Faith and Reason Collide in Rome

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Faith and Reason Collide in Rome

The pope snubs an invitation to speak at one of Rome’s most prestigious universities as he receives a backlash to his reactionary rhetoric.

Sixteen months after Pope Benedict xvi spoke most eloquently in support of a marriage between faith and reason at his old alma mater in Regensburg, Bavaria, he has been attacked on his home base in Rome for seemingly endorsing the absence of reason in a 17th-century papal edict. At the heart of the furor is the historic papal judgment issued against Galileo’s scientific proof that the Earth revolves around the sun.

During his term as prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had appeared to uphold the Vatican’s condemnation of Galileo’s “heresy” and his being forced to recant this scientifically provable truth in order to maintain his membership of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, Ratzinger’s apparent endorsement of this travesty of justice has come back to haunt him.

Due to give a speech at Rome’s prestigious La Sapienza University on January 17, Pope Benedict cancelled the engagement as a result of considerable protests from both faculty and students at what they see as this pope’s endorsement of the irrational over the rational, maintaining that this pope does not truly support the advances of science.

The more official view of the church, as reported by cwn, is that “The thrust of Cardinal Ratzinger’s speech in 1990 was to show how the Enlightenment era had created an artificial rift between faith and reason. He argued that the Galileo trial, ‘which was little considered in the 18th century, was elevated to a myth of the Enlightenment in the century that followed’” (January 14).

However, what is interesting in this whole scenario is that it was fully two years after Ratzinger’s 1990 speech that Pope John Paul ii finally, in the words of the bbc, “officially conceded that in fact the Earth was not stationary” (January 15).

Ratzinger seems caught in a bind. But don’t be fooled.

On the one hand, he is quite aggressive in returning the Church of Rome to its ancient Latin liturgy—largely unintelligible to the masses—a product of pre-reformist, “pre-rational,” pre-enlightenment church practice. On the other, he speaks quite convincingly of support for a dialogue of reason with rational secularists, as he did at Regensburg. Indeed, even such erudite observers as historian Paul Johnson saw Benedict’s appeal to reason at Regensburg as being a “cool, calm, well-documented and penetrating presentation of the case for reason occupying the center of religious life, which argues that its absence, as in Islam, is a false weakness” (Spectator, April 14, 2007).

Johnson’s latter assertion refers to Benedict’s quoting 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel ii Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and “the truth of both” as Benedict put it at the time, in a speech titled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memoirs and Reflections.” In that speech, the pope cleverly took a sidewise swipe at pan-Islamism by quoting the emperor’s comment, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The resultant outcry from offended Islamists rippled across the world from Baghdad to Bosnia, from Iran to Indonesia. The Vatican issued an apology for the offense caused, pointing out that the offensive statement was but a misunderstood quote from a translated source. But Benedict did not recant his words, nor seek to explain their true intent. The press called it a great diplomatic papal blunder. Clever commentators, however, saw it for what it was: a clear declaration by the pope that Islam was not based upon rational thought.

But note the dichotomy here. In the one instance, Pope Benedict charges Islam with being irrational. On the other, he had earlier endorsed the irrational within the Church of Rome!

Over a decade and a half earlier, in 1990, when Benedict was in charge of Roman Catholic doctrine and then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, he commented on the 17th-century Galileo trial using, once again, a quote from a secular source in his speech to make a point, this time from the Austrian philosopher Paul Feyerabend. In that speech, Ratzinger deliberately sought to justify the irrational judgment imposed by the Vatican on Galileo by quoting Feyerabend’s contention that the church’s verdict against Galileo had been both “rational and just.”

Does this pope seek to have it both ways?

Pope Benedict is clever enough to avoid the use of his own words when issuing controversial statements; he simply reverts to quotations from others. But one has to look at the true intent of his speeches, which are all deliberately aimed at leading the masses along a path destined to return the Church of Rome back to enforcing the practice of its old medieval traditions. An unbiased study of those traditions will discover that they are, themselves, rooted in the irrational.

Sadly, history records that it is the irrational that so often has moved the masses to support many a tyrant of the past. It’s irrational that women remain attached to wife-beaters. Yet they do. And they suffer—in the thousands, and increasingly so in our rapidly decaying society. In the wider sense, the religions of the world are based on the irrational, the unprovable, even the unconscionable. And, far too often, in fact inevitably, it’s been irrational, religious minds that have led the world into war.

There’s a tension building between the secular rationalists in Europe and those of the Roman faith. That tension hit home, right on the pope’s doorstep this week. Benedict is a pope, a Bavarian pope, who will not take kindly to this affront to him as chief representative of the religion he holds as the very underpinnings, the roots, of European unity.

Watch for the backlash.

It will initially be verbal, with Benedict inevitably using suitable quotations to protect himself from direct attack in response. This is one clever pope. He knows exactly when to employ the rational and when to deploy the irrational to make his point. As the prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith, the confidant of John Paul ii, he was not known as the Vatican’s enforcer for nothing. Enforcement of the will of Rome runs deep within his psyche. And enforce the will of Rome he will—be it by word or, eventually, when the occasion demands, by more robust means.

For more in-depth, prophetic analysis on this subject, read our booklet Daniel—Unsealed at Last!