Benedict's Melancholy

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I was talking to a friend and sharing with her excerpts of the book and she commented that it sounded in every case as though he grasped it from the wrong side, that he talked more about what was missing than what was needed or present. And here's an example that I think demonstrates this proclivity.

from Let God's Light Shine Forth
Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Robert Moynihan

Why we say "before Christ" and "after Christ"

The secular regimes, which do not want to speak about Christ and, on the other hand, do not want to ignore altogether the western calculation of time, substitute the words "before the birth of Christ" and "after the birth of Christ" with formulas like "before and after the common era," or similar phrases. But does this not rather deepen the question: what happened at that moment that made it the change of an era? What was there in that moment that meant a new historical age was beginning, so that time for us begins anew from that date? Why do we no longer measure time from the foundation of Rome, from the Olympiads, from the years of a sovereign or even from the creation of the world? Does this beginning of 2,000 years ago still have any importance for us? Does it have a foundation dimension? What does it say to us? Or has this beginning become for us something empty of meaning, a mere technical convention which we conserve for purely pragmatic reasons? But what then orients our joy? Is it like a vessel that in fact has no course and is now simply pursuing its voyage in the hope that somewhere there may exist an end?

This starts as a superb rebuttal to the BCE folks but it rapidly deteriorates into a peroration about our slide into the sea of meaninglessness. Rather than ask the question Does this beginning of 2,000 years ago still have any importance for us? , it would seem that another approach would arrive at the same end--the approach I associate with JPtG. His tack on the same subject would be, "This beginning of 2,000 years ago still has importance for us today. We cannot escape its shadow, we cannot hide from its glory. As desperately as the historians of death seek to homogenize it into oblivion, they are left with the change of an era without an explanation--a constant hearkening back to the entrance into History of God Himself."

To my mind, Benedicts thought runs downhill into melancholy, a tremulous descent into questioning and into giving some credence to those who would hide from the momentous event. Whereas I think JPtG would tend to call them out of the shadows and ask them to look at what they have been avoiding--were he even to choose to address such a topic.

Again, purely personal, but a track of why I have difficulty approach the thought of Benedict. My problem, not his--but at least it is a problem shared by others as well in encountering Benedict's teaching.

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Gee whiz, what a weird a bizarre reading! Read the Pope's inauguration homily, "The Church is alive! And she is young!" And his encyclical. And so many other things. I have never felt that Benedict was "melancholy." And you are the first one I have ever heard say that.

I read him in the passage you quote as calling on us to realize that we are in danger of leaving joy behind, to point to its roots in History--which is oriented around Christ--and call us back to joy, a joy which he sees and experiences himself and wants us as a society to notice before it vanishes from our ken.

"Look! Isn't it beautiful?" he seems to say. "Do you want to lose that? If joy is dissipated and not related to an event--the Event--you will lose it. Your joy comes from Christianity even if you don't know it."

What's melancholy about this? That it isn't a ringing shout? It's reflective and contemplative, but it's not melancholy. Weird and bizarre that a Carmelite doesn't get that.

Dear Jeff,

Chacun á son goût.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 16, 2006 10:31 AM.

Let God's Light Shine Forth was the previous entry in this blog.

Alas! Already Too Late for Me is the next entry in this blog.

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