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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
An excess of monuments ensures none will be remembered. One reason why I was pleased at the elevation of Pope Benedict to his present office despite the fact that some of his more liberal rivals for the job might have had beliefs closer to mine is that he clearly does not regard the teachings of his church as his personal property. He has no desire to innovate in order to memorialise himself, like Mitterand causing a glass pyramid* to be built in the courtyard of the Louvre.
In the secular world, if every king seeks to leave his monument they all become unmemorable. The Pharoahs had accounts of their victories cut into stone. True, they are still read thousands of years later, but the accounts are so stylized and conventional that carvings made centuries apart repeat each other verbatim. The very names of the conquered chieftains and the tributes they laid at Pharaoh's feet are the same. No modern ruler is likely to make that mistake: our grands projets differ spectacularly in physical form. There's a sort of sameness of concept about them, nonetheless.
Getting back to the subject of the papacy, even an an amoral, vainglorious pope indifferent to the truth of the teachings it is his task to proclaim (in no way is Benedict any of those things - but some of his predecessors were) should beware as a matter of prudence from trying to "leave his mark" on doctrine. The warlike Pope Julius II would be most displeased to know that not one in a hundred of us could name him as the Pope who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel but at least we know that some Pope or other did, and know what a Pope is, because Julius did not mess around with what the church taught. He may have ignored it but he didn't change it. There can only be so many changes in the content of a faith before it becomes too amorphous to transmit. The tablets are no longer stone but mud. If that happens the Holy Father will no longer be father of anything.
This is degenerate advice to offer compared to the argument that matters: that while there is scope for men to argue that the will of God might have been misunderstood in past ages, and scope to use logic to deduce what the Church should teach in new situations, there is no scope for a mere man to change God's word. But if (as is likely given Benedict's age) it is soon time for the next conclave to convene, and if (as is less likely) the next Bishop of Rome is of like temper to Julius II, then I submit these musings for His Magnificence to consider.