Friday, February 15, 2013
Rome Lives on in the Roman Catholic Church
Gwynne Dyer points out that Roman Catholic is more than just a name.
How Roman are the traditions and instincts of the church that Pope Benedict XVI has led for the past seven years? Well, one of his titles is “pontifex maximus”, usually translated from the Latin as “Supreme Pontiff”.
That was the title of the high priest of the old Roman (pagan) state religion under the Republic. When Rome became an empire, the emperors took it over, starting with Augustus. And somewhere in the fifth or sixth century—the timing is not clear—the title was transferred to the Christian bishop of Rome, who had become the head of the new state religion, Christianity.
This is not to say that the popes are secretly pagans: they are monotheists to the core. (The answer to the rhetorical question “Is the Pope a Catholic?” is “Yes.”) But they are Roman Catholics, and the religion they lead is still run like an empire. Very occasionally some maverick pope tries to change the model, but the system always wins in the end.
Benedict XVI was the emperor of a shrinking domain, for the Catholic Church has been shedding adherents not only in the West, where it is everywhere in steep decline, but also in the Latin American, African, and Asian countries where it once held unchallenged sway. While secularism is the enemy that steals the faithful in the West, evangelical forms of Christianity are seducing Catholic believers away in what we used to call the Third World.
There are many who blame this hemorrhage on the outgoing pope (the first time anybody has ever used that phrase about a pope, for they normally die in office, like the emperors did). Benedict was chosen by his colleagues because they believed that he would fight off fundamental change, and he performed his duty well. His resignation for health reasons is an innovation, but it is the first that he has been guilty of.
..So there’s no point in going on about how Pope Benedict XVI (or will we go back to calling him Cardinal Ratzinger after the end of this month?) failed to modernize the Church. He wasn’t hired to do that.
...The College had already been stuffed with conservative cardinals by his predecessor, John Paul II, so even there he really didn’t have to do much except steer the same steady course. Not a single one of the cardinals who are seen as “papabili” (men who might be elected as pope) could be described as liberal or reformist. There will be a new pope, but nothing is going to change. The hemorrhage will continue.