The pope, who has run in prominent Catholic theological circles for decades, and a brilliant theologian himself, is in a unique position to pass judgment on the theological fads which many Catholics fall prey to. The latest fads are those in which the newest and latest evidence seems to disprove this or that Catholic teaching, before that evidence is itself disproven. And Benedict has it squarely in his crosshairs here:
And I would say to theologians in general: “do not be afraid of this specter of scientific nature!” I follow the theology of ’46; I began to study theology in January of ’46 and hence I have seen almost three generations of theologians, and I can say: the theories that at that time, and then in the ’60s and ’80s, were the newest, absolutely scientific, absolutely almost dogmatic, in the meantime have grown old and are not longer of any value! Many of them seem almost ridiculous. Hence, one must have the courage to resist what is apparently of a scientific nature, not subject oneself to all the theories of the moment, but to really think from the great faith of the Church, which is present in all times and opens to us access to truth.
The newest and latest attacks on the Church can often seem daunting; the newest and latest theological innovation can seem attractive; but in both cases, this is novelty speaking. Catholicism is unexpected, She is surprising, but She’s not “novel.” She’s timeless.
As an older man with plenty of experience in the field, Ratzinger can look back on the forces which once seemed like powerful foes of the Church, and can be simply amused at their ridiculousness. It’s a virtue, and one we should strive for, to be able to step back and look at the Church as the oldest institution on Earth, and appreciate Her in that sense; rather than always being caught up in the excitement and clamor of the day. This “long view,” if you will, allows us to sort out which things really matter, and which things are just the latest bees in our collective bonnets.
He then makes an absolutely fundamental point against the “New Atheism” which claims to be the triumph of “reason” over religion:
Above all, also, we must not think that positivist reason, which excludes the transcendent — which cannot be accessible — is true reason! This weak reason, which presents only things that can be experienced, is really an insufficient reason. We theologians must use the great reason, which is open to the grandeur of God. We must have the courage to go beyond positivism to the question of the roots of being.
Limiting reason to only those things you can experience is the failure, not the triumph, of reason. And thank God we have a pope who recognizes and understands this, and draws it out so clearly.
UPDATE: Elise B. notes (in a comment Blogger seems to have deleted) that:
I was surprised at reading “I follow the theology of ’46”, so I went to the translation of the Q&A in French, and it says: “Je suis la théologie depuis 1946,” which would translate as “I have been following theology since 1946”. That makes more sense to me. Otherwise, it would seem that Pope Benedict is “stuck” in the theology of 1946…
That definitely makes more sense!