Wednesday, April 20, 2005
I give thanks to God with my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters for the election of a new Pope of the Roman Catholic church, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. We have been praying in our seminary for the wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this election and now only time will tell how the Holy Spirit will work through Benedict XVI. But, it is appropriate to give thanks that this election has been made. I want to write about a couple of things here having to do with this pope and some of the events surrounding his election, some of which were brought out in today's preaching class.
First, I have heard a significant amount of comments already that many of my classmates are surprised and disappointed with this election because of Benedict XVI's conservatism. As someone else has already said, though I forget who, I don't know where this surprise is coming from - the Vatican isn't exactly "the hotbed of liberalism". Moreover, Benedict XVI's role as Pope will be different than his role as Cardinal in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (And contrary to what some may think, just because you've read Angels and Demons doesn't make you an expert in any of these matters.) In one of his speeches before his election, Benedict made some comments about absolute truths and how we need to get back to them. He said there was a danger in people who say there are no absolute truths. A lot of folks, it seems to me, have reacted negatively against that, but I want to challenge them.
Are we afraid of absolute truth? We shouldn't be. And we should be among the first ones to agree that there is a danger in those who say there is no absolute truth. There is absolute truth and we as Episcopalians proclaim it in worship every Sunday in the words of the Creed, and in the Memorial Acclamation when we say, "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. (Prayer A)" If we can't say that is absolute truth, then I'd say we've got a problem. Those of us studying to become Episcopal priests had better not be afraid to proclaim it either. As a wise classmate said in preaching today, "God has given us each a unique voice to proclaim the Gospel and commissioned us to use it!"
Furthermore, Benedict said something about how we are in a "dictatorship of relativism". Well, folks, we are (though dictatorship might be too strong a word). If that is not what the whole "unpleasantness" in the Anglican Communion right now is about, then I don't know what it is. And because we are living in said relativism, we want answers and moral clarity. Living in tension is hard work! But, there is nothing wrong with wanting answers or moral clarity either. Benedict XVI's answers are not the answers the ECUSA wants particularly, but that is no reason to throw out what he said about relativism wholesale. It seems the answers we want differ from the answers he's giving, but that doesn't mean we don't want an answer. And we want an answer because we don't have them, at least officially, which suggests living with relativism.
Just because we don't have all the answers doesn't mean we don't want them, nor should it. If the first Christians had thrown up their hands and said, "Who knows?! We don't want an answer though!" then the hard work of theology represented by all the years between then and now would be lost. Our understanding of discernment would be for naught. Seeking is good. Asking is good. Absolute truth is scary stuff. But, count on this: there is absolute Truth and his name is Jesus Christ. If that scares you a little bit, you're probably doing something right.
I, for one, didn't follow the papal discussions with any real interest, being neither Catholic nor a candidate for the papacy, but I wonder - would a liberal Pope result in a drastically different world from the one Pope Benedict will usher in? The Catholic injunctions against birth control, for example, don't really have as much to do with the Pope as they do with individual Catholics. Millions of Catholic men wore condoms during John Paul II's papacy, and I'm fairly sure the late Pope didn't put any of them on. I'm equally sure that, if that is indeed a sin, then Christ will find it in Himself to forgive our latex iniquities along with the rest of them. Having a liberal Pope probably wouldn't change that, and probably won't change much - the important thing is what's going on in the hearts and minds of individual Catholics.
Also - great paragraph about absolute truth, Ryan! C.S. Lewis used to write "The longest way round is the shortest way home" to describe the honest Christian's search to understand absolute truth. The image I think he was working from is a man lost in the mountains who sees a village thousands of feet directly below him and has to wander all around the mountains, heading slowly down, so he can get home safely. We wander all over the theological landscape, pulling influences from books, experience, conversations, prayer, etc. and although at any given point it may seem that we're wandering further away from home - the truth - as long as we remember that there is absolute truth and it has something to do with a man on a cross, God will make sure to keep us heading in the right direction.
In other news, there are now 24 cans of Budweiser in my room waiting for a fishing trip.
Perhaps Torquemada the First might have been a better choice of names for the new Pope.
By 5:01 AM, at