Benedict's legacy of faith and reason


Street signs 'Faith and Reason' cross over each otherPope Benedict argued that the alliance of faith and reason must be at the heart of the healthy public life of any society. He emphasised that faith does not necessarily conflict with reason, but that faith and reason can work together to overcome separations caused by misunderstandings or prejudice.

For Benedict, reason is not enslaved to faith, but is set free by it. But how is this so?

Reason and the intellect form an integral part of the human person. The human person is not just a brain like a computer, but is a rational being with deep desires and yearnings. The deepest desire that the human has is for being; for the sense of self found in happiness and fulfilment.

Thus, reason, as the faculty that allows us to be aware of ourselves and understand the meaning of things, is directed not just toward knowledge but toward a deep understanding of what it means to be fully human.

Our everyday lives are an effort to try to answer what it means to be human. We seek to give some satisfaction to our lives through our activities and relationships. We find reasons and motivations for getting up in the morning that are aimed to make us happier and more fulfilled.

The accumulation of our everyday decisions to seek happiness gives us a direction. We draw on and deepen this over the course of our lives. We believe it will lead to our happiness. We have no scientific proof that it will do so, yet there is little alternative but to commit ourselves to a certain way of being. The only alternative is to give up.

Benedict said belief belongs 'to the realm of basic questions which [persons] cannot avoid answering'. In making this commitment to belief, we are not making an irrational choice, but a choice based on a judgement of our experience. We live in certain ways which we reflect on and analyse in order to live better and happier.

Thus, reason rests on faith: on a way of being that 'I' believe in and that motivates 'me' to keep seeking happiness. Reason assists in this task by developing understanding. Our understanding can be distorted by negative ways of being (by prejudice, envy, hate or resentment) or promoted by positive ways of being (by learning or loving).

Benedict emphasised that human life is inherently relational. This means human nature and purpose find their deepest meaning in relationship with others, and ultimately, with God. For Benedict, faith in the Christian sense simply consists of a particular form of trust and commitment: to the absolute love that is embodied by God.

The modern person is encouraged to believe that the height of human living is to 'know' the world and then manipulate and create, using that knowledge. Benedict argues this view does not do justice to human beings. The deepest level of living is to make a commitment to a way of living with others that is for the good of all, and to rationally accept this commitment as truthful and fulfilling.

Love should be understood in its relational nature. Benedict taught that love is something we receive and learn from others — parents, siblings, friends, strangers. Yet the love given by humans is never absolute. For Benedict, that love can only be offered by Christ, from whom we can receive it and integrate it into our lives.

One of Benedict's legacies is the way he has not just only spoken of the Church,, but also exemplified a loving wisdom, humility and desire to cleanse the Church. For Benedict, God's Love involves promoting justice, especially for victims, as well as reform inside and outside the Church, something for which he has admitted he no longer has the energy.

In resigning, Benedict is showing that the papal office is dependent on God's Love, not on any one human being. The renewal of the Church requires more than institutional reform. It requires the proper reception of and fidelity to God's love that Benedict believes will enable the Church and the world to be changed for the benefit of all. 

Joel Hodge headshotJoel Hodge is a lecturer and undergraduate theology course advisor in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at Australian Catholic University.

Topic tags: Joel Hodge, Benedict, conclave



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Joel's and Pope Benedict XVI's emphasis on faith and reason in the context of our ontological relationship with Christ is a salient corrective to seeing life, the Church and, more recently,the papacy exclusively through an atrophied lens terms of secular political ideology.
John | 11 March 2013

"Benedict emphasised that human life is inherently relational. This means human nature and purpose find their deepest meaning in relationship with others, and ultimately, with God." And to demonstrate this, Catholic priests must remain celebate and unwed, either to a woman or a man (which seems to be the preferred mode of living with many priests even though a sin). Yes, gosh!, that is a very good way to understand and demonstrate all there is to know about 'relational living' isn't it?
Janice Wallace | 11 March 2013

With all due respect to Joel Hodge & Pope Emeritus Benedict I have been unable to find anything remotely innovative or insightful or brilliantly illuminating in the writings/speeches/sermons/lectures of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. His legacy is a strange blend of Augustinianism and Thomism, which doesn't translate well into English. He seems (and I have to admit I have by no means read all his output) to have made no effort to examine the insights gained in the 20th and 21st centuries into the human psyche by psychiatrists such as Freud, Jung and Adler, or by philosophers such as the Existentialists, or by anthropologists such as Pierre de Chardin - "we are spiritual beings having a human experience".
Uncle Pat | 11 March 2013

If Joel's article really reflects the emphasis in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, why did the Emeritus Pope not steer the Church towards more flexible doctrine which allows for faith in reason. Doctrine which demands uncritical acceptance does not reflect the belief that reason is set free by faith. Joel states, "The modern person is encouraged to believe that the height of human living is to 'know' the world and then manipulate and create, using that knowledge." Such a jaundiced view of the modern world traps the Church in a defensive position with no hope of experiencing reason set free to explore the world, with faith in God to protect His children from wandering too far. Some years ago, I had a Catholic friend who remarked occasionally "I believe in God but I don't trust Him." Accepting what he saw as 'acts of God' which made life difficult, for him faith meant 100% assent to Catholic teaching. I think faith in God means we are invited to trust God. With trust in God, we can attempt to blend reason and faith without fearing the modern world.
Ian Fraser | 12 March 2013


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