Benedict XVI’s unpublished letter- God is key to understanding human rights

The Ratiznger Schuelerkreis, a circle of former students of Joseph Ratzinger who meet annually, will gather this year to discuss the themes: “Church and State, Church and Society.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI selected the topic, as he does for the group every year.

May 15, 2018

By Andrea Gagliarducci
The Ratiznger Schuelerkreis, a circle of former students of Joseph Ratzinger who meet annually, will gather this year to discuss the themes: “Church and State, Church and Society.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI selected the topic, as he does for the group every year.

This topic is intimately connected to the content of a recently published book, and above all to a letter – previously unpublished – contained in that book.

The book is “Liberare la libertà. Fede e Politica nel Terzo Millennio” (Freeing Freedom: Faith and Politics in the Third Millennium). It was curated by professors Pierluca Azzaro and Carlos Granados, as the second of a series of 7 books of Joseph Ratzinger’s selected texts addressing the main themes of the pontificate.

Including excerpts from the second book of his “Jesus of Nazareth” series, a dialogue Benedict XVI had with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, a speech delivered at Westminster Hall in London and one delivered at the Bundestag in Germany, among other things, the book provides a wide overview of Joseph Ratzinger’s political thought.

The final question, for Benedict XVI, is always God. Can a state be built without God? And how much can the state involve itself in the lives of its citizens?

The text, rather than being philosophical, is quite pragmatic. It deals with universal rights like the right to freedom of conscience, along with more general reflections on the idea of personal freedom.

The unpublished letter from Benedict XVI contained in the book provides a response to those questions, since it reaffirms “the centrality of the question of God.”

The letter was a response to a 2014 book by Italian philosopher and politician Marcello Pera, entitled “Diritti umani e cristianesimo. La Chiesa alla prova della modernità” (“Human Rights and Christianity: The Church in modernity”).

Benedict XVI’s letter makes immediately clear its point: despite the fact that Pope St. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris was significant for the use of human rights language in magisterial texts, “the issue of human rights has practically acquired a place of great importance in the post-conciliar Magisterium and theology only with John Paul II,” Benedict XVI writes.

According to Benedict XVI, John Paul II’s emphasis on human rights was “the consequence of practical existence,” because, he wrote “in the idea of human rights is the concrete weapon capable of limiting the totalitarian character of the state,” offering room “for the freedom necessary not only for thinking of the individual person, but also, and above all, for the faith of Christian and for the rights of the Church.”

Human rights, then, were considered “the rational force” that could contrast “the all-encompassing presumption, ideological and practical, of the state founded on Marxism.” An understanding of human rights could limit any absolutist claim by the state, even one founded on the basis of a religious justification. Benedict wrote that this understanding was part of the contribution of John Paul II.

Christians have always demanded freedom of faith, in a state – the Roman state – that “knew religious tolerance, but that affirmed an ultimate identification between state and divine authority to which Christians could not consent,” the pope emeritus wrote.--CNA

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