Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave his final September Speech last week in Rome. Benedict didn’t give the speech himself. His private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, spoke at the launch of the Italian edition of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher’s much discussed book about how St Benedict’s withdrawal from a corrupt and declining Rome offers a model for Christians today.
For many years now one of my favoured lecture topics is the “September Speeches” of Benedict XVI. The quintet forms an accessible entry point to the thought of Ratzinger/Benedict on how biblical faith relates to reason, science, politics and law.
The five speeches were all given in September and all on papal trips. The first remains the most (in)famous, the Regensburg address of September 12, 2006, in which Benedict argued that biblical faith is reasonable, and therefore to act against reason is to act contrary to faith in the God of Abraham, incarnate in Christ Jesus. Hence, violence in the name of faith – as is claimed by terrorist jihadis – is contrary to reason.
Exactly two years later, September 12, 2008, in Paris, addressing the world of culture at the Collège des Bernardins, once home to the Cistercians, Benedict argued in the opposite direction, namely that the world of reason needs the intellectual motivation provided by faith. The monks were motivated by their search for God, but their work of research on the Word of God gave rise to an entire culture of literature, science and scholarship.
Another two years passed, and Benedict gave his historic address at Westminster Hall on September 17, 2010. The following year at the Bundestag in Berlin, the fourth speech was given on September 22, 2011. The two speeches argued that law and politics had to follow the dictates of reason, not revelation, but that human nature gives rise to a moral order that must be respected.
The final September speech was given the following year on September 15, 2012 in Beirut, where Benedict explored freedom and truth in the context of religious pluralism, articulating a vision of peace for Lebanon and the Middle East.
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