Benedict at the university of Regensburg

There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a “dies academicus” (open debate/general studies day?) when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of “universitas”: The reality that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason — this reality became a lived experience.

The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the “whole” of the “universitas scientiarum,” even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: It had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

Pope Benedict Faith Reason and the University

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The Pope is concerned by the threat of fideism and radical scepticism to the university, to rationality, and to our aspiration to know reality. (Even the way web-names are assigned makes it clearer in Germany that there is really just one university – one universe of knowledge – not ultimately divided by its many campuses.) It is a speech on faith and reason. Benedict regards Christianity, Judaism and Islam as three traditions of faith and reason. He tells us that ‘science’ and social science are also traditions of faith and reason. All these traditions (‘scientific’ as well as ‘religious’) are tempted by fideism (which leads eventually to irrationalism and even violence). But although these traditions are all sometimes tempted to avoid the public examination of rationality within which they can remain truly reasonable and rational, they all have the resources to resist that temptation, and they should all do so, and do so together in the university. If the modern university does not allow the intellellectual exploration of the Christian gospel, the university will operate on a greatly reduced concept of reason and science, and more than that, on a greatly reduced concept of man, which would be impoverishing for that society and for all mankind.

Any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science” …

In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.

Benedict says that God has made himself known, so we do not need to despair of knowing anything about him or about the creation he has set us in. This makes our knowledge of this physical world, his creation, also basically reliable and reasonable. The Christians (often along with Jews and Muslims) can point out that they are the guardians of reason against what Benedict calls ‘de-hellenisation’, modern irrationalism’s retreat from the Logos, and so from the assumption that the world is an ordered and reliable place. The university needs Christianity, and any other tradition that reasons about faith, in order to allow full exploration of the creation and of man, the creature of God.