Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ratzinger begins to show true colors

Pope Benedict XVI, the erstwhile Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has apparently begun to show his true conservative colors more forcefully than before. My buddy Tom sent me a link to the following English Dong-A Ilbo article:

Pope Benedict XVI approved a document that says Roman Catholic Church as the only proper church and other Christian denominations as “defective” or not true churches on July 10. Other churches, including Protestant and Orthodox churches, immediately attacked the Pope’s remarks, Reuters and DPA reported.

The document states that “Christ ‘established here on Earth’ only one church,” and as for Orthodox churches, it pointed out that the fact that the churches did not recognize the authority of the pope. Regarding Protestant churches, Pope Benedict mentioned that they couldn’t be called “churches” in the proper sense because they lacked apostolic succession.

The foreign press pointed out that the substance of the document is similar to the one that the Pope made when he was secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Censure is coming from all around regarding his remarks. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches said, “We are wondering if Catholic churches really have intention to excommunicate other brother churches.” German Evangelical churches criticized that a chance for unity between denominations was “getting far away again.” Leaders of the Copt, a traditional Egyptian Protestant church, dismissed his remarks as a joke.

Benedict also announced on July 7 that he would revive the Latin mass, which caused a backlash from Jewish people since the Latin mass, known as the “Tridentine Mass,” contains a chant that calls for Jewish people to renounce their religion.

Some catholic churches have questioned the statement and consider it a step back from the reform of the Vatican Council II (1962-1965). The council decided that the language of the mass should be decided according to the church that the mass is held in.

Pope Benedict XVI created a controversy by describing Islam as a violent religion last year.

As with the 2000 document Dominus Iesus, which was written largely by Ratzinger while Pope John Paul II was still alive, Ratzinger's latest move is merely a reaffirmation of a long-held Church stance, one that was tweaked during the Second Vatican Council, a.k.a. Vatican II (1962-65).

The issue here is not that the Roman Church has suddenly turned vicious; the issue is that some folks in Rome insist on trumpeting unsavory aspects of Church doctrine in what can only be billed as spectacularly inept attempts at public relations. The Church is free to declare whatever articles of belief it wants, but I fail to see how such moves further the Church's somewhat paradoxical wish to promote interreligious harmony. Do harmony and hegemony mix? If a certain religion holds not only that other traditions are in error, but also that the One True Religion should be spread as far as possible, how is this consonant with the desire for peaceful coexistence? That has been one of the themes I've explored, in some fashion or other, on this blog and in my book.



kwandongbrian said...


The last of your quote:
"Pope Benedict XVI created a controversy by describing Islam as a violent religion last year."

It was my impression that Pope Benedict was merely quoting a previous Pope and not exactly supporting the claim.

I may be way off; I only read about it all through secondary sources. Still, if they are wrong about that, perhaps they are misrepresenting Benedict's current (possible) document.

Kevin Kim said...


You're not way off at all. Dr. Hodges at Gypsy Scholar did quite a few posts on the topic. I think you're right that the article mischaracterizes the pope's Regensburg address. Benedict was indeed quoting another pope, one Paleologos (spellings vary), and the context in which the quote appeared wasn't as inimical to Islam as the papers made it seem.

As for this latest PR disaster, well... it would be consistent with what Rome has done in the past to restate the Roman Church's superiority; that's actually nothing new. But such restatements, especially after Vatican II, seem to run against the grain of other documents such as Nostra Aetate, which was promulgated during Vatican II and preaches an inclusivistic theology that doesn't outright grant other religions equal status, but does open the possibility that they may be, in themselves, "ways of salvation," however imperfect.

The Pope's latest declaration might be considered consistent with post-Vatican II inclusivism, but when Vatican II is compared with the Church's previous stance-- extra ecclesiam, nulla salus ("outside of the Church, no salvation," dating back to the Middle Ages), the current move doesn't signify spiritual progress.

I'll read a bit more deeply into this and see whether the Protestants, Jews, and Muslims are protesting for nothing.


Anonymous said...

"Leaders of the Copt": I assume this is a reference to the Coptic Church, which should not be characterized as Protestant.

The reference to the prayers for Jews is slightly incorrect: it's about more than just abandoning Judaism: it's about embracing Christianity. I happen to think that the sentiment, while not for the best, is an improvement on previous history: mere prayers are better than forced conversions.

Anyway, I think Benedict is doing a great thing by reinstating the Tridentine Mass. As a former believer, I hope that people will come to view the Mass not as something attached to a body of doctrine about what one should and shouldn't believe, but as a collective work of art produced over a few thousand years--something that might be more possible in an exclusively Latin environment. Guitars: out; Gregorian chant: in!