Saturday, July 14, 2007

Understanding Benedict


As a historian I know about the importance of putting a person or a movement in context. The recent proclamations made by the Vatican, first on the Latin Mass and then the clarification on the nature of the church don't come out of nowhere.

Reading David Gibson's The Rule of Benedict (Harper, 2007) has been a helpful eye opener into the psyche of Joseph Ratizinger, aka Benedict XVI. I will write a review when I've completed the book (I'm about 1/2 way through the book at this time), but I thought this important to note. In a chapter dealing with Ratzinger's involvement at Vatican II, and he was one of the leading contributors to the discussions -- along with Hans Kung and Karl Rahner --we learn a bit about how the apparently progressive Ratzinger becomes the archconservative.

Gibson lays out the two opposing parties within the progressive/reforming end of the discussions in Rome in the early 1960s. Unlike the group that included Kung and Rahner, Ratzinger was an Augustinian who sought to return to the sources -- the Ressourcement party. What is telling is this passage:

Faith is a given for Ratzinger, a gift from God (and one that he apparently has enjoyed since birth), and the dogmas and doctrines of the church are not up for debate. Theology and the powers of the intellect are not to create but to conserve -- a task that requires just as much energy, as he would discover -- and to illuminate avenues to the depositum fidei, the deposit of faith for the faithful. This is His church and not a laboratory for theologians," as he put it. (Gibson, The Rule of Benedict, 158).


Unlike his fellow progressives in the other party, the aggiornamento party, he was not seeking to revamp the faith for the modern world. Instead he wanted to get back to the sources. He was an Augustinian and not a Thomist. From Gibson we learn that when he went to Vatican II it was with the idea of overthrowing a Thomist dominance that he believed had harmed the church.

3 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...

Interesting, because that suggests that his conservatism was in place at Vatican II, which preceded the events of 1968. I admit not knowing that much of his history in the church, but I have read that 1968 was a turning point for him and it was the political turmoil of that year that pushed him rightward. But the suggestion here is that his conservatism was already rooted within him at that point.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I'll be posting more about Gibson's book, but with all that is happening today regarding the Catholic Church I think this is really a must read.

As I read this his conservativism was not at the time a traditionalism that had dominated the church from at least the time of Vatican I in 1870, but more a belief that true reform would come from returning to the sources -- and those sources would be the biblical and patristic materials -- especially Augustine. What becomes clear is that Benedict was looking for reform but looked to the distant past for guidance.

What is also interesting is that he had and has an abiding interest in Luther.

As for 1968 -- I've gotten past that section of the book and it is a Marxist radicalism that had overtaken Tuebingin University that shook him up. And from there he began to retreat to the past and revise his own contributions.

But as Father Chris has pointed out Benedict isn't JP II. They simply come from two different starting points.

I hope this adds clarity, at least to a degree.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

It seems like an important book. I had not realized that aggiornamento and reassorcement were two parties. Mainstream interpretation of VII had always emphasized both: Returning to the sources for renewal AND opening the windows of the church to fresh breezes from outside.