Did Benedict Stir the Water on Purpose?

Did Pope Benedict know he was sparking a debate with his responses in Light of the World?

I suspect he did. Benedict is not stupid, and he’s not unsavvy about media; he knows the press is reactionary and slavish to the sensational – that they would grab his answers to Peter Seewald and run with them, and that after their first noise, some of them would actually settle down and seek to understand, while others never would.

Meanwhile, the faithful would be jarred from their torpor, and others–who had been dismissive of all-positions-Catholic–would again be engaged.

Active engagement is always better than passive dismissal.

I think the pope absolutely knew what he was doing, and that he meant to get people to sit up, to pay attention to Catholicism, again, in terms of doctrine, dogma and reason – to recall the church as something more than a scandal-ridden center of sensationalism.

For the past few years the stories in the press have been almost exclusively about scandal and pain and negatives. Suddenly, there is engagement and focus on something else, something that is eternally more definitive of the church, and which we will still be discussing long after (God willing) our deep wounds have finally begun to scab over and scar, signifying injuries healed, but not forgotten.

In some translations of John 5 we read of the pool of water at the Sheeps Gate, and how an angel would come down, from time to time, to stir the waters; after the waters were stirred, there would be healing.

I’d say the waters are stirred, right now.

As Deacon Greg emailed me in discussion:

He’s a professor, a teacher, and he’s challenging his students to think, argue, debate, discuss — and he’s drawing theologians into a wider debate that will ultimately, I suppose, lead to a more definitive statement. He understands that the thinking of the Church can and does change (though the teaching mostly doesn’t).

It’s similar to what he did with canon law last year (another bombshell that went largely unnoticed.) He inserted a paragraph into the section on ordination, declaring that priests are configured to Christ, and deacons are configured to the people of God. Which means, of course, implicitly that priests thus can only be men…but deacons? Not so much. And people are parsing and picking THAT apart, too.

More pope fallout pieces: Jonah Goldberg discusses the issue very well, but there is much writing going on, (some of it saterical) and so many pieces that I am just going to put them all out as I find them, and you can peruse them as you wish, or don’t wish.

Light of the World Excerpts here and here and another look here

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://decentfilms.com SDG

    Unfortunately, the real water-stirring (and muddying) wasn’t done by Benedict, it was done by L’Osservatore Romano, which manifestly doesn’t know what it’s doing.


  • pam

    Thank you so much for your coverage of this issue. Because of it I was able to respond to family members who thought they had a gotcha moment and an older woman from my parish who has no access to a computer and was quite disturbed over the headlines.

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  • Dynan

    It is a wonderful time to be a Roman Catholic.

    The original step program, we need only 7

    steps, but if you go to Confession and Eucharist

    21 days in a row, God will release you from any

    obsession. Try it and see!

  • http://www.amazingcatechists.com Lisa Mladinich

    Right on, Elizabeth! I LOVE the image of stirring the waters. It’s perfect. Thanks for another insightful posting. God bless you and have a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving!
    In Christ,

  • jeff

    Humanae vitae is a work of art, if one reads it. The best the world can throw against it is now a disease which, if the church’s teaching were followed, wouldn’t exist.

  • Jeff

    P. Ratzinger continues kind of a muted criticism of the style of HV I see in the latest Light of the World comments. He did this also in God and the World with Seewald, saying that the presentation of the teaching was somewhat “austere” in the encyclical.

    I can understand this with the heat the Holy See took on this ever after ’68, but to me HV does express great understanding toward the difficulties married couples experience trying to abide by the teaching in the modern world. I don’t know what is in it that he finds so inartful.

  • Annie

    I disagree that B16 is criticizing Humanae vitae. He is simply saying that it is a challenge to teach it and to live it today. Here is what he says:
    “The basic lines of Humanae vitae are still correct. Finding ways to enable people to live the teaching, on the other hand, is a further question…
    …We should also try to express the teaching pastorally, theologically, and intellectually in the context of today’s studies of sexuality and anthropology so as to create the conditions for understanding so that people can realize that this is a great task on which work is being done and on which even more and better work needs to be done.”
    A Beautiful Thanksgiving to all!

  • Jeff

    To you also.

    I just don’t get his phraseology. To say “the basic lines of Humanae Vitae are still correct” kind of necessarily implies that there are other, non-basic lines in the encyclical which are incorrect.

    I just don’t know what they are, and he kind of adds to the uncertainty with that kind of qualifying remark. I agree if he means that NFP needs to be taught more and better, of course. Maybe it was an off-the-cuff remark, though, which he is entitled to make. But re-reading the encyclical you can see that Paul goes to great pains to express compassion for the difficulty of this teaching – - even though he affirms that it is the law of “God himself” in reality.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    Regensburg redux.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    I think that when Benedict said that HV was “austere,” perhaps he meant that it was the bare-bones of the teaching; it didn’t yet have the full flesh JPII was going to put on it with the Theology of the body. Alongside his pastoral sensitivity, Paul VI in HV looked at things in a good part — not completely — from the traditional aspect of natural law understood in its physical components. On the other hand, JPII added a wealth of psychology and anthropology and philosophy to it. Benedict thinks perhaps that new and better pastoral strategies for the application of HV can now be devised.

    (Great and rich material, as always, dear Anchoress!)

  • Jeannie Prather

    Did Holy Father s t i r ? In a word: No.

  • Izy

    Thanks, Anchoress, for that picture and link to the article about Gwen John. Discussions about art and faith are all too rare.

  • Jeff

    At some point we can overload the human mind with analyses of different levels of meaning in married sexuality I fear. One of the virtues of Humanae Vitae, unlike so many other documents coming from the Holy See, is that it is mercifully brief and concise. You don’t need to spend days studying it or taking courses.