Papa Benny offers help for Schütz with "Sentire Cum Ecclesia" defense

Pope Benedict XVI, having heard of the difficulties your humble correspondent has been facing in recent weeks, has come to the defence of his loyal son by offering a few thoughts of his own on the motto “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” (“to think with the Church”), which has been deemed “obsequious” and “idolatrous” by Catholica Australia editor, Brian Coyne. In fact, the Holy Father was so prophetic, that he was able give his views even before this little antipodean squall developed.

Only in these past few days have I gotten around to reading the transcripts of the Holy Father’s homilies, addresses and audiences which he gave during his Apostolic Pilgrimage to Austria. On no fewer than three occasions, he made remarks relevant to the current discussion.

He set the tone right from the very beginning in an answer he gave to journalists on the Papal Plane to Austria, 7 Sept 2007 (transcript from John L. Allen, Jr.). It is worth remembering that the sort of “reforms” that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Mr Brian Coyne and the “Petitioners” are suggesting have already been suggested by the Austrian group “Wir Sind Kirche” long ago in reaction to the turmoil in their own local churches. The Holy Father said:

I know that the church in Austria has lived through difficult times, and I’m grateful to everyone – laity, religious, priests – who, during all these difficulties, remained faithful to the church, to its witness to Jesus, and who in this church of sinners nevertheless recognized the face of Jesus.…I also see today that there’s a new joy in the faith, a new momentum in the church. As much as I can, I want to encourage this willingness to go forward with the Lord, to have faith that the Lord remains present in his church, and thus, that with the faith of the church, we too can arrive at the goal of our lives and contribute to a better world.

Then, during his homily the next day in the square in front of the Basilica of Mariazell, (8 Sept, 2007), Papa Benny expounded further:

So if we Christians call him [Jesus] the one universal Mediator of salvation, valid for everyone and, ultimately, needed by everyone, this does not mean that we despise other religions, nor are we arrogantly absolutizing our own ideas; on the contrary, it means that we are gripped by him who has touched our hearts and lavished gifts upon us, so that we, in turn, can offer gifts to others. In fact, our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth – as if this were more than he could cope with.

This comment appears to address directly those (such as Bishop Robinson) who presume that there is any necessary or real tension between being “certain of truth” and being “a seeker of truth”:

This attitude of resignation with regard to truth, I am convinced, lies at the heart of the crisis of the West, the crisis of Europe [and Australian Catholicism?]. If truth does not exist for man, then neither can he ultimately distinguish between good and evil. [Good point, Your Holiness.]

Does that mean that the Holy Father is unaware of the sinful way in which the “certainty of truth” has been employed Catholics in the past? Not at all! Read on:

Yet admittedly, in the light of our history we are fearful that faith in the truth might entail intolerance. If we are gripped by this fear, which is historically well grounded [see! he admits it! he knows it as well as we do, Brian/+Geoffrey! Yet he goes on to say:] then it is time to look towards Jesus…as the child in his Mother’s arms…[and] as the Crucified. These two images…tell us this: truth prevails not through external force, but it is humble and it yields itself to man only via the inner force of its veracity. Truth proves itself in love. It is never our property, never our product, just as love can never be produced, but only received and handed on as a gift. We need this inner force of truth. As Christians we trust this force of truth. We are its witnesses. We must hand it on as a gift in the same way as we have received it, as it has given itself to us.

Truth–the certainty of truth–is about God’s “power” being “made perfect in the weakness”–the weakness of love. Perhaps what Brian and Bishop Robinson et al have misunderstood–perhaps what we all have too often misunderstood–is that Truth and Love are two sides of the same coin of the Gospel. When one is sacrificed to the other, or when we try to have one without the other, we fail to be true witnesses to the face of Jesus, the face of God.

But the Holy Father is not finished yet. At a special Vespers for priests and men and women of the consecrated life on 8 September, he addressed the virtue of true obedience (which was decidely not obsequious), by holding up Jesus as our model:

Jesus lived his entire life, from the hidden years in Nazareth to the very moment of his death on the Cross in listening to the Father, in obedience to the Father… Christians have always known from experience that, in abandoning themselves to the will of the Father, they lose nothing, but instead discover in this way their deepest identity and interior freedom.

I can identify with that. That completely describes my own experience when I, through no power of my own but trembling with fear, stepped out on the journey in obedience to the truth that led me to the Catholic Church. I have often thought that Abraham must have felt the same when he was told to set out for a place he did not know, but which God assured him he would be shown (Gen 12:1).

The Pope went on to show how this trustful obedience is at the heart of the search for truth:

In Jesus they have discovered that…those who bind themselves in an obedience grounded in God and inspired by the search for God, become free. Listening to God and obeying him has nothing to do with external constraint and the loss of oneself. Only by entering into God’s will do we attain our true identity. Our world today needs the testimony of this experience precisely because of its desire for “self-realization” and “self-determination”.

Not having had the time to read the whole of my conversion journal (cf. Year of Grace), Papa Benny chose to use as his example of someone more familiar to him, the “conversion” of Romano Guardini, who learnt to “lose himself” in order to “find himself”. Then comes a series of excellently argued answers to common protests against this attitude of obedience, with a surprising conclusion:

But then the question arose: to what extent it is proper to lose myself? To whom can I give myself? It became clear to him [Guardini] that we can surrender ourselves completely only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him, in the end, can we lose ourselves and only in him can we find ourselves.

But then the question arose: Who is God? Where is God? Then he came to understand that the God to whom we can surrender ourselves is alone the God who became tangible and close to us in Jesus Christ.

But once more the question arose: Where do I find Jesus Christ? How can I truly give myself to him? The answer Guardini found after much searching was this: Jesus is concretely present to us only
in his Body, the Church.

As a result, obedience to God’s will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church.

Yes, dear friends, he ends by suggesting that the only way we can find God, we who are all seekers after truth, is to adopt the attitude “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”. And in case you don’t think this is what Papa Benny had in mind, he immediately goes on to cite the example of the author of that very phrase:

It is all summed up in the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola – a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to say it, yet one which, for all its difficulty, we should always repeat: “Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and all that I possess you have given me: I surrender it all to you; it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more”.

John L. Allen Jr summarised this as follows:

The church’s claim to exclusive truth, often experienced by world-weary Europeans [/Australians] as a smokescreen for intolerance and power, is in reality an invitation to love.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Papa Benny, for your help. If I can do anything in return, just ask. (Or is that being too “obsequious”?)

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10 Responses to Papa Benny offers help for Schütz with "Sentire Cum Ecclesia" defense

  1. Athanasius says:

    David, I suggest you focus on the concept of obedience in your response. I don’t know if it will convince Brian, but it will surely annoy him! ;-)

  2. Schütz says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. You are right. I do need to find some sort of focus, and maybe obedience to the Truth might be it. John Allen nails it at the end there, doesn’t he? The call to obedience is not a “smokescreen for intolerance and power” but “an invitation to love”.

  3. Peter says:

    Just a quick note to voice my appreciation for your pursuit of this theme David. With respect to the submission, authority, truth and freedom thing, I would recommend starting with Mary’s own submission to THE Truth. Discovering the nature and nuance of Mary’s fiat shows us the way to genuine Christian submission. Hmm, perhaps it’s worth a post in it’s own right?

  4. Past Elder says:

    Submission, eh? How utterly “pre-conciliar” for a bogus ordo type.

    But typical. Most Catholics take what they want and leave the rest. I’m thinking if the Roman church worked on spreading its faith to its membership there would be no time left over for “ecumenism” or spreading the faith to those outside its membership!

    In the end, Rome is still Rome. A new message, but it wants the same response in the end.

  5. Schütz says:

    Yes, isn’t it lovely, PE? Semper Roma–the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Couldn’t have put it better myself! ;-)

    Re: inner evangelisation vs Ecumenism/outer evangelisation: Why the either/or? For Catholics, as Papa B. says, it is always “et…et…”.

    And finally, I think if you do a little concordance work, you will find that “submission” comes up pretty regularly in the scriptures.

    Jesus submitted himself to his parents–as those in lawful authority over him and in harmony with the fourth commandment (luke 2:51). (Actually, it is interesting how theologically the fourth commandment–about submission to God ordained authority–parallels the first commandment about submission to God. Maybe this is one way of answering Brian’s objection that I make “sentire cum ecclesia” equal to the “first commandment”?) Romans 13:1 is another example: all are to submit to the “powerful one’s ranking above you” (ie. governing authorities) since all “power” (authority) is from God. If this is said of the Emperor, how much more should it be said of those who teach us in the name of Jesus? And Romans 13:5 says that we should submit out of CONSCIENCE, not the threat of punishment.

    Which leads us to Luke 10:17,20, in which the demons and spirits submit to the apostolic missionaries who teach in Jesus’ name. Pity if the demons do that and we don’t, eh?

    In Romans 8:7, Paul says that the flesh does not submit to God’s law, but with the implication that those who are in the Spirit do so submit.

    I do not mention 1 Cor 14:34, since it cannot be authentic scripture because it suggests female subordination… (tongue in cheek, guys…and girls…)

    And Paul is obviously guilty of an anti-Nicene heresy when he suggests that God the Son will actually submit to God the Father in 1 Cor 15:28. (Tongue still in cheek, guys…and girls…)

    I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that submission to proper authority is a very Christian attribute.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Bless us and save us, Mrs O’Davis.

    I never said nor meant to say submission to proper authority isn’t a Scriptural or Christian attribute. It’s not about the submission, it’s about proper authority. Where you see the one, holy, catholic and apostolic fully subsisting, I see the Whore of Babylon. Where you see a see of Peter I see the marks of Antichrist.

    I’m not proposing and either/or versus an and/and. What I am saying is belief in the Catholic Faith (whether as it is taught now or formerly) seems as rare among those who call themselves Catholic as among those who don’t. You stand with (some of) the hierarchy and a loyal minority of Catholics and the rest would be with Brian except they are not going to spend the time to think out their positions as he and those like him do.

    Finally, I said Rome remains the same in one thing only, the requirement for submission to it. They have a new message but want the same submission to it as to the old, though the language is prettier this time.

    Great Caesar’s Ghost. (Literally.)

  7. Brian Coyne says:


    If I could just make a brief comment at this stage while I continue to look forward to whatever you are going to submit to Catholica…

    At the end of all of the words there is one harsh, stark reality that yourself, myself, Geoffrey Robinson and Joseph Ratzinger have to face (That is if one still subscribes to the traditional Catholic view): one day we will be held to account for both what we thought and what actions we took as a result of those thoughts. At this “end of everything” I believe, and I am happy to concede I might be wrong in this, that ultimately this accountability will come down to our response to that last great command or suggestion from Jesus Christ which amounts to “what have you done to bring the ‘Good News’ to all people?” Not “some of the people” but to “all of the people”. Just like you and me, even a pope is going to stand as naked when it comes to that final evaluation as you and I stand naked. The same goes for any bishop. None of us, I suggest, will be able to point over our shoulders and say but this is what “he” or “they” told me to think and do. We will be asked “but what did you think or do about their advice?”

    If anyone is so confident that having a person even as gifted intellectually as Joseph Ratzinger can provide “all the answers” can you tell me that one does not face that final accountability with some trepidation. I know I do. And I do still believe that one of the things that is correct in Catholic thought (and teaching) is this view that we will all be held accountable for how we conducted our lives and for what we came to think and believe.

    In the very first quote you took from Benedict’s recent addresses he is reported to have said this — and I’m quoting directly from your commentary — ” I know that the church in Austria has lived through difficult times, and I’m grateful to everyone – laity, religious, priests – who, during all these difficulties, remained faithful to the church, to its witness to Jesus, and who in this church of sinners nevertheless recognized the face of Jesus”. You were the one who emphasised the words “remained faithful to the church”. Now the harsh reality is, David, if Austria is following anywhere near the pattern in the rest of the world that the vast majority of the people have not “remained faithful” to Benny’s view. They have rejected it for some reason or other and they have gone to graze spirituality in some other paddock.

    Now I believe we are going to be held accountable for the fact that 85% of the population in the Western world have buggered off and gone to graze elsewhere. Benny, yourself, myself or anybody else does have to make an assessment as to why so many have rejected the “Good News” at least as it has been expounded by Benny and his immediate predecessors. Pope Benedict seems of the belief that the fault has to be largely sheeted home to forces in society outside the Church. In other words he is implying or suggesting that people have been “sucked out of the Church” by the allures of secular humanism, consumerism, false ideologies or even just sloth. There is another possible explanation as to why people have left though. I suggest it is not very often referred to by this Pope, or his immediate predecessor: could it be that what their critics say does hold some water — that there have been serious deficiencies in their communication style, or in their interpretation of what the “rules” are, or even in the picture they paint of what Jesus, or God the Father, or the Holy Spirit, are calling us to — collectively or as individuals?

    The undeniable fact is that more people exited the Church in the period of the last pontificate than for any equivalent period in the history of Christianity. Joseph Ratzinger was a key member of the leadership team in that last pontificate. Down through history there have been many Popes who have “called it wrong”. I do not believe we can rely wholly and solely on an assessment that the Pope, just because he is the Pope, has “all the answers”. We are called to make our own assessments also. (Interestingly, and this seems to be a significant departure by Benedict from the script of his predecessor, Benedict asks us to read his recent book, “Jesus of Nazareth” and to make our own assessments. He has explicitly said his views expressed in that book are not “Holy Writ” and he asks us to use it as a means of coming to our own assessments of the meaning of Jesus in our lives. I do welcome this very positive change of approach on his part.)

    Now you may get upset with my use of the term “obsequious” but I use the term very deliberately. I honestly believe you do need to look to your behaviour and seriously ask yourself if your behaviour is “obsequious” and, if it is, how these “undying expressions of loyalty to Pope Benedict (or whoever happens to be occupying the Papal Throne at any time)” will stand if the assessment does happen to be made at that final evaluation that Benedict called the game terribly wrongly? In other words he did not lay enough stress on examining the shortcomings of the institution itself which may have caused many to leave. Now — and I address this also to those who have commented in response to you prior to me — don’t go off on some tangent as some of our friends are inclined to do on the CNDB, the question I have asked there is very specific. You need to address it as it has been asked. Assume for the purposes of the exercise that Benedict has made the wrong call: how will you respond in the situation if the Pope has made a wrong call? There is another discussion we can have as to what guarantees we have that the Pope is right in everything he thinks and says. That is not the question I have asked above. I’m sure answers to that question may well be addressed in your wider response which you are preparing for Catholica.

    Cheers, Brian Coyne

  8. Past Elder says:

    I’m pretty sure that one thing I will not be asked to produce at the Final Judgement will be numbers.

    He didn’t command us to produce numbers but to teach and baptise. And he gave a pretty broad hint, so broad as to be not a hint at all, about those who will plead all they did in his name to whom he will say I never knew you.

    All churches, including mine, have those who seem convinced that we have to do this or not do that so we attract people. Wrong approach. The message is not validated by the response to it. The last thing we are to do is tamper with the message to increase the response. The response, the numbers, are the work of the Holy Spirit, not us; faithfulness in teaching what he has commanded us and baptising are ours. We despair of the Holy Spirit and the Word and Sacrament we have been given to do otherwise. We will be judged not on numbers but on faithfulness.

    Then again, justification by faith has always been a little cloudy in Rome.

  9. Schütz says:

    I’m with you on this one, Terry. The point of judgement (the “krisis”) will always be on how we received Christ himself, not on what we thought on various doctrines, and certainly not on how well we did in the numbers game. I should point out that it is not “Rome” which is “a little cloudy” about “justification by faith”, but some Romans, or rather, some Catholics.

    I will be replying to Brian’s comment with a full blog tonight. Let’s just say that I am a little astounded at how he has rephrased the question for me (an impossible “hypothetical”). I thought he was asking me to defend the notion “sentire cum ecclesia”. I will check this out further with him so that I understand better my brief.

  10. Christine says:

    At this “end of everything” I believe, and I am happy to concede I might be wrong in this, that ultimately this accountability will come down to our response to that last great command or suggestion from Jesus Christ which amounts to “what have you done to bring the ‘Good News’ to all people?”

    As Terry and David point out very well, that’s the wrong question.

    The much more important question is “Who do you say that I am?”

    It is what we have done with the question of Jesus Christ that will be determinative.

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