Pope Benedict XVI in Germany and the Environment


Pope Benedict XVI at the Bundestag

I apologise for the delay on this post, I have been occupied with my thesis which I defend this week. Yet the Pope’s words in Germany  on the environment have a lasting impact, that will transcend the immediacy of the current situation. According to Vatican insider Sandro Magister Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the German Parliament is one of the 3 great speeches of his pontificate, along with the Regensburg Address and the speech to the College of the Bernardines in Paris.

The Pope’s theme in Germany was “Where there is God, there is a future”, and he spoke about many subjects such as Church identity, ecumenism, the apostolic mission, secularism, law and society. I would like to highlight a few of these, and key passages are highlighted below. The theme was taken from an address delivered in Austria at Mariazell shrine, seen here, where he spoke about the truth (1).  Another key address in Germany was delivered at Erfurt where Luther lived (2), as well as comments to the German jewish community (3). Finally, was a speech delivered to Seminarians on the importance of the intellectual life (4).

No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

  1. This attitude of resignation with regard to truth, I am convinced, lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe. If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. And then the great and wonderful discoveries of science become double-edged: they can open up significant possibilities for good, for the benefit of mankind, but also, as we see only too clearly, they can pose a terrible threat, involving the destruction of man and the world. We need truth. Yet admittedly, in the light of our history we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance…truth prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity. Truth proves itself in love. It is never our property, never our product, just as love can never be produced, but only received and handed on as a gift. We need this inner force of truth. As Christians we trust this force of truth.Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished – when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.
  2. For Luther theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God. “How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. And insofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. 
  3. Alongside these important initiatives, it seems to me that we Christians must also become increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism, to which you made reference. For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews (cf. Jn 4:22). When Jesus’ conflict with the Judaism of his time is superficially interpreted as a breach with the Old Covenant, it tends to be reduced to the idea of a liberation that mistakenly views the Torah merely as a slavish enactment of rituals and outward observances. 
  4. Our world today is a rationalist and thoroughly scientific world, albeit often somewhat pseudo-scientific. But this scientific spirit, this spirit of understanding, explaining, know-how, rejection of the irrational, is dominant in our time. There is a good side to this, even if it often conceals much arrogance and nonsense. The faith is not a parallel world of feelings that we can still afford to hold on to, rather it is the key that encompasses everything, gives it meaning, interprets it and also provides its inner ethical orientation: making clear that it is to be understood and lived as tending towards God and proceeding from God. Therefore it is important to be informed and to understand, to have an open mind, to learn.

As in other occasions, the environment wasn’t necessarily a theme mentioned many times, but being brief was given a prominent role. The key speech was to the German Parliament. He spoke about the foundations of Law, and the need for natural law and conscience. The Pope identified a positivist reason as limiting and leading to the desperate situation we find ourselves in. The solution si to break free from the positivist bunker and open ourselves to a broader reason, that can recognize nature, natural law and the Creator himself. An example of this ‘breaking free’ is no other than the environmental movement. The Pope sees in the environment and concerns for its wellbeing an expression of the recognition that the world is suffering through our actions, and we need to reconsider how we live and approach reality. This intuition, that the environment opens doors for us to reconsider who we are, and wheat we are called to do, has accompanied much of the environmental interests, as well as Creatio from the beginning. Below the Pope’s words:

In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.

But how are we to do this? How do we find our way out into the wide world, into the big picture? How can reason rediscover its true greatness, without being sidetracked into irrationality? How can nature reassert itself in its true depth, with all its demands, with all its directives? I would like to recall one of the developments in recent political history, hoping that I will neither be misunderstood, nor provoke too many one-sided polemics. I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives.

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature…

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7 thoughts on “Pope Benedict XVI in Germany and the Environment

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