Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Faith, Reason, and Another Moment of Zen

At this morning's general audience, the war on relativism topped the talk:

In a cold morning with few sunny breaks the Pope spoke to 40,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square. He presented again a “great figure of the early Church,” i.e. St Justin from Nablus, philosopher, martyr and the greatest apologist of the 2nd century, “one of those ancient Christian writers who defended Christianity from the heavy accusations levelled by pagans and Jews;” someone who at the same time had “the missionary vision to propose and present the contents of the faith using a language and mental categories that were understandable to his contemporaries.”

Born in the Holy Land around 100 AD, this is what he did. He was a philosopher “who at the end of his long journey in search for the truth found the Christian faith.”

In Rome he founded a school where he taught the Christian religion for free. Denounced for this, he was beheaded around 165 under the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Justin, the Pope said, “led an implacable critique of the pagan religion and its myths, seen as diabolic tricks on the path of truth.”

In his Apologies Justin illustrated “the divine project of creation and salvation which is realised in Jesus Christ who is the Logos, the creative Reason,” to which each man is participant. It is the same Logos that manifested itself in the Jews and that was present as ‘seeds of truth’ in Greek philosophy.”

Justin, in other words, “marks the decisive option of the ancient Church for Reason rather than the religion of the pagans which Christians viewed as idolatry.” For this reason, John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et ratio called him a “pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking—albeit with cautious discernment [. . .]. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity ‘the only sure and profitable philosophy.’”

Christianity is therefore “the historical manifestation of Logos in its totality. From that follows [the idea] that all that is beautiful that anyone expressed belongs to us Christians,” said the Pope.

In other news, the Pope took a rare Wednesday private audience -- and for a notable group, to boot: the theology faculty of the University of Tübingen, where then-Fr Joseph Ratzinger served for a five-year stint that, arguably, was the most transformative period in his life and thinking.

And, despite his "repeated request," Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB -- Benedict's on-the-ground point-man on things Chinese -- has announced that, for the time being, the pontiff will not accept his age-induced resignation as bishop of Hong Kong.

"His Holiness Benedict XVI has decided that I carry on as the Bishop of Hong Kong and, in that position, do whatever I can to participate in the concerns for the Church in China in collaboration with the Holy See until it will be arranged otherwise," he said.

Zen, head of the 250,000 Catholics in the territory, did not say how long this would mean until he can retire and his spokesman declined to comment.

Nevertheless, Zen said he was willing to obey the Pope's decision.

"Obedience is fundamental duty grounded in our Sacramental Ordination. I look up to the example of St Joseph and submit myself to the will of God," he said, but he called on the Holy See to find his replacement soon.

The Shanghai-born Zen has been at the forefront of the move to improve diplomatic ties with Beijing. In January, the Vatican said it was setting up a permanent commission to handle China affairs.

Given his red hat a year ago this week, the "Viagra of Hong Kong" turned 75 in January.