The Road from Regenburg
FAITH Magazine May-June 2009
Papal Encouraged Dialogue in Search of a Modern Apologetic
New Archbishop Brings Regensburg Inspiration to Bear
In the press conference announcing his appointment as Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols mentioned as top of his priorities helping families to live their faith with courage in a challenging environment. He then went on to argue that "real social community cohesion will not be achieved on a purely secular model." In his recently published book, The Nation that God Forgot, he comments:
"A society which limits itself - and its education - to a positivistic understanding of reason [limited to what can be positively seen] will find itself unable to determine shared moral principles and values. Such a society will lack cohesion. The rigorously secular, liberal project of community cohesion is mistaken in its fundamental view of the human person and simply will not work."
Five days after the Pope's Regensburg lecture Archbishop Nichols issued a very balanced reflection upon it in which he wrote:
"The Main conclusion Pope Benedict XVI draws is directly relevant to us. In his thinking we in the West are shooting ourselves in the foot in our search for mutual understanding between faiths and cultures by reducing our understanding of reason [... we are] reduced to using focus groups to try and discover what is acceptable and right. There is a key sentence in Pope Benedict's lecture: 'A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of sub cultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures today.'"
Another Bishop's Papal-inspired Evangelisation - 8th Century
In his general audience of 11th March last Pope Benedict spoke about St Boniface, "the Apostle of Germany".
Having failed in his first evangelization attempt he got counsel and an official mission from Pope Gregory II. He then "promoted the encounter between the Roman-Christian culture and the Germanic culture. He knew in fact that to humanise and evangelise the culture was an integral part of his mission as a bishop. Transmitting the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he implanted in the German peoples a new style of life that was more human, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were better respected. As an authentic son of St. Benedict, he knew how to unite prayer and work - manual and intellectual - pen and plough."
Pope on Purpose of His Pontificate
In his 10th March letter To The Bishops Of The Catholic Church Concerning The Remission Of The Excommunication Of The Four Bishops Consecrated By Archbishop Lefebvre Pope Benedict says the first duty of a Pope and the top priority of his pontificate is captured by St Peter's phrase:
"'Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you' (1 Pet 3:15). In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is [...] to show men and women the way to [...] that God whose face we recognise in a love which presses 'to the end' (cf. Jn 13:1)
- in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that [...] humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects."
He describes anew the contradiction at the heart of that 'tolerance' which is built upon relativist rationalism:
"At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them - in this case the Pope
- he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint."
Nine days before the Pope's letter was published the recently retired Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Ruini, gave a talk analysing the priorities of this ponitificate. Sandro Magister has recommended this on his website (www.chiesa) given the very engaging overview of Papal priorities it offers. However we would demur on the philosophy of science which the Cardinal, with some justification, draws out of the Pope's Regensburg lecture. It seems to us that he is influenced by Cardinal Schoborn whose approach we discuss in our first Editorial Comment in the current Letters section.
"The first effort of the pontificate is therefore to reopen the road to God: [...] the initiative belongs to God, and this initiative has a name, Jesus Christ: [...] There are therefore two paths, that of our search for God and that of God who comes in search of us [...] This brings us to [...] prayer. This is not only personal prayer, but also and above all [...] the liturgical prayer of the Church. [...] We can speak of a 'Christological' or 'Christocentric' priority of the pontificate."
Another important aspect of the "first priority [... is] the purpose of opening contemporary reason to God". The Cardinal points out that in Benedict's "important" Regensburg address he "develops a 'criticism from within' of scientific technological rationality, which today exercises cultural leadership." He focuses upon the Pope's emphasis, which we have drawn out before in this column, that the influential depiction of reason through a reductionist philosophy of science denies reference to a transcendent organiser and cannot found itself. Ruini implies that the Pope's line of argument was that this reductionism arises from an unjustified transference of scientific reductionism to philosophy - a sort of forgetfulness of what was validly and completely left out in order forexperimental methodology to progress. Concerning what he says "may be the most profound problem and also the drama of our present civilization" the Cardinal argues:
"Science in fact, owes its successes to its rigorous methodological limitation to that which can be experienced and measured. But if this limitation is universalised, by applying it not only to scientific research but to reason and human understanding as such, it becomes unsustainable and inhuman, since it would prevent us from rationally pondering the decisive questions of our lives [...] and would force us to entrust the answer to these questions solely to our sentiments or arbitrary choices, detached from reason."
We would agree that such philosophical "limitation" or reductionism is a "profound problem" for our civilization and that this is related to a reductive interpretation of successful science. But we would not concur that this latter interpretation is valid. As we've argued in the above-mentioned Comment we disagree with Schonborn that scientific methodology is intrinsically reductionist. We think that the root of reductionism is, somewhat paradoxically, the traditional support of holism through the quasi-dualistic ontology of the physical whereby the formal realm was conceived as floating between the concrete material realm and that of sustaining spiritual mind.
If we affirm the above limitation, or exclusion of 'form', as intrinsic, even essential to science's very fruitful discovery and description of deterministic physical structure there must needs be a pressure to maintain it in our metaphysics.
The only reason against such a move must prescind from the (supposedly) reductionist results of science and thus be a priori to science. Such philosophy will be cut off from concrete reality as observed and invite idealism -unless we perversely treat science as so different from normal human observation as virtually not to come into this category. True, culture-saving philosophy must be a reflection upon observation of the cosmos. Ruini does suggest that Pope Benedict's argument
is an "analysis, non-scientific but philosophical, of the conditions that make science possible", stating also that this rejection of philosophical reductionism is not a proof but "the best hypothesis". A metaphysics involving talk of the epistemological "conditions" - instead of "encounter" and discovery" - for the operation of (an aspect of) reason, seems significantly closer to idealism than the Aristotelianism and Thomism of Catholic tradition.
The Regensburg address does seem to lend some support to the Cardinal's interpretation. The Pope argues that modern scientific reason is based "on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology." These "two poles" involve respectively the "presupposition of] the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently", which wonderfully "correspond^ with] our spirit", and our own experimental activation of "nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes".
It is possible to argue that when the Pope talks of a "self-limitation of reason", he is referring to a sort of forgetfulness of the former "pole" such that "only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific", a "canon" to which all the "human sciences" must refer for validity. The Pope argues in his Regensburg lecture that this is a false restriction: "Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the [... former] pole [...] on which its methodology has to be based." This aspect of scientific reason "bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology".
Our point is that the modern "self-limitation of reason", the reductive philosophical interpretation of our holistic knowledge of matter, has followed upon that very knowing by observation, of which modern science is a powerful aspect. This is a false interpretation of successful
science. It has, does and will continue to hold back science as well as religion. The reductive philosopher of science is like the man who says "I do not exist": he vocally denies what, in deciding to speak/act intelligently, he psychologically affirms. The problem is not so much a forgetfulness of a perception a priori to the activity of science but an active denial of an inherent aspect of active science, the holistic reality of matter.
Cardinal Tauran on Need for Magisterial Development Concerning Nature of Man
At a March conference in Rome Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, argued that Popes Paul VI and John Paul II said that inter-religious dialogue requires respect and "reciprocity in every area," especially in the area of religious freedom. The current Pope has reaffirmed this, in particular emphasising religious freedom in Muslim countries. Still though, the Cardinal suggested, the Church has not elaborated "a systematic treatment of the principle of reciprocity" nor provided "concrete indications for its application." (see our next issue).
Vigorous Debate About Islamic influence Upon West
A French scholar Sylvain Gouguenheim a year ago published a much discussed book, Aristotle au Mont Saint-Michel, arguing that the influence of Greek culture upon the West was mainly direct and only peripherally from Islamic culture - which was on balance defensive of Qur'anic doctrine and against Greek insight. Prominent French newspapers and scholars have taken sides in a vehement debate. Some on both sides have levelled accusations against others of placing political expediency above rigorous scholarship.