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A Continuing Program for the Next Pope? Fr. Mark Moriarty on the Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI

Ed. Note. In the midst of the Conclave, the Bellarmine Forum is pleased to offer this guest commentary by Fr. Mark Moriarty, Pastor and Superintendent of the Church and School of Saint Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota. This commentary was adapted from Father’s bulletin article of March 10, 2013 and is offered as a tribute to Benedict XVI and as, hopefully, an essential and key part of the mission of the Church under the new pope–whom we will meet in a few short hours, if not less.

With the resignation of Benedict XVI from the Holy See, I would like to share with you some thoughts of mine about his legacy and the perennial value of one of his main messages.

Western culture is in a state of crisis, especially in regards to education. The vast majority of lower schools, high schools, colleges and universities have become thoroughly secularized with little or no connection to faith, mystery and meaning. Education is now in service of democratic society in order to manage and make citizens economically useful. Most institutions of higher learning have stopped proposing a universal view of things and instead have focused only on offering specialized and practical courses of study. Education is no longer an initiation into a way of excellent living and an encounter with mystery. Even Christian and Catholic schools have begun to be secularized and overly specialized. Moreover, these same institutions that teach and preach relativistic tolerance have begun to show intolerance toward those who are not relativistic and believe in objective truth. So many students no longer know how to think, reason, argue, or how to read a book. What is to be done?

Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2006 Regensburg Address, summarizes the current problem in western education and culture. According to Benedict, faith has been marginalized and separated from reason. The rapprochement between Greek philosophy and Christianity has been progressively done away with. Protestant Reformation leaders and their successors strove to de-Hellenize (i.e., remove the wisdom of the Greek example of seeking the good, true and beautiful) Christianity in an effort to rediscover a purer form of faith based only on their view of scripture – they basically denied that fallen human nature could be restored and they undercut the value of human reason. On the other side, the world of science began to progressively cut any ties to faith. In the modern scientific world, questions about God, human origin, human destiny, religion and ethics are considered unscientific and subjective. The result is dehumanization – human dignity and purpose are greatly diminished. Benedict highlights that ethics suffers too, “attempts to construct an ethic from rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.” Pope Benedict has taught that a new union of faith and reason is necessary. This union necessitates that science reconsider its limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable.

Benedict offers more details in his 2008 undelivered but later published address to La Sapienza University. He argues that faith and reason must be interrelated without confusion and without separation. Moreover, truth implies reasonableness in nature and is prescriptive of human behavior. Reason that attempts to be completely secular could disintegrate or bend to the pressure of interests or utility. In other words, he is strongly suggesting that anarchy or tyranny are very possible results if culture as a whole and education in particular does not bring faith and reason back into union. This is not only a union in regards to the world of ideas. True to the Christian appropriation of the classical ideal, faith and reason, in an incarnational manner, must be lived in real life and in every aspect of life.

In Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, written before he was elevated to the Holy See, Benedict sums up what is needed most at this time: “Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live.” (52) Men like St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism, whose minds and hearts have been touched by God are the only means that, “God can return to be with mankind.”

Let us pray that the world takes an opportunity to more deeply reflect on the teachings of Pope Benedict.

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