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Intellectual Charity: On Benedict XVI and the Canadian
Bishops | Fr. James V. Schall, S. J. | October 9, 2006
Recently, for a
course that I am doing in Medieval Political Philosophy, I had occasion to take
a look at the chapter on the Arab Philosophers--Al Kindi, Al Ghazeli, Al
Farabi, Avecenna, and Averroes, among others--in Etienne Gilson's famous History
of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. This book was first published on the Feast of St. Michael
the Archangel (September 29), 1954. It bears the Imprimatur of Cardinal
McGuigan. At the time, Gilson was the Director of Studies at the Pontifical
Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. Several of my own professors and
friends, I think particularly of Clifford Kossel, S.J., Raymond Dennehy, and
Desmond Fitzgerald, had studied there.
This famous book
of the great Gilson came to mind as I read the recent comments that Benedict
XVI gave to the Canadian bishops from Ontario. The Canadian talk was given just
a few days before (September 8) his now famous Regensburg Lecture (September
12). The Pope recalls the passage in 1 John 4:16, affirming that "we know and
believe the love that God has for us." The Pope explains these words. They
"reveal faith as personal adherence to God and concurrent assent to the whole
truth that God reveals." The text adds an un-cited reference to the fundamental
doctrinal statement that Joseph Ratzinger made as Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, namely Dominus Jesus (n. 7). I decided that I had better look
up this passage before I went on.
of Dominus Jesus
(August 6, 2000) says that the "proper response" to revelation is the
"obedience" of faith, "by which man freely entrusts his entire self to God.
"Faith is a gift of grace." We do not engineer it by ourselves. The "obedience"
of faith means "the acceptance of the truth of Christ's revelation." This truth
is guaranteed by God who is "Truth itself." Faith is a "supernatural virtue."
There is a double relation: that of trust in God and that to the truth
revealed. This basic content of faith is spelled out using a citation from the General
Catechism: "We must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (#144). We
should keep in mind those who do not hold these views or do not allow others to
reason, the distinction between theological faith and belief in the other
religions must be firmly held." No inter-religious discussion can be based on
the putting this truth aside. But this affirmation does not mean it is not
possible to grasp what is true in other religions, while maintaining the truth
of our own. The trouble is that "this distinction" between theological faith and what is belief in other religions is "not borne in mind in current
theological reflection." What is the result? "Theological faith (the acceptance
of the truth revealed by the One and Triune God) is often identified with
belief in other religions, which is religious experience still in search of the
absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself." Evidently,
this confusion is why we hear that it is not necessary to "convert" anyone
because the "belief" in religion is the same in all religions, including
Catholicism, with only differing modalities.
implies that what is believed--its content--it itself necessary to understand
not only as a part of faith but of reason also. The failure to make the
distinction between faith as revealed in its content and the sum of "beliefs"
in other religions is "one of the reasons why the difference between
Christianity and other religions tend to be reduced at times to the point of
disappearance." What is specifically Christian is thus eliminated as a kind of
minor oddity, whereas in fact it is the heart of the matter.
I have taken the
liberty at this point to cite what is said in Dominus Jesus, because it serves to make the point
that respect for other religions does not mean agreement with their doctrines
or practices unless there is something objectively true in them. We do not
enter here into subjective ignorance and other impediments, but only concern
ourselves with the affirmation that what is believed has a specific content.
This content is itself revealed and, as the Pope will state to the Canadian
bishops, this content itself will turn out to be culturally important on the
most fundamental of human and societal issues.
continues to the Canadian bishops by affirming that we must realize that "the
whole truth that God reveals can only be credibly proclaimed in the wake of an
encounter with Christ." Believers, including bishops, must in fact "believe" in
both senses, that God reveals and what He reveals. Benedict then returns to the
issue of modern disbelief. He is frank with the Canadian bishops. "In
increasingly secularized societies such as yours"--yes, Canada!--"the Lord's
outpouring of love to humanity can remain unnoticed or rejected." The
"outpouring" may indeed be there, but "unnoticed," even in Toronto or Montreal
or Vancouver. Not to notice what is there is itself a choice.
Why is this
personal withdrawal from faith made? Because many think that this "withdrawal"
will constitute their "freedom" to do what they want. But if we try to
understand ourselves without this relation to what we are conceived to be in
revelation, man becomes "a stranger to himself." Men and women dismiss "the
love which discloses the fullness of man's truth." People thus end in a
"wilderness of individual isolation, social fragmentation and loss of cultural
never content just to analyze, though that is a first step--to define the issue
we face it, to make it intelligible. The culture must be "evangelized." Somehow
the "face" of Jesus, something that John Paul II often spoke of, something that
has overtones in much modern philosophy (Levinas, Buber), must be made
"visible." Deus Caritas Est
also touched on this problem. Individuals need to recognize the love of Christ
for them. This recognition is the concern of bishops. (See Msgr. Robert
Sokolowski, "The Identity of the Bishop," Christian Faith & Human
Again the Pope
insists that we cannot be content to talk merely of "values," a word in modern
thought that can mean whatever we want it to mean. It is (from Max Weber) a
function of modern skepticism. "Any reduction of the core meaning of Jesus,
that is, the 'Kingdom of God' to indefinite talk of 'kingdom values' weakens
Christian identity and debilitates the Church's contribution to the
regeneration of society."
officially visit this Pope definitely must be prepared to know modern thought
and its relation to the Catholic mind. It would be most useful for them to know
Augustine, Aquinas, and the Fathers of the Church. The Pope is even more blunt:
"when believing is replaced by 'doing' and witness by talk of 'issues,' there
is an urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first
disciples." Their hearts "burned" on hearing the truth for the first time.
Benedict here, of course, refers to the "orthopraxis" notion that the content of
what is believed is not important, only politics in which "action" becomes
primary. When "orthodoxy" (right doctrine) is reduced to "practice," practice
itself is headless, or even "clueless."
The Pope next
turns to a discussion of politics and democracy. In recent years there has been
much discussion within Canada of the degree to which it has become a society
that in almost absolutist terms imposes "values" defined by modern ideologies
and moods on the population. The Pope begins by noting a distinction between
"Gospel and culture" (see Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition). This was a theme from H. Richard
Niebuhr, T. S. Eliot, Christopher Dawson, Voegelin, and others. This separation
resulted in "the exclusion of God from the public sphere."
Lecture would go into the philosophic origins of this exclusion in modern
philosophy. This Pope does not think that this "exclusion" is simply a
necessary result of "separation of church and state" or "democracy." Canada,
the Pope acknowledges, has "a generous ad practical commitment to justice and
peace." He noted the "vibrancy" of the many peoples who have settled in Canada.
culture, however, we have the context in which to make the "face" of Christ
visible. How? Referring indirectly to the second section of Deus Caritas Est, in which he pointed out the need of
individual, personal charity, the Pope adds, "in helping individuals to
recognize and experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire
to dwell in the house of the Lord." (see Jennifer Roback Morse, Love &
Is all well in
Canada? The Pope recalls something of G. K. Chesterton's remark that the modern
world is filled with snippets of Christian truth gone wild in isolation.
"Certain values detached from their moral roots and full significance found in
Christ have evolved in the most disturbing of ways." How, for instance? "In the
name of 'tolerance,' your Country has had to endure the folly of the
redefinition of spouse, and in the name of 'freedom of choice' it is confronted
with the daily destruction of unborn children." Pretty blunt. The Pope does not
use words to hide the truth. We are so used to calling things by other names
that we no longer see what goes on; the daily destruction of unborn children
goes on among us. It is no different in ultimate principle from the suicide
bombers and other terrorists.
Benedict gives a
reason for this position. "When the Creator's divine plan is ignored the truth
of human nature is lost." Thus, there is a "divine plan"; human nature has a
"truth" which we can know but also reject. Our "public policy" does not change
our nature or the divine plan. But it may contribute to corrupting our souls.
The Pope does
not excuse Christians who are often responsible for causing or allowing much of
this destruction. They have within their own souls "false dichotomies" that
seem to "justify" their participation in these popular aberrations. The Pope
does not let politicians who are Christians off the hook. "When Christian civic
leaders sacrifice the unity of faith and sanction the disintegration of reason
and the principles of natural ethics by yielding to ephemeral social trends and
the spurious demands of opinion polls" great damage results. The Pope here
reminds civic leaders that they can and should be leaders for what is indeed
true and honorable. Why else be in public life?
succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct
understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life
cannot compromise on this principle." The fact is, not a few evidently do, and
not only in Canada. The Pope is really calling politicians to their true
dignity. Democracy as a "method" can elect anyone. Indeed, I saw reference of late
to a conference in the Vatican in which a Muslim representative said that Islam
would take over the West precisely trough democratic means. The list of things
of unreason approved by voters is not short. With no attention to what it means
to speak and vote for the truth, the splendor of truth (title of John Paul II's
encyclical, Veritatis Splendor)
would be silenced and an autonomy from morality proclaimed." The bishops are
supposed to discuss with public leaders the fact that "our Christian faith, far
from being an impediment to dialogue, is a bridge, precisely because it brings
together reason and culture."
The Pope next
turns to the Catholic schools, of which Canada has not a few. Indeed, in many
ways, Canada has been much more "democratic" in this sphere than the United
States has to its Catholic population. The Pope encourages the need to provide
for Catholic schools.
But as he did in
Regensburg, the Pope goes to the heart of the matter. "A particularly insidious
obstacle to education today ... is the marked presence in society of that
relativism which recognizes nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate
criterion only the self with its desires." With no reason or moral law, we are
left to "make" our own law and call it "freedom." But this sort of freedom
obliges us to nothing but ourselves and our own desires. The Pope even uses a
phrase that was often seen in Leo Strauss, namely, that relativism deflects us
from higher things and we experience "the lowering of standards of excellence."
No one is brave; no one has courage to stand up for what is true. We find a
"timidity before the category of the good, and a relentless but senseless
pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom." What we need is
precisely this, "intellectual courage."
conclusion, Benedict has one final, brilliant remark. What he has already
accomplished in his short reign is to use his mind to go to the heart of
things. It is almost as he is the only one thinking out loud on fundamental
issues in terms that go to the philosophic heart of the matter. Perhaps
reminiscent of Gilson in Toronto, the Pope tells the Canadian bishops, "such
detrimental trends point to the particular urgency of the apostolate of 'intellectual
charity' which upholds
the essential unity of knowledge, guides the young towards the sublime
satisfaction of exercising their freedom in relation to truth and articulates
the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life."
I do not recall
ever having seen the phrase "intellectual charity" before, though it is in
quotation marks in the text and may be common. It does remind me of Christoph
Cardinal Schonborn's remark that Thomas Aquinas was the only man ever canonized
simply for thinking. Obviously, intellectual charity can mean many things. It is used in the
context of intellectual order and disorder, in an address to Canadian bishops,
who themselves have a notable tradition of intellect in places like Toronto and
Laval, among others. The Church in Canada has fallen on very difficult times
and one wonders whether and how this tradition of intellect relates to its
But I take intellectual
charity to mean rather
the purpose or healing effect of revelation on intellect. The term "Christian
philosophy," a phrase also associated with Jacques Maritain and Gilson, has
long meant that genuine philosophy is more philosophy because of the need to
think about revelation. This impact, I suspect, is going to be the long-term
effect of this Pontificate on human culture and philosophy. Vice versa, as we
saw in the Regensburg Address, reason is itself part of the faith in the sense
that faith does not contradict but completes reason; it completes what reason
One has to say
that Benedict XVI chooses his targets very carefully. This time, in what might
be an otherwise little noted short lecture, he speaks to the Canadian bishops
from Ontario. They will, I hope, long ponder the notion of intellectual
charity and its relation
to their own polity and academic heritage. As in Regensburg, this address can
and will, hopefully, be read by many. Its thesis is that religious minds also
have to think correctly. It is an act of charity, as I think Aquinas said, to
teach, or even to point out, the truth to another. This pointing out is where
we begin, now at the University of Regensburg, now in the Consistory Hall of
the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo to about twenty bishops from Ontario in
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Why Do We Need Faith? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Deus Caritas Est (Vatican website) | Pope Benedict XVI
God's Eros Is Agape | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
First Musings on Benedict XVI's First Encyclical | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Some Comments on Deus Caritas Est | Mark Brumley
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.
Relativism 101: A Brief, Objective Guide | Carl E. Olson
On Reading the Pope | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Author page for Joseph Cardinal 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.
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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