"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Regensburg II: the Pope on faith and reason at Verona

Pope Benedict XVI's address to the 4th Annual Convention of the Catholic Church in Italy, on October 19 and now available online, was rich fare indeed. One theme that stood out for me was one on which I've posted before: what one might call the apologetical significance of mathematics. Thus the Pope:

Mathematics, as such, is a creation of our intelligence: the correspondence between its structures and the real structures of the universe—which is the presupposition of all modern scientific and technological developments, already expressly formulated by Galileo Galilei with the famous affirmation that the book of nature is written in mathematical language—arouses our admiration and raises a big question.

It implies, in fact, that the universe itself is structured in an intelligent manner, such that a profound correspondence exists between our subjective reason and the objective reason in nature. It then becomes inevitable to ask oneself if there might not be a single original intelligence that is the common font of them both.

Thus, precisely the reflection on the development of science brings us towards the creator Logos. The tendency to give irrationality, chance and necessity the primacy is overturned, also to lead our intelligence and our freedom back to it. Upon these bases it again becomes possible to enlarge the area of our rationality, to reopen it to the larger questions of the truth and the good, to link theology, philosophy and science between them in full respect for the methods proper to them and of their reciprocal autonomy, but also in the awareness of the intrinsic unity that holds them together.

This is the task that is before us, a fascinating adventure that is worth our effort, to give a new thrust to the culture of our time and to restore the Christian faith to full citizenship in it.

Such is the vision of the relationship between reason and faith that Benedict defended at Regensburg, where he criticized theological voluntarism as inimical to it. It seems to me that only in Catholicism is the inevitable creative tension implied by that vision maintained. Some of course would see that as a disadvantage; but I don't think it can be disputed that Western culture, which has given so much to the world, depended on it for a long time. That it no longer does means we are living off the spiritual capital of the past.
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