Saturday, December 1, 2007


The photograph is a creation of Ben Bell

I was going to wait until this evening after First Vespers to post this, but in light of the mass rush to celebrate Christmas before Advent has even begun, I think pointing out that it is just barely Advent a few hours early will not hurt. It is funny that as everybody rushes to remove all trace of Christmas (until the day after Halloween next year) the season is just beginning. No Christmas tree here until the last Sunday of Advent and it stays until Epiphany. Anyway . . . No apologies for the repeat of Ben Bell's thought provoking Advent card from last year.

Look for something on Spe Salvi in the near future, perhaps Monday. The Holy Father's new encyclical is, while quite lovely in many respects, troubling as regards the social implications of our faith. I am particularly puzzling over his interpretation of St. Paul's Letter to Philemon, owner of the slave and companion of the apostle, Onesimus. I am also somewhat troubled by the conclusions drawn about the life St. Josephine Bakhita. So, in my reading of this letter from the Pope, I am presently hung up on number 4. In particular, I am having a difficult time with the seeming rejection in both encyclicals of a social and political commitment, especially given that both letters are not addressed merely to the clergy but "ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL". In regard to social and political commitment the Holy Father seems to pick up where the beginning of Part II of Deus Caritas Est left off.


  1. seeming rejection in both encyclicals of a social and political commitment
    I'll be interested to see what you say. I'd have to go back and look at Deus Caritas Est, but in Spes Salvi the social and political comes across quite strongly (how could it not when it quotes from de Lubac's Catholicism - one of the most intensely social theological works of the twentieth century?). I'm beginning paragraph 35 now, so I'll likely be done by your post on Monday...

  2. I am not wholeheartedly committed to writing anything more. I see in both encyclicals a roll back of Montini's and Roncalli's social commitment. Now, with that written, like Pope Benedict, as a Christian, I can see the danger in putting all of one's hope in a political program, that amounts to idolatry. Ideology is a poor substitute for true religion.

    For an encyclical such as this, I see very little emphasis of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, especially Gaudium et Spes ("The joys and the hopes"), which I find disappointing, even if some critical engagement were engaged in.

  3. At a point like this, I must ask what exactly do you mean by "social commitment"? Maybe you could clarify what you mean by posting something on Gaudium et Spes...

  4. Certainly you are aware of the many critiques of the second part of Deus Caritas Est. If not, I refer you to my really long Ché Guevara post. I think that will do more to explain both what I mean by social commitment and by criticizing His Holiness for not invoking Gaudium et Spes in a post-conciliar encyclical on hope. It is well known that Pope Benedict does not particularly care for this Pastoral Constitution, nor for many parts of Lumen Gentium, especially its designation of the Church as the People of God. It only seems reasonable to at least dialogue with these, even if critically. I am quite critical of the some parts of the anthropology of Gaudium et Spes, but these perceived deficiencies do not invalidate the document.

    Pope Benedict's take on the relation of the Church to the world is seriously retrograde. I suggest reading Evangelii Nuntiandi and Populorum Progresso, as well as John XXIII's Pacem in Terris by way of contrast. My criticism, due to a serious lack of time at present, comes across as less nuanced than I would like, but that's the way it has to be for now.

  5. I read some homilies of Romero in my early college days (about 1987) and something by Boff around then (it said that Mary was hypostatically united to the Holy Spirit). I read Matthew Fox around that time and even subscribed to his magazine. I did purchase a poster from Nicaraugua of the Last Supper with Coca-Cola on the table. At one point, I looked over a giant book-length poem by Ernesto Cardenal in a bookstore, but declined to buy it. Despite my political mood at the time, liberation theology never really stuck with me.

    I wonder if anybody has looked at de Lubac's Catholicism alongside liberation theology. I know that Joseph Ratzinger has discussed the 'preferential option for the poor' in such works as Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism - where it's discussed not as a choice but as a requirement (42).

    My surprise at this encyclical was that Pope Benedict did not quote Charles Peguy even once. How can the Ressourcement pope not cite the great inspiration of the Ressourcement theologians (the man who wrote The Portal of the Mystery of Hope)?

  6. There is a world of difference between Boff and Romero, not the least of which is that one is a heretic and the other was not. All so-called liberation theologians are not the same and liberation theology is not methodologically monolithic. Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology, for example, is wholly orthodox and is a very disciplined theologian with a quite rigorous method, which he has refined over many years. The Sandinistas were just plain old run-of-the mill communists, Marixist/Leninists, and Ernesto Cardenal an embarrassment who richly deserved the tongue lashing he received from Pope John Paul II, whose favorite Vatican II document, the one on which he personally worked, was Gaudium et Spes.

    It is funny, as Helder Camara used to point out in various ways how all people in the Catholic Church who are committed to social justice wind up being lumped in with communists and now painted with the nebulous liberation theology broom. I think one of the worst false dilemmas we can fall for is that it is either earthly bread or heavenly reward. The idea being you can't have both and that we should seek heaven. If this is what is said, thought or meant then Marx's critique of religion, his famous quote about it being the opiate of masses, which in a Latin American context would take the form of chewing coca leaves both to relieve the effects of living at high altitudes and to make one less hungry, an appetite suppressant, is true. I think my favorite Camara quote in this regard is "When I feed hungry people they call me a saint, but when I ask why people are hungry they call me a communist".

    You can say that option for the poor is a requirement, but if you don't have a theology that leads to putting that Gospel requirement into practice, then it rings kind of hollow. Charity and justice must also be distinguished.

  7. You might try reading some McCabe, who Halden was posting a lot on awhile back over on Inhabitatio, he can probably work in the gap for you between views like Gutierrez and those of the Communio school. As much as I love the Communio school, von Balthasar, Ratzinger, Schindler, Scola, et. al.- and I do love them, it gets a bit metaphysical at times, a bit detached, a bit weak on the social implications of bein a Christian living in the world.

    Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is quite good in this regard, too.

  8. Thanks, Scott, for sorting out the liberation theologians. Some of the commentators at Halden's blog lack the discrimination you've shown here. And of course, Romero was not a liberation theologian at all, but a bishop who spoke boldly in an oppressive regime.

    Balthasar's social approach is not someplace where most people would look for it. It's in his work on secular institutes and lay movements (Engagement with God; The Laity in the State of the Counsels; Tragedy under Grace; Test Everything; also Truth is Symphonic). De Lubac's Catholicism still blows me away on the social justice front.

    Since it's not likely that a profound dialogue with liberation theology will happen in an encyclical on one of the theological virtues, maybe it would be good to look at what Pope Benedict XVI has given us and evaluate it on its own merits (if such a dialogue were to happen, it would be tackled in its own document, don't you think?)

    All I know is that in reading Spes Salvi without many preconceptions, I found it to have a strong social and political dimension.

  9. Thanks, Fred. I need to finish the encyclical. By its nature an encyclical letter is limited in scope, which makes what is written all the more important. It is also why I want to wait for a more complete response that is not overdone and is charitable as well as fair. I was not just giving a pro forma compliment when I wrote that much of what the Holy Father has to say in his letter is beautiful and well-stated. I do admit being deliberate about writing something a bit critical to counter the number of uncritical responses to the letter. I also worry that many of the bold and wonderful exhortations of Papa Montini will be forgotten, he and St. Pius X are the two most underrated popes of the twentieth century.

    Also, thank you for the Balthasar reference. It is not something of his I have read. While I have not read everything by Papa Ratzi, he is very tentative about moving from faith to collective social/political action.



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