Monday, March 04, 2019

The tail wagging the God

On response to a question on Bavarian TV in 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger said:

“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. . . . There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

That poses a dilemma. On the one hand it relieves Catholic apologists and theologians from the daunting task of having to defend weird or awful popes as God's pick. 

On the other hand, it binds God in the service of a pope he didn't choose. If the Catholic church is indefectible, and what makes it indefectible is (in large part) that God is committed to uphold the papacy, yet God doesn't choose who will be pope, then God is in the subordinate position of rubber-stamping whatever candidate the conclave chooses, even if he's a royal stinker. So the tail is wagging the God. It chains God to the results of a process he didn't control. God must play the hand the conclave dealt it. "Here's the pope, now make it work!" 


  1. Also, the whole thing has a certain ad-hoc feel to it. He doesn't seem to be basing this on capital-t Tradition, but just freewheeling speculation.

  2. Ratzinger's ad hoc explanation doesn't cover the ground that it needs to cover. "like a good educator ... without entirely abandoning us" is not a sufficient explanation for the absolute "royal stinkers" who've been the result of the process. At some point, a good educator steps in at some point and says "this is going completely off track - let's review why that is and then we can come back later". He doesn't just sit and nod up to and beyond the point where you press the self-destruct button.