As Yale’s Carlos Eire masterfully demonstrated in “Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650,” there was no one “Protestant Reformation” but rather several religious movements, often in disagreement with each other, that shattered western Christendom in the 16th century. Still, Martin Luther’s protest at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, has long been taken as the starting gun for “the Reformation.” So “Wittenberg” can serve as a synonym for other efforts to distance Christian communities from the authority of Rome.
“Churchmanship” is not a term in vogue today, and given the alleged inclusivity-deficit of such words it’s unlikely to make a comeback. Which is a shame. Because “churchmanship” connotes an etiquette, a once-taken-for-granted code of manners, that embodies an important truth of Catholic faith. When the etiquette crumbles, the truth can get lost amidst the debris.
Perseverance on a difficult but noble path is a virtue. Stubbornness when confronted by irrefutable evidence of a grave mistake is a vice. The latter would seem an apt characterization of a letter sent on Ash Wednesday to the entire College of Cardinals by its new Dean, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. In that letter — his first official act as Dean — Cardinal Re reprimands the redoubtable Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, for his criticisms of the agreement the Vatican made with the People’s Republic of China in 2018.
Several years back, the estimable Father Paul Scalia observed, of some cultural idiocy or other, “Who knew the end of civilization would be so amusing?” I detected a subtle theological point within that mordant comment: a point worth reflecting upon during Lent.
Rome’s Aventine Hill has seen a lot.
Legend has it that a dispute over the hill led to the fratricidal conflict between the city’s founders, Romulus and Remus. During the Roman Republic the Aventine was a working class neighborhood, high above the city’s most important port. In imperial Rome the Aventine was gentrified, becoming the neighborhood-of-choice for knights and senators. Later still, great palaces were built on the Aventine, which offers an unparalleled city vista.
Her fiction may occasionally get the chop in politically correct 21st-century American high schools. But as Benjamin Alexander writes in the preface to a new collection of her letters, Flannery O’Connor’s place in the pantheon of American short story writers seems safe, up there with Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner. (I’d be tempted to drop Hemingway from the canon, but that’s a matter for another day.)
Seventy-five years ago, on Jan. 27, 1945, the infantrymen of the Red Army’s 322nd Rifle Division were bludgeoning their way into the Third Reich when they discovered the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps.
Immediately after news broke on January 12 that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah had written a book on the crisis of the priesthood in the 21st-century Church, online hysteria erupted — which rather underscored the prudence of a New Year’s resolution I had recommended to concerned Catholics in a January 1 column: “Resolve to limit your exposure to the Catholic blogosphere.”
I first met Pope Emeritus Benedict in June 1988; over the next three decades, I’ve enjoyed many lengthy conversations and interviews with him, including a bracing discussion covering many topics last Oct. 19. I first met Pope Francis in Buenos Aires in May 1982, and have had three private audiences with him since his election as Successor of Peter. Before, during, and after the conclaves of 2005 and 2013, I was deeply engaged in Rome, where my work included extensive discussions with cardinal-electors before each conclave was immured and after the white smoke went up. On both occasions, I correctly predicted to my NBC colleagues the man who would be elected and, in 2013, the day the election would occur.
During and after the grim martial law period in the early 1980s, many freedom-minded Poles would greet each other on Jan. 1 with a sardonic wish: “May the new year be better than you know it’s going to be!” As 2020 opens that salutation might well be adopted by Catholics concerned about the future of the church, for more hard news is coming. So let’s get some of that out of the way, preemptively, before considering some resolutions that might help us all deal with the year ahead in faith, hope, and charity.