“The state’s openness to God, far from leading to theocracy, is actually the only thing that enables the state to distinguish itself properly from the Church.”
As an Augustinian who has specialized in patristic and biblical scholarship, Pope Benedict XVI is not frequently considered a political philosopher of great import. It is certainly the case that those looking for political philosophy per se will be disappointed perusing the Holy Father’s scholarly works or his pastoral statements since becoming Pope Benedict XVI. Nonetheless, I wish to propose that he is a most profound political thinker. In order to elucidate my claim, I will refer to the relationship between fundamental theology and the other branches of the theological discipline. Fundamental theology deals with questions that must necessarily be answered prior to the exploration of the content of theology itself, such as: What is Revelation? What is the relationship between what is revealed and the rest of what we know through the exercise of reason? Why believe in the first place? Clearly, if these questions were not well answered, there would be little value in moving on to the content of Revelation itself. Similarly, prior to any fruitful study of politics, we must identify its subject matter, its proper realm and limitations, and clarify its relationship with other dimensions of human knowl- edge and experience. If we could provisionally define the work which set out to answer these necessary preliminaries as “fundamen- tal politics,” then I would want to insist that Benedict XVI has made and continues to make important contributions to the field. As I will suggest in what follows, a central feature of the pope’s fundamental politics is to show how the state’s openness to God, far from leading to theocracy, is actually the only thing that enables the state to distinguish itself properly from the Church, and thus to resist the twin temptations of utopianism and totalitarianism.
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