Saturday, March 11, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!
An occasional roundup of news, articles and commentary on Pope Benedict XVI
Lent - 2006
Relenquishing of Title "Patriarch of the West"
- The motivation for dropping of the title 'Patriarch of the West' by Benedict XVI has prompted a great deal of speculation and commentary by Catholic bloggers including Domenico Bettinelli, Jr. and Rocco Palmo Whispers in the Loggia.
This week's "Word from Rome" by Vatican correspondent John Allen Jr. provides an excellent roundup of perspectives on the subject, including Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft, an expert on Eastern Christianity at Rome's Oriental Institute, and Msgr. Michael Magee, an American who recently defended a dissertation on the institution of patriarchs at Rome's Gregorian University.
According to John Allen Jr., "While initial speculation construed the move as a gesture of ecumenical sensitivity to the Orthodox, most experts say the real logic was almost certainly the exact reverse - a rejection of attempts to impose Eastern concepts upon the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church."
Also discussed by Allen is the proposition "by theologians who favor greater collegiality . . . that Western Christianity create new patriarchates as a way of assigning greater autonomy and authority to local churches." Allen notes that the very idea was floated by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger in a 1969 essay "Primacy and Episcopacy," which appeared in the book Das neue Volk Gottes -- a translation of which appears here courtesy of Fr. Joseph A. Komonchak. The key passage cited:
"The image of a centralized state which the Catholic church presented right up to the council does not flow only from the Petrine office, but from its strict amalgamation with the patriarchal function which grew ever stronger in the course of history and which fell to the bishop of Rome for the whole of Latin Christendom. The uniform canon law, the uniform liturgy, the uniform appointment of bishops by the Roman center: all these are things which are not necessarily part of the primacy but result from the close union of the two offices. For that reason, the task to consider for the future will be to distinguish again and more clearly between the proper function of the successor of Peter and the patriarchal office and, where necessary, to create new patriarchates and to detach them from the Latin church. To embrace unity with the pope would then no longer mean being incorporated into a uniform administration, but only being inserted into a unity of faith and communion, in which the pope is acknowledged to have the power to give binding interpretations of the revelation given in Christ, whose authority is accepted whenever it is given in definitive form."Ratzinger concluded at the time: "In the not too distant future one could consider whether the churches of Asia and Africa, like those of the East, should not present their own forms as autonomous 'patriarchates' or 'great churches' or whatever such ecclesiae in the Ecclesia might be called in the future."
Catholic World News also reported this week that Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, was not impressed by the gesture complaining that it did not advance ecumenical prospects.
Pope Benedict in Print
- Interested in Lenten reading from Pope Benedict XVI? - Pauline Books and Media have published Benedict XVI's The Way of the Cross, presenting the Stations which Cardinal Ratzinger gave for Lent 2005 at the request of his predecessor. (The stations can be found on the Vatican website as well.
Also appropriate for this season is Journey to Easter : Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season, The Crossroad Publishing Company - featuring Cardinal Ratzinger's Lenten meditations for Pope John Paul in 1983. (A brief excerpt of which is available at Gerald Augustinus' The Cafeteria is Closed).
- Book Review: Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, by Jay at Living Catholicism, on the published lectures by Pope Benedict XVI and Marcello Pera, a philosopher of science and present of the Italian senate, with an introduction by George Weigel:
Mr. Pera holds his own in the initial discussion. He does an excellent job pointing out the problems of relativism and why they must be avoided going forward. He also goes a little further in talking about the Church. Mr. Pera refers to the “relativism of the theologians” and points out that religious dialogue has become ecumenism, a “inclusiveness often associated with . . . the Second Vatican Council.” This, he says, inhibits us from really dealing with Islam, since we don’t feel correct in saying that Christianity is the better religion – we use ecumenism, rather than apologetics.Without Roots arrived in the mail this week and I'm just getting around to reading it. Thanks to Jay it sounds like provocative reading and I'm looking forward to tackling it this week.
That’s a point I’ve been pondering since reading the book and will probably continue to think about in order to really grasp the significance of his points. Mr. Pera does get a little crazy in his letter to Ratzinger when he actually suggests a new state-version of Christianity, which provides some insight into how he sees the Church. You’ll have to read the book to hear Cardinal Ratzinger’s rebuttal.
Further Commentary on Deus Caritas Est
- The Secret of Love, According to Benedict XVI, Zenit News Service. Feb. 7, 2006. Breaking with tradition, Benedict XVI decided to present personally his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" to readers of Famiglia Cristiana, the biggest weekly magazine in Italy.
According to the Holy Father, "I only wished to respond to a couple of very concrete questions for Christian life" -- concerning the first part: Is it possible to love God? Can we really love our "neighbor" when he is strange or even disagreeable? With her commandments and prohibitions, does not the Church embitter the joy of "eros," of feeling ourselves loved, which pushes us toward the other and seeks to be transformed into union?
And concerning the second: Can the Church leave this service to other philanthropic organizations? Would it not be better to promote an order of justice in which there are no needy, and charity would become something superfluous? -- A good introduction from the Holy Father.
- Philosophy Behind "Deus Caritas Est" - Zenit News Service interviews one of my personal favorites, Monsignor Robert Sokolowski, philosophy professor at Catholic University of America and author of Introduction to Phenomenology (highly recommended) and the soon to be published Christian Faith And Human Understanding: Studies on the Eucharist, Trinity, And the Human Person. Here's a little taste of the interview:
Q: Why did Benedict XVI mention the philosophers Descartes and Nietzsche in an encyclical about love, both human and divine?
Monsignor Sokolowski: He also mentions Plato and Aristotle later in the encyclical.
Descartes is alluded to only in an anecdote, but Nietzsche is mentioned right at the beginning, as saying that Christianity has poisoned "eros." He is mentioned here to provide the counter-position to what the Pope wishes to show -- that Christianity does not neglect the deepest wants and needs of human beings.
The love that God reveals to us is not gnostic; it reaches into, heals and elevates all our desires, including those involved in sustenance and procreation.
The Pope uses Nietzsche in the way that St. Thomas Aquinas uses adversaries at the beginning of his treatment of a question: He presents the opposing view fairly as the sharp contrast to what he wants to show. Nietzsche is fundamentally unsound, of course, but he raises very good questions and is always a good foil for philosophical reflection.
Q: Does Benedict XVI adhere to a particular philosophical tradition in the way the Pope John Paul II was known as a Thomist and personalist?
Monsignor Sokolowski: I think that the work of Benedict XVI could be said to resemble the Christian Platonism one finds in the Fathers of the Church.
Also, his extensive and thoughtful survey of the various uses of words, in both current and historical texts and discourse, makes one think of Aristotle's and Heidegger's way of looking for philosophical phenomena in the way people speak about things.
- Pope Benedict featured in America. According to Mark Mossaj, SJ (blogging at You Duped Me, Lord), the March 13 issue of America will focus on Benedict's encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Mossaj posts some excerpts from articles, including this from Fr. Richard Ryscavage, S.J.:
In the minds of various Catholic social activists, justice should always trump charity. Pope Benedict XVI disagrees. He uses the strongest teaching instrument of the papacy to affirm the intrinsic salience of the Catholic Church’s charitable work., and Fr. Robert Imbelli:
". . . the transformation of eros in agape entails the transformation of the subject, the lover. Encounter with the living Christ, especially in the Eucharist, if it takes place in Spirit and in truth, transforms the disciple so that she or he becomes a new self, a eucharistic self.Sounds like a good issue, watch for it.
- The Love Behind The Rules, by Mary Beth Bonacci, on Pope Benedict's choice of love as the subject of his encyclical:
It was my theory that this wonderful, loving, pastoral man is saying "Finally!" Finally he has the opportunity to go beyond the "rules," to explore the heart of the Christian message, which is the Heart of God — love. "Deus Caritas Est" is Latin for "God is Love." That simple truth — the subject of all of those collages we made in CCD back in the ‘70’s — is the guiding principle behind all of those rules. And without understanding the love behind the rules we are, as St. Paul said, no more than "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
Other News and Commentary
- Benedict XVI's Letter on Monsignor Giussani - On February 21, 2006, Benedict XVI sent a letter to the president of Communion and Liberation, to mark the first anniversary of the death of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, founder of the ecclesial movement. Monsignor Giussani died Feb. 22, 2005, in Milan, at age 82.
David Jones of "La Nouvelle Theologie"; Steven of Being & Nothingness also reflect.
- Benedict XVI, Live. Fifteen Questions, and As Many Responses, by Sandro Magister. L'Espresso. On March 2nd, the priests of the diocese of Rome met their bishop, Benedict XVI, and his cardinal vicar, Camillo Ruini. for a little Q&A:
For the occasion, the pope did not read from a text prepared ahead of time, but responded spontaneously to the questions that the priests posed to him. He did the same thing last July 25 with the priests of the diocese of Aosta, during his vacation in the Alps. In both cases, the conversation took place behind closed doors, without journalists being present.The complete transcript of the conversation was published by L'Osservatore Romano in Italian, an extract of which appears courtesy of Sandro Magister -- with topics ranging from topics ranging from the Bible and the Qur'an to Pope Pius XVII ("Pius XII was the pope of my youth. We all venerated him. As has rightly been said, he loved the German people very much") to women's participation in the governance of the Church to the relationship between creation and history.
As back then, so also this time the question and answer session brought out the pope’s viewpoints with the freedom typical of an open conversation.
- In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger visited the cemetary of La Cambe to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy (D-Day). Not much was published about the event, but Timothy Ryback used it in a recent story for the New Yorker. The article is not available online, but you can get the gist of it from a post by Daniel Sauerwein (How Cardinal Ratzinger Dealt with Germany’s Past History News Network, February 13, 2006):
The pope’s membership in the Hitler Youth when he was a young man became an issue upon his elevation to the papacy. Ryback observes, however, that the pope was enrolled in the group, which may mean that his membership was involuntary. But Ryback argues that the pope was reluctant to reflect critically on his own past (unlike many post-war Germans). This received little media attention, he notes.As Mr. goes on to explain, "Ryback's main focus is not the pope, but the relationship between the Vatican and the Nazi state."
Before he became pope, Benedict served in many capacities. Ryback takes particular interest in his service as archbishop of Munich. Ryback mentions that the Dachau concentration camp was located near Munich and that some people criticized the pope for not visiting the site often while archbishop. However supporters note that the pope was only archbishop for five years, during which there were no notable anniversaries or events that might have warranted a major visit.
In Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!, Professor Scott Carlson (The Examined Life) takes issue with Ryback, likening his hermeneutic to that used by Daniel Goldhagen in his collective indictment of the German people in Hitler's Willing Executioners (Random House, 1996):
The upshot of the essay, which runs from page 66 to page 73 with only one large photo and a few cartoons to break the pace, appears to be that Ratzinger/Benedict was morally amiss to say as little as he did about, not Nazi attrocities, but the guilt of the entire German people for allowing those Nazi attrocities. . . . Carlson sees in both Goldhagen and Ryback a tendency "to conflate individuals and institutions", a "reification of institutional structures" which is unfortunately all too prevalent in our time.
Ryback's rant does not foam at the mouth as Goldhagen does, but it labors mighty hard to work up a lather over statements and actions that, upon reflection, seem perfectly harmless and, upon closer inspection still, are evidently benign.
Cardinal Ratzinger's address was originally published, and later appeared in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; a translation was later published in the journal Logos: In Search of Freedom; Against Reason Fallen Ill and Religion Abused.
- A Clear and Coherent Direction in the Beginning of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate - Mid February, Italian columnist Sandro Magister (L'Espresso) gave an interview to Catholic leaders in Washington on the first ten months of Benedict XVI's pontificate. The event was sponsored by the Athanasius Conferences -an iniciative of the Morley Institute- and Catholic News Agency. Magister made the case that "it is possible to identify a clear and coherent direction in the beginning of Pope Benedict’s pontificate." The full text of Magister's interview is available here.
- Ratzinger Studies 101, by Joseph Pronechen. National Catholic Register Feb. 12-18, 2006:
Not even a year has passed since the last wisp of white smoke rose over Rome, and already courses on the thinking of the Holy Father formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have begun springing up.
And they’re attracting students by the classful. . . .
On a lighter note . . .
Previous Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI Roundups in 2005: 4/11/05; 4/15/05; 4/18/05; 4/23/05; 5/01/05; 5/21/05; 6/6/05; 6/25/05; 7/10/05;7/14/05; 7/25/05; 8/15/05; 9/12/05; 9/27/05; 10/26/05; 11/29/05; 12/21/05 and 2/05/06.
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