The Next Pope is an evangelical call to ressourcement

George Weigel’s new book provides a balanced perspective on what the next pope should embrace in order to promote the radically Christocentric and evangelical imperative of the Church.

"The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission", by George Weigel, is published by Ignatius Press.

George Weigel’s new book The Next Pope is a call to ressourcement. This means that the Church must engage in a retrieval of her teaching by looking back to the authoritative sources of the faith—Scripture and Tradition. And in order to revitalize the present so as to move faithfully forward. The specific focus is on the papacy and the next pope in light of a Church in mission.

Weigel argues that the Church is currently living through the turbulence of a transition from Counter-Reformation Catholicism to Vatican II Catholicism, the Church of the New Evangelization. The “world Church [has] embraced the Christ-centered, evangelical vision of the Catholic future” proposed by John XXIII in his opening address at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. The central question has been around for more than half century: “the debate over whether Vatican II was council in continuity with revelation and tradition, or a council of rupture and discontinuity in which the Church essentially reinvented itself.”

Weigel’s answer to this question dovetails with Pope Benedict XVI’s call, in his now famous 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, for interpreting Vatican II in light of “the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.” This means, says Weigel, that Vatican II documents demonstrate the adherence of “John XXIII’s admonition to preserve intact the fullness of Catholic faith and his challenge to devise ways to express that faith so that it could be heard by the people of today.” The Catholic Church, he adds, has followed and should continue to follow “that path of renewal in continuity with revelation and tradition.”

This evangelical vision of Vatican II’s documents is given an authoritative interpretation in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is reinforced in the postconciliar Church, first by Pope Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Announcing the Gospel). The core teaching of this exhortation is that the “Catholic Church exists to proclaim Jesus Christ and his Gospel.” This is what Weigel calls the “vision of an engaged Catholicism.”

Second, that authoritative interpretation pivoted in 1985, on the twentieth anniversary of the close of Vatican II, when John Paul II convened an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the aim of encouraging a deeper reception and implementation of the Council. The Synod set forth, in the document A Message to the People of God and The Final Report, a proper framework for interpreting the Conciliar texts. In particular, six hermeneutical principles for sound interpretation of these texts were set forth.

Third, this interpretation was further put forth during the Great Jubilee of 2000, especially in Novo Millennio Ineunite (Entering the New Millennium), and in the 1994 Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente (Advent of the Third Millenium), presented in preparation for that jubilee.

The principles postulated by the 1985 synod for interpreting Vatican II texts are presupposed in Weigel’s reflections on the new evangelization, Christian anthropology, the priesthood, the laity, the moral life, the episcopacy, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and the papacy:

  1. The theological interpretation of the Conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council’s affirmations – often very complex – might be understood and expressed.
  2. The four “constitutions” of the Council (those on liturgy, the Church, revelation, and the Church in the modern world) are the hermeneutical key to the other documents – namely, the Council’s nine decrees and three declarations.
  3. The pastoral import of the documents ought not to be separated from, or set in opposition to, their doctrinal content.
  4. No opposition may be made between the spirit and the letter of Vatican II.
  5. The Council must be interpreted in continuity with the great tradition of the Church, including earlier councils. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.
  6. Vatican II should be accepted as illuminating the problems of our own day.

The hermeneutical norm of the first and second principles is twofold: one, intratextuality, meaning thereby interpreting the meaning of a particular passage within the context of the whole document; and two, intertextuality, meaning thereby interpreting any specific document in the context of the whole body of documents (particularly attending to the authoritative priority of the constitutions). The third principle states the unity and interdependence of the doctrinal and pastoral dimensions of the council documents.

The fourth principle pertains to the relationship between the “spirit” of Vatican II and its “texts,” that is, the “letter.” The former refers to the deep motivating force of the Council to revitalize the Church in moving faithfully forward, as Weigel makes clear throughout the book. This faithful movement forward cannot be done without affirming the normativity of the “letter” of the texts, of the literal sense of Vatican II documents—the sense intended by the authors of the text and expressed in the language that it used—as the point of reference of Catholic theology and life.

The fifth principle is also particularly important today given the “development” of Vatican II regarding ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the calling of the laity, the turn from the Old Christendom—an ecclesiastically unified culture—to the New Christendom—a sanctified laity involved in the transformation of the whole of life, including the spectrum of culture, for the sake of the Lordship of Christ.

To discern whether this possibility is a legitimate or an illegitimate development must be decided, as always, in light of ecclesial warrants, such as Holy Scripture, which has a primacy, followed by Church councils, creeds and confessions, theological doctors of the Church, Christian faithful (sensus fidei), and the past normative exercise of the Magisterium. In this connection, we should understand that the Petrine ministry “is not above the Gospel or the Church.” Indeed, the papal magisterium is a servant of the Word of God (see Dei Verbum, no. 11); it is an “authoritative office whose holder is the custodian of an authoritative tradition. He is the servant of that tradition, that body of doctrine and practice, not its master.” In sum, without those authoritative sources, there is no sure and stable guide to Catholic truth.

This principle is a segue to the sixth principal, namely, the documents of Vatican II illuminates contemporary problems. Chief among these problems is the question, “Who is Man?” We are living in the twilight of Western thought—“a crisis in the great project of Western humanism.” The Church takes as its first principle regarding Christian anthropology “the conviction that Jesus Christ really does disclose the truth about the human person in a unique and unsurpassable way, and the nerve to make that proclamation in the face of the various counterproposals on offer.”

Weigel rejects theological liberalism that is reductionist in contrast to “Catholicism-in-full” that, for example, “does not set ‘Gospel’ against ‘doctrine’.” This reductionism “does grave damage to the Church.” Theological liberalism places an “inordinate emphasis on one or another truth of faith, [and hence] these would-be-reformers implicitly or explicitly degraded other truths of faith.” Rather, Catholicism-in-full involves both mercy and truth, the Church as Mother and Teacher, and regarding the atoning work of Christ both mercy and justice.

Neither mercy nor justice is absent from the cross; indeed, the cross is rather their mutual fulfillment. Pope Francis at his clearest says similarly, “[T]hese [justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love. . . . Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life. (Miserecordiae et Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 2015, nos. 20-21). God’s love is the single reality that unfolds dynamically throughout salvation history in the dimensions of justice and mercy with these two harmoniously coming together supremely and unsurpassably in the cross.

By contrast, the reductionism of theological liberalism mutes or suppresses sin, judgment, wrath, and the cross, giving rise to a sentimental view of God and his love. This is best summed up by H. Richard Niebuhr: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Fundamental to Catholicism-in-full is its insistence on “the truth of divine revelation”; indeed, “the notion of a divine revelation that is binding over time.” Revelation is personal because in a fundamental sense, God reveals himself, and so we may say that the content of revelation is God’s own proper reality, his self-revelation, the gift of himself, and this gift is salvific in purpose. Vatican II’s Dei Verbum recognizes that we need to be taught by God in its affirmation that “the plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity” (no. 2). Thus, jointly constitutive of God’s special revelation are its inseparably connected words (verbal revelation) and deeds, intrinsically bound to each other because neither is complete without the other; the historical realities of redemption are inseparably connected to God’s verbal communication of truth in order that we may, as the late Catholic theologian Francis Martin puts it, “participate more fully in the realities mediated by the words.” Revelation is cognitive and propositional, such that the latter means that revelation presents a proposition as being true to reality, and hence as an enduringly valid truth of divine revelation.

The ecclesiology of Catholicism-in-full affirms that “The Catholic Church exists because of the salvific design of God, which is the interior truth of history and the cosmos. And the Catholic Church exists to proclaim Jesus Christ and his Gospel.” The first principle of Catholic ecclesiology is that the Church that Christ founded subsists in its own right alone in the Catholic Church. Furthermore, this unparalleled identification between Christ’s Church and the Catholic Church does not preclude ecclesial existence in some qualified sense outside the visible boundaries of the Church; that’s because there exists elements of truth and sanctification outside the Church’s visible boundaries (see Lumen Gentium, no. 8).

Still, this recognition does not lead Vatican II to ecclesial relativism where the Catholic Church would be just one church among many. As Weigel states echoing Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, “The next pope must strengthen the quest for Christian unity as a quest for unity-in-truth.” John Paul II rightly adds, “Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an ‘exchange of gifts’,” indeed a ‘dialogue of love’” (Ut Unum Sint, nos. 27, 47). Moreover, Vatican II rejects religious pluralism in which all religions are true in some sense and equally vehicles of salvation. The Church avoids a religious indifferentism and fosters a “truth-centered interreligious dialogue.”

I encourage all to read carefully George Weigel’s book to gain a balanced perspective of the contours of what the next pope should embrace in order to promote the radically Christocentric and evangelical imperative of the Church.

The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission
By: George Weigel
Ignatius Press, 2020
Hardcover, 141 pages


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About Eduardo Echeverria 26 Articles
Eduardo Echeverria is Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his S.T.L. from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome.

15 Comments

  1. A Sunday sermon I recently heard delivered by a Catholic priest encouraged the congregation to grow in personal knowledge of and relationship with Christ. However, immediately after saying this, the priest added: “It’s not about going to Mass, propositions and doctrines”, an assertion that left me with the question of how on earth, without these resources, we can realise the laudable exhortation of his sermon’s opening. This experience also reinforced my conviction that sound philosophy should occupy a duly important place in priestly formation and the new evangelisation.

    • Christianity is first and foremost a creed, Everything else flows from what we believe. This ubiquitous notion that Christianity is primarily about having a personal relationship with Jesus is one of the dumbest ideas ever to infect the minds of Christians.

      • Sorry, but it is important to nuance what you wrote, G. Poulin. As S. Weddell points out in FORMING INTENTIONAL DISCIPLES, there are three normative walks for the full Christian life: participation in the sacraments, participation in the life of the Church (social & ministerial), and participation in the divine life (i.e., a living relationship with God in Christ). Without all three components there can be no full realization of Catholic doctrine. There is no such thing as a saint who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus; just read a few biographies of canonized saints about whom we have more than a few fragments of information.

        But here is a Wikipedia entry (vetted in this instance as accurate), that may help you balance out your opinion:

        At the conclusion of his first homily as pope, Benedict referred to both Jesus Christ and John Paul II. Citing John Paul II’s well-known words, “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!”, Benedict XVI said:

        Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?…And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation….When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.[82]

        “Friendship with Jesus Christ” is a frequent theme of his preaching.[83][84] He stressed that on this intimate friendship, “everything depends.”[85] He also said: “We are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God… speaking to him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy… That is all we have to do is put ourselves at his disposal…is an extremely important message. It is a message that helps to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time: the claim, that after the Big Bang, God withdrew from history.”[86] Thus, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, his main purpose was “to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship” with Jesus Christ.[85]

  2. Love is a precious gift
    fickle as the wind
    along with the highs and lows
    moving leaves where ever its been
    love is a precious gift
    fickle as the wind
    like the air we breathe
    giving life from within

    as each new day begins
    with the rising of the sun
    a shadow follows light
    as each day is done
    a breath of wind can be felt
    as shadow travels west
    calling a beginning
    to the new evenings rest

    love is a precious gift
    gentle as the breeze 

    wherever love has been
    there is a forest 
    where trees are green
    where four legged animals 
    birds and insects
    all know what they have seen
    at the setting of the sun
    where the wind has been.

    c hallam

  3. Echeverria presents Weigel’s very welcome intellectual proposition (which this reader immediately bought and read)—BUT are we now dealing with a decapitated and anti-intellectual era? What does this landscape mean in terms of tactics (as well as Weigel’s and Vatican II’s strategy of “ressourcement”)? Three points:

    FIRST, the third of six principles (above) found in the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops reads: “The pastoral import of the [Vatican II] documents ought not to be separated from, or set in opposition to, their doctrinal content.” HOW does one engage and retrack—and guard against!—an unhinged premise that doctrinal content is fully subordinate to a “new paradigm” toggle switch? An on-off switch governed by concrete circumstances? Doctrine is not denied, but periodically compartmentalized and set aside. The Heisenberg Principle imported from subatomic physics!

    SECOND, what is the FIT between the six ressourcement principles of the 1985 Synod and the four leavening “principles” of Evangelium Gaudium of 2013: viz (1) “time is greater than space” (at risk of flattening into Historicism?); (2) “unity prevails over conflict” (at risk of being subliminally absorbed by, for example, Fr. Martin-esque rainbow photo-ops?); (3) “realities are more important than ideas [concepts?]” (at risk of morphing into Nominalism and Historicism?) and (4) “the whole is greater than the part” (at risk of dissipating into the Calculus of noisy proportionalism/consequentialism versus sound moral theology, and solidarity faithful to the sacramental/interior life?).

    THIRD, Weigel does offer concrete answers to this possibly constructive tension—especially as he concludes one of his later chapters: “AT THE OUTSET of the next pontificate, however, the pope must clean house in the Roman Curia. Doing this sooner rather than later will be better for all concerned.”

  4. It would take a book to respond to this. “Resourcement” is what got us into this mess, and the list of “those who knew better” than what they received is presently more like a “most wanted” roster.
    Lets start doing theology as it must be, prayerfully and faithfilled. The dumbed down drivel driven by an impulse to respond to any given moment in history has revealed itself as tragically inadequate. Garrigou-Lagrange diagnosed the catastrophe of “resourcement” quite accurately — “How then can the reader evade the conclusion, namely that, since it is no longer current, the theology of St. Thomas is a false theology? Further, how can ‘an unchanging truth’ maintain itself if the two notions united by the verb to be, are essentially variable or changeable?”
    The seeming affirmations of John Paul and other venerable figures of this current of thought have not stood the test. Roman Catholicism stands in ruins and continual appeals to word salad such as “new evangelization” merely amplify the idiocy of the conciliar project. It is time to push that cocktail aside, shake the stupor and get back on our feet.

    • The two themes of the Second Vatican Council were “ressourcement” (French, with two “s”), and “aggiornamento” (Latin). The first term refers generally to a RETURN to sources, such as Scripture and the Fathers of the Church (might we suppose a corrective to recent and modernist theologians!).

      It is the second term that refers to ENGAGEMENT with the modern world–too often translated as “updating”, but in the mind of clear thinkers (Pope Benedict XVI) translated at “todaying”–or, how does one effectively proclaim the intact Gospel and Christ in today’s post-Christian world?

      I suspect Garrigou-Lagrange might have detected in ressourcement too much attention to Protestantish bibiolatry at the expense of Tradition (and Thomas Aquinas), but I am not familiar with his analysis. But I also suspect that most grievances today have to do with bungled aggiornamento rather than ressourcement.

      PLEASE supply more on ressourcement from Garrigou-Lagrange.

  5. Substitute “the patriarchate of Rome” for “the Church” and the problem of why some sort of ressourcement would be necessary would be easier to understand.

  6. We need a pope who will take up once again the war on modernism that Pius X started and was forgotten by every pope since. Modernist bishops and priests need to go, even if that leaves us with just a few. It would be better to start with a few solid bishops and priests, than the mess we have had for 100 years. All of the modernists have shown who they are during this papacy. They have played their hand and stopped pretending to be conservative as they did under JPII and Benedict. We need a warrior pope against modernism who is ruthless in combatting it.

  7. The Next Pope will have the unenviable task of putting out the large number of dumpster fires started by his predecessor

  8. If it’s possible, at all, to sort things out—maybe a distinction is to be made between the Nouvelle Theologie (which Garrigou-Lagrange critiqued in the mid-1940s) and the later “ressourcement” of Vatican II in the 1960s. Here are three thoughts which with others—as James observes—would “take a book”…

    FIRST, in ressourcement, the most visible SPLIT came after Vatican II when the modernists initiated “Concilium” (Kung, Rahner, Congar, Schillebeeckx) and the rest then responded with “Communio” (Ratzinger, von Balthasar, de Lubac). But, within the council Documents themselves, the artful/uneasy approach was to box-in the modernist nuances with added and countervailing “interventions” (“fraternal collegiality”). The most prominent example is the Prefatory Note attached by Pope Paul VI and the International Theological Commission, before the final council vote, to Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium, clarifying “collegiality”.

    SECOND, as for the split, CARDINAL RATZINGER, when asked why he left the Concilium faction, responded, “I did not leave them; they left me” (“The Ratzinger Report”, 1985). As for ST. JOHN PAUL II and ressourcement in its better light….where Aquinas found a way of incorporating acceptable parts of Aristotle (additionally rinsed of Islamic accretions) with Revelation without in any way deforming Revelation; John Paul II, for his part, looked for ways to learn from parts of modern philosophy without, in any way, caving in to modernism.

    In his “The Acting Person”, St. John Paul II examines modern phenomenology, to reflect more exactly on how the human person learns and grows, but (like Aquinas) without dismissing in any way the truths of Revelation. As he puts it, his treatment is like algebra where the common parts of the equation are simply placed in brackets (set to the side, but not dismissed), while the isolated psychology part of our experience is then studied.

    THIRD, the ABUSE TODAY is that aggiornamento has gone septic—rather than opening intact Catholic theology to parts of modern philosophy (and vice versa), we now see not only the conceptual methodology of bracketing (by Aquinas and St. John Paul II), but on the ground a full quarantine/divorce of truth itself from praxis…

    …as in implying/giving access to the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried (absent a declaration of nullity), as in rainbow politics within the Church itself, as in the silent burial of “Veritatis Splendor”; and, either symbolically or only unwittingly, as in the use of a Wiccan stang in place of a Shepherd’s staff at the Youth Synod, the acceptance of a Marxian crucifix in Bolivia, and in the Amazon the butting aside of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pachamama—

    …and surely as in the leveling of the Church itself into only what it “DOES” (councils, rogue synods) rather than what it “IS”—the “binding synodal path” conjured by a disinterred Germania, versus the living, universal and Mystical Body of Christ.

  9. As Peter D Beaulieu recognises, the present crisis is as much an intellectual one as one of faith. I can’t see either aspect being adequately addressed without a renewed appreciation of Christian anthropology and eschatology, and Eucharistic practice which expresses reverence for the mystery being celebrated.

    • Yes, ressourcement and the Eucharist:

      “…Very, very different is the spirit that gives life to the theology of St. Cyril [Christ as redeemer rather than only a model]. Here Jesus Christ is truly God-within-us. The Christian makes a direct contact with Him, by a union of natures, a mysterious union indeed, under the sacramental veil of the Eucharist. Through this body and this blood he comes to make the contact with God, for these have, in Jesus Christ, a union (equally a union of natures) with divinity…To the poor peasant working in the fields of the Delta, to the dock labourer at the port of Pharos, Cyril gives the message that, in this world, he can touch God. And that through this contact, whence springs a mystical kingship, he can receive assurance about the life hereafter; not only the guarantee that he is immortal, but that he will be immortal joined with God.”

      (St. Cyril, from Monsignor Louis Duchesne, cited by Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870; Hanover House, 1960, pp. 18-19.)

  10. “Fundamental to Catholicism-in-full is its insistence on “the truth of divine revelation”; indeed, “the notion of a divine revelation that is binding over time.” Revelation is personal because in a fundamental sense, God reveals himself, and so we may say that the content of revelation is God’s own proper reality, his self-revelation, the gift of himself, and this gift is salvific in purpose. Vatican II’s Dei Verbum recognizes that we need to be taught by God in its affirmation that “the plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity” (no. 2). Thus, jointly constitutive of God’s special revelation are its inseparably connected words (verbal revelation) and deeds, intrinsically bound to each other because neither is complete without the other; the historical realities of redemption are inseparably connected to God’s verbal communication of truth in order that we may, as the late Catholic theologian Francis Martin puts it, “participate more fully in the realities mediated by the words.” Revelation is cognitive and propositional, such that the latter means that revelation presents a proposition as being true to reality, and hence as an enduringly valid truth of divine revelation.”

    Wow. Could somethin grue be more obscured? I guess this means the Bible records true history, but who would discern at from these words, and who on earth would pucke that up in any parish, where Catholic priests trip over themselves as they are embarrassed by the Biblical narrative. Hooray for GW and EE both in terms of what they believe. But Boo in terms of their overblown rhetoric. The Bible’s true and not a myth. Despite the naysayers. Which include most of the scholars now ballyhooed by the Catholic Church. That’s an uncomfortable truth.I just wish more people than ever Kreeft and William Most were unembarrassed to say so in straightforward prose.

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