Benedictine Radicalism

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monks.jpgOver at the WaPo/Georgetown kaffeeklatsch, Hoya gov prof Patrick J. Deneen (inspired by Dr. Robert Moynihan’s latest newsflash from Rome) argues that Pope Benedict (like the late Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire) is neither left, right, nor center, but a radical seeking to marshal a smaller, tougher, and more traditionalist Christianity against the barbarism of the present day. That doesn’t seem exactly a newsflash. The very name Benedict harks back to the author of the Rule that kept the house of the Western Church in order during what most people think of as the Dark Ages. (I’ll give myself a four-year-old footnote on the parallel.)

But while the monks were doing their orderly thing during what medieval historians don’t call the Dark Ages, there were not a few hard-working bishops doing their best to maintain order in society at large. These were men of substance and education, and they were, in the earlier Benedict’s day, married (check out Gregory of ToursHistory of the Franks). It seems to me that if Pope Benedict were really the radical Deneen thinks, he would be modeling his project on the bishops, not the monks. What he intends may not be exactly the louche clericalism pointed to by Andrew Sullivan (riffing on Chris Dierkes). But it’s a clericalism that seems ill-suited to creating much more than its own well-regulated, self-contained world.