Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ideas Matter

Writing in the National Post, Fr Raymond De Souza compares the recent World Youth Day in Cologne to those JPII lead, and comes up with two encapsulating images:
Canadians remember the World Youth Day three years ago in Toronto, when John Paul II, despite his infirmity, demonstrated his mastery of the dramatic image, the ad-libbed moment and the touching gesture. John Paul created the massive World Youth Days, and the unspoken question in Cologne last week was whether another man could assume the mantle. "That so many young people have come to meet the Successor of Peter is a sign of the Church's vitality," Benedict said upon his arrival. That vitality was manifest under John Paul in what could sometimes appear as an intense, spiritual pep rally. When the late pope's helicopter descended into Mile High Stadium in Denver for WYD 1993, the pilot commented that the waves of sound from the crowd buffeted the chopper as if there were bad weather. Last week, as Benedict arrived in Cologne in the prow of a boat upon the Rhine, it was a classic John Paul image. But Benedict is different. "His communication will be primarily theological and spiritual," said the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. "That will be his legacy. John Paul II brought enormous prestige to the papacy, but Benedict XVI will refocus to some extent where its essential characteristics are." ... His is a simpler style, quite endearingly oblivious to the demands of television. The first glimpse the world got of Benedict arriving at the Cologne airport was not of a waving pope, descending the stairs to kiss the ground, but rather of his turning back into the plane in search of his white zucchetto that had blown off in the wind. He didn't find it.
The incident on the plane reminds me of a history professor I once had, who frantically searched for his glasses in front of a amphitheatre full of perhaps 200 students. He was already wearing them, cocked up on his forehead. The Archbishop's words are undoubtedly true, as this aside from the Pope in Cologne attests. Here, B16 breaks from his written text and speaks freely of what is on his mind regarding ecumenism. His comments show a firm grasp of how dissention today is often a flower of questionable scholarship rooted in modernist methodology, and how postmodern methods might offer a point on which the church might be able to address an audience that is very wide indeed:
It is said that the clarification regarding the doctrine of justification, the elaboration of ecclesiological issues and the questions concerning ministry are the main obstacles still to be overcome. In short, this is true, but I must also say that I dislike this terminology, which from a certain point of view delimits the problem since it seems that we must now debate about institutions instead of the Word of God, as though we had to place our institutions in the centre and fight for them. I think that in this way the ecclesiological issue as well as that of the "ministerium" are not dealt with correctly. The real question is the presence of the Word in the world. In the second century the early Church primarily took a threefold decision: first, to establish the canon, thereby stressing the sovereignty of the Word and explaining that not only is the Old Testament "hài graphài" [the Scriptures], but together with the New Testament constitutes a single Scripture which is thus for us the master text. However, at the same time the Church has formulated an apostolic succession, the episcopal ministry, in the awareness that the Word and the witness go together; that is, the Word is alive and present only thanks to the witness, so to speak, and receives from the witness its interpretation. But the witness is only such if he or she witnesses to the Word. Third and last, the Church has added the "regula fidei" [rule of faith] as a key for interpretation. I believe that this reciprocal penetration constitutes an object of dissent between us, even though we are certainly united on fundamental things. Therefore, when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith, and consider it as an ecclesiological matter, and therefore together as a question of the Word of God, of his sovereignty and humility inasmuch as the Lord entrusts his Word, and concedes its interpretation, to witnesses which, however, must always be compared to the "regula fidei" and the integrity of the Word. Excuse me if I have expressed a personal opinion; it seemed right to do so.
The link above has the entire text and a few more of the Pope's off the cuff remarks. The International Herald Tribune suggests that:
The challenge for this pope is nothing less than to oppose the violence of secularity in the name of a universality that is open to all.
In a telling quote, George Wiegel suggests that the new pope needs to dwell deeply on:
The intellectual challenges presented by the ongoing conversation between Catholicism and the American "experiment in ordered liberty"... it is imperative that Catholicism refurbish the transcendental categories now under such suspicion in the larger culture. "The issue," he writes, "is to develop a theological grammar and vocabulary that can confront secularism and satisfy the (often latent) religious hungers of the contemporary world, without requiring our contemporaries to become medievals . . . and without dissolving Christian truth claims into expressions of a wholly subjective 'religious experience.' . . . Rather than holding beliefs as givens (the distinctive characteristic of traditionalism), we recognize that our beliefs are choices. Yet we insist that those beliefs, even as choices, disclose the truth of things."
Should Benedict seduce a few leading intellectuals, we might begin to see a lot of interesting things... things like this perhaps. And if we can do that, then we might be able to do a lot of good in the world.

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