Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Professor Returns

Today at 4.45 p.m., the Pope travelled to the University of Regensburg where he participated in a meeting with representatives from the world of science. The university, founded in 1965, currently has 12 faculties and 25,000 students.

After having taught dogmatic and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising, and later in the universities of Bonn, Munster and Tubingen, from 1969 to 1971 Msgr. Joseph Ratzinger held the chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, during which time he was also vice rector of the institution.

In his long address to the assembled academics, the Holy Father reflected upon the relationship between faith and reason.

Having first dedicated some remarks to those who use threats or violence to oblige others to convert, Benedict XVI went on to identify "a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly," asking: "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God."

"In the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder the synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God's 'voluntas ordinata.' ... God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, Whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind His actual decisions.

"As opposed to this," he continued, "the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. ... The truly divine God is the God Who has revealed Himself as 'logos' and, as 'logos,' has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf."

The encounter between Biblical faith and Greek philosophy "was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. ... This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe."

Benedict XVI went on: "The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a 'dehellenization' of Christianity."

This dehellenization "first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century," and later with "the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "The fundamental goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the Triune God."

There is, said the Pope, a "third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress," according to which "the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision."

After highlighting that "the positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly," the Holy Father warned against "the dangers arising from these possibilities, ... we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons."

"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions."

Benedict XVI concluded his address by highlighting how "the West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time."

The meeting concluded, Benedict XVI moved on to Regensburg's cathedral of St. Peter, famous for its choir, the director of which for many years was the Pope's brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, currently director emeritus.


Read the complete text of his speech here.

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