In what is probably Joseph Ratzinger’s most successful book, Introduction to Christianity, published in 1968, there is a chapter entitled “The rationality of faith”. Decades later, Pope Benedict XVI would take up the Old Testament’s teachings on the “Court of the Gentiles”. As a gesture of goodwill, this outermost court, located before the consecrated area of the Temple of Jerusalem, was made accessible to non-Jewish pilgrims. It could therefore also be titled the “Court of Reason”.
The Pope expresses great trust in reason
The Pope’s speech before the British parliament also expresses great trust in collective reason before the sacred threshold; during this visit in autumn 2010, he proclaimed the beatification of John Henry Newman.
This notion touches on the fascinating and abiding question of the extent to which a pluralist democracy can – and must – impose rights and duties upon its members in a clear social consensus. Are there objective moral principles with which different cultures and religions can engage, and not just when placed under pressure, but inspired by common sense?
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“I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall”, the Pope said as he began his speech.
Benedict appeals to an entity that is preceded by positive legislation and can call upon this in case of doubt.
As an example of such a law, the Pope mentions the equality of all citizens before the law as an expression of their human dignity. This legal equality is by no means guaranteed in all cultures, and even the abolition of the slave trade required an extensive thought process – even in Christian societies such as Britain – before it could finally be established.
The Pope therefore appeals to an entity that is preceded by positive legislation and can call upon this in case of doubt. He calls this natural law, that is to say that the principles ordering society are to be brought about not out of necessity – for example to allow the masters to retain their power or for the sheer forcible pacification of society – but are borne out of human nature. It is therefore inspired by the dignity of each individual and at the same time binding for the whole.
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According to Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, a philosopher of religion, Benedict’s address in Westminster Hall shows the “courage to pursue the catholicity of reason”.
Nature and reason are the two sources of a law that stands above a positivistically established order. At their core, law and ethics are not human creations, but the result of original purpose.
However, (fallen) nature does not speak with a unanimous voice, but must itself be interpreted. This is the role of reason. Nature and reason are the two sources of a law that stands above a positivistically established order.
At their core, law and ethics are not human creations, but the result of original purpose. In the Prologue to John’s Gospel (John 1) it is called the Word. The Gospel depicts this as the root and proof of all that is Good.
“The world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another.” This speech shows and leads – or rather allows itself to be led – deep into the Word. The outermost courtyard before the inner temple is already open; from here, original purpose can radiate all the way into parliament.
The author, Professor Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, held the chair for Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Religious Studies at the Technical University of Dresden until 2011. She now leads the “European Institute for Philosophy and Religion” (EUPHRat) at the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological University in Heiligenkreuz.