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“A Crisis of the Truth About Man”

Interview With Monsignor Mariano Fazio

ROME, FEB. 19, 2007 ( A crisis in anthropology is at the root of the present trend of secularization, says the rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

ZENIT interviewed Monsignor Mariano Fazio, who recently wrote “Historia de las ideas contemporáneas. Una lectura del proceso de secularización” (History of Contemporary Ideas: A Reading of the Process of Secularization), published by Rialp.

Monsignor Fazio is a professor of the history of political doctrines at the university and the author of various philosophical and historical works.

Q: Is secularization necessarily a negative process?

Monsignor Fazio: The book’s thesis consists in affirming that there are two processes of secularization: a strong one, which is identified with the affirmation of man’s absolute autonomy, cutting off any relationship with a transcendent authority.

From a Christian perspective — though not only from a Christian perspective, but also from an anthropological one — this is a very negative process, as the human person cannot be understood without his openness to the transcendent.

However, there is another process of secularization, which I have called “de-clericalization,” which consists in the awareness of the relative autonomy of the temporal, which I judge to be profoundly Christian.

The distinction — not the radical separation — must be established between the natural and the supernatural order, and between political and spiritual powers. In other words, there must be coherence with “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

If the first process could be identified with laicism, the second would be the affirmation of secularity.

Q: Your book on contemporary ideas seems to identify the latter with Western culture. Is this so?

Monsignor Fazio: I believe Western culture cannot be understood without Christianity. The two processes mentioned above spell a direct relationship with the presence of the Christian religion in the history of our societies.

It isn’t possible to speak of Voltaire, Nietzsche or Marx without their position on Christian revelation. In this connection, secularization is characteristic of a culture of Christian origin, as is the Western. In other cultures there have been different processes, and the elements of secularization taking place in Asia or Africa have a Western origin.

Q: Liberalism, nationalism, Marxism and the scientific spirit are, according to you, “substitute religions.” Is it unthinkable that they coexist with religion?

Monsignor Fazio: The ideologies that characterized the 19th and 20th centuries pretended to be complete explanations of man and his destiny.

In this sense they are incompatible with religions, which also attempt to give a total explanation of the world.

However, the ideologies mentioned in the book are not identical to one another, and there are some toned-down versions of them which are not so radically opposed to religion.

In my book I attempt to tone down the presentation of ideologies, though I criticize clearly the reductive anthropologies that are at their base.

Q: The contemporary world continues to be in a state of crisis. Is it basically an anthropological crisis?

Monsignor Fazio: I am convinced that the present crisis is a crisis of the truth about man; hence the insistence of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to trust the power of reason, which can arrive at objective and normative truths.

I believe that John Paul II’s magisterium can be presented as an attempt to make manifest the beauty of the truth about man. Truth can be known — “Fides et Ratio”; it can be lived — “Veritatis Splendor”; and it must be spread — “Redemptoris Missio.”

The present Pope is making a great effort to have us discover the natural law, which sheds light on the main problems of contemporary culture: family, life, peace, intercultural dialogue, etc.

Q: What has happened to John Paul II’s proposal for a new world order?

Monsignor Fazio: John Paul II’s proposal for the new world order was formulated succinctly and clearly in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1995.

The Pope spoke there of the essential unity of the human race, of the anthropological tension between openness to the universal and identification with the particular, a tension that must be lived in serene balance.

He also underlined the existence of an objective moral order, which implies respect of the totality of the human person’s rights.

Sadly, since 1995 until now we have seen that concrete historical events have gone another way.

Nevertheless, in that address there was great trust in God and in the human person, who always has the capacity to again take up lost ways. At present there is a cultural battle between those who hold an integral vision of the human person, and those who start from reductionist premises.

I trust that the beauty of the truth about man will prevail, as we already feel the symptoms of exhaustion of a nihilist and relativist environment.

In short, everything depends on the use contemporary men and women make of freedom, God’s highest gift in the natural order.

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