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from issue no. 05 - 2003

The intervention of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

“The theologizing of politics would become the ideologizing of faith”

The intervention of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the round-table discussion on the subject “The commitment and behavior of Catholics in political life” Rome, 9 April – Pontifical University of Santa Croce

by Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger

I resist the great temptation to respond to the interesting observations and reflections of Senator Francesco Cossiga, and limit myself to introducing “the doctrinal Note about certain questions regarding the commitment and behavior of Catholics in political life”, to indicate what is the basic position of this document which speaks directly to Catholics – because only these have a relationship of faith to the Holy See – but which naturally would like to make everyone else think also. According to Paul Ricoeur the noblest thing that philosophy can achieve is to stimulate thought, and therefore we wish to stimulate thought without imposing anything. In any case the position outlined in our document can be summarized as follows: for us, and therefore for the conviction of the Catholic Church throughout the ages, politics belongs to the sphere of reason, the reason common to all, natural reason. Politics is therefore a work that involves the use of reason and should be governed by the natural virtues, so well described in Greek antiquity, the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude.
The conviction that the field of politics is the field of common reason, which must develop through mutual comprehension and which must also involve the enlightenment of reason, implies the exclusion of two positions.
It excludes initially the theologizing of politics, which would become the ideologizing of faith. Politics, in fact, cannot be deduced from faith, but from reason, and the distinction between the sphere of politics and the sphere of faith belongs to the very central tradition of Christianity: we find it in the words of Christ “Give to the Emperor what is the Emperor’s, and to God what is God’s”. In this sense the State is a lay State, secular, in the positive sense. The beautiful words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to the Pope of that time come to mind, for example: “Don’t think yourself to be the successor of Constantine; you are not the successor of Constantine, but of Peter. Your fundamental book is not the Code of Justinian but Holy Scripture”.
This, let us say, correct secularism, or also laicization of politics, which excludes therefore the idea of a theocracy, of a politics determined by the dictate of faith, also excludes, on the other hand, a positivism and empiricism which is a mutilation of reason. According to this position reason is alleged to be capable of perceiving only material things, empirical, verifiable or falsifiable by empirical methods. Therefore reason would be blind to moral values and incapable of judging them, since they would enter the sphere of subjectivity, and not that of the objectivity of a reason limited to the verifiable, to the empirical, and so positivist. Such mutilation of reason, restricting it to the ascertainable, to the empirical, to the verifiable or falsifiable according to material methods, destroys politics and, as Senator Cossiga said, reduces it to a purely technical action, which should simply follow the strongest currents of the moment, submitting therefore to the transitory and also to an irrational dictate. And this is the other commitment of our document: while on the one hand we exclude a theocratic concept and insist on the rationality of politics, on the other we also exclude a positivism for which reason is blind to moral values, and we are convinced that reason has the capacity to know the great moral imperatives, the great values which must determine all concrete decisions.
And in this sense it seems that a certain link between faith and politics also enters: that is, faith can enlighten reason, can heal, cure a sick reason. Not in the sense that this influence of faith transfers the field of politics from reason to faith, but in the sense that it restores reason to itself, helps reason to be itself, without alienating it.
The indications which appear in our Note to Catholic politicians, regarding the values to be defended also against the majorities of the moment, are not intended as an intrusion into politics on the part of the hierarchy. But they are meant to be a necessary help to reason in such a way that believing politicians, especially, can, in political discussion, help towards a shared common evidence and so to a real and concrete presence of the values which should govern everyone in politics. Thank you.

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