On Benedict XVI's Addresses in Bavaria

Author: Cardinal Renato R. Martino

On Benedict XVI's Addresses in Bavaria

Cardinal Renato R. Martino
President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The key question: Can Christianity still seem reasonable today?

Many of the Addresses given by the Holy Father Benedict XVI during his Journey to Bavaria from 9 to 14 September were dedicated to the truth based on a question that the Pontiff frequently raises in his Discourses and Homilies: Can Christianity still seem reasonable in the perception of people today?

"Is it [faith] reasonable?", he asked in his Homily at Islinger Feld on Tuesday morning, 12 September. In fact, the West seems to be afflicted by a "hardness of hearing", and what is said about God "strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age", he said at Mass on the Neue Messe Esplanade on Sunday, 10 September.

According to Benedict XVI, if a new evangelization of the West — especially Europe — is to be possible, it is important first of all to explain the relationship of Christianity with the truth, hence, also with reason; and this is equally important for a rapport with all religions in a relationship of dialogue, reciprocal respect and tolerance. The two aspects should be dealt with separately, although they are interconnected.

Christianity involves faith in Creative Reason and not in Unreason. At lslinger Feld, the Holy Father asked himself a question: "What came first?", and he pointed out two possible answers: "Creative Reason, the Creator Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which lacking any meaning, yet somehow brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason".

This second answer, however, is illogical since it implies that our reason is merely the chance result of evolution, hence, of an irrational process. The Christian faith, Benedict XVI concludes, believes "that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason".

He reaffirms the same concept in his LectioMagistralis at the University of Regensburg, a rich and complex university lecture addressed to cultured people and from which no sentences should be extrapolated or taken out of context for fear of misunderstanding the entire Discourse.

"Not to act reasonably... is contrary to the nature of God". The thrust of the Holy Father's argument in this affirmation is the self-imposed limitation of reason in the West. Christianity no longer appears rational to the eyes of the Westerner because he has worked out a reductive, positivist reason that considers as true only what is "empirically verifiable".

In his Address to the representatives of science at the University of Regensburg, the Pope described this type of rationality and denounced its limitations. If in the West today "only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific", one understands where the "hardness of hearing" comes from in respect to God's call.

Western positivist reason drastically circumscribes our relationship with reality and is incapable of opening itself to the rationality of faith, which involves a metaphysical impulse. In fact, the Pope said in the Assembly Hall of the University of Regensburg that a "broadening" of "our concept of reason" is needed.

This is also of fundamental importance to interreligious dialogue because positivist reason and the forms of philosophy that derive from it claim to be universal and consequently necessary to apply through technological development to the whole of the earth. By applying themselves thus, they prevent true intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

It is positivist reason and similar philosophies that give rise to the "cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and that holds up utility as the supreme criterion for the future of scientific research", the Pope said at Neue Messe, Munich, on 10 September.

In criticizing the "mockery of the sacred", the Holy Father was not solely referring to the mockery of Christianity but of every religion. "The tolerance which we urgently need", the Pope continued on the same occasion, "includes the fear of God — respect for what others hold sacred".

In this way, Benedict XVI criticizes the arrogance of Western reason, reduced to technology, and reaffirms tolerance and dialogue founded on reciprocal respect between the religions.

Indeed, also at the University of Regensburg, the Holy Father said: "The world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine [an exclusion provoked by positivist reason] from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures".

In Munich on 10 September, the Pope expressed the same concept: "People in Africa and Asia admire the scientific and technical prowess of the West, but they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision". And he concluded: "They do not see the real threat to their identity in the Christian faith, but in the contempt for God".

No religion has anything to fear from the Catholic religion or from its Pope because the true enemy of all religions, the slyest and the most insidious, is the ethical-cultural paradigm of a reason without God which, although fascinating because of its scientific and technical triumphs — highlighted by the current processes of globalization —, threatens the religious patrimony of all humanity with its proposal beginning from etsi Deus non daretur.

This paradigm should be faced without nurturing thoughts or projects of enmity and violence, with serene and aware calmness and with the persuasive arguments of a reason that finds the truth of its expression in the relationship with faith in God.

No religion, therefore, has anything to fear from the Catholic religion and its members, who devote themselves daily, faithful to Trinitarian Love, to prayer and to fostering hope for itself and for the men and women of our time. The latter live an unconditional love with innumerable works of charity for the immense human majority marked by social injustice, poverty and the lack of dignity, who love and who foster encounter, dialogue and friendship with the believers of other religions and with all men and women of good will.

Their witness of love of God and neighbour is not always welcomed and accepted: it is easy for everyone to see that today many Christians, increasingly and in various parts of the world, are opposed and persecuted to the point of martyrdom, but they are happy to be killed rather than to renounce God and his love.

With his Discourse at the University of Regensburg, wholly focused on the relationship between faith and reason and its development in the historical context of the modern culture of the West, not only did the Holy Father make himself a champion of the good reasons of Christianity, but also of those of all religions and of humanity's most authentic religious heritage.

If, under pressure from the mass media and orchestrated political and ideological forms of exploitation which have provided misleading interpretations of Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg, some believers of another religion felt offended, they are offered the full assurance that the Pope's intensions and desire were and remain inspired by sentiments of respect and of Christian friendship for all sincere faithful of other religions.

Therefore, after reasserting the relationship between Christianity and truth, the Holy Father is not closing but opening a deeper dialogue with other religions because, referring here to a passage from a book written by the current Pontiff when he was a Cardinal: "When truth makes a gift of itself, there is no alienation, nothing separates us: a common criterion takes over that does no violence to any culture but brings each one to its own heart, because each one, in the last analysis, is awaiting the truth" (J. Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, Ignatius Press 2004, Christianity and the Other Religions, Cantagalli, Siena, 2003, p. 69).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 September 2006, page 4

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