- Keith Thomas laments the state of the modern university, in Universities under Attack.
- Charles Simic on Serenity.
- Alan Hollinghurst and Jeffrey Eugenides on the art of fiction.
- The Changi POW artwork of Des Bettany is finally online – a beautiful project. Speaking of war art, check out Macy Halford’s piece on An Artist’s War.
- Chad Marshall reviews Mark S. Gignilliat’s Karl Barth and the Fifth Gospel: Barth’s Theological Exegesis of Isaiah.
- Michiko Kakutani reviews Robert Hughes’s Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History.
- Jarrod M. Longbons’s interview with Tracey Rowland on Pope Benedict XVI.
- The gospel according to Stephen Fry; and Fry on London.
- The Centre for Theology and Ministry (Uniting Church in Australia) is seeking a new Professor of Systematic Theology.
- Robert Fisk on bankers as the dictators of the West.
- Ben Myers looks through an icon of theophany.
- Rick Floyd reminds me of that old Bing Crosby cassette I probably still have laying around in a box somewhere.
- A Rowan Williams lecture on The Future of Interfaith Dialogue.
- Crispin Blunt’s lecture on Restorative Justice.
- Steve Holmes reviews Scot McKnight’s Junia Is Not Alone.
- Finally, I’m still relishing John Updike’s Higher Gossip.
Since being exposed, many moons ago now, to Hans Küng’s excellent book The Church, I’ve tried, slowly, to get my eyes upon everything available by Küng. In fact, I’ve just finished reading his book Eternal Life?: Life After Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. Like his other work – indeed, as with all great thinkers – one need not agree with everything he says to learn much from him. Anyway, I’m waffling. The point of this post is simply to draw attention to the fact that Der Speigel has just published a very frank and interesting two-part interview with Küng (‘Part 1: A Putinization of the Catholic Church’, and ‘Part 2: The Catholic Church Will Undoubtedly Become More Protestant’) in which the main subject of attention is, somewhat unsurprisingly given the titles, the non-gospel shape of Pope Benedict’s leadership. It made me wonder for a moment if Küng had been reading Forsyth! Anyway, here’s a few snippets:
Ratzinger’s predecessor, John Paul II, launched a program of ecclesiastical and political restoration, which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. He wanted a re-Christianization of Europe. And Ratzinger was his most loyal assistant, even at an early juncture. One could call it a period of restoration of the pre-council Roman regime …
In my view, the Catholic Church as a community of faith will be preserved, but only if it abandons the Roman system of rule. We managed to get by without this absolutist system for 1,000 years. The problems began in the 11th century, when the popes asserted their claim to absolute control over the Church, by applying a form of clericalism that deprived the laity of all power. The celibacy rule also stems from that era … It’s true that this absolutism is an essential element of the Roman system. But it was never an essential element of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council did everything to move away from it, but unfortunately it wasn’t thorough enough. No one dared to criticize the pope directly, but there was an emphasis on the pope’s collegial relationship with the bishops, which was designed to integrate him into the community again …
The shamelessness with which the Vatican’s policy has simply hushed up and neglected the concept of collegiality since then is beyond compare. An unparalleled personality cult prevails once again today, which contradicts everything written in the New Testament. In this sense, one can state this very clearly. Benedict has even accepted the gift of a tiara, a papal crown, the medieval symbol of absolute papal power, which an earlier pope, Paul VI, chose to surrender. I think this is outrageous. He could change all of this overnight, if he wanted to …
In the past, the Roman system was compared with the communist system, one in which one person had all the say. Today I wonder if we are not perhaps in a phase of “Putinization” of the Catholic Church. Of course I don’t want to compare the Holy Father, as a person, with the unholy Russian statesman. But there are many structural and political similarities. Putin also inherited a legacy of democratic reforms. But he did everything he could to reverse them. In the Church, we had the Council, which initiated renewal and ecumenical understanding. Even pessimists couldn’t have imagined that such setbacks were possible after that. The Polish pope’s restoration policy, beginning in the 1980s, made it possible for the like-minded head of the highly secretive Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), once known as the Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition – and it’s still an inquisition, despite its new name – to be elected pope.
Ratzinger’s essay on the conscience, despite making some valuable observations, is not a little disappointing. (It’s also hard to see how Amazon US sellers can in all good conscience charge $66+ for an 82 page book! … especially when you can pick it up direct from the publisher for $14.95 or from Amazon UK for £3.95). That said, it includes some interesting reflections on how Ratzinger understands the authority of the papacy, something that most Protestants dinna hae a scooby about:
‘The pope cannot impose commandments on faithful Catholics because he wants to or finds it expedient. Such a modern, voluntaristic concept of authority can only distort the true theological meaning of the papacy. The true nature of the Petrine office has become so incomprehensible in the modern age no doubt because we think of authority only on terms that do not allow for bridges between subject and object, Accordingly, everything that does not come from the subject is thought to be externally imposed’. – Joseph Ratzinger, On Conscience: Two Essays (Philadelphia/San Francisco: The National Catholic Bioethics Center/Ignatius Press, 2007 ), 34.
‘One can comprehend the primacy of the pope and its correlation to Christian conscience only in this connection. The true sense of the teaching authority of the pope consists in his being the advocate of Christian memory. The pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the pope, because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory on which the faith is based – and which again and again must be purified, expanded, and defended against the destruction of memory that is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation, as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity’. (p. 36)
If nothing else, these words ought to encourage Protestants (and not least pastors, many of whom secretly aspire to be popes) to do the same work that Ratzinger is attempting to do: to think (and to keep thinking) about the nature and source of authority, and about the relationship between the Gospel and the offices of the church.
In a fascinating discussion on praying for the dead, Ratzinger offers the following observation on what it means to be human being: ‘Yet the being of man is not, in fact, that of a closed monad. It is related to others by love or hate, and, in these ways, has its colonies within them. My own being is present in others as guilt or as grace. We are not just ourselves; or, more correctly, we are ourselves only as being in others, with others and through others. Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us and turn our guilt into love – this is part of our own destiny. The fact that the saints will judge means that encounter with Christ is encounter with his whole body. I come face to face with my own guilt vis-à-vis the suffering members of the body as well as with the forgiving love which the body derives from Christ its Head … This intercession is the one truly fundamental element in their “judging.” Through their exercising of such judgment they belong, as people who both pray and save, to the doctrine of Purgatory and to the Christian practice which goes with it. As Charles Péguy so beautifully put it, “J’espère en toi pour moi”: “I hope in you for me.” It is when the “I” is at stake that the “you” is called upon in the form of hope’. – Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (ed. Aidan Nichols; trans. Michael Waldstein; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 232.
“In hope we were saved” (Spe salvi facti sumus). Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe salvi, released in late 2007, begins with this quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:24). Benedict goes on immediately to speak of redemption: “According to the Christian faith, “redemption” – salvation – is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present.” Commenting on this encyclical is the German Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who has for years pondered a theology of hope.
If we compare Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, with Vatican II’s 1965 document on “Joy and Hope,” or Gaudium et Spes (also known as “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), the peculiarity of Benedict’s encyclical immediately catches our eye. Benedict’s encyclical is intended for church insiders; it is aimed spiritually and pastorally at the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and “all Christian believers.” It limits Christian hope to the faithful and separates them from those in the world “who have no hope.”
By contrast, Gaudium et Spes begins with the church’s deep solidarity with “the entire human family.” This solidarity is described as follows: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” The Vatican II document addresses and responds to the concerns of today’s world: human dignity and human rights as well as peace and the development of an international community.
None of these concerns is discussed in Benedict’s encyclical, which begins neither with the solidarity of Christians with all people nor with the universal “God of hope.” Rather, it subjectively and ecclesially begins with “us”: “in hope we are saved.” We and not the others; the church and not the world. This is a stark distinction indeed between the believing and the unbelieving or otherwise-believing: we have hope – the others have no hope.
“Faith is hope” is the first heading following the introduction and is the encyclical’s primary expression of confidence. What is meant, however, is actually the reverse. “Hope is synonymous with faith.” With this formulation, the distinctive character of Christian hope falls away. The encyclical could also have been called “Through Faith We Are Saved.” One wonders why Paul and the entire theological tradition of faith and hope have thus been altered.
The encyclical positions itself apologetically in response to modern complaints that Christian hope is “individualistic” and in contrast calls it communal. Salvation has always been seen as a “social reality.” “While this community-oriented vision of the ‘blessed life’ is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world.” Yet the section ends with a warning: “Are we perhaps seeing once again, in the light of current history, that no positive world order can prosper where souls are overgrown?”
What is lacking in the papal writing? What is missing is the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed. What is missing is the message of the lordship of the risen Christ over the living and the dead and the entire cosmos that we find in the apostle Paul. What is missing is the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come” as it appears in the creeds. What is missing is the salvation of a groaning creation and the hope of a new earth where justice dwells. In short, what is missing is the hope of the all-encompassing promise of God who is coming: “See, I am making all things new.” By limiting hope to the blessedness of souls in eternal life, Benedict also leaves out the prophetic promises of the Old Testament. Christian hope then becomes hard to differentiate from a Gnostic religion of salvation.
The encyclical criticizes the modern world’s faith in the idea of progress and human delusions of grandeur. Because faith in progress was finished off by the catastrophes of both world wars in the 20th century, the papal critique resembles the killing of a corpse. The same applies to the critique of the modern Age of Reason and the modern bourgeois and socialist revolutions of freedom. The enthusiasm of the philosopher Immanuel Kant for the Enlightenment is discarded while feudalism and its absolutism that granted no rights is ignored. The corpse of Marxism is subsequently convicted of “fundamental errors.” Marx’s real error is materialism. “He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil.” Late-born anti-Marxism is rarely more smoothly put!
The pope appropriates the “self-critique” of modernity that came to expression in Frankfurt School philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s treatment of “the dialectic of enlightenment”: “Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.” That will not convince modern, thinking persons, however, since they have already absorbed this self-criticism, and for it they need no theology.
Supported by the Second Vatican Council, Catholic and Protestant theologians entered into Christian-Marxist dialogue in the 1960s through the Catholic Paulus-Gesellschaft. The participants tried to bring the humanistic Marxists, who were acquainted with evil and knew the power of death, near to grace and the hope of the resurrection. Milan Machovec and Roger Garaudy understood very well the deficiency of the immanent hopes of the modern age, and we theologians, for our part, took up their passion for the liberation of the oppressed and for the rights of the humiliated. The “theology of hope” and the “theology of liberation” arose from a cooperative-critical engagement with the situation of modernity. “Political theology” shaped greater frameworks for the deepest solidarity of the church “with the entire human family.”
The statement that “a world without God is a world without hope” is in its simplicity empirically misleading, for a world with God is empirically also a world with resignation and terror in the name of God. Hope depends on the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ, on the God of the resurrection of the coming kingdom on earth. Only this One is the “God of hope.” Only this God is expected to be the “One who comes.”
The encyclical does well to name “settings for learning and practicing hope.” “Prayer as a school of hope” is named first. That is certainly correct. But prayer is just as much a school of faith. What joins hope to prayer? It is watching. In the temptation of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the sleeping disciples only this: “So could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation.” Prayer is always linked with waking up to the world of God and the awakening of all the senses. In prayer we hear and speak, in watching we open our eyes and all our senses for the arrival of God in our life and in the world. Praying with Christ belongs to the spirituality of watchful senses by which we “see” Christ in the poor, sick and imprisoned. That watching is the setting for the learning of hope.
Finally, the encyclical names “judgment as a setting for learning and practicing hope.” That too is not false. But I want to direct the view of the end toward the beginning. The origin of hope is birth, not death. The birth of a new life is an occasion for hope. The rebirth of lived life is an occasion for even greater hope. And when the dead are raised, they enter into the fulfilled hope of life. The setting for learning hope in life, therefore, is the possibility of starting anew and a new beginning, the true freedom.
Benedict XVI closes with a hymn to Mary, the humble and obedient handmaiden of the Lord, who becomes the mother of all the faithful and is named “the Mother of hope.” This is in the Bible, but so too is the other Mary, the Mary who rejoiced in God her Savior: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). She takes the song of Hannah from the book of Samuel and praises the revolutionary God of the prophets. Paul saw this God at work in the community of Christ: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, the things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are … Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:27b-28, 31).
The God who creates justice for those who suffer violence, the God who has raised up the degraded and crucified Jesus, that is the God of hope for Mary, the prophets and the apostles.
[Source: The Christian Century]
The Centre of Theology and Philosophy and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham are holding a workshop on ‘The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth’ on 19th and 20th June 2008 in Nottingham.
The publication of the book Jesus of Nazareth on 16 April 2007 was an unprecedented event: never before had a reigning Pope published personal reflections on Jesus. The book engages not just with New Testament scholarship but also with fundamental methodological questions related to historical criticism. Moreover, it resonates with wider questions of scriptural reading, Christology, ecclesiology and relations with Judaism and Islam. This workshop will be the first extended theological discussion in the UK on Joseph Ratzinger’s book.
Among the speakers, there will be Professor John Milbank, Professor Markus Bockmuehl, Professor emeritus Geza Vermes FBA, Archbishop Martínez, Fergus Kerr OP, Professor Walter Moberly, Olivier-Thomas Venard OP and Professor Mona Siddiqui.
The event is being supported by the British Academy.
‘Christian faith means understanding our existence as a response to the Word, the Logos, that sustains and maintains all things. It means affirming the fact that the meaningfulness that we do not create but can only receive has already been given to us’. – Joseph Ratzinger, Einführung in das Christentum. Vorlesungen über das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntnis (Munich: Kösel, 1968), 47.
Within the past week, on the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle and on the eve of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI released an encyclical letter, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope). In his introduction he writes, ‘Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’.
Even if not convincing at all points, it is a rich document that deserves close reading and reflection. Here’s a particularly rich taster:
47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning-it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice-the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together-judgement and grace-that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).
Just finished reading Ratzinger’s 2003 address ‘On the Relationship between the Magisterium and Exegetes’ which he presented on the 100th Anniversary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I’ve always enjoyed Ratzinger’s writing, and this piece is no different. I thought I’d just share a few gems:
‘The pilgrim people of God … knows … that it neither speaks nor acts by itself, but is indebted to the ne who makes them a people: the same living God who speaks to them through the authors of the individual books [of Scripture]’.
‘The mere objectivity of the historical method does not exist. It is simply impossible to ompletely exclude philosophy or hermeneutical foresight’.
‘A God who cannot intervene in history and reveal Himself in it is not he God of the Bible. In this way the reality of the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary, the effective institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper, his bodily resurrection from the dead – this is the meaning of the empty tomb – are elements of the faith as such, which it can and must defend against an only presumably superior historical knowledge. That Jesus – in all that is essential – was effectively who the Gospels reveal him to be to us is not mere historical conjecture, but a fact of faith. Objections which seek to convince us to the contrary are not the expression of an effective scientific knowledge, but are an arbitrary over-evaluation of the method. What we have learned in the meantime, moreover, is that many questions in their particulars must remain open-ended and be entrusted to a conscious interpretation of their responsibilities. This introduces the second level of the problem: it is not simply a question of making a list of historical elements indispensable to the faith. It is a question of seeing what reason can do, and why the faith can be reasonable and reason open to faith’.
‘Faith and science, Magisterium and exegesis, therefore, are no longer opposed as worlds closed in on themselves. Faith itself is a way of knowing. Wanting to set it aside does not produce pure objectivity, but comprises a point of view which excludes a particular perspective while not wanting to take into account the accompanying conditions of the chosen point of view’.
You can read the entire address here.