Goethe makes popes disagree over idea of evil
17 January 2006, ROME - Can a pope contradict his predecessor on one of the most crucial doctrinal issues vexing Christians: the concept of evil?
17 January 2006
ROME - Can a pope contradict his predecessor on one of the most crucial doctrinal issues vexing Christians: the concept of evil?
Apparently yes, says Vito Mancuso, a theologian writing for the latest online edition of Panorama, an Italian weekly.
Mancuso mulls over a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, in which the pontiff criticises the commonly held view that a little evil can sometimes be necessary.
This idea is made famous in Faust - a play in which an alchemist sells his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for knowledge - written by another illustrious German, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The problem, says Mancuso, is that Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, once appeared to side with Goethe on the very idea of "necessary evil".
In his 2005 book "Memory and Identity", while discussing the wickedness of Communism and Nazism in 20th century Europe, John Paul writes: "Didn't Goethe qualify the Devil as part of that force which 'always wants evil and always does good'?"
Mancuso argues that while John Paul cites Goethe to support the view that evil is part of God's plan, that it is sometimes necessary and useful, Benedict quotes Goethe to drive home precisely the opposite point: that Evil is "not part of God's plan, it is not wanted, so it can never be defined as either necessary or useful."
In fact, the contradiction is one that has vexed theologians for centuries and continues to puzzle believers today.
Catholics, for instance, still have problems understanding why God would allow natural disasters, or disabled people to be born.
Here, the Church's "Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church", a handbook that guides the faithful on the principles of Catholicism, is of little help.
In its latest edition, signed by Benedict and published in June 2005, Catholics are told that "God is in no way, either directly or indirectly, the cause of evil".
However, it then goes on to say that "God would not allow evil if it didn't produce good out of evil".
The two statements are, as Mancuso notes, logically contradictory: If it is true that God is in no way responsible for the existence of evil, how can he allow it to happen, even if only for a good cause?
Mancuso believes such contradictions stem from the fact that there are still competing philosophies present within Catholicism and that one of the world's most widespread religions is in need of a "philosophical tidying up".
Subject: German news