Ratzinger and Habermas… again

In the most recent publication by Pope Benedict XVI, which is actually a collection of interviews by Peter Seewald called Light of the World, German philosopher Jurgen Habermas is mentioned once again. The context is the question about the relevance of faith to modern life, an issue which both Ratzinger and Habermas have been and are engaging carefully. Below the quote:

“Often this One [Christ] who is coming has been presented in formulas that, while true, are nevertheless at the same time outmoded. They no longer speak to our living situation and are often no longer comprehensible to us… We must therefore try in fact to express the substance as such– but to say it in a new way. Jurgen Habermas has remarked that it is important that there be theologians who are able to translate the treasure that is preserved in their faith in such a way that it the secular world it is a world for this world… he is right that the intrinsic translation process of the great words into the speech and thinking of our time is under way but has really not yet succeeded. It can be only succesful only if people live Christianity in terms of the One who is coming. ONly then can they also declare it. The declaration, the intellectual translation, presupposes the existential translation…”

This is probably a reference to the dialgue on the Dialectics of Secularization, though it could also be a allusion to Habermas’ more recent work on Between Naturalism and Religion and Religion and Rationality. The Pope embraces Habermas’ critique and his intuition on the need for faith to become evermore reasonable and more relevant for modern culture. What is interesting is how the Pope continually seems to refer to Habermas to discuss philosophical and political issues. He also mentioned him in the Address at La Sapienza here. Below an exerpt of the La Sapienza address:

“Jürgen Habermas expresses, in my view, a vast consensus of current thought when he says that the legitimacy of a constitutional charter, as a presupposition of legality, would be derived from two sources: from the egalitarian political participation of all citizens and from the reasonable form in which political conflicts get resolved. In regard to this “reasonable form” he notes that it cannot only be a struggle for arithmetic majorities, but it must be characterized by a “process of argumentation that is sensitive to the truth” (“wahrheitssensibles Argumentationsverfahren”)…. I find it significant that Habermas speaks about the sensitivity to the truth as a necessary element of the process of political argumentation, reinserting thus the concept of truth into the philosophical debate and into the political debate.”

I have talked about the two intellectual giants on a previous post. Fundamentally I think Ratzinger is embracing Habermas to a certain extent because both of them advocate for the power of reason and rational communication to deliver humanity from the evils and problems the world faces. Certainly Ratzinger also (and above all) has hope in faith and revelation, which Habermas doesn’t seem to share in the same sense… but who knows? I would not be surprised (this is a provocative leap I know) if perhaps Habermas dies Catholic. Habermas, so intent on the question of truth and as far as I can tell, true to his own criterion of sincerity in reasonable discourse, may come to embrace the synthesis between reason and faith which Ratzinger so insistently and reasonably advocates for. On the issue of Hebrmas’ beliefs and possible conversion see my post here.

15 thoughts on “Ratzinger and Habermas… again

  1. I think this may be overstepping Ratzinger´s sentiments towards reason.

    “I think Ratzinger is embracing Habermas because both of them advocate for the power of reason and rational communication to deliver humanity from the evils and problems the world faces.”

    The foundation for reason and rational communication is the Truth, and a Truth forged in caritas…

    That seems to be what Ratzinger is alluding to in the last quote you place. Although he doesn´t mention caritas, he does speak about the truth….

    1. Yes and no. Yes to the point that Truth and caritas have a relationship, in fact they are the same (this is suggested in Truth and Tolerance). I wouldn’t say that Truth is the foundation of reason, but rather its object, its destination. But in all, I think we agree on this.

      No to the overstepping, in my opinion. Ratzinger does believe in reason. But a broad reason, a reason that leads to God, a reason that in fact is God. So many times has Ratzinger said in his pontificate that God is Logos (See Ragensberg, or better: http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/b16concswitz.htm) So taken in isolation my sentence may seem too far fetched, but i follow with “Certainly Ratzinger also has hope in faith and revelation, which Habermas doesn’t seem to share in the same sense…” So I think Habermas and Ratzinger do share this view, but reason fro Ratzinger is broader than what it means for Habermas, and Habermas only trusts in reason to deliver… while Ratzinger trusts in reason and faith, because reason will open itself to faith.

  2. Interesting points…

    I still hold to the point about truth being the foundation of reason, especially when reason is considered as dialectical understanding. I guess that it could be simply a “tool”, but that resembles empirical science which cannot pronounce definitive certainties….and even that itself is a kind of dogmatic assumption.

    “Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion. Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things. Truth opens and unites our minds in the lógos of love.” (Caritas en veritate,4)

    I was also thinking about a theme that appeared in Benedict´s thinking a couple of years ago, and that is the “logic of love.” He speaks about God is who both Agape and Logos. This seems to elevate pure reasoning from a human plain and orient it toward Truth, which is also Love, ie God. You mentioned this in your earlier post, but I think that the aspect of “gift” and “self giving” need to be accentuated when unlocking the mystery of truth.

    “In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.” (Caritas en veritate, 3)

  3. Well, Habermas does say that Reason is not grounded in itself. And he mantions language, our everyday language, which still draws nutrition from the religious past. He is also critical of modern whole sale atheists who deny that our modern cultural achievements owe very much to the religious past.

    1. Yes, agreed. The point of recognition by Habermas that reason is not grounded in itself, I think provides a doorway into the realm of faith. I am not sure however, which position you are taking?
      On the other hand Habermas seems critical of religious persons in political discourse because of the “metaphysical baggage” they carry which creates obstacles for consensus and agreement.

  4. I don’t know where Habermas”seems critical of religious people in political discourse”. He keeps mentioning imbalance or asymmetry in the way the State expects religious people to adapt their language to the talk of the Establishment.

    What I know best are his contributions to the Ratzinger-Habermas debate, and there he even says that the irreligious people might be expected to come half way and help the religious people to translate some of their views into modern journalese.

    Well, he certainly didn’t say “journalese”, but I cannot now remember the expression(s) he used for the kind of language that one gets from the burocracies and the academia and from most of the media.

    1. Thanks, I don’t know what term you mean for “journalese” but I get the sense. Thanks for your comment.

      I still do think Habermas is somewhat critical “ritical of religious people in political discourse”. I will quote one section extensively, in “Between Naturalism and Religion”: “Every religion is originally a worldview or “comprehensive doctrine” in the sense that it claims authority to structure a form of life in its entirety. A religion must relinquish this claim within a secularized society marked by a pluralism of world views.” So Habermas proposes that religious people must adequate to the burdens of pluralism in secularization, but by doing so from within.

      While in “Truth and Tolerance” Ratzinger is willing to admit that the encounter with Enlightenment has forced Christianity to refine/improve/grow in its self understanding, at the same time the idea of relinquishing its world view is just not an option if a religion wants to be kept as a religion. Here is where Ratzinger speaks of the relationship of Tolerance to Truth, and how Christianity while willing to patiently live with what it understands as inadequate standards, will challenge the secular world to review its own position of truth. Ratzinger will insist that it is the secular person who should change ultimately their understanding of truth, rather than conforming his own; through dialogue and reason, certainly.

  5. The Joxe82 avatar above is mine. It is a trial blog, and it was by mistake that I wrote here without changing back to my normal avatar.

    You say:
    —-“in the sense that it claims authority to structure a form of life in its entirety. A religion must relinquish this claim..”
    and you say
    —-“at the same time the idea of relinquishing its world view is just not an option if a religion wants to be kept as a religion.”

    So I think you mix up two very very different claims. Habermas says that a religion “claims authority…” and Habermas says that religion must relinquish this authority, NOT its worldview!

    Habermas does not at all want the Church to relinquish its world view, since he himself has come to realize that that world view is still all there is to give some support to our laws.

    However, elsewhere Habermas says and seems to think that the State is neutral in the dilemma. I don’t think the State is neutral at all except maybe to some degree in legislative intention. But the avalanche of information is as drab as it is secular and yet more or less obligatorily on your menu, tons of it.

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