Benedict XVI Launches Debate on Right, Wrong

Urges Politicians to Seek Justice Over Success

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BERLIN, SEPT. 22, 2011 ( Benedict XVI addressed the lower house of the German Parliament today, using the forum to encourage politicians to seek justice over success, and to launch an «urgent» debate about right and wrong.

Speaking to the Bundestag on the first day of his four-day state visit to his native Germany, the Pope delivered a discourse titled «The Listening Heart: Reflections on the Foundations of Law.»

Framing his address within the context of the biblical figure of King Solomon, who asked God for a «listening heart» so as to be able to discern right from wrong, the Holy Father told the politicians in attendance that seeking justice shouldn’t take a back seat to success.

«Naturally a politician will seek success,» the Pontiff explained, «without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right.»

Benedict XVI warned that success can be «seductive,» and that it can lead one to not do what is right, and to destroy justice.

Alluding to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the atrocities committed by the Nazi party in Germany during the Second World War, the Pope recalled that his country saw «how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right.»

He called the Nazi regime led by Hitler «a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.»

«To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician,» the Holy Father said.

The Pontiff continued: «At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency.

«Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity.»

Beyond majorities

Benedict XVI then took up the topic of the foundation for law, stating that for most matters that require regulation, the democratic system is «sufficient.»

«Yet,» he continued, «it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough.»

«Everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws,» the Pope added.

He again used the example of the Nazis, and the rise of «resistance movements.» He said those who stood up to the Nazis didn’t follow the law established by the ruling majority: «For these people, it was indisputably evident that the law in force was actually unlawful.»

The Holy Father acknowledged that it’s not easy to know what is right and what is wrong. To this end, he offered some points of reflection on the development of natural law, and its place in modern society.

«Unlike other great religions,» he began, «Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the state and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law — and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God.»

Benedict XVI noted that Christian theologians, building on the political thought of Stoic philosophers and Roman politicians from the second century BC, laid the foundation for the «juridical culture of the West […], which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind.»

«This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy,» he explained, «opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to ‘inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world.'»

Christian theologians, the Pope continued, «aligned themselves against the religious law associated with polytheism and on the side of philosophy,» and they «acknowledged reason and nature in their interrelation as the universally valid source of law.»

A Catholic idea?

Due to the rise of «the positivist understanding of nature,» the concepts of natural law are deemed as part of «a specifically Catholic doctrine,» the Pontiff noted.

Positivism is the current of thought that asserts that only what can be seen, experienced, proven or touched can be considered true.

«Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood,» Benedict XVI explained. «Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word.»

«Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded,» he lamented. «This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary.

«Indeed, an essential goal of this address is to issue an urgent invitation to launch one.»

Positively inadequate

The Holy Father acknowledged the contribution of a the «positivist approach to nature and reason,» calling it «a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity that we may in no way dispense with.»

«But,» he continued, «in and of itself it is not a sufficient culture corresponding to the full breadth of the human condition.»

«Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity,» the Holy Father added.

Referring to the current situation in Europe, Benedict XVI noted that «there are concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, reducing all the other insights and values of our culture to the level of subculture.»

«In its self-proclaimed exclusivity,» the Pope explained, «the positivist reason, which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality, resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world.»

«The windows must be flung open again,» he urged. «We must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.»

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