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from issue no. 11 - 2003

Faith, truth, tolerance

President Emeritus of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga presented the latest book of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Rimini Meeting. We publish his speech

by Francesco Cossiga

The  Italian covers of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s book. The Italian version  published 
by Cantagalli, was translated with the collabaration of our sub-editors  Silvia Kritzenberger and Lorenzo Cappelletti

The Italian covers of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s book. The Italian version published by Cantagalli, was translated with the collabaration of our sub-editors Silvia Kritzenberger and Lorenzo Cappelletti

1. The honor of having been invited to speak of the book [original title: Glaube, Wahrheit, Toleranz. Das Christentum und die Weltreligionen] Faith, truth, tolerance. Christianity and the religions of the world by Joseph Ratzinger has been overwhelmed in me by the great responsibility of having to engage with the participants of the Meeting on Friendship among Peoples on a exceptionally rich and relevant collection of writings, old and new, some very recent, but all equally relevant, of the great theologian, on themes ancient and modern of Christian theology. They interweave and are interwoven with old and new problems of philosophy and the history of religion, of cultural anthropology and even of politics, all of great and I would even say of tragic modernity!
This is a book that there takes us back into the fervid climate of theological studies that has characterized the twentieth century. It is the example of a theology that offers an overall vision of reality: that is why Joseph Ratzinger, as it was with an equally great thinker Romano Guardini, could well be titular certainly of a chair of Katholische Weltanschauung, a chair that at the time in which it was founded seemed certainly rather strange and was naturally challenged by the “academy”, perhaps also because few could have seen it being given to them. Today there is indeed great need of visions of this kind, that let us understand in relevant and modern, but terms faithful to the tradition and that is to the truth, the phenomenon of Christian existence and, at the same time, restore a unity to that existence of which it has been largely deprived by so-called modern culture.
We often come across theological work which, no doubt good from a – refinedly and, in part, exclusively - specialist point of view, does not however have any power of synthesis. Here again the old German philosophical adage comes up which says there are many who see the trees but few who see the wood!

2. Why was I asked to take part in this gathering and moreover assigned this none too easy task in the ambit of the fervent Meeting of Friendship among Peoples, the valuable product of the intelligence and feelings of Communion and Liberation?
For two good reasons and one weak one. The weak reason: a certain fame as a reader, only a reader, and moreover amateur reader of theology, and further a reputation for speaking the truth to which the same Joseph Ratzinger has contributed in an blameless way!
But also for two good reasons: his friendship and the, recent, but already very strong one, because nourished by great admiration and common intellectual hopes, with the very courageous and meritorious publisher Cantagalli, to whom the publication of this book is due.

Francesco Cossiga during the presentation of the book by Joseph Ratzinger, Faith, truth, tolerance. Christianity and the religions of the world at the Rimini Meeting

Francesco Cossiga during the presentation of the book by Joseph Ratzinger, Faith, truth, tolerance. Christianity and the religions of the world at the Rimini Meeting

The book, of which I shall speak is a difficult book, but clear; faithful to true and steadfast tradition and at the same time extremely modern, as is always, and has been, the thought of Joseph Ratzinger. It is certainly not a book to be read in an armchair, but at a desk with a pencil and a pad at hand to take notes in.
There is need today to help everyone, but especially the young, with what Hegel exemplarily called the “effort of the concept”: that is the effort of thought, of constructing with the mind, of constructing reasonings, therefore.
Too often, a certain sentimentalism – passed off sometimes as spirituality or indeed as mysticism – comes to substitute what cannot be cancelled from the mental horizon of the Christian believer: the use of reason. It almost seems as if by passing through the reason, the message is almost cold, and can not therefore reach the heart. As if the heart dwelt in a body unequipped with intellect and were disconnected from it! So also for the intellect, in a body equipped with a heart, it cannot be disconnected from it. It must not be so because it is not so! It wouldn’t be a bad thing, every now and then, to reread a little of Thomas of Aquinas, of Augustine and of Pascal!

And this is also a book of extreme and dramatic relevance and which I repute, more than necessary, providential, especially when faced with certain “post-council modernisms” which – through an excess of simplification or perhaps also through an excess of “charity” not fed by sufficient doctrine or not “measured” by the cardinal virtue of prudence – have created confused theoretical and practical pathways that have confused … And certain pathways may lead to precisely confusion, for example in the subject of “ecumenism”, “dialogue between religions”, the relationship between philosophy and faith, between faith and religion, between religion and human knowledge, between monoculturalism, interculturalism and pluriculturalism, if we don’t feel anchored to tradition, to the teaching of the Church, to the Christian thought of the Fathers of the Church, to the greatly relevant John Henry Newman and Antonio Rosmini.

5. These problems have arisen, in reality, also because of some misunderstood, even if generous and enthusiastic, “assemblies of common prayer” and because of some unheeded sentimental reactions to documents such as Fides et ratio, Dominus Jesus, the document about the moral obligations of Catholics in politics and, lastly, that on the Eucharist.

6. Joseph Ratzinger’s book is illuminating also on a problem that superficial reading, perhaps not far-sighted or linguistically attentive to the Council documents on the subjects of ecumenism, tolerance, universal salvation, has given rise to, almost in contradiction of the apostolic missionary mandate given to the Church by Christ justly based on the exclusiveness and exhaustiveness of Revelation and of its redeeming figure: Jesus of Nazareth.
7. “Progressive” Catholic as one used to say in the time of my youth, “angry council follower”, I then asked myself, perhaps recklessly, I agree!, if – apart certainly from its “providential” worth – the philosophical and theological culture not only of the laity, as much and especially as that of the clergy, were ready to receive the messages, even prophetic, of Vatican Council II, without dangerous misunderstandings and venturesome “going off before the gun”. One thinks of “liberation theology”, and in the liturgical and ecumenical field, of certain misrepresentations, distortions, thoughtlessness and superficiality.
There is in fact an error which unites liberation theology and a certain theology of liturgy, which tends to make the gathering of the faithful, clerical and lay, prevail over the personal and vicarious function of Christ which precisely because it is personal and vicarious can not be substituted by any subject, not even in the case of a gathering, though singing with lots of drums and a guitar!
The same has happened with the liberation theology where the project, historical and at most political, prevails or identifies itself – which is worse! - with the figure and the reality of the Kingdom of God.
They are all forms which almost repeat the error of Pelagianism: that of considering man capable of working his salvation by himself, through his own efforts. These fears are to be overcome in a double way: a solid theology of grace gratis data and an equally solid taking in charge, by the believing Catholic, of his own worldly responsibility, as required of the “Christian adult” by the teaching of that great Protestant martyr, the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
On these pages, stained-glass windows of the cathedral of Regensburg (12th century) in Bavaria, Germany

On these pages, stained-glass windows of the cathedral of Regensburg (12th century) in Bavaria, Germany

8. Joseph Ratzinger is almost a summa of sane and modern doctrine for dealing with these problems that the Church already today, but even more tomorrow, will have to confront: the Church which we all are! In my slight – even if largely blameless! – immodesty, well shown also in a certain normal way of expressing myself, I was bold enough to advise Joseph Ratzinger and my friend Cantagalli to publish a new edition of the book: product of a reshuffling of the various pieces contained in it, to make it more systematic and homogeneous.

9. It is certainly not my intention here to summarize the very rich contents of the book – for, among other things, I would have neither the space nor especially the capacity to do so -, given also its vastness and profundity. I shall indicate instead, by way of introduction the index, and then dwell on what struck and consoled me most about the book.

10. First of all, faced with the “falling in love” of gifted thinkers, let us think of the cultivated and pious Father Dupuis SJ in relation to Eastern spiritualism and in particular of the lofty version of it given by Radhakrishnan, a great religious and political thinker, the unconditional affirmation that Jesus Christ is the only real and definitive salvation of man is strong and necessary. Of course this does not mean to deny that in the other religions one can make out a gleam, even a bright one, of light and truth – and this obviously in a naturally incommensurable and altogether proper way in Judaism; but also, even if distinct, in other communities, in other “religions”: because the first covenant of God with Noah was certainly not yet the covenant with a chosen people, but with all men, and all men are therefore beneficiaries of it in Jesus Christ, as Paul of Tarsus so wonderfully and fully teaches.
Leaving to almighty God the extraordinary ways of grace, it is therefore alone and only in the Church that there is salvation; even if the Holy Spirit can certainly dispense grace and salvation outside its visible confines. The position of Joseph Ratzinger, in the terms outlined above, is a position which holds together precisely the freedom of the Holy Spirit with the mandate and vocation of the Church in the reality of Revelation.

11. The words written by Joseph Ratzinger about “the path of faith” are very important.
Two ways are indicated by historical religions for this “path”: the “mystical” one and that of the “monotheistic revolution”. According to the latter, the path of salvation is the path of the donation of grace on God’s part to man; with the former it is the path of man towards God, but within man himself…
A similar problem is that of the relationship between faith and reason. Reason leads to a God who is naturally the true God, but it is Revelation which makes us know the absolutely and fully true God.

Faith is born neither of simple reasoning secundum naturam nor from a mystical intuition, but from historico-concrete and distinct events: God and Noah, God and Abraham, God and Moses: and, in exhaustive fashion the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the accomplishment of Revelation in the merciful and gratuitous Redemption!
Man rationally investigates mystery because in his nature is written the desire for that Mystery as pledge of happiness: but full knowledge of the Mystery is gift of God only.
And I have always wondered whether the “credo ut intelligam” does not prevail over the “intelligo ut credam”!

12. And Jesus, the Christ, is the incarnate Logos, not only did He have, but he has flesh! Eternally! And “flesh” is our being and our intellect, for ever.
Whence certainly the legitimacy and necessity of the highest kind of rational research, philosophy. And here the courageous insights and deductions of Joseph Ratzinger are of great value: the insufficiency of so called “neo-scholasticism” in demonstrating the so-called preambles of faith and the belonging to true philosophy not only of Augustine and Thomas, but also of Pascal and Kierkegaard, of Gilson and Rosmini; and also of other great Jewish thinkers such as Buber and Levinas. To the list of Fides et ratio, he, Joseph Ratzinger, would like two other great thinkers to be added, Max Scheler and Bergson, men of faith, the last on the threshold of the Church.
And if Christ has a body, he has it first of all in time and in history: and “full” History is therefore also and especially the history of Redemption.
And if Christ has a body, in relationship with Christ and with faith (the event and adherence to it), the most spiritual part of the natural body of humanity is culture, understood as a set of values and knowledge, which ripen under the values and with the values in the temporal history of peoples.

Christianity certainly cannot be monocultural: but it cannot embody itself in all cultures, but only in the cultures that allow it: … grain, chaff and nettle!”.
Not Joseph Ratzinger, certainly, but I am rather “pro-Western” and not so much in the sense of “eurocentric” as “euroindoasiatic”!
Hence I believe that as “religions” form part of cultures, the culture in which, in my opinion, the Event is most fully and completely expressed humanly, in historical and intellectual terms, is certainly the Judaeo-Christian culture grafted on to the Hellenic root, European culture, that is!
And it is because of this that, along with the Protestant Novalis, I can think of a Church without Europe (but he a Lutheran did not in truth think like that!), but I can certainly not think of a Europe without the foundation of Christian culture!
The world as creation, man as person and the human event as non-cyclical history but as a unique history tending towards a Salvation, are whose inheritance in our West?
Are they or are they not absolutely fundamental concepts on which centuries of the history of thought, of culture and and also of institutions have been constructed?
And was it not the Christian roots that produced them?

13. A last argument, among the many dealt with by Joseph Ratzinger and which I wish to mention, struck me. The faith in truth: is an exclusive truth compatible with “tolerance”? Here the Council declaration on religious freedom Dignitatis humanae comes in.
Perhaps we Catholics discovered too late that the religious freedom of the citizen is based not only on principles of juridical equality and the secularity of the State, but also and above all on the Christian concept of faith and of salvation, which is the free acceptance of God who comes towards us on the path of grace for Salvation, Salvation which does not save without freedom!
Without freedom there can not be true Faith and therefore Salvation, neither for the Christian nor for any man. Because Love is given as gift and not imposed; it is exchanged and not undergone.
Here my very incomplete thought and writing come to an end. Certainly Joseph Ratzinger set out by Francesco Cossiga is a poor thing indeed!
But I hope my writing has at least stirred you to sit on a chair with a pencil in hand and with some blank paper for taking notes (I would advice you indeed even... by candlelight!) to read: Faith, truth, tolerance. Christianity and the religions of the world.
And don’t be ashamed to underline the book with the pencil! Not underlining the book with the pencil is like not embracing and kissing a loved one!
A confession: reading this book (aided by the silent and lovable atmosphere of a hospital room), I felt I was breathing an air that I seemed to have already breathed and felt, like a perfume I had already caught! And I remembered some magnificent pages of Blaise Pascal, a Christian, that I read to you:
« The year of Grace 1654, Monday 23 November, day of Saint Clement Pope and of others in the martyrology, eve of Saint Grisogonus martyr and of others, from about 10.30 in the evening, until 00.30. Fire, of God of Abraham, of God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars, fortress, joy, peace, God of Jesus Christ, Deum meum et Deum vostrum. Yours shall be my God, forgetfulness of everything except God, one finds him only by the ways taught by the Gospel, “greatness of the human soul, just Father. The world has not known you, nor have I known you, that I be not separated from Him for ever, amid tears of joy I separated myself from him: dereliquerunt me fontem aquae vivae, you will not abandon me; this is the eternal life: that they recognize you as sole God and that one you have sent Jesus Christ”: “I separated myself from him, I have fled him, I have reneged on him, I have crucified him: that one not be separated from him, one keeps him only through the ways taught by the Gospel, in joy for eternity, for a day of exercise on the earth...”».

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