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August 09, 2008



What is your problem with Benedict XVI? Do you have so little to do that you can spend the amount of time necessary to assemble German diatribes against the Pope? This is pathetic. You're not even a theologian. How are you able to evaluate any of the materials you cite? Or, do you just do Google or library searches and list everything? Your so-called "essays" remind me of a freshman who wants to impress.


Well, Benny isn't much of a theologian in an academic sense as these critiques show.
He isn't much of a theologian in the "mystic" sense either; ( a theologian is one who prays, one who prays is a theologian).
That's not surprising. The hierarchies of the major Christian churches aren't well versed in that.
Academic theology is all well and good but it does nothing unless it has grounding in something besides reason and its powers.
The last Pope to have that grounding was John XXIII.



Did you ever consider that the critics aren't really doing theology, but literary and historical criticism? Pope Benedict is a brilliant theologian and he himself has always used the conceit of theology as praying. You simply don't understand what he writes, as is obvious from your post.


If the present Pope were really doing theology as you say he does, we'd have a different situation.

I admit he's probably a good administrator but for the rest...


Joseph, I greatly appreciate your writings and found your summaries of the different receptions of Benedict's book to be quite interesting.

Strangely though, what provokes me to write a post here is a rather tangential point. You wrote, "As regards the theological culture of the laity, the book is comparable to the Harry Potter series as regards children’s reading, a mixed blessing." I was curious (1) as to whether this was your own opinion or your summarizing of a point made in Pfleiderer's review, and (2) if you do think the Harry Potter series is a mixed blessing, for what reasons?


And yes, I might as well say it, I'm a big fan of Harry Potter and think those books have done far more good for culture than Benedict's Jesus book. Of course, I don't think they're perfect books either (though are any literary works perfect?), but the positives do outweigh the negatives, as far as I can tell.

Also, my apologies if I'm getting off topic!

Spirit of Vatican II

Evagrius, here in Bavaria I get a feel for the "mystical" grounding of Benedict XVI's theology - an all-enveloping Catholic world. Benedict has spent his whole life in Bavaria and Rome - except for 1959-69, his days in Bonn, Muenster and what he may have experienced as a frostily protestant Tubingen. The beauty of Bavaria and Catholic Rome, shot through with mysticism, is the milieu of his imagination.

Chris, yes that was Pfleiderer's comment. He says we will know whether Harry Potter has revived children's reading only now that the series has ended, while we must wait until the Pope's second volume to know if his work will have contributed to a revival of lay theological interest. (Some Harry Potter fans are said to read only Harry Potter over and over again.)

Actually the other writer who has done most to create a theological reading public is none other than Ratzinger's former colleague Hans Kung.


Spirit of Vatican II;

Perhaps Bavaria is "mystical" but I wasn't thinking of that type of mysticism which is rather sentimental. It involves the imagination too much.

I am more interested in the apophatic type. It's not sentimental.

I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama meditates four hours in the morning before taking up his duties. I don't think his meditation involves imagination, sentimentality or "mysticism".

Does the current Pope have any similar practice?

It's an intrusive question of course and is really no one's business.

I do know he's advocated meditation and contemplation but is it the truly silent apophatic type or the old style?

With regards to "lay theology", I don't think there's really any interest unless it speaks to everyday concerns.

Spirit of Vatican II

Evagrois, expecting the Pope to have a prayer life like that of the Dalai Lama risks a mystification of the papal office. The Pope is a bishop, not a mystical guru. Also, Christian prayer is rooted in Scripture, which would scarcely encourage giving a uniquely central place to apophasis.


I'm not expecting the pope to be a "mystic guru". The pope is a bishop, hence a sheperd, a leader of his flock. If he doesn't have an inkling of where he's leading people, then why bother. Weren't bishops originally considered to be individuals of deep spiritual insight and not just mere bureaucrats shuffling papers around?
Besides, isn't the notion of "infallibility" an echo of this "mystic" stuff? I mean, quite a few people expect that of the pope. Don't people state that he's a holy man etc;? Are they mistaken. Isn't the Church held to be infallible? For what purpose if there is no experience of God? Is it to merely expound an increasingly peculiar morality with no goal?
As for apophasis, I take it that all passages in scripture are purely positive in description, including MT. Tabor, Mt. Sinai, etc., etc.

Either there really is the possibility of experiencing God, in some fashion, or there isn't.

If there is, then there is a way by which people can attain it or there isn't.

If there isn't then people who have experienced God are either delusional or they've experienced it in such a way that it's absolute unique and irrepeatable.

If it's irrepeatable, then there's no need for a Church or any faith since only God is involved and will act as He pleases.

If there isn't a possibility of experiencing God at all, then why bother with religion?

What is the use of faith, then?

Spirit of Vatican II

Of course there is a biblical experience of God, but it comes primarily through hearing the Word of God, being lifted up in Christ by the call of the Word. Benedict is no doubt a faithful hearer of the Word, which gives spiritual elan to his teaching activity. The authority of bishops is founded primarily in their dealing with Scripture, their preaching is born of hearing the Word and interpreting it for today.

"Infallibility" is an unfortunate term, as it displaces the accent from this biblically grounded spiritual authority to a legalistic guarantee of immunity to error. It is a modern concept, which has proven to have a negative function (in undermining abusive claims to infallibility) rather than a positive one (there are only two claimants to the title of papally infallible statements).


This sounds more "Protestant" than Catholic. It even has shades of Islam if one were to take it completely, ( the only experience one has of God is through hearing Scripture).

If this is true, no wonder Catholic theology is so confused.

There's "hearing the Word" and "doing or following the Word" and since the Word is Christ one must do both to be considered Christian.

No contemplative prayer for you then? If so, why did that tradition arise?

Isn't Scripture the "roadmap" to a destination and not the destination itself?

Why then does Scripture advocate prayer? Why does it itself state that prayer is the way through which Scripture is truly understood and integrated into one's life?

And isn't prayer not only liturgical prayer and psalmody but also silent ,"apophatic" prayer?

To use an illustration from another religious tradition- you've written on Dogen. Don't you know Dogen spent quite a bit of time in zazen. Not having an inkling of zazen makes Dogen near incomprehensible.

Don't you think it's the same with Christianity?

Spirit of Vatican II

Christian contemplative prayer is rooted in hearing the Word. Hans Urs von Balthasar is one of the many Catholic theologians who have orchestrated this in the ambiance of Vatican II. Of course we have learned from Luther and Barth. In a Christian economy of prayer Dogen's meditation can have an auxiliary or purifying role.


Perhaps you should explain why theology has suffered a tragic split between being;




It seems to me that the former has abstracted itself from the everyday life and concerns of most people, being so abstract that it has less relevance than even particle physics which at least deals with somewhat tangible matter.

As for the latter, it was, until recently, limited to the personal and subjective. There has been more connection between it and everyday people but there has been resistance to it and it has yet to connect itself strongly with the former.

Perhaps the reason for the popularity of the Pope's book lies less in its scholarship, as debatable as it is according to experts, and more to do with its "devotional" or "contemplative" aspect.

Andrew Louth, in his "Discerning the Mystery", points to the need to reconnect the various aspects of theology into an integral whole.

What I discern in most current theology is that his call for a unified theology is still being ignored.

Spirit of Vatican II

Evagrius, I agree. But let us remember what Lonergan has to say about differentiated functional specialities within the theological task. Scriptural exegesis, for example, is a sturdy science that need not have immediate recourse to spirituality.


Maybe not immediate recourse but ultimately it needs to be linked.

As I've written, the average believer does not see the connections. The average believer has neither the time, resources or immediate knowledge to do so. The average priest is somewhat better off but not by much.

The reason I pointed out the Dalai Lama was that it seems, at least to an outsider, that that particular faith has made an attempt to give a fully integrated view, ( though I think it's probably suffering quite a lot of the confusion other faiths have).

It seems to me that the real theological project is to create what really could be called a unified field theory tying all of its various disciplines into a whole. Of course, that's not really possible but it should be the guiding principle. It's not possible until the eschaton.

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