Saturday, September 3, 2011

‘Western Logic’ and the ‘Logos’

Of relevance is Ch. 3 of Tracey Rowland’s book, Ratzinger’s Faith, this chapter being entitled “Revelation, Scripture and Tradition”.


“I will arouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece ...”.

Zechariah 9:13



Josef Ratzinger is an original thinker and, though very much in the mould of a western thinker - which is the theme we want to develop further here, west (Logos) against east (Dabar) - and the German west at that, from which has come a lot of problematical biblical exegesis relating to JEDP, he can frequently surprise the reader with his wholly new insights. His books are replete with references to German scholars, understandably, given that he himself is German. Rudolf Bultmann gets a lot of ‘airplay’. And one wonders at times if more orthodox exegetes could have been sourced instead. However, Ratzinger is a good enough writer not to get dragged in by his sources. He can consider another writer’s point of view at some length and then dismiss it in favour of a view that he prefers (as Father Harrison had noted back on p. 8).

As the following section shows (taken from pp. 62-64 of Rowland’s Chapter 3), Ratzinger is very much in the western mould of thinking.

…. ­Ratzinger frequently reminds academic audiences that the Church fathers found the 'seeds of the Word, not in the religions of the ­world, but rather in philosophy, that is, in the process of critical reason ­directed against the [pagan] religions'. …. He notes that the habit of ­thinking about Christianity as a 'religion' among many religions, all of roughly the same intellectual merit, is a modern development. A­t its very origins Christianity sides with reason and considers this ally to be ­its principal forerunner. …. Moreover:

Ultimately it [a decision to believe in God] is a decision in favor of reason and a decision about whether good and evil, truth and untruth, are merely subjective categories or reality. In this sense, in the beginning there is faith, ­but a faith that first acknowledges the dignity and scope of reason. The decision for God is simultaneously an intellectual and an existential decision - each determines the other reciprocally. ….

Ratzinger therefore does not follow the trend of thinking of Athens ­and Jerusalem as short-hand terms for two fundamentally different ­ways of approaching religious matters: one fideistic and one philo­sophical. The great University of Chicago philosophy professor Leo Strauss (1889 -1973) popularized this dichotomy to such a degree that now two generations later there are almost as many subcategories of Straussians as there are Thomists, according to which side of this ­apparently unbridgeable divide they find themselves most at home.

However, Ratzinger's approach is to argue that there are quite amazing parallels in chronology and content between the philosopher’s criticism of the myths in Greece and the prophets' criticism of the gods in Israel. While he concedes that the two movements start from com­pletely different assumptions and have completely different aims, he none the less concludes: the movement of the logos against the myth, as it evolved in the Greek mind in the philosophical enlightenment, so that in the end it necessarily led to the fall of the gods, has an inner parallelism with the enlightenment that the prophetic Wisdom literature cultivated in its demythologization of the divine powers in favour of the one and only God. ….

Comment: Our view is that much Greek mythology is an appropriation and distortion of Hebrew and Near Eastern writings, hence the “amazing parallels”. The pope favours the modern tendency according to which the Book of Wisdom, customarily attributed to King Solomon, was a late compilation influenced by Greek thought. (We might say, according to what we discussed on p. 18, Solon over Solomon, a view that we reject). In Jesus of Nazareth¸ Part Two, p. 210, he writes:

… the author of the Book of Wisdom could have been familiar with Plato’s speculations from his work on statecraft, in which he asks what would become of a perfectly just person in this world, and he comes to the conclusion that such a person would be crucified (The Republic II, 361e-362a). The Book of Wisdom may have taken up this idea from the philosopher and introduced it into the Old Testament, so that it now points directly to Jesus.

Quite on the contrary we would propose that, as according to tradition, King Solomon substantially wrote the Book of Wisdom. This later influenced Plato, who we think himself was, too, in his original form, a prophet of Israel. This thought (already diminished through pagan ‘Ionia’), came to Greece only later, where it received further transformations and transmutations. The stunningly Jesus like references (“be crucified”) could not, we submit, have preceded the Gospels – just as the biographies of Mohammed, originally an Old Testament prophet of Israel, later acquired Christian era references.

There is plenty of Solomonic-like literature already in the ancient Near East, long before Greece, with Hammurabi for instance, our Solomon ruling Babylon.

In our context, we would be largely sympathetic with what Del Nevo has further written in his review of Professor Kreeft’s book (op. cit., our emphasis):

… Traditionally Christian thought, that is, Christian interpretation, has depended on Greek philosophy, more precisely on combinations of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Jesus' philosophy — whatever it was — was Jewish, rabbinic, in the sense we read about in the Talmud, which reflects the oral tradition of Jesus' Jewish world. Jesus' philosophy was not Platonic or Aristotelian.

The problem for Kreeft, which his book bears out, is that philosophy for him is by definition non-Jewish.

There is a long quotation from C. S. Lewis in the Preface to show that Jesus' style followed broadly along Aristotelian lines as found in the Poetics and the Analytics. But Jesus' style was halakhic and aggadic. ….

[End of quote]

By no means could we accept the view of Josef Ratzinger about Islam, in his Regensburg address, that, in Rowland’s words (op. cit., p. 121), “… as a tradition, Islam needs to engage with the intellectual heritage of Greece”. Rather, we think, Islam needs to rediscover its roots in Old Testament Israel. More reasonable, we believe, is Ratzinger’s other view given here that: “… the attempt to graft on to Islamic societies what are termed western standards cut loose from their Christian foundations misunderstands the internal logic of Islam as well as the historical logic to which these western standards belong”.

In light of all of this we find it encouraging that the Church is involving Jews in biblical discussions, for example, Chief Rabbi Cohen addressing the Synod. Blessed Edith Stein, a Jew and a skilled philosopher, becomes an important factor in considerations of Jesus as a Jewish philosopher. Beatified in Cologne on 1 May 1987, the Church has honoured her as "a daughter of Israel" (Pope John Paul II), who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness."