Tagcatholic

late-career Papacy: two models

It strikes me that the future of the Roman Catholic Church in my lifetime, and perhaps well beyond, may largely be determined by which of his two predecessors Pope Francis takes as his model for the final stage of a papacy. For John Paul II, the increasing frailty and illness of his last years were almost a sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inner radical dependence on God. (“Though he slay me, I will yet trust in him.”) For him, the public bearing of affliction was a necessary consequence of the burden he had taken on when he assumed the seat of St. Peter. For Benedict, by contrast, those burdens were to be set aside when honest self-reflection told him he could no longer stand under them.

I am not interested in judging either choice – indeed, only God can do that – but rather merely in pointing out that if Francis follows John Paul’s model he could be Pope for a very long time, and therefore, even if (or especially if) he gradually turns over more and more decisions to his subordinates and allies, could reshape the Church so thoroughly that it is hard to imagine how it could be set back on the path that both John Paul and Benedict set it on. Conversely, if he follows Benedict’s model and resigns – which it has been reported he has occasionally said he would do – then there is at least a chance for the next conclave to engineer a reversal of course.

I do not know whether any Pope has ever made a more significant decision than the one that Francis will make about how his papacy should end. And it is Deeply ironic that a decision must be made only because of a dramatic innovation by that great traditionalist, Benedict.

A Tradinista! Manifesto

A Tradinista! Manifesto

before Francis

The problem arises from the strange status of human nature in the cosmos; we are a part of the whole yet we are a very peculiar part, the part that is open to the whole and in whom the whole is recapitulated and anticipated. Renaissance poets captured this by calling man a microcosm. We are at once in and of the material world and yet capable of transcending, in our unrestricted desire to know, any and all material objects that we encounter.

It is a mark of the brilliance of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that, in their reflections on the environment, they not only supply a context within which our present difficulties become intelligible, but that they also return us to the perennial sources of wonder in the philosophical and theological tradition.

How we ought to respond to our present difficulties will require a complex negotiation of an array of factors. But this much is clear. We will not even formulate the problems correctly unless we recover some sense of the proper place of the human person in the cosmos.

Thomas Hibbs in 2011, giving us a sense of how deeply Francis’s new encyclical draws on the work of his predecessors

Evangelicals and Catholics Apart

Today I finished reading Jody Bottum’s An Anxious Age, and it’s a lovely book: smart and beautifully written. But it describes an America that I’m not especially familiar with: an America divided between a theologically-renewed JPII-style Catholicism and a “post-Protestantism” (Jody’s phrase) that’s the gaseous residue of an evaporated mainline Protestantism. The Christian world I know best as (a) a native-and-recently-returned Southerner and (b) a longtime resident in the evangelical mecca of Wheaton, Illinois simply plays no role in Jody’s story. I don’t know whether my puzzlement at that is a result of my limited perspective or Jody’s or both. But in any event the book left me feeling like an anthropologist from Mars, to almost coin a phrase, looking at an America that’s not any America I’ve directly known. I can’t help thinking that if Jody had seriously reckoned with, for example, Mark Noll (whom he cites once), George Marsden (whom he does not cite), or Eugene Genovese (ditto), he’d have produced a more complex book. Maybe not better; but I think more faithful to the richness of America-and-Christianity, an amalgamation that has a different feel when you’re resident in the Southern or evangelical provinces. Still, that could be my provincialism speaking.

Let me announce an interest here: I have spent much of the last quarter-century looking for ways to connect evangelical urgency and Catholic tradition. My Anglicanism is just this, an attempt to be fully catholic and fully reformed — something I tried to express when I contributed to this page for All Souls Anglican, the church I helped to start in Wheaton — see the answer I wrote to the last question on that page. As I commented earlier today on Twitter, in the last twenty years I’ve seen theologically-serious Protestants become more and more respectful of and interested in Catholicism — but I have simultaneously seen many serious Catholics withdraw completely into a purely Catholic world, with little interest in other Christian traditions except to critique them — as, for instance, in Brad Gregory’s much-celebrated but (in my view) absurdly tendentious The Unintended Reformation, which blames almost everything bad in modern society on this vast and amorphous (but somehow unified) thing called “the Reformation.”

(And I love you, Jody, but you use “Protestant” in a similar way in your book.)

Or let me take two different, and differing, examples. My internet friend Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has been writing a series of posts on what he calls the New Distributism — a topic in which I have expressed some interest — but he frames it as a “distinctive Catholic theology of economics,” and I’m not Catholic, at least not of the Roman variety, so I guess I’m not invited to this party.

Or consider this: a manifesto on immigration reform that I, as someone appalled by anti-immigrant hysteria in America, might well sign on to — except that the Catholic authors of the manifesto emphasize that hostility to immigrants is not grounded in (for example) race but in “something deeply protestant and anti-Catholic” in the American mind, and that the corruption of the original American experiment is wholly Protestant: “The United States was founded by anarchic British Protestant immigrants, who oppressed and in many cases killed the local people, with a native claim to this land.” This is followed by an appeal that simply rules out non-Catholics: “May we, as Catholics, guided by the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, stand and pray and even act in a way that gives voice to those who suffer in fear and pointless despair.”

But do we really want to see immigration reform — or economic reform (hearkening back to PEG’s posts) — as distinctively Catholic issues? It seems to me that these are issues on which all Christians might benefit from thinking together. But not if Catholics persist in seeing soi-disant “Protestants” as their chief adversaries. Late in his book Jody writes that by the 2012 election “the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ project had failed.” No kidding.

It was markedly different from the sermon delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the eve of the previous conclave, in 2005, when he rallied the cardinals by pitting the virtuous Church against the world’s “dictatorship of relativism.” That sermon, encapsulating Ratzinger’s vision of the Church’s moral superiority, was widely perceived as having sealed his election. Now a cardinal was speaking very differently. “One must humble himself before God and men, and try to eradicate the evil at all costs,” Grech said.

James Carroll: A Radical Pope’s First Year : The New Yorker.

Is that what Cardinal Ratzinger preached? Well, you can read the sermon for yourself. Speaking to his fellow cardinals, Ratzinger said, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” He said to them, “We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith — only faith — that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.” He said to them, “The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that open the soul to joy in the Lord. So let us go and pray to the Lord to help us bear fruit that endures.”

For a “virtuous church” it, along with its leaders, seemed to require a great deal of prayer in order for it to become what it should be. Only someone, like Carroll, with a desperate determination to see Francis as Benedict’s opposite in every way would be able to reach so willfully perverse a reading of Benedict’s sermon. That the Church’s leadership is failing its people is a point on which Benedict and Francis are in perfect agreement.

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