Monday night’s Benedict Option event at a church hall in Paris went well. The hall was full, and people seemed interested. Last night, I went down to Tours, and had a lovely time speaking to folks. I stayed with the family B., a real Benedict Option Catholic family. It is so, so encouraging to meet fellow Christians who see things like I do, and who are enthusiastic believers, as well as quite obviously “creative minorities,” as Benedict XVI told Christians to be in the post-Christian world. That family, and others I’m meeting here, are such an inspiration.
“The Benedict Option” has now crossed the Atlantic and become a question of global import. A question that is certainly of no little account, because it concerns the future of Christianity in an ever more post-Christian era.
The American Rod Dreher, author of the proposal and of the book, is now traveling around France on a conference circuit and has given an exhaustive interview to the Catholic magazine “la Nef.” His book has been translated into French, and will soon be available in other languages.
But it has been the frontal attack that “La Civiltà Cattolica” has unleashed from Rome against “The Benedict Option” that has ratcheted up even more the level of the controversy.
Dreher is not Catholic. He used to be, now he is Russian Orthodox. But it is above all in the Catholic camp, and initially within the Catholicism of the United States, that his proposal made a splash and produced a very heated discussion.
It is a proposal, in fact, that radically brings into question – in addition to contrasting them with each other – both the current pontificate of Francis and that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
The Benedict of the “option” is not pope Joseph Ratzinger, but Benedict of Norcia, the great saint of the 5th and 6th centuries who was able to generate a formidable rebirth of Christian faith and culture in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman empire, that rebirth which the other Benedict, the pope, evoked masterfully in his memorable address of September 12 in Paris, at the Collège des Bernardins, essentially proposing that the Catholics of today grasp and revive his lesson, at the present juncture of civilization.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that from Rome, from a pope like Francis who is the standard bearer of an opposite vision, “The Benedict Option” should have been thrust onto the index through that organic mouthpiece of Jorge Mario Bergoglio which is “La Civiltà Cattolica” directed by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro.
The rest of the piece examines the argument between myself and a couple of Jesuits around La Civiltà Cattolica. Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with it.
What I especially like about Magister’s article is that a Vatican journalist of his stature to has said that the Benedict Option is the vision around which the older, Benedict XVI vision of the Catholic Church, is coalescing in the age of Pope Francis and his “new paradigm.” I am honored that Magister thinks so, and am profoundly pleased that with this essay of Magister’s, Benedict XVI no doubt will know now that this ex-Catholic who nevertheless believes in his cultural vision am on his side.
I did not seek to pose The Benedict Option in contrast to Pope Francis, or in criticism of him. You won’t find in the book one word of criticism of Pope Bergoglio. But Francis’s top allies — the Jesuits of La Civiltà Cattolica, and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago — have laid down the gauntlet. This struggle is important. This morning, I spoke to a veteran Catholic journalist in Paris, who told me, “The battle is here, now.” Indeed it is.