The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI

The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI
(Fr. Joseph Fessio and Robert Royal, January 12, 2023)

Transcript available below

About the speakers

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. was a doctoral student under Benedict XVI when the future Pope was known as Joseph Ratzinger, a professor and priest at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Father Fessio taught philosophy and theology at Gonzaga University, the University of Santa Clara, and at the University of San Francisco. He also served as Chancellor at Ave Maria University. In 1978, he founded Ignatius Press, a major Catholic publisher that has brought out most of the English translations of the works of Cardinal Ratzinger and later Benedict XVI. He is also the publisher of the Catholic World Report.

Dr. Robert Royal is the founder and president of Faith & Reason Institute in Washington D.C. and editor-in-chief of “The Catholic Thing,” a publication he founded with Michael Novak in 2008. Dr. Royal holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. The author of many books, his most recent ones include Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the 20th Century.

Transcript

Introduction

Robert R. Reilly:

Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. I am delighted to have two guests with me today, Father Joseph Fessio, who was a doctoral student under Benedict XVI when the future Pope was known as Joseph Ratzinger, a professor and priest at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Father Fessio taught philosophy and theology at Gonzaga University, the University of Santa Clara, and at the University of San Francisco. He also served as Chancellor at Ave Maria University. In 1978, he founded Ignatius Press, a major Catholic publisher that has brought out most of the English translations of the works of Cardinal Ratzinger and later Benedict XVI. He is also the publisher of the Catholic World Report.

Robert Royal is the founder and president of Faith & Reason Institute in Washington D.C. and editor-in-chief of “The Catholic Thing,” a publication he founded with Michael Novak in 2008. Dr. Royal holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. The author of many books, his most recent ones include Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the 20th Century.

Gentlemen, welcome to the program. We have a very large topic today. It is the legacy of Benedict XVI, who died at the age of 95 recently and who served as Pope from 2005 to 2013. Let us first of all address his principal achievements, and then see which of those might constitute his legacy. Fr. Fessio, since you knew the Pope so well, since you studied under him, how would you answer that first part of the question?

Achievements

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, of course, he was an extraordinary teacher, and students would flock to his classes. I was fortunate to be a doctoral student only because his friend Fr. [Henri] de Lubac recommended me, so there is an achievement for certain as a teacher.

He did not want to be a bishop or archbishop. He was made the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. He accepted that because he believed it – well, because the Pope asked him to accept it, and he was not there for long. It was a huge administrative burden. The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising has something like 5,000 employees or more. It is incredible, but then he went to Rome to be the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). And there, of course, for more than 20 years he was at the side of John Paul II. He had many achievements in both promoting right doctrine, orthodoxy, and also protecting and defending against errors.

And between 1985 and 1991 or 1992, he was tasked by Pope John Paul II to oversee the writing and editing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and that, of course, is a monumental achievement, which is still there for us. He was also, of course, at the Second Vatican Council as a peritus with Cardinal Frings, and he was instrumental actually in having the initial schemata, the outlines (that is Greek), outlines for the different documents changed and redrafted, and particularly the one on divine revelation, Dei verbum, that is Latin for word of God, and so that is an achievement.

He had many other things. He played the piano beautifully, that is an achievement. He loved art and literature. And then, of course, as Pope he did many things. He tried to bring reconciliation within the Catholic Church between people who are fighting about the different forms of the Mass. He gave some lectures which are, I think, world-changing lectures, particularly on September 12th in 2006, the Regensburg lecture.

But I could fill up the rest of your show, Bob, with achievements. I mean, the man was 95 years old when he died, and he was tremendously energetic in a certain way intellectually, so there is just so much there.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I understand he wrote some 86 books, which is astonishing by itself, and some say simply in the written word he compares with Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Yes, in fact, today I was on Raymond Arroyo’s show, The World Over, and Cardinal M├╝ller referred to him as — I am sorry, this is Latin, but Augustine, Augustinus Redivivus, ‘Augustine returned,’ you know. But it is interesting, Bob, he did not write very many books, actually. What he wrote were articles and essays. He gave homilies, he gave radio talks, and often they were planned to be on a common theme, and then these were later made into books. His first most important book was Introduction to Christianity, and that is basically the lectures he gave at T├╝bingen in 1968, 1969.

Then at the end of his life, he did write a book, three volumes, on Jesus of Nazareth. And in the middle, he wrote The Spirit of the Liturgy. He also wrote a small autobiography, Milestones in English, but otherwise most of his writings are, you know, long interviews with Vittorio Messori, or Peter Seewald, or as they say, homilies or essays.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yeah, I just recently read a book that was put out of four sermons he gave, or which were later refined and worked on some more, back in about 1986, which is called In the Beginning, and is an utterly brilliant explication of Genesis.

I would also simply remark, since you included the subject of music, that I did not read anyone who had a profounder insight into the nature and character of music, by which he meant classical music, and how at its height it makes the transcendent perceptible, very moving writings on that subject.

His Achievements in the Secular World

Well, Bob Royal, let us turn to you for an answer about the nature of his achievements. Fr. Fessio, some of what you talked about was inside baseball in the Catholic Church, but he certainly could speak of achievements that were, let us say, more universal, one being (though we do not have to address that at this moment), was the dialogue in which he engaged with fellow Christians of other denominations and with Islam.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

And with Judaism.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, very importantly with Judaism.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

And with Enlightenment scientism or, you know, empiricism. He had a dialogue there as well.

Robert R. Reilly:

And with Marxists.

Robert Royal:

Since Fr. Fessio has done the Catholic thing, so to speak, rather extensively, I will talk a little bit about what I think are kind of his impact in various secular realms. For example, back in the ’80s when Liberation theology was a big deal in Latin America and even the present Pope, Pope Francis, has been tinged somewhat by that kind of Christianity-cum-Marxism, he was instrumental in bringing out two documents in the Catholic Church.

One was a critique of Marxism in all its forms because throughout his works, when he is addressing sort of the secular world, he is clear that if there is not a God term out there, we are going to find another God term, a real God. We are going to find another God, and Marxism for a lot of people became that ersatz God.

So he was such a brilliant philosophical, theological, cultural mind that it was extremely important back in the 1980s, the way he was able to parse out what was wrong with a kind of a Marxist version of Liberation theology. And that had an enormous impact. It kind of actually put an end to it, between him, his influence, and John Paul’s, in any kind of really potent form.

He then went on to talk about what real liberation would be, which is liberty, which is a liberty that is brought about by truth. Not only did he worry about scientism and worry about Marxism, he [also] worried about positivism. And he actually spoke to the German Bundestag after he became Pope, and said to them, look, the thing that got us into hot water in Germany, at least at a purely legalistic level, was the kind of positivism that as many have pointed out.

Hans Kelsen proposed that, you know, you have Democratic procedures by which you arrive at laws, but what if those laws turn evil? What if the men and women administering those laws are evil? There has to be a higher truth, a higher goodness, a different kind of humanism that can be a critique of even democratic systems that go wrong.

So I think in a variety of ways, he actually said when he spoke to the Bundestag the reason why positivism is so bad, in addition to the fact that it can lead to things like Marxism, is that we limit ourselves as human beings, we limit human reason, and we are like in a bunker of our own creation. He says it can be very, very, very well air-conditioned and lit and furnished with foods and whatnot, but it is not the fullness of human life.

So I think that on that more secular side – and he was able to speak about this stuff to places like the Bundestag. He spoke at Westminster in England. He spoke in Paris. There was a real cultural influence that he had in Europe that was a reflection of this very deep mind that he had, but that he was also able to convey in a way that was accessible even, God help us, even to politicians in a variety of countries.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, yes, he I mean he wrote several articles which became books on Europe, Turning Point for Europe?. He wrote that book with Marcello Pera, who was President of Italy at the time. He gave a talk at the same time as [J├╝rgen] Habermas did in the Bavarian Academy. So you are right, Bob, he had a direct influence on secular culture by engaging with it.

Even his First Encyclical, you know, and usually an encyclical, like, you, the other Bob here, Reilly, say it is inside baseball things, but his First Encyclical instead of quoting other popes, instead of quoting Augustine right away, he quoted Plato, and Aristotle, and Freud, and Nietzsche, and on the subject of love, so that is something which is important outside the Catholic Church and the secular order.

And before he was Pope, at the congregation, he made many statements on human dignity, on life, death, birth, marriage that are of value for everyone. They are not simply Catholic teachings, they are part of the structure of the world, structure of creation, so-called natural law.

The Greek Philosophical Tradition and de-Hellenization

Robert Royal:

I think one of his other great achievements, Bob, was an attempt to point out to people inside the church how important the Greek philosophical tradition was, that famous lecture that we have mentioned already, the Regensburg Address that he gave. He talked about there being three de-Hellenizations even within the church, that at the time of the Reformation with Luther, solo fide was, you know, this sort of blind faith that can lead on the one hand to a kind of extremism, the kind of extremism that sometimes we see in Islam, without that corrective of reason.

He said that the same thing happened in the 19th century when a kind of Enlightenment rationality narrowed things down, and that rationality was not reason. And then he also said in our time that the idea of multiculturalism, that the various cultures of the world are just relative to one another, this, too, kind of abandons the three great currents that exist in our Western culture, namely the biblical current that gives us that kind of metaphysical depth, the philosophical tradition in Greece, and of course the legal tradition of Rome that was so important in the development of the West.

So he was an important figure inside the church for that kind of correction, but this also, of course, continues to have all kinds of repercussions. And he pointed out that there is no civilization that can defend itself unless it has some kind of sense of the transcendent. And for Europe, and for us in the United States, and of course in many other places, God is that transcendence. That transcendence is what actually limits the political and keeps the political from turning into a kind of a metastasizing lust for power, libido dominandi, if I can invoke a little bit of Latin along with Fr. Fessio.

He is an enormous figure, and I think we are just starting to appreciate not only what he was able to achieve in his own day but the continuing relevance of the deep thought presented in a way that was quite accessible to a lot of people.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, yes, and Bob, the other Bob here, Bob Reilly, wrote a book which we published at Ignatius Press called America on Trial. And Bob Reilly spent the first several chapters explaining that our constitution was not out of nowhere and it was not out of Hobbes either, but it comes from the tradition that goes back to exactly what you, Bob Royal, said, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, that is the tripod, that is the triad.

And you know, Bob Reilly, you expressed that, defended that, and showed how important it was for our constitution not to forget those origins. Well, Benedict was doing the same thing. He was defending Jerusalem and Athens and Rome in the secular world. In fact, in this book we just published as a memorial, there is one section on faith and reason, and he was the perfect example of faith, which you might consider inside baseball, defending reason, which is the old part, you know, the whole building, the whole city.

And it is strange that when you lose faith, you also lose your mind (that is not me, that is Chesterton, but that is true). And I think that was at the core of his legacy and his achievement with respect to the wider world, exactly what Bob Royal was saying, but a defense of the roots of Western civilization and of Europe.

Robert R. Reilly:

He did speak of the United States favorably in this sense. He suggested that we had these breakwaters against these forces of relativism in our founding documents and the principles which animated them, and he specifically referred to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and so forth. But he used a famous phrase that resonated throughout the world, particularly in the West, that he said endangers us because it erodes the primacy of reason, to which you were speaking, Fr. Fessio, as well as the grounds of faith. And that famous phrase was the tyranny of relativism.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Yes, I am sure you remember the event on the White House lawn when Benedict came to the United States, and you had Benedict speaking like a President of the United States, and Bush speaking like a Pope. I mean, they were both expressing the deepest ideals and principles of the other, but you saw the beautiful interrelationship there between faith and culture.

Robert Royal:

Yeah, you know, it is curious, but Bob, you have, of course, explored the natural law foundations, to use that term, of our Constitution and, you know, beginning in in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Benedict actually pointed out to Europeans, because they do not have, I think, quite as clear a tradition of this. And it is certainly – I do not think it is instituted in the structures of the EU.

He pointed out that today when people talk about that natural law tradition, they think it is kind of a Catholic thing, and it is sectarian, and it is just not something that people in developed, democratic societies ought to pay attention to. And he says, oh, no, no, wait a minute, the natural law tradition begins back with the Stoics and the Greeks. It begins, it gets developed with a great Latin figure like Cicero.

Anybody who looks into the history of philosophy and Western thought will say that that understanding that nature and what reason, real reason, tries to dig deeply into the nature of things and the nature of human beings, that is where our natural law tradition comes out of, and so when we say we hold these truths to be self-evident, well, they may not be self-evident in 2023 and maybe they were not even for very long after the founding of the United States, [but there has always been that kind of understanding, that the foundations of our public life are the way they are].

Well, okay, the way that this comes to a head is simply that almost every civilization, even the ones that are not connected with the West, has some kind of idea of the foundation of things being meaningful. We say in the Christian tradition, the logos, the logic, the reason, the intelligibility of things that come directly from an intelligible God.

And so, putting that on the table in front of the Bundestag, or in Paris, or in Rome, or you know in various other places, reaffirming it when he was here in the United States, this is a fundamental thing not only for the church, although there are lots of people in the Catholic Church who do not understand this any longer, but also for our public life.

And if we read him, you know, understanding that the questions we are raising now – he says at one point one of his books, you know, once God disappears, all you have are these big words that can be abused in a variety of ways, democracy, you know, just anti-discrimination. He even says at one point we start to see it in the Western world, that the term anti-discrimination is actually being used to discriminate against other points of view, and not extending freedom but restricting it.

Interfaith Dialogue

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, of course, he had the experience of growing up under Nazi Germany, and pertaining to the point you just made, Bob, he described the regime as sinister and, quoting him now, “One that banished God, and thus became impervious to anything true and good.” He extended that critique, as you have just pointed out, making the primacy of reason central, but reason is understood as an expression of the logos that is of God as reason to which he always referred, as in explicating the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John.

And this seemed to undergird his insistence in any dialogue, including his insistence of this point in dialogue with Islam. You do not end up agreeing on the integrity of reason. You begin with the integrity of reason as the foundation of the dialogue, and what is more, with the agreement that reason reveals the inviolable integrity of every individual person as coming from God, which is the source of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

What impressed me about his dialogues with Muslims is, again, he did not set that as a goal to be reached through the dialogue but as a necessary precondition for even beginning it.

Robert Royal:

Yeah, how can you have dia-logue, which is to say there is going to be an interchange of two people, trying to reason together, if you deny it at the beginning that there is truth available via the logos? I mean, what you then would be saying is there is your truth and my truth, as the kids say these days, and then dialogue becomes not only impossible but it inevitably becomes a clash because if your truth is not going to be accessible to a discussion with my truth, then we are just expressing ourselves as two distinct and possibly opposed, most likely opposed, people who are confronting one another.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Once reason is sidelined, what is left is will, and therefore if your truth and my truth are different, and I feel imposed upon by your truth, well, I am going to impose mine on you, or at least eliminate you. I am going to cancel your truth.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, that is what was so impressive about his term, the tyranny of relativism, that what you just described, Fr. Fessio, can take place through democratic forms when those when those democratic societies or forms of government lose that link to the transcendent, which is the source of the rights which they are supposed to be protecting in the first place.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

And then as Bob Royal said earlier (I think he said it. Maybe you said it, Bob), that law becomes merely positive law, and when it is positive law, how can you judge whether law is good or bad? If the origin of law is the democratic process where your rights are created and then offered to people, there is no way of criticizing any law from any higher viewpoint, and that is again what Ratzinger was continually harping upon when he gave these talks to, you know, like you say, the Bundestag or the British Parliament, is that you can judge laws. There can be such a thing as a good law or a bad law, but only if there is a standard which is not the law itself.

Robert Royal:

Yeah, you know, Ratzinger said several times that democracy and the kind of laws and policies and procedures that democracies established for many things can be handled by the usual democratic process. There are majorities, there are minorities, and you work through, working together to try to arrive at a way to go forward, but when it comes to those fundamental things, I have been in debate as I think probably all of us have with people in the United States about where do our rights come from. Why do I think that you as a different person than me have dignity, why do I have to respect you?

Well, it is pretty darn hard to figure out why we respect one another, why we think every individual human being on the face of the planet from the child in the womb to the elderly person who is on the edge of death, why are all these people bearers of dignity? Why do I just owe respect and the recognition of their dignity to them? Outside of being created in the image and likeness of God, I do not know what we can say.

Well, we cannot say that that biology or Darwinism gives us inherent dignity. We cannot say that that having to be an American, or a Frenchman, or an Italian gives us dignity. It is only in that deepest sense of the way that we have been created in the image and the likeness that stands over and above all those systems that can abuse us.

Robert R. Reilly:

It is extremely interesting, Bob, the point you just made, because the uniqueness of revelation to the Jews was precisely that point in Genesis, that man is made in the image and likeness of God, which was not heard in the surrounding cultures in the Middle East, whether they are Sumerian, Acadian, and so forth. In their versions of a cosmogony, human beings were created to be slaves of the Gods and were not made in the image and likeness of God, which sort of sets a foundation for addressing the question of cultural relativism, that indeed, they are not all relative. And that is also a significant point for the kinds of dialogues that Benedict XVI was pursuing. There are cultures today that do not accept that man is made in the image of the likeness of God.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

You are an expert on Islam to some extent. What would you say is the Islamic view of that?

Robert R. Reilly:

The term they would use is shirk, blasphemy. To associate God with man is a form of blasphemy because He cannot be associated with anything and He is decidedly not made in the image and likeness of Allah.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, it always struck me (well, always as soon as I learned about it) that you know, there is a great reference for God in the Islamic philosophy, theology, religion, and there are 99 names for God. But among those 99 names are missing father and love because you cannot have fatherhood or genuine love without a community of persons, and only in the Trinity can there ultimately be found a view where God can be distinct from us, and yet we can have value as more than just his slaves.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, that is a very good point because-

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

All my points are very good points. Otherwise, I would not make them.

Robert R. Reilly:

What Islam specifically is in relationship to Christianity is the denial of the incarnation of Christ and a denial of the trinity. And the oldest written words we have from Islam are around the base of the Dome of the Rock, and those specifically say, “I have no Associates.” They are, you know, repeatedly saying, there is no incarnation, there is no Trinity. And that is why Islam is scandalized by Christianity. And as you mentioned, Fr. Fessio, to call God ‘Our Father,’ the prayer that Jesus Christ taught his Apostles to pray, Our Father. To suggest there is a familial relationship between man and God is another shocker.

Now, I do not mean in my general characterizations of Islam here to exclude a very beautiful spirituality that obtains in parts of Islam and a profoundly moving mysticism that was exactly influenced by Christian mystics in the Middle East, so it is a variegated religion. You cannot say it is all one thing. It is a different thing in Indonesia where you find the principal and largest Muslim organization in the world, Nahdlatul Ulama, accepting the equality of all people, and a detoxified Islam that is precisely against the form of it that was so toxic until recently in Saudi Arabia.

And also, what it allows within itself is philosophy. In other words, it accepts the status of reason, to which Benedict XVI spoke so powerfully, so there is a part of the Islamic world. It is not that these issues still are not contentious within Indonesia, they are, but there is a sign, aside, which accepts that integrity of reason, and also then forms the basis for true dialogue.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, look, this may sound like it is a bit off the thread, but it is something which Benedict and John Paul II defended greatly, but do you think that the separation of church and state, which I would say goes back to Jesus’ saying render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, an enigmatic saying but nevertheless one that planted the seeds for the separation or distinction of church and state. Do you think that the lack of a trinitarian theology is somehow responsible for the inability of Islam to have a state and a religion that are distinct?

Robert R. Reilly:

It is very interesting because Benedict XVI spoke of secularism as a gift of Christianity, that it made the state possible by more or less defining its limits, that a state could no longer assume theocratic pretensions. And within Islam, of course, for many, many centuries that presented a problem. It is, I think, most a problem today in those forms of Islam that we refer to, perhaps not entirely accurately, as radical Islam or Islamism.

That problem exists intellectually and philosophically and theologically within Islam, and it is one of the things that is being addressed. There was a Muslim philosopher in Morocco, interestingly enough, who made the statement, ‘The future of Islam will be Aristotelian, or it will not be.’

Robert Royal:

You know, I was in Turkey some years ago and talking with a woman who may someday be the Prime Minister of Turkey, and I quoted that passage, Fr., that you just quoted, about render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. And she looked at me and she said is that in the Gospels? She had no idea.

I mean, either what you are going to have is the kind of situation that exists in Turkey where there is kind of a forced separation of the two, and there is a kind of an uneasiness about having the secular state on the one hand, and then, you know, the religious belief on the other hand, or there has got to be some sort of conversation, some sort of dialogue, that goes on within Islam itself. And that requires cultivating the kind of use of reason that is going to enable even Muslims themselves to be able to discuss it. So Bob, I am not at all surprised that this Moroccan talked about Aristotle.

You know we have got the problem internally in the West that Benedict talked about, that we are virtually a cultureless civilization now, that we have suppressed our own deep, deep roots in the ways that we talked about earlier in Greece, in Jerusalem, in Athens, and Rome, so we have got that same kind of problem that we have got to work on, the way that reason is going to conduct that dialogue between our more secular side because there is a more secular side.

Even in Christianity, there is a more secular side of what our lives are, and that absolute religious side, that holy side, and there is nothing other than the conversation between faith and reason that is going to be able to resolve such massive questions.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

And that was the real intent and scope of the Benedict speech in Regensburg. It was not primarily a critique of Islam or the East, although it was that, saying to them they needed their Enlightenment, they had to give reason its proper place. But he also criticized the West, the secular West, for reducing knowledge to scientific and empirical knowledge with no openness to the transcendent. And he said that will lead to the disintegration of the West.

Robert R. Reilly:

You published one book of a series of talks that Benedict XVI gave. It is called Joseph Ratzinger Benedict XVI: Western Culture.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Yes.

Robert R. Reilly:

And this, again, is Benedict addressing exactly that problem of what has happened inside Western culture that has become deracinated. It has been separated from its roots, by which he meant it has cut off the transcendent. If I just quote from one of these talks briefly that reinforces the points that both of you are making, he said, “Reason can no longer recognize anything but itself, and what is empirically certain is paralyzed and self-destructive. Reason that cuts itself off from God completely and tries to confine Him to the purely subjective realm loses its bearings and thus opens the door to the forces of destruction.”

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Right, that is not an inside baseball statement, that is not a statement of faith, that is a statement of man with a deep understanding of the real, of what is, as Fr. Shaw would say, you know?

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, he used that phrase in the famous Regensburg lecture in criticizing the West, which as you say, Fr. Fessio, was the major import of the talk. It was not about Islam, it was about the West, mainly, de-Hellenization. Let us talk about that, Bob.

Robert Royal:

Yeah, well, we touched on this before. I would go further even and say that he is trying to point back to the fact that history as we know it is a creation of the Bible. Other cultures do not really pay attention. They do not think God works in history. We think He does. We think He did in the Old Testament. As the stories of the Old Testament unroll, God is successively revealing himself and helping the shape of people. And then ultimately, of course, He reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

But it is just true as is true of any individual human being that human civilizations, human cultures, if they lose contact with their roots, then they dry up. It is like pulling a tree out of the ground. It is going to dry up, and it is one of the important elements of the West that we have this connection to ancient Greece, and it is not, he says, the third form of decolonization. It is not just that we now live in a multicultural world. We still have to look back at the fact that that is where we came from.

And if you believe God is active in history as Christians, I think, have to, that you have to believe there is a reason why God came into the world at the point where Roman law had kind of pacified the Mediterranean, and Greco-Roman culture, Hellenistic culture was the culture by which principles were going to be expressed. The New Testament is written in Greek. It is written in Koine Greek just as the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, so if we lose contact with that, even with that linguistic fact, we are kind of denying that God Himself is active in history.

And then we have got this kind of Gnostic, you know, there is God in me, there is pure spirituality. That is not the way that that Christianity and even Judaism think about the nature of the world. We are connected to our past, and just as a tree draws nourishment from the ground, we draw nourishment from where we came from because God intended us to come out of that context.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

I entirely agree with that, but I remember in high school thinking to myself, well, I am a Catholic because my parents are Catholic, but there are other people whose parents are Muslim, or Confucian, or atheist, or agnostic, so the fact that my personal roots were Catholic was not for me enough to say I should then remain a Catholic. I had to find out which of those roots, which of those cultures, which of those traditions seemed to correspond to my experience of reality.

And I do think we have to keep to our roots because what we are doing is we are respecting the wisdom of those who went before us. As [G.K.] Chesterton says, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead,” that we give a vote, you know, to those who have gone before us.

This is a little bit off, but a couple years ago, making my retreat, I watched this series by Jordan Peterson on Genesis. Now, he was not at the time, and still not as far as I know, a practicing or professing Christian, but he talked about Genesis and Revelation and how the truths that came into Genesis rose up kind of in the fashion of Jungian archetypes. But the way he expressed how God worked in His people in this mysterious and somewhat blurry way [struck me]. And what kind of bubbled to the top and crystallized was what we have is the prophets, and the Torah, and so on.

But I do not think it is a prejudiced thing to say that Western civilization’s roots are the only roots which can support a tree that will flourish completely. And as John Henry Newman, Saint John Henry Newman said – he would say Western Civilization with a capital C, basically. I do not want to get you canceled, Robert Reilly, but anyway you can just say I was an uncontrollable guest.

Robert R. Reilly:

Benedict XVI (I forget whether it was in his talk to the Bundestag or elsewhere) said that these truths that we have received through our tradition, that were made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore is inviolable in our persons, is also accessible to reason by people outside of the Christian tradition, so once again he was profoundly hopeful that that would serve as the basis of the dialogues he sought with Judaism, Islam, and within Christianity with Lutherans and other Protestant sects.

I think he thought that was the thing that was most imperiled in Europe and in the United States because of this determined effort to cut ourselves off from our own roots. He probably spoke of the problems of some of the immigration in Europe that was threatening the integrity of that culture because the immigration was taking place within a context of that cultural relativism and therefore not requiring the kind of assimilation that would be necessary for having a coherent society.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, sometimes people think that holding tradition, being conservative, is stifling. There is no room for creativity or for development or for change. And look at the history of music, which you know so well, Bob Reilly. Could you imagine someone writing something truly valuable who had no knowledge of the history of music, who did not know about chant, did not know about polyphony, did not know about, you know, classical music, did not about all this music?

It is tradition which allows for creativity.

You do not have to invent the scale. And by the way, I mean, as I am sure you know, the 12-tone scale is a Western invention without which you cannot have harmony. The pentatonic scale or the other scales that they had outside the West will not emit harmony, only melody. Well, therefore if you want to write a song that has melody to it, you have to remain in the tradition of the dodecaphony, the 12-tone scale that came from the West.

So to me that is a little image of how tradition is not stifling. It is not a limitation. Well, it is a limitation in a sense, just like the notes on a keyboard are a limitation as opposed to having, you know, an infinite number of notes, but tradition is the only basis for genuine creativity, it seems to me.

Robert Royal:

Bob, as a piano player let me bounce off that.

Robert R. Reilly:

The man who begins his day, every day, playing Bach, we want to hear from Bob Royal.

Robert Royal:

And [I listen to] other people as well.

Look, yeah, this kind of polyphony – I mean, let us use that term, you know, whether there is multiple sound. I am kind of struck, and I think that there are tones that give this off in that Regensburg address. We forget that the dictatorship of relativism that he talked about just before he became Pope is not only about relativism, it is about dictatorship, right?

So if you want to talk about multiculturalism, you know, we are all into diversity and multiculturalism and whatnot. Western civilization by its very nature is multicultural. We have talked about Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, that there are at least three main currents. And then, of course, you have the so-called barbarian tribes that play into this. And then Christianity moves out into other parts of the world and has to enculturate to be accepted in various places.

So if you want diversity of culture, this is a tradition that already has [diversity]. And one of the reasons it is able to adapt itself to all sorts of other circumstances [is] it already has a certain pluralism, a certain polyphony, a certain harmony within itself. The real diversity that we have comes from the fact that our tradition already has multiple voices within it, and therefore it is able to look to the Middle East through the developments that occurred in Judaism. It is able to look at any culture that develops a kind of a rational philosophical basis on the basis of what we know from Greece.

It is able to through Roman law and the way that Rome itself had to deal with a multicultural Empire. We recognize that the rule of law, to make law equal for all people of whatever background they are, however they came to be in our societies, is the very thing that protects the dignity and the rights and the very lives of all of us.

So you know, I am a strong supporter of the tradition of the West, which is not to say that it is closed off. It can develop further in its encounters with other [peoples], as Christianity has learned things from the new peoples that it encounters, but I think we one of the things that Dennis is quite brilliant about is how these terms like non-discrimination or multiculturalism or diversity have actually become quite the opposite of what they were understood to be in in our tradition. And they are not liberating. They are actually reducing the area of truth and of freedom.

Robert R. Reilly:

Bob, I think that point is extremely pertinent, that this Western civilization with its roots, about which you have both spoken so eloquently, is open to other cultures. And the distinctive thing about many other cultures is that they are not open to anything outside themselves. So there you have the foundation of a kind of universality.

And going back to Fr. Fessio’s point on music, that in a way is a perfect expression of the universality about which we have been speaking, because Western music is acknowledged in many diverse cultures. In Japan, in China, in the Middle East you find Western orchestras, string quartets, and a large, appreciative audience for the great achievements of Western music, which found ways to exploit the full potential of tones, of the octave.

As Fr. Fessio said, the octave exists in the music of every culture. The difference is how the octave is divided. We do not have tribal music. It is kind of universal in its address, in its musical speech to the human soul, and that is why I think people everywhere are so moved by it, although today you are both probably aware that that very attractive feature about it is being denigrated as imperialism because everything has to be seen now through this sieve of neo-tribalism.

Robert Royal:

Well, as Fr. Fessio said earlier, when reason disappears, what replaces it? It is will, and so you get this kind of neo-Marxist cultural reading of everything in which you do not have this mutual enrichment, to use another term that Benedict uses, where the old and the new or different types of cultures interact with one another and enrich one another.

What you have are these stark oppositions. You have black versus white, you have men versus women, you have the West versus the rest, and I think this is quite dangerous. And this also comes under that umbrella, the general umbrella of the dictatorship of relativism, because it looks like it is seeking to be a liberalization and an openness. And in fact, what it is [actually] is an openness to everything except our own culture.

This is a complicated subject, of course, but when any culture begins to value other cultures without even having examined them very carefully, by the way, over its own, there is something wrong.

I mean, you mentioned at the beginning, Bob, that I wrote a book about Columbus and the crisis of the West. Well, the West actually developed studies, the different disciplines like ethnology, learned foreign languages, actually explored different parts of the world because there was this expansiveness that came out of Christian Europe, frankly.

No other culture expanded around the world and looked to find out what there was that was out there, and then when it found other peoples, [they] actually studied their ways, developed different disciplines, anthropology, ethnology, all those sorts of things, studied even foreign forms of music, you know, and everything else.

There is no other culture that has really done that the way that the West has, so it is simply a lie, or it is at least a historical blindness, to claim that it is imperialism or colonialism only that drove the expansion of Western culture around the globe. It is actually curiosity on the part of the West, and at least to a certain extent a receptiveness in other parts of the globe about what we were able to achieve and able to transmit to other peoples.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

And [it was] also a generosity, obviously of mixed motives everywhere, but you know, I am a Jesuit. My forefathers in the Society of Jesus came to North America in the 1600s, and they left a very cultured France to do so. And what did they do? They went into Huronia. They went where the Iroquois were. That is not domination, that is sharing the goods that you received yourself, without merit, to others who can benefit by them.

Robert R. Reilly:

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Benedict XVI was the greatest defender of reason in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Would you accept that designation for him?

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

I would say it is a close race between him and John Paul II.

Robert Royal:

Bob, you know, it is often a joke — maybe some of our viewers will not have heard it, but if Voltaire were alive today, the great anti-Catholic French philosopher, if Voltaire were alive today, he would be shocked to find out that it is the Catholic Church that is the defender of reason in the world.

Robert R. Reilly:

Exactly, and it just occurred to me, Bob, it is an illustration of the point you were making, that perhaps the greatest defender of reason in Western culture today is an African cardinal whose works, Fr. Fessio, you have published, the great Cardinal [Robert] Sarah, and that he has a comprehension of the whole of Western culture in every aspect that we have been discussing today. In fact, [he has] a deeper appreciation of it than can be found in most of the university faculties and among the intelligentsia.

And [he] has sounded the toxin, a warning absolutely as profound as Benedict XVI, for instance, in his great speech at Notre Dame shortly before that great fire damaged it so badly. And he speaks specifically of what, I think it was Belgian missionaries, brought to the African country in which he was raised, Guinea, and the positive contributions [they made].

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Yeah, he was a barefoot boy, not even in a major city, way out in the hamlets, the little villages, and the Holy Ghost Fathers came, and they started a school there. And his parents became Catholic, and then he was very impressed by these priests praying Breviary. He would go see them walking around, praying the Breviaries, the Book of Prayer, the Book of Psalms, and that led to his vocation, and that led to a deeper education, and that led to his becoming immersed in another culture, which did not abolish this culture.

He is still African to the core. He is definitely still black, that is for sure, but what happens? He rises to the highest pinnacles of the Catholic Church, a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Where does that happen elsewhere with inclusivity, you know? And by the way, you mentioned this earlier, Bob Royal. [If] you go into any Parish – most typical parishes even in Virginia there, and you look around, you cannot find a more diverse group. You have got rich bankers and financial consultants. You have got washer women. You have got laborers. You have got young; you have got old. You have got blacks; you have got Hispanics; you have got Vietnamese.

I mean, there is no grouping you can find which is more diverse than a normal Catholic parish.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I think that the equality that is referred to in the American founding is one of those things that can be reached through natural reason. There were hints of it in the stoic philosophy and so forth, though it never translated into political institutions at that time. So it is available to natural reason, but on the other hand there has been no greater exponent of equality than Christianity.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, here is another example, Bob, the Hippocratic Oath. That is not Christian, that is not Catholic, that is Greek, but who is maintaining the Hippocratic Oath? You know, when I went to a graduation a few years back, one of my students was graduating, they had a choice to take – get this – the Hippocratic Oath or the oath of lasagna. I thought the oath of lasagna, what is that?

There is some medical professor, you know, named Lasagna, and he created an oath which deviates from the Hippocratic Oath. Well, that is what happens when the Hippocratic Oath, which is embedded in a philosophic culture and then a theological culture, is taken out of it, it degrades, it becomes hostile to human flourishing.

Robert Royal:

You know, one of the interesting phrases that Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, used is – we talked about how he grew up under Nazism, and so he had a very sharp sense of what 20th century ideologies had done, and of course, he, as I mentioned, he was instrumental in replying to Liberation theology in its Marxist forms.

But because there are various bad values as a reason, or bad forms of reason, that exist in the modern world, he said that he thought that one of the things that those awful experiences of totalitarianism in the 20th century (and of course, we still have it in China, and Vietnam, and other places in the world right now), those awful things that happen because of the wrong use of reason, or the wrong idea of what reason is, might lead to what he called a convalescence of reason, that because we had a sick reason, we now would have the possibility of seeing that form of reason lead to these things, and therefore, in reaction to that we might open ourselves up to something that is greater.

And I think that is kind of in a nutshell why it is that, Bob, I think you rightly say (it is a hard thing to prove of course, but you could certainly argue) that the greatest exponent of reason in its fullest reach in modern times might be Joseph Ratzinger.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, one of the statements included in the Regensburg Address that proved to be incendiary was that acting unreasonably is against God’s nature. And to prove that there are different conceptions of God, there were riots and a few murders in the Middle East, [which] they claim were incited by those remarks in the Regensburg lecture.

Acting unreasonably is against God’s nature, and that, of course, is a reflection of God as logos, about which he spoke so powerfully and so movingly. And that reason, Bob, which you referred to, as soon as it is cut off from the transcendent, Benedict XVI showed it turns inside itself, and starts basically disassembling itself, and turns into the irrational, but rationality is based on irrationality.

Robert Royal:

I mean, one of the symptoms of irrationality (we have not talked about this) is that the reason, I think the primary reason, why that Regensburg Address was misinterpreted is our Western media, our Western media which has a prejudice against the Catholic Church and also did not like Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, because of the many things that he stood for, that opposed this dictatorship of relativism, that is as powerful in the media as it is anywhere else.

I often tell foreigners who have never been to the United States, do not get your ideas of what America is from what the media or Hollywood or whatnot tell you that it is. You have to come and actually see what we are. We are a religious people. You know, we have our problems like every other people in the world.

But I am not surprised that the Islamic world thought that this was about Islam, this was a criticism of Islam. And there is a criticism of extremist Islam there, but anybody with the ability to read or to listen to what the discourse was about [understood that it] was primarily about the West. It was not at all a slap at Islam. It begins with a dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian Muslim, but it moves on to other things immediately.

And it is only the Western media that could have such a narrow view, based on highly politicized and highly polarized political categories, that turned it into something that was almost the diametric opposite to what it was about, so it is a misuse of reason among our very organs of information.

Robert R. Reilly:

What I found so fascinating about the Regensburg lecture, which I thought was its core, was his concentration on the relationship between faith and reason, and if you do not keep that balance, very bad things happen, you end up with fideism, which has cut itself off from reason, or you end up with this kind of radical rationality, about which you have speak spoken, which cuts itself off from transcendence and is therefore no longer reasonable.

Let us close and maybe give your final reflections on his legacy. One of my favorite statements Benedict XVI made extemporaneously when in Rome. A student just shouted a question out at him, and here is what he said, “There are only two options. Either one recognizes the priority of reason, of creative Reason that is at the beginning of all things and is the principle of all things – the priority of reason is also the priority of freedom – or one holds the priority of the irrational, inasmuch as everything that functions on our earth and in our lives would be only accidental, marginal, an irrational result – reason would become a product of irrationality.

“One cannot ultimately ‘prove’ either project, but the great option of Christianity is the option for rationality and for the priority of reason. This seems to me to be an excellent option, which shows us that behind everything is a great Intelligence to which we can entrust ourselves.”

Is that right?

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

That is a great place to end. He was a brilliant intellect. I mean, he was a man of logos, that is true, but he was logos incarnate in that he was warm, he was friendly, he had a sense of humor, he knew culture, and he played the piano. So it is not a pure, rational reason divorced from every other human faculty, no, it is reason as integrating the rest of man, who then is no longer a fragmentation of his desires and impulses but rather lives in a life of order. He lived a life of the order of beauty, it seems to me. It was a beautiful life.

Robert R. Reilly:

And I just remember, Fr. Fessio, you telling me about the annual meetings that his former students, including you, would have with him, including when he was when he became Pope. And I was struck by your relation of how he behaved, [which] was an expression of such profound humility on his part.

Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Well, I thought what I just said was my last word, but I will make this my last word, okay, my final ultimate last word. He is German, but he is not Prussian. He is Bavarian, and I can see him in his lederhosen, walking down the town square with the band playing, so I call him the universal Bavarian, the universal Bavarian, that is Pope Benedict.

Robert R. Reilly:

Bob, your closing?

Robert Royal:

I will give my final last word. If you really read him, there is a kind of a wry sense of humor even in the most brilliant, intellectual things that he does. And what you just read, Bob, reminded me of a remark of his. It is true, but it is also kind of hilarious when you think about it. He says, you know, over the last couple of centuries in the West, we have tried to live – even though God does not exist, that, you know, Kant and some other philosophers are going to try to develop these ethical systems that even if God does not exist, we would live moral lives. And he says, well, if we look back at some of the disasters, the ideologies, the totalitarianisms that came out of that use of reason, maybe we ought to try acting as if God existed.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, gentlemen, I am afraid that is all the time we have today, and I would like to thank our two guests, Fr. Joseph Fessio from Ignatius Press, and Robert Royal from the Faith & Reason Institute for joining me today to discuss the legacy of Benedict XVI. I invite our viewers to go to the Westminster Institute website or to find us on YouTube where our offerings cover a great range of subjects, including foreign policy, Russia, the Ukraine conflict, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the Middle East. So please join us for that and for our future offerings, and I thank you for being with us today. I am Robert Reilly. Thank you.

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