Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vodka Martini, Shaken, Not Stirred

The death of Cardinal Martini has drawn comments from a number of quarters. Both Steve and I posted links to some of his comments from his last interview, in which he stated “our rituals and our cassocks are pompous”. “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops”, he said.

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The National Catholic Reporter asked, “Was Cardinal Carlo Martini the last liberal Catholic bishop?” They, as “liberals”, have good reason to ask, given that, following the wide scale admissions of all things liberal into the RCC at Vatican II, some 30 years of papacy of the conservatives John Paul II and now Benedict XVI (the only men permitted to appoint bishops), presumably the only bishops remaining are those named by JPII and BXVI.

Since the late Pope John Paul II assumed the papacy, there has been an effort to remake the hierarchy by appointing bishops who would unquestioningly follow Vatican thinking started under John Paul. Ironically, it was John Paul who elevated Martini to the episcopacy in his first year as pope. After that, John Paul mainly appointed conservative bishops.

With Martini's death, the church risks losing liberal Catholics who push for changes in church structure and discipline. "The progressive wing of the church will simply give up on the hierarchy and the hierarchy will try to push the progressives out of the church," Reese said.

The NCR noted “Observers were stunned when around 200,000 people queued outside Milan's cathedral to pay their tribute to the remains of the deceased cardinal last weekend…The warm send-off was in stark contrast to what was perceived as a Vatican cold shoulder. Neither Benedict nor his No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, attended Martini's funeral Monday, and Benedict didn't mention the late cardinal during his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.”

Faced with a church hierarchy filled with conservatives, Catholic liberals have few leaders left to turn to. "Frankly, there is almost no one," said Luigi Sandri, a longtime advocate of grass-roots church reform.

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Larry Hurtado commented on his brief experience with Martini, whom he said was a respectable New Testament scholar:

I was asked in an email whether in fact he was a real and respected biblical scholar. Unquestionably, yes. His willingness to take on senior roles in the Catholic Church made it difficult thereafter to continue doing the original research that characterized his earlier years as a NT scholar. But he is noted for some important work.

In particular, I point to his study of Codex Vaticanus in the light of the then recently-published Bodmer Papyrus XIV (aka P75), the remains of a manuscript of Luke and John dated palaeographically ca. 200 CE: Carlo M. Martini, Il problema della recensionalita del codice B alla luce del papiro Bodmer XIV, Analecta Biblica, no. 26 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1966).

Prior to his study, it had often been asserted that the sort of text we have in Codex Vaticanus was the product of an early 4th century redaction supposedly done under ecclesiastical authorities. But the discovery and publication of the Bodmer Papyrus XIV in 1961 brought important new evidence to light, and Martini was among the first to draw out the significance of this manuscript.

“P75″ (as it is referred to commonly by NT scholars) exhibits a text of Luke and John that makes it the closest “relative” of Codex Vaticanus, these two manuscripts agreeing in excess of 90% of all variation-units in Luke and John. So, this means that the kind of text for which Codex Vaticanus (Codex B in NT parlance) is famous (the “neutral” text of Westcott and Hort) was not the product of a 4th or even 3rd century recension, but was already circulating by ca. 200 CE. This put the text at the head of the pack, so to speak, P75 among the earliest witnesses to the text of the NT.

(And it should be noted, there were scarcely any ecclesiastical structures in place in the 2nd century to have produced and imposed a supposed “recension” of the text of the Gospels, although such a desperate claim is still occasionally made. The more plausible view is that the “P75″ type of text of the Gospels was simply one of the copying tendencies of that early period, this tendency apparently concerned with exactness in reproducing the text, in contrast with the readiness shown in some other early manuscripts to edit the text with a view to ease of reading, etc.) …

Martini held the professorial chair in NT Textual Criticism in the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and also served on the editorial board that prepared the 26th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece (the standard hand-edition of the Greek NT) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. He was the only Catholic scholar to be invited to serve in that role.

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Leonardo De Chirico also discussed Martini in his Vatican Files at Reformation 21:

The Dialectics of Catholicity

According to public opinion, Martini represents a view that is the polar opposite of that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in the Roman Catholic world. The former has been called "liberal", "progressive", "democratic", "left-wing", while the latter has been labeled as "conservative", "traditional", "authoritarian", "right-wing". With these conventional categories, one could map the entire Roman Catholic spectrum.

As a matter of fact, the public opinion needs to find polarizations, needs to put one figure against another, and needs to find conflicts within a given social body. Many times these polarizations reflect reality; others simply project oppositions that are not there. In the case of Martini, both observations are true. They are true because Roman Catholicism is based on multiple on-going tensions that sway one way or another but are meant to be kept in balance. In other words, John Paul II needed Martini and Martini needed John Paul II. The first maintained balance, while the second explored new fields. Martini spoke to the center-left, while Wojtyla spoke to the center-right, so that the whole spectrum was covered. Roman Catholicism as a whole needs both the defender of the already given balance and the explorer of new settlements.

In the Roman Catholic system, the Pope is supposed to fight against "anti-popes", but is likely to encourage "ante-popes" that would stretch the Roman Catholic synthesis further, so that what is now felt as disturbing avant-garde will be center-stage tomorrow. In this sense, the "ante-pope" Martini, who arrived too late to become Pope, will perhaps serve as a model for future Popes.

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