Quietly from Rome

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI made a wonderful statement this week, some traces of which I have been able to find through such obscure media as the Catholic News Service. It was a letter to some students and faculty in Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University, read to them, Tuesday, by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

At a time when modern, secular, revolutionary forces have again been unleashed in the capital of Christendom — when a synod on the beleaguered Christian family could be hijacked by a proposal to welcome polygamy and sodomy — it provided this reader, at least, with relief from desolation. The Emeritus Pope’s as-it-were “encyclical,” was about as long as my last Idlepost, but as ever, much holier in tone. It was one of several modest but characteristically penetrating statements that have come from him, since he went into his prayerful retirement.

Let me plagiarize the reports I have read. Benedict writes:

“The risen Lord instructed His apostles, and through them His disciples in all ages, to take His word to the ends of the earth and to make all men his disciples. …

“But is this still possible? Many ask this question, both inside and outside the Church today. Wouldn’t it be better for all religions to get together and work for the cause of peace in the world?  The counter-question being, Can dialogue substitute for mission?

“In this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality; that religion is a common category, which assumes different forms in different cultures, but amounts to the same thing. The question of truth — that which originally motivated Christians more than any other — is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is, in the last analysis, unreachable; that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. Better to put the question of truth aside,  for the sake of peace among the world’s religions. …

“This is, however, lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness: everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine.”

End quote. The miserable Warren will now resume his diatribe.

The good, the true, the beautiful. Each opens the gates into each of the others, and into the heart of the mystery of the Triune God. Not one of these is expendable. And the Truth is indivisible.

Our English word “truth,” from its northern etymology, denotes steadfastness and fidelity, the genuine and consistent. It reaches beyond this to connote the apt, the fitting — in parallel with the old Greek aletheia (misappropriated by Heidegger in a gnostic way), which meant “the evident” — the being and becoming evident, connoting its presentation.

In our Christian universe, truth is manifested in the sublimity of holiness, so that in moments the word stands not for truth alone, in the narrowest “factual” sense, but for the convergence of the transcendentals: for goodness, truth, and beauty, all three. It is suddenly embodied for this world, in the very person of Our Lord.

Those who seek the truth may find it. The Christians of the ancient world announced that they had actually found the answer to the questions of the philosophers: the truth itself. They did not merely claim to have made a little academic progress. Conversely, they were very plain: that if this truth is not true, it must necessarily be a lie. “And if Christ is not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

This declaration is of course in Saint Paul’s first “encyclical” to the Corinthians (15:14); the same in which he was laying down the law on faith and morals and ecclesiastical discipline to a people who might strike us today as peculiarly “modern”; who were themselves rather inclined to substitute “dialogue” for mission. The proper purpose of “dialogue” is to lead us from error into truth; it is not to compromise on what that truth might be. And from the moment in which, through grace — and in “the peace which passeth all understanding,” that eureka of the deepest joy, deeper than mere “feeling” — we find ourselves in possession of the truth, our task is not “to deal,” but to proclaim it.

Yet — plagiarizing again — Pope Benedict writes that some religions, the “tribal” ones especially, are “waiting for the encounter with Jesus Christ.” And when they have found Him they have, in their turn, not only something to take, but something to give: “Christ is waiting for their history, their wisdom, their way of seeing things.” The Christian Church herself, “grown tired in its historical heartlands,” is waiting to be re-animated by them. (God bless Africa! God bless Africa!)

“We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of Him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us.”

In the Eucharist — in the Adoration to which all men are called, including every kind of sinner — in the presence of the Truth — let us reclaim that unutterable Joy. For as the first apostles first proclaimed: We have found the Messiah!


Note: A full translation of Benedict’s remarks, by Fr Richard Cipolla, is now available at the Rorate Caeli website (here). I revised my own excerpts in the light of it.