The Master of Faint Praise and Understatement
Rev, Mons. Dario Edoardo Viganò
Prefect, Secretariat for Communication
February 9, 2018
Thank you for your kind letter of 12 January and the attached gift of the eleven small volumes edited by Roberto Repole.
I applaud this initiative that wants to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation, while I have been only a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete life of a Christian today.
The small volumes show, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to see the inner continuity between the two pontificates, despite all the differences of style and temperament.
However, I don’t feel like writing a short and dense theological passage on them because throughout my life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books I had read really well. (Read: I don't want to waste my time on this / I am playing the piano).
Unfortunately, if only for physical reasons, I am unable to read the eleven (small!) volumes in the near future, especially as other commitments await me that I have already made. (Read: I don't want to waste my time on this / I have to play with my cats).
I am sure you will understand and cordially greet you. (Read: I'm saying this very politely).
|Now, where was I?|
Postscript: The Bones Reviews the Letter
Pope Benedict XVI writes as usual with great subtlety. Some people (myself included) have read certain things into his letter that may not really be there ('I am cargo unequivocably on board Francis's Train Wreak') and missed some things which are there. Benedict XVI is responding to the letter which seems to be asking for some kind of preface /foreword, something Benedict for some reason does not wish to provide (he is a terribly busy retired man!) endorsing the book itself.
Firstly, Benedict does not say that he wants to react against 'foolish prejudice' itself that Francis is X and Benedict is Y. He says he applauds the initiative that wants to react against that. You might think that makes no difference, but a subtle difference it is, because this is not an endorsement of the contents of the book. Obviously, the initiative or rather the collator of Francis's teachings is trying to present some kind of continuity (we haven't seen the book either) between the two men whose pontificates are quite, quite different. Benedict XVI makes his point that crude caricatures of these two pontificates are not necessarily helpful. He knows Pope Francis and where he is coming from. He knows himself and where he is coming from.
He sees the publication of this book (which he has no time to read in its entirety, honest!) as an opportunity to correct something he maintains is a misunderstanding. What is that prejudice? That Francis is only X and that Benedict is only Y. He sees this as a gross caricature of the reality. That is his opinion and he is entitled to it and from his point of view, an injustice is done towards him if he is presented, as he continually is, as a master theologian with no pastoral insight, sensitivity, compassion or understanding, a how-do-you-say, 'Doctor of the Law'.
Apparently, Benedict has heard it said somewhere that Francis is 'only' a 'practical man' (no brains just does loads of stuff) without 'particular' theological or philosophical formation. Why is a Pope raising the issue that questions surround the theological or philosophical formation of his Successor? Is this precedented? No. Could it have been passed over in silence? Yes. Is there some kind of problem here?
Similarly, why he feels the need to say 'particular' rather than 'Catholic' or 'general' or 'rich' is left to the reader to construe. Clearly, Francis has a very deep-rooted and also a particular (let us call it a Jesuit) theological and philosophical formation. We know how much Benedict XVI admired the modern Jesuit approach to theology and philosophical formation, because he appointed Jesuits everywhere, didn't he? Tee hee. What Benedict XVI is not saying is:
a) Great Pope, love what he is doing.
b) Pope Francis has a deep CATHOLIC formation, the kind that can rattle off Catechism excerpts, or even agree with them or draw upon the ancient Fathers of the Catholic Faith, or the kind of theological and philosophical formation that roots the one formed in the One Faith that must be believed in order to attain Salvation
c) I will willingly write a preface of your book as an endorsement of the contents, most of which are the thoughts of my Successor.
If a Pope wanted to be effusive about his Successor he wouldn't leave his enquirer without:
a) a half-decent explanation as to why he cannot preface the book, at least not without saying 'I'd love to, but...'
b) Praise for the actual pontificate of his Successor, his Magisterium, teachings, his bold announcement of the Gospel, his moral character, integrity etc, etc, the possibilities are endless.
What really sinks in about this letter is how terrifyingly neutral and understated it is. Almost diplomatic. If I wrote a book about Catholicism and Pope Benedict XVI read it and sent me that letter, I'd feel a little let down, wouldn't you? Benedict XVI, draws attention also to the different 'style' of the pontificates. What does he mean? One was faithful, his? One is a PR-led fantasy on steroids, Francis's? We do not know. And as for temperament, we can only hope, or dare to presume that Benedict XVI has not been witness to Pope Francis's episodes in which his Successor has 'boiled with rage'. I expect he saves such outbursts for his most loyal and trusted friends.
Pope Francis is a man of 'profound' (deep-rooted) 'theological and philosophical formation'. Is this formation dissimilar to the Jesuit Superior General who said Satan doesn't really exist and Jesus didn't have a tape recorder? He has a profound theological and philosophical foundation too. Shame his theology and philosophy don't stack up against the actual Catholic Faith he was baptised into and he believes so much that we call error. Ditto Hans Kung. Ditto Martin Luther, the heretic founder of a new religion that rejects perennial Christian doctrine.
The one thing that does leave me puzzled is the phrase 'inner continuity' but even the word 'continuity' has to be qualified by this mysterious preceeding modifier 'inner' or 'interior'...
My Successor also dresses in white?
There are still regular parties at Cocco's place?
The spectre of an ongoing abuse crisis and claims of cover up still loom large?
The decor is an off creamy white, not magnolia but not brilliant white either?
The Vatican finances are still questionable and still being funnelled by money laundering drug / mafia rackets?
Vatican post still goes whereabouts, my Successor can't trust people around him either?
Homoerotic art is everywhere and is utilised for any given purpose?
PR disasters occur despite the best efforts to avoid them?
Archbishop Paglia has a crazy mural, it has to be seen to be believed?
Germans are still pulling the strings?
Morale in the Curia could be better?
Your guess is as good as mine, but what he is most likely not saying is 'my teachings are his teachings and his teachings are my teachings and the two are the same and 2 + 2 = 5'.
Let the reader understand, there has to be some kind of mysterious 'continuity' between these two pontificates, or it has to be said that there is by Benedict XVI because otherwise if there is no continuity at all we have schism be it announced or unannounced. Who knows what Benedict XVI is prepared to do or say to prevent schism in the Church? Hmm...
Whatever this letter is, it was essentially an opportunity for Benedict XVI to endorse a book collating the teachings and 'theology' of his Successor. He praised the initiative, not the contents of the book. To do so would be hard. It is a gathering of Francis's incoherent, self-contradictory ramblings filtered through some FrancisCamp diehards. History will record he was given the chance to preface a book on the theology of his Successor. History will record that he replied. He said, 'Thanks, but I'm busy. I am sure you will understand.' Those of you who think Benedict XVI is watching on while Francis dissolves Christian morality saying, 'This is fine!' are, I consider, very mistaken, but we are all entitled to our informed opinions.
May the Lord come to the aid of his ailing Church and send Her the prelate who will restore all things in Christ. But if this is not to be...Come, Lord Jesus!