January 3, 2006

The other group of reformers...

I was writing in the last post about the book God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel. Charlene and I are both enjoying it, learning a lot of stuff that you won't get from the press. There's a lot they don't want you to know. It rather looks to me like the situation we have here in domestic politics and culture, with press and leftists frantically demonizing conservatives to try to hide their own reactionary emptiness and bankruptcy.

It's much the same with Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger. The same sort of people hate him not because he really is a reactionary, but because he was a leader in the other group of reformers of Vatican II and after. (He is, interestingly, the last figure of Vatican II still active in the Church.) Here's a little snippet, to give you a slight flavor of what I'm reading...

...Ratzinger agreed with those who thought that the church of the past few centuries had shrunk itself, theologically and spiritually, and that Vatican II's task was to "usher Catholics into a larger room." The reform Ratzinger imagined would have two dimensions, usually described in Council argot by a French term and an Italian term. The reform required ressourcement—a "return to the sources" of Catholic theology in the Bible and in the early Fathers of the Church, where, as Nichols writes, "the Christian religion took on its classic form" from men such as Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom. Ressourcement, it was believed, would free Catholic theology from the cold logic and bloodless propositions of the neo-scholastic system; and having been liberated in that way, theology would revitalize Catholic life. That revitalization was the second dimension of the kind of reform Ratzinger imagined: the famous aggiornamento, or "bringing up to date" of the Church's practices, structures and methods of encounter with modern culture and society...

...the biblical and patristic ressourcement would allow the aggiornamento of the Church in the modern world to be a genuine, two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity, its aspirations and its discontents....

...The problems came, in Ratzinger's view, when aggiornamento lost its tether to ressourcement—when the "updating" of the Church did not begin with a return to the sources of Catholic intellectual and spiritual vitality...Instead of building Nichols's larger room in the Church, an aggiornamento unmoored from ressourcement stripped the room of a lot of its furniture...unleashing what a later generation would have called Catholic "deconstruction": the new question became, "How little can I believe, and how little must I do, to remain a Catholic?"...

"Two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity." Think about that one a moment. In liberal culture, such a statement is unimaginable. It's the stuffy old Church's job to listen to modern culture, and get up to date. A position which was reduced to banality by certain clueless TV commentators at John Paul II's funeral, who said things like, "This may be the last chance for the Church to become relevant." (I kid you not, they really said that.)

Uh huh. Gotta become relevant to the secular rationalist world, or....or what? Thing is, the secular welfarist world is dying. Literally, in Europe and Japan, which are facing demographic collapse. Someone recently pointed out that by 2050, 60% of Italians will not know the experience of having brothers/sisters/aunts/uncles/nephews or nieces. And spiritually dying---dead--producing no exciting new ideas or movements, no compelling art, taking no risks, believing in nothing enough to fight for it (which fits a lot of Blue State America too). While the Catholic Church, and the non-liberal Protestant Churches are growing vigorously, and still produce people willing to die for their faith. (And, just as meaningful, to put aside a lot of personal pleasures, and follow God's command to be fruitful and multiply.)

I suspect there's "a last chance to become relevant" happening for somebody, but it's not who the Hollywood script says it is...

Posted by John Weidner at January 3, 2006 9:35 PM
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