Possessed of Both Reason and Revelation: Revisiting Regensburg | Brian Jones, MA | Ignatius Insight | September 13, 2011
On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave an address at University of Regensburg, where he was once a distinguished professor and scholar. In the days and weeks that followed his lecture, outcries began to surface, and many commentators misinterpreted not only what the pope actually said, but also missed the heart of the lecture. Quite a few felt (notice that I said "felt" and not "thought") that the pope negatively criticized Islam, and this was clearly seen in the riots that broke out in some Muslim countries. Other commentators (such as Fr. James V. Schall, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, and C.S. Morrisey) noted how greatly the message of the Holy Father was distorted and misunderstood, especially by many in the Western world.
Although Benedict did discuss a few issues regarding Islam, this is not his main focus. His reflections were meant to challenge us to ask the most basic and fundamental questions about faith and reason: How are we to understand the two: as united, or as entities that must be separated? Is reason more itself with or without the aid of knowledge outside of itself? The great inheritance of the Catholic intellectual tradition reveals that faith and reason can never be separated, but must be harmoniously united so as to uphold the full dignity of each.
According to Benedict, if faith and reason are mutually exclusive, then they become distorted and susceptible to a widespread confusion about their true purpose and nature. By establishing a correct understanding of faith and reason (along with their proper integration), Benedict gave the world "an interreligious and ecumenical vocabulary by which Muslims, Jews, Christians, adherents of other world religions, and non-believers can engage in genuine conversation."  In his book, The Nature and Mission of Theology, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that men are capable of reciprocal comprehension in truth so that "the greater their inner contact with the one reality which unites them, namely, the truth, the greater their capacity to meet on common ground."  Without this understanding, dialogue would merely be spoken on "deaf ears."
This essay will elaborate upon this ever-present dismantling of the unity of faith and reason, by first examining the idea of God as Logos (Reason) versus the idea of God as purely "will," and then explain the consequences of separating God from reason, what Benedict calls the "dehellenization of Christianity." If man is capable of seeing why this synthesis of faith and reason is so vital for every culture, then their proper reconciliation can be achieved. This achievement will also enable faith and reason to remain intact, and prevent politics from becoming that science most proper to man, namely, metaphysics.
After his opening remarks on the great memories he had as a former professor of theology at Regensburg, Benedict reflected upon a text he read about a conversation between a fourteenth-century Byzantine Emperor and an educated Persian man. As noted previously, the main concern of Benedict's lecture was not Islam itself, but the growing separation between faith and reason. The dialogue that Benedict discusses, however, deals with the issue of faith and reason and "serves as a good starting point for further reflection."  The dialogue of the two men reaches a climax when the Emperor asks the Persian a question with regards to religion and violence. The Pope quoted the text: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."  For the Emperor, conversion was not to be forced or brought about by violence, but rather through a person's ability to speak well and reason properly. The Emperor opens the Persian to a profound realization: "not to act in accordance with reason is to act contrary to the nature of God."  With the education of Greek philosophy shaping his background, the Emperor understood this statement as rather apparent, but it was quite different for his interlocutor. For him, God is utterly transcendent, and His will is not bound up by any of our human categories, not even that of reason. Benedict quotes the Islamist Ibn Hazm, who said that God is "not even bound up by his word and nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us."  According to Hazm, if it were the will of God, He could make us reject Him, and order us to worship anything but Him.
It is not difficult to see the consequences of this idea of God. Man is faced with a burning question: "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?"  Benedict points to the Old Testament wisdom literature as evidence of the synthesis between the Hellenistic and Hebrew thought, but the fullest expression of this synthesis is seen in the Gospel of John. The beginning of the Gospel of John reads, "In the beginning was the Word," and the Pope notes that this was the very word used by the Emperor: "God acts with Logos."  Logos means both "reason and word," and this word is intelligible, creative, and able to communicate itself.
The Gospel of John, then, rightly states that "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was God." Although there were clashes with the Hellenistic rulers who desired all to worship the cult gods, biblical faith and the best of Greek thought were able to come together and bring about an enrichment that Benedict insists was not by mere chance, but by Providence (Benedict mentions the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures-as a prime example). If God is Logos, it means that a norm of reason follows from what God is. In the created order, things have "natures": they have specific fulfillments and ends. The recognition of "natures" enables man's intellect to conform to reality, which is the definition truth. Man understands that there is a reality, which exists outside of him that did not come to be of his own creation, but from something other than himself. As Fr. James Schall states, "it is a reality that cannot be otherwise by our own will." 
If God is not Logos, but pure "will" as an Islamic theology would purport, then saying that God is Logos places a "limit" upon Him. If God is pure "will," then anything that is can be the opposite of what it is, and then nothing would be what it truly is. God would be able to command something which is evil to be good and something which is good to be evil, so that all man knows is the "will" of God. This contrasting view of God is the essential difference between the Christian and Muslim worldview, and one which Benedict has recognized as one of the most important issues which needs to be discussed in its fullness if there is to be a true "dialogue of cultures."
The rejection of God as "Logos" leads to the belief that God is not even bound by His own truth and goodness. God's essence would be His volition. If God is pure "will," he can command something that would go against his own uncreated goodness and love. This transcendence would place God at such a great distance from man as to appear "hidden behind his decisions and actions." In response to this, the Catholic Church teaches that God does not become "more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer impenetrable voluntarism,"  but when He is understood as "Logos," as capable of communicating himself to man, and continuing to act in the world. In response to this assimilation of the purified Greek thought with biblical faith, there has been a call for what the pope calls a "dehellenization of Christianity." This "dehellenization" is a movement that is rather prevalent in today's theological climate. The proponents of this movement have sought to purify the biblical faith from the so-called "stain" of Greek thought. In order to return to the true, pure biblical faith, the faith of Jesus and the Apostles, philosophy must be eradicated from any theological inquiry. To Tertullian's question—what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?—we must reply, "Nothing."
Pope Benedict noted three historical phases that ushered in this dehellenization. The first stage of dehellenization emerged during the time of the Reformation. The Reformers "thought they were confronted with a faith system (scholasticism) totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought."  This led to the rejection of Christianity as a religion embedded in history, and it was seen rather as a theology which had been corrupted by a specific philosophical form. With the onslaught of Luther's sola scriptura doctrine, faith was to be restored to its biblical foundations. Since philosophy (specifically, scholastic philosophy) was seen as a great plague upon Christian theology, one of its most important contributions to theology had to be thrown out as well: metaphysics. Metaphysics gave theology a proper understanding of "being," where God's relationship to man and the world could be more clearly (though not completely) understood and articulated.
Removing philosophy from theology, the Reformers displaced faith from the speculative intellect to the practical intellect. Placing faith solely in the practical intellect has reduced the traditional understanding of the intellect as a spiritual faculty to something that only receives sensations. What matters are the sensations and perceptions that I alone receive. The unchanging, immutable universals of knowledge that were once understood to be knowable by the speculative intellect were now done away with, and all true knowledge was only material and sensible: "The universal idea possesses a fixity and invariableness of nature, while the sensuous image changes from moment to moment."  It is not difficult to see why the pope views this period as the starting point of dehellenization: with the removal of Greek thought from theological inquiry, what logically follows is skepticism and agnosticism.
Following the Reformation, the Pope cited the liberal Protestant theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as ushering in the second stage of dehellenization. The two most prominent figures who helped the growth of this movement were Adolf von Harnack and Immanuel Kant. Benedict stated von Harnack's central idea: "return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization."  Von Harnack believed that Christ's message was simple and sublime. The influence of Greek thought within the Gospel was seen as a way for theologians "to deck out religion in fine clothes."  Theology as a true "science" had to be restored to the university by arriving at the true biblical message of Jesus, which was devoid of philosophical and theological discussion. Jesus was a humanitarian and moralist who did away with this "old age" idea of worship. No longer was it necessary to ask questions about Christ's divinity, the Incarnation, or the Trinity. Liberating Christ's message from the strains of philosophical and theological reflection would bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason. Restoring the faith to its primitive, biblical state was the main goal of theology for von Harnack, and it would be this goal that would restore theology to its proper setting within the university. Along with the Reformers, von Harnack (a Lutheran theologian) once again reduced faith merely to the practical intellect. The very person of Jesus Christ was now viewed through a different lens: imitating Christ no longer prompted the "why" of his actions and deeds, but turned Christians in to a people of "doing." Christ was no longer the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, but a great teacher with a message of acting morally. Man is called to imitate Christ's actions merely because he did them, and asking "why" he did them was irrelevant.
In the shadows of this kind of thinking lies the "self-limitation" of reason classically expressed in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant's famous work, Critique of Pure Reason, was a critique of the speculative intellect and man's ability to know the higher truths. The purpose of the work was "enlightenment," freeing man's reason from the corruption of erroneous teachings concerning faith and intolerance. "Enlightenment," wrote Kant, "is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another....have courage to use your own reason—that is the motto of the enlightenment."  For Kant, man could not know God or the soul, but only his own self and will. The only knowable thing for man was the outward, material appearances; our senses are only capable of reaching phenomena, not an actual existing reality. Man's judgment does not and cannot go any deeper than these outward appearances. Philosophy, most especially metaphysics, "then fails to reach a knowledge of substance (or essence), and all the attempts to articulate knowledge of God, matter, and the soul are merely superfluous." 
Kant purported the idea that reason has been enslaved to the dominance of dogmatism and scholasticism, and that liberating reason will allow man to realize things do not have "natures." Man cannot know things in "themselves" because they are unknowable. His mind is structured by experience, and experience is the only legitimate authority that can be relied on. A very brief side note is important at this point to show the difference in the thought of Kant to a man who was educated in the mode of scholasticism, St. Thomas More. More believed the best manner of educating children was to train them in virtue because this required them to have a love of advice, or counsel. Counsel enabled children (and adults) to establish character and integrity, and this was very important for integrating faith and reason. "Man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another" would shed light on a reality which More believed firmly: man's fallen nature can cause him to become corrupt, and he constantly needs the nourishment of faith pieced together with reason. Otherwise, what results is a doctrine of sola fide, where the light of reason is seen as corrupting faith, or a reduction of faith that leaves reason without anything to elevate it to the knowledge of "ultimate reality."
The development of this idea that "experience is the only true knowledge" gave rise to two principles which the Pope said further divides faith and reason. The first principle claims that only that which is empirical and historical is truly scientific. All the different branches of knowledge purport this as the context in which something is judged to be scientific or not. This ultimately leads to the second principle, in which man is reduced in his entirety because questions concerning God are judged to be unscientific. The most decisive questions about man's origin, destiny, and the relationship between ethics and religions become reduced to meaninglessness and unproductive meanderings. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason crowns the subjective experience of man as the ultimate arbiter of what really is. These subjective experiences then dictate what is to be done in matters of religion and ethics. Religion becomes what "I" decide or constitute as "religious," and this becomes a rather dangerous affair because reason is cast aside as not having anything to do with religion. Putting aside these fundamental questions about God and man leads humanity to seek answers from the various fields of science, such as evolutionary psychology, neurobiology, or sociology. The Holy Father insisted that solutions such as these suffocate man in his own subjectivity and "end up being simply inadequate." 
The third and final stage of dehellenization is a multiculturalism that has sunk its roots deep within modern society. Society has so many different cultures embedded within, developed and undeveloped, that there is "no unity on the basis of principle or reason."  Pope Benedict points to some scholars who claim that the synthesis of the Hellenistic realized in the early church was strictly a matter of inculturation and should not be imposed upon all cultures. The proponents of this idea desire to return to the authentic faith of the apostolic church in order to rid it of the supposed damages of Greek philosophical thought and culture. This desire however, is not only impossible, but lacks the precise understanding of the important interaction between religion and culture. The Septuagint, a great example mentioned by Benedict, "bears the imprint of the Greek soul, which was a natural development from the Hebrew Scriptures."  While Benedict admits that not all the elements that came about in the early church had to be adapted by all cultures, "these fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself."  The emphasis here lies in the truth that religion is the basis of culture and not the other way around. If the Hellenistic culture were eradicated from the development of the life of the early Church, a great vacuum would be left. It was not by mere chance that the faith of the early Church came into contact with the grandeur of the Hellenistic world, but by God's hand, so the best of Athens was harmoniously incorporated to the faith of Jerusalem.
The scientific advancements of the past two centuries have truly brought much good to the world, but there must be a realization that science has its limits. As Tesla remarked in the film, The Prestige, "science is not an exact science." When science is elevated to the level of "salvific," it loses its integrity and authority as truly legitimate. Benedict stresses the importance of the achievements and possibilities that are the result of progress in humanity. What he is calling for is a welcomed appreciation towards the many accomplishments in the field of science, while also reaffirming the true scientific spirit.
The scientist conducts experiments and research in order to obtain a better glimpse into the way in which the world works and reveals its own natural law. While there is great hope for the growth of opportunity in this area, there is also the danger and temptation to use and manipulate the world to satisfy one's own desires. Oftentimes modern scientific discoveries and theories seem to exclude the notion of God as something pre-scientific, incapable of being examined under the tools of modern technology. Only by discovering the new ways of bringing together faith and reason can man overcome the "self-limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons."  This openness will bring theology back into its right place within the university precisely as "theology," the constant "inquiry into the rationality of faith." 
As is his custom, Benedict brought forth the most important issues to the feet of the world through an intellectual charity that is rarely seen. Theology in this century has been greatly impacted by Benedict's speech at his former university. The Pope stressed to the world "how men and women think about God—or don't think about God—has a great deal to do with how they envision the just society and how they determine the means to build that just society."  This is similar to Pope John Paul II's idea in Fides et Ratio that everyone is a philosopher, whether he realizes it or not. The philosophical and theological beliefs of man have an impact upon society because they affect the way in which he views the world and lives within it. Kant's emphasis on reason being freed from faith, for example, ends up destroying the reality and fruitfulness of both. Faith is not:
"An opponent of reason, but the advocate of its true nature...the struggle for the new presence of the rationality of faith is what I regard as an urgent task for the Church in our century. Faith should not withdraw into its own shell, behind a decision for which it gives no further reason; it should not shrink into being no more than a kind of system of symbols, in which people can make themselves at home but which would ultimately remain a random choice among other visions of life and the world. It needs the wide realm of open reason...the appeal to reason is a great task for the Church, especially today, for whenever faith and reason part company, both become diseases." 
Faith isolated in itself can become an opportunity to distort the rationality of it, enabling man to justify any action he chooses so long as it is done in the name of God. If theology, with the help of philosophical inquiry, instructs humanity that the nature of God is goodness and love, then committing an act of violence in His name not only violates that nature, but is ultimately unreasonable.
Not too long ago, a Muslim cleric purported that Allah will eventually conquer Rome, the capital of Catholics, by any means necessary, "even by violence or force."  The concept of conversion by force or violence challenges Benedict's appeal to a proper synthesis of faith and reason because the ascent to faith must be a choice made in freedom, in which the will, understanding, and emotions are cooperatively involved. This challenge is one which foresees future obstacles, but which also brings great hope to the world. When Christian faith is authentic:
"It does not diminish freedom and human reason; so, why should faith and reason fear one another if the best way for them to express themselves is by meeting and entering into dialogue? Faith presupposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith, which, indeed, requires its free and conscious adherence." 
In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared that our society is in dire need of a return to an authentic metaphysics. A metaphysics worthy of the name presupposes that the intelligible reality we desire to know is in fact not of our own creation. Metaphysical enquiry calls upon the human person to ask the fundamental questions that are required for a more truly human existence. Through this experience, man comes to realize that he cannot reject the knowable truth implanted in the created order of things and within himself.
Pope Benedict wants us to understand that metaphysics is the golden thread that links philosophy with the science of theology. The temptation for modern society is to have politics, psychology, or empirical data become metaphysics. Ultimately, it is Revelation that will allow reason to remain fully and truly itself.
 George Weigel, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action, (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 60.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 32-4.
 Pope Benedict XVI, "Reflections on Faith, Reason, and the University at the University of Regensburg", delivered September 12, 2006.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address.
 "God as Logos, Allah as Will", Interview with Fr. James Schall, (October 3, 2006).
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8, s.v. "Philosophy of Immanuel Kant."
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address.
 Adolf von Harnack, "What is Christianity"; lectures delivered at the University of Berlin during the winter term of 1899-1900.
 James C Livingston et al., Modern Christian Thought, vol. 2 (New York: Fortress Press, 2006), from the chapter, "The Enlightenment and Modern Christianity."
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address.
 "Regensburg Revisited"; Part II of an Interview with Fr. James Schall, (October 10, 2007).
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address.
 George Weigel, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, 13.
 Joseph Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, the Church as Communion, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 289-91.
 From a sermon delivered April 15, 2008 by Yunis Al-Astal, reported by CNA, "Muslim cleric proclaims Rome will soon be conquered by Islam" (April 14, 2008).
 Address of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI before his Angelus, (January 28, 2007).
Related Ignatius Insight Articles, Excerpts, and Interviews:
Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly About God and Man | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Benedict Takes the Next Step with Islam | Mark Brumley
Ratzinger and Regensburg: On What Is a University? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Price of Abandoning Reason | Dr. Jose Yulo
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On the Term "Islamo-Fascism" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Molochs of Modernity | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose Yulo
Brian Jones is currently an MA philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston; he received an MA in theology from Franciscan University. He and his wife, Michelle, just welcomed the birth of their first child, Therese Maria.
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