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Tactical papalotry

Perhaps Paul Baumann is too hard on many of those commenting on Benedicts Freising remarks. Like me, most probably didnt read the full text but were simply touched by the image of the cathedral spires and what Benedict, who really has a gift for this kind of preaching, did with it. The point of the image could have been made with any cathedral spires, anywhere, and for many readers Freising and Bavaria probably didnt have much to do with it. Nonetheless, Pauls observation about Benedicts weakness for an uncritical nostalgia about the church and culture of his Bavarian boyhood is salutary. It also points to something else that has long puzzled me: the near obsession with celebrating the popewhatever popeon the part of some Catholic intellectuals.

I can understand the place of this kind of hero-worship on the part of people who have neither the leisure nor the formation for the kind of critical reflection that is the responsibility (and curse) of intellectuals. In the simplest dwellings around the world, including those of many of my forebears, there have been honored pictures of Pius IX, Pius XII, FDR, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and now Obama. Fine. They are symbols of loyalty, gratitude, and hope, pure and simple. No more than the pictures of triumphant athletes that often hang alongside them does one expects them to call to mind the tragic failures, personal weaknesses, mixed political legacies, or aborted potential of such heroes.When I find the equivalent of such pictures hanging in the minds of first-rate intellectuals, however, I cannot help but wonder. I confess that a great deal of reading in the very spotted history of the Left in the twentieth century has forced me to ponder the resemblance of papal adulation by some Catholic intellectuals to that of various Great Leaders from Lenin to Fidel to Mao by some left-wing intellectuals. When I once suggested this parallel out loud, my friend Jean Bethke Elshtain was appalled. Was I suggesting that John Paul II resembled Stalin? Of course not. Those who sang Stalins praises had to willfully blind themselves to many of his deeds, while those who sang John Pauls praises had the very contrary at hand. Nonetheless, there seemed something disturbingly similar in this impulse, and not just in the case of John Paul the Great, to highlight and extol virtually every papal deed and statement while finding a way to deflect or ignore almost all criticism.Since no popes in modern times compete with Stalin or Castro or Mao in perfidy, the effect of this papal adulation on the world at large is probably negligible. Its effect on the church may be otherwise. That has changed, of course, in the decades since Vatican II. The cult of papal adulation has been joined now with a kind of mirror cult of papal denigration, especially in the case of Benedict. Both cults spring from the same soil.And both are nourished by another reality, what might be called the tactical use of papalotry. No one with any close knowledge of how official statements and sometimes even personal theology are written can be unaware of the practice of plastering the underlying argument with a defensive layer of papal proof texts. No one with any close knowledge of the Catholic hierarchy is unaware that leading bishops can disagree strongly with papal actions. Yet they almost never say so, not even in the most charitable terms. What kind of freedom in Christ is that?But the practical effect of all this does not bother me, though perhaps it should, as much as the questions it raises about the Catholic intellect. Catholic thinkers are well aware that the guidance of the Holy Spirit has not worked straightforwardly in the history of the popes and, furthermore, that there has not even been a clear relationship between personal sanctity or theological acumen and institutional leadership. I pay attention when Benedict issues an encyclical. I welcome it as an occasion to reexamine my own thinking and choices. But knowing how many papal encyclicals are justly forgotten today, I do not feel the need to treat it as inspired or devise complicated excuses for why he should not be held responsible for the parts of it that seem to be wanting.Why should grown-up, well-educated Catholics indulge in this tendency to treat the pope like the Dalai Lama? (Or, on the other hand, like Torquemada?) It seems childish. It gives a bad witness to the maturity and the integrity of our faith.The above post first appeared as a comment on Paul Baumann's post, "Confusing Images."


Commenting Guidelines

Papalotry is surely a Catholic vice, perhaps the Catholic vice. it was not always so. Some day a truly great pope will repudiate and condemn papalotry for what it is, just one more form of idolatry. That pope will be a true reformer. Until then, one must retain one's sense of humor.

But are there first-rate minds who are papolators? Were there first-rate minds who were Mao-olators? One always thinks of Sartre and Stalin, and of Heidegger and Hitler -- but perhaps these were temporary aberrations. Similarly one might think of Beethoven or Hegel and Napoleon -- but they soon outgrew the charms of the dictator. In fact, papolatry has foundations that lie deeper than the appeal of political charismatics. It gives people a deep theological satisfaction to think that there is a human father-figure who is always right and who never does anything bad.

Hello All,I find Peter S.'s observations quite interesting (as I usually do). But I'd like to add that in my opinion, the writings of the recent popes have made very little impact among the Catholic intellectuals who work in North American universities. For example, I am the only professional philosopher in North America I know of who has ever cited a papal encyclical. (Recently I needed to cite Veritatis Splendor in an essay I wrote on natural law.) The theologians who participate here can correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that depite his large output, the writings of John Paul II have not had much influence in theology. I tried once to study some of the Lectures on the Theology of the Body and admittedly did not learn anything from what I read. I didn't want to do a systematic search on the matter but I got the impression that there is very little literature by theologians on Theology of the Body - and there is none by philosophers. Papal writings in general, and John Paul II's writings in particular, assume that the readers accept the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith, and philosophers generally don't rely upon works that assume allegiance to any particular faith tradition.

I wonder if calling this "papalolatry" isn't giving it too much of a gloss of true (if misdirected) devotion. There is also quite likely, either consciously or not, a good deal of "positioning" on the part of many in the church who, in the current chill wind blowing from Rome, either want to protect their positions at Catholic institutions or in the church, or, in a less flattering possibility, advance themselves. The last few decades have shown that popes promote courtiers, and perhaps it has always been thus. But it makes sense as well that a pontiff would promote those who agree with his views, no? For many, there is nothing to be lost and much to be gained in praising and defending whether he merits it or not. Reflexive anti-papalism could arguably be considered a resort to self-interest as well, though the rewards of that point of view appear to be distinctly less attractive, I'd think.

Papal idolatry is usually accompanied by hypocrisy. The pope is cited to buttress one's opinions but in reality the pope is ignored when he disagrees. A good example were the Catholic theocons who quoted the pope as infallible all over the place but ignored him on the Iraq war. W called John Paul II a saint while ignoring him on Irag. Strangely enough those in the Vatican have the utmost contempt for the pope while on their lips occur outrageous praise. The Curia knows, for example, that its power stems from the pope whom it often thwarts. "Popes come and go" says the Curia, "but the Curia remains forever."Just as much a problem is the worship of the clergy tho the pedophilia crisis greatly modified this practice. Andrew Greeley calls the "sacralization of the clergy" a very big problem. It is still around but before Vatican II it was rather unanimous that criticizing the clergy and bishops was at least a venial sin if not more. Despite some quality parish councils in some areas, the Pastor remains kind and dictator in most parishes.One of the ways we can stop this is to cease calling the pope "Holy Father" and priests "Father." As we have seen some terrible things have resulted from this idolatry.We see idolatry in sports all the time. Riots occur when favorite teams lose and fights occur when a favorite idol is criticized. This is most detrimental in the church when idolatry, becomes, well, a religion.

Perhaps it is helpful to distinguish between the excesses of "papolatry", and the legitimate "religious submission of mind and will" called for in Lumen Gentium 25. My experience is that it is a difficult balancing act to maintain the requisite submission without tumbling off, into papolatry on one side, or insufficient dure regard on the other.

That should mean "king and dictator."

Sorry, meant to say, "due regard" in my previous comment.

In conversations with non-Catholics, I am constantly amazed how often people say "But don't you get your marching orders from the pope?" When I say no, they look at me incredulously. I think they figure I get a fax every week from the Vatican outlining what I am to do.At our monthly parish baptismal preparation, I generally start with a few minutes explaining what a deacon is, since most don't really know. As part of that I usually ask who knows the three orders of clergy. They get deacon right away, because I just told them that. Then someone usually says "priest." After that there's generally a lull. Almost invariably, someone will say "pope." There is really almost no awareness of the bishop. Even if I give a hint by hand gestures indicating a miter, they say "pope." This is the fruit of the papal cult. Catholics and non-Catholics alike assume that the pope directs every aspect of Church life down to the individual. And of course that's just the way the Curia and the Ultramontanists want it.

Eric: I'm with you. A couple of years ago, our parish bulletin ran an article on the clergy, dug up who-knows-where, explaining such "orders" as pope, cardinal and monsignor. I rarely complain to our pastor - he gets it from all different angles, all day long, as it is - but I let him know on that occasion that someone needs to screen some of the stuff that goes into the bulletin.And, fyi, I just passed along your fax number to the Vatican. They apologize that you'd fallen off the list, and asked me to assure you that weekly marching orders will resume next Monday morning.

The adulation, near-adoration, of the Pope is a fairly recent development--19th and 20th century, it seems. Perhaps it began with the sympathy for Popes Pius VI and Pius VII when each was made a prisoner of Napoleon. In any case, under Pius IX, as several studies have shown, the figure of the pope was exalted to near-divine status. Some talked about Christ's presence in "the three whites": the Virgin, the Eucharist, and the Pope. Some changed the words of the ancient hymn, "Rerum Deus tenax vigor" to "Rerum Pius tenax vigor." When a Cardinal at Vatican I gave a speech on papal authority that Pius IX did not like, he was called in and dressed down. When he protestaed that his position was traditional, the Pope expostulated: "La tradizione, son'io!" "Tradition? I'm tradition!"Yves Congar spoke of the "incredible inflation" of the papal teaching office that has occurred in the last two centuries. He also spoke of the methodological significance for a healthy, balanced ecclesiology of the millennium-long canonical and theological reflection on the possibility of a pope's becoming a heretic. He often quoted the remark of an Anglican churchman who commented on the fact that the last series of popes were, individually, good even holy men. "What we need," he said, "is a really good bad pope!" In Congar's French: "un tres bon mauvais pape!"

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's a depiction of Pius IX actually made during his pontificate.

Jim: Thank you for that courtesy. Unfortunately, I have dumped the fax machine. If the Vatican wants to send me weekly orders, they'll have to come up with an iPhone app for that.

One thing that could be done on this blog to fight "papalotry": ignore what comes out of the Vatican other than encyclicals and executive orders.

Eric: iPhones? This is the Vatican. I think we've already established that the Holy Father doesn't know how to Google. I would watch for the snail mail and carrier pigeons. Or, if you happen to live within sight of the Vatican rooftops, smoke signals.

It's a human failing to be always in search of a messiah.

I've already mentioned elsewhere that those who worked in our beaurocracy and played by the book wer e"those who know better"We also said that tribe were SRM (second rate moinds).Probably appropriate here.

Can we add Augustine to the idolatry list? He certainly was a great writer. But he got so many things wrong, especially allowing violence toward other Christians who disagreed. Isn't about time to be more critical, not only of him, but of other "Fathers of the Church" also. That, perhaps, would be fruitful maturity.

Hello Bill (and All),I'd be more tempted to put Aquinas on the idolatry list, and I teach and greatly admire Aquinas. Aquinas was without doubt the greatest of the classical natural law theorists. But some of his specific conclusions have in fact been specifically repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church (without direct reference to Aquinas). Perhaps the best example of this is the Church's explicit adoption of a principle of religious freedom in the documents of Vatican II. Aquinas expressly approves of capital punishment for heretics.Adulation of Aquinas has become quite silly in some quarters. A biology professor I knew in graduate school who had a named chair claimed in print that on the authority of Aquinas he believed that the human fetus does not have human form during the first trimester. (In fact, Aquinas appears to maintain that a male human fetus lacks human form until forty days gestation and a female human fetus lacks human form till eighty days gestation. He also seems to have simply adopted these claims from Aristotle's occasionally faulty biology.)

Hello All,I wonder to what extent the topic of this thread is intertwined with differing ideas people have regarding papal infallibility. I for one think that disputes over which papal pronouncements are "really" infallible are important only as a matter of intellectual curiosity. The documents of Vatican II explicitly state that Roman Catholics are obligated to obey the pope when he states a teaching on faith or morals, whether or not he declares the teaching to be infallible. (Sorry, I cannot locate the exact paragraph in Lumen Gentium just now! Anyone else know where it is?)But many appear to think that it's extremely important to regard every pronouncement every pope makes regarding faith and morals to be infallible, as if the pope were a Roman Catholic oracle. (Though I would have to agree with Bill that defenders of this "wide" interpretation of papal infallibility seem to think that the pope is infallible on just those matters they happen to agree with.)I also think it's seldom if ever the case that a pope introduces a doctrine or a moral teaching for the first time. Humanae Vitae might be a near exception. Paul VI's condemnation of all contraception wasn't new but he did propose a quite original defense of this teaching, even if many have concluded that the Humanae Vitae argument is flawed.Maybe I'm just agreeing with some here who suggest that on the one hand we should treat the pope and what he teaches with respect, but on the other hand not overrate the importance of the office.

I don't know anyone who has an idolatrous attitude toward Augustine or Aquinas.

One might rationalize that Augustine and Aquinas are so right and that is why they are quoted. Which can be debated. In general each is quoted with such authority that the implication is that to disagree is practically heresy or at least quite crass. That is idolatry. We may protest to the contrary but the tone and substance in which they are treated leaves no doubt that it is considered poor taste to question. At the very least it is matter of opinion as to what constitutes idolatry with respect to this preeminent duo.

Peter --Maybe that biology teacher had in mind Aquinas' view that in the fetus there is a succession of forms. During the early months there is a succesion of souls: first a vegetative one, then an animal one, followed by a rational one (the human soul, i.e, that which makes the organism a person, or human to the fullest extent). His argument is essentially a metaphysical one which depends on the biological description of what the early fetus can and cannot do. In fact, neuroscience is now corroborating the general pitch of AQuinas' argument -- that the human body/brain is not capable of carrying out specifically rational operations until the later development of the fetus.Aquinas was not the only one to maintain this theory, but it was not, obviously, an argument offered by John Paul II or Benedict. I say,pity. (And I don't even consider myself a Thomist.)

Peter:You're probably right in your observation that the recent popes' writings have had little effect on the work of contemporary philosophers and theologians. That does, of course, depend upon your definition of the word "theologian." There are those who would call Christopher West a theologian, for instance, and he has built his whole career on teaching JPII-ism.But no matter. Professional philosophers and theologians are one thing. Quite another are the less "professional" people who nevertheless exert a good deal of influence over the general Catholic population. And this is where the real challenge can lie. Only today, I was made aware of an all-girls Catholic high school called St. Catherine of Siena Academy, which leans heavily on the thinking of JPII. Here is how the institution describes its vision:ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA ACADEMYSt. Catherine of Siena Academy was created to meet an unfulfilled need in the western portion of the Archdiocese of Detroit for a Catholic high school for young women. The Academy plans to open its first campus in Wixom, Michigan (Oakland County) in the Fall of 2010. The Academy students educational experience will foster a hunger for truth, an acceptance of Gods love for all, and an ardent desire to understand Gods will for them as women. The educational model of the Academy will incorporate the work of great Catholic thinkers, including Pope John Paul II, who gave the Church a clear understanding of the significance of the unique dignity and vocation of women. MISSION OF ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA ACADEMYThe Mission of St. Catherines Academy is to form young women centered on the redemptive act of Christ by offering an educational experience that will inspire their hearts and minds to always seek the Truth that is Jesus. The Academys rigorous college-preparatory curriculum and Christian student-life experience are rooted in the theology of Pope John Paul II and his understanding of the feminine genius. This curriculum will cultivate within students an ardent desire to know God and to seek His will in choosing their vocation as women. Women of St. Catherines Academy will follow the model of St. Catherine of Siena, becoming stewards of the Catholic faith and sharing with the world their knowledge of Gods love for all.You can see more at

I don't know anyone who has an idolatrous attitude towards the Pope.

I wonder if the adulation of the pope/papacy in some quarters (and perhaps the "mirror cult of papal denigration" that Peter S cites) is also related to the Catholic culture argument we've had in previous threads. With the loss of that culture, or its distillation into enclaves, the pope became a stand-in for other things (like the Bavarian culture Benedict extolled). Or he became the common touchstone for a newly-globalized church.

Mary Karr wrote: "It isn't the ritual of the high Mass that impresses me, but the peopletheir collective surrender. If I can't do reverence to that, how dead are my innards?"And that is where the church is. Not in all these pretenders who strut about like peacocks. Or as Jesus noted: "Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

Brilliant piece! Thank you for publishing it and providing the big laugh of the day. A spot-on satire of that most particular brand of condescending intellectualism. Humorous pieces such as this do lighten the day. The authors wringing of hands was almost audible; the furrows of the slightly worried brow peeped out twixt every line. I could almost hear the silvery jingling of the saddlery as the benevolent and enlightened gentry rode past the kneeling peasants, gently scoffing at their silly superstitions while the Angelus bells tolled softly in the distance. Well done! Were it not uncharitable of me to think it, I might almost have believed the author was serious.

Hello Mark (and All),Thank you for your response."That does, of course, depend upon your definition of the word "theologian"."I agree wholeheartedly. I don't know if I have a really good definition of "theologian" but I'm confident Christopher West isn't one. I was introduced to some of his stuff about two years ago by someone who is now a former Christopher West enthusiast. I'm no expert on the writings of John Paul II but I know enough to have been able to tell quite quickly that Mr. West is not generally representing John Paul II's ideas accurately.This could be professional snobbery on my part (since I'm a philosophy professor), but these days I try to just avoid the less "professional" people to whom you refer that I know of. I used to occasionally watch EWTN and read articles in periodicals like First Things thinking this might make me better appreciate Roman Catholic Church teaching - in fact this had exactly the opposite effect on me. But I know people who found resources from the less "professional" like EWTN and First Things to be helpful to them in their faith lives. In my own case, I've found I do a lot better studying the original documents of Vatican II.

On 21 August 1870, several weeks after the promulgation of papal infallibily (18 July) by Vatican Council I, Newman wrote a long letter to his confrere and close friend Ambrose St. John, who was away on holiday. Newman said in part:"But to me the serious thing is this, that, whereas it has not been usual to pass defintion except in case of urgent and definite necessity, this definition, while it gives the Pope power, creates for him, in the very act of doing so, a precedent and a suggestion to use his power without necessity, when ever he will, when not called on to do so. I am telling people who write to me to have confidence -- but I don't know what I shall say to them, if the Pope did act so. And I am afraid moreover, that the tyrant majority is still aiming at enlarging the province [italics] of Infallibility. I can only say if all this takes place, we shall in matter of fact be under a new dispensation. But we must hope, for one is obliged to hope it, that the Pope will be driven from Rome, and will not continue the Council, or that there will be another Pope. It is sad he should force us to such wishes." The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, XXV, p. 192.In fact, the Council did not resume owing to the fall of the Papal States several weeks after Newman wrote. For over four years Newman resisted many calls to express publicly his views on the definition. He finally decided to do so after Gladstone in late 1874 called into question the civil loyalty of British Catholics given their "dual" allegiance. Newman in The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (January 1875) refuted Gladstone's challenge regarding the Catholic civil loyalty. In doing so, Newman gave what is generally accepted as a moderate, rather than ultramontane, interpretation of the definition.In the letter cited above and in a number of other letters from this period, Newman firmly resisted a growing tendency in his day to make Pius IX "the idol of the Vatican."

"did so act""regarding Catholic civil loyalty"

John Page:Thank you for offering Newman's wisdom on this area. I especially love the story about him being pressed to give a toast to the pope. He gave a bit of an impromptu "backgrounder" and then raised his glass saying "Very well then, to the pope--but to conscience first!"Of course if one were to give such a toast today, he or she would be widely castigated as a "dissident" and a fax would be sent off to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Idolatry is a rather strong term. I wouldn't say I've seen papal idolatry in my experience. Surely, there are particular popes that certain people hold in especially high esteem. The two that come to mind are JPII and John XXIII. I wouldn't call myself an idolater, but I recall being tremendously happy when Cardinal Ratzinger became B16 because I had read his work in a number of classes and admired his intellect.

Hello John and Eric (and All),Thanks very much for the information regarding Newman in the 1870s.Eric, I agree with your observation that one who gave a toast like today the one you quoted Newman giving would be branded a dissident and, if a public figure, would most likely be reported to the CDF. What I'd be most interested in knowing are: (1) was Newman branded a dissident in the 1870s, and (2) did anyone send off a telegram to the Holy Office (later renamed the CDF) reporting what Newman had said? I suspect that if Pius IX knew what Newman had said in his toast and in the letter John pointed us to, he would have been most displeased to put it mildly. But, assuming Pius IX knew, perhaps he didn't want to excommunicate Newman and was in no position to do much else, having recently lost the Papal States and become "self-incarcerated" prisoner of the Vatican.

I have an idea. Fr. Komonchak, you could write two books: "Newman Quotes for Liberals" and "Newman Quotes for Conservatives." Then, if they were published in time for bloggers and others to give them to each other as beatification gifts, you could donate the proceeds for a new physics lab in Newman's honor at CUA.

Here's the book I'd like to read: Attention Bob Orsi or John McGreevy, in your "spare time" after deaning: A history of how lay Catholics have viewed the the Pope over the past four hundred years. The first photographs of the pope would have been available only one hundred and fifty years ago. Getting access to encyclicals-let alone to daily speeches-would have been impossible--in fact, my guess is that the IDEA that plain old laypeople could and should read official documents probably would have been viewed as laughable--and dangerous. So even the conservative do-it-yourselfer theologians are very modern in that they a) have access to the documents; and b) think they have a right to say something. Socially, getting info to and from the Holy See was incredibly slow. The idea that you'd rope the pope into a local dispute must have been seen very differently than toay.

Good idea, Kathy. In his Biglietto speech Newman said that he had devoted his life to opposing liberalism in religion, but I think the profits should go toward scholarships for doctoral students.

Rhetorically, uncritical affirmation and endorsement of anyone --or anything -- serves, in my view a) to signal one's loyalties to a particular group; b) to build bonds among people who already feel the same way. It doesn't help convince those not already convinced, or those who aren't caught up in the same emotions. So, in a way, c) it also signals that the unconvinced should look elsewhere.I think the same thing can be found in the reverse direction when you see how annoyed some people get at the overwhelming emotions Obama elicited (at least at the beginning). The over-the-top love didn't help convince the unconvinced.

On Newman, I agree it's fascinating how he can be claimed by so many different points of view. (I believe the Cardinal Newman Society may the most extreme example!) I'd like to read more to educate myself better ahead of the beatification, but I wonder if his evolutions over time contribute somewhat to the ability to be all things to all people. Like Niebuhr, perhaps? In any case, good thread, I am appreciative...again.

Newman never actually made a toast in which he named conscience first and the Pope second. It is a hypothetical statement ("if I were called upon") that he makes in The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.The Roman authorities were not totally pleased with Newman's response to Gladstone. Cardinal Alessandro Franchi, the prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (England was still a "mission" country), wrote to both Archbishop (soon to be named cardinal) Manning of Westminister and to Newman's bishop, WIlliam Ullathorne of Birmingham. Both dissuaded the Cardinal from taking any action. They argued that Newman's response to Gladstone had been well received by people in England and that this could be undone by any condemnation or censure. Newman had after all showed his adherence to the definition. The back and forth between Rome and Ullathorne continued through most of 1875, but the bishop held firm, and after October of that year there were no further letters from Cardinal Franchi.

Now it is clear why Newman has not been beatified.

Yes, there is plenty of Newman to go around to suit people of diverse views. It is a well-known sport among Newmanites. He lived to be just short of ninety and left an astounding corpus. As well, there are over 20, 000 extant letters. It is in the letters that we find some of Newman's most surprising, to some shocking, statements. In the letter of 21 August 1870 that I quoted above, Newman said what he said.This, however, is a published statement found in his brief Postscript to The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:"But it is no change surely to decided between two prevalent opinions; but, if it is to be so regarded, then change has been characteristic of the church from the earliest times, as, for instance, in the third centiry, on the point of validity of baptism by heretics. And hence such a change as has taken place, (which I would prefer to call doctrinal development,) is in itself a positive argument in favour of the Church's identity from first to last; for a growth in its creed is a law of its life." Postscript, 212We can all look forward to the beatification in September. It's been a long time coming.

"surely to decide" (not decided)

For anyone who may be interested, the full citation should be "Postscript to The Letter to The Duke of Norfolk," 212. In printed editions of Newman's works, the Postscript is published as an appendix to the Letter.Now to get ready for the next foot of snow. You will be glad to know that I will have something else to do. Thanks.

But are we not all missing the wood for the trees. We must go back again to that fatal week during Vatican II when it became apparent that collegiality would be only window dressing and that ultramontanism would remain in force. The Cult of Personality can reinforce that structure even more. If people decide to make a cult of you, just sit back and enjoy it, like a rock star. You don't need to have much to say (John Paul II didn't, really). The system works of its own accord. Because Vatican II was stalled we still await an adult church, a functioning community.

And because the system is at it is theologians should know better than to indulge in the attitudes of adulation that shore it up. It is theologically irresponsible to encouarage any kind of cult of the Pope.

If you read German, Ulrich Horst has written much good work on the development of infallibility, and he traces the tradition of the pope as heretic question mentioned above. He takes the opportunity to correct much of Hans Kueng's claims in "Infallibility?" It's often too bad what gets translated and what doesnt, eh?

Leaving aside Tyler's psuedo clever post, I think the jump here from adulation to idolatry is somewhat large.But Fr. O"Leary's concise post at 9:57 today is spot on!The importance of culture to this is quite significant. take for example, BXVI's talk, cited here.Then the meeting currently in Rome with Cardinal Kaspar and leaders of other faiths (talking about a possible global catechism?)Then the cited Fr. Kung (interviewed on ABC national) talking about a global ethic that will integrate secular and clerical concerns without religion being able to "dominate." Special problems include no tonly resolving conflicts an economic ethics, but, also, note: women. So the question of perspective and of what the problems are is vital.Critiques of adulation of(not idolatry) Augustine and to a lesser degree Aquinas here is due to their showing up in many threads here as well as BXVI's latest spech to whatever group.The value thereof is a matter of perspective and the fault line lies along the lines of moving back to some better time or prospectively trying to move forward.

Aquinas says that arguments from authority are weak. Maybe so, let me think about it. But, if reading Aquinas firms up my faith, gives it stronger foundations, and if he consistently thinks better than I do, why wouldn't I give him the benefit of the doubt the next time he says something? Could it be that there are teachers?

I know Im a bit late to the party, and perhaps this has already been discussed, but are we all working with the same understanding of what constitutes an unhealthy idolatry? The catalyst for this post appears to be reactions to one of Pope Benedict's reflections on a separate thread. Rereading those reactions, the most laudatory phrases I could find were "beautiful testimony"..."very astute""beautiful reflection""lifted my spirits and turned my thoughts to God""very uplifting"there were then some favourable comments on German brewmaking. Do these rise to the level of papal idolatry in people's minds? Does having a picture of the Pope in your house constitute harmful adulation? Is it a sign of weakness for first-rate intellectuals to have people they hold in high esteem? Have we left room for a simple respect for authority?