Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Christian Personalism of Ferdinand Ebner, Key to Ratzinger

The malaise of the culture which followed the First World War with the first wave of existential thought and the coming forth of dialogical thought is the context in which to place Ebner. But, because he did not think the thoughts of another but rather thought from the original source of his own existence, his work has the seal of an original. In addition, his dialogical thought develops coherently listening to an interlocutor. Apart from the Bible, his most important interlocutor is, without doubt, Kierkegaard.

First of all we have before us a believer awake to existence and whose faith seeks understanding. Nothing strange that he should experience the influence of Kierkegaard, especially of his work Sickness Unto Death.

He receives from Kierkegaard illumination on the value of the second person, of you. From Kierkegaard, who in the cited work says that sin is sleeping rather than existing, he also receives the image of "sleeping with the spirit",  which serves to indicate the profound cultural alienation of the modern world. And just as Kierkegaard, the rebel against the abstract reason of his time, does not deny every type of reason, given that he fully develops in Sickness unto Death a rigorous anthropology from the faith, so also Ebner, equally rebellious against the same type of abstract reason, sketches the outlines of a new concept of man.

What are those outlines? Above all the affirmation of real man as in himself an incomplete being, turned toward something outside of himself, toward a you. Man is, therefore, essentially relational. Ebner values the relational entity as something primordial, constitutive; not as an accident which inheres in a being already constituted. Man exists in the apriori and transcendent realm of the "between". And that realm is transcendent because it is rooted in God: "Only in relation with God does man understand himself". For that reason, every understanding is mediation and will not cease to be so until it leads to the knowledge of God, which, if it is real knowledge, is also decision. Man exists in that way because he "is" so; because he is ontologically determined in this way. Being spirit, he is essentially open to the call of the Spirit. His being is pneumatological, being at its highest level.

So, if man is a relational being and is at the same time a corporal being, it is understood that the constituitive relation acts through the word. Surely this is a valid form of reasoning, but let us say that it was not by reasoning that Ebner arrived at the esteem of the word. Let us say that all of the terms of our reasoning are jointly intuited by Ebner in a "syneidetic" way [from Gk. eidos: essence], to use the apt term used by López Quintás, and we point out also that it was the reading of the Gospel with the eagerness of faith--"as a sick person seeking a doctor"--that leads Ebner to make the world the key of his thougth: I live spiritually only and uniquely from my understanding of the word".

The being of the word consists of its condition of vehicle between the I and the you.

The word does not originate from nature, it is in man, but it transcends him, it is originally from God.

From thence it is that proceeding from the Spirit and objectifying itself bodily it presents an irreducibly double essence.

Additionally, as word of man it is bound to the body, it possesses a physical base, a sensory and logical meaning. It is the objective, expressed, sign. Ebner is interested in this infrastructural and empirical dimension of the word, offering some linguistic observations and full of acumen and refinement.

But, also, the word also has its founding dimension as the vehicle of the I-you relation. Thus the profoundest sense of the relation I-you as motor principle and as intentional end of the empirical and objective sense of the word is on the transcendental level of the pneumatological.

According to the faith, "in the beginning was the Word. All things were made by Him" (John 1:1-3). At the summit of all things He made man, in being bound to the You, Who is God: "The relation of man with God is at the base of our being, in the Word, which existed in the beginning".

If man is a creation of the Word, he is doubly ennabled, as much to hear it as to say it and to perform it. Marked by the word, he carries, in one aspect, the essential disposition toward It. But the Word is not the natural culmination of his being. The Word is grace; a paradox regarding the essential ordaining toward the fullness of life and the gratuitous character of that life. One thinks of Blondel.

It is clearly that, in the first moment, the Word is the carrier of meaning, it moves in the cognitive realm, and knowledge as such does not make values, it is only the illuminative moment of action.

Whence the tight connection between the Word and love. The divine Word proceeds from love and leads to love. In man it gives rise to hearing, creating the listener of the word, and it moves him to love, which acts, then making him a doer of the word. Thus we move to the apex at which the fulfillment of man should culminate.

This religious schema extends its execution on the closest level of human coexistence, expressing the mystery which sustains it. Also in this coexistence the true word is grace, it is daughter of freedom and love, executor of the I-you relation, creator, wherefore, likewise of interpersonal relationships as of cosmic reality,  in so far as the world of things named by the word experiences a second birth thanks to its promotion in the spirit. That is what happens especially in art work.

In this way, Ebner weaves an anthropology around the word as original as it is fecund, opening new perspectives to philosophical reflection.

From the grasping of true reality--the I-you relation mediated by the word--idealist philosophy appears as unreal thought which absolutizes the I disuniting it from its constituitive relation. With that it is condemned to the void. The same goes for the objective thought of science, expecially mathematics, and also theology, if it is not done "in second person"; and, in general, regarding every other cultural manifestation which forgets the dialogical relation. All of that is solitude of the I, therefore unreal vapor, sleep of the spirit. For Ebner, it is there that the root of the profound cultural alienation of Europe must be sought, which speaks of reason, of art, of freedom, of rights and--what is much worse--even of Christianity, while it destroys man with oppression and violence. And Ebner only lived to see the first act of the tragedy. The worst was still to come; it would begin right after his death.

La Palabra y las Realidades Espirituales, Ferdinand Ebner, Madrid: Caparrós, 1995, from the introduction by the translator José Garrido, 8-11.
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