April 20, 2005


Benedict XVI and Freedom (Alejandro A. Chafuen, 4/20/05, Acton Institute)

On November 6, 1992, at the ceremony where Ratzinger was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France, he explained that a free society can only subsist where people share basic moral convictions and high moral standards. He further argued that these convictions need not be “imposed or even arbitrarily defined by external coercion.”

Ratzinger found part of the answer in the work of Tocqueville. “Democracy in America has always made a strong impression on me,” the cardinal said. He added that to make possible, “an order of liberties in freedom lived in community, the great political thinker [Tocqueville] saw as an essential condition the fact that a basic moral conviction was alive in America, one which, nourished by Protestant Christianity, supplied the foundations for institutions and democratic mechanisms.”

In his work as a theologian, Benedict XVI places freedom at the core of his teachings. He has a beautiful way of explaining creation, which according to him should be understood not with the model of a craftsman, “but the creative mind, creative thinking.” The beginning of creation is a “creative freedom which creates further freedoms. To this extent one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom.” Christianity explains a reality that “at the summit stands a freedom that thinks and, thinking, creates freedoms, thus making freedom the structural form of all being.” This freedom is embodied in the human person, the only “irreducible, infinity-related being. And here once again, it is the option for the primacy of freedom as against the primacy of some cosmic necessity or natural law.” Human freedom pushes Christianity away from idealism.

Benedict XVI argues that freedom, coupled with consciousness and love, comprise the essence of being. With freedom comes an incalculability -- and thus the world can never be reduced to mathematical logic. In his view, where the particular is more important than the universal, “the person, the unique and unrepeatable, is at the same time the ultimate and highest thing. In such view of the world, the person is not just an individual; a reproduction arising from the diffusion of the idea into matter, but rather, precisely, a “person.”

According to Benedict XVI, the Greeks saw human beings as mere individuals, subject to the polis (city-state). Christianity, however, sees man as a person more than an individual. This passage from individual to the person is what led the change from antiquity to Christianity. Or, as the cardinal put it, “from Plato to faith.”

It doesn't get any better than a Tocquevillian pope to go with a Tocquevillian President.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2005 2:16 PM

Plus, he's a Mozart fan! If he'd just go easy on the substantial Jungian faction within the Church (seems unlikely, given his remark about "a vague spiritualism"), he'd have my vote for re-election. Oh, wait ...

Posted by: ghostcat at April 20, 2005 7:46 PM

Sounds grrreat. But something here rings false.

Can a democratic Tocquevillianism(?) and a hierarchical Roman Catholicism truly be compatible?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 21, 2005 2:38 AM

Neither was Tocqueville democratic nor are we.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2005 7:56 AM