Mons. Crepaldi: “Without reference to the Creator, the natural order weakens and gradually fades from sight”


Presentation of the book by J. Ratzinger-Benedict XVI

Freedom itself has to be set free

Rome 11 May 2018


Freedom itself has to be set free. Faith and politics in the third millennium (Cantagalli, Siena 2018), the new book by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, was presented in Rome on Friday 11 May, beginning at 6:00 PM, in the Sala Zuccari at Palazzo Giustiniani. The words of welcome addressed to those present by the President of the Senate Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, were followed by statements made by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household and personal secretary of the Pope Emeritus, the president of European Parliament Antonio Tajani, and the Archbishop of Trieste, Giampaolo Crepaldi.

The moderator of this encounter was Pierluca Azzaro, the editor of the book, which includes a preface penned by Pope Francis and an unpublished text of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Presented below is the full text of the statement made by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi.



Converging in the book we are honored to present today are three Pontiffs, and this makes it both unique and most interesting. There are several texts chosen by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, along with some of the teachings marking his pontificate. There is the preface written by Pope Francis. And there is also an albeit implicit reference to St. John Paul II. In fact, the book’s title, “Freedom itself has to be set free”, is taken from n°86 of Veritatis splendor and expresses the sense and the aims of the entire encyclical on morality. As I was saying, this “convergence” is of utmost interest because it is a sign of continuity and, at one and the same time, the newness – newness in continuity, we could say – of the Church’s teachings on the subject of relations between faith and politics.

Politics, morality and faith: these are the three terms that act as the framework for the selfsame contents of the book, and which, as we must acknowledge, constitute the framework for the Social Doctrine of the Church at large. Politics needs morality. It is not morality in its own right, because it has a legitimate autonomy of its own in terms of criteria and methods.  Nonetheless, it cannot disregard morality, and bearing witness to this fact are ordinary citizens who are often very strict in passing judgment on politics precisely from the viewpoint of ethics. Likewise bearing similar witness are politicians who always feel it necessary to justify the choices they make on the basis of good and justice. There is not a single politician who refrains from projecting what he is about to do as “good” and “just”. In politics, the achievement of material targets – for example, economic or productive aims – always assumes a form of justification connected the common good. There are different views about the common good as such, but this does not prevent politicians from being the first ones to highlight this factor in justifying what they do.  In brief, this demonstrates that politics, albeit autonomous, is not self-grounded. It seeks its ultimate legitimacy in neither the results achieved, nor, when you consider it closely, in the electoral mandate, but in the common good, the common good of one and all that it is called upon to ensure.

Today we are living in a context of ethical pluralism. Nonetheless, we all recognize ourselves in some basic moral principles which are also enshrined in the Constitution of Italy. This means we are dealing with a “restless” pluralism which, on one hand, feels the call of freedom, but at the same time perceives the appeal for truth. It is not by mere chance that political discussion itself often dwells on matters of great ethical significance; not just individual morality, but also public morality. Isn’t this the sign of a “restless” pluralism? Pluralism that bears witness to the fact that even amidst the conflict of interpretations and evaluations, politics never suffices unto itself, and that politicians are there for something other than politics.  And precisely this fact of being at the service of other-than-self is what bestows ultimate dignity upon politics.

Taking to the field of play at this point is faith and its ability to open windows for both politics and morality that they would not be able to open on their own. Everything in human life has to be saved from the inherent dangers of involution. If politics renders itself an absolute, it turns into technology or ideology.  If morality does the same thing, it turns into a series of legislative proscriptions. The life-giving breath of the Christian faith can help the former and the latter not by making them faith themselves, but, while respecting their legitimate autonomy, by offering them a further end, a conscience-driven thrust to fly aloft and head seaward, the echo of a call from beyond and towards a beyond. This cannot be detrimental to either politics or morality which are confirmed and not denied, and, we could say, “helped to breathe better”.

I have dwelt on these three terms – politics, morality and the Christian faith – because their relationship of mutual “purification” represents one of the most interesting points of Benedict XVI’s teachings in this book, confirmed here by Pope Francis. In fact, not only does the faith purify politics and morality, but just the other way around. It is a matter of what is called virtuous circularity. During the famous debate with Habermas in 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger had noted that political nihilism needs the purification of the faith just as terrorist fundamentalism needs the purification of reason. Circularity exists between faith and reason.

The political life of the representatives of the people and the choices of the lawmakers elected for that purpose by the will and votes of the people represent a lofty institutional role, but this does not mean they are exempt from problems of conscience. In fact, we could venture to say such problems assume an all the more central position. Also present in this book we are presenting today are St. Augustine and Cardinal Newman, authors much loved by all three pontiffs involved. As we know so very well, these two great thinkers explored human conscience in depth, offering matchless food for thought also regarding the conscience of a politician.  Conscience is the ultimate tribunal for our deeds, but not the only one. Benedict XVI has taught us that conscience needs an authority that activates its anamnesis, the deepest possible recapturing of its history and motivations. The ultimate reason why authority is needed is that it solicits this ongoing verification process of conscience with itself. This is why there is ecclesiastical authority in the Church, and why, in society and in politics, there is another authority which consists in the truth; the tribunal of the truth before which Socrates wanted to being those who judged him. When a person’s conscience, including that of a politician, returns within itself and submits self to the process of anamnesis – Benedict XVI explains – it encounters the truth which abides in interiore homine, the truth which unites, while opinions divide. Politics is activity, and at times activism, but at the same time it feels the need for this interior gaze because the truth is known by both the intellect and the heart. In his preface to this book Pope Francis indicates many of these truths which must remain such for politics: respect for life, protection of the family, justice for all. Personal conscience is able to see them even when subject to blows and pressure in the political arena, and when it does see them, it realizes this is done not only with the mind, but also with the heart. Likewise in his preface, Pope Francis insists on highlighting the importance of a gaze of love. In the final analysis, recognizing the dignity of each person, the value of the family, human life, and the education of young people according to good and virtue. . . are acts of love, love for the truthfulness of the things that precede both parliaments and Constitutions.  There is something which precedes politics – as I said earlier – and when politics takes this into consideration this implies not a demeaning of politics itself, but rather the recognition of the honor and true dignity of politics. In the famous address Benedict XVI delivered in 2011 to the Bundestag in Germany, he said that the greatest virtue of a politician is the one Solomon asked God for: the wisdom to know how to guide men in good, because politics is the governance of persons, not the administration of things.

This book also includes an unpublished text of Benedict XVI on the subject of human rights and their foundation. Flagged in this text is the danger that implicit in the multiplication of rights is the destruction of the very idea of a right, and I believe this process is really evident at present. Human rights belong to man as a subject of right, but their legitimization presuppose the duties that derive from the natural order understood in terms of finality. In many cases, however, rights are rendered absolutes, and hence may be multiplied ad infinitum. People ask why this is happening. The main response Benedict XVI gives in this heretofore unpublished text is that the natural level is not able to hold its own as such, and hence unable to attain its natural ends without the supernatural level. Without the reference to the Creator, the natural order weakens and gradually fades from sight. This is something Pope Francis confirms in the preface to the book. Grounded here is the public role of the Catholic faith which can proudly claim honoring in full the natural requirements of each individual and society at large insofar as “the religion with a human face”, and asks that this its role be recognized also by politics. This is a demanding request for religious freedom.

The book we are presenting abounds with substantial material and is to be read as such. Moreover, it is a also herald of hope and as such is to be esteemed and prized. Today’s difficulties are probably not that different from those of other times, but they seem more evident to us because they are more vividly present. Politics can still be a wellspring of hope in this situation. It may seem bold and somewhat rash to assert thus, but faith is able to imbue political life with “Christian realism”. This sort of realism consists in not turning a blind eye to reality, even in its roughest expressions, and not refraining from pursuing all the avenues concretely within our grasp to solve problems and find the correct solutions to them. But it also consists in never ceasing to trust in the help of God, who is the Lord of history. Christianity is a religion of hope, as Benedict XVI illustrated so well in the encyclical letter Spe salvi. Hope is a theological virtue, but this does not mean it does not also extend to ambits we could consider profane or secular. Political life needs premises – as I have recalled a number of times – which it cannot give to itself. One of these premises is hope. It has helped so many gifted politicians to make choices going against their own interests, and propelled them to make serious sacrifices in order to remain faithful to the good of their own country and their people. This has occurred – note well – not only for politicians who were believers, but also for politicians who did not explicitly express any religious faith (but only the Lord judges what stirs in the depths of a person’s heart). Hope is a Christian value and a human value. It is a human value Christ uplifted to a divine virtue. Religious faith gives much assistance indeed to social life: and one expression of this is hope. The book we are presenting contains a comforting and encouraging message of hope for everyone. For this as well we are so grateful to Pope Benedict.

+ Giampaolo Crepaldi