The following comes from a Nov. 26, 2013 article in the National Catholic Register. It appeared as a link in the Feb. 12 California Catholic story, Benedict, a year on.
Exclusive to the Register, we publish below the first English translation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter to the militant Italian atheist, Piergiorgio Odifreddi.
In September, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica printed extracts of the letter whose full contents were published in Italian on Nov. 23 by the German-language agency Kath.net.
The Pope Emeritus sent the letter in response to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 entitled Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The work was a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume Introduction to Christianity, and including his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he wrote as pope.
Distinguished Professor Odifreddi,
First, I must apologize for the fact that I am only thanking you today for sending me your book, Caro Pape, ti scrivo, and for the kind words which you addressed to me at the time through Archbishop Gänswein. However I did not wish to write before having read your book, and since various tasks still weigh upon me, I have finished reading it only now.
Today, therefore, I would at last like to thank you for having sought in great detail to confront my book, and thus also my faith. This in large part was precisely what I intended in my address to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2009. I must also thank you for the faithful manner in which you dealt with my text, earnestly seeking to do it justice.
My opinion of your book as a whole, however, is rather mixed. I read some parts of it with enjoyment and profit. In other parts, however, I was surprised by a certain aggressiveness and rashness of argumentation.
I would like to respond chapter by chapter, but unfortunately I do not have sufficient strength for this. I shall therefore choose a few points that I think are particularly important.
First, I marvel that on pages 25 and following you interpret my choice to go beyond the perception of the senses in order to perceive reality in its grandeur as “an explicit denial of the principle of reality” or as “mystical psychosis.” In fact, I intended to maintain precisely the position you yourself expound on page 29 and following concerning the method of the natural sciences “which transcends the limitations of the human senses.”
Thus I fully agree with what you write on page 40: “…mathematics has a deep affinity with religion.” On this point, then, I see no real contrast between your approach and mine. If on page 49 you explain that “true religiosity … today is to be found more in science than in philosophy,” you are making a statement which is certainly open to discussion; however, I am glad that you intend to present your work here as “true religiosity.” Here, as again on page 65, and then again in the chapter entitled “His Creed and mine,” you emphasize that true religiosity would be constituted by the renunciation of the “anthropomorphism” of a God understood as a person, and by the veneration of rationality. Accordingly, on page 182 of your book, you quite drastically say that “math and science are the only true religion, the rest is superstition.”
Now, I can certainly understand that you consider the conception of the primordial and creative Reason as a Person with its own “I” to be an anthropomorphism; this seems to be a reduction of the grandeur, for us inconceivable, of the Logos. The Trinitarian faith of the Church whose presentation in my book you recount objectively, to some extent also expresses the totally different, mysterious aspect of God, which we may intuit only from afar. Here I would like to recall the statement of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as he is called, who once said that philosophical minds certainly experience a kind of revulsion before biblical anthropomorphisms since they consider them inadequate.
However, these enlightened persons run the risk of taking their own philosophical conceptions of God as adequate and of forgetting that their own philosophical ideas are also infinitely far from the reality of the “totally Other.” Thus these anthropomorphisms are needed in order to overcome the arrogance of thought; indeed, it must be said that, in some respects, anthropomorphism more closely approaches the reality of God than mere concepts. Moreover, what the Fourth Lateran Council said in 1215 still applies, i.e. that every concept of God can only be analogical and that dissimilarity with the true God is always infinitely greater than likeness.
That said, it must still be maintained that a divine Logos also must be conscious and, in this sense, a Subject and a Person. An objective reason always presupposes a subject, a reason which is conscious of itself….
To read the entire letter, click here.