith in the creator Spirit is an essential element of the Christian creed. The fact that matter carries within itself a mathematical structure, or is full of spirit, is the foundation upon which the modern natural sciences are based. It is only because matter is structured in an intelligent way that our spirit is capable of interpreting it and of actively remodeling it. The fact that this intelligent structure comes from the same creator Spirit who also gave spirit to us brings with it a duty and a responsibility. It is in faith concerning creation that the ultimate foundation of our responsibility for the earth is found. This is not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires. It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult as administrators of his creation. The fact that the earth, the cosmos, reflect the creator Spirit also means that their rational structures that, beyond mathematical order, become almost palpable in experimentation also bear within themselves an ethical orientation. The Spirit who shaped them is more than mathematics: he is Goodness in person, who, through the language of creation, shows us the way of the just life.

Because faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian creed, the Church cannot and must not limit itself to transmitting to its faithful the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility toward creation, and must exercise this responsibility in public as well. And in doing so, it must defend not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation belonging to all. It must also protect man against his own destruction. Something like an ecology of man is needed, understood in the proper sense. It is not an outdated metaphysics if the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected. In fact, this is a matter of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, disdain toward which would be the self-destruction of man, and therefore the destruction of the very work of God. What is often expressed and understood by the term "gender" is ultimately resolved in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wants to create himself, and to arrange always and exclusively that which concerns him. But this means living contrary to the truth, living contrary to the creator Spirit. Yes, the rainforests deserve our protection, but man deserves it no less, as a creature in whom a message is inscribed that does not mean the contradiction of our freedom, but its precondition. Great scholastic theologians have described marriage, meaning the lifelong bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, which the Creator himself instituted and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – incorporated into the history of his covenant with men. It is part of the proclamation that the Church must make on behalf of the creator Spirit present in nature as a whole, and in a special way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. It is beginning from this perspective that one should reread the encyclical "Humanae Vitae": the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as consumption, the future against the exclusive presumption of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.


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