It’s been a while since I cracked open Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, but I recently had the opportunity to appreciate it’s insight. In responding to an inquiry from someone researching a provocative quote by Ratzinger (“the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally primordial mode of reality”) I came across the following passage in his chapter on the Trinity, which I found very interesting for reasons I’ll explain below:
With that, the wording of the dogma to all intents and purposes settled. It expresses the perception that God as substance, as “being” is absolutely one. If we nevertheless have to speak of him in the category of triplicity this does not imply a multiplication of substances but means that in the one and indivisible God there exists the phenomenon of dialogue, the reciprocal exchange of word and love. This again signifies that the “three persons” who exist in God are the reality of word and love in their attachment to each other. They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality (“parcel of waves”!) does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: “He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.” 1 Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. “Father” is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being-for the other is he Father; in his own being-in-himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being-related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.
Expressed in the imagery of Christian traditionl this means that the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving, “wave” not “corpuscle” . . . In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the “accidents,” Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the “individual.” Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: “In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.”2 Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway if thinking in terms of substance has ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today “objectifying thought”; a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from completed — so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable.
Ratzinger’s references to “parcels of waves” refers to an earlier mention of Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger (p. 25), who:
This novel use of Schrodinger’s theory seems to me quite the stretch and something that will raise a few eyebrows (or snarls of disgust) in traditionalist camps, but perhaps we can forgive this flight of theological fancy considering Ratzinger wrote it in the 60’s.
Ratzinger’s chapter on the Trinity contains numerous references to St. Augustine. The scarcity of attention paid by Ratzinger to the preeminent doctor of theology, St. Thomas Aquinas, is fodder for criticism by traditionalists, who portray the Cardinal together with Pope John Paul II as opponents of Thomistic theology, never ceasing to cite as evidence Ratzinger’s memorable lines from Milestones. See for example this amusing little tirade from the SSPX (“The Memories of a Destructive Mind”):
However, there does appear to be parallels to Ratzinger in contemporary Thomistic thought. It was upon reading Ratzinger’s chapter on the Trinity that I was reminded of — and proceeded to dig out from my cluttered closet — an outstanding lecture by W. Norris Clarke, S.J. that greatly impressed me when I read it several years ago. Note the similarities between Ratzinger’s writings in Introduction to Christianity and Person and Being, Clarke’s 1993 Aquinas Lecture, Marquette University:
According to Norris, all being is by its nature dyadic, composed of an introverted or “in itself” dimension (as substance) and a “extraverted” dimension, oriented towards others, as related through action. Philosophy goes astray when it prioritizes one dimension and devalues the other. The “emasculated substances” of classical modern philosophy — the “isolated, unrelated substance” Descartes, “that which needs nothing but itself (and God) to exist; the “static substance” of Locke, “the inert substratum needed to support accidents but unknowable in itself”; the separable substance” of Hume, “which, if it existed would have to be empiraccly observable as separated from all its accidents, hence an impossible fiction”) — provoked modern philosophers (Bergson, Whitehead, Heidegger and most phenomenologists) to “reject substance entirely as a nonviable mode of being,” resulting in the reduction of the person to nothing but a set of relations. On the contrary, says Clarke, “the inseperable complimentarity of in itself and towards others must be maintained: to be is to be substance-in-relation (pp. 17-19).
Further investigation revealed why Clarke’s work seemed so familiar — as it turns out, in the preface to his article he cites the very same passage from Ratzinger as having inspired his work:
Similar criticism was made in the philosophical writings of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), says Clark, who sees it as his task to rectify the problem. Clark acknowledges that this aspect of Aquinas’ thought was never explicitly worked out, but believes the “dynamic, relational notion of the person” is implicit within his theology and can be developed and completed. In so doing, Clarke believes it will compliment (or rather supplement to what is otherwise lacking) in the phenomonelogical analyses of philosophers and psychologists (Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber, Levinas, Victor Frankl):
W. Norris Clarke’s Person and Being is an incredible experiment in philosophy, and I highly recommend it. (Those who find they like it might also want to look at the article “To Be Is to Be Substance-in-Relation,” in .
Perhaps other bloggers more schooled than I in Thomistic theology/philosophy will pick up where I’ve left off and discuss the elements of this post in greater depth. At any rate, I was highly impressed by how a philosopher like Clarke took Ratzinger’s challenge and ran with it in such an excellent collaboration between philosophy and theology.
- The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, by W. Norris Clarke. (U. of Notre Dame P, 2001).
- “The Christian Anthropology of Pope John Paul II, by Fr Thomas McGovern. Josephinum Journal of Theology, 8 (2001) 1, pp 132-47.
- “True Harmony: The Person and the Trinity”, Lorenzo Albacete. Traces May 2002.
- Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 68, p. I, 5, in CChr 39, 90 5 (Patropologia Latina [PL] 36, 845).
- Cf. De Trinitate, V, 5, 6 (PL 42, 913f.)