The following comes from a Feb. 14 posting on the Settimo Cielo blog by Sandro Magister.
The Benedict Option has now crossed the Atlantic and become a question of global import. A question that is certainly of no little account, because it concerns the future of Christianity in an ever more post-Christian era.
The American Rod Dreher, author of the proposal and of the book, is now traveling around France on a conference circuit and has given an exhaustive interview to the Catholic magazine la Nef. His book has been translated into French, and will soon be available in other languages.
But it has been the frontal attack that La Civiltà Cattolica has unleashed from Rome against The Benedict Option that has ratcheted up even more the level of the controversy.
Dreher is not Catholic. He used to be, now he is Russian Orthodox. But it is above all in the Catholic camp, and initially within the Catholicism of the United States, that his proposal made a splash and produced a very heated discussion.
It is a proposal, in fact, that radically brings into question — in addition to contrasting them with each other — both the current pontificate of Francis and that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
The Benedict of the “option” is not pope Joseph Ratzinger, but Benedict of Norcia, the great saint of the 5th and 6th centuries who was able to generate a formidable rebirth of Christian faith and culture in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman empire, that rebirth which the other Benedict, the pope, evoked masterfully in his memorable address of September 12 in Paris, at the Collège des Bernardins, essentially proposing that the Catholics of today grasp and revive his lesson, at the present juncture of civilization.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that from Rome, from a pope like Francis who is the standard bearer of an opposite vision, The Benedict Option should have been thrust onto the index through that organic mouthpiece of Jorge Mario Bergoglio which is La Civiltà Cattolica directed by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro.
Already last October 10, at a conference in the United States at the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Spadaro had attacked The Benedict Option, accusing it of giving in to the “Masada complex,” named after the fortress overlooking the Dead Sea in which a thousand Jews barricaded themselves under the assault of the Roman legions, after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, ending up by killing themselves.
But the lead article of the January 20 issue of La Civiltà Cattolica has raised the stakes even more, giving a hint right in the title as to the target of its attack:
The author of the article, Belgian Jesuit Andreas Gonçalves Lind, spares Dreher the formal accusation of heresy. But he goes much farther, because he equates his “option” with that of one of the best-known Christian heretics of the late empire, Donatus, against whom Saint Augustine fought with all of his strength.
And what would be represented by the “Donatist” heresy now under fire from La Civiltà Cattolica is described well in the reply from Dreher himself reproduced further below, full of citations from the accusatory article and of his detailed defenses of the authentic meaning of The Benedict Option.
But before giving the floor to the back-and-forth, it is helpful to preface it with two observations that Dreher himself makes in the interview with “la Nef.” Both of them with reference to the other Benedict, the pope.
“In 1969, Joseph Ratzinger had foreseen the current situation. He had predicted that the Church would go through a painful phase of penitence, in the course of which it would lose its power and its privileges; that many would fall but the courageous believers would remain. He concluded: ‘When the trials of this period of healing are overcome, this simpler and more spiritually rich Church will emerge from it expanded and strengthened.’ And he added: ‘At that point, men will see the little flock of believers in a new light. They will see it as the hope of something that is also meant for them, as a response that they had always secretly sought.’ The future of faith in the West will depend on our manner of living this prophecy.”
And the second:
“Benedict XVI, he again, was really right in saying that the two strongest arguments in favor of the Church are Christian art and the saints. Logic and reason have their place, but conversion arises above all from an encounter with beauty (art) and charity (the saints). Let us raise the standards of the Beautiful and the Good to convert this anti-rational world, because they will bring it, more surely than all the rest, to truth. This is the object of the new book on which I am now working. In it I analyze this saying of Benedict XVI in the light of the most characteristic passage from the novel Submission by Houellebecq: the mystical experience lived by the protagonist when, having gone on pilgrimage to Rocamadour, he prays before the Virgin. One question strikes me: how could he have prepared himself to say ‘yes’ to what he felt then? I think that Benedict XVI has the answer, and I will act so as to explain it.”
The complete text of the interview with la Nef can be read here:
While this is the complete text of Dreher’s extensive response to the article in La Civiltà Cattolica:
> The Donatist Option