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"No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing": Ratzinger and Europe | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 11, 2007
"There is no weighing of
good that can justify treating man as experimental material for higher ends." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Cernobbio (Como)
Italy, September 8, 2001 
"There is no disputing the historical fact of the Christian faith in giving life to Europe." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, La Combe Cemetery
(Caen) France, June 5, 2004 
"There is no such thing as an a-historical State based on abstract reason." -- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Church of St. Etienne,
(Caen), June 5, 2004 
In his brief "Preface" to Europe: Today
and Tomorrow (Ignatius Press, 2007), a collection of eight essays, lectures, and homilies that touch on
the nature of Europe and the concept of politics that this entails, Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger remarked that he had not particularly planned to speak on
these topics. But "I have been invited repeatedly during the past decade to
give conferences on this subject (of Europe)." These often brief, occasional
addresses deserve some attention as they are filled with insights that we might
otherwise miss. This material comes from the three years just before Joseph
Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. He has always displayed a generous
willingness to speak frankly and freely on many topics insisting only on the
force of his arguments. He again reveals himself as both erudite and clear
about what he holds. His mind exists in that realm of freedom that is oriented
to the truth and in this form makes a particularly powerful demand on the
integrity of his readers.
I have given these
reflections a rather "odd" title: "No Weighing, No Disputing, No Such Thing."
These words, taken from passages in the book, reveal a man who is willing to
take a stand, to call something what it is, even if unpopular, but not because
it is unpopular--rather because it is the truth. We begin to realize that one
of the unique things about Benedict XVI is his preference for reason and
reasoned argument. Though he be pope, he keeps insisting that what he says is
reasonable, and it is. It makes sense. I am sure that, if necessary and
appropriate, he will use his authority. His very office means there is a place
for it. But he is disarming.
Benedict's book on Jesus
of Nazareth specifically indicated
that no one had to believe what he said if he had reasons not to do so. But
this very approach puts the shoe on the other foot, as it were--not on his but
on ours. We can no longer reject the arguments for Catholicism simply because
they are said to come from "authority." This is a popular rationalization. This
very authority, however, claims reasonableness, even when faith is also
included. Faith is always directed to reason, to a reason that knows it is not
itself divine. Faith always seeks understanding.
The first matter I should
like to take up is that of war. Recently, while on vacation at Lorenzago di
Cadore, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the famous peace effort of Benedict XV on
August 1, 1917, to propose a peace plan that would have avoided the worst
slaughters of World War I. The beautiful Alpine area of Italy where the pope
was at the time had been the scene of World War I battles. "The Holy See's
proposal was oriented to the future of Europe and the world. It complied with a
project that was Christian in inspiration but could be shared by all since it
was based on the rights of people." (L'Osservatore Romano, July 25, 2007). Here we have a hint of the close
connection the pope sees between Europe and what it is with a more general
politics that propose an alternative to war.
Yet, even Scripture tells us
that there will always be "wars and rumors of war." In the same address,
Benedict notes that "sin ruins ever anew this divine project (or order),
causing division and introducing death into the world. Thus humanity succumbs
to the temptations of the evil One and wages war against itself. Patches of
'hell' are consequently also created in this marvelous 'garden' which is the
world." One of the striking features of the pope's book on Europe is what might
be called its "anti-utopianism."
The pope, as a German, takes
considerable pains to make sense of World War II, a war many think was caused
in part by the unfortunate and vindictive treaty imposed after World War I.
"The Treaty of Versailles had deliberately planned to humiliate Germany and
impose enormous burdens on it, which reduced its people to dire straits, thus
opening the door to extremist ideologies and dictatorship" (115). The pope is
at pains to praise the efforts after World War II, largely instigated by
Americans and Christian politicians, to reconcile winners and losers in that
war. This meditation Cardinal Ratzinger gave at the German cemetery at La Combe
on the meaning of the lives of those German soldiers buried there is moving.
"As Germans we are grieved by the fact that their (dead soldiers') idealism,
their enthusiasm, and their loyalty to the State were exploited by an unjust
regime" (114). The implication is that such confusion can happen anywhere, not
just in Germany.
Again Benedict XVI knows
that, however important his mission to reason be, "history shows us that too
often men act in ways contrary to all logic and reason. The fact that the
politics of reconciliation (after World War II), triumphed is to the credit of
a whole generation of politicians: let me recall the names of Adenauer,
Schumann, De Gasperi, De Gaulle. These were objective, intelligent men who had
a healthy political realism. But their realism was rooted in the firm ground of
the Christian ethos of
enlightenment, refined by reason" (116). The political philosophy of Benedict
XVI can, like that of Augustine, be characterized by these words spoken at a
German cemetery, that of "political realism," where sin and the fall are not
strangers, nor is there an absence of reason and the practical effort to do
what can be done.
In an address he gave at
Caen in Normandy on June 5, 2004, Josef Ratzinger gave his assessment of the
morality itself of fighting World War II. It is a passage, I think, of great
importance. Christians (but not only Christians) are often so insistent on
"peace" that they only belatedly face the reality of an enemy who would
demolish them if he could. Ratzinger characterized life under Nazism as "a dominion
of lies" (86). "No one could confide in anyone else, because everyone, in a
way, had to protect himself under a mask of lies that, on the one hand, served
the purpose of self-defense but tended, on the other hand, to strengthen the
power of evil." This description is, in fact, pretty much the description of
life under a tyrant that is found in Aristotle's Politics. It is often a popular ridicule to see in political
movements a "power of evil," but sometimes no other explanation is possible. If
we are dominated by relativism, as the pope often indicates we are, it will be
doubly impossible to see what really threatens us.
Could the Germans themselves
have risen up to get rid of the Nazis? Some, as in the case of General Rommel
and others, tried. "Thus it was necessary for the whole world to intervene in
order to break the cycle of criminality and to reestablish liberty and law,"
Ratzinger thought. The implication of this sentence is that even those not
immediately involved in such an evil or who can do little about it have
responsibilities to get rid of it. "We Germans too give thanks that liberty and
law were restored to us through that military operation. If ever in history
there was a just war, this was it: the Allied intervention ultimately benefited
also those against whose country the war was waged" (86). This is a sentence
that should be etched on the walls of every honorable military academy in the
world. It comes from the defeated. It does not "justify" all wars but it is
based on the realism that can see what is at stake in a given historical
The pope next takes up
pacifism, which can have its witnesses, but which can also be a mask for not
doing what is necessary to protect freedom and justice. Here, he remarks, we
have demonstrated "on the basis of a historical event that absolute pacifism is
unsustainable." Notice the careful use of these words. The grounds for war are
to be demonstrated by what is actually going on in this or that country, in
this or that time. It is not an abstraction but a concrete realization of the
power and nature of a regime that seems to extend its force and limits. This is
why the pope says, as I cited above, "there is no such thing as an a-historical
State based on abstract reasoning."
The pope is careful to
retain the "just war" context of these considerations. The just war theory was
developed in Christian and classical thought precisely to explain why honorable
regimes must at times defend themselves or others in the very name of justice.
We still must ask if "just war" is possible and a duty in every occasion where
use of force arises. The answer cannot ever be an "unequivocal" never. It
depends on judgment and prudence. This is how the pope defines a just war: "a
military intervention conducted in the interests of peace and according to
moral criteria against unjust regimes." This means that "peace and law" and
"peace and justice" are connected. "When law is trampled on and injustice comes
to power, peace is always threatened and is already to some extent broken. In
this sense a commitment to peace is above all a commitment to a form of law
that guarantees justice for the individual and for the entire community."
Clearly this means that a military and police component to the very possibility
of law and justice is presupposed. The allowing of law to be "trampled" on and
of "injustice" to come to power is clearly a sign of civic blindness and moral
irresponsibility. This position was also the gist of C. S. Lewis' famous essay
"Why I Am Not a Pacifist," found in his Weight of Glory.
Benedict in the same address
does not hesitate to ask about the wars that followed World War II. They are
strikingly many in lands ranging from Korea to Iraq, from Chechnya to Somalia,
from Bangladesh to Algeria (88). Next the pope takes up the issue of
"terrorism." He even says that it has "become a sort of new world war" (90).
This is quite an accurate phrase: "a new world war." What are its dimensions
and what is its nature? This is a war, Ratzinger remarks, "with no definite
front, which can strike everywhere and no longer recognizes the distinction
between combatants and the civilian population, between the guilty and the
innocent. " Ratzinger includes in this category "organized crime," whose force
is "constantly strengthening and extending its network." Could such forces gain
nuclear or biological weapons? They could.
Referring back to the logic
of the cold war, the pope granted that it still retained some intelligible
rationale. "As long as this potential for destruction (nuclear and biological
weapons) remained exclusively in the hands of the major powers, one could
always hope that reason and the awareness of the dangers weighing upon the
people and the State could rule out the use of the type of weaponry. Indeed,
despite all the tensions between East and West, we were spared a full-scale
war, thanks be to God." This passage, I would say, is a belated acknowledgement
(though John Paul II said the same thing) that deterrence did work and the fact
that increased accuracy of technology and weaponry finally convinced the
Soviets that they could not keep up achieved its purpose.
However, the terrorist
situation is different. "We can no longer count on such reasoning (mutual
deterrence and rational comprehension), because the readiness to engage in
self-destruction is one of the basic components of terrorism—a kind of
self-destruction that is exalted as martyrdom and transformed into a promise"
(91). Presumably, the pope does not equate Muslim terrorists with organized crime
in this sense. The gangster or dope runner is not seeking martyrdom whereas the
Muslim terrorist, in his own rationale, is. The gangster is in it for power and
money, not for religion.
The pope still thinks that
this terrorism itself can be met but by careful means. "One cannot put an end
to terrorism—a force that is opposed to the law and cut off from
morality—solely by means of force. It is certain that, in defending the
law against a force that aims to destroy law, one can and in certain
circumstances must make use of proportionate force in order to protect it."
This is clearly the reasonable, common-sense position. Again the pope adds, "An
absolute pacifism that denies the law any and all coercive measures would be
capitulation to injustice, would sanction its seizure of power, and would
abandon the world to the dictates of violence." Again, these are memorable
words much in need of recollection and emphasis.
This position does not mean
neglecting the ideological roots of terrorism, nor the need for forgiveness.
Endeavors to break the hold of terrorists need to be put into effect, including
humanitarian ones. Here Ratzinger touches on the Islamic question as he has
often done, with the question of whether God wills the use of violence in his
cause. "There seems to be a collision of two major cultural systems, which
manifest, nevertheless, quite different forms of power and of moral
perspective: the 'West; and Islam. What is the West, however? And what is
Islam?" (92). Ratzinger cautions against generalizations, as there are
diversities within these cultures. He is also quick to reject the rationalist
position that all faith is "fundamentalist" or fanatic. Religion itself is
often viewed by modern skeptics as the only reason for terrorism.
Yet, if we accept the famous
view that at bottom all wars are theological, we cannot avoid the effort to
understand the recent surge of Islam or parts of it to world power and the
expansion of Islam as its historic religious destiny. Ratzinger acknowledges
"pathologies" both of religion and of reason. "There can be no peace in the
world without genuine peace between reason and faith," he writes (93). More
than anything else, I suspect, this defines this pope's overall agenda in the
world. This book, in fact, with its intimations of his future "Regensburg
Lecture," drafts the rationale for his thinking. In this particular book, he is
more concerned with Europe than Islam, though he quite clearly understands that
what we know as modern Europe came about in its geographical area because Islam
had conquered the South and East, and even parts of the North of Europe, Spain
and the Balkans and for a time Sicily and Sardinia.
Part One | Part Two
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