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Pope Benedict disturbs non-believers because for him God is the centre of everything

He shows that humility is the hallmark of authentic Christianity

By on Thursday, 14 February 2013

Benedict XVI prays in St Peter's Basilica (Photo: PA)

Benedict XVI prays in St Peter's Basilica (Photo: PA)

Amidst the huge amount of comment generated by the Pope’s decision to retire, two pieces stood out from the rest for me. They were both published in the Spectator, and are both worth reading. The first was by Melanie McDonagh and the second by John O’Donnell. Both of them seemed to understand what it was that Benedict XVI was trying to do, and both seem to see him as a great Pope. This is in happy contrast to much of the rest of the comment stream, which is too often not only simply ill-informed, but irrational and vitriolic. None of that requires a link from me.

Given that Benedict XVI is a scholar in the German tradition (as Melanie McDonagh pointed out), it seems especially ironic that so many of the reactions to him were completely devoid of the careful thoughtfulness of the German and scholarly approach. This Pope has perhaps been the target of more polemical abuse than any other. Consider the words of Claire Rayner, now deceased, who had this to say at the time of the papal visit: “I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.”

While Miss Rayner’s words leave us in no doubt about what she feels, they are hardly rational, for she does not engage with what the Pope has said on any matter. We can assume she disagrees with the Pope, but she has advanced no rational basis for this apart from vitriolic dislike. It is odd to think that she advocates getting rid of the Pope when one assumes that she believes in the founding values of a liberal society, such as free speech and freedom of expression and association.

What was it about Benedict XVI that so infuriated Miss Rayner and those who thought like her? A clue can perhaps be found in the last liturgy the Pope conducted in public which was the Ash Wednesday Mass. During the homily the Pope remarked that Jesus “denounced religious hypocrisy, behaviour that wants to show off, attitudes that seek applause and approval. The true disciple does not serve himself or his public, but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity.” The Holy Father was referring to the passage in the Gospel which had just been read, which speaks of people performing their religious devotions at street corners. Ironically, at the end of the Mass, Benedict received a one minute standing ovation, to which he said: “Thank you, but let us return to prayer.”

These words speak for themselves. For Benedict XVI the centre of everything has always been God and His Church; he has not sought the approval of the crowd and what he has said and taught has been done in the light of the universal revelation that comes from God. Because revelation represents a truth for all time, Benedict has not felt the need to “get with the programme” as represented by Claire Rayner and others. For him the programme has been set not by mankind but by God, and it is our job as human beings to meditate on what God has said to us and find the appropriate response. There is a huge difference between the Pope, a believer in the Almighty, and those who like Claire Rayner see problems as something that can be solved by human ingenuity unaided by grace. For these people the humility of Benedict XVI is something almost morbid. But for those who believe, it is clear that humility is the hallmark of authentic Christianity.

For the last eight years we have been lucky to have had a humble Pope, one who has listened to the Lord and followed where the Lord has led. His decision to retire is one made in conscience, before the Lord. The Pope’s humility underlines to us the grandeur and goodness of God, the God who calls us into question. In the end so much of the comment about the Pope’s retirement misses this essential point. All of this is about God, not about any of us, and not about Benedict himself. The process of losing one Pope, and the election of another, should serve to remind us all that it is God that reigns at the heart of the Church and to Him we must look. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us all about the centrality of God and that is comforting and perhaps disturbing in equal measure.

  • Ano. N. Ymous

     Gee, maybe because the Labour side of the aisle would (once again) abolish the RCC in England, possibly bringing back the original Acts of Supremacy, the Treasons Act, etc.
    Now, given that roughly 25% of HM subjects are atheists, and said atheists are firmly in Labour’s pocket, this bit of misgivings is entirely understandable.
    A smart organization rewards its friends and punishes its enemies….

  • Urbane_Gorilla

     Cute story. LOL! Having attended a Catholic School, I’m betting she really appreciated the strict control effected by those ‘Mothers of Mercy’ .. A misnomer if ever there was one.. Not sure what RC Schools are like these days, but you certainly didn’t cross the nuns then. ;=)

  • Urbane_Gorilla

     Then you’re saying that the Pope is just as petty as Dawkins?

  • Yorkshire Catholic

     More “God-centred”? What have you been reading? Not I think the works of Pope Benedict XVI.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    The hatred shown against the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI is reaching proportions which require attention. Anti-papist Protestant polemics in the 16th and 17th centuries are beginning to seem restrained by comparison. We need a new Chesterton or perhaps a Robert Bellarmine.
    Look at the venomous comments which follow this piece in the Independent for example.

    They surely disgrace a humane and tolerant society and bode badly for the future life of England?

  • Maccabeus

    Neither – it’s called the freewill of inherently sinful, fallen, corrupt men who have chosen, in far too many cases, to follow the way of the world instead of the way of Christ.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    It was never ever mentioned when i was a child, and I was born in 1963.

  • AlanP

    I assume you are referring to such (former) doctrines as that all heretics, schismatics, Jews, Moslems etc. are damned, obviously an attempt to frighten people into not leaving the Church. Thank God most of such teachings have gone.

  • kentgeordie

    As our Church struggles with so many problems, maybe we should be comforted, strengthened, by the animosity shown by the likes of Claire Rayner and the rest of the liberal secular establishment. We must be getting something right. Despite the failings of many individuals, clergy and lay, our Church has never failed to proclaim authentic human values, which are God’s values.

  • majorcalamity

    I was referring to the curia, and the generally accepted view that Benedict has been frustrated by it. I doubt very much that he agrees with me about ALL the changes I would like to see, but I suspect that there might be more than you imagine. I see plenty that is wrong in the developed world. Where we differ is that I am quite sure that the cure is not “a return to God”, or whatever way you want to put it. We need to find a new discipline and common purpose but a return to the old way of achieving that is a logical impossibility. You cannot not know what you know, and as our knowledge has now progressed beyond the need to explaining what we don’t know as “God, that is where we are. 

    I too have lived in the developed world and continue to do so. I live half my life in a country where the culture is dominated by the RC Church, so witness it’s impact at first hand. I therefore know that the theory and practice do not match up, and that the starry eyed concepts so often spouted are not realistic answers to our problems. 

  • Sanddwood

    Let us love more and rant less.

  • LocutusOP

    Well put.

    We all have something to learn from the Pope, not least humility in the face of God.

  • LocutusOP

    The Church has no room for people who hold onto different faiths, which is why faithful Catholics insist that heretics should at least have the basic integrity to exit.

    version of the Church that you and Küng want is essentially a Sunday
    club where people meet once a week to mingle and feel good about
    themselves, and you will struggle to find that view of the Church either
    from Jesus or Christian tradition.

    The only reason you will
    accept the creed is because it demands nothing from you, but as soon as
    Jesus’ words demand sacrifice and obedience, you are all too willing to
    put His words aside.
    For all you care (and correct me if I’m wrong), the creed might as well state that God is 12 persons in one. It wouldn’t matter to you that there’s no proof of it in Scripture of “thing things through” for yourself, but you would go along with it anyway, cause it does not affect you in practical terms.

    I also agree with some of the others that we should strive to avoid words like “liberal”  when discussing faithfulness. We are either people who believe that the Church instituted by Christ has been entrusted with supernatural grace – in which case we are Catholics – or we are not – in which case you can use any number of terms. Membership in the Church is optional, but the faithfulness of its members is not.

    So you are right to consider me part of those who believe that God demands something of us, that He has a right to do it, and that he uses his Church to do it, and that those who think otherwise have no business claiming to be members of His Church.

  • LocutusOP

    I indeed take it as a compliment.

  • LocutusOP

    Given that “developed” countries (by which I take it you mean economically) are dying off and the areas you mention are not, maybe you are onto something…

  • Nat_ons

    If the following is not raging animosity, please tell us all what ‘rage’ is to you ..

    “I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.”

    Were these the words of a Nazi about a Jew (but not Pius XII) or a racist against Martin Luther King (perhaps even an ANC member), they might be put down as raving not merely raging; they are not, they are an ex-agony aunt’s visceral humanist response to Benedict XVI.

  • Maccabeus

    No, I am referring to practising orthodox Christians who have bought into the secular ‘gospel’ in preference to the Christian gospel as set out in the bible and who cherry pick the latter text in order to appease the secular elites and curry favour with them at the expense of the truth, thereby betraying their Church and their Faith. Unfortunately, all Christian denominations, since the 1960s, are riddled with such individuals, including at the very highest levels.

  • Justin Wong

    Well the Pope actually believes in God, so he could spend his whole life preaching and teaching about God. Dawkins claims not to believe in God – he spent his whole life trying to disprove something which he claims does not exist.

    If I believed in modern medicine and I was a doctor – that wouldn’t be petty. That would be acting on my belief. That’s what the Pope is doing.

    I don’t on the other hand believe that dogs can speak English. So I’ll spend my whole life’s work disproving that dogs cannot speak English. That would be petty. That’s what Dawkins is doing.

  • Justin

    “What the Church teaches, and what God has revealed, are two distinct over-lapping sets – not the same one.”

    Draw the venn diagram out. All that the Church teaches is revealed by God. Now God may have chosen to reveal other things to other private individuals as well – this does not form part of the Church’s teaching, and we have no certainty in knowing whether they are God inspired.

    However, every single thing taught by the Church is revealed by God. Because God does not contradict himself, so-called private revelations cannot therefore be contrary to the expressed teaching of the Church.

  • Justin

    You’re right – the second part of orthodoxy is orthopraxy. Orthodoxy is not sufficient – we are not Protestants after all. We have to practice what we believe, or practice what is right (orthopraxy). Some would argue that this orthopraxy is contingent upon orthodoxy. I think a broader understanding would see orthopraxy and orthodoxy having direct influences on each other – manifested most clearly in the Sacred Liturgy.

  • Justin

    Thats contingent upon the fact that those screeds are motivated out of charity. The point has long since passed where the condemnation is no longer out of charity but out of gleeful taunting. 

    In any case – the Church is the sinless bride of Christ. Her members are guilty, but the Church herself remains pure.

  • Father Epiphanus

    You people are as frightening as you are clueless.

  • OldMeena

    “Clarified, not redefined. ”

    That’s a good one!
    You didn’t mention “they’ve forgotten about it, thank God”.

  • OldMeena

    . post in wrong location

  • OldMeena

    There are good people in this world.

  • OldMeena

    “The CH frequently comments on those screeds - The CH frequently comments on those screeds – why not ?inion. why not ?”

    But why only favourably on those of Right-Wing political opinion?

  • OldMeena

    “..and said atheists are firmly in Labour’s pocket.”

    Not at all.  Most, I would guess, of the new Conservatives are atheists too. Although most Tories do not seem to realise it (and I would have thought that the evidence of events in recent years was sufficient), the former conservative (traditional) Conservative party is dead and gone – so far as being in office is concerned.

    And I write as one whose family has for generations been a very active supporter of that party (and some still are).

    PS: Many more than 25% of HM’s subjects are atheists.

  • OldMeena

    “Damian Thompson is always worth reading”

    That is an opinion. Do you not find that, after reading the heading and a few words, you can anticipate the rest? Maybe you can – and that is why you read him: he agrees with your views. This is the reason why most people read a particular periodical or newspaper. 

    But, strangely enough, freedom and individual rights are both features of the new Conservative party and the old traditional party (so beloved of the English Middle-Classes)
    They are not features of the RCC – except when it suits them for their own ends.

  • AlanP

    The Guardian’s “comment is free” website has many articles on religion, most of them favourable.  But most of the comments on them are hostile.  I would urge more Christians to take up the cudgels and redress the balance. But I repeat – the articles themselves, by such people as Andrew Brown, are generally sympathetic to religion.

  • AlanP

    I saw him on another thread, I forget which one.  I’m happy for him to be in the Church, even though he seems to hate all its leaders so much, but I rather think he would have the likes of myself out!

  • OldMeena

    John O’Sullivan (see 16th Feb. Spectator) is also a Catholic (or at least he was, in former years).

    Traditional Catholicism and traditional Conservatism seem to attract similar people, as the former two die out. They are maybe seen (wrongly) as life-belts for those whose beliefs are drowning in the modern world.

  • Matthew_Roth

    Lex orandi, lex credendi…

  • JabbaPapa

    It was a real issue in the 2nd to 5th centuries, until Pope Gelasius I decided, on the basis of an extremely wide consensus of both clergy and laity, that the priesthood was strictly male.

    It has been a pseudo “issue” since the end of the 20th century, on the false basis that the constant teaching of the Church might somehow be mutable.

  • JabbaPapa

    My understanding is that Ben is extremely busy for the time being.

  • JabbaPapa

    People frequently forget — understandably, given the dismayingly huge numbers of liberal heterodox — that it’s quite possible to be liberal and orthodox simultaneously.

    Küng is NOT, of course, even slightly orthodox in his own liberalism …

  • Pops Thompson

    You miss Dawkins’s point, which is not disprove something does not exist but that Christians and others say that it does. The professor is not daft enough to say either. 

  • Pops Thompson

    Your mother had a point in that these school (many of them very good it has to be said) assume that God is the source of all truth and all morals. 

    Cannot a good education be provided outside the umbrella of Catholicism? Teach religion by all means but alongside philosophy where it belongs, or would that present to many contradictions? I think it would.  

  • AnneG

    Please quit referring to Hans Küng. He does not believe in the Virgen Birth. That does not make him a liberal.

  • scary goat

     My mother never did have a very good grasp of cause and effect.  :-D

    Someone else, I think it was Majorcalamity, said something along the lines of Catholic schools are good (except for the religion thing) and we could learn from their successes and apply some of their better features to state schools.  Nobody is stopping anyone from doing that.  Good luck.  I would welcome that…anything to help reduce the savagery of modern society.  (I would suggest a good place to start would be to use the diocese approved sex-education program, just remove the God references). 

    The thing that no-one wants to see is that Catholic schools are good BECAUSE they are Catholic, not IN SPITE OF being Catholic.  Welcome to take whatever you want and use it in state schools.  Whether it will work without the foundation on which it is built or not is another question.

  • scary goat

     Yeah, I guess so. He did say he was going to be busy for a while and not around so much. I have seen an occasional post by him here and there, but I miss his regular contributions. Although I am wary of taking quite such a “hard-line” position, I did find a lot of his postings very educational.  I used to enjoy watching the discussions between you and him. Lots of food for thought.

  • scary goat

     I don’t think he hates anybody….he just gets frustrated seeing his beloved Faith undermined.  We can all see the problems around us….different people understand the causes differently.  I think he’s not too far wrong on a lot of things…although I prefer to “watch this space” a bit more patiently to see how things pan out.

  • Cassandra

    Sources please?
    As far as I am aware, main stream Church never had the ordination of women on the agenda.

  • Cassandra

    Not all Catholic Education is run by the Mothers of Mercy. There are other orders which have done a better job. 
    You should have been at my father’s public school. Cold showers at 6 am at the age of 8 years old.!

  • Cassandra

    Not all Catholic Education is run by the Mothers of Mercy. There are other orders which have done a better job. 
    You should have been at my father’s public school. Cold showers at 6 am at the age of 8 years old.!

  • JabbaPapa

    Google : Pope Gelasius I : 13th March 494

  • Acleron

    Perhaps you might read some of the criticism of your pope. It certainly doesn’t show in your article that you have.

    So try answering the accusations that he colluded in hiding the abuse of children by priests from the authorities.

    You might at the same time attempt to explain why you appear to believe that he is a very deep thinker. Comments such as ‘atheism caused Nazism’ are not exactly correct. Your leader appears to have forgotten that Nazism was a construct of a certain Adolf Hitler.

    Yes, the leader of a large number of people who acts illegally and with the absence of rationality is disturbing. But it isn’t because of any belief, it’s because he encourages many to act irrationally and illegally.

  • Mark

    Apparently he is.  Given that God, as Christians understand God, has no relation to material existence or time or space other than that He is its creator, there is no possible way Dawkins could produce one shred of empirical evidence regarding God’s non-existence.  Yet he dogmatically asserts that God does not exist.  Neither God’s existence or non existence can be proved on an empirical basis, but God’s existence can be shown to be necessary on a philosophical and rational basis.  Dawkins dismisses philosophical reasoning – but on what basis?  On faith.  It is Dawkins faith that dogmatically asserts that nothing exists but matter and the basis of all knowledge must be empirical.

  • Mark

    I read your source, but saw nothing about the ordination of women.

  • TeaPot562

    @acde99661026ef58cd18e1755693eb87:disqus If Jesus wanted to ordain women, He could well have started with St. Mary Magdalen.  The resurrection account in the Gospels notes that He used her to carry the message that He was risen to the Eleven.In the First Century, most religions had priestesses, with the notable exception of Judaism.
    Just a thought.

  • Sweetjae

    We believe IN Jesus because he backed-up His claims by words of wisdom, acts of kindness, healing and love to the most marginalized amongst us and most importantly His miracles and Resurrection.

    How about you, what and who do you believe in except yourself?