The Road From Regensburg

FAITH Magazine November-December 2008s

Papal Fostering of Dialogue in the Search for a Modern Apologetic


On the second anniversary of the Pope’s Regensburg lecture, September 12th 2008, he spoke the following words to a gathering of French political, cultural and Islamic leaders, including the Minister of Culture, the Mayor of Paris and two ex-Presidents. It took place in the Colleges des Bernadins, formerly a Cistercian monastery, now a cultural centre founded by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

“ Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language.

“ […] the formation and education of man […] includes the formation of reason – education – through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself. […] We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. […] Speech is not enough. […] Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. […] One is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonise with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres.

“ […] Scripture requires exegesis, […] there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word.

“ […] ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor 3:6). And [St Paul] continues: ‘Where the Spirit is … there is freedom’ (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). […] With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom [...] presents itself anew as a task for our generation too, vis-à-vis the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today’s European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play intothe hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction”.


During the Pope’s summer holidays in northern Italy this year he met with priests of the local diocese of Brixen. One priest asked Pope Benedict if he felt that reason and aesthetics should not go together given that “in your address in Regensburg, you emphasised the substantial connection between the divine Spirit and human reason. On the other hand, you have also always emphasised the importance of art and beauty.”

He replied:

“ […] A form of reason that in any way wanted to strip itself of beauty would be depleted, it would be blind […].

“ Faith must constantly confront the challenges of the mindset of this age, so that it may not seem a sort of irrational mythology […].

“ In his frst letter, St. Peter […] was clearly convinced of the fact that faith is ‘logos,’ that it is a form of reason, a light issuing from the creating Light […]. But this creating ‘Logos’ is not a merely technical ‘logos.’ It is broader than this, it is a ‘logos’ that is love, and therefore to be expressed in beauty and goodness.

“ […] When, in our own time, we discuss the reasonableness of the faith, we are discussing precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end, it does not end in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth, but sees only half of it: it does not see that behind this is the Spirit of creation. We are fghting for the expansion of reason, and therefore for a form of reason that, exactly to the point, is open to beauty as well …”


Sandro Magister has written an assessment of Pope Benedict’s papacy of “methodical reasoning and action.” He suggests that the

“ ‘synergy between faith and reason’ is the linchpin of Joseph Ratzinger’s thought as theologian and pope. At the origin of the Christian faith, for him, there is not only Jerusalem, there is also the Athens of the philosophers. Two thirds of the lecture in Regensburg is dedicated to criticising the periods in which Christianity dangerously separated itself from its rational foundations. And the pope is proposing that Islam do the same thing: that it interweave faith and reason, the only way to shelter it from violence.”



The annual gathering of Pope Benedict’s ex-students took place at the end of last August at Castel Gandolfo and announced the foundation of a new research institute focused upon the Pope’s thought. Fr Vincent Twomey a leading member of the group, and recent author of Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of our Age gave an interview to Ignatius Press last year in which he listed key intellectual infuences upon the Pope. These, he said, grew out of the post-war context where “the neo-scholasticism of the previous half-century was more or less abandoned in the search for a fresh approach”. The key fgures for the Pope include Augustine, Bonaventure, de Lubac, Gottlieb Soehngen, Newman, Schlier and Joseph Pieper.

Twomey went on:

“ For neo-scholasticism, everything found its place in the ‘system’, but Ratzinger was instinctively aware that truth is more than any system of thought could encompass […] His methodology is to take as his starting point contemporary developments in society and culture, then he listens to the solutions offered my his fellow theologians before returning to a critical examination of Scripture and Tradition for pointers to a solution. […]

“ His famous dialogue with Habermas in Munich in 2004 came as a huge surprise to Catholic intellectuals, who were unaware of how far Ratzinger was open to the heritage of the Enlightenment. It was not a surprise to secular thinkers, who had learned to treat Ratzinger with respect […] It should be remembered that the [Regensburg] lecture at the University before an assembly of academics and scientists received a standing ovation.”

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