I didn’t want to be Pope: I just wanted to be the teacher Ratzinger, fine theologian, formidable teacher, music lover of Bach and Mozart. In 1977, when he was appointed Bishop of Munich, he asked his confessor whether it would be correct to decline responsibility (he told her no); Regarding the pontifical election of 2005, he received it like this, as he recounted in his fourth book-interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the world: “Actually, I hoped to finally have peace and tranquility. […] The moment I was elected I told the Lord: “What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You have to lead me! I can’t.”
By electing Joseph Ratzinger Pope, the Church put all the meat on the spit: it entrusted its destiny to one of the great intellectuals of our time, capable of debating face to face with Jürgen Habermas, Paolo Flores d’Arcais or Marcello Pera. If the causes of the decline of the faith were philosophical, Benedict XVI was the most qualified surgeon to stop the bleeding. He was in a position to offer a Intellectual defense of faith at the height of the 21st century.
And he gave the size to spare. Those of us who have struggled since 2013 to preserve the faith despite the Vatican declarations remember with nostalgia those eight years in which, on the contrary, we found light and nourishment in them.
The crisis of Christianity is a crisis of the (notion of) truth. The concept of “truth” seems dandy and authoritarian today; the champions of postmodern “weak thought” (the Lyotards, Vattimo, etc.) decreed that truth was “a metaphysical tyrant”, and the ordinary citizen hastened to conclude that “everyone is entitled to his own truth” . The only unquestionable truth is that there are no unquestionable truths: it is the “dictatorship of relativism” that Ratzinger diagnosed at the “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” mass, prior to the 2005 conclave: “A dictatorship of relativism is being established that does not recognize anything as definitive and that leaves as a last measure only one’s own self and its whims”.
In reality, the “dictatorship of relativism” is indeed dictatorial, but only apparently relativistic. No, it is not allowed that “everyone has his own truth”: whoever disagrees with the new dogmas of orthodoxy woke (for example, that one can choose one’s sex, or that women, non-white races, and sexual minorities are oppressed by heterosexual white males) exposes themselves to forms of “cancellation” ranging from banishment from social media to media lynching or job loss.
The West is falling into a spiral of irrationality, emotionalism and hysteria, a spiral that can take away ordered liberty, civilized debate and the other reasonable conquests of modernity. Benedict XVI understood that the eclipse of reason would also be—it is already taking place—that of Christianity. Hence his unrepentant defense of trust in reason, of the human capacity to access the truth through the correct use of the intellect.
The consistent Christian trusts reason because he believes that the heart of reality is an eternal Intelligence, not inert matter. In reality, that is the fundamental ontological dilemma: either in the beginning there was the Spirit, reason, and this created matter, nature, and finally man, or in the beginning it was mineral stupidity, which by pure self-combining chance would have finished creating a rational creature. For materialism, rationality is not the foundation of reality, but something that occurs in the brain of a curious species of primates recently arrived on an insignificant planet from a third-rate star. Benedict XVI He expressed it this way in his Regensburg speech (2006): “What is there at the origin? Creative Reason, the creative Spirit that works everything and gives rise to evolution, or Irrationality that, devoid of any design, strangely produces an ordered cosmos mathematically, as well as man and his reason.This, however, would be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and, therefore, deep down, also something irrational.Christians […] We believe that the eternal Word is at the origin: Reason and not Irrationality”.
Postmodern Westerners have stopped believing in God because they say they prefer to believe in science. In reality, science would not have existed without faith in God (read Needham, Whitehead, Stark, Soler Gil…). If science arose precisely in the West, it was because only here they believed in a rational God that creates a stable, autonomous, rationally understandable universe. The vast majority of early scientists—from Newton to Copernicus, from Galileo to Pascal, from Maxwell to Faraday—were deeply religious. Galileo based his search for the laws of planetary motion on his conviction that “God has written the book of nature in mathematical characters.”
All the great contributions of the West to humanity —science, human rights, notions of human dignity and equality before the law, the separation of powers, religious freedom…— are fruits —in some paradoxical cases— of the Christian worldview . Benedict XVI was the great defender of that legacy; also, the critic who lucidly alerted how all this is in danger once deprived of its metaphysical foundation. “The positive aspects of modernity must be unreservedly recognized: we are all grateful for the wonderful possibilities it has opened up for man. […] My intention is not to go back or make a negative criticism, but to broaden our concept of reason and its use. Because, while we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers that arise from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can avoid them. we’ll just make it if reason and faith meet again in a new way” (Regensburg speech).
For eight years, Benedict XVI told the West that human reason is trustworthy because man is the image of a God who is reason, Logos. And that reason allows access to good, objective truth and beauty. But the West no longer believes that. Postmodern culture wants to continue talking about human rights without already having a foundation for them (if man is just another animal species, arisen by chance from blind evolution, why would he have dignity or innate rights?). He wants to continue talking about democracy, forgetting that Democracy is not viable if it is not supported by foundations that are, themselves, subtracted from the rule of majorities. He wants to continue talking about freedom, although in reality he believes that man is a “neural automaton”, a slave to his genetic programming, his instincts and his environmental conditioning. He wants to continue talking about equality, but excludes the unborn from the protection of the law (one in five pregnancies ends in abortion) and establishes legal asymmetries depending on whether they are men or women, white or black. He wants to keep talking about values, even though he is increasingly unable to determine what they are and what they are based on. He wants to continue talking about progress, but he no longer believes that human history is heading towards any goal. He wants to keep talking about the future, but declines to have children—fertility rates are 30-40% below the replacement rate—thus condemning himself to extinction. He wants to continue talking about ecology and respect for nature, but he denies that human nature exists and claims the right to repeal or modify it at whim. He wants to continue talking about love, but by love he does not understand self-sacrifice, but rather the sacralization of his own whim.
As Chesterton said, The West renounced the supernatural to affirm the natural. And behold, nature itself is being denied; behold, we are drifting towards the unnatural and the post-natural. The respect that nature commanded actually came from the majesty of the Author of nature, when he believed himself to be one. “A mentality that has been spreading in our time, renouncing any reference to the transcendent, has shown itself incapable of understanding and preserving the human. The diffusion of this mentality has generated the crisis we are experiencing today, which is a crisis of meaning and of values, rather than economic and social crisis” (Address to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, November 2011).
No, the teaching of Benedict XVI did not achieve a revitalization of Christianity or a correction of the self-destructive course of our society. Despite everything, the most beautiful of his encyclicals deals with hope. And it is that the believer’s hope is not measured by historical results, since it refers to what is beyond history, what “God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor, 2:9). “The fact that they have a future appears as a distinctive element of Christians: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know that their life, as a whole, does not end in a vacuum. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does the present also become bearable.. […] The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown wide open. Those who have hope live differently; he has been given a new life” (Spe salvi, 2).