I am still absorbing the encyclical, and I don’t want simply to toss snippets around. But I am being hammered in e-mail to make some comments about the encyclical.
First, perhaps not much new is in the first part. The Holy Father is offering some hooks to hang ideas on before moving into the next section.
For immediate reflection look at par. 56 with my emphases and comments:
56. The Christian religion and other religions [by "other" he surely means Islam] can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions. The Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim “citizenship status” for the Christian religion.135 Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square [he is referring to secularism and materialists] — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism [which imposed one religious voice in the public square - he probably means Islam here] — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: [This has long been a topic of interest for the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, the relationship of faith and reason.] this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. [As he said in the Regensburg Address.] Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development. …. [We make man the center and goal of our discourse and progress at man's own peril.]
135John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 5: loc. cit., 798-800; Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the Fourth National Congress of the Church in Italy, Verona, 19 October 2006.
I can hear it now… "But Father! But Father!", some are already quipping. "Why this paragraph? Don’t you want to talk about how God is still love?"
Indeed, there is time for more talk about God and love.
On this blog for a long time now I have been yammering away about our Catholic identity.
Without a strong Catholic identity, in keeping with our tradition, an identity well-informed, well-integrated, we will endanger our souls by being confused under the onslaught of secularism and relativism and we will be silenced, shoved from the public square.
For Holy Church to have an influence in the public square, on the burning questions of our day, we all must have a clear and strong identity.
I think this is a key to understand the pontificate of Pope Benedict: he is working to revitalize our Catholic identity. He did so with a huge step (liturgically) in Summorum Pontificum on 7 July 2007. He is doing the same in this encyclical on 7 July 2009. Other milestone indicators were the Dec 2005 Address to the Roman Curia and the Sept 2006 Regensburg Address.
It seems to me that par. 56 is an important paragraph in the encyclical.
Also, when reading Pope Benedict on anything think what he is saying ad intra and ad extra.
In the first section, in the midst of his representation of God and love, Pope Benedict also makes a case – to Catholics but also a wider listening world (ad intra and ad extra) – for how the Catholic Church is uniquely positioned in the world to point towards mankind’s proper and best trajectory, even in the realm of economics, etc.
The Catholic Church ought, in fact, to have not just a voice but even a privileged voice in the public square precisely because of her relationship to Christ and who man is, who man’s ultimate goal is.
Christ is divine Logos (word, mind, reason, etc.) even as he is love, charity, etc. Man, in God’s image, must be directed to Christ, Logos/Agape, and in his worldly workings directed by Christ, Logos/Agape. Reason cannot be excluded because the proper view of man as image of God cannot be excluded.
Pope Benedict is presenting ad intra and ad extra a case for the Church’s voice in the public square. This is a logical consequence of the proper view of Christ and of man. Even so, other religions also have a role to play, provided they admit of the dimension of the Logos in man’s very nature. But they must adhere to the proper relationship of faith with reason to do so. Otherwise, what they give to the public square does more harm than good. And they still can’t do this as well as the Catholic Church can!
If we exclude this constitutive dimension of man, little will go right in man’s endeavors. We err in excluding God from man’s endeavors and we err in imposing the wrong notion of God and man and will inevitably make the wrong choice in the face of challenges.
This encyclical is part of Benedict’s plan to rebuild our Catholic identity in the face of secularism, relativism, and a fundamentalist religious view which doesn’t admit of the proper role of reason. He is trying to get us out into the public square, keep our voice audible. He is also trying to penetrate the opposition to God in the public square.
This is a great concern of his pontificate.