Ratzinger specialist’s message key to redemption: Archbishop

01 Apr 2009

By The Record

Australian theologian’s message the antidote to society’s ills: Archbishop.                

Dr Tracey Rowland, the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Family and Marriage in Melbourne, centre, in turquoise, speaks to students and staff at Murdoch University’s Worship Centre on March 24. Her address, ‘Christianity in the market-place of faith traditions,’ launched the academic year for Murdoch University’s chaplains. Her visit to the University had been organised by Murdoch’s Catholic chaplain, Fr Joseph Cardoso OCD, and the students of the Murdoch Catholic Society. Later, she took questions from her audience, including Archbishop Barry Hickey.

By Anthony Barich

The message that Australian theologian Tracey Rowland conveyed in her March 24 address at the annual blessing of Murdoch University is vitally important to the redemption of the modern world, Archbishop Barry Hickey said.
He said that Prof. Rowland, Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne and author of Ratzinger’s Faith, showed that practising the unique way of Christ in homes and parishes is the alternative that must be opened to the world to oppose the destruction that is occurring in western society.
Over 100 people attended, including Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton, retired Anglican bishop Brian Kyme, Traditional Anglican Communion Bishop Harry Entwistle, Catholic Education Office WA RE director Debra Sayce, Respect Life Office’s Bronia Karniewicz, Catholic Youth Ministry’s Anita Parker, Redemptoris Mater Seminary Rector Fr Michael Moore and Perth diocesan vocations director Fr Thai Vu. Several seminarians from both St Charles Seminary and the Redemptoris Mater missionary seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way also attended, plus Murdoch University Catholic youth.
Pope Benedict XVI reveals this concept in the opening chapter of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is love) which followed on from the late Pope John Paul II’s work Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). The Archbishop said that understanding, love and a call to the realisation of God’s presence is the way to enter God’s kingdom.

What does it mean to be Christian in modern era?

Key figures within the Chistian churches in Perth identifed the crucial messages in Tracey Rowland’s talk on Christianity in the marketplace.

Archbishop Barry Hickey:

Her talk was excellent and conveyed a message that is vitally important for the redemption of the modern world.
The essence of her position was that Christians, especially Catholics, have an alternative understanding of human nature and a perspective on how to confront modern secularism that comes from the teaching of Christ.
For example, a violent response to violent actions does not solve violence.
Instead, understanding, love and a call to the realisation of God’s presence is the way to healing, reconciliation and inner peace, and the way to enter God’s kingdom.
Recognising that the Holy Spirit is the instigator of the Christian way leads us to the strength that Jesus won for us through his death and resurrection.
The more we contemplate the unique way of Christ, the better we are able to confront any anti-God ‘ism’, including secularism.
We must practise this unique way of Christ in our homes and parishes and open it up to the world as an alternative to the destruction that is occurring in western society. The Christian ideal of marriage and family is an ideal that the world really needs, but we will only succeed in spreading that message if we show it.
Pope Benedict XVI revealed this message in the opening chapter of his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is love) which followed on from the late Pope John Paul II’s work Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).
These fundamental concepts of truth are now being discussed not only among theologians but also in philosophical circles in universities of the highest standing.
This is a tribute to Pope Benedict’s influence in the world, and also an encouragement to everyone to live out this profound but simple Christian message of love.

It can be difficult to present the Christian message in a public forum. Everyone has a point of view about its relevance and it isn’t always positive. Dr Rowland’s presentation was an injection of hope, a message that our Christian Faith is reasonable and it is beautiful.  Many theories and ideologies permeate our culture, Personal Relativism and Darwinism are popular at present, and it isn’t cool to think Christianity has relevance in government or public life. Dr Rowland’s thoughts were a reminder that Christianity isn’t just something personal; it has an important role to play in the public stage and that as the world gets more and more confused and hurt the genuine love, beauty and truth of the Christian Faith will become attractive. 

Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton:

Professor Tracey Rowland has profound insights into the philosophical roots of the values and aspirations of contemporary society which lie in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
She posed the question: What does it mean to be a Christian in our era, and she drew on the theology of Pope Benedict to reveal the true heart of Christianity. The radical difference between Christianity and the other faiths was illustrated.
Professor Rowland argued that the plan of God has always been to draw humanity into relationship with the Trinity. It is from within this relationship that we become better able to discern the work of God around us, through the encounter with love.
The secure, loving relationship with God enables us to appreciate the dignity in others and urges us to love them for their own sakes.

Bronia Karniewicz, Executive Officer of the Respect Life Office, Perth:

It can be difficult to present the Christian message in a public forum. Everyone has a point of view about its relevance and it isn’t always positive. Dr Rowland’s presentation was an injection of hope, a message that our Christian Faith is reasonable and it is beautiful.  Many theories and ideologies permeate our culture, Personal Relativism and Darwinism are popular at present, and it isn’t cool to think Christianity has relevance in government or public life. Dr Rowland’s thoughts were a reminder that Christianity isn’t just something personal; it has an important role to play in the public stage and that as the world gets more and more confused and hurt the genuine love, beauty and truth of the Christian Faith will become attractive. 

Harry Entwistle, Traditional Anglican Communion Bishop of Perth:

“Belonging comes before believing” nowadays. People are looking to connect and to network, but are reluctant to commit. Tracey was saying that Love draws people into a community, but once embraced by that community they need to be led into faith or the rediscovery of their faith by being educated in the doctrines of the faith.
A Church that is not connected to the supernatural but is content to remain wedded to the natural world will be humanist wrapped around with a ‘religious’ veneer. Tracey sees the Church as having to be connected to the supernatural and the historical faith but must be loving in the Christian sense of working for the good of the one who is loved and what greater good is there than to work for their salvation. She showed that, really, Pope Benedict XVI is spot on.
We’ve got to have not just love but doctrinal teaching, a faith to offer people. Not just ‘let’s all just be loving people and it’s all wonderful’, we need to challenge people with the faith.

Debra Sayce, Catholic Education Office WA Director Religious Education:

She talked about the Pope speaking to young people at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2008 about truth, beauty and love as foundational. It surpasses all things. It still stays in my mind, as it is powerful and is at the heart of our Christian message. In relation to religious education in Catholic schools, she would have reiterated what is being taught.
When asked by a young man on the day about how to live in a post modern world, she said the key is relationship – when you known someone you develop a trust, as children will remember a relationship with a teacher or a person doing outreach. Evangelisation is not pounding a Bible, but to have a relationship by discovering where people are at. Pope Paul VI said we need witnesses, there at the human level. In catholic education we’re asked with our Catholic teaching to be witnesses of our faith.

Brian Kyme, Retired Anglican assistant Bishop of Perth

I was very impressed with what she had to say. She was emphasising that that the Christian faith can be promoted not by intellectual argument but by beauty and love, quoting scholars from Anglican churches and other churches to support this. She drew a parallel between the then-Cardinal Ratzinger and scholars in the Anglican Church, saying that there is a ‘coming together’ to support and promote the Christian faith as being reasonable, having beauty and expressing love. I look forward to reading more of her.


Dr Rowland’s Address delivered at the annual blessing of Murdoch University 2009.

Christianity in the Market-Place of Faith Traditions:

In November of 1999 to mark the arrival of the millennium the Sorbonne held a colloquium entitled 2000 years after what?  Eighteen speakers were invited, including  Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was.  His address was framed by the question of how Christianity saw itself in the marketplace of religious traditions.  He began by observing that in the year 2000 Christianity is in deep crisis, especially in Europe.  He further identified the foundation of the crisis as the loss of belief in the idea that reason and religion have anything to do with one another.  He also noted the popularity of the Buddhist fable about the elephant and the blind men.  For those who haven’t heard of the fable it goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a certain king in North India had all the blind men in the city come to one place.  Then he ordered that an elephant be presented to them.  He allowed some of them to touch its head and said: that’s an elephant.  Others were allowed to touch its ear, trunk, flanks, backside, legs and tail.  Then the king asked each in turn: “So what is the elephant like?”  And they would recount, in accordance with the parts they touched, that it was like a woven basket, a plough handle, a pole, a broom.  Then they began to shout at one another: but the elephant is such and such.

The meaning of the fable is obvious, the contest among religions seems to contemporary people to be like the argument about the elephant.  No one has a complete picture of the elephant, that is, of God.  Instead, it might be said, the Jews have got hold of the divine trunk, Catholics the tail, Protestants the ears, Muslims the flanks, Buddhists the legs and so on.  At the root of the plausibility of the fable is the notion that divine mysteries are beyond human comprehension.

Ratzinger suggested that the best place to find an answer to the question of how Christianity originally saw itself in the market place of faith traditions, is in Augustine’s work on the philosophy of religion according to Marcus Terrentius Varro (116-27BC). 

Varro identified 3 different approaches to theology: what might be termed mystical theology, political theology and natural theology or physics.

Within Varro’s framework, the classical poets were the mystical theologians, they composed hymns to the gods.  Their natural habitat was the theatre, which in classical times was thoroughly religious and cultic in character – according to popular conviction, theatre shows were established in Rome on the orders of the gods.  The content of mystical theology was thus the myths of the gods.

The natural theologians were the philosophers, those who went beyond the mundane and searched to understand reality as such.  Their natural habitat was in the academies and the content of their theology focused on the subject of what the gods are made of.

The political theologians were those whose natural habitat was found in the organs of government and the content of their theology covered cult worship.

From these sets of distinctions Varro concludes that natural theology deals with the nature of the gods and the remaining theologies deal with the godly institutions of men.  Civil theology does not ultimately have any god, only religion; while natural theology has no religion, but only some deity.  Moreover, within this triad the order of worship, the concrete world of religion, does not belong to the order of reality as such, but to the order of mores, or customs.  The gods did not create the state, rather the state instituted its own gods, and their worship is important to the state in order to maintain the good conduct of its citizens.  According to this view, religion is essentially a political phenomenon, it is what we would today call an ideology.

Ratzinger noted that within this triad of theological types, Augustine placed Christianity into the realm of physical or natural theology.  According to this view, Christianity has its antecedents in philosophical rationality, not in mythical cults which have their ultimate justification in their political usefulness. 

From this foundation Ratzinger concluded that precisely because Christianity understood itself as the triumph of knowledge over myth, it therefore had to consider itself universal and it had to be taken forth to all peoples not as a specific religion elbowing its way among others, not through any sort of religious imperialism, but as truth which makes illusion superfluous.  And since it did not concur with the relativity and changeability of the civic gods it frustrated the political usefulness of religion.

However Ratzinger also observed that with Christianity there is a profound modification of the philosophical image of God: the God in whom the Christians believe is truly a natural God, in contrast to the mythic and political gods; but not everything which is nature, is God.  God is God by his nature, but nature as such is not God.  There is a certain separation between all embracing nature and the Being which affords it its origin and beginning. Further, this God is not a silent God.  This God entered human history.

According to Ratzinger’s reading of history, Christianity was convincing because it joined faith and reason and because it directed action to caritas, to charity –the moral practices which were part of the Christian parcel placed an accent on the loving care of the suffering, the poor and the weak. 

In a more recent work Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Ratzinger observes that there are essentially three ways of moving beyond the realm of primitive human religious experience and myth.  He identifies these as mysticism, monotheistic revolution and enlightenment.  He further argues that the real questions concerning relations between religions arise between mysticism and monotheistic revolution and that no choice can be made in favour of one or the other on rational grounds since to do so would be to presuppose the absolute validity of the rational way.  Accordingly, the choice is, in the final analysis, one of faith, albeit, in the case of a choice for monotheistic revolution, a faith that makes use of rational standards. 

Ratzinger identifies the difference between the mystical and monotheistic ways as a different understanding of God.   For the mystical traditions, such as Buddhism, God is entirely passive and the decisive element is human experience, whereas for the monotheistic traditions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is active and in some sense invites the person into a relationship.   What results from this difference is that the beliefs of the monotheistic traditions are historical in character, whereas the mystical traditions are unhistorical in character. 

With reference to the work of the twentieth century French Jesuit, Jean Danielou, Ratzinger emphasizes that Christianity is essentially faith in an event, whereas the mystical traditions believe in the existence of an eternal world that stands in opposition to the world of time.  Ratzinger concludes:

We have seen that in the conception of Early Christianity the notions of human nature, God, ethos and religion were inextricably linked to one another and that precisely this bond helped Christianity to see and navigate clearly amid the crisis of the gods and the crisis of ancient rationality…The primacy of the Logos and the primacy of love were revealed to be one and the same.  The Logos was revealed to be not only the mathematical reasoning at the basis of all things, but as creative love to the point of becoming com-passion, co-suffering with creation.

Having agreed with Augustine that Christianity emerged in classical times as a type of natural theology, ie, a claim about what God is, Ratzinger suggests that Christianity today must meet the challenge of a new ‘first philosophy of sorts’, which is found in the theory of evolution.  Today Christian thought is itself being construed to be unscientific since the popularist theory of evolution holds that there is no God nor creator in the Christian, Jewish or Muslim sense of the term, nor is there any ‘soul of the world’ or interior dynamic in the classical Stoic sense. 

Ratzinger’s critique of evolutionary theory is subtle and I don’t have space to present it in all of its complexity today, but suffice to say that while accepting that there are micro-evolutionary processes at work, Ratzinger does not accept that there is empirical evidence for what he calls macro-evolution.  He believes that the world was created in time by God and that Christians cannot surrender this principle if Christianity is not to mutate into some kind of Gnosticism.  He believes that all the monotheistic traditions share this basic belief that the world was created by God according to his own principles, giving the natural order an internal coherence and beauty.  In a series of essays published in 1995 under the title of A Catholic Understanding of the Fall and Creation he wrote:

I see the common core of Gnosticism, in all its different forms and versions, as the repudiation of creation.  This common core has a common effect on the doctrine of humankind to be found in the various models of Gnosticism: the mystery of suffering, of love, of substitutionary redemption, is rejected in favour of a control of the world and of life through knowledge. Love appears too insecure a foundation for life…It means one has to depend on something unpredictable and unenforceable, something we cannot certainly make ourselves, but can only wait and receive…instead of being a beautiful promise, love becomes an unbearable feeling of dependence, of subjection…In the Gnostic view of the world, whether ancient or modern, creation appears as dependence, and God as the reason for dependence…[this is] the reason why Gnosticism can never be neutral in matters concerning God, but rather aggressively anti-theistic….Gnosticism will not entrust itself to a world already created, but only to a world still to be created.

Thus the place occupied by love in the Christian framework finds its analogue within the evolutionary ethos with the concepts of power and adaptability.  Ratzinger concludes that  the evolutionary ethos, which by necessity identifies its key concept in the selection model has little comfort to offer the world.  It remains, ultimately, a cruel ethos.

As a consequence, Ratzinger argues that amidst this contemporary crisis of humanity, ‘the effort to restore an understanding of Christianity as the true religion or religion of truth in the classical sense, must be based equally upon orthopraxis as well as orthodoxy.  Today as in the past, its deepest aspect must consist in love and reason converging with one another as the essential foundation pillars of reality: real reason is love and love is real reason.  In their unity, they are the real basis and goal of all reality.

It is not surprising therefore that the notion that God is love formed the theme of the pope’s first encyclical.  Behind this encyclical stands the work of the great 20th century Swiss theologian and friend of Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar.

In his preface to the 1963 work Love Alone is Credible von Balthasar wrote that never in the history of the Church have Christian thinkers thought it adequate to answer the question of what specifically is Christian about Christianity with reference to a series of mysteries one is required to believe.   Instead they have always aimed at a point of unity that would serve to provide a justification for the demand for faith.  He further argued that it was only an account of revelation based on the notion that God is love which can provide such a point of unity.  In mounting this case he said he was building on the thought of St Augustine of Hippo, St Bernard of Clairvaux, St Anselm of Canterbury, St Ignatius of Loyola, St John of the Cross, St Francis de Sales and St Therese of Lisieux. 

In the first two sections of Love Alone is Credible Balthasar offers an intellectual history of two approaches to a defence of the reasonableness of Christian revelation: one he calls the cosmological reduction, the other the anthropological reduction.  He believes that both are woefully inadequate.  A nutshell summary of his account of the cosmological reduction is as follows:

In order to bring home the credibility of the Christian message to the ancient world, the early Church fathers presented this message against the backdrop of the then powerful world religions…Christianity stood out against this background as the fulfillment of the fragmented meaning of the world…[Against the pagan backdrop], Christianity could be made credible, both because it unified what was fragmented and also because it ransomed what was held captive by converting what was perverted.

Von Balthasar believed that this approach was possible because Christian thinkers took over the identity between philosophy and theology that had prevailed in the ancient cultures as a self-evident fact.  He believes that this self-evidentiary quality of the nexus between faith and reason began to break down during the Renaissance when it was gradually replaced with so called natural ethics, natural religion and philosophy.  The primary villain in his genealogy is Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1582-1648), a graduate of University College, Oxford, and one time ambassador to Paris (1619-24).  Of Herbert of Cherbury’s  work, von Balthasar wrote: ‘To be sure, his natural concept of God is saturated with content from the Christian tradition, just as it is in More and in the English freethinkers that came after him; however, he presents this content as something that can be established and justified by pure reason’.

In the following generations, others were to pursue the pure religion of reason shifting the criterion definitively from cosmology to anthropology.  By the time of Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716), the cosmological horizon no longer served to provide evidence for Christianity, but instead it had absorbed Christianity into itself. 

This anthropological reduction culminates in Kant and indeed Balthsaar argues that all the pathways of modernity intersect in the thought of Kant.  Luther deposes Aristotelian reason in order to make room for faith, but this rejected reason acquires a Cartesian structure and Kant tries to tame it by bringing it under human control.  Being thus limited, reason no longer has anything to do with religion and it becomes what Karl Barth called an ‘idol factory’.  Von Balthasar then traces various attempts at dealing with the Christian phenomenon through German Idealism and Romanticism, Marxism and the Lutheran existentialism of Kierkegaard.  He concludes his survey with the judgement that there is no text that offers a foundation for God’s text, making it legible and intelligible.  It [ie God’s text] must interpret itself.

Von Balthasar’s third way, or preferred alternative, is to make the notion that God is love the key to this interpretation.  He begins this section of his work with an analysis of the relationship between eros and agape and beauty.  He says, ‘already in the realm of nature, eros is the chosen place of beauty: whatever we love always appears radiant with glory; and whatever is objectively perceived as glorious does not penetrate into the onlooker except through the specificity of an eros’.  He concludes that the poles of eros and agape are transcended in the realm of revelation, wherein God’s kenotically condescending Logos expresses himself as love, Agape, and thus as Glory.

He then begins an exegesis on the First Letter of John.  Here he notes that John’s designation of Christ as the Logos points to the fact that the evangelist envisions him as fulfilling the role of cosmic reason, in the Greek sense as that which grants all things their intelligibility.  Significantly however he argues that the subsequent events of the Gospel reveal that John does not seek to demonstrate this by projecting the life of Jesus onto the level of Greek wisdom, but rather by allowing the incarnate Logos to interpret himself.

Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est reiterates many themes in von Balthasar’s Love Alone is Credible, and in the book they jointly published as Principles of Christian Morality Ratzinger wrote:

The originality of Christianity does not consist in the number of propositions for which no parallel can be found elsewhere…It is impossible to distill out what is specifically Christian by excluding everything that has come about through contact with other milieux.  Christianity’s originality consists rather in the new total form into which human searching and striving have been forged under the guidance of faith in the God of Abraham, the God of Jesus Christ.  The fact that the bible’s moral pronouncements can be traced to other cultures or to philosophical thought in no way implies that morality is a function of mere reason – this is a premature conclusion we should not allow to pass unchallenged any longer.

According to Ratzinger’s account of revelation, the movement of Revelation proceeds from God (the Father), to humanity through Christ, and admits the faithful into the fellowship of God in the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of this dialogue between God and the human person is not so much the transmission of information but rather the transformation of the person in the life of the Trinity.  For Ratzinger, this is not a matter of removing the intellectual component of faith but understanding it as a component in a wider whole.  He believes that ‘the act of faith is an event that expands the limits of individual reason’ and ‘brings the isolated and fragmented individual intellect into the realm of Him who is the logos, the reason, and the reasonable ground of all being, all things, and all mankind.’  In short, Ratzinger believes that the model of reason we have received from the Enlightenment, especially from Kant, cannot accommodate the structure of the faith.

I want now to turn to the Anglican contribution to this theme.  I think here the greatest contributions are coming from academics who publish under the banner of Radical Orthodoxy of which the leading lights are John Milbank who runs the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham and Catherine Pickstock who is based at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

In some ways the Radical Orthodoxy project resembles the Oxford Movement of the 19th century.  Although Roman Catholics and Calvinists have published under its banner, in origin and inspiration it is essentially an Anglo-Catholic operation.  It is not a doctrine or a theology in itself but rather more of a sensibility whose recent origins can be traced to the publication of Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secularism Reason in 1990.  Whereas a whole generation of theologians from the 1950s onwards, both Catholic and Anglican, had tried in so many different ways to accommodate Christianity to the intellectual and cultural norms of secular modernity, Milbank launched something of an intellectual revolution by challenging the notion that secular social theory is theologically neutral.  In taking this stance Milbank was in part building on the work of Henri de Lubac, especially de Lubac’s understanding of the relationship between nature and grace. 

Milbank has written that he considers Henri de Lubac to have been a greater theological revolutionary than Karl Barth, because in questioning a hierarchical duality of grace and nature as discrete stages, he transcended, unlike Barth, the shared background assumption of all modern theology. 

The appropriation of de Lubac’s criticisms of Baroque Scholasticism, represents the point of intersection between Milbank and Ratzinger and more broadly between the works of scholars associated with the Communio journal, founded by Ratzinger, de Lubac and von Balthasar in 1972, and the works of the Radical Orthodoxy scholars published in the last decade.

I don’t have time today to explicate all the points of intersection between these two groups or to explain the reasons for the major point of divergence which is that of the theological significance of gender differences; but suffice to say that there are many points of convergence which flow from the common inspiration of de Lubac and in particular from de Lubac’s idea that no culture is ever theologically neutral. 

To those theologians of an earlier generation who tried so hard to reach a Christian accommodation with secular liberalism Milbank’s message is that the logic of secularism is imploding, at least in the academy, and hence there is no strategic point to performing all manner of intellectual gymnastics to accommodate ourselves to something that is already regarded by the intellectual avant garde of the great universities as passé.  Instead his Radical Orthodoxy project is focused on providing genealogical accounts of the assumptions, politics and hidden metaphysics of specific secular varieties of knowledge and of overcoming what he calls the ‘bastard dualisms’ of the categories of faith and reason, the secular and the sacred, nature and grace.  While the Radical Orthodoxy scholars speak of bastard dualisms, the pope and members of the Communio circles speak more politely of the problems of an extrinsicist construction of the relationship between nature and grace, faith and reason, the secular and the sacred.  They are both however critical of the same problem. 

The Communio reading of the crisis of contemporary Christianity with which Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger was associated, is that the problems in the life of the Church today have their origins not so much in some loosely drafted paragraphs of Conciliar documents in the years 1961-1964, though they have been a contributing factor, but more deeply in the dualisms which arose in Catholic theology in the 16th and 17 centuries.  On this point, Ratzinger and Milbank, the Communio Scholars and the Radical Orthodoxy scholars, are in general agreement.

Again I wish I had time to explain this point in greater detail, but suffice to say that scholars associated with the Radical Orthodoxy project have been offering quite trenchant critiques of contemporary militant secularism.  I think that they are well placed to do this because these kinds of studies require a certain high level of education within the humanities, as well as in theology more narrowly construed, and those Anglicans who start out as history or literature students in Oxford and Cambridge receive precisely this kind of intellectual grounding.  In saying this I don’t want to be accused of suggesting that one needs a BA as an entry ticket to heaven, but merely that if one is to understand the political and intellectual assaults which Christians are suffering at this time, particularly in the United Kingdom where secularism appears to be replacing Christianity as the official state religion, then one needs at least a knowledge of the history of ideas from the 18th century through to the contemporary post-moderns.

The rise of secularism as the default ideology for Western political leaders appears to be a response, at least in part, to the rise of militant Islam.  The argument is made that if we want to keep militant Islam out of our public space, then, in fairness, we need to eliminate all other religious traditions as well.  A secular liberalism is thus presented to the public as an antidote to militant Islam.

Here again there are convergences between Ratzinger and Milbank.  They both agree that not only is secularism not the solution, but that militant Islam and militant secularism both share a common voluntarist philosophical foundation.  For one this foundation is the will of Allah, for the other, it is the will of the individual.  They both eschew the possibility that there is a logos inherent in the order of being itself.  This was part of Ratzinger’s argument in his Regensburg Address.  He was pleading at least as much with contemporary militant secularists, as with contemporary militant Muslims, to recognize that they share a common philosophical starting point.  Similarly, Milbank has written:

…today the world is increasingly governed and fought over by a fearful combination of literal readers of the Hebrew scriptures together with out-and-out postmodern liberal scientific nihilists who shamelessly rejoice in the ceaseless destruction of every rooted and ancient tradition and even the roots and long habits of nature herself.  If today there is a problem of the recrudescence of intolerant religion, this is not a problem that liberalism can resolve, but rather a problem that liberalism tends to engender.

In conclusion, one can say that today Christians find themselves in a position where they are struggling to defend the reasonableness of their beliefs since many people no longer accept there is any order in the cosmos, any design, end or purpose.  Accordingly, it is difficult for Christianity to present itself as it did in classical times as the natural theology, to use Varro’s terminology.  At the same time there is a return to treating the state as a highest good and secularism is emerging as a quasi-political theology to underpin this.  Meanwhile many ordinary people do conclude that God is like an elephant with different religious traditions simply obsessed with different parts of the whole.

The solution of Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is to restore the severed links between faith and reason, reason and love, and love and beauty.  And for these projects he enjoys the support of the leading Anglicans in the Radical Orthodoxy circles and also of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who in is his work Tokens of Trust: an Introduction to Christian Belief, emphasized the fact that Christianity is based on the notion that God is love.

Of all the traditions in the marketplace Christianity is the only one which is founded on this principle and it is the only tradition whose God became incarnate and whose birth in a stable was announced by a choir of angels singing to shepherds.

In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the agnostic Charles Ryder says to the Catholic Sebastian Flyte: “You can’t seriously believe it all…I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass”.  Sebastian replies, “Oh yes, I believe that.  It’s a lovely idea”.  Charles then says, “But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea”.  Sebastian replies, “But I do.  That’s how I believe”. 

In the final analysis it is by standing under the umbrellas of love and beauty that Christianity will again make the form of the truth both visible and attractive in the marketplace of faith traditions.


 Ratzinger, J, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), p. 32.
 Ibid; p. 39.
Ibid, p. 39.
 Ibid; p. 40.
 Ratzinger, J, The Sorbonne Millennium Address, translation by Maria Klepacka.
 Ratzinger, J, ‘In the Beginning’…A Catholic Understanding of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), ’p. 97.
 Ratzinger, J, The Sorbonne Millennium Address, op.cit.
 Balthasar, H, U, von; Love Alone is Credible (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), p. 16.
 Ibid; p. 26.
 Ibid; pp.53-54
 Ibid; p. 54.
 Ibid; pp.54-55.
 Ratzinger, J, et.al; Principles of Christian Morality (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), p. 53.
Ibid;  p.177.
 Ratzinger, J. ‘The Church and Scientific theology’ Communio: International Catholic Review, Winter, 1980, p. 339.  In this context Ratzinger cites his reliance on the insights of Henri de Lubac in Credo. Gestalt und Lebendigkeit unseres Glaubensbekenntnisses (Einsiedeln, 1975), pp. 29-56.
 Milbank, J, ‘The Gift of Ruling: Secularization and Political Authority’, The Dominican Council, 2004, p. 235.