Spring 1996

Truth and Freedom

Joseph Ratzinger

"Man is God's image precisely insofar as being 'from,' 'with,' and 'for' constitute the fundamental anthropological pattern."

I. The question


In the mind of the contemporary man, freedom appears to a large extent as the absolutely highest good, to which all other goods are subordinate. Court decisions consistently accord artistic freedom and freedom of opinion primacy over every other moral value. Values which complete with freedom, or which might necessitate its restriction, seem to be fetters or "taboos," that is, relics of archaic prohibitions and fears. Political policy must show that it contributes to the advancement of freedom in order to be accepted. Even religion can make its voice heard only by presenting itself as a liberating force for man and for humanity. In the scale of values on which man depends for a humane existence, freedom appears as the basic value and as the fundamental human right. In contrast, we are inclined to react with suspicion to the concept of truth: we recall that the term truth has already been claimed for many opinions and systems, and that the assertion of truth has often been a means of suppressing freedom. In addition, natural science has nourished a skepticism with regard to everything which cannot be explained or proved by its exact methods: all such things seem in the end to be a mere subjective assignment of value which cannot pretend to be universally binding. The modern attitude toward truth is summed up  most succinctly in Pilate's question, "What is truth?". Anyone who maintains that he is serving the truth by his life, speech and action must prepare himself to be classified as a dreamer or as a fanatic. For "the world beyond is closed to our gaze"; this sentence from Goethe's Faust characterizes our common sensibility today.

. . . . . . . . . .
To read this article in its entirety, please download the free PDF or buy this issue.