Wednesday 5 December 2007

Benedict XVI: spe salvi

Benedict XVI’s new encyclical on Christian hope is now available online: Spe Salvi (30 November 2007). You gotta like a pope who can quote Kant, Dostoevsky, Adorno, de Lubac, and an obscure Vietnamese martyr – all in a single encyclical! The writer of a recent Telegraph article related this anecdote: “A colleague, staring at the Pope’s latest encyclical, remarked, ‘There’s no news here. It’s all about God’.” One can scarcely imagine a higher compliment for this theologian-pope.

Here are a couple of excerpts on the relation between faith and the future:

“[T]he Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative’. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open [Obscura porta temporis, venturi temporis, aperta est].” (2)

“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for…. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.” (7)

And I especially appreciate what Benedict has to say about hell and purgation:

“Christ descended into ‘Hell’ and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light.” (37)

“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire’. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.” (47)


Anonymous said...

I am confused. You write:

“A colleague, staring at the Pope’s latest encyclical, remarked, ‘There’s no news here. It’s all about God’.” One can scarcely imagine a higher compliment for this theologian-pope.

In light of Barth's famous saying that we read with Bible on one hand and a newspaper in the other, are you implying that Benedict is an a-historical theologian, perhaps dominated by dogmatic concerns? Just need clarification if this was a critique or not.

Unknown said...

This encyclical is particularly interesting in light of the recent work by Alyssa Pitstick ('Light in Darkness') on von Balthasar and the doctrine of Christ's descent into hell, in which she pits the Catholic tradition against von Balthasar's interpretation.

Agnikan said...

Looks like BXVI is edging closer to Orthodoxy, especially on the "Christ-as-fire" theme.

Unknown said...

Thanks for those quotes. I remember trying to convince a former pastor years ago that perhaps the fire judgment is also a purifying fire. Its nice to be able to appeal to a pretty high authority.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Whoa, that last comment is just way beyond the pale. I don't know if I can go for a spirituality with that many parentheses. ;)

Anyway, I loved the encyclical(even as a protestant). If anyone would like to weigh in on this, do you think the Pope's comments about purgatory and praying for the dead leave open the possibility of universal salvation?

Agnikan said...


Of course. Universal salvation is a valid hope in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition, and BXVI said nothing to obviate that hope.

Anonymous said...

Rachel wrote:
"Universal salvation is a valid hope in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition..."

No it's not valid - it's a modern heresy

Ben Myers said...

Actually, anon., Rachel is right: there's nothing heterodox about a "hope" for universal salvation. And there's a big difference between universal hope and a doctrine of universalism (as Hans Urs von Balthasar has shown in his brilliant book on this topic—a book to which Benedict also alludes a few times in the encyclical).

Norway Ned: I meant it as praise for Benedict, not criticism, when I referred to the Telegraph journalist's remark! What could be better than for an encyclical to be "all about God"?

Theo said...

For a second there, I thought the last quotation from the encyclical might be the beginning of a healthy view of purgatory - one maybe with some ecumenical elbow room in it. And then I noted on the BBC news website that Benedict's just approved a load of indulgences for the 150th anniversary of Lourdes. It's sooooo frustrating being Catholic!

Anonymous said...

Theodora, me too. Does what he write correspond with a theology of indulgences? Someone help me here.

Fred said...

I've been wrestling with indulgence for some time. I plan to have a post up at Deep Furrows (I hope this weekend).

To offer a short answer here, the Vatican II Apostolic Constitution on the Revision of Indulgences (Indulgentiarum Doctrina) affirmed the value of indulgences and rejected their historical abuse. It also eliminated the quantification in days and years:

"Concerning partial indulgences, the way they have been determined hitherto, by days and years, is abolished." (Chapter V)

Anonymous said...

“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour."

Can anyone elaborate on who these "recent theologians" are and maybe cite a reference or two? Thanks.

Regina said...

The final paragraph of this post reminds me of a term used in Scripture: "Baptism by fire". Cool! :)

I personally believe in the ultimate salvation of all, and that any "hell" that a person goes through post-mortem will be of the corrective sort, and not merely endless torture for it's own sake. Being in God's presence is bound to fix anything that's broken at that point. ;)

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