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Posted January 16, 2005

Book: Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions
Author: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, pp. 284

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Is truth knowable? If we know the truth, must we hide it in the name of tolerance? Cardinal Ratzinger engages the problem of truth, tolerance, religion and culture in the modern world. Describing the vast array of world religions, Ratzinger embraces the difficult challenge of meeting diverse understandings of spiritual truth while defending the Catholic teaching of salvation through Jesus Christ. “But what if it is true?” is the question that he poses to cultures that decry the Christian position on man’s redemption. Upholding the notion of religious truth while asserting the right of religious freedom, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the timeless teaching of the Magisterium in language that resonates with our embattled culture. A work of extreme sensitivity, understanding, and spiritual maturity, this book is an invaluable asset to those who struggle to hear the voice of truth in the modern religious world.

Beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question about truth..Can truth be recognized? Or, is the question about truth simply inappropriate in the realm of religion and belief? But what meaning does belief then have, what positive meaning does religion have, if it cannot be connected with truth?”

An Excerpt from the Book:

“Perhaps the veteran Enlightenment steam engine, after two hundred years of useful and undisturbed work, has stopped before our eyes and with our cooperation. And the steam is just going up into the air.” That is Szczypiorski’s pessimistic diagnosis, which at the start challenged us to reflect on our path. Now, I should say that this machine had never worked without disturbance — think of the two world wars in our own twentieth century and of the dictatorships we have lived through. But I would add that we do not by any means need to bid adieu to the heritage of the Enlightenment as such and, as a whole, to regard it as a supernatural steam engine. What we do of course need is to correct our course in three essential points, in which I should like to summarize the results of my reflections.

1. An understanding of freedom is wrong if it would see as liberating simply an ever-wider loosening of norms and the constant extension of individual freedoms in the direction of a total liberation from all order. Unless it is to lead to lying an self-destruction, freedom must relate to the truth, that is to say, to what we actually are, and must correspond to this nature of ours. Since man is a being who exists in being-from, being with, and being for, human freedom can only exist in an ordered coexistence of freedoms. Law is, therefore, not the opposite of freedom. Liberation consists, not in gradually getting rid of law and of norms of behavior, but in purifying ourselves and purifying those norms, so that they make possible that coexistence of freedoms which is appropriate to man.

2. A second point follows, out of the true reality of our nature: Within this human history of ours the absolutely ideal situation will never exist, and a perfected ordering of freedom will never be able to be achieved. Man is always moving on and always finite. In view of the obvious injustice of the socialist ordering of society, and in view of all the problems of the liberal order, Szczypiorski put the despairing question: Perhaps there is no such thing as being right? We now have to say that: Indeed, an ordering of things that is simply ideal, that is all-around right and just, will never exist. Wherever such a claim is made, truth is not being spoken. Belief in progress is not false in every respect. But the myth of a liberated world of the future, in which everything will be different and everything good, is false. We can only ever construct relative social orders, which can only ever be relatively right and just. Yet this very same closest possible approach to true right and just is what we must strive to attain. Everything else, every eschatological promise within history, fails to liberate us; rather, it disappoints and therefore enslaves us. That is why the mythological glamor that has been added onto such concepts as change and revolution has to be demythologized. Change is not good in itself. Whether it is good or bad depends on its particular content and how it relates to other things. The opinion that the main task in the struggle for freedom is that of changing the world is, I repeat, a myth. There will always be ups and downs in history. In relation to the actual moral nature of man, it does not run in a straight line; rather, it repeats itself. It is our task always to struggle for the relatively best possible framework of human coexistence in our own present day and, in doing so, to preserve anything good that has already been achieved, to overcome anything bad that exists at the time, and to guard against the outbreak of destructive forces.

3. We must also bid farewell to the dream of the absolute autonomy of reason and of its self-sufficiency. Human reasons needs a hint from the great religious traditions of mankind. It will certainly look at the individual traditions in a critical light. The pathology of religion is the most dangerous sickness of the human spirit. It exists within the religions, yet exists also precisely where religion as such is rejected and relative goods are assigned an absolute value: the atheistic systems of modern times are the most frightful examples of passionate religious enthusiasm alienated from its proper identity, and that means a sickness of the human spirit that may be mortal. When the existence of God is denied, freedom is, not enhanced, but deprived of its basis and thus distorted. When the purest and most profound religious traditions are set aside, man is separating himself from the truth; he is living contrary to that truth, and he loses his freedom. Nor can philosophical ethics be simply autonomous. It cannot dispense with the concept of God or dispense with the concept of a truth of being that is of an ethical nature. If there is no truth about man, then he has no freedom. Only the truth makes us free.

Table of Contents:

Part One

The Christian Faith in Its Encounter with Cultures and Religions
1. The unity and diversity of religions: the place of Christianity in the history of religions


2. Faith, Religion, and Culture

Variations on the Theme of Faith, Religion, and Culture
1. Inclusivism and pluralism
2. Is Christianity a European religion?
3. Hellenization?
4. Abraham and Melchizedek
5. Distinguishing what is Christian

Part Two

Religions and the Question of Truth
1. The new questions that arose in the nineties: the position of faith and theology today
2. The Truth of Christianity?
1. Faith between reason and feeling
2. Christianity — the true religion?
3. Faith, truth, and culture Reflections prompted by the Encyclical Fides et Ratio

3. Truth — Tolerance — Freedom

1. Faith — Truth — Tolerance
2. Freedom and Truth