The Next Pope?

Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Robert Sarah

Sandro Magister writes about Cardinal Robert Sarah, who has a chance at being the next Pope. I have also kept my eye on Cardinal Sarah for the last couple years. Magister provides a brief biography of the Cardinal, who is from Guinea. An excerpt:

He was born in a remote village in the savanna, into a freshly converted family. At the age of 12 he was circumcised and initiated into manhood in the forest. He studied to be a priest and became one, while his Guinea was under the bloody regime of the Marxist Sekou Touré, with the bishop of Conakry, the capital, imprisoned and tortured.

He studied theology in Rome, at the Gregorian and especially at the Biblicum, with rector Carlo Maria Martini and professors like Lyonnet, Vanhoye, de la Potterie. He spent a year at the prestigious École Biblique in Jerusalem.

And then he returned as a humble pastor to his Guinea, going on foot into the savanna to reach the very last of the faithful, amid a majority Muslim population. Until Paul VI made him a bishop in 1978, the youngest in the world at the age of 33. And he entrusted him with Conakry, as Sekou Touré became ever more infuriated with this new pastor and undaunted defender of the faith. After the tyrant’s sudden death in 1984, they would discover that Sarah was the first on the list of enemies to be eliminated.

Theologically, Cardinal Sarah aligns with Pope Benedict:

Sarah has boundless admiration for Pope Joseph Ratzinger. He shares his idea that for the Church of today, the absolute priority is to bring God into the heart of civilizations, both those of ancient Christian tradition that has been obfuscated or denied, and those that are still pagan.

Excerpts are quoted from his book, including:

The Church cannot go forward as if reality did not exist: it can no longer content itself with ephemeral enthusiasms, which last for the duration of great gatherings or liturgical assemblies, as beautiful and rich as they may be. It can no longer hold back from a practical reflection on subjectivism as the root of most of the current errors. What use is it that the pope’s Twitter account is followed by hundreds of thousands of persons if men do not concretely change their lives? What use is it to tally up the figures of the crowds that throng before the popes if we are not sure that the conversions are real and profound? […]

Keep your eyes on Cardinal Sarah when the next Conclave rolls around.

Evangelii Gaudium a “source of grief and pain for the faithful”

Fr. Franz Schmidberger, Rector of the Society of St. Pius X seminary in Germany has reviewed Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium here. Here are some choice excerpts from his review:

This double objective, together with the loquacious nature of the pontiff, makes for writing that is not clearly structured; it lacks precision, succinctness, and clarity.


The Pope speaks of the Church as if up until now little has been done in the Church regarding the preaching of the Gospel or it has been done in an incomplete way. He complains about an easy, lethargic, and isolated attitude. These constant reprimands are embarrassing. One gets the impression that up until now little was done for the transmission of the Faith and the Gospel. These comments are accompanied with a constant reference to his own person. The personal pronoun “I” is used no less than 184 times, and we are not taking into account the use of “my,” “mine,” and “for me.”  


The Pope then speaks of a sound pluralism. How can we reconcile such pluralism with the knowledge that the second person of the Holy Trinity came into this world in order to save it, with the Truth that Jesus Christ is the source of all graces and that in Him alone is there salvation?

On Islam:

In the next paragraph the Pope reaches a concrete conclusion: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition.” This number closes with a scandalous false statement: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”. Did the Holy Father ever read the Koran? 

 Father Schmidberger concludes:

The papal document Evangelii Gaudium may, like dispersed seeds, contain some good aspects. As a whole, however, the document is nothing but a development of the Second Vatican Council in its most unacceptable statements. We cannot find in it any “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (#1), but another fatal step towards the downfall of the Church, the decomposition of its doctrine, the breakdown of its structure, and even the extinction of its missionary spirit which ironically is evoked over and over again. In this way Evangelii gaudium becomes the Dolor Fidelium, a source of grief and pain for the faithful.

As an outsider looking in on the Catholic Church, my sense is that it is becoming “mainline Protestant” at the top, which is what it probably has been for some time at the bottom in the West. As the history of the Church in Quebec and other areas shows, this type of doctrinal drift can eviscerate the numbers of people who hold onto the faith in short order. It will be fascinating to see the long-term impact of this Papacy on the health of the Catholic Church globally. 

What to Make of Pope Francis, Part II

The colossal changes sweeping through culture completely upended what is expected in worship services, in both Protestant and Catholic churches. Onto the Post-Christian stage steps Pope Francis. The reaction to his elevation was puzzling, because oddballs like Hans Kung seemed gleeful to see him become Pope. Stories circulated of his friendship with Protestants, but also of his apparent lackluster feelings for Benedict’s revived Latin Mass.  
Much has been made of his humility, but at some point I start to wonder if all of your humility is on display for the world to see, is it really humble? And is it a slap in the face to your predecessor? Do you need to refuse the Papal apartment and riding in the Popemobile? They are paid for, you aren’t buying them, so why make such a stir about these things? The priesthood in the Bible was robed in glory, and our services should be glorious, not drab and barren. So are we witnessing a return to the worst of the insane revolution that produced bad buildings and horrible liturgies (akin to the 79 BCP), or is this something else? 
There are almost no bastions of tradition, beauty and ceremony left in the world. All has become ugly and commonplace. Monarchies and liturgical churches are a couple of the last redoubts holding out against complete annihilation by the jeans, tee shirts and flip flops crowd. So is Pope Francis going to finish the job that Vatican II started and utterly destroy the sacredness of the liturgical ceremony in his quest for ‘simplicity’? Will he clean out corruption over the sexual abuse scandals? If so, will he also usher in doctrinal innovations that are heretical? From a Protestant point of view, I’d love to see him restore church discipline and excommunicate the Biden’s and Pelosi’s of the world. I see his use of the title “Bishop of Rome” and his moves towards equality with the Cardinals as potentially positive. But if they come hand in hand with a radical agenda of deconstructing the mystery of the liturgy and letting the quasi Liberal Protestants loose on the Church in America, this cannot be good. 
The Traditionalist blog, Rorate Caeli, has been all over the new Pope. For example, when he washed feet in the prison yesterday for Maundy Thursday, commenters wrote: 

In mediaeval times, the Pope originally did in fact wash the feet of twelve paupers (all male, of course). If memory serves, local bishops who practised the custom would either wash the feet of paupers or of their clergy. The original monastic custom was for the abbot to wash the feet of *all* the community. 

However, the present Pope’s behaviour is nothing so much as archaeologism tainted with feminism, and one might wish to argue that his proclaimed “humility” is more likely self-will. 

They pointed out, correctly, that Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve Disciples, not of unbelievers, and not of women, which raises issues of propriety. They also point this bit of history out: 

In the latter half of the twelfth century the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner. The “Caeremoniale episcoporum” directs that the bishop is to wash the feet either of thirteen poor men or of thirteen of his canons.  

Another post points to the Pope’s total disregard for his titles. Further adding to Trad unease, Friar Raniero Cantalamessa preached a sermon today which could be read as a call for taking a wrecking ball to the liturgy: 

We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.ᅠ 

In Revelation, Jesus says that He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20). Sometimes, as noted by our Pope Francis, he does not knock to enter, but knocks from within to go out. To reach out to the “existential suburbs of sin, suffering, injustice, religious ignorance and indifference, and of all forms of misery.” As happens with certain old buildings. Over the centuries, to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets. The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins.” 

On the positive side, Francis continued to attack relativism, saying: 

It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism’, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.” 

The things that I would really like Rome to reconsider are probably not going to change: Scriptural fidelity, policy on icons, Purgatory, indulgences and Mary’s position. If the “reforms” of Francis are an attack on ceremony and terrible innovations that liberal theologians are pining for, then it is not favorable for any of us who take fidelity to Christ seriously. A reform that made the Roman Catholic Church into a Magisterial Protestant Church would be great, a reform that makes it into the present Church of England would be a disaster.  

What to Make of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made many headlines in his brief time in the Papacy. While it may be early to evaluate him, some trends have emerged that make analysis possible. My knowledge of the parties and factions of the Roman Church is sketchy and I am by no means an expert in the field, but I am a curious Protestant bystander.
To reflect on Francis, I believe we have to examine the central conflict of the Catholic Church over the past 50 or so years – that of Vatican II. I have read some of the Vatican II documents, but not all of them. As a Protestant, I believe Vatican II could have done some beneficial things, such as:
1. Implementing a more collegial model of governance as opposed to the Pope being God’s vicegerent on Earth, as it were. My understanding of Vatican II is that this type of collegiality was proposed, but not really implemented.
2. Bring church services to the people in their own language without destroying the beauty of the liturgy. One of these aims was achieved, as Mass began to be celebrated in the vernacular, however, this went hand in hand with a massive attack on the forms of the liturgy by a leftist wave that was also sweeping over the Mainline Protestant denominations.
The tidal wave of change that swept over Western culture during the late Sixties culminated in the Sexual Revolution as well as revolutionary changes to “how we do church.” The thing about this that I don’t think has been adequately explored yet is how changes which seemed positive at the time (the rise of Calvary Chapel type groups and more heartfelt worship as opposed to dead formalism) went hand in hand with entirely ruinous changes pushed by leftist heretics. So you had something of a worldwide invigoration of some churches via the charismatic movement, while at the same time you had the unorthodox ruining the Catholic Church and the Protestant Mainline Churches.
Both the heretics and the charismatics shared some outer trappings, such as guitar driven worship and informal dress. In liturgical churches, this wave of change resulted in an attack on beauty. Ugly churches were built, sanctuaries were stripped of beauty and Catholics ditched the musical heritage of the West for guitar at Mass. Again, similar forces were scraping away Protestant history, but many of the guitar music folks in Protestant circles were very orthodox doctrinally. What you saw in Catholic circles was a simultaneous push for an end to the ban on birth control, opposition to abortion, a desire to ordain women, as well as ugly liturgy, a collapse in those seeking ordination and bad doctrinal innovations, all in the name of Vatican II – at least that is my read on it. So many of the folks who wanted what I as a Protestant would want: married priests, vernacular liturgy, collegiality and so forth, were the same people who wanted abortion, divorce, the pill and that whole package.
You can imagine the utter revolution and disruption that these changes caused for faithful Catholics. Tolkien is a good example:

“Toronto broadcaster and author Michael Coren (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created The Lord of the Rings) says that in the 1960s, the author “expressed displeasure at Vatican II” and its sweeping reforms of Catholic life and liturgy. Tolkien, who had had his hero Aragorn declare that “good and ill have not changed since yesteryear” felt that “suddenly the Truth had changed. And he found it vulgar.” 

A counter-revolution against what Vatican II unleashed was led by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They stood firm on moral issues and began to push the liturgical celebration back towards beauty. This points to my dilemma as a Protestant looking in on Catholic struggles: the people who I would most agree with on birth control, morality, beauty in architecture and liturgy, are the same people that would most vehemently defend the supposed Petrine office, priestly celibacy, bowing to images, praying to the dead, Purgatory and all the other things that legitimately need reform. And even John Paul II was marked with a weird ecumenism that seemed to be universalistic and too open to errors like Islam.
This is getting too long for a single post, so I will break it in two… 

Pope Francis

Adam Brickley’s prediction of a long Conclave was totally wrong, showing once again that all attempts at predicting the future are futile (h/t to Nicholas Taleb). Brickley’s latest post says:

His mandate is to use his short papacy to smash the corruption in the curial establishment, then leave. He’s expected to make a mess of the place, leaving it to a more steady-handed successor to put the pieces back together (a la Paul VI). At least that’s how I read it. Whether that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

As for the Francis I papacy itself, I think we could be in for quite a ride. He clearly wanted to make a statement, both with his choice of a new name and by appearing in a simple white cassock rather than the usual finery. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have been given a divine mandate to “rebuild my church” – so the name explicitly implies that the church needs some serious TLC. He’s clearly a warm and pastoral spirit, but I have to say his remarks from the balcony were a bit rambling and disjointed. This is a polar opposite personality to Benedict XVI, who was a towering intellect and skilled theologian, but not terribly pastoral. Benedict was elected to teach and strengthen the faith, Francis is there to govern and renew the church.
Obviously, the jury is out, but at the very least I expect him to be popular. He brings to mind John XXIII, and that sort of leadership wins a lot of admirers. The big question, other than curia reform, will be what path he charts on doctrine. Obviously he’s not a huge move ideologically, but he does have a more Jesuit social justice focus. A lot of traditionalists are worried about his stance on the availability of Latin Mass to those who want it, as he apparently did not implement Benedict’s “liberation” of said mass in his diocese. Another iquestion for me will be his choice of curial officials and cardinals – will he be the one to finally kibosh the European majority in the Sacred College?  

From a Protestant point of view, I hope this new Pope adheres to Scripture and reforms the doctrinal corruptions of Rome – prayer to saints, bowing to objects, indulgences, Purgatory and the like – but I know the chances of this barring a Damascus Road experience are none. I think that Benedict had a greater fidelity to Scripture in many areas, but not enough, and I hope that trend continues. A re-examination of every belief that the Church holds in light of Scripture would do us all good. 

Conclave Day I

I have been totally drawn into the drama of the Conclave, only the second of my adult lifetime. The pageantry and the method of election itself is very intriguing, in contrast to the bland failure that is the selection of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anyway, as part of this fascination, I found the blog of Adam Brickley to be very insightful. Brickley wrote a paper called “Cracking the Conclave” in 2008, and we’ll see how prescient it turns out to be. Brickley is predicting a long Conclave this time:

According to Brickley, over the last century, the shorter conclaves have averaged between three and four voting rounds. For the relatively brief conclaves that would mean a successor is usually named on either day two or day three. That won’t be the case this year, he predicts. “The best analogy for this year’s papal vote is 1922, the one that elected [Pope] Pius XI. That went 14 ballots,” he says. “The cardinals then were looking for a steady hand as they were deeply divided.”

 Today, Brickley wrote:

Most of the insiders seem to agree that Angelo Scola will get the early lead with between 35 and 40 votes. Behind him will be Odilo Scherer with about 25, followed by Marc Ouellet with around 12…I personally am keeping a close eye on Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, as he is the only second tier candidate listed by Allen who also made my top 28. I’m also looking for the emergence of an African candidate, as the conspicuous lack of known African papabili makes me wonder if the Vaticanisti simply lack sources with the less-accessible African cardinals.

Climbing the Mountain of Time

As Pope Benedict XVI  says, speaking on Christian laughter: 

We climb up the mountain of time, bearing with us the instruments of our own death. At first the goal is far distant. We do not think of it; the present is enough: the morning on the mountain, the song of the birds, the sun’s brightness. We feel we do not need to know about our destination, since the way itself is enough. But the longer it grows, the more unavoidable the question becomes: Where is it going? What does it all mean? . . . the fear rises within us that perhaps the whole of life is only a variation of death; that we have been deceived and that life is actually not a gift but an imposition. Then the strange reply, “God will provide”, sounds more like an excuse than an explanation. Where this view predominates, where talk of “God” is no longer believable, humor dies. In such a case man has nothing to laugh about anymore; all that is left is cruel sarcasm or that rage against God and the world with which we are all acquainted. But the person who has seen the Lamb—Christ on the Cross—knows that God has provided. . . Because we see the Lamb, we can laugh and give thanks. . . 

N.T. Wright Reviews Pope Benedict

Wright reviews Pope Benedict’s JESUS OF NAZARETH Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection here. Excerpts follow:

Benedict’s venture has already been dismissed by many (including Casey) on the grounds that it treats the four canonical gospels as more or less straightforwardly “true”, whereas the entire modernist “quest for the historical Jesus” has wrestled with the challenges posed by H. S. Reimarus in the eighteenth century and a multitude ever since. The attempt to place Jesus historically (or the assumption of a particular answer to that question) has been a significant element within European and American modernism. But you would hardly know that from the Pope’s books, which proceed (as he says) more after the manner of Thomas Aquinas’s “theological treatise on the mysteries of the life of Jesus”. Reading Benedict feels more like being on retreat, pondering ancient and subtle wisdom, than attending a seminar to struggle with questions of history.

Yet he has not simply ignored history. He has read the great German exegetes of the past generation, Protestant as well as Catholic, and draws on them for particular points even though the format of his work does not make for detailed discussion. He denies the suggestion that he is producing a “Christology from above” (in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse) by arguing that scholarly exegesis of the New Testament “must see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character”, forswearing popular but shallow positivism and combining a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic” so as “to form a methodological whole”.

The Pope suggests that this is a step forwards. Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place. The parallels between this approach and the stance that the Church is perceived to take on some other issues will, naturally, raise eyebrows. The business of whether theology and history can actually meet without a serious explosion is of course a question which, in one form or another (whether through debates on science and religion, or on faith and politics), has stood behind a good deal of intellectual conflict in the West over the past two centuries. Many will take more convincing than is provided in Jesus of Nazareth before they will readily accept such a marriage.

Benedict’s book, for all that, is full of surprises. There is a welcome emphasis on the rootedness of Jesus and his followers in Israel’s Scriptures, something which older exegesis, both Protestant and Catholic, often passed over. The heart of the volume is an exposition of Jesus’s vocational understanding of his own death in terms of the Psalms and Isaiah, particularly the “servant songs” of Isaiah 42–53, leading to a clear statement of the cross as the moment of vicarious, substitutionary atonement. This, Benedict writes, “constitutes the most profound content of Jesus’ mission”. This is not a view that Protestants normally expect popes to hold. Some Roman theologians, I suspect, will be surprised as well.

There are plenty of details to keep the reader alert. Benedict’s own tradition shows through here and there, for instance on Mary. It is fascinating to watch him treading carefully through minefields: “the Jews” who demand Jesus’s death are not the nation as a whole, but only the Temple hierarchy on the one hand, and the supporters of Barabbas on the other. And the historical detail sometimes needs attention: first-century Jewish corpses were anointed for burial not (as Benedict suggests) to keep corruption at bay, but in order to offset the stench of decomposition as more bodies were placed in the same cave-tomb before secondary burial of the fleshless bones.

Two major linked emphases indicate the underlying strength and weakness of this book. First, Benedict stresses that Jesus believed he was constituting himself and his followers as, in some sense, a new Temple. This, I believe, is historically correct, and is near the heart of the Christology of all four gospels. But, second, Benedict insists that, with this, Jesus “achieved a separation of the religious from the political, thereby changing the world”. This, he says, “is what truly marks the essence of his new path”. Jesus “had inaugurated a non-political Messianic kingdom”. The cross indicates a radical stripping away of all power. This results in “the new community”, which Benedict describes as “the new manner of God’s dominion in the world”.

The problem with this is that the Jesus of the gospels (which, on Benedict’s principles, ought to be determinative) insisted that through his own work, Israel’s God was becoming King “on earth as in heaven”. The Pope’s proposed disjunction (reflecting, perhaps, a measure of penitence for earlier ecclesial power politics?) plays into that modernist split-level world which Benedict’s whole project is designed to outflank. The integration of history and theology that the Pope is proposing at the level of exegetical method stands in tension with the separation of politics and religion he is endorsing at the level of meaning.

Benedict offers, inevitably, an exegesis of the gospel passages that deal with Daniel 7, and the strange prophecy of “one like a son of man” who “comes on the clouds of heaven”. He takes the normal view, that these passages are predicting the “second coming”.

Catholics as Just Another Denomination

Mark Horne says:

But what if Roman Catholics are sectarians dreaming they constitute the historic and perpetual center of the identity of the Church?

What if the real Catholic Church is simply continuing on and the Roman Catholic Church is pretending that it is not lacking that full communion because it has created without warrant autistic conditions for fellowship?

Evangelicals have many issues to work on as they continue through history. But there is nothing to rejoin. If the Roman Catholic Church and another denomination join and receive, then that is simply two denominations uniting together. And if they join and receive under the shared assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is some kind of perpetual “center” that all others are “peripheral” to and must come “back” to, then all that would mean is that the Christian people of the other denomination have become persuaded of sectarian superstitions.