Thursday, May 29, 2008
We have had, I think, only a bit of commentary on the blog concerning Benedict's November 2007 encyclical Spe salvi facti sumus ("in hope we were saved"). Now the great Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who for years has set forth a "theology of hope," critiques the encyclical. A couple of passages:
If we compare [Spe Salvi] with Vatican II's 1965 document on "Joy and Hope," or Gaudium et Spes[,] the peculiarity of Benedict's encyclical immediately catches our eye. Benedict's encyclical is intended for church insiders; it is aimed spiritually and pastorally at the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and "all Christian believers." It limits Christian hope to the faithful and separates them from those in the world "who have no hope."
By contrast, Gaudium et Spes begins with the church's deep solidarity with "the entire human family." ...
What is lacking in the papal writing? What is missing is the gospel of the kingdom of God, the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed. What is missing is the message of the lordship of the risen Christ over the living and the dead and the entire cosmos that we find in the apostle Paul. ... In short, what is missing is the hope of the all-encompassing promise of God who is coming: "See, I am making all things new." By limiting hope to the blessedness of souls in eternal life, Benedict also leaves out the prophetic promises of the Old Testament. Christian hope then becomes hard to differentiate from a Gnostic religion of salvation.
Comments welcome. Is this critique a fair reading of Benedict -- does he indeed "limi[t] Christian hope to the faithful" and "to the blessedness of souls in eternal life"?
Spes Salvi certainly talks about the Kingdom of God and how we are saved in order to live for others. But Benedict's and Moltmann's ultimate visions of the Kingdom of God are different. Influenced deeply by Augustine, Benedict maintains a sharp distinction between our limited "day by day hopes" and "the great hope which must surpass everything else" (para. 31), so that we don't make idols of things in this imperfect world. Moltmann says that reduces ultimate hope to a solely spiritual state, in disregard of the teaching of a new heaven "and a new earth." I don't think that follows: the Pope's point is not that the ultimate hope is un-earthly, but that it must be brought about by God rather than by human efforts at improvement. But I''m pretty sure Moltmann would agree with that. So is the difference between them that Moltmann believes much more than the Pope that God can work outside the church, the body of believers? Who's right on that? If you think Benedict is basically right, does Moltmann nevertheless offer a necessary corrective, reminding us that God's good purposes of love and justice can be accomplished by people outside the Christian church too?