Benedict's foundation of justice

Pope Benedict

The Christianity that Pope Benedict proposes does not allow the faithful to exempt themselves from toils, or hide behind a principle of authority, writes Archbishop Georg Ganswein in Zenit.

'In history, legal systems were almost always motivated in a religious way: what among men is just is decided on the basis of a reference to the Divinity. Contrary to other great religions, Christianity has never imposed on the State or society a revealed law, never a legal system derived from a revelation. Instead, it has referred to nature and to reason as true sources of law – it has referred to the harmony between objective and subjective reason, a harmony, however, presupposes both being the spheres founded on the creative Reason of God.'

This passage of the address given on September 22, 2011 at the Bundestag in Berlin is justly among the best known. Enclosed in it is the heart of Benedict XVI’s thought on the contribution that religion offers to the public debate and, in particular, to the construction of the legal order. Evidenced here is the originality of Christianity in relation to the other religions, an originality which often passes unobserved not only by secular commentators, but by Christians themselves: not revelation, but 'reason and nature in their correlation construct the valid legal source for all,' Benedict XVI affirms a bit further on in the same address.

Intervening in the democratic dialogue on the basis of authoritative dogmas, religions would violate the rule of every deliberative democracy – dialogue among the different positions – and would act as an obstacle, perverting irremediably the democratic dynamic. Feared is the dread that the religious authority could deny civil authorities the capacity of producing the legal norms: hence an incompatibility between the two sources of authority.

The inevitable conclusion drawn is that 'it is, in fact, the exile of any Authority from the scene of the public argumentation, the ostracism of all the faiths, which guarantees the common ground of dialogue and the reciprocal equality of all in as much as fellow citizens,' with the consequent necessity that the entire public sphere is deprived of God, so that a neutral ground of dialogue is maintained. This exile of God from the public sphere is moved by the premise that the intervention of the religious factor in the democratic dialectic is configured as a series of commands and commandments derived from a superior, eternal and indisputable will: a just Authority. However, it is difficult to imagine anything more distant from Benedict XVI’s thought.

The Christianity that he proposes does not allow the faithful to exempt themselves from toils, it does not consent to their depriving themselves of the use of reason, hiding behind a principle of authority or entrenching themselves behind religious precepts and commands.

The first and fundamental contribution of Benedict XVI is the appeal to the fact that the ultimate sources of law are to be searched in reason and nature, not in a command, from whoever it is. The originality of Pope Benedict’s position in regard to the presence of Christians in the public sphere is rooted in a vision of Christianity as universal religion, addressed to all, which trusts in the possibility that reason transcend the very capacities of reason.

Benedict XVI’s proposal resolves the problem at its root, where he affirms that the source of legal norms is not revelation, but reason and nature in their inter-relations.

- Archbishop Georg Ganswein


The foundation of justice in Benedict XVI's political addresses (Zenit)

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