Monday, February 18, 2008

Ratzinger on Truth

I have just posted this in Wikipedia:

Philosopher and theologian Joseph Ratzinger, before his election as Benedict XVI, explored the relationship of truth with tolerance, conscience, freedom, and religion. For him, "beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question of truth."

In consonance with Aristotle and Aquinas, Ratzinger affirms that human reason has the power to know reality and arrive at the truth, and for this he alludes to the achievement of the natural sciences. He sees that "the modern self-limitation of reason" rooted in Kant which views itself incapable of knowing religion and the human sciences such as ethics leads to dangerous pathologies of religion (terrorism) and pathologies of science (ecological disasters and destruction of humans). He thinks that this self-limitation, which "amputates" the mind's capacity to answer fundamental questions such as man's origin and purpose, dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.

While he states that relativism is acceptable in political options, he warned of a relativism without limits, a "dictatorship of relativism," and he traced the past century's violent ideologies to a totalitarianism which "absolutizes what is not absolute but relative," converting partial points of view into absolute guides.

For Ratzinger, truth and love are identical. And if well understood, according to him, this is "the surest guarantee of tolerance."

See: Wikipedia on Truth

Evangelical Leader Returns To Catholicism

Move Reflects Narrowing Gap Between Denominations

By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, May 12, 2007

The president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an association of 4,300 Protestant theologians, resigned this month because he has joined the Roman Catholic Church.

The May 5 announcement by Francis J. Beckwith, a tenured associate professor at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Tex., has left colleagues gasping for breath and commentators grasping for analogies.

One blogger likened it to Hulk Hogan's defection from the World Wrestling Federation to the rival World Championship Wrestling league.

"This is a sad day for all true sons and daughters of the Protestant Reformation, for all who lived and died for its truths," Douglas Groothuis, a professor at the evangelical Denver Seminary, said in a posting on Beckwith's own blog, adding sternly: " . . . you are embracing serious theological error."

Beckwith, 46, said in a telephone interview that he had expected some repercussions in academic circles but was stunned by the public response. He said strangers have called him at home to berate him, and that his Internet server was overwhelmed by 2,000 e-mails a day to his personal Web site, which in the past seldom generated more than 90 a day.

"It's beyond anything I've ever experienced," he said.

Beckwith is not the first, or even the most prominent, evangelical to switch to Catholicism in recent years. Others include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), theologian Scott Hahn and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. On the other side of the equation, the Catholic Church has been losing droves of ordinary worshipers to the Pentecostal form of evangelicalism, particularly in Latin America.

Beckwith said his decision reflects how dramatically the divisions between evangelicals and Catholics have narrowed in recent decades, as they have stood shoulder to shoulder on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and school vouchers.

The stormy reaction, however, is a reminder of the gaps that remain, particularly on such theological questions as whether to baptize infants and how human beings gain "justification," or righteousness in the eyes of God.

Beckwith said he was raised as a Catholic in Las Vegas and was "born again" as an evangelical during his teens, at the height of the countercultural "Jesus movement" in the 1970s. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University, a Jesuit institution, but then taught at Protestant schools, including Trinity International University and Baylor.

He said that for many years he agreed with the criticisms of the Catholic Church made by Martin Luther and other leaders of the 16th-century Reformation, who emphasized the authority of the Bible alone -- rather than the pronouncements of church leaders -- and who argued that justification resulted from the grace of God, not from good deeds.

But his thinking began to change, he said, as he read more deeply into Catholic theology, including works by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. After studying Ratzinger's book "Truth and Tolerance" last year, he said, he called a prominent evangelical philosopher, read him a passage about whether theology is really knowledge, and asked him to guess the author.

"He reeled off the names of a bunch of evangelical theologians," Beckwith recalled. "I said, 'No, it's Ratzinger!' And he said, 'So he's one of us!' " Beckwith said he was also deeply affected by a joint declaration in 1999 by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church on the doctrine of justification, which he said went a long way toward eliminating this historical source of division.

"I do agree with Protestants that there is no good I can do, no work I can perform, that would justify me," Beckwith said. "But there are many places in scripture that say there's an obligation Christians have to take on the character of Christ, and that contributes to their justification. The Catholic solution is: I am required to take on the character of Christ, but it is not my power that does it, but God's grace."

Chuckling gently, Beckwith said that in discussions with fellow theologians over the past year, he suddenly found himself making "Catholic-type arguments" about natural law and truth, arguing that everything found in the Bible is true, but not everything that is true is found in the Bible.

"At the end of the day, the reason for the Reformation was the debate over justification. If that is no longer an issue, I have to be Catholic," Beckwith said. "It seems to me that if there is not a very strong reason to be Protestant, then the default position should be to belong to the historic church."

On his blog last week, he said he wrestled with whether to inform the Evangelical Theological Society immediately of his intention to return to Catholicism, or to wait until the end of his term in November. He said he and his wife prayed for guidance and received an answer when a 16-year-old nephew asked him to take part in his Catholic confirmation ceremony tomorrow. "I could not do that unless I was in full communion with the church," Beckwith said.

Because Baylor does not require its faculty to sign any statement of beliefs, a university spokeswoman said, Beckwith's change of heart will not affect his teaching post. And because he was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic in his youth, he did not have to undergo conversion -- he simply had to go to confession and receive Holy Communion. He did so in a quiet ceremony April 29 at a small church in Bellmead, Tex.


Excerpt From "Truth And Tolerance"

This is the excerpt from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's book, "Truth and Tolerance," that Francis J. Beckwith read to a prominent evangelical philosopher and asked him to guess who wrote it.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life": this saying of Jesus from the Gospel of John (14:6) expresses the basic claim of the Christian faith. The missionary tendency of this faith is based on that claim: Only if the Christian faith is truth does it concern all men; if it is merely a cultural variant of the religious experience of mankind that is locked up in symbols and can never be deciphered, then it has to remain within its own culture and leave others in theirs. That, however, means that the question about the truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy. --Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions," trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 184.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Enlightenment Pope

By GIULIO MEOTTI in the Wall Street Journal

VATICAN CITY -- There's a popular joke here at the Holy See: The Swiss progressive theologian Hans Küng goes up to paradise to discuss his theories with Saint Peter. After the meeting, he comes out in tears: "How could I have been so wrong?" Heretical priest Leonardo Boff goes up next and also comes out crying: "How could I have been so wrong?" Then it's the turn of Joseph Ratzinger, the German who became Pope Benedict XVI. When his meeting's over, it's -- you've guessed it -- Saint Peter who comes out crying "How could I been so wrong?"

Joseph Ratzinger is the first "theologian pope" in a very long time. A Vatican writer once said that no other German since Martin Luther has had such a profound effect on the church. While Karol Wojtyla was a great prelate, Joseph Ratzinger is the author of academic textbooks used in seminaries and universities. At the same time, he's capable of teaching theology to simple people and children.

In his 25 years as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith, formerly known as the Holy Inquisition, Cardinal Ratzinger was renowned for his firm and orthodox views. But two years into his papacy, and a few days after his 80th birthday, he has managed to astound those who feared "God's Rottweiler." Benedict XVI has written so far one encyclical, titled "Deus Caritas Est," or God Is Love -- not exactly the theme you would expect from a "Panzer Pope." It's one of the most inclusive documents in Catholic theology.

Not many believed that a Bavarian shepherd, the son of a German police officer, would become, in just two years, one of the most popular popes in history. Numbers don't lie. Twice as many people descend upon St. Peter's now than under the also hugely popular John Paul II. Mr. Küng, one of Roman Catholicism's most prominent dissenters, recognizes that "Benedict is open to new ideas." Both men taught at the University of Tübingen in the late 1960s, a sort of Mecca for Catholic progressives, and back then Mr. Küng loved to tease the German about his empty classrooms. Joseph Ratzinger wouldn't say what students in 1968 wanted to hear.

The former architect of John Paul's Kulturkampf calmly accepts the challenges of secularization. He has proven that he's not the "harsh inquisitor" people called him. In 1979, the Vatican revoked Mr. Küng's license to teach as a Catholic theologian for questioning the pope's infallibility. Pope John Paul II neither met nor talked with Mr. Küng for a quarter of a century. Pope Benedict XVI received him after only one year.

If Cardinal Ratzinger upheld faith, Pope Benedict must spread it. He knows he can't hope for mass conversions or the evangelization of entire populations. But what he can work for is "a proud and visible Christianity." Of course he will never be open to married or female priests, but he's not a conventional conservative pope. He is the pope of fresh openness to the dialogue with nonbelievers, the pontiff of rational persuasion.

He was after all a young peritus, or adviser, at the Second Vatican Council, which profoundly modernized the Catholic Church, allowed the use of vernacular language in liturgy, increased the participation of laity and reached out to Judaism, condemning anti-Semitism. Ratzinger now wants to open the church further to the world. His approach to the crisis of Christianity is not defensive, and his reflection on the marginalization of religion is often based on self-criticism.

The columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote that Benedict XVI is "immune from reasoned inquiry." He could not have been more wrong. Benedict XVI is best understood as an "Enlightenment Pope" in an era in which reason has few defenders. The Pope is acutely aware of the oppression brought about by irrationality: In his childhood, it was Nazism; until the collapse of the Soviet Union it was Communism; today it is, as he puts it, the "dictatorship of relativism," the rejection of absolute norms, and radical Islam.

His "lectio magistralis," held at Regensburg University last September, sparked a huge controversy as he explored his theories on the relationship between reason and faith. The one requires the other, the pontiff said, if mankind wants to avoid what he called the "pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason" -- in other words, politically and religiously inspired fanaticism. As pope, Joseph Ratzinger looks to Athens and Jerusalem, whose coming together, he proudly says, gave birth to "the West."

"The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of history of religions, but also from that of world history....This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe." A "European Islam," in other words, would have to undergo a similar convergence process. Only an Islam tempered by logos, which means both "reason" and "word" in Greek, can possibly be part of any meaningful interfaith dialogue, the pope suggested.

"God acts with logos" -- and so does his representative on Earth. "This will be a pontificate of concepts and words," said Wojtyla spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope. The past century didn't know a pontiff with a language so sharp. Joseph Ratzinger is a tireless writer the way Karol Wojtyla was a strenuous actor and traveler. He loves words which he utters firmly, but always softly, as a gentle pastor, to his one billion and 27 million faithful. He doesn't shy from scandal, like when he gave a private audience to Oriana Fallaci, the beautiful provocateur and the scourge of Islamic fanaticism. He uses strong words against the nihilism of Islamic terror and in favor of the existence of Israel as a sovereign state and "sign of God's choice."

This shy scholar, who during his Tübingen days meditated on St. Augustine's dictum "in interiore homine habitat veritas," has never ceased to seek and fight for the truth.

Mr. Meotti is a journalist with Il Foglio. Elizabeth Galloni translated this article from the Italian.