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The Forgotten Pope

December 2, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By ALBERTO PIEDRA

(Dr. Piedra is a professor emeritus at The Institute of World Politics.)

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“Optimism is obligatory, but it’s cheap. In the current situation, there is a heavy price to pay. Relativism has wreaked havoc, and it continues to act as a mirror and an echo chamber for the dark mood that has fallen over the West. It has paralyzed the West, when it is already disoriented and at a standstill, rendered it defenseless when it is already acquiescent, and confused it when it is already reluctant to rise to the challenge” (from Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam by Pope Benedict XVI and Marcello Pera, 2006).
It is to be hoped that future generations will finally recognize the scholarly contributions to the moral teachings of the Church that the humble and intellectually brilliant Pope Benedict XVI has made in theology and philosophy in defense of the basic truths of the Catholic faith.
The forgotten Pope, or, as some of his critics have called him, the German Rottweiler and/or Panzerkardinal, has dared to assert that it is wrong to claim that relativism is harmless and has never hurt anyone. He may not have used the term “political correctness,” but the implication is clearly there to see by both clergy and laymen alike.
In the preamble to the European Constitutional Treaty, the proposal to insert a reference to the Christian roots of Europe was rejected. Pope John Paul II delivered a series of statements in 2004 in which he categorically mentioned that the identity of Europe would be incomprehensible without Christianity.
His 2003 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa says quite explicitly that “European culture gives the impression of silent ‘apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist” (n. 9).
In this age of triumphant relativism, he also explains, belief in the true no longer exists and the mission of the truth is considered fundamentalism, and the very affirmation of the true causes fear.
If these words were unheeded in 2003 much less are they listened to in this confused world of ours, a confusion which applies not only to Christians in general but also to the higher ecclesiastical authorities.
The threat of an increasing relativistic society is spreading rapidly under the cover of what is now euphemistically called “political correctness.” There is no doubt that the forces of evil are attempting to put an end to Christianity in order to establish the “perfect society,” a modern Utopia.
The essential theories related to the crisis of Christianity have been repeatedly stated by recent Popes, especially by St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor. In it, he warns that within the context of the theological debates which followed the Second Vatican Council there have developed “certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with ‘sound teaching’….Thus the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth.”

Service To The Truth

At a historic 1984 meeting in the Tyrolean Alps between Cardinal Ratzinger and the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori, the future Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate to comment that as a result of the crisis of faith it is apparent that some theologians have forgotten that they represent the entire Catholic community and not only their own personal opinion in matters of faith and morals.
Thus, it seems they want to be creatively producing a theological pluralism which very often is nothing less than pure subjectivism, far removed from the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. The real role of the theologians, repeated Ratzinger, is to deepen, to help understand, and to announce the Deposit of Faith; not to “create.” Otherwise the faith disintegrates itself into a series of schools and contradictory views with very negative consequences for the confused Christians.
There is no doubt that very often theologians have tried to harmonize faith with the signs of the times in their efforts to discover new ways of transmitting the Gospel to the average Christian.
Nevertheless, many fervent Catholics sincerely believe that these new trends have aggravated the crisis instead of solving it. It would be unfair to generalize this statement, continued Cardinal Ratzinger, but it would also be false to simply deny it.
In this subjective vision of theology, dogma is frequently considered as an intolerable cage, an attempt to restrict the freedom of the researcher. Man has lost sight of the fact that a dogmatic definition is a service to the truth, a gift offered to the believers by the willful authority of God, he said. Dogmas are not walls which impede our sight but, on the contrary, windows open to infinity.
Ratzinger stressed the fact that the difficulty in understanding the reality of original sin, even among certain theologians and ecclesiastical authorities, is certainly one of the most serious problems affecting contemporary theological and pastoral issues. The key concept of many of these theologies is “liberation” which seems to have replaced the traditional one of “redemption,” according to Ratzinger.
The close relationship between the concept of sin and the much talked about theories of liberation (liberation theology) needs further study. However, this would require a much deeper analysis than this short article would permit. I will limit myself to saying that many of the problems that we face today are due to the fact that we have forgotten the reality of original sin.
Theologians have often tried to adjust to the principles of Enlightenment “a la Rousseau.” They assume that at the root of modern culture, whether capitalist or Marxist, lies the French philosopher’s belief that man is good by nature and corrupted only by an erroneous education and by social structures in need of change. Only this way will man be able to live in peace with himself and with his fellowmen, they erroneously hold. Thus, man must be “liberated” from the evil structures that surround him.
It must be understood, however, that man is in a state of alienation that is not exclusively social and economic, an alienation from which he cannot free himself with his own strength except through the redemptive power of Christ. The general will, described by the author of the Social Contract — so much talked about in the 18th century — will only end up, to the dismay of his admirers, in totalitarianism.
Changing structures “per se” is not going to solve man’s social and economic problems. Without having a clear understanding of this, claims Pope Ratzinger, the entire structure of faith is threatened. To ignore or deny the reality of “original sin” is certainly one of the most serious problems facing modern theology and pastoral issues.
It needs to be stressed that Pope Benedict XVI has always been a faithful defender of the traditional moral values of the Church, even at the cost of his popularity not only among many lay Christians but even among some avant-garde high ecclesiastical authorities within the Church.

Consequentialism

Endorsing the writings of St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI maintains the traditional moral teaching of the Church. He does not hesitate to say that with acts which are intrinsically evil, good intentions or particular circumstances can diminish their evil but they cannot remove it.
He follows the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Magisterium of the Church: “A good intention cannot make an evil act good.” A man cannot steal five thousand dollars to help the poor. Though his intention is good, his act is evil in itself.
The teleological ethical theories (consequentialism, proportionalism), so much in vogue today, reject the insightful analysis of St. Thomas Aquinas. They maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular sorts of behavior even if they are contrary to the Decalogue and/or the divine and natural law. The goodness of a free act depends on its consequences. Some good can be attained from some intrinsically evil act, they argue.
Such theories are not faithful to the Church’s teachings and are in conflict with every culture as indicated by reason and Revelation. St. Augustine reminds us that in such cases, like theft, fornication, and blasphemy, who would dare affirm that by doing them for good motives they should no longer be sins?
Pope Benedict XVI saw quite clearly that the relativistic theories of modern man run counter to Revelation which teaches us that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man but to God alone. No wonder he was disliked and, as mentioned previously, even called a Rottweiler for his strong stands on the moral teachings of the Church; a comment made at the cost of his losing popularity among many an ignorant Catholic.
Many a theologian did not escape being contaminated with relativistic theories of ethics which were then and still are now very much in vogue.
Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly stated that relativism has become the real religion of modern man. The power of Christianity consisted in the synthesis of reason, faith, and life. In the case of rationality what has changed today is our sense of faith and Revelation. Relativism has begun to infiltrate Christian theology.
Marcello Pera, an Italian philosopher and statesman, explains to us the following: “The takeover proceeded in the customary manner. The starting point was the phenomenological observation that there is a plurality of creeds and religions. This was followed by a comparison, a loss of hope in meta-criteria. The end point is doubt in fundamental creeds of Christianity (the final stage, the reinterpretation or deconstruction of the religious facts).
“Today’s widespread tendencies toward subjectivism utilitarianism and relativism appear not merely as pragmatic attitudes or patterns of behavior, but rather as approaches having a basis in theory and claiming full cultural and social legitimacy.”
Let us recall the warnings of the late St. John Paul II and be prepared to meet this new threat by placing our faith and trust in the redemptive power of Christ.
I will simply add that I am convinced that history will demonstrate that Pope Benedict XVI was not only a great scholar but also one of the greatest defenders of truth. In an age of doubt and confusion and, I would even go as far as to say, hatred of the Catholic Church, he never hesitated to uphold religious truth while at the same time defending the right of religious freedom.
In our embattled culture, under the cover of a false tolerance, he never deviated from the timeless teaching of the Magisterium. He was, if I may say so, like a beacon of light in the midst of darkness. His words shined brightly in the stormy relativistic intellectual world of today.

Basic Truths

The future Pope Benedict met Vittorio Messori in the historic Tyrolean town of Brixen im Thale. It was in August 1984. It would not be hard, wrote the journalist from Corriere della Sera, to imagine some members of the Sacred College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church spending the summer in fabulous palaces enjoying the beauty of the Tyrolean Alps. This was not the case with Pope Benedict XVI. He would spend the few days he was there, not even in a small chalet, but in a few rooms at the seminary and he would eat the simple food prepared for him by the nuns.
He is a man completely immersed in a religious dimension. For him, the Church has no right to take pride in herself as long as she continues to be a pilgrim on this Earth. Otherwise, this attitude could become more insidious than the use of tiaras and the sedia gestatoria.
A veteran journalist such as Vittorio Messori, well accustomed to interviewing high government officials and Church dignitaries, admits that he was astonished to listen to the clarity and straightforwardness of the Pope’s comments and answers to his questions. No ambiguities.
His modesty and simplicity should be taken as an example for others to follow. His detractors saw him as the Rottweiler, but those who knew him describe a very different person: an erudite yet warm and friendly man who inspires trust. To his credit, he has never ceased to wear the regalia that correspond to his state in life while at the same time being extremely unassuming and moderate in the estimation of his abilities.
Today, more than ever before, the Good Lord has made us more conscientiously aware that He alone can save His Church, a reality that was ever present in the mind of this forgotten Pontiff.
God bless Pope Benedict XVI for his great contribution to uphold the basic truths of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

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