Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Some Thoughts in the Aftermath of the Papal Election

The new pope has been installed and now it’s left to see what the implications of his papacy will be. Some on the Protestant side have lamented over the fact that a more liberal pope was not selected. I understand the rationale. A liberal pope would likely have resulted in the disillusionment of many conservative Roman Catholics, who as a result may have left the Roman Catholic church and defected into Protestantism. While that initially sounds good, I’m not certain it would have worked out in just that way, nor that it would have been the best scenario for Reformed Protestantism. Only conservatives would have been disillusioned, and they most likely would have sought refuge in the traditionalist camp, or the sedavacantist camp. And we could never be certain about the genuineness of the few who might have defected into Protestantism. What would their true motive be? Certainly, if their true motive had been a commitment to the truth of the gospel, wouldn’t they have come into the fold apart from consideration of who the pope turned out to be? If instead their true motive was some ethereal concept of “absolute truth,” that in itself does not have the sticking power needed to keep one in the faith (witness all the popular "evangelical"-turned-Roman-Catholic apologists). The last thing Protestantism needs is a plethora of people who like absolute truth but don’t understand the gospel, since their next defection from the truth is a mere “conservative pope” away.

Others have speculated that the fact that the cardinals chose such an aged man indicates there will be a continuation of JP II’s policies. While that is certainly the conventional wisdom, it does not take into consideration the fact that Ratzinger chose to adopt the name Benedict XVI rather than John Paul III. The new pope names himself after a previous pope whose legacy he plans to continue. Moreover, while the cardinals may indeed have intended Ratzinger to carry on the work of JP II, the real question at this point is not what the cardinals intended, but what the agenda of Ratzinger is. In comparison to JP II, Ratzinger is assertive, outspoken, direct, straight forward, and doesn’t seem to mince words. He is a hard-line conservative who formerly headed the successor organization to the Inquisition. He is leery of Protestants, and does not readily and fully include them in the church. I think there is a good reason he chose a different name than John Paul; I do not think he intends to carry forth JP II’s initiatives.

In my opinion that’s a good thing, because it will more clearly define the true rift between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. Ratzinger is much more the straight shooter than JP II ever was, and that means there may at last be clarity on what Roman Catholicism actually believes (i.e., what is the right interpretation of the interpretation?). I’m looking forward to this clarity so that we can nail down the Roman Catholic teaching and snatch it from the hands of the Postmoderns on both the Roman Catholic side (who think Protestants are now brothers in the church) and the “Reformed” Catholic side (who think Roman Catholics are now brothers in the church). At the very least, the Roman Catholic errors should become clearer. That will ultimately deepen the divide between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, but that is a move in the right direction.