Why Ratzinger Is Not a Heretic: The Defense Speaks

Why Ratzinger Is Not a Heretic: The Defense Speaks

Sandro Magister – 1/10/18

The frontal attack on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI by Enrico Maria Radaelli and Antonio Livi, which Settimo Cielo covered at the beginning of the year, has given rise to a very lively debate.

Radaelli and Livi accuse Ratzinger of having reinterpreted the Christian faith “in the conceptual categories proper to modern subjectivism, from the transcendental idealism of Kant to the dialectical idealism of Hegel,” with the result of invalidating precisely “the basic notion of Christianity, that of faith in the revelation of supernatural mysteries by God.” In their judgment, in fact, in the theology of Ratzinger “this notion becomes irreparably deformed by the adoption of the Kantian schema of the impossibility of a metaphysical knowledge of God, which involves the negation of the rational premises of faith.”

On this charge of substantial heresy, Settimo Cielo has already hosted a first reply, signed by Antonio Caragliu.

And now here is a second, written by an administrative magistrate of Rome who is also an esteemed author of works of philosophy and theology.



by Francesco Arzillo

I think that the final part of the unforgettable address by Benedict XVI at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris on September 12, 2008 could offer a decisive key for understanding succinctly – but also retrospectively – the true core of the thought of the “pope theologian.”

These are his exact words:

«The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation “outwards” – towards searching and questioning mankind – is seen in Saint Paul’s address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: “he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: ‘to an unknown god’. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know – the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason – not blind chance, but freedom.

«Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation does not consist in a thought, but in a deed: God has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind deed, but one which is itself “Logos” – the presence of eternal reason in our flesh. “Verbum caro factum est” (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now “Logos”, “Logos” is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility.

«Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. “Quaerere Deum” – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.»

In these dense passages of the address of Benedict XVI, enthusiasts of philosophy and theology can find the thousand complex strands of the question of Revelation, as it is posed today in the mind of those who would like to be faithful to the wealth of revealed truth and of the understanding elaborated by the Church’s magisterium, above all in the two Vatican councils.

These councils must be interpreted, as Leo Scheffczyk taught, according to a criterion of strict continuity – I would say of reciprocity – from which it can be demonstrated that:

– on the one hand, Vatican I also incorporates the concept of the self-revelation of God (DH 3004), which is not an innovation of Vatican II and which – taken in itself – is older than the reuse of it made by philosophical idealism in a different context of thought: a reference to this can be found, in fact, as far back as in Saint Bonaventure;

– on the other hand, Vatican II must be understood in the sense that “the words and actions presented by God themselves communicate the truth and can be accepted with reasonableness in their sense only as truth” (cf. L. Scheffczyck, “Fondamenti del dogma. Introduzione alla dogmatica,” Rome, Lateran University Press, 2010, pp. 82-83).

In the address of Benedict XVI in Paris, somewhat subtle but also very concrete, one can therefore find “in a nutshell” truly everything. There is a realistic understanding of the “preambula fidei.” There is the need for salvation. There is human reason in its various forms, and there is the Logos / Advent. There is human history intertwined with that of salvation.

But it does not contain any preliminary barrier of a Kantian nature, or in any case of irrational, pragmatic, or antimetaphysical origin.

In this latter regard it is opportune to point out that in the address “The faith and theology of our days” delivered in Guadalajara, Mexico in May of 1996, then-prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith Joseph Ratzinger did not limit himself to criticizing certain forms of neo-Scholastic rationalism, citing as “more well-founded historically and objectively the position of J. Pieper” (who was in any case a thinker of Thomistic origin), but above all, in criticizing the relativistic theories of Hick, Knitter, and other theologians, he emphasized precisely the fact that they are ultimately founded “on a rationalism that, in Kant’s manner, maintains that reason cannot know that which is metaphysical”; while instead “man possesses a more extensive dimension than Kant and the various post-Kantian philosophies attributed to him.”

Moreover, in keeping with these premises, in the address to the international congress on the natural law organized by the Pontifical Lateran University on February 12, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI recalled “another less visible danger, but no less disturbing: the method that permits us to know ever more deeply the rational structures of matter makes us ever less capable of perceiving the source of this rationality, creative Reason. The capacity to see the laws of material being makes us incapable of seeing the ethical message contained in being, a message that tradition calls lex naturalis, natural moral law. This word for many today is almost incomprehensible due to a concept of nature that is no longer metaphysical, but only empirical.”

It is no coincidence, for that matter, that Ratzinger’s thought has been the object instead – and I would say prevalently – of a criticism of a “progressive” nature. Klaus Müller, in a calm and dense reading of the work of the pope theologian, in retracing the question of “Platonism” and of the “Hellenization of Christianity,” in fact emphasized how “Ratzinger never developed a positive and creative relationship with modern thought,” and in the first place with the grand season of German idealism (K. Müller, “Il teologo papa,” in a supplement to “Il Regno – Documenti” no. 3, February 1, 2013).

It seems to me that these few references could help bring the “Ratzinger question” back onto the right track.

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One comment on “Why Ratzinger Is Not a Heretic: The Defense Speaks

  1. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues

    Master Po: What is it that is troubling your mind, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: I am confused, Master.

    Master Po: What has caused you to be confused, Grasshopper?
    Are you still wondering whether Tom Brady’s F-bomb tantrum at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for being called out after throwing behind receiver Brandin Cooks on third down, ending a first-quarter drive, will break up the New England Patriots’ dynasty and send Bill Belichick to the New York Giants ?

    Hans Küng: I would like to comment on that…

    Kwai Chang: No, Master. That is an interesting dilemma but I am wondering about something else.

    Master Po: Well, then, perhaps you are still wondering why American college students were triggered by Steve Martin’s “King Tut” song as a politically-incorrect microaggression of cultural appropriation, sending them in hysteria as crazed snowflakes searching for safe spaces?

    Steve Martin: Funky Tut! A wild and crazy guy, yeah!

    Kwai Chang: That is confusing and absurd, Master. I am certain that Mister Steve Martin did not mean any disrespect to Tutankhamun or the ancient Egyptians, but I am actually confused about something else.

    Master Po: Perhaps the curse of Tutankhamun has affected postmodern professors’ and students’ minds, Grasshopper. The realm of illusion presents many challenges and dangers through the deceptions of maya, as the wheel of karma turns around and around. But what is confusing you right now, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: Very well, Master. I am wondering about the modernist dialectic.
    If Cardinal Ratzinger reinterpreted the Christian faith “in the conceptual categories proper to modern subjectivism, from the transcendental idealism of Kant to the dialectical idealism of Hegel” how can he then be considered an orthodox Catholic?

    Master Po: Strange are the ways of the cycle of karma in the realm of illusion when searching for the flow of the Tao , are they not, Grasshopper? For who can know the way to San Jose in the long quest for satori? Even when surfing on the neo-Hegelian transcendental dialectic of modernism. Perhaps you are wondering who will next accuse Congressman Conyers of grabbing her thigh or the next woman to claim that Al Franken has squeezed her behind?

    Kwai Chang: I cannot be certain of that, Master.

    Master Po: Why can you not be certain, Grasshopper? Because you cannot guess which woman’s behind Al Franken will grab next or because you are not sure any woman will let Congressman Conyers get near to her?

    Kwai Chang: No, Master. I cannot be certain because David Hume has forbidden me from being certain on metaphysical matters.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: An honest answer. But not one that Father Gannon would have accepted at Fordham back in the old days, I’m afraid. Of course, the neo-Hegelian dialectic of modernism can get tricky.

    Father Gannon, S.J.: Ask the question again.

    Descartes: If I were to stop thinking and there were no one else in the forest who was thinking thoughts about me…

    Jean Paul Sartre: If the Cardinal was reinterpreting the Christian faith “in the conceptual categories proper to modern subjectivism, from the transcendental idealism of Kant to the dialectical idealism of Hegel” did he attend the lectures of Professor Kojeve in Paris? But even if he did attend those lectures, life would still be absurd, an absurdity from which there is no exit or escape.

    Professor Kojeve: I don’t remember.

    Kierkegaard: Don’t forget the Angst and existential self-estrangement in modernity.

    Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Angst of the neo-Hegelian dialectic of modernism…

    Hegel: It’s all part of the dialectic.

    Chrissy: But what does Geworfenheit mean?

    Jack: Uh….Geworfenheit…It’s been a while since I studied Heidegger and phenomenology, Chrissy. Any ideas?

    Chrissy: Come on, Jack. Tell us what it means.

    Jack: I’m sure if Cardinal Ratzinger were here, he would give you the right answer with the latest European scholarship from Munich, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.

    Mr. Roper: Come on, Jack. We all need to know about Heideggerian phenomenology.

    Jack: Well, let’s see…it all started one day when Heidegger was hiking through the Black Forest in Bavaria on the way to his grandmother’s house when all of a sudden the big bad wolf jumped out from behind a bush..

    Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! … Analyze using your superior Vulcan logic which we no longer call “superior” in public discussions in order to avoid being accused of neo-Pelagian triumphalism and excessive rigidity by sensitive liberals and progressive modernists who might be less familiar with Aristotelian logic due to changes in curriculum from the Land O’Lakes conference and who, therefore, might view displays of logic as triggering events and microaggressions …

    Spock: Fascinating, Captain. It would seem that Mr. Furley is experiencing existential surprise at the trajectory of the hermeneutics of Jack Tripper’s narrative.

    The Professor: It’s actually very simple, Gilligan. If Immanuel Kant could be any character in Scooby Doo, which character would he most likely choose to be?

    Ginger I think Gilligan’s getting ready to take the Transcendental turn.

    The Professor: Well, what would be the epistemological conditions necessary to pass beyond its phenomenal appearances and know a coconut as a true thing-in-itself in its essential noumenal structure, according to neo-Kantians?

    Reverend Neuhaus: That’s my opening….Forgive me for interrupting again as aggressive and pushy professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but speaking as a semi-recovering former Lutheran familiar with the pitfalls of eliminating reason and logic from discussions of religion, this might be a good time to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity, Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment in modern culture, and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories….

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