In light of the recent terrorist attacks in this nation and around the world, it is helpful to recall Pope Benedict XVI’s prophetic address at Regensburg University in Germany ten years ago. Speaking at the university where he taught prior to becoming Archbishop of Munich, Pope Benedict commended the alliance of faith and reason that has ever been at the heart of the idea of a university. He recalled with fondness his early days of study when people of different faiths or no faith could come together and discuss reasonably their different world views.
However, Pope Benedict warned, increasingly, there has been a severance of faith and reason that has led to misunderstandings, tyranny and violence. He pointed out that Christianity providentially began at a time when Jewish theology and Greek philosophy were in full scale dialogue with each other. With the union of these traditions, the evangelists and Christian teachers were able to explain the faith to all cultures of the known world.And this experiment rose to new heights as the university system came to fruition in the High Middle Ages.
However, both within the Church and without, there have been reactions against union of faith and reason. First, there are those who have tried to “purify” faith from any influences of reason, thinking of them as foreign elements. In the other direction, modern trends often exalt reason and the methods of physical science so high that many people would sideline any fields, such as philosophy or theology, that do not adhere to neat mathematical or experimental models. However, as Pope Benedict pointed out, when religion does not engage reason, it has no way of dialoging
with people who do not share the same faith. And there is a tendency to try to convert people by force or use violence against outsiders, which has led to religious violence in many countries. By contrast, in the West, the attempt to exalt empirical science above all else denigrates the deepest longings of the human heart, the longings of faith, of love, of the sense of the sublime; and without a sense of the divine, there can be no dialogue with the religious traditions of the world. Pope Benedict encourages the sciences, philosophy and theology enter into a reasoned dialogue with each other, a dialogue that will bring together the great traditions of the world into the peace that comes from the pursuit of truth in all its fullness.