Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Return of the "Dictatorship"

At today's General Audience, the Pope received some notable gifts from Italian b-ball legend Dino Meneghin, the first non-American drafted into the NBA, likewise considered the best European ever to hit the court.

For the record, this doesn't beat the day when Don King showed up with gifts of championship belts (photo)... that was unforgettable. More to the point, though, B16's catechesis for this Wednesday's meeting pointedly returned to the phrase of Joseph Ratzinger's Election Eve homily that's become one of his pontificate's most famous terms:
If we fail to recognize the value of natural law, or of the immutable truth, inherent in the human heart, which urges concern for the common good and rejects attacks on life, then we risk a "dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything definitive and leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self and ones own desires". This is the warning that Benedict XVI traced today from the life and thoughts of John of Salisbury, a twelfth century English theologian, the subject of his catechesis delivered to nine thousand people present in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican for the General audience....

Benedict XVI stressed in particular the value of two works by the bishop of Chartres, the "Metalogicon" and "Policraticus", which describes man and government in medieval thought. In the first work, "defence of logic" in Greek, he "rejects with fine irony the position of those who had a narrow conception of culture, considered only eloquent rhetoric, empty words." Instead he praises philosophy, as an "encounter between strong thought and effective speech” and argues that "wisdom that does not take advantage of the word is truncated”.

It is “a very current thought. Today, that which is called eloquence, or the ability to communicate with increasingly elaborate and accessible instruments, has multiplied enormously" but there is still "an urgent need to communicate messages with wisdom inspired by truth, goodness and beauty. It is' a great responsibility and one that regards in particular people who work in the diverse and complex world of culture, communication, media”, an area where "the Gospel message can be preached with a missionary force."

In the "Policraticus" starting from the question of "what human reason can know, up to what point can man expectations correspond to the knowledge of the truth," he affirms that "human knowledge is imperfect, subject to finitude, to the human limitations” which leads man to attain a "knowledge that is not indisputable, but probable and questionable".

However "an objective, unchanging truth accessible to human reason and that concerns practical action” does exist. John of Salisbury called it the law of "equity" and today it is known as "natural law". "These are precepts for all peoples that in no case may be repealed, conditions that make the actions of rulers just and permissible. The theme of the relationship between natural law and positive legal system mediated by equity is today of great importance. "

"In our time - he explained - especially in some countries, there is a worrying disconnect between reason, which has the task of discovering the ethical values of human dignity, and freedom, which has the responsibility to welcome them and promote them. Maybe today, - said the Pope - John of Salisbury would remind us that only the laws which safeguard the sanctity of human life and reject the permissibility of abortion, euthanasia and casual genetic experiments, only the laws that respect marriage between a man and a woman and inspired to a correct state secularism, which always entails respect for religious freedom and the principle of subsidiary at the national and international level, can be considered fair. Otherwise what John of Salisbury referred to as the tyranny of princes and we describe as a dictatorship of relativism would ultimately be established, which, as I recalled a few years ago, does not recognize anything as definitive and leaves as the ultimate criterion one's self and one’s own desires".
On a related note, CNS reported earlier today that the pontiff will spend 27 December's Holy Family Sunday lunching with Rome's poor.

Following the day's noontime Angelus, Benedict will join some 200 underprivileged Romans for the meal, to be held at a Trastevere soup-kitchen run by the Sant'Egidio movement.