Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Fleeing from the wolves
Benedict's "Pray for me, that I will not flee from the wolves" is worth a little pondering at the end of the year of his resignation: did he flee, did the wolves win, did his papacy end in abject failure?
It is worth asking what was the life work of Joseph Ratzinger, to man who regarded sign and symbol as important, it is worth considering his motto on his coat of arms: Cooperatores Veritatis, Co-workers with the Truth. It is the search for Truth, belief in its ultimate triumph, and the need for man's co-operation with it that has been Benedict's obsession.
When others were trying to deny the child abuse scandals, dismissing it is 'media chatter', he chose to tackle it head on, amongst his first acts as Pope was to instigate an inquiry into the founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado. This was the motif behind his papacy, the search for Truth and the desire to demythologise. This is what lay behind his search for the 'authentic' Vatican II, and interestingly here, he was brave enough to use the SSPX as 'co-workers', recognising in them something authentically Catholic but rejecting the the mythology that had built up in the rest of the Church over the Council, which after all purported to teach nothing new. With the Ordinariates there was a similar recognition of 'co-workers with the Truth' within the Anglican Communion.
As a young theologian at Vatican II he was instrumental in drafting the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, perhaps the most important document of all. It really is a work of sheer genius, carefully avoiding, the excesses of biblical scholarship without neglecting its verity, it is a synthesis of tradition and modernity, maintaining ancient Truth in the light of what many at the time would have regarded as a denial of that Truth. His subsequent work, the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, was nothing other than a continuation of Dei Verbum.
For Ratzinger as we saw most clearly in his 2000 document Dominus Jesus, Jesus is Truth and is to be found within the Catholic Church.
Many people have expressed surprise at Pope Francis' restyling of Papacy, and fail to recognise the radical changes Benedict introduced, possibly with more gentleness. He abandoned not only the tri-regno on his coat of arms but also the theologically ambiguous title of 'Patriarch of the West'. His Papacy was a careful balancing of being a bishop with bishops but also being a bishop for bishops, the Papacy had a distinctive Christ given role within the Church. A reader asked me to explain what I meant by the phrase 'new Ultramontanism'. Leading up to Vatican One there were various factions, mainly French and Italian Jesuits, trying to present an almost deified model of the Papacy, the position that Council took was actually a very moderate balanced doctrine, entirely in agreement with ancient doctrines. The leaven however of Ultramontanism was still at work in popular piety, and as reaction to Modernism, and also as a response to modern media radio and film by the time we come to Pius XII we have a maximalist Papacy, which results in a Papam vult attitude to Vatican II, where 20th centuries Popes can make changes to the life of the universal Church which their 19th century predecessors could not even imagine possible. Pius IX, for example, was asked to change the 'perfidious Jews' Good Friday prayer, he seems to have had sympathy for the idea but said he didn't have the authority to change something so so ancient. The liturgy for him was a given, not something even a Pope could change. It seems as if this is the type of vision that Ratzinger had of the Papacy, within not over the Church and carefully defined by tradition. New Ultramontanism is the return to a Papacy where the Pope and his collaborators feel he can impose or do whatever he wants.
The most significant act of demythologising of the Papacy by Benedict was of course resigning, which some might have argued, until he did it, was impossible, as if there were some new indelible mark on the soul given with papal election, which makes the Pope distinct from every other Bishops. For a man of sign and symbol the strange veneration of his predecessor Celestine V, he placed his (old Pierro Marini-style) palium on the reliquary of the Pope, should have given us a clue. He did this in 2009 and returned again to the venerate the relics in the following year, quite sometime before the Vatileaks scandal broke. Therefore it would seem the decision to go was not directly linked to that scandal. or the wolves associated with it. I suspect the 'wolves' therefore are not really individuals but those who would destroy or mangle the Truth Ratzinger stood up for. However one should not underestimate the damage done to his Papacy by his betrayal by his butler, it meant no-one could trust communicating with the Pope by any means other than direct verbal communication, it gave the impression even the phone could be bugged, which for 86 year old becomes a serious strain. Others have intimated that one of the sources of leaks was the present Pope's second secretary Fr Fabiàn Pedacchio Leaniz who apparently kept the runner-up of the 2005 Conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio informed about what was happening in the Congregation for Bishops. Is perhaps legitimate to keep informed the runner up in the previous Conclave? It be would ironic indeed if that dossier prepared by by the three retired Cardinals actually contained a section 'leaks to Cardinal Bergoglio', I must say I can't understand why the box containing the dossier sat on the table between the two of them at their first meeting - another sign and symbol - and why no reference has been made to it subsequently.
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