The Real Pope Emerges

Getty Images

The Real Pope Emerges

Following what appeared to be a conciliatory approach to the first year of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI is quickly reverting to his classic ultra-conservative persona.

April has been a month of celebration for Pope Benedict xvi. On the 16th, he celebrated his 80th birthday. Three days later came the second anniversary of this Bavarian pope’s ascension to the papal throne.

These two years have seen quite an evolution in Benedict’s papacy. The real Joseph Ratzinger is beginning to emerge from the carefully crafted image presented to the public at his commencement in office just 24 months ago.

It’s no secret that liberal theologians had hoped, upon Ratzinger’s election, for a softening of his reputation as “the rottweiler of the Vatican”—a reputation he earned largely during his term as prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith (the ancient Office of the Holy Inquisition). In the early months of his papacy, this pope even seemed to give them some hope of metamorphosing from his traditional approach of stern conservatism into non-judgmental amiability (most certainly since the release of his famous first encyclical, “God Is Love,” delivered on Dec. 25, 2005). General commentary at the time was positive: A “pontiff who liked cats and played the piano” surely could not be all that bad (Spectator, March 24).

Yet, since entering the second year of his papacy, the cat-loving, piano-playing pontiff has increasingly revealed the other side of his character. His clear, concise and oft-reiterated strident stance on abortion, same-sex unions, unions between unwed partners, and revival of the old Latin liturgy, has become increasingly apparent through numerous public pronouncements.

The liberals within the Roman Catholic Church now find themselves on the defensive.

Here is a pope who has clearly mounted his crusading white horse and is wading into battle, resuming the fight against liberalism that he waged as the enforcer of church doctrine in his previous office. Yet Ratzinger now does so with all the weight of not only the office of the papacy, but also a whole army of conservative cardinals set to back him all the way.

But it’s not just the Catholic Church this pope has set about reforming. His vision is far greater!

Joseph Ratzinger has always been a prodigious writer, having authored over three dozen books throughout his priestly career. What is worthy of note is that three of his most recent works—Values in a Time of Upheaval; Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures and Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam—concentrate on the spiritual confusion and competition extant in the world today due to the clash of cultures that has erupted in this 21st century. Woven through each of these books is an argument for the world to become enlightened to its need for the establishment of society on certain fundamental values … Christian values. To place Ratzinger’s theses in each of these treatises in full perspective, one must remember that wherever he uses the term Christian, to him it means Roman Catholic. Wherever he employs the term values, it means the values of Rome’s religion.

Of increasing interest is that Joseph Ratzinger, as Benedict xvi, is becoming overtly political in his behavior. In his book Values in a Time of Upheaval, Ratzinger declares, “[W]e Christians may and must bring hope into that which is transitory, into the world of our states.” Thus the pope seeks to motivate Catholics with a new zeal to penetrate the politics of their individual nation-states with Catholic values, which he sees as the only hope for mankind in this tumultuous “time of upheaval” in which we live.

Recently, during a visit to Berlin, I interviewed a vice president of the Bundestag. We had noted that Archduke Otto von Habsburg had publicly declared, on the occasion of the European Union’s 50th anniversary, his belief that Europe was on the brink of a “great Christian revival.” I asked the vice president, “Do you think that revival, within Europe, will come by imposition from above, by the EU leadership, or will it result from a grassroots groundswell?” Without hesitation, her response was, “From the grassroots.”

That has been the history to date.

The most revivalist Catholic states in Europe are those ex-Soviet Eastern European EU member nations. That all started with a Polish pope, John Paul ii, appealing to the masses, at grassroots level—the workers—through a labor union movement, “Solidarity.” The upshot was the implosion of the entire Soviet Union, and a rush back to mother Europe’s arms by 10 Eastern European nations of historically Catholic religious disposition. They were quickly taken into the EU fold.

As soon as they were released from the bonds of Soviet tyranny, these nations exploded with a great release of pent-up religious zeal from the masses, who returned to regular religious practice in their ancient houses of worship in droves. It was a grassroots revival as they turned back to the comforting nurture of the mother church upon which their individual national heritages, stultified under the Soviet boot heel, were historically based.

But Western Europe, the economic and political backbone of the now 27-nation combine of the European Union, is the pope’s greatest challenge. Tainted since the Enlightenment with rationalist, secularist thought, these nations have proved a challenge to Rome’s efforts to draw them back to their Catholic roots.

The problem is one of values.

Liberalism has cut deep into the Western European democracies. The pope’s answer is to muster his troops into a values-based political crusade!

This political motivation is increasingly apparent in both Ratzinger’s writings and public pronouncements. In the book previously quoted, the pope declares, “[T]ruth is not a product of politics (the majority) but is antecedent to political activity and sheds light on it. … Political activity is just and promotes freedom when it serves a complex of values and rights that reason makes known to us” (ibid.).

In his quest for the conversion of Europe to a system of government based upon his concept of Christian values, Benedict xvi has some politically influential friends. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the EU, the pope lambasted EU leaders for their failure to embed an acknowledgement of Europe’s Christian values heritage within the controversial EU constitution. On the occasion of his birthday, his observations concerning those influential friends in European politics were far warmer.

The Vatican news agency, Zenit, reporting on the pope’s audiences with certain German visitors, commented that Benedict used the occasion to declare that “the peace promoted by the Christian faith is key to avoiding the so-called clash of civilizations. The pope said this on … his birthday, in the meeting he had with Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, retired archbishop of Munich, who was accompanied by 50 delegates” (April 17). Even more interestingly, commenting on an audience he had that day with Edmund Stoiber, prime minister of the pope’s native Bavaria, and Peter Harry Carstensen, prime minister of Schleswig-Holstein, “The pontiff said … both of them showed an interior certainty that the faith opens a future, and that in this moment of encounter between cultures, as well as in the impending clash between them, it is highly important that the interior, peaceful and renewing strength of the Christian faith stays alive in our culture, thereby acting as a positive influence on the future.”

There exists within the present-day German political environment an aggressive religious element, extremely supportive of Benedict and highly influential within Europe, reaching on down through the various levels of EU bureaucracy to the heart of its administrative headquarters in Brussels. Stoiber and Carstensen are foremost representatives of this element, which is biding its time, just waiting to be tapped to stimulate that grassroots response from Europe’s leading nation. This will soon catalyze a remarkable unity of political mind and will within the EU in the not too distant future (Revelation 17:13), resulting in the fulfillment of Otto von Habsburg’s vision of a great Christian revival in Europe.

How wide is this pope’s vision? Perhaps that was also made clear on his birthday, when, upon receiving the Orthodox prelate, Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergamum, representing the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Benedict commented that “He is supported by a deep interior conviction that the meeting between Rome and Orthodoxy is fundamentally important for the European continent and the future of the universe” (ibid.).

Keep watching Pope Benedict. Keep watching Edmund Stoiber. Watch the closeness of their relationship continue to develop. It may yet be destined to have tremendous impact on the global order of the immediate future, even bound to have not just a continent-wide effect in Europe, but also a universal effect, globally (Revelation 13:7-9).