Full Text of Benedict XVI’s Letter to Atheist

Exclusive to the Register, we publish below the first English translation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter to the militant Italian atheist, Piergiorgio Odifreddi.

In September, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica printed extracts of the letter whose full contents were published in Italian on Nov. 23 by the German-language agency Kath.net.

The Pope Emeritus sent the letter in response to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 entitled Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The work was a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume Introduction to Christianity, and including his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he wrote as pope.

Distinguished Professor Odifreddi,

First, I must apologize for the fact that I am only thanking you today for sending me your book, Caro Papa, ti scrivo, and for the kind words which you addressed to me at the time through Archbishop Gänswein. However I did not wish to write before having read your book, and since various tasks still weigh upon me, I have finished reading it only now.

Today, therefore, I would at last like to thank you for having sought in great detail to confront my book, and thus also my faith. This in large part was precisely what I intended in my address to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2009. I must also thank you for the faithful manner in which you dealt with my text, earnestly seeking to do it justice.

My opinion of your book as a whole, however, is rather mixed. I read some parts of it with enjoyment and profit. In other parts, however, I was surprised by a certain aggressiveness and rashness of argumentation.

I would like to respond chapter by chapter, but unfortunately I do not have sufficient strength for this. I shall therefore choose a few points that I think are particularly important.


First, I marvel that on pages 25 and following you interpret my choice to go beyond the perception of the senses in order to perceive reality in its grandeur as “an explicit denial of the principle of reality” or as “mystical psychosis.” In fact, I intended to maintain precisely the position you yourself expound on page 29 and following concerning the method of the natural sciences “which transcends the limitations of the human senses.”

Thus I fully agree with what you write on page 40: “…mathematics has a deep affinity with religion.” On this point, then, I see no real contrast between your approach and mine. If on page 49 you explain that “true religiosity … today is to be found more in science than in philosophy,” you are making a statement which is certainly open to discussion; however, I am glad that you intend to present your work here as “true religiosity.” Here, as again on page 65, and then again in the chapter entitled “His Creed and mine,” you emphasize that true religiosity would be constituted by the renunciation of the “anthropomorphism” of a God understood as a person, and by the veneration of rationality. Accordingly, on page 182 of your book, you quite drastically say that “math and science are the only true religion, the rest is superstition.”

Now, I can certainly understand that you consider the conception of the primordial and creative Reason as a Person with its own “I” to be an anthropomorphism; this seems to be a reduction of the grandeur, for us inconceivable, of the Logos. The Trinitarian faith of the Church whose presentation in my book you recount objectively, to some extent also expresses the totally different, mysterious aspect of God, that which we may intuit only from afar. Here I would like to recall the statement of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as he is called, who once said that philosophical minds certainly experience a kind of revulsion before biblical anthropomorphisms since they consider them inadequate.

However, these enlightened persons run the risk of taking their own philosophical conceptions of God as adequate and of forgetting that their own philosophical ideas are also infinitely far from the reality of the “totally Other.” Thus these anthropomorphisms are needed in order to overcome the arrogance of thought; indeed, it must be said that, in some respects, anthropomorphism more closely approaches the reality of God than mere concepts. Moreover, what the Fourth Lateran Council said in 1215 still applies, i.e. that every concept of God can only be analogical and that dissimilarity with the true God is always infinitely greater than likeness.

That said, it must still be maintained that a divine Logos also must be conscious and, in this sense, a Subject and a Person. An objective reason always presupposes a subject, a reason which is conscious of itself.

On page 53 of your book you say that this distinction, which in 1968 could still seem justified, is no longer tenable faced with today’s reality of artificial intelligence. On this point you do not convince me at all. Artificial intelligence, in fact, is obviously an intelligence transmitted by conscious subjects, an intelligence placed in equipment. It has a clear origin, in fact, in the intelligence of the human creators of such equipment.

Lastly, I cannot follow you at all, if from the start you do not write Logos with a capital ‘L’ but rather the mathematical logos in lower case (page 85). The Logos that stands at the beginning of all things is a Logos above all logoi.

Of course, the transition from the logoi to the Logos made by the Christian faith together with the great Greek philosophers is a leap that cannot be simply demonstrated: It leads from empiricism to metaphysics and with this to another level of thought and reality. But this leap is at least as logical as your dispute against it. I also think that whoever cannot make this leap should yet regard it as a serious question. This is the crucial point in my conversation with you, a point to which I will return again at the end. In any case, I expect someone who seriously wonders to acknowledge that “perhaps” which, following Martin Buber, I spoke about at the beginning of my book. Both parties to the discussion should continue their search. It seems to me, however, that you interrupt the quest in a dogmatic way and no longer ask, but rather claim to teach me.

Read The Full Article at The National Catholic Register.



About Trite Static

I enjoy coffee with cream and tea with sugar and am only able to knit in squares.
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One Response to Full Text of Benedict XVI’s Letter to Atheist

  1. geloruma says:

    I am impressed with how considerately Pope Emeritus Benedict is in his reply.

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