Yesterday we looked at the rather stinging critique that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, retired archbishop of Milan and a favored alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave that was after three days to elect Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, left has his final legacy before dying last Friday, August 31. Some have wondered why John Paul II named this progressive Jesuit to be a bishop, and indeed Archbishop of one of Italy’s premier sees, in the first place.
For one thing consideration must be given to the fact that in the first years of his reign John Paul had not yet fixed on the conservative direction in which he was determined to steer the Church for the greater part of the almost 27 years of his pontificate. John Paul was never a liberal and probably had determined from the moment of his election to “correct” the course that the Second Vatican Council had set for the Church, but he seemed at first to want to build a consensus among Church leaders to recentralize the papal power that the Council had shared out with the bishops in the Decree Christus Dominus. It was only after the enthusiasm for a non-Italian pope had waned and he seemed not to be achieving his objectives that John Paul abandoned the consensus-building model for a more heavy-handed approach. In this first bloom of optimism he named a number of progressives to key sees around the world—Americans Roger Mahony and Joseph Bernardin, Belgian Godfried Daneels, French (and Jewish) Jean-Marie Lustiger, French Henri deLubac among others. (de Lubac, a theologian, was made a Cardinal in recognition of this theological contributions—for which contributions he had been silenced by Church authorities in the years before Vatican II—but he was not given a Diocese.) Of course, not all John Paul’s choices were progressives, but as I wrote, John Paul seemed to have thought initially that he could move the Church to the right without fracturing it—what is proving to be a tragic misassumption. We will examine this subject of John Paul’s initial attempts at building a consensus in a future post, but there was a second reason why the Pope was anxious to specifically name Martini to a See and that was that Martini’s own scholarship was threatening some Vatican conservatives.As I mentioned yesterday, Martini served as Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute from 1969 and then to this post was added two more influential positions: Rector Magnificus and Chancellor of the Pontifical Gregorian University. In other words, he was skipper, not just of one but of the two most important academic posts in the Catholic World. This made some very unhappy. Martini’s theology was very liberal but as his field was Sacred Scripture he was not easily assailable. While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is very quick to go after moral theologians, and won’t hesitate to go after Systematic theologians if they cross certain lines, they have great anxiety in attacking Scripture Scholars. The reason is that since scripture studies are founded in the biblical languages (and corresponding cultures) of Greek and Hebrew, with Aramaic, Syriac, Chaldean, Akkadian, Sumerian, and Ugaritic lingering in the background the only people who can go after Biblical Scholars without making fools of themselves are other Biblical Scholars. Ever since Pius X was left with egg all over the pontifical face in the Henry Poels affair a hundred years ago and more, men who are smart enough to know their limitations have been leery about going after Scripture scholars. (I could swear that I had done an entry on the Poels affair but looking through my back entries, I think I have missed that. Need to catch up on it.) So what do you do with a scholar like Martini who could make mincemeat out of a Ratzinger, much less the not-so-bright lights that have sat in the chair of the Grand Inquisitor over the years? The best way to silence a theologian is to make him a bishop—it takes up time that he would otherwise devote to scholarship, publishing, and teaching. It certainly didn’t silence Martini as his final interview demonstrates but it did effectively remove him from the active role of scholarship he had pursued through the years before becoming a bishop. However, on the bright side, it added one very smart cookie to the hierarchy where he did much good by his intelligent observations, his fearless speaking out, and a holy life. We need more like him.