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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Liberal in the world, conservative in the church.

E.J. Dionne Jr writes about Pope John Paul II's paradoxical legacy for the New Republic:

Do you think of Pope John Paul II as the man who condemned "luxurious egoism" and "imperialistic monopoly"? Do you remember him as the friend of workers who asserted "the priority of labor over capital"? Do you honor him as the first Pope who visited a synagogue, who told Catholics to embrace Jews as "our elder brothers," and who condemned anti-Semitism "at any time and by anyone"? Do you regard him as the hero of human rights who helped bring down Communist dictatorships and battled the death penalty? 

Or do you think of John Paul as the man who presided over the condemnation of theologians who questioned the Church's teachings (on birth control) or preached liberation theology? Do you see him as intransigent in refusing to allow questioning of the all-male celibate priesthood? Do you note the extent to which he has transformed the Church by appointing conservative bishops and by naming a College of Cardinals likely to keep Catholicism on a traditionalist path? 

"A sign of contradiction" was a favorite John Paul phrase, and it might be said to define his papacy. In his effect on Roman Catholicism's relationship to the world, his achievement will be judged as liberal. But his impact on the Church he leads has to be seen as conservative. These terms are vexed, and John Paul himself would probably reject them—he'd insist on his own consistency in opposing both the Marxist and capitalist forms of materialism, in arguing that the spiritual is always primary, and in asserting that the Church's central obligation is to doctrinal clarity. But the Pope's version of consistency does not necessarily match that of the world that is judging him. That's the paradox at the heart of his papacy. 

Also in the New Republic's papal legacy issue, Michael Sean Winters offers a dense appraisal of John Paul's Christian humanism and his reassertion of Christocentric anthropology. You'll need a theological education to follow Winters's argument, but if the names Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar mean anything to you, you'll want to sign up for your free four-week online subscription to read it.

("Papal Paradox," E.J. Dionne Jr; "History Test," Michael Sean Winters, New Republic 4.7.05, sub req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 10 April 2005 at 9:07 AM

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