THE CATHOLIC WANTS EVERYTHING (I) – An exclusive interview with Vittorio Messori
Vittorio Messori is one of the contemporary authors who have changed the world-view of many Catholics raised in the confused period after Vatican II. His book The Jesus Hypotheses (and all his other books) have exerted great influence in the life of many. A key figure in the Catholic world in recent decades considers Messori as the greatest Catholic writer of the 20th century.
Not long ago, he published Ipotesi su Maria (“The Mary Hypotheses”), a new edition of a book he had published few years earlier. It is an extraordinary book that should be read over and over by all those Catholics who think that we have to give away our Marian devotions and that our veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary is against the Scripture. It was a deeply humbling experience when he agreed to be interviewed. We hope that the reader will enjoy this interview: there are things here that might serve to inspire a very good Catholic life.
You have always mentioned that you have arrived at Catholicism through a conversion. What differentiates the perspective of a convert from that of those who were born in Catholicism?
Of course, each has its own story, his temperament. As far as I’m concerned, what is at the foundation of my conversion (a word I use with hesitation — we convert every day) was a gift: the gift of wonder. That is, to discover a reality that until then I had not seen, that life has meaning, that it is not going to end here with old age and death. So the converted, at least in my case, moves with amazement, even more determined than those who were born Christians, and who call themselves Christians and do not seem aware of the gift of faith, seem unaware of this announcement of eternal life, of this extraordinary nature of the God who became man. So if I had to summarize at least my situation without attempting to involve others, for me my conversion has been just that: the gift of wonder.
You have always said that in Catholicism exists an et-et (this and that) dimension more than the one of the aut-aut (this or that). What do you mean?
I mean, the law that holds Catholicism firm is that of et-et [literally “and” – “and” – Ed.], while that of heresy is the one of aut-aut [“either” – “or”]. It is no coincidence that “heretic” in Greek means “the one who chooses.” Instead, the Catholic wants everything.
In fact I was counting on doing sooner or later a book about this and would like to call We want it all. That is, Catholicism is inclusive, does not eject anything, wants to embrace everything. The law of Catholicism is the union of opposites, is the attempt to make a synthesis of what seems the opposite.
On the other hand, in my book called Some reasons for believing (“Qualche ragione per credere”), I say that everything in the Christian perspective, Catholic, is not simple, it requires a synthesis. For us God is one and triune, Jesus is true God and true man, the Church is the mystical body of Christ and a human institution, the Church is visible and invisible, in the Church there coexist freedom and obedience, the Bible includes Old and New Testaments, is the result of divine inspiration and human preparation, man is composed of soul and body, and Mary is Virgin and Mother, and so I could go on much longer.
They are apparently opposite realities, what could be more opposite than saying that Jesus is true God and true man; What’s more unthinkable than saying that God is one and triune. The task of the Catholic is to try to combine in a vital synthesis these things that seem to contradict each other. And so the logic of Catholicism is to not give up anything, but to unite all.
I smile when someone says, for example, thinking of Mary: “Mary is the cult of the great mother of pagan origin” and it is fine for me, I am very happy. Because Catholicism did not make a clean sweep of the past, Catholicism has taken from the past what is best. That is, even the veneration of the mother, which of course here has been transfigured, was taken from paganism, and so on. I think this is very important, because we are usually taken to be one-sided, either-or; but as I said, the aut-aut is not the figure of Catholicism, the figure of Catholicism is the et-et.
In your most famous book, The Jesus Hypotheses …
Well, it is not the most famous, is the first.
It was published in 1976 …
This book has been a global success. What remains of this book and have you ever thought of making a new version?
The work of Jesus Hypotheses has continued over the years. Because The Jesus Hypotheses is an attempt to deal with the overall theme, the theme of Jesus Christ and to reflect on it to see if it is compatible with reason.
After that, however, I wrote two books that, by the way, were really appreciated by Benedict XVI. When we met in September 2015, he wanted to thank me — it was very kind of him — for these two books which are an historical inquiry about the passion of the Lord that’s called Suffered under Pontius Pilate? (“Morì sotto Ponzio Pilato?”) and the other is an historical investigation about the resurrection, They say he is risen (“Dicono che è risorto”).
Why have I addressed in detail the passion and resurrection? Because someone said that after all, the Gospels are just a story of passion and resurrection with a long prologue. Everything is based on this. St Paul says that if Christ is not risen your faith is in vain.
So I tried to investigate carefully these two — I would say crucial — phases for faith: passion and resurrection. As for The Jesus Hypotheses, the talk has continued with the two books I mentioned, and the reason why I decided not to upgrade it is very simple: the studies on the New Testament have gone ahead but, except for some clarifications, did not lead to anything new and shocking.
And then with The Jesus Hypotheses I did not wish to make a definitive book, a book in which there was everything; I simply wanted to indicate a method. I wanted to try to explain a paradox: after examining all the possible hypotheses on the person and on the figure of Jesus. What is surprisingly discovered is that the most rational and acceptable hypothesis is precisely that of faith, the fact that we face a mysterious man. And so it is the method that interested me. In fact, even though it was not updated, the book is still in print and, seeing reports from the publishers, I realize that continues to have a strong presence with the readers.
In this book what strikes one’s attention is that you have identified a certain sentimental Catholicism which you called “the Lord of the ladies” (in Italian it is a play of words: Il Signore delle signore). This seems to be a still current problem?
No, here I would say that things have really changed. There is no longer this sentimental Catholicism that at least had its values, expressing a certain popular devotion. Now, if anything, the problem is not the one of the ladies, the problem is that of the so-called “adult Catholics” [“cattolici adulti” means those Catholics that want to detach themselves from some teachings of the Church].
The problem is that of a Catho-communism that unfortunately, even at the top … I thought that Catho-communism, liberation theology, were a sort of archaeological relic. But with surprise and even with a little bitterness, I saw that it is not like this, even among the leaders of the Church. The problem, however, is not that of sentimentality: the problem is that of a certain rationalism, of a certain free vision. For adult Catholicism, Catho-communism, what matters in fact is not the feeling, what matters is the class struggle. This is funny because after 25 years since the collapse of the Berlin wall there are still people who believe in Marxist categories. This seems really something grotesque but today in the Church these issues have returned. So between two evils, between the sentimental and the Catholic adult, I much prefer the sentimental.
(From O Clarim)