Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why Is Benedict Popular?

Image from the Diocese of Penbroke (Ontario.)

My good friend Matt pointed out that our new pope does not smile as much as John Paul the Great. While my default image of Benedict has him smiling, much of the time his pictures show him quite intent, typically listening.

Yet we have on a good source, Sandro Magister, that he is even more popular that John Paul. (See Magister's post by clicking on the tittle link.)

How is that possible?

Pope Benedict XVI must be a press secretary's nightmare. Key talks he insists on writing himself and delivering unvetted. He normally speaks without notes quoting scripture and the church fathers from memory. If some American bishops use the word "pastoral" as a synonym for "a good manager and fund raiser," Benedict exemplifies a pastoral bishop in a way the early fathers would have recognized. He focuses on the person in front of him, he listens, and teaches in questions and answers. And his teaching is always rooted in Jesus and the scriptures.

He leads with his prose.

As Magister points out, he is the first theologian to become pope. Benedict told his fellow theologians, "the fundamental virtue for the theologian ... [is] the discipline of obedience to the truth." Explaining the words of his predecessor (1Pt 1:22) to his fellow theologians, he taught, "In other words, speaking in the hope of being applauded, governed by what people want to hear out of obedience to the dictatorship of current opinion, is considered to be a sort of prostitution: of words and of the soul. The ‘purity’ to which the Apostle Peter is referring means not submitting to these standards, not seeking applause, but rather, seeking obedience to the truth."

Oddly enough in this world where Pontius Pilate seems to rule ("Truth? What is that?") and where a Gresham's Law of words seems to prevail, the clarity of truth has appeal. "[F]or it is not we who speak in today's river of words, but it is the truth which speaks in us."

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