The various mass media crises that have thus far had such a resounding impact on the pontificate of Benedict XVI are, among other things, a crystal clear sign of the fact that also among journalists specialized in religious affairs and communication practically no one (rare are the exceptions) actually reads the documents promulgated by the Holy Father. The same applies to his speeches (for example; the December 2005 address to the Roman Curia on Vatican Council II, and the one on AIDS during his flight to Cameroon and Angola in March 2009). People extrapolate a phrase, or, even worse, part of a phrase, make a headline out of it and thereby trigger public debate, which is marred from the very outset by evident lacunae filled in by people asserting their own positions, and whoever shouts the loudest wins the day. The bottom line is that everyone feels obliged to take a stand on a myriad of diverse subjects. Perhaps needed in cases such as these would be a basic ‘fast track’ course on the Magisterium of the pope in order to have a clear idea of the real orientations of his catechetical, pastoral and governance action. This in a nutshell is what has been achieved in this latest book by Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist and historian of religions, and currently the special representative of OSCE for the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with particular attention to discrimination against Christians.
Consisting of 23 chapters, this book comes across as reasoned and commented chronicle of the pontifical Magisterium, chronologically covering the period of time from the publication of the Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (November 2007) to the most recent creation of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelisation headed by Most Rev. Fisichella (October 2010, with the Apostolic Letter Ubicumque et semper). In the middle, as it were, we have the speech the Holy Father didn’t deliver at the ‘La Sapienza’ University in Rome, his important apostolic visits inside and outside Europe to the United States, Australia, Africa, the Holy Land, France, the Czech Republic, Great Britain and Portugal (a rather eloquent refutation of the artfully designed picture of the ‘Pope closed up in St. Peter’s’ someone had immediately circulated with the far from veiled intention of setting John Paul II in dialectic opposition with former Cardinal Ratzinger, two excellent friends in life), the paedophilia crisis, and above all the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. This therefore constitutes a most precious service not only for those who for reasons of personal study or work need to delve objectively into the teaching corpus and the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but also and above all for those faithful who do not ordinarily have an opportunity to follow what the pope does day by day. The incipit of the book is a statement of fact: we live under a “dictatorship” (according to the expression used by the then Cardinal Ratzinger during the homily he delivered at the Mass Pro eligendo Romano Pontifice on 18 April 2005) certainly not comparable in terms of weaponry and visible persecutions to last century’s totalitarian regimes, but in its own way insidious and in certain ways perhaps even worse insofar as passed off as a necessary instrument of “liberty”; this is the case of the dominant relativist thinking that has permeated practically every ambit of human existence, national legislation, grassroots culture, trendy ideas, and frames of mind. In this situation, “knowing natural law is very difficult for reason, and from a certain point of view is becoming increasingly difficult” (p. 12). The hazardous nature of relativism consists particularly in the fact that it renders possible new forms of ‘organized sin’, paradoxically removing any possible criticism as an attack against ‘liberty’ and self-nourishing the consensus that sustains it in a seamless process. Objectively speaking, this is something absolutely new in the history of humankind: truth is thereby replaced by usefulness, Christianity by the ideology of progress, traditional public virtues by the vices of the majorities wielding power, and hence each absolute norm (e.g. natural law) is progressively eroded until all sight is lost of its centuries-old common perception. It should not be surprising, therefore, that today’s urgency is educational in nature: if there are no longer any intangible criteria – once referred to as ‘perennial’ – able to guide consciences in a sure and sound manner, the outcome will be a schizophrenic society bereft of authoritative figures, extremely weak in reference roles and at the mercy of momentary fashions. In this context the author cites the words of the Holy Father during his visit to the United States and recalls that the Church’s response must necessarily include “an apologetics intended to affirm the truth of Christian revelation” (cit. pg. 67), already augured by John Paul II. Among others, this is one of the main ‘remedies’ for exiting the crisis of morals, which, beginning in the 1950’s with the so-called “ethical proportionalism” (the idea whereby nothing is bad in itself, but always proportionally to other things) at times had a far from irrelevant impact also within the Church and the Catholic laity, even among people theoretically better ‘formed’, as we saw in the bitter and entirely Italian event of the referendum on divorce lost in 1974.
This book is also to be treasured for the timely review it offers of speeches delivered by the Holy Father, with the citation of increasingly incisive excerpts. This provides readers with an opportunity to grasp the ability of the Magisterium to depict the most untouchable taboos of our time with just a few linguistically gravid strokes of the pen. For example, when speaking with young people in Australia and referring to abortion, Benedict XVI quite simply called upon his listeners to ponder the fact that “the most wonderful and sacred human space, the maternal womb, has become a place of unspeakable violence” (cit. pg. 77). Substantial space is devoted to an analysis of the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (cf. “Caritas in Veritate. Social doctrine against technocracy, pgs. 157-178), where, in light of the crisis that has hit our country so severely over the last few months, the considerations about the need for ‘integral development’ and the threats of technocracy on the international level seem more and more like an accurate forecast. Aside from specifically and albeit important economic considerations, the root of the problem ultimately resides in the negation of original sin (a theme tackled repeatedly by our Observatory as well), which is the really distinctive tone of the weak thought of modernity. In fact, “modernity often dons the cloak of utopianism, dreams of a golden age it would be possible to inaugurate on earth thanks to the efforts of men and women. The ascetics of capitalism should guarantee a perfect organization of the economy and the laicist worship of the State should lead us to the best of possible States” (pg. 243). Looking closely, this is the ideology Augusto Del Noce called ‘perfectism’ (cf. Del Noce, Catholics and progressivism, 1994), meaning by that word “the doctrine that extends the concept from its legitimate field of science and technology to the moral and human world, and hence has in mind a process of history whereby the presence of evil would be constantly decreasing unto extinction” (cit. pg. 243). According to this outstanding Italian philosopher ‘perfectism’ consists in the refusal to take into consideration the social consequences of original sin – ignoring the real dimension of the human nature – unto the degree of constructing a society etsi Deus non daretur, as if God did not exist. As Mr. Introvigne points out, however, something like this came to be last century with catastrophic effects. Nonetheless, as common sense and the best Christian philosophical tradition teach us, God continues to exist even if we deny him with majorities like the winners of elections in single party countries. The same applies to original sin. Hence the need for a new apologetics able to justify the truths of ever and ever, with the Magisterium also close at hand not in a secondary manner, in order to sustain the inter-cultural and ergo universal value of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
M. INTROVIGNE, Tu sei Pietro. Benedetto XVI contro la dittatura del relativismo, Sugarco, Milan 2011. (You are Peter. Benedict VI against the dictatorship of relativism)