Sunday, April 24, 2005

Biography is History

Well, if this is right, then, unfortunately, so was I.

For all Pope Benedict XVI's decades as a Vatican insider, it may have been the crucible of a university town swept by student radicalism in the late 1960's that definitively shaped the man who now leads the Roman Catholic Church.

During his Bavarian childhood under the Nazis, Joseph Ratzinger became convinced that the moral authority based in Catholic teachings was the sole reliable bulwark against human barbarism, according to friends, associates, and his biographer, John L. Allen Jr.

But while his deep reading and thinking in theology, philosophy, and history were fundamental to development as a theologian, it was the protests of student radicals at Tübingen University - in which he saw an echo of the Nazi totalitarianism he loathed - that seem to have pushed him definitively toward deep conservatism and insistence on unquestioned obedience to the authority of Rome.

When he arrived at Tübingen in southern Germany in 1966, he was widely viewed as a church reformer, a man who wanted to open the church up to dialogue with others in the world.

But in his autobiography, he shows that the Vatican Council also alerted him to what he deemed dangerous liberalizing tendencies from inside the church and to the danger that reform, if not tightly controlled by a guiding authority, can quickly go awry.

"Very clearly, resentment was growing against Rome and against the Curia, which appeared to be the real enemy of everything that was new and progressive," he writes. Academic "specialists," he complains, were encouraging the bishops to accept dubious assumptions. One of these assumptions was "the idea of an ecclesial sovereignty of the people in which the people itself determined what it wants to understand by church." The idea of the "church from below," which led to liberation theology, was being born and, as he puts it, "I became deeply troubled."

He had been recruited by none other than the liberal Swiss theologian Hans Küng, the very man who became, and remains, one of his chief political and theological rivals. The experience of the student revolt seemed to confirm every suspicion that Father Ratzinger already nurtured about liberalizing tendencies and the hidden germ of totalitarianism lurking within revolutionary movements.
"Unfortunately," not because I am a Catholic, or even because I'll be more influenced by the decisions of Pope Benedict XVI than by those of James Dobson. But it proves that William Faulkner was right, and that what he said doesn't just apply to the American South:

"The past isn't over. It isn't even past."

No comments:

Post a Comment