Georgetown University professor of government James V. Schall, S. J. has authored some 30 books on political theory and theology, including, most recently, The Regensburg Lecture (2007) and the Order of Things (2007). His website, a portal into his writings and course syllabi, is here. This interview covers the relationship between reason and faith and its political implications. It explores the themes of the Pope's recent encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi) and Fr. Schall's most recent books. It was conducted earlier this month via email with Ken Masugi and follows four others on similar themes that they have undertaken over the last several years. The Regensburg Lecture interview can be found here, and the other interviews are here, here, and here.
Masugi: Is this Pope a public intellectual? If so, who is his public? How can he be an intellectual and a man of faith, a shepherd of his flock, at the same time?
Schall: One is bemused to think that a "public intellectual" might be thought to have a higher rank than the Pope of Rome! Suffice it to say, that there is no individual person in the public order anywhere in the world today with the intellectual accomplishments of Pope Ratzinger. That is not a boast, just a fact. The sheer volume and depth of what he has published over the years is simply massive in addition to its being profound with that German thoroughness that leaves little to the imagination.
We are witnessing the time in which this accumulated learning has, perhaps uncannily, settled in the one office in the world that still speaks "Urbi et Orbi." The days are simply gone, if they ever existed, in which anyone can pretend that there is not a major intellectual force within Catholicism that actively seeks out and deals with every religious, intellectual, historical, and scientific tradition in terms of intelligence.
We really have not had a non-intellectual pope in several centuries. Part of the reason for this tradition is simply that the Catholic Church addresses itself to reason. It demands of itself and others the canons of complete rationality. It does not accept "rationalistic" definitions of reason that limit its real scope to its methods or presuppositions.
His public? It is interesting to look over a few issues of L'Osservatore Romano to see just whom a pope deals with in the course of a week or a month. He will talk to numerous ambassadors from any and every country in the world, political and religious leaders, bishops, students from all over, leading scholars, prelates of other religions, newly-weds, the sick, and heaven knows whom, from presidents, kings, and prime ministers to sports figures and ordinary people. The papacy is not an abstraction, as we vividly learned with John Paul II. It is much more in contact with the world at large than any other public body, certainly more than any university or think tank or government.
But the pope also targets audiences to whom to address. Sometimes they come to him. Sometimes he goes to them. He always has a brief or longer statement to make that is well worth attention. He is also a man who has to deal with major theological issues wherever they arise. When Pope Ratzinger considers any issues, we can be sure that he does his homework.
More and more it is becoming clear that the major political problems are at root spiritual and theological problems. Spengler put it well in a recent Asia Times (November 6, 2007):
The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West. None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehends this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded fore peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address.
To put it differently, before the political order can be straightened out, it must understand the forces that are in fact loose in the world, and understand them on their own terms, not in terms of western social or political science. What even scholars and politicians are suddenly aware of is that they cannot ignore religion, whatever it is. It is precisely by ignoring religion in both academic and secularized political circles, that the West has come to leave the deepest issues that all men know about to other religions. It is to this emptiness that Benedict addresses himself—what exactly is it?
Benedict's more formal encyclicals and statements are very carefully thought out. If we read Deus Caritas Est, the Regensburg Lecture, and Spe Salvi, we begin to suspect that this pope has the whole world in his sights, not just Islam or the secularized West, though these are the more immediate and pressing issues. The whole world has an intellectual core that includes both the intellectual history of the West and how it relates to other cultures and political bodies. All politics presupposes a view of the world that is more than political. We are so used to denying this in the name of some abstraction called the "separation of church and state" that we can hardly understand even ourselves.
"How can [the pope] be an intellectual and a man of faith—a shepherd of his flock—at the same time?" Ex esse sequitur posse. I do not know how he does all these things, but the fact is that he does them. We have to begin from here. No doubt Benedict does not know every last bishop who must be appointed to vital spots—appointing bishops may be his most important task of ruling—but he seems to be working at it.
If there is any motto or epigram that would define this papacy, it is surely that the "intellectual" and the "man of faith" is the same man. The one faith addresses reason and reason, if it is really open to the whole of things, inquires about faith at least as it can be seen in its effects. Philosophy cannot exclude a reality and still claim to pursue the whole. This relationship has been the agenda since at least Thomas Aquinas if not Plato.
But at no time in centuries, I think, has the ground for this relationship been more thoroughly founded in intellectual history. This pope does not cite Nietzsche and Hegel for nothing. He cites them because he knows them. I would almost say he delights in them. He knows their relevance to contemporary issues as well as to their relation to revelation and modern ideology.
Masugi: "Regarding politics: Looking at our American elections, not to mention political events throughout the world, how should the Church seek to influence politics?
Schall: Probably the first step would be to remind us all that politics, while important, is not the most important thing in life, unless we have a theory that makes it the highest discipline. Aristotle had already warned of this move. "If man were the highest being, politics would be the highest science." But man is not the highest being. His ultimate destiny and meaning are not political, though he is, in this world, a political animal and, in the next, a member of the City of God.
I am bemused by the question, "How should the Church seek to influence politics?" We all know that well-known Catholic politicians habitually vote for abortion and other positions contrary to the stated positions of the Church. They remain in power often with the votes of Catholic constituents and little comment by the bishops. Something is not computing. But as we know from Machiavelli, there is a difference between "success" in politics, in staying in power, and the condition of one's soul.
One of the most interesting things about Spe Salvi was the reintroduction of the idea that we will be personally judged for our deeds not by political standards but by the standards of our being that are often known as "natural law." As Plato said, that the worst thing that can happen to a man who does or causes evil is success and praise for it. This success will usually prevent him from ever facing his own soul and the ultimate criterion by which it will be judged beyond politics.
The Church as such should not try to "influence" politics. The New Testament has practically nothing in it about politics except the rendering to Caesar and respect for legitimate political authority. It implies that we already know from reason and experience what is best done. It also reminds us that we are sinners, not excluding politicians and clerics. It should teach the truth in any political order. To do this may result in some political settings in death. The pope does not hesitate to talk about the martyrs of our time, which few of us know about or where they most frequently occur. Jewish columnists are often amazed at how little attention Christians pay to their own contemporary martyrs.
There is another form of death, however, which we might call political death. This death praises and promotes those Christians who adhere to standards in opposition to the faith. It marginalizes and chastises those rash enough to agree with Socrates and Christ that it is never right to do wrong. Modern democracy often eulogizes itself because it no longer kills Socrates or Christ. It just renders them inert and ineffective. It then goes right along with whatever it decides to do. It denies any other standard but its own will.
Socrates said that it is very difficult and dangerous to go against the will of a democracy that has no other criterion but its own definition of liberty. If our current questions about religion and politics are right, then Socrates put his finger on the central problem. Academia has a sudden burgeoning of religion and politics courses that, as far as I can tell, know little about either.
The "guidelines" that the bishops put forth on politics make me think that Cardinal Bernadin is still alive. So many things are "considered" that almost any combination of pressing issues and principles is justified. Central things become marginalized. We seem to think bishops are somehow negligent in their duties if they do not "say something." Ecclesiastical sanctions are considered counter-productive, however. In practice, people claiming to be good Catholics are on both sides of most issues, even the most delicate ones. For some, this would imply that the best we can do is to resign ourselves to live in an imperfect world. Others want to improve things, without joining the utopian bandwagons that have charged through modern thought to claim that we really can have a kingdom of God in this world.
So, I suppose that I should say that the Church should seek to influence elections by teaching the truth about man, cosmos, and God in such a fashion that politics be restored to itself as a prudential area largely dependent on a correct understanding of man's transcendent end and the arena in which this end is worked out in our lives. The reason politics is considered to be so important is, too often, because we suspect that this world is all there is. If this were true, of course, we can do whatever we want. To oppose it will seem to be inhuman.
Masugi: Regarding Advent and Christmas: How does Benedict's new encyclical on hope support this unity of faith and reason?
Schall: The meaning of Advent is that something is coming, coming into the world. The meaning of Christmas is that that which we have awaited has in fact come into this world. What is this that has come into the world?
Benedict's encyclical deals with the central issue of whether we have anything to hope for. Ultimately, if there is no God, nothing really can matter to us. We might propose, as modern ideology does, that some future age or configuration of politics will finally solve the problem of evil by science or some such. In this sense, progress itself becomes a sort of God. But it really offers no hope for each individual and for the gathering of those who have sought the truth but not attained it.
The central fact of world history is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Much of modern theology and philosophy has been effort to make this fact either impossible to be believed or to be known. In a sense, much of modern thought is a vast and often subtle effort to make any such incarnation and redemption impossible. The workings of this encyclical at one level, when it talks in particular about Adorno and Horkheimer, show the effort to deny logos in preference so something like abstract being. In effect, we seek to reinvent Christianity, particularly the resurrection of the body in order to explain what we most need to have explained. That is, how do we stand to evil and what is our individual, personal destiny? Nothing else really matters, including the ongoing history of the world which often serves as a substitute for God.
It so happens, however, that revelation is presented to us in the form of Logos. It is presented to us in the form of the "I am" who said that "before Abraham was, I am." That is to say, all the utopias that are presented as alternatives to the fact that God's Son became man are paltry things. When spelled out, they are not worthy of man's full attention.
What is hoped for in fact exists and has formed a presence in the world through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. The Trinity is the ultimate understanding of the Godhead. The things of reason and faith make sense and belong together. We should not forget that one of Kant's great questions was, "What is there to be hoped for?" Kant's own answer could hardly satisfy us as it remained inner-worldly. But his question is one that has been asked since St. Paul.
What is to be hoped for is an eternal life that really is both eternal and life. Chesterton was probably right. One of the reasons this alternative was rejected in modern thought is that it is too good to be true. On the other hand, if it fits all the bills that reason can bring up, then it is both credible and a fact precisely because it is too good to be true. The good and the true are convertible in the Word, there and only there.
Masugi: In the encyclical, Benedict refers to "the figure of Christ as the true philosopher, holding the Gospel in one hand, the philosopher's traveling staff in the other." He then turns the staff into the instrument of faith and the Gospel to a sign of philosophy. How can this make sense?
Schall: Obviously, we have here the relation of Christ and Socrates, about which both John Paul II and Benedict have spoken. We think of philosophy as opposed to faith, and faith opposed to reason. This may be well and good for most religions and philosophy, but not for Catholicism. Reason is an integral part of the faith. If we do not have reason out there wondering about what is, we will never know what revelation really says to us.
It makes considerable sense that the Gospel is a sign to philosophy. Scripture was never intended to explain everything to everyone about everything. There are passages in Plato where Homer is used by certain orators to be a source of generalship or cookery. We do not go to the New Testament to learn warfare or cooking, except maybe to find out that we can eat any meats that are edible, including pork. The image here is that the philosopher, with his staff, is wandering through the world looking for light on the meaning of his existence and the existence of the world.
The essential point is that the philosopher, if he is not a mere sophist, knows that his very being is what incites him to seek the truth of things. He knows what other philosophers have proposed. He knows that no humanly concocted solution is complete, even though some truths have been encountered along the way. Some things cannot be denied. A thing cannot be and not be at the same time.
Are there signs in the heavens lighting the way? If so, this presence would mean that man is not alone in the universe, even if he may in fact be, to use Walker Percy's famous phrase, "lost in the cosmos." Something of an expectancy exists in man that suspects that something is directed to him that he must discover. Just because he cannot answer everything by himself does not mean that answers are not available.
Socrates said that he knew that he knew nothing. But it was precisely this knowledge that incited him to seek justice and the good. It is all right that we do not yet know everything, though our minds seem to be capable of all things. It is not all right to think that we ourselves are the court of last resort about what is. At the core of our being we keep returning to questions that expect answers. It is not so irrational to wonder whether the answers might be given to us. Plato suspected this, I think.
So the staff of the philosopher is the sign of his life as a wayfarer. We have here no lasting city. In this world, we are wayfarers and pilgrims, as Paul and Peter remind us. This is not something that is strange to us; we see it every day on all sides of our lives. So Benedict faces the modern world head on. He is not saying that there is some "secret" knowledge that is kept from us just to keep us in place. Rather he is saying that at the origin of what is is a Being who created us to know what is. This Being in fact identifies itself as "I am." No real philosopher can put such words down as entirely unrelated to the mind he possesses in his own being. The energy of our being human is intended. This is what charges our world and our souls.
Masugi: I believe you have argued, in discussing radical Islam, that ultimately all argument and action rest on theological premises. Please elaborate.
Schall: You may not think, or perhaps you do, that this question follows from the previous one, but it does. The first thing that we must say is that in order to act in the world, there must be a world to act in. Further, we must know this world and, in a sense, know that we know it.
The reason that the question is couched in the context of so-called Radical Islam has to do with the classical voluntarist assumption that at the origin of all things is not Logos but will, Voluntas. Of course, with Augustine and Aquinas, we would hold that at the origin of the world are both Logos and Voluntas. Indeed, we would maintain that at the beginning, there is the Being whose being simply is.
The voluntarist strands in Islamic and other philosophies were designed to prevent anything from being taken away from the Godhead, from Allah. Thus, if we postulate a creation of secondary causes, that is, of beings who were free and who could act, we would somehow denigrate the Godhead by claiming that something in the world was not caused by Allah. Thus even what I do must really be the effect of Allah, not me. To praise God means to be totally submissive to the fact that I can do nothing. I acknowledge that nothing comes from myself.
Now the Christian view of this position is that it is a denigration of the power of God, of His glory, to maintain that only what God does really exists and acts. God is greater because beings other than Himself really exist. They really and freely act. Now if we try to act in a world in which our theology denies the very possibility of our acts meaning anything, then it will be utterly useless for us to try to do anything. Indeed, it will be blasphemous if we claim to do anything.
On these premises, of course, it is difficult to imagine just why there is a world at all. Why would God have gone to the trouble of creating a world in which nothing could happen but what He did? He already knew that. We do not intend here to deny divine providence, but to point out that this providence is really a knowledge of what free creatures do in their freedom. It is not what determines them to do them.
Ultimately, all arguments are theological. What is remarkable about the new encyclical of Benedict on hope is, as I have remarked in my comments on ignatiusinsight.com, is the effort to straighten out the political. By taking away what is not political but theological, we can leave politics to do what it in fact is capable of doing. This capacity is not to create a utopia in this world. We have to think out of existence those theological notions that have, in one way or another, governed modernity in its political and scientific thinking.
The notion that we must get rid of God so that we can be free and human in the world in effect makes us to be ourselves gods. The kind of freedom and humanity we create for ourselves defines itself as contrary to the intrinsic nature of the kind of being we are created to be. In this sense, to discover what we are depends on getting our theology right about God and man. Otherwise, man's notion of man wars against the sort of being he is actually created to be. And he is created to be a being whose personal end is nothing less than transcendent even to this world. To give him any lesser end is to cause him to be less than he is created to be. We might consider here: "Who are the real optimists in the modern world?" Surely not those who choose an inner-worldly end for man.
Masugi: "Eternal life"—how does this differ from life as we know it? How does this contrast with the idea of progress? Does "Progressivism" have a theological premise?
Schall: Benedict is at pains to show that eternal life does not simply mean an ongoing repetition in this world of the exact same kind of mortal life that we know. The old reincarnation theories were an attempt to solve the problem of forgiveness along with a seeking of resurrection of the body. One is always struck by the theological overtones of proposals to freeze bodies on death, or to lengthen human life to hundreds and hundreds of years. When he examines such proposals, the pope points out their deadly boredom. If we get rid of reproduction, babies, as we often seem to want to do, we replace babies with very old ladies and gentlemen who are kept alive by scientific machines, shots, and, yes, by somebody else's children.
"Eternal life" is another way of stating the timelessness of God, who simply is. Socrates, after his sentencing, remarked that death is either a kind of lapse into inertness, in which case we would feel nothing, or into the immortality of the soul. Socrates looked forward to doing the same things that he always did, that is, to seek the truth, as if immortal life would be an extension of the adventure begun in this world. This is not really a bad idea, I think, though it still seems to see some final end.
Mankind has long searched for the proper fulfillment of that drive and adventure that seems to have begun with our very existence. It can only be answered where there is an answer. Once we examine all the alternatives, as we do constantly, none really answers the question as posed in our very being. That is, "Why is it that we exist?"
We can ask why eternal life is different from the existence that we know. Scripture speaks of seeing God "face-to-face." Indeed, no small part of contemporary philosophy is founded on this search for a face, since we know that we in fact seek to see our friends and loved ones face-to-face. Why is this? The Incarnation, among other things, means that God has a face that we can recognize. The presence of the God-man in the world, as a fact, changes everything. He is the one who knows the Father, and, He adds, those to whom He reveals Him.
Progress, as we have known at least since Bury's book on the topic, if not since Augustine's City of God, is an inner-worldly attempt to substitute eternal life for some human future down the ages. The trouble with this alternative is that it unavoidably proposes to sacrifice one generation to another. Those who live now are instruments not of themselves but of some future within this world. Perhaps some one hundred billion human beings have already lived and died on this planet. None of the hundred billion has attained anything like everlasting bliss in this world. Why do they exist then? If they each have no transcendent purpose, as Christianity proposes they do, then really they have no reason for existing in themselves. The solidarity of the human race in its destiny is thus broken. This is why Voegelin, following Aquinas, said that the very idea of a universal humanity is rooted in the notion of Christ as the head of the Church (Summa Theologica, III, 8, 1).
Much of economic and scientific history in its origin is the secularizations of the Christian notion of salvation history, of redemption and final bliss. The idea of Marx that search for eternal life prevented us from achieving a better life in this world ended up, as the pope said, by creating something pretty close to a hell on earth. This inner-worldly assumption to itself of the transcendent end presumes that we can produce a better destiny for ourselves than that found in the being of man as envisioned in his creation. The real meaning of the history of the twentieth century in particular seems to be that this ambition is rather a manifestation of the kind of pride that does not really know what we in fact are.
At the end of the day, as it were, eternal life is a gift not due directly to our nature, but still life. What is good about the idea of progress is that man can act in the world and that he can have an inner-worldly purpose. But he must recognize that what motivates this purpose is not the attempt to replace his being with something created in his own image. Eternal life is not intended to lead mankind to stagnation or passivism either in this world or the next.
This world is indeed the field of the great drama of our existence in which we choose, in our relation to others, who and what we love. But this world is not the final end of our being. When we can keep the two ends separate but in proper relationship, something Aristotle touched on in the tenth book of his Ethics, we will understand why theology and politics need to be properly related to each other, why one can, in its disorder, propose to replace the other, even when it does not work.
Masugi: How do hope and human freedom require one another? Love and hope?
Schall: Human freedom is the freedom of a finite rational being. The Greeks called him "the mortal." He defines his nature, his "second nature," as he moves through life making choices. As Plato indicated at the end of the Republic, he chooses his own "daemon," his understanding of what he is not under the aegis not of "nature" but of "nature" having acted freely to announce what he is. Obviously, we die. Philosophy, as Socrates said, and Benedict repeats in the encyclical, is a preparation for death. Without hope that is based on being and indeed on being that has a transcendent origin, the meaning of these choices, for good or ill, is simply senseless. Hope not only means that our lives and acts are important and meaningful, but that we are ourselves rooted in the transcendent act that caused us to be in the first place.
Love and hope of course both presuppose and follow one another. Love, as such, penetrates to the being who is loved. In our human condition, it penetrates to the mind of mortal being we are in this life. Yet, love has something more about it. It implies a "forever-ness" that defies our mortality. Every act of love thus includes an act of hope, an act that is premised on the completion of this relationship in permanence, in a face-to-face relationship. We can reject all of this reasoning, no doubt, but when we do so, we not only reject hope but the very substance of love. It is not without significance that God is defined as Caritas. For this love to be possible, within the Godhead itself there must be what love is. If we are indeed created in this image, then hope and love are seen to be intimately related. If we love without hope, which I believe was the theme of Tristan und Isolda, we love only in death, not life.
Masugi: In your new book, The Order of Things (Sheed & Ward), you have an extraordinary chapter on "The Order of the Godhead," which explicates St. Augustine's interpretation of the Trinity.
Schall: Frank Sheed, the famous Australian founder of Sheed Ward Publishing House, was one of the great speakers in England and America. He often spoke on the Trinity. Indeed, he said that in his public lectures in Hyde Park Corner in London, where everyone could and did speak about anything, he noticed that the one topic that always caused utter silence among his skeptical listeners was that of the Trinity. Sheed always wrote very well on the Trinity.
God is not absolute inertness. Nor is He absolute Voluntas such that He can deny His own very being. The order of the universe follows upon the order found within the inner life of God. It gives us no consolation to think that God created the world because He needed us. I have said something of this in my book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. But the point is essential to understand. If we are going to hold that "God is Love," we are going to have to find love already within the Godhead in its complete form before ever there was a world. This is really why Aquinas said that the world is created in mercy and not in justice. If it were created in justice, it would mean that God owed us something before we were. We cannot think this, of course.
We say that the Trinity is the way that the inner life of God is revealed to us. Once it is revealed, we can think about it. I was struck recently in reading Rèmi Brague's great book, The Law of God, that he translated Anselm's famous dictum, fides quaerens intellectum as "what God entrusts to man demands human understanding." That is exactly it. We often hear it said that revelation gives us truths that are beyond human reason. This is taken to mean that we should not mess with them, lest we be presumptuous. But the opposite is true. Every central point of revelation, particularly the Trinity and the Incarnation, is revealed to us in order that we might think clearly about the highest things as well about the things that we can know by unaided reason.
The Trinity is the answer to the great Aristotelian enigma of whether God is "lonely." If He is, then it would seem that He needs us. But were this so, God would not be God. The Trinity means that God is not lonely. In my first book, Redeeming the Time (1968), I entitled the chapter on this topic "The Trinity: God Is Not Alone." That still is the central point. Since God is complete in Himself and does not need anything, including us, it follows that we exist out of the abundance of God's love that can seek to create what is good outside of Himself. This is what we are, except in our human case, we are specifically created, each of us, to see God face-to-face. Nothing less. The central dynamism of the universe stems from this source.
Masugi: Why do you call "Hell" modernity's most neglected doctrine? Does modernity have as a theological premise a peculiar teaching about Hell?
Schall: I have often over the years returned to this fascinating doctrine that seems so countercultural but which invariably takes us to the heart of things. It is significant that Benedict brings up both Hell and Purgatory in Spe Salvi. He does so precisely in the context of modern politics. We tend to forget that the topic of Hell is rooted in the last book of the Republic. It is a teaching necessary to confront if we are going to have any notion that the universe is established in justice and not in absurdity or meaninglessness. Rewards and punishments, as Socrates taught us, must finally be confronted, but only after things for their own sakes are known. The pope mentions the various "hells" that have appeared in modern times, beginning with the account of a slave girl from, of all places, Darfur, the Sudan. He is a German and knows about the twentieth century.
My reading of Spe Salvi, in fact, follows on my reading of Eric Voegelin. Voegelin rightly interpreted modern political philosophy as an effort to "immanentize" the eschaton. The eschaton, of course, are the traditional four last things—heaven, hell, death, and purgatory. The pope spends considerable time in the encyclical with the modern notion of death, with efforts to extend life or to preserve it within this world in such a manner that we remain alive in a world of few births. It is not without irony that Europe is rapidly aging because it has few births. This lack of birth is more of a theological problem than we are willing to admit. What Benedict is about is what I call the "de-immanentization of the eschaton," that is, he seeks to remove the ideology from the meanings of the last things.
The notion of Purgatory, moreover, is not quite as outlandish as many would have it. The idea that we die with much disorder on our souls is simply a fact. On the other hand, Purgatory is not Hell. Hell is that doctrine that, as I like to put it, makes every act that we do potentially salvific or damnatory. We do not live trivial lives, even the most socially insignificant of us. And it has long been known that behind the doctrines of progress and now ecology and globalization there lies an inner-worldly utopian premise that claims that we can produce our own heaven on earth.
As I have often argued, much of the disorder of politics arises precisely from unacknowledged theological claims motivating political movements that announce that they can solve human problems by science, politics, or economics. This danger is why the pope is careful to redefine science and politics for what they are. They are not solutions to transcendent problems which in fact are within our lives but not on our terms.
This encyclical has tremendous importance in political philosophy, I think, because it gets at the heart of the disorders of our politicized and overly scientific times. By restoring death, heaven, hell, and purgatory to their proper places, we are almost for the first time enabled to free ourselves from the ideological movements of modernity which are nothing less than a replacing of things of the transcendent order into this world where they do not belong. The result of this purification is to let politics be politics, science be science. It also lets us live and die as the kind of finite beings we are, mortal beings but still created in hope for eternal life. The pope's "spiritual sword," to go back to a figure from Pope Gelasius, is, as it turns out, necessary for us to understand what we are, what politics are.
Masugi: In your book, The Regensburg Lecture, you compared Benedict's "Regensburg Lecture" to, among other classic speeches, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Solzhenitsyn's Harvard Commencement Address, and Henry V's St. Crispin's Day Speech. Why does it deserve such praise?
Schall: It deserves it for the same reason that these speeches deserve the inner-worldly immortality due to noble words that Hannah Arendt talked of in the polis. The polis or state is designed to transcend our individual mortal lives. What we say explains what we are and where we are. At certain times in the history of man, there arise words that suddenly illuminate our whole lot, that explain to us what is true.
The scope of the "Regensburg Lecture" is precisely where are we, who are we, how did we got here from there. As I mentioned in the previous response, the crisis of our time is one of intelligibility about what we are, about the kind of beings we are, about how we know, about our final destiny. These issues have been so mixed up that we no longer can distinguish what properly belongs to this world or to the next. The great ideological movements have largely been covert efforts to accomplish a kind of universal peace or brotherhood or everlastingness that depends not on God but on ourselves. There has been fire in the eyes of the philosophers who have desperately sought to find an answer to what we are aside from revelation.
The "Regensburg Lecture" in a few pages of very insightful argument resituates everything, as does Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi. What will most strike the casual reader is the force with which this pope directs himself to reason and its foundations (and aberrations). Unless we are readers of Aquinas, we are not used to seeing reason pressed by what is in revelation itself, even within its own order. What is also striking in the "Regensburg Lecture" is the way that seemingly very different ideas really have a common root.
No one could be more surprised than the modern intellectual to find that Islam is a major political and intellectual, let alone military, issue. But the pope not only accounts for the essence of Islam but also how it relates to the voluntarism that has developed in western political and philosophical circles. The turns away from realism always have a voluntarist basis. At each turn, what is rejected in modernity is, in the end, a key in the very defense of the kind of being we are.
As one gets older, he often realizes that the central issues of man, cosmos, and God can be stated clearly and succinctly. I included in this list the essay of Urs von Balthasar on his own philosophy and Monsignor Robert Sokolowski's essay on the Eucharist in his Christian Faith & Human Understanding, which is itself a recapitulation of intellectual history. The bottom line is really that the alternatives to a coherent relation of reason and revelation have all proved under pressure of reality and logic to be incoherent. Nietzsche, I think, suspected this. Though his turn was wrong, his insight was correct. That is why the pope likes to cite him. The "Regensburg Lecture," in brief, is a concise way of spelling out where we are. It sets the agenda for the confrontation of all other religions and philosophies with that reason addressed by a specific revelation.
Masugi: Thanks very much for fighting through finals and papers to set forth these thoughts. Christmas blessings.