April 22, 2005


Light in a New Dark Age: Pope Benedict XVI -- The Man and the Mission (George Weigel, April 21, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

As with the program, so with the man: He is a Benedict in the depths of his interior life and in his intellectual accomplishment. Benedict XVI has an encyclopedic knowledge of two millennia of theology, and indeed of the cultural history of the West. He is more the shy, monastic scholar than the ebullient public personality of his predecessor; yet he has shown an impressive capacity for a different type of public "presence" in his brilliantly simple homily at John Paul II's funeral and in his first appearance as pope. He has known hardship: He knows the modern temptations of totalitarianism (paganism wedded to technology) from inside the Third Reich; he has been betrayed by former students (like the splenetic Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff) and former colleagues (like Hans Kung, a man of far less scholarly accomplishment and infinitely less charity). His critics say he is dour and pessimistic. Yet I take it as an iron law of human personality that a man is known by his musical preferences; and Benedict XVI is a Mozart man, who knows that Mozart is what the angels play when they perform for the sheer joy of it. Indeed, and notwithstanding the cartoon Joseph Ratzinger, the new pope is a man of Christian happiness who has long asked why, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, summoned to be a "new Pentecost" for the Catholic Church, so much of the joy has gone out of Catholicism. Over some 17 years of conversation with him, I have come to know him as a man who likes to laugh, and who can laugh because he is convinced that the human drama is, in the final analysis, a divine comedy.

He once called himself a "donkey," a "draft animal" who had been called to a work not of his choosing. Yet when Joseph Ratzinger stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter's to begin a work he never sought, I couldn't help think of the conclusion of Alasdair MacIntyre's penetrating study of the moral confusions of the West, "After Virtue." In a time when willfulness and relativism had led to a frigid and joyless cultural climate, MacIntyre wrote, the world was not waiting for Godot, "but for another -- doubtless very different -- St. Benedict." The world now has a new Benedict. We can be sure that he will challenge us all to the noble human adventure that has no better name than sanctity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 22, 2005 7:31 AM

Somewhere Wolfie smiles. Unless, of course, his other polarity is dominant at the moment.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 22, 2005 11:31 AM

Georg Ratzinger, B16's elder brother by three years, now retired and in failing health, was a high-ranking prelate in the Catholic church and an accomplished musician. As Domkapellmeister he headed the famous boy's choir Regensburger Domspatzen for thirty years.

Posted by: Eugene S. at April 22, 2005 12:42 PM

Yep Eugene, which is one of the reasons the new Pope dislikes the current "liturgy" and what the "liturgical reforms" did to the formerly magnificent music of the church.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 22, 2005 6:01 PM

Granted, the music at today's masses is pretty lame- any of the good stuff seems to be of Protestant origin- and even though Gregorian chant is cool, it's probably a bit too ethereal for most people's tastes.

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at April 22, 2005 7:23 PM

I was also thinking of all the maginificent masses written by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, and nearly every other composer of note through the early 20th century.

While obviously it is beyond the means of most parishes, especially those outside cities, to trot these out, thre are parishes that could and ought to, for the major feast days.

With the exception of St. John Cantius in Chicago and others, one has to go to concert halls to hear what should, rightly, be heard in our cathedrals and basilicas.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 23, 2005 11:12 AM

As you say, the really good classical stuff requires manpower and training beyond most parishes means. But most 20th century Catholic music is treacly and irritating.


Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at April 23, 2005 6:07 PM