Monday, July 25, 2005

Benedict XVI vs. The demi-Pelagians

Over the years, a number of Catholics (myself included) have been concerned about the puzzling pronouncements and actions of a number of Bishops and priests (not to mention laity) within the Church. The attempts made to 'reconcile' the Church and the 'modern world' have seemed to be slightly eccentric, or ill-formed.

Most Catholics understand that there is such a thing as a synthesis which flows from truth; one cannot proceed logically from an un-truth (or a partial truth) to whole truth. Therefore, when an eminent theologian shines a light on a foundational misunderstanding, we are grateful.

In this interview, Tracy Rowland demonstrates that a key mis-reading of "Gaudium et Spes" (often referred to as "The Church in the Modern World") a document of Vatican II, has been responsible for a number of unproductive and/or deleterious efforts.

From ZENIT: Code: ZE05072429

Q: What is the new Pope's view of the Church's role and its relationship to "the world" as understood by the Second Vatican Council?

Rowland: The Second Vatican Council described the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Accordingly, the Church is not an entity distinct from the world but the world reconciled unto itself and unto God. This is the kind of vision one would expect Benedict to promote.

Contrary to popular perceptions, his Augustinian spirituality does not mean that he is against the world or that he believes that Catholics should crawl into ghettos.

What it does mean is that he is no Pelagian. He doesn't think that with sufficient education the New Jerusalem can be built on earth. Civics education alone, lectures on human rights, exhortations about brotherly love and the common good, will get nowhere unless people are open to the work of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A humanism that is not Christian cannot save the world. This was the conclusion of his fellow peritus Henri de Lubac, and Benedict has made some very strong statements against the pretensions of a mere secular humanism.

Moreover, while he is not advocating a retreat from the world, he has exhorted Catholics to rediscover with evangelical seriousness the courage of nonconformism in the face of the social trends of the affluent world.

Q: How has this project, laid out by the Council Fathers in "Gaudium et Spes," succeeded or failed?

Rowland: Against the background of secularizing readings of "Gaudium et Spes," John Paul II argued that the document needs to be read from the perspective of Paragraph 22. In a nutshell, it says that the human person needs to know Christ in order to have self-understanding.

No doubt Pope Benedict would agree that this paragraph undercuts some of the ambivalent language if it is taken as the lens through which the rest of the document is read. But how many of the world's Catholics, including the clergy, know about the significance of Paragraph 22?

The popular interpretation of this document was that it represented an acknowledgment on the part of the Church that modernity is OK and that it is the will of the Holy Spirit that Catholics accommodate their practices and culture, including liturgical culture, to modernity's spirit as quickly as possible.

This had the effect of generating a cultural revolution within the Church such that anything that was characteristically pre-conciliar became suspect.

Modes of liturgical dress, forms of prayer, different devotions, hymns that had been a part of the Church's cultural treasury for centuries, were not just dumped, but actively suppressed. To be a practicing Catholic in many parishes, one had to buy into the pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Against this, Ratzinger has been critical of what he calls "claptrap and pastoral infantilism" -- "the degradation of liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of the popular newspaper."

If the project of "Gaudium et Spes" is taken to mean "accommodating the practice of the faith to the culture of modernity," then I think that the project has been problematic in pastoral terms.

If, however, it is read more through the lens of de Lubac's "The Drama of Atheistic Humanism," then I think that the project of reaching out to so-called modern man and helping him to find himself by promoting John Paul II's theology of the body, the Trinitarian anthropology of the encyclicals "Redemptor Hominis," "Dives in Misericordia" and "Dominum et Vivificantem," and the values of the Gospel of Life in "Evangelium Vitae" and "Veritatis Splendor" -- that project has really only just begun and has a long way to go before it starts to bear fruit.

...Comparing the two papacies there is a kind of historical eloquence in that Wojtyla, the Pole, is elected to see off the Marxists and focus on the promotion of an alternative Christian anthropology, while the German Ratzinger is elected to contend with problems created by, among others, Luther and Nietzsche.

This papacy may well be focused on healing the wounds of the Reformation that began in Germany, and fighting what Benedict calls the "dictatorship of relativism" whose intellectual lineage is also strongly Germanic.

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