VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Is the classic definition of theology — “the science of faith” — actually a contradiction in itself? Does faith not cease to be faith when it becomes science? And does not science cease to be science when it is ordered or even subordinated to faith?
These are the questions that Benedict XVI proposed Thursday when he presented the first three Ratzinger Prizes. The prize, called the Nobel of theology, was issued for the first time by the new Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, founded last March.
The awards went to an Italian layman, Manlio Simonetti; a Spanish priest, Olegario González de Cardedal; and a German Cistercian, Father Maximilian Heim.
The Holy Father spoke briefly about the careers of each of the winners, but then offered a reflection on the nature of theology itself.
He proposed that Christianity was revolutionary in that it broke with ancient religions’ focus on religious customs, and proposed instead love of the truth. This concept is found in the Gospel of John, which speaks of Christ as Logos, he noted.
“If Christ is the Logos, the truth, man must correspond to Him with his own logos, with his reason. To arrive at Christ, man must be on the path of truth,” the Pontiff explained. Man must open himself to creative Reason, from which his own reason is derived.
“In this way,” Benedict XVI said, “we see that Christian faith, by its very nature, must give rise to theology, must question itself on the reasonableness of faith.”
The Pope went on, however, to speak of two different types of reason: one that is irreconcilable with faith, and the other that belongs to the very nature of faith.
The first, “violentia rationis, the despotism of reason,” attempts to be “the supreme and ultimate judge of everything,” the Holy Father said.
This is a type of reason that wants to subject even God to experiment. Citing Psalm 95, the Holy Father explained how the people sought to subject God to questioning, to submit him to a procedure of experimental testing.
With this kind of reason, “what cannot be scientifically verified or falsified falls outside the scientific ambit.”
Now, the Pontiff said, this approach has led to great accomplishments, “and no would dare to seriously deny that this approach is right and necessary in the realm of knowledge of nature and of its laws.”
“However,” he continued, “such a use of reason has a limit: God is not an object of human experimentation. He is Subject and manifests himself only in the person to person relationship, which is part of the essence of person.”
Hence, the need for a second type of reason — one that is valid “for the great questions regarding man himself.”
This is a reason that seeks knowledge because of love. “Love wants to know better the one it loves. Love, true love, does not make one blind but seeing. Part of it is a thirst for knowledge, true knowledge of the other,” the Pope said.
Without this type of reason, the “great questions of humanity” are left without reason, “left to irrationality.”
“Because of this, authentic theology is so important,” Benedict XVI affirmed. “Right faith orients reason to its openness to the divine, so that, guided by love for the truth, it can know God more closely.”
The Pope lastly noted how the initiative for this path comes from God himself, “who has put in man’s heart the search for his Face.”
“Hence,” he said, “part of theology, on one hand, is humility that lets itself be ‘touched’ by God, and on the other hand, discipline that is linked to the order of reason, which preserves love from blindness and which helps to develop its strength for seeing.”
Access to God
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Ratzinger Prize committee, presented the winners, speaking of how the prize is “a contribution to the promotion of the awareness and study of theology in an age in which … the priority above every other priority is to make God present in this world and open men to the access of God.”
Monsignor Giuseppe Antonio Scotti, president of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation, echoed the same thought, affirming that “God is not a danger for society” and “should not be absent from the great questions of our time.”
Abbot Heim spoke on behalf of the prize winners. “As theologians,” he said, “we can seek the truth without fear.” He noted that theologians don’t make truth, “but rather it’s the truth that forms the theologian.”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text of the Pope’s address: www.zenit.org/article-32987?l=english
A report on the Ratzinger foundation: www.zenit.org/article-31097?l=english
A note on the prizewinners: www.zenit.org/article-32861?l=english