7. The Pauline Year. A More Pauline Church?

February 21st, 2011

The Roman Catholic Church is master at celebrating special years: the year of Jubilee, the Holy year, the Marian year, the Year for priests, etc. In a sense, every year is a “special” occasion for something. So it was with the Pauline Year (PY). Designed to celebrate the bimillennium of the birth of St Paul, which historians place between the years 7 and 10 AD, the PY included a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events, as well as various pastoral and social initiatives, all inspired by Pauline spirituality. It took place between June 28th 2008 and June 29th 2009 and had as its center the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Rome). This massive Basilica was built by Emperor Constantine (IV century AD) over the burial place of the apostle Paul and is one of the four great Roman basilicas. The occasion to assess the outcomes of the PY was given by a 500-page book entitled L’anno paolino (The Pauline Year) that was officially presented in a press conference at the Vatican on February 9th. The book is a reference tool with all kinds of information on what took place during the PY.

Ecumenical (little) achievements

One of the chief aims that stirred Benedict XVI to proclaim the PY was to have a catalyst event that would foster the ecumenical cause on behalf of Christian unity. Since Paul is a central figure for both Eastern and Western sides of the church, the idea to celebrate a Pauline year took shape. Particular attention was given to ecumenical gatherings that would re-invigorate Christian unity on the basis of a common and renewed appreciation of Paul. For Eastern Orthodox churches, the PY was meant to highlight Paul’s missions to the East and the great legacy of his teachings about the “mystery” of the faith. Solemn events and liturgies were performed during the year, even though the success has been mainly symbolic. No real breakthrough was achieved in the name of Paul as far as the Eastern front of RC ecumenism. For Protestant churches, the PY was crafted to underline the importance of justification by faith and other Pauline themes dear to Protestant hearts. The hope was to give another chance to the 1999 Joint Declaration between Roman Catholics and Lutherans on justification which promises much (i.e. agreement on the basics of the Gospel) yet is delivering very little in terms of a deepened Christian unity. During the PY, divisions over gay unions and how to respond to the challenges of secular culture further divided the relationship between historic Protestants and the RC Church. On the whole, the PY was wishful thinking as far as ecumenism is concerned. In theory it was a great idea (though quite unsubstantiated historically), but in reality it was quite the flop.

Paul’s relics

Apart from ecumenical analyses, another feature of this special year is worth mentioning. The ambitious program desired to honor the great themes of Paul’s letters: creation, sin, salvation, grace, faith, and mission. Pauline scholarship afforded the chance to produce books and convene conferences. Opportunities were created to read Paul afresh or, for most people, to read him for the first time. All this is welcome, yet it is interesting to note how Benedict XVI closed the PY. In a solemn liturgy the Pope announced a recent discovery. In the marble sarcophagus in which according to tradition Paul’s body was buried, bones of a skeleton dating to the first century AD had been found and analyzed. It is possible that these skeletal remains belong to the Apostle Paul, though no certainty can be established. The point of the Pope’s announcement was to state that these relics were going to be displayed for public veneration. While underlining great Pauline and Biblical themes such as salvation and grace, and faith and mission, the PY encouraged at the same time practices that are far from Pauline and Biblical spirituality. Paul himself wrote that the “living letter” of his service are living men and women who follow his teaching (2 Corinthians 3:2-3), rather than his dry bones calling people to bow down before them.

A Pauline church?

These comments generate a fundamental question: How is it possible to combine Paul and the veneration of relics? How is it feasible to square the spirituality of justification by faith and the cult of the dead? How is it legitimate to nurture a Christ-centered life and folk-religion practices? How is it possible to produce fine Pauline scholarship while fostering anti-Pauline habits? In fact for the RC Church not only is it possible, but it’s also mandatory. The RC worldview demands complexio oppositorum (the combination of the opposites) as its paradigm without having Scripture alone as its decisive criterion. The issue at stake is not questioning the Pauline nature of the RC Church. In a sense, the RC Church is a Pauline church. The issue is that, besides the Pauline element, the RC Church is also Petrine, Marian, Papal, Imperial, Roman, Tridentine, folk-oriented, etc. Pauline teaching is only one aspect of the whole and the whole goes far beyond the other canonical strands of the Bible. It is a “catholic” whole in the sense that it wishes to embrace all. The standing question is whether or not the PY was an opportunity to return to the Gospel or a chance to expand Roman catholicity. The latter is closer to the truth.

Leonardo De Chirico


6. The blessed John Paul II. A Christ-centered legacy?

February 7th, 2011

Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005), since1978 better known as Pope John Paul II, has been one of the most influential men of the XX century. A quick look at the titles of biographies about him shows the magnitude of the man: “The man of the end of the millennium” (L. Accattoli), “Witness to hope” (G. Weigel), “The man of the century” (J. Kwitny), “Pilgrim of the absolute” (G. Reale), “The defeater of communism” (A. Santini). As is always the case with human analyses of human biographies, celebrative voices abound as well as critical readings. Other titles point to the controversial aspects of his life: “Victory and decline” (C. Cardia), “The Pope in Winter: The Dark Face of John Paul II’s Papacy” (J. Cornwell), “The Wojtyla enigma” (J. Arias), “The last Pope king” (L. Sandri).

His life was at the centre of the major affairs of the XX century: the tragedy of Nazism and the trauma of the Second World War, the apex and fall of Communism, the Second Vatican Council and its debated implementation, the apparent triumph of Western democracy and the oppressive costs of globalization for the Majority world, the fracture of ideologies and the rise of secular hedonism. Wojtyla played a significant role in all these major events. Supporters have acclaimed his achievements in terms of navigating, surviving and overcoming the dangerous streams of our post-something world. Critics have pointed out the double-faced, contradictory trajectory of his life and his very backward looking Catholic outlook.

2011 will mark the beatification of John Paul II and the official ceremony will take place on May 1st in St. Peter’s square. Two million people are expected to take part in this massive event that will capture the attention of the whole world. So it is proper to examine the significance of the proposed beatification and how John Paul II’s legacy can be properly assessed.

First, we should inquire about the meaning of beatification in RC eyes. Beatification (from Latin beatus, blessed) is a recognition accorded by the RC Church of a dead person’s virtues and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. The “blessed” (so she/he is named thereafter) becomes the recipient of petitions and intercession of those who offer them. Beatification is the third of four steps in the canonization process, with the highest recognition being the sainthood of an individual. Since 1983, in order to be recognized as “blessed”, the RC Church demands that one miracle be proven to have taken place through the intercession of the person. The process towards beatification can only begin five years after the person’s death. However, in John Paul II’s case, it began much earlier. Many still remember what happens at his funerals when the crowd began to shout: “santo subito!” (“Make him a saint now!”), thus putting pressure on the hierarchy to treat him as an extraordinary case – something that even a scrupulous Pope like Benedict XVI dared not to address.

The theological significance of beatification lies in several key RC doctrines. According to Vatican II, the saints “do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth” through Christ’s mediation (Lumen Gentium, n. 49, quoted also in the Catechism, n. 956). The saints, in whose category the blessed belong, have an intercessory role on the basis of their merits which are considered within the framework of the mediation of Jesus Christ. On this basis the Christian people are encouraged to pray to the blessed for healing, protection, favor, and to nurture a profound devotion to him/her made of pilgrimages, prayer groups and chains, folk spirituality, etc. Notwithstanding all the best intentions and motivations, Evangelical eyes find it difficult not to consider the theological fabric of beatification as a means that moves people away from Christ. In this respect, it is interesting to note that John Paul II himself, in his 27 years of papal reign, proclaimed as blessed 1338 people and as saints 482 people, more than all his predecessors taken together since the XVI century! In fact, it was in 1588 that modern procedures were established for the beatification process and prior to John Paul II the RC Church proclaimed 1319 as blessed and 296 as saints.

Second, how do we assess John Paul II’s legacy? Because of the stature of the man, the question is overwhelming in every respect. Amongst the vast amount of books available, one guide in particular worth noting is Tim Perry’s edited book The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment (Downers Grove, IL: IVP 2007, pp. 327). The chief reason of interest is that it is one of the few attempts to provide an evaluation from an Evangelical point of view. The book bears witness to the fact that it was under John Paul II that Evangelical attitudes toward RC began to change and become friendly, if not even cooperative. This Pope was the one who called his Church to be engaged in mission, encouraged the pro-life front, welcomed some of the Evangelical concerns in relation to Bible literacy and liturgical variety, and seemed to be closer to the Majority world than his predecessors. It also witnesses to the fact that some Evangelicals today speak of the Pope as “Holy Father” (Timothy George, pp. 309-312) – something that is not biblically natural. Moreover, in evaluating the over-all theology of his 14 encyclicals, some Evangelicals can say that it is “Bible-based, humanity-focused, Christ-centered and mission-attuned” (Jim Packer, p. 8) – something that sounds like a full endorsement.

Certainly there has been a significant shift of attitude and John Paul II has made quite an impression on many Evangelicals. The book edited by Perry contains positive comments on each encyclical signed by Wojtyla and the tone is close to admiration, with some minor criticism. Of course much of it is a fair summary of what the Pope wrote, yet selective in many ways. For instance there is no mention that each encyclical ends with an invocation to Mary, which does not represent a Christocentric and biblical pattern. Moreover, there is little recognition to the fact that, besides the Bible, papal encyclicals quote even more extensively sources of the tradition of the Church. The Bible is only one source amongst many, and apparently not the decisive one. On specific contents, Faith and Ratio (Faith and Reason, 1998) combines Aristotelian reason and Thomistic faith, a choice that leaves out many Biblical strands. Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church from the Eucharist, 2003) reinforces the traditional RC doctrine of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, its re-enactment of Jesus’ death and the practice of adoration of the host. Ut Unum Sint (That They Be One, 1995) claims that the Pope is willing to change the forms of his universal ministry but not the substance of his petrine office that supplements the headship of Christ on the church. Redemptoris Mater (The Mother of the Redeemer, 1987) is a Marian-centered re-telling of salvation history, something that the Bible does not encourage. The list could go on and on, yet one point must be further elaborated.

Marian devotion was a characterizing feature of John Paul II’s life. He believed the so-called secrets of Fatima, in which Mary played a decisive role, deviating the bullet when the Pope was shot in 1981 by the terrorist Ali Agca. Apparently, the Pope believed in Marian providence, considering Mary a major player in world affairs, both earthly and cosmic, both material and spiritual. For this reason he was able to dedicate planet earth to her at the beginning of the new millennium, along with the human family and new century, pleading for protection and guidance all the while. Moreover, his personal motto was totus tuus, totally yours, with “yours” referring to Mary. In honor of his highly Marian spirituality, the beatification ceremony will take place on May 1st, at the beginning of the Marian month according to the RC liturgical calendar.

The question remains: Is the legacy of John Paul II Bible-based and Christ-centered? The answer is not as simple and straightforward as Tim Perry’s book seems to indicate. His strong Marianism, for instance, is a defining feature of his life that always qualifies the rest. The months ahead will be another opportunity to come to terms with his pontificate, his achievements and contradictions, and indeed his inherently Roman Catholic legacy.

Leonardo De Chirico



5. A mystical view of Purgatory? On a recent catechesis by Benedict XVI

January 28th, 2011

One of the prerogatives of the teaching office of the Pope is to hold the cathedra Petri (Peter’s chair). St. Peter’s basilica hosts the relics of a chair that tradition traces back to the apostle Peter (though, like most relics, they were produced in the Middle Age). The cathedra Petri is part of the altar, so as to indicate the unique combination of the teaching and sacramental role of the Pope. The First Vatican Council (1870) introduced the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex-cathedra (from the chair). This is not a physical reference to the chair, though the Pope often speaks literally from the chair when presiding over rites and functions in St. Peter’s. Ex-cathedra refers to particular conditions which confer the mark of infallibility to his teaching. Besides this unique expression of papal authority, the chair also refers to his ordinary teaching office which takes place in different forms, such as encyclicals, exhortations, speeches, books, media (both written and audio), and occasions like papal visits and the presence of regular audiences.

As part of his ordinary, weekly teaching office, the Pope delivers a catechetical speech on Wednesdays in the context of a general audience which is attended by a couple thousand pilgrims, visitors, etc. The presentation is in Italian, though written summaries of the speech in other languages are distributed to the public. All texts are readily available on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va). Generally the Pope follows series on the liturgical calendar, doctrinal topics, the lives of saints, Church traditions, etc. On January 12th, the topic of the catechesis was particularly interesting in that it touched on purgatory.

Belief in purgatory is part of the RC doctrine concerning the afterlife. It was elaborated in the Middle Ages and then stated doctrinally by the Councils of Florence (1438) and Trent (1563). It is also taught in the 1992 Catechism (nn. 1030-1032). This is to say that it is well entrenched in the tradition of the RC Church and her present-day doctrinal horizon. Purgatory basically refers to the ‚Äúfinal purification‚Äù of the saved ones in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven. The premise of purgatory is that salvation is not by grace and faith alone, but is by grace and what is achieved by means of merit and works. Purgatory is the last “work” required to get to heaven, i.e. a time of purification that lasts in proportion to what still needs to be purified. While it contains reminiscences of the language of 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7, the driving force of its development has been the practice of prayer for the dead, as the RC Catechism honestly acknowledges. In fact, RC doctrine believes that prayers, indulgences and works of penance can be offered on behalf of the dead so that their purification through purgatory is accelerated.

In one of the first catechesis of the new year, Benedict XVI returns to the doctrine of purgatory in the context of a devotional talk on Saint Catherine of Genoa. She was a XV century mystic who is best known for her vision of purgatory. According to the Pope, Catherine does not add new revelation on purgatory, yet her visions underline the fact that it is an “interior fire” that prepares the soul for full communion with God. Rather than a physical place of fire, as portrayed by Dante’s imagination in the Divine Comedy, purgatory is depicted by Catherine of Genoa as an inner fire which elevates man’s path towards God.

The Pope makes it clear that this mystical intelligence does not alter the traditional doctrine, but expands it towards its mysterious borders. The physical, spatial dimensions of purgatory are enriched further by the mystical development. It is a matter of adding other elements to the already consolidated doctrine and not questioning its well established profile.

Purgatory has already been at the center of Benedict XVI’s magisterium in a more ample treatment. His second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved in hope, 2007), contains telling comments on judgment in the afterlife. In the papal encyclical, God’s judgment is a combination of justice and grace. Few people (if any) receive only his justice (i.e. punishment), and few people receive His full grace (i.e. immediate salvation). Instead most people receive both justice and grace, then purgatory is this intermediate state of the soul that discloses both (nn. 45-48). In the afterlife the soul goes through a time of purification, deserving neither justice or grace. In Spe Salvi as well, the Pope stresses the importance of prayers and acts of suffrage on behalf of the dead in order to speed their time of purification. This is based on a belief on “communion” between the living and the dead that allows the suffrage of the former for the latter.

The doctrine of purgatory is part of the RC doctrinal web that impinges on grace, sin, salvation and eternal life. It is not a disposable, secondary appendix, but an essential part of the RC view of the ordo saluti. Thus far, Benedict XVI has been re-stating and expanding its doctrinal core, adding some mystical suggestions rather than changing it towards a more biblical picture of the afterlife.

Leonardo De Chirico

4. Word of the Lord and/or Word of the Church? The Bible in a recent papal pronouncement

January 11th, 2011

The Bible is central in the long-standing controversy between the Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholicism. So any pronouncement coming from the Pope on the topic is to be read carefully by all those who live a Bible-centered faith. The pronouncement we are talking about comes after a specific Synod that took place in 2008 when Roman Catholic bishops discussed the following issue: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”. After synods discuss, it is customary for the Pope to issue a written document which summarizes the gist of the proceedings and states them authoritatively. This is also the case of the 2010 Post-Synodical Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (VD, the Word of the Lord) by Benedict XVI.

The document recalls the RC teaching on the Bible as it has been articulated and taught in¬† the XX century. In particular, VD acknowledges the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum (God’s Word) as the paramount doctrinal reference for the Roman Catholic theology of the Word of God and sees itself in total continuity with the Council. What is most interesting is the relationship between the Word and the Bible that is envisaged by VD.

To start with, VD claims that the Word of God “precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture, nonetheless Scripture, as inspired by God, contains the divine word” (17). VD claims that the Bible is the Word of God in the sense that it contains the Word. There is the Bible and there is also a further word beyond the Bible that makes the Bible not sufficient on its own. What is at stake here is not the divine inspiration of the Bible (which VD firmly affirms), but the sufficiency of the Bible and its finality. For Pope Ratzinger, the Bible is the Word of God in some sense, but the Word of God is bigger than the Bible. The latter contains the former.

For Protestant readers especially, a comment is here in place. Liberal theology has developed its own theology of the Word whereby the relationship between the Word and the Bible is thought of in dialectical and existential ways. In other words, for some versions of liberal theology, the Bible is a (fallible) testimony to the Word and it becomes the Word of God, if it ever becomes so, when the Spirit speaks through it. Now, the RC version of the Word-Bible relationship is articulated in a different way. The premise is the same (i.e. the Bible contains the Word), but the outworking of the Word comes through the tradition of the RC Church. The gap between the Word and the Bible is not existential but ecclesial. The Church is the cradle of the Word, both in its past and written form (the Bible) and in its on-going utterances (Tradition). In this respect, Benedict XVI writes: “The Church lives in the certainty that her Lord, who spoke in the past, continues today to communicate his word in her living Tradition and in sacred Scripture. Indeed, the word of God given to us in sacred Scripture as an inspired testimony to revelation, together with the Church’s living Tradition, it constitutes the supreme rule of faith” (18). The Bible is upheld, but the Bible is always accompanied and surmounted by the wider, deeper, living tradition of the Church which is the present-day form of the Word. Amongst other things, this means that the Bible is not sufficient in itself to give access to the Word and is not the final norm for faith and practice. The Bible needs to be supplemented by the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is “a significant expression of the living Tradition of the Church and a sure norm for teaching the faith” (74).

Thus VD maintains a dynamic view of the Word whereby the Bible is a divinely appointed container of the Word. Yet the final reference point of the Word is the Church from which the Bible comes from and through which the present-day Word of God resounds.

Lots of questions arise from the painted picture by VD which is totally coherent with Vatican II and indeed the Council of Trent. Since VD is not a systematic treatise, but rather a written exhortation, only few points are dealt with in terms of explaining how the Church relates to the Word.

Firstly, the role of “private revelations” (e.g. Marian visions and on-going revelations accredited by the RC Church). Beside the Bible, they “introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones” (14). Private revelations are the basis for the Marian cults of Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorie, for example. For Evangelicals, these cults cannot be squared with basic Biblical teaching, yet the normative point for “private revelations” is the Church’s tradition, not the Bible alone. For RC, basing the faith on the Bible is important, yet inconclusive. There are further standards for spiritual discernment that go beyond Scripture.

Secondly, the “ecclesial” reading of the Bible. According to VD, Scripture must never be read on one’s own. Reading must be always an “ecclesial experience”, i.e. something done in communion with the Church. The issue at stake is not only methodological, as if private readings were to be replaced by study groups at a parish level presided over by a priest, but also hermeneutical. “An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church” (30). Reading the Bible needs to be an exercise done in accordance with the institutional church, both in its forms and outcomes. Apparently, there is much wisdom in these statements, especially considering the real risks of fancy, individualistic, awkward interpretations by isolated readers of the Bible. Yet, there is something missing here. For a Church that has forbidden for centuries the reading of the Bible in vernacular languages, it is at least unfortunate that not a single word of repentance is offered. For a Church that has prevented the people from having access to the Bible until fifty years ago, it is at least puzzling that not a single word is spent to underline the Church‚Äôs need for self-correction and vigilance. Moreover, if reading the Bible must always be done under the rule of the institution, what happens if the institution itself is caught in error, heresy or apostasy? How does the Spirit correct a sinful church if not by the biblical Word? In the history of the Church, the teaching of the Bible had to sometimes be played against the institutional church and against its consensus. Only a self-proclaimed indefectible Church can ask total submission to “the watchful eye of the sacred magisterium” (45) without having a final, ultimate bar. Here at stake is the question: Who has the final word? The Bible or the RC Church? Since the Church is “the home of the word” (52), VD responds: the latter!

Thirdly, the practice of Biblical interpretation. A properly defined RC reading of the Bible requires the acceptance of the unity of the whole of Scripture (“canonical exegesis”), as well as obedience to the living Tradition of the whole Church and the combination between the historical-critical and the theological level of interpretation (34). The RC Church fears two extremes: On the one hand it fears the critical arrogance which severs the Bible’s unity and rejects its divine origins; on the other, the fundamentalist approach which offers “subjective”, “arbitrary”, and “anti-ecclesial interpretations” (44). Two brief comments are possible. 1. In the public opinion, Benedict XVI is often depicted as a champion of the “spiritual” reading of the Bible (e.g. his acclaimed book Jesus of Nazareth, 2007). Yet VD readily acknowledges the benefits of historical-critical methods (32) while rejecting their extreme claims when they are contrary to “theological” considerations. Though not himself a liberal, Ratzinger does not belong to the same typology of Biblical conservative scholarship that can be found in Evangelical circles. Any simplistic overlap muddies the waters. 2. Fundamentalism is not defined in any way, yet is the recipient of strong criticism. No reference to fundamentalist literature is offered but instead negative statements are made as far as the dictation-theory is concerned, or the lack of appreciation of Biblical language as being conditioned by times and cultures. Who on earth believes that the Bible was mechanically dictated or that its language is an angelic reality? The impression is that VD plays against a straw man here.

Fourthly and finally, the liturgical context of a proper approach to Scripture. Reading the Bible as an ecclesial experience means that it needs to occur in a liturgical context set forth by the RC Church. “The privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst” (86). The hearing of God’s Word is fruitful when certain conditions are present: the administration of the Eucharist (54) and other sacraments (61), the Liturgy of the Hours (62), the practice of gaining indulgences (87), and recital of the Holy Rosary (88). According to VD, the Bible can never be alone, but must always be surrounded by ecclesiastical paraphernalia which inform, direct and govern Biblical reading and interpretation. In so doing, the Bible is never free to guide the Church, but always conditioned by some extra-biblical practices of the Church.

The papal pronouncement encourages the reading of the Bible and this is good news. The fundamental question remains: Whose word is the Verbum Domini? The Bible’s and/or the Church’s?

Leonardo De Chirico


3. Papa dixit. The recent interview with Benedict XVI

Rome, 6th December 2010

If you were given the opportunity to meet the Pope in person, what would you ask him? In a video on Youtube John Piper tells us that if he were to have a two minute conversation with the Pope, he would ask him: What’s your view on justification? That question would speak volumes for him and perhaps for many Evangelicals. Not so for Peter Seewald, the German journalist who just released his new interview with Benedict XVI. Seewald spoke six hours with the Pope but the topic of justification never came up. This suggests that people’s agendas in dealing with the highest RC authority may be very different. Yet the interview is an interesting piece of conversation that deserves our attention.

The book is entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times and is published in English by Ignatius Press. Seewald is not new to the task of interviewing Ratzinger, having done so twice when the latter was Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Salt of the Earth (1996; English edition 1997) and God and the World (2000; English edition 2002). Many commentators have underlined the parts of the interview in which Benedict XVI addresses controversial issues on human sexuality and the recent sexual scandals within the RC Church. In spite of rumors and fancy titles, there is nothing new in the Vatican’s approach to these issues and many others. In the Vatican’s perspective an interview is a tool towards consolidating something that is already part of the ethos of the Church, perhaps using conversation and a warm, personal tone. So Light of the World does not break any new ground in doctrinal or moral matters. Benedict XVI confirms his confident, sapiential and assertive posture in defending the dynamic stability of Rome’s magisterium, as well as his worried analysis of Western cultural trends away from past settlements between church and society. The present-day turmoil of the world, though perplexing and troublesome, is seen within the hopeful context of the long-term mission of the Church that will eventually succeed.

The pope addresses many important matters, but perhaps three are more worthy of mention for Evangelicals.

The first has to do with Benedict’s personal prayer life. In shedding light on his daily spiritual disciplines, the Pope says that he prays to God and also invokes a selected group of saints. His special list mirrors his theological program: Augustine, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. To them he cries for help as well as to the Mother of God. In another section, Seewald echoes widespread comments even in Evangelical circles that Ratzinger is more Christocentric than Marian. Yet Benedict XVI tells the interviewer that he is very close to Our Lady of Fatima (believing her alleged revelations) and deeply involved in Mary’s hyper-veneration. This is his way of living out the communio sanctorum. So, having Christ at the center means having an inclusive, wider center that hosts Mary and the saints. Do we really understand what the centrality of Jesus Christ means for RC doctrine and spirituality, even in its apparently more Christocentric forms?

The second comment touches on the Pope’s perception of Evangelicalism as a player in the realm of Christianity. Of course the book is not an academic treatise on ecumenical theology and one does not have to read too closely between the lines. Yet a distinct picture does in fact emerge. In this respect Benedict XVI distinguishes in Protestantism the “classic confessions” and the “new Protestantism”. The latter is growing and represents a “sign of the times”. This expression is a catchword for present-day Roman Catholicism. John XXIII used it to launch the Second Vatican Council and since then it has been employed to refer to providential, kairos-types of events. Evangelicals are modifying the religious landscape of the Third World. The Pope goes on to say that this movement is not the church, nor can it be on the account that it lacks some defining features of the Church (i.e. the rightly transmitted sacrament of Order, the Episcopal hierarchy under the papacy, the properly administered Eucharist). According to Ratzinger, the Evangelical understanding of the church is a “new concept” whereby the church is no longer an institution but a community summoned by the Word. The Pope appears to think that in Evangelicalism there is life but it is defective and insufficient since it is outside of the full fellowship with Rome. Later, recalling his visit to Brazil, he comes back to the topic of Evangelicalism and makes some very telling comments. He associates the word “Evangelical” with “sects” thus going back to derogatory language and also failing to make an important distinction between mainstream Evangelicalism and fringe groups that are awkward for Evangelicals as well. The other comment refers to the inner “instability” of the Evangelical movement and the fact that it does not produce a “long-standing sense of belonging”. The Pope looks at Evangelicals with a mixture of spiritual curiosity and Roman perplexity. Compared with the stability of the RC institution, Evangelicalism seems to be a frail vessel floating aimlessly. Compared with the deep sense of belonging that RC is able to nurture in most of its adherents, Evangelicalism seems to produce individual outbursts of spiritual life, yet is detached from historical, cultural and community awareness. The picture that Evangelicalism presents of itself to the observing world should cause all of us to ponder. Benedict XVI seems to think Evangelicalism can be an inspiring spirituality for our age (a “sign of the times”), yet in itself it lacks ecclesial structure and identity markers to be the Church and to survive for long.

A final comment is in place regarding global scenarios. Seewald wants to know what the Pope thinks of his petrine ministry that causes troubles for non-Catholic Christians. Well, the agreement about the papal ministry with Orthodox churches is not so far, says Ratzinger. Yet there is another facet to it. More and more, he says, religious leaders are realizing that in the global world a global voice is needed to address the importance of “religious values” and the disruptive claims of secularism. Being the ‚Äúsingle voice on great themes‚Äù is what the Pope envisages for his ministry: for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as well as for Muslims, Hindus, etc. The Pope offers his ministry to serve as the spokesperson for all religious-minded peoples of the world. This is the vast frontier development of the papacy that embraces both ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Of course this is not the full scope of the RC understanding of the papal office, but it will pave the way to achieving it.

In summary, Light of the World contains nothing new but instead underlines the standing claims of the present Pope with some intriguing nuances. Filled with awe for the great tradition of the Church, Benedict XVI is fully persuaded that the RC Church will manage to fulfill her mission, i.e. being a sign and instrument for the unity of mankind.

Leonardo De Chirico