Pope recalls errors of 12th century scholar to warn against relativism

.- Speaking to almost 15,000 people in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI continued last week’s comparison of the monastic and scholastic theology in the twelfth century. In the area of theological discussion, the Holy Father cautioned against ethical relativism influencing the Faith.

Pope Benedict dedicated his catechesis to the twelfth-century debate between St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Abelard. He began by recalling, "to understand this confrontation between the two great masters, we must remember that theology is the search for a rational understanding, as far as possible, of the mysteries of the Christian faith."

For St. Bernard, Benedict XVI explained, "faith itself is endowed with inner certainty, strengthened by the testimony of the saints and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, and in case of doubt, by the exercise of the Magisterium of the Church."

The Pope added, “In his view, the critical examination of reason risks intellectualism, the relativization of truth, that could even lead to questioning one’s own faith.”

"For Bernard, theology has the sole purpose of promoting the intimate experience of God, to love the Lord more and more," he continued. "There are varying stages in this journey until the culmination is reached, when the soul of the believer is intoxicated by the summits of love."

Above all, the abbot of Clairvaux taught that theology "must be nourished by contemplative prayer," the Pope said.

Turning to Abelard, the Pontiff noted that “among other things introduced the term 'theology' as we understand it today, ... originally studied philosophy then applied the results achieved in this discipline to theology."

However, Abelard was a conflicted person. Pope Benedict explained that he had a "religious spirit but a restless personality, and his life was rich in dramatic events: he challenged his teachers and had a child by a cultured and intelligent woman, Eloise. ... He also suffered ecclesiastical condemnations, although he died in full communion with the Church to whose authority he submitted with a spirit of faith."

On the academic plain, the Holy Father said an “excessive use of philosophy rendered Abelard's Trinitarian doctrine dangerously fragile.” In the field of morals Abelard’s teaching was not without ambiguity as he insisted on considering the intention of the subject as the only source for describing the goodness or malice of moral acts, ignoring the objective moral significance and value of actions.

"This aspect", Benedict XVI went on, "is highly relevant for our own age, in which culture often seems marked by a growing tendency to ethical relativism.”

The Pope also underlined "some of Abelard’s insights, such as when he says that in non-Christian religious traditions there is already a preparation for the reception of Christ, the Word of God."

The Holy Father concluded by stressing that "the theological confrontation ended with a full reconciliation between the two, thanks to their mutual friend, Peter the Venerable. Abelard showed humility in recognizing his errors, Bernard great kindness. ”

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