St. Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni via Wikimedia Commons

The Intelligence of Faith

In a book-interview, the Pope’s incisive view of God, man, and the world deals with every topic–ranging from martyrdom to sexuality. He shows us a criterion, revealing the prime motivator of his life, the fundamental “yes” to Christ.
Eduardo J. Echeverria

Pope Benedict XVI’s new book-length interview with the German journalist, Peter Seewald, Light of the World, is his fourth book of this kind–a book of dialogue–the earlier three published by the then Joseph Ratzinger: The Ratzinger Report (1985), with Vittorio Messori; Salt of the Earth (1996); and God and the World (2000), with Peter Seewald. The lively conversation between them is wide-ranging, including questions about the office of the papacy, the mission of the Church, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue–especially with Islam, the limits of science, the market economy, relativism, secularism, truth, the Regensburg Address, the integrality of faith and life, the sexual abuse crisis, HIV/AIDS, sexual morality, Humanae Vitae, celibacy, homosexuality, the priesthood, the new evangelization, and others.

Benedict’s answers are not only clear, concise, and insightful, but also give a real glimpse into his humanity, personableness, sense of humor, deep convictions, regrets, courage, and, above all, his openness to follow the Lord Jesus in the faith he joyfully radiates. In particular, his “fundamental Yes” to Jesus’ call also informs his response to being elected Pope. Benedict says, “I am always in the Lord’s hands, and I must always be prepared for things that I do not want” (5). Benedict knows the cost of discipleship but, in faith, he walks and abides in Jesus’ call to follow Him.

The rich and varied character of Benedict XVI’s thought expressed in his answers to Seewald’s questions makes it impossible to do it justice in this review. Nevertheless, it is possible to highlight at least five broad themes in the Light of the World, essential to understanding not only Benedict’s thoughtful answers, but also the Catholic worldview foundational to his pontificate.

Shepard and Teacher
The first theme is the evangelical identity of the papacy, of shepherd and teacher, “on behalf of Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ” (7). Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI is an evangelical Catholic who continues to revitalize the office of the papacy by emphasizing its evangelical mission of bearing witness to the fullness of the truth about God in Christ (153). One senses throughout this book that the Pope deeply grasps his responsibility as a Herald of the Gospel, proclaiming “faith in Christ as the true light [of humanity, indeed, of the world] and in the living communion of the Church” (33).

The second theme is the comprehensive vision of faith that informs Benedict’s whole approach to life as a Christian. At the core of this vision is a set of life-orienting beliefs: the good creation, the fall into sin, the gift of redemption in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, and living in light of the eschaton (the Last Things: heaven, hell, purgatory, and judgment). Its implications are many for answering fundamental questions: what is the meaning of a good creation, of the impact of man’s fallen condition on the whole spectrum of life, and of the redemption and renewal of the whole creation in Christ and in light of the Last Things. Consider briefly the normative significance of creation. For one thing, we are created by and for God (47-61), for it is only by virtue of having a vital and intimate relationship with Him, with God at the center of one’s life, that man finds truth, meaning, and happiness. Furthermore, being created means not only that we are made in God’s image, a fact which grounds human dignity, but also that man has a divine calling (20; 54). For another, creation manifests an ordered wisdom, a plan of creation, that has normative significance so that we are warranted in affirming the sexual difference between man and woman as a creational given, as having an “intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual” (151). Furthermore, the Pope adds, “the meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality” (151-152). So, the original meaning of the union of man and woman in marriage–a two-in-one-flesh union–is grounded in the order of creation.

The third theme is the ecclesial dimension of the Christian faith and life: the Church is an integral part of the Gospel not least because “the place where the Church is actually experienced most of all as Church is the Liturgy” (155). It is through the Liturgy, by virtue of its being in the center of the Church, that we have the deepest point of entry into the mysteries of salvation, the redeeming acts of God in Christ (148, 157). What, then, is the Church? The Church is the Body of Christ, which at its most fundamental is the new humanity in Christ, the reborn human race (137). Of course, the Church is permanently embodied as “the living organism of Christ.” This living organism includes–and goes beyond–its being visible, historical, temporal, institutional, in that it is also the mystical Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we really receive Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord, and since we all receive the same Christ, says Benedict, “then we are all really gathered [and united] in this new, risen body as the locus of a new humanity” (137). This is why the Liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life, “the event that is at the center of absolutely everything” (157).

The fourth theme in Light of the World is the relation between Christian faith and human rationality (77-78, 172). On the one hand, Benedict rejects the self-sufficiency of reason, as if reason can proceed without faith. A reason inattentive to faith surrenders its own foundation in divine reason, the Logos, and reverts to a denial of reason’s truth-attaining capacity as is found in skepticism, relativism, and subjectivism. “A large proportion of contemporary philosophies, in fact, consist of saying that man is not capable of truth. But viewed in that way, man would not be capable of ethical values, either. Then he would have no standards. Then he would only have to consider how he arranged things reasonably for himself, and then at any rate the opinion of the majority would be the only criterion that counted” (50-51). Benedict opposes this view by regarding faith to be an advocate for reason’s truth-attaining ability. On the other hand, the Pope also rejects an understanding of faith that is detached from reason. Instead, he holds that faith is inextricably bound up with reason. Being inherent in the Christian act of faith, rationality is expressed in the inner dynamism of faith seeking understanding, of showing the reasonableness of Christianity, and, correspondingly, that Christianity gives us the truth about God, man, and the world.

A Spiritual Warfare
The fifth theme is the unity of the Christian life, that is, the coherence between faith and life; the Gospel and culture. Benedict insists being Christian means to live and think as Christians, discerning the implications of the Christian faith for the whole range of human knowledge, and for the spectrum of all of life. Accordingly, the Pope opposes the error of Christians living “a sort of schizophrenia, a divided existence” (56). Called to live an integrated existence in Christ, he reminds us that this takes place in the midst of spiritual warfare, “the clash of two spiritual worlds, the world of faith and the world of secularism” (57). This clash is, at its deepest, a reflection of “the struggle that passes through all of history. As Saint Augustine said: World history is a battle between two forms of love,” which determines man’s fundamental choices in history as either radically affirming or denying God.

*Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan.