Blogs > Cliopatria > Papal Election ...

Apr 19, 2005 4:47 pm


Papal Election ...



Bells and white smoke indicate that the College of Cardinals has chosen a new pope. He is Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who will take the name of Benedict XVI.

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David Silbey - 4/21/2005

"My example was made up, but the request is legitimate, though it will take time to respond."

Probably a bit early yet, but just to let you know that I'm still eagerly looking forward to those examples.


Jason Kuznicki - 4/21/2005

Ok, I do think that clears things up. No offense taken and none meant from my side.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/20/2005

Context. I think I said that, didn't I? The man's a Cardinal, which means that he's devoted his life's work to being a good Catholic and that he most probably believes in the teachings of Catholicism with every fiber of his being. Context. I would guess, from the little I know, that he accepted the position because he believes it to be the best way to implement his faith. You can parse that any way you want, but don't oversimplify the issue.


Jason Kuznicki - 4/20/2005

I think we may be talking past one another. If there are no specific reasons to think a person is lying when he claims "faith" as a motive, then I say let him have it. The mere presence of an alternate rationale does not mean that we should presume in its favor.

Let me give you an example: When Ratzinger was offered the papacy, did he accept it in faith? Or did he accept it because he wants the political power? Your approach, saying that "face value" is very low, would force us to conclude that his "real" motive for acceptance was to win political power. I find this cynical in the extreme.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/20/2005

Why should statements of faith be treated differently than assertions of altruism or protestations of paternalism? They shouldn't: without careful examination of context -- background of the person, self-benefits of the decision, etc., -- "face value" is very low for any self-serving self-description.


Jason Kuznicki - 4/19/2005

I actually disagree with this. I tend to think that if people declare themselves to be acting on faith, they deserve to be taken at face value, unless we can prove otherwise. Introducing other factors that might have also come into the decision is fine, but "faith" is a perfectly real motivator for human actions. It is NOT always a cover for something else, and I suspect that it isn't even usually so.

And yes, I say this as an atheist.

Now, when someone declares that an event happened supernaturally, this is a different matter. I find the equivocation between the two rather troubling. If the cardinals believe that they elect the pope through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, it is irresponsible for a historian not to report this belief. But if a historian claims--without empirical evidence--that the Holy Spirit really did exert direct influence upon the cardinals in some form exterior to their own minds... Well that's quite different.


John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

<Grin>...I don't suppose you would be willing to categorize the lack of evidence of "faith" as a true motivator of historical events within Secy. Rumsfelds aphorism :

"Reports that say something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."


David Silbey - 4/19/2005

I look forward to seeing the examples.

"Albeit suffering from a few minor disabilities like not being directly on point<g>, but making up for these with convenience. is Diane Ravitch's discussion of history texts and the Pope's role in the collapse of communism (to which Judge Clark has recently added details of an intentional collaboration between the Pope and Reagan)"

It's an interesting column, but (as you say) not really on point. I should note something else, which is that historians have serious problems writing good scholarly work about very recent history. This is a much more general problem and really has nothing to do with issues of faith.


John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

My example was made up, but the request is legitimate, though it will take time to respond.

Albeit suffering from a few minor disabilities like not being directly on point<g>, but making up for these with convenience. is Diane Ravitch's discussion of history texts and the Pope's role in the collapse of communism (to which Judge Clark has recently added details of an intentional collaboration between the Pope and Reagan)

http://hnn.us/blogs/3.html


Oscar Chamberlain - 4/19/2005

I'm not even sure which message to click on to post a reply.

I had several things in mind when I made my original post. One was pretty much what I said, that few historians would try to incorporate in any manner the possibility that the Holy Spirit had some influence. I also made it clear that I thought this was a logical limitation on most historians.

However, I suggested that a good historian, devoted to the truth, could assume the influence of the Holy Spirit in a history that he or she wrote and still create something worth reading and considering.

How is this strange? Let us consider the election of a Pope. To respond to one question above, of course any good historian would refer to the cardinal's claim that they turned to the Holy Spirit for guidance. But that claim is not likely to appear in an analysis of the vote.

Now let us assume the existence of a good historian who believes that the Holy Spirit did influence this proceeding. Thus, he would think that despite the many other influences, when the Cardinal's prayed for guidance, an answer came. Maybe not blazingly but subtly. Maybe not to everyone but to enough.

But would a good historian stop there? No.

He or she would still emerge into the "outer world" of cause and effect. But that could manifest itself not in an analysis of the vote but in an analysis of the impact of the vote, an analysis that of necessity must include worldly motivations, whether they concern dogma or prejudice or what have you.

It would be different. If looking back over the Pope's reign, as someone might look back over John Paul's, he or she would incorporate the secular world with the sense of the Holy Spirit flowing through things. There would likely be teleological elements.

Now, here is my fundamental point. I might not agree with that history. In fact, I might well point out places where I think that belief has altered the interpretation for the worse. But that's not because I want to do an ambush, Ralph.

I would read it and think about it because I might also learn things that I could not learn from a more secular history precisely because this historian accepts religious motivation to the very depth of his being. He will likely understand the power of holding faith in ways that I do not, and because of that understanding he may discuss the actions of the people he describes in ways that I and others could find illuminating.

In short, I could learn from him or her things that I might not learn from anyone else. If he is honest with his facts, and he is honest with where his faith intersects with those facts.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/19/2005

Looking at the NYTimes (and some NPR headlines):

In the name of orthodoxy, he is in favor of a smaller church, but one that is more ideologically pure.

This has potential to be very troubling, but it is consistent with his background as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I did not realize, until I heard the news this morning, that the Congregation is the institution formally known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition.... I know, it's not the same thing anymore. But as an historian and as a Jew, it still seems noteworthy, a fact to "take into account" though I admit that I don't myself know how to weight it. Nobody does, yet.

In the "lousy writing category" we have
In private, he is known as a thoughtful thinker...
as opposed to the other kind. But it goes on somewhat less clunkily
and shy, if not aloof. He is also an accomplished pianist, favoring Beethoven.

And another historical issue, though only Benedict XVI knows if it matters
Benedict XV was an Italian who presided from 1914 to 1922 during World War I. A diplomat, his efforts to end the war were ignored by both sides and the papacy was not invited to the peace conference that followed hostilities.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/19/2005

It's a matter of transparency in evidentiary evaluation: the former statement ("God said...") suggests some kind of evidence worthy of a clear statement of fact, whereas the latter ("the King said....") preserves the second-hand and uncorroborated nature of the reporting.

Unless the social/political/economic factors weigh against the divine factors in a decision like urban planning, it makes sense to focus on the factors for which we have the most credible evidence, without ignoring the fact that there is some evidence of other factors.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/19/2005

The real problem comes not with trying to deal with Papal Conclaves as an isolated incident, but in trying to articulate historical evidentiary standards which apply to all forms of "divine inspiration" or other self-reported revelation reasonably equally, or, conversely, to find grounds to treat some claims of divine intervention or communciation as more credible without tautological partisanship.

On the specific question, though, if I'm supposed to take the Church's claims of being sole "possessor of the keys to the gates of heaven" seriously, then I would expect the highest-ranking (and presumably holiest and closest to God, at least administratively) members of the Church to be consistently and clearly divinely aided in their deliberations on leadership. Otherwise the Church ends up sounding like a British-style constitutional monarchy: Sure, God's the head of state, but she just shows up for ceremonial ocassions (and his children get into trouble sometimes) and the actual elections, etc, are decided from below in a republican fashion. Sure, Constitutional Monarchies work OK, but that doesn't make them the pinnacle of human government or anything like that.


John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

Well, I can concur with that...and wish you luck in a task that by its nature is difficult. At least draft boards got to ask questions...


David Silbey - 4/19/2005

"In most cases, I think not, yet instead historians often seem intent on finding the socio-economic reason, influenced by the increasing tension caused by the differences between the aristocracy and developing merchant classes, that caused the King to build his city there."

Mr. Lederer--

Could you cite some examples? I'm not familiar with historians who do that. I am familiar with historians who write about faith-based causation for individual decisions, but then go on to point out that there were also economic and cultural circumstances that seem to have influenced such decisions as well.

Reaching for my bookshelf, I find Norman Cantor's _The Civilization of the Middle Ages_ (Full disclosure: I went for something likely to have something connected with religion. So H.P. Willmott's _The Second World War in the Far East_ got skipped). On page 291, I find the following sentence discussing the First Crusade: "To Urban the crusade served four ends in addition to the obvious one of regaining the Holy Land for the cross."

That sounds like a pretty nuanced evaluation to me, sensitive to the religious motivations as well as the possible secular ones.


Jason Kuznicki - 4/19/2005

Oscar, are you seriously suggesting that historians do not report what the cardinals themselves declare? Any competent history of the papacy is going to state exactly what Church dogma is on the selection of the pope. Other factors will also be discussed, and (if the history is at all well-written), the reader may think whatever he wishes.


Ben W. Brumfield - 4/19/2005

[I]f the Holy Spirit were an historical actor of any significance, there would only ever be one round of voting

I don't think that's at all clear. Haven't we each wrestled with a problem for days until a flash of inspiration struck? From what I remember from Andrew Greeley's Making of the Popes 1978, the election of Albino Luciano as John Paul I was a bit like that.

If I were a historian willing to credit divine inspiration for papal elections, I certainly don't think that I'd be willing to divide "inspired" conclaves from "uninspired" conclaves based on the number of ballots.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/19/2005

And you're missing my point entirely: religion is a powerful force in world history and in individual lives, my own included. But as historians we have to evaluate the causal and evidentiary claims of the religious or semi-religious no less carefully than the claims of the secular or semi-secular.


John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

Mr. Luker, I was not trying to generalize to all historians, but rather to a subset. My wording was not artful, and I apologize if I gave offense.

I think there is a class of historians who regard it as inappropiate to credit faith as a main motivator in events, even in those events where it appears to be so. And, yes, I think those historians often fail to credit faith because it is not a main motivator in their own affairs.

I am not suggesting that more historians should be religious. What I am suggesting is that religion is inappropiately downgraded as a motivation for historical human actions.






John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

"I'm hard pressed, Oscar, to understand why you want to urge other historians to make claims of causation and motivation that are not subject to empirical verification, when you don't do that yourself?"


Is there a meaningful difference from a historical view between "God said to the King 'Build your city here'" and "The King thought that God spoke to him and said 'Build your city here.'"

In most cases, I think not, yet instead historians often seem intent on finding the socio-economic reason, influenced by the increasing tension caused by the differences between the aristocracy and developing merchant classes, that caused the King to build his city there.

Sometimes that might be the reason -- but it might also be that God spoke, or the King thought he did.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/19/2005

Mr. Lederer, You are mistaken if you think historians as a class are not religious. Thinking so may fit your stereotyping, but does it bother that way of thinking to know that I am an ordained clergyman? Does the religious commitment of several of my colleagues at Cliopatria bother it? Or is the stereotyping real comfortable?


John H. Lederer - 4/19/2005

Maybe God likes suspense...or maybe it takes a while for the obdurate to become guided by the spirit <g>

What some historians seem to miss is that even if they are not religious, many people are, and religion provides a powerful causative factor in human affairs.


Tom Bruscino - 4/19/2005

Oscar,

Well said. Thank you.

TB


Oscar Chamberlain - 4/19/2005

"Sawing off." Unless something malevolent in my subconscious is motivating this, then no, no, no. I have to go teach a couple of classes, so it may be tonight or tomorrow before I can follow this up at length.

I will simply say here that an honest attempt at history that is based to some extent on different principles than mine intrigues me. I think I could learn from it. Is that so truly strange?


Jonathan Dresner - 4/19/2005

Oscar, if the Holy Spirit were an historical actor of any significance, there would only ever be one round of voting. Maybe two, I suppose, accounting for the grevious sin to which even Cardinals as human beings are prone. I'm not trying to be flip, I'm trying to suggest that isn't an evidentiary theory that would allow us as historians to take the idea of Catholicism as God's Law seriously.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/19/2005

I'm hard pressed, Oscar, to understand why you want to urge other historians to make claims of causation and motivation that are not subject to empirical verification, when you don't do that yourself? It's a bit like saying "Why don't you go out on that limb and let me see if I can saw it off." This is ground we've been over before and you've done the same thing before. Why? Is it just because you think that the sawing off would be interesting? That isn't like you, at all.


Oscar Chamberlain - 4/19/2005

As historians, and others, discuss the selection of the new pontiff, we will invoke many things to explain his selection: his nationality, his orthodoxy, the desire of many for a short reign, the planning of John Paul II.

But almost none, not even most Catholic historians (at least in the US), will mention the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Any who do so would be invoking the power of God as an explanation. That is a highly problematic approach to historical evidence and for good reason.

But all who do not do so, reject the possibility that Catholic dogma is right. In other words the first explanation that would be given by most Cardinals would be rejected as irrelevant, and reasons not in many of their minds will be substituted in its place.

The result is a conundrum that marks the limits of secular history. I accept those limits myself, but as I argued once before here, I would not mind some believing historians clearly and honestly taking their faith beyond the conundrum and trying to make good history despite it. I think we could learn from the attempt, even if we rejected aspects of the conclusions.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/19/2005

My guess, Anthony, is that, after John Paul's long reign, the Cardinals weren't prepared for either a dramatic departure or for another lengthy papacy. At 78, Ratzinger is a no risk choice. He's already done whatever damage to reform within the church that's he's likely to do.


Anthony Paul Smith - 4/19/2005

God save us.

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