Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Cardinal Ratzinger: Pastor, Pianist and Theologian

By Aussiegirl

Like many of us who are not Catholic, I have nevertheless been following the selection of a new Pope with great interest.

Among the candidates who have caught my eye is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany, who is mentioned in BonnieBlueFlag's excellent summary just below.

There are several facts about him which have captured my imagination, and so, as a non-Catholic, I suppose I might say he is my favorite and the one I am rooting for.

According to this short biographical sketch, Cardinal Ratzinger is not only a humble man who lives in a small apartment near the Vatican and walks daily to work, encountering patiently the appeals of parisioners with complaints about their parish priests and other local concerns, but he plays the piano, and has a preference for Beethoven. Now, as an amateur pianist, with a preference for Beethoven myself, (along with Chopin, it must be added), that instantly made me feel a certain kinship with him, for certainly he must sense the spirituality in the music of Beethoven, who himself said his music was inspired by a higher power, and who felt thoughout his life that he was close to God at every moment. He is also, according to the short biography, one of the few Cardinals who is a professional academic theologian.

Just by coincidence, the other day I happened to be leafing through my copy of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, by Stephen Barr, and noticed a reference to Cardinal Ratzinger mentioned in the first few pages, along with a quote from the Cardinal's book, In the Beginning.

I thought it would be interesting to quote the relevant passages from Barr's book which deal with the Cardinal's ideas on the subject of the church and science.

In Chapter 2, entitled: Materialism as an Anti-Religious Mythology, Barr summarizes what he calls the anti-religious myth that is contained in many books and theories. It goes something like this in my paraphrase:

Religion is the fruit of ignorance. Ignorant people, because they have no explanation for natural phenomena and do not understand how the real world works, resort to superstitious explanations which rely on mythical beings and occult forces. Thus we have Zeus and the other gods who are responsible for thunder, etc.

True knowledge, i.e. science, is based on reason and experience, on testable hypotheses and reproducible experiments which explain natural phenomena. Religious beliefs rely on sacred texts and the authorities of ancients or of holy men and thus are unreliable and unscientific. Ultimately the conflict between science and religion is one of reason vs. dogma.

The defining moment in the conflict between reason and religion was the trial of Galileo before the Inquisition. It is clear that in that contest science won -- and religion lost.

As science has progressed to explain more and more of the wonders we see around us, religion has become more and more unnecessary. Science relies on observation and its theories are put to the test, while religion relies on invisible entities which have never been proven to exist and increasingly have been shown to be irrelevant. No one has found a soul, no one has seen God, or angels, devils, Heaven or Hell.

Thus as science has moved forward there is less and less room for religion, as the gaps in man's knowledge of the universe about him displace the necessity of otherworldly explanation. Religion was meant to explain that which was unexplainable to ancient man, and now as the facts become known, religion has become more and more unnecessary.

Science relies on the "known", while religion relies on the "unknown", the unexplainable, the mysteries -- in short -- on the irrational.

Barr continues with the words:

"It is not too hard to show that most of this fairly standard anti-religious caricature is based on misunderstandings and bad history. In the first place, it is important to emphasize that the biblical religions did not originate in pre-scientific attempts to explain natural phenomena through myth. In fact, the Bible shows almost no interest in natural phenomena. It is certainly truth that biblical revelation, both Jewish and Christian, has as a central part of its message that the universe is a creation of God and reflects his infinite wisdom and power. However, the scriptural authors evince no concern with detailed questions of how or why things happen the way they do in the natural world. Their primary concern is with God's relationship to human beings, and with human beings' relationships with each other.

In other words, the religion of the Bible is not a nature religion. Indeed, one of the great contributions of the Bible, which helped clear the ground for the later emergence of science, was to desacralize and depersonalize the natural world. This is not to deny that the Bible is overwhelmingly supernatural in its outlook, but that supernaturalism is concentrated, so to speak, in a being who is "outside" of nature.

(This following sentence has a footnote to Ratzinger's book)No more were the Sun or stars or oceans or forests the haunts of ghosts or gods, nor were they endowed with supernatural powers. They were mere things, creations of the one God."

Barr adds that it is not an accident that as traditional Christian belief has weakened in Western society in the last few decades there has been a recrudescence of belief in the "occult".

On pages 60 - 61 Barr further quotes directly from Ratzinger's book:

"The theory of entropy, the theory of relativity, and...other discoveries...showed that the universe was, so to speak, marked by temporality -- a temporality that speaks to us of a beginning and an end, and of the passage from a beginning to an end. Even if time were virtually immeasurable, there would still be discernable through the obscurity of billions of years, in the awareness of the temporality of being, that moment to which the Bible refers as the beginning -- that beginning which points to him who had the power to produce being and to say: 'Let there be...,' and it was so."


At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Spell binding.

I did not know.

Now, I agree with you. This man has credentials to be Pope.

Today, there was black smoke coming out of the chimney.

The Church itself has 115 Cardinals; from all over the world.

I've never read anything as well done as your references to Barr's book; and Ratzinger.

Together, we watch and want the same outcome. CAROL HERMAN


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