By Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Rich in history and philosophy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s new book (Ignatius Press) is as fascinating as it sounds. The book is a collection of essays from conferences the Pope Emeritus has given on the subject. We find throughout, as George Weigel writes in his foreward that “politics, for Ratzinger, was an exercise in moral reasoning.” This is a theme evident in each essay.
The book is divided into three sections, the first answering the question “What is Europe?” Europe and the West seem to have lost their way. “There is a strange lack of will for the future. Children, who are the future, are seen as a threat to the present; it is thought that they take away something of our life. They are perceived, not as a hope, but rather as a limitation on the present.”
Benedict says that we must ask ourselves, “What is there, today and tomorrow, that promises human dignity and a life in conformity with it?” He goes on to describe the various relationships between church and state, including that of America and socialist systems. Of communism he writes, “The real catastrophe they left behind is not of an economic sort; it consists rather in the drying up of souls, in the destruction of the moral conscience.”
The Pope Emeritus sees foundational moral elements that are essential to the future of Europe. The validity of human dignity must always be upheld. Marriage between one man and one woman open to children and thus family must be recognized. If not, “then we are confronted with a disintegration of the image of man, which can only have extremely serious consequences.” Finally, there must be “respect for what is sacred to someone else and, in particular, respect for the sacred in the more exalted sense, for God, something we are allowed to expect even in a person who is not disposed to believe in God.”
Parts Two and Three deal with politics, morality, and the responsibility for peace. “Politics is the sphere of reason; more precisely, not a purely technical, calculating reason, but moral reasoning, since the end of the State, and thus the ultimate purpose of all politics, is by its nature moral, namely peace and justice.” He discusses the roles of progress, science, and freedom and how there are some things that can never be morally justified, that “there are values that no majority has the right to repeal. The killing of the innocent cannot be raised to the status of a right by any authority.”
Benedict goes on to discuss the decline in recognition of natural law and its consequences. He notes too that we have seen a decline in the force of law and the rise of terrorism. “As Christians, we are called today certainly not to set limits to reason and oppose it, but rather to refuse to reduce it to the level of political reason and to defend instead its ability to perceive good and the One who is Good, what is holy and the One who is Holy.”
The epilogue is Pope Benedict’s statement on the Church and the scandal of sexual abuse. He refers to the “Revolution of 1968” and the “all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer admitted any norms,” and how it coincided with a collapse in moral theology evidenced by the backlash following John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). He goes on, “In various seminaries, homosexual cliques rose up that acted more or less openly and that markedly changed the climate in these seminaries.” The following statement was startling: “Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood. My books were hidden away like naughty literature and only read, as it were, under the desk.” Jaw dropping. He goes on to talk about the Church’s response.
Western Culture Today and Tomorrow is not a light-hearted read for the beach. It is a thought-provoking, deeply intellectual discussion of political philosophy from a man of great faith and insight. Keep your dictionary nearby.
That being said, the message of the Pope Emeritus is not difficult to understand. The writing is very clear and well organized. We are a part of Western culture and it is incumbent on us to see where we are and where we are headed. Only then can we see what our responsibility may be to the culture of which we are a part.
Read this book. It may embolden you to take part in discussions where the Christian viewpoint is woefully underrepresented. We need courage to speak the truth in these times. And the truth is what our Western culture sorely needs.
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Copyright 2019 Rosemary Bogdan