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Pope Benedict’s Faithfulness to Mere Christianity
When on April 19th the cardinal deacon announced Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election as the next pope, believing Catholics around the world cheered with the enthusiasm and abandon (and relief) of a Red Sox fan at the last out of the World Series last fall. As one of our Catholic editors said, God has given us much, much more than we deserve, as he always does.
And these Catholics found that their Protestant and Orthodox friends were cheering at the news with them—although Pope Benedict XVI believes what the Catholic Church teaches, which includes claims about herself that Protestants and Orthodox reject categorically. He has upset many by stating these claims, gently but still firmly, most recently in Dominus Iesus.
The great and godly irony is that all Protestants and Orthodox who love and serve the Lord and hold to the Christian doctrinal and moral tradition know him for a brother in the Lord, and he them, though they believe that the pope is not exactly who he thinks he is. They admire him for his faithfulness to mere Christianity—evidenced most recently in his challenge to Western secularism and the secularizing movements within the church—and even (I am fairly sure) respect him for his faithfulness to the Catholic distinctives they do not accept.
C. S. Lewis captured this unexpected truth of Christian life in the modern world in a famous passage from the preface to Mere Christianity. There he noted that “hostility has come more from the borderline people” (a good way of describing liberal or skeptical Christians), and then wrote:
It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.
We have seen this many times, indeed have seen it for many years now, those of us involved in this ecumenical enterprise. The editors have much experience in discerning who is at the center of his communion and listening to the same voice as others at the center of theirs, and we know, despite our differences (which we take seriously), that the new pope stands at the center.
We know this in part because we have heard how Benedict XVI speaks about Jesus. And we know it in part because he calls the church to remain faithful to the gospel as we have received it and challenges secularists who, some of them from inside the churches, insist that the faith be conformed to the world: that unpopular doctrines be rewritten or binding doctrine itself abolished; the differences between churches be removed; the equality of all religions declared; divorce, homosexuality, and contraception approved; women ordained; abortion and euthanasia blessed; and that Christianity retreat entirely from the public square and challenge the secular powers no more.
We have heard the same voice speaking, which is why we all—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—thank our Father for the election of Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th Bishop of Rome.
— David Mills, for the editors