Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pope: failure to recognise the inviolable law of nature leads to a "dictatorship of relativism"

If we fail to recognize the value of natural law, or of the immutable truth, inherent in the human heart, which urges concern for the common good and rejects attacks on life, then we risk a "dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything definitive and leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self and ones own desires".

This is the warning that Benedict XVI traced today from the life and thoughts of John of Salisbury, a twelfth century English theologian, the subject of his catechesis delivered to nine thousand people present in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican for the General audience.

John was born between 1100 and 1120 in Salisbury, England. According to a wealth of letters left us by the theologian, between 1136 and 1148 he devoted himself to studies by attending the lectures of the most famous masters of his time, particularly those of the theological school of Chartres.

"As often was the case with the most brilliant students” he was a sought after collaborator by bishops and sovereigns of the time and between 1150 and 1161 he became secretary and chaplain to Theobald, the aging archbishop of the primary See of Canterbury. "With unflagging zeal," while he continued in his studies, he carried out an intense diplomatic activity, frequently travelling to Rome to ensure ongoing relations with the papacy. An Englishman, Adrian IV, was pope at the time. He died in 1159. In those years, there was "serious tension between church and kingdom, which sought to assert its authority, limiting freedom" in England.

For this reason John, together with Theobald’s successor, St. Thomas Becket went into exile in France, "always striving for reconciliation".

On returning to England, St. Thomas was assaulted and murdered in his cathedral, for which he "was revered as a martyr."

John returned to France and was bishop of Chartres from 1176 until his death in 1188.

Benedict XVI stressed in particular the value of two works by the bishop of Chartres, the "Metalogicon" and "Policraticus", which describes man and government in medieval thought. In the first work, "defence of logic" in Greek, he "rejects with fine irony the position of those who had a narrow conception of culture, considered only eloquent rhetoric, empty words."

Instead he praises philosophy, as an "encounter between strong thought and effective speech” and argues that "wisdom that does not take advantage of the word is truncated”.

It is “a very current thought. Today, that which is called eloquence, or the ability to communicate with increasingly elaborate and accessible instruments, has multiplied enormously" but there is still "an urgent need to communicate messages with wisdom inspired by truth, goodness and beauty. It is' a great responsibility and one that regards in particular people who work in the diverse and complex world of culture, communication, media”, an area where "the Gospel message can be preached with a missionary force."

In the "Policraticus" starting from the question of "what human reason can know, up to what point can man expectations correspond to the knowledge of the truth," he affirms that "human knowledge is imperfect, subject to finitude, to the human limitations” which leads man to attain a "knowledge that is not indisputable, but probable and questionable".

However "an objective, unchanging truth accessible to human reason and that concerns practical action” does exist. John of Salisbury called it the law of "equity" and today it is known as "natural law".

"These are precepts for all peoples that in no case may be repealed, conditions that make the actions of rulers just and permissible. The theme of the relationship between natural law and positive legal system mediated by equity is today of great importance. "

"In our time - he explained - especially in some countries, there is a worrying disconnect between reason, which has the task of discovering the ethical values of human dignity, and freedom, which has the responsibility to welcome them and promote them. Maybe today, - said the Pope - John of Salisbury would remind us that only the laws which safeguard the sanctity of human life and reject the permissibility of abortion, euthanasia and casual genetic experiments, only the laws that respect marriage between a man and a woman and inspired to a correct state secularism, which always entails respect for religious freedom and the principle of subsidiary at the national and international level, can be considered fair. Otherwise what John of Salisbury referred to as the tyranny of princes and we describe as a dictatorship of relativism would ultimately be established, which, as I recalled a few years ago, does not recognize anything as definitive and leaves as the ultimate criterion one's self and one’s own desires".
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