I recently showed Papa Benny’s Easter Vigil Homily to a priest friend. He wrote back:
Dear David, Thank you for the homily of Pope Benedict. It is an extraordinary statement. What do you make of a statements like “He was one single reality with the living God, so closely untied with him as to form one person with him.”? This is right down my alley –Kashmir Shaivism. Has he read these sorts of texts? Surely not! He continues on “we become one single subject, not just one thing.” These ideas are take up in other ways in other parts of the homily. This is extraordinary writing. What has happened to ‘Three Persons, one God’? Likewise his first encyclical entered into themes from Kashmir Shaivism. He can’t have read in this area, surely?
I agree that it is an extraordinary homily, for all the reasons he mentions, but also because of the “evolution” language he uses about the Resurrection being a “mutation”. I agree that he has probably not read the texts of Kashmir Shaivism, but he may have read the writings of people who have. I find in many of his works that he quotes philosophical or religious ideas “second hand”, that is, his footnotes reference the references of other theologians who have reflected upon the source material.
The section my friend highlights seems to me to be more along the traditional “Christology from below” stream in Christian thought as contrasted with our more usual “Christology from above”. Most orthodox theologians have a preference for the latter, while acknowledging that the former has strong support in the scriptures. I think their unease with the former is that many of the early Church heresies, and not a few of the modernist, early 20th Century (eg. Albert Schweizer) theories of Christology, were “from below” in this fashion. I think we have to assume that “Three persons in one God” is still very much behind what Papa Benny is saying (how could it not be?), but that he is challenging us to think in new categories about the same basic reality. This is also what I think he is doing with the “evolution” language in reference to the Resurrection.
In this context, I find what John Allen says in this week’s Word From Rome very much to the point. Allan is commenting on the themes in Benedict’s speeches and sermons during Holy Week:
“Ticking off the topics Benedict covered during Holy Week, at first blush they seem entirely predictable — the need for priests to be men of prayer, Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples as an act of love, the reality of evil, the link between Easter and Baptism, and so on. It’s the nature of the liturgical season.
The striking thing, however, is that Benedict did not treat these subjects as a point of departure for other reflections, but rather as the very core of his concern. There was never a sense that he wanted to use the platform afforded by Holy Week to launch a message; Holy Week was the message.
In that sense, Benedict is a “back to basics” pope.
The church doesn’t need new paradigms or initiatives, he believes, so much as the capacity to explain its core teachings well, and to inspire a desire to live them. Benedict’s theology is never speculative, but pastoral and “kneeling.” …Benedict has pared the papacy back to what he considers its core functions, and when he does take the stage, he is determined to get to the heart of the matter.
None of this, however, means Benedict is incapable of surprise.
In his homily during the Easter vigil, for example, he described the resurrection as a kind of evolutionary “leap,” awakening echoes of the late French Jesuit theologian and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, whose thought indirectly influenced the document Gaudium et Spes at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and who saw physical evolution as part of a broader cosmic and spiritual process. At the time, then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was critical of what he saw as an overly optimistic thrust in Teilhard, and in French theology generally, but he never dismissed the core insight.
“If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution,” Benedict said, “it [the Resurrection] is the greatest ‘mutation,’ absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development. … It is a qualitative leap … towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself.”
One well-known theologian in Rome told me this week that he always holds his breath when Benedict XVI speaks, because he may hear something that will take him off guard — generally in the sense of opening up a new perspective on a topic he thought he already understood.
This will not be a papacy of great innovation, but neither will it be about stagnation or “glorious repetition.” Instead, it is shaping up as a case study in the “return to the sources,” or ressourcement, which has always been Benedict XVI’s theological and pastoral style.”
I think there are some clues there.
Also, I have been reading Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” over several months (it must be taken in bite sized chunks and chewed well before swallowing), and I often find “pre-echoes” of the teaching that is now emerging from the Throne of Peter.
I also sense that when it comes to dialoguing with theological ideas from the other religions, Islam is his main focus. He often seems to be wanting to present us with a God of love, a personal God, an involved God in a way that contrasts with the Islamic view of Allah. In this sense he recently referred to God “overcoming God’s own limitation in the Incarnation”. (I am trying to relocate this remark–I read it somewhere recently and now have lost it). A staggering concept: that God, as Creator, is limited by the strict delineation of the Creator from his Creation (very much how Islam views Allah), and yet that he overcomes this limitation by the self-emptying and entry into Creation in the incarnation. Nb. This is very much a “Christology from above”.
The amazing thing is that in earlier
years one could have been hauled before the Holy Office for any one of these ideas!!!
Peccator apud peccatores, et insanus apud insanos
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