|Universität Tübingen: Origin of Professor Ratzinger's Introduction|
The Medieval Masters of Thought recognized logos--the thought of God--as the necessary and absolute foundation of all reality and meaning and truth. Man's participation therein is therefore contingent, transitory and limited.
The historical approach (with it's way prepared by Descartes and fully developed in Kant) contradicts this, beginning with Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), who proposed, against the scholastic equation "Verum est ens" ("Being is truth"). "Verum est factum".
"That is to say, all that we can truly know is what we have made ourselves. It seems to me that this formula denotes the real end of the old metaphysics and the beginning of the specifically modern attitude of mind...
"For the ancient world and the Middle Ages, being itself is true, in other words apprehensible, because God, pure intellect, made it, and he made it by thinking it. To the creative original spirit, the Creator Spiritus, thinking and making are one and the same thing. His thinking is a creative process. Things are, because they are thought. In the ancient and medieval view all being is therefore what has been thought, the thought of the absolute spirit. Conversely, this means that since all being is thought, all being is meaningful, "logos", truth. (This statement is of course only fully true of Christian thinking, which with the idea of the creatio ex nihilo attributes to God the material too; for the ancient world this remained the a-logical element, the universal matter alien to the divine, thus also marking the limit to which reality could be comprehended.)
"It follows from this traditional view that human thinking is the re-thinking of being itself, re-thinking of the thought which is being itself. Man can re-think the logos, the meaning of being, because his own logos, his own reason, is logos of the one logos, thought of the original thought, of the creative spirit that permeates and governs his being.
"In contrast to this, from the point of view of the ancient world and the Middle Ages the work of man seems contingent and transitory. Being is thought and therefore thinkable, the object of thought and of knowledge, which strives after truth. The work of man on the other hand is a mixture of logos and the a-logical, something moreover that with the passage of time sinks away into the past. it does not admit of full comprehension for it is lacking in logos, in thoroughgoing meaningfulness. for this reason ancient and medieval philosophy took the view that knowledge of human things could only be "techne", manual skill, but never real perception and hence never real knowledge. Therefore in the medieval university the artes, the arts, remained only the first step to real knowledge, which reflects on being itself. This standpoint is still clearly evident at the beginning of the modern era in Descartes, who expressly disputes history's claim to be knowledge. The historian, he says, who claims to be familiar with Roman history knows in the last analysis less about it than a cook in Rome did, and to understand Latin means no more than possessing the same ability as Cicero's maid. About a hundred years later Vico was to turn the Middle Ages' criterion of truth, redefined once again here in Descartes, on its head, thus giving expression to the fundamental revolution which marks the arrival of the modern spirit. This was the start of the attitude that introduces the "scientific" age, in which we are still living.
"Let us try to think about this a little further, since it is fundamental to our question. To Descartes the only thing that seems an absolute certainty is the purely formal intellectual certainty purged of the uncertainties of the factual. Nevertheless there are signs of the approach of the modern period in the fact that he models this intellectual certainty on mathematical certainty and elevates mathematics to the position of prototype of all rational thinking. But whereas here the facts still have to be excluded if one desires certainty, Vico advance the diametrically opposite thesis. Following formally in Aristotle's footsteps, he asserts that real knowledge is the knowledge of causes. I am familiar with a thing if I know the cause of it; I understand something that has been proved if I know the proof. But from this old thought something completely new is deduced: if part of real knowledge is the knowledge of causes, then we can truly know only what we have made ourselves, for it is only ourselves that we are familiar with. This means that the old equation of truth and being is replaced by the new one of truth and factuality; all that can be known is the "factum", that which we have made ourselves. It is not the task of the human mind--nor is it within its capacity--to think about being, but about the factum, what has been made, man's own particular world, for this is all we can truly understand. Man did not produce the cosmos and its bottommost depths remain opaque to him. Complete, demonstrable knowledge is attainable only within the bounds of mathematics and in the field of history, which is the realm of man's own activities and can therefore be known by him. In the midst of the sea of doubt which threatened to engulf man at the beginning of the modern period after the collapse of the old metaphysics, the factum was here discovered as the dry land on which man could try to build a new existence for himself. The dominance of the fact began, that is, man's complete devotion to his own work as the only certainty."
Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger, New York: Herder and Herder, 1970, 31-33.
Father Ratzinger in the same book proposes sixteen principles for right (Christian) thinking.
1. Amen, which includes the meanings truth, firmness, firm ground, ground, and furthermore the meanings loyalty, to trust, entrust oneself, take one's stand on something, believe in something; thus faith in God appears as a holding on to God through which man gains a firm hold for his life. Faith is thereby defined as taking up a position, as taking a stand trustfully on the ground of the word of God..."If you do not believe, than you do not abide." "If you do not believe (if you do not hold firm to Yahweh), then you will have no hold" (Isaiah). 39
2. Belief operates on a completely different plane from that of making and "makability." It cannot be "laid out on the table." Essentially, it is entrusting oneself to that which has not been made by oneself and never could be made, and which precisely in this way supports and makes possible all our making...The penetrating "perhaps" which belief whispers in man's ear in every place and in every age does not point to any uncertainty within the realm of practical knowledge; it simply queries the absoluteness of this realm and relativizes it, reminding man that it is only one plane of human existence in general, a plane that can only have the character of something less than final. 40
3. Belief does not belong to the realm of what can be, or has been made, but to the realm of basic questions which man cannot avoid answering and the answer to which can by its nature occur only in one form. Belief...There is a realm which allows no other answer but that of entertaining a belief, and no man can completely avoid this realm. Every man is bound to have some kind of "belief." 41
4. Believe is...a way of taking up a stand in the totality of reality, a way that cannot be reduced to knowledge and is incommensurable by knowledge; it is the bestowal of meaning without which the totality of man would remain homeless, on which man's calculations and actions are based, and without which in the last resort he could not calculate and act, because he can only do this in the context of a meaning that bears him up...Without the word, without meaning, without love he falls into the situation of no-longer-being-able-to-live, even when earthly comfort is present in abundance. 42
5. Meaning that is self-made is in the last analysis no meaning. Meaning, that is, the ground on which our existence as a totality can stand and live, cannot be made but only received. 43
6. To believe as a Christian...means affirming that the meaning which we do not make but can only receive is already granted to us, so that we have only to take it and entrust ourselves to it. 43
7. Christian belief is the option for the view that the receiving precedes the making--[without reducing the value of the making]. 43
8. That what cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen. It is an avowal of the primacy of the invisible as the truly real, which bears us up and hence enables us to face the visible in a clam and relaxed way--knowing that we are responsible before the invisible as the true ground of all things. 43
9. [It] is not a blind surrender to the irrational. On the contrary, it is a movement towards the logos, the ratio, towards meaning and so towards truth itself, for in the final analysis the ground on which man takes his stand cannot possibly be anything else but the truth revealing itself. 44
10. The Christian act of faith intrinsically includes the conviction that the meaningful ground, the logos, on which we take our stand, precisely because it is meaning, is also truth. (The Greek word logos displays in its range of meanings a certain correspondence with the Hebrew root 'mn ["Amen"]: word, meaning, intelligence, truth are all included in its semantic range.) Meaning or sense which was not truth would be non-sense. 45
11. The tool with which man is equipped to deal with the truth of being is not knowledge but understanding: understanding of the meaning to which he has entrusted himself;...only revealing itself in "standing": seizing and grasping as meaning the meaning which man has received as ground...[I]t is a characteristic of understanding that it is continually outstripping our capacity to apprehend and reaching out to a recognition of the way in which we are comprehended. 46-7
12. It is personal! The most fundamental feature of Christian faith or belief is its personal character. Christian faith is more that the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not "I believe in something", but "I believe in Thee". It is the encounter with the man Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences that meaning of the world as a person. 47
13. Jesus' life from the Father, in the immediacy and closeness of his association with him in prayer and indeed face to face, he is God's witness;...he is the presence of the eternal itself in this world. In his life, in the unconditional devotion of himself to men, the meaning of the world is present before us; it vouchsafes itself to us as love which loves even me and makes life worth living by this incomprehensible gift of a love free from any threat of fading away or any tinge of egoism. The meaning of the world is the "You", though only the one that is not itself an open question but the ground of all, needing itself no other ground. 48
14. Faith is the finding of a "You" that bears me up and amid all the unfulfilled....unfulfillable...hope of human encounters gives me the promise of an indestructible love which not only longs for eternity but guarantees it. Christian faith lives on the discovery that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning, but this meaning knows me and loves me, I can entrust myself to it like a child that knows all its questions answered in the "You" of its mother. Thus in the last analysis believing, trusting and loving are one, and all the thesis round which belief revolves are only concrete expressions of the all-embracing about-turn, of the assertion "I believe in You"--of the discovery of God in the countenance of the man Jesus of Nazareth.
15. Darkness. "Are you really He?" (John the Baptist's question from prison to Jesus) The believer will repeatedly experience the darkness in which the negation of unbelief surrounds him like a gloomy prison from which there is no escape, and the indifference of the world, which goes its way unchanged as if nothing had happened, seems only to mock his hope. 48
16. We have to pose the question "Are you really He", not only through honesty of thought and because of reason's responsibility but also in accordance with the intrinsic law of love, which wants to know more and more him to whom it has given its "Yes", so as to be able to love him more...in the basic faith confession: "I believe in You, Jesus of Nazareth, as the meaning (logos) of the world and of my life." 49