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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 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.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links, Articles, and Book Excerpts:

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• 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.
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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.
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• No Tradition? No Civilization! | Fr. John Navone, S.J.
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

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.

Visit 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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