A Synopsis of the Benedict(XVI)ine Agenda

Hats off to Cardinal Ruini for this phenomal synopsis of Benedict XVI’s thought and theological/pastoral agenda “At the heart of Benedict XVI’s teaching: to present the salvific truth of Jesus Christ to the mindset of our times”. He has managed to do what I would have thought almost impossible, and that is to string together all the various strains of thought in Benedict’s theology in under 7000 words. Print it off, make yourself a cup of coffee or pour yourself a beer, and sit down to read it from beginning to end. You will not regret the time spent.

Ruini choses his Benedictine “canon” carefully, listing the following as central to an understanding of the Pope’s agenda:
The Regensburg Address of September 12, 2006
The Address to the Verona Conference of October 19, 2006
The Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”
“Introduction to Christianity” from 1968
“Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions” from 2003
“Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures” from 2005
I have read all these except the last, which is now on my reading list.

In addition to these, he also refers to Ratzinger’s
upcoming book “Jesus of Nazareth”
Discourse to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005
Inaugural address at the University of Bonn from 1959
Autobiography “Milestones”
“The New People of God” (Das Neues Volk Gottes) from 1969
The Address to the Swiss Bishops of November 9, 2006
Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace

Given that Ruini has already synthesised Benedict’s thought in such a small space, it seems almost impossible to sythesise Ruini’s paper into an even smaller space, so I will just give some juicy quotations:

In the first place, in fact, God is clearly distinct from nature, from the world that He created: only in this way do “physics” and “metaphysics” arrive at a clear distinction from one another.

Thus the primacy of (metaphysical) philosophy was replaced by the primacy of history, later replaced by that of science and technology. This latter primacy is today fairly clearly visible in Western culture, and, to the extent to which it claims that only scientific understanding is really true and rational, must be described as “scientism”.

In this context, the theory of the evolution of species proposed by Darwin has ended up taking on – among many scientists and philosophers, and to a great extent within modern culture – the role of a kind of vision of the world or of “first philosophy,” which on the one hand would be rigorously “scientific” and on the other would constitute, at least potentially, a universal explanation or theory of all reality, based upon natural selection or casual mutations, beyond which other questions about the origin and nature of things are not supposed to be necessary any longer, or even licit.

But J. Ratzinger observes that, because of that great change by which, from Kant on, human reason is no longer thought to be capable of understanding reality in itself, and above all transcendent reality, the alternative to scientism most culturally accepted today seems to be, not the affirmation of God the Word, but rather the idea that “latet omne verum,” all reality is hidden, or that the true reality of God remains entirely inaccessible and incomprehensible to us, while the various religions are thought to present only images of God relative to different cultural contexts, and thus all are equally “true” and “untrue.”

Limiting reason to what can be experienced and examined is, in fact, useful, precise, and necessary in the specific field of the natural sciences, and constitutes the key of their unceasing development. But if it is universalized and held to be absolute and self-sufficient, such a limitation becomes untenable, inhuman, and, in the end, contradictory.

Naturally, such a question and such reflection, although they begin from an examination of the structure and presuppositions of scientific knowledge, pass beyond this form of understanding and arrive at the level of philosophical inquiry: this does not conflict, therefore, with the theory of evolution, as long as it remains within the realm of science. And furthermore, even on the philosophical level the creating Lógos is not the object of an apodictic demonstration, but remains “the best hypothesis,” an hypothesis that demands that man and his reasoning “renounce a position of domination, and take the risk of a stance of humble listening.”

In concrete terms, especially in the current cultural climate, man by his own strength is unable to make entirely his own this “best hypothesis”: he remains, in fact, the prisoner of a “strange shadow” and of the urge to live according to his own interests, leaving aside God and ethics. Only revelation, the initiative of God who, in Christ, manifests himself to man and calls him to approach Him, makes us capable of emerging from this shadow.

In concrete terms, as by making more room for our reason and reopening reason to the great questions of truth and goodness it becomes possible “to connect theology, philosophy and science [both natural and historical] with each other in full respect for their individual methods and their reciprocal autonomy” (ibid.), so also, at the level of life and practice, in the current context it is particularly necessary to highlight the liberating power of Christianity, the bond that joins Christian faith and freedom, and at the same time to make it understood how freedom is intrinsically connected to love and truth.

In practice, I am in fact forced to choose between the two alternatives identified by Pascal: either to live as if God did not exist, or to live as if God existed and were the decisive reality in my existence. This is because God, if He exists, cannot be an accessory to be removed or added without any effect, but is rather the origin, the meaning, and the end of the universe, and of man within it. If I act according to the first alternative, I adopt in point of fact an atheistic position, and not a merely agnostic one. But if I decide in favor of the second alternative, I adopt the position of a believer: the question of God is, t
herefore, unavoidable.

In the current situation in the West, in any case, Christian morality seems to be divided into two parts. One of these concerns the great themes of peace, nonviolence, justice for all, concern for the world’s poor, and respect for creation: this part enjoys great public appreciation, even if it risks being polluted by a politically tinged moralism. The other part concerns human life, the family, and marriage: this is rather less welcome at the public level; even more, it constitutes a very serious obstacle in the relationship between the Church and the people. Our task, then, is above all that of presenting Christianity not as mere moralism, but as love that is given to us by God and that gives us the strength to “lose our lives,” and also to welcome and live the law of life that is the Decalogue. In this way the two parts of Christian morality can be reconnected, reinforcing each other, and the ‘nos’ of the Church to weak and distorted forms of love can be understood as ‘yeses’ to authentic love, to the reality of man as he was created by God.

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