I wasn't a Catholic when I first started reading John's website. He is probably partly to blame for how I turned out, along with G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Fr. John Neuhaus. Which is just as well, since none of these men are around to defend themselves any longer. John had a theological bent that showed in all of his writing. I was intrigued, and it led me on.
John's take on papal encyclicals, and the papacy itself was particularly formative. The Anglo-Saxon parts of Europe and their overseas progeny are currently ascendant, and we are right to see those individualistic cultures as uniquely successful, and as the birthplace of the political notions that currently dominate the world. However, it is worth remembering that space was opened in Western Civilization for liberty when a Pope forced an Emperor to kneel in the snow. I have come to see this as one of the defining features of Western Civilization, and also how Western Christianity differs from Eastern. The space that opened up between Church and State allowed for more real freedom than anyone had ever had, and also served as the first example of the principle of checks and balances that American democracy embraces.
John saw the Papacy as a unique institution in the world, one tied up with the fate of the West. It is also the nucleus of something greater, as the oldest transnational institution. The Bishop of Rome has variously been "a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory."
The Pope may not have many divisions, but the Holy See bulks large in international politics. If a system of world governance crystallizes, the Holy See will be a part of it. This is why people who aren't Catholic care so much about who is Pope. They rightly surmise that much is at stake. On a personal level, John was a fan of Benedict the XVI as well. John understood him better than most. I don't think John would have been surprised by Benedict's resignation. John always saw him as an unwilling pope who accepted elevation out of obedience, when he would have much rather gone back to live a life of writing, prayer, and meditation. I am sad that John didn't live to see Pope Francis. I would rather have enjoyed his commentary. Ah well. Perhaps we'll catch up someday.
I am what is known as an "orthodox" Roman Catholic. This means that, while my views are conservative, I do not think I am any more Catholic than the Pope. This is an important point
Readers who have looked under the other headings of this Web site will have noticed a certain theological twist in everything I write. Here are some pieces that deal directly with religious questions. Just click on the underlined words:
The Reformation: A History [Diarmaid MacCulloch on one of God's Great Mistakes.] The Interior Castle [Saint Teresa of Avila describes the best case.]
Revelation of the Magi [Brent Landau's translation and commentary of an ancient Syriac text that is not quite the Party Line.] Findings [Charles Upton chronicles the decay of Traditionalism in the latter Kali Yuga.] The Red Book [Carl Gustav Jung's psyche in illuminated color, also called Liber Novus.]
American Babylon [Father Richard John Neuhaus's last book was on politics in the light of the eschaton.]
Earthly Powers [Michael Burleigh on "The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War."] Eschatology [Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) on Death, Eternal Life, and the End of the World.]
Spe Salvi [A review of Benedict XVI's second encyclical, Saved by Hope. The document is really about the idea of progress.] Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion [David Gelernter assures Americans that they are not as other men.]