A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ratzinger on Love and Redemption

The recent interview of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais by Stephen Heiner (Remnant, April 30, 2006) provides a good opportunity to reflect on the mystery of the redemption. Indeed, I find many "surprises" after reviewing the book by Fr. Ratzinger, "Introduction to Christianity", especially in light of the recent interview. The following is a short reflection on some of the main "surprises" that I encountered.

In a certain way one can view various aspects of the book as "revolutionary". What I mean is that, for Fr. Ratzinger, the starting point for the redemption is the "love" of God rather than the "justice" of God. This seems to be a "revolution" compared to a seemingly "perfectly logical divine- cum-human legal system erected by Anselm [that] distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light." (Ratzinger, Introduction to Chritianity, p. 174) Indeed, Fr. Ratzinger rejects the idea that the "cross is to be understood as part of a mechanism of injured and restored right...which insists on the precise balance of debit and credit..." that "...visualizes a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice..." making "...the message of love incredible." (ibid, pp. 213-214) In other words, Fr. Ratzinger is arguing that Anselm's "rigid" legal or juridical system is incompatible and does not reconcile with the love of God and that it ultimately makes the message of love "incredible".

This is precisely the point that Bishop Tissier de Mallerais understands as "the negation of the dogma of the Redemption...that Christ did not satisfy for our sins, did not - atone...did not make satisfaction for our sins. This book denies Christ's atonement of sins...the necessity of satisfaction." (Cf. Remnant, April 30, 2006)

Rather than justice as the foundation of the redemption, Fr. Ratzinger explains that it was divine love that reconciled divine justice and that God "restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love..." (ibid, p. 214) and quoting 2 Cor. 5.19 that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." (ibid, p. 215)

We may ask whether it is permissible to question St. Anselm’s theory of the Redemption as expressed by his famous work "Cur Deus Homo?" According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, however, some theologians at the time were “unable to accept Anselm's view that an equivalent satisfaction for sin was necessary, and that this debt could only be paid by the death of the Divine Redeemer.” For example, “St. Thomas and the other medieval masters agree with Abelard in rejecting the notion that this full Satisfaction for sin was absolutely necessary” arguing instead that “the restoration of fallen man was a work of God's free mercy and benevolence.” According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the various theories of the Redemption each seemed to express an emphasis on certain aspects of the truth, however, “most, if not all, of these theories had perils of their own, if they were isolated and exaggerated.” (Cf. CE, 1910, "Doctrine of the Atonement")

This leads us to another "revolutionary" aspect of Fr. Ratzinger’s work in that for him the redemptive value essentially consists in the oblation of the love and obedience of Christ - rather than a mere "material gift" (e.g., a physical measure of blood, etc.). Fr. Ratzinger explains the vicarious satisfaction and atonement of Christ as follows:

He took from man's hands the sacrificial offerings and put his sacrificed personality, his own "I". When our text says [Hebrews] that Jesus accomplished the expiation through his blood (9.12), this blood is again not to be understood as a material gift, a quantitatively measurable means of expiation; it is simply the concrete expression of a love of which it is said that it extends "to the end" (John 13.1)...The gesture of the love that gives all - this, and this alone, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, was the real means by which the world was reconciled... (ibid, p. 218)

Fr. Ratzinger then takes the idea of love to new heights by describing a "radical" Christian love that inherently involves a kind of interior immolation with total self-abandonment - the process of "dying to oneself":

...Christian sacrifice is nothing other than the exodus of the "For" that abandons itself, a process perfected in the man who is all exodus, all self-surpassing love. The governing principle of Christian worship is consequently this movement of exodus with it two-in-one direction towards God and fellow man...Now to the extent that this exodus of love is the ex-stasy of man outside himself, in which he is stretched out infinitely beyond himself, torn apart, as it were, far beyond his apparent capacity for being stretched, to the same extent worship (sacrifice) is always at the same time the cross, the pain of being torn apart, the dying of the grain of wheat that can only come to fruition in death. But it is thus at the same time clear that this element of pain is a secondary one, resulting only from a preceding primary one, from which alone it draws its meaning. The governing principle of the sacrifice is not destruction, but love. And even this principle only belongs to the sacrifice to the extent that love breaks down, opens up, crucifies, tears - as the form that love takes in a world characterized by death and self-seeking. (ibid, p.220)

Interestingly, this section above is related in very similar terms much later by Pope Benedict in "Deus Caritas Est" (Cf. #6):

...love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed "ecstasy", not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self- discovery and indeed the discovery of God: "Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.

Fr. Ratzinger then re-emphasizes that "it should now also be plain that with the cross it is not a matter of an accumulation of physical pain, as if its redemptive value consisted in its involving the largest possible amount of physical torture...or even see in it the currency with which reconciliation has to be purchased from him?" (ibid, p. 221)

Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 1992) seems to make an attempt at clarifying this point on the specific redemptive value of the offering of Christ's Love and obedience to the Father - rather than assigning the redemptive value to a "material" offering:

It is love "to the end" that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. (CCC #616)

By his loving obedience to the Father, "unto death, even death on a cross" Jesus fulfills the atoning mission of the suffering Servant. (CCC #623)

But if love is the dominant and decisive factor in the doctrine of the redemption, how would Fr. Ratzinger explain its relation with justice? Incidentally, almost 40 years later, Pope Benedict explores this in "Deus Caritas Est" (#10):

We have seen that God's eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God's love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed "adultery" and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: "How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst" (Hos 11:8-9). God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

And again the Pope returns to the theme a little later in the encylclical (#12):

His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: "God is love" (1Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.

We also find this contemplation of the “pierced side of Christ” in connection to the kind of spirituality as expressed by the Sacred Heart devotion. Turning to Pius XII in his beautiful Encyclical on the devotion to the Sacred Heart (Haurietis Aquas, 1956) we find this message repeated concerning the centrality of love in the mysteries of the incarnation and redemption. Indeed, the approach of Pius XII does not seem to reflect the kind of "juridical" framework of St. Anselm insofar as the starting point and essense of these mysteries is taken as the love of God. Pope Pius XII articulates the primary “object” or motivation behind the incarnation and redemption as follows (#44):

The holy Fathers, true witnesses of the divinely revealed doctrine, wonderfully understood what St. Paul the Apostle had quite clearly declared; namely, that the mystery of love was, as it were, both the foundation and the culmination of the Incarnation and the Redemption. For frequently and clearly we can read in their writings that Jesus Christ took a perfect human nature and our weak and perishable human body with the object of providing for our eternal salvation, and of revealing to us in the clearest possible manner that His infinite love for us could express itself in human terms.

It is interesting to note here that the very "object" of the incarnation is presented as providing for our "eternal salvation" rather than as a juridical mission to restore injured rights. This message seems consistent with the article of the Nicene creed that tells us that is was "for us men and for our salvation" that Christ became man. Pius XII also explains the nature and cause of the Redemption as follows (#35):

The mystery of the divine redemption is primarily and by its very nature a mystery of love, that is, of the perfect love of Christ for His heavenly Father to Whom the sacrifice of the Cross, offered in a spirit of love and obedience, presents the most abundant and infinite satisfaction due for the sins of the human race; "By suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race."

Perhaps the most enlightening explanation on the interplay between the love of God and His justice was provided by Cardinal Ratzinger on his reflection of Matthew 5:38-39 and 41:

You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Cardinal Ratzinger remarks as follows on this “revolutionary” command:

Jesus did not reject the principle of equality as a basic legal principle but rather wanted here to open up to man a new dimension of his behavior. Law in isolation and made absolute becomes a vicious circle, a cycle of retaliation from which finally there is no way out any longer. In his relationship with us God has broken through this circle. In the face of God we are in the wrong, having turned away from him in the search for our own glorification and thus fallen victim to death. But God renounces the punishment that would be just and replaces it by something new: salvation, our conversion to renewed “yes” to the truth of ourselves. For this transformation to occur he goes ahead of us and takes the pain and suffering of transformation upon himself. The cross of Christ is the real discharging of the saying: not eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but the transformation of evil through the power of love. In his whole human existence, from the incarnation to the cross, Jesus does and is what is said here. He burst our “no” open by means of a
stronger and greater “yes.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, The Yes of Jesus Christ, 1991)

Turning back to the Catholic Encyclopedia we can note that it makes an attempt to reconcile the various theories of the redemption including those that are founded primarily on a "juridical" basis as compared to others founded primarily on the "love" of God. Each seems to take into account both attributes of God, however, the point of departure seems to be in their approach towards reconciling these in view of their proper relation and in interpreting the respective roles of the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of the cross:

That great doctrine has been faintly set forth in figures taken from man's laws and customs. It is represented as the payment of a price, or a ransom, or as the offering of satisfaction for a debt. But we can never rest in these material figures as though they were literal and adequate. As both Abelard and Bernard remind us, the Atonement is the work of love. It is essentially a sacrifice, the one supreme sacrifice of which the rest were but types and figures. And, as St. Augustine teaches us, the outward rite of Sacrifice is the sacrament, or sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice of the heart. It was by this inward sacrifice of obedience unto death, by this perfect love with which He laid down his life for His friends, that Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to himself; it was by this that He wrought our Atonement and Reconciliation with God, "making peace through the blood of His Cross". (Cf. CE, 1910, Doctrine of the Atonement)

It is worth pausing here to consider how the interior and exterior aspects of the cross correspond to a respective intrinsic and extrinsic value of the sacrifice of the cross. Whereas the intrinsic effects of the cross (as with the Mass) "relate to God alone" the extrinsic effect "reverts to man." (Cf. CE, 1910, Sacrifice of the Mass) In other words, man's nature requires the exterior or extrinsic aspects in order to apply in a finite way the infinite "fruits" of the cross. In "Introduction to Christianity" Fr. Ratzinger describes the intrisic aspect of the cross as "that inner centre that bears and fulfils the pain..." (p. 222) while the extrinsic aspect of the cross is "truly the centre of revelation, a revelation that does not reveal any previously unknown principles but reveals us to ourselves, by revealing us before God and God in our midst." (p. 223)

In summary we can observe that there seems to be two key points of contention with regard to this mystery. Many traditionalists indeed view the ideas expressed by Fr. Ratzinger as part of the "new theology" of the "Paschal Mystery":

Is the Paschal mystery a total innovation? Not according to the new theology. It is a fresh look at the traditional dogma of the Redemption...classic theology is thought to have overemphasized the satisfaction of justice, the cooperation of man and the pains of Christ's Passion. The Paschal mystery will seemingly put things back into their proper perspective by emphasizing the great importance of love, the intitiative of God, and the new life of the Resurrection. (The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, Angelus Press, pp. 39-40)

We have followed the main lines of this argument above inasmuch as (a) the incarnation and redemption is approached from the basis of divine love and (b) that the redemptive value or "currency" essentially consists in Christ's offering of love and obedience to the Father and thereby reconciling divine love with divine justice. In contrast to this view we have the arguments in favor of (a) the primacy and centrality of satisfaction of divine justice where the divine goal of man's salvation is viewed as "secondary" (Cf. Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, Angelus Press, p. 480). In addition, (b) Christ's vicarious satisfaction for sin is especially considered in its exterior aspects where the elements of "pain" and "death" are stressed as "essential to the work of redemption." (Cf. The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, Angelus Press, p. 51, 88). Indeed, one wonders whether the main lines of this "debate" has not been going on since the time of St. Anselm and perhaps the discussion will continue for some time...

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Blogger Confiteor said...

This is a most illuminating essay. Thank you for posting it. You might be interested to know that I have included it in a list of "seminal texts" on a new blog that is devoted to the theme of sacrifice in the theology of Benedict XVI:


September 25, 2008 7:59 AM  

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