Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Augustine and Ratzinger's Pessimism


As I have been reading David Gibson's The Rule of Benedict I have been getting a better sense of the man who became Pope. We are products of our environment and experiences, and Joseph Ratzinger was influenced by his context -- leading him to become the man he is today.

What is interesting to see in the section dealing with Vatican II is Ratzinger's growing disillusionment with the optimistic tone of the proceedings. His Augustinianism shows in his feeling that the aggiornamento party of Kung and Rahner did not take sin seriously enough. Gibson writes:

Yet there is a consistent thread to his thinking, which runs counter to the optimism of the Second Vatican Council and which grew more defined in later years. Indeed, the aftermath of the council only reinforced his suspicion of man's seemingly unending capacity to go wrong and betray himself by believing he can accomplish things by himself. It also confirmed his view that returning to the sources, stripping away and simplifying and sanctifying rather than moving into uncharted territory with newfangled ideas, holds the true promise for faith. (Gibson, p. 172).


He started out in the first session excited about the possibilities of reform, but as time went on he discovered that the changes had begun to snowball and get out of control. He wanted to reform the church by returning it to a purer time, not go head first in uncharted directions.
Think for a moment of another theologian, from an earlier era, the Reformer that most intrigues Benedict XVI -- Martin Luther. For a moment in time Luther was the radical, but soon he was outflanked and he turned more conservative. Is Kung to Benedict what Andreas Karlstadt was to Luther?

6 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Interesting comparison. So, then, to continue the analogy, are the liberation theologians like Gutierrez, Boff (whom Ratzinger all but chased out of the Church), and Sobrino to Benedict what the Anabaptists were to Luther??

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Michael,

You may be on to something there! Except that, with the exception of Thomas Muntzer, most of the Anabaptists were a pain in Zwingli's rear end!

Mystical Seeker said...

He wanted to reform the church by returning it to a purer time, not go head first in uncharted directions.

Turning the clock backwards isn't reform. That's being a reactionary.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mystical Seeker, many if not most reform movements are really "Restorationist" in their sentiments. They seek to return to the touchstone. For the Stone Campbell movement, out of which my Disciples denomination has emerged, it has been the New Testament. Luther and Calvin did much the same thing, though they allowed a broader time period than simply the Biblical age.

I think that at Vatican II there was the possibility of a balance between looking back and looking forward, but Ratzinger found too much looking forward at the expense of what had come before. In time, Ratzinger even forgot why he'd become a reformer and began to wax nostalgic for the time he once found woefully inadequate.

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, I suppose it depends on what the characteristics of this purer time in the distant past are. If Benedict wants to go back to a time when women were apostles in the church (such as Junia), then I'm all for that. Or if he wants to go back to a time of Jesus when the community of faith was not acting as a gatekeeper that decided who got to come to the table and who didn't, then I'm all for that also. I somehow doubt that these are the sorts of things Benedict has in mind, though.

I do understand the impulse to restore something that you think has been corrupted over time. But, on the other hand, time marches on, and you can't turn the clock back to exactly the way it was. The church 2000 years ago lived in a world that believed that heaven was literally a place above the sky and that the planets and sun revolved around the earth. Our understanding of things is different than it was back then. Our understanding of God's universal inclusive love has evolved over time as well. This is something that the UCC refers to as "God is still speaking", and that Quakers refer to as "continuing revelation." The Catholic Church also claims that God continues to offer revelations through the Holy Spirit, but of course they think they have a privileged relation with said Holy Spirit, so mainly it is just the magisterium that God speaks to on theological matters.

Another thing to consider is that, officially speaking, the Catholic Church never admits to having made any theological mistakes in its history. It thinks that the Holy Spirit somehow has uniquely imbued it, and it alone, with infallibility on matters of doctrine that can never be reversed. How that impacts any desire to go back to some fabled time in the past is an interesting question.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mystical Seeker,

The myth of the Golden Age is a popular one that won't go away. Consider the view of the "Strict Constructionist" who believes that we must interpret and apply the Constitution just as the Framers would. The problem is, the Framers could not envision the 21st Century. So what Strict Constructionism does is serve as a break against innovation and change. I think this is exactly what is going on in the Catholic Church.

Consider too that Cardinal Newman's vision of progressive revelation was considered liberal even radical at the time. I think that Benedict went into Vatican II as an Augustinian Progressive and came out disillusioned because the Council opened up too many cans of worms.

But he's not more conservative that John Paul, he's just a different character.

What that means long term for the Catholic Church depends in part on how long he lives and how much of an imprint he places on the church.

As far as the church not admitting mistakes, that's true, but it does find ways of interpreting things that allow for progress, and progress will come it just takes time.

Consider for a moment altar girls -- they were opposed because it seemed to give the idea that women could serve at the altar -- now there are altar girls -- some day there will be pressure to change the rules -- but first there will be married priests and while it won't be tomorrow I think reality will force the next Pope to make that change. There are already married priests, they are Episcopalians who become RCC.