instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Forgive the obvious question: what job does "the Pope’s thelogian" do?

The Italian magazine 30 Days ran an interesting interview with Georges Cardinal Cottier, O.P., Theologian of the Papal Household.

One interesting point is the effect technology has had on the teaching office of the papacy:
If we go back to Pius XI, the official texts are very few. For audiences and public gatherings Pius XI almost never wrote anything official. He spoke extempore. But one can no longer do that. Not least because there is always some recorder in ambush, the newspapers would write what the Pope said according to their interpretation in any case, maybe forcing the Holy See to make a denial when the information is inaccurate. That’s why, even when he receives a small group, there must always be a text, brief maybe, but that is official and authoritative.
Assuming society doesn't lose tape recording technology any time soon, this will lead to an explosion of "official and authoritative" papal statements to fuel arguments for centuries. (It also moderates the complaint that the current Pope writes too much. Cardinal Cottier adds, "Until the Sixties people traveled much less. Now everybody comes to Rome, all the congresses want an audience with the Pope....")

I do rather like his reactionary position relative to certain modernist conservatives:
I was struck by the debate on the crucifix that developed in Italy in recent months. When even some Catholics said that the cross is highly important even for those who don’t believe, as cultural symbol. But no! That is the cross of Jesus! That Christianity also has cultural consequences, we’re all agreed. But Catholicism is not a cultural fact.
Speaking of the relevance of Maritain's Thomism:
The refusal to distinguish what is distinct leads to confusion and denies what maybe you wanted to defend in the first place. If everything is grace, then grace is no more. One of the dangers, that I note for example in the theology of religions, is that of attributing univocally to the Holy Spirit all that is religious. There are very praiseworthy human religious values, but that doesn’t mean they are salvific. They belong to a different order than the grace of Christ that saves. The distinction between grace and nature has perhaps at times been presented badly, as if there were an overlap of grace upon nature. That is never the thinking of Thomas. Grace operates from within nature. But nature has its own consistence.
And last, something that struck me because just yesterday I came across the stock "we're all born atheists, so atheism doesn't need to be defended" argument:
We are not born Christians. One is born a Jew, one is born a Moslem. One becomes Christian, with baptism and the faith. Hence Christianity is unarmed. It is a divine helplessness. Because Christians are not manufactured, as those belonging to other religions can become so simply by being brought into the world. Every child must take its own step, nobody can do it in its place.
Here's a distinction I hadn't distinguished before. The atheist is right that no one is born with a religious faith, but it's not a persuasive point, since Christianity not only agrees but insists on it!