Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ratzinger - Truth and Tolerance

I've enjoyed the last couple books by the erstwhile cardinal, but if I remember correctly there is a joke or anecdote about German theologians that it seems I can confirm about Ratzinger - or, if I'm just making up a non-existent memory, maybe I'll formulate the anecdote myself: they talk about questions from a variety of angles but do not very often tell you how they would answer them.

Truth and Tolerance is a case in point. On the whole I think it's a helpful book. Either I'm just very dense, though (and I concede that this may be the case), or he doesn't really come right out and describe the relations of the two in the sort of explicit terms that I'd like to see. Maybe my expectations were just all wrong.

Or maybe my temperament is of just the wrong sort for German theology. I find the approach of Maritain and St. Thomas to be much more appealing: here is the truth, and here is where modern philosophy and world religions have got things wrong. But Ratzinger takes a different approach. Where I would say that the Enlightenment has for all intents and purposes been a trip down the wrong road, Ratzinger says that "we do not by any means need to bid adieu to the Enlightenment as such" (p. 256). I just don't agree. We've had 200 years of working out the consequences of the Enlightenment (and even longer if we include its humanistic precursors), and I'm not sure that we've got much to show for it: tens of millions dead in the atheistic embrace of Marxism, for one horrible example. Yet even if we set that aside, there are problems on the right-wing of the Enlightenment as well, as even Ratzinger concedes. He rightly rejects a "freedom" that consists in seeking to divorce oneself from any dependence or duty towards others: "An understanding of freedom is wrong if it would see as liberating simply an ever-widening loosening of norms and the constant extension of individual freedom in the direction of a total liberation from all order" (ibid). Man is made for community with God and others, and we dehumanize ourselves if we deny either of these essential aspects of what it means to be human.

Well, what then is there to preserve from the Enlightenment? I'm not sure, but then I'm no philosopher or theologian.

Anyway, Truth and Tolerance is a worthwhile book, and I commend it to you, but I'm going to have to stick with Maritain and St. Thomas myself.


bilbannon said...

These intellectual pursuits of his though... as though he were eternally teaching college are a problem in this sense: NCReporter in a 2005 poll found that the youngest Catholics...millenials...at the rate of 89% of them said that one could dissent on abortion and still be a good CAtholic. Abortion now is infallibly condemned in section 62 of Evengelium Vitae. I see no connection between the Pope's intellectual pursuits and problems like this. One may say that his intellectual pursuits will over the coming decades have a salutary effect on future young people. But pardon me for smiling. Doesn't that mean that a previous Pope should have prevented this current 89% acceptance of abortion with his indirect methods decades ago. The model of Pope as author and not as CEO is not sufficient to the problems that are out there.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Bilbannon,

I'm not sure how a Pope's actions can prevent dissent. Previous popes were unable to prevent the Reformation. Other popes were unable to prevent the Christological heresies, which took centuries to finally eliminate.

With regard to Pope Benedict...he has been a theologian and scholar his whole life (and Truth and Tolerance was written before he became Pope). I can't imagine that it would be reasonable for us to expect him to stop being what he has always been in his new office, especially since the two are not intrinsically incompatible.

I certainly agree that there is a crisis of catechesis in the Church. But I'm not sure how exactly Benedict could be blamed for this, nor John Paul II (who produced the Catechism).

Lastly, I'm inclined to think that the proper model for the Pope is neither author nor CEO, but Shepherd.

-- RdP

bilbannon said...

You better read a lot more about the Popes who were previous to the Reformation....Pope Alexander VI e.g. had 6 illegitmate children and had after that a married mistress who was 21 while he was above 60 years old. I'm sure he could have spent alot more time on warding off the Reformation...but he was a little busy. Read the period before generalizing.

And yes...we need a shepherd like Christ who acted exactly like a CEO in His role as shepherd. The chief Shepherd whom we follow made a whip of cords and drove out the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem without one moment of delay or committees or pastoral techniques used first. He drove them out period...immediately.

The last 50 years of Popes had no such person who made a whip of cords and drove pervs and their enablers among the Bishops and we had no Pope who stopped that tragedy until the media forced the bishops to do so.

Nor has any Pope taken any action against Catholic pols who are pro choice. Twenty years ago there were only several...now there are over a hundred.

Yes we need a shepherd like the One who drove out the money changers right away...not after a prudent amount of reflection.

Reginald de Piperno said...


I'll turn it into a direct question:

What actions may a pope take that will prevent dissent?

Your whip suggestion doesn't address the prevention of dissent.

I'd also like to know how the parable of the wheat and tares meshes with your suggestion.

Having said these things, I'll concede the following: if I were Pope, I suspect that I'd do things differently with regard to dissenters. So I don't necessarily disagree with you if you're asking what I might do myself.

Nevertheless, I have no idea what the office is like, nor any possible way of grasping the awesome responsibility of being the shepherd of a billion people. I don't know what information I lack to which the Pope has access, I'm certainly not as virtuous as he is, and I absolutely lack the assistance of the Holy Spirit which he certainly has. In view of my ignorance and the parable of the wheat and tares, I'm certainly not going to challenge the prudential judgments of the Pope with respect to the exercise of discipline. It's not my place.

-- RdP

bilbannon said...

Abortion is infallibly condemned unlike a number of other issues in the moral realm. That means that unlike most dissent, a Pope could excommunicate in regard to it. Do that to several people and the numbers will decline. If you make the case for ruling 1 billion people a total mystery that no one on earth can fathom unless they are in the office....then that explains why we have a mess with no popes famous for either fighting abortion outside the writing area and no popes famous for protecting our children. The Popes are protected by a culture that says ruling 1 billion people is a total mystery.
It's not a total mystery. A priest in 1950 molests a child..throw him out. St.Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning the man caught in incest..."expel the wicked man from your midst". He did not use the wheat and tares parable to protect the man...he said by inspiration of God...."expel the wicked man from your midst". Bingo...wheat and tares must be true of lesser sins perhaps that do now qualify as enormities.

Reginald de Piperno said...

If you make the case for ruling 1 billion people a total mystery that no one on earth can fathom unless they are in the office

I didn't say that. Please read what I say before responding.

I said that I can't fathom the responsibility, and that I don't know what the office is like. I seriously doubt that you do, either. You are in no better position than I am to make judgments about what the Pope "ought" to do. If you were, you certainly wouldn't be wasting your time with a nobody like me.

This conversation is completely off-topic for the current post - which has to do with a book. If you have something to say about the book, fine. But the comments attacking the Pope for his failure to satisfy your sense of vengeance have got to stop - now.

-- RdP