The "Dictatorship of Relativism" revisited: Platonism vs. pneumatology in the Vatican

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In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took the occasion of his last homily before election as Pope Benedict XVI to assault what he termed the "dictatorship of relativism," and Common Knowledge responded in 2007 with a double issue (vol. 13, nos. 2–3) in defense of relativism. Yaakov Mascetti's guest column revisits that controversy through a historical and theological reading of the ecclesiological conceptions of Ratzinger and his successor Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis). Ratzinger's Platonism and his idealist, Christocentric ecclesiology is posed against Bergoglio's Aristotelianism and his pneumatological realism about the church under postmodern conditions of rapid change and radical diversity. While Ratzinger fears that nonfoundational thought will result in the dictatorial imposition of successively less defensible and lasting sorts of order, for Bergoglio the problem is trivialization: a "kind of thought that banalizes everything." For Bergoglio, both the rapid change that relativistic thinking can occasion and the fear of such change are banal, given that the church and the world are in the hands of the Holy Spirit, whose intent is to multiply diversity, so that the fullness of God's infinite creativity is realized, and to draw out of that fullness a kind of unity that only the Spirit can devise. In contrast to the fixity of Ratzinger's Platonic ideal of the church as Eucharistic body of Christ, the model that Bergoglio proposes is purposively unstable in pursuit of a unity that human effort is unable to envision and provide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-217
Number of pages28
JournalCommon Knowledge
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018


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