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rigidity revisited

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 26, 2006

"A Tumultuous World Tests a Rigid Pope" reads a Wall Street Journal headline. Well, we've got prelates a-plenty who bend. A little rigidity won't come amiss, especially where the truth is at stake. The article ends on an encouraging note:

Last month several dozen top Catholic theologians crowded into a Vatican chapel for 7:30 a.m. mass with Benedict. The pontiff gave pointed marching orders:

"Speaking just to find applause or to tell people what they want to hear ... is like prostitution," he told the theologians, according to a transcript. "Don't look for applause, but look to obey the truth."

Bull's eye, boss. I've read no small amount of comment about Joseph Ratzinger suggesting that he was traumatized by the student unrest at the University of Tübingen in the late 1960s and that this resulted in a profound temperamental change toward conservatism. There is not one crumb of evidence for this thesis -- beyond the fact that Ratzinger didn't follow the trajectory common to his generation of academics, viz., by giving in to pressure and becoming a squishy Leftist. Compare Ratzinger's writing with that of his contemporaries, pre- and post-1968, and the conclusion is pure Kipling: it was Ratzinger who kept his head when all about him were losing theirs.

Some men of the time (including clergyman-scholars) did become true reactionaries; they were psychologically overwhelmed by the turmoil of those years and so retreated into cloisters or rectories to lick their wounds. They typically developed strange crotchets in dress and mannerism. They ceased any patient engagement with their contemporaries, either withdrawing entirely from the academy or lurching into violent polemics. To put Ratzinger in this category is stupid.

I don't believe, though, that the people who claim Ratzinger to be reactionary are themselves stupid. Most are, or were, harlots -- harlots precisely in the sense that Pope Benedict describes above: they made careers for themselves by seeking applause and telling people what they wanted to hear, and in so doing they put up for sale what ought not to be sold. Those who are conspicuously successful don't like to be reminded of the way they got started ("I was young and needed the money...") and their distinguished professorships make them forgetful of the metaphorical Hershey bars for which they first swapped their virtue. For such persons the existence of a Ratzinger is like a slap on a sunburned back. Small wonder if stung pride tries to make him out to be the weakling.

Jesus displayed forbearance and mercy toward prostitutes, however, and his present vicar has likewise shown a remarkable clemency in this regard. Doubtless he remembers how fierce were the pressures to succumb. Nor, to be honest, can your Uncle Di acquit himself of a strain of pharisaism here ("This man welcomes Swiss theologians and eats with them!"). Yet Pope Benedict is not a controversialist out to do down his adversaries, but a pastor of souls. It's easy to get impatient with the sheep that won't hear his voice, but there's not much doubt about whom Benedict is listening to.

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2006 4:55 PM ET USA

    While they can be compared to make a point, these dissidents are far worse then prostitutes and tax collectors. The latter did not know the good news and repented and rejoiced when they heard it. The former did not and rejected it and sought to recruit the faithful in their rebellion. They have personally led countless people away from the lord. At worst these people are guilty of sinning against the holy spirit. Far worse then prostitution.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2006 10:20 AM ET USA

    Great post, Uncle Di! And a perfect description of Joseph Ratzinger. I confess I too can be Pharisaical on many occasions, but I'm trying to be more like the Pope.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 26, 2006 7:46 PM ET USA

    First them theologians and hopefully next the USCCB and its bishops!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 26, 2006 10:23 AM ET USA

    To Benedict faith, hope and love are everything. God bless the Pope.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 26, 2006 9:12 AM ET USA

    An excellent description of the Holy Father. I have heard some call him, "Benedict the Serene". He has an utter trust in Divine Providence that pervades his manner & speech. This is not to say that he allows things to go by without needed attention, but in the end, he is as he believes: Christ had already won the fight for us...we just need to listen and follow.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 26, 2006 7:56 AM ET USA

    >> Nor, to be honest, can your Uncle Di acquit himself of a strain >> of pharisaism here ("This man welcomes Swiss theologians >> and eats with them!"). I am now in a good mood for the rest of the day!