Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Notes
Rupert Shortt reviews Ian Linden's fascinating new book, Global Catholicism:
To clear the ground, [Linden] traces the process by which the Church, once notorious for the slogan “error has no rights”, began a rapprochement with the contemporary world in the Second Vatican Council (1962–5), and recovered long-buried strands of its own tradition in the process. Linden gives us a dialectical tour d’horizon, in which apparently contradictory notions are shown to reflect significant portions of the truth. Do liberal democracy and science itself owe far more to theology than many secularists realize? Yes. But was nineteenth-century secularism a necessary corrective to ecclesiastical and other forms of unaccountable authority? Certainly. Did Vatican intransigence greatly intensify because of the aggressively anti-Catholic policies seen in Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, for example, and under France’s Third Republic? Yes. Was Pius XII right to judge that Hitler’s anti-Stalinist credentials constituted a virtue that outweighed his vices? No, but that judgement is easier to make in hindsight. Similar kinds of consideration apply to internal debate between Christians. A Protestant view of the papacy is likely to concentrate on the damaging effects of Vatican authoritarianism. As is often pointed out, the absolute power enjoyed by popes over the past 150 years was only made possible by the railways. Before the spread of modern communications, ideas about the universal reach of papal jurisdiction could be more a matter of theory than of practice. On the other hand, Catholics might reply with some justice that a major part of papal history in recent centuries has consisted in a necessary and reasonably effective bid to protect the Church from secular interference. The example of Russia and other Orthodox countries, where religion has long been locked in a suffocating embrace with nationalist forces, goes some way to vindicating Vatican policy.

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