Perhaps the most important teaching of our great Anglican Doctor C S Lewis was his insistence on the importance of reading Old Books. I believe he once recommended never reading a new book until one had read two old ones. He emphasised that an Old Book is not always right; but the characteristic errors of one age are rarely the same as those of another age. We read Old Books not because we are confident that their oldness renders them infallible, but because we know that there is a fair chance that they might offer us an antidote to the errors of our own age.
I am going to commend to you Meditations for each day, by Antonio Cardinal Bacci, written in Italian in 1959 by that great Latinist; translated into English in 1965; reprinted in 2018 by Arouca Press. ISBN 978-1-9994729-0-0. Yes, the Bacci who with Cardinal Ottaviani signed the 'Intervention'.
The very thought of little books offering a daily meditation might very naturally make you groan and beg God "Not another one". But Bacci's Meditations is not a little book and it is a book for grown-ups. It is jam-packed full of real red meat.
Just one example of where this book can lead you. On January 20, the heading is "The Pope". That day's meditation is red meat indeed. "To argue or murmur against the Pope is to argue or murmur against Jesus Himself". Gracious ... does that apply to the current pontificate? The Editor apparently thinks ("... these words can be easily misunderstood ...") that it needs qualification, since a quotation is provided at the foot of the page, from a manual of Dogmatic Theology published in 1958, which sets the matter in a doctrinal context.
Because, to get the benefit from Old Books, you do have to read them with a lively critical attention. When Bacci wrote, the occupant of the Roman See expressed himself comparatively rarely and with careful, even paranoid, circumspection. A draft document would have made its way through the many revising hands of competent theologians with pencils carefully trained to make corrections or suggestions. Whatever finally emerged with the pope's name attached to it came (at least, was intended to come) from the Magisterium of the Successor of S Peter. It was a commonplace that even the Pope was obliged to use human means (media humana) in his protected and guaranteed ministry.
One of the mistakes of Pope Benedict was to chat with journalists on airliners. But this pontificate, as we all know, has thrown all and any caution to the winds. It is not easy to treat the lightest word of a pope as the words of our Redeemer if that pope is quite likely to lose his temper at the drop of a hat and call you a shit-eater. And when competent people tell you that even his more formal writings are either heretical or tend towards heresy. When one of his friends assures you that this pope is gloriously free of the constraints of both Scripture and Tradition. Free!!!
I have often reminded readers of Blessed John Henry Newman's terminology about the papacy and the episcopacy (the 'Ecclesia docens') during the Arian Crisis. He wrote of a "suspense" in the function of the Magisterium.
That "suspense" did not last much more than half a century. But it was as terribly real as the ordeal through which we are living.
We must pray for the day when the words of Cardinal Bacci are again practical advice for each of the Faithful; when this pontiff or a successor again actually exercises his Petrine Office; when we will be able to return to and embrace the advice of Bacci: "His dignity and authority, then, are almost divine. Let us bow humbly before such greatness, Let us promise to obety the Pope as we would Christ ..."