Cardinal Christoph Schonborn came to Benedictine College yesterday and gave two masterful addresses (a homily which Jack Smith addresses here and a lecture). The Archbishop of Vienna and President of the Austrian Bishops’ conference is too deep a thinker to do justice to in a blog post. But he did say some startling things. So herewith, I attempt only to give you my personal top five revelations from his lecture.
1. The Student’s Oops. Ten days before his fateful Regensburg address on Sept. 12, 2006, a former student loaned Pope Benedict XVI an ancient dialogue about Islam ...
Remember that line that was taken out of context and used to fuel riots in the Muslim world? The one from 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II to an “educated Persian”? The one which asked what new Mohammed had brought but the “evil and inhuman” … a line Pope Benedict XVI ad-libbed was addressed with “a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded”? The one that thugs used as an excuse to riot, break stuff and burn effigies of the Pope?
Pope Benedict XVI only read the book that line was in within 10 days of his Regensburg address. Cardinal Schonborn told us that at one of Benedict’s famous summer colloquiums with his former students (a tradition he began as a cardinal), a student brought a copy of the dialogues and the Holy Father said he was eager to read them after the meeting, which ended in early September. At least the student knows he wasn’t just being polite. (Find a synopsis of the Regensburg address here.)
2. The Messy Austrian. Cardinal Schonborn’s desk, he said, “is chaos.”
Cardinal Schonborn was distinguishing between an ordered universe in which science is possible – a universe organized by a Creator – and randomness. He said clearly our own universe isn’t random, and he used his own desk as an example of what chaos would look like: A space where nothing has its proper place.
My wife immediately said, “I don’t believe it.” Her maiden name is Beingessner and she can’t imagine an Austrian with such a desk. But a quick check of Wikipedia reveals that Cardinal Schonborn is originally Bohemian, of all things. So I believe him, and I accept my own desk’s chaos as a sign of the existence of a God capable of ordering the universe outside it.
3. Fundamentalism and Scientism are Twins.
Cardinal Schonborn said that the agnostic scientist and the fundamentalist believer essentially have the same understanding of God. Both, victims of nominalism, see God as entirely other, as inscrutable and unintelligible. Such a God is so “foreign” to our experience that we either shrug our shoulders and say, “Who knows?” and look to reason without faith to explain the universe or we accept a religion that is irrational, that we follow out of “blind obedience.”
Cardinal Schonborn said that we don’t follow God out of “blind obedience,” and neither do we follow him only after figuring everything out. We follow him in faith, and deepen our faith with reason.
He quoted a principle of Aquinas which I had never heard before: “Do not defend your faith with stupid arguments, because you make faith ridiculous to the unfaithful.”
4. Darwin is dragged down by Darwinism, Creation by Creationism.
He advocated vigorously studying any and all scientific theories. But he vigorously opposed making ideologies of all or any scientific theories. “Have you ever heard of ‘Einsteinism’?” he asked. “Why should we have a Darwinism? Free Darwin from Darwinism!”
The problem he identifies is demonstrated by another phenomenon he pointed out: The media says you’re either an “evolutionist” or “creationist.” You can’t be something else. Cardinal Schonborn said he was neither … he believes in creation and accepts some evolutionary principles. The universe wasn’t created in six earth days, he knows. Neither was it the product of chance.
To think that life exists “by mere chance is stupid. It’s really an abdication of intelligence,” he said.
5. Learning From Agnostics. Speaking of those summer colloquiums, the Pope doesn’t limit them to Catholics ….
Cardinal Schonborn happened to mention another insight gained by the Holy Father at one of those meetings with former students. The group apparently invited an agnostic scientist to give a presentation. He alerted them to new scientific developments, and also pointed out that the character of life on earth is “astounding” and “improbable” and a possible “door” to belief.
It shows that our Holy Father has the opposite of that ideologizing tendency. As Cardinal Schonborn put it, Benedict XVI has “an immense conceptual clarity,” “deep piety,” and an “enormous capacity to link faith to daily life.”
Cardinal Schonborn’s attitude: “Let science do its work,” he said. “It doesn’t disturb my faith.” He’s never had his faith shaken by science, he said. “It only increases my wonder.”