Paris (AsiaNews) - A society that refuses to "seek God" rejects, at the same time, the highest possibilities of reason, and proceeds toward a "disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences". For European culture, this is the abandoning of what made it great, and which draws its origin from the monasticism that preserved and spread literacy, writing, music, architecture, and, above all, the desire to seek first causes, "looking beyond the penultimate". It is, at the same time, a way of understanding that freedom is not only the complete lack of restrictions, as contemporary thought tends to put it, thus favoring "subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction".
The pope's address was a lesson on the history of monasticism, and on the reasons for its foundational role in European culture. Benedict XVI spoke this afternoon to 700 representatives of French and European culture, who gathered on the first day of his visit to France. His audience in the historic, restored Collège des Bernardins included representatives of UNESCO and of the French Muslim community.
The Pope explicitly addressed the theme of the roots of European culture, but this was not an erudite lecture from a great theologian - which he unquestionably is - but an invitation to reflect upon the need to resume a journey that leads to recognizing the value, for the culture of the modern world as well, of the "search for God" that was the deep motivation of monastic life.
Everyone recognizes the value of western monasticism in preserving ancient culture. Doing this required the construction of a literate culture and also of libraries, schools, music, architecture - all in all, it meant creating a new culture. But, "by its nature", monasticism does not have this objective. "In the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential - to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is".
They had a guide for their search: God himself had spoken, in the Scriptures. And because in the word of the Bible "God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language".
In order to understand the culture of the world, the pope then said, "we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply one book but a collection of literature, which came into being in the course of more than a thousand years and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately recognizable. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ". In other words, "the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in their multiplicity and humanity". "We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up".
In short, Christianity "does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense. It perceives in the words the Word, the Logos itself, which extends its mystery through this multiplicity. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books formed into one Book, and God's Word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings".
Benedict XVI then revealed how together with the culture of the word, the culture of work is part of monasticism, "without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world. We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was the quaerere Deum - to go in search of God. We could say that this is the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true".
"Within the seeking of the monks is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God’s word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly". "In fact, the Christians of the early Church did not consider their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation - indeed, the obligation - to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally".
"The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason – not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence of eternal Reason in our flesh. Verbum caro factum est (John 1:14): precisely in this way, the Logos is present among us now. This is reasonable. Of course, humility is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility".
"Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. Quaerere Deum - seeking God, and allowing ourselves to be found by him - this is no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture.