In this context, must limit myself to mentioning it.
Moreover, both Benedict and Dietrich resisted the tendency found in many of our contemporaries to assume that the period in which they live is superior to the past. Maritain dubs it “Chronolatry.” Indeed, modern man, inebriated by the mind-boggling scientific discoveries of the last century, is tempted to speak disparagingly of the Dark Ages – forgetting that one can be “blinded” by both a lack of light or by too brilliant a one. Indeed modern science has advanced by leaps and bounds. But is this also true of our human, cultural and moral development? Are we “better human beings” that were our ancestors? Do we still have the sense of reverence to which Plato attributes the greatness of Athens in the 5th century B.C.?
Can we say that modern architecture, sculpture, painting and music are more “beautiful,” more uplifting, than those preceding us? For beauty, as Plato saw twenty five centuries ago, makes wings grow to our soul. Modern cities, on the contrary, are bound to depress anyone who has eyes to see.
Both Benedict XVI and Dietrich have emphasized the crucial role of Beauty in evangelization. The magnificent artistic accomplishments of Catholic culture have been a powerful help in knowing and deepening our faith. I myself can testify the blessing it has been for me to be born and raised in a Catholic country, rich in magnificent Churches, decorated by sculptures and paintings making faith alive.
What I have learned through these masterpieces cannot be put in words. This is why both thinkers have been “apostles of beauty” - I.e. true Beauty “that makes wings grow to the soul.” Alas, today, the word Beauty has also been infected by relativism; in fact, it has been hijacked. Whatever is “exciting”, “fun”, and awakens in us emotions of a very doubtful nature, is dubbed “beautiful.” Both thinkers stand not only for the objectivity of truth but also for the objectivity of beauty. God is not only Truth itself, but also Goodness itself and Beauty itself.
Anyone entering the Cathedral of Chartres is struck by awe: this is indeed a sacred place, made by human hands, inspired by faith and a trembling reverence. Not long ago, I was invited to give a talk in Cleveland. The monks who invited me used to have a venerable old church, but because it needed huge repairs which (they claimed) were too expensive, decided to built a new Church. I requested to be brought there for a moment of recollection. I was in for a shock: I entered a huge room which I assumed to the gym: it was shamefully ugly.
How can young people brought to such a place learn reverence: “take off your shoes; this is holy ground.” The same can be said of much of “modern music.” Granted that it is “dynamic”, “deafening”, and aiming at shaking bored modern men from their slumber, one thing is certain; it certainly does not invite us to adoration. The wise old man of Greece (as Kierkegaard called Socrates), wishing to know himself, raises the question: “Is he a monster … or creature of a gentler and simple sort, to whom Nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny?” (Phaedrus; 230).
The answer is that since original sin, we are both: a thesis developed in the same dialogue when Plato refers to a charioteer who has two horses; the obedient one and the rebellious one who kicks and hates being guided. Both Benedict and Dietrich knew that there is an art (I.e. beauty made visible and audible) that appeals to the gentle and reverent creature in us, and another one that definitely feeds the “monster” – characterized by irreverence and hunger of violent sensations which cut us off from our depth. But the word “art” has been hijacked by the Evil one: now “art” is applied to any visible and audible “creation” without making any distinction between uplifting, noble, or blasphemous, pornographic, irreverent.
Anyone who denies the word “art” to such productions is immediately accused of “narrowness” or being “puritanical” – apparently one of the most dangerous sicknesses menacing our society. This was already diagnosed by the genius of C.S.Lewis who writes: “In modern Christian writings … I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’ – and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life.” (“Screwtape Letters,” 54-55) Inspired by the same wisdom, he writes further: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers where there is a flood …” (Ibid, 129). We are constantly warmed of the deadly danger of Puritanism and anyone spending a half hour in malls cannot – if he is sane – blame our society for encouraging this dangerous heresy. (p.s. Man is, since original sin, so prone to error that all moral and intellectual diseases will never be totally eradicated; they have become chronic. When combated and apparently defeated, they may be dormant for a while, but as soon as given a chance, they will “reappear.”
This deep sense for the crucial importance of visible and audible perceptions (for man is both body and soul) is linked to the respect for tradition that both men share so deeply. This explains their love for use of the Latin language in the Liturgy.
Let us recall that Vatican II, far from abolishing this sacred tongue, only permitted that the vernacular be used in certain parts of the Liturgy (Epistle and Gospel). Overnight, it was brutally abolished, and today very many priests cannot not recite the “Pater Noster” in that tongue – something which innumerable Italian peasants without any high school education knew by heart. The universal use of the Latin tongue was a glorious victory of a sacred language over the Tower of Babel. How wise was the Enemy in convincing many liberals that in fact, this “strange and foreign” idiom discouraged people from attending religious services, even though all missals were printed with both Latin and the vernacular.
How uplifting it was when years ago, my husband and I attended Mass in Constantinople, Tunis and Bogota and heard the beloved words, “Introibo ad altare Dei …”
Those who have eyes must acknowledge that what has taken place in the course of the last fifty years is a massive attack on tradition and on the sacred. Why were communion rails (some of them having a great artistic value) brutally destroyed, even though there was not a single word in Vatican II demanding this “iconoclasm”? Obviously, once again, we weaken our sense of awe, reverence for the Sacredness of the Eucharist, for in our culture “kneeling” has always been an expression of adoration. How many times in the Gospels, when people were touched by Christ’s holiness, knelt in front of Him?
Today, as soon as most Americans (known to be poor linguists) leave their country, they will attend Mass (if they do) not understanding a single word of the Divine service. The Enemy understood but too well that religious nationalism was going to be nurtured as soon as this sacred language (which being “dead” prevented it from being infected by slang and vulgarities) is abolished. To refer to God as “the nice guy upstairs” would have been inconceivable years ago.
Both Benedict XVI and Dietrich are ardent lovers of the Gregorian chant: not only because it connects us with the tradition of the Church from Gregory the Great on, but also because it is “sacred” music – that is, a music whose very substance is a prayer, a sursum corda. The great Pope Emeritus tried at every occasion to re connect the faithful with this holy tradition.
Indeed, there is no period in history that does not have its flaws. It is sheer illusion – and a lie propagated by “liberal” politicians – that new laws will guarantee the creation of a paradise on this earth (or, according to Lenin: “a paradise for the workers” – another word for Gulag).
But, on the other hand, each period, in very different degrees, might give us a message that we should be grateful to accept. Our debt to Plato and Aristotle is immense. But simultaneously both St. Augustine (a Platonist at heart) and St. Thomas (a disciple of Aristotle) aimed at correcting the flaws inevitably found in thinkers who lived ante lucem.
Wisdom is to be found in the words of St. Paul: “test all things; keep what is good.” There are plenty of men who call themselves “lovers of wisdom,” but not very many who are “wise.” Let us make this distinction: they are those who gratefully embrace “the golden cord of tradition” as Plato called it, carefully endorsing its “gifts” and rejecting its weaknesses.
But there still are more bonds that deeply unite both thinkers that deserve our attention. Both men wage a relentless war on “dictatorial relativism.” Dietrich von Hildebrand, who was 38 years older than Benedict XVI, diagnosed it as one of the greatest dangers menacing the 20th century (see “The Dethronement of Truth in The New Tower of Babel,” Kennedy, 1953).
Benedict XVI wisely adds “dictatorial” to this dethronement because, not satisfied by sapping the foundation of any universally valid knowledge, he points to the fact that we have “progressed” one step further on the road leading to moral and intellectual disaster.
We are alluding to the right, now claimed by relativism, to condemn (and possibly to take to court) those who say that there is an objective truth and to condemn certain actions as being intrinsically evil and therefore constituting a grave danger for any sane society. To claim that a condemnation of homosexuality (recall the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah) is homophobic, is a case in point. This is what Benedict means by dictatorial. It is “imposed” on society by means of new laws which, as unfortunately many laws in human history, are immoral and unjust.
The natural law is offered to all men of good will. One must marvel at the riches of Plato’s ethical insights – he who was a pagan – warns us how dangerous it is to prefer oneself to the Truth. He fully deserves the glorious title of a preparer of the ways of Christ. This noble and truth-thirsty thinker knew how tempting it is for man to declare himself to be “the measure of all things.” This perennial and vicious error which, often refuted, goes underground and re appears periodically in the history of mankind.
Since original sin, intellectual diseases are “chronic.”
That Truth should be king and master in all our intellectual pursuits is what is being challenged today under the banner of “dictatorial relativism”; a relativism which is taught to children in grammar school, and imposed upon us in the most authoritative manner. Woe to the man who condemns sexual perversions; woe to the man who claims that to kill a human person in the womb is a crime!
This “authoritarianism” is also spreading in all philosophical branches and consequently in theology.
Far from claiming that Benedict XVI and Dietrich are the only thinkers who diagnosed the danger and opposed it, my only claim that both of them are deeply united in their fight against it.
The deep intellectual bond existing between Benedict XVI and Dietrich is best expressed in their views on the relations existing between faith and reason. This is a huge topic. I will limit myself to a few remarks. Both thinkers claim that there is perfect harmony between them, but in order for this harmony to become luminous a few remarks are called for.
Two dangers are to be fought against: rationalism and fideism. The first arrogantly claims that reason gives us a key to all problems. Inevitably, it condemns the supernatural and all mysteries. They are easily eliminated; they are “myths” that any intelligent man should discard as irrelevant. Myths are accepted by “numbskulls” – people who have remained stuck in the Dark Ages.
This stand teaches us that intellectual pride inevitably leads to intellectual stupidity.
Fideism, on the other hand, claims that faith and faith alone will give answers to all our queries, and inevitably disparages reason as invalid. The Lutheran dogma: sola fides was bound to lead to this error.
Any sound, intelligent person must acknowledge that reason has its limits: and that there are, “more things between heaven and earth that are those contained in your philosophy,” as Shakespeare wisely put in Hamlet’s mouth. Blaise Pascal, was also fully aware of the limit of reason, wrote, “The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it.”And further, “There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason.”
That reason has its limitations should not make deny that within its radius, it is capable of reaching certitude. This is proven by its access for “veritates aeternae” that all men can perceive. This is a justification of the natural moral law that can be perceived by all men who are truth-thirsty. I say “can” because all those who have watched the vicious attacks waged on Honorable Clarence Thomas to oppose his elevation to the Supreme Court, on the ground that he defended the universal validity of this law, must acknowledge that clearly some people suffer from intellectual blindness.
Throughout my long and very challenging career teaching philosophy at the City University, the thesis that “what is true for you is not true for me” is an argument that I have heard ad nauseam. Of often have I heard, “I do not see what you claim to true.” Indeed, I believed them; they did not see. To challenge them was simple: all I needed do was to ask them “Do I not see because there is nothing to be seen, or because I need corrective lenses?”
I recall that one student violently objecting to my claim that the natural law is objective, happened to be wearing glasses. I told her to take off her glasses, and then showed the class a small object I had in my pocket book. I asked her whether she could tell me what I was holding in my hand. The answer as expected was no. “Put on your glasses,” I told her. All of a sudden, she could see.
Human reason is valid, but two things must be kept in mind: it has limits. Rationalism is nothing but intellectual pride. Eritis sicut dii (you shall all be gods). Moreover, reason has been affected by original sin. There are “truths” that are luminous, and yet not perceived by many men. The reason is obvious: these truths are what I shall dub “sensitive truths”, that is truths which are bound to affect our personal life. They are mostly referring to ethics. Since original sin, man does not like to obey, to be told what to do or what he should abstain from.
These truths inevitably become darkened by man’s refusal to live them. Once again, my students became my teachers. I recall a very “lively” (dramatic) class in which a student challenged my arguments in favor of the immortality of the soul. He fought with a sort of ardor as if he were fighting for his very life.
At one point, he “unveiled” the reasons for his opposition. He said to me, “The worst thing that could happen to me would be if you could convince me of the immortality of soul; then I would be held responsible for my lifestyle.”
Any conflict between faith and reason will inevitably arise as soon as reason arrogantly claims that it can answer all questions. If a philosopher declares that to him the mysteries of faith are luminous, we can be certain that he will deny them by reducing them to myths.
Philosophy should not meddle in a domain in which it is totally incompetent. This “panic” when facing the word “truth” is an inheritance of original sin. Centuries ago, Tertullian wrote:
“Cum odio sui coepit veritas. Simul atque apparuit, inimica est” (The first reaction to truth is hatred. The moment it appears it is treated as an enemy, Apologeticus vi . 3).
Does this mean that there is no connection between faith and reason? Definitely not. First of all, just as grace presupposes nature, sound theology presupposes a sound philosophy, and when theologians go off the bend, one can be fairly certain that they are disciples of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche or Heidegger. This is bound to affect theology based on faith.
On the other hand, faith offers remedies to reason afflicted by the wounds of original sin. This wound is “pride” and thanks to faith, man is offered a cure for this moral and “intellectual” sickness, namely, humility. Authentic Catholic philosophy is “baptized reason,” that is say, it is not theology, it is a philosophy that has been healed (see “The Soul of a Lion”, 133, for Dietrich von Hildebrand’s opposition to the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception and then acceptance of it as an act of humility – a condition for his entering the Church and then within weeks, becoming its ardent defender). Credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I may understand) was the remedy.
Benedict is a great theologian and he fully endorses the views propounded by Dietrich because the truths perceived by the latter do not come “from him” but “through him,” and are therefore “catholic,” that is, universal, and offered to all men. Human beings are given the choice: accept them, and prefer truth to themselves; or reject them, preferring themselves to truth.
Any theology based on a wrong philosophy is bound to lead to innumerable aberrations leading to heresies, and poisoned scholarship.
Benedict XVI is well acquainted with all the works of Dietrich von Hildebrand. Many key works of the latter have not been translated into English, but this is no problem for Benedict.
It is my claim that the two men have a very deep affinity; religious, spiritual, intellectual and cultural. That both have a deep appreciation of baroque Catholic culture which has enriched Bavaria for centuries, a culture celebrating the joyous glory of our faith, creates a bond between them. But their affinity goes much deeper.
They are both rooted in the Augustinian tradition. In his “Memoirs,” Dietrich von Hildebrand has deeply moving lines about his discovery of St. Augustine: he explodes in words such as; “How am I to thank you, you who has opened to me.” Let us read “Milestone,” and the young Ratzinger expresses his love for him and for St. Bonaventure. Not surprisingly, he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on him.
This remark should not be interpreted as a critique of other great traditions in the intellectual history of the Catholic Church. But indicates a certain orientation, a certain sensitivity to certain aspects of our faith which are less clearly highlighted in other traditions. We need not go into details – that would be another long article – but any reader who has any amount of philosophical culture will get my point.
Let us limit ourselves to the role of the heart, and the role of beauty so prominent in the Bishop of Hippo.
“Late have I loved Thee; O Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved thee …”
“Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee.”
“Give what You command and command what You will.”
These words move the deepest cords of our heart; they are illuminating, but they are simultaneously prayers.
Both men have a very profound understanding for the value of tradition. The history of the Church is a golden cord that links us to the very beginning: the Annunciation and the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, to His death, Resurrection, Ascension, to the birth of the Church; Peter being his first head; the admirable continuity of its doctrine, in spite of persecutions, betrayals, and sorrows.
Both were deeply conscious that, due to the perverse influence of the News Media, the message of Vatican II was – at times in a very subtle way – trying to cut the umbilical cord linking us to the past, and thereby threatening the very life of the Church. The turmoil which took place after this Council, the betrayals, the heresies spread in the name of “renewal,” was a clarion call for those granted with powerful and humble minds, to step on the stage, and denounce the gravity of these aberrations.
Both men responded to the call and once again, followed St. Augustine; “Interfice errorem; diligere erratum” (Kill the sin; love the sinner). The love for the erring person is to be measured by our hatred, yes hatred, of his error.
Both men had the same conviction that Catholic culture (which was being systematically destroyed by liberal iconoclasm) had to be restored. It was crucial to expose young people to visual and auditory beauty – that is true beauty which is coming from above, and the message of which is “Sursum corda,” (lift up your hearts) as opposed to so-called “modern” culture which tends to flatter the dark sides of our fallen nature, as already remarked by Plato in book IV of the “Republic.” Let us beware to wake us the “monster” that lies dormant in us.
How very sad that Benedict and Dietrich never had a chance of having a tete-a-tete exchanging their love for Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Hayn, Haendel, Schubert and their “children”; touching cords in the human soul that invite man to gratitude, to adoration, and purify him from the black spots that daily life throws on all of us.
It was Dietrich von Hildebrand’s deep conviction that the so-called modern culture was in fact an anti-culture, and that the Devil and his ilk was the conduct of this diabolical symphony.
A very special bond between the two men was their conviction that there is not and cannot be a disharmony between faith and reason. This is a longer chapter that calls for some explanation.
Let me concentrate on one point which is of crucial importance:
Both Benedict XVI and DvH were much concerned about the relationship between faith and reason. Both realized the danger of fideism and also the arrogant claim that faith if for numbskulls still stuck in the Middle Ages. Both defended the rights of reason, and the glory of faith. To claim that reason can give a true answer to all questions leads to rationalism: and it is typical of rationalists that they deny the existence of problems that they cannot answer.
Both thinkers underlined that reason is capable of reaching truth, but it does not mean that it has a key to all truths.
There are truths that are above reason, not against reason; this is the domain of mystery.