Cardinal Ratzinger surprised the world when he elected Pope back in 2005, seen as an unpopular pick by the world. He once again surprised the world yesterday, this time as Benedict XVI, when he announced that he would resign from the papacy on February 28. What is so shocking about this announced resignation is that it is the first resignation of a Pope since 1415 (Gregory XII) and the first voluntary resignation since 1294 (Celestine V). To put this all in perspective, we must realize that in 1294 gunpowder had just been introduced to Europe via the Mongol invasions (though few European nations used it), Russia was fighting off the Mongol invasion, and the Crusades in the Middle East were wrapping up. In other words, what we’re experiencing is truly a one-in-a-lifetime event.
Of course, with the announcement of the Pope’s resignation many are turning to speculation on who could be the next pope. Similar to when Pope John Paul II passed away, many are hoping for a more “progressive” and “modern” pope who doesn’t hold to “12th century ideals.” Such a view, however, betrays the nature of not only the Catholic view of Truth, but the Christian view of Truth.
For one, all orthodox (little “o”) Christians should be insulted whenever someone says they hold to “Dark Age” ideals or “12th century ideals.” Not insulted because we have been taken out of the 20th and 21st centuries of our culture, but insulted because we have not been placed into the 1st and 2nd centuries of Christianity. The modern world views “truth” as a flavor of the moment. Truth is not eternal, but is internal, it is not objective, but is subjective. Thus, “truth” must progress if society is to survive. After all, we no longer believe that the earth revolves around the sun, nor do we believe in much of Newtonian physics. Just as those were “truth” for their time and place, but have since passed, so it must be with all truths.
However, not all truths do change with time. In fact, Christianity has always taught that there is a Necessary Truth (eternal), necessary within a context truths, and contingent truths. The problem with the modern world is its failure to distinguish between the type of truth statements. For instance:
“£100.00 is more than $1.00” is a contingent truth that is subject to change depending on many different variables. The British Pound must be valued more than the American dollar, both nations must exist, and so on for this statement to be true. This “truth” can change. The statement, “It is raining” or “it is sunny outside” or “it is 5pm” are all contingent truths; the statements are true, but they can change. Notice that such statements also don’t carry much importance or weight to them, nor can they really be debated. In other words, the more contingent a truth statement is, the less likely it is to matter or really cause a debate.
“The earth rotates around the sun” is a necessary truth within a context. It is not true that the earth has to rotate around the sun as neither necessarily has to exist. However, since both exist within a certain proximity to each other, each follows natural laws. “The earth rotates around the sun” is not true in a world where the sun and/or the earth do not exist. Thus, even these truths can change, but it is unlikely that they will as they relate more and more to the physical world. Likewise, typically the truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of the truth does change. That is, we once believed the sun rotated around the earth. Such a statement was never true, at no point did the sun rotate around the earth. But our understanding and discovery of this truth did change; the truth did not change, our view of it did.
These necessary truths within a context exist within morality. Rape, for instance, is always wrong when persons are involved. Now, this is still a type of contingent truth in that it relies on the existence of multiple persons capable of rape, but once those persons exist then the act of rape becomes a moral wrong. Some may want to take issue with this and argue that truths about morality are relative, but until they can provide a reason why we should take the physical laws as absolute, but not the moral ones, I fail to see why they should be taken seriously. We’ve experienced nearly a century of moral relativism and it has led to nothing more than the decay of society; just as humans cannot last if they ignore the physical laws, so too can they continue their existence if they ignore the moral laws.
Finally, there is one Necessary Truth. This is where the world and Christianity differ greatly. Our view is that there is an Objective, Eternal, Immutable Truth, but this Truth is not an abstract idea or a Platonic form, but is found in a Person, is found within God and is God. He is the eternal Truth that is unchanging. The decrees He sets forth that invite us to partake in His Divine energies and unite to Him, therefore, are not arbitrary rules established for holy living; they are not contingent ways of life that apply only to this world. They come from His essence (which is unknowable) and are therefore eternal. The good things of God do not change. Thus, the way to be holy, a holy lifestyle, the statutes and central theological points of Christianity simply are not subject to change because they derive from the Eternal One.
When everyone hopes for a progressive pope or a pope who isn’t stuck in “12th century thinking,” they are hoping for a pope that has abandoned the central claim of Christianity, namely that we follow “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” While some aspects of Christian ecclesiology can change (and in the case of Roman Catholics, should change, namely with forcing the priests to be celibate and allowing the Pope to declare theology ex cathedra), the central claims and teachings of Christianity cannot change because they are derived from an Immutable source. The Roman Catholics, though I believed are flawed in some things, still uphold the central Christian teachings and as such can never elect a Pope who wants to “progress” these teachings. There is no “progression” with immutable Truth.
Christianity, true Christianity, will never bow before the modern false god of progressivism. We reject the idea that all truth must constantly be moving forward; while we’re for progress, we mean that in a quantifiable sense. We believe that any progress made must be true progress that reflects and lives up to the ancient ideals of the faith. Some say that as long as Christians hold onto their ancient beliefs, they will continue to shrink in numbers. But I point to the fact that true, historic, Tradition-based Christianity has survived for 2,000 years. We’ve survived a multitude of empires, kingdoms, nations, invasions. We’ve survived natural disasters, the plague, and persecution. Many, especially within the past two hundred years, have called out and said that they would beget the end of Christianity. Yet Christianity survives and her detractors are long since dead. Our numbers may shrink or we may be completely eradicated from one area due to our own inaction. But so long as we hold to the Eternal Truth we will outlast any philosophy, any argument, and any change around us. Christianity only fails when it abandons Eternal Truth in an effort to appease the cult of progressivism; instead, we must remain fast in our democracy of the dead, in following the ancient faith handed down to us from ancient times from the Eternal Source.