Skip to comments.The Inconvenient Memoirs of Cardinal Biffi
Posted on 11/16/2010 9:11:53 AM PST by marshmallow
The new edition of his autobiography is being released in bookstores. With a hundred extra pages, and many surprises: on the postcouncil, the Jews, women, chastity, homosexuality. Here''s a preview
ROME, November 16, 2010 In two days, Italian bookstores will be selling the new expanded edition of the memoirs of Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 82, Milanese, archbishop of Bologna from 1984 to 2003.
The first edition of the book, released in 2007, made a strong impression. During Lent of that same year, Benedict XVI had called Biffi to preach the spiritual exercises at the Vatican.
That first volume was striking for the judgments in which the cardinal criticized the naïveté of John XXIII, the negative results of Vatican Council II, the silence on communism, the "mea culpas" of John Paul II, and many other things.
This new edition is also certain to make a stir. In reviewing his life, Biffi has added new chapters and new reflections. As always, in his biting, ironic, anti-conformist style.
The additional pages number about a hundred, and three selections from them are reviewed further below: on the aberrations following the Council, on the Church and the Jews, on the ideology of homosexuality.
But there is much more that is new, in this second edition of the book.
An entire new chapter is dedicated, for example, to the "challenge of chastity," with original and surprising reflections on the Christian response including celibacy "for the kingdom of heaven" to the dominant sexual theories and practices.
Another extensive "digression" concerns Christianity's conception of woman, revolutionary compared to those prevalent at various times and in various cultures.
Other pages revisit a highly criticized pope, Pius IX, with insightful observations on the prescient decisions he made.
Moreover, purebred Milanese that he is, Cardinal Biffi is not silent on the vicissitudes of the Ambrosian rite, the ancient and splendid liturgical rite used in the diocese of Milan since the time of St. Ambrose.
After being in serious danger of being abolished immediately after the Council, the Ambrosian rite was adapted to the new conciliar developments through painstaking work for which Biffi was partly responsible, when he was auxiliary bishop of Milan.
Recently, however, something has happened that Biffi himself has denounced publicly, and is summed up this way in the new edition of his memoirs:
"Starting in 2008, the series of Ambrosian books began to be expanded with volumes of a surprising lectionary offered to the devotees of the Milanese liturgy.
"It's got everything: empty and sometimes misleading archaisms, adventurous ceremonial innovations, unfounded and mistaken theological perspectives, wrongheaded pastoral proposals, and even a few strange linguistic gaffes.
"It is a far-reaching endeavor, unquestionably audacious and ambitious: more audacious than wise, more ambitious than enlightened. It will live long in the appalled memory of our Church.
"Now we can only entrust ourselves to the hope that an 'opus singulare' like this does not become the prime example of a new series of liturgical texts, developed in the same slipshod manner and with the same deplorable result."
Another reference to the diocese of Milan is in a chapter that Cardinal Biffi added toward the end of the book, in order to comfort those who fear a decline or even a disappearance of Christianity in the world.
In order to demonstrate that God "can always turn in favor of believers situations that appear desperate," Biffi gives two examples.
The first is the appointment of Ambrose as bishop of Milan in 374:
"After the twenty-year episcopacy of Auxentius, a man of polluted faith, in league with the Arian empress Justina and a docile instrument of court meddling in the life of the 'holy nation', humanly speaking no one would have bet a dime on the revival of Milanese Catholicism. But then came Ambrose, and everything changed. 'After the late death of Auxentius', St. Jerome writes in his 'Chronicon', Ambrose became bishop of Milan, and all of Italy returned to the true faith'."
The second example is the arrival of Charles Borromeo as head of the diocese in 1566:
"In the second part of the 16th century, after the long period of the 'de facto' unavailability of the pastors appointed (with the episcopacy, among others, of two worldly prelates from Ferrara, Ippolito I and Ippolito II dEste), no one could have decently hoped in a re-blossoming of Ambrosian Christianity. But in 1566 Charles Borromeo arrived, a 27-year-old cardinal, and began the true 'Catholic Reformation'."
"In both cases, the 'miracle' was accomplished using the twisted behavior of men. The episcopal selection of Ambrose, a loyal and capable imperial functionary, was part of Valentinian I's plans to increase his political interference in ecclesial life. The career of Charles Borromeo originated in the deplorable nepotism of Pope Pius IV, his mother's brother.
"It is, once again, the sense of humor of God, who enjoys bringing good from evil. As can be seen, even at the most depressing times, the faithful people can always look up, pray with a serene mind, and hope."
There is not one word about the bishops of Milan in the past thirty years, in this chapter. But it suffices to read his entire book of memoirs in order to understand how Biffi sees them.
For him, the luminous era of the great bishops of Milan of the 20th century genuine heirs of St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo ended with Giovanni Colombo. While his successors, Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi, have been far from brilliant. After them, nothing remains but to hope for another "miracle."
Finally, another new chapter of this book by Cardinal Biffi concerns Giuseppe Dossetti, politician turned priest, key figure of Vatican Council II, extraordinarily influential personality in Catholic culture over the past two decades, not only in Italy.
Biffi was well acquainted with Dossetti, who lived in the diocese of Bologna. He calls him an "authentic man of God" and a "generous disciple of the Lord." But to the question: "Was he also a true theologian and a trustworthy teacher in sacred doctrine?", the cardinal's answer is 'no'.
An extensively argued 'no'. Which will definitely lead to discussion. But www.chiesa will return to this in a later article.
Meanwhile, here are three samples of the many new contents of the second edition of Cardinal Biffi's memoirs.
COUNCIL AND "POSTCOUNCIL"
In order to bring a bit of clarity to the confusion that afflicts Christianity in our time, one must first distinguish very carefully between the conciliar event and the ecclesial climate that followed. They are two different phenomena, and require distinct treatment.
Paul VI sincerely believed in Vatican Council II, and in its positive relevance for Christianity as a whole. He was one of its decisive protagonists, attentively following its work and discussions on a daily basis, helping it to overcome the recurrent difficulties in its path.
He expected that, by virtue of the joint effort of all the bishops together with the successor of Peter, a blessed age of increased vitality and of exceptional fecundity must immediately benefit and gladden the Church.
Instead, the "postcouncil," in many of its manifestations, concerned and disappointed him. So he revealed his distress with admirable candor; and the impassioned lucidity of his expressions struck all believers, or at least those whose vision had not been clouded over by ideology.
On June 29, 1972, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, speaking off the cuff, he went to the point of saying that he had "the sensation that through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, trouble, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is not trusted . . . It was believed that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. What has come instead is a day of clouds, of darkness, of seeking, of uncertainty . . . We believe that something preternatural (the devil) has come into the world to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council and to prevent the Church from bursting into a hymn of joy for having regained full awareness of itself." These are painful and severe words that deserve painstaking reflection.
How could it have happened that from the legitimate pronouncements and texts of Vatican II, a season followed that was so different and distant?
The question is complex, and the reasons are multiform; but without a doubt one influence was a process (so to speak) of aberrant "distillation," which from the authentic and binding conciliar "reality" extracted a completely heterogeneous mentality and linguistic form. This is a phenomenon that pops up here and there in the "postcouncil," and continues to advance itself more or less explicitly.
We can, in order to make ourselves understood, hazard to illustrate the schematic procedure of this curious "distillation."
The first phase lies in a discriminatory approach to the conciliar pronouncements, which distinguishes the accepted and usable texts from the inopportune or at least unusable ones, to be passed over in silence.
In the second phase what is acknowledged as the valuable teaching of the Council is not what it really formulated, but what the holy assembly would have produced if it had not been hampered by the presence of many backward fathers insensitive to the breath of the Spirit.
With the third phase, there is the insinuation that the true doctrine of the Council is not that which is canonically formulated and approved, but what would have been formulated and approved if the fathers had been more enlightened, more consistent, more courageous.
With such a theological and historical methodology never expressed in such a clear fashion, but no less relentless for this reason it is easy to imagine the results: what is adopted and exalted in an almost obsessive manner is not the Council that in fact was celebrated, but (so to speak) a "virtual Council"; a Council that has a place not in the history of the Church, but in the history of ecclesiastical imagination. Anyone who dares to dissent, however timidly, is branded with the infamous mark of "preconciliar," when he is not in fact numbered among the traditionalist rebels, or the despised fundamentalists.
And because the "counterfeit distillates" of the Council include the principle that by now there is no error that can be condemned in Catholicism, except for sinning against the primary duty of understanding and dialogue, it becomes difficult today for theologians and pastors to have the courage to denounce vigorously and tenaciously the toxins that are progressively poisoning the innocent people of God.
A CARDINAL AND A POPE IN DEFENSE OF THE JEWS
On November 4, 1988, the Jews of Bologna rightly thought to commemorate publicly the 50th anniversary of the infamous and shameful anti-Semitic laws of 1938. With all my heart and with full conviction, I wanted to manifest my complete adherence on that occasion in the name of the entire Church of the city, pledging my personal attendance at the commemorative rite in the synagogue, where I was welcomed with warm hospitality and took part in the prayer.
Under the circumstances, I was reminded of the events of that long-ago 1938, which had struck me in a singular way at the time, although I was not even eleven years old.
In those days, anti-Jewish measures preceded by various publications on "race" of a pseudoscientific nature, approved if not directly commissioned by the regime rained down repeatedly on the dumbfounded Italian nation. To cite only the ones about which I have some information, on September 1 a decree-law of the council of ministers began to prohibit foreigners of Jewish origin from permanent residence in our territory. On September 2, another decree-law removed from all the schools of the realm, of every order and degree, the teachers and students of Jewish race. On November 10, another decree-law excluded the Jews from all jobs in the public administration, in quasi-governmental agencies, and in state-run businesses. And that was only the beginning of the harassment, which became ever more pervasive and devastating.
Our people, caught by surprise, were disoriented and dismayed, when suddenly a voice was heard from Milan it was the first, and remained the only one of someone with the courage to distance himself openly from all of the madness.
On November 13, from the pulpit of the cathedral of Milan, Cardinal Schuster, for the beginning of the Ambrosian Advent, gave a homily that from its very first words, instead of referring to the liturgical context, immediately addressed the subject that most concerned him:
"A kind of heresy has emerged abroad and is infiltrating more or less everywhere, which not only attacks the supernatural foundations of the Catholic Church, but in materializing in human blood the spiritual concepts of individual, nation, and country, denies humanity any other spiritual value, and thus constitutes an international danger no less serious than that of Bolshevism itself. It is what is called racism."
It is difficult today to realize the impression made by these words of criticism against the thought and actions of a government that, for decades, had not tolerated the slightest expression of dissent. They did not remain confined within the solemn atmosphere of a crowded cathedral: they were printed in the "Rivista Diocesana Milanese," and, two days after they had been pronounced, they were published in "L'Italia," the Catholic daily that was brought into our homes. In Rome, the fascist circles began to call for a retraction, or at least for a clear change of direction by the newspaper, with the threat (in case of refusal) of suppression without appeal.
The cardinal, however, was not left alone. From the pope arrived a message signed by his secretary, Monsignor Carlo Confalonieri: "The Holy Father exhorts the cardinal of Milan to uphold Catholic doctrine courageously, because this point cannot be ceded, nor can the newspaper 'L'Italia' change direction. 'Aut sit ut est, aut non sit' [Either this way, or not at all]. Which, if it should be forced to cease publication, should give the names of its subscribers to 'L'Osservatore Romano'."
The last sentence reminds us that Pius XI never gave up his "Milanese concreteness," not even in the most decisive and dramatic moments of his pontifical action.
I was only a boy; but from that event I understood what a "secular" and rational fortune is, when the hour of general timidity and submissive conformism comes, the presence in our country of the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).
There has been recently, however, someone in Italy (from the perch of one of the highest state offices) who in a completely unmotivated public statement has spoken of a deplorable silence of the Church in that circumstance. Of course, being of the year 1952, he has the extenuating circumstance of not yet having been born at the time; but he has the aggravating circumstance of having wanted, in spite of this, to speak on the subject, revealing at the same time his gratuitous preconceptions and his singular lack of knowledge.
THE IDEOLOGY OF HOMOSEXUALITY
Regarding the problem of homosexuality that is emerging today, the Christian conception tells us that one must always distinguish the respect due to persons, which involves rejecting any marginalization of them in society and politics (except for the unalterable nature of marriage and the family), from the rejection of any exalted "ideology of homosexuality," which is obligatory.
The word of God, as we know it in a page of the letter to the Romans by the apostle Paul, offers us on the contrary a theological interpretation of the rampant cultural aberration in this matter: such an aberration the sacred text affirms is at the same time the proof and the result of the exclusion of God from the collective attention and from social life, and of the refusal to give him the glory that he is due (cf. Romans 1:21).
The exclusion of the Creator determines a universal derailing of reason: "They became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:21-22). The result of this intellectual blindness was a fall, in both theory and practice, into the most complete dissoluteness: "Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies" (Romans 1:24).
And to prevent any misunderstanding and any accommodating interpretation, the apostle proceeds with a startling analysis, formulated in perfectly explicit terms:
"Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper" (Romans 1:26-28).
Finally, Paul takes pains to observe that the greatest abjection takes place when "the authors of these things . . . not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (cf. Romans 1:32).
It is a page of the inspired book, which no earthly authority can force us to censor. Nor are we permitted, if we want to be faithful to the word of God, the pusillanimity of passing over it in silence out of concern not to appear "politically incorrect."
We must on the contrary point out the singular interest for our days of this teaching of Revelation: what St. Paul revealed as taking place in the Greco-Roman world is shown to correspond prophetically to what has taken place in Western culture in these last centuries. The exclusion of the Creator to the point of proclaiming grotesquely, a few decades ago, the "death of God" has had the result (almost like an intrinsic punishment) of the spread of an aberrant view of sexuality, unknown (in its arrogance) to previous eras.
The ideology of homosexuality as often happens to ideologies when they become aggressive and end up being politically triumphant becomes a threat to our legitimate autonomy of thought: those who do not share it risk condemnation to a kind of cultural and social marginalization.
The attacks on freedom of thought start with language. Those who do not resign themselves to accept "homophilia" (the theoretical appreciation of homosexual relations) are charged with "homophobia" (etymologically, the "fear of homosexuality"). This must be very clear: those who are made strong by the inspired word and live in the "fear of God" are not afraid of anything, except perhaps the stupidity toward which, Bonhoeffer said, we are defenseless. We are now even charged sometimes with the incredibly arbitrary accusation of "racism": a word that, among other things, has nothing to do with this issue, and in any case is completely extraneous to our doctrine and our history.
The essential problem that presents itself is this: is it still permitted in our days to be faithful and consistent disciples of the teaching of Christ (which for millennia has inspired and enriched the whole of Western civilization), or must we prepare ourselves for a new form of persecution, promoted by homosexual activists, by their ideological accomplices, and even by those whose task it should be to defend the intellectual freedom of all, including Christians?
There is one question that we ask in particular of the theologians, biblicists, and pastoralists. Why on earth, in this climate of almost obsessive exaltation of Sacred Scripture, is the Pauline passage of Romans 1:21-32 never cited by anyone? Why on earth is there not a little more concern to make it known to believers and nonbelievers, in spite of its evident timeliness?
What a wonderful Cardinal — I’m kind of embarrassed that I never heard of him before, that I recall anyway!
I think that last part about homosexuality really deserves its own thread. I'm going to get cracking on that.
What a wonderful Cardinal Im kind of embarrassed that I never heard of him before, that I recall anyway!
I believe my head, heart and soul have been infused with a steel spine so to speak. Thanks be to God for my own sake and for those of the one true Church. I am happy. We so need this sure style of awakening.
My sadly zotted FRiend NCSteve (of the Church of Christ persuasion) was a big fan of Cardinal Biffi. We used to imagine inviting the dear old gent (and a translator ;-) out here for barbecue and then plying him with wine and really getting the scoop on the last 65 years.