Time For a Theology Brush Up

Apparently even devout Catholics need to brush up on their theology before the pope comes.

Knowing that, the Archdiocese of Washington organized two weighty lectures, or teachings. "His arrival among us is indeed a moment of grace, for which we must prepare," Archbishop Timothy Broglio, longtime Vatican diplomat and current archbishop to the military, said before the first lecture, which he delivered on Feb. 28.

At least 600 people, many still in their work clothes and clutching their briefcases -- rapt -- through the entire hour, filled the pews at St. Matthew's in Northwest. The dramatic, huge cathedral was nearly silent as Broglio tried to spell out the key themes in the two encyclicals, or major letters, Benedict has written thus far in his three years as pope. One was on love, one on hope.

Sounds like pretty straight-forward themes, but encyclicals are made of dense, philosophical stuff. Take the one on love: It is asking what is the nature of the love between man and God, and how is it related to other forms of love, say between people or between a person and their career or calling? Can a person love God? Is this a language conundrum, or more of a conceptual one? And when it comes to love of neighbor, what type of love motivates a Christian to do good, to do charity? Can it be a secular love - a basic urge to do good - or must it always be a Christ-motivated love?

You could hear a pin drop as Broglio went into the second encyclical, on hope, which he said is "definitely more difficult to understand and savor." The key question: Can contemporary people really hope? And is hope in the future the same thing as hoping for eternal life? What, he said, IS life? And is Christian hope selfish, since it asks people to look to their own salvation?

The lecture took a lighter turn at the end, when someone asked Broglio during the Q and A for some inside scoop about the pope.

He's extremely well-organized, the archbishop said, keeping to his schedule to the point that "you can set your watch" on his daily 4 p.m. walk in the gardens of the Vatican palace. He's either at home or at work; "very seldom do you see him outside, at receptions and other events around Rome." OK, so the pope isn't a party-hopper, not a total shock. "He is shy, but he is charming."

By Michelle Boorstein |  March 13, 2008; 9:19 PM ET
Next: The Pope's Cologne


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I commend the Post for creating this blog and for this first entry, which accurately portrays how so many American Catholics are listening to this remarkable new pope. I read about a recent interview with the pope's secretary who, when asked about the pope's appeal, said that while John Paul pried open our hearts, Benedict seeks to fill our hearts. So far, so true! It seems that so many of us misunderstood the man who was once Joseph Ratzinger and who is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Posted by: Cliff | March 14, 2008 08:55 AM

I am also pleased that the Post has decided to post such a site. Catholic theology is complicated stuff and many Catholics (to say nothing of those of other faiths) have a hard time understanding the "whys" behind their faith. The press is usually no help, since many reporters seem somewhat ignorant of these issues (i.e. praying to saints). Hopefully, this blog and His Holiness's visit will serve to illuminate these issues a little.

Posted by: Robert B. | March 14, 2008 09:28 AM

I agree with both Cliff and Robert B. below.

Cliff, you are spot on. This Pope has exceeded expectations and has, thus far, been wonderful especially if you are a conservative Catholic.

Robert, you too are soooooo correct. " .... ignorant of these issues (and doctrine)" yet always so ready to critize from a position of ignorance.

Vivat JESUS.

Posted by: Dave | March 14, 2008 10:49 AM

For this visit I would love to see the Pope smack King George.... And seeing as how it would be like smacking the Anti-christ it would be fair-play... even for the Pope ;)

Posted by: LL22102 | March 14, 2008 10:51 AM

Vatican spokesman Girotti equated policy and decisions that move wealth away from the poor and toward the rich is sinful. Just how much faith is McCain showing by supporting Dubya's sinful policies?

Posted by: Jimbo | March 14, 2008 10:56 AM

I have always been impressed by Michelle B.'s even handed and clear writing on the various religious topics she covers. I am especially pleased with the way she covers Catholics, because (though I'm generally a moderate verging on progressive) it does seem to me that Catholics are the last group it's okay to bash. And most of the bashing comes from ignorance of the actual teachings/stances of the Catholic church. So, thank you, Michelle (and, I guess, her editors) for your work to date, and all the stories to come that I'm sure will be equally even-handed (and that doesn't mean I expect them to be glowing.)

Posted by: annie4576 | March 14, 2008 11:26 AM

This man lives as richly and oppulantly as the Queen of England. He is in every sense of the word, royalty. The King of Catholicism and the pinnacle of the Church hierarchy in one incarnation.

I'm very pleased to have departed from Catholicism nearly 50 years ago, without looking back once. The Church is no more progressive now than it was back in the early 1960's.

The mythology of Catholicism as seen through the guise of it's various doctrines and Church dogma is presented as the literal truth of course - including Papal Infallibility .... what hogwash.

Religion is a man-made enterprise from start to finish and when you pass it off as literal and divinely inspired truth, you've obscured the meanings behind the myth well beyond all recognition. The Church in all it's exoteric glory is for the multitudes of followers, whereas mysticism is by far the road less travelled, and always for the more esoterically inclined - and indeed where the truth of religion is to be found.

Instead, with the foundation of a massive and authoritarian Church hierarchical structure presented in all it's aristocratic glory, you've opened the door to fanaticism and fundamentalism - the world of the true believer....from top to bottom.

Posted by: apostate | March 14, 2008 12:18 PM

Annie4576 wrote: "it does seem to me that Catholics are the last group it's okay to bash"

There is indeed a long history of anti-Catholicism in this country, stemming from our Anglo-Protestant roots and deepened by ethnic concerns in the 19th century caused by the immigration of the Irish and later the Italians. Nowadays, it still shows up, though it's definitely not as bad as it once was.

I remember that Time magazine ran a cover story during the height of the pedophilia scandals entitled "Can the Catholic Church Survive?" I remember ruefully shaking my head at the incredible ignorance of that question. After all, if Martin Luther couldn't destroy Catholicism in the sixteenth century, then it's here to stay... :)

Posted by: Robert B. | March 14, 2008 02:04 PM

Apostate wrote: "The Church in all it's exoteric glory is for the multitudes of followers, whereas mysticism is by far the road less travelled, and always for the more esoterically inclined - and indeed where the truth of religion is to be found."

Isn't it funny, then, that some of the most famous mystics are Catholic saints (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Theresa of Avila, etc.)? Or don't they qualify because they're Catholic?

Posted by: Robert B. | March 14, 2008 02:08 PM

Robert B - all three of the very high profile saints you mentioned started religious orders with the blessings of the extant popes of their times - it's well known that Francis and Theresa walked a fine line when it came to reporting on their mystical experiences.

These experiences with the divine either fell within the sanctioned guidelines of Catholic doctrine or the mystic in question risked being burned at the stake for 'devilish' influences.

Theresa's visions were quite hystrionic and with distinct sexual if rapturous overtones - and have been interpreted by some as form of epilepsy. Fellow mystic & Spanish contemporary, St. John of the Cross, had no such trouble, as he was not a high profile public & political figure, as was Theresa.

On the other hand, 14th century dominican priest Meister Eckert did conflict with the Church as regards his reports of the divine - of a much more pantheistic nature, his identity and God's identity were One according to his interpretation of these experiences. While many mystics see Jesus and angelic figures, no legitimate Catholic saint has ever claimed to see God face to face (much less to have the same identity). Although he died of natural causes rather than the stake, Meister Eckert came much too close for comfort - although if you read William James (Varieties of Religious Experience) & Aldous Huxley (The Perennial Philosophy) you will find that his experience accords well with other mystical experiences reported across the wide spectrum of the world's religions.

Interestingly, St. Dominic himself, the founder of the Dominican Order, was responsible, along with his priest/soldiers, for implementing the wholesale slaughter of the French Cathers (Albigensian Crusade) at the orders of Pope Innocent because of their heresy. Their heresy? That Jesus did not actually die on the cross because as God, he was categorically unable to perish in such a manner - it was only an illusion. These people were quite mystically inclined, but their reported experiences were contrary to Church doctrine. There are any number of murderers among the ranks of both saints and popes, along with the legitimate mystics.

Sainthood is very often a political gesture, as it is even today. Three miracles?? Good luck proving even one beyond a shadow of doubt!! Clearly this is much too big a topic to go further.

best regards -

Posted by: apostate | March 14, 2008 04:04 PM

"He's either at home or at work; "very seldom do you see him outside, at receptions and other events around Rome."

You mean he does occasionally go out to party! Who with?

It is good that some Catholics are willing to give up time to understand what this Pope is about.

Even so, the truth is most no longer really believe in Judgement. Take that away and the motivation to follow "the rules" starts to flag. If God understands everything and God forgives everything, we can all do just as we please.

We know too much these days and we are used to asking "why?" Too many priests don't have good enough answers.

Posted by: Giorgio | March 15, 2008 09:19 AM

The Pope should address but will not for economic and theological reasons, the flaws in Catholicism and Christianity:

A synopsis-

1. Abraham founder/father of three major religions was either the embellishment of the lives of three different men or a mythical character as was Moses, the "Tablet-Man" who talked to burning bushes and made much magic in Egypt.

1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis have relegated Abraham to the myth pile along with most if not all the OT. http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/ConservativeTorah.htm

2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (if you believe his "biographers" i.e. visions of satan aka the demon of the demented), has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus' life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

For added "pizzazz", Catholic/Christian theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

3. Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley et al, founders of Christian-based religions, also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingy talking flying fictional thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

Posted by: Concerned The Christian Now Liberated | March 15, 2008 12:00 PM

I've studied the Bible and compared them to all the religions I know. My conclusion is that the Vatican is the seat of satan.

Read the Bible thoroughly like Martin Luther did and other people who have seen the light.

Examine it honestly without prejudice and you would come to the same conclusion.

Posted by: spiderman2 | March 17, 2008 03:35 AM

Protestantism was clearly no improvement over Catholicism. It's simply created generations of biblical fundamentalists and apocalypto maniacs that have no more idea of what religion is actually all about than they have of the physics of quantum mechanics.

The religious antics of the vast crowds of true believers has never for a moment been based on proof or empirical viability - rather the metaphysics of faith and the accompanying collection of mental confabulations & highly questionable beliefs are what drives these multitudes of 'the faithful'.

The founders of the Protestant Reformation had no use for the Papacy it's true - and yet they ultimately offered nothing whatsoever to replace the true Church, with all it's warts (and there are plenty), other than their own personal view & interpretation of the vast collection of superstitions that was Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries.

One set of belief-based human behaviors quickly replaced a competing belief system (the pervasive social institution of organized religion) & driven by minor alterations of exactly the same belief system - and the replacement proved to be equally perverse & destructive.

Persecution of the unfaithful continued unabated, as did the burning of 'witches' and so forth. Superstition trumps superstition....what could be more human?? The superstitious are still among us and still claiming to be possessed of the truth. Possessed, yes - but the truth?? That's a different matter altogether.

Posted by: apostate | March 17, 2008 09:31 AM

I have read the bible and many of the related documents and many analyses of both.

My conclusion:

Spiderman2/Canyon is possessed by satan aka a demon of the demented.

The Papacy is simply the result of flawed history and theology.

Posted by: Concerned The Christian Now Liberated | March 17, 2008 01:33 PM

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