Friday, March 4, 2016

Ratzinger on faith in God today

I have been reading through Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, and it is really excellent. It is one of the most edifying and profound reads I have undertaken in recent times. I am especially sympathetic to Ratzinger's treatment of faith in God and creation theology, inasmuch as it seems very similar to that espoused by Dumitru Stăniloae in his Teologia Dogmatică Ortodoxă, vol. 1.

Ratzinger says that Christian faith in God means first the decision in favor of the primacy of the logos as against mere matter (p. 151). His language of "choice" is interesting, for it suggests that ultimately the matter regarding God's existence and the ultimate nature of the universe is perhaps not subject to strict philosophical demonstration; rather, we must make a decision about the way we are going to interpret things. He writes:

In other words, faith means deciding for the view that thought and meaning do not just form a chance by product of being; that, on the contrary, all being is a product of thought and, indeed, in its innermost structure is itself thought (p. 152).

Consider the matter in the following way. Is our capacity for thought and rational reflection merely a chance byproduct of the random and unintended arrangement of unthinking matter? Or rather is the basis of reality itself a Mind, which brings all the world into existence through thinking it? The intelligibility of the world is taken for granted in contemporary culture: we think we know a whole lot about the way the universe works through our advances in the natural sciences. But the fact that the universe can be understood, the fact that it corresponds to the categories of our thought, might suggest that it is itself a product of thought:

This decision in favor of the intellectual structure of the kind of being that emerges from meaning and understanding includes the belief in creation. This means nothing else than the conviction that the objective mind [i.e., the intelligibility] we find present in all things, indeed, as which we learn increasingly to understand things, is the impression and expression of subjective mind and that the intellectual structure that being posses and that we can re-think is the expression of a creative pre-meditation, to which they owe their existence (p. 152).

Stăniloae affirms exactly the same thing. For him, the intelligibility and rational structure of the universe speaks to its origin in a supreme rational Person, who creates it precisely through a creative act of thought. And when we engage in scientific research and discover the structures and laws of this universe, we are effectively thinking the thoughts of the Logos after it, reading its book, so to speak: This surely means that all our thinking is, indeed, only a rethinking of what in reality has already been thought out beforehand (p. 153).

Is belief in God possible in the modern age, then? Has science utterly removed any foundation for believing that a Creator exists? Not at all, Ratzinger would insist: on the contrary, the very success of science, dependent as it is upon the intrinsic intelligibility of the world, offers ample grounds for believing in the transcendent Logos, through which everything was created (cf. John 1).

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