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Classics

The Reconciling of Religion and Reason

Author: Joseph Ratzinger

 

Title: Fede, verità e tolleranza. Il cristianesimo e le religioni del mondo

 

Publisher: Edizioni Cantagalli, Sienna, 2003

 

 

In this volume Joseph Ratzinger, who recently became Pope Benedict XVI, addresses one of the central questions of philosophical-theological reflection in relation to religions in a way that lays stress on the proprium of the Christian faith. Not only does this faith not lead to intolerance it is the path by which we can avoid the risk of religious indifferentism (one religion is of the same value as another because all of them lead to God). The author acknowledges the value of different pathways that lead to encounter with God but he does not for this reason affirm that they are interchangeable, and above all he does not for this reason accept the hypothesis of the impossibility of true revelation from God. Indeed, what characterises the Christian faith in a pre-eminent way is the fact of revelation.

 

 

In extreme summarising form the future Benedict XVI in this volume identifies certain fundamental questions. Firstly, it should be recognised that the essential question is not what the most suitable road to reach the mystery of God is but rather what road God has chosen to encounter man. Secondly, it should be admitted given that in the thought of this author this is of primary importance that in the history of the religions of the world Christianity was, among other things, the first attempt to reconcile religion and reason, the reason why religious indifferentism (which departs from the question of truth) involves an authentic regression. Lastly, the reconciliation of religion and reason offered by Christianity was accompanied by a suitable ethical proposal, a fact that greatly fostered the spread of Christianity.

 

 

A comparison between the thought of Ratzinger and the thought of some of the promoters of inter-religious dialogue who start with assumptions that may be considered relativistic is instructive. This work refers to the criticism of this thought outlined in an instructive editorial in La Civiltà Cattolica (quaderno 1, 1996, pp. 107-120). The editorial of this review of the Jesuits took as its starting point the Italian translation of the book by Paul F. Knitter (a lecturer at the Xavier University of Cincinnati) entitled No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions (1985). Knitter on the basis of his thesis invited Christians to abandon their presumption of possessing the only revealed religion, the only Truth, in a final way and to move towards others so as to reach an agreement on the only truth that is accessible in a relativistic world. Knitter had worked along the same lines with a Presbyterian theologian, John Hick, who affirmed the mythical character of the Incarnation: Hick argued that this was a mere metaphor to express in a way that was accessible to human reason the eternal and infinite love of God who, precisely because He is infinite, cannot be reduced to a man, even if Jesus.

 

 

Here we are in the presence of a new attempt at inter-religious dialogue around relativistic assumptions. To this current belongs in a certain sense also the thought of Panikkar: the man named Jesus was none other than one of the manifestations of the Christ, who was also made flesh in Rama, Krishna, Isvara, Purusha or Tathagata... because none of these manifestations ended Mystery.

 

 

Ratzinger answers this position in a clear way: 'if we observe the contemporary situation... it must indeed appear a miracle that despite everything one goes on believing Christianly, not simply in the substitutive forms of Hick, Knitter and others but with the full and joyous faith of the New Testament, of the Church down the centuries. Why does the faith in absolute terms still have the possibility of success? I would say because it finds correspondence in the nature of man.

 

 

Man, in fact, has a broader dimension than that attributed to him by Kant and the various post-Kantian philosophies. Kant himself with his postulates also in a certain sense had to admit this. In man there is an inextinguishable nostalgic aspiration towards the infinite. None of the answers that have been looked for is sufficient; only God who made Himself finite to fracture our finiteness and lead it to the breadth of its infiniteness is able to satisfy the questions about our being. Thus, today as well, the Christian faith will once again find man. Our task is to serve him with humble courage with all the strength of our hearts' (pp. 142-143).

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