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Duffy on Benedict XVI

An interesting piece by the distinguished historian Eamon Duffy on Benedict XVI's visit to Britain. The short version: Benedict enters an English culture where Catholic are, paradoxically, more accepted at all levels of society than before, but where a public anti-Catholicism is gaining renewed energy. The Pope's own combative orientation to the modern world is, in Duffy's view, unhelpful.

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John, the link you posted is restricted, although it sounds like an interesting piece.

Nancy, let it fill in the URL, then delete everything before the www.irishtimes.com part. It worked for me. (Firefox 3.X)

Fixed the link -- it should take you right there now!

The article seems to take a couple of odd ideas for granted. First, that the Pope's teaching is primarily negative. It isn't. Secondly, that people at papal Masses and rallies are disappointed because Pope Benedict isn't JPII. The atmosphere at these events is incredibly celebratory. People don't exactly mope around, lamenting that he is "maladroit and badly advised in his attempts to promote his views." Honestly I don't know what Duffy is suggesting.

Thanks, Mollie. Excellent article despite Kathy's mispronouncements above and inability to understand Duffy's points.Think or link to any prior articles this year about B16 and his difficulties with PR highlighted by a brief but by no means comprehensive list:- Regensburg- comments on HIV/condoms in Africa- his interview on the way to South America- some of his pronouncements in terms of Jewish relations, Anglican relations, etc. impacting ecumenism- his attempts at condemning sexual abuse e.g. letter to Ireland, etc.- his smaller, purer church for the little people, etc.One could go on and on......

Duffy claims that Pope Benedict does not draw "vast and admiring crowds" like John Paul II. This is a factual error. But more to the point, what is Duffy proposing that the Pope should do? And most importantly, what is he proposing that he do differently than, for example, he did (very well, very positively) on his apostolic journey to the US?

Kathy, Bill DeHaas gave you some answers in the above post. Basically, stop denouncing and start witnessing. Duffy quotes Newman. "Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth.Benedict is basically a polemical voice in a world which seeks reconciliation not condemnation by righteous, empire clerics.

Bill and Bill,Why not look at Pope Benedict's public remarks over any given week, month, or year. Read his books. Don't just listen to mainstream media's outrage about condoms or whatever, but actually read his words. They are overwhelmingly positive.

I'm with you Kathy. Those who are opposed to what Benedict XVI teaches will misrepresent him to make it seem as though he's antagonistic and polemical when he's not - he's merely speaking the Truth. Benedict's great strength is that he will not fear speaking the Truth in and out of season - and with love (Caritas in Veritate). If that makes him seem antagonistic, so be it in his view. It's the mark of great saints through the ages.

hes merely speaking the Truth. Benedicts great strength is that he will not fear speaking the Truth in and out of seasonMike,I think you detracted from Kathy's message. It seems to me that truth is truth. On the other hand, Truth is "what those of us who are real Catholics agree with, and you other guys don't like." Its the mark of great saints through the ages.Like Saint Pius X and his Syllabus of Errors and Oath Against Modernism?

Read his books. Kathy,Which would you recommend most highly? I always love book recommendations.

David, For the purposes of this discussion, I'd start with Pope Benedict in America. Then Jesus of Nazareth--you might find his discussion of the historical-critical method interesting--and the encyclicals. If his two books on the Fathers are anything like his Wednesday catechesis, they will be interesting and refreshing. I like his books on liturgy, you might not, A New Song for the Lord and The Spirit of the Liturgy.By the way, Mike was referring to Paul's exhortation to Timothy to a certain kind of apostolic courage. The whole of the 2nd Letter to Timothy is worth rereading in this context, and at least the beginning of chapter 4:"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."

John -- thanks for posting. This is excellent.Duffy claims that Pope Benedict does not draw vast and admiring crowds like John Paul II. This is a factual error.The error is yours, Kathy -- you've misrepresented what Duffy wrote. Here's the sentence in which those words appear:

Even among the faithful, Benedicts coming has elicited neither the widespread enthusiasm nor (on present indications) the vast and admiring crowds that marked the visit of his charismatic Polish predecessor in 1982.

It's a very specific claim about THIS visit to Britain, and I don't think you're in a position to know better than Eamon Duffy whether it's true. While we're at it, you say Duffy claims (or "take[s] for granted") "that people at papal Masses and rallies are disappointed because Pope Benedict isnt JPII" -- and, in fact, he says nothing of the kind. Next time you sense the pope is under attack, try reading the whole essay in question before you form your counterargument.

If Duffy had simply said the crowds will be smaller, well, we'll have to see. But he said that their enthusiasm and admiration will be less, and the comparison of crowds' enthusiasm is a man-on-the-street issue, not an academic one. People at papal Masses aren't comparing Popes the way a papal historian might. But again, why not just wait and see?

I think the article by Father Kavanaugh in the new America "How Will They Know?" points up the problem of BXVI that Duffy talks about.For many, thetere is a major disconnect between the words and behavior of BXVI and th slapping down of any who question is at its root.Of cxourse the loyalists here rush to the defense of BXVI and the matter of crowd size strikes me as not germane to the issue at hand.As Benedict prepares to set forth for England et al. (as Allen noted) his message of identity strengthening seems to have less credibility on the shores there and here.I think David Nicke;l's riposte is then quite correct and underscores the continuing diviseness that BXVI has presided over and helped burgeon.

Mollie - notice she did not respond to your point about "misrepresentation". She changed tactics and focused on a minor point. Your suggestion implies the ability to suspend judgment and do an analysis - that means dropping your pre-conceptions; putting yourself in the context of the writer/composer, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised that Duffy pointed out that the Catholic Church is the largest and most diverse humanitarian organization in the world.The Church rarely gets that recognition in the secular media.Very good!

Bill,The first responsibility for correct analysis lies in the hands of the writer/ composer. (Composer!?) They must read a situation accurately, and then discuss it fairly, not publish assumptions about the motivations of the hoi poloi under the banner "'Man of sacristy' walks in the shadow of John Paul II." (Although granted, Duffy probably isn't responsible for the hedder.) It's an essay about public perception. Only a very small layer of public perception is a matter of public record.If there are reasons for Duffy's assumptions, if he has his ear to the ground regarding the enthusiasm and admiration of crowds, and how many plan to stay away from the events altogether, I think he should provide these reasons.

Kathy, this is pathetic. You attributed to Duffy a statement he did not make and then accused him of "a factual error." Why can't you just admit you were wrong?

Eamonn Duffy is a great scholar and his Stripping of the Altars is an excellent work, but he, by his own admission, is a bit of a woolly liberal. I think Kathy, myself and others have simply picked up on this in his article.David, Benedict XVI is all about preaching the Truth. And yes, if you don't value it, then you are under no compulsion to stay in the Church. I hope and pray you do though.

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction."This was not done with the inquisiton, the Syllabus of Errors and the CDF in modern times. None of them have the patience of Paul. And there is the strikingly bad example of Augustine who allowed force and violence against those who disagreed with him. Augustine, unfortunately, is the quintessential dishonest polemic whose example too many follow. Augustine cannot compare with Paul who persuaded and did not force.

As John McGreevy says Duffy is a "distinguished historian." He is always worth listening to and reading.I think his conclusion merits particular attention:"many who wish both him and his message well will also want him to take his lead from the man whom he is to declare blessed two days later, and concentrate not on denunciation but on commending the Christian antagonist truth by its inherent hopefulness and humanity."What do we see as "the Christian antagonist truth?" and how would we give expression to "its inherent hopefulness and humanity?"What would be our counsel to the Pope in this regard? -- of course, on the presumption that we wish "both him and his message well."

So anybody who doesn't "value" B16's "preaching the Truth" should consider leaving the Church?I, for one, didn't (and don't) "value" much of this man's version of Truth, and so I left the Church of Rome.On the other hand, even Ratzinger would agree (at least if he remains consistent) that application of the Truth isn't always consistent with official church teaching. There is Truth, and there are truths.It would appear that some folks here and elsewhere conflate the latter with the former.

Id start with Pope Benedict in America. Then Jesus of NazarethKathy,Thanks. I already own Jesus of Nazareth, and I ordered Pope Benedict in America. Someone on Vox Nova recommended Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, so I have that.

He has a small book, from the CDF I think, called Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. I like it a lot.

I'm late to the game, but just the same...I didn't think Duffy's essay was all that far off the mark. Certainly the public reception of some of the efforts of this pontificate has been, at times...challenging. I do not think that the Vatican will win any awards for public relations. On the other hand, I think it is also true that the Church, by its nature, is going to have a tough time making its points in a modern culture which is not only highly secularized but also captured by the soundbite and the hyper-short attention span. This problem didn't begin with Benedict XVI - for all of his rock star airs, John Paul II (we too often forget) had more than his share of bad press. The Vatican hasn't changed that much in five years, or twenty.Where Duffy presses too far is here: "But he also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness." I think it is patently unfair of Duffy to reduce this pope's message, his emphasis, on "mere denunciation." It is hard to think he has spent much time reading this pope's homilies and addresses and think that it's all "mere denunciation." It is not as unfair - not to say ludicrous - as David Nickol's apparent attempt to equate Benedict with Pius X's anti-modernist campaign (really? seriously, David?), but it simply isn't doing justice to what Benedict has tried to say, notwithstanding that the message has not always been...delivered perfectly. But then I don't really think even Duffy believes this. He says too many gracious things about Benedict XVI and his "thoughtfulness." But if he thinks there's a more positive way to cast the Church's teachings without abandoning or altering them, it seems to me that he has some responsibility to say how. "Stop denouncing and start witnessing" doesn't quite cut it. The reality is that however hamhanded the Vatican can be at delivering its message, even the smoothest, most communications-adept effort is going to have a tough time and a lot of hostile - and distorted - reception in today's world. That doesn't excuse some of what we've seen unfold in Rome (and that John Allen has amply documented of late). But we have to keep that in mind. So should Eamon Duffy.

"I think it is patently unfair of Duffy to reduce this popes message, his emphasis, on mere denunciation."Right. Benedict's "Deus Caritas Est" has as positive a message as can be found. Beautiful. And many of B16's Wednesday talks are very positive too.It would be interesting to hear an objective psychiatrist analyze his two public personae.

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About the Author

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.