Ratzinger bagging Hindus? I don’t think so…

I received a strange comment (unpublished) to an old 2007 Christmas post on this blog. The comment was:

it is interesting that no one has picked up on the pope’s citation of Origen in the homily–namely, Origen’s insistence that pagans such as Hindus can’t love or reason. I’m surprised India hasn’t objected to the insult.

The homily to which this comment refers is the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass homily for this Christmas Eve (given just after he was jumped by a woman from the congregation and pulled to the ground – nice to know that our 82 year old pontiff bounces – I fell over myself the other day and am still suffering the bruises, so I hope that Papa B is okay. Poor old Cardinal Etchegaray wasn’t so lucky. He ended up with a broken hip…

Reader: Get ON with the story!

Schütz: Ok, ok… keep your shirt on… just thought you all might be interested…).

Right, where was I? Oh yes, the Holy Father’s reference to Hindus in his Christmas Homily. What, you say? You didn’t hear him mention Hindus? No, neither did I. Yet that did not stop the anonymous author of the “Insight” blog (not to be confused with the “Insight Scoop” web page of Ignatius Press) from publishing this commentary: “Ratzinger at the Vatican: Hindus can’t love”.

Of course, the reason why there has been no reaction from India is that the Holy Father said nothing of the sort. What he said was:

God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).

So, the author of the “Insight” post is surely drawing a long shot by equating Origen’s “pagans” with the Hindus. Those who follow the Hindu religions (and there are many of them) would hardly self-identify as worshippers of “stones and wood”. For that matter, it would be unlikely that any modern day (neo-)Pagans (I met one at the Parliament of the World’s Religions – an interesting coversation…) would identify with this either.

The Holy Father’s point is surely this: God revealed himself in flesh not in stone. This corresponds with the prophecy “I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36). It is the heart of flesh which has passions, feelings, and, yes, love, not the heart of stone.

The irony of today’s situation is that the general religious Zeitgeist has turned from (as in Origen’s day) worshipping “stones and wood” to worshipping “pure spirit” – which actually rejects the flesh. My guess is that “pure spirit” religion can end up being just as passionless, unmoving and unloving as “stones and wood” religion. The Pope’s Christmas message challenges us to see God in the sign of the flesh and blood baby in the manger and the flesh and blood man on the Cross.

He wasn’t bagging Hindus.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Ratzinger bagging Hindus? I don’t think so…

  1. Kiran

    Ah, but he didn’t say anything about worshippers of wood and stone. He was talking about hearts of wood and stone, not so much about pagans as paganism. Insofar as it applies more to explicit pagans as to other people, I don’t see it as a problem. My name-saint, after all, was responsible for the destruction of a pagan temple.

    I suspect Pope Benedict’s (and Origen’s) message is applicable to the pagan in all of us. After all, it was the Jews who built the golden calf. It is we in our daily life who are tempted and fall into idolatry, whether our idols are ourselves or of things.

    What was interesting about the homily is that (as Glenn pointed out to me) the Pope quoted Origen thrice, and no other Father.