September 23, 2009

like a thief in the night

Certain Catholic friends of mine have been passing around this link today. Downshot: Because the pope re-communicates a certain Holocaust denier, the New World Order is going to force the "Three Romes" to reunite suddenly, and soon.

I don't blame you if you're lost; I'm totally confused.

The Zenit article Moynihan cites in full also got posted by the usual suspect, and the discussion there has a reasonable point of departure: The issue of Pope Benedict XVI's "Newmanism", or not. I'll come back to that. (Preview: I think not.)

While driving up to visit family, today, I was talking to my wife about what I had heard and thought about the recent meeting between Archbishop Hilarion and the Pope. I thought that expressive hopes that the silence was particularly meaningful were misplaced, but I generally feel more comfortable with Abp. Hilarion and the Patriarch of Moscow engaging in these sorts of ecumenical discussions than the Ecumenical Patriarchate, mostly because the power differential is not as great. Since the 14th century, Constantinople has had an unfortunate habit of being necessarily in a disadvantaged position vis-a-vis Rome. (I found it interesting that some claimed to catch in the video release about it that the Pope requested to speak in German and Abp. Hilarion requested English, instead. This is likely not only about Abp. Hilarion's greater comfort in English–if he is more comfortable, I do not know–but also about the power differential inherent in the Pope being able to converse in his native tongue while the Archbishop would still be speaking in a second language.)

There are real issues on which Rome and Moscow can speak effectively together. Not only against the continuing "secularization" of the West, but also regarding ethics and faith to the whole world. Seeing a political trend that may very well lie in ashes in a century as being able to "force" reconciliation is a strange philosophy of history. The Church moves with the Spirit.

Now, at heart, I'm an ecumenical sort of person. I am an American, and I live in the West. Furthermore, I imagine that reconciliation of these old and difficult divisions would be a miraculous signal–an icon of the reconciliation the Church brings between human beings every day in her Liturgies, and obviously so, because communication involves that very same reconciliation.

That said, I'm a pessimist, and I'd be less surprised that the government of America suddenly became interested in governance than I would be about a few back door talks causing real and effective reunion within a matter of weeks, from nearly nothing (and, believe me, decades of ecumenical statements have left us with nearly nothing).

This is not to say that, for Orthodox, there are not real and hopeful things about the papacy of Benedict XVI for our relations with Catholics. (And I do not simply mean the fact that he isn't Polish.) What I am talking about is his genuine interest in and familiarity with Orthodox theological tradition. What other pope would have given sermons on St. Maximus or St. Symeon that are recognizable to the Orthodox? There is, in his theological sensibilities and ecclesiological leanings (versus the prior pope in particular), a certain friendliness and availability of common ground from which good things can come. I am uncertain how much we can hope from them, though.

The book of his I always recommend to friends is Truth And Tolerance. (The book I recommend to everyone else is Jesus of Nazareth, which I really liked.) I cannot really do his arguments justice in short form, but in it, the then Cardinal Ratzinger gives us three modes of moving out of the mythological world-view: Mysticism, Enlightenment and Monotheistic Revolution.

This is the Pope's essential philosophy of religion, and if there is an author I would compare it to, it has more in common with René Girard than John Henry Cardinal Newman (I should note that much of Truth and Tolerance represents a period before Girard ever published Violence and the Sacred, and there is no clear borrowing of either author's themes by the other. Rather, there is a similar tone). The only relation would be in the overall move towards a "provisional" understanding of pre-Christian religion as preparatory to Christ, which bears some similarity to the development of doctrine, I suppose, but that's a horrible stretch.

Rather, like Girard, Ratzinger sees a pre-rational, pre-revelation humanity with a "mythical" worldview primarily based on sacrifice and primitive magic (though I do not know if Ratzinger used those terms). There is not the essential violence found in Girard, but there is a definite tone to this mythological world that makes it clear that mankind must move beyond it. The mode of mysticism is rather like that found in late-paganism or Hinduism (as opposed to the mysticism of Christianity, though it sometimes slips into the heresy of obliteration at the hands of το Ον). The mode of Enlightenment is that of rationality, like that of the Greek philosophers or the later Enlightenment. The Monotheistic Revolution is peculiarly Jewish, and then Islamic. Despite roots in Monotheistic Revolution, however, the typology of Christianity given by Ratzinger is not wholly contained by that category. Where it touches Mysticism as described in the book is not entirely clear. I may be misremembering the book at some level, here: I have not read it a few years and I'm without my copy. But the contact with Enlightenment is different: Hellenic philosophy granted unto Christianity not only useful theological terminology, but also the anchor of natural reason. And this is not simply an instance of a rationalistic West versus a mystical East: Ratzinger seems to understand that reason in a way that would not be alien to the Cappadocians, for example, though he may claim more power for it.

This model, however, with its high claims for the deposit of revelation in religion is not temperate ground for the Development of Doctrine (which is a philosophy of religion, rather than an ecclesiology). And as it is the Development of Doctrine that Orthodox should most be worried about when understanding a person as a follower of Newman, this should encourage.

Where we might see an influence would be in epistemology, but I have no clear idea if the Pope has one (and if he does not, it may not be a bad thing). Newman's epistemology is not simply the caricature found in the blogosphere–the Pope resolves all epistemic angst–so it is not entirely unfriendly. The Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is well worth serious attention.

However, all this to understand the Pope vis-a-vis the Orthodox gets us only a little further. So, he respects us. So, his philosophy of religion is perhaps very compelling. So, he is not a supremacist in the manner of prior incumbents. But does that make miracles likely? Obviously not.

But it is good to hope and to try to understand the man with whom we talk.

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