Bearing witness to the true God

December 16, 2009

Cardinal Ruini has outlined three ways of access to God, three proofs of his existence, not theological but rational, and therefore able to be presented to all, not only to believers, at a recent conference in Rome.

The first way departs from the evident fact “that there is something rather than nothing.” The second moves from the observation that the universe can be known by man. The third is based on man’s experience of a moral law within himself.

The three ways therefore make reference to the “transcendentals” of classical philosophy: to being, truth, and goodness. In making his arguments, Ruini intended to overcome the radical objections that these have faced over the past two centuries, beginning with Kant. But he acknowledged that not even these ways have the power of an apodictic demonstration, one that does not raise new doubts. And so? The cardinal’s final proposal is that the existence of God be accepted as “the best hypothesis,” with a formula taken from Joseph Ratzinger.

Here are the final two paragraphs from Ruini’s address:

“The difficulties of the metaphysical approach in the contemporary cultural context, together with the dilemma arising from the existence of evil in the world, are the essential reasons for that ‘strange shadow that looms over the question of the eternal realities’. Thus the existence of a personal God, as solidly arguable as we have sought to make it, is not the object of an apodictic demonstration, but remains ‘the best hypothesis, which demands that we renounce a position of domination and take the risk of a stance of humble listening’. The implications of such an acknowledgment are great, both for relations between believers and nonbelievers – which, already for this essential reason, should be marked by sincere and firmly held mutual respect – and  for the personal attitude of each believer, and in particular for the fundamental role that prayer must occupy in our relationship with God, so as to be able implore from him the gift of faith, which gives us that unconditional and at the same time free certainty about God which, as Saint Thomas explains, does not in any way exclude the possibility of further inquiry, but supports our fidelity to him, extending to the gift of ourselves.

“I will finish with an observation that seems to me fairly emblematic of the condition in which we are living. There is a profound parallel between the approach to God and the approach to ourselves, as intelligent and free subjects. In both cases, we are currently subjected to the pressure of a strong and pervasive epistemological scientism and naturalism, often unconsciously metaphysical, which would like to declare that God does not exist, or at least cannot be known by reason, and to reduce man to an object of nature among the others. Today, as perhaps never before, it therefore seems clear that the affirmation of man as a subject and the affirmation of God ‘simul stant et simul cadunt’, they stand or fall together. This is deeply logical, because on the one hand it is very difficult to establish a true and irreducible emergence of man with respect to the rest of nature if nature itself is the whole of reality, and on the other it is equally difficult to keep the mind open to a personal, intelligent, and free God – in a way that is true, even if it is ineffable to us – if this irreducible specificity of the human subject is not acknowledged. Bearing witness to the true God and at the same time to the truth of man is therefore perhaps the most exhilarating task that has been entrusted to us.”

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