Saturday, September 24, 2011

Veritas precedes caritas: Benedict XVI on faith and reason

The speech he delivered on Thursday to the Bundestag in his native Germany, along with the speeches he gave in Regensburg in 2006 and Paris 2008, Pope Benedict articulated the very heart of his papal magisterium. I’m not sure what the significance of all these speeches being given in September is (the 2006 and 2008 speeches were both delivered on 12 September), other than September is the time when many return after the summer holidays and after the Holy Father has been at Castel Gondolfo. I believe such messages can only be spoken, even by someone as brilliant as Joseph Ratzinger, after much fasting and prayer.

The unique genius of Pope Ratzinger’s magisterium, which began with his pre-conclave homily at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff, in which he warned:
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love
At Regensburg, the Holy Father sought to show the necessary and very practical connection between faith and reason:
Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.
Building on this in Paris two years later, he noted the indispensability not just of Christianity to European culture in the past, but its necessity for the present and the future:
The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" – towards searching and questioning mankind – is seen in Saint Paul’s address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know – the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason – not blind chance, but freedom


In his address on Thursday, he turned to faith and reason in a different way, looking at the necessity of faith, or at least belief and if not belief, then replacing the pervasive and expanding etsi Deus non daretur (i.e., "even if God did not exist"- often translated as "as if God did not exist") with veluti si Deus daretur (i.e., "as if God existed").
Let us come back to the fundamental concepts of nature and reason, from which we set out. The great proponent of legal positivism, Kelsen, at the age of 84 – in 1965 – abandoned the dualism of "is" and "ought". (I find it comforting that rational thought is evidently still possible at the age of 84!) Previously he had said that norms can only come from the will. Nature therefore could only contain norms, he adds, if a will had put them there. But this, he says, would presuppose a Creator God, whose will had entered into nature. "Any attempt to discuss the truth of this belief is utterly futile", he observed. Is it really? – I find myself asking. Is it really pointless to wonder whether the objective reason that manifests itself in nature does not presuppose a creative reason, a Creator Spiritus?

At this point Europe’s cultural heritage ought to come to our assistance. The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights. To ignore it or dismiss it as a thing of the past would be to dismember our culture totally and to rob it of its completeness. The culture of Europe arose from the encounter between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome – from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks and Roman law. This three-way encounter has shaped the inner identity of Europe
In all of this, Joseph Ratzinger, in his very person and through his papal ministry, demonstrates exactly what Don Giussani meant when he passionately insisted that "[a]uthentic religiosity is the defense, to one’s last breath, of reason, of human of conscience" and, ultimately, of reality (The Religious Sense 72). The present Roman Pontiff also seeks to correct an error that is as deleterious as it is simple, just as the existentialists reversed the order of essence and existence by insisting that existence precedes essence, so we have put caritas prior to veritas. Hence, a project of the Holy Father's papal magisterium is put this back in right order, as his encyclical Caritas in veritate, along with these important speeches, demonstrate.

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