Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joseph Ratzinger vs. Hans Küng

Samuel Gregg's thought-provoking article on the two men "usually viewed as polar-opposites" but who "have led curiously parallel lives" — Benedict XVI, Hans Kung and Catholicism’s Future. An excerpt:
    More-attuned participants at Vatican II, however, immediately noticed differences between Kung and the-then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. One such person was the Jesuit Henri de Lubac – a French theologian who no-one could dismiss as a reactionary.

    In his Vatican II diaries, de Lubac entered pithy observations about those he encountered. Ratzinger is portrayed as one whose powerful intellect is matched by his “peacefulness” and “affability.” Kung, by contrast, is denoted as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms.
Mr. Gregg goes on to constrast the two men's latest books:
    Through a deep exposition of Scripture many Evangelicals will admire and a careful exploration of tradition the Eastern Orthodox will appreciate, Benedict shows Christ is who the ancient Church proclaims Him to be – not a political activist, but rather the Messiah who really lived, really died and who then proved his divinity by really rising from the dead.

    So what is Kung’s book focused upon? In a word, power. For Kung, it’s all about power – especially papal power – and the need for lay Catholics to seize power if the Church is to be “saved” from sinister Roman reactionaries who have perverted Christianity for centuries.
Of course, both men were then, and remain today, liberals, as just about all of us are. (The word is not an epithet.) But some of us, our current pope included, resemble Russell Kirk's description of the great Englishman: "Burke was liberal because he was conservative."

For the others, almost like characters in Dostoevsky's Devils, "it’s all about power." (I mean, get a load of the raving lunatic who, at a blog that recently dropped the word "Christian" from its title, commented, "For the left, political success will always entail a defanging and an inevitable conservative turn — this does not mean we should abandon any aspiration to power, on the contrary, we must pursue the conquest of power ruthlessly!" — Your tax dollars at work.)

Pope Ratzinger, especially in his "Reform of the Reform," in contrast, is not at all about power, but about example, much like Confucius' insistance on rule not by force but by moral example. The Holy Father, for example, has spoken out against having guitars at Mass, but there has been no "crackdown"; I've since seen them as Filipino Masses here in Korea. In contrast, when those like Küng had the upper hand, the Tridentine Mass was almost stamped out and lost to history, were it not for God's mysterious work through a mystery writer, giving us the Agatha Christie indult.

Terms like "liberal" and "conservative," "left" and "right" are vaque enough in the outside world (I'm far more at home with the American decentralist Left than with the regimented European Right); they are meaningless in the Church. Perhaps in both realms we need to speak of people whose approach is "political," i.e. centered on power, with those whose approach is "cultural."

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Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Not sure I buy it. Ask the liberation theologians in Latin America how much "leading by example" Ratzinger has done in his lifetime. If Pope Ratzinger seems to do nothing about certain things that displease him, if he seems to play the role of enlightened despot, it is more likely because of two things: 1. they are really not that important to him (as important as rooting out Marxists from the clergy, for example) or 2. the Pope isn't as powerful over the Church as we think he is. True, his supposed infallibility allows "good Catholics" to sleep at night when faced with a church that has since moved on from Latin Masses, nuns in silly habits, and the "Cross and thermometer Mafia", but that doesn't mean he is really calling the shots. He, like other top-level bureaucrats, has to deal with the reality of uncooperative underlings.

As for the future of the Church, it is far less palatable than right-thinking Westerners think. It is a Pentecostalist-style Christianity with props and cream-puff Madonnas. Do you think the African clergy obsesses about below-the-belt issues? Do you think they all want to return to the Mass in Latin? Actually investigate the shape of Christianity as it is developing in much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and it is far different than the path that is being advocated by the Vatican and European and American conservatives. Maybe the Vatican hopes they can rein them in with fancy Roman theology degress and a few zucchettos, but these are not the reality of what religion on the ground will be there. It will be some sort of Frankenstein religion that is a mixture between folk Catholicism, Pentecostalism, prosperity gospelism, and secularism. Sober liturgical conservatism need not apply.

And excuse me: it is always about power. Only those with actual power pretend otherwise. But what do you expect from people who think the world is held together by magical libertarian fairy dust?

7:52 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Answering a few of your points:

(1) I agree with your suggestion that "the Pope isn't as powerful over the Church as we think he is," and don't think he should be. He's just the pope, after all.

(2) I don't think anyone really "obsesses about below-the-belt issues," except the annoying extremes at both ends of the debate, most of them living in America.

(3) About the future of the Church, all I know is the Archdiocese of Taegu, where "[s]ober liturgical conservatism" is the norm, and where the only Latin mass is said privately by one priest somewhere. It's got's its problems, but "Pentecostalism, prosperity gospelism, and secularism" are not among them. I'm happy here, trads wouldn't be, neither would those who long for the 70s.

(4) The early Roman martyrs would probably disagree that "it is always about power."

(5) I don't think that "the world is held together by magical libertarian fairy dust," just the Anglo-Saxon world, or at least it used to be, however imperfectly, when we had a functioning culture. I'm a particularist, so I wouldn't recommend "magical libertarian fairy dust" to other societies, with different traditions, whose "magical fairy dust" has different properties from our own. Socialism probably worked pretty well in the Guarani Republic.

9:09 PM  
Blogger tcasey1914 said...

Arturo has been gazing into his palantir again . . .

10:52 PM  
Blogger Francis Xavier said...

The egomaniac Kung makes a poor benchmark by which to judge others. In earlier times His Holiness was most definitely part of the leftist tendencies in the Church, though I would never dream of daring to ascribe a motivation to him.

4:14 AM  
Blogger Pints in NYC said...

How can it always be about power when Christianity shows us that it is actually about letting go? About the road to Calvary? About the cross? These are not signs of power; quite the opposite. C.S. Lewis has written wonderfully on this point.

Jacobins may want power. The prince of the fallen angels wants power.

Christians have a different, better, model.

6:22 AM  
OpenID arturovasquez said...

Of course, the other side of this, the one that the non-Catholic might read, is how hands off the Vatican was towards child rapists, while all the more concerned with Marxists and Hangs Kung himself, who was barred from teaching theology at a Catholic university. If the Church was as vigilant about removing people like Maciel from pastoral and teaching positions, maybe they would be more credible in the attriibution of humility, instead of appearing petty and inept.

12:41 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

A very good point. From what I've read, Ratzinger was for taking a harder line than was taken.

When I finally got around to reading Hans Kueng, I was fearful I was going to put my immortal soul in danger by even considering the arguments of one whom I had heard was a great heresiarch. Boy, was I wrong. Here's my feeble fisking of his feeble cri-de-couer: Would-be Anti-Pope and Pope.

About the Liberation Theologians, I can't really dis them because they were my gateway drug to Catholicism, back when I was a leftist Protestant working for a former Chilean political prisoner who had been a leader of a "base community" of sorts.

That said, the idea of a "preferential option for the poor" ends up meaning we should keep them poor and make others poorer to save them.

So, I could agree that these people, however few there were (I think fewer than 30 out of 1 billion Catholics), should not have been shut up. Let ideas stand or fall on their own.

At the end of the day, I'd rather have lunch with Hans Kueng than that guy from "Real Catholic TV," which is exactly what Pope Ratzinger did.

1:05 AM  

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