Views, Opinions and Insight from The Catholic Transcript's Columnists and Guests.
The Pope's Lecture
Cardinal Ratzinger (like his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla) is internationally respected as an accomplished academician, known not only as a towering scholar but also as a talented writer and lecturer. All these dimensions were so evident during his magnificent homecoming address on 12 Sept. at the prestigious University of Regensburg.
The event was clearly an historic moment: the former illustrious Professor, now the Successor of St. Peter, returning to the halls he had once frequented, in the presence of the Rector Magnificus and the various faculties, together with invited guests. It was the kind of an academic convocation that has never occurred before, at least in Germany, and is unlikely to occur again for centuries. Pope John Paul II addressed his Alma Mater of Krakow, where he once studied and later taught. That event occurred during his first visit as Pope to Poland in June 1979. And in June 1987 (during his third Polish pilgrimage), John Paul spoke to academics at KUL, the great Catholic University of Lublin, where he held the Chair of Ethics. This was the celebrated lecture that began with a phrase from St. Thomas Aquinas: Intellectus est quodammodo omnia – a Latin admonition that the intellect’s search for universal truth is the key purpose of a university, since truth serves freedom and life and the dignity “proper to the Christian of whom it is said that he is ‘another Christ.’”
It was Thomas Aquinas who demonstrated for all time that the truth of reason cannot possibly contradict the truth of theology. As one of America’s finest Thomistic philosophers, Dr. Ralph McInerny, once expressed it in a lecture sponsored by the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center at Holy Apostles Seminary, “if Thomas’ view had not prevailed, Medieval Europe would have become like the Iran of the Ayatollah… Because Thomas’ view prevailed, the Church in speaking on ethical matters almost invariably appeals to moral commonplaces as well as to such guidelines as Scripture and Tradition.”
In Pope Benedict’s lecture (a portion of which was misread by some, and which triggered violence in some others), the Pontiff stressed that solid religious doctrine cannot contradict reason, since all right reason itself mirrors God. Religion, for example, cannot possibly be a matter of compulsion, since compulsion in religion is unreasonable. Nor can authentic religion contradict what is certain from human sciences. Again, faith and reason go together. This was the theme of one of Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals, Fides et Ratio. (Sept. 1998)
A key question raised by the Holy Father is one that evidently irritates many contemporary secularists and materialists; namely, whether “the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature is merely a Greek idea, or is ... always and intrinsically true.” I use the verb “irritates” here because the basic principles of reasoning, first formally proposed by the ancient phiosophers of Greece (e.g., Aristotle, Plato, Socrates) do indeed support the premiss that faith and reason go together. Hence those who defend the notion of a capricious god are now attempting to “crush” the influence of Greek philosophy on our understanding of authentic religion.
Nonetheless, as Pope Benedict insists, the Sacred Scriptures shore up the same premiss. Thus the Gospel of John begins with the dramatically instructive phrase, “In the beginning was the λogos,” meaning “reason” and “word.” Moreover, this λogos is the Son of God.
Consequently, Divine Revelation unfolds in an eminently reasonable manner. And it is equally true that reason that is deaf to the divine is neither reasonable nor religious.
Theology, the Pope is saying, belongs as much to the structure of a university as it does to the world in general. The “truly divine God” he ex-plains, “is the God who has revealed himself as λogos, and, as λogos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Moreover, the meeting of Biblical faith with Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history…” This is the reality, despite modern efforts to “dehellenize” the expression of Biblical faith, efforts which the Pope views as occurring in three specific stages.
First, there was the 16th century Protestant Rebellion, known as the Reformation. The first Reformers incorrectly surmised that they (in Pope Benedict’s words) “were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy” – i.e., by faith all but based on Greek thinking. As a result they sought to build on sola Scriptura (the Bible alone). Immanuel Kant, the Pope recalled, claimed a need “to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith” and implemented this in a radical way the Reformers never anticipated by anchoring faith “exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.”
Secondly, “the liberal theology of the 19th & 20th centuries” further advanced dehelleniz-tion, with Adolph von Harnack in the lead. This gave impetus to acceptance of Pascal’s dis-tinction between the “God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph.” All of which led to a dangerous subjectivism.
Finally, there is today an emphasis on “cultural pluralism,” together with a mistaken notion that “the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason” are not really “part of the faith itself.” On the contrary, the rapprochement between the faith and Grecian philosophy is part and parcel of the Biblical message, recorded in the Scriptures.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.