Posted April 23, 2006
Learning More About Pope Benedict XVI
John Allen Reporting from Rome -- National Catholic Reporter
In that sense, Benedict is a "back to basics" pope.
The church doesn't need new paradigms or initiatives, he believes, so much
as the capacity to explain its core teachings well, and to inspire a desire
to live them. Benedict's theology is never speculative, but pastoral and
This focus on the fundamentals is reflected in how he has approached the
papacy. Statistics help tell the story: At the end of his first year, John
Paul II had given 569 talks, and held 68 major public events. Benedict over
his first twelve months gave 291 talks, and held 31 events. (One might
profitably ask if the church has really missed those other 278 papal
Benedict has pared the papacy back to what he considers its core functions,
and when he does take the stage, he is determined to get to the heart of the
None of this, however, means Benedict is incapable of surprise.
In his homily during the Easter vigil, for example, he described the
resurrection as a kind of evolutionary "leap," awakening echoes of the late
French Jesuit theologian and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, whose thought
indirectly influenced the document Gaudium et Spes at the Second Vatican
Council (1962-65), and who saw physical evolution as part of a broader
cosmic and spiritual process. At the time, then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was
critical of what he saw as an overly optimistic thrust in Teilhard, and in
French theology generally, but he never dismissed the core insight.
"If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution," Benedict said,
"it [the Resurrection] is the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most
crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the
long history of life and its development. … It is a qualitative leap …
towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ,
already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws
it to itself."
One well-known theologian in Rome told me this week that he always holds his
breath when Benedict XVI speaks, because he may hear something that will
take him off guard -- generally in the sense of opening up a new perspective
on a topic he thought he already understood.
This will not be a papacy of great innovation, but neither will it be about
stagnation or "glorious repetition." Instead, it is shaping up as a case
study in the "return to the sources," or ressourcement, which has always
been Benedict XVI's theological and pastoral style.