Thursday, April 28, 2005

words mean things

As the media searches for words to describe (define? categorize? caricature?) Pope Benedict XVI I find myself questioning on two levels:

1. Do those who write about him actually know him? Have they heard him at length and on different topics? Have they read (and understood!!) what the man has written throughout his long academic and ecclesial career? Or are we getting mostly hand-me-down opinions from journalists and 'analysts' too far removed from their subject to be truly informative?

2. Are the words commonly draped on Pope Ratzinger in the media even applicable? Terms like conservative or liberal, right-wing or left-wing, hardline or centrist, traditionalist or progressive, hawkish or moderate... are rooted in a VERY American political context and may not be terribly useful for expressing who he is, what he thinks and what challenges he and the Church are facing.

In an op-ed piece in Sunday's NY Times, Jason Berry calls Benedict XVI “a theologian of fundamentalist convictions”.

Wow. Berry either doesn't know what fundamentalist means or is unfamiliar with Ratzinger's theology.

If it's the former, fundamentalism is ‘rigid or irrational adherence to a small number of clearly defined principles to the exclusion of all other truths or viewpoints’.

If it's the latter, I strongly recommend some of Ratzinger's signature theological works, such as, Truth and Tolerance, In the Beginning, Called to Communion, Introduction to Christianity, The Nature and Mission of Theology, Principles of Catholic Theology, Eschatology, Why I remain in the Church and Behold the Pierced One. There are many more, but I'll stick to the ones on my bookshelf for now.

I have found in Ratzinger's writings to be thoughtful and progressive (yup, progressive: forward looking, daring), expansive in vision and open-ended in the conclusions he draws. Those who limit themselves to asking (ad nauseam!) what the Pope thinks about women as priests, gay marriage and the practicality of celibacy have no idea what they're missing.

He is not an easy read, and therefore, the epithets that are so easily thrown around when Benedict XVI is mentioned are both improper and annoying.