Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is Benedict divisive?

"Unlike his predecessor", according to an Italian commentator, "Pope Benedict is divisive". He was talking about outrages at Sapienza Universtiy.

As I much as love Pope Benedict, I am afraid I have to agree, he is divisive.

Is he less divisive than his predecessor? I don't think this quite true, but I think that is what easily perceived. This partly because Pope John Paul II tended to speak on so many issues, the family, the death penalty, capitalism, communism, sexuality, contraception, sexual orientation etc. etc. He tended to speak as a Polish philosopher, and I suspect that much of what he had to say was lost on his listeners in his philosophic language. The very length of Pope John Paul's discourses tended to obscure his meaning. Also there was the, "well, he would say that, wouldn't he" factor too.

Benedict the theologian on the other hand says similar things, but he tends to be more focused, whilst as equally nuanced it tends to be clearer, more Christocentric, and whilst he never uses the "sound bite" it is shorter and more immediately comprehensible. Invariably rather than introducing some "new" teaching he merely tends to deepen the existing knowledge of his hearers or readers. Benedict is uncompromising, unlike his predecessor he is unlikely to kiss a Koran or allow himself to be exorcised by pagan priestess, he demands clarity and intellectual -therefore liturgical and theological- honesty.

What is the difference then? I think it is the environment in which Benedict and John Paul are heard. John Paul was in his prime as the Communist world fell about his feet. Communism was his main enemy, it was easier for him to oppose, half the world was already united with him in his struggle. For Benedict the enemy is secularism and relativism, an enemy much more part western society, he has no allies, it is him and the Church against the world. In fact the situation is a little dire than this, because a large part of the Church is unwilling to join in the fight.

So is Benedict divisive? Yes.

Was Christ divisive? Yes. "A household shall be divided..." "I come not to bring peace but a sword..." "If a man prefers father or mother to me he is not worthy of me..." "in the world but not of it".

Should Benedict is divisive? Yes.

Is it a good thing that Benedict is divisive? Yes, because it is the nature of Christ and his Church to be divisive, the consequences of course are persecution.


Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

What Father says is very true. Very true indeed.

The Church leaders after Vatican II and its aggiornamento fondly believed the old "fortress church" of Pius XII, grimly adhering to ancient formulas, had been replaced with a "pilgrim church" in tune with and more open to the modern world.

Well, they may have seen it that way, but the modern world didn't and doesn't.

There have been many disastrous attempts in past years by popes, cardinals and bishops to appear more relevant, to engage with the world, to enter into dialogue.

The fact is that the Church which was founded by Christ, which preaches the gospel of Christ to an unbelieving world, is no more relevant today than, say, sixty or seventy or one hundred years ago.

Oh, it has embraced the technology of the modern media. It has created a more modern profile.
Au fond, however, little has changed.

The gulf between belief and disbelief is geater than ever. No amount of goodwill can bridge the gulf.

The Church was divinely instituted by Christ to continue his work of salvation until he comes in glory to judge all men.

You either believe that or you don't.

The modern world is no longer Christian, but secularist and nihilist.

The old Communist empire has crumbled away, but atheism hasn't gone way. In fact, it's alive and well in most countries of the world.

In the midst of all this, the Pope is still the Vicar of Christ.
He the custodian of the deposit of faith. He has no authority to add to or detract from the deposit of faith.

That faith is The Truth. Christ's truth. It is not a matter of opinion. It is objectively, not subjectively, true. But you can't expect the modern secularist world to believe that.

The Pope could not therefore speak to the modern world on its terms without departing from Christ's truth. And he can't do that.

So, the modern world will either ignore him, (sometimes before he has even spoken,) listen to him uncomprehendingly, or at best read in his words a mixed message.

(Even members of his own flock do this.)

So, yes, the Church, and the Pope as its visible head on earth, will always be a source of division in a world which chooses to separate itself from God, and from Christ's truth.

It's inevitable.

Even within the Church, Catholics, owing to poor catechesis, lukewarm in their religion, etc., hold very differing views on the role of the Church, its place in the world, their place in the world.

Any figure of authority will inevitably and unavoidably stoke these divisions.

Yes, Pope Benedict is divisive.
So in his way was John Paul II. So too was Paul VI. And Pius XII. And Pius XI, Pius X, Leo XIII, Pius IX, etc.

You can make out a list of divisive Popes all the way back to St. Peter himself, if you want too.

But you can't ignore the sign of contradiction.

Christ was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

Well, Christ is still in the world. He is with his Church until the end of time.

But the world does not want to know.

Of course, the Vicar of Christ is divisive.

He always will be.

Anonymous said...

Well said, as ever, Father.

meetdeathinthestateofgrace said...

A beautifully accurate writing, Father. Thank you. I just found your site from Fr. Z's today.

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

I was very unimpressed when a Cardinal said that unity was more important than truth. Jesus Himself had warned us that truth would split even families with members of the same family betraying others to death! He never said, so ignore the truthe because it's so divisive and unity is more important-on the contrary He made it clear that truth was worth sacrificing even the regard on family-even life, for.

It is time to assert that truth. Papa Beni is the da man!

Physiocrat said...

The only way not to be divisive is to mutter platitudes so meaningless that nobody could possible disagree with them. What then would come of the Petrine ministry?

Terry Nelson said...

Excellent analysis and very true. God bless the Holy Father.

Anonymous said...

Please can anyone think of any great teacher who was not divisive?

Anonymous said...

Father and the good doctor thank you both very much. Your observations are really great. I would also like to add to the observations some (paraphrased) extracts from a homily that I have just heard at Mass this evening: -

Every pursuit of unity without regard to Truth results in no peace at all. It is a false hope to work for a superficial unity thinking that peace will emerge. There can only be unity and peace when we follow the Truth.

In effect, Pope Benedict XVI has nothing to loose and everything to gain by upholding Truth. It is not a case of sacrificing unity by preaching Truth. There can never be any unity without Truth.

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