Notre Dame was honored to host Ratzinger Prize recipient Professor Rémi Brague on campus Thursday, October 11. The Ratzinger Prize recognizes innovative scholarly researchers in the areas of Sacred Scripture study, patrology, or fundamental theology, and awards a prize of almost a hundred thousand dollars. The 2012 Ratzinger Prize was awarded to two men, Brague and Notre Dame’s Father Brian Daley, Professor of Theology. Both Daley and Brague will travel to the Vatican to receive the Ratzinger Prize from Pope Benedict XVI.
Before travelling to the Vatican, Brague visited South Bend to address Notre Dame students in his thought-provoking lecture entitled: “There is No Such Thing as a Secular Society.” This Frenchman had an air of confidence and kindness about him as he presented in the Carrie Auditorium.
Following an introduction by Professor John Cavadini, head of the Institute for Church Life, Brague immediately captured the attention of the audience by giving the microphone a tap, and saying, “I will cut it short.” He was met with a laugh when he warned the audience that he was about to get “rough and tough” with them.
Brague began with the thesis that a post-secular society can only lead to self-destruction. He proceeded to discuss the etymology of the word “secular.” As a derivative of the Latin word “saeculum,” this word was coined in the 1850s, meaning century, and was used to describe the transient nature of the world. From a strictly philosophical point of view, the only significant period of time for the secular person would be the one that included his lifetime (around seventy years) and the average time people remember him (thirty years).
Brague argued that, if all people in a society had this worldview, society would not be able to continue because people would have no reason to reproduce or look out for their neighbors. If people considered their particular century the only time period of importance, there would be no need to look toward the distant future. Brague referenced the worldview of characters in Gulliver’s Travels, for instance, a person is considered dead if they have lived eighty years. This worldview, he argued, is held by secularists, though not as overtly.
Questions following the lecture included several counter-arguments from audience members. These questioners included secularists who did reproduce and care about others, and they were confused by Bragues’s sentiments that secularists abstain from these acts. Brague clarified that he was not trying to say that secularists do not reproduce or care about others, because most of them do. He meant that it would be impossible for a secular society to succeed on a philosophical basis because secularists have a short-term focus.
Rémi Brague’s intellect, precision, and humor all contributed to this captivating lecture. This lecture could not have been possible without the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at Notre Dame, and the audience was grateful for the Institute’s hard work.
Caroline Corsones is a freshman undecided Arts and Letters major in Farley Hall, who likes to rap for fun. Contact her at email@example.com.