Friday, September 11, 2015

Salt of the Earth

Fr. Chadwick does me the honor of writing a post in response to my previous entry. I always appreciate Fr. Chadwick's blog - there is an erudition, depth of thought, and genuine human sensitivity one doesn't find often in the open exchange of ideas.

One observation genuinely resonated with me:

When Pope Francis goes the way of all of us, who knows?Cardinal Burke for Pope! I don’t think so. What the Church needs is not conservatism but vision. Benedict XVI had it, but he was unable to translate it into terms that would be understood by ordinary folk and priests brought up on slops since the 1970’s and earlier in some places.

I am part of that group that spent roughly the last decade of John Pail II's pontificate hoping one day Ratzinger would walk out on that balcony of St. Peters to the words "habemus papam!"

That day came and by the mid point of his papacy it seemed everything happened that ought not to have happened. As Fr. Chadwick notes, Ratzinger was not and is not a conservative. He is a German Romantic with a theological, liturgical, ecclesiological and cultural vision. The vision proved too complex for his mass conservative fan base and liberal detractors to understand, marked as it was with intellectual rigor, precision, and subtlety. Needless to say, it never translated well in age where mass communication necessitates compressing content into readily accessible messaging and messaging is more often than not used to manipulate public opinion.

At the time, it was tempting to accuse Ratzinger of banal restorationism. I am roundly guilty of having done this. Amid the throng of conservatives presenting Ratzinger as their ideology finally come to power, it was easy to forget the content of his vision.

There remains speculation as to why Benedict resigned. Whatever the reason, his supporters and detractors failed to understand the vision he had for the Roman Church and the content was translated into a torrid parody of the real thing. Is it because Ratzinger himself wasn't able to aptly communicate it to a mass religion? Perhaps, or perhaps more accurately he failed to understand that mass religions are scarcely the forum for complexity or subtlety, prone as most humans are to immediately bifurcated thinking.

This is part of the reason his pontificate failed. Another factor was his insistence in calling crisis of belief and culture for what it is. Ratzinger was never a proponent of the forced optimism of Vatican II and I'm not sure he was particularly keen on a new springtime of the faith or new Pentecost. For those who could comprehend his mind, Ratzinger's vision did not suffer delusional optimism well.

Further to the above, his vision of a leaner but more committed Catholicism positively terrified much of his hierarchy. It frankly did not translate well for people who cannot conceive of a Christianity that survives by working around the system, not as part of the system. Those same persons have found tremendous comfort in recent years.

Under the present pontificate, the Roman Church has a crowd pleaser and everyone can ignore both the decline of their religion and the radical opposition of their host culture to it. Those who accused Ratzinger of pessimism can rekindle their fantasy of Church once again relevant to the West, and throw up their hands in befuddlement when the march of secularization continues to eviscerate their religion despite whatever compromises may or may not come.

Ultimately, Ratzinger's idea of a leaner Roman Church, unencumbered by the institutional girth so much of the episcopacy is grasping to retain, will be a reality. The difference is, with Ratzinger it would have been a proactive decision. The current trend increasingly makes the likely future a consequence of events, rather than an exercise of reason and will.

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. --- Alcuin of Tours

1 comment:

  1. Perceptio, what I think has come full circle is the cult of Popes. We have now the open spectacle of conservatives and progressives pitting one Pope against another. The popular centre-stage egocentrism of Pope John Paul II and the popular eccentrism of Pope Francis are just the latest examples that contrast with the introverts like Benedict XVI, but the truth seems to be that Catholics of whatever stripe have it in their DNA to want and respond – one way or another – to a leader, an emperor, a saviour. (And not necessarily, Jesus! Even in the early days, there were some for Paul, some for Apollos, and some for Cephas.) In my view, Catholicism is at its very root, popularist , and syncretic, and thrives on spectacle – whether as in the past Eucharistic ‘congresses’, or today’s ‘World Youth Days’, or High Masses of whatever kind, or simple saint or Mary statue processions through the village. The truth is that the cult of infallible popes was bound to implode once too many disagreed with this one or that one. Apart from anyone in remote villages or those of particular humility, nearly every ‘Catholic’ is now fundamentally a ‘protestant’ in one or more areas. The evolution from blind dumb collective acquiescence to often understudied idiosyncratic self-determination is almost complete. The future of papal authority in the sense its primitive origins might have envisaged is probably a doomed one. Indeed, in Geoffrey Hull’s book, which you cite, the liturgical devolution followed – (and follows still, I think) - a similar path. Liturgy and religious piety and practice are now irretrievably self-conscious for vast numbers. However, people will revert to type when they stop thinking and one form of popular devotion or religiosity will arise or surface to take the place of previous ones. The ‘slops of the 70s’ you refer to simply or crudely replaced a different kind of slops – for a different social and political milieu – in earlier decades and centuries.

    Notwithstanding the mysterious and multiple good spiritual things that happen and have always happened on the personal level, and the many inspiring spiritual works by monks and mystics, the rhetoric, language and rationale in so many papal and hierarchical decrees and rulings have expressed a cult of the Church, a cult of rulers, rather than a cult of Christ, so perhaps this implosion of the complacent monolith will be seen in the end to be a good thing.