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Reinhold Esterbauer

Christian Reason as Europe's Soul?

Remarks on Pope Benedikt XVI's Regensburg Lecture


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 3/2007, P. 147-160


    Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture during his visit of Bavaria in September 2006 provoked world-wide violent reactions because of an Islam-critical quotation. But it has been almost exclusively read before this background. REINHOLD ESTERBAUER, professor for philosophy at the University of Graz, analyzes central contents of the lecture on the relationship between faith and reason.


As is well known, the lecture given by Pope Benedict XVI on 12 September 2006 in the auditory maximum of the University of Regensburg provoked violent reactions, particularly from Muslim side. A quotation from the writings of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos about his dialogue with a Persian scholar on Christianity and Islam, that might have taken place in the year 1391 and then was written down{1}, caused offence. There the emperor says to his interlocutor:

"Show me the new things brought by Mohammed, and you will only find bad and inhumane things, as e.g. that he ordered to spread by the sword the faith preached by him" (GV 15f.). {2}

In the following I would not like to portray the inter-religious debate triggered by the use of this quotation, but to devote myself to the task of asking after the relationship of faith and reason, which the Pope made the central content of his lecture. In a second step I am concerned with reflecting on the implications given with Benedict's further thesis, namely that the synthesis between Biblical faith and Greek philosophy - with the inclusion of the Roman inheritance - formed the foundation of Europe. First however I'll briefly portray the Catholic conviction that faith and reason are no contrasts but depend on each other.


Catholicism as Advocate of Reason

In the second chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Filius" the first Vatican Council joins to the "supernatural revelation/supernaturalis revelatio" (DH 3006) the recognizability of God by the "natural light of human reason/naturali humanae rationis lumine" (DH 3004). Hence at the latest since 1870 the high estimation of reason on the part of Catholicism officially is no longer a disputed question. This opinion is also affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum" passed in 1965, which is essentially based upon Rom 1:20.



In the last years a further point of view is added to this high estimation of reason, which admittedly often can not bring itself to the acknowledgment of reason's full autonomy{3}. Thus Pope John Paul II writes in his encyclical letter "Fides et Ratio" from 1998 that today an increasing socially accepted "radical distrust of reason was to be perceived" (No. 55). This development became philosophically apparent in the proclaimed end of metaphysics, and theologically in fideisms and biblicisms. Hence Benedict's predecessor issues a " resolute and urgent call that faith and philosophy are to regain the deep unity that enables them to be faithful to their own nature while mutually respecting each other's autonomy" (No. 48).

In view of this development John Paul II saw the Catholic Church in a new situation it had in this form not been in before: Today it was the church that in the crisis of reason had to uphold and to defend it. In his "address to scientists and students in the Cologne cathedral on 15 November 1980" he had said that in former times "pioneers of the modern science would have fought against the church with the key words reason, liberty and progress", but that today "in view of the sense crisis of science, of the various threats to its liberty and of the doubt about progress the frontlines were almost exchanged":

"Today it is the church which stands up for reason and science, which it believes capable of recognizing truth, which it is legitimizes as human performance" (No. 5).

This Catholic doctrinal tradition, which induced John Paul II to declare the Catholic Church the attorney of reason, is taken up by his successor in the Regensburg Lecture. Benedict does not only assert it for the position of theology in the context of the University, but introduces it also into the inter-religious dialogue. Here - so Benedict XVI - it had not only to be about a practice of living and working together, but also about the question of the truth of religion. Hence Alexander Kissler said in the "Süddeutschen Zeitung" that Benedict's matter was - compared with his predecessor - not only the common action or the common prayer of the religions like 1986 in Assisi, but that also the question of truth had to be asked: "Orthopractice may not replace orthodoxy" {4}.

This conviction too the Pope takes from the text of the Palaiologos emperor, when this emperor states that it is contrary to God's nature not to act reasonably. To it Benedict attaches the question that leads his considerations: "Is it only Greek to believe that it is contrary to God's nature to act irrationally, or does this always and in itself hold good?" (GV 17). For the inter-religious dialogue his own position is rhetorically clarified with this question: The truth of each and every religion can only be discussed on the basis of reason.



What is more: The truth of the religion is to become apparent in discourse, not only in practice. This position of course implies the far-reaching thesis that reason is the criterion for the comparison of the religions. Reason leads out from the internal logic of each individual religion and so makes the comparison possible, which puts the question about the validity of the believed matter into the centre of the debate.


The Hellenization of Christianity

I am not able to judge whether or to what extent the former archbishop of Munich and Freising advised his predecessor for his speech in the Cologne cathedral in 1980, and whether he in 1998 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stood by John Paul II during his defining the relationship of "Fides et Ratio". It can be stated with certainty that Benedict XVI already before his pontificate held similar opinions as in the Regensburg Lecture, that is there he not only takes up and points out positions of his predecessor but that this lecture also puts up for discussion convictions already published by him before.

Already as cardinal Benedict XVI attached the relation of faith and reason to the problem of the Hellenization of Christianity. What is meant is the in the intellectual history important meeting of the young Jewish moulded Christianity with the Greek world of thought, as it is already exemplary presented by the Acts of the Apostles with St Paul's speech in the Areopagus (Acts 17, 16-34). According to Benedict Christianity was substantially moulded by the amalgamation of faith and philosophy and thereby helped to get its shape, which proves it capable of reasoning. Thus Christianity not only becomes open to the elaboration of theology as science of its faith, but also dogmatizable ( i.e. become dogma). On the other hand there is with the attempt to formulate contents of belief in the form of metaphysics - also a speech of God traced out that as philosophical doctrine of God did not only trigger the protest in Pascal's "Mémorial" {5}from 1654, where - as is well known - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is confronted with the God of the philosophers.

Already in 1983 Cardinal Ratzinger tried to understand Christianity as the fusion of the two culture areas, which are often named after the cities Athens and Jerusalem. It is remarkable that he on that occasion sees reason resp. the spirit coming only from Hellenism and faith solely from Judaism. His definition accordingly reads: "Christianity is the by Jesus Christ arranged synthesis between Israel's faith and the Greek spirit." {6} Thus according to Ratzinger the reasonableness of faith is the central characteristic of Christianity, which was, so to speak, inherent to its nature.

The Cardinal remains faithful to this position also subsequently. Still almost 20 years later in an essay with the title "The Doubted Claim to Truth.



The Crisis of Christianity at the Beginning of the Third Millenium" he holds the view that not only Justin the Martyr was right when he thought that Christianity was philosophy that had reached truth {7} but that it still remained to be held that in Christianity "Enlightenment had become religion and was no longer its opponent" {8}. Ratzinger remarkably binds this occurrence back to the conception of God itself. In his opinion Enlightenment could become religion because "the God of Enlightenment himself had entered into religion" {9}. Everything depended on the question whether "the reasonable stood at the beginning of all things and on their bottom" {10} or not. Only in the "synthesis of reason, faith and life" {11} - here Ratzinger also adds the ethos to the other two definitions - Christianity had been able to become world religion. One can hardly formulate it more clearly.

The view pointed out by the then cardinal is not that religion in the course of its history had been forced by Enlightenment to look more and more for rational reasons for the believed matter, resp. in the sense of Kant to translate revelation into secular conceptions that could be represented within the borders of mere reason. Ratzinger not only says that religion had gone through Enlightenment, but inversely that Enlightenment in meeting with the Jewish faith had become religion. But that Christianity essentially was at the same time Enlightenment is - according to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - not only correct for antiquity but also for the present. By its "option for the primacy of reason" Christianity remains "also today Enlightenment" {12}.

Similarly Cardinal Ratzinger argues in his paper on the occasion of the meeting with Jürgen Habermas in the Catholic Academy in Bavaria in Munich in 2004. Here he does not point up the nature of Christianity, but rather focuses on the difficulties he sees Christianity face in enlightened societies. The conception of reason it now fastened to two different places: On the one hand reason remains a substantial constituent of the "religio vera". On the other hand it is naturally also the determining moment of western secularism. Ratzinger finds pathologies" in both places": He sees wrong forms of religion based on the rejection of rational lucidity. If religions turned their back to reason then they became dangerous. Hence "the divine light of reason" was needed as a "control organ" {13}. Inversely for him the "pathologies of reason" lie in its hubris, which had led to the atom bomb and to making human beings material in genetic engineering. Ratzinger does not demand a return to faith behind Enlightenment, but a "necessary correlation of reason and faith, reason and religion", that could lead to a "mutual cleansing and healing" {14}.

Hence the Cardinal recognizes reason not only as being inherent to faith, but also as secular reason. As cure for faith and its false forms he refers back to the not dispensable reason within faith.



In its genuine form, which it got by its having been Hellenized , Christianity appears as an example of successful orientation towards life. He can offer it to the modern age in its crisis, which is substantially also a crisis by wrong forms of reason, because Christianity is - according to his opinion - in itself profoundly determined by reason - hence a secular explanation of the world is not foreign to it. In this view Christianity is not pre-modern because irrational, but up-to-date because reasonable.

The Pope's Regensburg Lecture is completely in the characteristic style of those earlier considerations. On the one hand Benedict XVI takes up the thoughts of God's reasonableness. This becomes clear in the central quotation, which the Pope takes from the text of Manuel II and which underlines that it contradicts God's nature not to act reasonably {15}.

Also the conception of Enlightenment is taken up though now no longer in the completely general meaning that had permitted the Pope to talk of Enlightenment that had become religion. Now it is about overcoming the myth, which he testifies to the endeavours of Socrates as well as to the Biblical wisdom literature and to the Septuaginta, hence it is about a procedure that he interprets as "meeting between faith and reason". The Hellenization of the Jewish spirit and the emphasis on the Logos in Christianity are presented as the crucial enlightenment, that immunizes as it were Christianity against the reduction of its substance in the later Enlightenment of the "Sapere aude!", as the request to use one's own intellect {16}. This conviction also gives the Pope the certainty that Christianity does not depend on the western societies going back behind this as it were second Enlightenment, so that Christianity could appear acceptable again. Beyond that it gives him the certainty that Christianity will not come to an end by the second Enlightenment. Of course he also here mentions "the pathologies of religion and reason threatening us" (GV 27f.). But all in all he emphasises the achievements of free democracies, in which the human rights belong to the standard of the social life, and considers them deeply Christian and rightfully indispensable:

" The self criticism of modern reason does not include at all the view one was now to go back again behind Enlightenment and to say good by to the insights of modern age. The greatness of the modern development of the mind is recognized to the full" (GV 29).

Christianity proved to be the religion of the future in liberal democracies, and was it only to demand that "reason and faith find to each other in a new way" (GV 29). Beyond that - so the Pope - on the basis of reason also a dialogue of cultures and religions became possible. From this it becomes clear that Benedict finds (out) the crucial and for the future moulding step in the antique Hellenization.



If besides Christianity in its nature and therefore unquestionably is moulded by reason as Hellenism unfolds it, the pathologies found on the side of reason are to be understood as 'Enthellenisierung' (de-Hellenization). By doing this the Pope brings up lacking enlightenment, as he understands it, as criterion for Christianity's prospects for the future.


"Reasonable" Christianity as Europe's Foundation

In the Regensburg Lecture compared with the other contributions mentioned a new facet comes to the foreground. For the Pope finds 'Enthellenisierung' (de-Hellenization) within Christian traditions and denominations. In a way not only little obliging towards Islam but also provocative toward Protestantism he sees waves of de-Hellenization in the Reformation of the 16th century, because of its devaluation of reason in favour of the Holy Scriptures, as expressed in the 'Sola Scriptura' principle. He sees also the liberal theology of the 19th and 20th century in the tradition of de-Hellenization. Thus Adolf von Harnack would promote the separation of the God of the philosophers from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Although Harnack had been anxious to enable Christianity to be connected with modern reason, he had pushed it into the mere subjective sphere. The third form of de-Hellenization , with which Protestantism is now no longer primarily charged, Benedict XVI sees in a - for him - wrong theory of inculturation. He opposes the view that Hellenization had been the first form of Christian inculturation, which could be undone. Hellenization could not make room for other inculturations, it rather belonged to Christianity's nature. The Pope holds: "The basic decisions concerning the connection of the faith with the search of human reason belong to this faith itself and are its development in accordance with it" (GV 28f.).

One recognizes that the form of Christianity the Pope considers promising is restricted to a special form of Catholicism. As long as the churches of the Reformation persist on the 'Sola Scriptura' principle, so the Pope indirectly, they miss the centre of Christianity. What is more, attempts to shift religion into the subjective sphere are just as counter-productive as attempts to look for the core of Christianity in its strata before the inculturation into the Greek spirit. What always matters is to emphasize reason, which clears up the myth, as non-disposable aspect of Christianity.

Christianity conceived in this way by him, the Pope wants to offer to the enlightened Europe, so that it recovers by it. The offer is of course not only that a certain Catholicism could direct European history into a better future by placing Europe on a new basis, but the offer says: Renaissance out of the roots.



For Benedict thinks that Europe is - exactly like the form of Christianity propagated by him - based on the two columns Biblical Faith and Greek Reason. Thus in his Regensburg Lecture he defines Europe - analogously to Christianity - as the meeting of these two realities. The Pope says: "This meeting, to which then still Rome's inheritance is added, has created Europe and remains the basis of what may rightly be called Europe" (GV 22). Hence Christianity got its decisive character in Europe, and inversely it has decisively moulded Europe. For Benedict Christianity and Europe belong intrinsically together.

This position too is not a new opinion of the Pope. Already more than 20 years ago he defined in the already quoted essay on Europe Christianity as "the in Christ imparted synthesis between Israel's faith and the Greek spirit", and he added: "Europe is based upon this synthesis." {17} Ratzinger calls societies disregarding this synthesis "post-European" {18}. He explains that they too indirectly still lived on the European spirit, even though they had turned away from it. As example for this he sees a pluralism "from which any moral anchorage of the law and any public anchorage of the holy, of the reverence for God are more and more excluded" {19}. But Europe's attempt to get as it were beyond itself and to become post-European, led to the crises already mentioned, which let it appear advisable for Europe to become European again and to find to a Hellenized Christianity supporting the universality of reason and submitting to its standard. Of this Ratzinger is also convinced as Pope. Just as Christianity was substantially reasonable, Europe was fundamentally Christian.



If one follows the Pope's request to uphold reason and to recognize it even as corrective of faith, his arguments too are to face up to critique. Anyhow, there is really no lack of inquiries in the discussion.

The Pope's pointed remarks produce an obvious tension to the historicity of the Christian faith. Already as Cardinal Benedict was accused that his attempt to define Christianity's nature was not only 'katholizismuslastig' (tendency to Catholicism), but - without regard to the time in question - in a Platonic manner defined things that at other times might possibly prove different and might be expressed in a different way. Such criticism aims at the problem whether Christianity can be defined as specific form of reason without any historical change. The Pope has been accused that his definition of Christianity was forgetful of history respectively elevated a certain stage of development to the nature of reason.



An early historical form, i.e. the Hellenization of Christianity, was emphasized as prototypical and thus for other ways of inculturation made a precondition that could no longer be questioned. Thus for instance the Protestant theologian Friedrich William Graf accuses the Pope of rejecting "all concepts of theology as historical sciences of culture of Christianity". Instead it was Benedict XVI's intention to establish a "theologia perennis" in the way of a "metaphysical theology", and to give exclusively priority to it as the only sufficient way to pursue theology, for Graf "too steep a claim" {20}.

In view of Ratzinger's focusing on the Greek reason Johann Baptist Metz already in 1989 speaks of "halving the spirit of Christianity" {21}. He emphasizes that one cannot unquestionably accept the opinion that only Hellenism but not Judaism had to present an "offer of spirit to Christianity and Europe" {22}. Metz protests against the assumption that in the New Testament only the spirit of Greece was to be found, and states: "No, there is an original offer of spirit and thinking for Christianity also from Israel." {23} He sees the original Jewish element both for Christianity and for Europe in the anamnetic reason, which one may not misunderstand in a Platonic way as 'Anamnesis' relieved of time and history. Rather the historical remembrance as Jewish inheritance had become formative also for Europe:

"Israel does not only belong to the history of faith but also to the history of ideas of Christianity, and thus to our European history of ideas. And thinking as such remembrance belongs to the history of reason." {24}

Metz asks to bear in mind that just such historical awareness belongs to the foundations of Christian humanity as the Pope stated them for Europe {25}.

If one takes these objections seriously, the question arises whether Greek philosophy in the Pope's understanding is to be considered primarily from its Platonic side, when the definition of Europe's foundations is at stake. Besides it is to be asked whether the relation between faith and reason is necessarily to be thought in a Platonic way. With this criticism there is not any harm done yet to the thesis of the connection of the two. From philosophical side however is to be asked by which philosophical guideline this relation is to be determined more precisely, and which trend one thinks to be the philosophy that has moulded Christianity, resp. whether there isn't a differentiation within Christianity by admitting different philosophical traditions. Besides there is to be asked whether there has been apart from the Jewish also a Muslim share in Europe's development, possibly even a specifically philosophical one, particularly since Islam early made Aristotle accessible again to the European history of ideas. At least the mediation of Arestotelism over Spain



to Europe would have to be mentioned here. If one considers this, the relationship of faith and reason could be thought differently once again, and make us inquire about the contingencies and the historical differences in the development of the Christian and European existence.

Apart from the 'underexposure' of Christianity's historicity one notices the lack of differentiation of Greek enlightenment and the Enlightenment in the 18th century. For Benedict the latter is already contained in the former and is intended there. That's why the latter appears rather as development stage of Christianity than as its critique. But in this way not only the occasional opposition between reason and faith is left out, but enlightenment is at bottom monopolized as Christian enterprise. Thus it is felt by the critics, who see themselves as defenders of Enlightenment. Hence accordingly Oliver vom Hove can mock:

"Recently the Pope rushed ahead and suddenly claimed - o Thomistic miracle - reason as side-table for the Catholic high altar But it was just the separation of religion and reason, and the strict demarcation of their scopes that prepared the European soil for a peaceful civilisation as we know it." {26}

In this point the controversy culminates about the question to whom then Enlightenment was owed and what constituted Europe: reason that emancipates itself from faith or enlightenment that had become religion.

A further problem is the possible self immunisation of reason as well as of Christianity. For if reason is thought so closely together with Christianity as in the Pope's lecture, and if this amalgamation is thought independent of history, there is no possibility of criticism both by historical relativization and by the separation of faith and reason. Besides, both are thought universal by the Pope. Hence any historically contingent matter is only judged by a certain formation relating to the history of ideas at a certain time. Of course, the Pope knows in initial stages a religion-critical attitude of reason, but he regards Christianity as so determined by reason that reason cannot wear itself out at the other of itself, but can at the most reveal its own "Verdeckungen" (dull spots) in faith. Reason's critique of Christianity becomes toothless thereby, and Christianity seems to be immune against such a reason. Benedict's concern is clear: For him it is about the rejection of relativism. But thereby he arrives at the consequence that philosophy reaches its completion in the doctrinal building of Catholic theology. If enlightenment has become religion - and not religion is enlightened -, it seems as if reason in its Christian shape reached its completion in the dogma.

It is not surprising that this leading philosophy to the dogma reaps critique from Protestant side. Thus for instance Christoph Fleischmann thinks that Benedict described "the Christian dogmas as completion and highest expression of reason"



and that he took back his "openness for reasonable criticism" and let it appear "ambivalent"{27}. This reaction is probably strengthened by the fact that the Pope in the same text represents Protestantism as the first wave of de-Hellenization , what means: as devaluation of reason. In response Michael Bünker emphasizes that in the Protestant view Protestantism is to be understood both as defender of the secular reason and of its indispensability.{28}.

Beyond that the chairman of the Council of the Protestant Churches in Germany (EKD), Bishop Wolfgang Huber, claims for Protestantism what the Pope emphasizes for Christianity in general, but had denied to the Reformation and to the liberal Protestant theology, i.e. the connection of faith and reason. Huber clarifies: "The connection of faith and reason belongs to the determining characteristics of Protestantism." {29} He sees the reason for it given in faith itself. Thus the chairman of the EKD confirms on the one hand the Pope's thesis of the connection of faith and reason, but on the other hand he sees them - in contrast to the Pope - not dissolved, neither by Luther's speech about the "whore reason" or by Kant's philosophy, nor limited to the antique Greek conception of reason. Rather he brings up the Protestant tradition as new confirmation of this alliance and emphasizes that Protestantism had a great share in the positive history of the relations of faith and reason. For the emphasis on Christian liberty had led to the result that the one who is called to freedom is able to give "information about the faith by which he/she gets this liberty" {30}. With this indirect allusion to 1 Petr 3:15 Huber substantiates the high position of reason in Protestantism. For to it applies: "In the way a human being knows itself addressed by God as an individual, non-replaceable person it is also irreplaceably obliged to provide testimony and information." {31} Only by such a high estimation of reason Protestantism could become the "educational religion" as which it is regarded. Beyond that the Bishop against Benedict's reservations towards voluntarism critically underlines that God's will was love. With all the otherwise shown high estimation of reason, which Huber seems to share with the Pope, he nevertheless underlines that rational cognition like faith itself was to remain fragmentary.

But if one follows the Pope's argumentation, reason is obviously not in need of criticism. In it and in Enlightenment there is hardly anything to be analyzed, for they are universal and preserved in Christianity. Hence it is difficult for the perspective of faith to find out the shadow sides of reason and the whole dialectic of Enlightenment. The critical potential which faith itself can assert against reason and its wrong forms is not made the focus of attention by the Pope. But thus Christianity gives away the possible criticism of reason enabled by the distance to reason, which comes in this case not from reason but exactly from faith.



Such a distance to reason in view of its present reduction to its instrumental side would probably be one of the contributions which the Christian Churches could offer for Europe's "inspiration". The Pope admittedly sees "reason's pathologies" and turns out to have no blind trust in science when he mentions the atom bomb and man's devaluation to a mere product as result of reason's hubris {32}. He thinks that reason is not curable when is changes while remaining separated from faith (just as if it was independent) but by attaching itself again more closely to faith. For according to Benedict reason then becomes destructive when it emancipates itself from the religious tradition {33}. Hence criticism by faith can take place not at an autonomous vis-à-vis, but only via lifting the borders between the two. This attitude is also mirrored in the aforementioned statement of the Regensburg Lecture, according to which the rationality of the conception of God was the criterion for the "vera religio" (true religion). Is it not conceivable that there is also in the mystical not dissolvable into reason side of the conception of God a critical potential that could be asserted in the face of reason? Can one really say that the "primacy of the Logos" and the "primacy of love" have "proven identical" {34}? Or do not love of one's neighbour, mercy and self devotion rather remain greater than reason?

What has also become apparent is the Pope's taking a position that is rather difficult for an ecumenical discussion. To indict Protestantism for oblivion of reason may be taken as challenge to strengthen the discourse in matters of faith, because one's own position becomes pointedly comprehensible. But for dialogue partners it becomes in so far difficult to accept the Pope's apology of Catholicism, as the reasonableness with which the discourse on faith could take place, is primarily claimed for the Catholic denomination. As Manuel II demands reasonableness from the Islamic person he is talking to, the Pope talks not only about "the from inside necessary approach of Biblical faith and Greek questioning" (GV 18) in Christianity, but sees otherwise than in Catholicism - in the de-Hellenization by Protestantism reason itself rejected.

It is a matter of course that the head of a church considers its own tradition to be authoritative. What is more, to persist in the claim to truth of one's own conviction is only logical for a position that emphasizes reason. But with the doubt about Protestantism's capability of reason Benedict shows the tendency to take away from it the common basis of a rational discourse. On what level should one still dispute over the truth of one's own religion, if the other person's ability to rational reasoning is doubted? It seems to me that here caution is advisable. I think the aim can rather be achieved if one does not primarily claim reason for oneself, but begins a discourse on reason about facets and emphases of different traditions of reason, and if one settles the claim to truth on this level.



Otherwise in the end one runs the risk to transform the claim to truth into a totalitarian claim. This has led to exaggerated reactions like those of Friedrich William Graf, who does not only reproach the Pope of "intellectual vanity" and of the use of "combat metaphors", and who insinuates that he ignores Protestantism in the ecumenical discussion in favour of "orthodox Christianity", but also quite seriously accuses him of having formulated in the Regensburg Lecture "a radically anti-Protestant religion-political agenda" {35}. And he adds (un)ambiguously: "No reasonable German can have an interest in new intra-Christian denominational and cultural conflicts." {36} Toward the implicitly asserted stupidity of the German Pope to him no more seems necessary than "intellectual respect" {37}.


Christianity's Claim to Truth

But beyond unqualified polemic the question about the religions' claim to truth continues to be worth considering. I am not of Paolo Flores d´Arcais' opinion, who against the emphasis on Christianity's reasonableness demands it should reach agreement on understanding itself as "absurdum", and to give up any claim to truth {38}, but I think that Christianity in its own interest needs a reason independent of itself, a reason that is able to exercise criticism of it. This it can of course only understand, if it remains reasonable itself and is self-confident enough not only to make sure of its own truth but also to consider itself capable of constant reform, and at the same time to argue.

According to what has been said the Pope's offer to learn to think Europe anew on the background of a Hellenized Christianity first contains the challenge to understand - despite all post-modern attempts -, reason in the plural, not to move away from a generally valid, Christian moulded humanity and to regard this as still universally valid. Despite intercultural distortions and questionings human rights are still considered as world-wide valid. That at least for the most part is European common-sense.

Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular certainly have a conflicting share in it: on the one hand from the point of view of contents, but on the other hand also as political opponent against which the human rights had to be helped to get generally accepted. In Europe it is no longer possible to cope with this history by Platonizing the nature of Christianity. Rather one accepts as European the ambivalence which could probably be formulated in the Pope's terminology in this way: The Enlightenment that became religion is the same religion that with the help of Enlightenment found better to itself. Exactly in the same way as the first centuries with their Hellenistic coinage the 18th century makes Christianity a factor of Europe. If this is conceded on the part of Christians and also accepted that Christianity is not only to face the secular reason but can also learn something from it, it will become possible that Christians again out of their faith have to tell Europe something and will meet with a response. For in Europe quite a lot of reason's pathologies are in need of being criticized by faith. But a Christianity that is sceptical of reason is no good for this task - this Benedict XVI also emphasized in Regensburg.



{1} For the dating of the text and to the relation of reality and literary fiction see the introduction in: K. Förstel, Manuel II Palaiologos: Dialoge mit einem Muslim (Würzburg 1993) XII-XXXI. For the "Sitz im Leben" of the disputed quotation see also: K. Lehmann, Chancen u. Grenzen des Dialogs zwischen den "abrahamitischen Religionen", in: Benedikt XVI, Glaube u. Vernunft. Die Regensburger Vorlesung. (Freiburg 2006) 97-133, esp. 120-128.

{2} I quote the Regensburg Lecture after Benedikt XVI, Glaube und Vernunft (A. 1), in the text with the abbreviation "GV". The translation of Karl Förstel differs slightly: "Zeige doch, was davon Mohammed neu eingeführt hat! Doch du wirst nichts finden außer etwas Schlechtem und Menschenfeindlichen (sic!), wie er zum Beispiel in seiner Gesetzgebung den Glauben, den er verkündete, durch das Schwert ausbreiten läßt" (Manuel II., Dialoge, VII, 1.5). I ignore the changes of the text between the lecture of 12 September 2006 and the revised text of 11 October 2006 on the Vatican homepage: hf_benxvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_ge.html (state from 2 November 2006) resp. of the print version from the beginning of December 2006. The later versions have some clarifications in the main text and beyond that in the commentating footnotes, added by Benedict XVI after the protests.

{3} So in "Fides et Ratio", where for example in No. 77 the autonomy of philosophy is taken into account and it is stated that it stands "under the authority of the doctrinal office and its examination" (Johannes Paul II., Enzyklika Fides et Ratio an die Bischöfe der katholischen Kirche über das Verhältnis von Glaube u. Vernunft, 14. September 1998; VApSt 135, Bonn 1998, Nr. 77). See from the numerous literature for example G. Pöltner, Anmerkungen zur Enzyklika Fides et Ratio, in: ThGl 90 (2000) 433-448, bes. 442-444.

{4} A. Kissler, Benedikts neue Streitkultur, in: SZ, 18.9.2006; (Stand: 19.9.2006).

{5} B. Pascal, Pensées. Ed. établie d´après la Copie de référence de G. Pascal. Text établi, annoté et présenté par Ph. Sellier (Paris 1991) Nr. 742.

{6} J. Kard. Ratzinger, Europa - verpflichtendes Erbe für die Christen, in: Europa. Horizonte der Hoffnung, hg. v. F. König u. K. Rahner (Graz 1983) 61-74, 68.

{7} Vgl. J. Ratzinger, Der angezweifelte Wahrheitsanspruch. Die Krise des Christentums am Beginn des dritten Jahrtausends, in: P. Flores d´Arcais u. ders., Gibt es Gott? Wahrheit, Glaube, Atheismus (Berlin ²2006) 7-18, 10. This essay was first published in 2000.

{8} Ibid. 9.

{9} Ibid. 11.

{10} Ibid. 16.

{11} Ibid. 13.

{12} Ibid. 17.

{13} J. Ratzinger, Was die Welt zusammenhält. Vorpolitische moralische Grundlagen eines freiheitlichen Staates, in: J. Habermas u. ders., Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Über Vernunft u. Religion (Freiburg ²2005) 39-60, 56.

{14} Ibid. 56f.

{15} Consistently Benedict XVI opposes also voluntaristic and nominalistic traditions within Christianity, which - according to his judgement - place God beyond reason (see GV 20f.) Theodor Khoury looks into the question to what extent Islam is determined by voluntaristic traditions in the following essay: A. Th. Khoury, Ist Gott absoluter, ungebundener Wille? Bemerkungen zum islamischen Voluntarismus, in: Benedikt XVI., (A. 1) 77-96.

{16} I. Kant, Was ist Aufklärung?, in: ders., Abhandlungen nach 1781, hg. v.d. Königlich Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Gesammelte Schriften 8, Berlin 1923) 33-42, bes. 35.

{17} Ratzinger, Europa (A. 6) 68.

{18} Ibid. 65.

{19} Ibid.

{20} F. W. Graf, Eine Wissenschaft, die sich für das Ganze zuständig weiß, in: SZ, 6.12.2006, 16.

{21} J. B. Metz, Anamnetische Vernunft. Anmerkungen eines Theologen zur Krise der Geisteswissenschaften, in: Zwischenbetrachtungen. Im Prozeß der Aufklärung (FS J. Habermas, Frankfurt 1989) 733-738, 734.

{22} Ibid.

{23} Ibid.

{24} Ibid. 734f.

{25} Of course Habermas points out against Metz that philosophy was richer than Metz - also in his criticism of Ratzinger's idealism - would like to concede to philosophy. Against Metz Habermas sees the "semantic potential of the salvation-historical thinking" also given in idealism, but not only there, it is also preserved in many other philosophical movements opposing Platonism (J. Habermas, Israel oder Athen: Wem gehört die anamnetische Vernunft? Johann Baptist Metz zur Einheit in der multikulturellen Vielfalt, in: ders., Vom sinnlichen Eindruck zum symbolischen Ausdruck, Frankfurt 1997, 98-111, 101.). Against Metz these were not only collected in the one focus of remembrance, so that philosophy needs not leave the anamnetic reason to theology alone (see ibid. 104).

{26} O. vom Hove, Krampf der Kulturen, in: Die Presse (Wien) 7.10.2006, spectrum, VIII.

{27} Ch. Fleischmann, Benedikts Vernunft, in: Die Furche, 28.9.2006, 10.

{28} Michael Bünker, Councillor of the highest administrative body of the Protestant Church A. B. in Austria, gives theological reasons that according to his opinion "make it impossible to give up the worldliness of reason" (M. Bünker, Benedikts Philosophie, in: Die Furche, 28,9.2006, 10).

{29} W. Huber, Glaube u. Vernunft, in: FAZ, 31.10.2006.

{30} Ibid.

{31} Ibid.

{32} see Ratzinger, Welt (A. 13) 56.

{33} see ibid. - See also G. Schwan, "Mut zur Weite der Vernunft". Braucht Wissenschaft Religion?, in: Benedikt XVI., (A. 1) 33-75.

{34} Ratzinger, Wahrheitsanspruch (A. 7) 17.

{35} Graf (A. 20) 16.

{36} Ibid.

{37} Ibid.

{38} P. Flores d´Arcais, Eine Kirche ohne Wahrheit?, in: ders. u. J. Ratzinger (A. 7) 69-106, 104.


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