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"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
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
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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