Benedict the Gentle (?)

Today's Times has an article on how our new pope's style is winning over suspicions...but again, as I suggested earlier, I'm not that surprised that people are surprised. The "Grand Inquisitor" image was much more of a caricature, the requisite "bad cop" to JPII's "good cop." That's not to say that Benedict doesn't have firm theological opinions, or that he isn't comfortable invoking a very strong sense of papal authority to enforce those opinions. Behind his more gentle, less secularly charismatic persona is a very strong, very determined leader. But what struck me most in the Times piece was the description of him as "down to earth". For the current chapter of my dissertation (thanks to the Holy Spirit and the College of Cardinals, it's much easier to get Ratzinger in translation now!), I'm doing a pretty close read of Ratzinger's writings, including a recent collection, Pilgrim Fellowship as Faith: The Church as Communion. Now, some of these essays are talks, while others are pretty high-level theological reflections, but what has struck me more than the content is the tone of practicality; the language is still explicitly pious Christian language, but we are worlds away from some of the theological flights of fancy that you found in John Paul. Ratzinger avoids too much speculation and, at least in my reading, seems to want clarity of thought and of teaching not for its own sake, but in order to help Christians be better Christians. I don't think he's quite hit the mark in some of his conclusions or even premises, particularly in his ecclesiology, but one does have the sense that he's not doing academic theology for the sake of himself, but for the sake of getting it right. This tendency to step back from the spotlight, to make the shared faith more central than his person, might be the greatest gift he brings to the papacy to complement (contrast?) the intense personality of JPII.

No comments: