Monday, October 6, 2008

Pope Benedict & Luther on Paul

(I originally posted a shorter version of this entry earlier today, but now that a have a few minutes, I want to expand my thoughts somewhat.)

Pope Benedict XVI, known in the scholarly theological world for decades as Joseph Ratzinger, is a theologian, that is to say, a man of constant prayer and study of the Word of God, with a mastery of all of the important theological writers, and then some. As such, he is able skillfully to participate in the Great Theological Conversation as part of the ongoing work of teaching and pastoral care, which is his office as bishop and theologian. Fair minded men have known this about him for some time, and therefore it should come as no surprise that he would be found quoting Martin Luther, especially in the way in which he does so. In terms of how far Rome has come, though, and in terms of the perceptions of narrow minded partisans on both sides, this is newsworthy, at least as newsworthy as anything else Benedict writes or says.

My thanks to David Schutz for being perhaps the first on my blog radar anyway to point this out. Please find Pope Benedict's comments here.

Allow me to just add that I don't think we should dismiss the potential significance of this reference. First, keep in mind that Pope Benedict regularly attracts thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, for his regular Wednesday audience. That is a phenomenon in itself for a pope who supposedly is unable to relate to people. Some sources claim that the crowds he draws rival and surpass those of the charismatic John Paul II. One writer has said (at this moment I don't recall who) that people came to see John Paul II, but they come to hear Benedict.

Second, working in the book world for a while, I can tell you that there are publishing companies, such as Ignatius and Our Sunday Visitor, that routinely publish collections of Pope Benedict's addresses and audiences, etc. There is a volume, for example, on his series of talks on the Apostles, there is one that covers his talks on the early Church Fathers. So comments like his positive, irenic, and sober minded references to Luther will at some point be bound in print, and will reach many Catholic homes. They will plant intellectual and spiritual seeds, the fruits of which cannot be fully known to us.

Luther predicted that his enemies would use his own words against him, even as this had already begun in his lifetime. While Lutherans in the LCMS and ELCA are apologizing for Luther's writings, here we have the pope quoting Luther favorably. In such a circumstance, Luther would be pleased. He would be pleased with such a reasonable and theologically engaging man with whom to dialogue. I don't think he would respond by saying, "Let's not forget, you are still the Antichrist." What manner of progress can be made, if such a statement is peppered into every sentence a Lutheran makes about Rome? Are Catholics, after all, not worth our witness? Must we only cater our message to the neo-evangelicals?

Such occasions as Pope Benedict's Wednesday audience we cite here are moments to rejoice, and build upon. It is also quite simply a good example for us. Our goal should be to know Luther's lectures and commentaries as well as Benedict does.


Logan said...

This is some really cool stuff!!

Sam said...

Cool stuff!!