Category: Vatican

It’s called Spe Salvi, or “In hope we were saved”, and was released this morning, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. The title is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:24; the theme is, of course, Christian hope. This second encyclical follows Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on Christian charity, which was released in January 2006. You can find the English version of Spe Salvi here.

I’ve only had time for one read, not nearly enough for a full summary, but here are some of the highlights.

There are two sections, “Is Christian hope individualistic?” and “The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age”, that should be of particular interest to PowerBlog readers. In the latter section, the pope refers to Francis Bacon’s project, “the triumph of art over nature” and faith in progress. This is followed by reflections on reason and freedom, the French Revolution and Immanuel Kant’s reaction to it, and Karl Marx. In his analysis of Marx, the pope writes, “His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.” (n. 21)

This is followed by a section on the importance of freedom in human affairs:

The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community.

Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all. (n. 24a,b)

(Later, the pope brings up Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the Vietnamese priest who served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace until his death in September 2002 and a friend of the Acton Institute. The cardinal spent 13 years as a prisoner in Vietnam, 9 of those in solitary confinement, just after he was named bishop of Saigon. The pope refers to the cardinal’s writings on his experience and even his difficulty in praying. I had the great privilege to work with Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan at Justice and Peace and these references are a real testament to his holiness. His cause for beatification has recently been opened.)

As was the case with Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi does not treat social questions as such and is not a treatise on Church-State relations, so it is not considered a social encyclical, like Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. Rather, and perhaps more importantly, by examining theological virtues such as hope and charity, Pope Benedict is showing us how Christianity has changed the way we live in a fundamental sense. Both encyclicals contrast the Christian understanding with pre-Christian and modern secular understandings, and in doing so, form the basis for how we ought to view economics and other human sciences in a more comprehensive light.

In his defense of human freedom, Pope Benedict warns of utopian schemes that attempt to place our hopes in planners rather than God; quite clearly, the pope is no optimist wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to human progress but neither is he blind to it. He notes that Bacon even predicted advancements such as the airplane and the submarine, but the pope reminds us that freedom can be used for good or evil at any time. There is something irreducible about moral freedom, despite all our wonderful advances in science and technology, that is the basis of human drama. All great artists are able to portray this drama vividly and in many ways, the pope has shown himself to be a theological artist of sorts with his first two encyclicals. Just as one gains new insights from re-reading a great book or looking at a beautiful painting again, I’m looking forward to re-visiting Spe Salvi with greater attention.

I’ll close by adding that one of my favorite sections has to do with the neglected practice of “offering up” our troubles to God:

I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves. (n. 40)

Again, you can read the encyclical on the Vatican website by clicking here.

A while back I made note of the upcoming beatification of the Italian Catholic liberal (in the old European sense) priest, Antonio Rosmini. Rome-based Church-watcher Sandro Magister has a fuller treatment today at his site.

On offer in the Acton Bookshoppe is a new translation of Rosmini’s reflection on natural law, the market, and society, The Constitution Under Social Justice.

Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton’s Rome office, was interviewed by Radio Free Europe’s Jeffrey Donovan today about the Vatican’s reaction to a letter sent this week to Pope Benedict XVI by more than 130 Muslim leaders. The letter urged peace and understanding between the faiths, warning that the “world’s survival” could be at stake.

The audio of the interview is not available online. What follows is a transcript of Kishore’s comments to Donovan:

“The Vatican is actually withholding comment until it’s had time to read and study and mull over the letter, which is already a quite different reaction than, say, from the Anglican communion, which has been much more willing to chomp at the bit and get right to praising the letter for its measure of goodwill.”

“What the pope was trying to say to Muslims [at Regensburg, Germany, in September 2006] is something that’s not mentioned in this letter by 138 Muslim leaders. There is no mention of violence in the name of God. There’s no condemnation of Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism, there’s no mention of the hijacking of Islam by terrorists. These are obviously the real issues. I think until Muslim leaders come out with outright, simple, easy-to-understand condemnation of these things, it’s pretty hard for most people to see how a sincere inter-religious dialogue can take place.”

“The pope is a theologian. His first question would most probably be, ‘What is the nature of God and Islam?’ There are obviously differences between the Islamic understanding of God and the Christian understanding of God. There’s constant reference in the letter to ‘there is no God but God and God has no partners or associates,’ which I take to be maybe an implicit reference to Christianity, where you have one God but three persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And I do not think Muslims can accept that, as Muslims.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, September 24, 2007

Roman news agency Zenit reports the upcoming beatification of Antonio Rosmini. Rosmini was a notable Italian intellectual and priest who has long been among the figures highlighted by the Acton Institute’s survey of the history of liberty. An additional point making this particular road to sainthood interesting is that some of Rosmini’s thought had been called into question by the Vatican in the nineteenth century. That his theology was sound was confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s vindication of his work in 2001; beatification will affirm his personal holiness.

Well, not exactly. Althought Archbishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications—and a “self-proclaimed ‘chocoholic’”—did address a gathering of Nestle executives on the subject of the morality of advertising. Given that a conscientious parent can hardly watch even a daytime sporting event on TV with his children in light of the low moral quality of advertising, I’d say it’s a subject worthy of attention.

A couple of Foley’s statements:

It frankly surprises me that as women rightly fight for equality of treatment in politics and in business, they are still so often exploited in the media in general and in advertising in particular as objects, as sex symbols. Such exploitation has now apparently been extended to men as well.

But whatever product or service you advertise and no matter how you do it, I would hope you would keep in mind our ultimate purpose in life and make of all of your advertising, messages that are true, worthy of the dignity of the human person and helpful to the common good.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Or so reports Catholic News Service today.

In and of itself, the item is not that big a deal: The Vatican will be installing solar panels atop the Pius VI Hall, where the pope holds his general audiences. It does seem, however, to be indicative of greater emphasis being placed on environmental stewardship by the leadership of the Catholic Church (among other eccesial bodies, as has been much remarked on this blog). There was no official comment from the Vatican, but the news writer linked the story to the wider context:

Even though Vatican City State is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, a binding international environmental pact to cut greenhouse gases, its inaugural solar project marks a major move in trying to reduce its own so-called carbon footprint, that is, the amount of carbon dioxide released through burning fossil fuels.

Those who know me are not surprised to learn that I sincerely admired Pope John Paul II for many years. At first, like many Protestants, I saw him only as the pope, thus as a person standing in some kind of opposition to my own Christian faith. After I began to grasp what I believed about the Creed’s affirmation regarding "one, holy, catholic church" I found my heart melted to love all Christians everywhere. It was not hard for me to love John Paul II when I spent time getting to know more about him and spoke with some who knew him. The real clincher was George Weigel’s masterful biography, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999). Karol Wojtyla loved Christ very deeply and was a monumental figure in the twentieth century. He also genuinely inspired people to live better lives.

John Paul II made his final public appearance two years ago last week, March 30, sitting in complete weakness on the balcony overlooking Vatican Square where thousands expressed their deep love for him. A few days later, on today’s date April 2, he passed into the presence of Christ his Lord. So, this weekend marks the second anniversary of those final momentous hours of this great man’s life. He died, as he had lived, in dependence upon Christ for his hope. (Anti-Catholics will insist that the pope can not be a Christian. My saying that he was a great Christian will invite their opposition. I believe that any fair-minded Christian, who carefully reads the witness that he faithfully bore to Christ throughout his long life, will draw the conclusion that this was a man of true faith.)

I decided to mark this weekend by viewing the superb video: Pope John Paul II. This three-hour feature-length film first aired on television in 2005. It is now available on DVD. It stars Cary Elwes (as a young  Karol Wojtyla in Poland) and Jon Voight (as Pope John Paul II). Voight, who is an Academy Award recipient for a previous film, could actually pass for John Paul II in his features. He also mastered the late pope’s mannerisms well. Both men, in my judgment, do a superb job of portraying John Paul II faithfully in the film. (This film was made with the full cooperation of the Vatican.) It covers the whole life of John Paul II, from his early childhood, through the Nazi occupation of Poland and the the Communist takeover, right down to his final moments on earth.

John Paul was a courageous man, comfortable in himself and calmly assured of his faith. He was a true intellectual and a shepherd who loved people deeply. He often touched the lives of ordinary people with profound humility, as the film magnificently shows, especially in one deleted scene that I wish had been preserved. As I thought again about John Paul II I realized his true power lay in the two things marked his life: His sense of humor and genuine self-effacing manner and his profound intellect joined with a deep and real personal piety. These two qualities are often missing in the role-models evangelicals have provided for their own flocks. This is one reason for John Paul’s universal appeal, as it is with Billy Graham among evangelicals. John Paul lived well and suffered well, providing to many of us a faithful witness to Christ that brings us real hope that God can transform a powerful and prominent man into a truly humble Christian. (Perhaps it would be better to say that he was a truly humble man who happened to become the pope, much to his surprise, and the office never altered who he really was before God.)

Just this weekend a nun in France has reported that she was healed by praying to the deceased John Paul II. This miracle will now be investigated by the Vatican, through a rigorous process of study. Such a miracle becomes necessary in order to beatify John Paul II. This whole process is one that Protestant evangelicals rightly question given the lack of obvious biblical reasons for such a process. This remains one of those aspects of Catholicism that I find unnecessary at the very best.

Regardless of how you disagree with the idea of the papacy, and the present process of beatification, you can not deny the importance of this man to world affairs and religion in the late twentieth century. Whether you know a lot about John Paul II, or very little, you would also do well to see this film. The DVD edition includes some wonderful memories of John Paul II as well as four or five deleted scenes and some excellent cast interviews. (These clips were also worth seeing.) I commend this lavishly produced film to all. It presents John Paul II in a personal and most human way.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

In light of Iran’s Holocaust Denial conference, you’d think we would hear something from some of the authors who have made a name for themselves attacking the Catholic Church for not doing enough to prevent the Holocaust. Where is John Cornwell, author of Hitler’s Pope, a scurilous attack on Pius XII for not doing enough to save Jews?
While we wait to hear from John Cornwell or James Carroll (author of Constantine’s Sword) or Susan Zuccotti (author of Under His Very Window) to speak out, let the record show that the Catholic Church is speaking out against the denial of the Holocaust.

The Holy See itself issued a statement, the day after the Iranian onference opened.

Code: ZE06121205

Date: 2006-12-12

Holy See Says the Holocaust Is a "Warning"

Statement Issued After Tehran Conference Opens

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
The Holy See considers the Holocaust of the Jews during World War II as an "immense tragedy" which must be a "warning" to consciences.

So says a press statement issued today by the Vatican press office, a day after the opening in Tehran, Iran, of a conference that questioned the Holocaust.

The forum was organized under the sponsorship of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a televised speech last December labeled the Jewish Holocaust a "myth."

Today’s press statement ratifies the Holy See’s position, expressed on March 16, 1998, with the document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, entitled "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah."

The Vatican press statement explains that "The past century witnessed the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, with the consequent murder of millions of Jews, of all ages and all social categories, for the sole fact of belonging to this people."

"The ‘Shoah’ was an immense tragedy, before which it is not possible to remain indifferent," the text says.

Hence "[t]he Church has a profound respect and a great compassion for the experience lived by the Jewish people during World War II," it states. "The memory of those terrible events must be a warning leveled at consciences to eliminate conflicts, respect the legitimate rights of all peoples and exhort to peace, in truth and in justice."

"This position," concludes the communiqué, "was affirmed by Pope John Paul II at the Yad Vashem Monument to Memory in Jerusalem, on March 23, 2000, and confirmed by His Holiness Benedict XVI during the visit to the Auschwitz extermination camp on May 28, 2006."

The U.S. Cardinal Keeler spoke out against Holocaust denial:

Code: ZE06121426

Date: 2006-12-14

U.S. Cardinal Rips "Revisionist" History of Holocaust

Echoes Holy See in Wake of Iran Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
Cardinal William Keeler says the U.S. bishops stand in solidarity with the universal Church in condemning "revisionist history" that seeks to minimize the horror of the Holocaust.

The cardinal, who is episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, today issued a statement entitled "We Must Remember the Shoah."

That statement cited, in turn, a communiqué issued Tuesday by the Holy See alluding to the teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI: "The Shoah was an enormous tragedy, before which one cannot remain indifferent … the memory of those terrible facts must remain a warning for consciences with the aim of eliminating conflicts, respecting the legitimate rights of all peoples and calling for peace in truth and justice."

Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, said: "Here in the United States, we have a wide range of resources to use in fostering Holocaust education not only in Catholic schools but in private and public schools as well."

He noted that in preparing those resources, the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs cited two major reasons why studying the significance of the Holocaust should be central to the curriculum of Catholic education.

"First, the Holocaust was not a random act of mass murder but ‘a war against the Jews as the People of God, the First Witness to God’s revelation and the eternal bearers of that witness through all the centuries,’" the cardinal wrote in his statement. "Second, future generations need to be ever vigilant so that ‘the spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (will) never again be allowed to take root in the human heart.’"

Cardinal Keeler issued the statement against the background of a two-day conference this week in Iran at which speakers sought to diminish the scope of the Holocaust.

Where is the American Left on this issue?
Cross-posted at my personal blog

As a former disarmament policy analyst for the Holy See in New York and in Vatican City, I was recently asked to comment on its position on nuclear disarmament by the National Catholic Register; the article can be found here. The reason for raising the issue now was a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in Rome hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The article describes the Holy See’s views as mainly expressed by Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, who also served on the Holy See delegation to several United Nations disarmament meetings. I would like to use this post, however, to expand on some aspects that the article only mentions briefly.

While the Holy See has the official status of a state, it does not pretend to be a state like any other; its status is primarily meant to protect the religious freedom and independence of the pope. So it cannot be said that the Holy See has any kind of political expertise in the disarmament field. After all, it hasn’t had to disarm itself and Vatican City is protected by Italian, NATO and US forces in the area. The Holy See’s mission here is to serve as a moral conscience, not as a political example to other states.

The Holy See seeks to exercise its moral authority in matters of war and peace, offering, over the centuries, its good offices to mediate a peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. But the Holy See’s position is not “pacifist”, i.e. avoiding war at all costs. For the most part, it recognizes the larger moral and strategic aspects of international relations while trying to avoid unnecessary slaughter and destruction.

The NCR article correctly notes that in 1982, Pope John Paul II linked the moral acceptability of deterrence to progress towards nuclear disarmament; this linkage is also the basis for the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the background for this linkage – the real possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – is neglected. In fact, most observers (Gorbachev included) now admit that the nuclear arms race contributed to or accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence the passing of the threat of a nuclear war between two ideological foes.

When John Paul II granted some moral acceptability to nuclear deterrence, he did so in the face of extreme opposition from European and American pacifists, including some Church leaders who thought the US, UK and France should disarm unilaterally. Incredible as it may seem, the possession of nuclear arms by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was considered a greater threat to peace. Vatican officials, however, were more sensible and aware of the menace posed by the USSR.

The Soviet Union is no more. As a result, the US and Russia did agree to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. September 11, 2001 changed strategic calculations, and especially nuclear proliferation concerns. North Korea and Iran are the most worrying of these, but there are many others, including the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist groups. But, once again, the no-nukes movement has decided to make the US the focus of its disarmament rally.

Perhaps this is because most of the nuclear abolitionists live in societies that allow them to criticize their governments openly and freely. There are no North Korean or Iranian equivalents of Senator Roche. In fact, the nature of the political regime should be more worrying than the possession of nuclear weapons. To think about the nature of such regimes is not to automatically praise one’s own over others; rather it is the beginning of political wisdom.

The opposite tendency is to deny all political responsibility and cede such authority to tyrants and terrorists. International relations would then be a field for “realist experts” who shun moral reflection and argue that “anything goes” in war. It would also describe mainstream foreign policy thought in the West.

In our age of moral relativism, it is tempting to say no regime is better any other, but it is also nonsensical. Instead, we need more reflection on what makes a good society and how a good society should carry out its foreign relations. No country can live in splendid isolation from today’s threats, just as no country can ignore today’s globalized economy. In international relations as in other human endeavors, the challenge is carrying out our moral responsibilities without losing our soul.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It won’t be news to anyone that the pope is currently visiting Turkey. It is tempting to read too much into a single visit, which can only accomplish so much one way or another, but it is true that the implications and symbolism of the visit are manifold. One of John Paul’s great disappointments was a failure to improve relations with Orthodoxy—and Benedict is meeting with the ecumenical patriarch in what used to be Constantinople. Then there was Benedict’s Regensburg address—and now, in one of his earliest trips abroad, he visits Turkey, which is at once a testing ground for a secular government in an Islamic nation and a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. And the pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, is already on record expressing doubts about Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.

Full coverage of the trip’s official meetings and addresses can be found at ZENIT.

More anecdotal coverage from on the ground comes via Jim Geraghty at NRO.

Find stories and commentary also at John’s Allen’s NCRcafe.