The Error of Pope Benedict

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?

Advertisements

18 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

18 responses to “The Error of Pope Benedict

  1. Past Elder

    Well, if Benedict keeps reading Luther and Nietzsche and Scripture, he may just turn out OK!

    There is no jump whatever in going from Luther to the Enlightenment to Marx as you said in the post after this one. I used to think that was the progression itself myself, when the basis of everything still had to be, “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church”.

    I argued in my dissertation that Luther was something of a Descartes in religion, relocating the basis of understanding from the perception of an objective and valid order to the perception itself, leading to an orgy of personal “freedom” from whose excesses Marxism et al arose as well intended but false deliverers.

    In those days I also thought that Nietzsche’s understanding of Christianity was fatally flawed because it derived from his Lutheran background, and when he came to reject it he was right, wrong only in continuing to think Lutheran Christianity was Christianity.

    Fact is, Nietzsche despised Luther. He thought he was the great calamity among Germans. Why? Because when he went to Rome he did not rejoice in what he found there and find it a revival of the ancient Greek and nobly human values over a cloud of mediaeval ignorance, and instead found it “corrupt” and led the church back into mediaeval ignorance and anti-human values.

    Oh well. “Pastoral reasons” seems to be the buzzword by which all sorts of nonsense is excused in the post-conciliar church. Isn’t it great that with the nouvelle theologians we finally are arriving after two millennia at what Christianity really is even though it has been protected all that time by a divinely mandated mmagisterium?

    Hah! Thus does an imperial religion seek to maintain an existence in a world long past its empire, rather than trade on its former empire’s significance.
    Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, loathed Luther

  2. Past Elder

    Great blogging Judas, I forgot to erase the orginal beginning — incipit, so zu sagen — of my post from the end of the final text. However, the oversight does allow the mention of Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, as the only philosopher worth reading, which I didn’t say in the comment I finally wrote. Looks like I out two ms in magisterium too. Then again, maybe those errors are true and proper in some degree as well, for pastoral reasons and for a pastoral purpose, giving great hope to the ecumenism so central to the Second Vatican Council.

    Just as long as it ends up in the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, it’s OK. That’s the message of “the Catholic Church”.

  3. Schütz

    Yep, that pretty well sums it up, I guess, PE.

    Now, how do we get you to “end up in the Catholic Church”…?

  4. Past Elder

    Well I guess that will happen when I revert to making the Catholic Church my god and believe everything else because of it.

    As I used to.

  5. Terra

    I would suggest that the Pope’s return to the great witnesses to Tradition is its own statement that Tradition is just as important (and in some ways more so since it enables us to properly understand) Scripture.

  6. matthias

    Nietzsche I spent an entire semester trying to study him and found him more honest than ponsy Fuerbach. I think the saddest thing with Nietzsche was his talking to the horse that had been beaten-which was symptomatic of the tertiary syphilis that finally put him in the asylum.

  7. Louise

    I don’t get the appeal of Nietzsche. His name is hard to spell and his views (the very few I’ve read) are utterly repellent.

    More Paters and Aves for PE, everyone.

  8. Schütz

    I think the Pope likes Neetsha…Nitschke, niTkshze, Neitshe (does quick google search:) NIETZSCHE because he was wrong for the right reasons.

    That is an interesting philosophical idea in itself, nicht wahr?

  9. Past Elder

    Feuerbach? Gott hilf mir. Well at least what was once controversial among professors is now the worldview of your average college sophomore.

    Hegelians. Judas in the faculty lounge.

    Actually, faculty lounges are well stocked with Judases already.

  10. Louise

    he was wrong for the right reasons.

    Could be. I haven’t managed to get past the “wrong,” however.

  11. Past Elder

    What I used to think was tragic about Nietzsche was that he thought Lutheranism was Christianity, and when he thought that through to its conclusion and found it ridiculous, he thought Christianity was ridiculous and tried to construct a value system on the ancient Greeks, and never knew real Christianity, Catholicism.

  12. Louise

    I don’t know enough about Nietzsche to even know that much, PE, all I know is that the little I’ve read of him (and it would only be a few selected quotes here and there) sounded atrocious.

    What do you like him? (By which I mean, why do you think he’s the only philosopher worth reading?)

  13. Louise

    I’m really having trouble writing today – I meant, “why do you like him?”

  14. matthias

    Although I said I found Nietzsche more honest that Pons Feurbach,yet his system of philosophy probably was a great contributor to Nazi ideology-the Superman ideal.
    Interesting that another pons or is it ponce-Australian Darryl Lindsay- drew blasphemous pictures of the Crucifixion,because like our esteemed Nietzsche,he despised the ‘weakness” of Christianity. This is the same Darkness of the Sunburnt Soul that is evident in a lot of Australian artists,about as bigger bunch of Judas’s as your academics PE

  15. Past Elder

    If you think the uebermensch idea or anything about Nietzsche resonates with Nazi ideology you are as confused about Nietzsche as they were.

  16. Louise

    Wwll, what did he mean then, PE.

    And it is “ponce,” Matthias.

  17. Past Elder

    Read him. He’s the only philosopher worth reading, not me.

  18. Past Elder

    He wrote a lot of stuff, so my comment was a little too little.

    I’d suggest, if one is either starting or intends to read only one work, Beyond Good and Evil. It’s more or less his attempt to put into prose Also Sprach Zarathustra.

    Zarathustra is just German for Zoroaster. However Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is not the Persian Zoroaster, indeed almost despite, or in spite, of the Persian Zoroaster.