"An Aesthetic Obsession"


E.D. Kain has an incredibly wrong-headed and simplistic defense of the Pope:

I think it is entirely an aesthetic obsession which motivates Benedicts fiercest critics. Let’s face it, unlike the charismatic John Paul II, Benedict has a somewhat sinister look about him. He has aged in such a way as to make him look less the cuddly grandpa and more the evil villain; he bears an uncanny resemblance to Emperor Palpatine.

Good God. Many of us concerned with Ratzinger's theology have been closely following his rise for years and have really had nothing to do with aesthetics - apart from occasional amusement at his obsession with various hats, Prada slippers, and very starched lace. Actually, I love the way Benedict has helped resuscitate some of the rituals, pageantry and liturgy of the past. If only he had not simultaneously tried to undo the Second Council. Here are two articles I wrote from around the time he was elected - an event that ended my pathetic attempt to quit blogging five years ago. Money quote from one:

Reading Benedict for a struggling gay Catholic like me is like reading a completely circular, self-enclosed system that is as beautiful at times as it is maddeningly immune to reasoned query. The dogmatism is astonishing. If your conscience demands that you dissent from some teachings, then it is not really your conscience. It is sin. And if all this circular dogmatism forces many to leave the church they once thought of as home? So be it.

Benedict once wrote of the 18th century church, roiled by the Enlightenment, that it "was a church reduced in size and diminished in social prestige, yet become fruitful from a new interior power, a power that released new formative forces for the individual and for society." That is his vision. If the church withers to a mere shadow of its former self, then that is not failure. It is success. And even in a short papacy, Benedict might just manage it.

I became obsessed with Ratzinger and what he meant for the future of Catholicism as long ago as 1988. I wrote a review-essay on him for The New Republic back in July of 1988. Sadly it isn't available online. But here is part of the conclusion:

The metamorphosis of Joseph Ratzinger from Augustinian theologian to Augustinian policeman, and finally to policeman, may in part be due to the metamorphosis of the Church itself. The forces of change have been so great in the Church during the past two decades that some form of simple assertion of authority may have a prudential justification. John Paul II, however, has balanced Ratzinger's zeal with a more humane approach. Together, they have played a "good cop, bad cop" routine with recalcitrant faithful.  Ratzinger's great gift to a Church all too easily distracted by the world is to call the faithful back to the fundamentals. But it is difficult not to feel dismayed by the way in which his earlier inspiration has ceded to the dictates of coercion, and his theological distrust of fallen man has translated  so easily into disdain for Christians trying to live obediently in modernity. The man who might have guided the Church through reason has resorted to governing by force.