Benedict XVI is finding ways to allow all roads to lead to Rome again.
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Yet if he can bring the two ancient churches together, my sense is that he will do nearly anything, including placing new limits on his own powers, including editing the Nicene Creed to remove the so-called filioque clause (which states that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”), which drives the Eastern half of the ancient Church to distraction.
BENEDICT’S CONSUMING INSIGHT as pope seems to be that time has
made a lot of old theological differences matter less and brought
new ones to the fore. Anglicans used to want Catholic tradition but
not the pope. Now they may need him to hold on to their tradition.
The Orthodox must contend with
a demographic decline, but wouldn’t have to if they grafted themselves onto Rome. Traditionalists wanted iron-clad protection for the Latin Mass, and got it.
His message will not appeal to everyone, as well he knows. In her book Ratzinger’s Faith, philosopher and theologian Tracey Rowlands points out how utterly opposed he is to feminism. At some level, he just can’t bring himself to take it seriously. Against calls for female ordination, he “cited the judgment of feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza that ‘true feminists’ should actually oppose the ordination of women and work to abolish the phenomenon of ordination itself” — since ordination is a product of patriarchy and thus, by their logic, bad. In other words, good luck with that, ladies.
Benedict thinks that his Church has got the basics all right and that it is well positioned to hold out against current trends and decide, in the fullness of time, whether innovations are wise. He’s willing to extend that protection to Christians of other communions, to consolidate the faithful under a rule of faith that is both flexible and at the same time unyielding.
That makes him a conservative but a radical one. The easiest way to change a church is to drastically change her membership, and that is exactly what the pope is calling for with his impatient prodding to bring whole communions into the flock. Yesterday the traditionalists, today the Anglicans, tomorrow the Orthodox, and the day after, oh, let’s say the Lutherans. After all, this pope is from Germany, there has been centuries of ecumenical spadework, and Lutherans are sacramentally inclined Christians who are currently experiencing tremors over issues of sexuality.
If he succeeds, the moniker that future generations should use for him — the only really accurate one — is the Great Consolidator.