"No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing": Ratzinger and Europe | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. |
August 11, 2007 | IgnatiusInsight.com
"No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing": Ratzinger and Europe | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 11, 2007
"There is no weighing of good that can justify treating man as experimental material for higher ends." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Cernobbio (Como)
Italy, September 8, 2001 
"There is no disputing the historical fact of the Christian faith in giving life to Europe." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, La Combe Cemetery
(Caen) France, June 5, 2004 
"There is no such thing as an a-historical State based on abstract reason." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Church of St. Etienne,
(Caen), June 5, 2004 
In his brief "Preface" to Europe: Today
and Tomorrow (Ignatius Press, 2007), a collection of eight essays, lectures, and homilies that touch on
the nature of Europe and the concept of politics that this entails, Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger remarked that he had not particularly planned to speak on
these topics. But "I have been invited repeatedly during the past decade to
give conferences on this subject (of Europe)." These often brief, occasional
addresses deserve some attention as they are filled with insights that we might
otherwise miss. This material comes from the three years just before Joseph
Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. He has always displayed a generous
willingness to speak frankly and freely on many topics insisting only on the
force of his arguments. He again reveals himself as both erudite and clear
about what he holds. His mind exists in that realm of freedom that is oriented
to the truth and in this form makes a particularly powerful demand on the
integrity of his readers.
I have given these
reflections a rather "odd" title: "No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing."
These words, taken from passages in the book, reveal a man who is willing to
take a stand, to call something what it is, even if unpopular, but not because
it is unpopular--rather because it is the truth. We begin to realize that one
of the unique things about Benedict XVI is his preference for reason and
reasoned argument. Though he be pope, he keeps insisting that what he says is
reasonable, and it is. It makes sense. I am sure that, if necessary and
appropriate, he will use his authority. His very office means there is a place
for it. But he is disarming.
Benedict's book on Jesus
of Nazareth specifically indicated
that no one had to believe what he said if he had reasons not to do so. But
this very approach puts the shoe on the other foot, as it were--not on his but
on ours. We can no longer reject the arguments for Catholicism simply because
they are said to come from "authority." This is a popular rationalization. This
very authority, however, claims reasonableness, even when faith is also
included. Faith is always directed to reason, to a reason that knows it is not
itself divine. Faith always seeks understanding.
The first matter I should
like to take up is that of war. Recently, while on vacation at Lorenzago di
Cadore, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the famous peace effort of Benedict XV on
August 1, 1917, to propose a peace plan that would have avoided the worst
slaughters of World War I. The beautiful Alpine area of Italy where the pope
was at the time had been the scene of World War I battles. "The Holy See's
proposal was oriented to the future of Europe and the world. It complied with a
project that was Christian in inspiration but could be shared by all since it
was based on the rights of people." (L'Osservatore Romano, July 25, 2007). Here we have a hint of the close
connection the pope sees between Europe and what it is with a more general
politics that propose an alternative to war.
Yet, even Scripture tells us
that there will always be "wars and rumors of war." In the same address,
Benedict notes that "sin ruins ever anew this divine project (or order),
causing division and introducing death into the world. Thus humanity succumbs
to the temptations of the evil One and wages war against itself. Patches of
'hell' are consequently also created in this marvelous 'garden' which is the
world." One of the striking features of the pope's book on Europe is what might
be called its "anti-utopianism."
The pope, as a German, takes
considerable pains to make sense of World War II, a war many think was caused
in part by the unfortunate and vindictive treaty imposed after World War I.
"The Treaty of Versailles had deliberately planned to humiliate Germany and
impose enormous burdens on it, which reduced its people to dire straits, thus
opening the door to extremist ideologies and dictatorship" (115). The pope is
at pains to praise the efforts after World War II, largely instigated by
Americans and Christian politicians, to reconcile winners and losers in that
war. This meditation Cardinal Ratzinger gave at the German cemetery at La Combe
on the meaning of the lives of those German soldiers buried there is moving.
"As Germans we are grieved by the fact that their (dead soldiers') idealism,
their enthusiasm, and their loyalty to the State were exploited by an unjust
regime" (114). The implication is that such confusion can happen anywhere, not
just in Germany.
Again Benedict XVI knows
that, however important his mission to reason be, "history shows us that too
often men act in ways contrary to all logic and reason. The fact that the
politics of reconciliation (after World War II), triumphed is to the credit of
a whole generation of politicians: let me recall the names of Adenauer,
Schumann, De Gasperi, De Gaulle. These were objective, intelligent men who had
a healthy political realism. But their realism was rooted in the firm ground of
the Christian ethos of
enlightenment, refined by reason" (116). The political philosophy of Benedict
XVI can, like that of Augustine, be characterized by these words spoken at a
German cemetery, that of "political realism," where sin and the fall are not
strangers, nor is there an absence of reason and the practical effort to do
what can be done.
In an address he gave at
Caen in Normandy on June 5, 2004, Josef Ratzinger gave his assessment of the
morality itself of fighting World War II. It is a passage, I think, of great
importance. Christians (but not only Christians) are often so insistent on
"peace" that they only belatedly face the reality of an enemy who would
demolish them if he could. Ratzinger characterized life under Nazism as "a dominion
of lies" (86). "No one could confide in anyone else, because everyone, in a
way, had to protect himself under a mask of lies that, on the one hand, served
the purpose of self-defense but tended, on the other hand, to strengthen the
power of evil." This description is, in fact, pretty much the description of
life under a tyrant that is found in Aristotle's Politics. It is often a popular ridicule to see in political
movements a "power of evil," but sometimes no other explanation is possible. If
we are dominated by relativism, as the pope often indicates we are, it will be
doubly impossible to see what really threatens us.
Could the Germans themselves
have risen up to get rid of the Nazis? Some, as in the case of General Rommel
and others, tried. "Thus it was necessary for the whole world to intervene in
order to break the cycle of criminality and to reestablish liberty and law,"
Ratzinger thought. The implication of this sentence is that even those not
immediately involved in such an evil or who can do little about it have
responsibilities to get rid of it. "We Germans too give thanks that liberty and
law were restored to us through that military operation. If ever in history
there was a just war, this was it: the Allied intervention ultimately benefited
also those against whose country the war was waged" (86). This is a sentence
that should be etched on the walls of every honorable military academy in the
world. It comes from the defeated. It does not "justify" all wars but it is
based on the realism that can see what is at stake in a given historical
The pope next takes up
pacifism, which can have its witnesses, but which can also be a mask for not
doing what is necessary to protect freedom and justice. Here, he remarks, we
have demonstrated "on the basis of a historical event that absolute pacifism is
unsustainable." Notice the careful use of these words. The grounds for war are
to be demonstrated by what is actually going on in this or that country, in
this or that time. It is not an abstraction but a concrete realization of the
power and nature of a regime that seems to extend its force and limits. This is
why the pope says, as I cited above, "there is no such thing as an a-historical
State based on abstract reasoning."
The pope is careful to
retain the "just war" context of these considerations. The just war theory was
developed in Christian and classical thought precisely to explain why honorable
regimes must at times defend themselves or others in the very name of justice.
We still must ask if "just war" is possible and a duty in every occasion where
use of force arises. The answer cannot ever be an "unequivocal" never. It
depends on judgment and prudence. This is how the pope defines a just war: "a
military intervention conducted in the interests of peace and according to
moral criteria against unjust regimes." This means that "peace and law" and
"peace and justice" are connected. "When law is trampled on and injustice comes
to power, peace is always threatened and is already to some extent broken. In
this sense a commitment to peace is above all a commitment to a form of law
that guarantees justice for the individual and for the entire community."
Clearly this means that a military and police component to the very possibility
of law and justice is presupposed. The allowing of law to be "trampled" on and
of "injustice" to come to power is clearly a sign of civic blindness and moral
irresponsibility. This position was also the gist of C. S. Lewis' famous essay
"Why I Am Not a Pacifist," found in his Weight of Glory.
Benedict in the same address
does not hesitate to ask about the wars that followed World War II. They are
strikingly many in lands ranging from Korea to Iraq, from Chechnya to Somalia,
from Bangladesh to Algeria (88). Next the pope takes up the issue of
"terrorism." He even says that it has "become a sort of new world war" (90).
This is quite an accurate phrase: "a new world war." What are its dimensions
and what is its nature? This is a war, Ratzinger remarks, "with no definite
front, which can strike everywhere and no longer recognizes the distinction
between combatants and the civilian population, between the guilty and the
innocent. " Ratzinger includes in this category "organized crime," whose force
is "constantly strengthening and extending its network." Could such forces gain
nuclear or biological weapons? They could.
Referring back to the logic
of the cold war, the pope granted that it still retained some intelligible
rationale. "As long as this potential for destruction (nuclear and biological
weapons) remained exclusively in the hands of the major powers, one could
always hope that reason and the awareness of the dangers weighing upon the
people and the State could rule out the use of the type of weaponry. Indeed,
despite all the tensions between East and West, we were spared a full-scale
war, thanks be to God." This passage, I would say, is a belated acknowledgement
(though John Paul II said the same thing) that deterrence did work and the fact
that increased accuracy of technology and weaponry finally convinced the
Soviets that they could not keep up achieved its purpose.
However, the terrorist
situation is different. "We can no longer count on such reasoning (mutual
deterrence and rational comprehension), because the readiness to engage in
self-destruction is one of the basic components of terrorism—a kind of
self-destruction that is exalted as martyrdom and transformed into a promise"
(91). Presumably, the pope does not equate Muslim terrorists with organized crime
in this sense. The gangster or dope runner is not seeking martyrdom whereas the
Muslim terrorist, in his own rationale, is. The gangster is in it for power and
money, not for religion.
The pope still thinks that
this terrorism itself can be met but by careful means. "One cannot put an end
to terrorism—a force that is opposed to the law and cut off from
morality—solely by means of force. It is certain that, in defending the
law against a force that aims to destroy law, one can and in certain
circumstances must make use of proportionate force in order to protect it."
This is clearly the reasonable, common-sense position. Again the pope adds, "An
absolute pacifism that denies the law any and all coercive measures would be
capitulation to injustice, would sanction its seizure of power, and would
abandon the world to the dictates of violence." Again, these are memorable
words much in need of recollection and emphasis.
This position does not mean
neglecting the ideological roots of terrorism, nor the need for forgiveness.
Endeavors to break the hold of terrorists need to be put into effect, including
humanitarian ones. Here Ratzinger touches on the Islamic question as he has
often done, with the question of whether God wills the use of violence in his
cause. "There seems to be a collision of two major cultural systems, which
manifest, nevertheless, quite different forms of power and of moral
perspective: the 'West; and Islam. What is the West, however? And what is
Islam?" (92). Ratzinger cautions against generalizations, as there are
diversities within these cultures. He is also quick to reject the rationalist
position that all faith is "fundamentalist" or fanatic. Religion itself is
often viewed by modern skeptics as the only reason for terrorism.
Yet, if we accept the famous
view that at bottom all wars are theological, we cannot avoid the effort to
understand the recent surge of Islam or parts of it to world power and the
expansion of Islam as its historic religious destiny. Ratzinger acknowledges
"pathologies" both of religion and of reason. "There can be no peace in the
world without genuine peace between reason and faith," he writes (93). More
than anything else, I suspect, this defines this pope's overall agenda in the
world. This book, in fact, with its intimations of his future "Regensburg
Lecture," drafts the rationale for his thinking. In this particular book, he is
more concerned with Europe than Islam, though he quite clearly understands that
what we know as modern Europe came about in its geographical area because Islam
had conquered the South and East, and even parts of the North of Europe, Spain
and the Balkans and for a time Sicily and Sardinia.
But Joseph Ratzinger here
gives a priority to Europe, which in fact has a background in both the Old and
New Testaments, as well as in Greek and Roman thought and history. Ratzinger,
echoing Paul VI and John Paul II, senses the fact that Europe today is itself
dying, almost by choice. "Europe, precisely in this hour of its greatest
success, seems to have become hollowed out, paralyzed in a certain sense by a
crisis of its circulatory system.... This interior dwindling of the spiritual
strength that once supported it is accompanied by the fact that Europe appears
to be on its way out ethnically as well. There is a strange lack of will for
the future. Children, who are the future, as seen as threats to the present..."
(24). It is into this decline of population that Islam sees its primary
opportunity. Ratzinger knows the theoretic issue: "whenever abortion is
considered a right, a personal freedom, the freedom of one person is placed
above the right to life of another" (65). Human life itself is relativized.
This result of giving
dominion of one person over another was what C. S. Lewis had foreseen in his Abolition
of Man. What are the theoretical
the values that had built Europe are completely overturned. Even worse, there
is a rupture here with the complex moral tradition of mankind: there are no
longer any values apart from the goals of progress; at a given moment,
everything can be permitted and even necessary, can be 'moral' in a new sense
of the word. Even man can become an instrument; the individual does not matter.
The future alone becomes the terrible deity that rules over everyone and
These are ideas that more
particularly sway the European intellectual whom Ratzinger sees as
embracing much the same voluntarism that is found in Islamic thinkers.
What is the alternative?
"The first element is the unconditional character of human dignity and human
rights, which must be presented as values that are prior to any governmental
jurisdiction. These fundamental rights are not created by the legislature or
conferred upon the citizens" (30). This is a perceptive passage and shows that
Ratzinger is aware of the problem of "modern natural rights" as stemming from
Locke and Hobbes, in which the only justification for their status is precisely
their creation by the legislature. This is the view that often underpins
"rights" discussions today and causes so much confusion to Catholics who try to
use "rights talk" to an audience that thinks that "rights" are what the people
will or the legislature enacts. The notion that rights are rooted in creation
and being is totally alien to them; for them it is a violation of "freedom,"
the freedom to define the distinction of right and wrong.
No doubt, we find a double
standard. The anti-Catholicism that is implicit in much modern legislation and
opinion is noted by Cardinal Ratzinger. "Anyone who insults the Qur'an and the
fundamental beliefs of Islam is censured, too. On the other hand, when Christ
and what is sacred to Christians are concerned, suddenly freedom of opinion
appears to be the highest good, and to limit it would be to endanger tolerance
and freedom in general or to destroy them outright. " (33). Since the very
ideas of freedom and reason arose in the West, this anti-Christian behavior is,
as Ratzinger likes to put it, almost aberrant. "Here we notice a
self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and that can be considered
pathological; yet, the West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely
open to understanding foreign values, but it no longer loves itself; from now
on it sees its own history only as a blameworthy and destructive...." This theme
of "self-hatred" too has theological overtones. As we saw in the last century,
the rationalist ideas that formed modernity have brought not paradise on earth
but new forms of tyranny.
"Meanwhile the manipulation
of man by man is proceeding apace with even greater impudence. The visions of
Huxley are definitely becoming a reality: the human being must be no longer
begotten irrationally but rather produced rationally. But man as a product is
at the disposal of man." (41). This is where the pope says that "there is no
weighing of goods that can justify treating man as experimental material for
higher ends." (42). There are absolutes according to which we understand
reality. No human life is "subject" to another. The relationship of one human
being to another is reasonable and prudential, not based on subjugation based
on ownership or science.
As I have said, Cardinal
Ratzinger is particularly anti-utopian. Politics does not consist in making the
world perfect, but in doing what we can in an imperfect world. "Revolution and
utopia—the nostalgia for a perfect world—are connected; they are
the concrete form of this new political, secularized messianism. The idol of
the future devours the present; the idea of revolution is the adversary of
reasonable political action aimed at making concrete improvements to the
world." (52). What replaces real people is a kind of vision of the "future"
with no known content, in which we totally arrange what we are and want.
Joseph Ratzinger is aware of
the theological origins of such a dangerous view. "An enthusiastic
eschatological-revolutionary messianism is absolutely foreign to the New
Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom of reason; politics does not
establish the Kingdom of God but it certainly ought to be concerned about the
just kingdom of man, which means to create the conditions of domestic and
international peace...." (59). This sane position is the real Christian
understanding of politics. There is an ultimate end. It is achieved through
life in this world, but is not a conclusion of politics here and now or in a
worldly future. Yet, it can make even politics better by concentrating our
attention on what is possible.
The Holy Father states the
issue well: "The Christian faith distinguishes this (secular character of the
State) from the Kingdom of God, which does not and cannot exist in this world
as apolitical reality, but rather comes into being through faith, hope, and
charity and must transform the world from within." (99). This is Plato's view
also, and Aristotle's, the Greek mind at the foundations of our culture. No
reform of the polity can take place that does not begin from within the soul of
Thus, in these brief lectures and homilies, Joseph Ratzinger gives a good understanding of Europe,
of politics, of war, of the place of man in this world and his transcendent
destiny. Again the pope returns to the Trinity and to the centrality of the
Incarnation in understanding our situation in the world. He provides the
intellectual and theological background to understand out times, particularly
to understand the place of Europe on the world stage.
In a homily he gave at the
Cathedral of Bayeux on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, on June 6, 2004, Cardinal
Ratzinger told us that "it is part of our responsibility as Christians to see
to it that God remains in our world, that he is present to it as the one and
only force capable of preserving mankind from self-destruction. God is One and
Three: he is not an eternal solitude; rather, he is an eternal love that is
based on the reciprocity of: the Persons, a love that is the first cause, the
origin, and the foundation of all being and of every form of life" (106). The
world may not accept the Christian explication of the world as the one that
conforms to what is. What it
cannot do, while Josef Ratzinger is on the See of Peter, is complacently assume
there is no hard thinking and understanding of the alternatives in the
The real problem is no longer
primarily in reason but in will. This is why Joseph Ratzinger thinks that
modern rationalists and modern Islamic terrorism have the same intellectual
roots in a metaphysical voluntarism in which all things are permitted. This
little book is a good account of the Christian alternative, one that makes
considerably more sense than we are likely to give it credit for doing. The
last sentence in this book, spoken at the German cemetery in La Combe is this:
"The earth can be a brighter place and the world can be humane only if we let
God into the world" (117). These words incite me to recall the thesis of Jesus
of Nazareth, the pope's book,
namely, that Jesus is already in this world, and He is God. All else depends on
our knowing and affirming this fact.
 Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger, "Reflections on Europe," Europe: Today
and Tomorrow, translated by M. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 42.
 Ibid., 116.
 Ibid., 99.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Faith in the Triune God, and Peace in the World | Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger | An excerpt from Europe:
Today and Tomorrow
Pope Benedict XVI On Natural Law | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Two (And Only Two) Cities | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Secularity: On Benedict XVI and the Role of Religion in
Society | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
"A Requirement of Intellectual Honesty": On Benedict and the
German Bishops | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Intellectual Charity: On Benedict XVI and the Canadian
Bishops | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Temptation of the Earthly City: Tolkien's
Augustinian Vision | Dr. Jose Yulo
The State Which Would Provide Everything | Fr.
James V. Schall, S.J.
What Is Catholic Social Teaching? | Mark Brumley
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly
About God and Man | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Courage To Be Imperfect | D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.
The Theological Genius of Joseph
Ratzinger | D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
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!