“Methinks that this polished bow does not lightly yield itself to be strung.” —Odyssey, XXI
Departing for his epic voyage, the mythic hero Odysseus left his storied bow in his wife’s care. During his absence, it served as an identity test to ward off suitors, for it was so large and difficult to handle only Odysseus, with his almost superhuman strength, could draw the ends together.
In every age, true leadership requires a similar strength, to draw together ends that stand in profound tension. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, as Josef Pieper noted, took in hand a bow with ends that “seemed to be inevitably pulling away from one another”—the realm of the supernatural, accessible only by faith, and that of reason and natural reality—and joined them in a way that recognized and utilized the distinctiveness of each.
In the task of guiding the church on its continuing journey, Pope Benedict XVI will have quite a bow to draw. Neither the church nor our globalized world is lacking in the need to bring together elements that seem to be “inevitably pulling away from one another.” When it comes to the church, I will focus on just three: the tension in how it sees itself (ecclesiology); in how it relates to those outside the Christian community (missiology); and finally, in how it...