International Congress on "Cultures and Reason"

Three years ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, through a letter signed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, suggested to a number of academic centers in various countries the possibility of studying a topic that was “important and urgent” for the Church and humanity: “the presence of the essential contents of the natural moral law in contemporary society.”

The letter alluded to the “difficulty of finding in the present world a common denominator of moral principles shared by all, which, based on the nature of man and society, could serve as basic criteria in legislating on the fundamental problems affecting the rights and duties of every human being.”

The response by the University of Navarra resulted in the organization of five interdisciplinary congresses in which hundreds of professors took part both from Navarra and from other Spanish and foreign universities. The final event, held in November 2007, was an international congress entitled “Reason and Cultures.”

Lines of dialogue and convergence in a pluralistic society

The meeting brought together some fifty specialists from various countries and religions. In his opening address, the president of the University, Ángel J. Gómez Montoro, listed some reasons defenders of ethical relativism usually invoke in defense of their ideas: “permanent conflicts between countries and cultures, unjust invocations of God’s name to justify violence, attacks against the dignity of the person, and abuses of power against religious freedom.” In the light of these disorders, he invited the participants in the congress to seek, in open and sincere dialogue, the “foundations for a universal ethic” that Benedicts XVI spoke about in his recent address to the International Theological Commission. [1]
Rational dialogue between “unlikes”

Where can these fundamental principles be found? The debate, very rich in shades of meaning and points of view, centered on three key ideas. In first place, the primacy of reason over force. As Gómez Montoro pointed out in his opening lecture, “the worst walls are those built with prejudices and not with bricks.” Secondly, the importance of dialogue to provide bridges between “unlikes.” And finally, the responsibility of religious representatives, people in positions of government, and intellectuals to provide leadership for this rational dialogue between cultures and religions.

The first day was dedicated to an analysis of present-day culture and the reality of globalization. Taking part, among others, were Alejandro Llano, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Navarra; Margaret Archer, a sociologist at the University of Warwick; Jean-Luc Chabot, Professor of Political Science at the University of Grenoble; and Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian Senate and professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Pisa.

On the second day, the dialogue focused on the possibilities and limits of multiculturalism and on the importance of the use of reason to confront cultural changes. Among those taking part were Pierpaolo Donati, from the University of Bologna; Niyazi Öktem, from the University of Istanbul; Miguel García–Baró, from the Pontifical University of Comillas (Madrid); and Enrich Berti, from the University of Padua. Professor Berti, one of the top world experts in the thought of Aristotle, spoke on the advantages and limits of consensus in relation to the truth.

The last day featured a colloquium of theologians from various religious backgrounds, including Hilarion Alfeyev, the Orthodox bishop of Vienna and representative for the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels; Gunther Wenz, a Lutheran pastor and dean of the Evangelical School of Theology at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich; Rabbis Ángel Kreiman-Brill and Baruj Garzón; Bishop José María Yanguas of Cuenca; and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Ratisbon.

[1] Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the participants in the plenary session of the International Theological Commission, Rome, October 5, 2007

Romana, No. 45, July-December 2007, p. 316-317.