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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Best Papal Obituary I've Read Yet... by Billmon. Or, at least, it's probably the closest one to the way I feel, being a somewhat dispassionate Protestant observer.

On balance I think Christianity has been a net positive for the world, despite its frequent fits of ignorance and intolerance. I guess I would assign the Catholic Church alone a slighty lower score -- mainly for allowing itself to become such a cesspool during the late Middle Ages. But still, on balance, positive.

For John Paul, though, I'm tempted to close out the books even closer to break even -- more because of the opportunity costs of the things he failed to do as pope, rather than for losses suffered because of the things he did do.

But the truth is, I really don't have tenough moral computing power to net that one out. A little humility is called for here -- even for a judgmental old lefty like me. The pope is a big guy and the Catholic Church is a big organization, and it's been in business a long time. In fact, unless I've overlooked something in the historical catalog, the church can rightly claim to be the planet's oldest surviving institution -- if you define an institution as an organization with unitary leadership, a generally accepted system of succession, and a permanent bureacracy.

Two thousand years is a remarkable run for an entity run by creatures who, even under the best conditions, typically live only about 1/30th that long. Walking in the Lateran Basilica -- the ancient seat of the papacy in Rome, before it moved into that gaudy Renaissance pile across the Tiber -- you get an incredible sense of this antiquity. The Lateran is built more or less on the same plan as the ruined Basilica of Constantine down in the forum, and is filled with columns, mosaics, friezes and other fancy bits of stone scavenged from the palaces of the emperors. It symbolizes, in other words, the almost seamless transition from imperial to papal authority, pushing the roots of the church back to the dawn of Latin civilization itself.

As they say, read the whole thing.

|| RPH || 3:20 PM || |