Thursday, January 08, 2009

Some thoughts of PBXVI's Speech

There is an enormous amount of good in this speech, which is the Holy Father's annual "state of the world" address.

Especially significant are his remarks regarding the disastrous effects of what he calls, "moral poverty" and discusses as at the root of religious discrimination, violence and all manner of inhumanity. With regard to religious discrimination and even violent anti-Christian persecution, Pope Benedict is frank:
to the civil and political authorities, I urgently request that they be actively committed to ending intolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians, to repairing the damage which has been done, particularly to the places of worship and properties; and to encouraging by every means possible due respect for all religions, outlawing all forms of hatred and contempt.
Note that, and how, the Holy Father also distinguishes Christianity from other world religions:
As a way of reaffirming the lofty contribution which religions can make to the struggle against poverty and the building of peace, I would like to repeat in this assembly, which symbolically represents all the nations of the world, that Christianity is a religion of freedom and peace, and it stands at the service of the true good of humanity.
It is, in fact, the religion, without which the notions of individual dignity and liberty are quite literally unthinkable. Remember that Pope Benedict is essentially an Augustinian, for whom religio est vera religio, vel verum cultum veri Dei - religion is true religion, the true worship pf the true God. This is hermeneutically important. Read the following text through this Augustinian lens:
[A] society which is “secular” in a healthy way does not ignore the spiritual dimension and its values, since religion – and I thought it helpful to repeat this during my pastoral visit to France – is not an obstacle but rather a solid foundation for the building of a more just and free society.
Later, in the context of Asia, Pope Benedict will say that the Church demands the full application of the principle of religious freedom, because:
[Christians] wish to contribute in a convincing and effective way to the common good, stability and progress of their countries, as they bear witness to the primacy of God which sets up a healthy order of values and grants a freedom more powerful than acts of injustice.
I am so pleased to see the emphasis on Christians' potential precisely as Christians to serve the common good - that the best thing they can bring to their societies is their living witness to the truth of the faith - that I am going to let the reference to "values" slide all but silently. Those who know this blogger know he finds the semantics of value to be critically useless and generally dangerous (the best evidence of this being the intellectual tour de force that was required from Prof. Joseph de Finance, SJ to make the term "moral value" intelligible): here the term appears in the context of an order that is rooted in the primacy of God, a moral understanding de Finance was at pains to show is required in order to make "values" meaningful.

Earlier, the Pope addressed the following remarks to Westerners:
I also express my hope that, in the Western world, prejudice or hostility against Christians will not be cultivated simply because, on certain questions, their voice causes disquiet...Christ’s Gospel is a saving message meant for all; that is why it cannot be confined to the private sphere, but must be proclaimed from the rooftops, to the ends of the earth.
There is an obvious concern over the voices propounding an unhealthy vision of the saeculum (itself an essentially Christian idea, albeit one that, like fides, is rooted in Roman technical juridical terminology), but there is something more. We have a duty to exercise properly the freedoms we enjoy in the temporal sphere. In other words, religious freedom is freedom to be Christians. It were ingratitude to heaven for people living in free lands to treat their faith with levity, or to behave as though it were an embarrasment.

I will have more later, on some of the weaker points.

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