Pope Benedict, Creation, and Biblical Criticism

My paper “The Word in Creation: The Ratzingerian Critique of the Historical-Critical Method and Its Application to the Creation Accounts” is up at Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Two of my preoccupations during my master’s studies were Creation (particularly the Augustinian understanding of Genesis) and the theology of Pope Benedict. This paper was where the two converged thanks to Ratzinger’s little masterpiece In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, which allowed me to explore his approach to Biblical criticism in the context of unfolding Genesis 1.

Here’s a bit of it:

Creation was not a preoccupation of the Israelites until after the Babylonian captivity, when they began looking back at their origins and—drawing on ancient tradition—developed the passages into the form we now know. What they tell the Jews is simply this: God was never just the God of one piece of land or one place. If he was, then he could be overthrown by another, stronger “god.” After Israel lost everything, and began encountering God again in their misery, they came to understand that this was the God of all people, all lands, and indeed, of all the universe. He had this power, first in Israel, then in Babylon, because he created the world and all that was in it.

In captivity, they heard creation myths such as that of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which tells of Marduk splitting the body of a dragon in two to form the world, and fashioning humans out of dragon blood. All of this dark and primordial nonsense is banished by the image of an earth “without form and void.” No more dragons, no more gods, no more violence and blood: just the pure power of creation from nothing, by a God who made man, not to suffer and struggle and die, but to walk in paradise.

There was order to creation, not chaos. It emerged from Reason, not madness. And it was spoken into being by the Word of God. Indeed, Jews believed that the Torah existed before creation. Creation happened to make the Torah known.

Furthermore, the shape of the creation account itself was meant to echo the Torah and to sanctify time and the week. Time becomes sacred in this account, with man laboring for six days in imitation of God, and resting to worship God on the seventh, in imitation of the “rest” of God Himself. The creation accounts thus build towards, and culminate in, the Sabbath, “which is the sign of the covenant between God and humankind.”24 In a very real sense, then, the creation account can be seen as liturgical: “Creation exists for the sake of worship.” That final day is a day in which humanity itself participates in the freedom of the almighty, provided to us in the covenant. We “enter his rest” (in the words of Psalm 95 and Hebrews).

Read the rest.

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The Three Pillars of Lent

We meet again, Lent, my old foe. This time I will have you!2015-02-18 12.52.52

I joke. I love Lent, at least since I’ve learned to meet it not as my Everest to be conquered, but as 40 days in the desert with Christ.

That’s a pretty tall order to fill, and our forebears in the faith used to do it with hard Lents that saw them eating one major meal a day and giving up meat, eggs, and diary for the entire period. Indeed, it’s a practice still followed by some our separated brethren in the Eastern churches.

That option is certainly open to modern people, but it’s probably not the ideal for most of us. Life has changed significantly. For long periods of history, people only had one major meal a day anyway, with dairy and meat not always on the menu for many classes.

Does this mean we’ve gone soft?

Of course it does, but it also means that getting back to that spiritual fighting weight is a formidable task made more difficult by a simple fact of modern life: the culture is not fasting. When Christendom was ascendant, everybody observed the fast in the same way. Today, if you want to observe, say, a medieval fast, you’ll be the odd one out. Even Catholics aren’t doing it that way. This has to make it more difficult.

I’ve tried the hardcore stuff with varying levels of success and failure, and found that, for me, the road through Lent is best taken one step at a time rather than with some grand itinerary.

The point of our time in the desert is to draw nearer to Christ. There are three ways to live Lent:

  • Carrying the cross with Christ by sharing a small portion of His suffering.
  • Emulating Him in acts of charity and kindness.
  • Drawing near to Him in prayer and spending time at His feet, learning from him through Scripture and spiritual writing.

And so, this is the way I make my Lent.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me
I observe the required fasting and abstinence, but I’ve found that giving up X or Y doesn’t really do anything for me. I make my fast day by day, choosing something each day to bypass and offering that up, in this season, for the deliverance of Middle Eastern Christians.

One day I may observe a full fast, while on another I’ll choose to forgo something I want. It works for me because it makes each item a choice and each choice is linked to an intention. “Forty days without chocolate” doesn’t work for me as well as reaching for a beer and saying, “No” to myself.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Whatever You Did to The Least of These, You Did to Me
Each day should be lived in caritas, but in Lent that charity should be more focused, more intentional, more deliberate. One kind deed a day should be a goal for every day, but in Lent, we should reach beyond and in so reaching, connect those acts to some intention. Sometimes, the most charitable thing I’m capable of on a given day is not throttling someone who richly deserves it, and that just doesn’t count.

I also don’t leave the house very much, which is common for freelancers. On those days, when an opportunity to do good doesn’t present itself, I plan to donate some money to a worthy cause.

This year, we’re planning to get the whole family out to do some works of mercy, either visiting the seniors or the soup kitchen. We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, shelter the shelterless, bury the dead, visit the sick, instruct the ignorant, warn the sinner, counsel the doubtful, pray for the living and dead, bear wrongs patiently, forgive, and comfort.

These things, too, we should do all year round, so Lent is our chance to make it intentional, reaching beyond ourselves and our comfort zones.

To best do this, I try to live Lent every moment I can, and ask myself, “Am I doing all I’m capable of doing, or simply doing what’s comfortable and easy for me?”

Could You Not Stay Awake One Hour With Me?
The devotional and prayer parts of Lent are easiest for me, and the ones I look forward to. It’s not a burden for me to take on an extra course of spiritual reading or prayer, and thus this part of my observance has no penitential aspect.

That’s okay. The fasting and abstinence is our cross and therefore our penance. Prayer and spiritual reading is for our growth, to help us draw nearer to Christ.

Naturally, this means observing the Holy Days, praying the Station of the Cross, and making a better effort at daily prayers, however we perform them.

For me, it means adding an extra hour of explicitly spiritual (rather than historical or purely theological) reading each day. My devotional plan looks something like this:

We’ll also do the daily readings as a family.

With the exception of the Bible and the Creed meditations, I plan to rotate through the other reading with no particular agenda, simply being guided by the Spirit.

If all this seems rather loosey goosey, it is, and intentionally so.
Over the years, I’ve made hard, structured Lents both well and poorly. This year, I choose to be led through Lent by the Spirit rather than drawing a map and an agenda and charging through with grim determination. I want to be open to the action of grace, and so I’ve chosen some structured elements and some general intentions. What this will mean in practice is uncertain, since

I’ve never tried it before. It could be a complete washout, as I fall into old habits.

The best things I can do to make a good Lent is

  • Remind myself daily of the season and its purpose.
  • Leave my comfort zone and put myself on a path so the Spirit can do his work.
  • Remember that this is not a mountain to be climbed or a marathon to be won, but a long walk into Jerusalem at the side of The Lord, and the best thing I can do on that walk is accompany him, emulate him, and be taught by him.

The best things you can do in Lent is a) be present to the Lord and b) be present to your fellow man, whether that means, for you, daily mass, the rosary, and a holy hour or five minutes of silent prayer at the end of a tired day; an hour playing cards with the elderly, or simply making lunch for your kids each morning. Lent finds us where we are. We yield, we act, we pray, and in unity with the communion of saints and Christians everywhere, we hold up these things as a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Benedict: The Liturgy as a Game

Reading Ratzinger’s Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy, this passage from Spirit of the Liturgy struck me again as a fascinating analogy (re-paragraphed for ease of reading):

download (2)What is the liturgy? What happens during the liturgy? What kind of reality do we encounter here? In the 1920s the suggestion was made that we should understand the liturgy in terms of “play”. The point of the analogy was that a game has its own rules, sets up its own world, which is in force from the start of play but then, of course, is suspended at the close of play.

A further point of similarity was that play, though it has a meaning, does not have a purpose and that for this very reason there is something healing, even liberating, about it. Play takes us out of the world of daily goals and their pressures and into a sphere free of purpose and achievement, releasing us for a time from all the burdens of our daily world of work. Play is a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can let life flow freely.

We need such moments of retreat from the pressure of daily life if its burden is to be bearable. Now there is some truth in this way of thinking, but it is insufficient. It all depends on what we are playing. Everything we have said can be applied to any game, and the trouble is that serious commitment to the rules needed for playing the game soon develops its own burdens and leads to new kinds of purposefulness. Whether we look at modern sport or at chess championships or, indeed, at any game, we find that play, when it does not degenerate into mere fooling about, quickly turns from being another world, a counter-world or non-world, to being a bit of the normal world with its own laws.

We should mention another aspect of this theory of play, something that brings us closer to the essence of the liturgy. Children’s play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity. On this analogy, the liturgy would be a reminder that we are all children, or should be children, in relation to that true life toward which we yearn to go. Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation, a rehearsal, a prelude for the life to come, for eternal life, which St. Augustine describes, by contrast with life in this world, as a fabric woven, no longer of exigency and need, but of the freedom of generosity and gift.

Seen thus, liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life. Here, then, would be the concrete form of hope, which lives in advance the life to come, the only true life, which initiates us into authentic life—the life of freedom, of intimate union with God, of pure openness to our fellowman. Thus it would imprint on the seemingly real life of daily existence the mark of future freedom, break open the walls that confine us, and let the light of heaven shine down upon earth.

Look What I Got in The Mail!

 

It’s beautiful and big and mine mine mine!

This is me:

It leads with the complete text of his central work on the topic, Spirit of the Liturgy, and then collects all his papers and homilies on the liturgy in several sections: Typos–Mysterium–Sacramentum, Celebration of the Eucharist, Theology of Church Music, and Further Perspectives. It’s listed as volume 11, but published first at Benedict’s request because of the importance of the subject. There are new introductions and editorial notes.

The production is outstanding, and even a for die-hard Ratzingerian like myself much of it is completely new to me. Can’t wait to start it, but I’m finishing In Search of Sacred Time: Jacobus de Voragine and The Golden Legend by Jacques Le Goff, and this is one to savor. I’m hoping his Biblical work is next, since that was a major focus of my study.

My edition appears to be current and corrected. Some of the first run had pages printed in the wrong order (hence the low reviews on Amazon).

Huzzah! Ratzinger’s “Opera Omnia” Is Coming This Month!

Well, the first volume, at least. The English translation is being published by Ignatius Press, and should be out by the end of April. The title is Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy. Here’s the official line:

This major volume is a collection of the writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) on the theology of the Liturgy of the Church, a subject of preeminence to him as a theologian, professor and spiritual writer. It brings together all his writings on the subject, short and long, giving his views on liturgical matters and questions over many years and from various perspectives.

He chose to have his writings on the Liturgy for the first volume published of his collected works (though listed as vol. 11) because, as he says in the Introduction: “The liturgy of the Church has been for me since my childhood the central reality of my life, and it became the center of my theological efforts. I chose fundamental theology as my field because I wanted first and foremost to examine thoroughly the question: Why do we believe? But also included from the beginning in this question was the other question of the right response to God and, thus, the question of the liturgy.”

By starting with the theme of liturgy in this volume, Ratzinger wants to highlight God’s primacy, the absolute precedence of the theme of God. Beginning with a focus on the liturgy, he said, tells us that “God is first”. He quotes from the Rule of St. Benedict, “Nothing is to be preferred to the liturgy”, as a way of ordering priorities for the life of the Church and of every individual. He says that the fundamental question of the man who begins to understand himself correctly is: How must I encounter God? Thus learning the right way of worshipping is the gift par excellence that is given to us by the faith.

The essential purpose of his writings on the liturgy is to place the liturgy in its larger context, which he presents in three concentric circles. First, the intrinsic interrelationship of Old and New Testament; without the connection to the Old Testament heritage, the Christian liturgy is incomprehensible. The second circle is the relationship to the religions of the world. The third circle is the cosmic character of the liturgy, which is more than the coming together of a circle of people: the liturgy is celebrated in the expanse of the cosmos, encompassing creation and history at the same time.

Click here to be the first kid on your block to get a copy, and make all those other Catholics jealous, unless they’re people who say things like, “Ooo, I like Francis sooo much better than that fusty old Benedict because he’s changing the Church!” in which case the book is a 700-page hardcover and would be useful for knocking some sense into them.

Catholics Coming Unglued: It’s Time to Calm Down

Christ the King (Ghent Altarpiece)

A segment of the faithful Catholic population has been growing more and more distressed since the election of Pope Francis, and it’s really time they get a grip.

Traditionalist site Rorate Caeli kicked off the madness by declaring the Holy Father “The Horror” and posting a string of increasingly demented attacks. That seemed to set the tone, as though declaring Open Season on Francis.

Critics post on Facebook mocking the pope and and deriding anyone who doesn’t think we’re heading towards the Great Apostasy. (They like to call it the “October Schism” in reference to the upcoming Synod.) They write thin-skinned blog posts banging on about irrelevant issues having to do with access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. They subject the pope’s every word to overheated analysis as though it’s some magisterial statement. They unfurl 10,000-word long articles about The End Times, complete with illustrations showing Rome in flames. They pour over obscure prophesies from various apparitions like the gullible pour over Nostradamus. They repeatedly reveal their pure contempt for Vatican II and the Novus Ordo.

All of these people are intelligent, faithful Catholics. And all of them are experiencing some deep emotional turmoil about the fate of the church.

I understand some of the emotions churning deep in their guts. A lot of this is playing out against the general unease of the times, from pointless wars to economic ruin to government perfidy. I haven’t felt like I belong in this country since the election of Obama. It’s become an alien place, with things happening that just don’t make sense. I feel less like an American with each passing year. I’m retreating to the margins and tuning out of the civil life of the nation.

But the one thing I didn’t retreat from is the Church. It’s not that I don’t see the same things they see: it’s just that I’m not letting the poisonous atmosphere in this country cloud my judgment about the Church, the pope, and my fellow Catholics.

And I’m refusing to subject myself to micro-reactions about every single fart and hiccup in the life of the Church, which are now broadcast instantly everywhere, picked apart, refuted, clarified, amplified, corrected, derided, and dumped into the social media churn.

I know at least some of the most vocal critics of Francis would call themselves admirers of John Paul II, but if the words and deeds of the John Paul II pontificate had been passed through the current media filter, those same people would have soiled themselves on a daily basis. Imagine the photos posted to Facebook (“OMG John Paul kissed a Koran! Islam is taking over the Church!”) or the news items turned into grist for a blog post (“Apostate pope apologizes for crusades!”).

The Church isn’t meant to be analyzed at this kind granular level, at this kind of speed.

And by the way, John Paul did both those things, and we’re still here.

Hell, we had a pope dig up the rotting corpse of another pope, subject him to trial, find him guilty, strip him of his vestments, cut off the fingers he used for blessings, and cast the remains into the Tiber … and we’re still here.

And we always will be.

Although I usually refuse any label other than just plain “Catholic,” I am a political conservative and a dedicated Ratzingerian. The transition to Francis was jarring. His language can be imprecise and his pontificate feels like a bit of a high-wire act at times. I like my liturgy formal, my theology clear, and my popes in mozzettas.

That said, I can’t help but admire his approach. His analogy of the Church as a “field hospital” for souls is precisely right. He’s an appealing face for the Church. There are times to collect ourselves and focus on fundamentals, theology, and liturgical forms, and times to get down in the mud with sinners.

I’m not at all comfortable in the mud with sinners, taking risks, but that is my problem and my failing, not his.

Many of these Catholics are reacting exactly like the liberal Catholics they like to deride, trusting in the Magisterium of Me rather than in the Magisterium of the Church. They are doing to Francis what they never would have tolerated anyone to do to Benedict.

I’m not exactly sure what they think will happen because Francis reaches out to sinners or eschews some of the trappings of the office. The worst that can happen, has already happened.

In a history that begins with the murder of the Son of God and includes the execution of all of our founding leaders, Arianism and dozens of lesser heresies, schisms, the sacking of Rome, the shattering of Christendom in the Reformation, dueling popes, the Cadaver Synod, Alexander VI, the loss of the papal states, the abuse crisis, and any number of other terrible moments, the idea that we’re sailing into some new nightmare of the Church because Francis mutters “Who am I to judge?” about priests who have same-sex attraction is laughable.

Continuity.

Meanwhile, Fr. Z and Michael Voris–two traditional Catholics you might expect to join the chorus of critics–have kept their heads while all about them are losing theirs. I’m sure both these men have concerns about the direction of the Francis papacy. I may well share those concerns to some degree.

I’m just willing to wait, and listen, and pray, and not lean on the panic klaxon day after wearying day. And I certainly will not disrespect the Holy Father, ever.

The bigger problem I see in these critics is a crisis of faith. Which part of “shall not prevail against it” do they not understand?

Do they think we’re living in uniquely horrible times? If so, are they frigging kidding me?

Do they think Francis is some kind of anti-Christ who seized the throne of Peter and is busy leading the entire church into perdition with his wicked … outreach to the disaffected and lost? Do they really think the Church will be undone because She considers minor revisions to the pastoral care of divorced and remarried couples, or the pope washes the feet of women on Holy Thursday, or a Latin mass is not available somewhere?

And do they realize that this relentless criticism helps no one at all, and risks damaging the faith of many, including themselves? Do they understand that they are leading others into sin? What are they trying to prove?

And finally, if we are sailing into the End Times, So what? Isn’t that what we’ve been longing for these past 2000 years? What we’ve been training for?

We shouldn’t be wringing our hands and writing interminable panicky posts about the pending apocalypse. We should be shouting Bring it on! We should be sharpening our swords and joining St. Michael at the front lines. We’re not in this church to preserve the dogma and liturgy for its own purpose. It’s merely there while we help shepherd souls for a little while until Jesus returns.

If we are indeed seeing the beginning of the dark times that herald the coming of the anti-Christ, followed by the return of Jesus, good. Perhaps Francis is mustering as many troops as possible–sinner and pious alike–for the final battle.

Let’s stop whining and get fighting, not each other, not the Church, not the pope, not people who are fine with a plain ole Novus Ordo mass, but the enemy we’ve been trained to fight: the devil and his minions.

The fight is out there, not in here.

Those who have faith don’t fear the future. We already know the end: we win.

______________

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Joseph: Pope Benedict One Year Later

One year ago today we woke to the shock of Pope Benedict XVI doing what popes haven’t done in centuries: resigning. I don’t have too much to add to what I wrote then and in the weeks afterward. He is the man I admire most in the world, and he has taught me more than anyone else about this life and this faith. His wisdom, clarity, gentleness, and good humor marked his 8 years on the throne of Peter with one high point after another.

When I read despicable, ignorant, lying articles about him, an anger starts to bubble up, and then I check it (most of the time). That’s not the way he would respond. He’d listen earnestly, sit silently, and then quietly do what he has done his entire life: teach with love.

I will always be a Catholic, but the years of Benedict were years in which I felt a certain closeness to the papacy that I have not felt before or since. Francis, for all his many skills, is not the careful teacher and meticulous scholar that Benedict was. He is a man in the world looking to overturn tables, and at this point in time he’s the right man for the job. That I don’t feel the closeness to him I felt to his predecessor is a statement on me, not the Holy Father.

Benedict was the last great man of Europe. The last of a type of old world scholar and leader formed in the old ways of learning and forged in the nightmares of war and the upheavals of change. This little man stood astride this century as a bridge between the Church of Then and the Church of Now, and with all his vast power and intellect attempted to reunify them into a single tapestry.

He’s still with us, and still serving the Church in prayer and, I believe, with counsel to his successor. Those who try to drive a wedge between Benedict and Francis are fools. No one who has read deeply in Ratzinger/Benedict could fail to see the continuity of belief and conviction, even as they notice the discontinuity in style. Benedict’s papacy was a time of regrouping and learning between two larger, ebullient figures: John Paul II and Francis. That the shy and thoughtful Joseph Ratzinger was not the globe-trotting John Paul or the gregarious Francis is neither here nor there. To everything its season.

I hope in his retirement he is finding the peace he so desired after the death of John Paul, when he simply wanted to return to Germany and write his books and play his piano. He just wanted to be Joseph: the quiet teacher. But God needed him to be Benedict, so he took that burden until he could no longer carry it. He’s served the faith for decades, and at the end, he’s earned a measure of peace. God be with him always.

_____________________________________

Here are the pieces I wrote about the resignation last year at this time and in the weeks after:

Joseph

Images from the Pope’s Last Major Mass

‘night Papa

The Ring of the Fisherman

Benedict, Dante, and Chickens

 

Ratzinger on What the Church Will Look Like

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s prophetic words from Faith and the Future often are quoted in part, but today’s story had me thinking about them again, and this is a good time to remind us of his predictions. When +Ratzinger became Benedict, he started easing us into this new future. (Emphasis added. Re-paragraphed for easier reading on screen.)

Even if you have read this before, read it all again with Pope Francis in mind.

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

The title of this section of the book? “What Will The Church Look Like in 2000.”

The future: we’re already here.

Let’s start acting like it.

 

Francis, Benedict, and Pelagius

Yesterday’s tempest in a Z-cup focused on Pope Francis’s curious phrase “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism,” used to describe certain factions within Catholic traditionalism.

I remain puzzled that Francis has, on multiple occasions, felt the need to single out traditionalists for criticism, given the nature of evil at large in world. Most traditionalists are good and holy people, and I am sympathetic to their goals, which are the goals of Benedict. The hard core fringe of trad nuttery–Novus Ordo Watch, Rorate Caeli, SSPX, and the like–are a twitching, irrelevant mass of hatreds and hangups. They’re easily ignored, which is why I don’t understand why Francis feels compelled to single them out for criticism. Attacking a minor subset of a fringe hardly suits the dignity of a pope.

But what of the criticism itself? The self-absorbed and promethean parts I understand and don’t dispute, if we’re talking about a certain kind of fringe radical traditionalist. (The kind that’s just a nudge away from an SSPX chapel.) Pelagianism, however, is a heresy, and it’s not a word a pope should toss around lightly.

It turns out that Cardinal Ratzinger had first drawn the Pelagians into the discussion back in 1986. Andrea Tornielli found the relevant quote, which I’d never before seen despite long study of Ratzinger/Benedict. It comes from the Spiritual Exercises of 1986, and is found in the book “Guardare Cristo: esempi di fede, speranza e carità” [Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity]; published by Jaka Books.

The other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…

I don’t see this kind of Pelagianism as a unique property of traditionalism, and in fact the same can be said of those who consider themselves “progressive” “social justice” Catholics, who believe their attitude towards, and work on behalf of, the poor are justification enough. They, too, lack “humility.”

But Ratzinger was focused on the “pious,” which does not necessarily mean the traditionalist. It could just as well be the surface piety of the regular Novus Ordo church-goer who believes correct participation in all the required aspects of the faith are sufficient for salvation, without going deeper into a conversion of the heart.

Ratzinger was driven by the desire to draw people closer to Jesus, to have them search for “His face” and be converted by His radiant love. Empty pieties would be an obstacle to that, because the Catholic would feel as though he or she had already done everything necessary.

I have trouble with this observation, because I know many good people who practice their faith with devotion and care, yet probably never dug deeper into the metaphysical, mystical underpinnings that come naturally to others. I think of the people of my parents’ generation who lived lives of good faith, albeit a largely unexamined faith. For some, piety is all they can muster. They sense the mystery, but lack the capacity to be drawn into its depths. Are we to say they are not justified?

Forms are important. They should not be the end but the beginning of a deep faith. But if they are the end for someone, and if they are practiced in good will and charity with an open heart, who are we say that the person practicing them does not know the action of grace? After all, would they be prompted to pray their rosary and attend mass without prevenient grace? If their emotional or intellectual or dispositional capacity is limited, perhaps pietism is the best manifestation of their relationship with Christ. Not all hearts are turned in the same way.