Not Bad And Yet Not Good

Finally got around to reading the NYT Mag's cover story on Benedict XVI. It's not awful. It's not smug and the author is even sympathetic in some ways --he "gets" that Benedict is a kind man. But his sources are the usual suspects, who can't break free even for a moment from their orthodoxy-means-rigidity paradigm. I am sorry, if you read anything Joseph Ratzinger has ever written or said ever, you can't find rigidity. It's not there. On the contrary, his path as a theologian was marked early on by the effort precisely to overcome the rigidity of scholasticism --which is how he came to eschew Thomism in favor of Augustinianism. A repeated theme in is essays and interviews is how to maintain fervor and live freely within the rules or structures that are necessary in human organizations --how to remain a disciple of the Truth, and not of the structures per se. He is attracted by beauty, not rules. Miss this in him and you have not known him. Just one short example from a recent speech to Swiss bishops:
I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.
If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith - a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.

The article makes a huge mistake in saying that Benedict was attracted philosophically to Phenomenology and the "personalism" of Edmund Husserl. That was John Paul II. Ratzinger has always referred to St. Augustine as his teacher and "constant companion." And it shows. Part II of Deus Caritas Est comes straight out of City of God.

You can find lengthier critiques here and here, if you've the mind to go through bit by bit. I just wonder, if Benedict will never attract the masses with orthodoxy, how the likes of Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ explain why he is, in fact, attracting the masses? The crowds for his masses and weekly audiences are packed --far fuller than they were for his predecessor (see more on that here, linked previously). And as for Benedict's approach, why speculate? He's laid it out very clearly here. And here.

What dissident theologians and secular religion reporters miss is the point of Christianity. Christ came to free us from the law by changing our hearts so the law wouldn't be necessary. As Christopher West put it in another context, you never hear people complain about celibate old men imposing their outdated rules about theft on them --because people don't want to steal. And if they don't want to steal, they're free of the law against theft. The laws that chafe us are the ones that prevent us from doing what we desire to do --and Christian freedom lies in purifying our hearts so that evil no longer attracts. Dissident freedom lies in calling evil good and mocking anyone who says otherwise.