Ignorance means dependence; it is slavery: when you do not know, you remain a servant. As soon as understanding dawns and we begin to grasp what is essential, we start to be free. Any freedom from which the truth is excluded is a deception. Christ the truth means: God changes us from ignorant servants into friends in as much as He permits us to become sharers in His own divine self-knowledge.
Unpublished Talk: Jesus Christ, Yesterday, Today, Forever
Reflection – Ratzinger here is referring to the famous words of Christ ‘I call you friends, for I have taught you all I have learned from the Father’ (John ). You know, sometimes I pick up from my non-Christian family members or friends a certain sense that it just doesn’t matter what the truth is, that we cannot know and that it is not important to know what life is all about. We’re all in a muddle about it all, and so let’s just keep muddling on and trying to be nice to each other while we’re doing it.
While I’m all in favor of muddling along and being nice to one another, this quote from Ratzinger shows why this in inadequate. Ignorance means slavery—if we don’t know what life is about we remain at best passive victims of its inner workings. When we are surrounded by cosmic powers greater than us and plunged into a world where the ultimate purposes and ends of things is shrouded in darkness, we truly are floating helplessly for the most part on the tide of life, not really free.
Freedom is such a basic human good, though, that I think most people cannot happily submit to that kind of ignorant slavery. Indeed, one of the main driving reasons for the wide-scale rejection of Christianity and the Church is, simply, that people don’t want to be told what to do. ‘Too many rules’ – I think that’s 90% of the reason for the abandonment of religion in our days.
But without religion—without a coherent, consistent vision of reality that empowers us to act in accordance with itself—we are not free, but helpless victims of fate. And meanwhile God did not make us to be slaves, but to be free. Our own hearts tell us that, and they do not lie to us.
So God, desiring our freedom, tells us what life is about. Who He is (as much as our feeble brains can manage), who we are, what He has done on our behalf and what we are to do to be in reality and in union with Him.
This is freedom; even if life indeed is ‘too much’ for us, even if the storms and flood waters rage high, by virtue of our knowing God and knowing His ways with us, which is what we mean by ‘faith’, we are not overwhelmed, not reduced to passive victims of fate. Knowing the one who sits ‘enthroned above the flood’ (Ps 29:10) we are not without recourse, even in the face of death and utter calamity.
There is an incredible dignity in all this. God makes us sharers in his divine self-knowledge. He doesn’t want us to be in a total muddle, just being nice to one another while we blunder about the world. He wants us to know the truth, because unlike Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, He seems to think we can handle the truth.
Our trouble in life is that God keeps paying us these compliments that are a little more than we care to accept. We can know the truth; we can truly penetrate into the depths of reality; we can know how we are to live and, yes, how we are not to live (all those pesky ‘rules’ we so want to get away from!).
All of this imposes obligations on us, demands a response from us. It is easier to retreat to the muddle, to not knowing, to blundering along and just trying to not be mean to anyone today. But God made us for something better than that. We can handle the truth, and we can handle with His help the obligations and burdens the truth places on us. We are not slaves; we are not children; we are free men and women, made to carry with God the burden of reality and transform it by our love and our service.