Brian R Corbin's Reflections on Religion and Life

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Roundtable: Book topic “God and the gods”

Newsletter n. 219

Verona 21 May, 2009

18 May 2009 at 17:00, the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Gregorian University organized a round table for the presentation of the book “God and the gods” written by Rt. Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and President of our Observatory. Presented below is the full text of the author’s statement.


18 MAY 2009




Rt. Rev.   Giampaolo Crepaldi

Secretary of the Pontifical Council for justice and Peace


With this my book God and the gods published by Cantagalli of Siena as part of the Collection of the Cardinal Van Thuân Observatory I sought not only to analyze some of the classical and current themes of the Church’s social doctrine, but above all offer a perspective, a unitary visio as a basis for their consideration. This book in no way shirks the commitment to tackle even the thorniest issues facing us today – from the right to religious freedom to the human rights of the fourth generation – and at the same time strives to revive fundamental arguments for tackling them in a neither opportunistic nor politically correct manner.

From whence did I draw inspiration? Above and beyond the names mentioned in the footnotes, my considerations drew inspiration above all from my reading of the works of Joseph Ratzinger, theologian and Pontiff. I also acknowledge the substantial debts I owe to Romano Guardini on the theological level, and to Augusto Del Noce as far as philosophy is concerned.

Then again, the judgment about Christianity in modernism offered by the three aforementioned scholars reveals considerable features of convergence despite evident difference. This is especially true as far as one point is concerned: modernism will not succeed in reviving itself without Christianity. This is also the thesis presented in this book.

Modernism had the gall to claim that it invented reason, thereby separating it from a broader context of sense constituted by the faith. But without faith in the Word of God incarnate, the Logos, Primordial reason, even our reason, the reason of modernists, becomes lost as it twines around and around itself. In the book I described some of these processes, especially in the areas of democracy, laicity, human rights and technology. And each time I made an effort to show how human reason on its own does not have to force to remain fully faithful to itself.

When discussing “pure nature” with Franco Rodano, Augusta Del Noce said modernism issues forth from the negation of original sin. It is evidently necessary to speak about a “certain” modernism and not modernism as such, because otherwise the meaning of modernism would have negative connotations alone and it would be transformed from an historical and cultural process into an abstract and unchangeable philosophical category.

I am of the opinion that the final destiny of modernism has yet to be decided and that it can recover from the Pelagianism of its origins, which necessarily turns into Gnosticism. Pelagianism consists in holding that nature on its own is able to attain its own natural ends, but today we witness exactly the contrary: nature on its own can’t even be nature, and becomes transformed into culture, or science or technology.

The Pelagianism of modernism necessarily begets Gnosticism: salvation is immanent to me and I can attain it with that certain science or technique I now possess. But this too is in the throes of such a dramatic crisis since science and technology act in an agnostic context in ethical and metaphysical terms. Technology                                                        professes to determine what man is without having any sense of man. Reduced to “pure technique”, what type of salvation can technology ever deliver?

In his “Foreword” Cardinal Martini says: “At the bottommost root of problems there is always a defect of faith. Halfway through the 19 th century the anarchical socialist Proudhon wrote the following words: ‘The first duty of an intelligent and free man is to constantly eject the idea of God from his spirit and his conscience. Because God, if He does exist, is essentially a foe of our nature, and we gain nothing from His authority. Despite Him we attain science, despite Him we attain wellbeing, society, and each of our achievements is a victory in which we crush the Divinity’. Has this ‘despite Him’ proven to be realistic? Is it really true that man may attain science, wellbeing and society without God? How many presumed victories have turned out to be defeats?”

I would now like to say something about the unitary perspective proposed in the book. This could perhaps be expressed as follows: the vocation of the Logos. In fact, I made an effort to project a non positivistic vision of reality, and, especially in the chapters dealing with anthropology, to show how nothing utters itself alone; each thing or reality or person expresses a sense which transcends it. The aridity of our personal, relational and religious life depends on our mounting inability to make things, nature, persons and life speak. Stemming therefrom is a strong resistance to being grateful, to welcoming reality reading in it an appeal addressed to us, a vocation. The book’s first chapter is dedicated to “the human person between vocation and alienation” and sets the tune for the all the rest, beginning with an excerpt taken from Centesimus annus where John Paul II writes that the identity of a person depends on the response to the vocation of God. If things are naught but what I see of them, they embody no message for me and are just there at my beck and call. Even a love or a child, once upon a time looked upon as an undeserved vocation, or a gift as people say in such cases, cease to be events speaking to me, events abounding with prospects of responsibility, duties to be shouldered and ends to be attained, and turn in to cases to be kept under control by imposing my rationale upon them instead of letting myself be challenged by them. What is not accessible to our grasp thins out until it disappears. The space of what is accessible to our grasp expands to encompass each aspect of life and even life itself, which, however, precisely for this reason no longer reveals itself to us as having a sense because the sense we can give to life no longer suffices. Only the meanings we do not construct ourselves satisfy us because they represent a vocation.

Considerations of this nature also have considerable social and political relevance, and are at the heart of the selfsame social doctrine of the Church. In this book I have tried to capitalize as well on the knowledge of the Church’s social doctrine built up over many years of service to the Church in this field of endeavor. Benedict XVI said it so very well in Deus caritas est : the social doctrine is situated at the point of encounter between faith and reason, or, even better, there where the faith purifies reason. As we know, to purify means to reveal a vocation. The faith enables reason to appropriate itself anew, to fly much higher than before, to discover new lands waiting to be explored. This is the key used to analyze the themes of laicity and religious freedom, which I tackle by drawing on the Decree Dignitiatis humanae as a whole, and not just select excerpts.    

Filed under: consumerism, Culture, Economic Policy, morals, Social Doctrine, Spirituality

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