Pope Benedict also talks about Newman, explaining that his much-quoted phrase 'toast to conscience' is often misused
Pope Benedict XVI recalled his visit to Britain at length today during his annual major address to the Roman Curia.
He said he would “willingly speak in some detail” about his “unforgettable” trip, but that he would have to limit his reflection to two points: his address at Westminster Hall and his beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
In his first point the Pope said that Christians had a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and resist the exclusion of God and moral reasoning from society.
He warned of the dangers of a society that sought to replace a “fundamental moral consensus derived from the Christian heritage” with a secular, relativist way of thinking which merely calculated the consequences of actions.
In reality, this secular approach, he said, “makes reason blind to what is essential”. He went on: “To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.”
The centrepiece of the Pope’s talk, however, was his reflection on Newman, which focused on the Victorian churchman’s “three conversions”.
The first conversion, he said, was a conversion to faith in a living God. The Pope said: “Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the ‘reality’ according to which one finds one’s bearings.
The ‘real’ is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one’s hand.
“In his conversion, Newman recognised that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution.”
The Pope explained that the “driving force” that pushed Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. For Newman, he said, conscience was not a matter of opinion, but an obedience to the truth.
He said: “For [Newman], ‘conscience’ means man’s capacity for truth: the capacity to recognise precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth.”
The Pope added: “In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope.
“But in this statement, ‘conscience’ does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth,” he said.
The Pope also spoke about the clerical abuse crisis, his trip to Cyprus, and the Synod on the Middle East. For the full text go here.