Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pope Benedict in Wonderland

Although we are not Catholic, the story of the papal succession is fascinating. First we had the long-anticipated death of John Paul II, followed by a look back in admiration at all that he accomplished. After Joseph Ratzinger was chosen to be Benedict XVI, there was predictable outrage from those who want the church to only preach what the people want to hear.

Ryne McClaren has some links to those who think a brief, compuslory stint in the Hitler Youth at age 14 somehow tells us more about the new pope's character than everthing he has done since then. Given the inability of some on the Left to distinguish between Jerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden, perhaps they consider Benedict's "rigid, dogmatic" Catholicism to be indistinguishable from Nazism. These are not hard differences to discern, except for the deliberately, ideologically blind.

In the free, Wall Street Journal site, Daniel Henninger's column this week looks at the real Benedict XVI from Ratzinger's memoir, "Milestones." Henninger writes:
OpinionJournal - Wonder Land: "In that book, Joseph Ratzinger describes how he prefers Augustine to Thomas Aquinas, 'whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.' Anyone familiar with Augustine and Aquinas would at least pause to reflect on this remark from a man characterized in the press as an inquisitor, rottweiler, enforcer. Augustine is the more mystical personality, closer in some ways to the 'new age' impulses of our times. In the writings of Augustine, arguably the most complex mind Christianity has produced, the exercise of deep faith carries with it the possibility of what I would call a 'high' experience in one's pursuit of and relationship to God. That was the Church of the 5th century.

In our time, religion has become freighted with correct politics (the Left) or correct morality (the Right), rather than the substance of one's relationship with God. I get the impression that Joseph Ratzinger--who reveres the early, transcendent Church Fathers (its 'founding fathers')--is at heart more a vibrant 5th-century Christian than a stale 19th-century dogmatist; as conceivably was John Paul II, who often let himself slip into an Upward-directed reverie in public. In short, Benedict XVI looks to be very different from the stolid, authoritarian German described this week in the public prints.

His memoir also gives a more complete understanding of the real source of Cardinal Ratzinger's disputes with his enemies--a battle again penciled in as the dogma cop, bunkered in some Vatican redoubt, giving thumbs up or down on new ideas, according to his whim. In fact, Ratzinger's beef is mainly with the post-Vatican II academic theologians who thought they should be writing, or rewriting, the Church's rulebook based on whatever new theories spun out of their heads--not the bishops, the Pope or even the church faithful. The way the political game is now played, if John Paul and he had opened the door on one reform, say contraception, the whole gang would have roared in behind."
Henninger packs a lot of insight into those three paragraphs, insight into the new pope and into the world around him. The rest of Henninger's article is also well-worth reading.

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