Ok so it’s an awkward title, but the veritable forest of olive branches that il Papa has been extending in so many directions has given me the impression of a pope laboring to draw together once again the broken church of history perhaps in a conscious effort to prepare us for the ultimate re-gathering that only Christ himself can achieve. Besides, it’s Advent and things apocalyptic fill the Catholic spirit and mind.
Spes Salvi is masterful in so many ways, it is difficult to appreciate it all just now. But many facets of this magisterial document are coming into focus. Its lack of all reference to the Second Vatican Council is perhaps a strong indication that we are now past the post-conciliar age and entering a wholly new epoch in the life of the Church. This is an invitation, even an insistence that we look wide eyed at the present state of affairs and plan for the future. And the future which Benedict is preparing for us in various acts this year is a brave one indeed.
- The allusion to a new conception of Purgatory as a purification at the moment of Judgment, Christ’s divine and holy love burning away one’s imperfections due to sin, is clearly Eastern in spirit. Western conceptions of purgatory form just one item on the laundry list of Eastern complaints against the West, but an important one. Taken together with the considerable achievements of the recent Ravenna Document, the turn to the East is advanced now again one step with this generous olive branch. Eastern complaints of Latinization are met with a small but significant dose of Western Hellenization. If only by a toe, the once firm frontier is crossed.
- In Liberation Theologized South America, evangelical Christians and Pentecostals are having a field day. One of their most potent charges is that the Catholic Church has abandoned the pursuit of Heaven. Not only the Bible but salvation itself they can claim as their proper domain when the popular perception prevails that Catholic clergy only talk about social analysis and the transformation of sinful political and economic structures. While not abandoning the demands of Christian charity and justice, in Spes Salvi we find the clearest articulation of the Church’s fundamental orientation toward Salvation through Christ since before the Council. As articulated in Antonio Socci’s commentary partially translated on the Catholic blog, Rorate Caeli, Spes Salvi may be seen as a correction to Gaudim et Spes’s more earthbound image of God’s Kingdom. One may hear in Benedict’s words a call to ex-Catholic evangelicals and pentecostals to be reconciled to the Church whose aim is the Heavenly Jerusalem.
- Catholic traditionalists have certainly had their share of olive branches this year. Summorum Pontificum was perhaps the first of several gifts which may lead to a reg-athering of that corner of the Church.
- The 400,000 members of the world wide Traditional Anglican Communion, an Anglican splinter group formed in protest to the ordination of women, were given hope of reunion en masse with Rome this fall when their petition written with the reported assistance of Vatican officials was formally submitted and received.
- The Church’s Chinese mission was advanced earlier this year with the long awaited letter to the Chinese Church which was full of conciliatory sentiment and affirmed that for the Church to be herself she must be fully Chinese and fully Catholic. The first fruit of this olive branch was the appointment by the Chinese government of a new bishop of Beijing acceptable to Rome. A formidable achievement, détente is in the air.
Pope Benedict has clearly been working overtime in 2007. May all his efforts be blessed.