November 22, 2006

Pope's New Book Encourages Debate, Reopens Question Of Infallibility

Pope Benedict XVI has potentially opened a Pandora's box of religious ramifications--according to the MSM--by encouraging debate on his personal reflections on Jesus Christ (which is ok) while not making the distinction clear between this new book and his official statements made ex cathedra, and therefore subject to the papal infallibility doctrine, which is not the case here:
The Pope has shocked theologians and opened a chink in the theory of papal infallibility by saying that people should feel free to disagree with what he has written in his latest book, a meditation on Jesus Christ.

Entitled Jesus of Nazareth, the first book that Pope Benedict XVI has written since his election as Pope in 2003 will be published next spring.

The first part describes Jesus's life from his baptism in the river Jordan until his transfiguration, when he reveals his divinity to his disciples. Referencing hundreds of works of history, the Pope writes that he believes Christ is a "historically convincing figure".

In the foreword, he states that the book is "absolutely not" a work of Catholic doctrine, but rather the "expression of my personal research". He adds: "Consequently, everyone is free to contradict me. I only ask the readers that they read with sympathy, without which there will be no comprehension."

No Pope has ever opened up his work and opinions to criticism before. Nor has any Pope tried to separate his personal and public personas, according to Professor Giuseppe Alberigo, a professor of the history of the Catholic Church at Bologna University.

"I really believe this is the first time this has ever happened," he said. "It is an extraordinarily important gesture. What it means is that the Pope is not totally infallible. As well as being the Pope, he is a common man, hugely studious in this case, but like all men he is subject to debates, arguments and discussions." He added that Pope John Paul II "could never have made a distinction between 'official' Pope and 'ordinary' Pope".

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, said the Pope had acted with his "usual simplicity and humility" in seeking to "freely allow discussion and criticism". "What he writes does not constrain the research of theologians. This is not a long encyclical on Jesus, but a personal presentation of the figure of Jesus by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, who has been elected Bishop of Rome."

However, Fr Lombardi then warned that the message in the book should be heeded. "The fact is he has been elected Bishop of Rome and has the duty of sustaining the faith of his brothers, and so it is very significant that he has felt such a strong urge to give a renewed presentation of the figure of Christ."

Some critics warned that the Pope could not be both a free-thinking theologian and the leader of the Catholic church. Luigi Lombardi Vallauri, a professor of philosophy at Florence University, said: "It seems a coquettish thing to pretend there is a freedom of theology while knowing well that this theology rests on the shoulders of a Pope. My impression is that this is the attitude of someone who wants to have his cake and eat it, to be both Pontiff and an independent theologian."

The Pope said he had spent "every spare moment" since his election on writing the book. He said he had rushed because he did not know "how much time and how much strength" he would have to finish the work.

Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger produced dozens of books on theology. He was also the Vatican's enforcer of religious doctrine, and known as "God's rottweiler" for his firm rebuttals of controversial theology.
The problem is that so few people--even Catholics--know the distinction of papal infallibility and would see the encouragement of debate and disagreement as an opening to attack the Church on any number of perceived grievances, from stances on homosexuality and abortion to the ordination of women and allowing married clergy.

The question is, can the Pope be both "private" and "official", simultaneously holding private feelings regarding theological arguments while promulgating official statements of faith, some of which fall under the doctrine of papal infallibility? Are his ruminations on Christ's nature a theological statement or more of a personal reflection of faith? Can or will the public be able to make such a distinction, or is the mere soundbite of "Pope questions his infallibility" an all too enticing--and highly misleading--headline that will obscure the true intention of the Pope's newest book?



Blogger xavier said...

El presidente:
Here's a post by Amy Welborn
The answer to your question: it's not an ex cathedra pronouncement and his book doesn't reopen the question of papal infallibility

Fri Nov 24, 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger xavier said...

El Presidente:
And this post pretty much refutes the MSM's breathless headlines


Fri Nov 24, 07:21:00 AM  

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