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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
"Christian theology ... is never a purely human discourse
about God, but always, and inseparably, the logos and 'logic' of God's self-revelation.... A theology which no longer
draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology." -- Benedict XVI,
Address at Cistercian Monastery of Heiligenkreuz, September 9, 2007.
"God has called each of us into being and gives us a
personal task. God needs each of us and awaits our response." -- Benedict XVI,
Vienna Konzerthaus, September 9, 2007.
"Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These
represent a dynamic component of our civilization...." -- Benedict XVI, Address
at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, September
At the request of the Austrian government and church,
Benedict XVI visited Austria from September 7 to September 9. It was the
occasion of the 850th Anniversary of the famous Marian shrine, Mariazell. On landing at the Vienna's Schwechat airport, where he was greeted by the Austrian
President and the Austrian Chancellor, together with the Cardinal Primate of
Vienna, the Pope said, "I intend my Pilgrimage to Mariazell to be a journey made in the company of all the
pilgrims of our time. In this spirit I will soon lead the people in pray in the
center of Vienna, prayer which, like a spiritual pilgrimage, will accompany
these days throughout your Country."  In his address to the political and
diplomatic officials in Vienna, the pope, more familiarly, remarked that this
is his first official visit to Austria as Bishop of Rome, but he knew the
country well from his earlier visits. "It is—may I say—truly a joy
for me to be here. I have many friends here and, as a Bavarian neighbor, Austria's
way of life and traditions are familiar to me."
The pope often talks of Europe and its Christian heritage.
He seems to accept a closer European integration as a good thing. But he
recognizes the rationalist and anti-Christian sentiment in much European
integration thinking. He praises Europe's capacity of "self-criticism" which,
the pope said, "gives it a distinctive place within the vast panorama of the
world's cultures." I take this to mean that the very idea of "self-criticism"
comes out of what is unique about Europe and represents something needed in all
While noting Europe's "rapidly aging" population, Benedict
urges it not to "give up on itself." Europe does not, however, exercise
"responsibility in the world corresponding to its singular intellectual
tradition, its extraordinary resources and its great economic power." The pope
thinks that Europe should "assume the role of leadership" in poverty questions.
Though he touches on it, he does not discuss the relation between poverty and
ideology, which in modern times is often the major cause of poverty, not any
lack of know-how or even of good will. One can have the greatest desire to help
the poor and opt for a method, scientific, economic, or moral, that simply
won't work to achieve this end.
To the Austrian officials and accredited diplomats, Benedict
makes a very strong point about the primacy of life, following John Paul II's Evangelium
vitae. First, the pope affirms, that "it
was in Europe that the nation of human rights was first formulated. The
fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right
to life itself." The pope, however, shows awareness of the Hobbesian origins of
the modern notion of "human rights," which notion, based on a pure voluntarism,
results in the very opposite of what he is advocating.
Human life means "life from the moment of conception until
its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is
the very opposite." Use of the term "human right" consistently gets us into
this very difficulty that we affirm it with one sentence and have to turn
around in the next to defend ourselves against the accusation of inconsistency
because we do not support the "right" to abortion. The pope notes the logic
that wants also to eliminate the elderly and sick on the basis of "rights."
Obviously, if the term "right to life" means either that we protect life from
its beginning to its natural end or that we terminate it when we think we have
legal will to do so, there is an equivocation in the very expression "natural
What is to be emphasized here is that Benedict, in dealing
with abortion and euthanasia, does not argue primarily from religions grounds
to the wrongness of these acts. The Catholic position, contrary what is often
assumed, does not initially affirm its position on these two aberrations
because of something in revelation or "religion." The view that opposition to
these two wrongs--abortion or euthanasia-- is based on religion is in principle
erroneous, even though religion has its own reasons to oppose them. "In stating
this," Benedict says, "I am not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern.
Rather I wish to act as an advocate for a profoundly human need, speaking on
behalf of these unborn children who have no voice." Abortion and euthanasia
are, on the grounds of reason, untenable. The pope speaks in behalf of reason,
not against it. He speaks in behalf of reason against even a voluntarist law,
which is a law that claims its licetness on the basis of positive law alone.
Having children, the pope aptly says, is not "a form of
illness." He goes on to emphasize the joy of children and their importance in
life, something that often seems lost in Europe with its very low birth rate
that threatens the very future of most European nations. Benedict thus says to
the Austrian officials: I also decisively support you in your political efforts
to favor condition for enabling young couples to raise children. Yet, all this
will be pointless unless we can succeed in creating once again in our countries
a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not
seen as a burden but rather as a gift for all." The issue of population is not
just an economic or even political one, but one of the person and his concern
for the future of his kind.
Another issue that is important for Europe, Benedict adds,
is "the dialogue of reason." There is a "tradition of thought which considers
as essential a substantial correspondence between faith, truth and reason. Here
the issue is clearly whether or not reason stands at the beginning and
foundation of all things." This was the theme that the pope addressed in the
Regensburg Lecture. The civilization to which we belong is founded in and
addressed by reason. Scripture itself recognizes this. This understanding of logos, reason, is the basis of man's internal order within
oneself and of the grounds on which we know that we are addressed by God's
self-revelation. God's "self-revelation," as Benedict explained to the Cistercians
needs a faith that is open to reason and that is capable to receive it, hence
to a philosophy that is based on what is.
What is the fundamental issue here? "The issue is whether
reality originates by chance and necessary, and thus whether reason is merely a
chance by product of the irrational and, in an ocean of irrationality, it too,
in the end, is meaningless," Benedict explains, "or whether instead the
underlying conviction of Christian faith remains true: In principio erat
Verbum--in the beginning was the Word; at
the origin of everything is the creative reason of God who decided to make
himself known to human beings." The doctrine of creation thus holds that the
foundation of the order in things is rooted in nothing less than the Logos, the Word, in which all things not God found their
meaning and order. This is why the pope could say, as he did in the Vienna Konzerthaus, that "God calls each of us into being and gives us
a task." He awaits our "response." This is the ultimate basis of our given
dignity. We do not give ourselves being, but accept it as a gift. And our being
itself implies a task that leads to God through our response to others.
As a confirmation and affirmation of what he has been
saying, Benedict cites his friend, the non-Christian German philosopher, Jürgen
Habermas. Habermas remarked that an understanding of the modern era requires an
understanding of Christianity as something more than a "catalyst." The notions
of "social coexistence" and "freedom" that stem from "egalitarian universalism"
arise from the Jewish notion of justice and the "Christian ethics of love."
Many thinkers and ideologue seek to find an alternative explanation of the
validity of these ideas. "To this day an alternative to id does not exist,"
Habermas concludes. One might say, in general, that one of the most astonishing
aspects of modern philosophy is its reluctance to understand the role of
Christianity in western civilization and in the progress of reason. Habermas,
along with thinkers like Christopher Dawson and Pierre Manent, is a refreshing
The pope's lecture in the Vienna Konzerthaus was directed to Volunteer Organizations in Austria.
As we recall from Deus Caritas Est,
the theme of voluntary organizations has become a favorite of Benedict. Behind
its purpose is the issue of the limits of the state. Christianity has indeed
added something to the world that is beyond the confines of the justice or
benevolence, both valid natural virtues. Christianity, as the French
philosopher, Remi Brague, remarks in his Law of God, has relatively little direct effect on the
political order but much effect on the order of society and family. Ernest
Fortin also wrote well on this topic. The pope praises the "culture of
voluntarism" that he finds in Austria. "Love of neighbor is not something that
can be delegated: the State and the political order, even with their necessary
concern for the provision of social services, cannot take its place." Neglect
of what the state cannot do is what is really the matter with so many "social
justice" schemes naively designed to cure human ills. It is true that one of
the reasons that people cannot help themselves is because of incomprehension of
the political order, and how to do so through application of the principles of
subsidiarity and the common sense experience of what works. This limited
capacity is not necessarily a defect of politics. But it is an awareness of
what politics was never set up to do. It is within this area that Christian
revelation has its first entry into human culture.
The pope has something much more profound in mind. "Love of
neighbor always demands personal commitment and the State, of course, can and
must provide the conditions which make this possible." People, especially the
young, want to know that they can help. Often they do not realize that it is
precisely the personal element that is lacking in many social ills and
disorders. "Jesus called men and women and gave them the courage needed to
embark on a great undertaking, one to which, by themselves, they would never
hade dared to aspire." What is important about this passage is that charity
does not necessarily mean that we embark on some grandiose scheme to transform
the world. Rather we are to be personally present when someone, because of his
intrinsic dignity, is in need.
In the Regensburg Lecture, Benedict cited Duns Scotus as one
of the origins of Western voluntarism, of the idea that there is no real order
in nature except God's arbitrary will. Here, as if to show us that a man who
can have a dubious idea in one area may have a perfectly good one in another
area, the pope cited the great Franciscan theologian as saying, "Deus vult
condiligentes – God wants persons who
love together with him." Benedict even cites Nicholas of Cusa as saying,
"since the eye is where love is found, I know that you love me...." The phrase
"the eye is where love is found"--ubi amor ibi oculus"--is cited often in literature, first perhaps by
Democritus junior. Josef Pieper uses it. Nicholas says that "our gaze must be
creative." The pope adds to this remark that "Jesus Christ does not teach us a
spirituality 'of closed eyes,' but one of 'alertness,' one which entails an
absolute duty to take notice of the needs of others...." No spirituality of
"closed eyes," the "absolute duty to notice the needs of others"—these
are marvelous phrases.
Part One | Part Two
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