“Benedict goes to Westminster”

The phrase that comes to mind is "Nixon goes to China".

Day 2 Benedict’s trip has blown John Paul II’s trip out of the water.  I don’t mean that John Paul’s trip wasn’t important or that the crowds weren’t as big.  But we have to consider who the players are, and what is taking place and where.  What John Paul did was great, but what he did, didn’t matter as much as what Benedict is doing.  John Paul’s  effort was a continuation of what Paul VI and John XXIII had done.  Benedict builds on that, but his project is something quite different.

It is probable that quite a few people are not fans of all the people involved.  This isn’t just any Pope, it is a German Pope with the reputation of saying "No" all the time.  That in itself makes what he is doing more impressive.  Also, this is taking place at Lambeth Palace, Westminster Hall and, Westminster Abbey, which three places tie together the separation of the Church of England, the Crown from the Catholic Church.

What we got today was rapprochement with the state and with the C of E at the same time.  Of course, the two go together.  This was clear from today’s events.  Had a Pope addressed a joint session of Congress would not been nearly as significant as what happened today.

Rapprochement is not communion.  No one takes it for that.  But in a sense Pope Benedict, and the Crown, and the Church of England, have found some closure today.

Today it was as if a treaty has been signed.  The treaty is in the symbolism, rather than on a piece of paper.  The essential element of the treaty states: we are over it.  We may have a long way to go to be emotionally over it, and we still have a lot to digest.  But we recognize that there is no going back. 

There may not be a way of going forward either.  In concrete relations between the Cof E and the Catholic Church, we may actually be stuck.  But we cannot go back to the way things were before in our relations.  Something new has transpired in between the Crown, the C of E, and the Church.  Do achieve this, Pope Benedict had to give something up.  At the same time, he didn’t give up anything essential.

Symbols are important.  Today’s rapprochement is symbolic, but not less real for that.  The Vicar of Christ, Peter, went to England in a state visit.  Perhaps John Paul II would have made a state visit back when, had there not been the tension over the Falkland Islands.  But the fact is, his was not a state visit.  That had to wait until today. 

Benedict gave up something in giving symbolic recognition to the Church of England.  He has shifted the way they will talk.  That doesn’t mean Benedict thinks that they are on an equal footing.  I refer you to Dominus Iesus.  Run, don’t walk, to read it again.

Westminster PalaceThink about this, as well.  Benedict is not liked by liberals and secular humanists, and probably by many of Archbp. Williams colleagues.  The fact that he is not liked, he is in fact reviled by many in England, made his words and gestures more effective.  Had a liberal done this, the symbol would not have made as much difference.  People would have shrugged and said, "Well, he’s a liberal.  What do you expect?"  But this is Papa Ratzinger, and not some theoretical future Papa, say… Ravasi.  This Pope went to England. 

Who this Pope is is one of the reason why this Pope is the Pope of Christian Unity.

It is interesting to watch and listen to Pope Benedict.  He doesn’t show signs of doubt. 

No matter what happens at the Newman beatification on Sunday, I don’t think today can be overshadowed.  No documents were signed, but this sealed something in Anglican Catholic relations.

As I have argued before on this blog, when Pope Benedict engages in ecumenical relations he gives things up.  But he never gives up anything that is essential.  Anzi as the Italians say.  On the contrary, he affirms what is essential.  This is why Pope Benedict’s ecumenical gestures, and his relations with academia and civil authorities, are markedly different from those of his predecessors.  He wins real common ground.

Again, something was given away today, but nothing essential.  As a matter of fact, the essential was affirmed.  Benedict said there are still problems in relations with the Crown and the Church of England.  We have done as much as we can and now we will put them before the Lord.  That’s what Pope’s do.

A couple more notes:

Anglicanorum coetibus played no role in today’s high-stakes churchcraft.  I imagine that Rowan Williams has the sense of this.  Pope Benedict’s visit will help the Anglicans get over Anglicanorum coetibus. As a matter of fact, AC assumed the place which Rome thought it had all the time.  Anglicans today had the opportunity to view AC through Benedict’s lens. Rowan Williams Pope Benedict Lambeth

Moreover… looking back at Archbp. William’s words and Pope Benedict’s words, you had a strong sense from Pope Benedict of Apostolic Tradition.  You don’t get that from what William’s said.  History of Europe, okay.  The other part?  Not so much.

Rowan Williams is clearly smart and eloquent. You have the sense in listening to him that he is so smart and eloquent that he doesn’t have to rely on anything other than his eloquence.  Anglicans don’t have teaching authority. They are left with being persuasive, eloquent, charming.  The C of E is lucky to have him right now.  If they didn’t, if they had someone who wasn’t eloquent, they would be flying apart even faster than they are.

On the other hand, Pope Benedict, who is clearly able and willing and happy to rely on the authority of his office, doesn’t have to worry about the sound of his mellifluous tones floating back to him, or seeing the rapt attention in the faces of his listeners.  All he does is deliver his straight forward message, eloquent in its authority and force, if not in its delivery.  Pope’s have an advantage that way.

Williams today spoke of the need to be persuasive through the example of lifestyle, etc., and not through political organization or clout in the public square.  He seems to shy from clear articulation of what Pope Benedict is perfectly comfortable with saying in the public square.  I am open to correction if I am wrong about this, but this is my impression.

In that speech at Lambeth Palace, Benedict said "we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ".  In the paragraph before Benedict was taking about pluralism and other religions.  In making his interfaith point, he points to what secularist humanists do (deny the transcendent, holiness, the true grounds of human dignity, etc.).  Then Benedict did something that, it seems to me, Williams won’t do.  Benedict said, I repeat…: "At the same time, "we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ."  Williams’ talk does not say anything like that. 

I am not saying that Archbp. Williams doesn’t believe in Christ.  I am not saying or hinting at all that he is shy about naming Christ.  It is just that when it comes to the issue of the Christian voice in the public square, the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t talk at all like the Bishop of Rome. He will name Christ, truly, but he won’t make Benedict’s claim.

Westminster AbbeyIn that Vesper’s address Williams presented Christ as a model of service.  We meet Christ’s almighty power in Christ’s service.  Yes.  But, in reading it again, does he make any strong claims about faith in Christ over against other humans?  He just doesn’t talk about that.  The pastor in the Church "bows down in reverence before each human person".  Fine.  Silence about certain dimensions of Christ doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in them.  He just doesn’t say much about those things.  Why might that be?  It may be that if you are interested in your discourse being picked up by Jews and Muslims, and every other group in a pluralistic society, you won’t stress Christ in speaking as being more than example.  Don’t emphasize what gets in the way.  I am not suggesting that there is something lacking in his faith in Christ.  I am restricting myself to his style.  I hope I am not being unfair, but there was something missing from his discourse today and I was intent on hearing it.

Benedict is, on the other hand, fearless. Salvation comes only through Jesus, and he says it. 

On the airplane heading to Scotland Benedict said: "Where there is anti-Catholicism I will go forward with great courage and joy."

Benedict has gone to Westminster. 

I think he has changed the conversation there.

I am eager to read also what the good analysts in England have to say about today, which was certainly the high point of the state visit.  I know that my friend Fr. Finigan will have good insights.  These are some thoughts, after watching the three important events today at Lambeth Palace, Westminster Hall, and Westminster Abbey.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. thereseb says:

    “the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ”. This raises an important point in relation to the hermeneutic of continuity, as applied to Nostra Aetate (or the SSPX interpretation thereof – which seemed to be a major sticking point) and “Ex ecclesia nulla salus”. I expect you will be returning to it, and explaining its significance Fr Z.

  2. Jacob says:

    The C of E is lucky to have him right now.

    I think for the reasons you spelled out later in dissecting his speech, a lot of traditionally-minded Anglicans would disagree with your statement. I’ve followed the Anglican picture for awhile now through blogs like TitusOneNine; having read his remarks over the last few years on my own and read various comments, a general consensus is that Dr. Williams in his speaking too often tries to have his cake and eat it too.

  3. Magpie says:

    Excellent commentary Father. I was impressed with the Vespers service this evening.

  4. Jacob: If Archbp. Williams goal is to keep the communion together, and the Church of England’s goal is to stick together, then they need someone like him. They can’t have anyone who will take a stronger stand and they can’t have anyone who isn’t able to put four words together. Whether traditionally-minded Anglicans want him or not is another matter. To them I can only say:

    Anglicanorum coetibus.

  5. mike cliffson says:

    Dear FR:
    I must be your enemy, [?] except I hope my personal motive be to eg-g you on rather than give you an eg-o booost as such
    ‘Cause I think you’re doing a good job in the discernment and perception line, intoros percetion, comments, and fisking..

    Sub specie aeternis I Suspect the Angloshere to be on the out, but since Peter’s giving it his own version of six cylinders at full throttle, Who knows. He obviously discerns/believes/ in duty bound/ it’s worth giving it a try.

  6. jlmorrell says:

    Fr. Z,

    I agree with much of your analysis, but am frustrated with the Pope’s unwillingness to go further in speaking the truth with charity.

    In his homily at Glasgow, the Pope said:

    “Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.”

    As I read someone comment earlier, why does that sentence not read, “Yet the Holy, Roman, Catholic Church is in fact the only guarantee of authentic liberty and respect”?

    While I appreciate so much of what the Holy Father says and does, I yearn for the hierarchy to return, as it must in my opinion, to proclaiming the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ.

  7. SimonDodd says:

    I cannot explain to you all just how—as a former Anglican and former Brit—what I’ve seen in the last 24 hours has felt. Watching the Westminster Evensong, in particular was, profoundly emotional. I will confess that I had sadly written off the old country. I thought that it was lost to atheism, socialism, and modernism. But looking at the crowds in Glasgow, and looking at the wide-angle exterior shot as Westminster Abbey’s bells rang out, I felt something like the sense of unbridled joy and hope that I think Obama supporters watching the Grant Park coronation must have felt.

    I have said this in another place, but want to repeat it here, with our host’s indulgence. [With pleasure!] I think it’s very clear why the secularists are so against this visit. They are kicking and screaming because they realize just how dangerous it is when God is dragged out of the religion section and placed front and center on page one. The stage lights of a state visit give our wonderful pope a pulpit whence he can speak directly and unfiltered to people unused to hearing the truth.

    You have to understand that there are the viciously antireligious secularists, and there are also the benignly indifferent secularists who just want a quiet life, who don’t want to be troubled by thinking too much. There’s a kind of entente cordiale between them: the viciously antireligious brigade places layer after layer of gossamer over the gospel and over our spiritual and cultural inheritance. The benign group doesn’t object, because to some extent these are small encroachments—each layer is thin—and to some extent it actually helps them, because then they aren’t troubled by things they don’t want to think about. And so year after year, the modernists have slowly obscured the past, one layer at a time, and we barely remember. The antis know that if they can put God is out of sight, the indifferents will put him out of mind. [Indeed.]

    The Pope’s visit rips back the veil they have placed, step by step, over religion and history; it puts in full view the grace of God grace and that great inheritance inspired by Him that they are desperately trying to make society forget. For the first time in as long as I can remember, seeing the reaction to Benedict, I feel that this is a country that has simply forgotten to be Christian. That maybe all is not lost. One papal visit can’t fix decades of poison, but Benedict has made a terrific start.

    Deo gratias! Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto! May God keep him safe but make him dangerous; may He use him mightily, that this visit will tear off the ivy and kick open a door, thought irrecoverably closed, through which Britain might walk back to the Lord!

  8. Prof. Basto says:

    The Pope’s address at Westminster Abbey surpassed even the keynote address delivered at Westminister Hall.

    This – the Westminster Abbey address – has been the true high point of this visit so far.

  9. Prof. Basto: And even more powerful when they are read together.

  10. TonyLayne says:

    @ jlmorrell: “As I read someone comment earlier, why does that sentence not read, ‘Yet the Holy, Roman, Catholic Church is in fact the only guarantee of authentic liberty and respect'”?

    The short answer is: You gotta start somewhere. You start on tricycles before you move to bicycles, with eating strained peas and carrots before moving to meat and potatoes. Given the current state of English spiritual life, Benedict may very well regard them as “infants in Christ”, to be started on milk before being given solid food (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-2). It still remains to be seen whether they will swallow and digest his words or spit them out and demand Twinkies.

  11. Prof. Basto says:

    Indeed, Father.

  12. RMT says:

    There seems to be a trend here with our current Holy Father:

    He is making a point to specifically visit the points where there have been severe ruptures away from the Church. His first WYD was Germany–the birthplace of the “Reformation”. He has been to Istanbul in Turkey, where Muslims shattered any real Christian hold, but also formerly Constantinople, the birthplace of the Orthodox church.

    Now Lambeth, Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey…

  13. RuariJM says:

    I rather liked something Absp Williams is reported to have said:

    “The Pope and I found we have a lot in common. We both like cats and we both like recruiting Anglican clergy”


  14. RuariJM says:

    @Simon Dodd – for shame you should write off Britain! I recall we used to pray to Our Lady to ‘…look down on England, thy dowry…’ – The country was dedicated to Our Lady many centuries ago. I doubt she has handed it back!

    The visit was remarkable, for the reasons you have outlined – and the strident secularist (actually, I’d say ‘anti-religious’) factin has been shown to be puffed-up self-publicists with nothing like the support they thought they had. The protest in Glasgow was cancelled through lack of interest. Planned events around the country largely followed suit, or atttracted nothing more than a handful. The main event, planned and publicised for months, was Saturday in London. It attracted ‘no more than 5,000’ (the Police, whose counting skills sometimes leave something to be desired) or ‘around 20,000’ (the organisers, who ramped the number up overnight from 10,000. Many of them must have come disguised as the Invisible Man). And this on the big day, when their ‘great enemy’, their capo di capi of religionists, was actually on their home turf!

    On the same day, something around 250,000 lined the streets of London – according to the Police, so the same caveat applies. A verified 55,000 spent £25 (c $38) each to stand in a muddy field for 12 hours waiting for HH to arrive.

    The protestthepope campaign was a truly massive flop. More, the credentials and bona fides of various prominent members are now being examined more closely. One of them, Mr Peter Tatchell, has so many embarrassing skeletons in his closet I doubt he can get the door closed.

    I’ll take my normal soundings over the next few days but it will be interesting to see what the general reaction has been – and, even more, to se where w go from here.

  15. Steve K. says:

    SimonDodd –

    “May God keep him safe but make him dangerous; may He use him mightily, that this visit will tear off the ivy and kick open a door, thought irrecoverably closed, through which Britain might walk back to the Lord!”

    That was well said. I am reading the Lord of the Rings again right now and have recently come upon the part where Gandalf the White talks about how he is dangerous, though kind. And it recalls the description of Aslan from C.S. Lewis. May he be very dangerous indeed!

    I am lucky to be in the UK this week, I arrived yesterday morning so I didn’t get to see any of the events of the visit first hand, but I did go to Mass yesterday (St. Osmund’s in Salisbury), and father sermonized on Blessed John Henry Newman and the Holy Father’s visit. There was also a portait of Blessed Newman on display. It was a very holy service.

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