Benedict XVI assures atheist of need for frank dialogue
Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday general audience, Oct. 24, 2012. Credit: Marianne Medlin/CNA.
Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday general audience, Oct. 24, 2012. Credit: Marianne Medlin/CNA.

.- In a letter to Italian mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi, who is an atheist, the former Pope, Benedict XVI, affirmed the professor's desire for open and honest dialogue as the path to truth.

“Frankness is a part of dialogue; only in this way can knowledge increase,” the emeritus Pope reflected in his 11-page letter, portions of which were published Sept. 24 in Italian daily “la Repubblica.”

Odifreddi received the letter Sept. 3, and publicized portions of it with Benedict's permission. He explained that the letter is an engagement with his 2011 work, “Dear Pope, I'm writing to you.” The book, which is an introduction to atheism and a refutation of Benedict's 1968 work “Introduction to Christianity,” was given to Benedict by a mutual friend of Odifreddi and Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

“But that he could respond, and also comment on it profoundly, was beyond reasonable hope,” Odifreddi said in his blog post introducing Benedict's letter. He described receiving the former Pope's letter as surprising and quite emotional for him, particularly since “atheism regards reason, while personalities and symbols of power act on feelings.”

He described Benedict XVI as having taken seriously his arguments and not ignoring them, for which he is thankful. He read Benedict's “Introduction to Christianity” and realized that his “faith and teaching … in contrast to those of others, were sufficiently cohesive” to engage with serious dialogue.

Odifreddi said his book was “obviously, not meant 'to convert the Pope,' but to honestly explain the perplexities” he has regarding faith. He noted that the result has been “a dialogue between faith and reason” that has “allowed both to frankly confront” the other, as Benedict had called for in his 2009 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, when he called for dialogue with “those to whom religion is something foreign … who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.”

The atheist mathematician noted that while he and Benedict are “divided on nearly everything,” they are “united at least on one objective: the search for Truth, with a capital T.”

Benedict began his letter by thanking Odifreddi for his sincere and just engagement with “Introduction to Christianity” and with his faith, which he said was “precisely and in great part what I had intended” by his 2009 Christmas address to his curia.

The emeritus Pope's own frankness was displayed by his “mixed” opinion of Odifreddi's book, which he called at points enjoyable and profitable, but also at times “aggressive” and “reckless.”

Benedict took issue with Odifreddi's characterization of theology as “science fiction.” He defended theology as a field of genuine knowledge and truth by noting that different fields have different criteria of knowledge, and that mathematics cannot be the standard for other sciences; that theology has produced lasting results; and that science itself has had its own strains of “science fiction.”

He also pointed out that an important function of theology is “to maintain a link between religion and reason” and vice versa. “Both functions are of essential importance for humanity,” he noted, because “there exist pathologies of religion and – no less perilous – pathologies of reason. Each needs the other, and to keep them continually connected is an importance competence of theology.”

Benedict also took issue with Odifreddi's “ostentatious” presentation of clerical sex abuse as “a filth peculiar to Catholicism.” Agreeing that the scandal is of “deep concern” and that it is a “suffering … that the power of evil should penetrate to such an extent in the inner world of faith,” he pointed out that such abuse is not specific to priests.

He added that while there are gravely immoral acts committed by Church members, the “great shining path of goodness and purity” also found in the Church cannot be forgotten. He pointed out the examples of Saints Benedict, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Vincent de Paul, and Mother Teresa, saying that “it is true today also that the faith leads many persons to selfless love, at the service of others, to sincerity and to justice.”

Next, Benedict defended the historicity of Jesus Christ, and added that while the historical-critical method of exegesis can be abused, as was stressed by 19th century Russian theologian Vladimir Soloviev, it is “necessary for a faith which does not propose myths by using historical images, but calls for a true history and therefore must present the historical reality of its claims in a scientific way.”

The former Pope then found more common ground with Odifreddi in their treatment of the prologue to John's Gospel – while still finding shortcomings in the atheist's interpretations.

“In your religion of mathematics,” Benedict wrote, “three fundamental themes of human existence are not considered: freedom, love, and evil.”

“Whatever neurobiology may say or not say about freedom, in the real drama of our history it is present as a determining reality and must be taken into consideration. Yet your mathematical religion knows nothing about evil.”

“A religion that ignores these fundamental questions remains hollow.”

Benedict concluded by saying his criticism of Odifreddi's book was “tough in part,” but went on to say that only this frank attitude to dialogue can lead to a mutual discovery of Truth.

“In any case, however, I value very highly the fact that you, through your engagement with my 'Introduction to Christianity', have sought such an open dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, notwithstanding all the contrasts, at the central part, there is no lack of convergences.”

Ads by AdsLiveMedia(What's this?)

* The number of messages that can be online is limited. CNA reserves the right to edit messages for content and tone. Comments and opinions expressed by users do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of CNA. CNA will not publish comments with abusive language, insults or links to other pages


Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Presentation of the book "The Pastor"
Presentation of the book "The Pastor"
Synod on the Family October 2014
Preferential option for the poor
God is alive, even in sport
'A forbidden God' named Best Film at the International Catholic Film Festival
Vatican backs a 'Pause for Peace' during World Cup final
The effects of religious violence in Sarajevo 
The origin of Corpus Christi 
Corpus Christi at the Vatican 
Homage to an Indian Cardinal
Train of the Child's Light
New book explaining gestures of the Mass
Encounter between Pope Francis and the Charismatic Renewal in the Spirit Movement.
Religious tensions subside amid Balkan floods
John Paul II Center for Studies on Marriage and Family
Saint John Paul II on cartoon
Syrian Christian refugees
Papal Foundation Pilgrimage
Exorcism or prayer of liberation?
First meeting of Commission for Protection of Minors

Liturgical Calendar

July 23, 2014

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 13:1-9


Daily Readings

First Reading:: Jer 1:1, 4-10
Gospel:: Mt 13: 1-9

Saint of the Day

St. John Cassian »


Homily of the Day

Mt 13:1-9


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: