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God is not a subject for scientific testing, Pope reminds theologians

Catholic World News - June 30, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI awarded the first Ratzinger Prizes on June 30 to three theologians, and used the occasion to warn that theology becomes “empty and baseless” if it is not enlivened by faith.

The Pope bestowed the Ratzinger Prizes on:

  1. Manlio Simonetti, a retired patristics scholar from Rome’s La Sapienza university who now serves as a lecturer at the Augustinianum;
  2. Olegario Gonzalez de Cardedal, a dogmatic theologian at the University of Salamanca; and
  3. Maximilian Heim, abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Heiligenkreuz, who has specialized in the works of Joseph Ratzinger: Pope Benedict.

In his remarks at the awards ceremony, the Pope observed that “theology is the science of the faith.” The ultimate goal of the theologian, he said, is to discover truth. In this respect, the Christian faith is unlike pagan beliefs, which were founded upon customs. “The revolutionary aspect of Christianity in antiquity was precisely its break with 'custom' out of love for truth,” the Pope said.

Christian scholars have always relied on “the fundamental bond between Logos, truth, and faith,” the Pope continued. The faith can be subjected to rational analysis.

In the modern age, however, many educated people have come to believe that empirical reason provides the only rational mode of thought and the only way to assess truth, the Pontiff said. While acknowledging this approach as the best way to understand the laws of nature, he cautioned:

Nonetheless there is a limit to such a use of reason. God is not an object of human experimentation. He is Subject and shows Himself only in the relationship between one person and another.

Thus a theologian approaches his study from the perspective of truth: as one who believes, the Pope said. “Love wants a better knowledge of the beloved,” and the believer wants a better understanding of God. Pope Benedict insisted that theologians must take this approach: “When this use of reason is lacking, then the great questions of humanity fall outside the field of reason and are abandoned to irrationality.”

One of the Ratzinger Prize winners echoed the Pope’s argument in his own remarks at the ceremony. Abbot Heim agreed that an attitude of faith is the foundation for theological inquiry, saying: “It is not the theologian who forms truth. Truth forms the theologian.”

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