John Allen on the Pope, Prague and “affirmative orthodoxy”

My friend John Allen, the fair-minded nearly ubiquitous columnist of the otherwise ultra-lefty weekly fishwrap National Catholic Reporter, has an interesting piece today about the Holy Father’s trip to Prague. 

Allen looks at the Holy Father’s work there from the point of view of what Mr. Allen has been calling "affirmative orthodoxy".  Meaning:

No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible. Christianity is framed not as a dry book of rules, but as the answer to, as Benedict put it Monday morning, “the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.”

Take a look.

Here is another interesting observation:

 The pope’s commitment to affirmative orthodoxy over these three days seemed to embody a deliberate effort to get back “on message.”

In many ways, Benedict’s surprisingly positive tone was the early storyline of his papacy. It seemed to go into eclipse in early ’09, however, with a furor over lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who’s a Holocaust denier, and controversial comments on AIDS and condoms during a trip to Africa. Pundits hinted that the “real Ratzinger,” the hard-line figure familiar from his years as the Vatican’s top doctrinal enforcer, was finally coming to the fore.

 

And again:

For secular society, Benedict’s aim is to present Christianity as the best guarantee of the values which even the most ardently secular agnostic also prizes: peace, tolerance, dialogue, and freedom. To make that case, the pope seems to believe he can’t start the conversation with flash-points of controversy, but rather with a positive vision of what Christianity has to offer.

For the local church, meanwhile, Benedict’s prescription boils down to embracing life as a “creative minority.” Gone are the days of Christianity as the culturally dominant force; today it’s fated to be a subculture, with fewer priests and nuns, lower levels of Mass attendance, and a generally shrunken sociological footprint. The key question, from the pope’s point of view, is what kind of subculture it will turn out to be.

Borrowing a phrase from the British historian Arnold Toynbee, Benedict is pressing the church to be a “creative minority.” Toynbee’s contention was that in any civilization, renewal happens when a small subgroup works out fresh responses to new challenges, which are eventually copied by the majority.

On the papal plane en route to Prague, the pontiff was asked what his message would be for a thoroughly secularized country where Christians have been reduced to a minority. His answer was vintage Benedict: “It’s normally the creative minorities that determine the future,” he said.

You might tool over to Mr. Allen’s column and read the whole thing.

There was a more than a hint of this same idea in the opening sermon of Archbp. Dolan in NY’s St. Patrick Cathedral.

I resonate with his suggestion that Pope Benedict could be trying to get back on message.  

But in doing so, I am also thinking that if he has not entirely been on message lately, then His Holiness must deal with the possibility that he is not being well-staffed by some of those around him.

Also, I am not convinced that Pope Benedict doesn’t also see "flash points of controversy" as opportunities for a little creative destruction, to haul in a term from another field.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to John Allen on the Pope, Prague and “affirmative orthodoxy”

  1. Magpie says:

    ”My friend John Allen, the fair-minded nearly ubiquitous columnist of the otherwise ultra-lefty weekly fishwrap National Catholic Reporter…”

    Loving it Father Z! Good article too by Mr Allen.

  2. TNCath says:

    Yes, Mr. Allen did a fine job on this piece. And I agree with you about the Pope being “ill-advised” at times and not addressing the “flash points of controversy.” The solution? Once again, somebody in the Apostolic Palace needs to be surfing the Internet–all day, every day–and finding out what is really going on in the Church. The Internet is the #1 way news is dispensed and what bishops are doing in their diocese, not an ad limina visit made by a bishop in abito piano that smells like moth balls from being in a closet from the last time he was in Rome or a hyperbolic quinquennial report.

  3. TNCath says:

    Correction: The Internet is the #1 way news is dispensed and the best way one can find out what bishops are doing in their dioceses…

  4. medievalist says:

    ‘My friend John Allen, the fair-minded nearly ubiquitous columnist of the otherwise ultra-lefty weekly fishwrap National Catholic Reporter…’

    That would be locally-sourced, free-range, organic, Fairtrade (TM), low-cal, low-fat, low-taste fish, right? But not on Fridays, or during Lent, because that would be sooooo regressive.

  5. Aaron says:

    Attempting to bring a major traditional order back into complete unity with the Church, and spreading the Church’s teaching on reproduction, both seem to fit into “affirmative orthodoxy” to me. Granted, the media tried to spin them as negative, but both are actually positive in nature.

  6. Gabriella says:

    I trust the Pope knows exactly what he’s doing and knows very well that he is ‘surrounded by wolves’ :)

  7. Hidden One says:

    Sometimes I wonder of Mr. Allen only works for the Distorter so as to evangelize its readers.

  8. Prof. Basto says:

    But in doing so, I am also thinking that if he has not entirely been on message lately, then His Holiness must deal with the possibility that he is not being well-staffed by some of those around him.

    After reading here, over the last few months, a few remarks suggesting the same thing that the above quote suggests, I dare ask (and, although the above remark mentions no name, I will mention one specific prelate)… Lets go directly to the point:

    Father,

    What is your take on the Cardinal Secretary of State and on his job performance?

  9. Prudentius says:

    Great stuff,
    The Holy Father has told us from the start that we should move our focus away from seeking to increase our numbers back to the restoration of our own Catholic identity and reclaim the precepts of “a people set apart”. It seems that as we ourselves return to the traditional liturgy the outside world becomes more hostile.

  10. gmarie says:

    “The Holy Father has told us from the start that we should move our focus away from seeking to increase our numbers back to the restoration of our own Catholic identity and reclaim the precepts of “a people set apart”.

    Exactly! Anecdotal evidence, especially in my parish, has shown that a return to the traditional (in building, art, environment, liturgy, music, evangelization, CCD classes, etc.) and a restoration of our authentic Catholic identity (including “being part of this world but not of this world”) has actually caused an increase in numbers in the pews. Kudos go out to the brave priests in my diocese who have seen beyond the statistics and take seriously the salvation of souls within their parish boundries.

  11. tioedong says:

    Prague radio has podcasts, and yesterday’s download was an interview with a Hussite preacher. He denied that they were “atheistic” in his country: He said they were pagan, believing in astrology and all sorts of superstition but denying Christianity which they really don’t know anything about except anti Christian propaganda (he has a radio show).

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    The Church is, and has always been all about what Mr. Allen calls “affirmative orthodoxy,” even when she teaches that people can’t do the stupid things they want to do and take easy but damaging routes around their problems.

    Does he think the Church tells people things just purely to be mean? Scratch that–I think that’s what some people really do think. Who makes up this stuff? The confusion is really sad.

    Mean and difficult aren’t the same thing as anyone who’s had a hard time of life and then become Catholic can tell you. They’re not the same thing at all.

  13. catholicmidwest says:

    Catholics are going to be required to be a “creative minority” soon–indeed, I believe firmly that we already are a minority and have been for some time–although not particularly creative.

    In order to BE a CREATIVE minority however, we must acknowledge to ourselves that a) we are a minority, and b) the sorts of sub-canonical idee fixe that most Catholics are very used to is not creative. At. All.

    Calling each other names and insisting on having our own way all the time is childish no matter where it comes from or who does it; insisting that acting like a raving turncoat (faithful dissidence, yada yada, both extremes) is creative is just plain non-discerning and dense. (And I don’t care if the raving turncoat is a phD in theology or not. It’s a s.t.u.p.i.d. idea.)

    In the future it’s not going to be good enough to begrudge 45 mins to the church once a week, or go around thinking that the creed consists of one sentence (God loves me) with a bunch of loopholes attached (even when I fornicate, even when I use birth control, even when I don’t show up at church for a month at a time, even when I______fill in the blank).

    Rather, the story of salvation is stupendous. Scripture and tradition tell it clearly for those who will hear. The way God works is beguiling and amazing. He holds nothing back. We just have to figure out a way, not to tell people, but to show them.

    I suggest that this starts by understanding just what our faith is about and how to recognize it when we see it–spoken, yes; written, yes; lived, YES. The three go together.

    Moreover, when the three are found together, the form and the essence (in terms of causes) of that composite are complementary, not in opposition, any more that they are in any of the other works of God. (Think about the nature of man, creatures, night and day.) This means that the “spirit vs. law” business that haunts the contemporary church is a complete red herring.

    The future of Catholicism belongs to those who are willing to accept as well as give, but to do it with sincerity and effort, faith and perseverance–the pure in heart, as scripture says. It isn’t going to be easy.

  14. chironomo says:

    The Internet is the #1 way news is dispensed and the best way one can find out what bishops are doing in their dioceses

    ….Yes, but something has to be done with that information. With cellphone cameras, web video and Twitter… there is nothing that can happen in any parish or Cathedral anywhere in the world that can be kept under wraps for long. Just Google “clown mass” and take a look at the top 5 results. Surely everybody up at Catholic Central is aware of these abuses….but nothing is done. If reporting and documenting such abuses wasn’t such a futile act… if something were actually done when there was a report of serious abuse, or video or audio of Bishops or Priests contradicting Church teachings… there would be an army of liturgical reporters out there in a matter of weeks!

  15. chironomo says:

    …..That would be creative!