Pope Benedict XVI may be in his 80s, but he keeps a schedule that is tiring just to observe. There have been so many appointments, so many meetings, so many worship services. One of the significant events was a prayer service with representatives from other Christian church bodies. And as dramatic as people may think his Regensburg speech was, his comments at St. Joseph’s in Yorkville gave the gathered much to chew on.
The event didn’t receive as much coverage as I’d wished, but those that did write it up handled it well. A transcript of the remarks indicates a direct rejection of the “ecumenism” that is characterized by doctrinal compromise and indifference. Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA TODAY started off with a bang:
Pope Benedict XVI met with leaders of other Christian faiths on Friday evening, telling them that only by “holding fast” to sound doctrinal teaching can they confront secular ideology and the individualism that “undermines or even rejects transcendent truth.”
Although each of these churches split from Roman Catholicism across centuries, the pope talked about their common birth and unity in belief in the Holy Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and their common concerns in a world where “the very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public debate.
“Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold,” he said.
Because she was covering a speech about handling doctrinal differences, Grossman emphasized doctrinal matters. The substantive and lengthy treatment was nice to read.
Gary Stern of the Journal-News has been doing a great job with his papal coverage. He wrote up another interesting portion of the speech — Benedict’s condemnation of relativism:
But Benedict also warned that a creeping moral relativism that pervades academia and the mass media is also affecting certain Christian communities that may be moving away from Christian tradition.
“Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called prophetic actions,” he said.
He did not cite the communities he was referring to, but Christian leaders who support gay rights often speak of taking prophetic actions for modern times.
“Only by holding fast to sound teaching will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world,” Benedict said. “Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching.”
Other than the imprecision of the term “gay rights” — I loved that Stern didn’t pussyfoot around what Benedict was getting at. The Catholic News Service covered the speech, like Grossman, and went immediately to the Episcopal Church’s New York Bishop to see what he thought about the remarks.
And while his remarks did go further, attacking the so-called “local option,” he also condemned the effect of relativism in non-mainline churches, too. Grossman included his remarks against overemphasizing personal experience and taste, too. She did a great job of removing some of the Greek or otherwise mainstream media unfriendly words to summarize his thoughts:
Benedict said the power of the preaching of the Christian faith “has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies. … ”
Secular worldviews, “in alleging that science alone is ‘objective,’ relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the ‘knowable’ is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of ‘personal experience.’
“For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.”
As we transition from the spot news coverage to analysis of the significance of Benedict’s words to Americans, I hope that this important speech is not forgotten.