Tuesday, June 18, 2013

History's Cunning Timing Gives Rare Catholic Teaching Moment in Upcoming Four Hands Papal Encyclical Of Two Popes

I thought this was a good piece that published in an the Italian paper Corriere Della Dera the other day and has been translated here.

 What the 'four-hands'
encyclical teaches us

by Vittorio Messori
Translated from

June 15, 2013

Vatican officials had sought to tone down the reality - they spoke of a document that Benedict XVI had drafted in part and that Pope Francis had taken up to complete, or rather, fragments that the emeritus Pope had written that the reigning Pope has then developed to completion.

Instead, the encyclical on faith will really be 'an encyclical by four hands' [as in a piano duet, for which the Italian term 'a quattro mani' is habitually used].- just so, textually, as announced plainly by Papa Bergoglio on an official occasion - his meeting with the current Executive Council and Secretariat-General of the Bishops' Synod.

Thus, another 'first' for the Argentine Pontiff: a doctrinal document of primary importance - on faith, no less, therefore, on the very foundation of the Church. One that was ideated, thought through, and in large part written by one Pope and signed by another.

A Pope who announced on the same occasion that he would not fail to inform the addressees of his first circular letter to Christianity - that is the meaning of the word 'encyclical' - that he "received from Benedict XVI a great piece of work" that he fully shares-and found to be "a powerful text".

Of course, every Pope in the documents he issues under his name always cites his predecessors, but as citations, sources duly footnoted, certainly never as co-author. Indeed, one thinks back, with irony, to the resignation of Celestine V, who was imprisoned in some secret place by his successor Boniface VIII for fear he could inspire a schism, and whom he brought back to captivity when the old monk sought to escape.

Let us try to understand how we have come to this unprecedented situation now. Joseph Ratzinger's primary concern - as a scholar, then as cardinal, and finally as Pope - was always to turn back to the fundamentals, to recover the bases of Christianity, to offer a new apologetics appropriate to contemporary man.

And so, he planned a trilogy on the major virtues, those called 'theological' - thus, he wrote an encyclical on love and one on hope. The one on faith was to come, and he had planned to publish it by autumn of 2013, at the end of the special year that he decreed precisely to a rediscovery of the reasons why we believe the Gospel.

The work was far advanced when he came to the realization that his advancing age no longer allowed him to carry the burdens of the Pontificate on his shoulders.

Perhaps, free from the duties of the Bishop of Rome, he would have enough strength left to finish the text and publish it, 'de-classing' it from a papal encyclical to just a scholarly text, as he had done with the three volumes he wrote on the historicity of Jesus. Books that do not have magisterial value but are open to debate by experts on the topic.

It is possible that he consulted the new Pope about this, and that Francis gladly offered to use the work already done, bring it to completion, and sign it as an encyclical with his name.

This has disconcerted some eccelesial circles: The idea of a papal document with such importance and on such a decisive topic that has joint authorship has left many perplexed.

On the contrary, it is most welcome. The novelty seems precious because it can help recover a perspective that many faithful appear to have forgotten. That perspective of faith in which it is not the persona of the Pope that matters, and all that goes with it - a biography, a culture, a nationality, a personality.

What matters is the papacy, the institution desired by Christ himself with a specific task: to lead the flock, as a good shepherd, through the tempests of history, without deviating from the right course.

To the faithful, the Pope exists to be their master in faith and morals, not by advocating his own ideas, but by helping them to understand the divine will, announcing the eternal life that awaits us at the end of our earthly journey, and watching that we do not fall into the abyss of error.

That is why Popes are assured of the assistance of the Holy Spirit - to keep them from straying from the path. In his teachings, the Roman Pontiff is not 'an author' whose qualities one must admire. Indeed, he would betray his role if he said fascinating and original things that were not along the lines indicated by Scripture and Tradition. A Pope is not allowed to say "in my opinion", which is the hallmark of heresy.

Simplifying extremely, we can say that "one Pope is as good as another" in that ultimately his person does not count, but only his obedience and fidelity as an instrument of evangelical announcement.

Anecdotes about the Popes, on their daily lives, may be interesting, but they have no bearing on their mission. What really counts is the Papacy as a perennial institution that will endure until parousia - to the end of history and the second coming of Christ. An institution which, to the Catholic, is not a weight to be borne, but a gift for which we must be grateful. It does not matter whether the Pope of the moment is 'pleasing' as a person, whether we love his character or style.

Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Bergoglio are vastly different personalities, but they cannot differ - and Heaven watches that this does not happen - when they speak of Christ and his teaching, as teachers of faith and morals.

As instruments - "a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord", as Benedict XVI called himself in his first remarks as Pope - they are in a way interchangeable. They can explain more deeply the significance of the Gospel, help it to be understood better by the men of their time, but always in the wake of Scripture and Tradition. They are not allowed to be 'creative'. They are not 'authors' but leaders, in turn led by an Other.

Precisely because of this, the idea is not at all unwelcome - but rather, it seems a precious occasion offered to us by what Hegel would call 'the cunning of history' - of a document by two Popes that reannounces the faith, which is the basis of everything.

A document by an emeritus Pontiff and a reigning one shows that Popes may be different personalities but that the perspective in which they are called to lead the Church is the same, the direction is the same. Just as their words are basically identical in re-proposing the great wager on the truth of Christianity.

And so, no one should be scandalized at a 'four-handed encyclical'.

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