The Catholic Novel Today

From the birth of Barbey d’Aurevilly to the death of Julien Green, the question of the Christian novel has been the subject of more ink than you might think, and not just from Catholic writers. Is there such a thing as a Christian novel, just as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain defended a Christian philosophy against Émile Bréhier and Léon Brunschwig in the last century? And if it does exist, is it enough for the writer to call himself a Christian for his novel to be baptized as such? These two contemporary quarrels each have their founding text: in one case, a magisterial document from 1879, Leo XIII’s Æterni Patris, which discusses philosophia christiana, i.e., Thomistic philosophy; in the other, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s “Preface” to the 1866 republication of his novel Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress), a short tract in response to the “Libres Penseurs” who forbad Catholics to touch art or literature. The reason? You cannot make good literature with good feelings, and even less so with Christian feelings: Catholics have “too pure” a hand to touch the novel. Barbey’s response: “What’s morally and intellectually magnificent about Catholicism is that it is broad, understanding, immense… Catholicism loves the arts and accepts, without trembling, their audacity. It accepts their passions and their paintings, because it knows that we can learn from them, even when the artist himself does not.”

Despite this Aurevillian clarification, there is no shortage of critics of the Christian novel. One need only open the most famous novel by one of the 20th century’s most renowned novelists (André Gide) to be convinced. In The Counterfeiters, he sternly states: “There are, strictly speaking, no Christian novels.” A “kind of tragedy,” the writer continues, a “moral tragedy” that touches “the very essence of being,” still eludes literature, including that which should have “transported the drama to the moral plane”: Christian literature. In 1925, the year Gide published his “first novel,” two novelists as different as Georges Bernanos and François Mauriac were working to contradict him. Under the Sun of Satan was published in 1926, and Thérèse Desqueyroux a year later. Catholic novels? The expression hardly appealed to the writers of the time, and even less to modern and post-modern readers, alien to any universal or absolute reflection on literature. Since the immortal Proust, the fashion has been for novels about the novel, for deconstructed sentences along which novelists ask themselves “whether to write the novel of the novel they will never write; whether to write that one can no longer write” (p. 796), notes Romain Debluë ironically. Tired of such chatter, readers of Barbey, Bernanos and Léon Bloy know that the works they hold in their hands possess a secret filiation, beyond the shared faith of their authors. Through a mysterious tour de force, these novels give the impression of being literature without being literature. Without in any way claiming to exhaust the question, La Chasse au Cerf (Hunting the Stag), a novel alla manera christiana by Romain Debluë, offers a welcome—because novelistic—insight into the miracle that is still a Catholic novel.

A Bildungsroman: The Conversion of a Teenager of Yesteryear

What is La Chasse au Cerf? Let’s start with the simplest: a Bildungsroman. The genre is as old as the Odyssey and as varied as Ulysses’ journeys. The masterpieces of the genre are by Goethe, Balzac and Dickens; in other words, novelists of “yesteryears” (p. 797). The novelistic genre is based on a number of propositions roundly rejected by what Debluë calls “individuals after all” (p. 16): the existence of a subject, the subject’s recognition of his or her primary ignorance, his or her desire to understand and, to this end, to be taught by another, whether a master or an event. Such is the situation of Paul Savioz, the hero of La Chasse au Cerf, at the beginning of the novel. As he reads and befriends students and teachers at the Sorbonne, the history student learns about his own ignorance (p. 76). This first discovery is accompanied by a second, without which he would have every reason to despair: the discovery of a hunger in him “whose object he [is] absolutely unaware of” (p. 118). Anxious to “structure his mind once and for all” (p. 38), the young man notes more and more each day “the presence within him of a burning desire to light his soul like a torch, in order to resist the assaults of the night; and at the same time the absence in his intelligence of the slightest kindling that would be fit to set himself ablaze” (p. 271). Hence his willingness to work and take pains to nourish what he knows, thanks to a medieval history teacher, to be a life: the “life of the mind” (p. 195). In an age when “effort is the enemy” (p. 1026), Paul Savioz is emboldened by a group of philosophy students who, like him, share a taste for truth and the “courage of intelligence” (p. 24). So far, so natural, one might say: a formative novel in which a young man intends to “humanize” himself, that is, “slowly take on human form” (p. 307), through a study that is certainly ascetic, but whose goal is only natural, and therefore attainable, beatitude.

Natural, of course, but of a nature that can no longer be taken for granted. Man’s nature must be given real consistency if he is to achieve any kind of growth. You can’t educate a ghost; you can’t sculpt anything enduring with water. But what does the deconstructed youth of today resemble, asks the novelist, if not precisely “poor specters” who “float on the surface of themselves?” “We can no longer say that they have either a good or a bad bottom: they have no bottom at all” (p. 300), writes Debluë. In this way, the characters in La Chasse au Cerf are made strangers to their time less by the answers they give than by the questions they ask, where their contemporaries have decreed in chorus: “there are no answers, therefore there must be no questions” (p. 1026). Paul Savioz is, in the words of the title of Mauriac’s last novel, an “adolescent of yesteryear.”

Debluë’s hero shares much with Mauriac’s: the same taste for books, which, says Alain Gajac, are “my whole life;” the same anger against the bourgeois, “the man who suffocates the philosopher within himself every morning” (p. 482); all of which is accompanied by numerous novelistic and stylistic correspondences: the presence of a mentor—Donzac or “Abbé Guillaume”—who guides the main character in his reflections, or the death of a child who introduces the reader to the mystery of evil; such a way of concluding a chapter, or such a reference to the last pages of Sentimental Education, which the characters would like to rewrite. Romain Debluë’s novel is undoubtedly best read in the light of Un adolescent d’autrefois (A Youth from Yesteryear, Mauriac’s last novel, translated as Maltaverne), populated with quotations from various writers—Verlaine and Bossuet in common—and reflections that, a priori, would be more at home in a philosophical treatise than in a novel. However, and this is what makes it so recognizable, the Catholic novel can allow itself such intellectual and spiritual confessions since, as a Bildungsroman, it is above all a novel of conversion.

The Christian novelist always scrutinizes a soul’s journey to God, the twists and turns that lead it to the truth of its life and the reason for its existence. Hence Romain Debluë’s metaphor of the “hunt,” borrowed from the Catholic spiritual tradition. To “think in pursuit of the Principle” (p. 371), as Paul Savioz does, is to seek God, if not to confront his angel like Jacob, or “like a hunter who at last flushes out his game, and ceases to see it as merely slipping away in front of him, in the thicket” (p. 679). The pursuit of truth, whether in creation or in one’s innermost self, might seem an infinitely proud attitude were it not for the fact that, inspired by God, man’s spiritual quest always ends in the ascent of Golgotha. Like Ahab pursuing Moby Dick, the soul that seeks God always discovers itself already sought by Him, like Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9). In this “conquest” and “vast adventure of truth” (p. 1027), man soon becomes exhausted and abandons himself to a God who never tires of wanting his good. Cowardice? Resignation? Once again, Mauriac opens us up to the authentic meaning of La Chasse, in the epigraph to the novel, or in Un adolescent d’autrefois: “as if the stag in bark were cowardly to enter the pond to escape the hounds!” (p. 112). No more than the normal philosopher converted on his deathbed from Augustine ou le maître est là, Paul Savioz has no sense of losing freedom or intelligence as he delves deeper into the Christian mystery. On the contrary, the young man knows how to “meet himself by meeting his Creator” (p. 380).

Typically, the hero of a Bildungsroman has no choice but to “knead and shape [his] own clay in order to give himself a form, but a completely different form from the forgotten one that will always remain his” (p. 138). Such is “the fatal option of those who abandon God”: “to undo or to make oneself, by dint of one’s own hands” (p. 139). And yet, thanks to his reading, Paul Savioz in La Chasse discovers “the immense territories of theology, where [he is] quite surprised to immediately find himself at ease” (p. 369). Paul gives credence to the adage that “man becomes in a certain way what he eats” (p. 370). If he is not “sure of the reality of this God of whom there [is] talk everywhere,” “the exactness of the reasoning [fascinates] him”: “all that in his head was mingling, all that was stirring, rolling in a bubbling of sparks and blazes” (p. 370). In the Christian regime, the play of intelligence encloses in itself neither fault nor merit. It is pure technicality: “The fault was not in concluding to the lights of your premises, but in not having enlightened elsewhere,” Joseph Malègue’s Augustin is heard to say. Therein lies the fault, the sin of pride: turning one’s back on the sun and refusing the light, as Debluë writes. “Man is so weak that all he has to do is close his eyes to stop believing in the light” (p. 252). There is no Pascalian humiliation of reason in La Chasse au Cerf, since “neither science is vain, nor especially metaphysics and fundamental ontology” (p. 338), but an integration of the rational into the spiritual, since there is “an active reason in faith, and in it a logic…. Disconcerted, but amazed, [Paul] discovered the rigorous arithmetic of dogma, and its inexhaustible power to provoke thought and arouse intelligence. Amazed, he experienced that belief does not require stupidity” (p. 371). The faith he receives from God and nurtures through the seven sacraments flanked by an eighth, that of Truth and Beauty, thanks to which divine grace often restores man’s nature; this faith is never fideism but, according to the Augustinian definition taken up by Saint Thomas, cogitare cum assensione, “to reason with assent.” The student then knows that “faith is a certain mode of operation of reason, no longer exercising itself on what it can understand, but turning back towards its own principle and source, by which it is understood” (p. 850).

Such an approach will seem overly intellectual to some, and the character’s metaphysical wonder at “the meaning and carnal flavor of such a simple expression: that is” (p. 605) will do little to convince less contemplative temperaments. Ne timeas, lector! La Chasse also includes lengthy meditations on the death of a child, the birth and decline of human love, the temptation of despair—all more immediately existential events. Best of all, one character gives a definition of faith that will suit the most spiritual: “You become a Catholic because you fall in love, because you discover that Truth loves you, and is Life, and that nothing will ever be the same again, neither yourself nor others, neither trees nor flowers, neither mountains nor summer skies, nor apple trees in blossom, neither friendship nor love, nor even the caress of bodies, nor even laughter and tears” (p. 338). This completeness is characteristic of the Catholic novel, which La Chasse au Cerf also teaches us is a universal and total novel.

From the Road to Thebes to the Road to Damascus: The Total Novel

Nothing is further removed from the Catholic novel than the “book about nothing” that Flaubert, in a famous phrase, called into existence: the “book that would have almost no subject, or at least where the subject would be almost invisible” (“Letter to Louise Colet,” early November 1851). One could easily be mistaken: the Catholic novel, because it deals, if not with God, at least with the coming of a man to God or the descent of God into a soul, could have been one of those books without a subject, or whose subject would be “almost invisible.” Yet, as Romain Debluë reminds us, this cannot be the case for a novel whose spiritual and literary architecture is based on the Christian creed. Insofar as he believes in the Incarnation—”the only interesting story that has ever happened,” according to Péguy—the Catholic novelist, close in this respect to the Christian philosopher, always relies on the sensible to know the intelligible, the visible to enter the realm of the invisible. The conversion of the character in La Chasse au Cerf is first and foremost a transformation of the gaze: “The invisible and the visible came together, and both made a totality whose heart sank in the direction of God, who is exactly at the center of the world, at the center of the soul and of everything around” (p. 604). A tale of conversion, the Catholic novel tells of a man’s openness to the totality of his being, to the being of things and, ultimately, to the source of being.

In this respect, novelists have not invented anything: there is already a “book about everything.” “Liber scriptus proferetur, in quo totum continetur,” we read in the Dies iræ dies illa sequence: a book will be produced in which everything will be contained. In the Christian regime, the total book is not just the Bible, named βιϐλία by antonomasia, but Jesus Christ himself, Word incarnate, who knew the human condition in all things “except sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The encyclopedic ideal of medieval scholars and theologians thus originated in the theology of the Incarnate Word. If everything is indeed understood by and in Christ, then everything is comprehensible—in an imperfect way, here below—by man who configures himself more closely to Christ who understands everything. The Catholic novel is the literary site of this configuration, both in its biblical inspirations—the meeting of Abbé Donissan and Mouchette in Under the Sun of Satan is in a sense a rewriting of the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4)—and in its own novelistic architecture which, like the cathedrals of stone and knowledge of the High Middle Ages, always lets light penetrate to illuminate the interior of the monument: “Paul suddenly saw before him, or rather within him, the eternal landscape of human questioning, gradually bathed in a new, unsuspected light, which transfigured every valley, every peak, every plain and every forest, without altering the slightest contour” (p. 277), writes Debluë of his character. One thinks of the “mystery” encountered by Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, as opposed to the “enigma” discovered by Oedipus “on the road to Thebes” (p. 162). Saint Paul, the Pharisaical Jew turned Apostle to the Gentiles—in other words, the man whose life and teaching embrace the two great human families of the Old and New Testaments. Like the Pauline epistles, the Catholic novel aspires to the “very unique universality with which the very word ‘Catholic’ is woven” (p. 461).

Like his contemporaries at the start of the novel, Paul Savioz is prey to the dictatorship of the particular, the multiple, the subjective: “The ambition to aim for universality in certain matters would never have occurred to him; and he used his words only as a self-indulgent expression of his poverty of spirit, never exceeding the limits of point of view and sentiment, never daring to go so far as to affirm anything other than oneself and the funeral procession of one’s falsely personal preferences” (p. 184). A universe that loses its sense of the universal immediately becomes “uninhabitable,” as the poet puts it. The Catholic doctrine of creation holds that “the entire Universe manifests God, and it is not for man to exclude anything within this unifying, ordered and total revelation” (p. 247). Romain Debluë’s Aurevillian intuition: “Catholicism is vaster than the universe. It is a marvelous enlargement of intelligence and sensibility” (p. 246). Like all Catholic novels, La Chasse au Cerf is a total novel in that its author places the universe he constructs under a gaze that embraces all things: the gaze of God. Thanks to the “formidable dazzling of Catholic dogma” (p. 930) experienced by the main character, the Christian does not have to defend the truth: “it is the truth itself that saves him and keeps him” (p. 931). In the eyes of the convert, becoming a Catholic means allowing oneself to be “assimilated” (p. 453) to a doctrine or truth that, far from being totalitarian, is “totalizing” (p. 458). “Paul] did not feel diminished by having reasoned within an ample symphony begun long ago, and continued through thousands of years; on the contrary, the impression gripped him powerfully of being augmented, and enlarged, and amplified by it” (p. 667). This demand for the universality of Christianity, the mystery that includes everything and through which everything is understood, justifies the demand for the unity of the Church, a central theme in the Catholic novel, from Bloy to Mauriac, since everything that is written and read, for a Catholic, is always in and by the Church, militant, suffering and triumphant.

Universal, the Catholic novel can address the whole of mankind, because it approaches man as a creature inscribed in creation, who always recognizes this divine filiation: “adsum! I am yours. There is no other way to be, fully and truly, than to be-to. To live in the dative, to live in the light of a response to this call, of a correspondence to this summons which is our vocation: to be God’s!” (p. 1039). In so doing, the Catholic novelist radically distinguishes himself from the proponents, in literature as in philosophy, of a “humanism without God” (p. 1001). We can understand the severity of the characters in La Chasse with regard to writers like Camus, “that Bogart of self-tanning journalism, who spent his life mystifying men of letters by writing little philosophical essays, high-school caliber, and tricking philosophers by writing bad novels in a deaf-mute style” (p. 273); or Gide, the “brave Huguenot imbecile” author of “devilishly well-written rubbish” whom, like Mauriac, we “all read…)during our adolescence” (p. 661). Such novelists perpetuate the humanist ideal of the Renaissance, a time when “the attention of humanity, always looking towards divinity, began to be literally distracted—for the first time since Greece, stopped at the opacity of creatures” (p. 555).

From its first Aurevillian expression to La Chasse au Cerf, the Catholic novel offers a literary, concrete response to the creature’s misguidance, which is matched by the misguidance of literature towards the shores of art for art’s sake, or the glorification of the human as human. Hence the famous invectives of Bloy and Barbey against the literature of their time, and the often-mocking use of the term “novel” by Bernanos and Mauriac. Romain Debluë’s characters storm the ramparts of truth one by one in a siege that is as carnal as it is spiritual—philosophy, literature, music, painting, cinema and so on. For the sake of universality rather than erudition, the novelist traverses the history of art and thought, from the Primitives to contemporary art, from Virgil to Chaplin.

Since the vocation of the Catholic novel is to cast a Catholic gaze on the world, and since, in the eyes of God and the Christian, “everything that is, is considerable” (p. 247), the novelist who believes in God always returns to the steps of humanity, in the long march that leads it to its Creator and Savior, despite its wanderings on the road to Thebes. Hence the tribute paid by Romain Debluë, after some welcome literary settling of scores, to the “writers sometimes far removed from [the] faith” whom the Catholic characters in La Chasse, “neither prudish nor beguiling,” read and love (p. 460). From “the grace and glory of the Aeneid” (p. 150) to certain twentieth-century writers, Céline and Malraux, Tzara and Beckett, Paul Savioz rereads the great novelists and poets of past times with Rimbaldian conviction that “through the spirit we go to God!”

Endowed with a new light, the hero of La Chasse, for example, finds in the author of Une saison en enfer “confessions of Christianity” (p. 464) on every page. The same is true of pagan philosophy, from Plotinus to Hegel to the latest Heidegger, all present in the novel, refuted by some and defended by others, as in a lively article in the Summa of Theology. The fate of this great architecture of knowledge, which derives its balance from the one and triune God, source and summit of all creation, depends essentially on the presence or absence of the lumen fidei that illuminates the whole: “Any metaphysics that does not end in a cathedral will never be anything other than an ice palace” (p. 386).

Joy Delivered, and the Novel’s Other Realism

Neither a collection of spiritual confessions nor a treatise on theological reflection, the Catholic novel is all the more Catholic for being authentically novelistic. Traditionally, the novel, like a council, has its canons: within a defined spatio-temporal framework, a narrator relates the life or death, the acta and passa, of several flesh-and-blood characters. To qualify a novel as Catholic, it is not enough to have Rubempré enter a church, and even less to bring him to his knees at the sound of Gregorian music or the sight of a stained-glass window, as Huysmans, according to some Christian novelists, was too prone to do. It is not—first and foremost—the fact of entering Saint-Étienne-du-Mont to the sound of Bach’s passacaglia that converts Paul Savioz. Debluë’s novel, unlike those by Bloy, Barbey, Bernanos and Mauriac, is conspicuous by its absence of priests, churches and sacraments. Mass is as rarely celebrated here as In Search of Lost Time, once or twice at most. What does this tell us? First of all, in the Catholic novel, the Catholic element integrates and embraces the novelistic element. Paul’s student friend, nicknamed “l’abbé Guillaume,” a theologian like no other, embodies Catholic dogmas. He does not limit himself to professing them in Latin with a bonhomie inherited from the Grand siècle—he lives them, giving them a human face, with a “serene smile… limpid and white…. It was this smile, from which the young man’s words seemed to flow as if from an inexhaustible source, and yet far away, far beyond men and the world, suspended in the shadows like a nearby stellar light, which shone among his radiant words, and almost ended up merging with them, becoming one with the serene certainty of his words” (p. 61). Paul finds the same “immense smile” (p. 340) in the young Françoise, pious but not devout, compared to “the theme of a perpetual fugue” (p. 389) or a “metaphysical thesis” (p. 330). Elsewhere, listening to a Bach cello suite, the hero, suddenly “invaded by eternity,” has the feeling of “hearing a smile come down from heaven” (p. 715). This smile makes manifest the Christian’s joy, a recurrent theme in the Bernanosian or Mauriacian novel, which sheds light on La Chasse’s final affirmation: “God is first and foremost the possibility of joy—which is not the opposite of unhappiness, nor even of drama, nor even of suffering and sadness. Joy is simply, so simply that no one thinks about it, the azure light that alone makes all these shadows possible” (p. 1041).

A sign of inner joy, the smile demands a certainty and serenity that only the Christian faith can provide, according to the hero. The certainty provided by dogmas, “super-powerful revelators of the fundamental structures of man” and “an outpouring of clarity that falls from heaven on the darkness of humanity” (p. 586). This serenity is conferred by the doctrine of creation and, more generally, by Catholic theology, such as that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, backed by a realist philosophy that refuses to make transcendence a “desertion of immanence” and rejects the identity everywhere established between “the real and the visible” (p. 484): “Could transcendence not be rather what the vanishing point is to the perspective of a painting? That place beyond all places, which alone orders as a totality the immanence of a scene which, without it, would be the unfolding of no space at all? Then… then perhaps the invisible would be at the very center of the visible—and everything would have to be rethought!” (p. 484). This revelation that reality is neither what we see nor what we do not see, but “what we see, all vibrant and full of what we don’t see” (p. 858), is not the object of dogma, any more than is the existence of an immaterial God who creates and acts in His creation. Having found it or rediscovered it through the exercise of his intelligence, Paul has concrete experience of this Catholic doctrine of creation as imago Dei and of the human soul conceived in the image of God. Discerning God’s presence in creation, though the fruit of a quest for natural reason, requires the grace of faith, the supernatural light that enlightens all things. To miss the gift of this grace, or to lack faith, leads man into the opposite opacity and immanence: “He could no longer distinguish the light of being; and it was as if the world lost its depth and intensity: things no longer radiated, they were massive and dark, all transparency suddenly absent. No divine ray pierced them” (p. 849).

A realist novel—because it is Thomistic—in an exclusively philosophical sense, La Chasse au Cerf restores the rightful place of man in creation, of the Cross in the mystery of faith, of Christ in the history of salvation and the life of the Trinity. The Catholic novel must always fight against the temptation of humanism and fideism, of exaggerated Christocentrism and of a theology that does without glory or the Cross. The debate on Pascal in La Chasse bears witness to this. One of the characters rightly criticizes the author of the Provinciales for his narrow conception of reason and the relationship between nature and grace, his inability to think of God “in himself” or as God, and above all his doctrine of original sin, which, among other “fideist failings” (p. 208), has led to a “complete erasure of the image of God in the soul” (p. 224). In truth, “Pascal did not make Christians, he undid libertines” (p. 217). Undoubtedly, better than any other man of his time, the convert is able to turn the hearts and minds of men towards Christ on the Cross. However, the Catholic novel cannot be merely Pascalian, otherwise it would miss a considerable dimension of the Christian mystery, in which the one and triune God creates the world and man in His own image, maintains him in being and makes Himself visible in His creation. The anxiety of the Augustinian who walks in the image or vestiges of God, combined with the anguish of the Pascalian who is often at a loss when it comes to explaining his faith, contrasts sharply with the serenity of Thomism, due to an analogy of being that makes all knowledge possible, and a doctrine of participation through which nature can truly act and be perfected by grace (p. 142). This rough-and-ready fresco of Christian temperaments contains a truth that Debluë’s novel brings to light: the concrete existence of individuals depends on certain fundamental options in theology and philosophy. Undoubtedly, the Catholic novel has until now been more Augustinian and Pascalian than Thomistic; undoubtedly, Bloy’s “tender fury, and Barbey d’Aurevilly’s mystical panache” (p. 413) spring more from the apologetics of the City of God and the Pensées than from the sacra doctrina of Saint Thomas. Is this to be regretted? Only when the lack of metaphysical rigor leads to serious errors, on the subject of God’s suffering for example, where “the old romantic scythe… even made Léon Bloy’s intelligence delirious” (p. 694), for whom Saint Thomas had not sufficiently “straightened the mind” (p. 693). In fact, La Chasse shines with an offensive, glorious Catholicism—not of itself, of course, but of its dogmas. Debluë’s characters dare to speak positively of God, to affirm with serenity the truths received by revelation and rediscovered, in some cases, by reason. This certainty gives rise to a joy that some Catholic novels have tended to overlook in favor of the mystery of the Passion, the source of all joy and the stuff of sanctity, since “every sadness is only ever a crucified joy” (p. 1038).

The many pages devoted to Thomistic metaphysics in La Chasse make clear this fundamental fact of the Christian Weltanschauung: there is no life outside God, as the Psalmist put it. In Thomist parlance, all being participates in Ipsum Esse subsistens. One of Romain Debluë’s characters puts it succinctly and convincingly, pointing out that unbelievers “are gnawed by the horribly false opinion that there can be for man an essential life outside God—whereas in truth, if God is God, in losing Him, man loses the very sense of his own essence, of his own core of being; and all that remains for him, to vegetate while awaiting death, is the thinnest surface of himself” (p. 627). Hence, “in one who has no faith, all events, both internal and external to existence, seem to take place only on the surface of him… As if nothing penetrated him to the center… Perhaps because he no longer has a center” (p. 628). This is what Barbey’s “Free Thinker,” Bloy’s and also and Mauriac’s “bourgeois,” Bernanos’s “imbecile” share; this, more commonly, is the characteristic of the many men of today and who always “never commit their being, their deepest sincerity” and “live on the surface of themselves,” to borrow a phrase from Journal d’un curé de campagne. Such are the ghosts of men pursued by Céline’s clumsy heroes and Dostoyevsky’s madmen and eccentrics; such are the specters that haunt Faulkner’s South and Musil’s men without qualities, at least whose qualities are all “accidental” and “fall away from them like dead leaves, without ever reaching their intimacy of soul” (p. 628). In short, “all those who do not belong to God belong, and can only belong, to death, and for death” (p. 631); all those who do not belong to being belong, and can only belong, to nothingness. In the Catholic novel, life reclaims its rights over death, and being over nothingness, since this is the vocation of art—to make visible that which, in nature, remains enclosed and folded in on itself; to make it visible, i.e., “to give the visible back to visibility as such” (p. 543). Knowledge of God transfigures the world that atheism had disfigured, and restores to every human being a consistency that, without the work of grace, would remain limited to natural ends alone. “Horror of a world emptied of You, that no longer illuminates with any meaning or sense the eternal Word, the Reason that made Creation in measure, and harmony and weight” (p. 753).

La Chasse au Cerf is the novel of the conversion of a man who seeks to embrace reality with his eyes and discovers that he is already known and understood by the Source of this reality and of his own being. Far from disappointing him or taking away his freedom, this discovery restores to beings a density that sin and the darkness of ignorance had held captive: “The more God began to shine through in Paul’s eyes, the more the world, as it were, intensified in splendor” (p. 604). This is indeed the function of the Catholic novel, as Paul says of Bernanos’ novels—to give the feeling of a life “denser, more intense, where the colors are more vivid, the contrasts more marked—for better or for worse!” (p. 335-336). Just as, since Christ’s Resurrection, the righteous need no longer fear death or nothingness, which they know have already been conquered, so since creation and until the life of the world to come, man need fear neither the temptation of the world that is too big, nor the seduction of the world that is too beautiful: “For all these profane premises have a Christian and Catholic consequence. It’s our duty to draw it out, just as we draw out the new wine for the illumination within souls that ignore themselves, thirsting for the infinite, and gnawing like old bones at the debris of a broken world” (p. 1042).

Augustin Talbourdel: “Ridendo dicere verum quid vetat?” This article appears courtesy of PHILITT.

Featured: Vision of St. Eustace, by Pisanello; painted ca. 1436-1438.

Joseph Ratzinger: Revelation and the Cross

Called back to God on December 31, 2022, Pope Benedict XVI built a singular theological work, confronting the intellectual issues of his time with a pastoral concern that thwarts any academic reduction. The Bavarian theologian who, as his spiritual testament made public on the day of his death testifies, worked until the end of his life for the emergence of “the reasonableness of faith,” has laid the groundwork, notably with his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth and his introduction to Christianity, The Faith and the Future, of a Christocentric theology, leaning on the great theological tradition and oriented towards the mystery of the cross, where divine revelation is completed and finalized.

The concern for pedagogy combined with the demand for coherence characterizes Joseph Ratzinger’s intellectual and spiritual approach in the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth and offers the luxury of being able to reveal from the outset, without the risk of misunderstanding, the insight that animates the theologian throughout this article. This intuition, born of meditation on the Gospels and reading the Fathers of the Church, is expressed several times by Ratzinger and can be summarized as follows: Jesus Christ, before bringing a message, a kingdom or a long-awaited pax, brought God. “He brought the God whose face was slowly and progressively revealed from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets to sapiential literature—the God who had shown his face only in Israel and who had been honored in the world of the Gentiles under obscure avatars—it is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God, whom he brought to the peoples of the earth” (I, 63-64).

This thesis, as such, is explicitly repeated in the following volume of Jesus of Nazareth, this time with a significant emphasis on the universal dimension of Christ’s mission. “Even though Jesus consciously limits his work to Israel, he is still moved by the universalist tendency to open up Israel so that all can recognize in the God of this people the one God common to all the world” (II, 31). The answer to the decisive question “What does Christ bring?” naturally raises two other questions: to whom and how does Jesus bring God? This is the pole around which Ratzinger’s Christology is articulated, even though the expression, which he regrets in The Faith is so often opposed to “soteriology” or divided within it between “Christology from above” and “Christology from below” (155-156), only half suits him concerning his own work (cf. II, 10).

This Christology is thus elaborated in three stages. In the dialectic of the “new and definitive” on which Ratzinger, a reader of the Fathers, rightly insists in each mystery of Jesus that he contemplates, lies the key to the delicate articulation between Israel and the pagans. Both “light to enlighten the nations” and “the glory of [his] people Israel” (Lk 2:32), Christ is endowed with a mission whose very essence belongs to universality (III, 120). So much so that in the series of events in which God seems to disappear more and more—”land – Israel – Nazareth – Cross – Church” (176)—Jesus Christ presents himself as both the new Adam in whom “humanity begins anew” (III, 21) and the new Moses, the one who “brings to conclusion what began with Moses at the burning bush” (II, 113). The cross, for Ratzinger, is as much revelation as redemption. Now, what does this meeting of the vertical and the horizontal reveal, if not the identity of God and of man, in the person of the Son, a veiled response to the mysterious name given by God to Moses (Ex 3:14)? The cross, the only place where the divine “I am” can be known and understood (I, 377), consequently becomes the place where Christ reigns, His “throne,” “from which He draws the world to Himself” (II, 242). Christ’s being-open, with arms outstretched on the cross, goes hand-in-hand with Israel’s openness to the Gentiles: Ratzinger’s pro-existential Christology justifies Christian universalism.

“The Jew first, and the Gentile”

The great mission that Ratzinger sets himself at the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth, to represent the “Jesus of the Gospels” as a “historically sensible and coherent figure” (I, 17), amounts to rendering a reason for a “crucified Messiah” whom the Jews call “scandal” and the pagans “foolishness” (1Co 1, 23). Certainly, the passage from “do not go to the Gentiles” (Mt 10:5) to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Christ’s teaching has found, from the earliest times of Christianity, a coherent interpretation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in St. Paul and in the Church Fathers, based on “Israel according to the spirit,” “the time of the Gentiles,” etc. For all that, the fact that Henri de Lubac, in the previous century, saw fit to remind theologians, on the basis of scriptural and theological arguments, of the unity of the Ecclesia ex circumcision—the Church born of Israel—and of the Ecclesia ex gentibus—the Church of the Gentiles, (II, 255)—indicates how much the articulation between the Jewish and the “Greek element” (254) in the Christian mystery, although it is the foundation of all ecclesiology, still gives rise to a certain embarrassment. No doubt the “concern for universality”[3] of the Bible, brought up to date by the author of Catholicism, left its mark on the young Ratzinger. In an era still shaken by the discoveries of historical-critical exegesis, Henri de Lubac reaffirmed a fundamental exegetical principle proper to the Fathers: to learn to read historical realities spiritually and spiritual realities historically.

Strengthened by this spiritual hermeneutic and aware of the importance of the factum historicum as well as its limits, Ratzinger could respond to and overcome the apparent aporias of a historical-critical interpretation which, according to him, “has now given all that is essential to give” (II, 8). For someone familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, this effort at theological synthesis is reminiscent of the method of the Summa Theologiae, whose Tertia pars, by his own admission, influenced Ratzinger’s work (II, 10). In Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are numerous and the theses, even those that the theologian refutes, are deployed to the end. For each mystery of the life of Christ, Ratzinger proceeds, as it were, by questions broken down into various articles within which, to the objections formulated—most often—by historical-critical exegesis, the theologian opposes a sed contra from an authority—Scripture or a Father—before proposing his own answer and solutions, arguing from theological, historical or scientific sources.

This issue of method tells us more about Ratzinger’s primary intention. Behind the demonstrative rigor, we can guess a will to make intelligible a mystery which, for many, appears scandalous or senseless. Intelligence of Scripture for the Jews, intelligence of faith for the pagans. Now the two, far from being opposed, communicate according to a precise hierarchy. The fact, in St. Augustine in particular, that the latter understands the former and exceeds it is justified, originally, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both Jonah—”Καθὼς Ἰωνᾶς” (Lk 11:30)—and “much more than Jonah”—”πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ” (Lk 11:32). Set in motion again by the Son of God, salvation history is also overtaken by Him. Here lies what Ratzinger considers “the central point of [his] reflection.” On the one hand, Christ is indeed a “new Adam” (I, 161), a “new Jacob” (I, 65), a new Samuel (III, 180), a new David (II, 17-18); “new Moses” above all, since the prophet spoke with God himself and received from him his mysterious name (I, 292-293). On the other hand, and at the same time, He is the “true Jacob” (I, 195), “true Solomon” (I, 106) and “true Moses” (I, 101): the Manna, the Divine Name and the Law, the three gifts given by God to Moses, have become one person: Jesus Christ. What God promises in the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant: “by means of the new events… the Words acquire their full meaning; and, conversely, the events possess a permanent meaning, because they are born of the Word; they are Word fulfilled” (III, 39). From His ministry in Galilee to the ascent of Golgotha, Christ not only fulfills the Scriptures and keeps promises—by perfectly fulfilling the mission of the suffering Servant of God announced by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53), He goes beyond it and, by giving Himself up not only for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24) but also for the multitude, He gives it a “universalization that indicates a new breadth and depth” (II, 161).

This return to the first universality, the “new Adam” recapitulating the humanity wounded since the first Adam, was already announced in the existence of the particular people, chosen by God: Israel. According to the Augustinian tripartition, the regime of grace (sub gratia) which begins with Christ, although fulfilling the promises made by God under the regime of the Law (sub legem), gives humanity a new beginning and a universality unheard of since the time before the Law (ante legem). Now, with regard to the promises made to the Jewish people, Ratzinger recalls that in the Old Testament “Israel does not exist only for its own sake” but “to become the light of the nations” (I, 138): “its election being the way chosen by God to come to all” (I, 42). There is no lack of scriptural references to prove this, the most famous of which is found in the Song of the Servant in the book of Isaiah, where the figure of a man, familiar with the Lord and abused by his people, appears. “And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.” (Is 49:6). By carefully analyzing these passages (I, 360, II, 235-237, III, 120), following many exegetes, Ratzinger affirms that by fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah, Christ fulfills the promise of universality made to Israel. As the new Moses, He is the master of “a renewed Israel, which neither excludes nor abolishes the old, but goes beyond it by opening it to the universal” (I, 87). In Jesus Christ, the particular has become universal (I, 103). ” For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh:” (Eph 2:14), writes Saint Paul. So much so that the first affirmation of Ratzinger’s Christology, that Christ brought God, finds its meaning and its definitive scope in the theme of the universality of Jesus, “the very center of his mission” (I, 42). Jesus Christ “brought the God of Israel to all peoples, so that now all peoples pray to him and recognize his word in the Scriptures of Israel, the word of the living God. He has given the gift of universality, which is a great promise, an outstanding promise for Israel and for the world” (I, 139).

The “Burning Bush of the Cross”

Halfway through Ratzinger’s reflection, a question emerges. While it is easy to understand how the hermeneutical rule that Ratzinger borrows from the Church Fathers—the dialectic of “true and definitive” applied to the Old Testament figures that announce Christ—makes Scripture a harmonious whole, one is entitled to wonder what fate Christianity, in Ratzinger, has in store for the Gentile. “The Jew (Ἰουδαίῳ) first, and the Greek (Ἕλληνι)” (Rom 1:16): the formula, recurrent in St. Paul, recalls the order of priorities. However, the Greek is already concerned by the universal history of Israel, and in particular by God’s revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush (Ex 3). At Mount Horeb, the pagans who until then had been worshipping a God without knowing him, the “unknown God” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ) whose inscription St. Paul discovers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:23), are summoned. They are also summoned to Sinai, where another theophany takes place that leads to the gift of the Laws, and, a fortiori, to the “new Sinai”, “definitive Sinai” (I, 87), which Ratzinger identifies with the mountain where the discourse of the Beatitudes takes place (Mt 4, 12-25) and, with even more reason, with Mount Golgotha (I, 167).

Historically, the sum of Ex 3:14 occurs in a context where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chooses a people and orchestrates their liberation from a pagan nation that held them in bondage. The particularity of the mode of revelation of the Divine Name does not, however, contradict the universal scope of its content. Anxious to interpret historical realities spiritually—and vice versa—Ratzinger proves this in various ways. First of all, through Scripture, he interprets the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the return to the Promised Land as a restart of the history of Israel, from its Mosaic origin (III, 159) to the Maccabean revolts. In His incarnation, the Word who was with God in the beginning comes into the world in Galilee, that is, “in a corner of the earth already considered half pagan” (I, 85) and receives Roman citizenship under the reign of Augustus, an emperor considered to be the son of God, if not God himself, and who has, without knowing it, contributed to the fulfillment of the promise by establishing political universality and peace in his Empire (III, 93-95).

From His native Galilee, the Messiah goes to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Lk 13:34), the place where salvation is to come at the end of an ascent to which Saint Luke, in his Gospel, has given a geographical as well as a spiritual connotation. He who found more faith in the pagans, who opened his door to Him, than in most of the children of Israel (Mt 8:10) who did not receive Him, made Jerusalem the center of a revelation that began with the adoration of the pagan magi in Bethlehem and is fully accomplished in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection to all nations. Thus, at the other end of the New Testament, Ratzinger is right to interpret St. Paul’s vision of a Macedonian calling the apostle of the Gentiles to his aid (Acts 16:6-10) as a justification for what has been called, more often than not to criticize, the Hellenization of Christianity. “It is not by chance that the Christian message, in its development, first penetrated the Greek world and became involved in the problem of intelligibility and truth” (35).

Where some, fearing the dissolution of Christian specificity in Greek culture and philosophy, advocate a “retreat into the purely religious” (82), Ratzinger firmly supports the “inalienable right of the Greek element in Christianity” (35). The ontological interpretation that the Fathers of the Church, and the medieval theologians after them, gave to the “I am” by which God calls himself in Ex 3:14, is the basis, a few centuries after the Greek kick-off, for what Ratzinger dares to call the “identification” of the “philosophical concept of God” with the biblical God (66), with several not inconsiderable transformations (84-85). Pascal is at liberty, in a formula which has made history – often for the wrong reasons – to oppose the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to that of the philosophers and scholars, without the choice of “primitive Christianity… for the God of the philosophers against the God of the philosophers”. ) for the God of the philosophers against the gods of the religions” (80), the “primacy of the logos” (91) inherent in the Christian faith would have been flouted and there would probably not be, to this day, philosophers and scholars to oppose to the Law and the prophets. In Ratzinger, we find what justifies the “metaphysics of the Exodus” that Stephen Gilson vigorously defended: the Christian God is the new and true Supreme Being of which Plato and Aristotle speak, once the “gap” that separates him from the biblical God has been reduced (66), once the “first immobile motor” has been transformed by contact with the God of faith (87-89). “In this sense, there is in faith the experience that the God of the philosophers is quite different from what they had imagined, without ceasing to be what they had found” (85).

If, at Mount Horeb, God reveals that He is the Being who subsists in Himself and gives all things their being, the revelation of the Divine Name does not entirely lift the veil on His essence. The sum qui sum, Ratzinger asks, is it not rather “a refusal than a declaration of identity?” (72) Opposing the gods that pass away with the God who is may resolve Moses’ immediate concern: the Divine Name allows the people to invoke God in their struggle and to guard against worshipping pagan idols. However, the immediate presence of God, “which constitutes the very heart of Moses’ mission as well as its intimate reason” (I, 292), is quickly “overshadowed.” The Lord’s answer to Moses’ prayer, “Let me behold your glory” (Ex 33:18), sets the limits of prophetic knowledge of God. The Old Covenant, in the end, “presents only the outline of the happiness to come, not the exact image of the realities” (Heb 10:1). The Old Testament prefigures and prepares (Rom 5:14) the one who will fully accomplish what began with Moses, but of which Moses is only a shadow (Col 2:17). In Israel, God accustoms people to His presence until the moment when, taking up the answer given to Moses on Sinai—”no one can see my face” (Ex 33:23)—he offers people, on His own initiative, to see and know Him in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:18).

To say that “the last prophet, the new Moses, was given what the first Moses could not obtain” (1:25) is not only to emphasize the absolutely unique intimacy and covenant that is born with Christ, the Word of God, but also to consider His coming as the completion of the revelation made to Moses. If Ratzinger is concerned with noting, throughout the Gospels, and especially in Saint Matthew who insists particularly on the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Jesus, the way in which Christ is inscribed in the line of the great mediators of revelation, he does not fail to orient each correspondence towards the Christological summit which is the Cross. Ratzinger’s theology is clearly Christocentric, and his Christology is itself centered on the Cross. Theologia a Cruce, one could say, theology based on or leaning against the Cross, avoiding, with Father de Lubac, the equivocal expression, especially since Luther, of Theologia crucis. For Ratzinger, faithful to the patristic reading of Henri de Lubac, “it is the Cross that dissipates the cloud with which Truth was covered until then”[4]. This is true from the first announcements of the Passion to the “priestly prayer” of Christ reported by Saint John (Jn 17), which Ratzinger comments on in several places and in which he sees a “New Testament replica of the account of the Burning Bush” (76). “I have made known to them your name” (Jn 17:26), says the Son addressing the Father: “The name, which has remained incomplete since Sinai, so to speak, is pronounced to the end” (III, 51). Moreover, “the name is no longer just a word, but designates a person: Jesus himself” (77). Christ appears as the Burning Bush itself, from which the name of God is communicated to men.

In this respect, there is indeed a “metaphysics of the cross” in Ratzinger, which extends and completes the “metaphysics of the Exodus.” In other words, the mystery of the Cross cannot be reduced to the mystery of redemption. In the history of salvation, redemption always follows revelation: God saves by showing Himself, by revealing what He is. This is evidenced by Ratzinger’s distinction between the two types of confession of faith in the Gospel: ontologically oriented confession, based on nouns on the one hand—you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, etc.—and verbally oriented confession based on the other—you are the Son of the living God.

On the other hand, there is a verbal confession oriented towards salvation history—the proclamation of the paschal mystery of the Cross and resurrection, etc.—and a verbal confession of faith in the Gospel. In the light of this fundamental difference, he states that “the statement in strict terms of the history of salvation remains devoid of its ontological depth if it is not clearly stated that he who suffered, the Son of the living God, is like God” (I, 326). In this way, the universality of the mission of Christ is respected, who, on the cross, is not the “king of the Jews,” a typically “non-Hebrew” expression used by Pilate (III, 145), but the “king of Israel,” according to a new kingship, the “kingship of truth” (II, 223), and at the head of an Israel that has become universal. “Universality… is put into the light of the Cross: from the Cross, the one God becomes recognizable by the nations; in the Son they will know the Father and, in this way, the one God who revealed himself in the burning bush” (II, 33). God manifests himself to the Greeks on the Cross: “between the pagan world and the blessed Trinity, there is only one passage, which is the Cross of Christ” (204), Ratzinger writes, quoting Daniélou.

Christology and Ontology

It is clear that for Ratzinger “the Cross is revelation” (206). But what does it reveal? Not “some hitherto unknown propositions” (207). It reveals who God is and how man is. The Cross combines the Ecce homo (Jn 19:5) of Pilate and the “Behold the Lord God” (Is 40:10) of the prophet. Golgotha, the “true summit,” is the condition sine qua non for knowing God, for understanding the “I Am” (I, 377). ” When you shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know, that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak” (Jn 8:28), writes the evangelist. Does this mean that the ontological statement of the Burning Bush would finally receive, with Christ, the object left dangling after the verbal form, ἐγώ εἰμι in St. John? Faithful to St. Augustine, Ratzinger rather sees Christ as the one in whom the Divine Name is pronounced perfectly. Better: the one in whom the Divine Name is realized, becomes actual. Just as in the Psalms, according to St. Augustine, “it is always Christ who speaks, alternately as Head or as Body” (II, 172), so on the Cross Christ becomes the subject of the divine “I am.” The mystery of the Passion of Christ is thus “an event in which someone is what He does, and does what He is” (197).

Here lies the singularity of Ratzerian Christology, marked by Johannine ontology and fertilized by the Aristotelianism of the medieval theologians. The being of Christ, Ratzinger reminds us in The Faith, is identical to his act. Borrowing from the notion of actualitas divina and the idea, of Thomistic origin but which he traces back to Saint Augustine, of “the Existence which is pure Act” (110), the theologian insists on the identity, in Jesus Christ, “of the work and the being, of the action and the person, the total absorption of the person in his work, the coincidence of the doing with the person himself” (151). The fusion, in the phrase “Jesus Christ,” of the name with the title testifies well to this identification of the function and the person (133). Therefore, one cannot separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” as historical-critical exegesis has done on a massive scale, any more than it is possible to oppose a theology of the incarnation to a theology of the Cross. Ratzinger reconciles the two, since Christ’s being is actuality and, reciprocally, His action, is His being, reached to the depths of His being (155).

The same is true of “phenomenology and existential analyses,” to which Ratzinger grants a certain usefulness, while judging them insufficient: “They do not go deep enough, because they do not touch the domain of true being” (154). In the formula dear to Christian phenomenology—God is such as He reveals Himself—the verb “to be” takes precedence: identity is not valid as a simple equivalence—God would be such as He reveals Himself, a simple act of donation, the mode becoming substance—but as a properly metaphysical statement pronounced from the divine esse. The first affirmation of theology, that of Ex 3:14, would rather be: God is “as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). But, having renounced “discovering being in itself” in order to limit itself to the “positive,” to what appears, phenomenology, in the same way as physics or historicism, remains on the threshold of mystery. Ratzinger regrets that in our day “ontology is becoming more and more impossible” and that “philosophy is largely reduced to phenomenology, to the simple question of what appears” (127). But being and appearing, in Christ, are one and the same.

This “pure actuality” of Christ is first verified in the ad intra works of the Trinity. Ratzinger recalls that Father and Son are concepts of relationship. Thus “the first person does not engender the Son in the sense that the act of generation would be added to the constituted person; on the contrary, it is the act of generation, the act of giving itself, of spreading itself” (117). The “solitary reign of the category substance” is broken: “one discovers the “relation” as an original form of the being, of the same rank as the substance.” Consequently, the Johannine formula already quoted according to which the Son can do nothing of Himself, informing us about the Christic doing, also informs us about His properly relational being. “The Son, as Son and insofar as He is Son, does not exist at all on His own and is therefore totally one with the Father” (118). So that the being of Jesus appears to us, in the light of St. John, as a “totally open being,” “coming from” and “ordained to.” In Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger takes up this theme of “being-for” (Sein-für), borrowed in particular from Heinz Schürmann (II, 203). The pro-existence of Jesus means that “His being is in a being for” (II, 158). “In the passion and in death, the life of the Son of Man becomes fully ‘being for,’ He becomes the liberator and savior for “the multitude,” not only for the scattered children of Israel, but more generally for the scattered children of God… for humanity” (I, 360). The universality of the salvation brought by Christ thus finds its origin in this being-for and the implications ad extra of this intra-trinitarian identity of the Son. As a “true fundamental law of Christian existence” (172), the “principle of the for” thus justifies Israel’s reconciliation with the Gentiles (Eph 2:13-16): having given His life for all, Christ becomes the principle of eternal salvation “for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:9).

Jesus Christ brought God to mankind: here we return, after a detour through the history of salvation, to the Christological source of this obvious but fundamental affirmation that Ratzinger has seen fit to recall. As “God who saves,” Jesus is God for men, God among men, “Emmanuel.” The immanence of God, given to Israel “in the dimension of the word and of liturgical fulfillment,” has become ontological: “In Jesus, God has become man. God has entered into our very being” (II, 114). According to Ratzinger, more than vicarious satisfaction, humanity receives its salvation from the identity, maintained in Jesus Christ, of the two natures; and with it, the identity between its being and its doing. On the Cross, the identity of God is perfectly realized in Christ, and thus visible to all: He is truly the one who gives Himself. Redemption is played out first in this perfect fulfillment of the “I am.” The identity of God, which is the subject of so many questions in the Old Testament as in Greek philosophy, is revealed on the Cross and is revealed precisely as an identity. God, in Christ, is truly what He is. On Calvary, “love and truth meet” (Ps 84:11), a theme that Benedict XVI will regularly expound during his pontificate.

Therefore, the divine being is open to the world and offers a previously unknown way to ensure the return of creation to God. Jesus Christ is this way, this “path” (Jn 14:6). The union achieved in Jesus of Nazareth “must extend to the whole of Adam and transform him into the Body of Christ” (182). The path taken by the Lord, in which Jews and Gentiles walk together, presents itself to humanity as an ascent to the Cross combined with a progressive renunciation of self.

Romano Guardini, whose influence on Ratzinger’s theology is well known, writes in this sense in The Lord that Christ’s life consists, after having lowered divinity towards humanity, in “[lifting] his humanity above itself into the divine ocean”[6]. In Guardini’s work, we can already see the literary and theological coincidence between the ascent to Jerusalem, where the King of Glory gradually understands that He will have to pass through the figure of the Suffering Servant, and the constitution of an economy of salvation, faithful to the promise that God’s salvation will reach all nations. The wider opening of salvation and hope has a condition: the deeper humiliation of Christ. What Christ gains in annihilation, humanity gains in elevation; and vice versa, since “the ascent to God happens when we accompany Him in this abasement” (I, 117). “Only with Christ, the man who is “one with the Father,” the man through whom man’s being has entered into the eternity of God, does man’s future appear definitively open” (254). This is the true lordship and authentic kingship that God exercises through Christ: The Master of the universe, fulfilling the ancient proskynesis, lowers himself to the extreme limit of self-emptying, becomes a servant. The “sons in the Son” will be recognized by the fact that they remain eternally in the house where their master (Jn 8:35), because they have asked for it (Jn 1:38), has brought them: the dwelling place of being which is that of love (Jn 15:9). Great mystery of a faith where one reigns in service (I, 360), since the dominus or κύριος, in order to be never again separated from His creation, united Himself to it, engulfed Himself in the “heart of the world” to such a depth that any fall in the future would be a fall in Him.

Augustin Talbourdel: cogito a Deo ergo sum. This article appears courtesy of PHILITT.