Chesterton says somewhere that a courageous man should be willing to attack an error, however ancient it is, but he goes on to add that there are some errors too old to be patronized. This observation comes to mind this morning as I read about the resignation of Pope Benedict.
As a classical Protestant, there are aspects of this that should be filed under “none of my business.” How another communion selects their next leader is not really my concern. I don’t get to have an opinion. But that reality is of limited value here.
This is because, at the same time, as a resident of the West, I understand that the office of the pope is not some ceremonial vestige of the 14th century. It is no figurehead position. Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II, for example, all deserve a great deal of credit for the collapse of communism, and so that shows how the election of the pope can matter to people who would never think of attending Mass. This is actually a big deal for everybody.
The next big thing, the thing we are atually in the middle of right now, is the attempted institutional codification of the sexual revolution. We see this in the efforts to rewrite what marriage is, what ordination is, and what the image of God is. The longer Rome holds the line on this (or appears to), the more attractive Rome will become for those discouraged Christians who are tired of being pastored by your average evangelical squish. What good is it to remain in a Protestant denomination that holds fast on how a person is to be justified sola fide, rah!, while having abdicated entirely on what a person actually is?
For the record, there is a better way. There are true Protestant communions out there that are holding fast across the board. We can best honor the places where the Catholics are holding firm in the contemporary battles by holding firm there ourselves (by being pro-life, by thinking that boys are not girls, and similar extremist views), and by also not apologizing for the places where the Reformers had it right. You don’t have to win the current battle by acting like your accomplishments in previous battles were actually defeats.
But as we descend into the maelstrom of the next few decades, which I am beginning to suspect will look like the last ten minutes of a three-act farce, there will be times when I expect this Scots Presbyterian will be manning the barricades right next to someone who says the rosary more than he ought to. Oh, well. What can you do? It’s a farce.
As an aside, I really do hope that the next pope is from sub-Saharan Africa, if for no other reason than to watch up-to-date journalists struggle with the fact that they don’t get to call him an “African-American.” No, no, I will say, wagging my finger at the screen. He’s an African. Not an African American. America doesn’t enter into it, you conceited, ethno-centric tool.