John Allen on the Pope’s trip to Cameroon

My friend John Allen, the fair-minded nearly ubiquitous columnist of the ultra-leftist NCR has a very interesting piece today on the Pope’s trip to Africa.

Here are a couple excerpts, but you should read his whole piece.

My emphases and comments.

Benedict in Cameroon a tale of two trips
By John L Allen Jr
Created Mar 20, 2009

By the time this column appears, Pope Benedict XVI will have left Cameroon for Angola, beginning the second leg of his March 17-23 maiden voyage to Africa. I’ve filed close to a dozen stories from Cameroon (see links at the bottom of this page), so here I’ll just offer my dominant after-the-fact impression: I don’t think I’ve ever covered a papal trip where the gap between internal and external perceptions has been as vast as over these three days[That is saying a lot.  Mr. Allen has covered a lot of trips, both of this Pope and the late Pope.  He is a keen observer.]

It’s almost as if the pope has made two separate visits to Cameroon: the one reported internationally and the one Africans actually experienced.

In the U.S. and many other parts of the world, coverage has been "all condoms, all the time," triggered by comments from Benedict aboard the papal plane to the effect that condoms aren’t the right way to fight AIDS. In Africa, meanwhile, the trip has been a hit, [Go figure!] beginning with Benedict’s dramatic insistence that Christians must never be silent in the face of "corruption and abuses of power," and extending through a remarkable meeting with African Muslims in which the pope said more clearly and succinctly what he wanted to say three years ago in his infamous Regensburg address, and without the gratuitous quotation from a Byzantine emperor.  [That didn’t get a lot of press, did it!]

Vast and pumped-up crowds flocked to see the pope, and Benedict seemed swept up in the enthusiasm. Twice he referred to Africa as the "continent of hope," and at one point, this consummate theologian even mused aloud about a new burst of intellectual energy in Africa that might generate a 21st century version of the famed school of Alexandria, [!] which gave the early church such luminaries as Clement and Origen.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem to Westerners, it was difficult to find anyone in Cameroon — at least anyone who wasn’t a foreign journalist or missionary, or an employee of an overseas NGO — for whom the condoms issue loomed especially large. The locals had different opinions on whether condoms are the right way to tackle AIDS, of course, but it didn’t seem to dominate their impressions of the event.

Bottom line: Seen from abroad, the trip has been about condoms; on the ground, it’s felt like a celebration of African Catholicism.

Here’s a surreal experience that underscores the disjunction.

On Tuesday, I prepared a piece on the pope’s indirect, but unmistakable, rebuke of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya — a former Catholic seminarian who has tried repeatedly to wrap himself in the papal flag while Benedict is in town. Billboards around Yaoundè assert a "perfect communion" between the two, and colorful African-style shirts and dresses distributed for the trip are festooned with pictures of Biya and Benedict. Biya is also, however, a classic African strongman, who has ruled Cameroon since 1982 through a blend of occasional repression and constant corruption.

Benedict didn’t want to embarrass his host, but he also didn’t want the photo-op to imply a papal seal of approval. Thus, without mentioning Biya directly, Benedict said pointedly that Christians must speak out against "corruption and abuses of power." That was enough to set off shockwaves in Cameroon, and it seemed to invigorate local church leaders. The next morning, Cardinal Christian Tumi, [I love this guy.  I reported his comments on liturgy once upon a time in my column in The Wanderer.] Cameroon’s lone cardinal, publicly asked Biya to withdraw as a candidate in elections set for 2011, something that previously almost no one would have dared to do.

I was outlining all this in my article when I had to break off to do an interview with CNN International about day one of the trip … which was entirely devoted to the condoms controversy. To be honest, I had to wonder if we were even talking about the same event.

That said, let me be clear: This perception gap is not exclusively, or even primarily, the media’s fault[talk about counter intutive!] The reporter from French TV who asked Benedict the condom question aboard the papal plane was well within bounds; AIDS is serious business, and it’s fair game to ask the pope about it on his first visit to the continent that’s been hardest hit by the disease.

Once the question was popped, the ball was in Benedict’s court. Much of the blame for what happened next, therefore, has to lie at his feet[blame?]

By that, I’m not taking any position on the substance of the pope’s answer, though in fairness he did no more than repeat church teaching on contraception, as well as the nearly unanimous view of every African bishop I’ve ever interviewed: that condoms give their people a false sense of invulnerability, thereby encouraging risky sexual behavior. That may be debatable, but one can hardly fault the pope for taking his cues from the bishops on the ground. (Ironically, popes usually get in trouble precisely for not listening to local bishops.)

Setting aside what he said, there’s still the matter of whether this was the right time and place to say it — especially since it would inevitably overshadow the message Benedict was flying to Africa to deliver. [True enough.] (It’s worth recalling that the pope has been down this road before. En route to Brazil in 2007, he took a question about excommunicating politicians who support abortion rights, thereby blotting day one of his first trip to Latin America out of the sky.)

Anybody who’s ever spent time in front of cameras knows how to dance around a question that’s not going to lead anywhere good. Benedict could have said something like: "Of course the church is deeply concerned about AIDS, which is why a quarter of all AIDS patients in the world are cared for by Catholic hospitals and other facilities. As far as condoms are concerned, our teaching is well-known, but today isn’t the right time for discussing it. Instead, I want to focus on my message of hope to the African people," etc., etc.

The story that probably would have resulted — "Benedict shrugs off condoms query" — would hardly have generated a global uproar.

Someone hungry for a silver lining might be tempted to say that the sideshow on condoms made the world pay attention to the Africa trip — except, of course, it didn’t. Instead, Africa became a backdrop to another round in the Western culture wars[As usual.]

Yet however one assigns the blame, the fact remains that international discussion of Benedict in Cameroon has left a badly distorted impression of the trip’s aims and content. If the first rule for assessing an event is to understand what actually happened, then drawing conclusions about Benedict’s African journey is going to require more than simply following the bouncing ball on the great condom debate.

That is very good observation and commentary.

Here is another excerpt.


1. African liturgy

Without any doubt, Africans know how to stage a Mass. Quite aside from its spiritual significance, the liturgy at Amadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundè on Thursday was a blast. [Which is, of course, the point of liturgy.] It featured some of the most infectious singing, dancing, and music I’ve ever witnessed, along with the sensation of being among 40,000 people who were genuinely happy just to be in one another’s company.  [Sigh… it is really hard to get one’s head around the balance of the real point of liturgy and the real point of authentic inculturation and bring them together in a concrete moment, one as powerful, as meaningful for people as a PAPAL VISIT.  It’s very hard.]

The depth of faith felt in that stadium was remarkable.

I was reminded of a similar experience I had in Mexico City, during the canonization Mass of Juan Diego, which also featured exuberant local music and dance. One hard-bitten agnostic from network TV who was hanging out with me in the press area whispered: "If they did it this way every Sunday, even I would show up!"

To be sure, African rhythms of worship can take a little getting used to. Organizers positioned the press corps adjacent to some of those lucky enough to draw seats close by the papal altar. One minute, they were chiding us for talking too loud and telling us to put out our smokes; the next, they were gyrating and singing so loudly we couldn’t hear ourselves think. Before long, however, we got the hang of it.

Here’s a rave review: The first bus back to the hotel for the press corps during a papal Mass leaves right after the homily, since that’s usually the "newsy" part of the event. Generally people get antsy to leave because they have stories to file, but in Yaoundè, the Mass was so entertaining that a few of us lost track of time and almost missed our ride.


Again… good coverage of what happened.

That whole issue of inculturation…. oh my…

Yes… we need Summorum Pontificum and the continuity it will prompt down the line.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    I watched the Mass. For some reason the dancing wasn’t as offensive to me as when it takes place in my CA diocese. Perhaps because dance means something completely different in the west as it does in Africa?

  2. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    “As counter-intuitive as it may seem to Westerners, it was difficult to find anyone in Cameroon—at least anyone who wasn’t a foreign journalist or missionary, or an employee of an overseas NGO —for whom the condoms issue loomed especially large.”

    More western liberal discourse of victimhood and latent racism. Typical NGO: “WE have to decide what’s good for Africa and set the agenda, because Africans obviously can’t.” It echoes an interview Mr Allen had in his piece with a prelate (whose name escapes me). To the question “What can we do?” the prelate answered that it was the wrong question. He said the time has come to stop treating Africans (clergy included) as victims needing help. Instead, we should treat them as brothers and truly engage with them.

  3. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Seda gestatoria sighting?
    Sorry about the second post, but one image from the liturgy was striking. There was some liturgical dance, but it wasn’t people bearing the Gospel to the Holy Father. Rather it was the people around the Gospel as it passed, as if giving homage. Proper inculturation perhaps? And it looked like the Gospel was processed on something resembling the long-lost seda gestatoria.

  4. m says:

    in fairness he did no more than repeat church teaching on contraception, as well as the nearly unanimous view of every African bishop I’ve ever interviewed: that condoms give their people a false sense of invulnerability

    There should be a full stop after the word “contraception” because that’s all that matters. The pope is against condoms *period*. It wouldn’t matter if using a condom five times gave you lifetime immunity – he’d still be against it, so it’s irritating when people writing about the issue muddy the public health waters when it’s beside the point.

  5. Eric says:

    I wish I was at the liturgy as well. Imagine, being in the company of tens of thousands who are overjoyed to be in the presence of the Lord. Far better than some churches I go to where nobody smiles and everybody mumbles throughout the Mass.

  6. shadrach says:

    The middle ground liturgically is Missa Luba, a superb liturgy in Latin that was authentically Congolese, but followed the form of the extraordinary form. Each tribe and region in Africa could easily produce a mass like Missa Luba for the extraordinary form to sit alongside the Novus Ordo.

  7. Roland de Chanson says:

    Allen: … the Mass was so entertaining that a few of us lost track of time …

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf: … That whole issue of inculturation…. oh my… …

    Acu rem tetigisti.

    [possibly overheard among the papal entourage:]

    – La Chiesa ha bisogno di prendere delle misure profilattice contro il flagello dell’inculturazione!

    – Ma magari esse solo aumenteranno il problema. :-)

  8. Bob says:

    Mr. Allen may be an astute observer, however I do not buy his analysis a “there he goes again” moment is typical of Benedict XVI every time tackling thorny questions. These so called miss-steps tend to turn into well-timed explosions with unusual impact weeks or even months later for his rhetorical benefit. To wit: Regensburg. He got the muslims wondering. And when he speaks to them now they listen to what he says ever so carefully.

    I would caution Mr. Allen about the Holy Spirit will take his ill timed news commentaries amiss one of these days, when least expected?

  9. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    What, according to JA, was the Holy Father supposed to say in response to the French journalist’s question? “No comment”?

    JA’s claim that it’s “debatable” that the distribution of condoms increases HIV infection rates is itself debatable.

    Here’s something from a “Harvard AIDS expert”: ‘March 19, 2009 ( – Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, has said that the evidence confirms that the Pope is correct in his assessment that condom distribution exacerbates the problem of AIDS.”The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments.” “There is,” Green added, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”‘

    I understand that JA works for the NCR, and is probably not allowed by his editors to express too much enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI, but the claim that the Holy Father is to blame for the French journalist’s baiting question is really stretching it.

  10. EDG says:

    Well, the “African Mass” sounds pretty scary! Oddly enough, the African priests we get here in my diocese celebrate the NO very correctly and are actually more restrained and orthodox than many American born priests. Go figure.

    I disagree with John Allen on the papal response to the condom question. First of all, the Pope didn’t bring it up, and secondly, he was just answering honestly and stating what has always been the teaching of the Church in this area. Was he supposed to dissimulate just to keep the press happy?

    But most of all, I don’t think John Allen is admitting the crucial thing: it wouldn’t have mattered what the Pope said, the press would have found some way to distort the issue and Benedict’s enemies (half of them within the Church itself and probably right in the Vatican!) would have found some way to cause a commotion. If he answered as Allen suggested, that is, without saying anything, then the headlines would have been “Pope avoids condom question; change in the works?” I guarantee it.

    The best thing the Pope can do is simply plug along, be honest, and let the chips fall where they may. No matter what he says, he is not going to keep the press or the enemies of truth happy.

  11. tertullian says:

    “Twice he referred to Africa as the “continent of hope,” and at one point, this consummate theologian even mused aloud about a new burst of intellectual energy in Africa that might generate a 21st century version of the famed school of Alexandria,which gave the early church such luminaries as Clement and Origen.”

    Sadly,this reference to the contributions made by “Africa” really means the Maghreb or Egypt, not the sub-Saharan, and the two have little in common.

  12. Corleone says:

    Tertullian – you are very wrong. It is extremely ignorant to say sub-saharan Africa has not made any theological or intellectual contributions to Christianity, since Ethiopia (very Sub-saharan) and Meroe (in what is now southern Sudan) to name a couple have made literary, artistic and theological contributions to Christianity. Just because they are not widely known in the west is not a reason to dismiss them.

    And if you read the comment you quoted, the Pope was saying that this new burst of energy could inspire a “version” of Alexandria in sub-saharan Africa.

  13. Garrett says:

    Apparently Pope Benedict is darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t.

    Who doubts that if he would’ve “shrugged off” the condom question as Mr. Allen proposes that he do, that those who hate the Church and Her teachings would’ve latched onto to the Holy Father’s remarks and twist them into something like: “Pope Doesn’t See Condoms As A Problem!”

    I mean, seriously.

  14. Luigi says:

    Re: the Holy Father’s wisdom in how he answered the condom question – Armchair quarterbacking has never been easier. The media is Hell bent – literally – on attacking this pope. There is no such thing as an unassailable interview in their eyes. If there is no hay, they’ll make it from scratch.

    The last thing we need, IMO, is for the pope to be worried about being more media savvy. He should simply speak his mind with the force of Christ’s love. i.e. He needn’t change a thing.

  15. Brian Edward Miles says:

    John Allen is so refreshing to read, though I disagree with him on one point; for the bigoted Western media, the trip would have been about condoms even if the question had never been asked; then it again, it was. And who made sure that it was? The anti-Cathiolic bigots in the Western media. Go figure.

  16. Gerriet Suiter says:

    Does anyone else get the impression that the Pope gets in trouble for just answering the question? Maybe it’s the result of a world accustomed to leaders lying that when one actually tries to give a real and substantive response, they are punished.

  17. Peg says:

    Perhaps the Holy father should decline press interviews until the trip back to the Vatican. That would really “steam” the secular press. Or else do what the President does…hand-pick press people and questions.

  18. I think it would be good for the pope to be media savvy, and I think John Allen’s advice is basically sound in that regard.

    Being media-savvy doesn’t mean the pope is being “less” anything: less honest, or less pastoral, or less prophetic, or anything else; it means not creating headwinds for you if you don’t want them, and having tailwinds instead.

    If you want a media controversy, by all means, create one! But it works to the pope’s advantage to only have them on purpose, rather than by accident. Then, the energy you spend putting out the fires can be put to better use.

    I hope someone at the Vatican is either reading this, or reading Mr. Allen’s column.

  19. tertullian says:

    Corleone, the greatest contribution sub-Saharan Africa has made to the Church is Card. Arinze.

    Your education about Christianity in Africa would be greatly enhanced with a little time spent with the Copts (without them there would be no Christianity in Ethiopa), then go visit St Catherine’s in the Sinai.

  20. RBrown says:

    Sadly, John Allen, a KU grad, cannot distinguish between mass and a rock concert.

    For anyone wanting to see KU grads who actually understand the purpose of liturgy, I recommend a visit to Clear Creek monastery.

  21. Pierre Ronsard says:

    I wonder why in the areas of Africa where the people became Muslim there seems to have been no Islamic inculturation. In fact from what I have read dancing and drum beating were explicitly forbidden by the Muslim missionaries. And where it survived initial conversion was eventually suppressed by rulers. Now it is known that in West Africa the Islam that is dominant is of an inward and mystical bent unlike that in Saudi Arabia, for example which is external and legal. This is the kind of Islam that the late Father Miguel Palacios speculated influenced the spiritual recrudescence that emerged in Spain with San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Avila. As we know Islamic culture was dominant in Spain for over 700 years This brand of Islam in Africa is called Sufism maintains a religious posture that is inward rather than outward. So why do Catholic liberals feel that inculturation to the pagan past of the Africans is especially beneficial in bringing about conversion to Catholicism? Liturgical dance was banned in Europe where it once existed, let us not forget. And this, one presumes, was because the Kingdom of God is to sought within.
    One notices, however, that in Muslim regions, these same Black people seem to be given to contemplation and prayerful silence fulfilling the Scriptural injunction: “Be Still! and Know that I am God.” We have evidence of the same tendency in Ethiopian monastacism. What’s more, archeological research has revealed that the Nubian Church used Greek as late as the 10th century. Of course these are different regions and different people. And there are those who will say, but the Nubian church died out. Yes, this is true. But it was replaced by Islam, which as I have said is inimical to shouting and drum playing. Now I hate to be cynical but this inculturation business just seems to me to be the result of white liking to see Black people dance and sing.

  22. Roland de Chanson says:

    Non trovo alcuno riferimento a Origene di Alessandria nei documenti publicati nel sito del Vaticano. Infatti troviamo al contrario questa citazione:

    “Alcuni momenti significativi della storia cristiana di questo Continente possono ricordarci il legame profondo che esiste tra l’Africa e il cristianesimo a partire dalle sue origini. Secondo la venerabile tradizione patristica, l’evangelista san Marco, che ha “trasmesso per iscritto ciò che era stato predicato da Pietro” (Ireneo, Adversus haereses III, I, 1), venne ad Alessandria a rianimare la semente sparsa dal Signore.” (DISCORSO DEL SANTO PADRE BENEDETTO XVI, Nunziatura Apostolica di Yaoundé, Giovedì, 19 marzo 2009)

    Ma Origene? Di lui non c’è nulla. Inoltre, perchè citarebbe un Pontefice romano un eretico condannato da parecchi concili ecumenici e locali? Credo che John Allen ha ingrassato (se mi capisci) su reportage con i riferimenti a Clemente e Origene. Naturalmente non ho trovato articoli pertinenti nella stampa secolare. Si interessano solo dei profilattici. Che cazzo – sono la feccia della terra. Ma purtroppo ne abbiamo bisogno.

  23. Roland de Chanson says:

    Oops – wrong window. That was supposed to go somewhere else.

    What I was going to post here was a question about Allen’s reference to Origen. Did the Pope actually mention somewhere that Origen was one of the intellectual lights of Alexandria? He was, of course, but it seems strange Benedict would do so, given Origen’s condemnation. I’ve not found any Vatican documents or secular press reports confirming what Allen reported.

  24. Here’s my take on the Pope’s answer to the journalist’s question on condoms in Africa

    The Pope’s trip to Africa included a question from a journalist about the use of condoms to fight AIDS.

    The Holy Father was criticized for his answer by journalists who should study up a bit more on the importance of the facts that people become promiscuous with condoms and don’t continue to use them, that condoms break, frequently, that HIV passes through condoms, and that no matter how much “education” there is, people don’t like to use them and don’t use them. Large percentages of populations are compromised in this way.

    One journalist was particularly scathing. He treated the Holy Father’s words like an embarrassment, and wished that the Holy Father had danced around such questions. Yet, that would only make Benedict seem like a religious bigot who enjoys being a religous bigot at the cost of dying populations. Instead, the Pope is interested in thwarting such unnecessary suffering, however unimportant this is to some. He answered the serious question with a serious answer, as always.

    One journalist sophistically turned what he at first called a serious question into a question that could not lead anywhere good, the implication being that the Pope cannot possibly respond in a reasonable way that will be helpful. It is the journalist who is dancing here. He treats the Pope like an old, ignorant fool, someone dangerous to the well being of whole populations.

    Why cannot the Church’s teaching regarding condoms be part of the Pope’s message of hope? It is part of that message of hope for those who are interested in saving both physical and spiritual life.

    People would be wrong to think that the Church’s teaching on condoms is merely the Catholic “opinion” (and therefore dismissable by the world). Such teaching is also part of the Natural Law which binds everyone.

    I, for one, think that the Pope’s answer and his prudence in answering the way he did were brilliant and, I think, will save untold numbers of lives. Those who mock the Holy Father for what he did are not doing good for anyone.

    I wrote the following few paragraphs and put it through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at a time when I think there were four Cardinals who were promoting condoms for various reasons.


    1. The use of condoms by a married couple who have what seems to be a good reason to use condoms – such as a risk of death due to diseases exacerbated by pregnancy, e.g., certain types of cancerous growths, diabetes, heart conditions – remains gravely dishonest for two reasons:

    (a) sexual activity is inherently ordered to the begetting of children in such manner that the act is to remain open to the transmission of life (which can be clearly proven from both reason and the fonts of Revelation); (b) the unity of the couple obliged by the very act of sexual union is gravely damaged in its biological integrity. Abstinence is required in the face of fatality for these diseases, as with others such as HIV-AIDS. As it is, condoms are not reliable.

    2. Fornication and adultery, i.e., gravely disregarding the exclusive and indissoluble relationship demanded by the very act of sexual union, does not excuse the use of condoms by a man and woman who are not married to each other (regardless of the presence of disease), for the use of condoms remains intrinsically dishonest for the two reasons given in the previous case: it is not an exchange of vows regarding an exclusive and indissoluble relationship which – by way of secondary intention – provides the sexual act with its nature of being ordained to the begetting of children by way of due physical union. Instead, this nature of the sexual act is intrinsic to sexuality.

    3. The usage of vaginal condoms by women who are in grave danger of being raped* does not contradict the points made above since, in the case of rape, not only is there is no possibility to assent to an exclusive and indissoluble relationship (which would also be impossible for adulterers), but also because the coercion involved requires a rejection of the physical integrity of the sexual act inasmuch as this is possible. If there is no force, rejection of the physical integrity of the sexual act is gravely immoral. Rejecting unjust aggression by inhibiting the physical integrity of the sexual act with a vaginal condom does not reject the intrinsic nature of the sexual act in and of itself, as does the use of condoms in any other situation which excludes force. An analogy would be an ectopic pregnancy, whereby the fallopian tube, for instance, can be removed even though an embryo is attached. Although the rejection of the tube is the rejection of a dangerous metamorphosis of a structure with which the embryo, through no fault of its own, finds itself, that rejection of the structure undergoing a dangerous metamorphosis is not a direct rejection of the embryo itself. Again, it is not any secondary intention which demands or excuses from either an exclusive and indissoluble relationship or from the physical integrity of the sexual act, for those are things which are demanded by the sexual act in and of itself.

    [[*Wars in parts of sub-Saharan Africa are a case in point, for soldiers with HIV-AIDS systematically rape all women. Obviously, any abortifacient chemicals which may be added to a condom (in case of breakage) are to be excluded.]]

    4. In regard to the use of condoms by homosexuals, the grave perversity of sexual activity between two people of the same sex is not made into something even more serious by the use of a condom. However, such usage cannot be encouraged with the idea that condoms are safe or safer in view of, for instance, HIV-AIDS, for such encouragement is, in principle, a denial of the power of grace in regard to the practice of abstinence. Moreover, it is inevitable that after a given length of time, the risk in regard to disease will be fulfilled.

    5. In regard to the objection that the fulness of moral truth should not be taught to people even for many decades (such as with the often cited example of the early work of the Jesuits in South America), that objection is simply a proclamation that the grace of Christ cannot work except through a Pelagian usage of culture. The reason why a principle of natural law is rejected after it is (quickly) known is not so much because of human weakness, but because the bearer of the message is not credible. The messenger must, like Christ and the saints, be willing to be a martyr. People know when they are being suffocatingly patronized. While pedagogy demands that one speak firstly of Christ’s Sacrifice as God’s marriage with the Church, one is not to set out to hide any aspect of moral truth from anyone, assuming that everyone is insincere, and in bad faith.

  25. Maureen says:

    Origen is an old favorite of the Pope. He was an honest speculative theologian who sumitted all his work to the judgment of the Church. After his death, some of his followers went off the deep end and claimed Origen as their justification for not submitting to the Church.

    OTOH, Origen was also the mentor and converter to Christianity of one of the greatest saints and missionary bishops of the next generation, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. His thank you and farewell speech to Origen is one of the most touching testimonies to the power of a good and faithful Christian teacher, fisher of men, and theologian that I’ve ever seen. No educator should miss it.

    If we judged Justin Martyr by the crazy heresies of some of his disciples and the appearance of some speculative theology that later turned out not to fit with real theology as worke out by the Church, he wouldn’t be a saint, either.

    So yes, this Pope has continually referred to Origen as a true Father of the Church and treasure of theologians (when properly read and understood). And now that I’ve read Origen, I understand why he feels so strongly about it. Even when Origen makes you roll your eyes, it’s still a very lovable and merit-filled experience to read him.

  26. Roland de Chanson says:

    Thank you for that commentary, Maureen. I admit I have looked somewhat askance at Origen ever since my college days but you have motivated me to do some research, especially if Papa Ratzinger is an admirer of him. And I am certainly an admirer of Raztinger. Thanks again.

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