The ancient Christian writer Tertullian rhetorically asked “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem”? The entire corpus of Christian humanism can be balanced on a critique of this one very divisive question. Athens stands for reason, Jerusalem for faith.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict XVI reflects on his trip to England, many have forgotten the magnitude of this very introduction.
A Pope has never been to England. Period. And this most formidable christian thinker is forming alliances with long enemies in a bid to defeat a most formidable foe: hardened secularism.
As Benedict XVI picks up where John Paul II left off he must be wondering if he will be received well enough to form the very alliance needed if Christianity is to survive in Western Europe. For in making in roads toward accepting Lutherns and Anglicans Ratzinger is making his way to enveloping most of colonial Africa and Asia in his bid to consolidate an alliance based on faith and conservative moral principals. This volley will take decades to unravel.
For Benedict, Athens and Jerusalem are different zones within an intellectual ellipse, both faith and reason make complimentary thrusts toward a synoptic whole that was rendered unintelligible by Kant. As Benedict conceives of it, contemporary secularism is not wholly reasonable, simply because it fails to reckon with the fundamental and inclusive context of meaning that only revelation supplies. For this christian writer and Benedict, no naturalistic framework of explanation can do justice to the full range of our experience as beings motivated by conscience, intuition, the vision of the good or analytic reason. Any phenomenology of faith must reckon that the ‘inside is bigger than the outside’ (the term is borrowed from T.S Elliot.) Sacramentally infused Faith is an encounter of a new dimension of reality not available to those absent faith. How else to put it; if you never give yourself to it, you will never understand it. Perhaps the Church Fathers had it best, understanding grows only out of belief!
Coleridge declared it best when he wrote “the substantiating principle of all true wisdom, the satisfactory solution of all the contradictions of human nature, of the whole riddle of the world is discovered and celebrated in Christian faith. This alone belongs to and speaks intelligibly to all alike, the learned and the ignorant, if but the heart listens.”
The Church is acting and pursuing its interests in the formation of like minded alliances, for the secular mind is unremitting in its grasp of the contemporary person. Perhaps, only faith can save us now.