Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #46 – As a Reformed Protestant, What Was Your Opinion of the Late Pope Benedict XVI?
By any measure, this is a difficult question for it raises the entire universe of issues that stand between evangelical Protestant theology and the doctrines taught by Rome.
That said, Pope Benedict XVI was by far my favorite of all the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, with the obvious exception of Peter.
In some ways it is sad to think that he will be remembered mostly as the only pope in the last 600 hundred years to resign the pontificate.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, and then as Pope Benedict XVI, he was an indefatigable defender of Catholic theology and moral teaching. He was an Augustinian and one of the great minds of our era.“Benedict gave a clear affirmation of human dignity and was an ardent defender of the sacredness of human life, the integrity of marriage, and a commitment to truth.”
He was willing to use forceful methods to impose the truth and yet he preferred the Church to propose and convince rather than coerce and impose its teaching on the human heart.
In contrast to the goals of what many in our nation see in Christian Nationalism, Benedict XVI held to Jesus’ startling declaration that God and Caesar cannot be conflated.
Christianity is not and must not become a politicized faith; it may inform politics, but ultimately it transcends politics.
I applauded his “Dictatorship of Relativism” speech insisting on objective moral truths against the dangers of the subjectivism of passing fads.
Benedict gave a clear affirmation of human dignity and was an ardent defender of the sacredness of human life, the integrity of marriage, and a commitment to truth.“Ratzinger wrote scathing critiques of the liberal proposals put forth by many contemporary Catholic and Protestant theologians.”
He, as I have, always held Truth to be singular (not multiple), immutable and objective. I applauded his ardent defense against those who have made the virgin birth and resurrection an option to faith. He has been strong in his condemnation of Western secularization and the promiscuity of recent Jesus scholarship.
Ratzinger wrote scathing critiques of the liberal proposals put forth by many contemporary Catholic and Protestant theologians. As the Vatican’s doctrinal officer, he took disciplinary action against liberation theologians and others who have violated Catholic teaching.
Pope Benedict has been a champion in disapproving of unauthorized views of Jesus. He helped Pope John Paul crush the liberation theologians of Central America in the 1980’s.
He suspended a priest for not giving sufficient credence to the resurrection of Jesus, a stand which many in our mainline Protestant denominations would be wise to emulate. He chastised Asian Catholic theologians for suggesting that Eastern religions may be as valid as Christianity.
In his previous writings, Pope Benedict XVI has indicated a clear and genuine understanding of what evangelicals believe. Thus, we who are concerned with the preservation of biblical truth and determined to defend biblical morality shared much common ground with Benedict XVI.
In a sermon delivered to his fellow cardinals just two days prior to his election, Cardinal Ratzinger issued an eloquent and profound critique of postmodern relativism.
Ratzinger declared, “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many waves of thinking . . . The small boat of thought of many Christians has been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth.”“We who are concerned with the preservation of biblical truth and determined to defend biblical morality shared much common ground with Benedict XVI.”
He continued, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain, and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Similarly, in a lengthy interview in 1985, Ratzinger went after liberal biblical critics who subvert the authority of Scripture.
“Ultimately the authority on which these biblical scholars base their judgment is not the Bible itself but the (worldview) they hold to be contemporary. They are therefore speaking as philosophers or sociologists, and their philosophy consists merely in a banal, uncritical assent to the convictions of the present time, which are always provisional.”
There is not one syllable in those statements with which I and most evangelical Protestants would not be in full and enthusiastic agreement.
Indeed, Ratzinger’s writings reveal a keen theological mind that understands the contours of the postmodern crisis and signal a staunch defense of truth against a posture of relativism.
Pope Benedict XVI may have been the most well informed pope in history, in terms of evangelical conviction and theological commitments.“Ratzinger’s writings reveal a keen theological mind that understands the contours of the postmodern crisis and signal a staunch defense of truth against a posture of relativism.”
Since the Protestant Reformation marked a return to the theology of Augustine as well as to Paul and the teachings of the Gospel, I especially appreciated the fact that Benedict XVI preferred the writings of my namesake, Saint Augustine to those of Saint Aquinas.
Therefore, I find myself in a situation described by J. Gresham Machen almost a century ago, when that great evangelical defender of the faith launched his attack on Protestant liberalism as a fundamentally new religion at odds with Christianity.
Machen surprised many of his evangelical readers when he declared that evangelicals committed to the defense of the Gospel actually have more in common with orthodox Roman Catholics on issues such as the person of Christ, His virgin birth and the Trinity than they would with their own liberal Protestant counterparts.
What Was Your Opinion of Pope Benedict’s Book, “Jesus of Nazareth?”
Pope Benedict’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth” is a Scriptural exegetical gem for both Catholics and Protestants.
Some have criticized his book because they believe that it will not “bring unbelievers to Christ.” This for Reformed Protestants is an unwarranted criticism.
No work, be it a book, piece of art, hymn, etc. “brings” unbelievers to Christ; only the work of the Holy Spirit can do that. All Benedict did with his book, is what all Christians should be doing, following Jesus’ Great commission in spreading the Good News of Him.
Liberal Catholic and Protestant “scholars” were quick to point out and criticize the fact that Benedict ignored non-canonical writings like the Gnostic Gospels of Judas, Thomas, etc.“Pope Benedict’s book, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is a Scriptural exegetical gem for both Catholics and Protestants.”
The Gnostic Gospels are not authentically apostolic in their authorship, message and frame of time; they are not reliable sources for the life and teachings of Jesus.
So again, Benedict is correct in not referring to such literature. Jesus, as described in the canonical Gospels, is real. The Gospels report things that really happened.
The Gospels are not like those non-canonical and Gnostic writings about ideas and peoples’ imaginations – so Benedict was right to include only those writings that have survived the test of time.
One Jesus Seminar type contended that Benedict (by limiting his work to only the Gospels) based his work on “a few spindly facts about the man many call Christ. After all, no one saw him rise again, though there were reports his tomb was empty.”
Well – technically yes – no one saw Jesus in the actual process of rising from the dead; but over 500 saw Him after He had risen; a fact that Jesus Seminar types typically ignore.
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