A Commentary in Passing:
upon excerpts from
Introduction to Christianity
by Pope Benedict XVI
"The Oppressive Power of Unbelief"
"If he who seeks to preach the
Faith is sufficiently self-critical,
he will soon notice that it
is not only a question of form,
of the kind of dress in which
theology enters upon the scene.
In the strangeness of theology's
aims to the men of our time,
he who takes his calling seriously
will clearly recognize not only
the difficulty of the task of
interpretation but also the
insecurity of his own faith,
the oppressive power of unbelief
in the midst of his own will
to believe." (Introduction to Christianity,
A Hell of a Situation
failed to come to terms with innate,
possibly ineradicable deficiencies inherent
in our nature as men, as sons and daughters
of Adam and Eve — as the disinherited driven
from the gates of the Garden of Paradise
only to stand before the gates of another
Garden called Gethsemane — banished by the
father's sin, infected with the sin of the
mother, orphans and waifs all, we have taken
this sad patrimony of Original Sin down
to death itself or to disbelief through
the scandal of our own sins immolated on
the Cross by crushing the very Son of God.
Intolerable to conceive as fact (the unimaginable
enormity of our sin), we deftly adverted
to enlightened fiction. We theologically
legislated denial, effectively abolished
any coherent nexus between sin and sanction,
dismissed the Son of God as superfluous
to the avuncular goodness of God, and with
proper academic credentials declared our
own emancipation from sin.
It became increasingly evident that the
blinding beauty of Heaven and the malignant
maw of Hell could not be reconciled through
the artifices of modern psychology, so we
set about, initially to attenuate unacceptable
and conflicting terms, and finding it impossible
to negate the two terms without at once
negating the edifice through which they
were articulated, we kept the house but
abolished the conflict.
Keeping Heaven by Abolishing Hell
By altogether abrogating one term.
Heaven alone remained. All dogs go to Heaven.
So do all men and women. If all men and
women go to Heaven, then there is no sin.
If there is no sin there is no malice. If
there is no malice there can be no enormity.
There is "social incorrectness"
— a failure to appropriately conform to
the world — nothing more ... and the
sanctions to be suffered for such ineptitude
are exacted by the world and suffered
in the world.
Heaven is a given and therefore salvation
— however quaint or discredited a concept
— a mere fait accompli.
A done deal.
It is such a sad state of affairs that in
one brief paragraph we can summarize — to
date — not the consequences of the
Second Vatican Council, but the
consequences of that shadow and fiction,
the caricaturization really, of the Council
that we have come to know and love as
"The Spirit of Vatican II" that
liberated us from sin, guilt, and above
all, "uncertainty"; the uncertainty of our
salvation, of our own indefectible "goodness".
However clever the machinations, however
finely nuanced the theological subtleties
that "progressively" made us freer, less
guilty, more open, the "Spirit of Vatican
II" has lived long enough now to have begun
burying those who exploited it, and it appears
to be on the horizon that, for all that
we have effectively adulterated or abolished
in the way dogma, doctrine, sin, guilt,
evil, Hell ... we have empirical evidence
before us that we have not, for all our
cleverness, succeeded in abolishing death
— the ultimate consequence of sin.
This unsettles us. Believer and unbeliever
The "believer", however, is at a disadvantage,
All along the "unbeliever" has wrestled
with this fact alone: "What
is the case ... although
it is unlikely?" — whereas the "believer",
holding it "to be the case", is
incessantly plagued by human doubt, the
doubt that it "may not be the case".
But ... it is a compounded doubt,
unlike that of the "unbeliever" —
for even if it "is the case", a
"what if?", remains.
if ... "The Spirit" that effaced
and in instances effectively repealed 2000
years of tradition and constant teaching
about things such as sin, accountability,
responsibility, unsurpassing happiness and
unmitigated misery ... even Hell
... in other words, articles of faith embraced
by, and having largely defined, past and
countless generations — "what
if" this breach in continuity
with teaching, this attenuation of dogma,
this equivocation of doctrine and morals,
is — as it increasingly appears to be —
if not spurious, profoundly defective?
What if ...
"What if" the
"Spirit of Vatican II" has little
or nothing to do with the Corpus
of Vatican II ... and while all dogs
do go to Heaven, not all humans do?
"Doubt", our Holy Father tells us above,
is the human condition from which neither
believer nor unbeliever are exempt, and
to which both are equally subject.
Nevertheless ... there is
a Hell of a difference
between the doubts afflicting believer and
unbeliever after all ... even as both contend
with doubt concerning realities that lie
beyond the same gate.
We share common ground even as we have uncommon
illusions — and sometimes, sadly, illusions
in common ...
What is more, even those who have
held fast to "The Faith of Our Fathers"
are no less exempt from the doubts that
will prove the feckless fools, and the fools
It is, in a word, a Hell of a situation.
But that's not the worst of it by far ...
for Pope Benedict speaks of a fastening
to an unfastened Cross ... as we will see.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
Part IV Fastened to the Unfastened Cross:
Dubiety and Sanctity
The Imputation of Holiness
we esteem ourselves neither holy nor wise. Indeed, we
are much more likely to say, "I am a sinner", than,
"I am holy."
We recognize a terrible presumption in the latter statement,
and the even greater likelihood that our uttering this
would be a clear sign that we, indeed, are not holy
– even as we secretly relish what we publicly
repudiate: being esteemed holy. We are so clever, so
subtle in our pretensions that we ourselves
inwardly hold it to be true — by virtue of our repudiating
it. By denying what we affirm, we affirm what we deny.
holy people do not deem themselves holy
not deem myself holy
I must be truly holy
It is logic
itself — in its most seductive ... and subreptive ...
form. This form of reasoning is called Modus Ponens.
The problem with this type argument, however, is that
while the form is indeed valid, it does not,
simply for this reason, give us warrant to hold that
the statements within it are necessarily true. In this
case, the form of the argument is completely
valid — it is sound reasoning. However, while it is
the case that the first premise is true, it is also
the case that the conclusion is false.
presented above is really a paradigm for Catholics.
And the great deception within it is not so much that
we succeed in deceiving others, but that we succeed
in deceiving ourselves.
Now, we must think on that a moment. We deceive
ourselves. It is almost an oxymoron, a contradiction
in terms. How can we succeed in deceiving ourselves?
One cannot deceive without being aware of the deceit
... right? This is the great deception. We
deceptively deceive ourselves. It is, in other
words, deception as a duplexity: it is a double negative,
A negation of a negation – which is always its opposite:
an affirmation. "I am not "not-X" – which is to say,
"I am X". It is a false negation. It is the mere
appearance of a negation, and that is why it is
the greater deception. It is not that we simply deceive
others by appearances (in this case, in the the form
of words), but by another and involuted turn of appearances
we attempt to deceive ourselves.
Of course, it never comes off. It remains an oxymoron.
While we may have succeeded in our attempt to deceive
others, we also recognize that we have attempted – and
failed – to deceive ourselves. We believe ourselves
holy although we are not. In fact, we sometimes even
honestly strive to believe that we are not
holy ... but even that effort itself only serves to
reinforce our belief that we are holy. After
all, who but one holy, would seek to think themselves
otherwise? One who is holy. It is circular, and because
it is, truth cannot enter into the closed confines circumscribed
by that self-perpetuating circle of deception.
We nevertheless ascribe holiness to others (and deem
this a virtue, a kind of largesse) – but in reality
do not, or seldom, sincerely believe it. We are reluctant
to concede to others what we do not possess ourselves.
The circle of deception grows wider, consuming others
in that incessant consumption of itself. "So and so
is holy ... but ..." We distrust
holiness because we are not genuinely acquainted with
The real question involves the question itself.
Why. Why are we asking
the question of others, or more importantly, why are
we asking it of ourselves? Something is amiss.
God alone is holy
It is worth repeating: God alone is holy.
Only inasmuch as we participate in God Himself, do we
participate in holiness. We do not possess it. Another
does not possess it. Neither ever will. Only God does.
We can only participate in that holiness that
is pre-eminently God.
Perhaps an analogy will suffice:
We are not what we participate in. It is distinct from
us even as we participate in it. A golfer is one who
participates in golf, in the activity of golfing. But
he is not "golf". We may even understand his identity
as a golfer as descriptive of who he is, and
even what he is. To some extent this is true.
He is a golfer: that is to say, the "what"
and the "who" of the golfer is, to a greater or lesser
degree, tethered to the activity in which he participates.
But remove the ball and the club and he is no longer
a golfer. Whatever else he is, he is not
a golfer because he no longer participates in golf.
While it is an activity into which he enters,
in which he participates, the activity is not the man.
In much the same way it is absurd of us to conceive
of holiness as a possession, as something which can
be predicated of us in an ontological sense, that is
to say, in and of ourselves, or, for some, through meritorious
association. We cannot secretly pride ourselves on our
holiness (which, notwithstanding, we methodologically
deny). We have none. None of our own. We can
no more pride ourselves in its possession, than disdain
another for lacking it. It is not ours. It is not
theirs. It is God's. And He participates it to
Whom He wills – and even then ... even then, it is not
We participate in God's Holiness – and only
insofar as we participate in God Himself.
This frightful arrogance that presumes to judge of itself
and others – this audacity to impute holiness to oneself
or to others as something commendatory
– as though it were rigorously acquired and assimilated,
much as we acquire and assimilate learning – as though
it were possessed in part from a greater whole
to which it either measurably contributes or from which
it substantivally derives – this immense hubris goes
beyond deception, and encroaches on something ancient
How often Jesus admonishes us not to judge! Of ourselves
or others! Nor does He delimit the terms, confining
them to pronouncements of perdition only. We have
no credentials to judge whatever ... on any terms!
Not concerning others. And not concerning ourselves.
But most especially not concerning ourselves – and eminently
concerning our own presumed holiness.
The Publican had it right. He had nothing and he knew
it. The Pharisee judged both the publican and himself
and found himself wrong before God on both counts. He
thought he knew what was holy and believing himself
to possess it, set the benchmark for sanctity before
which the Publican fell woefully short ...
If it is your wish to make pronouncements on holiness
then go to Him Alone Who Is Holy. But do not be hasty.
Those eager to be magistrates in the Courts of the Almighty
must themselves pass through the dock before they go
to the bench...
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