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Ratzinger the Revisionist

David Gibson has some interesting commentary on the unexpected way Ratzinger’s papacy is turning out, as seen most recently in the whole move to bring in the disaffected Anglicans:

Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time.

Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.

More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.

That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.

And that could be the final irony. For all the hue and cry over last week’s developments, Benedict’s innovations may have glossed too lightly over the really tough issues: namely, the theological differences that traditional Anglicans say have kept them from converting, as they could always do.


  1. Evan wrote:

    While this article certainly offers some more astute analysis of the pope than most others that are swirling around, I’d take issue with how strongly he makes his point. Especially on the third paragraph you quote, regarding Eucharist and the priesthood… I can’t imagine there are any Anglo-Catholics in this deal who would not affirm transubstantiation, or who would find Marian doctrine or doctrines of the papacy problematic.

    The article also misleads by quoting ACNA bishops, as if these are the Anglicans that are even considering joining Rome. He needs to ask the TAC bishops what they think– ACNA opinion is irrelevant for this event.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 5:10 am | Permalink
  2. robert wrote:

    It’s hard to take seriously an analysis that defines liberalism simply as change.

    And as Evan noted, the author has his American (I’ll add ideological) blinders on. The Pope’s action doesn’t seem to be aimed at the segment of disgruntled Episcopalians who correlate with the American political right. They have little affinity with Rome other than a similar stance on a few political topics. Many Anglo-Catholic folks in the TAC, however, have a true affinity with Rome and are already in agreement or are open to submission to Rome on the doctrinal areas that have divided them. It has mostly been simple inertia and a loyalty to the traditions and institutions of their fathers that has hampered reuniting. The hostility to traditional doctrine within the leadership of the Anglican communion may well have now overcome the inertia and the Pope has just guaranteed the continued existence of their traditions and institutions. Sounds like Bene knows exactly what he is doing. And it ain’t redefining the Church around the politics of babies and gays.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    I’m going to be a little harsher. This (the excerpted portion) is a pretty ignorant analysis. It is really mind boggling how misunderstood the new RC/Anglican issue is. This doesn’t mean that if you are an Anglican, you can now automatically be a Catholic, which is the understanding the author seems to be working on. This renders the third and fourth paragraphs basically meaningless. What Benedict is acknowledging is that there are self-described Anglo-Catholic parishes that already explicitly believe everything that the Catholic church teaches and sought out reconciliation with Rome, not the other way around and he’s facilitating the process of their reconciliation. The “theological” differences that would keep an Anglican from converting, whatever they may be, can and, I assume, do still exist. The people that retain those differences… wait for it… won’t be converting. Given the misunderstandings associated with the commentary on the new Anglican option, the point regarding the Good Friday prayer is an obvious stretch that turns on vague insinuations of anti-Semitism regarding a prayer that virtually every mainline and Evangelical Protestant would ultimately affirm as licit if they were pushed theologically.

    This just goes to show… if you ever thing that something good was written in an Op-Ed piece in the Post… you should probably just think about it a little harder.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    Having read the entire article, I am now even more confident in my remarks: he, like many others, has no clue what the new development with regard to Anglicanism is or what it makes possible.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  5. Rublev wrote:

    Yes, yes… this “new” action by Rome has to be one of the most misunderstood events being reported in the media. All the Vatican is really doing is making official in the rest of the world what it has been doing semi-officially in the U.S. with “Anglican Use” parishes. An Anglican priest/church must consent to the whole of Roman Catholic dogma in order to join, just as anyone else does. Basically, the Vatican is saying, “You are welcome to join us and keep (a version of ) your liturgy as long as you leave everything behind that doesn’t already conform to the Church’s teaching.” As some have already pointed out, this doesn’t do much for anyone besides Anglo-Catholic churches that already accept Roman Catholic teaching. That’s a far cry from existing Anglican/Episopal churches simply getting a RC stamp of approval.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  6. You don’t think that conservative groups will just sign the necessary papers to say they believe random dogma X and Y? You don’t see any plausibility to the suggestion that there is a bit of winking and nudging going on from the Vatican? You also don’t see a problem in the way the Vatican did this without consulting with Canterbury?

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    They haven’t “done” anything. The Apostolic Constitution isn’t even out yet and no one has converted. All of these people were going to convert anyway. This just lets them keep using the BCP. Married priests that converted could already stay married. To be honest, this has been talked about for along time. I don’t even buy the “can you believe how they caught the poor Archbishop off guard?” line. It has been common knowledge that TAC (and others) have been seeking this for quite some time. Most people are just clueless. The idea that this is a big conspiracy to get all the homophobes and woman-haters in one church is completely hysterical. Who would winking and nudging benefit? Benedict’s megalomania? I’m sorry, but something far more mundane is taking place here. I repeat: if you think people are going to convert to Catholicism just so they can be in a church that won’t ordain women or condone gay marriage, you are insane. There are already plenty of breakaway Anglican groups, some of them reasonably sized, that do that already, and probably understand themselves to be “in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury,” whatever that means.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    As a Catholic, I fully acknowledge any number of fronts on which the Church, both historical and in this day, might be criticized, but we are well into tinfoil hat territory here.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  9. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Wow, your comments here are really shocking to me, Hill. The truth of the matter is that people are, in fact, converting to Catholicism precisely because of ordination of women and their rejection of gay marriage. I really can’t believe you’d think otherwise. Do you think conservative Anglicans are converting to Catholicism for some other reason?

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  10. I confess I get most of my theology from TV. I have just finished season 2 of the ‘Tudors’ (the Reformation) and have belatedly started watching ‘The Sopranos’ (Puritanism, Catholicism and Spinozist enlightenment in America). So far the first 2 episodes are primarily concerned with the perdurance of traditional organized crime. Nostalgic references harken back to an ideal mythic past of loyalty and moral standards. Not as it might have really existed, of course, but back to another useful fiction, that of the golden years of Godfather I and II (the imaginings of the model ‘early church’?). In a poignant scene, Tony (like Henry’s Thomas Moore) explains to his daughter Meadow how his grandfather built the local Catholic Church, but young, hip, Meadow merely sighs and rolls her reformist eyes and says “big whoop.” Will the mafia be able to make the transition from selling drugs, armed robberies, and prostitution and embrace the post-modern models of internet porn, computer scams, and ripping off Medicare? Meanwhile young Christopher, doubting that old wineskins can hold new wine, considers completely breaking with protocol and robbing a fellow crews (denominations?) truck. But at the last minute he repents and embraces tradition, saying: “maybe this is the reason things are so fu%&ed up, guys running off and doing whatever in the fu%&k they feel like. If we’re gunna be a crew, a gang, we got to stick together.” Amen Christopher, Obliged.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I honestly haven’t met any. What’s your source? I feel sorry for them if that’s the reason. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable attributing that kind of bad faith to someone without having a fair bit of insight into their spiritual lives. Now… a change in inertia that is the result of something like the ordination of women or approval of same sex marriage is perhaps understandable. In other words, these issues could represent efficient causes, but seriously… it is presuming the bad faith that one is attempting to prove to make this sort of judgment corporately. I thinks it’s asinine (and question-begging) to suggest anything other than: people are converting to Catholicism because they believe in what the Catholic church teaches.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  12. Hill wrote:

    This is basically it. A big chunk of Anglicans (TAC) delivered an unsolicited communication to the Holy See (in 2007!!) to the effect that they believe and profess everything the Catholic church teaches and desire to be in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. Rather than obliterating a beautiful liturgical and ecclesial tradition by insisting that they be assimilated piecemeal to the Roman Rite, the liturgy and parish communities of TAC are going to be preserved as much as possible. As I mentioned, there are already a few isolated Anglican use parishes. The idea that RCC has undertaken some secret program to “poach” Anglicans is completely absurd. This is something that has been loud and clear on the radar screen for quite a long time.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  13. As a convert I think you’re suffering from a certain zeal here that is blinding you to some facts. I fully recognize that there have been break-away Anglican groups that have been seeking communion with Rome (and not with Canterbury, that sort of being the fucking point). The point about this happening behind Canterbury’s back has more to do with granting legitimacy to these groups who have been trying to break up the Communion. It has repercussions for the Anglican Communion that go beyond just a few well-meaning traditionalists who really love the Pope. Have you ever dealt with these people?! I mean, seriously, if you’re going to keep pulling the “I’m a Catholic, and no one here understands what Rome was doing” card, I am going to start having to pull the “If you talk to these people they are mostly going on about bitches and fags ruining the church, and then they might say something token about Church unity and real presence [which my liberal, high-church parish affirms too, it isn't that fucking rare]” card. (And, really, really, you don’t see a problem with the Good Friday prayer as is? Let me guess, Rome has a long proud history of relationships with Judaism?)

    Now, I’m not saying Benedict did this on purpose, but that in itself is a problem. It shows a complete lack of respect for the lines of dialogue, a complete disdain for the troubles in the communion, and will result in a lot of over zealous, slavishly pro-Magisterium, “converts” who say things about Islamo-fascism and natural right. Essentially this is institutional recognition of quasi-Catholicism. Hell, they’re interviewing Catholic priests on FOX News that are saying this has to do with conservative views. One doesn’t need to have a tin foil hat to see that there are issues here.

    I haven’t complained too much because it is the sort of thing I expect from this Papacy and because the communion is going to continue to erode regardless, this only adds to it and may accelerate it. Still, it seems only Romans don’t see a problem with this, but I guess that’s because we’re all seen as heretics anyway.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  14. Adrian wrote:

    thank you daniel. I can now watch sopranos all over again, with new eyes.

    Friday, October 30, 2009 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  15. Your welcome Adrian. Not to stretch the allegory of my other posts too far, but in the last episode Tony thinks he’s spotted an old mobster that betrayed his crew and he may be seeking revenge. But, can a community endure that is constructed on theological creeds (codes) that are in tension with the lived reality of its members and the contradictions inherent in its cultural context? For all their hand-ringing about lost values and broken faith the mob has always been about power and profit, fear and control; community and identity are in service to the exercise of that power, not the other way around. To be a Judas, a ‘rat,’ is not merely an act of personal betrayal or to put others in legal jeopardy but threatens the whole enterprise by piercing the necessary fictions that help maintain control. Will it be possible for a ‘mob’ to endure when a preponderance of its members are living a fictional existence, lost to their true names and dwelling in witness protection? That’s the question that keeps me tuning in! Enjoy the reruns. Obliged.

    Friday, October 30, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

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