"No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing": Ratzinger and Europe | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 11, 2007 | Part One | Part Two
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 implications?
Here 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 everything. (29)
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 the citizens.
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 Christian position.
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.
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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.
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