Sunday, February 10, 2008

Minding the Pope's Mind

~by Andrea Tornelli here is a translation from Papa Ratzinger Forum
Forty-five years later, in a preface written for a new Italian publication of that lecture, Ratzinger explains how "the questions posed at the time remain today, as they were then, the guiding thread of my thinking."

The 'urgent' and decisive question which, from the very beginning, the brilliant professor from Bavaria has confronted without flinching is the the separation between faith and reason, which would confine religion to a field completely alien from reason - that is, sentimental, intimate, subjective. Religion as opposed to rational investigation, which from Kant onwards, has rejected a priori any possibility of knowing God.

The separation between faith and reason was synthesized by Blaise Pascal in contrasting the God who is 'loving and lovable' in Jesus, and the Cartesian God, who is pure concept.

Prof. Ratzinger, who has never hidden his passion for Plato and St. Augustine, over Aristotle and St. Thomas of Aquinas, nevertheless looked back to Aquinas to affirm that "the God of religion and the god of the philosophers coincide fully", although the first 'adds something' to the second.

For Ratzinger, it is possible to overcome the opposition between the language of faith and the language of reason, between philosophical exploration and Christian revelation.

The future Pope used to say that the God of Israel was not one of "the usual national gods' nor 'one of those subterranean forces of fecundity' but 'the very absolute principle of the world'. That every rational philosophical investigation which tries to define the Absolute imagines a superior Being which is easily compatible with the God venerated by Jews and Christians.

In that first lecture in Bonn, Prof. Ratzinger concluded that "the synthesis operated by the Fathers of the Church between Biblical faith and the Hellenic spirit - insofar as it represented the philosophical spirit, in general, at that time - was not only legitimate, but even necessary, to give expression to the full exigency and all the seriousness of Biblical faith."

In short, the early Christians aligned themselves with the 'enlightened minds' of their day. That is what the Pope also underscored in the Regensburg lecture.

It is also what he means in the speech he would have delivered at La Sapienza, when he recalls that the early Christians understood their faith as "the dissolution of the fog of mythological religion to make way for the discovery of that God who is creative Reason and at the same time God as Love."

That is why their self-questioning "of reason about the greater God' as they did about the true nature of the human being "was for them not a form of anti-religion, but was an essential part of their being religious." And that is why the university was born and could be born - properly so - in the Christian world.

It is curious to note the paradox: Benedict XVI accused of obscurantism for a text in which he affirms the exact opposite of obscurantism - opening up reason to reality, which includes man's fundamental questions about life and destiny.

Ratzinger did not develop his theology on a specific philosophical concept in order to interpret with systematic coherence, according to such a concept, the reality of faith. His early influences ranged from Plato (which he cites again in the encyclical Spe salvi) to Augustine and Bonaventure.

He distances himself somewhat from a certain kind of Thomism, but especially from the rigidity of neo-scholasticism which held great sway during Ratzinger's youth as an 'antidote' to modernism. But his personal trajectory never meant a separation of theological knowledge from philosophical knowledge, but rather an open, non-systematic approach, which valued everything he found valuable, wherever it was found.

Even in Marxism. He recalls in his autobiography, "In my Christology, I had attempted to fight against the existentialist reduction, especially in the doctrine about God...and here and there, I even tried to introduce counter-balances from Marxist thought, which in its Jewish-messianic roots, still preserved biblical motifs."

This open approach led Ratzinger to encourage his students who wanted to write theses on Marx or Nietzsche or Camus, as much as he encouraged those who wanted to write on, say, Cardinal Newman, the English convert who is his great authority on conscience.

But Marxism failed tragically, in fact, as Ratzinger would write, "precisely in the field of materialism, its primary application, where it proved unable to give the right answers."

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he wrote that it was more than ever necessary to re-propose true rationality - the search for Truth with a capital T. A reflection that has led him as Pope to cite in Spe salvi "the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer adn Theodor Adorno", in whom he sees a 'nostalgia for the totally Other...(who) remains inaccessible'.

And in fact, Ratzinger has publicly dialogued with the leading representative from the second generation of the Frankfurt School, Juergen Habermas, who calls himself a 'methodical atheist'.

Habermas maintains that Christianity is the ultimate foundation of freedom, conscience, human rights and democracy - the cornerstones of Western civilization.


W. said...

The book sounds great. I hope to find it in English some day soon.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Papa, I love you so much. You are enriching the world daily...if only it would listen.