Posts Tagged ‘Benedict XVI’

This semester, Spring 2016, I have been teaching Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue. This is the first of three lectures from the class that I am posting here. This first lecture introduced the question of the relationship between faith and reason, an issue that is vital to look at if one is going to truly engage in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. 

Regensburg lecture

Why the Regensburg lecture? Why did I have you read it for this class? This course is “Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue”: dialogue between Christians with the ultimate goal of coming together again as one united whole and dialogue among different religions with the ultimate goal of all coming to the Lord and Savior of all, Jesus Christ. However, there is a challenge that presents itself at the outset of this course. The prevailing view of our culture is that this dialogue is unnecessary, that it is enough to simply respect one another, to say, “Can’t we all just get along?” and “coexist”. Regardless of the reasons one may hold for thinking this way, it is rooted in the separation of faith and reason, and the relegation of faith to a purely private and subjective sphere. If faith isn’t reasonable then there really isn’t any point in a dialogue between different religions and by extension cultures. This issue of faith and reason is our starting point for this class and so too the topic of the Regensburg lecture.

I would like to address the structure and progression of material in the lecture because there were a few students who voiced that there were things Benedict didn’t need to say or that it was disjointed in the sense that he would be talking about one thing and then suddenly begin speaking about something else. I also what to go over the structure of the lecture because having a clearer picture of the whole will help to better understand what exactly Benedict is saying about faith and reason, and the conclusions he draws at the end. First, though, it is important to remember that the intended audience of his lecture is not the world, but rather a group of professors at a university. Therefore, his remarks must always be understood in this context.

He begins with introductory remarks. He genuinely is happy to be there and to once again be giving a lecture at a university that he had once taught at. But his remarks about memories of being a university professor are not mere pleasantries; they lead him to speak specifically of the dies academicus held once a semester during which professors from every department would appear before all the students. This event was a witness to the students that the professors despite their working in different fields comprised a whole and that they all worked on “the basis of a single rationality,” including the theology faculty. This also introduces his topic – faith, reason, and the university.

From there he begins to speak about faith and reason, and he uses a conversation between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian as his starting point. Why does he use this? For one reason and one reason only: the emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, said, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” It is this statement from the emperor to which Benedict will refer back. It is the ground of his lecture. He also observes that the editor of this work, Theodore Khoury, comments that this statement is self-evident for the emperor because he is shaped by Greek philosophy, but that it is not self-evident for the Muslim for whom “God is absolutely transcendent.” This brings us to a crucial question concerning God’s nature and our understanding Him: “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?” Benedict answers this question immediately by referring to the Gospel of John, originally written in Greek – which says “In the beginning was the Logos and… the Logos was God”. The word logos used by John is the very same word that is used by the emperor. As was already said in class multiple times, logos means “word”, but it also means “reason”. Because God is Reason it is always and intrinsically true that acting unreasonably is contrary to God’s nature – it is not merely a Greek idea. This, Benedict says, is the final word on the biblical concept of God, which is given to us by the Apostle John. Benedict, however, is never one to simply make an assertion and not support it with reasons. He proceeds to give evidence of the rapprochement between Greek philosophy and biblical faith preceding St. John and his saying that the Logos is God. This is why he mentions the Macedonian calling to Paul, the revelation of God’s divine name, I AM, the revelation of God during the exile as God of heaven and earth accompanied by a mockery of false gods, the writing of later Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, and finally the translation of the Scriptures to Greek which was itself an inspired action. He then returns to his starting-point saying that it is both “from the very heart of Christian faith” and from “the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith” that the emperor is able to say that not acting with logos is contrary to the nature of God. Finally, he offers a brief afterthought on this theme by making note of negative theological trends in the late Middle Ages, the Church’s opposition to these trends, and the historical importance of the rapprochement of Biblical faith and Greek philosophy. This ends the first part of the Regensburg lecture.

This rapprochement between faith and reason, however, is no longer part of the understanding of reason in the West. The second part of the lecture is a critique of modern reason, showing its limitations and ultimately its need for faith. The modern understanding of reason, however, is not a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries. It has its root at least 500 years in the past and grew through successive stages of dehellenization. This is why Benedict devotes so much space to this subject.

Dehellenization began with the Protestant Reformation and their doctrine of sola Scriptura. The propagation of this doctrine resulted in what we know philosophically being divorced from faith and, so, eventually leading the philosopher Immanuel Kant to reject the reasonableness of faith. Kant believed that all knowledge was attainable solely through the use of faithless reason. When Benedict says that Kant “anchored faith exclusively in practical reason,” he means that Kant anchored faith in ethics. In other words, faith was for the masses of simple-minded people so that they would live morally upright lives since they were not intelligent enough to achieve such a life through pure reason. (Incidentally, this thought isn’t original to Kant. Averroes, a Muslim philosopher who lived 600 years before Kant, expressed a similar thought).

Kant’s separation of faith and reason found “theological” expression in the liberal Protestant theology that began with Adolphe von Harnack. Harnack followed a strict empiricism, which led him to deny all supernatural aspects of faith including the divinity of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection. For Harnack the good news of the Gospel was merely a humanitarian message.

Finally, Benedict comes to the third stage of dehellenization, a form of dehellenization that is new to our time: the expunging of Greek thought in light of cultural pluralism. This is the denial of any particular cultural context in which God revealed Himself. Instead adherents of this form of dehellenization wish to give whatever they think the simple moral message of Jesus Christ is stripped of all cultural context – it is “acultural”.

In his conclusion Benedict quickly points to many problems with our modern understanding of reason that has come about through the process of dehellenization. For instance, the inability of reason without faith to overcome the dangers arising from the new possibilities that have been brought about through advancements in technology; the inability of a faithless culture to dialogue with cultures of faith,* which is the vast majority of cultures throughout the world; and, finally, the inability of scientific reason to explain why there is a rational structure of matter.


*This week I came back to this point when speaking of the massive failure of the secular West to fruitfully interact with Muslims. Camille Paglia recently gave an interview in which she touched on this same situation in relation to feminism and non-Western cultures. The interview can be viewed here.


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I am not a universalist. On the question of how many are saved, the thinking of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as given in Spe Salvi serves me as a general guide. He states that there are some “who have totally [emphasis mine] destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love.” These he says are beyond remedy and “the destruction of good would be irrevocable.” He also says there are people “who are utterly [emphasis mine] pure, completely permeated by God.” For these people their “journey towards God only brings to fulfillment what they already are.” (45) These two states on earth, however, only apply to a relatively small group of people. Benedict goes on to say,

Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? (46)

Now it should be stated that his thoughts following this question pertain to Christians. However, while different factors certainly come into play for non-Christians, his thoughts are not necessarily limited to Christians alone. Benedict does not explicitly say whether he thinks most people in this middle state go to hell or if they go to heaven, but he does make it clear that we can and should have a great hope for people in this state. In fact, our own hope depends on our hope for others: “Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too.” (47)

While at Tenebrae yesterday evening, the question of how many go to hell was brought to mind. Each of Jesus’s last words on the Cross had something to say about this question.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34 NAB)

My thoughts first turned to myself. I do know what I do. My background is in theology and the faith is what I teach. That, however, is all academic. It’s one thing to study theology; it is quite another to live it – and some how the study seems to make the living more difficult. What knowledge is Jesus talking about? The scribes of Israel knew where the Messiah was to be born; yet, it was three gentiles that went to adore Him. Before this on the night of his birth is was not the learned men and priests of Israel who adored the Lord, but uneducated illiterate shepherds. For all my learning and my pondering do I “know”? True knowledge is experienced. One of the common marks of a saint is their intense love for God. A love that brings a great horror of sin, of hurting the Lover. This love and the knowledge that accompanies it are not the fruit of study. How many truly know?

When Christ speaks these words it is also important to remember that He is not asking the Father to forgive only the soldiers, the members of the Sanhedrin, or the Jews who condemned Him. He died for every sin of every man in all the history of the world. He was asking forgiveness of all men of every place and of every time. I am one of those whom Jesus petitions for, saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” There is no prayer as efficacious as that of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is not possible for us to fathom the magnitude of this prayer made on the Cross for all at all times.

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (v. 43)

Spoken to a thief who had just admitted that he had been condemned justly and that his punishment of crucifixion corresponded to his crime. Why? Because he recognized Jesus as the Christ. This is salvation at the hour of one’s death. This hour is a great mystery to us. It is not possible for us to know what is happening at the moment of one’s death. It is not possible for us to know – even for ourselves! – how one will respond when they encounter the majesty and glory of the Benevolent One, the One who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself, who is Judge and Merciful Father. Through the omnipotent solicitude of our God, death itself has become a grace. There is simply no telling how one’s heart may receive it.

Mary and Eve

Woman, behold, your son. (John 19:26)

As Jesus is the New Adam so Mary is the New Eve. She is not just the mother of St. John or of Christians, but the mother of all humanity. She is the true Mother of the Living. All humanity was redeemed through the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The life He offers us though only comes through baptism. Mary as the one who bore that life within her and brought Him into the world is the mother of all who have that life. But she is also the great intercessor. There is no greater intercessor to the Son than His mother, and she intercedes for all humanity. She stands before the throne of her Son always interceding for us whether we acknowledge her as our mother or not. And for those who have not the life of Christ within them she works for them to receive that life. A striking example of this is the mass conversion of Aztecs and other tribes in Mexico through the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Knowing that she who is the most beautiful of all God’s creatures, the crowning jewel, Ark of the Covenant, Daughter of Zion, Mother of our Lord, and Spouse of the Spirit through her most pure and immaculate heart seeks our good makes my heart swell. What hope there is in the midst of all this dung when we have so great an advocate! Oh, Blessed Mother, so intimately entwined within the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Holy Trinity, One God!

Edward hopper - lonely woman

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

These words of Christ more than any others show the depth of His passion. In bearing the weight of our sins and crucifying them on the Cross with Himself, He feels the enveloping darkness our sins bring upon us. He feels the abandonment of the Father – a true loneliness despite those who love Him being so close. He does not say this simply for Himself though. The One who says this is the Man, the Son of Man, the New Adam. In saying this, all humanity in Him says this as well. It is the cry of both Jesus and man to God. This cry of anguish, however, is not the end. It is the beginning. Christ’s cry was genuine. It was a cry that arose from His heart, a heart formed by the Holy Scriptures. (What a great mystery. The Word Incarnate formed by the Word inked). The Son of David cries out with a Psalm of David, Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A psalm which further on petitions the Lord: “But you, Lord, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me…. Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.” (Psalm 22:20, 22) And the petition is answered. The one forsaken is saved. He has not been abandoned. The psalm ends with great praise and in complete victory: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord [emphasis mine]… All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.” (vv. 28, 30) The cry of man in Jesus Christ is also man’s answer in Him.

I thirst. (John 19:28)

His thirst indeed was great while He hung upon the Tree, but it has not the first time he had longed so strongly drink. His words go beyond the mere desire for drink and express a deeper thirst – the salvation of souls. As Benedict said above our hope must include hope for others. He thirsts for the ones He suffers for. He, the Lover, thirsts for His beloved who has turned from Him. He longs for her to turn her gaze back towards Him and to look in love upon His love, His face. He longs for us, and cries out in His desire for us. Is His thirst really only satiated by a few? This cry is a pray to His Father. Again, there is no prayer more efficacious than that of the Son. The power in it’s omnipotence of this power is utterly unfathomable to us. But this cry is also a cry to us. Just as the onlookers at the Cross brought wine to Him, which He took before breathing His last, so too are we to bring “common wine” to Him in response to His thirst. Our hope for the salvation of all is to be accompanied by our work for the salvation of all, a work that is wholly selfless, done not simply out of obligation, but out of true love and devotion for the Lover who calls all.


Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) It is finished. (John 19:30)

Just as humanity is brought up into heaven in the humanity of Christ at the Ascension, so too here humanity is commended into the Father’s hands in the humanity of Christ. The offering has been made and the work is done. There is no place more secure to which man can be entrusted.

In the end, while it is only natural for us to wonder at this question, to wonder how many will go to heaven and how many will go to hell, to wonder which will gain more souls, one should also wonder why anyone would be so bold as to answer this question in a definitive manner. The simple fact of the matter is that we do not know nor can we know how many go to hell, whether it is a majority or a minority, and how much of either. It is a mystery not revealed to us. What is revealed to us is that Christ is our Redeemer and we, Christians, are co-redeemers with Him. We are called not to pass judgment on individuals or humanity as a whole. We are called to hope for the salvation of all others and to work for that salvation with fear and trembling. On this Holy Saturday let us rest in this mystery.



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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave an interview a few months ago. This is rather rare for him, and it is refreshing to read him again. The full interview can be read at Aleteia.

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A group of pagans in Iceland will be building a temple to the Norse gods, Thor, Odin, and Frigg. You can read about it here. Over the past few generations there has been a general fascination with the occult, and in the past few decades Wicca and similar “nature” based religions have been growing in popularity. This neo-paganism has recently began looking to the gods of old, or at least it is now more prominent in the eyes and ears of mainstream culture. However, is the new paganism actually able to hold water in the modern age? I am inclined to say, “no”.

The god of peace?

The god of peace?

The primary problem for neo-paganism is that it isn’t pagan. It is an imitation reenacted by atheists and agnostics. At best some of it’s adherents fall under the vague category of spiritualists. Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, the “high priest” of Asatruarfelagio, said, “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man [Odin] who is riding about on a horse with eight feet.” He continues, “We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.” Since this “high priest” uses the pronoun “we”, I assume that he too sees the stories in this manner and does not actually believe in any of the Norse gods to whom he is suppose to be directing worship. In this scenario there is no substance. There is nothing on which the “religion” is founded. There is no worship of God or even a false god; there is only worship of the self, of human psychology, and the self as a part of the natural world. It is a religion without faith. This is an experiment that has been tried many times, and it fails every time.

While fascination with the occult, Wicca, nature religions, and Far Eastern spiritualities has persisted, Western people have been reluctant to actually give themselves to these religions as they come and go out of fashion. Among secularists this trend is even more pronounced. As indicated above, they do not actually believe. Religious practice and symbolism without religious faith is an empty shell that leads only to spiritual death. We have already seen this is Russia. The communist government took note of the great negative effect a lack of religion (due to their suppression of it) had on the people. In response to this, the government began to imitate the Christian religion that was in the blood of the its citizens. I remember walking in Vladivostok and being very surprised to see a memorial to a dead soldier that looked very much like an impersonal Pieta or Lady of Consolation. The soldier was lying at the woman’s feet. The woman (representing Russia) was robed in the manner that Mary the Theotokos often is, and the woman was standing with arms out in a cruciform. The religious symbolism was blatant, but it was from the communist era. I asked our guide about this (a man in his 40’s, born and raised in Russia). He spoke of the communists using religious styled art to tap into that part of the people in an attempt to fill the hole left by the suppression of religion. It didn’t work.

Why does this not work, and by extension why will neo-paganism not work? The experience of the ancient Greeks can, I think, shed light on this current time. In The Feast of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger speaks of the state of pagan religions in relation to Greek philosophy.

Greek philosophy had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to pray to God, since the Eternal One, by being eternal, cannot enter into time relations. This led to such an utter separation of philosophy and religion, of reason and piety, that it heralded the end of ancient religion. (p. 17)

A few pages later he says:

But if they cannot communicate with one another, that is, if there cannot be a reciprocal influence between time [man] and eternity [God], then eternity (if there is an eternity) can be of no significance to men. (p. 21)

The problem with the resurgence of paganism is that it has picked up where paganism left off. There is a separation between philosophy and religion, between reason and piety, and consequently there is no reciprocal influence between man and God: “relation without reciprocity has no meaning”. (p. 23) This is felt even more by an atheist or agnostic practicing paganism today. The Greeks had come to believe there was a God, but it was impossible to communicate with this God. The neo-pagan does not even believe (or at least greatly questions the belief) that there is an Other with which they are not able to have a reciprocal relationship, with whom they are not able to communicate. In the end most adherents of the new paganism will get tired of it because it doesn’t truly offer them anything. They will either become people of faith or they will continue as a faithless people that no longer fills the need to express themselves through empty rituals in a “temple” to nothing. Either way, the fad will pass.

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Reading Ratzinger is always stimulating. In his book, The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today’s Debates, he says:

[T]he intrinsically necessary and positive value of the Magisterium has also lost its self-evident character in the general consciousness of today’s Catholic theology. Ecclesiastical authority appears to be a tribunal wholly foreign to the nature of scientific scholarship, whose inner logic in and of itself would preclude the existence of such an authority. Scientific scholarship–so it seems–can obey only its own laws, which dictate, however, that it recognize as valid nothing except reasonable, objective argument. That some authority, taking the place of argument and of the comprehension which can be attained by argumentation, should decide what may be taught and what may not is judged to be an act contrary to scholarship: it discredits theology in the body of the university (p. 47).

The reduction of theology to a mere academic enterprise of the university (and, therefore, subjected to scientific thought and disconnected from its proper ecclesial context) is an extreme and twisted form of scholasticism. I here use scholasticism in a very broad sense. The word “scholastic” means “of the school”. While there have been and are now a variety of places in which theology is practiced, in the West the primary place today and for nearly a thousand years is the university. Considering the current state of theological practice, might this be changing? The primary place theology is practiced changes with society. Before the schools, it was the monasteries. The move from monasteries to schools was not sudden. It began in the late 11th century, continued through the 12th century, and came to fruition in the 13th century. Europe was also going through many changes during this time. In the 11th century it began to come out of the dark age that characterized most of the early Middle Ages. One of the crowning achievements of the later Middle Ages which would come in the 13th century was the university. The emergence of the university is directly tied to the Church and, therefore, it comes as no surprise that the universities became the great centers of theology. Theology was no longer the province of monks. It was still monopolized by clerics, but a great many of these — and the most notable — were friars. This reflects another change in Medieval Europe: the Church had primarily been characterized by monastics and in the 13th century it became characterized by mendicants. This characterization would be strengthened during the Renaissance and Baroque periods through the addition of other orders (especially the Jesuits) with the university continuing to be the defining place of theological practice.

While there have been changes through the centuries, one thing had remained the same: the theologians were also clerics. This, however, is no longer the case. In the 20th century, particularly the latter part, a great many lay persons began going to university to study theology. For the past few decades, there has been a great mixing of clerics and laity in theological fields with the laity becoming predominant. By itself though this has not changed the primary place in which theology is practiced. It is still the university. There is another phenomenon though coupled with the predominance of the laity in theological circles that may shift the primary place away from the university. This phenomenon is also characterized by the laity: lay movements. The rise of lay movements preceded the influx of the laity into theological schools, it has accompanied it, and lay movements continue to grow at a great rate. In the future, they may very well be what characterize the Western Church, just as the mendicants did in the later Middle Ages and the monastics did before them. In the future might lay movements become the primary place of theology?

Update: This post from David Mosley is an interesting take on one of the issues that has arisen because of the shift to lay theologians. 

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