Ex-priest (Paulist) James Carroll shares his insights about Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio. Apparently, it was a big mistake.
My emphases and comments.
Pope Benedict’s mistake
By James Carroll | July 16, 2007
WHEN THE likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Christopher Hitchens, citing insights of science or the rise of sectarian violence, denounce the very idea of God, fundamentalists strike back by attacking pillars on which such modern criticism stands. [Thus, he introduces his theme: the MP is the retaliation of a fundamentalist against modernity, or at least the correctives a modern vision (read "hermeneutic of (fill in the blank)". Pope Benedict is presented as a terrorist.] In this mode, Pope Benedict XVI last week issued two unexpected decrees, restoring the atavistic [!!] Mass of the Council of Trent and resuscitating an outmoded Catholic exclusivism — the notion of a pope-centered Catholicism as the only authentic way to God [Noooo…. the point of the CDF note was to underscore that the Petrine ministry is an integral part of what the Church is.].
In these reactionary initiatives, Pope Benedict inadvertently [because he doesn’t really think about what he does? I don’t believe for a second that, for example, the Pope didn’t know precisely what was going to happen after the Regensburg address.] shows that he shares a basic conviction with Dawkins et al. — that religion is a primitive impulse, unable to withstand the challenge of contemporary thought. [This shows that the author has never read anything by Joseph Ratzinger. There is nothing primitive about a religious impulse. It is human. However, the author probably is one of those who believes that man evolves. Therefore, modern criticism is always reflective of a step in the right direction. An authentic anthropolgy, however, grasps that man does not evolve in an of himself: we make progress, but we remain essentially the same in our needs and aspirations; our knowledge grows but our fundamental make up remains consistent.]
Yet, instead of feeling intimidated by secular or "scientific" criticisms of religion, a believer can insist that faith in God is a fulfillment of all that fully modern people affirm when they assent to science — or object to violence. [The author holds, more than likely, that the history of the Church is really the history of a power grab. For a power-based institution, science would be the enemy. It must remain "fundamentalist".] At the same time, a believer can advance the Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens critique to say that most articulations of traditional religion of all stripes fall far short of doing "God" justice. [Is that what they would hold? I doubt it.]
The God whom atheists aggressively deny (the all-powerful, all-knowing, unmoved Mover; the God of damnation, supernatural intervention, salvation-through-appeasement, patriarchy, puritanism, war, etc.) is indeed the God enshrined in propositions of the Council of Trent, and in its liturgy. But this God is also one whom more and more believers, including Catholics, simply do not recognize as the God we worship. [Which begs the question: if Trent was wrong, who is to say that anything the Church has ever taught was right?]
Such people regard the fact that God is unknowable [note the contradiction] as the most important thing to know about God. [First he attacks the roots of Christian doctrine as ennunciated through Councils (which includes the Council of Jerusalem in Scripture) and then he strikes with the "we really can’t know God" theme. Effectively, the Church or formal worshop would have no authentic function beyond social engineering or a community’s self-expression (and we are not sure they would even have a right to that, in this guy’s vision.] Traditional propositions of the creed, therefore, must be affirmed neither rigidly nor as if they are meaningless, but with thoughtful modesty about all religious language, allowing for doubt, as well as respect for different creeds — and for no creed. [Talk about meaningless…. This is nothing more than the condescending twaddle of an angry ex-believer with an axe to grind against his Mother’s forehead.]
This is not an entirely new way of being religious. One sees hints of it in the wisdom of many thinkers, from Augustine in ancient times to Nicholas of Cusa in the Renaissance to Kierkegaard in the modern era. But, in fact, the contemporary religious imagination has been transformed by understanding born of science. [The new religion?] Once a believer has learned to think historically and critically, it is impossible any longer to think mythically. [The author must be unaware of Pope Benedict’s defense (in Jesus of Nazaeth) of the historical critical method, which I am sure he understands better than James Carroll. To think "mythically". Turning to an expert on "thinking mythically", J.R.R. Tolkien, we get the description of Christianity as "the myth that is true", without the rupture in continuity with dogma and the constitutive elements of the Church (such as the Petrine ministry. It is possible to be Catholic and be modern without the angry and condescending rupture at the heart of the author’s confused position.]
Pope Benedict, in last week’s denigration of Christian traditions [It is hardly "denigration" to invite serious dialogue based on the starting point of a firm identity. But Caroll like’s everything vague and squishy, it seems. That might be the way he justifies his life’s choices.] that lack the unbroken "apostolic succession" of Catholicism, for example, was seeking to protect the "deposit of faith," those core beliefs that were established by the Apostles themselves. But such literalist reading [Is he being purposely obtuse?] of apostolic succession goes out the window when one learns ["science", remember?, the unbridled and uncritical application of the historical-critical method that results always in the destruction of what is examined?] that none of the actual Apostles thought that they themselves were establishing a "church" in our sense, [Really? and just how does he know that? What is his authority for that?] independent of Judaism. Similarly, the New Testament is "inspired," but what does that mean [hermeneutic of suspicion is at work here] for appeals to "apostolic" authority when one learns that its 27 books were not "canonized" until three centuries after Jesus? [This had to end in an attack on Scripture itself.]
Once we realize [what the shift on vocabulary now] that doctrines of orthodoxy evolved [But not in the sense he is suggesting. I refer you to, for example, Newman’s less unhinged understanding of development of doctrine.] over time, we stop treating them as timeless. Indeed, once we understand ourselves as belonging to one religious tradition among many, [No one doubts there are different traditions. However, we believe that some are better than others.] we lose the innocent ability [Huh?] to regard it as absolute. Once our internal geography recognizes [What is an internal geography? Is this what we mean when we say "I’m in a good place today!"… if you know where I am coming from. And how does a geography "recognize". Fancy words, but I wonder if they mean anything.] that, however much we are a center, we are not the only one, [It sounds like a violation of the principle of non-contradiction.] we have no choice but to affirm the positions of others not as "marginal to our centers," in a phrase of theologian David Tracy, [ROFL!] "but as centers of their own." [B as in B. S as in S.]
Faced with such difficult recognitions, religious people can retreat into fundamentalism or throw out [Watch the vocabulary chosen.] religious faith altogether. Or we can quite deliberately embrace what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a "second naivetÃ©." This implies a movement through criticism to a renewed appetite for the sacred tradition out of which we come, even while implying that we are alive to its meaning in a radically different way. Pope Benedict is attempting to restore, by fiat, [Wrong!] the first naivetÃ© of "one true church." In an age of global pluralism, this is simply not tenable. [Ah… because this is not how the "world" sees things, it was a mistake to do it.]
The Council of Trent, whose Mass and theology (including its anti-Judaism) [How tired this is] Benedict wants to re establish, was summoned about the time Copernicus published his "On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies" — the beginning of the scientific age. [Benedict is a troglodyte.] The Roman Catholic Church made a terrible mistake in rejecting Copernicus, [I am not sure this is an accurate or honest description of what actually happened, though it is convenient.] one from which it has only lately been recovering. Pope Benedict is repeating that mistake, as Dawkins and company think religious people are bound to do. But believers need not follow. Indeed, many of us, including Catholics, have moved on from such thinking, if you can call it thinking. [What a cheap way to finish.]
James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe.