restricted access 1. Is a New Beginning Possible?
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P A R T 1 T   C             C          C H A P T E R 1 Is a New Beginning Possible? What Is at Stake? Europe was born around a few great words, like “person,” “work,” “matter,” “progress,” and “freedom.” These words achieved their full and authentic depth through Christianity, acquiring a value they did not previously have, and this determined a profound process of “humanization ” of Europe and its culture. For example, just think about the concept of person. “Two thousand years ago, the only man who had all human rights was the civis romanus, the Roman citizen. But who decided who was a civis romanus? Those in power. One of the greatest Roman jurists, Gaius, defined three levels of tools which the civis [romanus], who had full rights, could possess: tools which do not move and do not speak; those which move and do not speak, which is to say, animals; and those which move and speak, the slaves.”1 But today all of these words have become empty, or they are gradually losing their original significance. Why? 3 Through a long and complex process, from which we cannot exempt the mortification of words like “freedom” and “progress” by the very Christianity that had helped create them, at a certain point along the European trajectory, the idea took hold that those fundamental achievements ought to be separated from the experience that had allowed them to fully flourish. In a memorable talk he gave years ago in Subiaco, Italy, thenCardinal Ratzinger said, referring to Enlightenment thinkers, that as a result of a troubled historical trajectory, “in the situation of confessional antagonism and in the crisis that threatened the image of God, they tried to keep the essential moral values outside the controversies and to identify an evidential quality in these values that would make them independent of the many divisions and uncertainties of the various philosophies and religious confessions.” At that time, this was thought to be possible, since “the great fundamental convictions created by Christianity were largely resistant to attack and seemed undeniable.”2 Thus developed the Enlightenment attempt to affirm those “great convictions,” whose evidence seemed able to support itself apart from lived Christianity. What was the result of this attempt ? Have these great convictions, which have laid the foundation for our coexistence for centuries, withstood the test of time? Did their evidence hold up before the vicissitudes of history, with its unforeseen elements and its provocations? The answer is in front of all of us. Cardinal Ratzinger continued: “The search for this kind of reassuring certainty, something that could go unchallenged despite all the disagreements, has not succeeded. Not even Kant’s truly stupendous endeavors managed to create the necessary certainty that would be shared by all.The attempt, carried to extremes, to shape human affairs to the total exclusion of God leads us more and more to the brink of the abyss, toward the utter annihilation of man.”3 To grasp the evidence of that setting aside, it suffices to consider the effect this process has had on two of the things that we modern Europeans hold most dear: freedom and reason. “This Enlightenment culture,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “is substantially defined by the rights to liberty. Its starting point is that liberty is a fundamental value and the criterion of everything else: the 4 The Context and the Challenges freedom of choice in matters of religion, which includes the religious neutrality of the state; the liberty to express one’s own opinion, on condition that it does not call precisely this canon into question; the democratic ordering of the state, that is, parliamentary control of the organs of state; . . . and finally, the protection of the rights of man and the prohibition of discrimination.” Nevertheless, the ongoing evolution of these concepts already reveals the other side of the coin, the consequences of an insufficient definition of freedom that characterizes Enlightenment culture. On the one hand, any exercise of the principle of individual freedom or self-determination must take stock of the opposition between certain human rights, for example, the conflict between a woman’s desire for freedom and the right of the unborn to live. And on the other, the concept of discrimination is constantly extended, without denying the inalienable benefits associated with it, with the result that “the prohibition of discrimination can be transformed more and more into a limitation on the freedom of opinion and on religious liberty. . . . The fact that the Church is...


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