The pope as sportswriter

Mary Ellen Kelly reports on some remarks of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nee Pope Benedict XVI, on the 1985 World Cup:

“The fascination with soccer,” he wrote, “lies essentially in that it forces man to discipline himself, such that, through training, he acquires dominion over himself. Through dominion, he achieves superiority. And through superiority, freedom.”

Soccer, he continued, teaches the person the value of “disciplined cooperation” and demands an ordering of the individual within the group. “It unites through a common objective; the success or failure of each one is tied to the success or failure of the group.”

via Cardinal Ratzinger on the World Cup » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Nice analysis, applying really to sports in general.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    ” . . . and through superiority, freedom.”

    How does he figure that? It seems particularly poor theology to me.

  • Dan Kempin

    ” . . . and through superiority, freedom.”

    How does he figure that? It seems particularly poor theology to me.

  • Peter Leavitt

    People become free through discipline and are therefore superior, something that sports can teach, though it doesn’t follow that all athletes are superior. Some of them have excellent physical discipline, though they may be inferior in social and moral discipline.
    Ted Williams, a boyhood hero of mine, would be an example of superb athletic discipline but dubious social and moral discipline.

  • Peter Leavitt

    People become free through discipline and are therefore superior, something that sports can teach, though it doesn’t follow that all athletes are superior. Some of them have excellent physical discipline, though they may be inferior in social and moral discipline.
    Ted Williams, a boyhood hero of mine, would be an example of superb athletic discipline but dubious social and moral discipline.

  • CRB

    Although seemingly appropos in regard to sports, on a
    theological level, sounds very Aristotelian!

  • CRB

    Although seemingly appropos in regard to sports, on a
    theological level, sounds very Aristotelian!

  • Dan Kempin

    Peter, #2,

    Fair enough about discipline and even superiority, but the concept of “freedom” seems to be entirely unrelated. Discipline embodies a pointed lack of freedom.

  • Dan Kempin

    Peter, #2,

    Fair enough about discipline and even superiority, but the concept of “freedom” seems to be entirely unrelated. Discipline embodies a pointed lack of freedom.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Dan, freedom is the extent to which anyone develops dominion over himself or herself; discipline enables us to effectively carry out our will. Undisciplined people are a mess when trying to get anything done. Of course no one is perfectly disciplined.

    The Pope is right that athletes are often among the best disciplined people.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Dan, freedom is the extent to which anyone develops dominion over himself or herself; discipline enables us to effectively carry out our will. Undisciplined people are a mess when trying to get anything done. Of course no one is perfectly disciplined.

    The Pope is right that athletes are often among the best disciplined people.

  • Dan Kempin

    Peter, #5,

    It seems a bit ironic to describe “freedom” with the word “dominion,” but I see your point. I guess. A rather esoteric use of the word, but ok. “Freedom” to exercise our will.

    It still seems a rather odd thing to hear from a cardinal of the church.

    In fact, since you concede that no one is perfectly disciplined, even “freedom” in this sense remains unattainable. . .

    Oh well. On to more productive thoughts. I suppose we can just chalk it up to the fact that he was not yet speaking ex cathedra.

  • Dan Kempin

    Peter, #5,

    It seems a bit ironic to describe “freedom” with the word “dominion,” but I see your point. I guess. A rather esoteric use of the word, but ok. “Freedom” to exercise our will.

    It still seems a rather odd thing to hear from a cardinal of the church.

    In fact, since you concede that no one is perfectly disciplined, even “freedom” in this sense remains unattainable. . .

    Oh well. On to more productive thoughts. I suppose we can just chalk it up to the fact that he was not yet speaking ex cathedra.

  • fws

    Actually I think benedict is spot on.

    Sports are an excellent example of how people can acquire right-eousness. This is done by practice, and by cultivating the good habits of discipline and self control. We literally become what we do.

    If one is having marital problems, good advice is to advise the person to act as if they are in love and quite often the feelings will actually follow.

    This is exactly why the Lutherans confess that Aristotle´s Virtue Ethics are so very good that “nothing can be added to them”.

    But this kind of righteousness will all perish with the earth. It has not spiritual or eternal significance. It is righteousness and truly God pleasing because God uses this kind of discipline to produce all the loving acts needed to make life on earth possible.

    Then there is another Righteousness that the Just live by, and will live by eternally. This Righteousness that is invisible and is of faith alone is meaningful on earth only to God and to troubled consciences.

  • fws

    Actually I think benedict is spot on.

    Sports are an excellent example of how people can acquire right-eousness. This is done by practice, and by cultivating the good habits of discipline and self control. We literally become what we do.

    If one is having marital problems, good advice is to advise the person to act as if they are in love and quite often the feelings will actually follow.

    This is exactly why the Lutherans confess that Aristotle´s Virtue Ethics are so very good that “nothing can be added to them”.

    But this kind of righteousness will all perish with the earth. It has not spiritual or eternal significance. It is righteousness and truly God pleasing because God uses this kind of discipline to produce all the loving acts needed to make life on earth possible.

    Then there is another Righteousness that the Just live by, and will live by eternally. This Righteousness that is invisible and is of faith alone is meaningful on earth only to God and to troubled consciences.

  • Pete

    Much like the catholic perspective on justification – it’s a team sport.

  • Pete

    Much like the catholic perspective on justification – it’s a team sport.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    America doesn’t have sport. It has athletics. BIG difference.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    America doesn’t have sport. It has athletics. BIG difference.

  • fws

    pete @8

    actually not.

    when rome turns righteousness into sacrifice, then what mortification looks like does not lead to love. it is just sacrifice that is rather worthless. and it is all about the self trying to please God with self-apointed works that don´t do anything at all to make life better for anyone.

    Like I said in a previous post. true righteousness looks like vocation. IS vocation. and that is about a true team effort and serving others. Nothing at all like being a priest and sacrificing sex or being a monk and nun and sacrificing one´s life thinking that gets celestial points….

  • fws

    pete @8

    actually not.

    when rome turns righteousness into sacrifice, then what mortification looks like does not lead to love. it is just sacrifice that is rather worthless. and it is all about the self trying to please God with self-apointed works that don´t do anything at all to make life better for anyone.

    Like I said in a previous post. true righteousness looks like vocation. IS vocation. and that is about a true team effort and serving others. Nothing at all like being a priest and sacrificing sex or being a monk and nun and sacrificing one´s life thinking that gets celestial points….

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m surprised the Pope didn’t cite Scripture’s favorable attitude towards soccer, as well. I mean, Paul talked about it: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” I guess Paul was a striker. You’ll notice the first foul is called by the ref early on, as well, for striking the heel.

    Of course, the Pope probably supports (or, rather, supported) Italy, whose members therefore give a new meaning to the phrase “holy diver”.

    (Hmm. Soccer jokes and a Dio reference. That should go over well.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m surprised the Pope didn’t cite Scripture’s favorable attitude towards soccer, as well. I mean, Paul talked about it: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” I guess Paul was a striker. You’ll notice the first foul is called by the ref early on, as well, for striking the heel.

    Of course, the Pope probably supports (or, rather, supported) Italy, whose members therefore give a new meaning to the phrase “holy diver”.

    (Hmm. Soccer jokes and a Dio reference. That should go over well.)