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Walter Cardinal Kasper {*}

Faith and Reason

On the Protestant Discussion about the Regensburg Lecture
of Pope Benedict XVI


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 4/2007, P. 219-228
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


The lecture given by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg on the relation of faith and reason, has - as hardly any other speech of the year 2006 - found world-wide attention {1}. First it led to irritations and violent protests in the Islamic world. Circumspect reactions of influential Muslim representatives as well as the Pope's statements and appearance then with Muslims of good will during his journey to Turkey calmed down the misunderstandings that had developed and in the meantime even have become the cause for a matter-of-fact discussion with the Muslim world about the topic religion, violence and reason.


New Reformatory Positioning?

Since then it has come to a quite different argument with Protestant theologians. In the second part of his lecture the Pope had - in the context of the problematic nature of de-Hellenization ("Enthellenisierungsproblematik") - critically dealt with aspects of the Protestant definition of the relation of faith and reason. This first brought the chairman of the EKD, Bishop Wolfgang Huber to the scene with a respectfully formulated full-page article in the "Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung" {2}. In the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" considerably more sharply the Munich systematic theologian Friedrich William Graf found in the Regensburg Lecture "a radically anti-Protestant religio-political agenda" {3}. But a low of the argument represents the article of the practical Berlin theologian William Gräb in the Protestant magazine "Zeitzeichen"; already the title "Selbst denken nicht möglich" [possible translation: "You're not allowed to think"] is insulting and does not speak for the modern tolerance culture, for which it pretends to engage {4}.

With the article mentioned last one wonders whether the author ever took note of one of Joseph Ratzinger's relevant writings; not to mention the documents of the Second Vatican Council about "Freedom of Religion" and "The Church in Today's World". When one considers what is at stake for all churches and for them together with the topic "Faith and Reason" in the discussion with Islam and with the world religions



as well as with the modern and post-modern world of today, then one can only shake one's head over such a relapse into Kulturkampf slogans of the 19th century.

When one attentively reads all three articles, one is surprised what small role Martin Luther plays in them. Bishop Huber calls upon Luther for the education- and culture Protestantism, to whom the German history of ideas and culture indeed owes a lot. But it is remarkable that all three articles ignore the for Luther fundamental starting point for the relation of faith and reason. It is found in Luther's theology of the cross and appears already in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. There Luther calls the cross theology "theologia paradoxa", to which he sharply opposes Aristoteles' philosphy (see WA 1, 353-355).

In a similar way marginalized is the position of Karl Barth, the probably most important Protestant systematic theologian of the 20th century. Bishop Huber mentions him as critical corrective opposite the liberal theology, but then at once points to his one-sidedness. This double marginalization is not without meaning for the Catholic-Protestant discussion - for the Luther Renaissance and Karl Barth's dialectic "Wort-Gottes-Theologie" were the two columns on which on the part of the Protestant Church the Lutheran-Catholic approach of the last decades was based. These two columns are now not razed, but they are clearly moved aside.

With all three authors instead of Luther and Barth two other theologians become important - although in a different way: Friedrich Schleiermacher, the church father of the modern Protestantism, and Adolf Harnack, whose side is taken by all three authors against the Pope's critique. There cannot be any doubt about Schleiermacher's greatness, and Harnack's importance as historian is also then incontestable when one does not want to accept all his theses and has reservations against his philosophical premisses and his pronounced anti-Jewish opinions. Barth too has always bowed to Schleiermacher, as much as he served him also as a kind of negative foil for the explanation of his own dialectic position; but up to the end he had not coped with him.

It is obvious that within today's Protestantism by referring to Schleiermacher and by Harnack's rehabilitation a course is set that is of considerable importance for the ecumenical discussion and changes the situation of the ecumenical discussion and thus the ecumenical agenda.



Dialectic of the Reformation

The newer reformatory course is, as one can read in Schleiermacher, not without consequences. In the famous paragraph 24 of his doctrine of faith he for the time being describes the relation of Protestantism and Catholicism in this way: For the Protestant his relationship to the church depends on his relationship to Christ, inversely for the Catholic his relationship to Christ depends on his relationship to the church {5}. On this basis Bishop Huber can present the Protestant Church as church of liberty and can together with Graf and Gräb - similarly as already Harnack did - make individuality, inwardness, freedom and conscience the decisive characteristics of the Protestant profile, from which again results its inner closeness to the enlightened modern world and its pathos of freedom.

Schleiermacher was certainly far-sighted enough to see also the other side of the - at first sight - so shining new-Protestant medal. In connection of his comparison of Catholicism and Protestantism he does not miss to acknowledge the immanent danger of a Protestantism devoting itself to individual liberty: the danger of fragmentation up to the self-dissolution. This aspect is ignored by Bishop Huber and the two other authors. With emphasis Huber presents the "I believe" of the Credo, without saying at the same time that the original formula simply did not say "I believe" but "we believe". The faith of the individual is so taken quite seriously, but it is understood as the personal joining in the faith of the larger, space and times embracing "We" of the religious communion Church.

For Luther - as by the way also for Schleiermacher - this connection was still clear: He did not want to create a new church, but to reform theory and discipline of the existing church with the help of the word of God. This reformatory concern was only in 17th and 18th century understood as progressive reformatory process, and only in the fifties of the 20th century it was reduced to the formula "ecclesia semper reformanda". When Bishop Huber closes his contribution with just this programmatic sentence, he does not join Luther but a later tradition. But then he is also to face the critique Claus Harms expressed already in the 19th century when he said that one could - with the idea of a progressive reformation reform Christianity out of the world {6}. With it one can reform oneself also out of the Biblical and reformatory foundations and out of Christianity. Bishop Huber himself in another place spoke of the danger of a self secularization of the church.



Dialectic of Secularization

The new ecumenical agenda again confronts us with the question about the foundations and criteria of the ecumenical dialogue. With it first of all old, so far not really solved controversial questions again come to light, as for instance the relation of God's word and the church, Holy Scriptures and tradition. Only on this background one can understand the controversy over the de-Hellenization debate. For in this discussion it is about the question how the synthesis between the Biblical message and Hellenistic thinking is to be evaluated and what it means for us today.

For the theologian Joseph Ratzinger this meaning is fundamental. On that occasion he does not only refer to some Biblical traditions, like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and its persisting influence in the New Testament, for instance in the Logos Christology of St John's gospel. He rather much more basically assumes that the Bible as canonical writing has been handed down to us only by the mediation of the Church Fathers of the third and fourth century. The constitution of the canon and the constitution of the early church for him are the same process {7}. Hence the fundamental emancipation from the Fathers would also be emancipation from the Bible and from its testimony that in the - historically regarded - contingent Christ event something came into history that is once and for all valid. Hence who dissolves the history of Christianity into a succession of contingent "Gestaltwerdungen" (patterns of development), has finally also to question the once and for all given foundation of Christianity in Christ.

Luther did not take this step at all. By underlining the priority and sovereignty of the gospel he presented critical aspects to the Catholic view of tradition. But the testimony of the old church, not least that of Augustine, was of great importance for him. A break between the New Testament and the allegedly Hellenizing tradition in the time after the New Testament was only asserted by Harnack at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Thus in a still worth reading comment on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei verbum" the then Professor Ratzinger could accept Luther's critical position as an important, so far not yet fully answered inquiry also to the position of the Second Vatican Council {8}. As Benedict XVI he came back to this very problem at the meeting in Cologne in August 2005. Hence one cannot deduce an anti-Protestant agenda from the de-Hellenization debate - as it is presented by the Pope -, on the contrary it is an invitation to a further dialogue. A consistently anti-Protestant agenda can there only be found by those who see the definitive shape of Protestantism not in Luther and the Reformators, but in the much later liberal tradition represented by Adolf von Harnack.



In the dispute with Harnack the question about the criterion arises also in a further sense yet. It is the question how the Biblical resp. the church or reformatory tradition is related to the modern age. The more recent Protestant theology obviously assumes that Luther with his thesis of the "freedom of the Christian" has to be considered as a forerunner and torch carrier of the modern liberty pathos. But this thesis is, as one can read in Ernst Troeltsch and very differentiated in Gerhard Ebeling, at least questionable {9}. This thesis is problematic also for that reason because since Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno the insight into the inner dialectic of Enlightenment has become common knowledge {10}. Meanwhile not who maintains this dialectic of Enlightenment resp. secularization is obliged to furnish proof but who thinks s/he could non-dialectically and uncritically refer to the modern age. In Munich in the Catholic Academy in Bavaria in the year 2004 the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Jürgen Habermas, who is truly free from any suspicion to be an enemy of Enlightenment, discussed this very question, under the topic "The Dialectic of Secularization" {11}. In his Regensburg Lecture the Pope continued this dispute and portrayed the dialectic above mentioned with the help of the history of the de-Hellenization program.

One can as a matter of course discuss the description of the historical details and make differentiations. Benedict XVI is of course otherwise than Gräb obviously assumes - historically enough educated to know that the synthesis of Jerusalem and Athens was not uncritically carried out by the Church Fathers but surprisingly creatively. Hence it by no means ended up in a compact hovering above history position, but caused a fruitful historical process leading to different positions both with the Greek and with the Latin Fathers. Still in the high Middle Ages theologians such as Bonaventura and Thomas of Aquin interpreted this synthesis in different and partly conflicting ways.

Benedict XVI sees the dissolution of the patristic synthesis laid out only in the late medieval Nominalism. Philosophically and for the modern times decisively the separation of the two spheres faith and reason is then carried out by Kant. Characteristic is the much quoted sentence in the preface of the "Kritik der reinen Vernunft" (B XXXI), where Kant says he had abolished knowledge in order to get room for faith. This sentence is to be understood in the context of Kant's fundamental concern critically to limit the range of reason to the sphere of possible experience. Since God cannot be the subject of a reason that is limited to the empirical range, Kant consistently criticized the proofs of the existence of God. Nevertheless he held on to the conception of God. It was for him a postulate of the practical reason, i.e. a postulate that is able to give last orientation to man's morality.



Individual representatives of the modern Protestant theology went on along this path. Thus they could save the faith in God from the objections of the enlightened reason; but at what price? With it the faith in God was no longer related to the world and the world had finally become godless. Exactly this event is meant with secularization. For secularization does not at all necessarily lead to the denial of God, it is rather the attempt to keep the faith in God out of the public sphere and of the secular spheres of science, culture, politics and to restrict it to the sphere of the personal, of the private and of inwardness.

This alienation of faith and reason according to Benedict XVI leads to the dialectic of secularization. He sees two dangers: On the one hand religion, if it shirks reason, is in danger to become unreasonable and violent. This aspect became important for him in the argument with Islam, better: with the radical fundamentalist Islamism. Unfortunately also Christianity in its history did not always escape this danger. The other danger the Pope sees in the secularized western civilization. If reason is reduced to the sphere of the empirically ascertainable reality, then the actually human questions, the questions about man's where from and where to, the questions of religion and ethos remain outside. They are then shifted to the mere subjective sphere.

The consequence of the alienation of faith and reason are therefore pathologies of religion as well as of reason, and both have unforeseeable dangerous social consequences. Hence a new, not pre- but post-modern dialogue between faith and reason is urgently needed!


Plea for a New Dialogue

On the occasion of his first visit to Germany in 1980 Pope John Paul II in a lecture before scientists and students in the Cologne cathedral had already pleaded for a new dialogue, and later again in the encyclical "Fides et ratio" (1998). Reason and faith are - according to the encyclical - as it were the two wings of the soul: Both are not only a section, each of the two is in its special way related to the whole of reality. That's why the two are also mutually related to each other. For a reason open for the whole of reality will, forced by the facts, necessarily meet the reality of faith. Vice versa applies: a faith relating to God and thus to the reason of the whole reality can - if it is to be more than empty promises or ideology -, not be without consequences for this world. On the contrary, it must consent to take part in the discussion with reason and with the culture of the time.

The thesis of the universality of reason certainly represents a challenge. For to emphasize the universality of reason in the end means to claim the indispensability of metaphysics,



hence of the philosophical thinking that cannot be limited to one sphere but asks the question about the being as a whole. For many modern people or such who think they are metaphysics has almost become a term of abuse. For them metaphysics is, as Hegel sarcastically said, "a word from which everybody, more or less, runs away as from a person stricken with the plague." {12}

Such a phobia of metaphysics cannot quote Kant. For the Königsberg philosopher was not the "destroyer of metaphysics", as which he is often depicted. On the contrary, he wrote "Metaphysik der Sitten" (Metaphysics of Common Decency). He wanted to give reasons for a metaphysics that takes as its starting-point not "physis", i.e. nature, and is in this respect meta-physics, but a metaphysics which takes as its starting-point moral freedom. Fichte, Schelling and also Hegel followed him on this path in different ways. For Barth this anthropological turn was the decisive wrong way. No less a person than Karl Rahner SJ trod however this very path in Catholic theology. Several younger Catholic theologians try to take up and continue Rahner's approach in a critically constructive way. They start from the experience of human freedom and so seek the discussion about the relation of faith and reason on the basis of modern thinking {13}.

Benedict XVI chooses a different way, which however leads to a similar aim: He examines a merely instrumental view of reason and a view of science that remains within the context of empirical verification and falsification {14}. Without getting involved in the complicated questions of the modern science theories, he says briefly and succinctly that the modern sciences, important as they are, are not sufficient to give man the necessary orientation to.

With this only concisely stated argument the Pope actually follows the theory of natural law, as in its classical form it is found in Thomas of Aquin. For Thomas it is clear that one cannot empirically find man's moral orientation in the reality of nature. It is man's honour, and it makes up his dignity that with his reason he transcends the reality of nature. Hence the law of nature does not result from the nature of things, but from the nature of reason and from the inherent in it orientation towards bliss as man's final aim. In view of this its destination reason is to distinguish between what corresponds to it, i.e. what is good and what evil {15}. Hence to act not reasonably is - so one can summarize the Regensburg Lecture - contrary to God's nature as well as to man's nature and dignity.

With this view, oriented towards man's dignity, the Pope does just not fall prey - as Gräb thinks-, to an objective metaphysical realism; his criticism of modern reason does not - as Benedict XVI expressly states - go back



behind the insights of the modern age. On the contrary: He consistently takes his stand on the positive relationship of church and modern world, as it was given by the Second Vatican Council, and he approves of the great things achieved by the modern age. He approves of freedom of religion and the modern differentiation processes leading to the distinction of church and state as well as to the acknowledgment of the legitimate independence of secular spheres {16}. To assert the strict opposite has nothing to do with the position of the Pope.

The Pope therefore tries to translate the synthesis of the Church Fathers, which he in principle regards as of lasting importance, into a modern context. But - and that is new - he does not want to stop with the modern demarcation of the religious and the secular sphere: he aims beyond the demarcation of the two spheres and pleads for a new dialogue of faith and knowledge.


New Dialogue in a Post-secular Situation

In the Munich dispute between the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Jürgen Habermas by way of hints it became clear how this new dialogue is to happen. Habermas starting from quite different philosophical premisses than Cardinal Ratzinger - showed that the secularist position, i.e. to exclude the religious knowledge from the public and scientific discourse, is unreasonable. For the religions have, so his thesis, insights and linguistic potentials for the interpretation of reality at their disposal that can be translated into everyday language and made fruitful {17}. For that reason Habermas spoke of a post-secular situation {18}.

Cardinal Ratzinger took up the new situation in his way. He emphasized the historical breaks in which the previous Western self-evident truths broke up and acknowledged the aporias which open up in the present cultural pluralism, when one asks for a generally binding natural law. Consistently he stated that this instrument unfortunately today has become blunt {19}. Such insight into the limitations does not mean the insight into the impossibility of natural law thinking. In his speech in the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz Birkenau on 28 May 2006 Pope Benedict XVI again sharpened the problem in interrogative form and without giving a direct answer. He asked: "Where was God in those days? Why was he silent?" He drew our attention to the fact that in view of the monstrous crime and indescribable suffering at this place the theodicy question arises in a really dramatic way. At this place any attempt of a simple synthesis of faith and reason is completely impossible {20}.

That is the Pope in principle holds on to the lasting importance of the synthesis achieved by the Church Fathers and the "Hochscholastik" (late medieval scholasticism), but he does not fail to recognize the limitations of the traditional patterns of argumentation.



His thinking aims - on the traditional basis - at a new critical definition of the relation of reason and faith. His answer reads: Faith and reason are related to each other and "destined to cleanse and heal each other" {21}. That does by no means sound like authoritarian-hierarchical interference into the characteristic business of the secular sciences and politics, but rather comes a good distance to meet the Protestant position that is usually called 'prophetic-critical'.

Hence the Regensburg Lecture is not only the request to the sciences to open to the whole of reality. It is likewise a request to theology to join - without falling victim to a modernistic dialectic consuming the substance of faith - the dialogue with the secularized western culture. This task today is set both to the Catholic and the Protestant Church. They can only together live up to this task. That the Protestant theology then contributes its own critical position goes without saying. But in this situation we can neither wish nor afford a relapse into old trench conflicts and outdated Kulturkampf slogans. Neither anti-Protestant nor anti-Catholic agendas help on. There is no getting around an understanding dialogue. Together we must account for the hope that is in us (1 Petr 3.15).


{1} Final Version: Benedikt XVI., Glaube u. Vernunft. Die Regensburger Vorlesung. Kommentiert von G. Schwan, A. Th. Khoury u. K. Kardinal Lehmann (Freiburg 2006).

{2} W. Huber, Glaube u. Vernunft, in: FAZ, 31.10.2006, 10.

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

{4} W. Gräb, Selbst denken nicht möglich, in: Zeitzeichen 7 (2006) No. 12, 53-55.

{5} F. Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, volume 1 (Berlin 1960) 137.

{6} Cf. Th. Mahlmann, Art. Reformation, in: HWbPh 8 (1992) 420f.

{7} Cf. J. Ratzinger, Die Bedeutung der Kirchenväter für die gegenwärtige Theologie, in ThQ 148 (1968) 257-282, 277.

{8} Cf. the commentary on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum", in: LThK.E, volume 2, 504-515.

{9} Cf. E. Troeltsch, Luther, der Protestantismus u. die moderne Welt, in: the same, Gesammelte Schriften, volume 4 (Tübingen 1925) 202-254; G. Ebeling, Der kontroverse Grund der Freiheit, in: Lutherstudien, volume 3 (Tübingen 1985) 366-394.

{10} Cf. M. Horkheimer u. Th. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung (Frankfurt 1969).

{11} J. Habermas u. J. Ratzinger, Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Über Vernunft u. Religion (Freiburg 2005).

{12} G. W. F. Hegel, Wer denkt abstrakt? in: the same, Sämtliche Werke, volume 20 (Stuttgart 1958) 445.

{13} The contribution of M. Striet is characteristic for it: Benedikt XVI., die Moderne u. der Glaube. Anmerkungen zur Regensburger Vorlesung des Papstes, in: HerKorr 60 (2006) 551-554. {14} Cf. G. Schwan, in Benedikt XVI. (A. 1) 34-75.

{15} Cf. Summa theologiae I/II q. 90 a.1; q. 91 a.2.



{16} Cf. GS 36, 41, 56 u. 76 as well as DH; cf. J. Ratzinger, Kirche, Ökumene u. Politik (Einsiedeln 1987); the same, Glaube - Wahrheit - Toleranz. Das Christentum u. die Weltreligionen (Freiburg 2003).

{17} Habermas u. Ratzinger (A. 11) 34-36; cf. J. Habermas, Glauben u. Wissen (Frankfurt 2001).

{18} Habermas u. Ratzinger (A. 11) 33; cf. J. Habermas, Zwischen Naturalismus u. Religion. Philosophische Aufsätze (Frankfurt 2005) especially 116-118.

{19} Habermas and Ratzinger (A. 11) 50.

{20} Cf. Benedikt XVI., Wo war Gott? Die Rede in Auschwitz (Freiburg 2006).

{21} Ibid. 54f.; cf. 57.


    {*} The Regensburg Lecture of Pope Benedict XVI provoked violent reactions not only in the Muslim world. Also with Protestant theologians it met with protest. WALTER CARDINAL KASPER, president of the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity, rejects the reproaches and pleads for a common argument of Christians with the modern age.


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