Before the Expiration Date Runs Out

In my efforts to try to place Benedict XVI within contemporary Roman Catholic thought, I have been also trying to get a read on the Communio theologians and their affinities with Radical Orthodoxy. What apparently unites these different schools of theology is a fundamental critique of modernity. In her chapter on “Modernity and the Politics of the West” in Ratzinger’s Faith, Tracey Rowland describes Benedict’s brief against Martin Luther (not so much for leading souls astray with his doctrine of justification) for departing from the “classical-theistic idea of creation”:

While Bruno and Galileo represent a return to a pre-Christian, Greek, and pagan world, Luther went in the extreme opposite direction. He wanted to purge Christian thought of its Greek heritage, and the Greek element he found most objectionable was the concept of the cosmos in the question of being, and therefore in the area of the doctrine of creation. For Luther, redemption sets humans free from the curse of the existing creation and thus grace exists in radical opposition to creation. Developing an argument taken from Angelo Scola and Rocco Buttiglione, Ratzinger concluded that “without the mystery of redemptive love, which is also creative love, the world inevitably becomes dualistic: by nature, it becomes geometry: as history, it becomes the drama of evil. (109)

I am not all that sure what “the mystery of redemptive love” is, or whether Angelo or Rocco also have ties to the Italian mafia who bank with the Vatican, but I do think I’ll stand with Luther on this one, especially when he writes in the following manner (from a sermon from 1535):

The radiant sun, the loveliest of the creatures, gives only a little of its service to the saints. While it shines on one saint it must shine on thousands and thousands of rogues, and it must give them light in spite of all their godlessness and evil, and so it must permit its loveliest and purest service to the most unworthy, the wickedest and loosest knaves.

It is our Lord God’s good creature, and would much rather serve devout people; but the noble creature must bear it and serve the evil world unwillingly. Yet it hopes that that service shall at long last have an end, and does it in obedience to God who has thus ordained it, that He may be known as a merciful God and Father, who (as Christ teaches), “maketh His sun to rise on the veil and on the good” (Matt v. 45) For this reason the noble sun serves vanity and renders its good service in vain. But in His own time our Lord and God will find out those who have abused the noble sun and His other creatures, and He will reward the creatures abundantly. Thus the good St. Paul shows the holy cross in all creation, in that heaven and earth and all the creatures therein suffer with us and bear the dear treasured cross. Therefore we must not weep and moan so piteously when we fall on evil days, but must patiently wait for the redemption of the body and for the glory which shall be revealed in us; the more so as we know that the whole creation groans with anxious longing as a woman in travail, and sighs for the manifestation of the sons of God, for then the whole creation will also be redeemed. It will no longer be subject to vanity, to serve vanity, but it will serve only the children of God, and that willingly and joyfully.

For an account of the created world that takes the fall seriously, Luther should have much to say to both Roman Catholics and neo-Calvinists who may believe either in the glories of the pre-modern West or the successes of culture redeemed. If sin is in view, which it should be for the Protestants who put the T in TULIP, Luther’s interpretation of the world, not to mention his reading of Romans 8, makes a lot of sense.