November 1, 2014

Catholic Online: An Orthodox Priest Reflects on the Retirement of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

Catholic Online published an essay I wrote on the abdication of Pope Benedict.

Source: Catholic Online | By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

NAPLES, FL. (Catholic Online) – Like almost everyone, the resignation of Pope Benedict came as a shock to Orthodox believers. Those of us who have watched Pope Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul II work to lessen the estrangement between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches hope that Pope Benedict’s successor will continue on the same path.

Two things stand out in Pope Benedict’s relationship with the Orthodox Churches. First is his deep understanding of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim.

Religion vivifies culture. Christianity is the well from which meaning and purpose are drawn. That meaning and purpose shapes law, institutions, and the other constituents that define Western culture. Many have forgotten that – while others don’t even know it.

The loss of this Christian cultural awareness has created a moral crisis of the first order. When faith dies man gradually loses the knowledge that he was created by God and so he loses himself. Only through concrete, existential encounter with the Risen Christ can man come to know God in the full  measure of God’s self-revelation to him through Jesus Christ. And only in this relationship can man learn what it is to be truly human.

Any kind of decline follows contours that are specific to the culture within which the decline occurs. In our technological age we tend to see man as a machine and the self-organization of society as strictly a rational enterprise. In the simplest terms our crisis is the dehumanization of the individual person.

Pope Benedict understood this acutely, no doubt because of his first-hand experience with Nazism and the barbarity it unleashed in Western Europe. His work to recover and restore the Christian roots of Christendom is a prophetic call to return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only a return to Christ can reverse this march to cultural suicide but only the embrace of Christ will reveal to man who he was created to be.

The Orthodox hear this, particularly Orthodox conservatives in the Christian West and the Russian Orthodox Church. Conservatives see the decline; the Russian Orthodox Church has experienced its bitter fruit. Pope Benedict has furthered the common project to restore the Christian foundations of culture. Clearly this is divinely ordained.  The shared mission increasingly leads to a revaluation of the historical barriers that has contributed to centuries of estrangement between the Eastern and Western Churches and promises more progress in the future.

The Orthodox wonder about Pope Benedict’s replacement. If the new Pope is a cultural conservative in the mold of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, then we know that the rapprochement of the last four decades will continue. If not, it will be more difficult to find common ground. We wonder too if the Catholic Church’s crucial role in preserving the religious heritage of the Christian West will continue with the same deliberation. We hope that it does.

A second important characteristic of Pope Benedict’s service in office is his understanding of the Orthodox patrimony within Christendom. The Regensburg Address is perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the contribution of Hellenism to Christianity offered by a Western Christian in centuries.

Regensburg was met with immediate hostility by the Muslims and thus misinterpreted by the mainstream press. The press seems to have a congenital inability to comprehend any idea outside of an immediate political context. In actual fact, the Address is a historical and theological tour-de-force and gently reminds the Christian West that ignoring the patrimony of the Christian East is like looking at history with one eye closed.

We should be careful not to underestimate the importance of Regensburg. It may have significant impact down the road. Pope Benedict already started the discussion by drawing out ideas about the non-coervice nature of the the Christian faith, considerations that require much more elaboration especially as the hostility towards the Christian faith increases in coming years and as Christendom faces the the historical problem of Muslim expansion once again.

Regensburg is a testament to Pope’s Benedict’s towering intellect but it also reveals a deep humility. There simply is not one hint of triumphalism or false note of partisanship in it. It was clearly intended as a gift to both West and East and those with ears to hear will see that.  Pope Benedict’s rare insight and erudition of the Eastern patrimony strengthens both West and East and many Orthodox believers are grateful for it. May God grant us more teachers like him.

What does a retired Pope do? Listening to Catholic radio it appears even the Catholic Church does not know for sure. It is reported that Pope Benedict will retire to a monastery within the Vatican and spend his remaining years in prayer and study.  May his remaining years bear much fruit. We still need him.

Comments

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    wesley j. smith says:

    Watching the roiling this has caused to the CC, I see the wisdom of the original way still followed by Orthodoxy, in which no bishop is the one and only and all are equal. Our way may be messy at times, but it also allows key personalities to enter and leave the stage without huge disruption. I agree with the writer’s hope that talks continue. The issues that divide us are far less serious than the common threats we face.

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      Bill Congdon says:

      The Catholic Church isn’t “roiled” by the Pope’s resignation, unless you count the predictable cries from the left for a new Pope who would accomodate to leftist views. But these cries emerge from un-Catholic — and often un-Christian — voices.

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    Cyril says:

    Well said, Fr. Johannes. Many years to Benedict XVI!

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    James Bradshaw says:

    “Pope Benedict understood this acutely, no doubt because of his first-hand experience with Nazism and the barbarity it unleashed in Western Europe”

    While it might be fair to suggest that the Nazi regime utilized a perverse and twisted form of “true” Christianity as the basis for its ideology, I don’t think it can fairly be said that it was primarily one that was atheistic and hostile towards Christian expression (unlike the regimes such as the ones found in China).

    Article 20 of the 1920 Nazi Platform read:
    “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

    One can do a simple search to find now infamous photos of Catholic clergy alongside Goebbels and Wilhelm Frick. Even if the men had no real allegiance to the Reich, it seems that the regime itself had an interest in using Christian symbolism and authority to justify its actions.

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      Bill Congdon says:

      Mr. Bradshaw, notice how the 1920 statement coopts Christian identity in favor of its anti-Jewish and statist views. As for Nazi praxis, there is no possible connection between it and the Gospel.

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      Geo Michalopulos says:

      What the Nazi platform stated and what Nazi philosophers believed were diammetrically opposed. Most of the luminaries within Naziism were occultists and/or neo-pagans. In the traditional society of the Germany of the Weimar Republic, it would have been impossible for the Nazi Party to gain a foothold if it had honestly shown its pagan/occult face.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Mr. Bradshaw, I have never understood the mindset that sees any correlation between Nazi Fascist totalitarianism and any form of Christianity. Are you willing to believe anything put out by the propaganda machine of the Nazi state? The Soviet Constitution also guaranteed freedom of worship and yet thousands of Christians died in the gulag.

    The fascist ethos is an attempt to embrace the will to power promulgated by Nietzche who was adamantly opposed to Christianity while quite willing to use, as Hitler, degenarate forms of it for his own purpose. The mere fact that there were some people who called themselves Christians and supported Hitler proves only that people are quite able to turn aside from Christ to serve other gods.

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      James Bradshaw says:

      Michael states: “I have never understood the mindset that sees any correlation between Nazi Fascist totalitarianism and any form of Christianity”

      I don’t either. I don’t see any sort of mandate in Scripture to restrict the rights of nonbelievers or heretics or to otherwise harm them or destroy their property (not that I’d heed them if there were). Somehow, though, what seems obvious to us now apparently escaped the attention of our Christian ancestors for centuries. Really, one just needs to pick up a history book.

      Although the persecution of Jews was perhaps at its worst under the Nazi regime (and its most violent), Jews have historically been targeted for harsh and unjust treatment by men still revered today as leaders of the Christian faith. Bishop Ambrose of Mediolanum opposed any efforts in acknowledging the civil rights of Jews as being equal to Christians. Chrysostom had a whole series of sermons that denigrated the Jews in the strongest language of the day.

      Martin Luther was perhaps the most notorious anti-Semite. He insisted that rabbis should not be permitted to teach or travel and had sought the forced expulsion of Jews from German lands (as they had been in France and Spain). There are references to Luther having their synagogues and homes burned to the ground. In Spain, Jews were forced into Catholic baptisms during the early 15th century. There are numerous other examples, but I think you get the point.

      Were they influenced by some secular spirit of their age? I don’t have an answer for that. However, I don’t think anyone can pretend that having a society dominated by Christian belief and thought will somehow guarantee against totalitarianism or fascism, given the evidence.

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        Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

        Totalitarianism has to destroy Christianity because it requires total subservience to the state. It cannot succeed otherwise.

        Secular Jews tend toward utopian grand schemes much like secular Christians which we saw in the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution. Marxism is properly understood as a Christian heresy and therefore extremely attractive to the secularized mind whether Christian or Jew. Solzhenitsyn discussed these questions in his book “Two Hundred Years Together” which refutes the easy but historically inaccurate conclusion you draw above.

        Two Hundred Years Together

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    cyntha curran says:

    Although the persecution of Jews was perhaps at its worst under the Nazi regime (and its most violent), Jews have historically been targeted for harsh and unjust treatment by men still revered today as leaders of the Christian faith. Bishop Ambrose of Mediolanum opposed any efforts in acknowledging the civil rights of Jews as being equal to Christians. Chrysostom had a whole series of sermons that denigrated the Jews in the strongest language of the day Chrysostom sometimes used hard lanaguage but he wasn’t anti-Jew for his time. He didn’t support the burning of syngogoues which some christians at the time had done according to Paul Johnson history. And for Ambrose of Milan he didn’t want to use church money to built a synogogue that was burn down by a christian mob while the Emperor Theodosius thought you should. Also, Jews had use violent against Christians in this period and well but Jews by the age of Justinian became second class citizens under the law, they couldn’t have someone testify in their favor but they had to testify for a christian and they could not own christian slaves. Jews could not have service in Hebrew but Greek or Latin or Syraic or Copic. Jews had seized control of Yeman in the early 6th century and killed some christains. The Sarmartians revolt in Palestine against Justinian and Justin the second killed and enslaved Jews and Sarmartians that were involved in it. Sarmartians were force to convert by having their synogogues converted to Churches.

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    Tonia Palmer says:

    In reguards to the reflection shared here by Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse, I find his thoughts insightful, hopeful and a reflection of my own. I say this as a Roman Cathlic. Thank you for you words Father.

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