Q: Augustine is known for his Order of Love -- "Ordo Amoris" -- emphasizing love over the intellect. How do you see this fitting into the pontificate of Benedict XVI?
Kenney: Clearly Benedict XVI believes in the objectivity of truth and in the possibility of the right ordering of human affections in relation to that truth. These convictions were central to Augustine's own conversion and they remained at the core of his thinking.
The "Ordo Amoris" emerged in Augustine's thought because of his own startled recognition that God is transcendent being itself and we are made in the image of that reality. Our deepest longings, loves and desires can finally be fulfilled only if we order them correctly in relation to their divine source.
For lots of historical reasons, Augustine has sometimes been interpreted as emphasizing love over the intellect.
But the Holy Father understands Augustine in his proper patristic context, as discovering eternal truth within the soul and calibrating human desires in reference to their ultimate divine foundation.
It is the dysfunction of our age that we fail to understand that calibration -- something that Benedict XVI's pontificate seems intended to remind us.
Q: How does Augustinian thought differ from Thomistic thought, and how might that influence Benedict XVI?
Kenney: I'd be very reluctant to see Benedict XVI's affinity with Augustine in terms of any self-differentiation from the thought of Aquinas. Indeed the Regensburg address emphasizes the common intellectualism of Augustine and Aquinas in contrast to the voluntarism of Duns Scotus and the later medieval nominalists.
Both Augustine and Aquinas hold that our knowledge of goodness and truth mirror, at least to some limited extent, the inner nature of God.
God is not so remote and his will so inscrutable that we have no means of knowing him as infinitely good. So for Benedict XVI, Augustine and Aquinas exemplify the great synthesis of biblical faith and Greek philosophy.
They are its twin pillars in the Latin West, even if their philosophical theologies do differ, given their distinctive appropriations of Platonism and Aristotelianism. But it is their common character that Benedict XVI has been emphasizing...
...Q: What might be the historical significance of having an Augustinian-influenced Pope at this time in world history?
Kenney: One of the most powerful themes in Augustine's thought is the universality of the Gospel. This is what drew him to Catholic Christianity rather than to Donatism, which seems to have been the dominant tradition throughout much of his native North Africa.
For Augustine, Christianity is by its very nature global, and the Gospel is intrinsically universal in its message and scope. And so the Church can never be just a local sect or a national institution.
Augustine was a member of that post-Nicene generation who articulated what we think of as the Catholicism of the Church and who sought to build a communion of faith across the peoples of the ancient world. There is therefore much in Augustine that speaks to our present age of globalization.
Q: Where do you think Benedict XVI is trying to point the Church and the world right now?
Kenney: He's pointing us away from religion -- in the modern sense of the term. Religion is a category of modernity, usually understood to mean either individually authenticated spiritual experiences or else a particular type of collective ideology based on socially defined values.
To think of Christianity in such terms is to drift toward the relativism that Pope Benedict has so famously decried. Hence Benedict XVI has insisted that personal spiritual experiences can only become meaningful within the shared context of a lived theology. And the collective life of the Church is far more than a form of social or political association. Christianity is not an ideology.
These modern representations of religion can constitute a reduction of Christianity to psychological, sociological and political categories and can result in a denial of its claims to transcendent truth.
Benedict XVI has a masterful grasp of all these reductionist tendencies and he has pushed back hard in order to restore recognition of the richness and depth of Christianity.
So one might say that we have a Pope who is opposed to religion -- and in favor of Christianity. Thank God for that.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Toward a deeper understanding of Christianity
~Here is an interview earlier this summer by Zenit with John Peter Kenney professor of Religious Studies at St. Michael's College, in Vermont, discusses the role of St. Augustine in the thought and work of Benedict XVI. (hat tip to Chris Blosser)