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In today’s epistle Saint Paul mentions “Christ’s love, which surpasses knowledge.” That is a very important concept, which Paul treats at greater length in that beautiful thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians: “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” In heaven, faith yields to the direct knowledge of God, and hope gives way to the fulfillment of salvation—but charity, the love of God, goes on forever.
But, while we might be tempted to say that there is a primacy of love over faith, it would be seriously wrong to ignore the importance of knowing God and believing what He has revealed. “God is love,” but He has revealed Himself as the “Word,” and the “Truth”—concepts which belong to the intellect; to the domain of faith and reason.
Coincidentally, this was the theme of the speech which Pope Benedict delivered about two weeks ago in Regensburg, Germany—the one that caused so much public outcry; leaving a half dozen churches burned or shot up, a nun dead, and a “fatwa” on the Pope’s head. The speech was only accidentally, about Islam, and the phrase that attracted all the attention was that of a fourteenth century Eastern Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, at Constantinople. Pope Benedict borrowed the phrase to illustrate how badly things can go wrong when religion is ruled by emotion, without the oversight of reason. If there was any fault on his part, it was in overestimating the ability of the news media to understand any sort of abstract thinking.
The Pope’s message to the faculty at Regensburg, where he taught theology for a number of years, was to remind them that the underlying purpose of a university is to bring together the various disciplines of human study, uniting them in such a way that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. Faith and reason, he taught, are not contradictory things—rather, they are complimentary. His remarks were intended for those who would separate the two, either by insisting that reason excludes faith (the atheist or agnostic), or by insisting that faith is identical with love and excludes reason. As with most things, the reality is in the middle ground, where faith and reason are found to compliment one another.
A central tenet of the Catholic Faith is that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” We consider that fact so significant that it is recited at almost every Mass, in the “Last Gospel,”—significant enough that we genuflect when we hear the words. The “Word,” with a capital “W,” is, of course, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who assumed human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Greek language of the Gospels, this “Word,” which “became flesh,” is called “Logos.” And “Logos” has a considerably wider meaning than its English counterpart. To the Greek speakers of Saint John’s time, the “Logos” was the underlying rational principle that gave order to the universe—the divine reason that made the “cosmos” out of “chaos”—quite an appropriate word to describe the One “Who was in the beginning with God, and without Whom nothing was made.”
For Pope Benedict, as for all Catholics, and, for many years, all of Western Civilization—this idea of a divine rational principle of order in the universe governs (or once did govern) all of our thinking—from astronomy to zoology, and including religion and theology and philosophy—everything is governed by God’s rational laws. Benedict’s quotation from the Eastern Emperor was intended to show that six centuries ago, even the secular rulers thought in terms which united faith with reason: “Manuel II was able to say: Not to act ‘with logos’ is contrary to God's nature.” It was (and is) contrary to God’s nature—and, therefore, unreasonable—to make war in order to convert people.
Unfortunately, the Greek concept that God’s reason consistently permeates the universe is not shared by Islamic scholars. In Western Civilization we have recognized that God designed and created an orderly universe—miracles are possible but rare—for the most part, things follow consistent natural laws. All of our spiritual and material progress is based on the eternal orderliness of an unchanging God. We can grow in the spiritual life because we are absolutely confident that what God revealed in the past will be true tomorrow—and we can make material progress because, in the same way, the laws of nature remain true: today, and tomorrow, as yesterday. There will not be a “fourth Person of the Blessed Trinity” tomorrow, any more than gravity will cause us to “fall upwards” instead of downwards tomorrow. God is consistent, “without shadow of change or alteration,” as Saint James tells us in his epistle.
“But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up [even with] rationality.... [An Islamic philosopher] Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us.” Here the Pope is referring to the fact that, unlike the God of Christians, Allah of the Koran is a changeable god. The Koran says: “Allah erases what He will, and establishes (what He will), and with Him is the source of law.” And Allah’s law seems to depend on his mood at the time.
Benedict’s concern is that Western Civilization has been following a similar track. For a few centuries, now, faith and reason have started to diverge, even among Western people and even among Western Christians. Specifically, he referred to Protestantism, with its sola scriptura rejection of philosophy; to liberal theology in the 19th and 20th centuries, reducing religion to ethics without worship or knowledge of God in Himself; and to modern scientific thought in which nothing is real unless it is subject to mathematical specification and empirical verification—anything that cannot be touched and felt and measured is thought not to be real.
Understand that Benedict is not anti-science. Quite the opposite. He said: “we are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is ... the will to be obedient to the truth ... it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.”
His concern, though is that reason without faith becomes subjective. If nothing is real unless it can be touched and felt and measured, things like religion and morality are quickly reduced to, «What have I personally experienced?» “Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate,” he says.
It is marvelous to hear a modern Pope speak this way. It is precisely the loss of “truth in the mind of God” that has made modernist Catholicism so awfully subjective, changeable, and without a sense of the Sacred. Realizing that God has built an objective and unchanging reality into the universe would do a lot to heal the disease which inflicts Western Civilization and the modern Church.
Benedict said something at Regensburg that should have strongly appealed to both
Moslems and Christians alike:
The Pope isn’t calling for a military crusade to convert
anyone to the Faith—for that would be to act without the reason of God.
Instead, he is calling both Eastern and Western cultures to recognize that faith
and reason are inseparable—without both, working together, societies tend to
fall apart, and are led to the delusion that their only hope is in war. As
the Emperor said:
Perhaps one can add to the Emperor’s words only the need for good example, and for prayer that all will be drawn by faith and love to the knowledge of the one true God; Father Son, and Holy Ghost.
 Epistle: Ephesians iii: 13-21.
 1 Corinthians xiii:13.
 Cf. 1 John iv: 8; John i:1; xiv: 6.
 University of Regensburg, 12 September 2006 www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/ documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html
 Last Gospel: John i: 14.
 Καὶ ο λόγος σὰρξ.
 Cf. John i:1.
 Benedict XVI, ibid.
 James i: 17.
 (Sûrah 13:039; see also Sûrahs 2:106, 16:101, 17:86). http://www.answering-islam.de/Main//Index/A/abrogation.html
 Pope Benedict XVI, ibid., quoting Manuel II Paleologus.