A Pope for Peace and Reason
What a marvel Rome was yesterday. "Habemus Papam": these solemn words jumped all over the world in a whisper of the digital age. Text messages and e-mails were written and sent around to friends at light speed. TV coverage has brought St. Peter's square into the house of millions of Catholics all over the world. "Habemus Papam." At the fourth ballot Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, has been elected as successor of John Paul II. His most short inaugural address tells much about the guidelines of the new papacy.
"Dear brothers and sisters, after our great pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in God's vineyard.
I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools, and I especially trust in your prayers.
In the joy of the resurrected Lord, trustful of his permanent help, we go ahead, sure that God will help, and Mary, his most beloved mother, stands on our side.
The first thing that Ratzinger, however implicitly, tells is that John Paul II is "the Great" — a title that few Popes have been given. This suggests that the Holy Father wants to follow the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor, he aims to pursue continuity — not only on theological grounds (which is obvious), but also as far as the leading themes of the papacy are concerned.
Surely, Cardinal Ratzinger was extremely closed to Karol Wojtyla — especially in his defense of the role of reason and the struggle against any form of gnosis. To Ratzinger, the very essence of Christianity is a Truth does exist which is objective — and may be investigated by man through an appropriate use of reason.
The point was very clear even in his last public sermon as a simple Cardinal — the one he made at the Mass for the Election of a Supreme Pontiff a few days ago.
The central theme of the speech was the dangers of relativism, which is after all the opposite of the idea of Truth. What is relativism if not the belief that no truth exists that is superior to mere opinion? In the relativist mind, thinking itself is useless — since there's no truth to investigate.
"How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking.... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves — thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what St. Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Ephesians 4:14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching," looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
A point which is made so strongly can't be ignored. Michael Novak has rightly recognized that the very emergence of relativism means that "Power trumps."
"The new way [to relativism] — writes Novak — is not toward objectivity, but toward subjectivism; not toward truth as its criterion, but toward power. This, Ratzinger fears, is a move back toward the justification of murder in the name of "tolerance" and subjective choice."
Yet Novak does not go as far as to recognize, given such a context, the dangers entailed in the "divinization" of democratic rule so typical of the contemporary word. Democracy goes far beyond being a merely procedural rule, and is raised to the status of the main ideological ethos of our time. Legitimacy comes to be tested not in the light of independent criteria of good and evil — but rather via the mere ratification of a particular act by a parliamentary majority.
In a way, the very idea of the possibility of voting on whatever issue — ranging from killing infants (abortions) and adults (war) to the denial of private property (taxation) and wealth redistribution (subsidies and regulation) — is in essence a form, if not the form, of relativism.
On the other hand, it should be remembered that Truth isn't enemy to freedom. As Alejandro Chafuen points out, "Cardinal Ratzinger focused on teaching the importance of convictions, rather than force. On November 6, 1992, at the ceremony where Ratzinger was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France, he explained that a free society can only subsist where people share basic moral convictions and high moral standards. He further argued that these convictions need not be ‘imposed or even arbitrarily defined by external coercion'."
Not by chance Ratzinger was, so to speak, the theological killer of the "liberation theology," an attempt to merge Christian tradition with Marxist ideology.
In a private document that preceded the official Introduction of 1984, he wrote:
"The crucial result of this exegesis was to shatter the historical credibility of the Gospels: the Christ of the Church's tradition and the Jesus of history put forward by science evidently belong to two different worlds. Science, regarded as the final arbiter, had torn the figure of Jesus from its anchorage in tradition; on the one hand, consequently, tradition hangs in a vacuum, deprived of reality, while on the other hand, a new interpretation and significance must be sought for the figure of Jesus... The biblical concept of the ‘poor' provides a starting point for fusing the Bible's view of history with Marxist dialectic; it is interpreted by the idea of the proletariat in the Marxist sense and thus justifies Marxism as the legitimate hermeneutics for understanding the Bible."
In the 1985 interview-book, Rapporto sulla fede, that Vittorio Messori (later to interview John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope) authored with the Cardinal, he sharply defined Marxism "not the hope, but the shame of our time."
Indeed very significant is the name that Cardinal Ratzinger chose for himself.
The last Benedict was Benedict XV, who was a strong critic of World War I, which he defined as a "useless massacre" that was leading to the "suicide of Europe." Benedict XV was a Pontiff for peace. He made very clear that the path that Europe was climbing would end in the death of the West. Benedict XVI has the same vision, although today the threat to Europe is much more ideological than before: the smoking gun is not a real gun, as it was the case in 1914—18, but relativism.
Asked by an interviewer to comment on John Paul II's opposition to the Iraqi war, the then Cardinal Ratzinger explained that he found the Holy Father's judgment "reasonable also from a rational point of view: there were no sufficient reason to wage war against Iraq." But, far more important, he added that "we should start asking ourselves, if the existence of the very notion of a just war makes sense today, with new guns that make destruction possible to an unprecedented extent, far beyond combating groups."
With the help of God, Benedict XVI will help the Old Continent, the place from which civilization stems and the homeland of Christianity, to recover.
April 20, 2005
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