"Where God is, there is the future" | On Benedict
XVI in Austria | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | October 1, 2007 | IgnatiusInsight.com
"Where God is, there is the future" | On Benedict XVI in Austria | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | October 1, 2007
"Christian theology ... is never a purely human discourse
about God, but always, and inseparably, the logos and 'logic' of God's self-revelation.... A theology which no longer
draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology." -- Benedict XVI,
Address at Cistercian Monastery of Heiligenkreuz, September 9, 2007.
"God has called each of us into being and gives us a
personal task. God needs each of us and awaits our response." -- Benedict XVI,
Vienna Konzerthaus, September 9, 2007.
"Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These
represent a dynamic component of our civilization...." -- Benedict XVI, Address
at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, September
At the request of the Austrian government and church,
Benedict XVI visited Austria from September 7 to September 9. It was the
occasion of the 850th Anniversary of the famous Marian shrine, Mariazell. On landing at the Vienna's Schwechat airport, where he was greeted by the Austrian
President and the Austrian Chancellor, together with the Cardinal Primate of
Vienna, the Pope said, "I intend my Pilgrimage to Mariazell to be a journey made in the company of all the
pilgrims of our time. In this spirit I will soon lead the people in pray in the
center of Vienna, prayer which, like a spiritual pilgrimage, will accompany
these days throughout your Country."  In his address to the political and
diplomatic officials in Vienna, the pope, more familiarly, remarked that this
is his first official visit to Austria as Bishop of Rome, but he knew the
country well from his earlier visits. "It is—may I say—truly a joy
for me to be here. I have many friends here and, as a Bavarian neighbor, Austria's
way of life and traditions are familiar to me."
The pope often talks of Europe and its Christian heritage.
He seems to accept a closer European integration as a good thing. But he
recognizes the rationalist and anti-Christian sentiment in much European
integration thinking. He praises Europe's capacity of "self-criticism" which,
the pope said, "gives it a distinctive place within the vast panorama of the
world's cultures." I take this to mean that the very idea of "self-criticism"
comes out of what is unique about Europe and represents something needed in all
While noting Europe's "rapidly aging" population, Benedict
urges it not to "give up on itself." Europe does not, however, exercise
"responsibility in the world corresponding to its singular intellectual
tradition, its extraordinary resources and its great economic power." The pope
thinks that Europe should "assume the role of leadership" in poverty questions.
Though he touches on it, he does not discuss the relation between poverty and
ideology, which in modern times is often the major cause of poverty, not any
lack of know-how or even of good will. One can have the greatest desire to help
the poor and opt for a method, scientific, economic, or moral, that simply
won't work to achieve this end.
To the Austrian officials and accredited diplomats, Benedict
makes a very strong point about the primacy of life, following John Paul II's Evangelium
vitae. First, the pope affirms, that "it
was in Europe that the nation of human rights was first formulated. The
fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right
to life itself." The pope, however, shows awareness of the Hobbesian origins of
the modern notion of "human rights," which notion, based on a pure voluntarism,
results in the very opposite of what he is advocating.
Human life means "life from the moment of conception until
its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is
the very opposite." Use of the term "human right" consistently gets us into
this very difficulty that we affirm it with one sentence and have to turn
around in the next to defend ourselves against the accusation of inconsistency
because we do not support the "right" to abortion. The pope notes the logic
that wants also to eliminate the elderly and sick on the basis of "rights."
Obviously, if the term "right to life" means either that we protect life from
its beginning to its natural end or that we terminate it when we think we have
legal will to do so, there is an equivocation in the very expression "natural
What is to be emphasized here is that Benedict, in dealing
with abortion and euthanasia, does not argue primarily from religions grounds
to the wrongness of these acts. The Catholic position, contrary what is often
assumed, does not initially affirm its position on these two aberrations
because of something in revelation or "religion." The view that opposition to
these two wrongs--abortion or euthanasia-- is based on religion is in principle
erroneous, even though religion has its own reasons to oppose them. "In stating
this," Benedict says, "I am not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern.
Rather I wish to act as an advocate for a profoundly human need, speaking on
behalf of these unborn children who have no voice." Abortion and euthanasia
are, on the grounds of reason, untenable. The pope speaks in behalf of reason,
not against it. He speaks in behalf of reason against even a voluntarist law,
which is a law that claims its licetness on the basis of positive law alone.
Having children, the pope aptly says, is not "a form of
illness." He goes on to emphasize the joy of children and their importance in
life, something that often seems lost in Europe with its very low birth rate
that threatens the very future of most European nations. Benedict thus says to
the Austrian officials: I also decisively support you in your political efforts
to favor condition for enabling young couples to raise children. Yet, all this
will be pointless unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries
a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not
seen as a burden but rather as a gift for all." The issue of population is not
just an economic or even political one, but one of the person and his concern
for the future of his kind.
Another issue that is important for Europe, Benedict adds,
is "the dialogue of reason." There is a "tradition of thought which considers
as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here
the issue is clearly whether or not reason stands at the beginning and
foundation of all things." This was the theme that the pope addressed in the
Regensburg Lecture. The civilization to which we belong is founded in and
addressed by reason. Scripture itself recognizes this. This understanding of logos, reason, is the basis of man's internal order within
oneself and of the grounds on which we know that we are addressed by God's
self-revelation. God's "self-revelation," as Benedict explained to the Cistercians
needs a faith that is open to reason and that is capable to receive it, hence
to a philosophy that is based on what is.
What is the fundamental issue here? "The issue is whether
reality originates by chance and necessary, and thus whether reason is merely a
chance by product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too,
in the end, is meaningless," Benedict explains, "or whether instead the
underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat
Verbum--in the beginning was the Word; at
the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make
himself known to human beings." The doctrine of creation thus holds that the
foundation of the order in things is rooted in nothing less than the Logos, the Word, in which all things not God found their
meaning and order. This is why the pope could say, as he did in the Vienna Konzerthaus, that "God calls each of us into being and gives us
a task." He awaits our "response." This is the ultimate basis of our given
dignity. We do not give ourselves being, but accept it as a gift. And our being
itself implies a task that leads to God through our response to others.
As a confirmation and affirmation of what he has been
saying, Benedict cites his friend, the non-Christian German philosopher, JŘrgen
Habermas. Habermas remarked that an understanding of the modern era requires an
understanding of Christianity as something more than a "catalyst." The notions
of "social coexistence" and "freedom" that stem from "egalitarian universalism"
arise from the Jewish notion of justice and the "Christian ethics of love."
Many thinkers and ideologue seek to find an alternative explanation of the
validity of these ideas. "To this day an alternative to id does not exist,"
Habermas concludes. One might say, in general, that one of the most astonishing
aspects of modern philosophy is its reluctance to understand the role of
Christianity in western civilization and in the progress of reason. Habermas,
along with thinkers like Christopher Dawson and Pierre Manent, is a refreshing
The pope's lecture in the Vienna Konzerthaus was directed to Volunteer Organizations in Austria.
As we recall from Deus Caritas Est,
the theme of voluntary organizations has become a favorite of Benedict. Behind
its purpose is the issue of the limits of the state. Christianity has indeed
added something to the world that is beyond the confines of the justice or
benevolence, both valid natural virtues. Christianity, as the French
philosopher, Remi Brague, remarks in his Law of God, has relatively little direct effect on the
political order but much effect on the order of society and family. Ernest
Fortin also wrote well on this topic. The pope praises the "culture of
voluntarism" that he finds in Austria. "Love of neighbor is not something that
can be delegated: the State and the political order, even with their necessary
concern for the provision of social services, cannot take its place." Neglect
of what the state cannot do is what is really the matter with so many "social
justice" schemes naively designed to cure human ills. It is true that one of
the reasons that people cannot help themselves is because of incomprehension of
the political order, and how to do so through application of the principles of
subsidiarity and the common sense experience of what works. This limited
capacity is not necessarily a defect of politics. But it is an awareness of
what politics was never set up to do. It is within this area that Christian
revelation has its first entry into human culture.
The pope has something much more profound in mind. "Love of
neighbor always demands personal commitment and the State, of course, can and
must provide the conditions which make this possible." People, especially the
young, want to know that they can help. Often they do not realize that it is
precisely the personal element that is lacking in many social ills and
disorders. "Jesus called men and women and gave them the courage needed to
embark on a great undertaking, one to which, by themselves, they would never
hade dared to aspire." What is important about this passage is that charity
does not necessarily mean that we embark on some grandiose scheme to transform
the world. Rather we are to be personally present when someone, because of his
intrinsic dignity, is in need.
In the Regensburg Lecture, Benedict cited Duns Scotus as one
of the origins of Western voluntarism, of the idea that there is no real order
in nature except God's arbitrary will. Here, as if to show us that a man who
can have a dubious idea in one area may have a perfectly good one in another
area, the pope cited the great Franciscan theologian as saying, "Deus vult
condiligentes – God wants persons who
love together with him." Benedict even cites Nicholas of Cusa as saying,
"since the eye is where love is found, I know that you love me...." The phrase
"the eye is where love is found"--ubi amor ibi oculus"--is cited often in literature, first perhaps by
Democritus junior. Josef Pieper uses it. Nicholas says that "our gaze must be
creative." The pope adds to this remark that "Jesus Christ does not teach us a
spirituality 'of closed eyes,' but one of 'alertness,' one which entails an
absolute duty to take notice of the needs of others...." No spirituality of
"closed eyes," the "absolute duty to notice the needs of others"—these
are marvelous phrases.
"Unremunerated service has much to do with God's grace,"
Benedict explains. "A culture which would calculate the cost of everything,
forcing human relationships into a strait jacket of rights and duties, is able
to realize, thanks to the countless people who freely donate their time and
service to others, that life is an unmerited gift." Strictly, in a culture of
pure "rights," no one can do anything for anyone, all would be due in justice;
no generosity or gift could exist.
This principle of how economics cannot itself be effective
unless there is something more than economics was the theme of Jennifer Roback
Morse's book Love and Economics. If our
world is filled with just "rights and duties," as Benedict said, there is no
room left in it for generosity and gift. This too was the theme of Chesterton's
What's Wrong with the World. The
very salvation of the state itself, in the pope's view, depends on what is not
political, something in a certain way already in Aristotle. This is the newness
that Christianity put into the world, the lack of which, the world will not be
able fully to function as itself.
The ultimate motive to help others is a "solidarity born of
'gratuitousness.'" The pope returns to the notion that our very lives are the
result, at bottom, of a gift, a generosity that is beyond our being. "It was as
a free gift that we received life from our Creator; it was as a free gift that
we were set free from the blind alley of sin and evil; it was as a free gift
that we were given the Spirit with his many gifts." The core of the doctrine of
creation is, simply, that God need not have created because He lacked
something. Creation itself is a gift of abundance of the divine being.
"Without volunteer service, society and the common good
could not, cannot and will not endure," the pope says astonishingly. This pope
speaks with a new voice. "A readiness to be at the service of others is
something which surprises the calculus of outlay and return: it shatters the
rules of a market economy. The value of human beings cannot be judged by purely
economic criterion." This passage is not intended to deny that economics and a
market economy do not have a place or are not necessary. In one sense all the
important things of life are beyond economics, but at the same time economics
at its best helps them to be. The thesis of the Morse book was precisely that
an economics by economic criterion alone cannot understand a family. The family
itself needs economics for its material well-being, but a family's inner
relationships are governed by something beyond economics or politics.
When he came to the end of his lecture on voluntarism,
Benedict added: "praying to God sets us free from ideologies or a sense of
hopelessness in the face of endless needs." Why would the pope say that praying
to God "sets us free from ideologies?" I think the reason is that it is the
ideologies of our time--including Marxism, liberalism, to some extent capitalism--are
driven by a desire for this-worldly perfection as a product of human power
alone. The attraction of the ideologies is that by themselves they can
establish justice and abundance for everyone. They do not need of either grace
or personal sacrifice, both of which are beyond payment. Much of the cost of
health care at all levels is the result of the decline and disappearance of a
voluntarism based on charity. This is what the pope again reminds us of. This
is why what is called the "social apostolate" that bases itself on ideology
rather than charity will find itself allied with the impersonal forces of our
era, not with Christian voluntarism based on charity.
After mentioning the centrality of prayer even in issues of
social order, the pope in his Austrian trip includes a visit to the famous
Cistercian monastery of Heiligenkreuz.
The photo taken there shows the Holy Father surrounded by a large number of
monks. The pope has his hands raised in greeting to which the smiling, manly
monks in habit respond with smiles and clapping. What does Benedict tell them?
To leave the monastery and do something useful? Rather he tells them,
something unintelligible to so many, that the Divine Office, prayer, is "for
its own sake." It is intended as a "pure divine service." As Josef Pieper said,
no social order is safe that does not have present within it those who devote
their lives directly to the contemplative worship of God.
Going back to the idea of how important a sound theology is,
Benedict adds, "Our light, our truth, our goal, our fulfillment, our
life—all this is not a religious doctrine but a person. Jesus Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and
to desire god, we ourselves were already sought and desired, and indeed, found
and redeemed by him." This passage echoes the pope's book Jesus of
Nazareth. And it also recalls what he said
of our very being that we exist as images of God, each of us created for a
destiny to be chosen by us and thus to return to God.
Benedict, who is well aware of the profound influence of the
Benedictine Order on the history and culture of Germany, in particular, tells
the monks that "the core of monasticism is worship...." But it also includes
"work." This is the famous Benedictine motto, ora et labora, a phrase that can in many ways be said to be found
the very heart even of modern economics and the order of our days. "Your
primary service to the world must therefore be your prayer and celebration of
the Divine Office." How counter-cultural the pope is! After telling us of the
importance of voluntarism, he still insists that prayer comes first. Without
it, we will not only not become generous to others, but we will not see why we
should be. The notion of sacrificial giving to others constitutes the very
essence of the Trinity, the Christian understanding of the Godhead.
Because of their history and understanding of what is at
issue, German universities have as part of their very structure, as Benedict
also noted in his Regensburg Lecture, faculties of theology as part of their
rational order. This principle is something American universities have, for the
most part, not understood, a fact that leaves them less than full universities.
A university is a place where all things, including revelation, can be
approached from reason. "Important though it is that the discipline of theology
be part of the universitas of knowledge
through the presence of Catholic theological faculties in state universities,
it is equally important that there should be academic institutions like your
own, where there can be a deeper interplay between scientific theology and
lived spirituality." There remains a place for specialized theological
faculties in religious orders and institutes to deepen the specific
understanding of theology.
The pope adds: "God is never simply the 'object' of
theology; he is always its living 'subject' as well." That is to say, the
self-revelation of God to rational beings constitutes what is to be studied and
reflected upon in terms of our better able in reason to grasp what is being
presented to us, something we long to do. Christian theology is the logos of God's "self-revelation." A theology that does not
begin from faith "ceases to be theology." This beginning in faith does not make
what follows "blind," but in fact is what further illumines reason to be
The pope again reiterates the importance of Fides et
Ratio. There the vital role of reason and
philosophy was emphasized for theologians, as well as pointing out that the
limitations of philosophy itself leave open a communication of a higher order
that is none the less intelligible. "Neglect of the intellectual dimension can
give rise all too easily to a kind of superficial piety nourished mostly by
emotions and sentiments, which cannot be sustained over a lifetime. Neglect of
the spiritual dimension, in turn, can crate a rarefied rationalism which, in
its coldness and detachment, can never bring about an enthusiastic
self-surrender to God." Faith is never really complete unless it is addressed
to a reason actively prepared to know what it can know, while reason is never
complete if it rejects all the sources of enlightenment that are available to
In conclusion, as Benedict said at the Homily on the 850th
anniversary of Mariazell: "Our faith is decisively
opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of
truth—as if this were more than he could cope with. This attitude of
resignation with regard to truth, I am convinced, lies at the heart of the
crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe." This remarkable passage again sums
up, I think, the whole apostolic and missionary agenda of this pope. While
Islam and its voluntarism are a problem, as we saw in the Regensburg Lecture,
the real root of this issue is in what has happened to Greek philosophy and the
response of the Christian faith to it within Europe in modern times. At the
heart of the crisis of the West and of Europe is a certain tiredness, a
skepticism about the very possibility of truth, a denial of what is. And this crisis arises not so much out of the
impossibility of finding this truth, but of the moral refusal to accept it and
what it means for human living to live it.
Returning to the notion that we are each created as gifts of
God in our very conception, to those attitudes of living that instead of
choosing life, refuse it, Benedict, in a graphic sentence, concludes again at Mariazell: "Europe has become child-poor; we want
everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only
when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are
extinguished—when the Face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where
God is, there is the future." The "Face of God" theme, of course, was often
used by John Paul II and is found in the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel LÚvinas, among others. It
is in fact biblical. We long to see God face-to face, as Paul tells us. This
very expression implies "incarnation."
The pope, in the end, is not worried primarily about whether
the planet can support us, our ability adequately to develop it, or even by our
many disorders of soul. What primarily concerns him (though this too is a
disorder of soul) is the increasing childlessness of Europe and what this
indicates about its soul. The central problem of Europe is the extinguishing
of the forces of reason and of reason illuminated by revelation. Benedict
rightly intimates that societies that war on their own children and their
elderly, that lose heart over a future that includes their own children, suffer
from a self-chosen deprivation. Until this issue of lack of children and of
what it implies about a civilization is frankly met, the pope's agenda for the
rest of the world will no doubt be held in abeyance. The long-range issue is
how the Logos of revelation meets
whatever logos is found within
all historic cultures and religions, beginning with the one, as Benedict said
in the Regensburg Lecture, that Paul directed himself to when he went over into
Let me conclude: "This attitude of resignation with regard
to the truth, I am convinced, lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the
crisis of Europe."
"God has called each of us into being and gives us a
"Christian theology is never a purely human discourse about
God, but always, and inseparably, the logos
and 'logic' of God's self-revelation."
"Where God is, there is the future."
 The papal addresses in Austria are found in L'Osservatore
Romano, English, September 11, 2007.
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James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing,
Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing,
and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning. His most recent books are
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006) and The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007).
Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!