Traces N.9, October 2006

The Pope is Challenging Us All on the Proper Use of Reason

The recent accusation brought against Pope Benedict XVI for having called for an adequate use of reason and a correct relationship between reason and faith concerns us. It is the same accusation thrown at Fr. Giussani and many others every time they proposed a relationship between reason and faith different from that fixed by Enlightenment ideology or by fideism.
It was the first day of school, Fr. Giussani used to tell us, when in the mid-1950s he went to teach in the Berchet High School, the pride of Milan’s secularist intelligentsia, for the first time. A student immediately suggested he leave aside certain questions on reason and faith, since they were far removed from each other. It is from there, from that challenge to illustrate the link between them, so that the proposal of Christ be grasped in a fully human way, that the adventure of Communion and Liberation began. So the attack on Benedict XVI does not touch on new themes, although the context in which it so dramatically flared up is new. The columns of the secularist media and those of the fundamentalists both fomented the same contempt, the same determination not to accept the challenge. Mystification and masquerading…
They keep the Pope’s words hidden, so as not to come to grips with the question he is putting before everyone, in both the East and the West. The question, though, remains, and is fixed at the center of the life of each one of us and of our society. What is reason? What is faith? Then, what does it mean that a faith, whatever faith it be, that is lived without verification through reason and freedom is a contradiction and a source of small-scale or massive violence? What does it mean that faith is not an irrational attitude, but has to do with the knowledge of things and with existence, with the way you plan your life or the choices a society makes? Who knows if there are still free spirits ready to face up to these ancient and new questions?
The response to the Pope’s position has mostly been instrumental. There were those who couldn’t wait to represent him as an anti-Islamic crusader, and wanted to count him among the enemies who endanger peace. Or, worse, the response was infamous, like the deafening silence of governments and states.
While curiosity was growing amongst the people to understand what it was all about–how many people in schools, in universities, at work and outside Sunday Mass read the hundreds of thousands of copies of Fr. Julián Carrón’s declaration and the Pope’s text, distributed by the Movement, and expressed their gratitude!–what prevailed amongst the journalists and the powerful was the concern not to give any space to this. Better a world divided between fideists and rationalists who play with the clash, avoiding a debate on things as they really are–it’s easier to govern.
Everything is easier if people are not educated in a correct use of reason–not spurred to ask the reason for everything that happens. So the Pope, as a man of faith and a man of reason, is inviting everyone to compare his human experience with his own, out of love for the truth. He did it with the simplicity and courage of one who entrusts his whole person to the friendship of Christ, the only friendship that makes man free.