Top Vatican official extends his eulogy for David Bowie

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The cover of the current edition of Time magazine, which leads with a tribute to the late David Bowie.

The cover of the current edition of Time magazine, which leads with a tribute to the late David Bowie.

(RNS) One of the first and notable tributes to David Bowie to pop up on social media when news of his death was announced was a tweet from what seemed like an unlikely source: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who basically serves as the culture minister for Pope Francis at the Vatican.

But Ravasi is in fact a widely read intellectual with a passion for engaging every facet of culture and society, so his Twitter tribute — a few lines from Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — were in keeping with his approach.

It seems the cardinal’s appreciation of Bowie’s artistry went much deeper than 140 characters, however, and Ravasi subsequently penned an extended appreciation in The Tablet of London that, he wrote, “arises from an effort I made long ago to uncover his secret and implicit spirituality”:

The references in Bowie’s art and music to spirituality, often in anguish and torment, are more than can be counted, and were never excluded from his life. “I’m a young man at odds / With the bible / But I don’t pretend faith never works / When we’re down on our knees / Prayin’ at the bus stop,” he wrote in “Bus Stop”, one of the tracks on the album Tin Machine (1989).

The arrival of Jesus on earth left Bowie with a mix of hope and incredulity. Yet he never abandoned that part of his soul, he never ceased asking for a sign from God: “Open up your heart to me / Show me who you are / And I would be your slave … Give me peace of mind at last / Show me all you are / Open up your heart to me (“I Would Be Your Slave” from the album Heathen, 2002) …

… This moral tension will certainly be present in his final album, Blackstar, released only two days before his death. I am not fully familiar with it yet, but I am sure that this great original, a leading protagonist of contemporary music, who was always on the unstable boundary between the sacred and the profane, will again speak, in his own way, of the spiritual.

Bowie’s unique voice managed – even if “laically”, in a non-churchy way – to make the souls of all those with a restless conscience vibrate.

Ravasi’s praise has raised some eyebrows, and one priest, the Rev. George Rutler, a traditional-minded pastor from New York, wrote a pointed dissent that blasted Ravasi and the Vatican for praising Bowie as representative of a dissolute culture:

I speak not only as an aesthete who publicly avows that he prefers Mozart and Chopin to (Michael) Jackson and Bowie, but as a priest who has to pick up the pieces of those who never knew they had a choice. And I object to comfortable prelates in a higher realm, penning panegyrics for the doyens of a culture that destroys my children …

… Christ was a carpenter and his apostles were mostly fishermen and none of them was what is called today a “metrosexual.” I am not sure what that term fully means, but it embraces anyone who weeps for paragons of degeneracy and paladins of vice.

Or, if you prefer a more concise form, there was this tweet from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League:

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the Christianity Today appreciation from Greg Thornbury, an evangelical admirer of Bowie, light and shadow:

David Bowie: The Pulse Returns to the Prodigal
What do we learn from the complicated legacy of a beloved icon?

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

  • in the old days of being “relational”…(just post Vatican II)…this would show the cardinal was “cool” and worthy to be deemed part of the “in-group” of whatever group it was. Now, it is reaching out to the “periphery” as part of the new pastoral evangelization. Same difference. The fact is that the UK is a total mess, a pit of despair, cut off almost completely from the True Faith (IMHO). Any and all out-reach to them is fine with me. Just wait until Elton John dies…You will see rainbow altar cloths and chasubles for him! And the Catholic clergy will show their “True Colors” in celebration of “a life well lived….” eh.

  • Fr Peter Calabrese

    Dr. Greg has a more disconcerting criticism of which I was unaware. While they are allegations surely the pop world knows the truth of them.

  • David Gibson

    I’d heard those charges, important to get out there — and not terribly surprising given the times. Did Bowie ever respond? Did the victims ever sue or try to press charges?

  • RW

    Now you understand why many Cardinal Ravasi has twice as many Twitter followers as the Catholic League.

  • larry

    The Catholic League is one person with a loud mouth and very little nice to say about anyone or anything.

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  • N

    “All I know is that Bowie was a switch-hitter who tried to sing.”

    Which enough for me to know that Donahue doesn’t really know enough for anyone to take what he says seriously. Not that this is unprecedented or anything.

  • will

    Oh yeah, that’s right. Truth is determined by the number of Twitter followers a person has.

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