A good analysis of Pope Benedict’s “style” on John Allen’s column this week.
First he proposes that there are “three basic psychological possibilities” of response when faced with a challenge:
- rejecting the challenge through a tenacious defense of those convictions;
- recognizing the merits of the challenge, and adjusting one’s ideas and behavior as a result;
- recognizing the merits of the challenge, and rearticulating one’s convictions in an effort to demonstrate that they satisfy the aspirations of the challenger better than the proposed alternatives.
Next he suggests that these correspond to three periods in the last hundred years of Church history:
- The anti-modernist campaign
- The Second Vatican Council and the period following it for several decades
- Pope Benedict’s campaign of “affirmative orthodoxy”
“Affirmative Orthodoxy” is about stressing God’s “yes” rather than God’s “no”. As Papa Benny himself has put it:
Firstly it’s important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we don’t want something. …But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
How persuasive “affirmative orthodoxy” will prove, or whether it ultimately does justice to the challenge presented by modernity, remains to be seen. Those who believe the Catholic Church needs significant reform in its doctrines and structures obviously won’t find it satisfying. But the concept of “affirmative orthodoxy” at least provides a unifying structure to understand what Benedict seems to be doing in drips and drabs, in ways that can otherwise seem difficult to anticipate or understand.