A Papal Book Review

A Papal Book Review November 25, 2008

And a positive one at that. Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote a letter to Marcello Pera, the former President of the Italian Senate, regarding his book Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians. The letter summarizes (with approval) the book’s contents:

With a stupendous knowledge of the sources and a cogent logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism beginning with its foundations, demonstrating its roots in the Christian image of God that belongs to the essence of liberalism: the relationship with God of which man is the image, and from which we have received the gift of liberty. With incontestable logic, you show that liberalism loses its basis and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation.

No less impressive are your analyses of liberty and of ‘multi-culturalism,’ in which you illustrate the self-contradictory nature of this concept and hence its political and cultural impossibility. Of fundamental importance is your analysis of what Europe can be, and of a European constitution in which Europe does not transform itself into a cosmopolitan reality, but rather finds its identity in its Christian-liberal foundation.

Particularly meaningful for me too is your analysis of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. You explain with great clarity that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible, while you urge intercultural dialogue that develops the cultural consequences of the religious option which lies beneath. While a true dialogue is not possible about this basic option without putting one’s own faith into parentheses, it’s important in public exchange to explore the cultural consequences of these religious options. Here, dialogue and mutual correction and enrichment are both possible and necessary.

With regard to the importance of all this for the contemporary crisis in ethics, I find what you say about the trajectory of liberal ethics important. You demonstrate that liberalism – without ceasing to be liberalism, but, on the contrary, in order to be faithful to itself – can link itself to a doctrine of the good, in particular that of Christianity, which is in fact genetically linked to liberalism. You thereby offer a true contribution to overcoming the crisis.

The Pope and Senator Pera have previously collaborated on a book about Europe, published in America as Without Roots, that also included an exchange of letters between the two. If this latest book is anything like the previous collaboration, it should be a very thought provoking read. Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for an English edition.

(HT: Mirror of Justice)

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  • So multiculturalism and interreligious dialogue is impossible?

    The oldest interreligious dialogue of Christianity is that with the Jews. The New Testament gives no unified and coherent account of the relationship between the two faiths, and there are inconsistencies and unresolved questions even within individual strands of NT tradition — Paul, Luke-Acts, John. What is the theological status of Judaism and of the Law? Here is a theme that still presents itself for interreligious dialogue in the strict sense. By Ratzinger’s logic, ecumenical dialogue in the strict sense is also impossible.

    What does he mean by saying that the concept of multiculturalism is internally contradictory? Is this is the same old Eurocentrism masquerading as a necessary defense against “relativism”?

    This is the mentality that has stifled the intellectual life of the Catholic Church, leaving us complacently brain-dead.

  • Martin

    I think you might have gone off half cocked there SofVII.

    We both know PBXVI’s biggest hope is unity between East and West.

    Jewish-Christian understanding is reaching new heights. The West is Athens and Jerusalem. The Pope has been explicit about the familial unity of Christianity and Judaism.

    We both know Muslim – Rest of the world violence has returned concommitant with demographic decline (and grave risk of extinction) of Christian Europe, with Muslim immigration and high fertility. (Secularism is seen as an evolution from Christianity while it is foreign to Islam and so has more of a cultural defense).

    Freedom of religious practice and apostasy, freedom of conscience, seperation of church and state, and the equal dignity of women are problems of Muslim culture. We don’t even need to go into the culture generated by secularism. The flight from this reality is what PBXVI is urgently, in his great pastoral wisdom, addressing here to his fellow Europeans.

    This context is the background from which his statement about multiculturalism is to be understood. Consideration of cultural context is a basic principle of NT exegesis – why not apply it consistently?

    The Pope deserves much more benefit of the doubt, a great leader and Europe’s last best hope. We are extremely fortunate to have him.

    It seems to me it is the refusal to think with the church by many Catholic intellectuals, that has left certain of us brain dead SofVII.

  • ‘ Jewish-Christian understanding is reaching new heights. The West is Athens and Jerusalem. The Pope has been explicit about the familial unity of Christianity and Judaism.”

    That is the teaching of Vatican II, but its interpretation allows various positions. I note that some disgruntled Vatican experts on Jewish-Christian dialogue are saying it has stalled in the Vatican — see Ed Kessler in The Tablet.

    ” We both know Muslim – Rest of the world violence has returned concomitant with demographic decline (and grave risk of extinction) of Christian Europe,”
    The USA has been the chief agent of this violence.
    The extinction scare is really a scare about racial purity, and you remember what that led to in the last century.
    “Secularism is seen as an evolution from Christianity while it is foreign to Islam and so has more of a cultural defense” — this is a difference in degree only. In historical fact the Church bitterly resisted the autonomy of the secular, and even Thomas Aquinas, the theologian who can most be seen as acknowledging secularity, is very strong on the right of Christians to execute heretics.
    ” Freedom of religious practice and apostasy, freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and the equal dignity of women are problems of Muslim culture.” The Church fiercely resisted the separation of church and state in France in 1905 and has sought a special role for itself in numerous modern states through constitutional clauses or Concordats. Freedom of conscience only began to be recognized in Vatican II. Before that it was regarded as a “deliramentum”.
    “This context is the background from which his statement about multiculturalism is to be understood. Consideration of cultural context is a basic principle of NT exegesis – why not apply it consistently?”
    If that is the context, it sends a chill down my spine. Is he trying to foment conflict between Muslimand Christian culture in Europe instead of letting both flourish in the context of a secular society?
    ” The Pope deserves much more benefit of the doubt, a great leader and Europe’s last best hope. We are extremely fortunate to have him.”
    People said the same about Pius IX and Pius XII — but the judgment of history on both corresponds to what the critics said at the time (among the critics of Pius IX was J. H. Newman, in his letters and journals).
    ” It seems to me it is the refusal to think with the church by many Catholic intellectuals, that has left certain of us brain dead”. Sentire cum ecclesia is not the same things as ultramontanism — whose deadening effects are clear.

  • Martin

    Racial purity? You clearly don’t take religious distinctions very seriously. Arab Christians certainly have been feeling them in the Holy Land. Where do find violence from Jews or Christians against Muslims? The opposite is all too frequent. Criticism of Muslim intolerance is a disguise for genocidal racism? That might fly on Arab TV but not here mate LOL

    You are reading your history backwards, forgetting the context of Thomas Aquinas’ teaching. He was trying to prevent the fomenting of civil discord. Thirteenth century Europe couldn’t sustain the kind of pluralism we enjoy now. Undermining the element responsible for the unity of public life was a treasonous act. He rightly saw heretics as more of a threat to public order than other religions.

    Difference in degree? Christianity baptises a free secular space Pope Gelasius in the fifth century on the Two Powers based on Jesus’ revelation “My Kingdom is not of this world” “Render unto caesar”. Muslim apologists use the seperation of Church and State as proof of Christianities inherent weakness and corruption. Islam is inherently theocratic – the difference is foundational not merely in degree. The very history of Europe can’t be understood apart from the tension between the Royal and the Priestly.

    Context again regarding France and the Catholic Church. Your argument lacks all proportion. Government accepted taxes from Catholic citizens but refused to redistribute in any way back to the Church. Vatican criticism has to be understood within the history of the French Revolution, the genocide of Catholics in the Vendee and the anti clericalism since the Revolution. Even dismissing this still you’re left will virtually no sensible comparison between theocratic Islam and Christianity regarding the sanctity of the secular space. Happily the Church has changed as the world has changed regarding establishment and that this can occur within Christianity itself. Can it occur within Islam itself? Tis doubtful.

    Both flourish within a secular society? This was the point of the article to begin with. There is a difference between secular and secularism.

    Even John Cornwall has resiled from his criticisms of Pius XII why dont’ you? What do you want to level at Pius IX?

    A psychologising to finish with. I’m 35 and have experienced the arguments you’ve put forth before, from old Catholics with bad experiences of spiritual pride from religious. Catholics old enough to remember Vatican II. I have to tell you straight out. People my age don’t give a hoot, the arguments and issues are long gone. To my original point. Look around at the world and the Church as they actually are, not through the lens of the sixties.

    I can’t believe given what we are going through and our duties to the next generation you are talking the way you are.

  • Martin

    Apologies, I can imagine why you are concerned about those things but I urge you to consider if they aren’t swamped by more pressing issues.

  • When I spoke of the critics of Pius XII I was thinking specifically of Yves Congar, who groans incessantly in his diaries about the stifling of freedom and intellectual life in the Church, and of Thomas Merton who found the Vatican response to the challenges of Nazism sad and gray and murky — the usual. I do not subscribe to the more extreme negative views on Pius XII.

    Of course we can understand perfectly why the Church thought heretics had to be killed and why it resisted the separation of church and state. But we should make the same effort to understand Muslim hang-ups.

    “Where do find violence from Jews or Christians against Muslims?” In the violence of the State of Israel against Palestinians and in the violence of the USA against the simple people of Iraq and Iran (going back to their support of the Shah and their initial promotion of Saddam and their fomenting of the Iran-Iraq war and including the 1991 Gulf War).

    “A psychologising to finish with. I’m 35 and have experienced the arguments you’ve put forth before, from old Catholics with bad experiences of spiritual pride from religious. Catholics old enough to remember Vatican II.”

    Well the arguments go back much further than that! Of course the still older generations are mostly in their graves now. And the arguments are not made only by old fogies but also by many younger people who study the matter.

    ” I have to tell you straight out. People my age don’t give a hoot, the arguments and issues are long gone.”

    Funny, I know many young people who do give a hoot.

    ” To my original point. Look around at the world and the Church as they actually are, not through the lens of the sixties.”

    The world: the people who talked as you do a few years ago were urging me to recognize Bush’s greatness. Seems like my 60s lenses kept me from making that mistake.

    The church: Benedict is a quintessential 60s theologian, whom I have studied (and actually studied under) since the 1960s. I think I have a very well-informed opinion of his theological strengths and weaknesses. Young people who just discover him at rallies are hardly likely to have a critical and seasoned view, in the long perspective of the historical developments behind Benedict and the future needs of the Church in Europe and the wider world.

  • Martin

    On Christian violence against Muslims – by my reckoning the Pope and the Churches were unable to constrain the State in its Iraq adventure. Personally I protested the war in Iraq and wrote letters and argued to whoever would listen the folly that was a proposed war in Iraq. No explicit religious reasons were given by the US for the war.

    On Jewish violence against Muslims – by my reckoning a State that has formed itself into the most successful democracy in the region against repeated violent attacks on a tiny fraction of the land and with none of the oil reserves – is humiliating to Muslims. This grievance is nurtured by old fashion sixties thinking. Israel is busy creating wealth and and a modern successful state – it is very happy to make peace. And it has tried repeatedly. No explicit religious reasons are given for Israeli diplomacy or military action. Hamas and Hezbollah however say and do things very differently.

    Highlights of the Hamas charter.
    “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

    “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. ”

    “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

    “After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

    So – shame on you for sowing confusion. You don’t seriously claim the State of Israel’s or the United States areligious reasons for use of lethal violence are morally equivalent to jihadist terrorism?

    To argue that Muslims need a secular space and understanding so as to work out their Church – State issues is about as an egregious lack of cultural understanding as Bush’s democratic imperialism in Iraq. In both instances it exhibits a kind of chauvinism “just give them space and time” “just give them democracy” and the little brown fellows will come up to speed. With this prejudice why bother to understand Islam?

    Dr Mark Durie
    http://www.saltshakers.org.au/pdf/313278_VCAT_-_DOCUMENTS_RELATIN.pdf

    Difference in kind in Judeo-Christian and Islamic revelation.

    When Even the Pope has to Whisper
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HA10Ak01.html

  • “No explicit religious reasons were given by the US for the war.” Yet Bush made a lot of noise about being a Christian and spoke of the US bringing “God’s gift of freedom” to Iraq.

    “This grievance is nurtured by old fashion sixties thinking.”
    No, it is nourished by the lives Palestiniais have been force to lead in their cordoned off territories and jerrybuilt shanty towns, as well as the frequent brutalities of the US-backed Israeli state (torture, bombings, a death toll that dwarfs the Israeli one). Not that I approve of Palestinian intransigence or of terrorism.#

    “No explicit religious reasons are given for Israeli diplomacy or military action.” Yet in Israel you will easily find people to tell you that the Jewish recovery of the land has a biblical basis.

    “You don’t seriously claim the State of Israel’s or the United States areligious reasons for use of lethal violence are morally equivalent to jihadist terrorism?”

    I think there is radical, systemic evil on both sides. In any case I was merely answering your factual question: “Where do find violence from Jews or Christians against Muslims?” You point out that “The opposite is all too frequent”, which of course is also true. But I suggest that your original question shows a scotoma toward what is going on in the real world.

    “To argue that Muslims need a secular space and understanding so as to work out their Church – State issues is about as an egregious lack of cultural understanding as Bush’s democratic imperialism in Iraq. In both instances it exhibits a kind of chauvinism “just give them space and time” “just give them democracy” and the little brown fellows will come up to speed. With this prejudice why bother to understand Islam?”

    This is a comment on my remark that we should not “foment conflict between Muslim and Christian culture in Europe instead of letting both flourish in the context of a secular society?” You think that Islam is so radically, essentially theocratic that it can never flourish in such a society. But the Catholic Church has retained sufficient of its old therocratic reflexes to be ill at ease in that society too — witness its objections to the UN proposal to decriminalize gays worldwide. The Catholic Church has changed and is changing very, very slowly. So is Islam, as witnessed by the many sane Islamic citizens or residents of Europe and America. Monolithic essentialism in describing a religion is a bit like racial stereotypes — it does great injustice to living individual persons.

  • Your links argue that Islam cannot reform and that Pope Benedict believes this too. That is, Islam is an inherently violent religion (as Benedict actually said at Regensburg, despite his efforts to play down what he said). This is proven on the basis of quotations from old texts, including scriptural ones.

    But exactly the same thing can be “proven” about Christianity by quoting divine injunctions to genocide (Numbers 31, I Samuel 15 and a host of other texts much worse than anything in Islamic scriptures) and papal documents approving the execution of heretics and the torture of suspected heretics.