Before the Expiration Date Runs Out

In my efforts to try to place Benedict XVI within contemporary Roman Catholic thought, I have been also trying to get a read on the Communio theologians and their affinities with Radical Orthodoxy. What apparently unites these different schools of theology is a fundamental critique of modernity. In her chapter on “Modernity and the Politics of the West” in Ratzinger’s Faith, Tracey Rowland describes Benedict’s brief against Martin Luther (not so much for leading souls astray with his doctrine of justification) for departing from the “classical-theistic idea of creation”:

While Bruno and Galileo represent a return to a pre-Christian, Greek, and pagan world, Luther went in the extreme opposite direction. He wanted to purge Christian thought of its Greek heritage, and the Greek element he found most objectionable was the concept of the cosmos in the question of being, and therefore in the area of the doctrine of creation. For Luther, redemption sets humans free from the curse of the existing creation and thus grace exists in radical opposition to creation. Developing an argument taken from Angelo Scola and Rocco Buttiglione, Ratzinger concluded that “without the mystery of redemptive love, which is also creative love, the world inevitably becomes dualistic: by nature, it becomes geometry: as history, it becomes the drama of evil. (109)

I am not all that sure what “the mystery of redemptive love” is, or whether Angelo or Rocco also have ties to the Italian mafia who bank with the Vatican, but I do think I’ll stand with Luther on this one, especially when he writes in the following manner (from a sermon from 1535):

The radiant sun, the loveliest of the creatures, gives only a little of its service to the saints. While it shines on one saint it must shine on thousands and thousands of rogues, and it must give them light in spite of all their godlessness and evil, and so it must permit its loveliest and purest service to the most unworthy, the wickedest and loosest knaves.

It is our Lord God’s good creature, and would much rather serve devout people; but the noble creature must bear it and serve the evil world unwillingly. Yet it hopes that that service shall at long last have an end, and does it in obedience to God who has thus ordained it, that He may be known as a merciful God and Father, who (as Christ teaches), “maketh His sun to rise on the veil and on the good” (Matt v. 45) For this reason the noble sun serves vanity and renders its good service in vain. But in His own time our Lord and God will find out those who have abused the noble sun and His other creatures, and He will reward the creatures abundantly. Thus the good St. Paul shows the holy cross in all creation, in that heaven and earth and all the creatures therein suffer with us and bear the dear treasured cross. Therefore we must not weep and moan so piteously when we fall on evil days, but must patiently wait for the redemption of the body and for the glory which shall be revealed in us; the more so as we know that the whole creation groans with anxious longing as a woman in travail, and sighs for the manifestation of the sons of God, for then the whole creation will also be redeemed. It will no longer be subject to vanity, to serve vanity, but it will serve only the children of God, and that willingly and joyfully.

For an account of the created world that takes the fall seriously, Luther should have much to say to both Roman Catholics and neo-Calvinists who may believe either in the glories of the pre-modern West or the successes of culture redeemed. If sin is in view, which it should be for the Protestants who put the T in TULIP, Luther’s interpretation of the world, not to mention his reading of Romans 8, makes a lot of sense.

19 thoughts on “Before the Expiration Date Runs Out

  1. Now this is quite excellent. Luther, in a simple search of scripture, which I am ashamed to have overlooked myself, finds the theology of the cross in all of creation (Romans 8). There is much more to find in the Word than in the rambling utterances of popes (WCF 1.7).


  2. True, John, but with popes you can place bets on who’s gonna be the next one. How do you beat that! And what if the mob is the bookie, and wants to insure the house?! And here’s saying they’ve got an interest. Your bet could actually, statistically, influence the choice. I always bet Italian, it comes up more often than not. God apparently has a predeliction for Italian vicars. He threw a bone(relic-get it) to the Germans and Poles, I’m laying money it goes African or Italian this round


  3. Sean,

    You’re not putting any money on any of the CTC guys? They certainly seem ambitions enough. Or, is ambition a disqualifier like in Plato’s Republic?


  4. JY,

    No. There’s no JHN’s in the group and even if there were, they aren’t bringing the church of England in the door with them. Rome is politics.


  5. Don’t forget Mark Lilla’s excellent

    “This picture of our present will be familiar to anyone who reads … Milbank. It expresses a mood,not an analysis. But unless you do accept it, very little in Gregory’s book will make sense to you, since it is essentially a five-hundred-page connect-the-dots puzzle that begins with the way we supposedly live now and works back to the Big Bang of the Protestant Reformation.


  6. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, p 10—-Prior to the fifteenth century nobody used the word “religion” to talk about the propositions privately believed by an individual. The transformation of ecclesiastically formed habits of obedience into a “religious worldview’ claims to allow “the
    spiritual to be the spiritual, without public interference, and the public be the secular, without private prejudices.”


  7. the whole creation groans with anxious longing as a woman in travail, and sighs for the manifestation of the sons of God

    What I remember hearing in some Meredith Kline audio once about this Rom 8 passage fits very well with this notion of the sun. Creation is groaning because it is forced to cover and hold the dead bodies of divine-image bearers, which is contrary to its created purpose, and repugnant. When it “sighs for the manifestation of the sons of God” it awaits the resurrection, when the hideous travesty of death and burial will be set right.


  8. “The Pope is resigning. He will soon be known as Ex-Benedict.”

    This is a good one! Especially if you pronounce it with his German accent.


  9. “The Pope is resigning. He will soon be known as Ex-Benedict.”

    Would this cause us to rework one of Fletch’s immortal one-liners – “I’d make you some Ex-Benedict, but I’m fresh out of Benedict.”


  10. This is a little off topic but I found this article interesting, especially this quote:

    I’m so glad we have Papal authority to set us all straight.


  11. Whoops, looks like I didn’t reference the quote correctly, here it is:

    How is it that the Vicar of Christ is reduced to the suggestion that Cardinal Burke’s “very correct observations” concerning the abuses of the Neocatechumenal “liturgy” be translated for the benefit of the CDW? Why does the Pope himself not intervene directly to put a stop to the liturgical atrocities of “the Way” of Kiko and Carmen? Indeed, why does the Pope not simply govern the Church directly, restoring good order in keeping with the Power of the Keys that is his, and his alone?

    The answer is revealed by an incident of which I was reliably informed during a recent Ignatian retreat at the Retreat House of the Society of Saint Pius X in Ridgefield, Connecticut. During an audience with the Pope, Bishop Fellay found himself alone with the Pope for a moment. His Excellency seized the opportunity to remind the Pope that he is the Vicar of Christ, possessed of the authority to take immediate measures to end the crisis in the Church on all fronts. The Pope replied thus: “My authority ends at that door.” (Castel Gondolfo August, 2005)

    Today it appears that the Vicar of Christ has become a captive of the democratization of the Church according to a model of “collegiality” that purports to replace the monarchy which the papacy established by Christ the King really is. It seems that the Pope views himself as but a cog, albeit the biggest and most important cog, in the vast clockwork of a Legislating Church whose “decisions” must be allowed to operate autonomously and by consent of the governed in keeping with the collegial and democratic mechanisms of the new model. No longer seeing himself as a monarch with the prerogatives and peremptory authority of a monarch, the Pope of the Legislating Church feels constrained to rely on mere suasion and appeals to procedural due process in the hope of effectuating what he wishes to see done.

    “They have uncrowned Him,” as Archbishop Lefebvre so famously observed of Christ the King. And thus have they uncrowned His Vicar as well. A crownless Vicar of Christ stands at the turbulent center of the still-reigning chaos in the Church. Only when the papal crown is restored will the good order of the Church be restored with it. Pray, then, that the Pope will have the courage to replace the crown that Christ has given him to wear.


  12. Like the Bubonic Plague, my wife and I avoided the State of the Union last night. Since we “missed” it I had to ask you all if it was true that Obama began the state of the union by acknowledging the inquiry of the Roman Catholic Cardinals into Obama’s appetite to be considered as the next Pope?

    As one commentator could quickly put it: Its a match made in Heaven! Obama already thinks he is god and now the Roman Catholic world will too!


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