“The Best Hypothesis”: The Humble Proposal of the Church of Ratzinger and Ruini
May 22, 2007
The pope’s cardinal vicar relaunches this to the secular world, whose beacons are critical reason and unlimited scientific freedom. In exchange, he asks that this reason renounce the pretense of exclusive dominion and open itself to the key questions of every form of theology and culture: God and man. By Sandro Magister.
(chiesa.espresso) ROMA, May 21, 2007 – The same day on which, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Benedict XVI addressed the key discourse of his trip to the bishops of that nation, in Italy his cardinal vicar Camillo Ruini was laying down the guidelines for a positive encounter of Christianity with the dominant traits of contemporary culture.
The day was May 11. And the two discourses, by the pope and by his vicar, in spite of their great geographic distance were in reality very close.
In a globalized world, in fact, tendencies like relativism and nihilism, the dominion of the sciences and, on the other side, the public reawakening of the religions no longer have boundaries and reserved areas. They impinge upon everyone’s lives, on all the continents.
And therefore a Church of universal dimensions like the Catholic Church cannot avoid facing the challenge. It has done this since the beginning, as Cardinal Ruini explains in the initial part of his discourse, which traces in very broad lines a history of the encounter between Christian theology and cultures, from the Roman empire to the modern age, moving on from there to concentrate attention above all on the season that runs from Vatican Council II to today.
Ruini describes the divergent interpretations that the Council has received within Catholic thought: interpretations “that have divided Catholic theology and strongly influenced the Church's life.”
He also dedicates a passage to the liberation theology that flowered in Latin America during the 1970’s and ‘80’s, to the shock that it suffered in 1989 with the collapse of the Marxist system, and to its successive migration to the theology of religions understood as multiple and valid paths of salvation “extra Ecclesiam”: a confluence punctually confirmed by the criticisms directed by exponents of “indigenist” theology against Benedict XVI after his trip to Brazil.
But he does not limit himself to describing the state of things. His discourse concludes with positive proposals, and reconnects itself with the great magisterium of Joseph Ratzinger.
The image that one gathers from both of these – from the pope theologian and his vicar the philosopher – is not that of a Church ensconced behind its walls and under siege.
And no more is it that of a Church that intends only to express the paradox and beauty of Christian truth, come what may.
But on the contrary:
“In order that this richness and beauty may remain alive and eloquent in our time, it is necessary that they enter into dialogue with the critical reason and quest for liberty that characterize it, in such a way as to open up this reason and this freedom, and to assimilate within the Christian faith the values that they contain”
Thus says Cardinal Ruini in a key passage of his discourse from May 11, reproduced here below in its entirety.
The location and the audience for the discourse were not ecclesial, but secular: it was delivered in Turin, at the International Book Fair.
Theology and culture: borderlands
by Camillo Ruini
1. Historical roots
The relationship between theology and culture was essential in the past, both for theology - and more broadly for Christianity and its missionary expansion - and for culture, or rather for the various cultures and civilizations into which Christianity inserted itself, and which to a great extent it shaped or even created.
This was already taking place in the era of the New Testament, when faith in Jesus Christ was born in the cultural world of Judaism and immediately afterward entered into the Greco-Roman world, beginning to transform both of these cultures, which moreover were not rigidly separated, but were already fairly extensively interwoven.
This process then characterized the entire patristic era, through a close-knit encounter between the theology of the Fathers (and not only the apologists) and the dominant forms of philosophy and lifestyle at the time. This went hand in hand with the assertion of the Christian mission, and even constituted an essential dimension of this mission. At the end of this journey, the Christian faith had become the most influential and decisive factor of that culture, which nevertheless maintained its specific and distinguishing characteristics, and naturally its dynamism of historic evolution.
At length, and through the complex successive phases related to the great migrations of peoples that took place with the transition from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and with the further phases of Christian missionary expansion among the Germanic and Slavic peoples, Christianity maintained its central role within the culture, and in some ways even expanded and institutionalized this role. A classical and exemplary formulation of this centrality can be seen in the first question of the "Summa Theologiae" of Saint Thomas Aquinas, dedicated to "sacred doctrine," in which it is affirmed not only that this doctrine is a science, in a higher sense of the word, and a form of wisdom, but also that, in spite of its being a single form of knowledge, it extends to everything that pertains to the different philosophical sciences, both speculative and practical, and at the same time it has with respect to these others a dignity that transcends theirs and a radical primacy, but must nevertheless make use of them, according to the principle that grace does not destroy nature, but rather perfects it.
We know very well how not only this primacy, but also the very relationship between Christianity and culture, theology and culture, gradually entered into crisis from the very beginning of the modern era, beginning with what has been called the "anthropological revolution,” which placed man at the center, as well as with the emergence of the form of science exemplified by Galileo and with religious warfare in Europe, which made it necessary in some sense to conceive of and manage the public sphere "etsi Deus non daretur," as if God did not exist.
But our task here is not that of dwelling upon these well-known problems. I would instead like to recall that within medieval theology, and preeminently with Saint Thomas, the distinction and reciprocal relationship between reason and faith, philosophy and theology were the object of systematic exploration. As Étienne Gilson masterfully demonstrated in a study published in 1927, on the reasons why Saint Thomas criticized Saint Augustine ("Pourquoi saint Thomas a critiqué saint Augustin", in AHDLM, 1, pp. 5-127), the theoretical basis of this exploration is found in the epistemology and ontology of Aristotelian origin, which permitted a more clear and systematic distinction between man's intrinsic capacity for knowledge and the light that he receives from the divine presence within him.
A widely held historical-theological hypothesis, elaborated above all by no less an author than Henri de Lubac, in the footsteps of Maurice Blondel, maintains that the unilateral insistence upon this distinction, which asserted itself in the "second scholastic" period, or at the very beginning of the modern age, contributed to the marginalization of Christianity and theology from cultural developments, by involuntarily providing this with theological legitimacy.
Personally I can agree with this assessment, as long as its concrete historical significance is not exaggerated. But I must emphasize that this should not lead to a negative judgment on the intrinsic validity, and also on the necessity and historical fruitfulness, of this systematic distinction.
This, in fact, emerges in the final analysis from the recognition of the divine and transcendent character of Christian revelation, above all in its center which is Jesus Christ, but also as concerning humanity's vocation to participate freely, in the Holy Spirit, in Christ's filial relationship with the Father.
On the other hand, this emerges from the recognition of the interior makeup of creatures, precisely because these are the work of God (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 36).
Furthermore, it is only on the basis of this distinction that a relationship is possible with modern and contemporary reason, and with the assertion of freedom that pervades our culture, respecting and appreciating the dynamism of these which has made possible the attainment, over the last few centuries, of extraordinary results.
2. The modern era
In the crisis in the relationships between Christianity and Western culture it is in any case important to distinguish at least two main historical phases.
The first phase still recognized the value and importance of the Christian faith, and in its own way tried to defend its truth. This attitude could still be found to some extent in Hegel, although with him it appears particularly clear that the truth and validity of Christianity are subordinated to the primacy of philosophy, which leads in reality to the hollowing out of Christianity itself, or its philosophical "transcendence."
But even before Hegel, the Enlightenment, above all in France, had seen the emergence of a radical critique of the Church and the Christian faith. But this critique, which ends in the rejection of the divinity of Christ and of the very existence of God, with the reduction of man to a merely material being, had its most significant cultural development in Germany, in the arc of history that moves from Hegel to Nietzsche and has been described by Karl Löwith with unusual profundity ("From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought,” Holt, Rhinehart and Winston).
The nineteenth century was also the period during which Western Christianity became fully cognizant of the radical nature of this threat, and tried to react to it according to two principal approaches, each of which, in a simplified way, can be broadly attributed to Protestantism or Catholicism.
The first is characterized by the attempt to reformulate Christianity, in such a way as to make it acceptable in the new cultural context and suitable not only for living within this, but for positioning itself as its highest dimension: this is the approach of liberal Protestantism, from Schleiermacher to Harnack, which certainly had a strong impact in Catholic circles as well, above all with the advent of modernism. This approach was in reality accompanied by an emptying out of the vital center of Christianity, meaning the content of its faith, what we might call "believing Christianity." From the historical viewpoint, this concluded, although in reality only provisionally, with the first world war and with the strong affirmation of faith promoted above all by Karl Barth.
The other approach, which found its most significant and authoritative expression in Vatican Council I, particularly in the dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith, "Dei Filius," consisted instead in reproposing those fundamental truths of Christianity that appeared to have been rejected or cast into doubt by the forms of thought prevailing at the time. The approach to such forms of thought was, therefore, strongly dialectical, marked by disputation and criticism rather more than by the effort to appreciate the positive aspects that may be present in them. An effort of this sort was certainly not lacking in nineteenth-century Catholicism - it's enough to recall the Catholic theological school of Tübingen, or two thinkers such as John Henry Newman and Antonio Rosmini - but the prevailing approach was different. But I would like to avoid caricatures and reductive simplifications: in reality, the theological and philosophical activity that led up to Vatican Council I and then continued with the emergence of neo-Thomism had great cultural vitality, expressed on one side with the unmasking of limitations and contradictions present in modern thought, and on the other with the recovery and reconsideration of the great inheritance of medieval theology, in dialogue with the problems of our time.
3. Council and post-Council
During the period between the two world wars, Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, enjoyed generally more favorable conditions, in terms of both its internal religious vitality and its acceptance in the general cultural context. It was precisely in this period that a fundamental shift took place within neo-Thomist theology and philosophy, and specifically that work of reappropriation and appreciation of the great biblical, patristic, and liturgical riches that constituted the platform for the decisive - and in many ways unexpected - development constituted by Vatican Council II.
With this, there was a profound change in the approach to the culture of our time, a transition from a mainly critical attitude to the search for common ground, through a dialogue marked by friendship and appreciation, which does not mean, however, unilateral and uncritical agreement. This involved the centrality of man - the fulcrum of the anthropological revolution in the modern age - the autonomy of earthly realities, religious liberty, and the favorable assessment of democracy or of the state of law. The power of Vatican II consisted in its creating this openness precisely on the basis of the vital center of Christianity, as reconsidered in its extraordinary human and cultural fecundity as well.
Immediately after the conclusion of Vatican II, and not without relation to that historical and cultural phenomenon that is indicated by referring to the year 1968, there arose the urgent problem of the interpretation of the Council itself, with the emergence of divergent approaches that have divided Catholic theology and strongly influenced the Church's very life.
And so, while some essentially - or even openly and directly - rejected the Council as a rupture with Catholic tradition, others, who were rather more numerous and influential, maintained that the new development brought about by Vatican II had to lead to a radical openness toward the culture of our time, as also to the overcoming at all costs of the differences among the various Christian confessions, to the point of what in my opinion would have represented a rupture with the "Catholic form" of Christianity. One spontaneously recalls in this regard the book "Infallible?: An Unresolved Enquiry " by Hans Küng, released in 1970, but also indicative is the writing of a theologian such as Otto H. Pesch in the ninth volume of "Mysterium Salutis," published in German in 1973 and in Italian in 1975: "In respect to the current concept of orthodoxy, one must say today that no one can ignore any longer the amount of heresy, not only material but also 'formal', that now exists in the Church" (pp. 388-389 of the Italian edition). For him, this is a positive situation, which in particular finally permits the assertion, even within the Catholic Church, of the primacy of salvific personal faith over any ecclesial norm or condition.
In effect, immediately after the Council there rapidly emerged and spread the practice of an interpretation that was disinterested, reductive, and even evasive with regard to the essential truths of the faith. This led inevitably to a fracture among the theologians who had made the greatest contributions to the development of the preconditions for the Council, as well as to its unfolding.
In recent decades this situation has been improving, albeit with difficulty: for its full and positive resolution, which does not at all mean the suppression of rightful and indispensable freedom of thought or of healthy theological pluralism, the hermeneutical approach that Benedict XVI proposed in the address to the Roman curia on December 22, 2005, and that he himself described as a "hermeneutic of reform," is fairly important.
As the pope said very clearly in that address, the Council's great program of a fundamental - though not uncritical - "yes" to the modern age should not be completely abandoned, but rather should be developed and made concrete in its various aspects, from that of relations with the empirical and historical sciences to that of relations between the Church and political institutions. Benedict XVI demonstrates that positive developments are not lacking in these areas, such as the greater awareness that the empirical sciences have acquired of the intrinsic limitations of their methods, or like the widespread perception that excluding the contribution of religion from social or public life proves to be harmful for society itself, and, in the end, is anachronistic.
4. Toward a discernment of the times in which we are living
In order to continue along this road, we must attempt a discernment, which is always difficult and risky, of the times in which we are living. Then-professor Walter Kasper, in the book "Introduction to the Faith" released in 1972 (pp. 27-31), spoke of our time as a "second Enlightenment," meaning an "unveiling of the Enlightenment to itself," as a "metacriticique" of the Enlightenment critique, as extended to the two great principles asserted by the Enlightenment - reason and freedom - insofar as the critique itself has demonstrated how both of these are greatly determined and freighted with many presuppositions, and in the end both are highly problematic.
And so we have once more become aware of the fundamentally finite nature of man, of the unalterably historical and event-driven nature of the reality in which we live, and of the tentative character of our systems of thought and projects of life, both personal and public. In such a situation, there are in Kasper's view two possible paths that are opened up before Western society.
One is that of ensconcing oneself within one's limitations, in a manner of speaking contenting oneself with them and viewing them as insurmountable, and thus rejecting as empty of meaning both religious and metaphysical lines of inquiry.
The other is that of recognizing one's limitations, even one's profound misery, but of remaining open to the questioning and the aspirations that man continues to carry within himself, and in the final analysis to the need for salvation, to the need to seek a happy and fulfilling existence and a reply to the questions about the meaning of one's own life and about the origin of reality.
In my opinion, this diagnosis by Walter Kasper, which was ahead of its time - just think of how widespread the conviction of the cultural primacy of Marxism was at the time - remains valid to a great extent 35 years later.
But in the meantime, important new developments have taken place, not only in interior attitudes, but also in the events of history.
I refer to the emergence of the new "anthropological question" and of the related questions of "public ethics," following those developments in science and biotechnology that have made possible direct interventions on the physical and biological reality of our being, and also to the great transformations on the world stage that have an emblematic date in September 11, 2001, but also concern rather more widely the rapid self-assertion of great nations and civilizations that are increasingly less inclined to accept the predominance of the West.
As for the attitudes of the spirit, in the decades following the diagnosis by Walter Kasper it has become more evident that relativism is presuming to set itself up as the unassailable, and paradoxically "absolute," criterion of both truth and the moral good. At the same time it is becoming clear that relativism is akin to the phenomenon, perhaps more broad and deep, of nihilism, which seems almost to verify historically the thesis of Nietzsche and Heidegger, according to which nihilism constitutes the destiny of our time, intimately connected to the "death of God." One extremely recent example of the pervasive influence of nihilism in the legal sphere is represented by the book by Natalino Irti, "Il salvagente della forma [The Life Preserver of Form]" (published by Laterza), and by the dialogue between Irti and Claudio Magris published last April 6 in "Corriere della Sera."
But the ways in which the "death of God" is making inroads into today's Western culture are different from each other.
One of these is the affirmation of atheism, which is justified above all on the basis of an absolutization of the evolutionistic interpretation of the universe, as if this interpretation were, far more than a scientific theory, "a universal theory of all reality, beyond which any further questions about the origin and nature of things are no longer licit or necessary" (Joseph Ratzinger, "Fede Verità Tolleranza. Il cristianesimo e le religioni del mondo [Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions]," Cantagalli, pp. 189-190).
But many maintain that the affirmation of atheism is much too demanding with respect to the limitations of our knowledge. Agnostic positions are therefore much more widespread, traced back to the idea, or to the interior stance, according to which "latet omne verum," all truth is hidden (ibid, pp. 184-186).
It might be said that in this way nihilism takes on the face of relativism, one apparently more benign and tolerant, and perhaps in the end more consistent with its profound nature. But in any case, this move us away radically from the essential content and from the very horizon of Christianity, because a God about whom nothing can be known is certainly not the God who speaks to us and enters into our history.
In more recent decades, nevertheless, there have also been developments of a very different character, with a strong recovery of the religious sense and with the decline of the idea that secularization is an irreversible process, destined to lead, if not to the disappearance, then to the irrelevance of religion, at least in the West and on the public level. The intrinsic reason for this decline is found above all in secularist culture's inability to respond to the fundamental and concretely unavoidable questions about the meaning and direction of our existence.
Beginning above all from September 11, 2001, another motivation has been added, linked to the widespread perception of the threat that seems to originate in the fundamentalist drift of Islamism: this perception has guided the reawakening of the religious sense to take on a more specific Christian identity, and, in a country like Italy, a Catholic one. This phenomenon is widely present and strongly felt within populations, but is taking on great prominence on the level of public culture as well.
Between religious reawakening and relativistic and nihilistic tendencies there exists, objectively, a profound contrast: this is the essential reason why, in Italy as in many other countries, the terrain of religion, and of Christianity in particular - and in other ways of Islam - has by now become, in culture and society, one of the most prominent terrains of confrontation and controversy, made even more concrete and vexing by the emergence of the new anthropological question, with its implications for public ethics.
5. Attempts at a theological response
In a situation of this kind, there is fairly extensive room - even the need - for the contribution of theology. To delineate the physiognomy that this could assume, it seems useful to recall above all the limitations of some efforts already tried and, at least in part, still in effect.
One of these, now fallen into disuse because of the limitations that have emerged with the processes of secularization, is one that was called the “theology of secularization,” which was of Protestant origin above all but also penetrated into Catholic circles. This ratified, as the result of the internal dynamics of Christianity, the growing separation between faith and culture and entrusted the mediation between these solely to the assertion of the Christian origin of this process. But this also left open the road to the progressive marginalization of Christianity, as the processes of secularization gradually developed and distanced itself from its own origin, as normally happens in history.
Another theological approach - still fairly present today despite being struck at its roots by the events of the year 1989, which highlighted the fact that the models of life drawn from Marxism were unsustainable, not only in political and economic terms but anthropologically and ethically as well - is that of liberation theology and the political forms of theology. At the basis of these is the intention, which can be widely shared, of recovering, with a view to the future, the historical role of Christianity. But their substantial limitation consists in entrusting this role principally to political praxis, thus placing upon the shoulders of politics the very problem of man’s salvation and of the meaning of existence, which inevitably brings along with it a false and destructive absolutization of politics itself.
The profound stripping of illusions produced in the area of liberation theology by the events of 1989 drove a number of its exponents toward positions marked by relativism. So many of these, together with not a few other theologians, moved in this direction that the results took on a variety of names such as “the theology of religions,” according to which fundamentally not only Christianity, but also the many religions of the world, with the peoples and cultures that make reference to them - and which are imagined to have been often the object of both political and religious imperialism and colonialism on the part of Christians - are thought to constitute in reality, next to historical Christianity, autonomous and legitimate ways of salvation.
Thus is abandoned the fundamental and truly foundational truth of the faith, which is highly evident in the New Testament and is the primary source of the Church’s missionary dynamism in the first centuries, and according to which Jesus Christ, in his concrete identity as Son of God who became man and lived within history, is the only Savior of the entire human race, and even of the entire universe.
The declaration “Dominus Iesus” from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in forcefully reaffirming this truth, did nothing more than give expression to the Church’s essential mission. The book that I have already cited by then-cardinal Ratzinger brings to light how in specific forms of the theology of religions there is at work the principle of “latet omne verum,” which in certain aspects ties together the relativism now widespread in the West and the approach to the divine found in the great Eastern religions, and also in the thought of late antiquity that opposed Christianity precisely in these terms. In various theologians this relativistic shift is accompanied by the assertion, still not abandoned, of the primacy of praxis; this alone is held to be decisive for salvation, and dialogue, or even the unity among religions, should resolve itself through this.
6. Contributions for further consideration
Naturally, each of these three theological arrangements contains details that cannot be allowed to disappear, from the will to overcome a “catastrophic” vision of modernity, to the relationship that the Christian faith cannot help but have with the humanization of the world, to the need for a truly universal perspective that would make room, in the bosom of Christianity, for the plurality of cultures and civilizations.
From this last point of view, the then-cardinal Ratzinger advanced (op. cit., pp. 57-82) a proposal that was rather innovative with respect to the theological hypotheses most widespread today, and for me it is truly convincing: to abandon the idea of the inculturation of a faith that is culturally neutral in itself, which would be transplanted into different cultures regardless of their religions, and have recourse instead to the encounter of cultures (or “interculturality”), based upon two strong points.
On the one hand, the encounter of cultures is possible and is constantly taking place because, in spite of all of their differences, the men that produce them share the same nature and the same openness of reason to the truth.
On the other hand, the Christian faith, which was born from the revelation of the truth itself, produces what we might call the “culture of faith,” the characteristic of which is that it does not belong to a single specific people, but can subsist in any people or cultural subject, entering into relation with the individual culture and encountering and co-penetrating it. This is concretely the unity, and also the cultural multiplicity and universality, of Christianity.
A still rather relevant contribution for the fulfillment of the tasks that theology faces today can come, in my judgment, from that great impulse of renewal that ran through theology itself during the years that preceded Vatican II, and also from the heritage of neo-Thomist theology, in spite of its limitations, which can be identified more precisely on the one hand in the underestimation of the historical distance that separates Saint Thomas and scholasticism in our time, and concretely of the great theoretical and practical developments realized over the centuries; on the other hand, it can be seen in the attempt to demonstrate the truth of the premises of Christianity (the “preambula fidei”) through a form of reasoning rigorously independent from the faith itself.
This attempt substantially failed, as Cardinal Ratzinger observes in the book already cited (pp. 141-142), and other eventual analogous attempts seem destined to fail, for the reason that the great questions about man and God (and equally the question of Jesus Christ), which inevitably regard and involve the meaning and direction of our life, bring us ourselves into play and therefore, although they require all of the rigor and critical capacity of our intelligence, they cannot be decided independently of the choices according to which we orient our existence itself.
But reciprocally, and in substance for an analogous reason, failure also met the opposite attempt of Karl Barth to present the faith as a pure paradox, which can subsist only in total independence from reason.
In this regard, concerning not only Barth but also all of the nonetheless extremely important strand of “kerygmatic theology,” one can observe that it is indeed fundamental and indispensable, but not sufficient, to present the enormous richness and beauty of the Christian mystery, such as emerge from the biblical, patristic, and liturgical sources and were gradually enriched through the course of history.
In order that this richness and beauty may remain alive and eloquent in our time, it is in fact necessary that they enter into dialogue with the critical reason and quest for liberty that characterize it, in such a way as to open up this reason and this freedom, “from the inside,” so to speak, and to assimilate within the Christian faith the values that they contain.
7. A Christocentric theology, and thus truly theological and anthropological
At the center and heart of a theological approach better adapted to the questions of the times that we face there remains, in my view, that form of radically Christological and Christocentric theology, and precisely for this reason just as radically theological and anthropological, that is implicitly proposed in no. 22 of “Gaudium et Spes”: “Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light . . . by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, [Christ] fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
Thus the attention of the theologian must be concentrated above all on Jesus Christ, while also grasping his historical reality and the depth of his mystery. With his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Benedict XVI has indicated to us a way and a method of work that could prove to be very fruitful for the development of theology, especially on that ineluctable frontier that is represented by the fusing of the demands of historical criticism and those of an authentically theological hermeneutic.
In the light of the reality and mystery of Jesus Christ, there can be an encounter of the two essential poles of theological discourse, God and man, which are moreover, in an explicit or implicit manner, the real quandaries of the culture of our time.
With respect to both of these quandaries, the current cultural context - in which the empirical sciences, with their form of rationality and the mentality that they generate, exercise a compelling and in some ways hegemonic role - engages theology in a much deeper encounter with these sciences than had been realized until now: an encounter that, moreover, cannot do without an authentic and non-reductive philosophical dimension.
Thus, concerning God, particular importance is assumed by that reflection that is concentrated upon the structure and presuppositions of scientific knowledge, in order to demonstrate that precisely by starting from these the question of creative intelligence is posed again.
Analogously, concerning man the encounter is decisive with both the theory of evolution and the neurosciences, in order to demonstrate, above all in light of his own exclusive capacity to produce culture, that man emerges from nature not in the sense of simple origin, but of authentic transcendence. Only on this anthropological basis does it become possible and consistent to promote and defend human dignity as theology is called to do, and today particularly on the level of public ethics.
This is the meaning of that program of “making more room for rationality” that Benedict XVI proposes with insistence, and that concerns both scientific reason and historical reason.
This program entails the twofold conviction that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ offers valuable assistance to reason in order to continue along its path, always more elaborated, complex, and specialized, without losing sight of its global horizon and the deeper questions, and moreover that precisely through the encounter with contemporary reason, faith and theology are stimulated to further explore the newness concerning the mystery of God and man that came to meet us in Jesus Christ.
In contributing to such a program, theology must not take on the rationalistic pretense of cogent demonstrations, as I have already referred to concerning the “praeambula fidei,” but rather must be aware of the limitations of its own discourse: thus, with regard to creative Logos, Joseph Ratzinger asserts that from the rational point of view this remains “the best hypothesis,” an hypothesis that requires on the part of man and his reason that he in turn renounce a position of dominion, and risk that of humble listening ("L’Europa di Benedetto nella crisi delle culture [Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures]," Cantagalli, pp. 115-124).
8. Revelation, Church, theology
In substance, there is thus proposed a great and courageous exit from the theology of self-referential discourses, from its own gardens and enclosures, which can inadvertently subsist even when “external” interlocutors are engaged who are in their turn rather cut off from the real problems of today.
This openness in reality coincides with the complete internal consistency of Christian and Catholic theology, and nourishes itself with this consistency. We had a great example of this in the spiritual, cultural, and historical dynamism of the pontificate of John Paul II, and we now have one that is just as meaningful, and more directly theological, in the pontificate of Benedict XVI.
I conclude by seeking to make explicit the meaning and theological foundation of this consistency, and thus also to indicate the way to overcome from within the fracture seen within Catholic theology immediately after Vatican Council II.
I do this by referring to the analysis of the nature of divine revelation that Joseph Ratzinger had elaborated in the study of Saint Bonaventure by which he intended to attain his academic teaching qualifications and is summarized in his book “La mia vita [My Life]” (San Paolo, pp. 72, 88-93). That is, revelation is above all the act by which God manifests himself, and not the objective (written) result of this act. In consequence, the very concept of revelation includes the subject who receives and comprehends it - specifically, the people of God in the Old and New Testament - given that, if no one perceived the revelation nothing would have been unveiled, no revelation would have taken place.
Thus revelation precedes Scripture and is reflected in it, but it is not simply identical with it, and Scripture itself is linked to the subject that welcomes and understands both revelation and Scripture, or the Church. Concretely, Scripture is born and lives within this subject.
With this is given the essential meaning of tradition, and also the profound reason for the ecclesial character of faith and theology, apart from the foundation of the validity of an approach to Scripture that would be at the same time historical and theological.
It is therefore with good conscience and critical awareness that we can welcome, as theologians, that intimate relationship of Scripture and tradition with the entire Church and with its magisterium, as stated in no. 10 of the conciliar constitution “Dei Verbum.”