But it's not.
The point, so I take it, of Douthat's recent NY Times editorial is that more "assertive" faiths attract converts, while the "ecumenical" denominations have lost them. (People like a tough God nowadays.) This is why, Douthat concludes, Pope Benedict XVI's outreach to schismatic Latin Mass adherents and conservative Anglicans were such strokes of genius. The real move -- and the real genius -- however, is that:
in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam....Christianity vs. Islam. Good vs. Evil. Douthat's quite comfortable with this manichean world and, in fact, he might be right that that's exactly what Benedict XVI's doing -- using an external "enemy" to broaden Catholicism's tent. That latter bit is more troubling than the former. Douthat can think what he wants. There are plenty of people who are foolish enough to think that you can reify a religion -- any religion -- then chop it down to its "most basic" elements, thus ignoring context and historical circumstance. Whatever. But is the Pope doing this too?
There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.
This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.
As Douthat notes, Benedict has indeed done this before, in his Regensberg address. Benedict was a medievalist, after all, so why not look back to Urban II or Innocent III as models? Better yet -- stunningly -- how about Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny? This last guy might not seem to fit but there does seem to be a pattern here. Benedict says of Peter:
he showed care and solicitude even for those who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated.Mostly, Benedict speaks of Peter's love of "peace." Ironic. Dominique Iogna-Prat has done some excellent work on Abbot Peter and what Benedict doesn't tell you is that Peter had the Quran translated so that Christians might better write polemics against Islam and so that Christian preachers might better work to convert the infidel. Abbot Peter was a staunch advocate for the Templars, for Crusades against the enemies of Christ, for the persecution of the Jews. Ultimately, Peter was concerned with constructing an intellectual wall around Christendom, where all non-Christians -- Jews, Muslims, heretics -- wouldn't be able to touch/ to stain/ to pollute the faithful.
This was where a manichean world-view led in the late Middle Ages. Christians vs. non-Christians. Good vs. Evil. This was the path that led to the crusader sack of Constantinople, to the Albigensian Crusade, to the provisions of Lateran IV, to the office of the Inquisition, to the expulsion of the Jews from the fledgling nations of Europe.
This is a path we ought not retread and a path both Douthat and Pope Benedict ought be aware of. Benedict is not Peter the Venerable, nor is he Pope Innocent III, but Benedict is no liberal either.