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Klaus Müller

Reason, Modern Age and the Pope


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 5/2009, p. 291-306
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    KLAUS MULLER, Professor of philosophical basic questions of theology at the University of Munster sees also a philosophical dimension behind Pope Benedict XVI's one-sided gesture of reconciliation to the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. It consists in an unsolved relationship to the modern age.


In late January and early February 2009 we are contemporary witnesses of a tragedy that can be called historical. Pope Benedict XVI, who often not only appears shy and timid but is it, wanted in a daring act of human and spiritual generosity - perfectly comparable with the merciful father in the Gospel of Luke - hold out his hand to the schismatic Priestly Society of Saint Pius X in order to heal this most recent wound of separation within the Catholic Church. As the then negotiating partner of the Vatican he had not been able to prevent its final opening caused through the prohibited ordination of four bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988.


When Reconciliation Becomes a Tragedy

This also personal defeat, which is additionally burdened by the feeling that the Church had suffered spiritual and theological losses by some developments after the Second Vatican Council, has probably become such an excruciating challenge for the pontiff in the course of his first four years in office that he wanted at all costs to solve it in the limited time given to him. The highly risky acts of an almost daring co-operation with the Pius Brotherhood, without demanding of it in some way (as it was usual in the past in similar cases) an advance concession, are only that way understandable. Under this circumstances lack of information, communication deficits, political incompetence and probably also human vanities by some members of the Roman Curia lead to a maze of pitfalls in the middle of which then one of the four bishops whose excommunication had been lifted even explicitly denied the Holocaust. The consequences are well known.

But behind this religious-political and even personal tragedy there is still another dimension that is felt as being no less tragic by those who discover it; it is a philosophical one. It needs no further explanation that the relationship between reason and faith has been the life's topic of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI from the beginning of his academic teaching up to his encyclicals. It belongs to the tragic of the events regarding the bishops of the Pius Brotherhood that they had not only damaged the weight of Benedict's voice in this today so urgently needed dispute



but that there is a feature in his philosophical background beliefs, a feature that probably partially blinds him to the things by which the Pius Brotherhood is basically worried and that also openly expresses the uncompromising rejection and combating of everything falling into the category 'modernity'. Its thinking - symbolically summarized under the concept of autonomy of reason and the ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity - is regarded by the Pius-Followers as sheer invention of Satan in order to destroy the church and its truth.

Benedict XVI for his part has such a deep scepticism about the foundation of this modernity, especially about its philosophy and he practises in dealing with it such marked hermeneutics of suspicion that between his guiding beliefs and parts of the doctrine of the Pius-People a kind of osmosis takes place, and so he is only to a certain extent aware of the brisance of other parts of this position or takes no account of it. The following considerations will deal with this philosophical background [Tiefenschicht].


God in the Breaking News of the World Press

Before it happened, one had actually not believed it possible that the good old question of God, even in the pointed emphasis of the relationship between reason and faith, would some day crop up in the global media circus as breaking news, as sensational report that for days and days put everything else in the shade. But exactly this happened on 16 September 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI while visiting his old work-place as professor of theology, the University of Regensburg, delivered the now legendary lecture on "Faith, Reason and the University" {1}. Within days in the Muslim world a storm of indignation began, because the Pope had, by using a medieval quote of a Byzantine emperor, offended the Prophet Mohammed and Islam as a whole by the accusations to be violent. First Vatican authorities and then even the pope himself gave clarifications that only with difficulty and only in parts poured oil on troubled waters.

Certainly, even a half sentence about Christianity's own history of violence would have politically averted the misunderstanding of a condemnation of Islam - quite purposefully searched for by a few circles. It would have been quite sufficient if Benedict had repeated what he had said years ago, meant as a confession and explicitly mentioning the Crusades, about Christian violence {2} and what he had repeated a few months before the Regensburg lecture still at the World Youth Day in Cologne {3} and last at the New Year's reception of the diplomatic Corps in 2006 in Rome {4}. But those who soberly listened to his words would already then have clearly understood that the Pope aimed only at a quite particular wording in the quote {5}.



Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, who was quoted by Benedict, was of the opinion that spreading faith by force was absurd, because it contradicts God's nature and the nature of the soul. "God does not derive pleasure from blood ... and it is contrary to God's nature not to act according to reason - syn logo." {6}

The Pope could without doubt have referred literally to a cloud of other witnesses in order to express that violence and preaching strictly exclude each other {7}. But in none of these testimonies turns up the reference to the logos - so it was simply this what mattered for the pope. Already by the approach of his reflections he wanted to say with it that God and reason are inseparable. The consequences of the actual reference to Islam caused by the quote disguised that it was not about a religio-political problem or critique of religion but about the relationship between reason and faith.

Already this opening move of the lecture had admittedly a critical point, but it did not aim at Islam but had addressees within Christianity. This is proved by the fact that in Benedict's lecture from the second paragraph after the notorious quote until the end, that means 90 percent of the text, as an Italian critic calculated {8}, it is about the problem of the so-called Hellenization, that means whether this combination of reason and faith is only the result of over-moulding - or even alienating - the Christian basic message by the Greek philosophical thinking in the first centuries after the turn of the eras, or whether the crossing of reason and faith is the historical interconnection of both traditions which is carried by the matter itself, that is by the Christian concept of God. This is the real thesis at stake, and about it has to be argued. Already in the late Middle Ages this binding God to reason was controversial among Christian theologians, because one regarded it, as it were, as a restriction of God's omnipotence, and Islam too includes strands of tradition sharing the view that God for the sake of his being God must not even be bound to reason and truth.

The Reformation rejected this close connection between Greek thought and biblical faith, because it thought that the original sound of the Gospel was no longer heard in it. The mainstream of Protestant theology in mid-19th and at the beginning of the 20th century - led by the great German theologian Adolf von Harnack - missed the glow of the initial belief of the early Christians and hoped, by getting rid of the philosophical ballast, to regain from a metaphysics of God the philanthropic moral message of Jesus, which was at the same time compatible with the modern consciousness of enlightened people. And today the issue of Hellenization arises against the horizon of a world church that has become polycentric and embraces many cultures.



Pope Benedict pointedly takes a stand on all three issues. For him the Christian message's way through the medium of the Greek philosophical thought does not mean alienation, because there was up to the Old Testament already contact between Greek thought and biblical traditions; and already there the fundamental decisions, "which precisely concern the relationship between faith and human reason's searching" {9}, have been prepared and developed in such a way that this encounter between reason and faith belongs to the true character of the Christian faith.

And that's why - this is the answer to the second and third question - a separation of reason and faith, even if it is either done for the sake of God's grandness or because of theology's rationality [Vernunftförmigkeit], leads to a darkening and narrowing of faith and reason which can be intensified up to reciprocal pathologies; this in turn was pressing us in today's overdue processes of inculturation not to get round the catalyst reason, because just it is responsible for the universality of the message which is needed in order to keep it open for the concrete inculturation {10}.


The Pope and Philosophy in the Modern Age

It was surprising that those who are actually the first affected party in this matter, i.e. today's representative of the so-called cultural Protestantism who are sharing the essentials of the Hellenization thesis, made themselves heard only astonishingly late - and then rather spitefully. The Munich Protestant theologian Friedrich Wilhelm Graf for instance regarded the papal criticism of the Hellenization thesis as denying that 400 million Protestants around the world are true Christians {11}. For the preceding interpretation regarding the inner-Christian sphere speaks by the way that the pope does not call for his concern - as it were, in the attitude of a know-all - an inner-Catholic voice to the witness stand, although this had been possible many times. Instead of this he let an Orthodox Christians say the things important for him; someone who incidentally talked and acted as if he was anything else but a friend of Catholics.

Moreover, Manuel's philosophical adviser Georgios Gemistos Plethon was a philosopher and reform politician who had planned a highly ambitious program and who had in pursuing it become a sharp critic of monotheism. For it was also Plethon's declared intention to settle the differences between Christianity and paganism by returning to an ancient pre-Christian, Greek religious wisdom, a "theologia prisca" and with the help of it overcome the confessional and violent divisions between Eastern and Western Church, and those between Christianity and Islam as well {12}. It seems to me that something of just that intention is echoed in Emperor Manuel's dictum.



But at least this diachronic recontextualization shows that the suspicion the papal quote had at least the indirect intention to provoke is completely unfounded.

With it I do in no way insinuate that there was nothing worth discussing in Benedict's pointed speech - on the contrary. It should e.g. take into account the way in which in the Regensburg Lecture the philosophy of the modern age, especially that of Kant and his followers is presented - namely little differentiated or not at all.

It may be no coincidence that precisely at this point the Pope in paraphrasing an actually well-known passage from the preface of the second edition of the "Critique of Pure Reason" made a remarkable mistake. The pope said, Kant had written "that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith {13}. But the original reads, "I had to set aside [aufheben] knowledge in order to get room for faith" {14} - and this means something very different from what the paraphrase insinuates (because only by thinking Kant can give to faith the room gained by setting aside, i.e. by restricting knowledge). I had always had the impression that this modern philosophical thought was and remained alien to Joseph Ratzinger and he - despite some respect especially for Kant's moral thinking {15} - was therefore not in the position to find really access to its theological wealth {16}.

After the media whirl of the Regensburg Lecture had a little abated, effects admittedly appeared with which also nobody had reckoned. 38 Muslim authorities of completely different origin write in a friendly tone an open letter to the Pope about his remarks in Regensburg {17}. Exactly a year later, on 13 October 2007 138 Muslim scholars send a further letter to the Pope and to several other church authorities, to which the Pope for his part a little later responds with an invitation to theological dialogue.

But before such an encounter took place something entirely different happened - and again it was about the Pope, reason and faith. The rector of the largest University of Rome "La Sapienza", founded in 1308 by Pope Boniface VIII, now a mass university with 140.000 students, had invited Pope Benedict to come to the university and to deliver the inaugural speech at the opening of the academic year. That was to happen already in autumn 2007. In a circle of just 70 of a total of 4500 professors and then also among students was put up resistance to it, because the Pope had in his time as a Cardinal in 1990 in a lecture in Parma defended the church's action against Galileo Galilei and therefore exposed himself as a religious obscurantist and as enemy of science. He who picks up the incriminated text can at the first reading already see that the allegations are untenable. For diplomatic reasons the coming of the Pope was nevertheless downgraded to a visit; instead of the lectio magistralis he was only to speak a few words of welcome and then visit the chapel of the university.



But even this was impossible. A few days before the planned visit on 17 January 2008 the Rectorate was occupied. The atmosphere was boiling so high that the Vatican completely cancelled the appointment but published verbatim the originally planned lecture {18}. On his own admission it is like a continuation of the Regensburg Lecture, and the definition of the relationship between reason and faith given by Benedict - by referring incidentally not only to Thomas Aquinas but also to John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas - truly needn't have offended anybody, quite the contrary {19}. You need only a little listen into the text in order to convince yourself.

"I would say that Saint Thomas's idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated "without confusion and without separation". "Without confusion" means that each of the two must preserve its own identity. ...
Philosophy must truly remain a quest conducted by reason with freedom and responsibility; it must recognize its limits and likewise its greatness and immensity. Balancing "without confusion", there is always "without separation": philosophy does not start again from zero with every thinking subject in total isolation, but takes its place within the great dialogue of historical wisdom, which it continually accepts and develops in a manner both critical and docile. It must not exclude what religions, and the Christian faith in particular, have received and have given to humanity as signposts for the journey.
Various things said by theologians in the course of history, or even adopted in practice by ecclesiastical authorities, have been shown by history to be false, and today make us feel ashamed. Yet at the same time it has to be acknowledged that the history of the saints, the history of the humanism that has grown out of the Christian faith, demonstrates the truth of this faith in its essential nucleus, thereby giving it a claim upon public reason." {20}

Those who want to see in it obscurantism follow a "hidden agenda", i.e. they have a quite different intention than to enter into a reasonable dispute about reason and its relation to talking about God. Behind it there is rather a deliberate search for a conflict between religion and the late modern era of the present time.

But just this experience is in the pope's opinion nothing new but the true nature of the modern age since its beginnings. It is one long program of human self-authorization that tries ideologically to remove any transcendence from knowledge, thinking, life and will. One encounters this pessimistic interpretation of the modern era already in the late phase of the professor of theology Ratzinger and then in his time as cardinal of the Roman Curia most tangibly in his examination of the probably most significant text of the Second Vatican Council, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church "Gaudium et Spes."



Criticism of Modernism Dressed up as Council-Reading

On 7 December 1965 by an overwhelming majority of the Council Fathers (2309-Yes to 75 No votes) adopted as the longest and final text of the Council, the Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et Spes" remained until today controversial. A conservative faction of the Council Fathers had sought to prevent it, but in the majority the conviction established itself - based on important stimuli of the Council Popes John XXIII and Paul VI - that this Council, which had been able to give so many theological answers to inner-church questions, could not refrain from addressing also the outside, "the world" - and this means the non-Catholics. One can say that here the process, the coming into being of this text is its real result {21}. It is more important than the adopted text, because the opening of the church to the world demanded by the text is performed in the daring feat to formulate such a document.

Such a document had until now never existed. The actually new fact was that the highest teaching authority of the church - differently to the past (and today) - dared to give its view in a temporary form {22}. When the church authority seriously gets involved in reading the famous "signs of the times" (GS 4), it certainly wants to tell something to its addressees that is useful for their salvation. But it thus also recognizes that it, together with its addressees has the task of hermeneutics and of its risks, the interpretation of the situation before and not behind it.

It was without doubt just this hermeneutic openness which made it possible that Gaudium et Spes was from the beginning highly controversially interpreted. Some regarded it as "the 'best' of the documents of the Council" {23}, whereas others saw in this document, particularly in his introduction (GS 4-10) the deepest impulse to post-conciliar developments which the Council itself had never wanted. The then professor of theology Ratzinger is without doubt one of the most prominent representatives of this second reading. Already in 1975, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of Gaudium et Spes, he wrote:

"What ... this text has made so effective was not its content which remains wholly in line with the church's tradition and exhausts its opportunities; it was rather the general intention of awakening, which had found expression mainly in the 'Preface'. ... Not as if the text itself was exhausted, but because the history of effects ... clung just to the spirit of this preface and was largely moulded by its ambiguities." {24}

This "spirit of the foreword," to which Ratzinger there refers and which he indicts of ambiguities is a little later named by him; it is the "astonishing optimism" {25} which is expressed in the document and which had even more prevailed in the discussions leading to it.



If - so Ratzinger's interpretation - according to Gaudium et Spes church and world co-operated, nothing seemed any longer impossible. With this document of the Council a kind of "Counter-Syllabus" {26} had been formulated, which after reserves and blockades for many generations enabled a fundamentally productive and positive redefinition of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the thinking of the modern times or the modern age.

In fact this document of Vatican II possesses something of a Counter-Syllabus. The Syllabus was a list of 80 sentences that had been condemned and with which Pope Pius IX responded to intellectual and political problems of his time - a catalogue of heresies that can safely be called a declaration of the church's failure in view of the world situation of that time. Under Pius X it was updated by the anathemata and doctrinal writings against the so-called modernism of which we now know today that it was a genuinely Roman invention, because nobody has seriously held the views circulating in the Curia as modernism {27}. In contrast, Gaudium et Spes in fact fundamentally redefines the relationship to modernism, which is unmistakably - and audibly up to the choice of word - dispersed with elements of enlightenment. The problems emerging in the rapid transformation of society e.g. are called "growth crises" which are usual in such processes (GS 4); the assumption of autonomy of earthly realities and their recognition are described as the will of the Creator (GS 36). Like a matter of course an expression becomes established in the document that was still ten years ago disparaged as faux-pas word [Unwort- ugliest word of the year]: "evolutionary" (GS 5) {28}, and purifying religiosity from magic and superstition is welcomed (GS 7); and then literally in the opening sentence of GS 22: "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light."- there religion, more precisely, the Christian religion is regarded as enlightenment.

In his critique of 1975 Ratzinger openly accused this characteristic style of Gaudium et Spes of forgetting what one can succinctly reduce - using the title of the famous joint work of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno - to the common denominator "Dialectic of Enlightenment" {29}. This means, reason that is convinced to be able to emancipate man by enlightenment from all constraints imposed by nature, to take fear away from him and to make him master of his life becomes in the course of its progress entangled in the network of its own imagination. The basic situation of reason is - undoing. For this Horkheimer sees only one way out. Already in "Dialectic of Enlightenment" he had hinted that at least at one point in the history of Occidental reason thinking had got free of this attachment to nature, namely in Judaism, because there it was replaced by the attachment to God who is wholly different - compared with all natural things.



Ratzinger finds no trace of awareness of just this dialectic of the modern age in Gaudium et spes. This thesis is of course astonishing in view of the text of the "Introduction" (GS 4-10). For there is not a single feature in the description of the modern world, from the economic dynamism up to the religious consciousness, that is not counterbalanced by a "but" or an "and yet". The summary of the analysis of the present time reads therefore:

"Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, man is becoming aware that it is his responsibility to guide aright the forces which he has unleashed and which can enslave him or minister to him. That is why he is putting questions to himself." (GS 9).

What should this be, if not a clear expression of the knowledge of the dialectic of enlightenment? As a special point is added that according to the today known and researched history of Gaudium et Spes the critical features in the portrayal of the modern era were adopted in the text just at the instigation of German theologians to whom the first drafts primarily written by French colleagues seemed to be too optimistic {30}. It is not assumed too much if one not only sees behind it the effect of the historical experiences of the Germans from 1914 to 1945 but also reminds that the awareness of a dialectic of Enlightenment - unlike to France or England - is from the beginning a constitutive element of the tradition of the classical German philosophy of the modern age. The first who brilliantly formulated this dialectic in a style-shaping way was no less a person than Friedrich von Schiller - to be precise, in the antagonism of two texts almost simultaneously written: his Jena inaugural lecture "Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?" [What is universal history and why does one study it?] {31} of 1789, that instantly made him an eminent authority, and the so-called philosophical speech in the novel fragment "The Ghost-Seer" {32}, which develops a completely sceptical view of a world that is out of its mind, whereas through the lecture a deep optimism is running regarding history and its enlightenment and guidance by human reason {33}.

And in this context also Kant has of course to be mentioned, whose critical writings, particularly the "Kritik der praktischen Vernunft" [Critique of Practical Reason] and "Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft" [Religion within the Boundaries of mere Reason] were gratefully and very enthusiastically welcomed (especially of theologians and preachers)- as overdue counterweight against a shallow enlightenment {34}. Particularly Kant's work on religion and his contributions to the philosophy of history forcefully discuss the problem of the dialectic of reason, which is mostly condensed in the question of the origin and the possible overcoming of evil. In any case, the set of problems of the dialectic of reason is constitutively and in detail dealt with in the philosophy of the modern age {35}



- and Gaudium et Spes conspicuously reflects these findings particularly in the "Introduction" {36}. An interpretation that leaves that out of account seems to me only possible on condition that there is a clichés of the modern age which refuses to recognize the internal differentiation and the genuine Christian roots of modern philosophizing. Ratzinger tends in that direction when he qualifies the thought of the modern age as fundamentally aporetical and opposes to it a so-called Christian "'knowledge out of baptism'" {37}, which becomes effective by the fact that man lets his highhandedness be taken away and lets himself be fitted in the Body of Christ, i.e. in the church, because him - as historically fallen being - can only historically be helped back on his feet.

What seems a tragedy to me is that the missing relationship to the modern age, which has thus been fixed and which I regard as the hidden cause of Benedict's openness to the voices in the right margin of the church and beyond of it, is by no means a constituent part of the basic coordinates of his thought. This is not least proved by the fact that he was able in an important phase of his work to take a path of thought that brought him literally by a hair's breadth in close contact with thinkers of a reflected modern age and a self-critical enlightenment, hence with representatives of the German idealism, and that led almost to a dialogue with this modern thought at eye level - a path of thought, by the way, that he has not simply left behind but that left traces in his speeches until recently.


The Almost Successful Dialogue with Modern Age

This dimension in Ratzinger's thought especially turns up in a very specific use of the concept 'logos'. We find these thoughts broadly explicated already in his book "Einführung in das Christentum" [Introduction to Christianity] of 1968 {38}, reduced to a concise denominator we meet them particularly distinctive in a colloquium at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1999 regarding the question of the scope of scientific knowledge's validity claim. There the then Cardinal formulated:

"It is about the question whether reason is at the beginning of all things and at their bottom.
It is about the question whether the real existing things are caused by chance and necessity ... hence therefore originate in irrationality, whether reason so is an accidental by-product of irrationality and ultimately meaningless in the ocean of irrationality, or whether the fundamental conviction of the Christian faith and its philosophy remain true: In principio erat Verbum - at the beginning of all things is the creative power of reason. The Christian faith is today as in the past the option for the priority of reason and of the reasonable." {39}



This seemingly simple passage includes a complex argument. If there is reason in the world, and with it knowledge and science, then in the strict sense only if also its source, its origin is for its part rational [vernunftförmig]. If this was not the case, reason was not allowed to trust itself. It had sprung from irrationality, it worked just the way it works, but had to refrain from any validity claim. It would be - to use Nietzsche's word - an illusion of which we have forgotten that it is one {40}. Indeed, where should its ability to recognize truth and to gain knowledge come from if this cannot be said of its origin? This idea is actually an option, i.e. the decision for a certain description of the world. This option is not based again on a proof; yes, it is neither in need nor even capable of a proof, if one assumes that such a thing as reason exists at all. It is instead carried by an ultimate self-confidence of reason in its own ability to find truth; an idea that Ludwig Wittgenstein reduced to the succinct denominator, knowledge was ultimately based on acknowledgment {41} or as Joseph Ratzinger asked:

"... can reason actually do without the priority of rationality over irrationality and without the Logos as primal source without giving itself up for lost?" (42)

The answer reads of course, "No". Admittedly reason can nevertheless decide in favour of the primacy of irrationality, but then it has to have the good sense to do without itself; that means, reason had to perform even its self-denial according to the standard of rationality, if its remark was to be more than a pointless noise. By the assumption of an irrational reason for reality human reason would be driven into a performative self-contradiction. Ratzinger draws just from this the conclusion that, if there is reason in the world, the source of the world out of which everything comes - i.e. in theological terms: God - must be reason {43}. Joseph Ratzinger's conviction that in Christianity enlightenment had become religion is explained just from it:

"The Christian faith is not based on poetry and politics, these two major sources of religion; it is based on knowledge ... In Christianity enlightenment has become religion and is no longer its opponent." {44}

Even Benedict's first encyclical "Deus caritas est" follows this argumentative line. In taking up the connection between the motives reason and love, which turn up time and again already before, he identifies there the metaphysical conception of God as "primal reason" {45} with someone "who loves with all the passion of real love" {46}. The reasons for this identification of logos and love is heard in a sermon of the day of the Regensburg Lecture. There it says:



"(The) creative Reason is Goodness. It is love. It has a face. God does not let us grope in the dark. He appeared as a human being. He is so great that he can afford it to become quite small." {47}

This idea corresponds unmistakable to a thesis with which the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo in recent years has caused a sensation. Through Christianity it had become conceivable that the being beyond which no greater being was conceivable - that is God - proved its grandeur by doing without its grandness, in order to give room to other beings, to let them be different - and this was nothing else but love. For - giving the gist of a word of Augustine - love means to say 'yes' to something or someone; to say, "I want that you are." {48} This idea had got its singular expression in the idea of Incarnation, of God making himself small - or with St Paul's word: kenosis.

This idea too turns up already decades ago in Ratzinger's "Introduction", to be precise just in the function to bring out "the transformation of the God of the philosophers' {49}, as he writes, i.e. to keep together reason and faith. For it he refers to a dictum of an anonymous Jesuit at the beginning of Hölderlin's "Hyperion" novel. There it says: ",Non coerceri maximo, contineri tarnen a minimo, divinum est - Not to be enclosed by the largest, to let oneself be enclosed by the smallest - that is divine.'" {50} Ratzinger comments:

"That infinite spirit carrying the totality of being in itself reaches beyond the 'greatest', and so it is little for it, and it goes into the smallest, because nothing is too small for it. Just this transcending of the largest and reaching into the smallest is the true nature of the absolute spirit." {51}

Only from this "primal identity of truth and love" {52} the logos can be understood as a creative being, and that way the idea can be conceived that apart from the Absolute something else was. But in Benedict's option for a primacy of the logos we are dealing with there is still another feature to be looked into - the more so as it implies a notable surprise.

Ears that are philosophically finely tuned have certainly at once taken notice of the quote in question. There was some talk about the "true nature of the absolute mind". Does that not sound like idealism? It does not only sound like this. A few pages later in the "Introduction" Ratzinger explicates the primacy of the logos in exactly the same way as the idealistic tradition did and is doing it in its best voices: If reason - as explained - for its own sake has reasons for opting for a primacy of the Logos then it followed that all beings according to their innermost structure were logical, i.e. ideas. Whatever was found of objective spirit in the things was "copy and expression" {53} of a preceding creative thought [Vorgedachtwerdens] of a subjective mind - and our thinking was its after-thought in the literal sense. From there Ratzinger comes to the bold résumé:



"To say, 'Credo in Deum'- 'I believe in God' expresses the conviction that the objective spirit {sense, meaning, knowledge ...} is the product of the subjective mind; it can only exist as its declension; in other words, to be produced by thought [Gedachtsein] (as we find it as the structure of the world) is not possible without thinking." (54)

But this means to him that also matter is in the final analysis "produced by thought, is objectified thinking" {55} - a conviction that was again expressed by the future Cardinal even decades later, at the colloquium at the Sorbonne, in view of Jacques Monod's prominent opposite position on pure coincidence as the only conceivable hypothesis {56}. Reduced to a denominator he says with it: If there is a primacy of the logos, then applies that "... everything is ultimately produced by thought and is to be attributed to the primal reality of the mind - we are faced with the 'idealistic' way." {57}

That's how the matter stands. For idealism is to be understood - seen systematically - in a twofold way: First, the conviction that all real beings can fundamentally be recognized and understood. And this implies, secondly, the assumption that all real beings are ultimately something spiritual, because we actually only get to the bottom of ourselves and of our spiritual life; for only there is open a direct access to the recognized being. Fundamental cognition of reality is therefore only possible in relation to a reality that is spiritual in its nature, i.e. logos-related [logosförmig], as already Plato was convinced (58).

Ratzinger has essentially always been sharing this approach. But at the same time he seeks the differentiation to the historically developed positions of the philosophical idealism by writing in the "Introduction":

"Certainly, it (the Christian faith) too will say: Being is being produced by thought. Matter points beyond itself to thought as the prior and original being. But contrary to the idealism that makes all beings elements of an all-embracing consciousness the Christian faith in God says that being means to be produced by thought - but not that it remained only thought and that the appearance of independence proves to be mere appearance to those who take a closer look. Christian belief in God rather means that all beings are produced by a creative mind, by a creative freedom, and that this creative consciousness which is sustaining all beings releases them into the freedom of their own, independent being." {59}

But just this differentiation is incapable of convincing. Whoever looks a little around in the sources of idealistic thought will easily produce examples that just compensate for what Ratzinger critically regards as defect of the philosophical idealism. Here just a single, but particularly suitable example. Schelling describes the relationship between absolute and finite, between God and Creation in the logic of the image. Since everything is an image of God, in this image is also portrayed God's independence, which appears as independence [Selbstand] of the beings.



"The exclusive characteristic of the Absolute is that it grants to its counter-image together with its essence also independence. This being-in-itself, this actual and true reality ... of the being looked at is freedom." {60}

The borderline to idealism drawn by Ratzinger proves to be - systematically seen - artificial and irrelevant. Intensive critical examination of the actual elaborated classical Idealisms, already beginning with Kant over Fichte, Schelling, Hegel up to Hölderlin would confirm this. Ratzinger has, unfortunately, the later the more, this whole area of philosophical modern thought left out of account and developed his Christian-idealistic roots philosophically almost exclusively in a dialogue with Plato. This is - despite all esteem for Plato - in so far unfortunate as especially in the modern idealists more than elsewhere resources could be found for that "expansion of our concept and use of reason" {61} for which Benedict XVI has called in the Regensburg Lecture - against an enlightenment that restricts itself to the sole instrumental reason {62}. Just there starting-points were ready to interpret the "reason of the universe" {63} revealing itself as love in a way that, "as that greater rationality which takes in also the dark and irrational and heals it" {64}, is sensitive to theodicy.

The fact that there are Catholic theologians who in contrast try with all their might, via Protestant interpretation of the Jewish tradition, to secure for the "Abrahamitic religions ... irreconcilable left-overs of a-rationality" {65}, at the same time, however, secular philosophers who make Christianity's strength and survival dependent on its potential of self-reflection {66} and Muslim thinkers who are deliberately pleading for a clearing up of the idea of God under the sign of the Logos {67} lets you suspect that in this debate many unsettled questions are still waiting for a reappraisal.

On that occasion Benedict's voice would be of highest importance, his personal-intellectual one and his papal voice as well. It has lost in radiance and persuasiveness by the events at the beginning of 2009 regarding the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. It is tragic enough that this has its deepest roots in a lack of attention to just that modern thought which, for the sake of its human continuation, needed more than anything else such a voice capable to speak in the spirit of Christ into the heart of the cultures and souls.



{1} See the official print version in: Benedikt XVI, Glaube u. Vernunft. Die Regensburger Vorlesung. Kommentiert von G. Schwan, A. Th. Khoury u. K. Lehmann (Freiburg 2006).

{2} See J. Ratzinger, Glaube - Wahrheit - Toleranz. Das Christentum u. die Weltreligionen (Freiburg 2003) 165.

{3} See Benedikt XVI, Gott u. die Vernunft. Aufruf zum Dialog der Kulturen (Augsburg 2007) 88 et seq.

{4} In the same place 103.



{5} See for it Ch. Thim-Mabrey and A. Greule, Zitat - Verstehen - Mißverstehen. Ein sprachwissenschaftlicher Kommentar zur "Regensburger Vorlesung", in: Die "Regensburger Vorlesung" Papst Benedikts XVI im Dialog der Wissenschaften, edited by Ch. Dohmen (Regensburg 2007) 165-186.

{6} Benedict XVI (note 1) 16.

{7} See for relevant quotations Th. Kobusch, Christliche Philosophie. Die Entdeckung der Subjektivität (Darmstadt 2006) 168.

{8} See Anonymus, Contro Ratzinger 2.0. Scontro di civiltä e altre scioccechzze (Milano 2006) 29 et seq.

{9} Benedict XVI (note 1) 28 et seq.

{10} See for it also the Bonn inaugural lecture of 1959: J. Ratzinger, Der Gott des Glaubens u. der Gott der Philosophen. Ein Beitrag zum Problem der theologia naturalis, edited and provided with a postface by H. Sonnemans (Leutesdorf 2004).

{11} See especially W. Huber, Glaube u. Vernunft, in: C59339/Doc (Effective 2.11.2006); F. W. Graf, Eine Wissenschaft, die sich für das Ganze zuständig weiß, in: SZ, 6.12.2006, 16.

{12} See W. Blum u. W. Seitter, Georgios Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452). Reformpolitiker, Philosoph, Verehrer der alten Götter (Zürich 2005). - See also K. Müller, Streit um Gott. Politik, Poetik u. Philosophie im Ringen um das wahre Gottesbild (Regensburg 2006) 171-174.

{13} Benedict XVI (note 1) 24.

{14} I. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Second edition AA III, 19.

{15} See Benedict XVI (note 3) 83.

{16} See e.g. Benedict XVI (note 3) 37.

{17} See (Effective 11.2.2009).

{18} See 20080117_Ia-sapienza_ge.html (Effective 12.2.2009).

{19} There were admittedly also naïve commentaries, e.g - quite unusual - in the SZ, 18.1.2008, 11: J. Schloemann, Unterwegs mit der Wahrheit.

{20} 20080117_1a-sapienza_ge.html (Effective 12. 2. 2009).

{21} See 0. H. Pesch, Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil. Vorgeschichte - Verlauf - Ergebnisse - Nachgeschichte (Würzburg 1993) 333.

{22} See in the same place 316.

{23} In the same place 348.

{24} J. Ratzinger, Theologische Prinzipienlehre. Bausteine zur Fundamentaltheologie (München 1982) 396.

{25} In the same place 398. - A neo-conservative cultural journaille meanwhile perpetuates this view in an almost schameless infotainment-manner. See A. Kissler, Die Kirche, das Konzil und die Hesselbachs: (Effective 4.3.2009).

{26} In the same place

{27} See 0. Weiß, Der Modernismus in Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zur Theologiegeschichte (Regensburg 1995).

{28} See for it also M. Trennert-Helwig, Vielfältige Wirkungen. 50 Jahre nach dem Tod von Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in: HerKorr 59 (2005) 131-136.

{29} M. Horkheimer and Th. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente (Frankfurt 1981).

{30} See for it Pesch (note 21) 325-326.

{31} F. v. Schiller, Was heißt u. zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?, in: the same, The complete works. Berlin edition, volume 10, edited by H.-G. Thalheim and others (Berlin 2005) 275-293.

{32} The same, Der Geisterseher, in the same place, volume 7 (Berlin 2005) 67-291.



{33} R. Safranski, Schiller oder die Erfindung des Deutschen Idealismus (München 2004) 306-319.

{34} See N. Hanske, Kant im Auf u. Ab der katholischen Kantrezeption, in: Irenik u. Antikonfessionalismus im 17. u. 18. Jahrhundert, edited by H. Klueting (Hildesheim 2003) 279-294; Kant u. der Katholizismus. Stationen einer wechselhaften Geschichte, edited by N. Fischer (Freiburg 2005).

{35} See R. Langthaler, Gottvermissen. Eine theologische Kritik der reinen Vernunft? (Regensburg 2000).

{36} See Pesch (note 21) 325 et seq.

{37} Ratzinger (note 24) 347. - See for it P. G. Sottopietra, Wissen aus der Taufe. Die Aporien der neuzeitlichen Vernunft u. der christliche Weg im Werk von Joseph Ratzinger (Regensburg 2003).

{38} See J. Ratzinger, Einführung in das Christentum. Vorlesungen über das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis (München 21972) 101-106.

{39} Benedict XVI (note 3) 40.

{40} See F. Nietzsche, Ueber Wahrheit u. Lüge im außermoralischen Sinne, in: the same, The complete works. Critical textbook edition, volume 1/2, edited by G. Colli and M. Montinari (München 1988) 873-890, 880 et seq.

{41} See L. Wittgenstein, Über Gewißheit, edited by G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. v. Wright, edition, volume 8 (Frankfurt 1984) Nr. 378.

{42} Benedict XVI (note 3) 41.

{43} See for it also Benedikt XVI (note 3) 120.

{44} In the same place 29. - About the conception of the Christian theology of itself as (compared with the former even better) philosophy see also K. Müller, Glauben - Fragen - Denken, volume 1: Basisthemen in der Begegnung von Philosophie u. Theologie (Münster 2006) 25-37.

{45} Benedikt XVI Enzyklika Deus Caritas Est, VApSt 171 (Bonn 2006) Nr. 10.

{46} In the same place

{47} Benedict XVI (note 3) 121; see in the same place 95.

{48} See G. Vattimo, Glauben - Philosophieren (Stuttgart 1997) 65-69.

{49} Ratzinger (note 38) 94.

{50} Quoted from the same place 97.

{51} In the same place; see 232.

{52} In the same place 98.

{53} In the same place 102.

{54} In the same place 104.

{55} In the same place 105.

{56} See Ratzinger (note 2) 121 et seq.

{57} Ratzinger (note 38) 105.

{58} See F. v. Kutschera, Die Wege des Idealismus (Paderborn 2006) 252-261.

{59} Ratzinger (note 38) 106; see 106 et seq.

{60} F. W. J. Schelling (VI, 39); quoted from H. Fuhrmann, Schellings Philosophie der Weltalter (Düsseldorf 1954) 65.

{61} Benedict XVI (note 1) 29.

{62} See S. A. Bonk, "... der Vernunft ihre ganze Weite wieder eröffnen"? Eine Nachfrage u. der Versuch ihrer Beantwortung, in: Die "Regensburger Vorlesung" (note 5) 73-85, especially 78-84.

{63} Ratzinger (note 2) 126.

{64} In the same place

{65} J. Hoff, Gewalt oder Metaphysik. Die Provokation aus Rom. Ein Essay; quoted from (Effective 12.2.2009).

{66} See Th. Macho, (Interview) Starkes Christentum: "Religionen, die nicht denken, gehen unter", quoted from (Effective 12.2.2009).

{67} So A. Meddeb, Le Dieu purifie, in: J. Bollack, Ch. Jambet and the same, La conference de Ratisbone - Enjeux et controverses (Paris 2007).


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