Light of Reason, Light of Faith

978-1-58731-466-7; 978-1-58731-467-4
Forthcoming Books
Hardback $45, E-book $28
Foreword by Emery de Gaál, Postscript by George Weigel, 6" x 9", 380 pages

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Light of Reason, Light of Faith

Joseph Ratzinger and the German Enlightenment

Agbaw-Ebai, Maurice Ashley

Fr. Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai, a native of Cameroon, has written a fresh, exciting new study of the lifelong engagement of Josef Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, with the German Enlightenment and its contemporary manifestations and heirs. Contemporary European disdain for organized religion and the rise in secularism on that continent has deep roots in the German Enlightenment. To understand contemporary Europe, one must return to this crucial epoch in its history, to those who shaped the European mind of this era, and to a study of the ideas they espoused and propagated. These ideas, for good or for ill, have taken hold in other parts of the modern world, being incarnated in many minds and institutions in contemporary society and threatening to enthrone a disfigured rationality without faith or a sense of Transcendence.

Ratzinger’s extraordinary and sympathetic understanding of the sources of contemporary secularism equipped him to appreciate the gains of the Enlightenment, while still being a fierce critic of the losses humanity has suffered when reason falsely excludes faith. Fr. Agbaw-Ebai’s account reveals Ratzinger, in relation to his various interlocutors, to be the truly “enlightened” one because he demonstrates a truly balanced understanding of the human mind. To be truly rational one must be able to hold to faith and reason both, reason informed by faith in Jesus Christ.

A particular merit of this book is Agbaw-Ebai’s presentation of Ratzinger’s treatment of the  German Enlightenment’s greatest contributors: Kant, Nietzche, Hegel and Habermas, among others. In the postscript George Weigel characterizes what this study accomplishes in the larger framework of scholarship. “[Ratzinger’s] position remains too often misunderstood, and sometimes deliberately misinterpreted, throughout the whole Church. And to misunderstand, or misinterpret, Ratzinger is to misunderstand or misinterpret both the modern history of theology and the Second Vatican Council.” Agbaw-Ebai masterfully positions Ratzinger correctly in the history of ideas, and exhibits why Ratzinger will be remembered as one of its main players. Pure rationalists and true believers are equally indebted to him.

 

 

 

No Pope has ever spoken so frequently or fulsomely of the legacy of the Enlightenment as has Pope Benedict XVI.  He repeatedly stressed the need for Christianity to welcome the real achievements of Enlightenment thought, while insisting with equal vigor on the role of faith as a purifying force for reason. With this exploration of the influence of the Aufklärung on the Emeritus Pope’s lifelong preoccupation with faith and reason, Father Maurice Agbaw-Ebai makes a welcome contribution to Ratzinger studies.  This work by a young Cameroonian scholar is a major contribution to the fulfillment of Benedict’s cherished hopes for Africa’s role in the New Evangelization.

Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law, Emeritus, Harvard University

 

A profound philosophical investigation of one of the key dialogs and dialectics of our time: between the Church (represented by a truly great pope, philosophers, and the "Enlightenment" that weaned most intellectuals away from her. Like Ratzinger himself, Father Ebai's writing is dense and deep but well worth the effort required to engage it.

Peter Kreeft, Philosophy Department, Boston College

 

A journalist once joked to me that ‘Ratzinger would give his right leg for reason’ and he asked why reason is so important for him.  This work by Fr Agbaw-Ebai is the definitive answer to that question.  It demonstrates that for Ratzinger/Benedict the eighteenth century’s interest in reason and history was already very much present in Christian self-understanding centuries before the arrival of the era of the philosophes. Like the great Romano Guardini Ratzinger has always emphasized the priority of Logos over Ethos.  For him Christianity is the universal truth, not merely some moral code or historically significant European narrative.  This work deftly unpacks the various ways in which the great modern church doctor deploys the concept of Logos in his theological reflections.

Tracey Rowland, St John Paul II Chair of Theology, University of Notre Dame (Australia)

 

Contemporary European disdain for organized religion and the rise in secularism on that continent owes its roots partly to the Enlightenment. Thus, to understand modern Europe one has to return to this epoch in its history, to those who shaped the European mind of this era and to a study of the ideas which they espoused and propagated. These ideas, for good or for ill have taken hold in other parts of the modern world, being incarnated in many minds and institutions in contemporary society and threatening to enthrone a world where only a certain kind of rationality without faith or a sense of Transcendence reigns supreme.

In this extremely well -written book, Fr Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai provides a detailed study of the way Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict XI has devoted a considerable portion of his career as theologian, philosopher, priest, bishop and Pope to dialogue with the Enlightenment and its contemporary manifestations, and heirs. Because Ratzinger, more than most theologians and Christian philosophers of his era understands the source of contemporary secularism, he is more equipped than most to address the challenges it poses for faith in general and for the Christian faith in particular. To face up to the challenges posed by the Enlightenment Ratzinger shows himself quite conversant with the trends and sources which inform the contemporary heirs of the Enlightenment. While appreciating some of the gains of the Enlightenment, he is fiercely critical of the losses which reason without faith pushes on humanity. It is as if humanity were being forced to breathe with just one lung.

In Fr Agbaw-Ebai’s book, Ratzinger comes out in relation to his various interlocutors as the truly ‘enlightened’ one because he demonstrates a truly balanced understanding of the human mind. To be truly rational one must be able to hold to faith and reason as two sides of the same coin.  A faith that disdains reason would be no faith at all and vice versa. The balance to strive for is that of reason informed by faith - more particularly, faith in Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, the logos becomes incarnate, and fully shows what it means to be human.

The scope and breadth of Fr Agbaw-Ebai’s erudition in this book is quite comprehensive and impressive.  He reads Ratzinger very carefully and very well. He also reads those whom Ratzinger is reading or is in dialogue with very well. He integrates these sources quite well. The result is both a readable book in which one learns a lot about history, theology, philosophy and the social sciences, and a reference work to which one can turn for quick reference on any number of issues about the Christian faith and about the modern world. This is no mean achievement. Well done, well done, indeed!

Rev Paulinus I. Odozor, C.S.Sp, Professor of Moral Theology/Christian Ethic and the Theology of World Church, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA