For appearances’ sake
It lies in the nature of the medium that it prefers what is exciting and thrilling. And with that the ordinary things holding the world together can barely make an appearance. Thus, the weight between the significant and insignificant things is shifted.
People are not personally present at the event, but they see the report on the event, which is inevitably already an interpretation and selection of the event. Eventually the report becomes more important than the event itself. Meaning, we start to depend on shine and appearance more and more, and thus also produce for the appearance. There is also risk for politicians and church leaders, that they stop asking what the right thing is, but instead: How will this come across? How will it be reported on? How will it be accepted? This means that actions are no longer determined by reality and the standards that conscience would dictate, but by the appearance one wants to create. This subjugation that public figures, politicians, as well as men of the church can easily be caught up in, would be disastrous: When you no longer act according to what is actually recognizable as good, but according to the question of what comes across well, how do I appear, and thus you become a servant of your own appearance.
Joseph Ratzinger in a conversation with August Everding (1998), transcribed from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7RH0ZyqCZQ
Commandments for freedom
Israel’s wisdom teachers know that man is given an incredible freedom: “Before everyone are life and death; whichever they choose will be given them.” A person’s personal fate fundamentally depends on this basic decision.
God’s greatness is mirrored in man’s freedom. However, in manifesting this freedom man remains capable of everything. That is why the experiences made before our own time are invaluable. They help us to manifest this freedom in a way it can bear fruit for many. These experiences were gathered through the course of centuries in a multitude of commandments and prohibitions, so that every person and every generation does not have to repeat the same mistakes. Usually we only know the ten most well known of them. They don not want to limit man’s freedom, but guide it towards its goal. ruk
If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death; whichever they choose will be given them. Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; mighty in power, he sees all things. The eyes of God behold his works, and he understands every human deed. He never commands anyone to sin, nor shows leniency toward deceivers.
Walls in heads
When a German bishop travels to the Middle East and, at the sight of the protective wall between the Palestinian and Israeli territories, a comparison to the Berlin wall occurs to him and, on top of that, the missionary thought that people in Germany have experience with overcoming walls – that gives rise to questions.
What gives a German bishop such a high feeling of moral superiority? How forgetful of history and politically blind can a German bishop be? Bishops are expected to have studied theology after all, and not history or politics. Can it still be lost on an academically trained German man of the Church that the phrase “The German way shall heal the world!” is not part of moral theology, but of history, and there of its darker chapters? The Berlin wall is also part of the darker chapters of our history. Whoever compares the Berlin wall with the Israeli protective wall has no clue what they are talking about, historically and politically: The Berlin wall separated one nation with one language and one shared history. The Israeli protective wall cannot be compared to that. Palestinians who want to carry out attacks in Israel are so ideologically deluded that they do not want to accept Israel’s right to exist – as the majority of the Arab world, by the way, against which Israel has to likewise protect herself. This protective wall is not pretty. Maybe it is even a weapon of war, but a very peaceful one. Because it has put an end to most of the Palestinian terror in Israel and saved lives this way. When it comes to Germany, there is talk about the wall in people’s heads. Maybe a first step might be disarmament of the high feeling of moral superiority. That is what the East Germans were so sick about us “Western know-it-alls” after all. ses
A letter to the editor from Rome to a big German daily paper
I enjoy and profit from reading the sports pages, the economic news, the technology and motor section in this newspaper. Only what I read in the comments, but also in “reports” on the Catholic Church, spoils any fun in reading. And not just that: it damages my trust in serious journalism. Here the campaign being conducted within the Church against the pope emeritus finds its propagandistic loudspeaker.
Not only does it have little to do with the truth, but it also differs from the opinion of many more alert minds world-wide, Catholics as well as non-Catholics. Maybe it is a kind of petty German comeuppance for Ratzinger’s incorruptibility and foresight for over 60 years. The facts speak a different language than these campaigns, whether they are about Joseph Ratzinger’s effective contribution as cardinal and pope against the crimes of sexual abuse since the 90s, or about how, to this day, he spends his “retirement” with absolute intellectual vigilance and obedience to the current pope. It is certainly noticeable that numerous snares lurk in the era of lightning communication and glitches happen easily. But the ruling motto here seems to be: Don’t touch me with the facts. The genie being let out of the bottle over and over again is not the spirit of Church schism, but one of the authors’ personal vendettas against their own Church. Even if some reflexively want to give Benedict a whipping and others want to use him under the guise of adoration, the constellation of the current pope and a pope emeritus, with all its breaks and weaknesses, remains an unprecedented stroke of luck for the Church.
Prof. Achim Buckenmaier, Rome
Unity of this world and the world beyond
Das Judentum hat seine Freiheit von dem Zwiespalt, den die verschiedenen Begriffe von Gott bringen. Dem Widerstreit zwischen Transzendenz und Immanenz fehlt hier der Boden. Die Frömmigkeit lebt hier in der Paradoxie, in der Polarität, mit all ihrer Spannung und Geschlossenheit.
For piety, there is no such thing as this world without any beyond, nor a beyond without this world; no world to come without the present world, and no human world without that which transcends it. Everything from this world is rooted in the world beyond; everything from the world beyond demands something worldly from humans. The infinite emerges through the finite; and everything finite shall prove its infiniteness. Human life leads from God to man and from man to God.
Translated from: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)
Only a pinch of salt?
At the end of his gospel Matthew writes about Jesus’ instruction to go to all the peoples. But what exactly does that mean and how should we imagine it? How should a select few achieve something earth-shattering?
It doesn’t depend on the amount, not an elaborate strategy or structure. No, speaking metaphorically, it only depends on the one thing: the pinch of salt. It is only a tiny ingredient in the whole of the soup. The great, all-changing element always remains a minority in the whole of the world. So wherein does the effective ramification of something inconspicuously small lie for the big picture? Speaking with Jesus’ metaphor: that the salt does not pall! If connected to our Church’s situation: Not organizational, structure-related deliberations can introduce reforms, but a few living valiantly “salty” again. bek
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
Desired and feared
With the feast of the Presentation of the Lord the liturgy returns to the Advent and Christmas season once more time, to certain expectation and incipient fulfillment. The prophet Malachi knows the tension that goes hand in hand with God’s coming: We search for Him and desire Him, yet at the same time we ask the question: Who can endure the day of His coming?
Still the certainty of His coming is unshaken because the place, which he can come to, exists: His temple, Judah and Jerusalem – and there is a time that counts as measure: the ancient days, the years gone by. As through fire and lye, the promised purification has conditions that are already fulfilled and a clear concentration towards the righteous sacrifice; i.e. on the constant relationship between the mass and a just life. tac
Now I am sending my messenger — he will prepare the way before me; And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire — see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand firm when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the Levites, Refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD, as in ancient days, as in years gone by.
Rest as Renaissance
All the love of the “law”, nourishing and cherishing, was directed towards one thing, the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance, its rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different than a recess, an interruption of work, entirely different from not working.
A mere recess is something essentially physical, worldly and ordinary. Rest is something essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine. It leads towards the mystery, towards the reason from where every commandment comes. It recreates and reconciles; it is the rest through which the soul reclaims itself, the soul drawing breath – the sabbatical part of life. The Sabbath is the image of the messianic. It speaks of creation and of the future; it is the great symbol, as the bible says: “a sign between God and the Israelites”, or as in a quote from the Talmud: “the parable of eternity”. In the Sabbath lies life’s great opposition to the end, the continual renaissance.
Translated from: Aus: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)
Thoughts from a cluster of cells
Zoological theology is coming: No religion has the absolute truth; God’s image is just a cluster of cells.
Had Adam been content with one of the animals as a helper, – world history would have directly landed where it is today.
The historical Jesus was delivered to the gentiles; the Christ of faith to the scholars.
Freedom means that I may harm myself. Salvation means l live in such a way that others do not want to harm themselves.
Faith is always the thanks of someone who escaped.
Who truly understands Jesus?
Jesus and his gospel can only be fully understood through Jewish thought and feeling, for this reason maybe only by a Jew. Similarly, his words in their entire capacity and sound are only heard if they are reverted to the language he spoke.
A commandment that was completely fulfilled would be merely a human charter. God’s commandment is a commandment leading out towards the future that has its mission “for all generations”, as the bible says. There is its promise, its life that becomes life; there is something messianic in it. All of creation has its future, as an old Jewish parable says: “The idea of the Messiah was already present in the creation of the world.”
Translated from: Leo Baeck, Geheimnis und Gebot, in: Der Leuchter – Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung (1921/1922)
Thoughts from the hammock
The bible exegetes detect an “excess of promise” between the expectations of the Jewish prophets and the reality in Christianity. They find great words. But through omission they evade the question whose fault it is, God’s or our laziness.
Nowadays all statements and solutions from the past are relativized: they are all transitory and subjective. As if the monkey that became man had only been capable of using reason since 2019 and only taken his responsibility seriously since Greta.
We, like misanthropes, discover the selfishness and thirst for glory in and behind the actions of our contemporaries. Jesus too saw through people and read their hearts. But he loved them anyway.
Ever since we’ve had two legs and came out of the thicket of the jungle, since we explored the wide horizons in the savannah and the starlit sky stood open for us, probably early on in our sapiens-history, we did not want to be dead after death.
So, very early on we searched for religion, and gods, and a place beyond, an eternally beautiful home after our often short, arduous life, accompanied by violence. The afterworld became our solace, priests emerged and took on the task of guiding the way to eternal life.
A pipsqueak on earth, Israel, quits this circus of religion. Heaven is astonished. God grows fond of Israel; he wants to live among the people. “He comes down.” Israel receives the Tora. It turns the earth into paradise, people become neighbors.
Over a thousand years Israel grumbled: “The burden is too heavy.” “We too must be like all the nations.” And they build the most beautiful of dwellings for their God, the temple. God’s people live in captivity, under occupation. Israel prays, screams, hopes for a Messiah who saves.
Yes, and once again God descends, becomes man, becomes a Jew. The Israel of the twelve is coming. “Divided tongues as of fire … on each one of them (Acts 2.3).” God’s spirit descends, stays with the twelve.
The Church grows, becomes large, bears fruit, becomes powerful. The Christian power conquers the world of religions. Priests become the guide towards eternal life. So, like we used to, we have a religion directed towards the beyond.
The centuries of the European enlightenment also clarify our Christian religion. We are rid of God again. The conversation about God is dead. Dumb, deaf, blind, it doesn’t survive the murder of God’s people of this world, the Jews.
“Everything was over forever.”
The testaments are still down. And modern biblical studies are helping. There is new talk about the people of God in secular communities: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
In the bleak midwinter…
At the end of November 2019, a public debate took place in Trieste’s town council on whether the distinguished holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, also “Senator for Life” in Rome, should be awarded honorary citizenship. One member of the council vigorously opposed this because “Segre has said that Jesus was a Jew and that offends me as a catholic.” Jesus is the Son of God after all, he adds.
Christmas is not the right time to be offended. Maybe then Paul’s realization with all its consequences will seep through, that God sent His Son, “born of a woman, born under the law“ (Gal 4;4). ruk
Talent for freedom
“Modern society is an abstract society that constantly requires us to act rationally” – at the expense of our emotional primeval needs. But that is the price for humanity.
What Karl Marx denies categorically, Karl Popper defends passionately: Politics are possible. The process can only be the never-ending chain of trial and error and new trail. On account of his Jewish heritage, among other things, he had a wide-awake sense for the dangerous political tendencies of the time. Already in 1927, six years prior to Hitler’s successful grasp for power, he is convinced “that the democratic bastions of Central Europe will fall and a totalitarian Germany will start a new world war.” A realization as clear as glass. Three years before his death Karl Popper concluded his lecture on “Freedom and Intellectual Responsibility” with these words: “We have to search for the objective truth in all modesty, critically feeling our way like the beetles do. We can no longer try to act like the omniscient prophets. But that means: We have to change.”
Translated from: Thomas Schmid in Die Welt (German Newspaper) from September 17, 2019 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the death of Karl Popper, Der Mensch hat die Begabung zur Freiheit
Change of direction
In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.
Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls “turning back”, “con-version”. Man’s natural inclination draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn around inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interest by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural inclination. He must turn around to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance to the natural inclination, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is the conversion in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our inclination does not cease to point us in another direction, it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a lifelong conversion can we become aware of what it means to say “I believe”.
From: Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (1968)
Joy to the world
Recently, in an exam in her catholic religious education class, my daughter had to answer the question under which circumstances Jesus would be born today.
I assumed that a birth in a refugee camp was suggested with eventually a successful appearance as advocate for the disenfranchised and disinherited. Like other students, who attend mass more or less regularly, my daughter lacked the imagination for an elaborate answer. The grade was bad and I didn’t know any better either. Maybe I should have just asked the teacher what he meant. Either way, I couldn’t get the issue off my mind. Later the story of Jesus’ appearance before the high inquisitor came to mind, as told by Dostojewski: Jesus surprisingly comes to 15th century Seville during the time of the inquisition. He is identified and the high inquisitor detains him. During a long speech he explains to Jesus why his renewed coming disturbs the operations of the Church. fls
What’s the deal with all this drama? – with video clip
One might think that the theater has become redundant: Why exchange the comfort of your own four walls for a hard chair, sandwiched between the theater audience?
Why let yourself in for a performance, when thousands wait behind the screens at home? Whatever for “boards that mean the world”, when hosts of thinkers and researchers have accumulated an amount of knowledge over millennia that is hard to grasp? At least by today, don’t we know what the world means anyway? To all those who, following such considerations, no longer have need for a visit to the theater: congratulations, one less hardship! To all others the following may be recommended: The prologue to an evening of theater from the summer of 2019 in the park of the Günter-Stöhr-Gymnasium – with the participation of many associated with the school and the Integrated Community. Viewable anytime, quite conveniently, perfectly fit for the screen, whenever, wherever, just as you like. saw
New – Theologica No. 7: Ebrei e Cristiani
That is the sentence written on the advertising banner of the book “Ebrei e Cristiani” because Pope em. Benedict’s contribution in the periodical Communio last year spurred the Judeo-Christian dialogue unexpectedly.
The book was presented at an event on May 16, 2019, hosted by the Chair for the Theology of the People of God at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. The speakers were Rabbi Arje Folger, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Prefect of the Papal Household and Benedict XVI’s secretary, and Elio Guerriero, the editor of the book. Theologica No. 7 gives an account of the speeches at the event in German.
You can find further information on content and ordering details here.
Image loss and description lust
Plato’s allegory of the cave criticized the confusion of the things our senses discern with reality: We are chained up in our cave and do not see real life, but only its shadow on the wall.
Peter Handke commented on the conundrum as follows: “For many only what is broken can be called reality” (translated from “The Weight of the World, Journal 1977). Unabatedly he described the universal image loss of modern times: forgetting and confusing standards, overloading instead of beholding. The things and traditions cannot speak through that anymore. To him it was about salvation, and in “Crossing the Sierra de Gredos” (in German titled “Image Loss”) he called it “the comet’s tail of the world’s survival, sweeping over the entire earth”. The language of world-images is more than a moral religion; it is creation’s answer to the question of what can save us. “Theology is physical, too”, Handke once said in an interview.
Translated from (German): https://zettelsraum.blogspot.com/2019/10/peter-handkes-beschreibungslust.html
Cave canem – Careful, it might bite!
Vital vigilance in the face of the enemy, which in the Catholic Church is consistently directed inwards as well, sometimes hits the righteous wrongfully and sometimes the wrong ones righteously. John Henry Newman, who was canonized October 13, 2019, was regarded as highly dangerous by well-meaning servants of the catholic cause.
Monsignore Talbot, Pope Pius XI.’s secretary, warned Cardinal Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster, in a letter: “Dr. Newman is the most dangerous man in England.” Maybe Talbot sensed an even bigger threat than Newman’s intellectual independence. The current canonization has rehabilitated Newman somewhat, but the papal secretary’s assessment of him ennobles him to this day. If you take Newman seriously you understand the secretary’s fear when Newman says, for example, that faith is “not the cause of order, as it happens to be now, but the cause of disorder, as it was when Christ came and his Apostles preached“. ses
Living in community – Letters to the Oratory
Consider what is implied in the word “community”. To live in community is not to be simply in one house; else the guests of a hotel form a community.
Nor is it to live and board together; else a boarding-house is a community. Priests living in a chapel-house or presbytery, with each his own room, and a common table, and common duties in one church and parish, do not therefore live in community. To live in community is to form one body, in such sense as to admit of acting and being acted upon as one. An Oratory is an individuality. It has one will and one action, and in that sense it is one community. But it is obvious that such a union of wills and minds and opinions and conduct cannot be attained without considerable concessions of private judgment on the part of every individual so united. It is a conformity, then, not of accident or of nature, but of supernatural purpose. It is not everyone who has the gift of living with others. Not every holy soul, not every good secular priest, can live in community. Perhaps very few men can do so.
From: John Henry Cardinal Newman, Letters to the Oratory about the call to the Oratory of St. Philipp Neri (1856)
One weekend in the mid-eighties the Süddeutsche Zeitung (a German newspaper) was only published as a skeleton edition due to strike. In it a longer statement by the publicist, well-known humanist and agnostic Dr. Gerhard Szczesny was printed, about his exit from the SPD (social democratic party), which he had been a member of for a long time. Due to the special circumstances this step found little recognition.
That was completely different thirty years earlier. In 1958, during the time of restoration through the Adenauer-era, he published a polemic, “The Future of Unbelief. Contemporary Reflections of a non-Christian”. He protested against the restrictive and forced minority role of non-Christians in a Christian-dominated society; against Christianity’s monopoly and power claims to the truth: “To us it seems unbearable that in a civilization claiming to be the home of true intellectual freedom the non-Christian has to act like a thief in the night” (Future of Disbelief). Sharp-sightedly he diagnosed Christianity’s insupportable monopoly and power claims to the truth. He lost his job at the Bayerischer Rundfunk (a Bavarian radio station). In 1961, together with Fritz Bauer and Alexander Mitscherlich among others, he founded the “Humanist Union” and one year later his publishing house ”Club Voltaire – Yearbook for the Critical Enlightenment”. In 1968 he wrote the preface to Joachim Kahl’s “The Misery of Christianity: A Place for Humanity without God”.
In the same year of 1958, in which he made public his position as a post-Christian agnostic, who wanted to establish a humanism on the basis of the achievements of the enlightenment, Josef Ratzinger wrote in the Catholic journal Hochland: “Since the Middle Ages in the West the Church has more or less been identified with the world” – a state Szczesny found to still be dominating everything – “today, this identity is only an appearance, which hides the true essence of the Church and the world” (The new Pagans and the Church) . This appearance Szczesny criticized and in that respect they both agreed. Which consequence did Ratzinger draw from this analysis? In 1968 he published his lecture series on the Apostolic Creed, which he delivered in Tübingen in front of an audience made up of all faculties, titled “Introduction to Christianity”.
At the beginning of the 70’s the Integrated Community came into contact with Gerhard Szczesny. He had been made aware of them through Peter M. Bode, who had reported on an exhibition put on by the Community in Munich and at the end had invited people like Gerhard Szczesny and Heinrich Böll to engage with these apparently unusual Catholics. He accepted. After the first meeting he wrote: “It was the first time I had really felt comfortable, that is easy and normal, in a community of people who explicitly want themselves to be understood as Christians.” One time he commented: “I know how the coffee in church houses tastes – with you everything is so different.”
In 1977 a few people from the Community – a number of secondary school teachers were among them – made the decision to open a private secondary school. They were looking for encouragement because the ministry of education was not exactly thrilled with the idea given the conditions in Munich at that time. Gladly and out of conviction they both agreed to be named next to each other as friends of the Community in the initial brochure. Inspired by these two very different persons, people from the Community wrote up the following as guide line of the school project and the community: “In the Community two traditions that seem to exclude each other have merged into one way of life: Christian tradition and modern criticism of religion and society:”
During the funeral service for Gerhard Szczesny at the cemetery in Grünwald – the relatives had asked the Integrated Community to arrange it – Gertraud Wallbrecher said: “To us Gerhard Szczesny was a teacher because he challenged us relentlessly to be what we always wanted to be: a community that acts like and treats each other like those that once wrote the New Testament 1900 years ago.”
Fragment on Holy Scripture
According to its form, its rhythm, its cadence: a book from the night of the times. That is true, and at the same time the reader of our times, today, can read his own story in the bible, book by book, unlike in any other book:
he can discover it there, then understand it, then face it. The reader is the tragicomical hero of all the biblical stories; not just of the stories, but also of the love poems, like in the Song of Songs, and of the cries for help, like in the Psalms, over and over again. You, reader, have lived the first moment of color in Eden, and you will witness those black and blacker last moments, your mouth full of vinegar (and worse), where you will cry out with the question, why your so to speak omnipotent Father has abandoned you. Hence for the reader the bible is a terrifying, dangerous book: He is forced to see what his true situation as a mortal is, deep down. Lost son, who feels safe because his Father has forgiven him for once – even prepared a feast for him. But after, on the cross, where is he, my Father and his promised feast? The bible can awaken sheer horror in its reader: ah, this lunatic, who thinks he is God, immortal; that sniveler, who in distress boasts of the omnipotence of his Father to his adversaries, and of how He will come to the rescue at any moment; this so-called Son of God, who dies like a stray dog – I am all of that, I, who am reading this. You, who read the bible today: Beware, danger of death! Or danger of life? Ensouling danger? Inspiring danger, since that night of the times? Healing danger? Danger of salvation?
Translated from: Peter Handke, Langsam im Schatten (1992)