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Benedict Option ‘A Matter Of Global Import’

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.

On the train back to Paris, I discovered that Sandro Magister, the widely read Vatican journalist, wrote today about The Benedict Option [1]. It’s a knockout column. [2] Here’s how it starts:

“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.

Read the whole thing. [2]

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 [1]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.

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25 Comments To "Benedict Option ‘A Matter Of Global Import’"

#1 Comment By Jonathan Davis On February 14, 2018 @ 8:02 am

Ive recently thought of one of the reasons you might be getting so much Catholic hierarchy: From the eyes of some of these Catholic leaders, you left the Church when things got tough, while they stuck it out.

Right or wrongly, you “quit” Catholicism, and perhaps this is part of where the projection of Benedict Option as the Quitters option comes from, the mischaracterization that you so often rail against

[NFR: You’re totally wrong about that. The Catholic hierarchs who have criticized me (exactly one, that I know of: Cupich; the two Jesuits are not hierarchs) are quite liberal. That’s why they dislike my book. Read Magister. — RD]

#2 Comment By pèlerin On February 14, 2018 @ 8:22 am

Yes. Time to fight. God bless you, Rod. May your you meet with great sucess in your travels, spreading this message. I am praying with you.

#3 Comment By Bernie On February 14, 2018 @ 8:51 am

Rod, I’m happy your book tour in France is going well, and I’m especially happy to hear that leading Catholic voices think highly of the Benedict Option.

As an update, Cardinal Cupich is organizing three seminars for about 20 U.S. Bishops to push his agenda about which you recently posted. We have to push back. Here’s what the Cardinal is doing:


#4 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On February 14, 2018 @ 9:51 am

Congratulations, Rod. It must be very gratifying to have your work taken seriously by so many people. I think it deserves the recognition it has gotten, and yourself likewise.

Personally, I’m grateful to you for all that you have written here these past 4-5 years since I first discovered your blog. Your work has made a difference in my life, and I appreciate it.

#5 Comment By John On February 14, 2018 @ 10:38 am

You may not like me to say this but you write with a Roman Catholic mind and heart. (As you know, once baptized into the faith makes one part of it for ever.)

#6 Comment By Joan from Michigan On February 14, 2018 @ 11:05 am

As a teenager I was told that if, in your efforts to change society, you haven’t encountered any opposition, you probably haven’t accomplished much. So I guess congratulations are in order.

#7 Comment By TR On February 14, 2018 @ 11:43 am

I’ll buy the theological difference between Benedict and Francis (though I also think it’s between Euro-centric and Third World concerns as well). But I don’t think for a minute that Benedict was serious about “downsizing.” Or, to put it another way, the institutional church would never consciously allow such downsizing to happen.

And I suspect the Catholics you’re talking to in France are ultra-nationalistic, right wing, and have a long family history of same. It’s part of the French landscape and not really a reaction to anything particularly recent.

But I’m glad you’re enjoying time among people who actually have read the book or at least know what the hell you’re talking about. Refreshing, I’m sure.

#8 Comment By Maine Catholic On February 14, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

Rod your rebuttal is well said. It is amazing how many people in the Vatican seem to be still living in the 1960’s. Do they watch or read the news at all?

#9 Comment By charles cosimano On February 14, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

Well, it is certainly entertaining. I’m still waiting for some wag in the Vatican press to come out with the phrase, “Dreherist Heresy.” Right now you are just being equated with the Donatists, a relatively minor heresy that got Augustine’s panties knotted but, with hard work and perserverance, who knows where it will end up.

#10 Comment By Jonathan Davis On February 14, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

[NFR: You’re totally wrong about that. The Catholic hierarchs who have criticized me (exactly one, that I know of: Cupich; the two Jesuits are not hierarchs) are quite liberal. That’s why they dislike my book. Read Magister. — RD]

Fair enough, hierarchy might have been wrong. However much of the criticism you have received or brought up on this blog is from people who have wrongly diagnosed your book as a runaway plan.

And I still wonder if some of it has to do with the optics of you having publicly left Catholicism.

To be clear, I m not suggesting this is the correct way of reading your book. I’m just curious if it is related to some of the negative reaction.

Certainly liberalism is too, but I’m not sure it’s mutually exclusive. Cupichs liberalism is his (wrong) plan for addressing the secular problem. He could still see yours as the runaway and hide plan

#11 Comment By albert Salsich On February 14, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

Ditto C.L.H.Daniels’ “I’m grateful to you for all that you have written here these past 4-5 years since I first discovered your blog. Your work has made a difference in my life, and I appreciate it.”

#12 Comment By Thomas On February 14, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

Something I find very hard to understand about Francis is that if you read his teaching documents (most obviously Laudato Sii) and his strident denunciations of the way people live now and warnings of the power of the Devil, you would think he should be right behind the Benedict Option – but his greatest cheerleaders are radically against it. It sometimes feels like his appointments and his encyclicals come from different people, and you wonder whether his more fervent admirers (such as the one who said that you were calling for some sort of pharisaism because you thought moral demands needed to be acknowledged) actually read his documents.

#13 Comment By Michael On February 14, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

It strikes me that many of the liberals react strongly to the Benedict Option because they believe that it is contra “engagement”. That’s just dumb and ignorant, and quite deliberately misleading if in fact Card. Cupich and the “jesuits” actually read your book, which I doubt. But “engagement” of “the world” on the world’s terms is so much a part of the game as these dudes are so far gone “in-culturated” therein themselves already. To them the “kingdom” and “salvation” means “power analysis”and “politics”. No wonder the flock is thinning. The Church is not needed for THAT and people figure that out and go elsewhere on their Sundays. What they do need the church isn’t giving them…which is a tough love that will remake them..as it always has. What we get instead is more indulgent Cupich mush with avuncular grins and twinkling eyes. It doesn’t tranform anyone along the lines of “Repent and believe in the Gospel!”…which we heard incessantly today with the reminder of our own mortality. That’s a much more bracing message, without even trying, than the temporizing and patronizing we’re getting so much of these days.

#14 Comment By sb On February 14, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

In response to ‘Maine Catholic’ and your response to ‘Jonathan Davis’ above:

It is liberals in the Church who mostly oppose the Benedict Option, as liberalism tells them to ‘open the doors’ of the church to all, which they have been disastrously doing since Vatican 2. (open doors are good, but not if it abandons the faith!)

However, many others are sniffy about the Benedict Option because the Catholic church has a vast infrastructure of churches, schools, hospitals, universities, etc, that they fear the BO means abandoning by shrinking into small faithful communities to preserve the faith.

It is similar to the socialist schism between those pushing a ‘vanguard’ approach of a purist elite leading the masses, compared to ‘broad’ or ‘popular fronts’ where the activists mix with the masses to leaven them with the activists deeper knowledge.

Many are reluctant to abandon the ‘leaven the masses’ approach; some because they don’t want to abandon the buildings, size & scope of operations & its prestige; others like myself fear BO leaves the rest of our less informed pew warming friends abandoned to the wolves within and without the church…


#15 Comment By sb On February 14, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

But the biggest challenge is – the stunning level of complacency of churchgoers!!!

From Vatican to local bishops and clergy, to older laity, I encounter virtually nobody keen on taking the urgent action that could yet rapidly fix the existing institutions of the church. Only a few traddies seem aware and keen.

How hard is it (and why are no religious journos asking this?) for bishops to remove boards and ceo’s/managers like Fr John Jenkins of Notre Dame Uni when they openly & persistently espouse policies in direct contradiction to the church?

Purge the bad apples at the top, and replace with good faithful people, and the trees will recover and grow fresh green leaves and fruit. Leave it long enough, and the trees will rot and poison the soil all around.

#16 Comment By a commenter On February 14, 2018 @ 11:37 pm

I had to go look up the Donatist heresy. I understand now why the people who are against your book are upset, but I don’t think they really understand where you are coming from. I personally think that their obtuseness can be mostly explained by their not having kids. They seem, to me, to be very worried about losing the Church’s connection to those tenuously connected adult Catholics who are concerned with gay rights and with their friends who are divorced and remarried and so on. I can sympathise with that. But if you are in the trenches, raising children in the modern environment, then it is much more apparent that you need to put some distance between your family and the culture for the sake of your children being able to develop a properly formed conscience. Even some of the atheists I know are backing away from the secular culture on these issues because they see that their children are being, quite subtly, evangelised into a highly dysfunctional sexual ethic that cannot end well.

I taught a class last week and our topic of the day was matrimony. The consensus of these tween-aged Catholics was that the teacher (me) is factually incorrect on the state of marriage in the Catholic Church: “Nuh uh!!!! You can get married A BUNCH OF TIMES!” How can you possibly raise children with a reverence for the sacrament of marriage, an appreciation for the beauty of sacrificial monogamous love, or a willingness to take the risk of forming an indissoluble marriage bond, when they are surrounded and inundated with constant cultural propaganda to the contrary (not to mention guilt-tripping relatives using emotionalistic arguments to attack the Church). You need to back way off from the secular culture and at least have a place where your children can see a different ethic in action, and where they are free to discover and articulate what is good about the Christian path without being ridiculed or silenced. Isn’t that pretty much what the Benedict Option is trying to create?

#17 Comment By John On February 15, 2018 @ 12:42 am

Could someone explain to me how the Benedict Option is not just about hiding out in the woods? That’s how it appears to me from reading the Amazon description of the book and numerous articles and comments here on TAC.

If it’s more about disengaging from main stream American consumerism culture, and identity politics and focusing/sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ (love) then duh! That’s what being a Christian has always been about.

#18 Comment By Rob G On February 15, 2018 @ 7:17 am

“And I still wonder if some of it has to do with the optics of you having publicly left Catholicism.”

Yes, this. I know beyond a doubt that there are some Catholic writers who would be on board with the BenOp if it weren’t the project of Rod Dreher, ex-Catholic. These guys have not necessarily been the “trashers,” but they’ve certainly chosen to ignore it.

Unfortunately there are some Orthodox who are ignoring it as well, based on the idea that it’s not Orthodox enough. Idiots.

#19 Comment By Eric Mader On February 15, 2018 @ 8:08 am

Congratulations, Rod. When I first read The Benedict Option my hope was that it wouldn’t just garner a bunch of reviews, then go the way of most books on the culture by becoming last year’s news. Because I think the book is more important than that. For two reasons: 1) it convincingly makes the argument that our culture is in the midst of a thoroughgoing cosmological shift (the neopaganism combined with a new religion of the Deified Desiring Self); 2) it explains the need for consciously chosen strategies of deeper Christian formation at the local, communal level. These two interlocked arguments are what gives the book its punch, at least from where I’m sitting.

My own initial reading (which I know some here have already read), that of a belatedly disillusioned leftist: [4]

#20 Comment By Hound of Ulster On February 15, 2018 @ 11:28 am

This is a bit of pattern for Our Working Boy. The ‘Western’ Christians seem really threatened by your book. Doesn’t matter if they are Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Pentecostal, liberal or conservative, you seem to have hit a vein with arguments that many ‘Western’ Christians would prefer to have been left alone.

Meanwhile the response from ‘Eastern’ Christianity to your book has been generally quite positive for the most part.

Very interesting patterns we see here.

#21 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 15, 2018 @ 12:38 pm


Rod, considering much of the rhetoric from you and some others over the past few weeks, I feel compelled to offer you this article as a comparison point: it appears rather possible to me that such stories about Christians will begin to make the “news” in increasing proportion and heightened profile (as in propaganda). It is further compelling because it seems fairly close-to-home for you, Voodoo/Vodou being a Louisiana landmark as it were for a very long time.

In case there should be any perceived ambiguities here, I will explicitly assert that this story is of personal interest to me as a Pagan, and I approach it from that POV first and foremost. The African diaspora traditions are integral to American Pagans, doubly so for the racist elements of their detractors and opponents. American Pagans have our distinct internal problems with racism, and we face them head-on.

#22 Comment By Clare Krishan On February 16, 2018 @ 4:22 am

Prior attempt to post URL for the VHI talk (with feisty Q & fortuitous A worth watching since not included in official transcript)*
seems to have been foiled, pls permit me to offer it again:


* which revivified my respect for ye rebellious colonials (having mortified my British-cradle-Catholic credentials experiencing such uncouthness from the invited guests. Not edifying nor to be emulated) and mysteriously served as Discernment of Spirits “on-the-fly” so to speak, with a beautiful quote from St. J.H.Newman thrown in as pleasing pneumatological purgative, a JPII call-to-holiness BXVI encounter if you will (with Pope Francis synodal nod to our Eastern brethren who celebrate The Encounter on Candlemas, or Groundhog Day, ie meeting of the infant Christ with Simeon and Anna.)

… cor-ad-cor loquitur

#23 Comment By Cynthia McLean On February 17, 2018 @ 8:04 pm

I’ll stick with Pope Francis.

#24 Comment By Rob G On February 20, 2018 @ 6:34 am

“Could someone explain to me how the Benedict Option is not just about hiding out in the woods? That’s how it appears to me from reading the Amazon description of the book and numerous articles and comments here on TAC.”

Uh, ya could, ya know, read the book.

[NFR: No! Not that! Anything but that! — RD]

#25 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 20, 2018 @ 10:06 am

Eric Mader:

Because I think [The Benedict Option] is more important than that. For two reasons: 1) it convincingly makes the argument that our culture is in the midst of a thoroughgoing cosmological shift (the neopaganism combined with a new religion of the Deified Desiring Self); 2) it explains the need for consciously chosen strategies of deeper Christian formation at the local, communal level.

Eric, as I hope you’ve seen on Rod’s blog comment threads, I try to express my Pagan (yes, a neo- one as well) perspective in a balanced fashion. I’ve not completed Rod’s book yet, so may have missed the parts to which you make your first point, so please have a grain of salt handy. I’ll just preface by asserting that Rod’s theory and intended practice have my full-throated support.

The boundary between Pagans and who we term as “The Big Three”, the Abrahamic traditions, is perhaps easier to define that it is to discuss. The balance point, if you will, is a mirror-twin to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is the stereotypical New Age mindset, where Love and Light are all there are in the universe, all else being illusion or delusion. To be fair, it is not a ubiquitous mindset by any means. It’s just got the highest profile in the public view.

I don’t denigrate your perspective in that first point. I do suggest a different angle: the shift is not a primary symptom. It is a milestone in a cyclic pattern.

If there is an overlap with MTD, and I stipulate that there is one, it is accompanied by a point of similarity: Pagans, neo- or other, have something that neither those Love and Light New Agers nor the MTDs have. It is something I’ve come to recognize in Rod and other Christians. It is a personal integrity and commitment to faith, a lived devotion to belief that combines with our inner dialogues, an internalized faith that transcends belief by itself.

Pagans and Christians (and the Other Two) will always have points of conflict between our beliefs. That cannot change. What we can have, what I believe we must have based on my interfaith work and the close bonds of friendship I’ve formed, is an acknowledged and valued common ground out of that integrity.

It may be a weak reassurance, but I will assert to you at the level of an oath that Pagans do not proselytize; indeed, we reject the very notion of it. We are called to our faith experientially, we are challenged to internalize it and push outwardly from there. We welcome the sincere seeker. We also expect that same integrity from the seekers, or we politely show them the door and wish them well in their seeking.