Sunday, April 24, 2005

Waiting for Pope Benedict...

In the 1980s, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote one of the most important books of the late twentieth century, After Virtue. The book provided a long and detailed rationalization for his conversion from analytic philosophy to Thomism with the key point being moral philosophy. MacIntyre argued that the West had lost touch with the very meaning of virtue, and that the choice now lay between the chaos of Nietzsche and the virtues of Aristotle--with Aristotle being the root of the Thomistic tradition. MacIntyre's philosophical journey had led him into the Catholic Church, and one of the last chapters of his book was titled: "Waiting for St Benedict".

St Benedict (AD 480-543) is one of the patron saints of Europe, and can be credited with playing one of the key roles in saving western civilization from collapse. Benedict's communities lead the evangelization of England, Germany, and Northern Europe; and his monasteries preserved the great classics of the Greeks and Romans as the foundation of western education. "At the beginning of the fourteenth century the order is estimated to have comprised the enormous number of 37,000 monasteries. It had up to that time given to the Church no less than 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, and over 1,500 canonized saints. It had enrolled amongst its members 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens." (Catholic Encyclopedia online--for somewhat different statistics, see below). To put it differently, St Benedict succeeded in establishing more monasteries in Europe than Europe now has MacDonalds! That's a remarkable tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit working through St Benedict's movement.

Astonishingly, the rise of Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy seems to mean that the pope is on the same wavelength as Alasdair MacIntyre, and has summed up this agenda by taking the name Pope Benedict XVI. Those who are interested in the philosophical direction of the new papacy would be well-advised to read MacIntyre's classic. But for now Hugh Hewitt gives us an interview with Fr Joseph Fessio of Ave Maria University on the new pope (full disclosure: GrenfellHunt teaches at Ave Maria/Nicaragua):

JF: He chose the name Benedict. It's very significant. You know, Benedict was a young man in the worst days of the crumbling Roman Empire. It was corrupt and decadent from within. And it was being attacked from without, and Benedict did not stay in the city where he was magistrate, the city of Rome, and try to change it, try to improve it. He left with the simple desire of giving himself to God in prayer. Others joined him and they offered God worship and honor and praise and glory. He built a monastery to do that. They consecrated their lives to the Lord, and that monastery bred others and others until finally by 1200, there were 40,000, 40,000 Benedictine monasteries in Europe. That's like having 1,000 in every state in the Union. And those monasteries preserved Greek and Roman culture, they educated generations of young men and women, they laid the foundations for the great Cathedrals of Europe for the Christian nations of Europe. They were the ones that led to Medieval Christendom, this great civil and social society that gave glory to God. And I think that's why St. Benedict's called the father of Europe.
HH: Yup.
JF: And I think that Cardinal Ratzinger has chosen this name partly because he wants to lead the way to the re-Christianization of Europe and the evangelization of the world. And he wants to do it through prayer.