An ungenerous reading of Pope Benedict

An ungenerous reading of Pope Benedict

A remarkably forthright entry at Commonweal’s own blog takes the magazine’s recent editorial on the Pope’s Auschwitz visit to task for being “an ungenerous reading” of the Pope’s speeches there. Robert Imbelli fondly recalls the genesis of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s “Common Ground Initiative” ten years ago (an initiative I’ve never been all that fond of myself) and says the editorial falls short of one of the ideals enumerated by it.

One in particular seems worthy of recall: “We should put the best possible construction on differing positions, addressing their strongest points rather than seizing upon the most vulnerable aspects in order to discredit them.”

Imbelli accuses the Commonweal editors of doing just that.

First, the editorial speaks of Benedict’s “perplexing and unsatisfactory explanation of the Holocaust.” I wonder where in his anguished meditation the Pope presumes to offer an “explanation?” He knows full well that one does not “explain” evil. One might seek to situate it, to probe its scope, to discern its ramifications. This the Pope attempted to do, pointedly, if not exhaustively. But one does not “explain” the unmitigated evil of the Shoah (a term twice used by Benedict, yet unacknowledged in the editorial).

Second, referring to John Allen’s reflection upon the Pope’s remarks as possibly constituting a “turning point in post-Auschwitz Christian theology,” (a point one might certainly accept or not), the editorial leaps to the crabbed conclusion that “Catholics no longer need be discomforted by the history of the church’s treatment of the Jews.” No sign here that one may seek a more considered theological perspective that does not shun human responsibility and sin, but rather discloses sin’s truly demonic thrust.

Then, even when offering “a more charitable interpretation” of Benedict’s words, the editorial dismisses them as “a tidy theological syllogism.” What a characterization of the Pope’s anguished meditation that is framed by two psalms from the Hebrew scriptures: Psalm 44 and Psalm 23. Benedict, daily immersed in the praying of the Psalter, invokes them, not for the sake of rhetoric, much less logic, but for the sake of mystagogy.

Where is the “syllogism” in the Pope’s associating so intimately the fate of Israel with the very purpose of God that the assault on this people is, in the very nature of things, an assault upon God?

… Finally, the editorial asserts that one does not go to Auschwitz “to defend or to praise God;” and concludes by recommending “a dread silence”—for once citing with approval the Pope’s words.

But Benedict uttered those words at the beginning of his meditation. In the course of it, however, silence gave way to afflicted, yet faith-filled prayer: prayer for fogiveness, reconciliation, and peace (words surprisingly absent from the editorial).

Were such prayer no longer possible, even in Auschwitz, then indeed the Nazis would have won the final victory.

Nice to see that thoughtful liberals still do exist and are willing to call their fellow travelers to account for such mis-steps. Certainly there are plenty of conservatives willing to do that for one another.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • Giving a cursory reading to the quote from the “Common Ground Initiative” above, I wonder if the good Cardinal cited St. Ignatius of Loyola?

    In The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius says,

    In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is
    receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that
    every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to
    condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it
    badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the
    suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.”

    Of course, the idea is quite sound and fundamentally Christian.  The question is whether Cardinal Bernardin inadvertently quoted Ignatius, or whether he cited him in his work.

    Just wondering . . .

  • There is no more ungenerous review of Pope Benedict’s words at Auschwitz then James Carrol’s recent column.

    Mr. Carrol endlessly tirades against Christian beliefs as the fountain of anti-semitism.  While it is true that anti-semititic current has, at times, ebbed and flowed through the Church, and that some Popes have been anti-semites (although, contrary to Carrol, certainly not Pope Pius XII who saved more Jews from Hitler than any man in Europe) the roots of anti-semitism have nothing to do with Christianity itself. 

    The Nazis wanted to exterminate the Jews, because the Jews laid claim to the title of “Chosen People” not because Carrol’s absurd leftist claim that it was the story of the Crucifixion.  The Pagan, Aryan race-worshipping Nazis, of course, viewed themselves as the true “chosen” people and had to destroy the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham and His people to demonstrate it and deliver this new vision of the future dictated by the “true” master Aryan race.  Therefore, Pope was indeed correct to state that the Nazi’s warred against God Himself, desiring the death of Judaism and Christianity.

    Sure, the story of the Crucifixion could play into the hands of such ruthless, pagan idolatry of one’s own race.  But, at its core, the Holocaust reflected a resurgence of pagan ancestor/race worship.  The German people, who sensed their own demise, lashed out and laid claim to what God gave to the Jews.  The death of pagan cultures is inevitable, and this horrific, yet unsurprising attempt of genocide against the Jews, only reflected that ingrained fear of civilizational death that all temporal peoples are burdened by.

    If the Church has any blame in this, it is only that she was not successful in truly transforming the hearts and minds of the barbarian hordes that “claimed” Catholicism as their faith.  Of course, the results of this proved utterly disastrous, creating the monstrous pagan-nationalism that engulfed Europe, led to the genocide of six million Jews, and quite possibly rendered the European psyche so impaired, that she has lost faith in the future, and today lacks the will to pro-create.

  • >>>>Continued from above…..

    The tribes of Europe are dying, yet have been rebirthed with a new, more universal Christian identity, in the United States.  The Catholic Church’s work is most important here.  And no Catholic should doubt that for a second. One might suspect the future of the Church lay in Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia.  Perhaps.  But America, and only America is the grand experiment, built on ideas claimed by Protestants yet nurtured and developed in Catholicism for a Millennia. And it is in the Church that the hopes of a truly universal Christendom lie.  Chances are that other peoples, outside of the race-less United States, might be apt to repeat the mistakes of Europe, unless some spread their wings and begin anew as one obscure yet ambitious sect did in venturing out to the New World 400 years ago. Catholics might regard such an act as divine providence.  The Puritans melted away into Congregationailsm and Unitarianism, which in turn are in the throes of death today.  Yet, in America an opportunity still presents itself in the rise of the evangelical.  A fervent Christianity is bristling.  And Catholicism, with her sense of authenticity and genuine spirituality, which the evangelicals lack yet crave, is poised to rise out of the ashes of a clergy sex abuse scandal that was product of her spiritual abandonment.

    If only the American Catholic laity can come to realize this then a new Great Awakening will commense.  Pope Benedict has laid out a profound vision of the future in “God is Love.”  And it begins with embracing Catholic spirituality and heeding the Catholic evangelical mission.  But who is ready to abandon the Stepford Catholicism that his devoured the Boston Archdiocese as well as other Archdioceses throughout the US?  Who is ready to heed the radical call of Christ and embrace the full range of human experience?  Who among you are the few that will truly serve Him with the greatest joy yet remain completely willing to endure the most terrible suffering for His honor and for His greater glory?  Your time is now.

  • With regards to the above comments, a few observations are in order.
    If we say that the ” Pope was correct to say that the Nazi’s warred against God Himself”,
    the same statement could be made against each and every person that sins. Sin is sin. In fact, one could argue that the greatest sin is the violation of the First Commandment. 

    To suggest that ” the Nazi’s desired the death of Judaism and Christianity is rank speculation at best, since it contradicts the historical record. Catholic churches were never closed or burned by the Germans. The British destroyed more Catholic churches in their brutal and completely unnecessary 72 hour carpet bombing and resulting firestorm campaign on Dresden, Germany in February 1945, a city comprised of 500,000 unarmed civilians and non combatants at a time when the war was basically over. The German army never leveled one Catholic Church.

    Again, to write that ” the German people lashed out and laid claim to what God gave to the Jews ” is just not the case.

    Jesus settled the matter in the year 33 A.D. or 70 a.d. depending on how you want to determine the finality of things.  The One True religion, which had been practiced by the Israelites, was
    turned over to the Christians in 33 a.d.
    In 70 a.d the old Covenant was ended and with it the Temple, the Levite priesthood, the Old bloodly sacrifice and much else. The Old Law was fulfilled with the New Covenant and to be a member of the One True Religion, one had to accept Jesus and be Baptized ( as a start ). 
    The point is the reprobate Israelites or those who denied the Messiah,  had nothing left, because their rejection of the messiah left them “high and dry in July” so to speak, they had nothing once the New Law was effective.

    So, the German people were not trying to take
    away from the reprobate Israelites, what God took from them in 33 a.d or 70 a.d. 

    Next, to suggest the sexual abuse scandals of the church as the product of ” her spiritual abandonment” is incorrect.

    The sexual abuse incidents were a result of a few, mostly homosexual priests, allowed into the priesthood, and allowed to live a impure life, often under the direction of bishops who were homosexual. 

    The media is fond of bashing the Catholic church, and because the media is so anti Catholic today, there is a inordinate amount of attention given to such stories while other denominations and their leaders are given a
    pass when found to be involved in impure activites with others.

    Lastly, why on earth is the Pope even going to Auschwitz. Catholics were by far the biggest victim group in World War 2.  Dresden would be far more appropriate a destination to mourn Catholic losses. But yesterday’s war is over and the fact is Mexican Americans do not dwell on the losses they suffered from America taking their land in the Mexican American war.

    There is plenty of blame to spread around for the sufferings of world war 2, but the Catholic
    Church and her members cannot be painted with that brush.

  • Auschwitz,

    The continued validity of the Jewish covenant is a matter of worthy debate.  And while the Church clearly states that she presents the best hope for salvation, she also acknowledges the presence of an invisible church, whose members are not formal Catholics, nonetheless are guided by that natural law written across the hearts of men, and thus in harmony with Christ, even if ignorant of him.

    Pope Benedict, who recently emphasized the need to evangelize to Jews, has also been a consistent proponent to suggest that Christians need not necessarily assume the Jewish People’s Covenant has been invalidated.  Kierkegaard believed that the Christian will find refuge and salvation in the irony of Christian life.  Pope Benedict, in his “Introduction to Christianity” implied a similar idea when describing the elusive nature of the Trinity, three-in-one being distinctly different from polytheism, yet not so purely monotheistic as, for example, Judaism or Islam.  As believers, we accept the limitations of our human knowledge, and we prostrate ourselves before the cross as beggars for meaning.  We embrace the irony of belief in the face of the daunting and vast unknowable.  Such modesty speaks well of Pope Benedict and is an attribute of his that we all should ponder.  Yes.  Christ is Salvation.  Yet the Jews were given a Covenant, and despite all the theological arguments pro and con, we may ultimately be required to accept this as a mystery of faith as the Pope himself has implied.

  • Continued from above>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    As for Hitler and the Nazis specifically, one ought to ask, what they thought of the matter of chosen-ness?  You write that “the German people were not trying to take away from the reprobate Israelites, what God took from them in 33 a.d or 70 a.d. the German people were not trying to take away from the reprobate Israelites, what God took from them in 33 a.d or 70 a.d.” 

    Well, let’s assume you are right for a second (although, as I pointed out, the theological dispute here should be acknowledged).  Why did the Nazis scapegoat and target the Jews?  What drove their insidious hatred and desire to eradicate them?  It does not matter what you think about the Jewish Covenant (a view which I don’t think can ultimately be proved).  What matters is what the Nazis thought?  There is an old saying “where there is smoke there is fire.”  The Nazis were not merely irrational projectionists of their blind hatred and fear, such nonsense only comforts the psycho-babblers.  They hated the Jews because the Jews have endured the most unbearable historical oppressions and dispersions, and never wilt, never fade, never absorbed by other races, they never vanish.  This small band of people has endured for 4000 years, only the Chinese and Hindus have been alive longer, yet with exponentially higher populations.  The Nazis, the German people, and all pagan cultures that worship themselves and their ancestors as God, might claim Catholicism simultaneously, but they deceive.  In their Catholicism, lie the old pagan bones of their dead barbarian ancestors.  They never stopped loving their race more than Christ.  And out of their jealous loathing of the Jews, rather than turn to the wisdom and beauty of authentic Church teachings, they trumped there Aryan superiority and laid waste to the heart and soul of Catholicism, even if they left the physical structures intact.  Make no mistake Auschwitz.  Hitler though Christianity was a Jewish conspiracy to spread Jewish values at the expense of Aryan greatness.  Do achieve his ambition of increasing and wielding Aryan mastery over humanity, he had to crush the Jews and Christendom.  The God of Abraham, Christ Himself, stood in his path.  And today, the German people reap what they sowed.  They tried to destroy God’s people, and now they lie, slowly and quietly dying.

  • Continued from above >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    As for the clergy scandal, yes homosexuals ran rampant.  But never forget that the Archdioceses covered their tracks.  This is crime of compromising Christ’s mission.  They thought they could, minimize or deflect these crimes to preserve the greater good and glory of their Church.  Fools.  They betrayed their hearts to Satan.  There is no compromise.  You live for Christ and you endure the consequences.