Benedict XVI, Herbert Hoover, Balthasar & more

A useful primer for the Pope's trip to Brazil in The Economist. Two bits of analysis struck me:

1. The focus on the Pentecostalization of Christianity in Latin America, Catholic or Protestant. This is not new, of course, but it's still startling to see the numbers. (i.e. Guatemala may be majority Protestant in our lifetime; the enthusiasm among Catholics for charismatics.)

2. The article includes a throw-away line that tensions over liberation theology may fade with the end of the cold war and the successful transition to democracy in in the region. Today's New York Times (behind firewall) takes a different line, stressing the persistance of liberation theology in the region and the enduring importance of ecclesial base communities.

I've no idea who's right. But it's a useful reminder that ideological divides do often blind us from seeing larger trends. I teach U.S. history and students (or their parents) are often startled when I stress the similarities between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in his first term. Or another example: I'm reading Fergus Kerr's brilliant (if aspish) survey of twentieth century Catholic theology and I'm struck by this conclusion. Kerr comparing Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar:

"Currently, Karl Rahner is played off against his old colleague Hans Urs Von Balthasar, with Rahner regarded as the 'progressive' theologian of the Council and Balthasar the 'conservative' theologian of the post-conciliar reaction....Since both [Rahner and von Balthasar] were rooted in the school of Jesuit spirituality, they were never as far apart as they may seem. Moeover, each was far more complicated than the standard story allows. As time goes by, in the perspective of history, their projecs may well come to seem more complementary than conflicting, overlapping much more than their admirers and adversaries think at present."

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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