Pope Benedict trashes jihad, reformation, and liberal Theology

Pope Benedict trashes jihad, reformation, and liberal Theology

.- At the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s address yesterday, on the world’s need for a renewed dialogue between faith and reason (see CNA article here) was an attack on the "theology" of jihad as well as a look at the destructive role that liberal theology and the theology of Reformation have had on Christian thought.

The Pope reflected on a late 14th century dialogue carried on between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and “an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.”  Benedict specifically focused on the distinction between Mohammed’s teaching on jihad (holy war) and Christianity’s view that spreading the faith through violence is something intrinsically unreasonable.

The emperor, Benedict said, emphasized the distinction between the Prophet’s early teaching in surah 2, 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion," and his later writing in the Quran.  

Catholic theology holds that, “violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul,” the Pope said.  Quoting the emperor, he noted, "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.”

“For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality,” the Pope said.

However, the Pope asked, “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?”  

The basis for the discussion of faith and reason requires that one understands (based upon John’s prologue) that, “God acts with ‘logos’,” which means, the Pope noted, “both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”

Benedict insisted that throughout the time of the law and prophets and the history of the early Church, and despite bitter conflicts, the best of Greek thought enriched the Church’s understanding of God’s revelation.  As such, he said, “the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran Council IV).”

“God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.”

The work of the Hellenistic philosophers, in other words, helped the Gospel writers and the early Church understand the idea of God as reason itself and thus as utterly reasonable.

Over time, however, “the thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity – a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age,” the Pope noted.

This “program of dehellenization” has gone through three stages, Benedict said, all of which he discussed in-depth.

The Pope said the first emergence of “dehellenization” came with the rise of the Protestant reformation in the sixteenth century.  Benedict pointed out that the Reformers attempted to remove the sense of faith as a “living historical Word,” based on their theory that the existent faith system was totally conditioned by an alien system of philosophy.  They attempted to remove the place of “logos” from Christian thought and thus arose the principle of “sola scriptura,” which, “sought faith in its pure, primordial form.”

The second wave of the “dehellenization” movement came with the “liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”  Benedict noted Adolf von Harnack as a outstanding representative of this stage of the movement.  “Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization.”

The result of Harnack’s thought was the creation of an idea of Jesus as one who, “put an end to worship in favor of morality.”

The Pope noted that the fundamental goal of scholars such as Harnack was “to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.”

“In the end (Christ) was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message.”

Through such study, and exclusive use of historical-critical exegesis, theology was allowed back into the university, as “something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.”

The Pope noted, however, that behind the same thinking lays the “modern self-limitation of reason” a concept of reason which combines a Platonic view of the intrinsic rationality of “the mathematical structure of matter” and the exploitability of nature which allows ultimate certainty only by way of the verification or falsification of experimentation.

The result of such a concept of reason is that “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific.”  And secondly, “by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question.”  

“From this standpoint,” he said, “any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be ‘scientific’ would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.”

An even more tragic result, the Pope continued, is that by the shutting out of the questions raised by religion and ethics, questions of the origin and destiny of mankind, due to their lack of “scientific” grounding, “it is man himself who ends up being reduced.”

“The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective ‘conscience’ becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical.”

“In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter.”

The Pope then briefly mentioned a third stage of “dehellenization,” which is now in progress.  In light of the growing experience of “cultural pluralism,” many try to say, “that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary enculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures.”  In other words, because the Church was influenced by the Hellenistic culture in its formative years, people of every culture have the right to, in a sense, re-enculturate the message of Jesus into their own particular world view.

While “there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures,” the Pope admitted, “the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”

See the full text of the Holy Father’s address here:

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