Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna who died on Saturday at age 87, had a surname that every bit reflected his robust and, at times, prophetic and pugnacious defense of the Catholic faith.
In his later years, he became an expert in identifying characteristics of the Antichrist, and predicted the tyranny of an “ideology of homosexuality” that threatened to usher in a new form of persecution.
Well known for his frank and original preaching, he became the theological and moral standard-bearer for the conservative wing of the Church in Italy, although he was thought to have always shunned such labels.
The Italian newspaper Il Foglio said this week that he was the “expression of a Church that no longer exists.” Not for him was the vision of Cardinal Carlo Martini, the late liberal archbishop of Milan, who wanted the church to “make up for a delay of 200 years since the French Revolution,” wrote Il Foglio’s editor Giuliano Ferrara. Instead, Biffi was a strong opponent of Modernism, and many of his comments proved to be prescient.
In 2004 the Italian cardinal described the Antichrist as "walking among us" and, quoting Vladimir Soloviev, a Russian theologian, said he will appear “as a pacifist, ecologist, and ecumenist" and probably be a prominent philanthropist.
He warned that such a person would seek a consensus among all Christian confessions, thereby watering down the Catholic faith. “The masses will follow him, with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants," he said.
For Cardinal Biffi, this narrative was a warning against a Christianity which “puts aside Jesus with his cross and resurrection." Leading a 2007 Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia at the request of Benedict XVI, he said if Christians limited themselves to speaking of “shared values,” they would be “more accepted” in the media and in social groups, “but in this way, they will have renounced Jesus, the overwhelming reality of the resurrection."
The cardinal said he believed this was "the danger that Christians face in our days,” that the Son of God “cannot be reduced to a series of good projects sanctioned by the prevailing worldly mentality."
He noted the existence of “relative values, such as solidarity, love of peace, and respect for nature” but warned that if these “become absolute, uprooting or even opposing the proclamation of the event of salvation, then these values become an instigation to idolatry and obstacles on the way of salvation."
The Italian cardinal also affirmed that "if Christianity — on opening itself to the world and dialoguing with all — dilutes the salvific event, it closes itself to a personal relationship with Jesus and places itself on the side of the Antichrist."
At his funeral Tuesday, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna stressed that Biffi had a “very high concept of dialogue” and rejected the kind that “reduces us all to the lowest common denominator.” He believed that dialogue must “coincide with evangelization,” Caffarra said.
In 2010, Biffi warned that freedom of thought and expression were under threat from an “ideology of homosexuality” and foresaw that “attacks on freedom of thought start with language."
He observed that those who “do not resign themselves to accept 'homophilia' [are] charged with 'homophobia,'” and asked that if society no longer tolerates Christians following the teaching of Christ, “must we prepare ourselves for a new form of persecution, promoted by homosexual activists, by their ideological accomplices, and even by those whose task it should be to defend the intellectual freedom of all, including Christians?"
Biffi was also similarly outspoken in his criticisms of freemasonry and feminism.
Born in Milan in 1928, Giacomo Biffi served as archbishop of Bologna from 1984 to 2003. He was also known for his sense of humor, during the 2005 conclave he allegedly asked who it was who kept voting for him to be Pope.
"I've been getting this one vote,” he told a cardinal next to him at the end of the third ballot. “If I ever find out the obstinate person who is responsible for this, I'll slap him in the face".
The person voting for him, it allegedly turned out, was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Benedict XVI, leading a colleague to tell him: “If you are to keep your word, you'd have to slap the Pope!”
Italian center-right politician Pier Ferdinando Casini said at Biffi’s funeral that Biffi “spoke clearly” and said “sometimes unpleasant things to some who listened, but he did so with an honesty and an enormous spiritual and moral rectitude.”
He was a “great hero of our time,” Casini said, “a man who I think Bologna and the Italian Catholic world will remember.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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