Edward Pentin's Vatican Notebook
the message "God is f love" has been at the fore front of Pope Benedict VI's mind lately, then "God is truth" has not been far behind. So far this year, truth has been the key theme of at least five of the Pope's addresses, from his World Day of Peace message ("In truth, peace") to his message to the Roman Rota ("love for truth" being vital to the work of marriage tribunals).
This isn't, however, altogether surprising. When he was ordained Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, Joseph Ratzinger chose as his personal motto "Co-worker of the Truth". His reasons for doing so were spelled out in his 1997 autobiography Milestones: In today's world," he wrote, "the theme of truth has all but disappeared because truth appears to be too great for man, and yet everything
falls apart if there is no truth".
Now this concern shows itself to be to running deep through Benedict's pontificate. Building on his pointed statement last year that society is heading towards a "dictatorship of relativism", he warned on New Year's Day that both nihilism and fundamentalism, so often driven by secularism, are putting "truth at risk". The two share an "erroneous relationship to truth", he said. "The nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force."
"He sees that a culture which has lost any grip on the notion of `the tnith' is a culture incapable of sustaining a society of genuine dialogue, conversation and debate," said George Weigel, author of God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church. "When there's only
`your truth' and 'my truth' and nothing either of us recognises as 'the truth', then, when real differences emerge between us, either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you."
But Benedict also understands that without love, truth disappears, something that figures highly in the works of one of his favourite theologians, St Augustine of Hippo. "Augustine was one of the first to say that if you love, you understand the truth", noted Fr Gerald O'Collins Si, professor of systemic and fundamental theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. "Benedict dedicated his first encyclical to love not truth so that is his priority, but he sees them as deeply interrelated", The Holy Father's ability to confront philosophers such as Frederick Nietzsche adds further kudos to his teaching. "That's really a gift particular to him, to be able to take on Nietzsche and other thinkers because he's read their works, he's grappled with them and, in a sense, sees sonic truth in what they say," said one Vatican official. "He doesn't exclude them altogether, he gives them credit where it's due, but at the same time he has this ability to refute them." If a Nietzschean "will to power" is increasing, then "the `will to truth' remains fundamental", Ratzinger once said. As Pope, he appears to have lost none of that conviction.
The Vatican's statement on the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed was very carefully balanced, blaming both the media's lack of respect for the sensitivities of Islam and the violent reaction of Muslims. The overriding concern of Vatican officials, however, is to try to prevent the furore from sparking a "clash of civilisations".
"I have always said there isn't one, really," said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. "The publications of these cartoons is, in a sense, provoking it." The archbishop believes the only way to "remedy" the situation is by working together to "restore a climate of trust" and stressed that neither Muslim nor Christian leaders could be held responsible for the abuses.
Some have argued that the violent reaction among some Muslims again points to problems within Islam, but the Vatican prefers to see them as two separate issues. There is "no excuse" for the damage caused to European embassies in some Muslim countries, said Fr Just° Lacunza-Balda, director of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies. But, he added, "often we act and react irrationally, especially when religious sensitivities are attached".
The Vatican's statement also implied that no religion should be mocked. Archbishop Fitzgerald said: "It is saying that what people hold sacred, religious things, should be treated with respect." The prelate hoped the incident would prompt some "common reflection" on these issues, including within the media.
ews that the Vatican has opened the beatifica tion cause of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere has provoked some controversy. During his time as leader (1961 1985) his economic policies crippled the country. But his brand of socialism also helped to make Tanzania a peaceful oasis — bar Zanzibar — on a continent wracked by conflict. A daily Massgoer, the former teacher led by example, making him a very popular leader. "Let's hope we have a St Nyerere," chanted a friend who has spent many years in the country. "Though I know some of his kids and they certainly wouldn't qualify!"