Yes, my friends, Pope Benedict has made an error. I freely admit and acknowledge it. His judgement is wrong. He made a mistake.
Reader: What! Schütz admits that the Pope is not infallible?
Schütz: Well, we all know the Pope is human, and can make errors when not teaching ex cathedra on faith and morals.
Reader: Well, don’t keep us in suspense: What is this great “error” of Pope Benedict?
Schütz: It is this: He has decided to cut his catecheses on St Paul at his weekly general audience short by several months. Instead of continuing to teach on St Paul for the whole of the Pauline Year, he has chosen to finish up the current series, and has returned to his reflections on the other saints of the Church.
The series (which he began with the opening of the Jubilee Year last July – you can find the whole series here and here) has been absolutely marvellous, the only problem is that it has been much too brief. Surely more could have been said about this great saint and his writings? The Holy Father has covered some key themes, and some of the epistles. But could he not have extended his reflections with some systematic look at each of the Epistles? And he has in no way exhausted the possibilities for reflections on Pauline themes.
All that being said, the two last catecheses – on the Pastoral Epistles and Paul’s Death and Legacy – have some very interesting elements.
The catechesis on the Pastoral Epistles contains some interesting stuff on the way the Pope Benedict personally reads the situation with regard to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and the structure of ministry in the Apostolic Church. Here is one comment on the latter of some note:
The other reminder is a reference to the good “deposit” (parathéke) [1 Tim 6:20]: a special word found in the Pastoral Letters and used to indicate the tradition of the apostolic faith which must be safeguarded with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This “deposit” is therefore to be considered as the sum of the apostolic Tradition, and as a criterion of faithfulness to the Gospel message. And here we must bear in mind that the term “Scriptures”, when used in the Pastoral Letters, as in all the rest of the New Testament, means explicitly the Old Testament, since the writings of the New Testament either had not yet been written or did not yet constitute part of the Scriptural canon. Therefore the Tradition of the apostolic proclamation, this “deposit”, is the key to the reading of the Scriptures, the New Testament. In this sense, Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and the apostolic proclamation as a key, are set side by side, and almost merge to form together the “firm foundation laid by God” (cf. 2 Tm 2: 19 ). The apostolic proclamation that is, Tradition is necessary in order to enter into an understanding of the Scriptures, and to hear the voice of Christ in them. We must, in fact, “hold firm to the sure word as taught” by the teaching received (Ti 1: 9).
The last catechesis – on Paul’s legacy – is interesting at several points for those interested in Lutheran/Catholic dialogue. Here are a few selections. Your comments would be appreciated:
A true turning point was reached in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation. The decisive moment in Luther’s life was the “Turmerlebnis” (1517), the moment in which he discovered a new interpretation of the Pauline doctrine of justification. It was an interpretation that freed him from the scruples and anxieties of his previous life and gave him a new radical trust in the goodness of God who forgives all, unconditionally.
It is interesting to note that in reporting Luther’s “discovery” in this way, the Holy Father does not condemn Luther’s “new interpretation” – he rather emphasises its pastoral and spiritual effect upon Luther. By extension, the Holy Father could be taken to say that he acknowledges that the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone can be recognised to have positive pastoral benefits for others who are searching for “a new radical trust in the goodness of God who forgives all, unconditionally”. This would seem to concur with Chris Burgwald’s doctoral thesis which I am reading at the moment, in which the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue has generally recognised the “pastoral purpose” of the Lutheran doctrine of “simul justus et peccator”. There is a lot in this which I hope to explore further in the future. But we digress. The Pope goes on:
From that time Luther identified Judaeo-Christian legalism, condemned by the Apostle, with the order of life of the Catholic Church. And the Church therefore appeared to him as an expression of the slavery of the law which he countered with the freedom of the Gospel. The Council of Trent, from 1545 to 1563, profoundly interpreted the question of justification and found the synthesis between law and Gospel to be in line with the entire Catholic tradition, in conformity with the message of Sacred Scripture read in its totality and unity.
Now there you have the Holy Father’s own personal critique of Luther and of what he believes to have been the real error in Luther’s reformation. I guess we can see that this same error is not completely absent in the Church today, as demonstrated by our discussions regarding the benefits or otherwise of submission to the law of the Church in relation to the case of St Mary’s South Brisbane. But he has more still to say that is of interest for Lutherans:
Let us set this aside and examine the essential current of the new scientific interpretation of Sacred Scripture and of the new Paulinism of that century. Here, the concept of freedom has been emphasized as central to Pauline thought; in it was found the heart of Pauline thought, as Luther, moreover, had already intuited. Yet the concept of freedom was then reinterpreted in the context of modern liberalism.
And even Lutherans reading this will recognise the way in which many modern protestant liberal exegetes have twisted Luther’s “freedom of the gospel” into something which has been termed “gospel reductionism” – ie. The Gospel sets me free from all constraints, even the constraints of the commandments contained in Holy Scripture. I think that conservative confessional Lutherans will find an ally in Pope Benedict when it comes to that point. But the Holy Father concludes on this point:
In the progress of exegesis, especially in the past 200 years, the points of convergence between Catholic exegesis and Protestant exegesis have increased, thereby achieving a notable consensus precisely on the point that was the origin of the greatest historical dissent. There is thus great hope for the cause of ecumenism, so central to the Second Vatican Council.
I think that the work of the “new perspective” on St Paul – especially as it is expounded by N.T. Wright – would be one example of the way in which new, fresh readings of Paul are opening up a path for renewed consensus between Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine of justification.
And finally, Past Elder will be happy to learn that the Holy Father seems to have some sympathy with the idea that “Nietzsche is the only philosopher worth reading” – he certainly quotes Nietzsche at least as often as he quotes Aquinas in his magisterium these days!
Here we shall prescind from the fact that even in that century, as later in the 20th century, a true and proper denigration of St Paul emerged. I am thinking primarily of Nietzsche, who derided the theology of St Paul’s humility, opposing it with his theology of the strong and powerful man.
“A true and proper denigration” – ie. a denigration for the right reasons! Now there is a back-handed compliment, if ever there was one! Maybe it could be said that Luther’s denigration of the Catholic Church of his day was “true and proper” in some degree as well?