"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 7, 2007.


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." [1] 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 cultures.

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 rights."

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, Jürgen 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 exception.


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 reason.

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 man.


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 Lévinas, 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 Macedonia.

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 personal task."

"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."


[1] The papal addresses in Austria are found in L'Osservatore Romano, English, September 11, 2007.

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Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

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 website.

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