Regensburg Revisited (Part 3): Interview With Father James Schall

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture not only pinpoints the heart of the current international situation, but also reality itself, says Father James Schall.

In the third and final part of this interview with ZENIT, Father Schall, a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, comments on what he says is one of the most important discourses of modern times. 

He is the author of “The Regensburg Lecture,” published by St. Augustine’s Press. Part 1 , Part 2 .

Q: How do you see the Regensburg lecture in relation to John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio”? 

Father Schall: What Benedict XVI sees is the fundamental importance of “Fides et Ratio” on a world scale, not just with Islam, which was something new in John Paul II’s time. 

John Paul II was rightly taken up with fascism, Marxism and the moral status of the West. John Paul did collaborate with Muslims in several U.N. conferences — Cairo, Beijing — especially about the family, in spite of the differences between Muslim and Christian views on what the family is.

“Fides et Ratio” is the consequence, as it were, of the other two stages of de-Hellenization in Western thought. The second step was with von Harnack who took the consequences of denying that Jesus was divine. He was just human, a nice man. He was a leader or prophet or voice, but he was not the God-man, not the incarnate “Logos.” Thus we did not need theology to understand him; rather, we need the social and historical sciences.

Benedict XVI, as he indicates in his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” is often concerned with the claim of scholarship to unearth the fundamentals of faith by science’s own methods alone. All it can unearth is what is known by the methods, so more and more fundamental things are left out as such scholarship claims priority. 

“Fides et Ratio” is a long, incisive analysis of modern philosophy alongside of the question of what kind of philosophy will enable us to understand what is really revealed. 

The very notion of a “Christian philosophy” arises from the need to understand in terms of reason just what was said in revelation. The use of a Greek word, not a scriptural word, at the Council of Nicaea, as the Pope said, indicated that under the pressure of understanding revelation, the philosophical experience could be fundamental. 

Faith and philosophy are not in contradiction, but are related to grasp the whole of reality. Both are necessary. This is why pure Scripture is not enough even to understand Scripture’s own positions. As Chesterton remarked at the end of “Heretics,” it would be revelation, not reason, which, in the end, said that the grass is green, that reason in faith alone would affirm the ordinary things of reality that the modern philosophers could no longer comprehend. 

Q: In your book, and in the Holy Father’s lecture, there is no effort to “turn back the clock” and deny the achievements of modernism. In what ways do you see an integration of the old and the new? 

Father Schall: First of all the term “modernism” is generally meant to be a declaration of independence of modern thought from what is past, Greek or scholastic. However, thought in modernity more and more loses its moorings in an ordered reality. 

As the Pope points out, the third de-Hellenization is what we call “multiculturalism,” a belief that there is no real truth in any culture so that there are no fundamental issues between civilizations or religions, only a kind of tolerance about truth’s impossibility. 

Despite the claim that multicultural tolerance does not involve violence, its very system contains within itself a tradition within history that does claim that violence is in fact justified by voluntarist premises. In other words, on a purely multicultural theory, there is no reason why voluntarism is not a legitimate position as there is really nothing to oppose it except power. 

The Pope repeats several times that he does not want to “go back,” but he does wish to distinguish what is good and what is not in modern thought and culture. 

Rommen said that the natural law is perennial, that is, it keeps coming back when we reach positions within a culture that normal men of common sense can see clearly wrong. The objective standard keeps calling disorder and injustice to our attention. The Regensburg lecture is an intellectual challenge. This is why it is precisely an academic lecture and not an encyclical; it insists we face the truth and falsity in any culture on the basis of “logos,” of reason. 

You will notice that the Pope brings in the notion of the fascination with mathematics that we found in Plato. He addresses the scientific mind directly and tells it that its discoveries are based on the fact that mathematics and its many sophistications work in reality. There must be a correspondence between principles of reality and principles of mathematics. 

Why is there this correspondence if there is not a realistic philosophy to explain why? And if there is this correspondence, why is there not an ultimate mind that orders all things found with mathematics as well as with its own systems? Much current literature is based on the claims of a new kind of atheism, one that often lacks the intellectual rigor of more classic forms. The confidence of modern atheism does not face the strange correspondences between mind and reality that even science cannot avoid. 

The problem with science is not only what it is, but what are we going to do with it? The classic Greeks were said to have known all sorts of inventions but chose not to pursue them because they understood the dangers they might entail for human living itself. 

The Regensburg lecture gives science and technology their due by pointing out that they are not everything, but what they do is valid for a certain aspect of things. They can only explain what falls to their competence. 

Philosophy, ethics, theology and poetry all reach to realities that are not direct objects of science, to things that are essentially spiritual and nonmaterial. The human intellect transcends its own being to be concerned with all that is. 

We are bewildered if we think that science can explain everything, but this does not mean that what it cannot explain is therefore not explicable. It rather means that other insights and ways of knowing have their own validity. 

The word of the Pope to science is not “don’t be scientific” in the proper sense. It is rather to stop limiting itself to only one concept of reason, a very narrow concept. This concept is good as far as it goes. But it is one that excludes by definition most of the important things men are concerned with. 

The Regensburg lecture takes us to the heart not only of current events, but also to the heart of reality itself. Philosophy and revelation are not enemies of each other, but are directed at one another. The exaltation of man by revelation does not imply that he is not what he is created to be, a rational animal, one who does all he does by “logos,” by reason. 

Man is the glory of God in the sense that God can address his word to him and he can know and comprehend because he is created with the power to know the truth of things. The moral and political life of man is designed to enable us to know what is addressed to us from reason and even, if it happens, from revelation. 

What seems clear about the Regensburg lecture is that the best place to understand our times is in the heart of Rome itself. Here, in the native tongues of recent Popes, in Polish, or German, and, yes, Latin, they speak to us of what it means to be human, to be beings addressed by God in both reason and revelation.



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