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"Where God is, there is the future" | On Benedict XVI in Austria | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | October 1, 2007 |
Part One | Part Two
"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 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
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.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links, Articles, and Book Excerpts:
"No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing": Ratzinger
and Europe | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
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
No Tradition? No Civilization! | Fr. John Navone,
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!
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