The pop pope

The previous pope, ecumenical from his head to his toes, embraced every non-Christian religion, every non-Western culture, and every aspect of Western culture, including pop entertainment. The latter was not surprising since he was a supreme pop entertainer himself, with his constant globe-hopping, like a singer on a never-ending world tour, and his mass, Woodstock-like youth gatherings. In 1997 he went so far as to share a stage with Bob Dylan before a crowd of 300,000 in Bologna, Italy and listened while Dylan performed “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” As revealed in a new book by Pope Benedict XVI, the then Cardinal Ratzinger did not share John Paul II’s enthusiasm for pop music and pop stars and strongly urged the pontiff to skip the Dylan gig, but to no avail.

However, the book reveals something else that was not brought out at the time by the news media—how the pope, in his homily following Dylan’s performance, re-interpreted some of Dylan’s most famous lines in a Christian sense:

The Pope added: “You ask me how many roads a man must walk down before he becomes a man. I answer: there is only one road for man, and it is the road of Jesus Christ, who said, ‘I am the Way and the Life’.”

That’s neat, and worth saying. But I still think the pope should not have been on a stage with Bob Dylan. One of John Paul II’s guiding beliefs (discussed by me here and here) was that in order to spread the gospel of Christ to modern people in a language they could understand, the Church had to join itself with the contemporary culture. This was a major error. Given the overwhelming reach and power of the modern secular culture, in any such ecumenical intercourse Christianity inevitably becomes just one more piece of that culture and loses its distinctiveness. The truth of Christianity is timeless. Therefore the Church doesn’t need to “adjust” its message to contemporary culture and idiom to communicate it to modern people. The Church needs only to convey the truth of Christianity clearly and accessibly and with integrity. And to do that, it must stand apart from the contemporary culture and its illusions, not join it. It is the Church’s mission to lead the world, not follow it.

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Vincent C. writes:

In order to appreciate the circumstances related to the Dylan papal concert, it is necessary to understand the relatively recent radical and untethered Catholic doctrinal interpretations of Vatican II by the bishops, both in the U.S. and Western Europe. The Second Vatican Council, whose primary purpose was to attract what was seen as a diminishing Western religious audience, may be counted among the more serious missteps of the Church since the 16th century. The Council’s impact, especially the loss of Church tradition, however, continues to this day.

Called “aggiornamento” (bringing up to date) by Pope John XXIII, Vatican II was a three year conclave (1962-65) by Catholic bishops throughout the world held in Rome, the results of which have changed the policies and practices of Roman Catholicism. It is, in some ways, the opposite of Vatican I (1870-71), which centralized papal rule and established papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. Vatican II should be seen, therefore, as a modernist rejection of historic church authority, especially that belief which claimed that salvation could only be achieved through the Roman Church, (Non salus extra ecclesiam), as well as questioning the crucial role played by the “Pontifex Maximus.”

It is not surprising, then, to note that Pope John Paul II, who was a true believer of the cause of Vatican II in his pontificate, is cited, critically, I believe, in the present pontiff’s book for inviting Dylan to a concert. But the Dylan concert was part of a piece. In the early stages of his pontificate, JPII sought to attract the world’s youth to the Church, and he made, literally, more than a hundred trips to nations far and near to spread his evangelical message about the role of Christ in one’s life. While it is accurate to say that he could fill the piazzas and city squares with hundreds of thousands of witnesses, it is also fair to state that only a small percentage of those numbers changed the way in which they lived: the pews of the churches in the Western world remained sparsely populated. The pope’s “Youth Day,” may have created more problems than it solved, including behavior by the young that previous popes would never have accepted.

But it got worse: while I was assigned to the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, at Christmas there were small parties for families, especially for children of diplomats and workers, which included entertainment. I recall the showing of the movie, “Home Alone,” an innocuous film. In later years, however, the policy dramatically changed, and included extending a Vatican Christmas invitation to a hip-hop singer from the U.S., who publicly chided the pontiff and the audience because of the Church’s restrictions on a female clergy. Why such an invitation was proffered in the first place is simply mind boggling. The Dylan controversy is, then, more than a difference between two popes who liked different kinds of music: the real question is what ever happened to Catholic orthodoxy?

The current pope has, I believe, seen the baleful effect that Vatican II has brought into many aspects of Church life. Currently, he is pondering reversing the Church’s liberal drift in authorizing the universal re-introduction of the Latin Mass, which would indicate that Benedict XVI has taken measure of the baleful effects of much of Vatican II. Whatever the outcome, I suspect that Mr. Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, may have sung at his last papal event. For the times they are a’changing, but, one hopes and prays, toward a more rational and traditional approach to Church matters.

Sage McCluahglin writes:

Thank you for your excellent remarks about the late Pontiff. (Please let me interject also my deep appreciation for the respect you give to the Roman Church, in spite of whatever differences you might have with it. I know that we are not co-religionists, and your generosity and appreciation for the role of the historical Church moves me to humility.) You said:

“The truth of Christianity is timeless. Therefore the Church doesn’t need to ‘adjust’ its message to contemporary culture and idiom to communicate it to modern people. The Church needs only to convey the truth of Christianity clearly and accessibly and with integrity. And to do that, it must stand apart from the contemporary culture and its illusions, not join it. It is the Church’s mission to lead the world, not follow it.”

I don’t know how many times, in how many ways, I’ve tried to make this clear to people. The error seems so terribly obvious, and its results so predictably and manifestly diabolical. That John Paul II would make it even once—much less make it central to his charism—demands a psychological, more than an intellectual, explanation. How any intelligent man of faith, and especially one with the intellectual gifts of the late Pope, could believe such foolishness—and then cling to it as if his very life depended on it, even as the Church fell into doctrinal and liturgical chaos—will always remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of my lifetime. He was a man who reveled in Celebrity, with all the pomp and lack of accountability that entails.

His worshipful veneration by so-called conservative Catholics is less mysterious, of course, but no less distressing (a book is waiting to be written about that melancholy subject). John Paul has been held to practically no account whatsoever, outside schismatic Traditionalist circles, for guiding the Catholic Church into its present miserable state. The catalogue of horrors that befell the Church under his leadership—most of which were totally preventable, and most of which were completely within his power to correct, over the course of a thirty-year pontificate that allowed him to outlive even most of his own appointments—is bad enough to preclude even mockery. Every new outrage that happened under his watch was supposedly the fault of “the liberals” in the hierarchy—never mind that he appointed virtually every last one of those liberals, and made literally no efforts to hold back the massive entropy that rotted the Church from within, decade after decade, under his permissive watch. Pope Benedict XVI, whatever his flaws with respect to a defense of the West, is making some genuine attempt at cleaning up the sewer his predecessor left him. But not before JPII is made a saint, which is fitting, considering John Paul’s manic fixation with the beatification process.

OK, deep breath…

LA replies:

Mr. McLaughlin’s question “How any intelligent man of faith, and especially one with the intellectual gifts of the late Pope, could believe such foolishness,” has a short simple answer: JPII was a liberal. Liberalism is the master concept of our age, its ultimate authority. Most conservatives don’t want to see this because, liberalism being the master concept of our age, it is their master concept as well.

Brandon F. writes:

Well said. Of course the Protestants have taken this embrace of modernity to the utmost limits of assininity. I have a cousin who attends a mega-church in Nashville (of which there are many). They have a two large screen audio-visual system accompanied by a large center stage flanked be two mini stages (an auditorium that seats 5000). He told me of one service in which one mini stage was decorated with a Harley Davidson motorcycle, tools etc and the other with shopping bags, clothing, etc. These were used as props to bring understanding about the differences between men and women. To top it off the Pastor wore a Velcro suit and jumped face first onto a large vertical Velcro wall to illustrate ‘sticking to Christ’.

There is currently a church in town that fashions and promotes itself as the “church for people who hate church” with sound effects in a radio commercial such as Gregorian chants to illustrate the dullness and meaninglessness some feel about the traditional church experience.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard but the Orthodox church considers the Pope(s) “the first Protestant”.

Peter H. writes:

Much more mundane than Brandon F.’s example, but disturbing nevertheless, is my experience at our relatively “conservative” Lutheran church where a “praise band” is part of the entertainment every Sunday. Their standard fare consists in modern Christian pop music, replete with hand clapping, marimba playing, and guest vocalists. It’s all so professional, and performed at high volume, yet I notice extreme self-indulgence in almost all of the song lyrics. They’re full of references to “me” and “I”, usually in reference to the singer’s feelings about his or her personal relationship with God, instead of “we” and “you (thou)” in reference to the holiness and eternal attributes of God and our privilege to come together each week to worship Him communally that were the substance of the old hymns.

I’m afraid it reminds me of what I imagine group therapy to be like and it occurs to me that this type of indulgent individualism only serves to further fragment our common culture. I’m also concerned that the children will have less of this cohesive Christian culture as they become adults as they may never be exposed to those wonderful old hymns.

Paul Henri writes:

I agree with you, not that I don’t agree with your other articles. But here you need support from a Roman Catholic.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 11, 2007 03:17 PM | Send

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