Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Pope today

Earlier today I re-read the essay with this title, to be found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's book Elucidations. First published in German in 1971, the immediate context of the essay is the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.

It is an essay that has a striking resonance for the pontificate of Pope Francis, and for many of the critical observations made of him and of those who defend him. It does need to be read as a whole, so that the trenchant critiques of the behaviour of ecclesiastics (this is not in von Balthasar's original context a reference to cardinals as it might be in the present context in respect of Amoris Laetitia) is seen also against its background of von Balthasar's equally trenchant comment on the teaching of Vatican I with regard to the Papal office and its balancing by the teaching of Vatican II (that at the former bishops seemed to readily offload to the higher authority a responsibility that was rightly their own, a tendency which achieved its correct balancing at the latter).
In the process of humiliation it is necessary to distinguish between the burdensome responsibilities which are accepted for the wrong reasons (even if in good faith) and that pastoral load which the man who follows in Peter's tracks cannot pass on to other men. The formulations promulgated in such an inflated style by Vatican I will, in a quite different style, retain their truth, a very humble truth, without sparkle or strength, for as long at least as men do not seek spontaneously to take the lowest place.
On the other hand, the loud-mouthed, Christian, mostly clerical rogues who take such pleasure in attacking Rome can study their own physiognomies in the satirical pictures of Bosch and Breughel. They will never be truly in the right even if they themselves imagine that they are angels of truth sent by heaven or by the human race or by the future to the Church, and even it if appears that they again and again receive plausible confirmation of their views by innumerable faux-pas of the central government of the Church. They have all the laughs on their side. But Peter must have seemed fairly laughable too when he was crucified upside down ....
There ... I did say the critiques were trenchant! It is perhaps the observation that "they will never be truly in the right .." to which we must pay most heed.

Note: I have not been able to find an on-line text of this essay, so if you do know of one, I would be happy to link to it.

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