During a recent teaching layover in Rome, Scott Hahn — popular speaker, author and theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville — spoke with Register correspondent Catherine Smibert about the impact Pope Benedict XVI is making on theological scholarship. The first installment of their conversation ran in our May 21-27 issue. Here is the conclusion.

In his catechetical cycle so far, the Pope Benedict has looked deeply at the structure of the Church. For many, when they think of Church “structure,” they think in political terms. How do you think that this Holy Father views the Church’s structure?

Well, how does the Pope interpret the Church? There certainly are elements of democracy in his writings. For example, in Salt of the Earth, he points out that the heritage of democracy is really not traceable back to ancient Athens as much as it’s traced back to the monastic constitutions. In religious communities, you had elections and you had an equality and a brotherhood. But that sort of democratic environment is very difficult to sustain in a religious vacuum, where worship no longer unites a community, but there’s freedom to pursue things like money, politics or entertainment, and in whatever ways one wants.

The Pope sees that behind our culture is a much deeper and more profound set of priorities, and I think this informs his ecclesiology much more than simply taking the phrase from Lumen Gentium, “People of God,” and trying to politicize or democratize the Church in those terms.

Democracy is certainly one element of the Church because we are the people of God. Demos is the Greek work for people and yet the term “people of God,” as he points out, is rooted in the Hebrew term ami Yahweh — which, back in the Old Testament, for ancient Israelites, had the literal meaning of family or kinsmen of God.

While certainly there are always fraternal and democratic elements to an extended family, there’s also the issue of paternity, maternity and affiliation that we all share in this great grace of Christ’s own divine sonship. And so, I think there’s much more of a Trinitarian vision and a Eucharistic notion of the Church than simply a democratic one.

Speaking here of paternity and maternity, another talking point is the recent issue that’s come up over women. Just before beginning this general audience series, the Pope spoke with priests from the Roman diocese. Here he called for the Church to think of new ways to open itself up to women. The Holy Father also wrote quite considerably on John Paul’s 1988 work Mulerius Dignitatum (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). Could you comment on his vision here?

I would say that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI really share the same set of convictions here: The priesthood is an expression of spiritual fatherhood. That is the reason for Christ appointing 12 men to be apostles and the priests of the new covenant.

When he was willing to really shatter so many other merely cultural customs, he recognized from the religion of ancient Israel … [that] there was embedded in the New Testament the consciousness that the priesthood really is spiritual fatherhood. So you don’t make women priests any more than women are made fathers.

But on the other hand, you can’t really have the reality of family simply with paternity. … Women are half the human race. They are half of the Church of Christ, and so women bring a genius to the family of God that Pope Benedict has recognized and explored, for example, in his work Daughter Zion. Here’s his understanding of the Church in Marian terms: The Church is still trying to catch up to Mary in its sense of being pure in its bridal virginity and yet fruitful in its divine maternity.

It’s just a remarkable set of insights but, once again, because of our insistence on cultural relevance or political correctness, we render ourselves almost incapable of comprehending, or appreciating, the wisdom that is not just timely but timeless. This Pope’s whole vision is really defined by this timeless wisdom that we have now — not just in this 21st century but going all the way back to the first.

This is what I think is really going to characterize everything this Pope says and does for as many years as Our Lord gives him.

 

Pope Benedict XVI has been described as one of the greatest theologians who ever lived. What does that mean for us now, having him as Pope?

I think the world lost a great philosopher when Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II. I think the Church also lost, arguably, the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th century in Cardinal Ratzinger when he was recruited to become the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Church was blessed but, in turn, he wasn’t able to do the kind of research and writing that he wanted to do. However, the result of it will be a continuous extension of what he was already doing in that role.

Namely, that is the enrichment of our life as Catholics in biblical and liturgical terms. I think he understands more clearly than most of us that the Liturgy of the Mass is what really makes us who we are as Catholics, and so it is the Mass to which we must go every week as Catholic Christians. We don’t have to go other places. But we’re called to Mass because that makes us who we are.

With John Paul II, we saw the Pope take the Scriptures to a whole new level. His elocutions are Scripturally saturated. Now we see Pope Benedict taking it to an even higher level, where there’s an even greater degree of Scriptural saturation but there’s also a much greater awareness of a liturgical meaning and fulfillment of the biblical word and so — whether we catch up to that quickly or it takes us a long time — I believe that his spiritual leadership is pointing in that direction.

Catherine Smibert

writes from Rome.