The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine July-August 2009

Papal Encouraged Dialogue in Search of a Modern Apologetic


In the last edition of this column we briefly highlighted Archbishop Nichols' use of the Pope's 2006 Regensburg lecture in order to diagnose our culture's "positivistic" failure to use reason effectively in founding "community cohesion". On the 3rd June last at Heythrop College the new Archbishop of Westminster offered what seems a helpful development of his vision. We would briefly note below the harmony of these foundations with the vision proposed by Faith movement, and with the continued diagnosis of Pope Benedict and his supporter Sandro Magister.

1. Archbishop Nichols on Need to Transcend Knowledge of the Physical

It is the Archbishop's recently published essay "Community Cohesion and Catholic Education" in The Nation that Forgot God (Social Affairs Unit, 2009) which lays out the main points of his argument.

He points out that mixing children of different cultures in common schools is no guarantee of multi-cultural harmony. Rather it is necessary to educate the young coherently in the appropriate values.

Yet the former approach seems to trump the latter in modern discourse. The open teaching of clear moral principles, which is sometimes even attacked as 'indoctrination', is rejected in favour what is termed "toleration". In his recent lecture at Heythrop College Nichols pointed out that in fact this is just the teaching of a different set of values, but in a less open ("covert") and in fact less rational manner than is done in Catholic schools.

The scientific ethos, which Nichols reminds us Pope Benedict called "the will to be obedient to the truth", discovers "magnificently, what can

be done" with the objects of sensation. But it cannot answer the question "should it be done?"

Positivist materialism leaves out of rational reckoning a fundamental and essential aspect of human experience, "the experienced reality of the person" in his social and moral dimensions. No man is an island and the rational, moral, communal realm is crucial to his nature. It is left out of consideration by a culture that emphasises rights over duties and arbitrarily places some rights over others. The recent Sexual Orientation Regulations allowed the rights of same-sex couples to trump those of religion and of children concerning their parents, without clear reasoning let alone discussion.

As the Pope brought out at Regensburg human reason is open and points beyond itself. It looks for completion from a higher power, the creator revealing himself. Revealed Religion completes the spiritual dimension of man.

"Faith, the response to revelation, fulfils our human capacity and destiny [...] Here is solid common ground for the dialogue between faith communities and government on the whole range of vexing issues that face our society [...] and dialogue between the major faiths. This clearly was part of the invitation of Pope Benedict in his Regensburg lecture."

As such religion is indispensable to man's happiness and his rational and moral operation, and so to fostering the values which are essential to multi-cultural community cohesion. "Shared moral reasoning as a basis for community cohesion is the alternative to radical individualism which has led us so far on a path that is clearly divisive and inimical to a cohesive society."

"It is clear that the strengthening and maturing of faith which we seek requires a deepening appreciation of the role of faith in completing and fulfilling our human nature and in particular its harmony with true reasoning. But this is no easy task especially as for so long religious belief

has retreated from the onslaught of positivist thinking into the enclave of personal conviction or has taken the root of unreasoning fundamentalism. If we are to play our full part in the task of building our new society then we need to show quite clearly the strength of our faith in terms that are accessible to others. This can only be achieved in two ways. In the recovery of the true capacity of reasoning for both moral and religious insight and of course in the witness of lives well lived, the evidence of schools well run."

2. Faith Vision on how to Transcend Physical Observation a posteriori

We would want to suggest that this crucial "recovery" involves providing the 'missing link' of synthesising the "scientific ethos" with that of the moral "experienced reality of the person". We need directly to challenge the relentless reduction of the latter to the former, through which, for instance, human consciousness of right and wrong is explained by hormones and genes. Observation of the objective physical will always be determinative of the metaphysical and of what is accepted as rational. In a society where the "magnificent" discovery of and "obedience to the truth" of the physical realm is so influential it is crucial that we have the means to interpret it non-reductively and in such a manner that it points to the non-physical, spiritual realities of divine and human mind, thatis God and the soul.

This can be done we think by acknowledging the holistic, hierarchical and interlocking nature of the whole of the unified cosmos. The recognition, and development of this by our minds shows how all things need a meaningful environment, including the whole cosmos. It points to a greater, absolute Creator Mind, which is also the environment of our personalities, matter and mind, body and soul. Moreover this mind ministers this necessary 'environing' of us by becoming flesh.

Which brings us to Archbishop Nichols' Heythrop lecture concerning the harmony of our knowledge of the natural environment and that of human beings.

3. Archbishop Nichols on the Proper Human Ecosystem

This approach to enabling physical science to support spiritual morality dovetails we think with some points in Archbishop Nichols' Heythrop lecture.

He uses the concept of "human ecology" employed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in "appealing to a concern of all of us [...] the well-being of our environment." The human person needs the right environment, in John Paul's words, "to develop every aspect of the individual: social, intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual."

Nichols goes on: "When looked at more closely, this 'human ecology' is in fact a series of interlocking ecologies, as indeed is the complex of ecological systems which make up our natural environment." Catholic schools foster an environment in which all are welcome through, first, respecting each person who is "created by God and has an inner dignity, or spiritual dimension, that comes from God alone." Secondly comes an "atmosphere of justice" and thirdly recognition of the "faith and religious experience which is innate in human beings".

He then emphasises the specific Catholicity of our schools:

"We recognise that just as all truth rests in the Word of God, through whom all things were made and through Whom all thing will come to their completion, so too the construction of a true human ecology can only be achieved in relationship to the Word [...] we can see and sense the echoing of that eternally spoken Word in so much of the created world around us [... which Word is] expressed in all those actions and events which make up the history of salvation [...] we recognise most centrally that this eternal Word of God, in whom all things makes sense, finds flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who then becomes its fullest expression and true presence in the world [...] the centre of true human ecology is the person of Christ."

4. Pope Benedict in The Holy Land Confirms the above Themes

In the Holy Land last May, declaring he was a pilgrim for peace, the Pope repeatedly returned to the theme of inter-faith dialogue based upon "the vast potential of human reason" and the transcendent unicity of God. Visiting the Grand Mufti at the Mount of the Temple in Jerusalem he prayer that "Muslims and Christians further respecting the respectful dialogue they have already begun [...] will explore how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family."

He told organisations working for interreligious dialogue that the spiritual transcendence of the human person "in the constant search for something beyond [... presents] the possibility of a unity which is not dependent upon uniformity."

In Jordan he argued strongly that faith does not weaken but rather strengthens reason "to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations [... and] protects civil society from the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutise the finite and eclipse the infinite."

On the plane going out he gave a three point plan for peace which matches Nichols' three point plan to make the Catholic school a healthy environment for all:

1. Encourage all involved to open their hearts to the divine guidance for which they are made;

2. Urge all to challenge injustice and oppression; and

3. Use reason to find solutions which take account of the dignity of the human person.

In Jordan, Prince Ghazi, the head of the Islamic institute behind the post-Regensburg Open Letters to the Pope signed by impressive ranges of Islamic scholars, thanked the Pope for his regret over the "hurt caused by the lecture". He went on to welcome the Pope as a defender of moral values and "a simple pilgrim who comes in humility and gentleness to pray where Jesus Christ the Messiah, peace be upon him, prayed and was baptised and began his mission 2,000 years ago."

5. Sandro Magister deepens Biffi's Anti-materialism

On the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the death of St Anselm of Aosta and Canterbury Sandro Magister has made the epistemologically realist and relational point that, contrary to some prominent abstract interpretations, Anselm's 'Ontological Proof of God primarily shows that "those who deny the existence of 'that than which no greater can be thought' trap themselves in an insurmountable contradiction, cutting off the possibility of all thought."

Magister then recommends Cardinal Biffi's Papal supported sermon for the anniversary at Aosta. In this Biffi depicted Anselm's perspective as, contrary to much modern emphasis, grasping that "reality as a whole is much greater than we grasp through simple natural understanding, substantiated solely by sensory experience, inductive and deductive reasoning, mathematical calculation [...] faith not only is not separable from reason, and does not harm it, but is even the greatest and highest exercise of our intellectual faculty."

We would concur noting that the task of defending these spiritual and supernatural realms as fulfilling and flowing from our knowledge of the physical and natural realms is the philosophical challenge at the heart of the modern culture war.

Faith Magazine

July - August 2009