Pope Benedict XVI greets Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan during a private audience at the Vatican Feb. 16. (CNS photo/L 'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In Called to Communion
, published in 1996, a decade before the beginning of
his papacy, Joseph Ratzinger had some strong words to say about the
bureaucratic machinery of the Church.
The more administrative machinery we construct, be it the
most modern, the less place
there is for the Spirit, the less place there is for the Lord, and the less freedom
that in his opinion, "we ought to begin an unsparing examination of
conscience on this point at all levels of the Church". In a later collection of essays, titled
Images of Hope, he observed that “the
saints were all people of imagination, not functionaries of apparatuses.”
days one senses that this unsparing examination of conscience might finally
have begun. One also senses that
in the papacy of Benedict XVI the Church had one of the greatest theologians
occupying the Chair of Peter in centuries, but that for all his high
intelligence, he never quite managed to contend with the bureaucratic machinery
and it often let him down.
decision to abdicate would not have been a decision made lightly given
Benedict’s respect for historical precedent and the sacramental nature of his
office. He is the last person on
the planet to think of the papacy as a job. He never thought of himself as the CEO of a multinational
corporation and he sharply rebuked those whose ecclesiology was borrowed from
the Harvard School of Business or, worse, some Green-Left women's
collective. Christ was and is a
Priest, a Prophet and a King, not a business manager. Benedict believes that the Church is nothing less than the
Universal Sacrament of Salvation and the Bride of Christ. For him the keys of Peter are no mere
mythic symbol. So a decision to
abdicate could only have been made on the basis that he thought worse things
might happen to embarrass and confuse the Church's 1.2 billion faithful if he
lacked the strength to govern.
Possible Like-Minded Successors
challenge in choosing Benedict’s successor is finding someone who has the
strength and ability to deal with the administrative side of the office of the
papacy while retaining at least some of the intellectual flair and imagination
of Benedict and his predecessor.
There are many who think that either Cardinal Angelo Scola or Cardinal
Marc Ouellet could carry these responsibilities. Certainly both are exceptionally intellectually gifted and
are men of imagination, not functionaries. They are also in a similar intellectual mould to
Benedict. They share the same
interpretations of the Second Vatican Council and they are very much across the
theological anthropology and moral theology of Blessed John Paul II. Scola's most important book, The
Nuptial Mystery, and Ouellet's most important book, Divine Likeness:
Towards a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family, build
on the foundations of John Paul II's Catechesis on Human Love, his trilogy of encyclicals devoted to each Person of the
Trinity, the moral theology of Veritatis Splendor, and the vision of a culture of life and love set forth in
Evangelium Vitae. They and
quite a few other members of the College of Cardinals are completely on team
with this theological project.
James Stafford, Cardinal Francis George and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, for
example, are also men who are exceptionally intellectually gifted and have
devoted themselves to following the leadership of Blessed John Paul II and then
Benedict XVI. Caffarra was
so strongly attacked in the press for defending Humanae Vitae he received a letter of support and encouragement from Sr.
Lucia of Fatima. (When you start receiving support letters from someone who has
private audiences with the Mother of God you know that you must be very high on
the devil's hate list.) Cardinal
Peter Erdo of Hungary, who is the second youngest member of the College of
Cardinals, has also distinguished himself in battles for a civilization of life
and love against those caught up in the culture of death, as has Cardinal Peter
Turkson who also has a reputation for leonine courage.
worth mentioning these names in a piece about Benedict,not to get side-tracked
but to make the point that one thing that Benedict has achieved, at great
personal cost to himself, is that in soldiering onaccepting the keys of Peter
while the Church is attacked by sexual perverts from within and militant
atheists from without and while the Church is still contending with loopy
interpretations of the Second Vatican Councilhe has given the younger men, the
Scolas, Ouellets and Caffaras, time to gain the administrative experience of
running important archdioceses. He
has held on until the next generation of hero-Cardinals is capable of moving
also had some significant achievements on the ecumenical front and in so many
ways one can say that his was a papacy dedicated to Christian unity. Since the divisions within
Christianity often occur precisely because of bureaucratic heavy-handedness and
intellectual narrowness it takes someone like a Ratzinger/Benedict with a deep
sense of history and nose for cultural sensitivities to set about mending the
bridges. It would be an
interesting exercise to collect a list of names of prominent Protestant
scholars who converted during this pontificate precisely because they could
relate to Benedict intellectually.
He spoke their Christocentric dialect and was equally at home with them
in the field of Scripture studies.
He broke the mould of the Catholic leader who cites dogma more often
disaster fronts on which he worked particularly hard were those of the English
schism of 1570 and the Lefebrvist schism of 1988. His provision of an Anglican Ordinariate for members of the
Church of England and its international affiliates who were doctrinally 99%
Catholic and who were prepared to become 100% Catholic if they were allowed to
bring their high Anglican liturgy and a few other English cultural
accoutrements with them, is one example of his use of imagination to help a
whole group of people to enter into full Communion.
comes to the Lefebrvists it is sadly the case that they can be incredibly
narrow minded and neurotic. They
are into conspiracy theories and many are latently Jansenist (and some not so
latently). Nonetheless, on their
behalf one could say that prior to the Second Vatican Council, France had a
very high Catholic culture. One
can still find vestiges of it in the great Benedictine monasteries and the
villages that surround them. The
Church in France had many martyrs during the Revolution. Some estimates of the revolutionaries’
death toll are as high as one million.
Given this it is not surprising that a significant proportion of the
French Catholic population was deeply indignant when in the 1960s, after the
Council, clerical leaders were going out of their way to affirm the values of
the Revolution and to destroy the solemn liturgical traditions. Anyone who has read The Dialogues of
the Carmelites by George Bernanos, based on the story of the martyrdom
of the Carmelite nuns from the convent of Compiègne, will readily appreciate
how daft it would be to try to wipe this heroism from the French historical
memory or otherwise trivialize the sacrifices made at the time of the
all to say that when dealing with schisms one really has to address the
historical memories, not just the doctrinal formulae, and Benedict XVI was very
good at this. He did however take
an enormous amount of flak for trying to bring home lost sheep. Hans Küng, for example, grabbed the
tabloids' interest by saying that in creating the Ordinariate and holding out
olive branches to the Lefebvists, Benedict was fishing for converts in the
muddy waters of right-wing extremism.
It probably says an enormous amount about where Hans Küng sits
theologically when he regards common garden variety high Church Anglicans as
cases, that of the creation of the Ordinariate, and that of the issue of Summorum
Pontificum (which wasn't just for
Lefebvrists, but for all those who loved the Missal of St Pius V), the most
common criticism inside the Church came from canon lawyers who thought these
gracious gestures created a lot of administrative untidiness. However, as Benedict XVI observed when
he was a Cardinal, those who preferred the Rite of antique usage had been
treated like lepers and this was just not right. One cannot, on the one hand, honor the memory of the English
martyrs who were sent to the scaffold because they attended this Rite contrary
to the edict of a Protestant monarch, and, on the other hand, ban Catholics of
the contemporary era from attending the same Rite as if there were something
defective about it. This point was
made by Cardinal Heenan of Westminster to Pope Paul VI. Similarly, there is something very
illogical about tolerating the use of pidgin-English in the liturgy (banal
modern hymns, etc.), while balking at the Anglicans' King James English.
had always made the point that there is nothing wrong with having a number of
different Rites in use providing each particular Rite is of apostolic
provenance rather than something cooked up by a committee of academics or the
parish liturgy team last Saturday.
He was a liturgical pluralist, not someone with a mania for bureaucratic
members of the Anglican Ordinariate are likely to revere his memory for a very
long time and the Lefebrvists may well be wishing that they treated him with
more respect and were not so recalcitrant. He will also be remembered with great affection by the
leaders of the Eastern Churches.
He went out of his way to include quotations from the Eastern Church
Fathers in his homilies and he invited Patriarch Bartholomew I to the Synod on
the Word held in 2008. Patriarch
Bartholomew described the gesture as “an important step towards restoration to
Documents and Addresses
terms of his magisterial teaching, Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals and
four apostolic exhortations.
Sadly, a fourth encyclical on the theological virtue of faith remains in
draft form and may never be released.
It would have completed the suite of encyclicals on the theological
virtues. The first, Deus
Caritas Est, was focused on the
theological virtue of love, and the second, Spe salvi, on the theological virtue of hope. Deus Caritas Est dealt with the relationship between eros and agape and
offered a reply to the Nietzschean charge that Christianity had killed eros. It also
reiterated the central idea of the Conciliar document Dei Verbum, which the young Fr. Ratzinger had helped to draft, that
Truth is a Person.
salvi was the antidote to the liberal
reading of Gaudium et spes. It makes the point that the only
"thing" in which we may legitimately hope is Jesus Christ and that
modern ideologies, which can be lethal, are mere mutations of Christian
third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate,
was a masterful synthesis of late twentieth-century papal social
teaching, with a special emphasis on the social implications of the Trinitarian
anthropology of John Paul II. At its core was the principle that a
“humanism without Christ is an inhuman humanism”. It made the point that social justice without Christ is a
recipe for secularism.
of his addresses Benedict also emphasized that love and reason are the twin
pillars of all reality. The love
and reason relationship and the faith and reason relationship were themes to
which he often returned. One
sensed that he was trying to reconcile the Thomist and Franciscan traditions in
a higher synthesis. Rather than a
system which gives typical Thomist priority to truth or one which gives typical
Bonaventurian priority to love, he insisted that love and reason are equally
foundationally significant thus the notion of 'twin pillars'.
at the time of its delivery the Regensburg Address was regarded as a public
relations disaster, for those who take the time to read the whole academic
address, what it offers is a deep analysis of the faith and reason
relationship. As Fr. James V.
Schall, SJ, explained in his book, The Regensburg Lecture, the central thesis of the Address is that both
contemporary militant Islam and contemporary militant western liberalism share
the same voluntarist starting point.
Each one makes the mistake of thinking that what is true is linked to
someone's will, rather than what is true being linked to what is good. For the militant Islamists truth is
linked to the will of Allah, for the militant liberals truth is linked to the
will of the individual. The point
Benedict was making was that an irrational voluntarism is a common pathological
property of Eastern Islamists and Western Liberals. The problem however is that the average journalist has no
anthropology, no conceptual scaffold in which to plug ideas like the will and
goodness, the will and truth, truth and goodness etc. The low level of education of newspaper journalists makes it
very difficult for world leaders to communicate anything more than shallow
sound-bites. This was not merely a
problem for Benedict but it remains an issue for any deep thinking world
Apostolic Exhortations addressed the topics of liturgical theology, revelation
and Scripture, the situation of the Church in Africa and the situation of the
Church in the Middle East. The first two reflect Benedict's own theological
priorities and interests, the last two the distinctive problems of the faithful
in Africa and the Middle East. Of
these the first two will be of enduring theological value while the last two
are likely to provide something of a pastoral plan or at least a significant
briefing paper for the new pontiff.
In his first Apostolic Exhortation,
Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict
summarized the high drama of the Eucharist in the following terms:
conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation
the principle of a radical change, a sort of "nuclear fission," which
penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which
transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the
entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
same document Benedict concluded that everything pertaining to the Eucharist
should be marked by beauty.
is no doubt that beauty is Benedict's “favorite transcendental”. He shares St. Augustine's and St.
Bonaventure's and closer to our own time, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar's
attraction to the transcendental of beauty and this comes across very strongly
in his liturgical theology. As a
Cardinal he coined the expressions “parish tea party liturgy”, “primitive
emotionalism” and “pastoral pragmatism” to refer to the post-1968 trend to make
the Mass more like a Protestant fellowship gathering. He said that this was analogous to the Hebrews' worship of
the Golden Calf a pathetic attempt to “bring God down to the level of the
people” that is nothing short of apostasy.
it is taking time for his liturgical theology to reach suburban parishes it is
being taken up by the BXVI generation of seminarians and taught in the more
serious academic institutions such as the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein. The effects should start to filter down
to the parochial level within a decade.
Domini, the second Apostolic
Exhortation, addressed the issue of how God relates to the human person through
revelation, Scripture and Tradition.
Themes included the cosmic dimension of the word, the realism of the
word, Christology and the word, the eschatological dimension of the word, the
word of God and the Holy Spirit, and God the Father, source and origin of the
word. This particular exhortation
amplified the central theses of Dei Verbum and the general Trinitarian Christo-centrism of the Council.
though not of magisterial standing, the Jesus of Nazareth books were read by millions of people and helped to
repair some of the damage of so-called scripture scholars who approach the
sacred texts without faith. Even
here however, journalists tried to spin paragraphs in ways they were never
intended. Thus, Benedict's
statement that the ox and the ass at the Christmas crib are symbolic of the
Jews and the Gentiles was reported as, "pope says that there was no
his magisterial teaching is combined with his scholarly output of over fifty
books and God alone knows how many academic articles and scholarly homilies,
Ratzinger/Benedict has offered future generations of Catholics an intellectual
treasury. As it is commonly said
of St. Augustine, if anyone says that they have read everything
Ratzinger/Benedict has written, they are stretching the truth. It may also be the case that just as
today we only know about Donatists because Augustine had to contend with them,
future generations may only know about parish tea party liturgy because it was
a strange late 20th-century phenomenon with which Ratzinger had to
early life he went to war against the dualistic tendencies in
neo-scholasticism, then in the late 1960s he took on the fight against
"correlationism" (accommodating ecclesial belief and practices to the
spirit of the times). After that
it was liberation theology, various problems in Christology, ecclesiology and
moral theology and finally militant atheism. Given the successive waves of intellectual combat Pope Benedict has
endured in the service of the Church he loves, a future pope may well declare
Benedict XVI a Doctor of the Church.
If that happens, I think he should also be honored as the patron saint
of people who are oppressed by bureaucracy, especially bureaucracies run by