Friday, September 29, 2006
[This from the 9/29/06 edition of John Allen's All Things Catholic, here]
One critical reaction [to Benedict XVI's controversial talk on Islam] comes from Richard Gaillardetz, the Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo. Gaillardetz writes:
Most commentators have overlooked a provocative claim in his address that articulates a fundamental - and to my view quite troubling - element of Pope Benedict's theological vision. … The pope makes the assertion that because Greek influence can already be seen in the Old Testament, and because the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity is inextricably tied to the "Greek spirit." He rejects out of hand the process of "de-hellenization," the history of which he maps out in three stages. His historical schematization of that process is, I believe, sweeping and simplistic, but that is an argument for another day.
Particularly disconcerting is his account of the third stage of the process, in which many scholars have differentiated between the inherent revelatory and salvific significance of Jesus of Nazareth, and the ways in which the Christ event was quickly inculturated in a Hellenistic milieu. He describes this approach as "coarse and lacking in precision." He then suggests that the early adoption of a Greco-Roman world view is an essential and providential development in the history of Christianity. This assertion constitutes a huge theological leap that is in no way substantiated through careful theological argumentation. Nowhere does he justify why this moment of Hellenistic inculturation transcends the realm of historical contingency to enter into divine providence. In the pope's encomium to the "Greek spirit" one almost forgets that the Word became flesh as a Galilean Jew and not a citizen of Athens!
The pope's views on this topic are of great consequence for the larger church. I recently read through three volumes of groundbreaking documentation regarding the work of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences produced over the past three decades. That reading, accompanied by my recent visit to East Asia, has reinforced in me a wonderful appreciation for "the new way of being church" that so many Asian leaders have celebrated. I had a similar experience regarding the birth of an authentically African Christianity emerging on that continent. Much of what is developing theologically in those two regions is undercut by the pope's insistence on the normativity of a Greek philosophical articulation of the faith. The pope clearly believes that the intellectual and cultural synthesis that was achieved in Europe over the course of two millennia is normative for the rest of the church. Such a view leaves little room for substantive processes of local inculturation.
In the wake of Vatican II, Karl Rahner famously claimed that the most important contribution of the council was the fact that it had gently set aside that missiological mentality which saw the church essentially as a "Western European export firm" and began to move toward becoming a genuine world church (Weltkirche). The pope's recent address articulated a central feature of his ecclesiological vision, a vision far closer to the European export firm than the world church that Rahner believed was a-borning.
I am grateful for much that this new papacy has brought us: a more measured wielding of papal authority, a more modest public papal profile, a greater theological depth in papal reflections. But now, at a time when our church is bursting with new vitality and fresh insight in places like Africa, we have a pope who seems incapable of breaking out of his European intellectual milieu.
Whatever one makes of Gaillardetz's analysis - and he would be the first to recognize the need for further discussion - it illustrates the sort of reflection on the heart of the Regensburg address one hopes will now emerge.