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from issue no. 03 - 2007

Faith and culture for life and the human person

by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini

When I listened to the homily given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the Sacred College, on the occasion of the funeral service for the repose of the soul of His Holiness John Paul II, I had the strong sensation that it would be he to succeed him in a commitment that, later, after the election, he himself would have defined «unheard of».
In truth, as far as I am concerned, it was not a matter of a simply emotional sensation, but objectively motivated, because in his words, in his spiritual and cultural interior and in his laboriously contained emotion for the death of Pope Wojtyla, one caught a glimpse of the confirmation of the providential design of the continuity of the Magisterium and the Petrine ministry.
The insistence on the evangelical «follow me», repeated – in the above mentioned homily – for a good eight times, seemed to me to transfer almost visually into him who pronounced it in front of the remains of the unforgettable Pontiff, the image of the passage of testimonial in the guidance of the Church.
I have spoken of providential design, since the election of Benedict XVI almost automatically cancelled the stereotype beloved of the hasty press that for years had defined Joseph Ratzinger as the “guardian” of the faith, with all the ambiguities that such definition involves.
The conclave, guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, did not give the Church a “guardian” of the faith, but a Pastor who the Lord had long prepared, so much so that, with everything done, the election as pontiff of Joseph Ratzinger seemed so natural as to appear even obvious. But the things of God are never so simple and their reading cannot ever be entrusted to merely human calculations.
Who, for reasons of study and theological and ecclesiological formation, remembers the first and immediately acknowledged publications of Professor Joseph Ratzinger when he taught Dogmatic and Fundamental Theology in the School of Advanced Philosophy and Theology in Freising and obtained the professorship in Bonn, knows that both his doctrinal and pastoral stances were open and courageous. Indeed, according to improper talk that became current, in Catholic ambiences also, in the pre-council years, it was said that the writings of Professor Ratzinger did not lack a progressive stamp. However, thanks to his increasing fame both at the national and international levels, from 1962 to 1965 he took part and made a remarkable contribution as “expert” to Vatican Council II, assisting in the role of theological consultant to Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.

The constant point of the Council
The Council that received Professor Ratzinger half way through his life rewarded his courageous, but rigorously balanced, positions so much as to remain the constant point of reference of his commitment as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and his program as pontiff. A commitment and a program under the aegis of a non-static continuity, but in daily motion. He who had looked on the Council as an inalienable goal of renewal of the Church, discovered in its documents that the goal had been achieved in terms of a more open ecclesiological vision. What had to be completed once the Council was over was none other, therefore, than to put the directives of the Council into practice. This thought and this aspiration have never abandoned him. His works such as Introduction to Christianity (1969), Dogma and preaching (1973), Report on the faith (1985), The salt of the earth (1996), in order to cite only some of them, all align themselves along this front of absolute fidelity to the Council. This is why, in his first message at the end of the Eucharistic concelebration with the cardinal electors in the Sistine Chapel on 20 April 2005, after having recalled that John Paul II had indicated the Council as a “compass” with which to orient oneself in the immense ocean of the third millennium (cf. Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, 57-58), Benedict XVI said: «I too, therefore, in preparing for the service that is properly that of the Successor of Peter, want to assert with force the determined will to continue in the commitment of enacting Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the bimillennial tradition of the Church». Not only, but he added that the Council documents, with their teachings, «are revealed to be particularly pertinent in relation to the new requirements of the Church and the present globalized society».
Also for Benedict XVI the Council remains the guiding “compass” for the Church, and the proof of this scrupulous adhesion to the doctrine and the pastoral directions of Vatican II is offered by the fact that, from the day of his election to today, Benedict XVI, struck by the wave of relativism and indifference that has invested Christian society itself at all levels, does not tire of addressing that sort of bared nerve of modern and contemporary culture that is the inability to look with objective serenity at the delicate, but ineradicable, problem of the relationship between faith and culture, between science and faith, in a word between religion and reason.

Benedict XVI presides the Holy Mass on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican Council II, 8 December 2005

Benedict XVI presides the Holy Mass on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican Council II, 8 December 2005

The religion and reason relationship
I would like, in fact, to emphasize immediately that the doctrinal summonses not only of the first encyclical of Benedict XVI Deus caritas est, but of his addresses to the exponents of the various Episcopal Conferences, to those in charge of the male and female religious Institutes, to the lay faithful of various groups and associations, face precisely the topic and the problem of the relationship between faith and culture, between religion and reason.
When I read, in the original version and with the personal notes of the Holy Father, the text of the conference, indeed, of the lecture given by him at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006, dedicated to the essential relationship between faith and reason, it seemed to me to hear again the splendid encyclical Fides et ratio (14 September 1998) that John Paul II had dedicated to the same subject.
How not to perceive – for example – the complete harmony between the two following pronouncements in the language of the two pontiffs on the relationship between faith and reason?
John Paul II wrote in Fides et ratio: «Both reason and faith are impoverished and have become weak in relation to each other. Reason, deprived of the support of Revelation, has followed lateral paths that risk making it lose sight of its final goal. Faith, deprived of reason, has emphasized feeling and experience, running the risk of not being anymore a universal proposition. It is illusory to think that faith, faced with a weak reason, has greater incisiveness; it, on the contrary, falls into the serious danger of being reduced to myth or superstition. In the same manner, a reason that does not have before it an adult faith is not provoked to aim its vision at the newness and radicalness of being» (Fides et ratio, n. 48).
Benedict XVI in Regensburg said: « [...] the faith of the Church has always held to the conviction that between God and us, between His Eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a true analogy in which – as the Lateran Council IV in 1215 says – the dissimilarities are certainly infinitely greater than the similarities, not completely to the point of abolishing the analogy and its language. God does not become more divine because of the fact that we push Him far away from us in a pure and impenetrable voluntarism, but the truly divine God is that God that has shown Himself as logos [that is as reason, ed] and as logos has acted and acts full of love in our favor. Certainly, love, as Paul says, surpasses knowledge and because of this is capable of perceiving more than simple thought (cf. Eph 3, 19), however it remains the love of the God-Logos, for which the Christian cult is, as Paul further says, loghikè latreía – a cult that agrees with the eternal Word and our reason (cf. Rm 12, 1)».
The encyclical of John Paul II opened with the words: «Faith and reason are like the two wings with which the human spirit raises itself towards the contemplation of the truth». One does not fly towards the truth on only one wing, nor with faith alone nor reason alone. It is up to theology, and mainly to «fundamental theology», as n. 67 of Fides et ratio points out, «to show the intimate compatibility between the faith and its essential requirement of making itself clear by means of a reason that is in a position of giving its assent in full freedom».
In his turn Benedict XVI reasserts: «In the Western world the opinion that only positivist reason and the forms of philosophy deriving from it are universal largely dominates. But the deeply religious cultures of the world see in this very exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason an attack on their more intimate convictions. A reason that in the face of the divine is deaf and consigns religion to the region of subculture, is incapable of taking part in the dialogue of the cultures».
Therefore the Pope with firmness and rigor speaks about «threatening pathologies of religion and of reason – pathologies that necessarily must burst, when reason becomes reduced to such point that the issues of religion and ethos do not concern it anymore».
These pathologies, today, have above all the name of integralism and of fundamentalism, whereas the mens sana involves a reason that in the face of the fundamental questionings of life opens itself up to religion and a religiousness that from reason attains those human-scientific motivations that render our pietas a rationabile obsequium.
The conclusion of the Regensburg conference is illuminating there where it asserts: «the West, for much time, is threatened by this aversion toward the fundamental questionings of its reason, and therefore can only undergo great damage. The courage to open itself up to the amplitude of reason, not the refusal of its greatness, this is the program whereby a theology engaged in reflection on Biblical faith, enters into the dispute of the present time».
The «lateral paths» of which John Paul II spoke and the «pathologies» recalled by Benedict XVI set the course of reason towards that relativism which reason left to itself and not illuminated by faith claims to be guarantor of freedom that, instead, arrives at the judgment that cancels that “universal proposition”, the inalienable condition for the promotion and the defense of fundamental human rights centered in the right to life and the affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of the human person. The relativism that, in theory, claims to defend the rights of all, in truth undermines at the foundations the inalienable rights of everyone.

Love, nucleus of the encounter between faith and culture
The Pope is totally aware that the encounter between religion and reason, between faith and culture is transformed into proposal and response to the fundamental questionings of life only if there is love in its twofold dimension of love of God and love of neighbor to link the religion-reason relationship and to render it operative in an effective way.
In today’s society, indeed in the world today, the absence of dialogue between faith and reason, beyond leading to the mutual clash, has multiplied the “deserts” of existence that are in reality “deserts” of love. The Pope spoke of this in the homily during the Mass of the imposition of the pallium and the consigning of the fisherman’s ring for the beginning of the Petrine ministry. They are words of an extraordinary clarity and depth, premise of that “universal proposal” that Benedict XVI wanted to recall also to the two hundred Heads of State and Government present. «The holy restlessness of Christ», said the Pope, «must animate the pastor: for him it is not indifferent that many people live in the desert. And there are many forms of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and of thirst, there is the desert of abandonment, of solitude, of destroyed love. There is the desert of the darkness of God, of the emptying of souls without any more consciousness of the dignity and the path of man».
Benedict XVI visiting the Papal Academy of Sciences

Benedict XVI visiting the Papal Academy of Sciences

This is why «the Church in its togetherness, and the pastors in it, like Christ must set off, in order to lead men out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards Him Who donates us life». There is no alternative, since God Who is love, for love saved the world through the sacrifice of the Son. «The God», says the Pope, «Who became lamb tells us that the world is saved by the Crucifix, not by the crucifiers».
But to love means to give to souls «the nourishment of the truth»; and if love is true and is love for the whole man and all men, it is the first truth to defend and to promote. A truth which in order to be truly a valid universal proposal is not a matter of opinion and, therefore, not even negotiable.
Benedict XVI, however, does not stop at statements of a general nature; his catechesis comes down to the practical applications with great concreteness; he takes care of the particulars with the scrupulousness of his never discarded professorial rigor, as the second part of the encyclical Deus caritas est demonstrates and, in a particular way, his heartfelt message for the World Day of Peace 2007, logical continuation of his message for the World Day of 2006 that he entitled “In truth, peace”. Peace is not constructed without defending life, whose value is synthesis and nucleus of all the fundamental rights of man. The beautiful papal definition of “peace”, «human person, heart of peace», goes to the root of the problem of peace, which is not only the absence of conflicts, but the encounter of the ones with the others, encounter of life with life.
Personally I am convinced that the thesis “faith and culture at the service of life and the human person” is an exhaustive key for reading the entire Council parabola, from the opening speech of the Council by Blessed John XXIII to the message to men of culture and science of Paul VI, to the repeated summonsings to the Council of John Paul II until the most recent speeches of Benedict XVI. A reading key that leads back to the words of Jesus: «I am the way, the truth and the life» (Jn 14, 6).

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