Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A solid piece by Michael Novak on the pope's U.S. visit

This is a great article. A nice overview of Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger, and his doings as pope. Cheers to National Review and Michael Novak.

Naturally, only a few parts of the lengthy article have been posted- subscribe to National Review to read the whole piece!

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in America this month, he will find an American Church much in need of his tough love and pastoral care. Nonetheless, his native instinct for modesty and gentleness is likely to be the most visible fact of his presence.

Some may ask why Benedict XVI chose to come to the White House this year, at the risk of seeming to engage in politics during an election. My guess is that the Vatican has never had a better friend in the White House than George W. Bush — not only in defending the sanctity of human life, but in exposing the reflexive leftism (and “gnosticism” — to which I will return later) of many international organizations, and in stressing the importance of religious liberty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Second, the Pope especially appreciates the American founders’ intellectual solution to the crisis of religious liberty. That solution has bearing today on the immense difficulties of church and state — which much concern Benedict — that are now being experienced in so many other nations around the world.

Third, Benedict XVI appreciates the substratum of natural law — the universal law implanted in the hearts and minds of all persons — that is expressed in the natural-rights tradition of the United States. This way of thinking has, in his mind, immense international potency. It is rooted in natural reason, not particular faiths, and it pertains to human beings as such, not as they are divided into nations or tribes.


As for the Pope himself, one of the most beautiful things about him is how faithfully he is just himself — not trying to be like his great friend John Paul II (they used to meet once a week for long conversations, often of some theological and philosophical depth). His training was to become a professor and, more than that, an unusually clear thinker, of extraordinary erudition and fearless intellectual judgment.

The Pope has always struck those who know him as an unusually shy and modest man, despite his great learning. He prefers to let his clarity of thought speak for itself and presents himself even in casual conversation as a seeker and a constant learner.

Back in the early 1980s... the cardinal is said to have insisted that Communism was dead — no one even in the USSR took it seriously any longer (unlike some in Western universities). The great intellectual threat of the future, he said quietly, the one he was most concerned about, was “gnosticism.”

...the cardinal was thought to have meant by this a kind of dreamy utopianism, an attempt to escape from human limitations. Gnosticism seeks such unrealistic forms of perfection that it necessarily becomes the enemy of the merely human and the merely good. It leads to dissatisfaction, outrage, bitterness, alienation, depressed capitulation to evil, and, often enough, self-destruction. Perhaps the cardinal was even then working toward his more recent thinking about relativism and nihilism, genetic engineering, and political romanticism as the chief enemies of freedom today.


Yet the most important point of the Pope’s American visit is a pastoral stirring of the Catholic faithful in the United States. One should watch carefully the tenor of his talks to a large body of Catholic educators, to bishops and clergy, and, via television, to millions of laypeople and their fellow Americans. The text for the Pope’s address to the United Nations should also be given special attention. Some who should know say that it will be a profound recapitulation of the body of ideas about natural law and universal human rights in which the United Nations (under significant Catholic leadership, by the way) was conceived.

Novak concludes by remarking that this is the perfect time for Benedict to make his first (hopefully not last!) visit to the U.S.

It has also been said that Benedict will address the sexual abuse scandals, which I think would be particularly wise; let's come down on the lavender mafia Eliot Ness style!

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