-Old Books Club
An interview with James V. Schall, by Ken Masugi
Posted December 13, 2007
Georgetown University professor of government James V. Schall, S. J. has authored some 30 books on political theory and theology, including, most recently, The Regensburg Lecture (2007) and the Order of Things (2007). His website, a portal into his writings and course syllabi, is here. This interview covers the relationship between reason and faith and its political implications. It explores the themes of the Pope's recent encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi) and Fr. Schall's most recent books. It was conducted earlier this month via email with Ken Masugi and follows four others on similar themes that they have undertaken over the last several years.
Masugi: Is this Pope a public intellectual? If so, who is his public? How can he be an intellectual and a man of faith, a shepherd of his flock, at the same time?
Schall: One is bemused to think that a "public intellectual" might be thought to have a higher rank than the Pope of Rome! Suffice it to say, that there is no individual person in the public order anywhere in the world today with the intellectual accomplishments of Pope Ratzinger. That is not a boast, just a fact. The sheer volume and depth of what he has published over the years is simply massive in addition to its being profound with that German thoroughness that leaves little to the imagination.
We are witnessing the time in which this accumulated learning has, perhaps uncannily, settled in the one office in the world that still speaks "Urbi et Orbi." The days are simply gone, if they ever existed, in which anyone can pretend that there is not a major intellectual force within Catholicism that actively seeks out and deals with every religious, intellectual, historical, and scientific tradition in terms of intelligence.
We really have not had a non-intellectual pope in several centuries. Part of the reason for this tradition is simply that the Catholic Church addresses itself to reason. It demands of itself and others the canons of complete rationality. It does not accept "rationalistic" definitions of reason that limit its real scope to its methods or presuppositions.
His public? It is interesting to look over a few issues of L'Osservatore Romano to see just whom a pope deals with in the course of a week or a month. He will talk to numerous ambassadors from any and every country in the world, political and religious leaders, bishops, students from all over, leading scholars, prelates of other religions, newly-weds, the sick, and heaven knows whom, from presidents, kings, and prime ministers to sports figures and ordinary people. The papacy is not an abstraction, as we vividly learned with John Paul II. It is much more in contact with the world at large than any other public body, certainly more than any university or think tank or government.
But the pope also targets audiences to whom to address. Sometimes they come to him. Sometimes he goes to them. He always has a brief or longer statement to make that is well worth attention. He is also a man who has to deal with major theological issues wherever they arise. When Pope Ratzinger considers any issues, we can be sure that he does his homework.
More and more it is becoming clear that the major political problems are at root spiritual and theological problems. Spengler put it well in a recent Asia Times (November 6, 2007):
The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West. None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehends this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded fore peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address.
To put it differently, before the political order can be straightened out, it must understand the forces that are in fact loose in the world, and understand them on their own terms, not in terms of western social or political science. What even scholars and politicians are suddenly aware of is that they cannot ignore religion, whatever it is. It is precisely by ignoring religion in both academic and secularized political circles, that the West has come to leave the deepest issues that all men know about to other religions. It is to this emptiness that Benedict addresses himself—what exactly is it?
Benedict's more formal encyclicals and statements are very carefully thought out. If we read Deus Caritas Est, the Regensburg Lecture, and Spe Salvi, we begin to suspect that this pope has the whole world in his sights, not just Islam or the secularized West, though these are the more immediate and pressing issues. The whole world has an intellectual core that includes both the intellectual history of the West and how it relates to other cultures and political bodies. All politics presupposes a view of the world that is more than political. We are so used to denying this in the name of some abstraction called the "separation of church and state" that we can hardly understand even ourselves.
"How can [the pope] be an intellectual and a man of faith—a shepherd of his flock—at the same time?" Ex esse sequitur posse. I do not know how he does all these things, but the fact is that he does them. We have to begin from here. No doubt Benedict does not know every last bishop who must be appointed to vital spots—appointing bishops may be his most important task of ruling—but he seems to be working at it.
If there is any motto or epigram that would define this papacy, it is surely that the "intellectual" and the "man of faith" is the same man. The one faith addresses reason and reason, if it is really open to the whole of things, inquires about faith at least as it can be seen in its effects. Philosophy cannot exclude a reality and still claim to pursue the whole. This relationship has been the agenda since at least Thomas Aquinas if not Plato.
But at no time in centuries, I think, has the ground for this relationship been more thoroughly founded in intellectual history. This pope does not cite Nietzsche and Hegel for nothing. He cites them because he knows them. I would almost say he delights in them. He knows their relevance to contemporary issues as well as to their relation to revelation and modern ideology.
Masugi: "Regarding politics: Looking at our American elections, not to mention political events throughout the world, how should the Church seek to influence politics?
To read Schall's answer & the rest of the interview, go to this link: