Benedict the Augustinian

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Over at Mirror of Justice, ("A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory") new blogger Elizabeth Schiltz's first post is "Benedict XVI on Women and St. Augustine". In it she quotes a passage of Ratzinger's on the Marian dimension of the Church and asks:

My first question is whether this Marian dimension of the Church finds much (or any) expression in Catholic Social Teaching or Catholic Legal Thought. Or do we run the professional risk, as legal academics trying to change the world through our blogging, conferencing, and even old-fashioned paper articles, of “treating the Church almost like some technological device that we plan and make with enormous cleverness and expenditure of energy”?

My second question is about St. Augustine. At the UST Summer Seminar, much was made of the fact that Benedict is very “Augustinian”, in contrast to JPII, who was apparently much more Thomistic. Indeed, Benedict certainly does seem to quote Augustine a lot in the things I’ve read so far. As someone whose familiarity with Augustine consists of having read The City of God in college, and more recently reading Gary Will’s biography of Augustine, I was too timid to ask what that meant in the roomful of philosophers and theologians at the seminar. Do any of you have any thoughts about this distinction between JPII and Benedict? More importantly, though, is this distinction likely to make any practical difference with respect to any of the issues of interest to MOJ?

Unfortunately, nobody has taken up the first question over at MOJ (Mama-Lu has: her answer is "No, it doesn't), but in response to the second question, Thomas Berg chimes in with several points, two of which I wish to highlight:

He is somewhat more pessimistic about the world and the possibilities for the Church benefiting from secular thought. Not totally pessimistic, but more so, compared with the Thomistic emphasis on human reason in which both Christians and non-Christians share...

Does this contrast with John Paul II? I'm no expert on this. But wasn't there frequently a sense in his writings that he was calling the world back to its highest and deepest principles -- protection of life, true freedom, and so forth -- rather than claiming that the orientation of the world was more fundamentally and deeply flawed (the Augustinian emphasis)? Again, no polar opposites here, but possibly differences in emphasis.

In his writings on economic life, John Paul II is relatively positive about the market system and the opportunities it affords for human growth and creativity. Not unqualifiedly so, of course, but reasonably positive: a kind of "two cheers for capitalism," as Joseph Bottum put it last year. Augustinians, according to the article I cited above, tend to "take a more critical approach, arguing that there are economic practices characteristic of [global capitalism] that cannot be squared with the social teaching of the Church." This may fit with Bottum's assessment that Benedict has given and will give only "one cheer for capitalism": that, although certainly no socialist, he "stands to the left of his predecessor on economic issues."

The other point:

"This Augustinian orientation has made the new pope more sensitive to issues of spirituality in the life of faith" in contrast with a relatively greater Thomisic emphasis on reason. That's a quote from evangelical theologian, and a leader in the evangelical-Catholic discussions, Timothy George. I doubt that there's much difference from John Paul II here -- didn't he place a great deal of emphasis on spirituality (although it seems to have come from other philosophical sources)? In any event, the analysis I cited in #1 adds:
Pope Benedict is one of the many members of his
generation who, while not disagreeing with the content of Thomist thought, believed that the scholastic presentation of the faith doesn't exactly set souls on fire unless they happen to be a particular type of soul with a passion for intellectual disputation. He has said that "scholasticism has its greatness, but everything is impersonal."

In contrast, with Augustine "the passionate, suffering, questioning man is always right there, and you can identify with him."

This last point really rings true over here. I know Aquinas was a great saint; I know how important the Summa and the rest of his works are, but engaging them leaves me cold. The very words sed contra give me frostbite (apologies to David Morrison. I have no problem with Aquinas: I don't disagree with him, and I really do believe that the scholastic approach is good and necessary to elucidate truths of faith and of natural reason, and God bless those who take up that particular yoke in order to get to the bottom of things, but yaaaaaaawn... Yet another reason to love Benedict (without dissing JP2, of course). And yet another reason to love the Catholic Church, with its diversity of spirituality that allows me to respect and admire the indespensible and world-changing contributions of Thomas Aquinas while opting to reach for my beloved Augustine's Confessions.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on July 27, 2006 10:07 AM.

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