Shea's Iron Law of Media-Reported Benedictine Growth

Two years ago, the Mainstream Media (MSM) gathered in a special conclave in Rome to discuss the disastrous election to the Papacy of Ratzinger the Enforcer, God’s Rottweiler, the hardliner, inflexible, rigid, etc. blah blah. Some of us suggested to our television screens that the Talking Heads might want to wait more than a few seconds before doing the autopsy on the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. But the herd of independent minds that are the MSM had their story and they were sticking to it.

They’ve stuck to it for two years now. The poor dears really don’t have the foggiest clue how to understand Benedict. They huddle together in packs, quoting each other and loading up their computers with macros that spit out the required text without their having to fire a single neuron to write it. That’s why, when you Google the following clichés, you get these kinds of numbers:

“Benedict XVI” rigid – 52,800
“Benedict XVI” hardliner – 27,100
“Benedict XVI” inflexible – 10,300
“Benedict XVI” dominating – 290,000
“Benedict XVI” ruthless – 126,000
“Benedict XVI” enforcer – 28,800
“Benedict XVI” archaic – 22,400
“Benedict XVI” medieval – 169,000
“Benedict XVI” intolerant – 148,000
“Benedict XVI” backward – 122,000
“Benedict XVI” “Hitler Youth” – 30,700
“pope cracks down” – 1,080,000

You get the picture. The MSM has had a template since the day Benedict donned the papal mitre and it has never occurred to most of the people who type or talk about him in the MSM to vary from it. They simply school together like guppies and tell each other (and us) that the rigid, hardline, inflexible, dominating and ruthless enforcer’s archaic, medieval, intolerant and backward thought, words and deeds are what you’d expect from a former Hitler Youth. Apparently, the man has spent every minute of every day cracking down on everything with a pulse over a million times. To hear the MSM tell it, the guy just hates rational thought and freedom.

Thus fully informed on the mind and life of Benedict XVI, the press is as prepared as a pea shooter against field artillery for what happens whenever Benedict actually, like, says something. So, for instance, when he released his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, the bafflement was palpable. The press was filled with speculation about whether the old stick insect was “softening” (Google: “Benedict XVI” softening – 36,000). This childlike surprise has been a more or less perpetual feature of the MSM, which is constantly astounded to find that their caricature of him is not true and, with truly childlike reasoning, concludes that Benedict must have “grown”.

This constant habit of discovering the bleedin’ obvious about Benedict has led me to formulate Shea’s Iron Law of Media-Reported Benedictine Growth which states:

Whenever the MSM declares that Pope Benedict has grown, undergone a dramatic change of course or gone a long way toward accepting positions he once rejected this invariably means the reporter or pundit who has discovered Benedictine “growth” has no clue whatsoever what Benedict (and often, the Catholic faith) teaches and is only now discovering it.

Case in point, Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College, who writes a review of Benedict’s new book Jesus of Nazareth for the New York Sun. The title of the review (“Papal Corrections”) is a promise of things to come and Chilton does not disappoint. He breathlessly announces the news that the Pope has discovered that Christianity ought to have something to do with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles:

Benedict emphatically sets aside the view that faith amounts to a form of law, and insists that the relationship of the believer to God through Christ defines Christian belief. He does not acknowledge his debt to Martin Luther, but it is palpable. He also says nothing of the priest, Matthew Fox, whom Cardinal Ratzinger silenced for his views on the centrality of the mystical knowledge of God to Catholic teaching. Theology is sometimes a contact sport, and this may be an example of yesterday's heresy becoming today's orthodoxy. A considerable body of non-Catholic biblical scholarship now accepts that Jesus himself taught his disciples mystical union with God, on the basis of the Judaism of his time, so the position Benedict describes is more widely founded than he indicates.

This is the sort of thing that leaves so many Catholics at loss for where to even begin. It’s so far off it’s not even wrong. One is left paralyzed facing the sheer Himalayas of ignorance that lie behind such a concatenation of words. One wonders if the man who types such things has ever discovered the epistle to the Romans is in the Catholic Bible, much less read it. One wonders if he has ever heard of Augustine. Or even Augustine’s close student Joseph Ratzinger. The notion that Luther is the inventor and discoverer of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is stupefying enough. But the invocation of a dim bulb like Magical Mystical Bear Matthew Fox and the apparent notion that mysticism and the law are mortal enemies, or that all mysticism, much less Fox’s pantheistic drivel, is automatically Christian, is just gobsmacking.

Like a high school sophomore informing his religion teacher that there-are-a-lot-religions-you-know-and-they-all-teach-some-interesting-concepts, Chilton drops the Bomb and announces that Jesus taught his disciples that mystical union with God was a good thing. I’m happy he has found this out. But the notion that it is a news flash, much less “heresy”, to the leader of (and a major theologian in) a Tradition that includes Augustine, Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross leaves one numb and helpless for words. It's like watching that same sophomore burst into a chat room discussion on relativity among trained physicists to say, "If you're so smart, then tell me how light can be a particle and a wave at the same time. Huh? Huh? Why don't you learn some real science? When are you going to admit you are just borrowing the best parts of what Gene Roddenberry told us long ago!"

Finally, fulfilling Shea’s Law, Chilton generously concedes that the Pope has grown:

Benedict easily gives up his habit of berating Protestants and those he calls liberals, while at the same time absorbing some of their theology. But underneath those gestures, and the old-style robes he is fond of wearing, Benedict XVI here announces as principles of Catholic faith what many theologians have suffered for saying: A person's relationship with God through Christ alone fulfills our human nature and the image of God within us, and mandates a social order of mutual care.

I can’t recall, nor does Chilton document, this alleged Benedictine habit of Protestant-berating. But as a Catholic, I express my deep gratitude that Protestantism retains the two greatest commandments. I merely note that the Catholic tradition in general, and Benedict in particular, give marked evidence that they did not borrow these concepts from Protestantism. If a “social order of mutual care” is that recent a Catholic discovery it becomes hard to account for the Tradition that gave us the university, the hospital, the orphanage, and the British Parliament. Still less can we explain documents like Magna Carta, Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio, and about a thousand other manifestations of Catholic social thought.

Such documents, like Benedict’s book, attest the Church’s faith that anybody—even religion professors and MSM editors—can understand the Church’s teaching. For charity believeth all things.

Copyright 2007 - Mark P. Shea