Pope on mission to reconcile faith and reason

18th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

On the second anniversary of his appointment as the pope, the leader of the Catholic Church reaffirms his commitment to faith – and reason.

 Georg Ratzinger believes his younger brother Joseph first decided to embark in a career in the Roman Catholic Church when he was still only four or five years old, during a visit to their Bavarian town of Tittmoning by Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, in the spring of 1932.

"He came home and told our father that night, 'I want to be a cardinal'", Georg recalled in a 2005 interview with the New York Times.

As far as careers go, they don't get any better than this.

Ordained a priest in 1951, Joseph Ratzinger was still in his 30s when he took part as a consultant in the landmark Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 and had just turned 50 when he was proclaimed a Prince of the Church by Pope Paul VI, in 1977.

On the second anniversary of his election as Pope Benedict XVI, his appointment will be celebrated not only in Rome and in his homeland of Germany, but throughout the world.

Often divisive

During his 24-year-long work as the Vatican's chief theologian, and now as the spiritual leader of the world's 1 billion plus Catholics, Ratzinger has often divided people.

While Catholic liberals have complained that he has blocked reforms, his back-to-basics emphasis on following Jesus Christ has caught the focus of many mainstream Catholics in his German homeland.

And while critics in Italy accuse him of interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state by lambasting government attempts to grant some rights to homosexual couples, intellectuals across Europe appreciate his efforts to bring back values to an increasingly secular society.

*quote1* As Sandro Magister, a papal expert who writes for Italian weekly L'Espresso, put it: "Benedict is extremely concerned about the destiny of mankind, particularly of a mankind that lives in a modern society that appears to have lost the ability to distinguish between good and bad, right from wrong."

Benedict has often been depicted as a hard-line conservative obsessed by what he once called "the dictatorship of relativism" - the idea that no objective truth exists. Yet supporters prefer to point at his willingness to dialogue with critics, followers of other faiths and non-believers alike.

"Ratzinger has a strange and most admirable strength: he prefers to be surprised rather than surprise," wrote former Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls in an April 12 article for Italian daily La Repubblica.

Warning about danger

During his packed general audiences in Rome's St Peter's Square, Benedict often warns about the dangers of reason without faith and of faith without reason.

This, rather than the perceived link between Islam and violence that angered Muslims so much, was the central theme of his September 12, 2006 speech at the University of Regensburg.

A reason "which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures", the pope said in his now famous lecture "on faith and reason", "is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures".

*quote2* At the same time, as he also noted in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), the Greek term "logos", which is found in the opening verse of one of the Gospels - "In the beginning was the Logos" - is often translated as "word" but can also mean "thought", "logic" or "reason".

Building bridges

In this respect, experts note, Benedict has been attempting to build a bridge not only between followers of different faiths, but also between believers and non-believers.

Born on April 16, 1927 - a Holy Saturday - in Marktl-am-Inn, a small town in Bavaria, Ratzinger was forced as a schoolboy to enlist in the Hitler Youth, despite coming from a strongly anti-Nazi family.

More unhappy times came between 1966 and 1969, while teaching dogmatic theology at Germany's University of Tuebingen.

There, revolting students criticized him as a r

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