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Pope warns ‘reason has its proper limits’ ahead of Hyde Park Vigil

Pope Benedict XVI, the great theologian, has much to teach us about the proper place of reason

By on Saturday, 18 September 2010

Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury today (Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire)

Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury today (Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire)

The Hyde Park vigil taking place today is apparently not quite sold out. As Cristina Odone revealed on her Telegraph blog, the Diocese of Westminster recently sent out an urgent message to Catholic school administrators. The message was to be printed out by each recipient, and taken straight to the headmaster’s office. “Please organise a school trip to the Pope’s Hyde Park vigil,” it begged them. Or else.

But, Cristina noted, it would be naïve to expect some sort of spontaneous “youthful outpouring of faith and devotion”. How many young people do you know who would patiently sit through a religious service for nine whole hours?

Anyway, her blog post got me thinking. Without wishing to be rude, would we say the same if it was Pope John Paul II coming to Hyde Park on Saturday? Would young Catholics, faced with the chance to see Karol Wojtyła in the flesh, have rather stayed at home? I doubt it. He had a magical gift for drawing crowds, a film star quality that captivated millions throughout his life, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

My parents remember standing in Victoria to see him arrive in 1982 (five years before I was born), during the last papal visit. He had fairly patchy English, they tell me, but it didn’t seem to affect his ability to communicate. An Israeli acquaintance echoed their thoughts – when Pope John Paul II came to the Holy Land in 2000, he said, “the Israeli people fell in love with him as soon as they saw him.”

Benedict XVI is a different sort of man. But the trouble is, most of us don’t know much more than that. We haven’t had the luxury of a decades-long papacy to find out who he really is. A German Shepherd, God’s Rottweiler – or some other breed entirely?

The truth, of course, is that Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most brilliant theologians alive today – one who would have had a glittering academic career even as a layman. Too often this is forgotten. Appallingly, as the Church tries desperately to appeal to its youth, treating them crudely as spiritual environmentalists and wannabe community workers, the Pontiff is sidelined.

So here’s a quote from the Pope Theologian himself, something that, believe it or not, many young Catholics will understand more than their elders. After criticising bigoted “pathologies in religion” in an essay addressed to Jürgen Habermas, the famous German secularist, Joseph Ratzinger concludes: “There is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous. Indeed, bearing in mind its potential effects, it poses an even greater threat – it suffices here to think of the atomic bomb or of man as a ‘product’.

“This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind. If it cuts itself completely adrift and rejects this willingness to learn, this relatedness, reason becomes destructive.”

British Catholics know all of this too well. Unhappily, we live in one of the most anti-religious countries in Europe; a place that is willingly cutting itself adrift from its Christian heritage and is instead embracing a destructive, savage secularism.

So if you go to the Hyde Park vigil to stand in the rain for nine hours, do it to welcome and to pray with the brilliant thinker who is the leader of the Church and the Successor of St Peter, Benedict XVI. And for God’s sake, don’t get stuck with your headmaster.

  • Pauldavidspencer

    Secularism need not be savage or destructive – like the Chuch it gains moral guidance from it's leaders as much as from it's texts – and in that way is just one other flawed philosophy amongst many. I've just been reading the speech and believe that this “call” is the kind of appeal that is only made by an organisation that's truly worried about it's long-term future. He doth protest too much, I'm afraid…..selling is always done when one accentuates the positive. Show us “secularists” (who are not, by the way, moral relativists!) what we're missing…..respectfully yours etc

  • Louise

    I have just returned home from with my friend from the Vigil in Hyde Park and I must say, what a wonderful magnetic Pope. The atmosphere was truly amazing even the Police were singing and joking. He brought a sense of happiness, peace & love to everyone around him. The music, dancing and story telling was superb. A truly holy fantastic day and the sun shone down on Hyde Park all day.

  • witness2hope

    Thanks be to God it did not rain ;)

    By the looks and sound of it, the YOUNG and OLD Catholics enjoyed the Mass and always shouting Papa Benedict's name.

    Finally, the Vicar of Christ has come to U.K. soil to wake her from deep sleep.

  • witness2hope

    Oh please. Secularism “need to be savage or destructive – like the Church it gains moral guidance from it's leaders”

    Pray, do tell: where do the “leaders” get their moral guidance from? The problem with the U.K. is that objective morality is going down the drain as moral relativism has taken its place.

    Wake up.

  • witness2hope

    By the way love, the Catholic Church that you refer to has been alive for 2,000 years.

    The “organization” will keep on moving forward, always preaching the same message that Jesus spoke: that of Truth.

    And You and I will be long dead, food for the worms. As to our souls, it will [hopefully] partake in the beatific vision of God.

    “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

  • MNS

    And another papal trip of carefully rehearse sound bytes, and photo ops ends having spent huge sums of money for show n awe. This is the stuff publicists create: Lets hope no one takes Papal Politicians seriously.

  • witness2hope

    hope will only get you so far.


  • Guest

    Wickedness never was happiness, sir.