Saturday, April 30, 2005

An inside look at Pope Benedict XVI

This is a very interesting short interview in the National Catholic Register. DiNoia is a Dominican, and Ratzinger's right hand man at CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).‘A Beautiful Personality’

National Catholic Register
May 1-8, 2005

Father Augustine DiNoia has worked with Cardinal Josef Ratzinger for three years.

As undersecretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith — the congregation Pope Benedict XVI headed before he became pope — the Dominican priest knows the new Pope well. He spoke with Register Correspondent Edward Pentin in Rome.

What is your reaction to the news?

I am absolutely ecstatic. It was clear after he gave the funeral Mass for John Paul II and the Mass before the beginning of the conclave that he had moved into another realm. He had moved into this new role. This was also a very quick election and shows that the cardinals probably realized this, too.

You know him well from working closely under him. Could you give us some insight into what he is like as a person?

He has a beautiful personality and when that begins to shine through and becomes evident, people will love him. One hundred percent of the staff in the office — including the ushers — are absolutely ecstatic.

GrenfellHunt: Very interesting. An administrator's job has a built-in capacity to create lots of enemies. That Ratzinger's leadership has created friends rather than enemies says something about his personal skills.

He is a kind, extremely humble and extraordinary human being. He’s also a fun man with a good sense of humor — we’ll miss him. He’s the whole package — he’s holy and knows how the Church works and how to run the Church. I have prayed for him to become Pope — so many of us have. I’ve never prayed harder!

We know, of course, that he’s thoroughly Catholic on doctrine. But more generally what will his pontificate be like, in your view?

He spent 24 years working for the Pope so he knows just what the Church needs. And although his main role has been to keep the Church right on doctrine, he is not just about orthodoxy but personifies two very important Christian qualities — truth and love. His sermon just before the conclave was, if anything, an anti-campaign speech — he was saying that this is what you’ll get if you vote for me, but clearly it was what the majority in the college wanted.

Why did he choose the name Benedict?

I knew that if he was chosen he would choose a name like Benedict because I know that he has a great devotion to the Benedictines who, of course, have a large presence in Germany. But if I could add, I was also very impressed by the crowds who gave him such a resounding cheer. The Italians love him — he knows the Italians well and, of course, he speaks perfect Italian.

Do you think all people will warm to him?

Once people have a chance to see him they’ll love him. He has a tough job, but I know he’ll do it very well. No one has yet really seen this wonderful, beautiful human being.

It is often said that the Church needs to be better administered. How will he be as an administrator?

He’s very decisive and, like any German bishop, he’s not afraid to confront and to set things right. The Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith] ran very smoothly under him because he was so decisive.

GrenfellHunt: A German administrator with a skill for winning over Italian bureaucrats. That's a very unusual combination.

He has been quite tough on liturgical matters as well as doctrine. Should priests be very careful to watch their step?

No, because he will be carrying on the work of John Paul II — he worked for 25 years under John Paul. And remember John Paul wrote Redemptionis Sacramentum [a 2004 document that addressed liturgical lapses].

GrenfellHunt: here "no" clearly means "yes". John Paul II laid down the law on liturgical abuse, and Benedict XVI--with German efficiency--is going to make sure that law is enforced. DiNoia's "no" is meant to highlight the point that Pope Benedict is not making up these rules--merely enforcing what John Paul II already confirmed as the rule of the Church.

There are many issues of concern facing the Church. What will be the one of most importance to him, in your view?

I think his main focus will be to carry on the work of John Paul II in evangelization. In particular, he will be interested in the re-evangelization of Europe.

How will he do that?

By traveling and visiting, just like John Paul did.

So we're in good hands?

I have no doubt that we’re in for a great, great pontificate.

GrenfellHunt: this clarifies the point made by Sandro Magister. The reconversion of Europe to Catholicism is central to this papacy. A key part of the project means making sure that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is worshipped as God Incarnate with all the glory that the liturgy is designed to give. Priests who neglect or water down or corrupt the liturgy have been served a warning. Ad majorem dei gloriam.

Friday, April 29, 2005

We are all Zionists

This is Friday night, the night of the sabbath.

Here at President Aristotle, I am going to try to make a rule of looking at issues of Israel and Judaism in Friday night posts.

My thoughts go back to the 1970s when I was still in high school, and the UN passed its notorious UN resolution 3379 that Zionism (the right of Jews to live in Israel) was "a form of racism." Nor was the vote terribly close. The UN General Assembly, which some would make the touchstone of moral legitimacy for any war, voted in favor 72 to 35 with 32 abstentions.

My father had married a Jewish woman that summer. And passover seders or bar-mitzvahs were the only real religious observance we had growing up.

But the issue ran deeper than personal family identifications with Judaism. In 1975 the entire American university class was strongly pro-Israel; dissent from this position in American culture at the time was limited to far-right Republicans and pockets of anti-Israel sentiment at the Pentagon.

Leading the opposition to UN 3379 was the American ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan--Irish Catholic, a Democrat serving a GOP president, a PhD'd academic who would later become Senator from New York. Moynihan was flamboyant, principled, and eloquent. He had won his job by writing an electrifying article for Commentary magazine denouncing the UN's appeasement of dictators and tyrants. With UN 3379, Moynihan was the right man at the right place at the right time, denouncing the anti-semitic demagogues who controlled the UN, and becoming overnight a national hero.

In Cleveland, I remember packing into a crowded synagogue to hear local Congressman Charles Vanik defend Israel and Israel's right to exist. The crowd wore small buttons with the saying: "We are all Zionists."

That was then, this is now. In Britain, the union of university professors has called for an academic boycott of Israel--and by that act has become the center for the new western anti-semitism. In the US, anti-semitism risks becoming the default position in American academia (tracked in stinging detail at Martin Kramer's website). In the US, a Senate that once had the courage to send brave men to the UN now wavers and vacillates over the bold John Bolton. And American liberals, who once made being pro-Israel essential to liberal identity, now find excuses to oppose Moynihan's logical successor, John Bolton.

Dubya--often confused for a conservative--is taking a stand for what in 1975 was universally thought to be liberal principle. We have a president with courage. We will find out soon enough whether the same can be said of the Senate.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Benedict to lead new evangelization of Europe?

TigerHawk gives us Ave Maria Law prof Safranek on Pope Benedict XVI: "Few observers have predicted as Professor Safranek has -- that the new Pope will usher in a new age of expanding Christiandom, perhaps at the expense of Islam. We live in interesting times." Catholicism is expanding almost everywhere in the world--with the exception of some regions of Europe: the new pope may well lead to a new evangelization of Europe.

The irreplaceable Sandro Magister explains just how Pope Benedict XVI intends to do it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI and Reformed Evangelicalism

One of my earliest memories of John Paul II was as an undergraduate at Haverford College in the fall of 1980. I was taking a brilliant course on "Luther and the Reformation", taught by a wonderful Lutheran theologian of deep piety. John Paul II was visiting Germany during the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession--the great Lutheran doctrinal charter--and declared that justification was based on faith apart from human merit. This made a deep impression on the professor and on me; and it left me as a young evangelical deeply convinced that real differences between Rome and the evangelicals lay elsewhere than on the issue of justification.

The 1990s lead to a series of agreements between Catholics and Protestants designed to bridge this traditional gulf between Christians. In 1998 "The Gift of Salvation" by American Catholic and evangelical theologians affirmed a consensus on salvation: "We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide)." Although unofficial, it nonetheless reflected beliefs widely shared among both Catholics and evangelicals.

The Joint Declaration on Justification in 1999 was an official document of the Catholic Church; written with the Lutheran World Federation, and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger. Here the Catholic Church formally affirmed "justification by faith alone"--"Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works" (JD 15). "Justification takes place by grace alone (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified apart from works (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25)." (Annex 2C)

Although these documents had broad support among both Protestant and Catholic theologians, some theologians in both traditions had concerns. In North America, Calvinists connected with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) were vocal in their critiques. I consequently have been very interested in the reaction of the new generation of Reformed theologians to the rise of Ratzinger to the papacy--the man who has been the key figure in the Catholic Church's current affirmation of sola fide (faith alone).

Al Mohler of ACE seems encouraged by the Ratzinger papacy (20 April 2005), but is reluctant to see progress on the issue of justification by faith alone: "Like the church he served, John Paul II rejected justification by faith."--a line that clearly reflects Mohler's deeply held views, but which is not easy to reconcile with John Paul II's express statements to the contrary.

Michael Horton, a former leader of ACE, has a must-read look at Pope Benedict XVI: he goes through Ratzinger's writings offering a superb list of Ratzinger's greatest hits. This is absolutely the place to go for a one-stop list of Ratzinger quotations on myriad topics. My favorite is Ratzinger on the modern notion that we don't have time to pray: “Well, this uncontested but significant ‘sacrifice’ [daily prayer] has been replaced by TV-viewing until well into the night”!

We can hope that Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate will see a further engagement on these issues, and a more deeply spread agreement on the gospel common to evangelicals and Catholics alike.

And yet all hope is not lost...

For those who found the previous post truly chilling, Veritatis Splendor shows that there may yet be hope: the Benedict Bears!

The secret vice of Benedict XVI

The new Pope's dreadful vice has at last been revealed:

By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Thu Apr 21, 6:20 PM ET

REGENSBURG, Germany - When he was a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI often delivered sermons at the German-language church in Campasanto Teutonico near St. Peter's Basilica, but his most heartfelt talks may have been the ones he gave after celebrating Mass.

"I went with him once," said Konrad Baumgartner, the head of the theology department at Regensburg University. "Afterwards, he went into the old cemetery behind the church.

"It was full of cats, and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him. He stood there, petting some and talking to them, for quite a long time. He visited the cats whenever he visited the church. His love for cats is quite famous."

The new pope loves cats!

Surely now the antichrist is at hand. Surely the end of days is upon us. The smoke of Satan has entered the temple.

The new pope loves cats!

The world is divided into two classes: the children of light and the children of darkness, the elect and the non-elect, the sheep and the goats--in short, into dog-lovers and cat-lovers.

How easily we were all deceived. How smoothly the prince of lies took us in. Behind the gentle smile, the grandfatherly exterior, lies the heart of Ernst Stavro Blofeld: he sits on his elevated chair, caressing his cat with soft, sinister strokes-- while plotting plans for world domination and casually consigning 007 to a fiendish demise.

Soon it will be too late. Rome, known throughout the world as a city overrun by cats, will soon be under his spell. Every cat in Rome will now be congregating in St Peter's, chasing the humans out of the temple, and securing their base for the conquest of the world.

And the ancient oracle proves true: 5000 years ago in Egypt, cats were worshipped as gods.

The cats have never forgotten this.

St Michael, pray for us!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI to evangelize Anglicans

I'm not sure the headline is the most precise way to phrase it--but traditionalist Anglicans are looking to leave the Church of England, and go home to Rome.

According to the Times of London:
Benedict XVI, whose inaugural mass as Bishop of Rome today is expected to be attended by half a million people, has held meetings with representatives of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), according to Archbishop John Hepworth, the group’s primate.
The TAC represents more than 400,000 Anglicans around the world who have either left their church or are protesting against its liberal policies. It is estimated that 400-500 Church of England parishes may support the group in the long term.
“We are looking at a church which would retain an Anglican liturgy, Anglican spirituality and a married clergy,” said Hepworth, a serving Anglican bishop in Adelaide, Australia. “We dream of this happening soon.” One such community exists in America but so far there are only 14 parishes.

This is in fact long overdue. TAC represents one of the last remnants of the Anglo-Catholic movement begun by John Henry Newman in the 1800s: Roman Catholic in all but name, they exist uneasily with the Church of England. More skilled leadership on either the Anglican or Roman side would probably have brought these believers into the Catholic fold a century ago.

Nor is Ratzinger's interest in bringing these sheep into the Roman fold news. Anglican convert to the Catholic Church William Oddie wrote a book about this in 1998, The Roman Option. Oddie presented Ratzinger as strongly as interested in bringing this about, and disappointed in the lack of apostolic zeal in the English Catholic bishops.

Chances that an Anglican rite will begin within the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI: excellent.

I suggest that an Anglican rite with married priests and Anglican liturgy would likely grow rapidly, and would become a boom sector for Catholicism within the United States, the UK, and the English-speaking world. So that having evangelized the Anglicans, Catholics would gain a powerful strategic position for evangelizing the rest of Britain, North America, and other English-speaking regions.

Off The Record...

CWN's Off the Record has so many great posts today they can't be counted. Three stars in a galaxy include:

How the NY Times would have covered Jesus: "CAESAREA PHILIPPI (20 Kislev) Yesterday's surprise announcement that doctrinal hardliner Jesus of Nazareth had been anointed "Messiah" provoked mixed reactions in the diverse and sometimes fractious Israelite community, ranging from cautious disappointment to frank despair.
"I see it as a missed opportunity," said Herodias Schneidkopf, a Galilaean incest rights activist. "Many of us were hoping for someone more open to leadership roles for women and more appreciative of our experience. I don't feel valued."

The bestsellers at Amazon:what they're reading
"From bestselling books, Sunday, 24 April 2005 (3am EDT).
12. Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity.
15. Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth.
23. Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us.
27. Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977.
32. Joseph Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report.
33. Joseph Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance.
49. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy.
53. Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity.
65. Joseph Ratzinger, In the Beginning.
68. Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion.
69. Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant.

For those Kumbaya Catholics still in a state of shock because the cardinals failed to elect a Rembert Weakland clone, may I suggest the following:
70. Greg Behrendt, He's Just Not That Into You."

And the secret Vatican document that may have helped clinch the case for Ratzinger.

The keys to St Peter's...

During the recent conclave I found two first-rate blogs that are essential to understanding the Vatican.

One is Sandro Magister's blog. Magister is an exceptionally well-informed journalist in Italy, whose blog is posted in Italian and English. He clearly has close personal ties to Cardinal Ruini, and through him to most of the key figures in the Vatican. John Allen, the very fair-minded correspondent from National Catholic Reporter, is the only journalist I'm familiar with who can come close to competing with Magister.

I will be talking more about Magister in a later post, but you must read his post on "Benedict XVI: the pope and his agenda". Magister has been studying Ratzinger for years, and he offers literally an A-Z on what Pope Benedict's plans are likely to be. I would add that he writes very, very well--Magister has better prose in translation English than 99% of the blogs in the English-speaking blogosphere.

The other great blog is Romanitas . This is put together by the same person who put together Papabile, the superb blog on the conclave. Romanitas is very good at reading between the lines of Vatican pronouncements. It seems to be a tradition at the Vatican to send a very high amount of signal traffic indirectly, symbolically, and between the lines.

Romanitas has already picked up on: 1) the pallium that Pope Benedict wore likely symbolizes the pope's commitment to reaching out to the Orthodox, asking no more for reunion than was the case at the end of the first millenium--a position that Ratzinger has explained in his published work. 2) His recent appearance at St Paul's Outside the Walls likely symbolizes a new commitment to evangelization. 3) Finally, Romanitas' language skills appear to be excellent, and he specializes in correcting mistranslations from Latin and Italian that appear in our English press reports--mistranslations that are sometimes crucial.

Magister and Romanitas are two of the best blogs out there on the Vatican at this point, and certainly deserve a bookmark for those interested in Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church.

Monday, April 25, 2005

How Pope Benedict won the conclave

The Eagle and Elephant , a cool blog loyal to St Thomas, links to a very fine article from the LA Times on how Benedict XVI won. This is a fascinating article. A few gems:

1. The battle between progressives and traditionalists never took place:But an anticipated struggle between moderate cardinals and the pro-Ratzinger forces never materialized. The moderates included Italians, other Europeans and Americans who went into the conclave allied with Tettamanzi and his predecessor as archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, according to several accounts.

2. The cardinals seemed more awed by the responsibility than they were interested in politicking: Cardinals described the atmosphere of the vote as more like a spiritual retreat than a political event. They recalled the wonder and solemnity of an experience played out beneath Michelangelo's majestic fresco of the Last Judgment...
"You take Christ as your witness that you will pick the best man, and then you look up at the 'Last Judgment,' at all those people going to heaven and all those going to hell," Errazuriz recalled. "I remember thinking, 'At least in that hell there aren't ferocious flames.' And 115 people do that, one right after the other, each with a very personal awareness that he is standing alone before God.""It's notable that in these circumstances, some cardinals change their votes from one ballot to the next," he added. "It's a matter of reflection. There were many, many hours of prayer."

3. The Latin Americans supported Ratzinger, rather than a local candidate.Recent years had brought predictions that some cardinals would push for a precedent-making pope from Latin America, where 40% of all Roman Catholics live. But "there was a significant Latin American vote for Ratzinger from the very beginning," said Alejandro Bermudez of Peru, the editor of Lima-based ACI Prensa.Most of the region's 20 cardinals were satisfied that John Paul II had placed Latin Americans in powerful bastions of a bureaucracy once dominated by Italians and saw Ratzinger as a status quo leader who would prevent an Italian resurgence, Bermudez said."The Latin Americans do not feel neglected," he said. "Having a Latin American pope was simply not a priority for the Latin American cardinals themselves."The Latin Americans' conquest of turf in Vatican City also meant that many had little interest in decentralization, a priority of U.S. and Central European moderates, he said.

4. Ratzinger's humanity was evident to the last:Amid the emotion and commotion, the new pope remembered that Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia turned 70 that day and took a moment to wish him a happy birthday. "With all the things he had to think about, he had a very human touch," Rigali said.

Pope Benedict XVI and the war on John Kerry

Almost forgotten is that last summer Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, declared war on pro-abortion public officials who profess to be Catholic. The key moment was a document he sent to the USA in July of 2004. The document cuts the ground underneath every reason currently offered by many Catholics for voting for pro-choice public officials.

1. A common objection is to relativize the abortion issue. For some Catholics, abortion is important, but so are the issues of war and capital punishment. Pope Benedict XVI strikes down that reasoning: in the Catholic Church there can be legitimate diversity of opinion on when it is right to go war and when capital punishment is justified--but there is no legitimate diversity on abortion.
2. Consequently, Catholic public officials who support the legal right to abortion are in rebellion against the Church and should be denied communion.
3. Since every case is different, the application of this rule is left to the discretion of the local bishop--but the principle itself is crystal clear.

This is a bold move and reflects the sentiment of younger priests worldwide. Although older priests and bishops of the post-Vatican II generation have been inclined to play down the seriousness of abortion, the younger generation thinks the time for compromise is past. Numerous senators and congressmen currently present themselves to the public as both loyal Catholics and pro-choice. This is almost certainly the last generation of Catholic public officials that will be allowed to do so.

The management of this principle will nonetheless require great care. I have been quite struck by the breadth of the opposition that Pope Benedict XVI's ruling aroused when it was announced last summer. However important the pro-life principle is, the Catholic Church is still a corpus mixtum--it mixes together sinners and saints alike, and the final sorting out can only be done by the Son of God at the end of the age (Matthew 13.47-50).

Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI July 2004
1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).
2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
4. Apart from an individual’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[Note: This memorandum was sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, DC, and was made public in the first week of July 2004. Bold face added..]

A second welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers...

Herzlich Wilkommen--as the Germans say...a language that may get a little more attention with the first German pope in centuries.

President Aristotle is a blog inspired by HH's thesis that blogs represent the new information Reformation. Here I've tried to apply Aristotelian thinking to public life and culture. For Aristotle, philosophy's love of reason involved a quest for causes (four causes in the classic Aristotelian formula). This meant that in the last analysis, the universe we live in could not rationally be understood as uncaused: behind the shifting phenomena of matter and energy was an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, an unchanged changer--a high God over all the universe. This god was not found in an act of religious faith. Rather he was found by the use of true reason. This meant that an attack on the existence of God was ultimately an attack on the very nature of reason itself. And this philosophy of Aristotle's was foundational for the University of Oxford and nearly all the great universities of Europe.

Hence Aristotle--and with him nearly all the great thinkers of the western tradition--is directly opposed to the tendency common since Kant (d.1804) of putting God and reason in separate and conflicting categories. The rebellion against this philosophy has led directly to the morass of postmodernism, and what Pope Benedict XVI has called "the dictatorship of relativism."

This blog then tries to offer a gracious defence in the Aristotelian tradition of the basic principles of democracy and the Republic--or as Thomas Jefferson put it: ""Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?" (Jefferson, Notes on Virginia 1782).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Catholic defense of Al Mohler...

Hugh Hewitt has called attention to the recent attacks on Dr Al Mohler.

Although I can't profess to be an expert on Dr Mohler, I've been familiar with his work for a good decade or so. A leading Southern Baptist and defender of biblical inerrancy, Mohler has also been associated with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, a group concerned about the erosion of traditional Protestant beliefs among today's evangelicals.

Recently, Dr Mohler has been accused of "anti-Catholicism" by Senator Salazar in a letter to James Dobson of Focus on the Family (Thursday, April 21, 2005) :

In March of 2000, Dr. Mohler said “I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”

My faith is the cornerstone of my values, as I am sure it is with you as well. I call on you to repudiate Dr. Mohler’s comments and hope you distance yourself from those who serve to divide the world’s Christian churches against one another.

As a Catholic who teaches philosophy and theology at a Catholic college, it seems to me that Dr Mohler has done no more than restate the traditional Protestant disagreements with Catholic theology. Dr Mohler thinks that Catholicism is based on a mistaken understanding of the Bible; Catholics confess that Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter and his successors (Mt 16.18/Vatican I). Dr Mohler's language is perhaps stronger than is used in some contexts, but no stronger than numerous Catholics have used with respect to Protestantism--and used in statements that are sometimes found in the official teaching documents of the Catholic Church. The claim that Dr Mohler's words constitute "anti-Catholicism" appears to have no merit whatever.

Yet Senator Salazar's own letter is not without concern. After attacking Dr Mohler, he writes: Indeed, I would ask for your prayers that the United States Senate transcend the abuse of power at the root of this controversy, and move forward in a spirit of bipartisanship on the issue of judges, as well as the monumental challenges facing our Nation such as health care, transportation, energy, education, and care for our elders.

Bipartisanship is certainly commendable. Healthcare, transportation, energy, education, and care for our elders are also important issues. But notably absent from the senator's list of issues are the pro-life and pro-family issues that Pope Benedict XVI has championed so strongly. In his July 2004 letter, the now Pope Benedict XVI set before every Catholic public official the serious moral obligation to protect human life: "There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

The following chart (from a 22 Jan 2005 post) shows why:
1.3 million--US abortion deaths in 2004 (est)
700,000--US heart disease deaths
560,000--US cancer deaths
107,000--US deaths in accidents
30,000--US suicides
20,000-US homicides
15-17,500--civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
14,000--US AIDS/HIV deaths
1371--US military deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
59--death penalty executions in the US 2004

Senator Salazar's zeal to uphold the Catholic faith is commendable. One hopes that he will direct that zeal toward the pro-life issues that Pope Benedict XVI has called all Catholic public officials to defend with all the determination that they possess.

UPDATE/Clarification: prior to this post, I sent to Dr Mohler a short letter stating the gist of what I've said here.

Welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers...

A special warm welcome to all. Last summer I stumbled across a column by Hugh Hewitt at The Weekly Standard, rolled over to his blog...and several months later took up his advice to start one myself.

Here I try to take an Aristotelian perspective on contemporary life and public affairs--one guided by John Paul II's call to put St Thomas as central to an engagement with a postmodern world. If you like this blog, you might like to read my opening post from December 2004.

Thanks again to Hugh for his kind words about the blog, and welcome to all.

Pope Benedict XVI: LA Times and Latin American Catholics

Hugh Hewitt posts today a clip from the LA Times on the new pope:

VATICAN CITY — The Peruvian priest turned his back on St. Peter's Square and walked away. He did not wait for the first words of Pope Benedict XVI. No need to, he said. The priest knew where the new pope stood on the important issues. Benedict's election, he said, was a major step backward in a church already reeling from scandal, divisions and the desertions of a wayward flock."

Yes, Latin American priests know Cardinal Ratzinger very well. In the 1980s, when Marxist priests were spreading liberation theology and Communist revolution, it was Ratzinger who checkmated the movement.

Not that he did it alone. John Paul II was engaged in a life or death battle with Communism in Eastern Europe. He was not going to allow it to triumph in Latin America. The man that John Paul II charged with winning the battle in Latin America was Joseph Ratzinger.

The confrontation here in Nicaragua was especially dramatic. The Communists had seized control of Nicaragua and were in the process of installing a classic Marxist dictatorship. When they shut down the country's leading newspaper La Prensa, the government's excuse was straight out of 1984: La Prensa said there was no freedom of press in Nicaragua--that was a lie, so we had to stop that.

Aiding the Communists were a group of Marxist priests, some of whom held positions in the Marxist government. Their plan was to replace the Catholic Church loyal to Jesus Christ with a "People's Church" that would be controlled by the Communist party--who in Nicaragua went by the name, the Sandinistas.

When John Paul II came to Nicaragua, he lowered the boom. His plane touched down in Managua airport, the pope came off, and there in the reception line was one of the Marxist priests--still holding on to his government position. This was in direct defiance of John Paul II's orders that no priest was to hold government power. With television cameras blazing, John Paul II ignored diplomatic protocol, put his finger in the priest's face and told him: you must regularize your position with the Church--now!

In the end Karl Marx fell in Nicaragua, and the cause of the Church of Jesus Christ prevailed. But the cost in Nicaragua was high, both in lives and property. Accurate figures for losses in the contra war are hard to come by, but certainly in the tens of thousands.

The economic figures are equally depressing. From 1950-1975 under the dictator Somoza (whose departure was the one good thing the Sandinistas helped achieve) economic growth was the highest in Latin America: 6.8% per year. Per capita GNP in 1977, just before the Communists took over, was $2500 per person. In 1990, when the Sandinista regime fell, per capita GNP was $500 per person. That was the great achievement of liberation theology in Nicaragua.

That is what liberation theology would have done to the rest of Latin America. That it couldn't, that it was shut down, was the work of Joseph Ratzinger.

The aging Marxist priests still left in Latin American may well be depressed: "we know where he stands." Yes, indeed. But for the rest of Catholics in Latin America, Pope Benedict XVI is a beacon of hope.

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.

Pope Benedict XVI: Gandalf takes up the staff

Over Christmas I was in Oxford, England, and had Christmas dinner with friends outside of town. The husband had received the four hour version of The Return of the King as a Christmas present. So we spent a happy Christmas staying up late watching four hours of Tolkien's classic.

The next day I went to mass at a small church in Littlemore where John Henry Newman was received into the Catholic Church. The priest was an older man in long black robes bearing a staff in his hand. And as he began his sermon, he suddenly reminded me of Gandalf. The sermon was strong and powerful; and I later learned that the priest was the legendary British preacher Cormac Rigby, himself a convert to Catholicism.

The link to Gandalf was not, of course, a mere accident influenced by a late-night DVD. JRR Tolkien, himself a devout Catholic, had steeped The Lord of the Rings in Catholic myth. We live in a world that glamourizes youth. Yet those of us who grew up in the sixties know how often youth fails, and how frequently wisdom remains the painful fruit of old age.

The Gandalf figure is deeply rooted in Catholic myth: the man of years, weak in body, but strong in mind, powerful in wisdom, and indomitable in heart--the figure of a pope. For the last decade we have seen this kind of man personified in John Paul II. Who has not seen, who can forget the photograph of John Paul II, grasping his staff with the crucified Christ, the pope's head bowed, his robes billowing in the wind? It captured in a single moment the glory and the cross of John Paul II's pontificate: his pain bearing witness to the pain of the cross, and yet by that very cross sustained, the suffering transformed into a witness to Jesus Christ.

Now comes Joseph Ratzinger to the chair of Peter, not a younger man as John Paul II at the beginning had been, but a man who has already borne the scars of many battles: a veteran of the wars of Vatican II in the 1960s, the long battles against Communism in Eastern Europe, Marxism in Latin America, and the battles against relativism in India and across the world.

He took to the chair of Peter today that same staff that we have seen so many times in the hands of John Paul II. Now as Benedict XVI he calls us to follow the same Christ that John Paul II followed, and that Benedict himself has followed long these many years. He takes John Paul II's watchword: be not afraid; and adds one word: be not of afraid of Christ! The note is one of joy and praise as he calls all of us, young and old, to the discipleship of Jesus Christ:

"Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen."

Benedict XVI and the Evangelicals: evolution and "faith alone"

Evangelical Protestants are going to have very positive relationship with this Pope. You can see it already in Benedict XVI's inaugural message:

"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him."

Now Benedict here is not denying evolution as a scientific theory, but he is denying that evolution is the final truth about the human soul: the human soul is a direct miracle of God, and as directly created by God our souls are born to know Jesus Christ in the Gospel. This should be music to many evangelical ears.

Perhaps even more important is the new pope's affirmation of justification by faith alone. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he played a key role in writing the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans in which the Catholic Church affirms: "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works" (JD 15). "Justification takes place "by grace alone" (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified "apart from works" (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25)." While North American evangelicals differ on some points of justification with traditional Lutherans, the key thing is that there is a fundamental consensus on justification between evangelicals and Catholics, a consensus that will be powerfully supported by the work of this pope.

The pope is--of course--Catholic, and many of the traditional differences between Catholics and evangelicals remain. But this pope will be powerful testimony to the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. And that will cheer evangelicals and Catholics alike.

Black Tuesday on the Tiber

15 April 2005, few days before the conclave started I wrote the following post. I was a little reluctant to post it for fear it was a touch abrasive. But in light of the fact it seems to have proved prophetic, I will put it up. Liberal friends will be asked to try to contain the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

24 October 1929--the day the stock market crashed--went into American history as Black Tuesday: according to legend, busted stockbrokers hurled themselves out of Wall Street windows. Winston Churchill, in New York the day after, wrote of waking up to the commotion caused by a stockbroker taking a fifteen-storey swan dive into the pavement below.

These stories are worth remembering: for, if current reports prove true, on this coming Tuesday 19 April 2005 Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany will become the next pope--and liberal Catholic theologians will be throwing themselves out of ivory tower windows in every university in the world. Black Tuesday on the Tiber.

For Cardinal Ratzinger has a reputation: the Panzer Cardinal. God's Rottweiler. The Vatican's Terminator. The Vatican's Enforcer. The Robocop of Roman Catholicism.

You might think that Catholic theologians would be glad to get a pope who stoutly defends the religion they swear they believe.

You might think that.

But you'd think wrong.

Since Vatican II, defending the faith has fallen out of fashion--at least among Catholic theologians. Since the 1960s, the hot word has been Weltoffenheit. It's German for "openness to the world." It's a word that Cardinal Ratzinger thinks has been badly abused, a word that allowed the Spirit of Jesus Christ to be confused with the Zeitgeist.

Of course, Ratzinger may not win. He is only one of a number of excellent cardinals who will get consideration: Arinze of Nigeria, Lustiger of France, Martini of Italy, and others.

But if he becomes pope, 19 April 2005 will live forever in liberal theological history: Black Tuesday on the Tiber.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Catholic Church isn't ready for a pope from Africa?

A very interesting on-line poll from CNN:

Which region do you think the new pope should come from?

Europe outside of Italy--17%
North America--13%

Latin America--28%

The results are very interesting. It's CNN of course, and an on-line is not scientific. And some one is likely to whisper: "The Church is not a democracy."

But a statement like: "The Church isn't ready for a pope from Africa" is a statement about public opinion. It's a claim that Catholic public opinion wouldn't accept an African pope.

But who are these Catholics who won't accept an African pope? The Cardinals? They've worked with African leaders in the curia for over twenty years. Catholic young people? They were ready for an African pope a generation ago.

One sociologist warned of the "Abilene effect": a situation where everyone reads everyone else wrong. I asked a class of mine if the Church was ready for an African pope. About 40% said no. Then I asked each one individually how they personally felt about the idea of an African pope. Every single one was enthusiastic.

When the Holy Spirit sent Jesus as messiah, he didn't ask Israel if they were ready for a Saviour from Nazareth.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Ratzinger's Day?

As with many, my analysis of the conclave has been that Monday would be a "courtesy vote", and that Tuesday would be a referendum on Ratzinger. He comes into the conclave with about 40-50 votes locked up. The question is whether it's enough to put him over the top. The decision will be made tomorrow: if he can't get two-thirds, Ratzinger will withdraw in favour of a more broad-based candidate.

BUT: here is Time:

One source close to Ratzinger, however, says the white-haired cardinal, who gave the homily at John Paul's funeral, is letting his colleagues know that he doesn't want to be an early candidate. If no consensus grows around an alternative, he might then be willing to be a sort of "draft" candidate, the source told me. In the secret balloting that will begin Monday afternoon, a successful candidate must receive more than two-thirds of the votes. Often, if a certain candidate starts to gain more votes through consecutive balloting, he can build the momentum necessary to reach the two-thirds threshold. Assuming that Ratzinger truly is not angling for the job, one lingering question is: Who is his preferred candidate? Three Cardinals who enjoy particular respect from their German colleague are India's Ivan Dias, Mexico City's Norberto Rivera Carrera and Vienna's Christoph Schonborn. An Italian in synch with the German's theology is Angelo Scola of Venice. But in the meantime, Happy Birthday Cardinal Ratzinger!

No liberals among the cardinals...basically

The popular media has described the cardinals as "moderates", "conservatives", "hardliners", "traditionalists", "liberals".

The labels are misleading, particularly in light of American theological history.

The fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the 1920s pitted fundamentalist Protestants against liberal Protestants over the issues of the virgin birth, the resurrection, the inspiration of the bible, and a few other issues.

How many of these Catholic cardinals deny the virgin birth? Zero.
How many of these Catholic cardinals deny the bodily resurrection? Zero.
How many of these Catholic cardinals deny the truth of the Bible? Zero.

There just aren't any liberals in this bunch--at least in any sense that "liberal" is used in American theology.

Nor are they liberal in the sense of...
How many of these cardinals support the legal right to abortion? Zero.
How many of these cardinals support gay marriage? Zero.
How many of these cardinals support women priests? Zero.

For the real liberals in the theology faculties across the West there is no hope.
Resistance is futile.

On the other hand...some of these cardinals, or at least their aides, are asleep at the switch. Here's one news report on Cardinal Ratzinger's sermon today:

From Time:
The message inside St. Peter's was clear: the truth of Catholic Church teaching is absolute, and its pastors must guard against "a dictatorship of relativism" that dominates modern society. An aide to a European voting Cardinal was not convinced: "It's what a lot of Cardinals in there want to hear, but it's not the right message at this moment in the Church's history."

Holy smokes (clearly the proper epithet for a conclave!). Where does this "aide to a European voting Cardinal" come from? The Crab Nebulae?

After forty years of European erosion, after the near-complete collapse of the Catholic Church in western Europe, this aide thinks a broadside against relativism is "untimely"?

Father, forgive them: they are not natives to this planet and don't live here.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

JP II's legacy...

Found at Mark Shea:

Sherry Weddell...

of the invaluable St. Catherine of Siena Institute, writes:

From my research of the past week (while re-writing a portion of Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles;

I'd like to add this bit of reality about adult conversions to the US Church:

in 1960, the pre-Vatican II height: 145,000 adults entered

in 1975, the nadir: 75,000 adults centered

Under JPII, the trend has completely reversed itself. Since 1994:

23,000 more adults have entered the Church every year than did in 1960:

An average 163,000 adults every year between 1994 and 2003. That's 1.635 million adult converts in only ten years.

If adult converts to Catholicism from those 10 years alone were a denomination, we would be the 16th largest in America, right behind the Episcopalians and ahead of the Churches of Christ and the Greek Orthodox.

And I will make this prediction. This week of incredibly powerful coverage of the Pope's life, faith, impact and the endless interviews with believing Catholics is going to be the catalyst of the spiritual awakening of millions around the world. I'm betting on a significant jump in adult converts on Easter, 2006 and an increase in priestly and religious vocations in the next two years.

God bless you, John Paul the Great. We owe you so much!

If you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Aslan's roar

The obituary in the British Catholic journal The Tablet has a wonderful poem by a Polish poet of the nineteenth century. The Tablet says the poem was known to John Paul II:

This one will not--Italian-like--take flight
At cannon's roar or sabre thrust
But brave as God himself stand and give fight
Counting the world as dust.

Aslan is dead...and awaits the Resurrection

Walter Hooper, biographer of CS Lewis and convert to the Catholic Church, tells the story of meeting John Paul II for the first time. Hooper was not yet a Catholic, but meeting him was something that he could only liken to Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.

Meeting John Paul II, he said, was like meeting Aslan--the lion of Narnia, the figure of Christ.

In the Narnia tales, the lion dies...but later comes back to life. "You died!" he is told. "Yes," says Aslan, "most creatures in the universe have, you know."

John Paul II, our Aslan, is dead...
...but he will rise again.

ad majorem dei gloriam