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Truth and Politics: A Theological Comparison of Joseph Ratzinger and John Milbank (Emerging Scholars) Kindle Edition
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That a theological comparison (more accurately, a theo-political comparsion) of John Milbank and Joseph Ratzinger would be worthwhile is not obvious. However, unbeknownst to many, both Milbank and Ratzinger devoted significant time to engaging the work of the 17th century philospher, Giambattista Vico. Milbank's dissertation was directly supportive of Vico's thesis that verum est factum and Ratzinger in turn argued precisely against this dictum. Kucer argues that this constrasting evaluation of Vico explains Milbank and Ratzinger's differing approaches to politics. While both espouse some sort of socialism (a Christian socialism for Milbank, and a democratic socialism for Ratzinger), Milbank does so with a heightened confidence and dogmatism - claiming the his Christian socialism is the proper response to the Gospel. Meanwhile, Ratzinger is wary of tying the Church to any political expression, even if he has a preference for socialism.
The majority of Kucer's work is comparing the two theologians theological conception of truth. Only at the end, in the last fifty or so pages, does he elucidate the political implications. However, this is fitting for it capitalizes on the importance things like ontology bear for social life. If Milbank and Ratzinger are right, philsophical matters are not other than practical matters - even if this difficult for our metaphysically deficient age to grasp.
The work as whole centers around Milbank and Ratzinger's relationship to Vico's famous claim that "Truth is Fact" (verum est factum). Or in other words, truth is convertible with the made. Milbank accepts this claim while Ratzinger rejects it. It is Christology which determines their differing responses. Milbank, following Vico's reasoning, locates an inner-creation within God. As traditional Christology claims, Christ is the eternally generated Son. Vico glosses this by substituing "made" for "generated." Christ is, thus, created, yet, lest one think this implies subordination or Arianism, Milbank is quick to add that he is eternally so. Thus, according to Milbank, Vico maintains his orthodoxy. The ramifications are immense. For if Christ is made, then likewise, "truth is made." This then leads to a radical historicism in Milbank, who considers human relationship to truth as primarily active and generative.
Ratzinger, in contrast, rejects Vico's dictum, contending that it stems from a heterodox Christology. Instead, Ratzinger argues that truth is uncreated and essentially stable. Thus, the human relationship to truth is primarily receptive.
This differing appropriation of Vico leads toward wildly different evaluation's of matters such as natural law and the Church-World relationship. Milbank grounds human correspondence to truth in an "analogy of creation", which states that humans speak truthfully when they participate, analogously, in God's creation by creating (linguistically) in the world. Thus the measure of truth is whether humans creation mirrors God's inner-Creation or not (which, for Milbank, is apparently reducible to a non-violent ontology in which difference coexists peacefully). This human mimesis of the divine creation is only possible by the Spirit. Thus, apart from faith, there is no true knowledge - because their is no ability to mirror the peaceful ontology of the Christian meta-narrative. Thus, their is no natural law which humans can correspond to, but only a created law that is truthful to the extent that it flows from a Spirit-inspired mimesis.
Ratzinger on the other hand upholds a natural law, grounded in an analogy of being, that holds that humans participate in divine knowledge through divine illumination. However, their is a relative autonomy between reason and faith, and the sphere of reason is able to truly know some about God. Thus, the decalogue becomes the basic law written on human hearts.
Clearly, the question of natural law is extremely significant for any political theology, whether one accepts it or not. But the political implications run deeper than that. Milbank's rejection of any truth outside the Church means that there is no truthful politic outside the Church. Thus the Church must and does become a politic in itself. Ratzinger, on the other hand, grants that nation-states can be truthful, even if not perfectly so, and thus, the Church relates to them not as a substitute but as a witness and influencer. This is ultimately what leads Milbank to his firm commitment to Christian socialism as the Christian way. Because, for him, the Church is a set of political pratices - namely forgiveness and just gift-exchange - and thus, it demands a certain political form. While, Ratzinger, on the other hand, does not construe the church in such a praxis-oriented way.
This is really quite a fine study. It is a bit repetitive in style, however, for this reader, that repetition was helpful in expositing these deeply abstruse metaphysical concepts. At the end Kucer suggests that, based on Milbank's Stanton Lectures, he may be moving closer to Ratzinger. I am skeptical of his optimism, however, I do think that would be wise on Milbank's part. Of course, I also think Ratzinger needs a more robust political understanding of the Church, one that abandons his occasionally individualized account. Nonetheless, I am very thankful for Kucer's work, if for nothing else that he exposed the necessary connection between metaphysics and politics.
NOTE: This Review was provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.