Sunday, February 17, 2013

Theologian in Residence - by Cornelius Sullivan

Viva Benedetto!

February 17, 2013
By Cornelius Sullivan

After his abdication as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church Cardinal Ratzinger will continue to be what he has always been, Theologian in Residence. He has realized that he can no longer be a visible apostle.

Not yet a Bishop or Cardinal, looking like the actor James Dean, Father Joseph Ratzinger was a young behind the scenes theological adviser even before the Second Vatican Council began.

Last Thursday Pope Benedict reminisced about those times, relaxed after his big announcement from earlier in the week, and without a written text, speaking to the clergy of Rome, “He told of how Cardinal Frings of Cologne asked him in 1961 to write about 'The Council and the World of Modern Thought’. (In 2005 Pope Benedict made his first foreign trip as Pope to Cologne World Youth Day.) Frings presented the text to the public and was then summoned to Rome by Pope John XXIII. Benedict said Cardinal Fring, “was afraid he had perhaps said maybe something incorrect, false, and that he had been asked to come for a reprimand, perhaps even to deprive him of his red hat. Pope John came towards him and hugged him, saying, 'Thank you, Your Eminence, you said things I have wanted to say, but I had not found the words to say.’ Thus, the Cardinal knew he was on the right track, and I was invited to accompany him to the Council.” 1.

Benedict has been the preeminent theologian serving the Church ever since.

Father Robert Barron has been asked to asses Pope Benedict’s legacy. He made a video:
Barron pointed out three things; Benedict has been an interpreter of Vatican II, secondly he has talked about what the Church says “yes” to, the joy of the Faith, and finally Barron mentions his Christo-centric theology. About the latter Barron said that “it is unprecedented in the history of the papacy that a reigning pope would write a major work of theology, the book he always wanted to write, on Jesus.”

My own related list of enduring contributions begins with Benedict’s emphasis on the importance of beauty. I often quote his one short sentence that is so big, “The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the artwhich has grown in her womb.” 2.

Benedict, the scholar, does not mention the Church’s academic tradition, he points out two realities were the Faith is en-fleshed and that inspire pilgrimages, to Assisi because of Saint Francis, and to the Sistine Chapel for sacred art.

Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar spoke of beauty in a way similar to Benedict when he said, “Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” 3.  

About sacred art and linking the trinity of beauty, truth, and goodness, that link that Balthasar and Benedict understand, John Saward said, “Robbed of sacred art, the Christian can become blind to the beauty of Divine Revelation. And that is disastrous, for, when sundered from beauty, truth becomes correctness without splendor and goodness a value of no delight.” 4.

Benedict has written eloquently and repeatedly about the importance of Sacred Art, Sacred Music, and reverent liturgy. Even though the guitar Mass still persists as a misguided Aggiornamento of Vatican II, Pope Benedict has always insisted that we have better. Speaking about music he links the beautiful with the true. “The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: "Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true." The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer's inspiration.” 5.

Secondly, I have noticed that Pope Benedict has developed what I call a “Theology of the Face”, (not analogous to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a collection of thematically linked writings from many years), but a theme that Benedict has embraced and spoken about repeatedly, the face of God. That phrase has now become a part of the Mass. A journalist has written, “(Pope) Benedict explained that Dante's Divine Comedy had inspired him to write his first encyclical on love. (Deus Caritas Est) In the inner light of Dante's paradise, we do not encounter a still brighter light, but instead the gentle face of a human being: the face of Jesus Christ. The fact that God has a "human face" is the moving climax of Dante's journey from hell to paradise. 6.

And Benedict has made pilgrimages to Turin to see the image of the man on the Shroud and in 2006 to Manoppello in the Abruzzi Mountains to see the “Holy Face” of Jesus on cloth. He said, “Should we not see in God’s hiding of himself the true catastrophe of the world, and therefore all the more loudly and urgently cry out to God that he show his face to us?” At World Youth Day in 2007 the headline was,“ Pope Urges Youth to Search for God’s Face”. He called his book Jesus of Nazareth his “Search for the Face of the Lord”.

Benedict’s Theology of the Face is in tune with his idea that the revitalization of the Faith should be a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not a philosophical system or an institutional advancement. It is not unrelated to John Paul’s Theology of the Body in that both have to do with the dignity of the human person, and that both are in opposition to the materialism of Enlightenment philosophy, and to the idea that truth is relative.

Another theme of Benedict’s reign has been his assertion of the compatibility of Faith and Reason and of his recognition of the tyranny of relativism.
Theologian Michael Waldstein in the introduction to his translation of Pope John Paul II's The Theology of the Body says that, "The scientific rationalism spearheaded by Descartes (Philosopher Rene Descartes in 1613) is above all an attack on the body. Its first principle is that the human body, together with all matter, shall be seen as an object of power. Form and final cause must therefore be eliminated from it. The response to such a violent scientific-technological attack on the body must be a defense of the body in its natural intrinsic meaning. The spousal mystery is the primary place at which this defense must take place, because the highest meaning of the body is found there."

Waldstein quotes the philosopher Pope John Paul II countering Descartes' dualism, "The philosopher who formulated the principle of "cogito, ergo sum"-I think, therefore I am- also gave the modern concept of man its distinctive dualistic character. It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter; It is a spiritualized body, just as man's spirit is so closely united to the body that can be described as an embodied spirit." 7.
I have been enlightened by Waldstein in understanding how Descartes’ dualism has led to an end to figurative art and to the assent of Abstract Art and to the acceptance of a completely disembodied art, art as just an idea, that is called Conceptual Art.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was asked by his fellow Black Ministers how he chose which laws to break for righteousness. He said the ones that violate natural law. The Catholic Church has been the consistent voice, supported by natural law, in opposition to Enlightenment’s materialistic attacks on the value of the individual human person.

Another legacy of Pope Benedict, that is ongoing and is still developing, involves the fruits of his trip to England. It looked to be an imminent disaster, with even threats of his arrest, and many demonstrations, but he captivated the island. It was a moving visit where the culturally advanced British relished the intellectual depth of his words. It was the first state visit of a Roman Pontiff since the Reformation. He did not see Queen Elizabeth as the head of the church that broke from Rome because of the king’s divorce. He praised Her Majesty as an enduring consistent Christian Monarch and she acknowledged his moral presence in the world.

We have seen Pope Benedict’s joy and he has many times surprised the world with his boldness. Viva Benedetto!

1. Robert Moynihan, The Moynihan LettersFebruary 14, 2013.
2. The Ratzinger Report  Messori, 1988.
3. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological
Aesthetics: Seeing the Form, #1, 1982.
4. John Saward, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty, Ignatius Press 1997.
5. Message to Communion and Liberation, August 2002RiminiItaly, made available May 2, 2005, Zenit)     
6. Paul Badde, Inside the Vatican Magazine, March, 2006, page 8.
7. John Paul II, Man and Women He Created Them, A Theology of the Body, Translated by Michael Waldstein, 2006.

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