Pope's Homily at Birthday Mass

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2012 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Monday at a Mass marking his 85th birthday and baptism anniversary.

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Lord Cardinals,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

On the day of my birthday and Baptism, April 16, the liturgy of the Church points to threewhich indicate to me where the road leads and which help me to find it. In the first place, there is the memoria of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes; then, there is one of the more particular Saints of the history of the Church, Benedict Joseph Labre; and then, above all, is the fact that this day is always immersed in the Paschal Mystery, in the Mystery of the Cross and of the Resurrection, and in the year of my birth it was expressed in a particular way: it was Holy Saturday, the day of God’s silence, of the apparent absence, of the death of God, but also the day in which the Resurrection was proclaimed.

Bernadette Soubirous. The simple girl of the South, of the Pyrenees – we all know and love her. Bernadette in the France of the Enlightenment of the 19th century, in a poverty difficult to imagine. The prison, which was abandoned because it was too unhealthy, became, in the end – after some hesitations -- the family’s dwelling, in which she spent her childhood. There was no possibility of school formation, only some catechism in preparation for her First Communion. But precisely this simple girl, who was pure and genuine in heart, who had a heart that sees, was able to see the Lord’s Mother and, in her, the reflection of the beauty and goodness of God. Mary was able to show herself to this girl and through her to speak to the century and beyond the century itself. Bernadette was able to see with a pure and genuine heart. And Mary indicated to her the source: she was able to discover the source, the living water, pure and uncontaminated; water that is life, water that gives purity and health. And through the centuries, now, this living water is a sign on Mary’s part, a sign that indicates where the sources of life are, where we can be purified, where we find what is uncontaminated. In this our time, in which we see the world in so much anxiety, and in which the need of water bursts out, of pure water, this sign is that much greater. From Mary, from the Mother of the Lord, from a pure heart, pure, genuine water also comes which gives life, the water than in this century – and in the centuries that might come – purifies and heals us.

I think we can consider this water as an image of the truth that comes to us in faith: truth not simulated but uncontaminated. In fact, to be able to live, to be able to become pure, we are in need of having in us the nostalgia of the pure life, of the truth that is not distorted, of what is not contaminated by corruption, of being men without stain. See how this day, this little Saint has always been for me a sign that has indicated where the living water comes from of which we are in need – the water that purifies us and gives us life -- and a sign of how we should be: with all the knowledge and all the capacities, which also are necessary, we must not lose the simple heart, the simple look of the heart, capable of seeing the essential, and we must always pray to the Lord that we preserve in us the humility that enables the heart to be clear-sighted – to see what is simple and essential, the beauty and goodness of God – and thus find the source from which the water comes that gives life and purifies.

Then there is Benedict Joseph Labre, the pious mendicant pilgrim of the 18th century who, after several useless attempts, finally found his vocation of pilgrim as mendicant – without anything, without any support and not keeping for himself anything of what he received except that of which he had absolute need – pilgrimaging through the whole of Europe, to all the shrines of Europe, from Spain to Poland and from Germany to Sicily: a truly European Saint! We can also say: a somewhat particular Saint who, begging, wandered from one shrine to another and wished to do nothing other than pray and with this give witness to what matters in this life: God. He certainly does not represent an example to emulate, but he is a, a finger pointing to the essential. He shows us that God alone suffices, that beyond all thatin this world, beyond our needs and capacities, what counts, the essential is to know God. He alone suffices. And this “God alone” he indicates to us in a dramatic way. And at the same time, this really European life that, from shrine to shrine embraces the whole European continent makes evident that he who opens himself to God is no stranger to the world or to men, rather he finds brothers, because on God’s side, borders fall, God alone can eliminate borders because thanks to Him we are all only brothers, we are part of one another; it renders present that the oneness of God means, at the same time, the brotherhood and reconciliation of men, the demolishing of borders that unites and heals us. Thus he is a Saint of peace precisely in as much as he is a Saint without any exigency, who is poor of everything yet blessed with everything.

And then, finally, the Paschal Mystery. On the same day I was born, thanks to the care of my parents, I was also reborn by water and the Spirit, as we just heard in the Gospel. In the first place, there is the gift of life that my parents gave me in very difficult times, and for which I owe them my gratitude. However, it is not taken for granted that man’s life is in itself a gift. Can it really be a beautiful gift? Do we know what is incumbent on man in the dark times he is facing – also in those more luminous ones that might come? Can we foresee to what anxieties, to what terrible events he might be exposed? Is it right to give life thus, simply? Is it responsible or is it too uncertain? It is a problematic gift if it remains independent. Biological life of itself is a gift, and yet it is surrounded by a great question. It becomes a real gift only if, together with it, one can make a promise that is stronger than any misfortune that can threaten one, if it is immersed in a force that guarantees that it is good to be man, that for this person it is a good no matter what the future might bring. Thus, associated to birth is rebirth, the certainty that, in truth, it is good for us to be, because the promise is stronger than the threats.

This is the meaning of rebirth from water and the Spirit: to be immersed in the promise that God alone can make: it is good that you are, and it is true regardless of what happens. From this certainty, I have been able to live, reborn by water and the Spirit. Nicodemus asks the Lord: “Can an old man be born again?” Now, rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must grow continually in it, we must always let ourselves me immersed in God’s promise, to be truly reborn in the great, new family of God which is stronger than all the weaknesses and all the negative powers that threaten us. This is why this is a day of great thanksgiving.

The day on which I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was usual to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would have been followed again by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia. It seems to me that this singular paradox, this singular anticipation of the light in a dark day, could be almost an image of the history of our days. On one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God, and on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear his speaking, and through the darkness of his absence we perceive his light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the midst of a history that evolves is the force that indicates the road to us and that helps us to go forward.

We thank the good God for this light he has given us and we pray that it will always be with us. And on this day I have reason to thank Him and all those who have always made me perceive the Lord’s presence, who have accompanied me so that I would not lose the light.

I am facing the last lap of the course of my life and I do not know what awaits me. I know, however, that the light of God is, that He is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness; that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil of this world. And this helps me to go forward with confidence. This helps us to go forward and in his hour I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who continually make me perceive the “yes” of God through their faith.

Finally, Cardinal Dean, my cordial gratitude for your words of fraternal friendship, for all the collaboration in all these years. And a big thank you to all the collaborators of the 30 years in which I have been in Rome, who helped me bear the weight of my responsibility. Thank you. Amen.


Foundation to Promote Thought of Benedict XVI

Announced at Gathering of Pope's Former Students

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 1, 2008 - A foundation devoted to the promotion of the thought of Benedict XVI will be launched this fall in Munich.

The news was announced this weekend at the annual meeting of the “Ratzinger Schülerkreis” (Ratzinger’s Circle of Students), composed of the Pope's former doctoral and postdoctoral students. The gathering, held at Castel Gandolfo, ended today.

According to a press release sent out by Divine Word Missionary Father Vincent Twomey, a member of the circle, this was the 30th meeting of the Schülerkreis since it was set up after then professor Joseph Ratzinger was named archbishop of Munich and elevated to cardinal in 1977. Some 40 former students were present.

The final details of the newly established Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Foundation were approved at the plenary sessions, held under the chair of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna. The foundation will be publicly launched Nov. 12 in Munich

The press statement explained that the foundation is devoted to "the promotion of theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger."

"The board of trustees," it added, "whose members include former students from Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Benin, and the United States, reflects the international character of the Schülerkreis and the international scope of the foundation’s outreach."

Historical Jesus

At this year's meeting, two Lutheran scriptural scholars, Martin Hengel and Peter Stuhlmacher -- both professors at the University of Tübingen, where Ratzinger taught in the 1960s -- were invited to read papers in the presence of the Pope.

The statement of the circle reported that the topic was "the historicity of the Gospel narratives and the particular topic of Jesus’ consciousness of the significance of his own pending death."

It added that Benedict XVI, who is in the process of writing the second volume of his book "Jesus of Nazareth," took part in the "lively discussion [...] with the same frankness, humor, and clarity that marked all his university seminars and colloquia."

For the first time ever, doctoral students who are researching the Pope’s theology were invited to meet the Pontiff and his former students.

Some 17 young theologians presented their research projects at two sessions this weekend, which the circle said marked "the beginning of a new generation of Ratzinger students."


Benedict XVI, As Seen Up Close
Vatican Officials Give Insider's Look

By Marta Lago

ROME, MAY 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If you want to understand Joseph Ratzinger, the man and the Pope, the starting point is the love of God, affirmed a cardinal who has worked closely with him.

Cardinal Joséé Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, gave an inside look at the personality of Benedict XVI when he participated Tuesday in the book launch of "Benedictus," by Giuseppe de Carli.

"The key to the person and the ministry of Benedict XVI is the love of God," the cardinal said, affirming that the Pontiff's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," "represents the particularity of this Pontiff."

But the cardinal clarified what that love of God means: "Love is not a static attitude," but "a dynamism that, by definition, is something that spreads.

"It tends to continuously bring into play new energies," he affirmed. "Thus, love provokes the great questions, and therefore engenders philosophy and theology."

Pope of the people

According to Cardinal Saraiva Martins, "Benedictus" documents "the development of the presence of Benedict XVI on the international scene of the third millennium, and shows how, step by step, the Pope is entering, with his reserved, stately style, into the hearts of the people."

The cardinal added that without leaving aside his intellectual depth, the Holy Father is "becoming the Pope of the people, because the people clearly perceive his message, even when it is full of uncomfortable truths, that is, demanding [truths] that call for a commitment."

The prelate continued: "He is always guided by a fatherly love that does not resign itself to seeing his children drown in mediocrity.

"And what, if not love, is his constant urging to combat the dictatorship of relativism, so thoroughly saturating our society?"

Regarding his presence on the international scene, the Holy Father's "role is not along the lines of appearing, but of being," Cardinal Saraiva Martins contended. "His very presence, even before his teaching, is for everyone a constant calling to live in love and in the search for truth."

His way of presenting himself "to the Church and the world is never invasive: his tone of voice lacks the slightest element of arrogance, his discreet, humble, cordial approach manages to open the hearts of many to his proposals."

Offering another view, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, recalled how the Pope, two days after his election, called him urgently to ask help with the design of the papal coat of arms. The Italian prelate is an expert in ecclesiastic heraldry.

"I immediately discovered his fundamental characteristics," the cardinal said, "which the book amply points out: the aspect of the man's simplicity, humanity, sincerity, spontaneity, but also the timidity. And I noted that this is accompanied right away with an element of decisiveness, matured in reflection."

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and thus one of Cardinal Ratzinger's closest collaborators just before the election to the See of Peter, described the pontificate as a continuation of his previous style.

He explained: "That which we see now in the Holy Father in reality is that which Ratzinger was as the prefect of our congregation.

"The same intellectual lucidity, the same zeal for the defense of doctrine, the same simplicity in human relationships, the same humility in his person."

A smile

Paging through "Benedictus," the archbishop said, one sees four outstanding qualities. "[The Pope's] radiant, spontaneous, good-hearted and contagious smile" was first on the list.

Then, Archbishop Amato noted, the Holy Father is characterized by "his willingness to dialogue, matured in his years of university teaching and sharpened in his meetings with bishops from around the world," who visited him in his role as prefect of the Vatican congregation.

"He is a man of dialogue, woven together not with frigidity or indifference, but with an interior passion, because he is an intellectual with heart," he said.

The prelate proposed that the "communicative strength of the Pope proceeds from the reasonableness of his speech -- as much when he speaks of Christ or illustrates the truth of the faith, as when he critiques the pathologies of postmodern mentality."

And since "faith and reason are the two wings that raise us to the truth," Archbishop Amato concluded, "it is precisely the truth, love for the truth and the proposal of truth that is the common thread giving continuity to Ratzinger, before as prefect, now as Pope."


The Pope and the Press
Is the Love Affair Here to Stay?

By Teresa Tomeo

DETROIT, Michigan, MAY 22, 2008 (Zenit.org).- In watching and reading various media outlets days before the Holy Father arrived for his historic U.S visit last month to Washington D.C. and New York City, one could have easily gotten the impression that it was going to be nothing but more of the same media bias and misrepresentation.

One expected the media to round up the usual suspects, the unorthodox authors, so-called scholars and commentators who are Catholic in name only and cannot accept Church teaching on abortion, contraception, and the male priesthood, and put them on the air or quote them in print so they can once again attack the Church for not following the whims of American culture.

Whether it was HBO’s Bill Maher’’s irreverent and downright sacrilegious remarks calling Benedict XVI a Nazi, and referring to the Catholic Church as a cult that houses and protects child molesters -- which he did later apologize for -- or the major broadcast networks of ABC, NBC and CBS referring to the Pope as a conservative, hardliner and traditionalist, the view from the media front did not look good.

That was, of course, until the Holy Father himself hit the media with a very pro-active one-two punch. Not only was it the Pope who first addressed the fallout from the priest sex abuse scandal here in the United States, but he did it before even landing on American soil. He discussed the sensitive and embarrassing issue during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Shepherd One. And then later in the week he met privately with several victims of the sexual abuse scandal.

Gentler reporting

Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, explains it was the Pontiff’’s humility and directness concerning the biggest white elephant in the room that may have forced the press to take a closer look at this Pope and make at least some effort to cover him more fairly and at least a bit more gently.

The Virginia-based center was formed more than 20 years ago to prove through research that liberal media bias not only exists, but undermines American values.

““Addressing the sex scandals on the plane [..] warmed up press coverage, and meeting with victims was even more helpful. It is encouraging how Benedict seeks as a theme of his pontificate to build hope, and you can see everyone from abuse victims to media commentators feeling more hope on this front as well,”” Graham said.

Graham adds that the tone was also gentler than most expected because the media were aware of polls showing Catholics in America were favorable to Benedict XVI, and because the Holy Father didn't push politics. He did not mince words when it came to following the teachings of the Church, but as Graham says, the Pontiff stressed the theme of hope and repentance, topics that don’’t exactly excite American secular journalists.
According to the Media Research Center, surveys dating all the way back to 1978 show that those working in the media in America are much more liberal than the rest of the country, with one poll showing that the majority of journalists admit that religion is not an important part of their lives.

““One, the media’’s polls showed American Catholics were overwhelmingly favorable to Benedict, which makes it hard to paint him as unpopular or villainous. Two, the Pope stressed religious themes and not political ones, a recommitment to Christ and to evangelization, which secular reporters find either boring or harmless. Apologizing deeply for the sex abuse scandals also soothed the tone of the media coverage,”” Graham added.

"We'd love a priest"

There were also some positive elements leading toward a kinder, gentler press that were going on behind the scenes months before the Papal coverage began in earnest. Lisa Wheeler is the executive vice president of the Maximus Media Group. Maximus is a Catholic communications and marketing company that provides orthodox Catholic spokespersons for media interviews.

““The secular media appeared to be more prepared for this major Catholic world event. We were getting calls from the major networks as early as January for various specials they were preparing in connection with the Papal visit. We were responsible for about 75 major placements on CNN, FOX, CBS, USA Today, AP, Reuters, New York Times, Newsweek and the BBC in connection with the visit,”” Wheeler said.

Wheeler adds she has seen a noticeable shift in the type of experts in the mainstream media representing the Church’’s views.

““For the first time we had an orthodox priest anchoring Christmas Day coverage on a major network. The requests that come in to Maximus from the major networks are typically for religious -- they want priests or nuns in their clerics to speak as commentators. During this Papal visit the majority of the commentators on mainstream television were priests. Monsignor Lisante on MSNBC, Father Morris on FOX, Father Fessio on CNN. Almost every first request from the media has been, 'we’’d love a priest.' That is a huge shift in the types of requests we used to get.””

What happens now?

But it still remains to be seen whether the attempts for more balanced reporting during a special event such as the papal visit will carry through to the general coverage of faith matters, especially those dealing with the Catholic Church.

Wheeler says she could share plenty of stories to show that the liberal bias is still alive among members of the secular media, including one about a particular network who asked for ““a Catholic who will talk about how if the Pope really wants to heal the victims of sexual abuse he will change the Church’’s position on same-sex marriage.””

““First I was stunned. I wanted to say, 'Are you serious?'”” What a way to take five giant steps backward. My response was, 'Do you want an accurate story of this issue, or do you just want to start controversy. There is no authentic Catholic who will speak with any authority on that topic.' Needless to say we had to pass on assisting them with that particular segment,”” said Wheeler.

Overall, even though it doesn’’t seem like the folks at the Media Research Center or Maximus will be out of a job any time soon, Wheeler stresses that she is encouraged by what she says has transpired in that last three years with regard to the secular media.

She finds them more open and more receptive to covering topics critical to cultural change, and covering them with an authentic perspective. And she reminds us with God all things are possible, especially when Christ and the Church have such a powerful and humble witness as Benedict XVI.

““My feelings, based on the reactions that I have heard behind the scenes from members of the media are that Pope Benedict really surprised the secular media," said Wheeler. "They have found him authentic, unscripted, and unrelenting in his candor about issues that affect the country and the world.

"My own hope is that many secular members of the media who covered this visit, read, and wrote about the addresses of the Holy Father, will have their own hearts transformed so that a renewal of the media can occur.””


Benedict XVI's Portrait

Christmas came early for Benedict XVI. After the general audience on Wednesday, Russian artist Natalia Tsarkova presented the Holy Father with a full-length portrait of himself during one of the rare private audiences granted by the Pope.

Tsarkova, an extraordinarily gifted painter, has been working in Rome for over a decade. She produced five portraits of Pope John Paul II, the only portrait of Pope John Paul I, as well as the stunning "Our Lady of Light" commissioned by the Primavera Foundation in the United States to celebrate the institution of the luminous mysteries of the rosary by John Paul II.

The portrait of Benedict XVI was commissioned by the Patrons Office of the Vatican Museums a year ago. In the past, the Patrons Office has usually obtained funding for restoration and maintenance of the extensive collections of the Vatican Museums, but under its new director, Legionary of Christ Father Mark Haydu, the office decided to add a new masterpiece to the galleries.

Tsarkova toiled for almost a year on the painting, oil on canvas. She attended the audiences to capture the Holy Father among the faithful, and papal Masses to watch him celebrate the liturgy. Her portrait is a mixture of the public persona she studied as well as the private meditative man that she imagined.

Benedict XVI sits on a throne, which the artist describes as a reminder of his role of teacher from his chair, but also that of Successor of St. Peter. The Holy Spirit in the form of the dove hovers above his head, bathing him with light the same way Bernini's window of the Holy Spirit rains golden light on the Cathedra San Petri in St. Peter's Basilica.

The elaborately decorated chair belonged to Pope Leo XIII, and has carved cherubim over the shoulders and under the armrests. One angel, illuminated by the heavenly rays, turns its gaze lovingly toward the Pope.

Tsarkova's greatest labor of love in the work involved rendering Benedict XVI's facial expression. Magazine and newspaper photos rarely show the Pope in a flattering fashion, but after careful studies, she captured an intent look tinged with kindness; his far-seeing gaze looks toward the future of the Church out of concern for the souls under his care.

To portray the complexity of his expression, Tsarkova worked on preparatory drawings for months. A small but beautiful oil sketch remains as testimony to her work, in which the warm, gentle smile of Benedict XVI is recognizable to all those who have had the pleasure of seeing the Holy Father.

Unlike Tsarkova's earlier portraits of John Paul II, where the Pontiff was always portrayed standing as the "Pilgrim Pope," Benedict XVI's portrait shows him seated, emphasizing his role as teacher.

Also different from John Paul II's portraits, Benedict XVI wears a heavy crimson cope which sparkles with reflected light in its heavy folds. Tsarkova defines her use of red to frame the Pope as a symbol of both faith and love while the woven gold miter on his head represents the divine Kingdom.

A curious clasp closes the Pope's mantle. Amid the Baroque swathes of fabric highlighted with rich embroidery, a broad pewter buckle draws the cope across his heart. The design is almost primitive -- parallel waving lines trace the simple form of Christ embracing his mother.

It seems that Tsarkova is hinting that despite all his years of curial experience and the grandeur of his role as Pope, Benedict XVI remains a simple man at heart, unaffected by the pageantry that surrounds him.

Benedict XVI's unique gift of taking complex lessons and transmitting them in clear, understandable and even catchy language motivated the artist to place a slim volume under the Pope's fingers. Although Benedict XVI has written numerous books as one of the greatest theologians of the past century, his teaching is straightforward and accessible, allowing the faithful to gain a better understanding of the Church and its doctrines.

As I was standing in Natalia's studio, I saw copies of all her paintings of John Paul II around the rooms and I felt the now familiar pang of nostalgia for the Holy Father that I had known all my life. But then looking at her portrait of Benedict XVI, I saw St. Peter's Square depicted in the background, with the sun shining down on Bernini's colonnade as it embraces the obelisk that witnessed St. Peter's martyrdom.

Tsarkova's vision of Benedict XVI, both intensely passionate about his mission and warm and fatherly toward his flock, seems to herald the advent of an exciting new day in the life of the Church.

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus.


Cardinal Schönborn on the Pope in Austria
Interview on Benedict XVI's Upcoming Trip

VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 6, 2007 - Cardinal Christoph Schönborn says Benedict XVI is the last of the great Second Vatican Council theologians, and that the Pope's words are always both important and fascinating.

In view of Benedict XVI's visit to Austria this Friday through Sunday, the archbishop of Vienna and president of the Austrian bishops' conference spoke to ZENIT about the Pope, the man and the successor of Peter.

Q: Everyone is talking about the Pope's upcoming visit. Who is the real Benedict XVI?

Cardinal Schönborn: He is very simple. He is the successor of the Apostle Peter and therefore for us, he is the Vicar of Christ, the Lord's representative here on earth in the visible Church.

This is at the same time incomprehensible and immense, but it is the secret of the Petrine ministry. Whoever meets with him, whatever country he is from, whatever language he speaks -- all of that is important, but it is secondary. For us he is, above all, according to the faith of the Church, Peter among us, with all the depth, greatness and strength of what Jesus prophesied to Peter, of the ministry that he entrusted to him, a ministry that continues to exist beyond the historical figure of Peter.

Q: How are your meetings with the Holy Father?

Cardinal Schönborn: Very normal. He is a man I have known for 35 years, under whom I studied and with whom I have worked for many years, a man that throughout the years, I learned to know and deeply esteem and greatly admire. But April 19, 2005, in his life and in our lives, something greater happened -- he was chosen as the successor of Peter. This naturally represents a new dimension, which is evident in meeting with him. He is the man, the teacher, the cardinal that I know well and have known for many years, and at the same time, he is Peter.

Q: You have known Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI for many years. What distinguishes him as a man?

Cardinal Schönborn: I could mention many things. In his memoirs he wrote in a very modest but wise way about his life. He is very restrained in manifesting personal matters. He does not talk much about his life, but its deep Christian roots are notable. You can tell that he comes from a family profoundly formed by faith, a family united in faith and love.

I had the opportunity to get to know his sister Maria well, who died unexpectedly on Nov. 2, 1991. The three siblings were very close and they must have had parents who profoundly shaped them.

Who is the Pope based on his personal history? He is a particularly gifted and intelligent theologian. I do not hesitate to say that he is the last of the great theologians of the Council generation -- de Lubac, Congar, Rahner, von Balthasar. He was the youngest in a long line of theologians who influenced the Second Vatican Council and he is certainly one of the greatest because of his spiritual and theological abilities.

Q: During your meeting with Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo you discussed the details of his upcoming trip. What is the Holy Father expecting?

Cardinal Schönborn: He will let us know and I think this is good. When Benedict XVI speaks, it is necessary to pay close attention, because what he has to say is always very clear, important, incisive and very personal and fascinating. I don't know what he will say to us. It is good to be open.

What I can say with certainty is that we will receive enough material for further reflection.

Q: What kind of Church will the Pope find? What is, in your opinion, the situation of the Church in Austria?

Cardinal Schönborn: Only Our Lord can say what the situation of the Church is for sure, because faith has him for its aim. In that sense, hearts and their relationship with God is a mystery. No statistic is able to measure this. But naturally we live in a time when religious sociology, the psychology of religion, and statistics play an important role, and therefore one studies how to pose religion to the young, to adults and to the elderly.

Since the 1950s there has been enormous change, but not only in the Church, also in society. We live in a very different society.

Let me offer an example: In our diocese we have a rural area and an urban area, the great city of Vienna and neighboring areas that belong to the Archdiocese of Vienna. Fifty years ago, these areas were farmland; today they make up a large part of the outskirts of Vienna. This is a radical change, linked to the professional, social and family lives of many people. The number of farmers has diminished greatly, and this has impacted religious practice.

I think that today the challenge, in a highly secularized society, is living Christianity, the Christian faith almost as an alternative, as a countercultural society.

Q: The Holy Father's visit to Austria is a pilgrimage to Mariazell. What importance does Mary have in the Christian life?

Cardinal Schönborn: The motto "Turn your gaze toward Christ" is deeply inspired by Mariazell. If you look at the "full of grace" statue in Mariazell, the 850-year-old small statue of Linden wood, without festal vestments, without the opulent robes it is usually clothed in, you can see a simple figure of this smiling and mysterious Mother of God, and on her lap a child with an apple in his hand, symbol of the reign of divine power. And Mary is clearly pointing to the baby. That means that she is saying to us what she said at Cana -- "Do whatever he tells you" -- and she teaches us to look to Christ.

She is looking at us but she is pointing to Christ. In a certain sense she is calling to us: "Look there, look at my son." And I think that this is the motto that Pope John Paul II chose for his entire life and especially for his pontificate. "Totus tuus" means to Christ through Mary. She shows us the way. Therefore let us begin Benedict XVI's pilgrimage, and with the Holy Father, to Mariazell, and to the Am Hof Plaza before the Mariensaeule.

On Dec. 8, 2006, feast of the Immaculate Conception, we began a novena that will last until Sept. 8, in preparation for the feast day of Mariazell and for the Holy Father's visit.

Q: You recently implied that the scarcity of children is a problem. How can society be more favorable to childhood?

Cardinal Schönborn: It is above all a big problem for a society that compromises its future by not having a sufficient number of children. We know well: Almost all of Europe must face the problem of falling demographics, which is being helped by strong immigration. It is a decision that involves all of society that is already facing the "No Future" problem.

Why are we in this situation today when the situation is Austria is so positive and there is support for families like never before? At no other time in history has there been a lack of norms like we have today. And despite that, families once had more children than they have today.

Certainly the drama of abortion plays an important role, but along with that I would add the fact of people not wanting children, saying no to children through contraception.

In the last 40 years Europe has said "no" three times to its future: the first time with the pill, the second time with abortion and the third time with homosexual marriage. Irrespective of the moral judgments of these phenomenon, it is simply a "de facto" no to the future.

The yes to the future can only mean a yes to children. I think that there is a growing awareness among Europeans that this is a necessary decision. The yes to the future is already a good thing, if you think the future has a chance.

Q: The Center for Families in the Archdiocese of Cologne has existed for some time. What are the specific initiatives of the Archdiocese of Vienna to support families?

Cardinal Schönborn: Naturally many initiatives exist in favor of the family, for example, associations of families or family workshops. Different religious movements have familial organizations, like the Schoenstatt movement. The religious movements of renewal are also strongly focused on families. But I believe that there is something more. It has to do with seeing.

Jesus said to his first disciples: "Come and see!" We need to see, we need to be able to touch -- otherwise you don't live it.

I spent some of my vacation time with a young family who has just had their sixth child. Naturally it is a life with many sacrifices, but it is certainly more vital than what happens if we are afraid of every new life. I think of the experiences of families in similar situations who, with full knowledge, say yes, even if it is linked to enormous opposition from those around them. With our lives we witness that it is good, that having children is good.

Naturally it is tiring. But it is rewarding, gratifying. And I think that the life of families in similar situations encourages others to try it. And strangely, it is not a problem of economics.

Naturally it is difficult with six children. But thank God in Austria there is good support for families. Some things could be better, more constructive, but it is fundamental to live it and make it possible for others. "Come and see!"

I see it in many families that have three, four, five, six children or more. The impression one has is that the future is here, hope is here, life is here. This is the way in which society should live: solidarity, mutual respect, mutual assistance; the logical experience that we need to forgo certain things.

These are the values that we absolutely need, so that society will become a society worthy of life and love. It is there that we find them, where we learn them. Woe to the society in which these values are lost, because it will be an evil society, ruthless.

Q: What are you expecting from the Holy Father's visit?

Cardinal Schönborn: Strengthening of the faith, joy in the faith and encouragement in walking the way of faith, with the Church and in the Church, and not on a path we make for ourselves.


The Conscience of Our Age
Interview With Father Vincent Twomey

MAYNOOTH, Ireland, JUNE 25, 2007 - The modern conception of conscience reduces it to an excuse mechanism, that it cannot err and that what one thinks is right is in fact right, said author Father Vincent Twomey.

Father Twomey, retired professor of moral theology at the Pontifical University of St. Patrick's College, in Maynooth, is the author of "Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age," published this year by Ignatius Press.

In this interview with ZENIT, he comments on the Holy Father's role in providing a way to return to a deeper understanding of conscience.

Q: You were a doctoral student of Father Joseph Ratzinger. How has that experience uniquely prepared you to write this book?

Father Twomey: I joined professor Ratzinger's doctoral colloquium in the spring of 1971, and studied under his supervision for the doctorate, which I was awarded in 1979.

Since his election as archbishop of Munich in 1977, he has met with his former doctoral and postdoctoral students each year for a weekend colloquium, a practice that continued even after his election as Benedict XVI.

I think that, as a result, I have a personal knowledge of the Pope that is, perhaps, unique.
Sitting at his feet as a student, studying his writings, and participating in discussions with him over some 36 years has also given me a certain insight into his thought, which in turn has influenced my own theology profoundly.

Q: What do you think are the most defining characteristics of the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI?

Father Twomey: The most defining formal characteristics of his writings are originality, clarity and a superb literary style that is not easy to render in translation.

Ratzinger is more than a world-class scholar and academic: He is an original thinker.

He has the Midas touch, in the positive sense that whatever he touches, he turns to gold, in other words, whatever subject he examines, he has something new and exciting to say about it, be it the dogmas of the Church or a mosaic in an ancient Roman church or bioethics. And he writes with amazing clarity.

With regard to his style, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne is reported as commenting that Ratzinger is the Mozart of theology -- he writes masterpieces effortlessly.

With regard to its content, as Ratzinger once said himself, "God is the real central theme of my endeavours."

There is hardly an area of theology -- dogma, moral, political life, bioethics, liturgy, exegesis, music, art -- that he has not examined in-depth. And everything he examines, he does so from God's viewpoint, as it were, namely trying to discover what light revelation -- Scripture and Tradition -- can shine on a particular issue.

On the other hand, his theological reflection is firmly rooted in contemporary experience: the questions and existential issues posed by modernity and post-modernity, by contemporary thinkers and the epoch-making events of our times.

However, his pastoral and administrative duties as archbishop and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were such that he had little time to write extensive monographs, with the result that most of his writings are of a fragmentary nature. But what fragments!

Each has the capacity to convey that insight into truth that touches the mind and heart of the reader -- and can effect in many a change of heart.

Q: You describe Benedict XVI as unafraid of making mistakes, and as "having the courage to be imperfect." Can you explain this further?

Father Twomey: Having the courage to be imperfect is more than being afraid of making mistakes, though it may include it.

Basic to his whole attitude to life and to theology is the assumption that only God is perfect, that human effort is always imperfect.

Perfectionism of any kind is inimical to man, but above all in the political sphere. Most political ideologies aim to create a perfect world, a perfect society and usually end up making hell on earth.

That is a frequent theme of his writings on political life. But also with regard to the human effort to do theology, as it were. That, too, will always be unfinished business, always capable of improvement, of correction and deepening.

We cannot know everything, least of all God and his design for man. I have described his writings as "fragmentary." Most of his writings are unfinished -- like his classic book, "Introduction to Christianity," and, more recently, his "Jesus of Nazareth." And yet he has the courage to publish them in their unfinished state.

This attitude gave Joseph Ratzinger that inner calm and detachment which the world is now experiencing in Benedict XVI. But it also is, perhaps, the secret of his gentle humour and wit.

Q: You suggest that there has been a distortion of the word conscience. What is this distortion and how has it affected the Church?

Father Twomey: The starting point is the traditional notion of an erroneous conscience, which in the wake of the turbulence that followed "Humanae Vitae," was falsely interpreted to mean, in effect for many, that it does not matter what one does, provided that one is sincerely convinced that it is right.

Sincerity now becomes the criterion of morality and, taken to its logical conclusion, it would be impossible to condemn a Hitler or a Stalin, since it could be claimed that they too acted according to their "lights," according to their sincere convictions.

The traditional insistence on the primacy of following your conscience, even if erroneous, led to a new notion, that of the "infallible conscience." This amounts to the claim that conscience cannot err, that what you think is right is in fact right.

This is to reduce conscience to an excuse mechanism. This notion receives its persuasiveness, if not its inspiration, from the prevailing relativism of modernity.

It is sometimes claimed today that each one can adopt whatever moral principles he or she decides best for them. These are the fruit of their conscientious choice, after having looked at the options.

This is indeed a very attractive theory. But it amounts to the claim that each person can determine for himself what is right or wrong, the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden.

Often, it is given the title "a la carte" Catholicism, picking and choosing what suits us. Morality is reduced to an ultimately irrational personal preference.

This prevailing notion of conscience has had a devastating effect on the Church and Christian living.

Q: You describe Benedict XVI as a guide for the conscience in today's age. In what ways do you believe this to be true?

Father Twomey: First of all, as theologian and later as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger has been the voice of the Church's conscience in affirming the objective truth when it was denied either theoretically or in practice.

It is astonishing that secular thinkers, those outside the Church, as it were, seem to recognize this more than those inside. Thus, for example, the French Academy honoured him as the apt successor to Andrey Sacharov, the dissident atom physicist during the tyranny of the Soviet Union.

It was their recognition of a courageous thinker who was in effect the great "dissident" under the "dictatorship of relativism" that has swamped Europe and America over the past half-century.

Secondly, conscience is not only a central theme of his writings, he has also made a major contribution to correcting the false understanding of conscience outlined above, to which I devote a whole chapter in my book.

Q: How did the experience of growing up in Nazi Germany helped to prepare Joseph Ratzinger for the papacy? What particular lessons did he learn then that he still puts into practice today?

Father Twomey: The answer to this question is to be found in a comment he made in an interview in 1999: "As a result [of living through the Nazi period], I learned to have a certain reserve with regard to the reigning ideologies."

Evidently, he meant "ideologies" also to cover those found within the Church, which are fashionable since they reflect current ideological trends in society.

His experience of living under a political ideology and its bureaucracy made him sensitive to the need for the exercise of moral responsibility on the part of each one, but in particular on the part of those who hold public office in the Church or in the state. Moral responsibility is but another word for conscience.

His skepticism regarding episcopal conferences is rooted in the experience of how, as a collective, the German bishops, to put it mildly, had not quite matched up to the witness given by individual bishops such as Bishop Clemens von Galen of Muenster and Archbishop Michael Faulhaber of Munich.

He calls on all bishops to give personal witness and not wait for the collective conference to rubber-stamp some document prepared by an anonymous commission.

Likewise, his theology has been marked by a personal search for the truth, urged on by his conscience. All his life, he has exercised his personal moral responsibility, even when it earned for him the negative title of "rottweiler" or "grand inquisitor" -- or, indeed, "the enemy of humanity," as one journalist put it.

To speak the truth in love is to be in opposition, very often, to the prevailing fashions and so to make oneself unpopular.

Now, as Benedict XVI, he continues to exercise that moral responsibility, not least in the way he writes most of his own speeches, which speak to the heart of his audience because they are spoken from his own heart and not from a prepared schema.


Moving Away From Religion Toward Christianity
Interview With John Kenney, an Augustinian Scholar

BURLINGTON, Vermont, JUNE 19, 2007 ( Zenit.org ).- Benedict XVI is moving the Church away from religion, in the modern sense of the term, and toward a deeper understanding of Christianity, says an Augustinian scholar.

In this interview with ZENIT, John Peter Kenney, professor of Religious Studies at St. Michael's College, in Vermont, discusses the role of St. Augustine in the thought and work of Benedict XVI.

Kenney is the author of "The Mysticism of St. Augustine: Rereading the Confessions," published by Routledge in 2005.

Q: What Augustinian influences do you see in the Holy Father's work, especially his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," and his general-audience catecheses?

Kenney: Both the encyclical's hidden architecture and many of its themes are Augustinian.

I was initially struck by the Holy Father's discussion of "sacramental mysticism" -- the ecclesial dimension of Christian contemplation. This is an important theme in the "Confessions," part of the emancipation of Augustine's thinking from pagan Platonism.

Too often Augustine has been misread as a proponent of an individualistic sort of mysticism, whereas a close reading of the whole of the "Confessions" shows his mature recognition that the human soul can only come to know God when nested in "the living soul of the faithful," the Church.

In this first encyclical, the Holy Father also offers a nuanced discussion of the role of the Church in reference to politics and the state that is very much in keeping with Augustine's position in "The City of God."

What the catechetical talks have exhibited is just how deeply the Holy Father's thinking is informed by the whole range of patristic theology. He has, as you know, been proceeding chronologically, discussing both major and minor authors in some detail.

I think it is worth keeping in mind that the Pope's thought is not just Augustinian, but broadly patristic.

Q: Augustine is known for his Order of Love -- "Ordo Amoris" -- emphasizing love over the intellect. How do you see this fitting into the pontificate of Benedict XVI?

Kenney: Clearly Benedict XVI believes in the objectivity of truth and in the possibility of the right ordering of human affections in relation to that truth. These convictions were central to Augustine's own conversion and they remained at the core of his thinking.

The "Ordo Amoris" emerged in Augustine's thought because of his own startled recognition that God is transcendent being itself and we are made in the image of that reality. Our deepest longings, loves and desires can finally be fulfilled only if we order them correctly in relation to their divine source.

For lots of historical reasons, Augustine has sometimes been interpreted as emphasizing love over the intellect.

But the Holy Father understands Augustine in his proper patristic context, as discovering eternal truth within the soul and calibrating human desires in reference to their ultimate divine foundation.

It is the dysfunction of our age that we fail to understand that calibration -- something that Benedict XVI's pontificate seems intended to remind us.

Q: How does Augustinian thought differ from Thomistic thought, and how might that influence Benedict XVI?

Kenney: I'd be very reluctant to see Benedict XVI's affinity with Augustine in terms of any self-differentiation from the thought of Aquinas. Indeed the Regensburg address emphasizes the common intellectualism of Augustine and Aquinas in contrast to the voluntarism of Duns Scotus and the later medieval nominalists.

Both Augustine and Aquinas hold that our knowledge of goodness and truth mirror, at least to some limited extent, the inner nature of God.

God is not so remote and his will so inscrutable that we have no means of knowing him as infinitely good. So for Benedict XVI, Augustine and Aquinas exemplify the great synthesis of biblical faith and Greek philosophy.

They are its twin pillars in the Latin West, even if their philosophical theologies do differ, given their distinctive appropriations of Platonism and Aristotelianism. But it is their common character that Benedict XVI has been emphasizing.

Q: Do you think Benedict XVI identified with Augustine early on because they were both thinkers who became pastors out of necessity?

Kenney: Yes, perhaps that's true. His doctoral dissertation, completed a few years after his ordination, was on Augustine's conception of the Church.

This suggests a connection with Augustine early on in his life as a priest. But I suspect that the root of this identification went even deeper and lay in his recognition of the Church as an anchor of sacred truth in a world riven by dehumanizing secular ideologies.

He had, after all, first-hand experience of such ideology in the Germany of his adolescence. Like Augustine, he identified the Church as a divinely ordained community that prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem.

So the events of both their lives brought them to see the unique role of the Church in a fallen world and also to discern the pastoral aspects of their own vocations.

Q: What might be the historical significance of having an Augustinian-influenced Pope at this time in world history?

Kenney: One of the most powerful themes in Augustine's thought is the universality of the Gospel. This is what drew him to Catholic Christianity rather than to Donatism, which seems to have been the dominant tradition throughout much of his native North Africa.

For Augustine, Christianity is by its very nature global, and the Gospel is intrinsically universal in its message and scope. And so the Church can never be just a local sect or a national institution.

Augustine was a member of that post-Nicene generation who articulated what we think of as the Catholicism of the Church and who sought to build a communion of faith across the peoples of the ancient world. There is therefore much in Augustine that speaks to our present age of globalization.

Q: Where do you think Benedict XVI is trying to point the Church and the world right now?

Kenney: He's pointing us away from religion -- in the modern sense of the term. Religion is a category of modernity, usually understood to mean either individually authenticated spiritual experiences or else a particular type of collective ideology based on socially defined values.

To think of Christianity in such terms is to drift toward the relativism that Pope Benedict has so famously decried. Hence Benedict XVI has insisted that personal spiritual experiences can only become meaningful within the shared context of a lived theology. And the collective life of the Church is far more than a form of social or political association. Christianity is not an ideology.

These modern representations of religion can constitute a reduction of Christianity to psychological, sociological and political categories and can result in a denial of its claims to transcendent truth.

Benedict XVI has a masterful grasp of all these reductionist tendencies and he has pushed back hard in order to restore recognition of the richness and depth of Christianity.

So one might say that we have a Pope who is opposed to religion -- and in favor of Christianity. Thank God for that.


Benedict's critique of capitalism no surprise
Posted on May 13, 2007

Aparecida, Brazil

Benedict XVI’s stinging criticism of both Marxism and capitalism this afternoon may have caught some off-guard used to thinking of him as a consumate conservative, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Joseph Ratzinger’s history.

“Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality,” the pope said this afternoon at the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“And this ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it.”

That declaration builds on a lifetime of reflection.

In 1988, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a collection of essays under the title of Church, Ecumenism and Politics. In it, he argued that capitalism is little better than national socialism or communism, in that all three propose false idols (prosperity, the Volk, and the state, respectively). Ratzinger said that to build a humane civilization, the West must rediscover two elements of its past: its classical Greek heritage and its common Christian identity.

From the classical era, Ratzinger wrote, Europe should rediscover objective and eternal values that stand above politics, putting limits to power. Ratzinger used the Greek term eunomia to describe this concept of the good. In that sense, one could say that Ratzinger proposed a eunomic, rather than capitalist, model of Western culture.

Over the years, Ratzinger has been close to the Communio school within Catholic theology, which stresses the need for cultures to take their point of departure from the Christian gospel rather than secular ideologies. Its primary exponents have repeatedly criticized capitalism for promoting an ethos of individualism and “survival of the fittest” that is at odds with the communitarian thrust of Catholic social teaching.

Since becoming pope, Benedict has often criticized what he considers the injustices of a growing neo-liberal system of economic globalization.

On April 23, for example, Benedict wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, current president of the G-8, demanding the “the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation” of the external debt of poor countries, describing it as a “grave and unconditional moral responsibility, founded on the unity of the human race, and on the common dignity and shared destiny of rich and poor alike.” In a recent message to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, Benedict highlighted three key challenges: 1) the environment and sustainable development, 2) respect for the rights and dignity of persons, and 3) the danger of losing spiritual values in a technical world.

It’s also worth noting that to some extent, skepticism about capitalism is built into Ratzinger’s DNA. His great uncle on his father's side, Georg Ratzinger, was one of the towering Bavarian figures of the nineteenth century, a Catholic monsignor with a strong track record of political and social engagement on behalf of the poor.

Georg Ratzinger’s best-known book was Die Volkswirthschaft in Ihren Sittlichen Grundlagen (“The economy in its ethical foundations”), published in 1881, which offered a critique of capitalism that reflected a growing body of Catholic social analysis which culminated in Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum novarum.

George Ratzinger was twice elected to the Bavarian and the federal legislatures, and helped found a political party, the Bauerbund, which represented the interests of poor farmers against large capitalist industrial concerns. The Bauerbund stood for a mix of populist protectionism and progressive social measures such as child labor laws and minimum wages. The Bauerbund's chief goal was a system of social supports that would insulate poor farmers and small traders from the “boom and bust” cycles.

Benedict XVI has spoken warmly about his great-uncle’s political legacy. In 1996, he said: “As a representative of the state and national assemblies, he was really a champion of the rights of the peasants and the simple people in general. He fought – I’ve read this in the minutes of the state parliament – against child labor, which at that time was still considered a scandalous, impudent position to take. He was obviously a tough man. His achievements and his political standing also made everyone proud of him.”

Benedict XVI’s tough comments about the failures of capitalism at the opening of the CELAM general conference thus represent something of a family legacy.


By George Weigel
 April 17, 2007

The Catholic Herald 
Publication Date: April 16, 2007

Joseph Ratzinger came to the Chair of St Peter late in life, a 78-year-old man who could look back (although he rarely, if ever, chose to do so) on decades of intellectual accomplishment. Recognised by even his critics as one of the premier Catholic theologians of the 20th century, he had also attracted the respect of his fellow intellectuals throughout Europe, many of them, like the influential German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, of a decidedly secular cast of mind. Indeed, the then Cardinal Ratzinger convinced Professor Habermas, in January 2004, that the new Europe embodied politically in the expanded European Union could not be built on the thin and shaky foundation of epistemological scepticism about the human capacity to know the truth of things, including the moral truth of things. And it is because Pope Benedict was elected three days after his 78th birthday that his papacy's teaching has had the character of a great summing up: here is a master-teacher, distilling decades of research and reflection into a body of truths that he manages to convey in language and imagery accessible to those untrained in theology and philosophy -- which is to say, to the overwhelming majority of the human race. The enormous crowds at his general audience addresses testify to the hunger for truth which Pope Benedict has touched.

Familiar themes were in play in the Pope's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, which was no surprise, in title or content, to those who had never bought the cartoon Ratzinger and who understood that the image of the "God with a human face" was central to Ratzinger's theological project. Similarly, in a recently published book entitled Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Pope Benedict distils a lifetime of reflection on the relationship between faith and reason, and on the cultural consequences of a collapse of both faith and reason, into a challenge of prime importance for the entire world -- but especially for Europe, in its current crisis of civilisational morale.

In the controversy immediately following his now famous lecture at the University of Regensburg in September 2006 attention was focused almost exclusively on the Holy Father's analysis of certain theological tendencies in Islam and their unhappy consequences in the world of politics. Yet that remarkably cogent lecture was in fact addressed at least as much to the West as to Islam. Yes, the Pope warned his listeners that an unreasonable faith is a real and present danger to the world -- a faith, for example, in which God can be imagined capable of commanding the irrational, like the murder of innocents. But so, the Pope argued at Regensburg, is a loss of faith in reason: that, too, is a real and present danger. If, for example, the West limits the concept of "reason" to a purely instrumental rationality, or, in a fit of post-modern self-indulgence, denies the human capacity to grasp the truth of anything with certainty, then the West will be unable to defend itself. Why? Because it will be unable to give an account of its political commitments and their moral foundations, to itself, or to those who would replace the free societies of the West with a very different pattern of human community, based on a very different idea of God -- and, consequently, of the just society.

These, of course, are points that Joseph Ratzinger has been making for years, indeed decades. In Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures he synthesises his arguments into a series of finely tuned propositions on which all men and women of good will would do well to reflect. Among the most important of these propositions I would list the following, illustrating each with a brief citation from the book:

Proposition 1: We live in a moment of dangerous imbalance in the relationship between the West's technological capabilities and the West's moral understanding.

Thus Ratzinger writes: "Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary, it has diminished, because the technological mentality confines morality to the subjective sphere. Our need, however, is for a public morality, a morality capable of responding to the threats that impose such a burden on the existence of us all. The true and gravest danger of the present moment is precisely this imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy."

Proposition 2: The moral and political lethargy we sense in much of Europe today is one by-product of Europe's disdain for the Christian roots of its unique civilisation, a disdain which has contributed in various ways to the decline of what was once the centre of world culture and world-historical initiative.

Thus Ratzinger writes: "...Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner hitherto unknown to mankind, excludes God from public awareness... God is irrelevant to public life... [This contemporary European culture] is the most radical contradiction not only of Christianity, but of all the religious and moral traditions of humanity..."

Proposition 3: The abandonment of Europe's Christian roots implies the abandonment of the idea of "Europe" as a civilisational enterprise constructed from the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. This infidelity to the past has led, in turn, to a truncated idea of reason, and of the human capacity to know, however imperfectly, the truth of things, including the moral truth of things. There is a positivism shaping (and mis-shaping) much of Western thought today -- a positivism that excludes all transcendent moral reference points from public life.

Ratzinger asks whether such a positivism is an exercise of what the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor describes as "exclusive humanism", and then asks whether such an exclusivist humanism, is, itself, rational. His answer is a resounding no. As he writes: "This philosophy expresses, not the complete reason of man, but only one part of it. And this mutilation of reason means that we cannot consider it to be rational at all. Hence it is incomplete and can recover its health only through reestablishing contact with its roots. A tree without roots dries up..."

And so, evidently, do civilisations.

Proposition 4: The recovery of reason in the West would be facilitated by a reflection on the fact that the Christian concept of God as Logos helped shape the distinct civilisation of the West as a synthesis of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome. If men and women have forgotten that they can, in fact, think their way through to the truth of things, that may have something to do with the European forgetfulness of God which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn identified as the source of Europe's 20th-century civilisational distress.

Thus Ratzinger writes: "From the very beginning, Christianity has understood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason... [But] a reason that has its origin in the irrational and is itself ultimately irrational does not offer a solution to our problems. Only that creative reason which has manifested itself as love in the crucified God can truly show us what life is."

Then, in light of these propositions, the Holy Father lays down a challenge: "In the age of the Enlightenment, the attempt was made to understand and define the essential norms of morality by saying that they would be valid etsi Deus non daretur, even if God did not exist... [Today], we must... reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God did indeed exist. This is the advice Pascal gave to his non-believing friends, and it is the advice I should like to give to our friends today who do not believe. This does not impose limitations on anyone's freedom; it gives support to all our human affairs and supplies a criterion of which human life stands sorely in need."

In his fine introduction to Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Marcello Pera, a member of the Italian senate, a distinguished philosopher of science, and an agnostic, takes up Pope Benedict's challenge and issues a clarion call for moral and cultural renewal throughout the West:  "This proposal should be accepted, this challenge welcomed, for one basic reason: because the one outside the Church who acts [as if God did indeed exist] becomes more responsible in moral terms. He will no longer say that an embryo is a ‘thing' or a ‘lump of cells' or ‘genetic material'. He will no longer say that the elimination of an embryo or a foetus does not infringe any rights. He will no longer say that a desire that can be satisfied by some technical means is automatically a right that should be claimed and granted. He will no longer say that all scientific and technological progress is per se a liberation or a moral advance. He will no longer say that the only rationality and the only form of life outside the Church are scientific rationality and an existence bereft of values. He will no longer act as only half a man, one lacerated and divided. He will no longer think that a democracy consisting of the mere counting of numbers is an adequate substitute for wisdom."

How might such decisions to live "as if God did indeed exist" effect the needed changes in the civilisational morale of the West -- and particularly the civilisational morale of Europe, the progenitor of the West? In their jointly authored book Without Roots, Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera agreed, in a variant on Arnold Toynbee's theory of historical change, that a "creative minority" of men and women, convinced that the truths the West lives politically are truths susceptible to rational defence, can be the agents of Europe's rebirth as a culturally self-confident civilisation, capable of giving an account of its democratic political aspirations -- which is to say, a civilisation willing to face squarely and respond imaginatively to the threat posed by the aggressive elements of the far different civilisational project now housed within it.

With the dust settled after the Regensburg lecture, perhaps we can see that Pope Benedict, in cooperation with men like Senator Pera, has for some time now been trying to give the world a precious gift: a vocabulary through which a serious, global discussion of both the crisis of technological civilisation in the West and the crisis posed by jihadist ideology and its lethal expressions around the world can be engaged by believers and non-believers alike -- the vocabulary of "rationality" and "irrationality". If Europe begins to recover its faith in reason, then at least some in Europe may, in time, rediscover the reasonableness of faith; and in any event, a renewed faith in reason would provide an antidote to the spiritual boredom from which Europe is dying -- and thus open the prospect of a new birth of freedom in Europe, and throughout the West.

Benedict XVI has been trying to remind the world that societies and cultures are only as great as their spiritual aspirations. It is not an act of ingratitude toward the achievements of the Enlightenment to suggest that the soul-withering secularism -- the exclusivist humanism -- that has grown out of one stream of Enlightenment thought threatens the future of the West, precisely because it prevents us from giving an account, to ourselves and our children and grandchildren, of the noble political ends embodied in the Western democratic tradition. As Marcello Pera put it in Without Roots: "Absolute [worldliness], supposing there is such a thing, is an absolute vacuum in which neither the happy majority nor the creative minorities can exist."

I dislike the role of Jeremiah, as I am sure Pope Benedict does. But it is neither cynicism nor despair to note that two possible Dark Ages loom on the horizon of the 22nd century: there is the Dark Age of a technologically manufactured and morally stunted humanity, created by the unwise deployment of the new, Promethean knowledge given us by genetics; and there is the Dark Age in which an anti-humanistic theism fills the vacuum created by atheistic humanism and extinguishes the Western experiment in freedom whose deepest roots run to the Christian civilisation of the Middle Ages. Neither is inevitable; both can and must be resisted, with all the tools of wit and wisdom at our disposal. We are fortunate to have, in Pope Benedict XVI, such a wise guide through the thickets before us.

-- George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul, is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington DC and the author, most recently, of The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (Gracewing) and God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins).


The real Ratzinger revealed

John L. Allen  14 April 2007
Benedict XVI turns 80 on Monday, and on Thursday celebrates the second anniversary of his election. To date, expectations of a ‘Catholic fundamentalist' papacy have been confounded. As cardinal, he was the man who said ‘no' for 20 years. Now he seems to want to express a deeper ‘yes'

Reporters on the Vatican beat generally seek out the bishops who come to Rome for their ad limina visits, a mandatory five-yearly meeting with the Pope. During their visits the bishops also make the rounds of Vatican offices, so debriefing them provides a sense of what's on the "radar screen", so to speak, of the various dicasteries.

For a number of years, a few reporters had a standing bet that if one of us ever found a bishop who did not say that his best meeting was with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the legendary prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the rest of the group would buy that person dinner. In the end, no one ever claimed the prize.

Normally, bishops would tell us that many ad limina encounters with the heads of Vatican offices were unsatisfying. The cardinal-prefect would enter the room, read a lengthy statement, and leave little time for real conversation. Cardinal Ratzinger, they reported, was different. While he brought careful notes, he allowed the bishops to speak their minds. Almost universally, they found him thoughtful, gracious, and open.

Such impressions framed the great disjunction between the public image of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and private perceptions of the man. In public, Ratzinger was the Darth Vader of Roman Catholicism; he was seen as draconian, inquisitorial and imperious. Those stereotypes shaped the early line in the media on his election as Pope Benedict XVI. To take one typical example, an Italian editorial cartoon the day after Cardinal Ratzinger's election, in a play on the famous scene of John XXIII telling a moonlit crowd in St Peter's Square in 1962 to give their children a kiss from the Pope, showed the new Pope instructing a similar crowd to give their children not a kiss but a firm spanking.

In private, however, Cardinal Ratzinger had a different profile. Co-workers and brother bishops saw him as strikingly humble and collegial. The conviction of the 115 cardinals who elected him Pope was that they were elevating this "real" Ratzinger.

On 16 April, Pope Benedict XVI turns 80, and on 19 April he marks two years in office. As he passes those milestones, perhaps the most notable storyline about his pontificate is the way the private Ratzinger has, to a considerable extent, become the public Pope. To date, Benedict XVI has proved a more gradual, centrist and collegial figure than his earlier public image would have suggested.

To be sure, Benedict is capable of drawing lines in the sand, as he did by approving a November 2005 Vatican edict barring gay seminarians. He has also reminded the world that diplomacy is not always his strong suit. In September 2006, he triggered a firestorm in the Muslim world with an incendiary fourteenth- century quotation on Muhammad during a lecture in Regensburg. More recently, he disappointed whatever friends the Vatican has left in the EU by accusing Europe of "apostasy" less than 24 hours after the President of the European Parliament, the practising Catholic Hans-Gert Pöttering, extended a hard-won invitation to the Pope to address the Parliament. In that context, Benedict's broadside struck many as ill-tempered; one Catholic who works for the EU said the remark has become "the Regensburg of Europe".

Furthermore, Benedict's listening skills did not stop the Vatican from issuing a critical notification on Jesuit Fr Jon Sobrino, a famed liberation theologian, just two months ahead of the Fifth General Conference of CELAM, the council of bishops' conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean. Senior Latin American clergy had asked the Vatican to delay the notification until after the CELAM meeting in Brazil in May, which Benedict XVI will attend, but to no avail.

Yet, on the whole, expectations that Benedict XVI would be a bruiser-pope have proven off the mark. Two vignettes make the point. First, in July 2006 the Pope visited Valencia, Spain, for the World Congress of Families. He met Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, whose Socialist Government has pursued a liberal agenda bitterly opposed by the Spanish Church, including full gay marriage and adoption rights. Yet when Benedict arrived, there was none of the finger-wagging and apocalyptic language one might have expected. Instead, the Pope struck a consistently positive tone, never even directly engaging gay marriage or other matters of sexual morality. His main concern was to offer a positive Christian vision of the family. Later, a German television reporter asked Benedict why he didn't call down fire and brimstone in Spain. His response is revealing:

Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: it's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: we have a positive idea to offer ... The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

For a Pope with a passion for classical music, this effort to phrase the Christian fundamentals in a positive key has become something of a leitmotif. Having been responsible for expressing the "noes" of the Catholic Church for 20 years, Ratzinger as Pope appears determined to articulate what he sees as its much deeper "yes".

The second such occasion came with Benedict's trip to Turkey late last year, his first to a majority Muslim state, which took place shortly after the Regensburg episode. On the basis of that contretemps, many had enlisted Benedict as chaplain for a new anti-Islamic crusade. Instead, what they saw in Turkey was a "kinder, gentler" Benedict, whose consistent message was reconciliation. That spirit culminated in a remarkable, and thoroughly unexpected, moment of simultaneous prayer with the Grand Mufti of Istanbul inside the city's Blue Mosque.

In Benedict's approach to matters inside the Church, a similar pattern has emerged. His most important appointments, both in the Holy See and in major archdioceses, have revealed a preference for pastoral moderates rather than ideologues. To date, there has been no systematic clampdown on dissidents, no night of the long knives. This gradualism has even generated alarm among some of the most ardent supporters of Benedict's election. Last year, Fr Richard John Neuhaus publicly acknowledged "palpable uneasiness" about the Pope's lack of decisive action. Another American neo-conservative privately groused, "We thought we were electing Ronald Reagan, but we got stuck with Jimmy Carter."

Benedict's commitment to collegiality has been visible in ways large and small. He has repeatedly spoken out about the crisis of Africa, for example, including a strong condemnation of the way Africa has been "plundered and sacked" in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, and a plea for humanitarian concern with Africa in his Easter homily. That focus does not come out of the blue. In the General Congregation meetings in April 2005 leading up to the conclave, the African cardinals made a plea for the next pope, whomever it might be, to put Africa at the centre of his pastoral concern. Benedict obviously wants to honour that request. His collegiality can also be measured by what hasn't happened, including the delayed release of a motu proprio authorising wider celebration of the Tridentine Mass. If it were entirely a matter of the Pope's personal instincts, the document would have come out long ago, but in light of reservations voiced by several bishops, Benedict has opted to go slow.

Perhaps the best expression of Benedict's emerging persona came in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, released at Christmas 2005. The Pope treats human erotic love in deeply approving terms, deliberately avoiding anathemas. In general, most observers regard the Pope's writings and public addresses to date as impressive. Some have been tempted to style Benedict as "a pope of words", in contrast to his predecessor, John Paul II, as a "pope of images".

Although Benedict at 80 seems remarkably healthy, his advanced age nevertheless beckons thoughts about his legacy.

In the long run of history, John XXIII and Paul VI will be remembered as the popes of the Second Vatican Council, the men who launched that moment of top-to-bottom reform in Catholicism and who brought it to fruition. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the other hand, have sought to foster a rebirth of Catholic identity, a transition from a period of internal reform to one of engagement with the wider world. Under John Paul II, evangelisation was the watchword rather than aggiornamento; he was an ad extra pope, far more interested in how the Church can affect the social, cultural and political questions of the day than in reform of its internal structures. Cardinal Ratzinger was key for John Paul, but no one is to Benedict XVI the same trusted lieutenant. The vision of the pontificate is flowing very much from himself for good  and for ill, and there have been instances of both.

Benedict XVI's top priority, as stated on 22 March by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, during a lecture in Milan, is to complete his reassertion of Christian identity.

If the danger of the John XXIII and Paul VI era was throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the chief risk in today's politics of identity cuts in the opposite direction, towards rigidity and exaggerated defensiveness - a sort of "Taliban Catholicism" that knows only how to excoriate and condemn. To be sure, one can see the stirrings of such a spirit in today's Church. Potentially, Benedict XVI's legacy may lie in pointing a way around these shoals. Given all that he represents, Benedict is in a unique position to illustrate that one can embrace Catholic fundamentals without becoming a fundamentalist, that reason and faith are not opposed but inextricably linked. That, in fact, was the argument he was trying to make in Regensburg, although the uproar over the quotation occluded his effort.

Because Benedict is not the charismatic media figure that John Paul II was, it is unclear how much of this will ever register on the broader cultural radar screen. To date, pundits still seem to be waiting for the "real" Ratzinger to emerge from beneath his thoughtful, pastoral facade. Perhaps, however, the deepest truth is that this facade is the real Ratzinger.


Pope Benedict XVI reaffirms John Paul the Great’s challenge to modernity

 Benedict XVI Saves Eros    By Walter Schu

 Christianity stands accused

In his first encyclical Benedict XVI reveals two striking qualities he has been granted: personal courage and confidence in the power of truth. Pope Benedict does not hesitate to confront an accusation which would undermine Christianity at its very heart. No Christian truth is more fundamental than the one Pope Benedict proclaims in the opening words of his encyclical: “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

Yet Friedrich Nietzsche accused Christianity of giving a bad name to human love itself in the form of eros. Modern secular culture has frenetically made this charge its own. “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink,” Nietzsche quipped; “he did not die of it but degenerated — into vice.” [1] Who could deny that in today’s culture eros has indeed degenerated into vice? We have only to consider the mega-brothel which was constructed in Berlin next to the World Cup 2006 venue, with a capacity to accommodate 650 “customers.” Wooden “sex huts” were built in a fenced area the size of a football field to allow prostitution. It is estimated that some 30,000 women were “imported” from Central and Eastern Europe to “sexually service” the approximately three million soccer fans expected to attend the games. [2]

If Christianity is ultimately to blame for this unashamed degradation of eros, then Nietzsche’s charge becomes a stark condemnation of the faith. Pope Benedict formulates Nietzsche’s accusation in the strongest possible terms: “ Doesn’t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?” (Deus Caritas Est, 3)

Modernity’s crisis revealed

Pope Benedict’s response to the charge that Christianity alienates men and women from human love appears disarmingly simple. But it runs extremely deep. He turns the tables, showing that what has actually poisoned eros is not Christianity, but modern secular culture itself, by exalting sensual pleasure. Pope Benedict goes well beyond refuting Nietzsche, as he exposes the roots of a profound crisis affecting modern man: the splitting up of the human person, the alienation of our body from our soul due to Enlightenment rationalism. What is the specific form this alienation assumes? The body-soul dualism introduced by Descartes in the seventeenth century.

This dualism actually lays the foundation for the twentieth-century sexual revolution — a force which has almost managed to sweep away the inner, personal meaning of the act of sexual union between man and woman.

Always a serene teacher, Pope Benedict manages in a few, concise paragraphs in numbers 2-8 of Deus Caritas Est to realize several wonderful feats. He reclaims the authentic nature of human love or eros, rescuing it from being reduced “to pure ‘sex’” (merum ad “sexum,” DCE, 5) by secularist culture. He spells out the consequences of such an impoverishment, as if challenging modernity to rise above itself. At the same time, he shows how eros actually depends upon Christian love or agape to reach its fulfillment. Finally, he refutes Cartesian dualism, and offers an implicit defense of Humanae Vitae, even though the encyclical’s name is not once specifically mentioned. As he accomplishes these Herculean tasks with gracefulness and apparent ease, Benedict displays in his thought a profound continuity with John Paul II’s theology of the body. Even though that is the case, his predecessor is never appealed to directly.

Let us journey with Pope Benedict through these opening numbers of his first encyclical, which lay the groundwork for all that follows. From the perspective of John Paul II’s theology of the body, we will be able to perceive just how rich and how compelling Benedict’s teachings are. They possess the strength to definitively rescue eros and save modernity from itself.

The epitome of love

Like a true theologian, Pope Benedict begins by considering the philosophical aspects of the question about love. He ponders the wide range of meanings of the word “love” based on different human experiences: “ love of country, love of one’s profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbor and love of God” (DCE, 2). Each of these types of love evokes strong sentiments about events which mark the center of our lives. But Benedict is searching for the paradigmatic form of love. He is striving to encounter that type of experience which best seems to embody the very essence of love. His conclusion is somewhat startling.

“ Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison” (DCE, 2). In exalting the dignity of married love, to the point of making it the paradigmatic form of love in our human experience, Pope Benedict reveals himself to be in direct continuity with John Paul II. Already in 1960, Wojty?a would describe betrothed love between husband and wife as “the fullest, the most uncompromising form of love.” [3]

But is this spousal love celebrated by both Pope Benedict and John Paul II merely eros, that subjective ecstasy which above all seeks the fulfillment, the happiness of the one who experiences it? Or at the heart of authentic love between man and woman is there something much deeper and more profound? To resolve this question we must penetrate more deeply into the nature of eros.

The promise and perils of Eros

Pope Benedict displays a second point of continuity with John Paul II’s theology of the body in his description of eros itself. “ That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks” (DCE, 3). Eros was viewed as a divine power. It caught human beings up in its spell, enabling them to transcend their everyday lives and somehow touch the Divinity itself. “The Greeks — not unlike other cultures — considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a ‘divine madness’ which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness” (DCE, 4).

Pope John Paul II’s definition of eros corresponds quite closely to that of Pope Benedict, as he also embraces the transcendent aspects of this form of human love, rejecting the modern tendency to reduce eros to its merely sexual characteristics.

    According to Plato, ‘eros’ is the love that thirsts for the transcendent Beautiful and expresses the insatiability tending toward its eternal object; it, therefore, always elevates what is human toward the divine, which alone can appease the yearning of the soul imprisoned in matter; it is a love that does not shy away from the greatest effort in order to reach the ecstasy of union; it is therefore an egocentric love; it is desire, though directed toward sublime values. [4]

Though it seems to promise supreme happiness, eros is an ambivalent reality. If given free reign, it can degrade man instead of causing him to rise in ecstasy to the Divine. Pope Benedict speaks of the concertatio — the challenge or dispute — of eros, which must be overcome. Why is this the case? Why is eros unruly? Without doubt, it is a result of original sin. But it is also due to the fact that man is a being made up of body and soul. Thus, eros represents only a half-truth. It tries to convince the person that he or she is only a body, and that sensual pleasure is the ultimate goal of love.

If eros is divinized and made an end in itself, as happened in the Greek and other pre-Christian cultures, “this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it” (DCE, 4). The resulting degradation of the human person can be seen in “sacred” prostitution, where temple prostitutes are exploited as a mere means of arousing “divine madness.” Not only Christianity, but also the faith of the Old Testament firmly opposed this practice as a perversion of religiosity. “ An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in ‘ecstasy’ towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man” (DCE, 4).

Behind Eros run amok:
Descartes’ legacy of alienation

Why has eros gone into such a frenzy in today’s culture? Why has the half-truth which it represents been able to convert itself so widely into a blatant lie? The roots of the crisis penetrate even more deeply than Wilhelm Reich, Margaret Sanger, and the sexual revolution of the twentieth century which they helped usher in. The bold challenge by eros to reduce love to sensual ecstasy has emerged in large part due to a radical dichotomy in the human person introduced by Descartes three centuries earlier.

In his philosophy, Descartes took up the scientific-technological project begun by Francis Bacon (1561–1626), which sought above all power over nature by man. In order to widen the scope of this power as much as possible, it was necessary to eliminate the intrinsic meaning present in the order of nature. A necessary step was the eradication of the final cause, the end or inherent purpose of things. Descartes proclaimed: “The entire class of causes which people customarily derive from a thing’s ‘end,’ I judge to be utterly useless in Physics.” [5]

In the quest for power over nature, along with reducing material beings to mere mechanical things or external matter (res extensae), Descartes exalted human freedom as the supreme human good. “Now freewill is in itself the noblest thing we can have because it makes us in a certain manner equal to God and exempts us from being his subjects; and so its rightful use is the greatest of all the goods we possess, and further there is nothing that is more our own or that matters more to us. From all this it follows that nothing but freewill can produce our greatest contentments.” [6]

The exaltation of freedom as the supreme value for man and the reduction of the order of nature to matter without intrinsic meaning led Descartes along a path of rigorous dualism. Michael Waldstein sums up his position well. “On the one side stands the mechanical cosmos of extended things (res extensae), whose only attributes are extension and movement, constituting an objective world of pure externality without any interiority. On the other side stands the human soul, the ‘thinking thing’ (res cogitans), whose only attribute is rational consciousness, that is, knowledge and free will, a world of pure interiority.” [7]

In this new, modern, form of subjectivity, man becomes alienated, not only from the physical cosmos, but also from his own body, which lacks all inner meaning or purpose, reduced to a mere physical object. The consequences for human love and sexuality are devastating. If the body possesses no inherent meaning, than neither do sexual relations. Since the body can be exploited and manipulated as any other physical object, the same is true of sexuality. Anything goes. Erotic, sensual pleasure becomes an end in itself.

Pope Benedict traces the final, sad consequences of this downward spiral. Reducing eros to “pure sex,” making it nothing more than a commodity, also makes the human person himself a mere object for manipulation. John Paul II had long since identified this type of philosophy, whose very name represents a self-indictment: utilitarianism. “Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used.” [8]

In a few prophetic lines, Pope Benedict reveals the paradox to which Descartes’ philosophy and the sexual revolution have led. Modern culture’s attempt to exult the body and sex actually debases them, by depriving them of all inherent, personal meaning and reducing them to the merely biological sphere. And where the body is alienated from the soul, the pendulum can easily swing to an actual hatred of the body.

    Eros , reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness (DCE, 5).

Descartes refuted: It is the
whole human person who loves.

Against the radical division of the human person which Descartes would foist upon us, Pope Benedict responds by reaffirming the perennial truth about the unity of our human nature. “M an is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved” (DCE, 5). Pope Benedict echoes John Paul II’s constant defense of the unity of the human person, with all of its implications in an act of true love: “As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality.” [9]

With eloquence and simplicity, Pope Benedict reaffirms this fundamental aspect, not only of John Paul II’s teaching, but that of the Church itself. “ Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love — eros — able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur” (DCE, 5).

Just how central is this defense of our personal unity against Cartesian dualism undertaken by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI? Important enough for John Paul II to have carried out a series of Wednesday audiences spanning five years (1979-1983) in order to respond to this rationalistic position. “The purpose of The Theology of the Body is to defend the body against its alienation from the person in Cartesian rationalism.” [10]

Only if the body is an integral part of who we are as a person can it possess an intrinsic meaning, inscribed in it by the Creator and expressed in what John Paul II has called “the language of the body.” That is why the Pope reaffirms repeatedly that in a certain sense it is more correct to state, “We are our body,” rather than, “We have a body.” [11] This inherent meaning of the body itself is what gives to human sexuality its deep, personal meaning. It is precisely because our prevailing culture, following the lead of Descartes and Nietzsche, fails to recognize the inner meaning of the body that it “largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something common place, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure.” [12]

Not only does Descartes commit a devastating mistake by reducing the human body to mere extended matter, with no intrinsic meaning, thereby impoverishing human sexuality; he errs in a second fundamental way when he exalts freedom as the highest of all human values, the source of our happiness. This position is simply false. Freedom is not an end. It can never bring us fulfillment in and of itself. What is the end, the goal of freedom? Nothing other than that most supreme reality for which every human heart has been made — love. As Karol Wojty?a so profoundly states, “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom…. Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love…. Man longs for love more than for freedom — freedom is the means and love the end.” [13]

Pope John Paul II would later sum everything up in a single sentence: “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” [14]

Purifying Eros:
Christian Agape as the response to Nietzsche

We have seen that the present degradation of eros into blatant sensuality has its roots, not in Christianity, but in the rationalistic dualism of Descartes, which deprived the body of its inner, personal meaning and helped lay the foundations for the sexual revolution of the twentieth century. What is the remedy? How can eros be restored to its authentic grandeur? Pope Benedict responds that Christianity itself, far from being the problem, is actually the solution, since it leads to the purification of eros.

“Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns” (DCE, 4). As Benjamin Wiker correctly discerns, “The entire argument of Deus Caritas Est is packed into this single reply.” [15]

Pope Benedict reaffirms his central point: “True, eros tends to rise ‘in ecstasy’ towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” (DCE, 5).

What is the reality capable of purifying eros and enabling it to reach the heights of being a foretaste of our eternal beatitude? It is precisely that form of love “grounded in and formed by faith” (DCE, 7), which is called agape. Whereas eros is “ascending” or possessive love, amor concupiscentiae, a love that is centered on the happiness of the one who experiences love; agape is “descending” or oblative love. It is amor benevolentiae, a love that centers itself on the person loved and is willing to endure any sacrifice for the beloved.

When eros is purified, it naturally tends to be transformed into agape, to such an extent that the two tend to merge and become a single reality of love. “Yet eros and agape — ascending love and descending love — can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized” (DCE, 7). Once again we find Pope Benedict in full continuity with the thought of John Paul II. Comparing the human love of eros described in the Song of Songs with the Christian love of agape described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, John Paul II makes the following reflection:

    What is the relation between the love that is “strong as death,” according to the Song of Songs, and the love “that will never end,” according to the Pauline letter? … It seems that love here opens up before us, I would say, in two perspectives, as though that in which human eros closes its own horizon were opened further, through Paul’s words, in another horizon of love that speaks another language, that is, the love that seems to emerge from another dimension of the person, and which calls, invites, to another communion. This love has been called agape. And agape brings eros to fulfillment while purifying it. [16]

Yet, we can still ask, what does this purification of eros mean in the concrete reality of love between man and woman? Though Pope Benedict does not take up the point directly in the encyclical itself, he does so in a letter to the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana, explaining the encyclical. Pope Benedict reveals that this purification of love refers to the virtue of chastity. “In the encyclical, I speak of a process of purification and maturation which is necessary in order that the real promise of eros may be fulfilled. The language of tradition calls this ‘training in chastity,’ which in the end means nothing other than the process of learning total love with patience for the necessary growth and maturation.” [17]

Why is chastity necessary to purify love? That question brings us to a second, even more fundamental one, which we have not yet answered directly. What is the inner core of love itself? What lies at the center of love’s very nature, its essence?

Self giving as the essence of love

Pope John Paul II answers this question in a single sentence: “In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift.” [18] That succinct conclusion makes it possible to sum up the Pope’s entire theology of the body of the body in one concise phrase, as the French theologian, Pascal Ide, has done: “Gift expresses the essential truth of the human body.” [19] A similar one-sentence summary can be found in the definition of love by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which is in full agreement with St. John of the Cross’s theology of love as gift, the point of departure for John Paul II. “Aimer c’est tout donner et se donner soi-même. To love is to give everything and to give oneself.” [20]

How does John Paul II’s description of love’s essence as self-giving compare with Pope Benedict’s vision? The two coincide exactly, which can clearly be seen from the culmination of Pope Benedict’s reflections on the purification of love: “Love is indeed ‘ecstasy,’ not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it’ (Luke 17:33)” (DCE, 6).

An implicit defense of Humanae Vitae

Identifying the essence of love as making a gift of one’s entire self, and recognizing the need for chastity in order to purify love has profound implications for that supreme expression of love between husband and wife in sexual intercourse. Here we see how an implicit defense of Humanae Vitae can be discovered in Deus Caritas Est.

John Paul II makes clear that the inner language of the body in the act of conjugal union between husband and wife expresses both fruitfulness and the total gift of the self. That is the reason chastity is such an important virtue in order to be able to live out the spousal meaning of the body. It is necessary to first possess oneself through chastity in order to make a gift of oneself to the other spouse in love. Whereas naturally family planning requires the practice of chastity, contraception does not.

This fact enables us to discover the essential evil of contraception. It violates the inherent language of the body and results in telling a lie with the body. Not only does contraception violate the procreative meaning of the conjugal act, since spouses are not open to new life, it also violates the unitive meaning, the meaning of complete self-giving in love which the conjugal act should embody. On the one hand, the husband should be saying to the wife through the language of the body, “I give myself completely to you, with everything I am as a person, and I accept the gift of yourself in the totality of who you are as a person.” But when contraception is practiced, the husband in reality does not give himself totally nor accept the fullness of the gift of his wife. He does not give himself in his capacity to be a father, nor does he accept her capacity to be a mother. A lie is told with the body. Can a lie ever be an authentic act of love?

We can see John Paul II’s clear conclusions first in a passage from the theology of the body, and then in abbreviated form in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio:

    According to the criterion of this truth , which must be expressed in the “language of the body,” the conjugal act “means” not only love, but also potential fruitfulness, and thus it cannot be deprived of its full and adequate meaning by means of artificial interventions. In the conjugal act, it is not licit to separate artificially the unitive meaning from the procreative meaning, because the one as well as the other belong to the innermost truth of the conjugal act. The one is realized together with the other and, in a certain way, the one through the other. This is what the encyclical teaches (see HV 12). Thus, in such a case, when the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth, because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.

    One can say that in the case of an artificial separation of these two meanings in the conjugal act, a real bodily union is brought about, but it does not correspond to the inner truth and dignity of personal communion, “communio personarum.” This communion demands, in fact, that the “language of the body” be expressed reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth is lacking, one can speak neither of the truth of the reciprocal gift of self nor of the reciprocal acceptance of oneself by the person. Such a violation of the inner order of conjugal communion, a communion that sinks its roots into the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act. [21]

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. [22]

By coinciding with John Paul II in identifying the essence of authentic love as self giving, and outlining the path for the purification of human love or eros through chastity so that it can become one with agape and attain its authentic grandeur, Pope Benedict clearly renews the challenge launched by John Paul the Great to modernity to rise above itself, to rise above the contraceptive and hedonistic view of sex in order to embrace the liberating truth of self-giving love.

But in our present-day, secularized culture, where can one find the strength to live up to such a lofty ideal? Pope Benedict does not hesitate to respond in one of the central passages of the encyclical. Living the true ideal of love is possible only through contemplating the pierced side of Christ, by discovering and making our own that love of God which has become self-giving to the point of immolation on the cross. “ This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (DCE, 12).

Encapsulating John Paul II’s
Theology of the Body in One Simple Diagram

Seen from the perspective of John Paul II’s theology of the body, the deep inner richness of the encyclical Deus Caritas Est comes even more clearly to light. But the theology of the body at times might seem an entire world unto itself — and one that it is not always easy to penetrate. Wouldn’t it be a boon if we were to discover a way to illustrate the foundational pillars of this theology in one effortless diagram? Well, one person has done so. Michael Waldstein, in his introduction to his new and definitive English translation of the theology of the body puts forward the “Sanjuanist triangle.” This triangle presents the three fundamental principles of John Paul II’s theology of the body, which derive from St. John of the Cross’s spiritual theology of spousal love, and the relationship of these three principles to one another.

(1) To love is to give oneself.

(2) The spousal love of man and woman is the paradigmatic case of a total gift of self in our experience.

(3) The Trinity is the exemplar of love and gift.

“The first point on this triangle is a general account of love as a gift of self. From this point, one line extends horizontally to the thesis that the gift of self is present with particular completeness in the spousal love between man and woman. Another line extends upward diagonally, to the analogous application of the same account of love to the Trinity. Love and Gift take place in complete fullness in the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit (see Dominum et Vivificantem, 10). The descending line from point three to point two represents the thesis that communion between created persons, particularly the communion of spousal love between man and woman, flows as an image from God’s own Trinitarian communion.” [23]

May our society respond to the challenge proposed by John Paul the Great and reaffirmed by Pope Benedict in his first encyclical. May men and women rise above all forms of “weak love” that are in vogue today, [24] to embrace the authentic self-giving love of eros purified by agape. Christ’s act of total oblation on the cross not only reveals to us the deepest meaning of love, but also gives us the strength to live that love in our own lives — the only path that can bring us true happiness. For “love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.”


^1 As cited in Benjamin D. Wiker, “Benedict Contra Nietzsche: A Reflection on Deus Caritas Est,” crisis, May, 2006, 20.

^2 Zenit News Agency, May 4, 2006.

^3 Karol Wojty?a, Love and Responsibility (Farrar, Straus, Giroux: New York: 1981), 97.

^4 Audience of March 26, 1980, Footnote 35 in Theology of the Body, new English translation by Michael Waldstein pre-publication manuscript (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul: 2006). Pope John Paul II refers to Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, trans. Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), 235–40.

^5 Descartes, Meditations, 4, in Discourse on Method and Meditations, 83, 3rd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), Adam and Tannery, 55. As cited in Michael Waldstein, “Introduction” to the Theology of the Body, pre-publication manuscript, 35.

^6 Descartes, “Letter to Christina of Sweden,” in Adam and Tannery 5, 85; cf. Meditations, IV.8. Translation following Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 147. As cited in Waldstein, “Introduction, 36. Waldstein notes, “One can perhaps temper the astonishing statement that freedom ‘exempts us from being his [that is, God’s] subjects’ by adding the word ‘seems.’ In fact, Descartes writes, ‘semble nous exempter de luy estre suiets…’, emphasis added.”

^7 Waldstein, “Introduction,” 36.

^8 John Paul II, Letter to Families, 13.

^9 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 11.

^10 Waldstein, “Introduction,” 92.

^11 Waldstein enumerates the references on page 4 of his exhaustive index to The Theology of the Body̧ based on the numbering of the audiences in the Italian edition, Uomo e donna lo creò: The human person is a body, rather than merely having a body (è corpo, essere corpo) 25 times: 2:4 • “What” man is on the generic level is “a body.” 5:5-6 • He is a body among bodies. 6:3 • 8:1 • 10:1.4 • 19:4 • 21:3 • concupiscence causes difficulty in identifying oneself with oneself as a body. 29:4 • The body determines man’s ontological subjectivity and participates in the dignity of the person 45:1 • 44:6 • Man expresses himself in the body and in that sense is the body. 55:2 • Nearly all the problems of the “ethos of the body” are at the same time linked with the body’s ontological identification as the body of the person. 60:1-2 • 69:2.4 • 72:5 • 85:9 • 86:4 • 99:4 • 102:5 • 119:4.

^12 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 37.

^13 Wojty?a, Love and Responsibility, 135–36.

^14 Familiaris Consortio, 11.

^15 Wiker, “Benedict Contra Nietzsche,” 21.

^16 John Paul II, Theology of the Body, Uomo e donna 113 (Audience not delivered), 433.

^17 As translated into English and reprinted in The Catholic World Report, March 2006, 26.

^18 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 14.

^19 Pascal Ide, “Don et théologie du corps dans les catéchèses sur l’amour dans le plan divin,” in Jean-Paul II face a la question de l’homme: Actes du 6ème Colloque International de la Fondation Guilé, ed. Yves Semen (Boncourt: Guilé Foundation Press, 2004), 161. As cited by Waldstein, “Introduction to the Theology of the Body,” 113.

^20 St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Pourquoi je t’aime, ô Marie!, Why I Love you, Mary, stanza 22. As cited in ibid.

^21 John Paul II Wednesday audience of August 22, 1984 (Insegnamenti, 7, no. 2 [1984]: 227–30) as translated by Waldstein in Theology of the Body, pre-publication manuscipt, 588-589.

^22 Familiaris Consortio, 32.

^23 Michael Waldstein, “Introduction to the Theology of the Body,” 21-22.

^24 See the article by Orazio Petrosillo, “Ratzinger contro ‘l’amore debole,” in Il Messaggero, May 12, 2006, for a more complete explanation of the term, “weak love,” or “amore debole,” coined by Pope Benedict XVI. “Weak love” refers to all types of unions that are not monogamous marriage, “based on an exclusive and definitive love” between a man and a woman.

Reverend Walter Schu, L.C., was ordained a priest in 1994. He obtained his S.T.L. in moral theology at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation. He teaches at the Legionary of Christ novitiate and humanities college in Cheshire, Conn. Fr. Schu is author of The Splendor of Love (New Hope Press, 2003) on John Paul II’s theology of the body. This is his first article for HPR. He can be reached via email at wschu@legionaries.org.


The New Yorker on Benedict XVI

A few years ago a good friend commented that The New Yorker was for people who liked single-panel cartoons and the appearance of being sophisticated and intellectual. He had family members who read The New Yorker (and let everyone know about it) and he was obviously less than impressed with their casual condescension about any and all topics. They, after all, had read The New Yorker! I've rarely read anything from that particular periodical, but it does appear to have casual condescension down to an art form, as evidenced by a long, erratic, skewed, and often very annoying April 2nd piece, "The Pope and Islam," written by Jane Kramer.

To appreciate how bad the article sometimes is, you'll have to suffer through on your own. But, of course, I cannot help but point out some of the "highlights," beginning with the subhead: "Is there anything that Benedict XVI would like to discuss?" In short order, there is reference to Benedict's "unfortunate reference to the Prophet Muhammad" at Regensburg, and then this bit of whining:

    It is well known that Benedict wants to transform the Church of Rome, which is not to say that he wants to make it more responsive to the realities of modern life as it is lived by Catholic women in the West, or by Catholic homosexuals, or even by the millions of desperately poor Catholic families in the Third World who are still waiting for some merciful dispensation on the use of contraception. He wants to purify the Church, to make it more definitively Christian, more observant, obedient, and disciplined—you could say more like the way he sees Islam. And never mind that he doesn’t seem to like much about Islam, or that he has doubts about Islam’s direction. (His doubts are not unusual in today’s world; many Muslims have them.) The Pope is a theologian—the first prominent theologian to sit on Peter’s throne since the eighteenth century.

Oh my, the Pope isn't being responsive to the ideological hopes and dream's of The New Yorker! What shall we do? Hey, let's bash the Pope and wrap it in serious-sounding journalism-speak and misrepresent all sorts of things, big and small, about Joseph Ratzinger. And let's do with a big dose of casual condescension. Here goes!

    Still, not even a Jesuit could explain what the Pope intended when he addressed a group of theologians at the University of Regensburg in September, beginning a speech that could best be described as a scholarly refutation of the so-called Kantian fallacy—Kant’s distinction between rational understanding and apprehension of the sublime—with a question posed by a fourteenthcentury Byzantine emperor to a Persian guest at his winter barracks near Ankara. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new,” the emperor asked the Persian, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

What, not even a Jesuit could make sense of the Regensburg address? Yet Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., a former student of Ratzinger, offered many insightful thoughts in this IgnatiusInsight.com piece. As did another well-known and oft-published Jesuit, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., a political philosopher at Georgetown who is quite adept at matters theological as well, who wrote a couple of pieces on the address and will soon have a 170-page book published about the topic. Was either man interviewed by Kramer? Apparently not. And nary a Jesuit can explain it.

Meanwhile, Kramer's grasp of facts is either tenuous or weakened by, well, a lack of understanding. For example, this aside:

    (It should be remembered that John of Damascus, the eighth-century saint and last Father of the Church, considered Islam to be a Christian heresy; today, by strict Catholic definition, any religion that postdates and rejects the divinity of Christ is heretical.)

Really? Does that mean that Scientology is "heresy"? Or various branches, so to speak, of "New Age"? Or even Jehovah Witnesses, who deny the Trinity and the divinity of Christ? Yet the Catechism, which is a fairly Catholic work (strictly speaking, of course), explicitly connects heresy with "the post-baptismal denial of some truth that must be believed with divine and catholic faith" (CCC 2089). The term "heresy" is used too often and loosely (and many good Catholics are guilty of such use); however, it's fair to consider whether or not Islam is a Christian heresy, since many scholars acknowledge that Muhammad was influenced by and used elements of Christian and Jewish doctrine.

Far worse are paragraphs such as this one:

    Ratzinger and Wojtyla shared this: an exceptionally narrow view of what constitutes a morally acceptable Christian life. That view is reflected in the daily decisions of bishops who in the past few years have denied the sacraments to pro-choice politicians (St. Louis); refused to allow Muslims to pray at a church that was once a mosque (Córdoba); and denied Catholic burial to an incurably ailing man who, after years of suffering on a respirator, asked to die (Rome). But the resemblance ends there. Ratzinger did not really think that theological dialogue with non-Christians was useful, or meaningful, or even possible. John Paul II did. His papacy, he said, was going to be a peace papacy—a papacy of bridges. Unlike Ratzinger, he was not much concerned about whether a Trinitarian faith with an anthropomorphic God was “comprehensible” to a Muslim whose God is never manifest. He would talk to anyone about God. In twenty-six years as Pope, he made a hundred and two trips abroad, many of them to Muslim countries, and it didn’t matter whether the understanding of God was the same from one airport to the next.

Strange how Kramer matter-of-factly describes, without editorializing, the outbreak of violence and insane rhetoric from sectors of the Islam world following the Regensburg lecture, but then informs readers that John Paul II and Benedict XVI shared "an exceptionally narrow view" of Christian morality, as evidenced by three anecdotes devoid of any factual context. The two Popes, of course, shared a perfectly Catholic view of morality—a topic that both wrote about at length. (Do you get the sense that Kramer has a problem with the Church's teachings regarding sex, sex, and sex? Yep, exactly.)

Meanwhile, what of the bizarre assertion, "Ratzinger did not really think that theological dialogue with non-Christians was useful, or meaningful, or even possible"? Uh, if that's the case, it's difficult to understand why he wrote a theologically dense book, Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World (English, 1999) examining the relationship—both theological and historical—between Judaism and Christianity. Or why The New York Times, not known to be an arm of the Vatican, reported how pleased many Jewish leaders were with the election of Benedict XVI because, as Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, stated, "I believe that he is the man who created the theological underpinnings for the good relations between Catholics and Jews during the last papacy." Hello?


    Benedict, for all his doctrinal rigidity, remains extremely forthcoming as a scholar, and he is much more careful than his predecessor to distinguish between opinion and “truth.” John Paul II was untroubled by that sort of distinction, and, curiously, Benedict did very little to discourage his conflations of doctrine and what the Church calls “definitive teachings”—perhaps because, during the last years of the Pope’s long illness, those teachings were “guided” by Benedict himself.

Ah yes, another clever attempt at a variation on the ol' "Tale of Two Popes" routine, which is always a sure sign that you are going to be told that (1) John Paul II and Benedict XVI are very different in This or That Way, but (2) they are both, in the end, equally wrong about This or That Topic. Kramer's riff about distinctions between "opinion," "truth," "doctrine," and "definitive" is confusing and vague (perhaps purposefully so), and is not backed up by anything substantive, just a bit about how the two men had differing opinions about the prayer gatherings in Assisi. But to say that John Paul II was "untroubled by that sort of distinction"—between opinion and truth (oh, sorry, "truth")—would come as a surprise to anyone who has read, say, the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which is, if my Latin doesn't fail me, about "the splendor of truth." That document, it should be noted, refers several times to "opinion," and never in a positive way, as this excerpt indicates:

    In carrying out this task we are all assisted by theologians; even so, theological opinions constitute neither the rule nor the norm of our teaching. Its authority is derived, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in communion cum Petro et sub Petro, from our fidelity to the Catholic faith which comes from the Apostles. As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the "sound doctrine" (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses. (par 116)

As for truth, the late Holy Father states:

    Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature. (par 32)

And so it goes, with Kramer letting her dislike of orthodox Catholic teaching continually spill over into her occasional attempts at serious journalism, often making her sound like an Episcopalian theologian or, dare I say, a Catholic professor of "religious studies". Thus:

    The Pope was failing, and Ratzinger had already delivered his own position paper on the uniqueness of Catholic salvation. (It said that the situation for non-Catholics was “gravely deficient.”) He called it Dominus Iesus, and it was a triumphalist document—not, in any event, an “unconditional opening” of the gates of the Vatican, let alone the gates of Heaven.

Finally, the remark about Episcopalian theologians was more than a glib shot, as this indicates:

    Moral unity doesn’t sound like a lot to ask of Christians, but it is. For one thing, Anglicans and Protestants and Orthodox Christians are hardly eager to take their moral marching orders from a man who holds Catholicism to be the one true articulation of Christian faith—and who is demonstrably more at home discussing moral imperatives with secular intellectuals like Habermas than he is with any of them. It is a matter of theological status. R. William Franklin, an Episcopal priest and a fellow of the Anglican Center in Rome, says that, from an ecumenical standpoint, “we make intellectual but little practical progress on questions of authority, and of course on the ‘sticking points.’ ” (He means the role of women and homosexuals in the two churches—subjects on which this Pope sometimes seems to have more in common with Qom than with Canterbury.)

Well, I suppose if the Catholic Church and the Pope would just take a stand on issues and make it clear what they believe, our Anglican friends would find it easier to stick to the sticking points, right? And so it goes: everything, it seems, is the fault of Benedict and those of like mind. If only the Pope would read (nay, study!) The New Yorker, pursue a policy of indifferentism and relativism, and follow the lead of hip and happening Anglican divines, the world would be a much better place. Or so Jane Kramers appears to believe. And that, folks, is today's tour of the cathedral of casual condescension.

• Frank Shaw likes the New Yorker article, and says, "It's a good example of why long form journalism, IMHO, will continue to play a substantial role in how people receive information." It's a good example of something, I'll grant that.

• The New Republic is not impressed by the article: "It gives off the unsettling aura of term-paper research."

Posted by Carl Olson on Wednesday, April 04, 2007 at 03:18 AM | Permalink


Benedict XVI's "Curriculum"

Seminarians, students and other eager listeners gathered recently at the University of the Holy Cross in Rome listen to American professor Scott Hahn expound the theological vision of Benedict XVI.

The weeklong mini course was just one of several meetings, formal and informal, during which Hahn, a professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, spoke with laity and religious on a range of topics.

Foremost on Hahn's agenda was the Holy Father's "curriculum" for Catholics, which Hahn believes will also lead many Protestant theologians to discover the answers they have been searching in the Catholic liturgy.

But even more, Hahn said that Benedict XVI's "clarity and classic style of theologizing" make his teaching accessible to the average lay person.

"One of the remarkable things about Benedict XVI," said Hahn, "is that he is almost too straightforward. With a little bit of effort, those who are not schooled in theology will grasp treasures of biblical wisdom in the context of liturgy and the sacraments."

The Pope's writing, Hahn said, has been significant in his own faith journey.

"I started reading Joseph Ratzinger before I realized he was Catholic, let alone a cardinal, now Benedict XVI," he said. "That was 25 years ago; I've only been Catholic for 20."

At a casual reception at the home of a former student now working in Rome, Hahn encouraged old and new students to take advantage of their proximity to the Holy Father as a time of preparation for their own service to the Church.

He said: "This is the hour of the laity. It is a tremendous privilege to be so near Benedict XVI who is a teacher par excellence.

"Those of you who have the privilege of learning from him so directly will be called upon to serve others."

During a visit to the North American College, Hahn encouraged seminarians to remain rooted in prayer and Scripture.

American seminarian Johnny Burns was enthusiastic about Hahn's talk: "He spoke about the priesthood in a biblical context and then talked about priestly fatherhood by building on lessons he's learned from being a father.

"His personal stories were quite moving. And when he shared with us what he truly thought of the priesthood, that was also moving, indeed unforgettable."


Pope's Study of Church Fathers Not Just for Catholics
Interview With Theologian David Warner

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia, MARCH 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's Wednesday-audience series on the Apostolic Fathers can give us hope for unity among Christians, says a Catholic theologian who was once an evangelical Protestant minister.

In this interview with ZENIT, David Warner discusses how reading Church Fathers led to his return to the Catholic Church and offers some reflections on the Pope's teachings.

Warner is now a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio, and an adjunct professor for the University of Sacramento, California.

Q: How have the early Church Fathers been influential in your own life, first as a Protestant minister and later as a Catholic?

Warner: I left the Catholic Church during my high school years. A far-ranging search led me away from the Church and toward a Christianity of my own invention.

After three years of wandering, I re-embraced Trinitarian theology and had an evangelical conversion to the divinity and lordship of Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of what turned out to be a rediscovery of, and return to, what the Nicene Creed calls the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

Again and again during my 18-year sojourn through various streams of Protestantism, I kept coming back to study the early centuries of Christianity.

While teaching a survey course in Church history, I became convinced that I was incompletely joined to the one Church directly established by Christ and witnessed to by the Fathers.

Reading the Apostolic Fathers and the second-century apologists forced me to come to grips with the thoroughly "Catholic" elements of early Christianity.

There was no escaping the fact that already in the first generations, Christians believed, for example, in a sacramental theology, a hierarchy led by bishops who were appointed by the first apostles, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

As a Catholic, my Christian formation was corrected and enriched by studying for three university degrees in Catholic theology. My favorite studies related to patristics.

Whether I was researching biblical, systematic, moral, historical, or pastoral theology; Catholic education or ecumenism; a common point of integration was to discover what the earliest theologians and pastors taught and practiced.

My doctoral studies centered on the 19th-century English convert, Cardinal Newman, who, like so many recent evangelical ministers including myself, returned to the fullness of the ancient Church largely through the influence of the Fathers.

Q: Why would non-Catholic Christians be any more interested in the Fathers of the first couple of centuries than in later saints and doctors of the Church?

Warner: In the Apostolic Fathers and the earliest bishops and apologists, we have the earliest links in the chain that connects today's Christians with the Twelve.

Quoting a second-century bishop, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Benedict XVI reminded us that St. Clement, the third bishop of Rome in succession from St. Peter, had the first apostles' "preaching in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes."

Pope Clement had no qualms about asserting his extra-local apostolic authority, teaching and correcting the Church of Corinth, in distant Greece.

Other great bishops whom Benedict XVI explores, like St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Polycarp died as martyrs for the truth they knew they had received directly from the original apostles who had taught them.

I remember reasoning while still a Protestant minister, that if Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and Irenaeus could not get it right after just one or two generations, then what hope did I have for believing that Jesus was who the New Testament claimed he was, or that he had founded a Church that would kick in the gates of hell, and be led by the Spirit of truth until his return?

In the end, I wearied of trying to be my own pope, and returned to the Church of the Fathers.

Q: How do you think non-Catholic Christians and others will view Benedict XVI's catechesis on the Fathers of the early Church?

Warner: It is unlikely that many of them will, in fact, come across these teachings directly. But for those who do, their reactions will be influenced by their preconceived ideas and present convictions.

Those who are of a more sociohistorical revisionist persuasion will tend to categorize Benedict's teachings as being nothing more than a repetition of "history as told by the victors" in the ancient battles for orthodoxy.

For them, a seemingly endless stream of "lost gospels" and "new discoveries" are at least complementary to, if not equal or superior to, sacred Scripture and the orthodox writings of the early bishops and saints.

It is a case study for what Cardinal Ratzinger warned of in his homily just before the papal conclave: "Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. ¡Ä We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain."

We have become accustomed, for example, to being bombarded through the media every Christmas and Easter with wild theories regarding Jesus and the varieties of early Christian belief, appealing to so-called suppressed writings.

Typically, these were written by pseudonymous authors claiming to be one of the apostles or their companions. Many of these manuscripts promoted Gnostic teachings that were already being warned against by the New Testament authors in the first century.

They were rejected by the early bishops as being unfaithful to the teachings of Christ, as passed down through the apostles and their successors.

One encouraging sign is the growing interest among some Protestant scholars and pastors who are fascinated with the project of rediscovering and adapting the unique worldview, theology and spirituality of the Fathers.

Seeking to become more "Catholic" without necessarily becoming "Roman," many evangelical theologians and publishers are producing serious studies on the biblical theology of the Fathers.

This is a promising path of potential convergence that could serve Benedict XVI's own ecumenical commitments. I think these brothers and sisters in Christ might find food for thought and an expansion of their religious imagination by the Pope's patristic reflections.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on why Benedict XVI would choose to teach on these early Christian Fathers just now?

Warner: The present Wednesday-audience series on the Fathers began on March 7, 2007. It is a continuation of the Pope's catechesis on the mystery of the Church that began a year ago in March 2006, with weekly meditations on each of the Twelve Apostles.

By October, he was ready to draw our attention to St. Paul and his collaborators: apostolic men like Timothy and Titus -- early bishops, and lay leaders in the Church like the married couple, Aquila and Priscilla.

Benedict XVI is trying to follow Our Lord's command to Peter to "feed my sheep." The food he has chosen to provide us during this series is the tremendous heritage of holy men and women who lived and died as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Church during the first centuries of the Christian era.

From their witness, we can better understand the mystery of the Church as the "presence of Christ among men."

For Catholics, salvation history is the drama of God's unfolding plan for his people. This story can be read in the pages of sacred Scripture and Church history. Benedict XVI's reflections are designed to cause us to reconsider the essential nature and mission of the Church in the context of salvation history.

Q: What common ground can Christians find in the Fathers, and how might this help ecumenical efforts?

Warner: The Fathers can inform and challenge Christians of every description. Protestants can rediscover their forgotten roots. This in turn often results in an increased appreciation for Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other episcopal and liturgical traditions.

In other cases, openness to the Fathers becomes a steppingstone toward embracing what we believe to be the fullness of Christian faith and practice found within the Catholic Church.

Catholics can and should rediscover some of the patristic priorities that modern evangelicals are noted for, including: living in and for Christ; reverencing and studying the Bible as the unique, authoritative written word of God; and becoming better informed and enthusiastic witnesses to Jesus Christ, the one and only savior of the world.

We can reaffirm our Catholic tradition of promoting all of the gifts of the Spirit -- including the charismatic and hierarchical gifts -- toward the end of Christian maturity and unity. All of these distinctive traits are clearly taught and modeled in the Fathers.

We can relearn how to "breathe with both lungs," a phrase Pope John Paul II often used to refer to drawing from both the Western and Eastern Christian traditions of theology and spirituality.

Many of the earliest Fathers were in fact "Eastern"; they lived in the Near East or Northeast Africa, and wrote in Greek and other non-Latin tongues. Our Eastern Orthodox brothers have the highest regard for the same figures the Pope is holding up for our example and instruction.

Benedict XVI gives us hope for Christian unity by directing us to Ignatius of Antioch who was "truly a doctor of unity." He taught the unity of the Trinity, the unity of the Incarnate Logos, and the unity of the Church in the bonds of love.

Ignatius' prescription for authentic spirituality and ecumenism was "a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ -- union with him, life in him -- and dedication to his Church -- union with the bishop, generous service to the community and the world."

The Second Vatican Council taught that authentic ecumenism begins with individual, interior repentance and renewal. This can lead to a broader institutional humility and renewal, and docility toward the lessons of history.

Through the Fathers' writings, all Christians may learn from these privileged witnesses to the sacred deposit of faith entrusted by Our Lord to the first apostles. The first- and second-century Fathers and apologists serve as windows into the mystery of the Church as "one, holy, catholic and apostolic."


 Benedict XVI  By George Weigel Nov. 7, 2005

When the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI first appeared on the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica this past April, he was smiling broadly—a surprise, perhaps, for those accustomed to the cartoon of Joseph Ratzinger as "God's Rottweiler." Was this, perhaps, the smile of a man who had finally gotten something he wanted? No, for Ratzinger most certainly didn't want to be pope. He thought himself too old for the job, and ill suited for an office that required greater administrative skills than he thought he possessed. After Pope John Paul II refused his resignation three times, Ratzinger, 78, was also looking forward to a return to his native Bavaria to take up his work as a theologian. So what the world saw on the afternoon of April 19 was not the smile of a man who had achieved a great ambition. Rather, having accepted the decision of a lightning-swift conclave after no small amount of internal wrestling with God's will (and his own), Benedict XVI's happiness was that of a man who had been liberated to be himself after subordinating his personality for 23 years to the work John Paul II had asked him to do.

A liberated Joseph Ratzinger was likely to produce some surprises. And, in fact, Benedict XVI has been a pope of the quiet, understated surprise during his first seven months in the papacy. Throughout September and October, Benedict drew larger crowds to his weekly general audience than the late John Paul II—no mean magnet—ever managed. During the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul brought 40,000 to 45,000 people a week into St. Peter's Square. Over the past two months, Benedict has regularly pulled crowds of more than 50,000; on Oct. 15 the square overflowed with 150,000 pilgrims, many of them Italian schoolchildren who had just made their first communion (the idea of a conversation with children was the pope's). Some of this extraordinary turnout reflects the 20,000 pilgrims who come to pray at John Paul II's grave every day. But that, in turn, underlines the dynamic continuity between Benedict and his great predecessor.

Though he lacks John Paul's electric public personality, Benedict has an engaging style, offering the demanding yet accessible Gospel of a theologian who has mastered the complexities of doctrine. His composure in public is also telling. When it was suggested to the pope's secretary, at the audience for those Italian children, that it was time to give the pope his text, the secretary responded, "He doesn't need a text; he's got it in his heart." (When Benedict does preach from notes, however, his homilies are handcrafted.)

Then there was Benedict's striking rapport with a million young adults at August's World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany—another surprise for some. Yet, as a professor, Ratzinger had inspired passionate loyalty in his doctoral students, and like John Paul, Benedict knows that to be young is to yearn for a challenge to heroism. So there was no patronizing and no pandering, but rather solid teaching and the example of a pope in silent prayer before the Holy Eucharist.

Benedict XVI has met, cordially, with representatives of the "progressive" and reactionary wings of Roman Catholic dissent. He's dropped hints about holding a joint synod with Orthodox bishops — something that hasn't happened in more than a millennium. He's taken a hands-on approach to the appointment of Catholic bishops throughout the world, influenced perhaps in part by his experience with malfeasant bishops who turned sexual scandal into crisis in the United States. He's challenged Islamic leaders to take a more publicly critical stance toward violence in the name of God, and he's challenged Europe to recover its greatness by rediscovering its Christian roots. (Benedict's forthcoming book on the subject, "Without Roots," is coauthored with a nonbelieving Italian intellectual who shares the pope's diagnosis of the secularist sources of Europe's civilizational malaise.)

Interpreting the coming papacy accurately is going to require a determined effort to get beyond the "liberal/conservative" taxonomy of all issues Catholic. The Vatican is at work on a document concerning candidates for the priesthood who wrestle with homoerotic temptations and passions; should Benedict approve a policy requiring that such candidates have demonstrated a capacity to live chastely, the conventional impulse will be to interpret him as a persecutor of homosexuals. The truth, however, will be more complicated: at heart and in practice, Benedict is a reformer who wants all candidates to demonstrate the ability, with God's grace, of living the challenge of celibate chastity. Chastity, Benedict will likely remind the church, is a virtue for everyone—gay or straight, clergy or laity.

Benedict XVI's shrewdness as a manager and reformer of the Roman Curia remains to be tested. So does his judgment in people. In his first seven months, though, the man who never wanted to be pope has shown the unflappability which comes from a deep spiritual life. That suggests that the quiet surprises of Benedict XVI will continue.

George Weigel, a senior fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the author of God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, published on Nov. 1 by HarperCollins


On Benedict XVI's 100 Days

Interview with Marco Tosatti of La Stampa

ROME, JULY 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- On the eve of Benedict XVI's 100-day mark as Pope, La Stampa's Vatican correspondent comments on the prudent, subtle style of the current Bishop of Rome.

In this interview with ZENIT, Tosatti, who recently published, in Italian, "The Dictionary of Pope Ratzinger: Guide to the Pontificate," comments on the papacy of Benedict XVI.

Q: What are the best known, most original and important thoughts of "The Dictionary of Pope Ratzinger"?

Tosatti: I very much like his reflection on the Chair of Peter -- hard and uncomfortable -- and on Judaism in Jesus' time. The New Testament is no more than an interpretation of Judaism, beginning with Jesus' history of "the law, the prophets and the writings," which in Jesus' times had not reached their mature form as a definitive canon, but were still open and were therefore presented to the disciples as a testimony in favor of Jesus himself, as Sacred Scriptures that reveal his mystery.

Q: It seems like one part of Europe and the Western world is oriented to legislating against the natural law and Christian teachings. A confrontation on moral topics and Church-state relations seems inevitable. What is your opinion?

Tosatti: This danger is certainly present. Natural law and natural right seem to be in danger in the Western world. But certain cases, I am referring to the position of many and significant "secular" thinkers in Italy in the last months, lead one to hope that at least a part of the world that defines itself as Christian will understand the risks derived from individualism, from the dictum "every desire is a right."

Q: Do you think that Benedict XVI's pontificate, the first German Pope in centuries, might influence the political and cultural changes of his native country?

Tosatti: I don't think so, I don't think the country of his birth is at the center of his concerns. I have the impression that he regards it as a piece of the Western world, in which new forms of paganism are gaining ground and in which there is a re-emergence, as a consequence of the lack of faith, of superstition. However, I think the election of a German Pope might increase the interest of his compatriots in his figure and message, as a long-term effect.

Q: As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and as an intellectual, Joseph Ratzinger intervened in a clear manner against moral and religious relativism. What have you discovered in this connection when writing your book?

Tosatti: I have dedicated two ample passages to the topic of relativism. I quote at the beginning: "Relativism has become … the fundamental problem of our days." In another passage he says: to believe in Jesus Christ "is considered as a fundamentalism which appears as a genuine attack against the modern spirit."

Q: As a Vaticanist, could you make a synthetic commentary on these first days of Benedict XVI's pontificate?

Tosatti: I don't dare make a commentary, but rather share impressions. He moves with patience, prudence and delicacy, but he moves and does much more than we perceive. He is not afraid of saying things with courtesy, but also with the greatest clarity.

Little by little he is letting his human side show, which is extremely rich, and which is never easy for a timid person. He knows how to speak with simple people and philosophers and to make himself understood, and this is an uncommon ability. I think he will do much good for the Church and the world.


Benedict XVI, Vatican II and Modernity
Tracey Rowland on the Pope's Interpretation of the Council

MELBOURNE, Australia, JULY 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Many believe that "Gaudium et Spes" was the key document that shaped the life of the Church in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council.

However, according to theologian Tracey Rowland, 40 years of post-conciliar history and reflection on the 1965 pastoral constitution have led many to conclude that the document had an inadequate understanding of culture, particularly that of the culture of liberal modernity.

The result, Rowland reckons, was the unleashing of currents within the Church that gravely harmed the liturgy and offered a false humanism ultimately destructive to the pastoral care of souls.

Rowland is dean and permanent fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family -- Melbourne and author of "Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II" (Routledge).

She shared with ZENIT why a reconsideration and reinterpretation of "Gaudium et Spes," a dominant theme in the theological work of Joseph Ratzinger, is necessary to reorient the Church's encounter with liberal modernity.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Monday.

Q: What was Joseph Ratzinger's role at the Second Vatican Council, and how did it shape his theological views?

Rowland: He attended the Council as a peritus for Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne. In a famous speech, Frings launched an attack on the Holy Office and the exchange between him and Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani is often described as the most passionate debate of the Council. It is thought that the young Ratzinger contributed ideas for Frings' criticism.

As for the effect of the Council on Ratzinger, his attendance as a peritus would have given him a valuable bird's-eye view of the Catholic intellectual landscape, a knowledge of the problems faced by the Church in different parts of the world and some experience of the operation of the Curia.

I don't think, however, that the Council changed his views so much as his views shaped the Council.

Q: What is the new Pope's view of the Church's role and its relationship to "the world" as understood by the Second Vatican Council?

Rowland: The Second Vatican Council described the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Accordingly, the Church is not an entity distinct from the world but the world reconciled unto itself and unto God. This is the kind of vision one would expect Benedict to promote.

Contrary to popular perceptions, his Augustinian spirituality does not mean that he is against the world or that he believes that Catholics should crawl into ghettos.

What it does mean is that he is no Pelagian. He doesn't think that with sufficient education the New Jerusalem can be built on earth. Civics education alone, lectures on human rights, exhortations about brotherly love and the common good, will get nowhere unless people are open to the work of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A humanism that is not Christian cannot save the world. This was the conclusion of his fellow peritus Henri de Lubac, and Benedict has made some very strong statements against the pretensions of a mere secular humanism.

Moreover, while he is not advocating a retreat from the world, he has exhorted Catholics to rediscover with evangelical seriousness the courage of nonconformism in the face of the social trends of the affluent world.

He has said that we ought to have the courage to rise up against what is regarded as "normal" for a person at the end of the 20th century and to rediscover faith in its simplicity. In other words, one can engage the world, and be in the world, without being of the world.

Q: How has this project, laid out by the Council Fathers in "Gaudium et Spes," succeeded or failed?

Rowland: Against the background of secularizing readings of "Gaudium et Spes," John Paul II argued that the document needs to be read from the perspective of Paragraph 22. In a nutshell, it says that the human person needs to know Christ in order to have self-understanding.

No doubt Pope Benedict would agree that this paragraph undercuts some of the ambivalent language if it is taken as the lens through which the rest of the document is read. But how many of the world's Catholics, including the clergy, know about the significance of Paragraph 22?

The popular interpretation of this document was that it represented an acknowledgment on the part of the Church that modernity is OK and that it is the will of the Holy Spirit that Catholics accommodate their practices and culture, including liturgical culture, to modernity's spirit as quickly as possible.

This had the effect of generating a cultural revolution within the Church such that anything that was characteristically pre-conciliar became suspect.

Modes of liturgical dress, forms of prayer, different devotions, hymns that had been a part of the Church's cultural treasury for centuries, were not just dumped, but actively suppressed. To be a practicing Catholic in many parishes, one had to buy into the pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Against this, Ratzinger has been critical of what he calls "claptrap and pastoral infantilism" -- "the degradation of liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of the popular newspaper."

If the project of "Gaudium et Spes" is taken to mean "accommodating the practice of the faith to the culture of modernity," then I think that the project has been problematic in pastoral terms.

If, however, it is read more through the lens of de Lubac's "The Drama of Atheistic Humanism," then I think that the project of reaching out to so-called modern man and helping him to find himself by promoting John Paul II's theology of the body, the Trinitarian anthropology of the encyclicals "Redemptor Hominis," "Dives in Misericordia" and "Dominum et Vivificantem," and the values of the Gospel of Life in "Evangelium Vitae" and "Veritatis Splendor" -- that project has really only just begun and has a long way to go before it starts to bear fruit.

Q: In what sense is there continuity or discontinuity between in the views of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II -- a major contributor to "Gaudium et Spes" -- in regard to the Church's interaction with "the world"?

Rowland: I think that there will be continuity in the sense that Benedict would no doubt agree that a de Lubacian-type reading of "Gaudium et Spes" is desirable -- that culture is not theologically neutral, that we have a choice between a civilization of love and a culture of death, and that Christ and a Christian anthropology are needed to rescue us from a web of cultural and moral practices which destroy human integrity and foster nihilism.

However, one difference in nuance is that Benedict is less inclined to use a particular rhetorical strategy favored by John Paul II.

To give an example, John Paul II once said that the Church of the Council "saw itself as the soul of modernity." He then defined modernity as "a convergence of conditions that permit a human being to express better his or her own maturity, spiritual, moral and cultural." The problem here is that this is not what most people think of when they hear the _expression "modernity"; and it is certainly not the reading one finds in the many scholarly accounts of this cultural phenomenon.

From what I have read, Benedict doesn't adopt this intellectual strategy. When Benedict talks about modernity he doesn't try to redefine the common meaning. This is perhaps because he thinks that there is little rhetorical advantage in presenting the Church as modern when the postmoderns are so busy being critical of modernity. It simply aligns Catholics with a position whose popularity in on the wane.

A second way I think the papacies of the two might differ is that whereas John Paul II concentrated on ethics and anthropology -- and hence the central themes of "Gaudium et Spes" -- it is possible that Benedict will take a more ecclesiological focus, concentrating on themes in "Lumen Gentium" and the [Vatican II] decree on ecumenism as well as dealing with the whole territory of liturgy.

In the "City of God," St. Augustine wrote that in the composition of the world's history under divine providence there is a beauty arising from the antithesis of contraries -- a kind of eloquence in events, instead of in words.

Comparing the two papacies there is a kind of historical eloquence in that Wojtyla, the Pole, is elected to see off the Marxists and focus on the promotion of an alternative Christian anthropology, while the German Ratzinger is elected to contend with problems created by, among others, Luther and Nietzsche.

This papacy may well be focused on healing the wounds of the Reformation that began in Germany, and fighting what Benedict calls the "dictatorship of relativism" whose intellectual lineage is also strongly Germanic.

There is a definite divine beauty and playfulness in this.

Tracey Rowland on the Church's Response to Modernity (continued)

Is liberalism a positive and "liberating" intellectual development within Western history that can be both baptized and integrated into the life of the Church? Or, is it a destructive cultural and political force that thwarts the desire for transcendence?

Theologian Tracey Rowland believes the latter description of liberalism -- an intellectual tradition derivative of the epistemology and moral, political and economic philosophy of the various European Enlightenments in the 18th century -- better understands the phenomenon, and believes Benedict XVI shares at least some elements of this diagnosis. The encounter with liberal culture, she says, may be one of the central themes of his papacy.

Q: You have said that the major intellectual and theological battle within the Church is between the "Augustinian Thomists" and the "Whig Thomists." What does this mean?

Rowland: First, let me define "Whig."

The _expression "Whig Thomist" was coined by Michael Novak to describe his intellectual project. Originally the word "Whig" came from the Scottish word "Whiggamor" for a cattle driver -- though some sources say cattle thief and others say horse thief. It was initially applied to Scottish Presbyterians, mostly from the west coast of Scotland, who opposed the Stuart cause in the wars of the 17th century.

Their counterparts, the Tories -- a word derived from the Gaelic for "outlaw" -- consisted of some aristocrats, large landowners and agrarian peasants. They were mercantilist in economic policy, royalist in politics and tended to support the succession of James II [1633-1701].

Over time the term was used to refer to a faction in British politics. Although there was never anything like a strong doctrinal definition of the term, as a sociological generalization it can be said that the Whigs were the heirs of the Scottish Enlightenment, which emphasized economic and political liberty, or an emerging philosophy known as liberalism, which was often fused with a Puritan form of Protestantism.

In the 19th century Lord Acton popularized the idea that Thomas Aquinas was the first Whig, that is, the first proponent of a modern, post-Enlightenment concept of politics. Thus "Whig Thomism" refers to an intellectual project that seeks to locate the genesis of the liberal tradition in the thought of Thomas Aquinas and to synthesize elements of the Liberal tradition, particularly those provided by the Scottish Enlightenment, to classical Thomism.

The project of reading Aquinas as the first Whig or first Liberal has been criticized by a number of scholars.

For example, Robert Kraynak, in his work "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy," has written that "though intriguing, Acton's interpretation is misleading because Thomas defends power sharing and political participation, not as a right of the people to parliamentary consent nor as a means for protecting personal rights and liberties, but as the prudent application of natural law whose ends are best realized in a stable constitutional order dedicated to peace, virtue and Christian piety. This is medieval corporatism applied within the [Augustinian] doctrine of the Two Cities, rather than the first stirring of modern liberty."

Those who may loosely be classified as "Augustinian Thomists" follow such a Kraynak-style reading of Aquinas, rather than an Actonian.

What I argued in my book "Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II" is that there is a division between those who think that the Thomist tradition should accommodate itself to the culture of modernity, particularly the economic dimensions of this culture -- the self-described "Whig Thomists" -- and those who believe that modernity and its liberal tradition are really toxic to the flourishing of the faith.

Those who take the latter position do not want to supplement the Thomist tradition with doses of Enlightenment values. They are very broadly described as Augustinian Thomists for the want of a better label because, in a manner consistent with St. Augustine's idea of the two cities, they reject the claim of the liberal tradition to be neutral toward competing perspectives of the good and competing theological claims.

While the Whigs argue that liberalism is the logical outgrowth of the classical-theistic synthesis, the Augustinian Thomists argue that the liberal tradition represents its mutation and heretical reconstruction, and they tend to agree with Samuel Johnson that the devil -- not Thomas Aquinas -- was the first Whig.

There are thus two different readings of modernity and with that, two different readings of how the Church should engage the contemporary world. While the Whigs want the Church to accommodate the culture of modernity, the Augustinians favor a much more critical stance.

Another point I made in my book is that those who think that the liberal tradition is avant-garde are about 40 years behind the times. Liberalism ceased being the hegemonic intellectual tradition in the Western world in 1968. At least since then the intellectual battlefront has been three-cornered.

First of all there are theists -- Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, etc.; secondly, there are believers in Enlightenment-style rationality, that is, different varieties of liberals who sever reason from faith; and thirdly, there are the postmoderns who think that the Enlightenment was a very oppressive social experiment and that all versions of rationality are in some way related to theological or mythological presuppositions, although they do not accept that we can use our reason to judge between those competing theological presuppositions.

On some fronts Catholic scholars may do better to work with the postmoderns than those who insist on a strict severance of faith and reason, or at least not nail their colors irrevocably to a liberal mast.

The point at which the Whigs and Augustinians come into conflict is over the issue of the moral quality of what is called the "culture of America," which is not of course confined to the geographical boundaries of the United States. It is, as Alasdair MacIntyre says, a theoretical construct.

The Whigs want to baptize the current international economic order, while the Augustinians take a more critical approach, arguing that there are economic practices characteristic of this order that cannot be squared with the social teaching of the Church.

Moreover, the Augustinians are more likely to point out that most people do not sit down and develop a worldview for themselves from hours of philosophical and theological reflection. They tacitly pick up values and ideas from the institutions in which they work.

The Augustinians argue that there are aspects of the culture of modernity that act as barriers to the flourishing of Christian practice and belief, and unless the culture is changed, no amount of intellectual gymnastics on the part of the Church's scholars will be of help to those 1 billion Catholics who have to make a living within the world.

In other words, if one has to be a saint not to be morally compromised by the culture in which one works, then there is something wrong with that culture.

I don't think that this is the major intellectual battlefront within the Church, but it is an important one.

Q: In what sense is Pope Benedict an Augustinian? In what sense is he a Thomist?

Rowland: I would say that Pope Benedict is a Thomist insofar as he would probably agree with most of what St. Thomas wrote. However, he is not a Thomist in the sense of appealing to the authority of St. Thomas in his defense of the faith, focusing his scholarly endeavors upon the works of Aquinas or in the sense of using a scholastic methodology.

Rather, Pope Benedict is one of the many members of his generation who, while not disagreeing with the content of Thomist thought, believed that the scholastic presentation of the faith doesn't exactly set souls on fire unless they happen to be a particular type of soul with a passion for intellectual disputation. He has said that "scholasticism has its greatness, but everything is impersonal."

In contrast, with Augustine "the passionate, suffering, questioning man is always right there, and you can identify with him."

Benedict has also been strongly influenced by the Augustinian principle that faith is the door to understanding. He has said that he believes that a kind of memory, of recollection of God, is etched in man, though it needs to be awakened.

His Augustinian pedigree is also manifest in his interest in the transcendental of beauty and his understanding of the catechetical importance of language and symbols and the relationship between matters of form and substance.

So much of the liturgical mess of the last 30 years has been brought about by philistines who want to dumb down the language of the liturgy, replace symbolic gestures by lay people explaining what Father is doing -- as if we are all uncatechized Martians -- and gutting liturgical language of its poetic dimensions.

Even secular linguistic philosophers argue that form and substance are inseparable -- that if we change language, we also in some sense change the way that people think. Pope Benedict is onto this, along with Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, and liturgical scholars such Aidan Nichols, OP, Monsignor Peter Elliott, Stratford Caldecott of the Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford, and Alcuin Reid, OSB.

Q: How does Pope Benedict XVI's "Augustinian Thomism" shape the way he views the phenomenon of liberal democracy?

Rowland: From an Augustinian point of view, the biggest problem with liberalism is its claim to be theologically neutral or indifferent toward different religious traditions. Quite a long list of scholars are coming to the view that the liberal claim to theological neutrality is bogus. This list includes Anglicans associated with the radical orthodoxy circle and scholars with a more Baptist-oriented theological background.

It is not a position limited to so-called conservative or ultra-montanist Catholics. Indeed most postmoderns would agree with this criticism of the liberal tradition. Pope Benedict has made it clear that Catholics should not be persuaded by the liberal rhetoric to believe that in order to be good citizens they must bifurcate themselves into public and private halves.

He has observed that secularism is itself an ideology, a kind of religious position that presents itself as the only voice of rationality. He sees these views as posing a challenge to the dominant political cultures of contemporary liberal democracies.

To say this, however, is not to say that he is against constitutionalism. He is not saying that the Church should run the state. He would probably agree with the saying of Martin Luther King that the Church is neither the master of the state, nor the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state.

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has been described as a "man of culture," and suspect of theologians who do not have an appreciation for great art, music or beauty. What role does culture play in theology and political life?

Rowland: One of my favorite Ratzinger quotations is that "A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous!" It comes in a close second behind his observation that in some ways he prefers the Italian spirit to the German because the saints were all people with imagination -- not functionaries of apparatuses.

In other words, beware the person with no interest in literature, music, art, poetry and nature but who has a big interest in keeping the machinery operating. I haven't heard what he has said to the Vatican bureaucrats who reportedly wanted to ban his cats from the papal apartments, but they sound dangerous, too -- the bureaucrats, that is.

But to answer your question about culture and theology, the territory of the theology of culture is very broad. It ranges from the morality of different institutional and social practices, including practices within political institutions, to questions about the propriety of different types of music for liturgical use and questions about the role of language in the process of evangelization.

For example, should we adopt the language of hostile intellectual traditions when presenting the Church's teachings? And what principles should be applied when discerning which of the "spoils of the Egyptians" to plunder?

Pope Benedict has observed that the Church is its own cultural subject for the faithful, which is a further indication that he is not inclined to follow the pastoral strategy of accommodating the Church's culture to whatever happens to be fashionable in the contemporary Western world.

In a recent address to the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal Stafford said that every world religion is trembling before the advances of American pop culture. I think that Pope Benedict would agree with this assessment and that he understands that the Church, in a sense, needs to be the mother of culture. She needs to put life back into culture, so that people can be edified and experience self-transcendence.

Q: By what standards is the health of a culture measured according to Pope Benedict?

Rowland: In his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy," Benedict made the point that the sole purpose -- not the major purpose, but the sole purpose -- for the liberation of the Jews from Pharaoh was that God wanted them to be able to worship according to his prescriptions.

Thus, I would say that for Benedict the most important question about any culture is, where does liturgy stand within this culture? Is it the highest good? Are we dealing with a liturgical city? Or are we dealing with a culture which is driven by economic factors? Who are the gods of this culture? What is the dominant vision of the human person? How are the sick and vulnerable treated?

Concretely, it is of little benefit to Christians to live in a culture where any kind of liturgical _expression is permitted, if, like the Jews under Pharaoh, they are being forced to work like slaves just to provide shelter and food for their families and have no time for prayer and leisure, that is, no time for God, in lives dominated by the quest for physical survival.

In the same work, Benedict said that law and ethics do not hold together when they are not anchored in the liturgical center and inspired by it.

He also made the point that every society has its cults; even the decidedly atheistic, materialistic systems create their own forms of cult. He comes very close to the position of scholars such as Catherine Pickstock and William T. Cavanaugh who have argued that in contemporary Western society the market has replaced the Eucharist as our object of adoration.

This is not to say that he is against the idea of a market per se, but my judgment is that he is against making market competition the underlying, infrastructural dynamic of a culture.

Karl Polanyi expressed the position well when he wrote that a "natural order" is one in which the economy is embedded in social relations, rather than one in which social relations are embedded in the economic system, making society a mere adjunct to the market.

By making the test that of the place and nature of liturgy within a culture Benedict is also taking a very Augustinian position. Augustine would say that what we adore is a sign of what we love, and what we love is a declaration of our membership card of one of the two cities -- the city of God or the city of Man.


Benedict XVI as "God's Response to Secularism"
Interview With Archbishop Cordes, "Cor Unum" President

ROME, JULY 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Paul Cordes, a longtime friend of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is convinced the new Pope is "God's response" to the spread of secularism.

In this interview with ZENIT, the 70-year-old president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," who oversees the coordination of the Church's charity institutions, describes some of Joseph Ratzinger's essential features.

Q: According to some observers, John Paul II was for communism what Benedict XVI will be for moral and religious relativism. In your opinion, to what degree is this affirmation valid?

Archbishop Cordes: In his appointments, God undoubtedly has in mind the biographical experience and specific capacities of his messengers.

In his youth and as bishop of Krakow, the deceased Pope had lived the painful experience of communism. And for this reason he fought energetically against the regime's atheist forces. …

As Bishop of Rome, he never ceased to struggle before kings and presidents on behalf of freedom and people's dignity. Unfortunately, his ardent desire to visit Russia and China was not heard.

As a professor of theology, Pope Benedict XVI has always transmitted the truth of the faith and Tradition in a clear and comprehensible way. He formed future priests and catechists in the university. He tried to identify and spread in the intellectual world the arguments for an understanding of Revelation.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he helped John Paul II in his work of formulating theological directives for the people of God; suffice it to think of the writing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It is obvious, therefore, that as Pope he will not be resigned in the face of moral and religious relativism.

Q: A journalist has said that John Paul II filled the squares, while Benedict XVI will fill the churches. Given the enthusiasm that has arisen in these first months, it seems that Benedict XVI will fill the squares and the churches. What do you think?

Archbishop Cordes: I wholly agree with you. The stream of pilgrims arriving in Rome is enough to describe that journalist's judgment as precipitous.

Undoubtedly, John Paul II has helped and continues to help from heaven to make interest in the person and ministry of Pope Joseph Ratzinger have such amazing repercussion. …

Q: Another significant element is the novelty, after almost 1,000 years, of a German Pope. It is even more significant that it takes place after the fall of the Berlin Wall. St. Benedict saved civilization from the ruin of the Roman Empire; Benedict XVI has been given the task to revive the Judeo-Christian tradition in Europe and the West in the face of moral and religious decadence. Germany is a decisive nation for the future of Europe and, in this connection, a German Pope seems to be providential. What do you think?

Archbishop Cordes: The secularism of the so-called First World was of profound concern to John Paul II.

Although he came from a land firmly rooted in the Christian tradition, which through political challenge had succeeded in mobilizing further its religious energies, nevertheless he saw with clarity the signs of decadence.

Because of this, on the occasion of his trip to Austria in 1983, and despite the fact that he was advised against it by ecclesial diplomats, he wished to visit Kahlenberg, on the outskirts of Vienna, to commemorate the third centenary of the "fortunate victory," which had protected Europe from the penetration of the Turks and their religion.

When meeting with Austrian bishops on that occasion, he expressed acute thoughts on the sickness of Europe: "The experience of the apparent absence of God weighs not only on those who are absent or those most distanced, but is general. The spiritual current of today's conscience has a profound influence also on the active members of the Church. For this reason, the Good Shepherd feels obliged to leave space in the world and the Church above all to the light that comes from faith, in the active presence of God."

The new Pope is certainly God's response to the danger of secularism. And it is not just the name he has chosen which makes reference to it. Pope Benedict has expressed clearly his regret over the lack of reference to God in the preamble of the European Constitutional Treaty.

However, for several reasons I think too much importance must not be given to the contribution of Germany in the correct establishment of Christianity in Europe.

I count rather on a revitalization of the faith in our continent thanks to the new spiritual movements that have arisen in Italy, Spain and France, and which are found in the origin of World Youth Day.

Pope Benedict also considers necessary that on the occasion of Pentecost 2006 they come here again, to Rome, to have a great meeting.

Q: Many observers have described Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a severe guardian of orthodoxy. Could you, who have had the possibility to know the Pontiff, describe the one who has portrayed himself as "a simple and humble laborer in the Lord's vineyard"?

Archbishop Cordes: Surely, the few weeks of his pontificate have been enough to eliminate this prejudice. Those who knew Cardinal Ratzinger never shared this opinion. Those who did not know him, have now had to change their opinion.

The reason why he was discredited in this way was due to the fact that he always had to remind about disagreeable truths on the faith and Tradition. But, how can those who transmit these messages vent their resentment? Meanwhile, they diminish the message or hardly recognize something positive in it.

The world of information has always been characterized by the aggressions of some journalists. But then they were astounded by the innumerable pilgrims who came to see John Paul II or those who unexpectedly want to see and hear Benedict XVI.


Father John Corapi on the Eucharist and Benedict XVI
An EWTN Preacher on Conversion and Restoration

WHITEFISH, Montana, JULY 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A big priority of Benedict XVI is the restoration of the priesthood and the sacred liturgy, says Father John Corapi.

Father Corapi was once a businessman who fell into drug addiction and homelessness before undergoing a powerful spiritual conversion. After studies in the United States and at the University of Navarre in Spain, he was ordained at age 44 in 1991.

A member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, he now preaches missions, retreats, and conferences throughout North America.

Father Corapi appears regularly on EWTN. He shared with ZENIT some of his insights into the Eucharist and the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Q: What role has the Eucharist played in your own personal conversion?

Father Corapi: The initial "conversion" wherein I returned to the practice of the Catholic faith, which I was born into, proceeded in a classic fashion.

The progression was from worldly success and well-being to loss, rejection and utter destitution; from millionaire to homelessness. It took about five years to hit bottom.

There is a pedagogical dimension to suffering, as the prodigal son of the Gospel demonstrates. Then, I went from praying one Hail Mary each day, to the rosary daily. This led me to the sacrament of penance or confession, and this to the Eucharist.

I immediately began to go to daily Eucharist. This led me to a deeper thirst for knowing God, loving God, and serving God. Eucharistic adoration began a part of my daily life. This led me to religious life novitiate, then seminary, then doctoral studies in theology in Europe.

I was ordained by Pope John Paul II on Trinity Sunday of 1991. The night before, my superior and I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament all night to prepare for ordination. I have been experiencing conversion daily as I celebrate Mass daily and pray before the Blessed Sacrament daily.

The source of any power in my preaching, which now reaches millions of people, Catholic and otherwise, comes from the holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Lord is the Vine. We are the branches. Without him we can do nothing.

Q: Benedict XVI, at the recent Eucharistic Congress in Italy, referred to "the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity." How can we seek union with other Christian faiths through the Eucharist?

Father Corapi: Benedict XVI, like all recent Popes, will continue to stress the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity. As the "Bread of Life" consists of many grains of wheat to make the one Bread, so the Eucharist ultimately will effect unity from the many individuals, religions, etc.

The Eucharist is the key to the realization of the "one Shepherd and one flock" that we must all pray for. However, between now and then there is a chasm that can be bridged by the Holy Spirit alone. We do our part, but it will be in God's time.

Jesus clearly reminded us "I have come not to bring peace but division ... that will separate a household of five, three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father..." What could the Prince of Peace mean by this? Precisely that the bold and clear proclamation of the truth will separate at first. We know this by common experience. Some accept it, some do not.

In order for the Eucharist to effect unity, Catholics must be Eucharistic people in fact, not merely in words. The gap between what we profess and what we live must be narrowed until the Eucharist is truly the veritable source, center and summit of each Catholic's life.

We must teach the doctrine of the Eucharist clearly and faithfully and then live it just as forcefully and purely. Then, when the world sees how we believe, live and love they will be drawn as to a magnet.

Q: What have you noticed so far about Benedict XVI and his dedication to Eucharistic devotion, and what do you think the trend of his pontificate will be?

Father Corapi: When Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict XVI, I immediately did some research to come to some understanding of why he chose that name, which usually indicates the direction of a new pope.

I believe that I found a real clue through what Benedict XV was most interested in. Certainly he was interested in preserving and/or restoring peace in the tumultuous days surrounding World War I.

It seems to me, however, he was also very interested in the restoration of the priesthood and in the sacred liturgy. The latter, of course, has been historically of great importance to the Benedictine charism itself.

However, it may be in what is arguably Benedict XV's most notable encyclical, "Humani Generis Redemptionem," that we find a clue to the course Benedict XVI may be setting.

This document concerns the restoration of the priesthood and the preparation of good preachers of the Gospel. One cannot properly approach a Year of the Eucharist without considering the ministerial priesthood. Quite simply: no priest, no Eucharist. Jesus instituted the two sacraments together and they are indissolubly linked.

I believe that the proper education and holiness of priests is of paramount importance to the new Holy Father. This is, of course, very much wrapped up in his already-known interest in a "Reform of the reform" of the sacred liturgy. Not a return to the days before the Council, but a proper and authentic interpretation and praxis of what the Second Vatican Council truly said.

That, I believe, is one of the primary focuses of the new Pope's vision for the Church: holy and well prepared priests and a reverence and love for Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist.

This will automatically result in a tremendous interest and love for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Benedict XV wanted properly educated preachers -- in authentic doctrine -- and, most of all, holy preachers. You can't give what you don't have, and Jesus Christ is all we have to give.

Q: What are your plans for this year dedicated to the Eucharist to promote Eucharistic devotion?

Father Corapi: I have produced a new series entitled "The Power of the Eucharist," which is the theme of all of my missions throughout the country this Year of the Eucharist.

I am trying to concentrate on this theme, attempting to both educate and inspire the faithful to a greater knowledge of the doctrine of the Eucharist and a practical love that engenders reverence at Mass and the practice of the Holy Hour, or a "holy minute," as I tell people.

If you can't make a holy hour, make a holy minute. You can't outdo God in generosity. If we give him a little of our time, he'll give us so very much in return.


Cardinal Ratzinger on Liturgical Music

By Michael J. Miller

(Reprinted from the July 2000 HPR)

?In an article entitled “Liturgie und Kirchenmusik” published in 1986 in Communio, Cardinal Ratzinger referred to the incompatibility between rock music and the liturgy of the Church. A storm of progressive protest ensued, most of it aimed at the messenger instead of arguing to the contrary. How can a theologian judge modern music? What right does a Curia official have to say how today’s young people should participate in the Liturgy? Implicit in the controversy was the hackneyed caricature of Ratzinger as the "Teutonic academician turned doctrinal watchdog."

A revisionist view became necessary in 1996 with the publication of another book-length interview with the Cardinal (this time by German journalist Peter Seewald), because the second Ratzinger Report began with eighty pages of biographical information. His Eminence, we learn, is only human after all. Reminiscing about his childhood in Bavaria, Cardinal Ratzinger admits that music (especially Mozart) had a major role in his family life. “Music, after all, has the power to bring people together. . . . Yes, art is elemental. Reason alone as it’s expressed in the sciences can’t be man’s complete answer to reality, and it can’t express everything that man can, wants to, and has to express. I think God built this into man.” 1

Being an intellectual does not disqualify one from commenting upon either music or liturgy, provided one recognizes the limits of rational discourse. As Cardinal Ratzinger himself put it, theologians “cannot enter into musical discussions per se, but they can nonetheless ask where the seams are, so to speak, that link faith and art.” 2

What follows is a summary of three articles by Cardinal Ratzinger on liturgical music which appeared in German journals during the years 1986-1994 and were reprinted in English as part of the anthology, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today. 3The essays were written for different occasions, but they follow the same pattern: the author contrasts a problematic theory or a pernicious trend with the true theology of the liturgy, and from that draws conclusions as to the proper place of music in the liturgy and suggests guidelines for practical applications.

A) The cultural challenge vs. the biblical culture of Faith

(“‘Sing Artistically for God’: Biblical Directives for Church Music,” pp. 94-110.)

“Since church music is faith that has become a form of culture, it necessarily shares in the current problematic nature of the relationship between Church and culture” (94). This relationship was in crisis during the Renaissance and the Reformation, but as of the Enlightenment, secular culture “emancipated” itself from the faith: they went their separate ways and have drifted further apart ever since.

Since the seventeenth century the Church has seen the Caecilian reform of sacred music, the rediscovery of Gregorian chant, and the renewal of polyphonic church music. Nevertheless, as a result of cultural dislocations, “we are at a loss as to how faith can and should express itself culturally in the present age” (95).

The picture from the culture’s side is bleak. In the absence of religion, art becomes groundless aestheticism with neither direction nor purpose. Music in particular has split into two worlds: pop (a manufactured commodity) and rationally constructed high-brow music (an elite, degenerate form of “classical” music). A middle ground remains: “a staying at home in the familiar music that preceded such divisions, touched the person as a whole and is still capable of doing this even today. . . . Church musicmostly settles in this middle ground” (95).

Many are the calls for the Church to dialogue with culture today, but few imagine the talks as being bilateral. You can’t expect the Church to subject herself to modern culture, which, having lost its religious base, is in a never-ending process of self-doubt. Culture, too, must question itself radically and be opened to a cure, a reconciliation with religion.

Are there any biblical directives for the path that church music should take? Cardinal Ratzinger narrows the question: “Can we find one biblical text that sums up the way Holy Scripture sees the connection between music and faith” (96)?

The Bible contains its own hymnal: “the Psalter, born from the practice of singing and playing musical instruments during worship.” Furthermore this practical tradition contains “essential elements of a theory of music in faith and for faith.” Within the Old Testament, the Psalter is like a bridge between the Law and the Prophets; it also serves as a bridge connecting the two Testaments. From the earliest days of the Church, the psalms are prayed and sung as hymns to Christ, the Son of David the psalmist. “Christ himself thus becomes the choir director who teaches us the new song and gives the Church the tone and the way in which she can praise God appropriately and blend into the heavenly liturgy” (97).

Cardinal Ratzinger selects one psalm verse which appears throughout the history of theological reflection on church music. Psalm 47:7 (in some numberings Psalm 46 and/or the eighth verse) exhorts us to “Sing praises with a psalm” (RSV). The Hebrew word maskil is variously rendered in modern translations as “an inspired song” (M. Buber, German) or as playing “with all your skill” (Jerusalem Bible, French), or as singing “artfully” (in a version approved by the Italian Bishops Conference).

The ancient translations of the Church also shed light on the subject. “The Septuagint, which became the Old Testament of Christianity, wrote psalate synetos, which we might translate as: ‘. . . Sing with under-standing’—in both senses of the word: that you yourselves understand it and that it is understandable” (97). Of course this involves more than a merely rational act; we are to sing “in a way worthy of and appropriate to the spirit, disciplined and pure” (98). St. Jerome’s rendering is along the same lines: psallite sapienter. Sapientia means more than understanding; “[it] also denotes an integration of the entire human person . . . with all the dimensions of his or her existence.” Just as the gift of wisdom integrates knowledge and experience with the requirements of Divine Law, so the singing of the inspired psalms involves the human person, body and soul, with all its faculties, in divine worship.

The first word of the verse, “Sing praises with a psalm,” in Hebrew zamir, is also laden with history. “The emphasis is on articulated singing, a singing with reference to a text, which is instrumentally supported, as a rule” (98-99). In stark contrast to the orgiastic cult music of the pagans, zamir refers to “logoslike” music, “which incorporates a word or wordlike event it has received and responds to it in praise or petitions, in thanksgiving or lament.” The Septuagint Bible chose psallein as its translation, giving a new, culturally conditioned meaning to a Greek word that previously had meant only to play a stringed instrument, but never to sing.

From this word study, Cardinal Ratzinger draws several conclusions about possible biblical directives for music in the Church.

1) The command, “Sing to the Lord,” runs through all of Scripture as part of the call to worship and glorify God. “This means that musical expression is part of the proper human response to God’s self-revelation. . . .Mere speech, mere silence, mere action are not enough” (100).

2) There is no such thing as a faith completely undetermined by culture, which could then be inculturated any way you like. “The faith decision as such entails a cultural decision; . . . Faith itself creates culture and does not just carry it along like a piece of clothing. . . . This cultural given . . . is capable of encountering other contemporary cultures. . . . This ability to exchange and flourish also finds its expression in the ever-recurring imperative, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song.’” The Christological interpretation of the psalms is a particularly dramatic example of this capacity for development in what is an irrevocable and fundamental cultural form (101).

3) The various meanings to be found in the second word of our psalm verse range between the two translations sapienter and cum arte. Singing in accordance with wisdom implies a word-oriented art, which is not concerned merely with intelligibility but “stands under the primacy of logos” and makes demands upon our highest moral and spiritual powers. The second translation, artfully, tells us that encountering God challenges a person to respond to the best of his or her abilities. God gave Moses detailed specifications for the tabernacle; artistic endeavor in the book of Exodus is portrayed as a participation in God’s creativity (103).

The New Testament, by both frequent citation and explicit command, takes up the psalm tradition as an integral part of its own teaching and worship. “When you come together, each one has a hymn [Gk: psalmon], a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). To the early Church the psalm appeared as a gift of the Spirit. The epistles also give evidence of exalted Christological hymns newly composed in Greek. By the second century, however, as a precaution after the musical innovations of the Gnostic sect, the Church reduced liturgical music to the Psalter. “The theology of the Psalter sufficed and set the standard in terms of content, but also . . . the way of making music specified by the Psalter became the musical model of emerging Christendom” (104). To put it in a less scholarly way, revelation was complete with the end of the apostolic age, and the divinely inspired hymns found in Sacred Scripture were sufficient for the Church’s worship.

In light of the foregoing discussion, both “pop” music and the music of elitist aesthetes are unsuitable for divine worship. The latter, proclaiming art to be “for art’s sake” and for no other purpose, elevates the composer to the level of a “pure creator.” “According to Christian faith, however, it belongs to the essence of human beings that they come from God’s ‘art’. . . and as perceivers can think and view God’s creative ideas with him and translate them into the visible and the audible” (106).

On the other hand, hasn’t the Church’s liturgical music always drawn on popular music to renew itself? Isn’t “pop” music just what the Church needs in order to “relate” with contemporary culture? Cardinal Ratzinger recommends “treading carefully” in this area (107-108). In the past folk music was the expression of a clearly defined community held together by language, history and a way of life. Springing from fundamental human experience, it conveyed a truth, however naive the form may have been. Pop music, in contrast, is a standardized product of mass society, a function of supply and demand. The 20 th-century composer Paul Hindemith called the constant presence of such noise “brainwashing,” and C. M. Johansson claims that hearing it gradually makes us incapable of listening attentively: “we become musically comatose. . . . This medium kills the message” (p. 108 cf. footnote 19).

Cardinal Ratzinger insists that the faith must not be trivialized in the name of inculturating it. Today we do not have to limit church music so strictly to chanting of the psalms, because we have “an infinitely larger trove” of good liturgical music to draw on. But to hold the line against the onslaught of misguided attempts to import “modern” musical forms into the liturgy requires “the courage of asceticism, the courage to contradict. Only from such courage can new creativity arise” (109).

B) The sociological challenge vs. true Christian anthropology

(“The Image of the World and of Human Beings in the Liturgy and Its Expression in Church Music” pp. 111-127.)

“Conversation with God transcends the boundaries of human speech” (111); therefore it calls on music, both vocal and instrumental, for help.

After the Second Vatican Council there were disputes over the right form of music in worship. The initial clashes were between pastoral expediency (“We worship in the ver-nacular now . . .”) and musicians who maintained that their traditional repertoire had intrinsic and pastoral value. The question underlying such differences of opinion then was: how do we apply liturgical directives? More recently, a second wave of controversy has been “pushing the questions forward, as far as the foundations themselves.” The issue has become: what is liturgical action in the first place, what are its anthropological and theological foundations?

Symptomatic of the new thinking is the Nuovo Dizionario di Liturgica (1984), article on canto e musica. It declares the starting point of liturgy to be the gathering of two or three in the name of Christ (Matt. 18:20). This sounds harmless enough, but it gains revolutionary momentum when the verse is isolated and pitted against the entire liturgical tradition. Such a definition places the group before the Church and brings “autonomous” individuals into conflict with an “authoritarian” institution. “It is evident that with the adoption of sociological language the prior adoption of its evaluations has also occurred” (113). New music good; old music bad! Gregorian chant and Palestrina are seen as “tutelary gods” for those in power who, threatened by cultural change, cling to an ancient repertoire.

Cardinal Ratzinger turns the hermeneutic of suspicion back on the liturgical theorists. “There is of course not only an idolization of sociology at work here but also a complete separation of the New Testament from the history of the Church” (114). The notion, that the Church has been in decline since Jesus began it, is a familiar Enlightenment myth, which ultimately becomes an excuse for cut-and-paste editions of the Bible (like Jeffer-son’s) or the Marxist texts of the Missa Nicaraguensis sung in the 1980s.

What are the new and better ideas of the liturgical experts? They insist on two basic values: “The ‘primary value’ of a renewed liturgy is, we are told, ‘the full and authentic action of all persons.’” The people of God proclaims its identity in song. The second value judgment follows: music is the power that brings about cohesiveness within the group. Celebration, ergo, becomes creativity; the “how” becomes more important than the “what.”

Condensed in this way, the argument reads like a lampoon. Yet Ratzinger’s full analysis of the effects of modern “scientific” sociology upon liturgical music is trenchant. “I would not be speaking of all this in so much detail if I thought that such ideas were attributable to only a few theoreticians” (115). It is all too common that “so-called creativity, the active participation of all present, and the relationship to a group in which everyone is acquainted with and speaks to everyone else” are mistaken for the real categories of the conciliar understanding of liturgy.

The philosophical basis of this sociological “take” on liturgy is the view that power opposes freedom. This assigns, a priori, a negative quality to the concept of “institution” and reduces the object of hope from Paschal redemption to social progress. Herein lies the “tragic paradox” of this trend in liturgical reform: the institutional Church is seen as a hindrance to “freedom,” yet liturgy without the Church is a self-contradiction. “Here it has been forgotten that the liturgy should be the opus Dei in which God himself first acts and we become redeemed people precisely through his action. [If] the group celebrates itself . . . it is celebrating nothing at all since it is no cause for celebration” (117).

In actuality, the Church is the communio sanctorum of all places and all times (118). Romano Guardini has elaborated upon the momentous consequences of realizing that the communion of saints (and not the Base Community) is the true subject of the liturgy. The Church’s liturgy has an objective and positive character, because it lives in three ontological dimensions: cosmos, history and mystery. Liturgy has a cosmic dimension because as believers we do not create it, but participate in something greater that transcends us all. As a result of its historic dimension, it develops as a living thing while maintaining its identity (cf. the discussion of biblical culture, above). Finally, liturgy’s dimension of mystery means that we do not initiate the liturgical event; rather, it originates in a call and a divine act of love, to which our response is obedience.

This vantage point is of great importance for the artistic questions involved in preparing liturgical music. The music of emancipation is inconsistent with true liturgy. Furthermore, “creativity” that ignores the creaturely status of man “is by its very nature absurd and untrue since humans can only be themselves through receptivity and participation.” The real human condition is that we stand in need of a redemption which human effort cannot bring about.

Our faith is Logocentric, and so must our worship be (Cf. logike latreia Rom. 12:1). “The ‘Word’ to which Christian worship refers is first of all not a text, but a living reality: a God . . . who communicates himself by becoming a human being. This incarnation is the sacred tent, the focal point of all worship which looks at the glory of God and gives him honor” (121).

“Liturgical music is a result of the claim and the dynamics of the Word’s incarnation. . . . Faith becoming music is a part of the process of the Word becoming flesh” (122). At the same time (one might say: in counterpoint), the flesh becomes “logocized” or spiritualized, restoring harmony to postlapsarian creation. “Wood and brass turn into tone; the unconscious and the unsolved become ordered and meaningful sound.”

Our Incarnate Lord, who was raised up on the cross, raised up our fallen human nature. Western music, from Gregorian chant through Renaissance polyphony to Bruckner and beyond, lives from this great synthesis “of spirit, intuition and sensuous sound. . . . [T]heliturgical music of the Church must be subject to that integration of the human state which appears before us in incarnational faith” (124).

Practically speaking, the prerequisites for sacred music include “awe, receptivity and a humility that is prepared to serve by participating in the greatness which has already gone before” (125). Furthermore, the Church has posted road signs: the great liturgical texts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and the references in her official documents to Gregorian chant and Palestrina as models providing orientation.

C) The “postconciliar” challenge vs. the cosmic liturgy

(“‘In the Presence of the Angels I Will Sing Your Praise’; The Regensburg Tradition and the Reform of the Liturgy,” pp. 128-146.)

The point of departure of this essay is a description of the medieval frescoes in the crypt of the monastery of Marienberg in South Tyrol. “The real focal point is the Majestas Domini, the risen Lord lifted up on high, who is seen at the same time and above all as the one returning, the one already coming in the Eucharist. . . . Liturgy is anticipated Parousia. . . .” (129).

Indeed, St. Benedict, in his Rule, reminds his monks of Psalm 138:1: “In the presence of the angels I will sing to you,” and admonishes them, “Let us reflect on how we should be in the presence of God and the angels, and when we sing let us stand in such a way that our hearts are in tune with our voices.” Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to explain, “The liturgy is not a thing the monks create. It is already there before them. It is entering into the liturgy of the heavens that has always been taking place.” This is the clear mean-ing of the frescoes.

Sadly, this “already, but not yet” character of the earthly liturgy has been obscured lately by a preoccupation with a liturgical reform that is “already” with us but has “not yet” overcome the old Tridentine order. According to this strange perspective, “a chasm separates the history of the Church into two irreconcilable worlds: the preconciliar and the postconciliar” (130).

Cardinal Ratzinger’s brother served as choirmaster in the Regensburg cathedral from 1964 to 1994. When he began, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II had not yet been implemented. The music at Regensburg Cathedral realized in an exemplary way the artistic standards expressed in the motu proprio of Pius X, “Tra le sollecitudini” of November 22, 1903. As bishop of Mantua and patriarch of Venice, Pius X had opposed the operatic style of church music prevalent in Italy. “Insisting on chant as the truly liturgical music was for him part of a larger reform program that was concerned with restoring to worship its purity and dignity and shaping it according to its own inner claim” (131).

Another historical note helps to narrow the chasm between pre- and post-conciliar. Sacrosanctum Concilium, in laying the foundations for reform, constructed a large framework permitting a variety of actualizations. “The reform itself was then shaped by a post-conciliar commission and cannot in its concrete details simply be credited to the Council.” The history of liturgy is always marked by the tension between continuity and renewal; in the twentieth century the real tension has not been between tired tradition and radical reform, but rather between two stages of reform.

The Cardinal warns that “the dualistic historical view of a pre- and postconciliar world” leads to notions that call the very essence of liturgy into question. One example of this exaggerated “either-or” is the idea that the priest alone was the celebrant of the liturgy before the Council, but now it is the assembled congregation. This implies that the congregation determines what happens in the liturgy. But the priest never had the right to decide arbitrarily what was to be done in the liturgy. It was a “rite,” that is, an objective form of the Church’s corporate prayer (132).

The new Catechism, on the other hand, sums up the best insights of the Liturgical Movement. Liturgy means “service in the name of / on behalf of the people.” But “the People of God is not simply there, as the Germans, French, Italians, or other peoples are; it comes into being again and again only through the service of the Son and by his lifting us into the community of God which we cannot enter on our own. . . . Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the priest and his Body which is the Church (p. 134; cf. CCC 1069-1070).”

Cardinal Ratzinger does not mince words. “Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened. . . . If the heavens are notopen, then whatever liturgy was is reduced to role playing and, in the end, to a trivial pursuit of congregational self-fulfillment in which nothing really happens. The decisive factor, therefore, is the primacy of Christology” (133).

We must resolutely defend ourselves against “postconciliar” efforts to assign an absolute value to the “community.” In the liturgy, the priest acts in persona Christi. The Catechism discusses the role of the congregation also, significantly in the chapter on the Holy Spirit: “The liturgical assembly derives its unity from the ‘communion of the Holy Spirit’ who gathers the children of God into the one Body of Christ.’ This assembly transcends racial, cultural, social—indeed, all human affinities. The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become ‘a people well-disposed’” (CCC 1097, 1098).

What significance does this Catholic understanding of liturgy have for church music? The Council’s reform was aimed at counteracting modern individualism and the moralism connected with it, so that the dimension of mystery in liturgy could reappear, its cosmic character which embraces heaven and earth (p. 135; cf. SC 8). For Christians, the Logos orients our worship towards the historical origin of faith, preserved for us in Scripture and Tradition. Church music should not be a performance on the occasion of worship, but is to be liturgy itself, “a harmonizing with the choir of the angels and saints.” Gregorian chant and classic polyphonic music are ordered to the mystery in liturgy and to its Logos-character, as well as to its bond to the historical world. They furnish us with a norm which does not exclude new musical forms, but which guides us more surely toward what lies on the horizon.

Attention to the essence of liturgy clarifies the question concerning the place of music in liturgy. You might say, “As liturgy goes, so goes musica sacra.” Philipp Harnoncourt has put it this way: “Jews and Christians agree with one another that their singing and music-making point to heaven, or rather that these come from heaven or are learned from heaven” (137). Cardinal Ratzinger elaborates: “Faith comes from listening to God’s word. But wherever God’s word is translated into human words there remains a surplus of the unspoken and unspeakable which calls us to silence—into a silence that in the end lets the unspeakable become song and also calls on the voices of the cosmos for help so that the unspoken may become audible.”

Because church music comes from the Word—both as expression of the Truth and response to a call—its character must correspond to the words in which the Logos has expressed himself. Hence not all music is appropriate for liturgical use: “By its nature such music must be different from music that is supposed to lead to rhythmic ecstasy, stupefying anesthetization, sensual excitement, or the dissolution of the ego in Nirvana, to name just a few possibilities” (138). St. Cyp-rian’s treatise on the Lord’s Prayer offers a useful guideline: “Discipline, which includes tranquility and awe, belongs to the words and posture of praying.” 4It should also belong to sacred song.

Cardinal Ratzinger quickly dismisses two other specious demands of the “new” liturgists. Some, mistaking external busyness for “active participation,” would veto the use of the choir as intruding between the congregation and the liturgical action. But the choir is part of the community and its singing legitimately represents the prayer assembly. The concept of representation, of standing in for another, affects all levels of religious reality, including worship, and is a fundamental category of the Christian faith.

Another commonly heard “postconciliar” objection is a “fanaticism about vernacular,” even to the point of forbidding chant and hymns in Latin. The Cardinal wryly observes that, in a multicultural society, such an insistence on the vernacular has about as much logic to it as the demand for a hand-shaking, on-speaking-terms community does in an age of increased mobility. Harnoncourt notes that “The traditional, so-called ‘Latin Mass’ always had Aramaic (Amen, Alleluia, Hosanna, Maran atha) and Greek (Kyrie, Trisagion) parts, and the sermon was usually given in the vernacular. Real life is not acquainted with stylistic unity and perfection; on the contrary, where something is really alive, formal and stylistic variety will occur . . ., and the unity is an organic one” (140).

In concluding his talk, Cardinal Ratzinger commends the departing cathedral choirmaster for striving “to manage continuity in development and development in continuity” during the theological and liturgical upheavals since the Council, “so that the liturgy in the Regensburg cathedral kept its dignity and excellence and remained transparent to the cosmic liturgy of the Logos in the unity of the whole Church without taking on a museum-like character” (140). He also expresses the hope that true reform will “flourish in the spirit of the Second Vatican Coun-cil—reform that is not discontinuity and destruction but purification and growth to a new maturation and a new fullness” (146).

In each of the articles just summarized, Cardinal Ratzinger responds to a specialized, academic-sounding challenge to the traditional Catholic understanding of the liturgy by considering the issue from a wider, ultimately theological perspective. To multiculturalist demands he replies with a reminder that Catholic faith and worship are rooted in a historical religion and thus are part and parcel of a specific cultural tradition. When the sociological gauntlet is thrown down, he arms himself with the insights of a comprehensive Christian anthropology. The notion that Vatican II divides Church history into a reactionary past and a glorious future is gently corrected with evidence that the reform of the liturgy has been the ongoing work of a century and more.

This technique of “taking the broader perspective” is evident in the very arrangement of essays in the anthology, A New Song for the Lord. The articles on liturgical music are grouped with one on church architecture at the end of Part II, preceded by an essay on “The Resurrection as the Foundation of the Christian Liturgy” (explaining Sunday as a Little Easter and the new Sabbath). Part I of the book, “Jesus Christ, Center of Faith and Foundation of Our Hope,” treats more fundamental questions of Christology, catechesis and the true understanding of power in the Church. The essays are cogently argued and can be read independently, yet taken together they offer an almost systematic, theological treatise on the liturgy.

We have grown accustomed to hearing famous professors weigh in with expert commentary, each presenting his own abstruse “take” on a given issue. Not so when Cardinal Ratzinger writes about the liturgy or sacred music. The themes and arguments in his essays on liturgical music recur throughout his works, because he is writing about the lifeblood of the Mystical Body and the atmosphere that baptized souls breathe in their life of grace.

A few random examples illustrate this consistency. In Co-Workers of the Truth, a selection from Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings arranged as meditations for each day of the year, there are (besides excerpts from the articles summarized above) two other readings concerning sacred music:

“The first Christmas carol of history . . . had no human origins—Saint Luke records it as the song of the angels who were the evangelists of the holy night: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men, those with whom he is pleased, those of good will. This song sets a standard. . . . Peaceamong men results from God’s glory. Those who are concerned about the human race and its well-being have to be concerned about God’s glory first of all . . ., [which] is not some private concern . . . [but] a public affair.”

“Three great symbols dominate the liturgy of this night of the Resurrection: light [the Paschal candle], water and ‘the new song,’ that is, the Alleluia. . . . Granted, we shall notsing this new song in its fullness until we are in the ‘new world,’ until God calls us by a ‘new name’ (Rev. 2:17), until everything has been made new. But we are permitted to anticipate something of this [beatific] newness in the great joy of the Easter vigil.” 5

When arguing about the liturgy, one runs the risk of abstracting, of prescinding from the mystery. Cardinal Ratzinger’s well-reasoned essays on sacred music bring to mind vividly the fact that the liturgy is, after all, divine.


1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium (an interview with Peter Seewald, translated by Adrian Walker), Ignatius, San Francisco, 1997, p. 47.

2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today (translated by Martha M. Matesich), The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1997, p. 96.

3. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017. In this summary, the actual title of each article is given after a descriptive heading in bold. Page numbers for citations are included in the text.

4. St. Cyprian, De oratione dominica, 4.

5. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year (edited by Sr. Irene Grassl, translated by Sr. Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. and Rev. Lothar Krauth), Ignatius, San Francisco, 1992. The readings cited are for December 29 (pp. 408-409) and April 14 (pp. 123-124).


Mr. Michael J. Miller is a translator for Ignatius Press and a free-lance writer. His articles have been published in Faith and Reason, Catholic World Report and the Month. His last article in HPR appeared in March 1999.


Ratzinger on the Modern Mind

By James V. Schall

(This is reprinted from the October 1997 issue of HPR)

  One of the standard questions hovering about the intellectual world since the crisis of Marxism has been, “Where does the intellectual left go next, especially if it refuses to consider orthodoxy?” The obvious, most likely answer, I think, is that it goes in the direction of ecology and environmentalism insofar as these all-embracing systems provide an apparently plausible, natural justification to reduce the relative importance of man’s individual dignity in the name of a planetary or worldly, if not cosmic, “good.” This postulated inner-worldly transcendent good is proposed in the name of the on-going cycles of nature and of the good of the living “species” within it. This higher “good” becomes the criterion by which we judge how many people we can have in each country or on the earth, how long they can live and under what conditions, what they can or cannot consume, what their relation is to the state. Indeed, it is not the state but the world state which—since it is said to have the exclusive responsibility to look out for the distant future—can control the present in its name. “Progress” is replaced as an ideal by “stability.” This simultaneous relativizing of the dignity of the human person and of the consequent justification for the vast expansion of the state has provided a handy way to replace or rather incorporate the Marxist ideology that formerly justified these inner-worldly goals with a new more comprehensive ideology that explains what is happening in a different manner.

One of the immense advantages of Catholicism today, known everywhere outside the universities, is not so much the importance of an authority that is not dependent directly on academic, scientific, or political fashions of the time but on an authority that is rooted in the intelligence of faith. And what is even more useful in this connection is that, in the persons of both the Holy Father and Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, we have with us a coherent body of teaching whereby we can keep contact with the living intelligence of Christianity as it reacts to the dominant intellectual positions that persist in modern culture. In the case of Ratzinger, whose perceptive mind is often overlooked, we can find a bemused and powerful intellectual force that, from time to time, directs itself to evaluating the movements that are seen daily intersecting, from around the world, that central crossroads in Rome where not only European and American trends are observed, but also those in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

In May of 1996, before the Doctrinal Commission of the Latin American Bishops, in Guadalajara, in Mexico, Josef Cardinal Rat-zinger presented a remarkable discourse on the various interconnecting intellectual trends found throughout the world with their relation to basic Catholic teaching (“Current Situation of Faith and Theology,” L’Osservatore Romano, English, November 6, 1996). I did not receive my surface copy of this particular L’Osservatore Romano until January 27, 1997, but I sat down and read it immediately. Ratzinger has a remarkable facility for synthesizing and explaining things of a complicated or subtle nature. He is wide-ranging and, what can I call it?—calmly bemused by the curious extremes to which modern intellectuals go in explaining their ideological substitutes for precisely his area of jurisdiction, namely, doctrine and faith.

The Guadalajara address does not directly touch on the vast confusions that ecology and environmentalism have increasingly presented to the basics of Christianity, which has tried, largely unsuccessfully, to respond by developing a sophisticated doctrine of “stewardship.” The latter presentations that I have seen so far vastly underestimate the degree to which environmentalism has become a rival religion to Christianity. But Josef Ratzinger does take up a second and not unrelated way in which many of the enthusiasms found in the ecological schools manifest themselves through an attempt to combine liberation theology with Western academic relativism and Eastern mysticism. Value-free democracy has become the political expression of academic relativism. Into it are mixed also certain strands of particularly Indian religious philosophy. Much of this Eastern spirituality, with not a negligible amount of New Age thought, itself related to Eastern philosophies, also has influence in the ecological schools and vice versa.

Ratzinger begins with a very careful analysis of how and why liberation theology came to be considered a substitute for the Christian idea of redemption. 1 What happened, in Ratzinger’s analysis, was that relation of personal sin and redemption was shifted to the relation between social structures and redemption. The Christian approach was thus not to be a conversion of heart through repentance and Sacrament but a redesigning of the social order in some specific way (change of property, family, state) to eliminate evil from the world. Political struggle was what the faith was said to be about. “Redemption thus became a political process, for which the Marxist philosophy provided the essential guidelines.” Liberation theology provided, apparently, a practical method to reform the world to rid itself of spiritual problems. To this theory, Ratzinger says simply, “The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much.” Politics cannot accomplish these spiritual things. It seems ironic, though it is true, that the world’s worst tyrannies arise from promising too many political things.

Ratzinger next comments on what everyone has observed, namely, that liberation theology suddenly fell into disrepute because the world realized that the Marxist systems in fact produced neither redemption nor liberation but tyranny. But Ratzinger adds, in a passage that seems to me very perceptive,

[that] the non-fulfillment of this [Marxist-liberationist] hope brought a great disillusionment with it which is still far from being assimilated. Therefore, it seems probable to me that new forms of the Marxist conception of the world will appear in the future. For the moment, we cannot be but perplexed: the failure of the only scientifically based system for solving human problems could only justify nihilism or, in any case, total relativism.

That is, the results in the West and too often in Marxist countries was not natural law or Christianity but relativism.

What about this relativism as a substitute for the supposedly scientific certainties of Marxism? Ratzinger proceeds to trace the relativist systems that prevail in dominant Western culture. Relativism is considered to be a “positive” system. It provides what is thought to be the philosophic grounding for democracy. 2 Democratic dialogue and compromise, it is said, depend on the absence of any theoretic grounding for either what is true, right or good. “Democracy in fact is supposedly built on the basis that no one can presume to know the true way, and it is enriched by the fact that all roads are mutually recognized as fragments of the effort toward that which is better.” All positions depend on historic situation, not on philosophical grounding. No political opinion can be “correct.” Thus a place for contradictory and morally incoherent systems exists by right in any democracy. The relativist sees any claim to be correct or to truth to be the error of Marxism and all dogmatic religion.

On examining the position that this relativist freedom solves all problems by tolerating them to exist, Ratzinger points out the logical consequences: “However, with total relativism, everything in the political arena cannot be achieved either. There are injustices that will never turn into just things (such as, for example, killing an innocent person, denying an individual or groups the right to their dignity or to life corresponding to that dignity), while, on the other hand, there are just things that can never be unjust.” Some ways of doing good things or dealing with wrong things can vary widely, no doubt, but what are the “limits”? Obviously, the limits arise when we claim the right to contradictory things—to life and to killing, to speech and to lying.

This philosophical relativism is now invading religion. Christians are increasingly influenced by this movement in religious relativism that goes back to the 1950s. The enthusiasm that attached to liberation theology is now to be found in the enthusiasm of the theologians advocating the plurality of religion schools. In this approach, Christianity is reduced to just another religion with no particular claim to uniqueness. And it is here that liberation theology meets Eastern religion, especially those of India. Behind these newer considerations, Ratzinger mentions, among thinkers, especially the American Presbyterian John Hick and the former German Catholic priest, P. F. Knitter. Behind all of these movements lies the influence of Kant and the notion that we can “prove” that we can have no contact with objective reality. We must rather turn inwards for any contact with ourselves. Jesus in this system cannot be considered the one avenue to God. He becomes something of a “myth,” one among other prophets or spiritual leaders. Since the Absolute cannot, in this view, come into history in any manner, there can be no Church or sacraments or dogmas.

Fundamentalism is, consequently, taken to mean, from a relativist philosophy, the affirmation that there is a revelation of God in history through Christ, that is, taken to mean orthodoxy. This “fundamentalism” (that is, standard Catholic orthodoxy) is seen to be an attack on modernity and its essential philosophical roots in absolute tolerance and freedom, both taken to be without limits. The notion of dialogue also has a new meaning, not the honest and open accounting for what one believes or holds (“We hold these truths”), rather it means “to put one’s own position, i.e., one’s faith, on the same level as the convictions of others, without recognizing in principle more truth in it than that which is attributed to the opinion of others.” To take this view of dialogue, of course, means that one must already, in principle, doubt one’s faith before entering into dialogue. “According to this concept, dialogue must be an exchange between positions which have fundamentally the same rank, and, therefore, are mutually relative.” Religion in this sense comes to mean implicitly the denial of both Christ and the Church to enter a dialogue with other “religions.”

How does this thinking relate to Indian philosophies? First of all, again, Christ must be made to exist on the same level as Indian salvation myths. The historical Jesus—it is now thought—“is no more the absolute Logos than any other saving figure of history.” Since in human history, there are these many faiths in space and time, there is not a reason why one is more important than another. “Under the sign of the encounter of cultures, relativism appears to be the real philosophy of humanity.” If anyone might disagree with this view, he denies both liberty and tolerance. He is also trying to impose a “Western” view—that is, there is in fact a revelation—on others. And this encounter of cultures and their religions is where the intellectual critical point is in the upcoming New Millennium, just as the critical point was with Marxism in the middle part of the Twentieth Century.

Knitter realized that the pluralism of religion theory left the world in a kind of stagnation. That is, if every religion and culture were the same, why bother to change any? Thus, he wanted to unite the theology of liberation (political change) with that of the plurality of religion. This effort to find an outside prod to the ancient Indian religions is why Ratzinger does not think Marxism is totally dead. We are, however, still looking for the new man and the new age. If there is a relativism at the basis both of current Western philosophy and of classic Indian religion, then thought alone, trying to decide which is right, cannot solve our problems because all thought is equal in the cultural relativist view. The only place to go, it seems, is to “praxis,” to practice, to this famous Marxist concept. “Putting praxis above knowledge in this way is also a clearly Marxist inheritance. However, whereas Marxism makes only what comes logically from renouncing metaphysics concrete—when knowledge is impossible, only action is left—Knitter affirms: the absolute cannot be known but it can be made.” That is, we presumably know what we “make,” so that all society becomes not something natural, but something “made” or “constructed” by human means.

At this point, Ratzinger himself simply wants to know “Why?” Why is it so obvious that action does not need truth? He explains, “Where do I find a just action if I cannot know what is just in an absolute way?” Communist regimes failed, he added, because “they tried to change the world without knowing what is good and what is not good for the world, without knowing in what direction the world must be changed in order to make it better.” That is a remarkable observation. So to the idea that we ought to change or make the world no matter how we change or make it or even if we do not know the truth, Ratzinger adds, in the pithiest of statements, “Mere praxis is not light.”

Indian religions traditionally did not have any doctrine. No compulsory doctrine belonged to them. What they had was ritual. One was saved, presumably, not by knowing the truth, but by performing the right ritual. The Greek and Christian idea was different. There was a difference between opinion and glory (the same Greek word, doxa). To be orthodox did not mean just having the right opinion or following the standard ritual, but “to know and practice the right way in which God wants to be glorified.” This “right way” implied that some ways were the wrong ways, even if we were to show respect to the persons who hold them. Now most people no longer think that the Indian ritual saves, but they do think, because of their relativism, that some practice will do the trick. Where does this practice come from? Why, it comes from politics, so that there can now be proposed a certain union between East and West, each providing what the other lacked. The problem is, however, that neither of these freedoms, either of praxis to make what it wants or of Indian mysticism from all matter and being, has any content, even when presented in Christian terminology. “When mystery no longer counts, politics must be converted into religion.”

The “New Age” provides a further component to these movements. “For the supporters of the New Age, the solution to the problem of relativity must not be sought in a new encounter of the self with another, or others, but by overcoming the subject, in an ecstatic return to the cosmic dance.” This New Age system is said to be scientific. But what is proposed is a kind of anti-rationalist mysticism: “The Absolute is not to be believed, but to be experienced. God is not a person to be distinguished from the world, but a spiritual energy present in the universe.” The New Age spirituality is not an encounter with God as a transcendent Trinity of persons. Rather, not unlike the Stoics, it advocates that we become in harmony with the cosmic whole. The old atheism wanted to identify everything with the self. The new atheism wants the self to be absorbed into the whole and be identical with it, which is itself the only “god” there is. We must overcome the idea of a personal being or self against which a world of things, persons, and God exist and for whom we are to relate ourselves in love and knowledge. “Redemption is found in unbridaling the self, immersion in the exuberance of that which is living, and in a return to the whole. Ecstasy is sought, the inebriety of the infinite which can be experienced in inebriating music, rhythm, and, frenetic lights and dark shadows, and in the human mass.” Ratzinger remarks that this position logically has renounced both modernity and man himself. The gods have taken the place of God. Thus we are in the process of reviving pre-Christian religions and cults.

What about Christianity in relation to these events? “If there is no common truth in force precisely because it is true, then Christianity is only something imported from outside, a spiritual imperialism which must be thrown off with no less force than political imperialism.” The living God is indeed met in the sacraments, but if we do not believe or accept the truth of this meeting, then it too is empty ritual. Thus, there is nothing to prevent us from joining the pagan cults now revitalized. And Ratzinger makes a remarkable connection here between the rise of New Age and the demise of classic Marxism, “The more manifest the uselessness of political absolutism (as a scientific explanation), the stronger the attraction will be to what is irrational and to the renunciation of the reality of every day life.” Notice what he says is that these movements do not lead to the denial of God, but to a “renunciation of the reality of every day life,” the very place that Aquinas says that we must begin our search for God and one another. Without orthodoxy, in other words, we no longer even see the ordinary things around us because they are no longer themselves but something we made or a mystical part of ourselves.

Ratzinger proceeds to remark on a phenomenon that I am sure many have noticed.

Externally, in the Church, everything still looks more or less the same. But underneath, there is a widespread loss of faith and explicit doctrine, especially among the intellectuals and many clerics. If we cannot maintain the sources of authority in the Church as set forth in its own doctrines, we find another source. The first of these signs of loss of faith is the effort to “democratize” the Church after the model of that form of democracy itself based on relativism. Faith, however, cannot be decided by majority vote. Either faith comes from the Lord in the sacraments or it does not exist. “A faith which we ourselves can decide about is not a faith in the Absolute.” The alternative of those who think that faith is decided by the majority is either to identify faith with power (the majority, whatever it is) or, more logically, not to be believe in anything.

The next concern has to do with the doctrinal effect in the Church of widespread changes in liturgy, both those permitted and those practiced whether permitted or not. “The different phases of liturgical reform have let the opinion be introduced that the Liturgy can be changed arbitrarily.” This rapid change of liturgy leads to the suspicion that the doctrines that explain the liturgy are also subject to change. Likewise, New Age tendencies are discovered at work in the liturgical practices that have appeared— “what is inebriating and ecstatic is sought and not the ‘logike latreia.’” Ratzinger says that he perhaps “exaggerates” these tendencies in order to see them, but they are there. We do not dance because of what God is, but we dance because we think ourselves to be gods participating in the cosmos and identified with it.

In the light of the appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike of Marxism, relativism, and New Age movements, Ratzinger asks, now addressing himself to the intellectuals in the Church, “Why has classical theology appeared to be so defenseless in the face of these happenings? Where is its weak point, and why has it lost credibility?” It is remarkable that this question is asked at such a high level in the Church. These are, no doubt, fair and perceptive questions. Ratzinger thinks that one primary reason has to do with the status of exegesis. The writers who promote Marxist, relativist, Eastern religions, or New Age positions usually begin from what they believe has been proved in Scripture studies: “They state that exegesis has proven that Jesus did not consider himself absolutely the son of God, the incarnate God, but that he was made to be such afterwards, in a gradual way, by the disciples.” Besides this so-called evidence from contemporary exegesis that the Church could not teach what it said it did, theology is also based on a Kantian position about the impossibility of the mind to reach any kind of reality or to have any awareness of the absolute. Ratzinger thinks that these two sorts of consideration indicate the nature of the problem with theology.

In response, Ratzinger first points out that exegesis itself does not uniformly teach that Christ, say, did not consider himself to be God. Moreover, historical criticism cannot have the kind of certainty on this point that modern thinkers claim for it. But let us suppose that most exegetes do hold that the basic Christian positions cannot be proved. The reason for this claim is that these exegetes have a common philosophy which does not allow them to conclude to anything else. Their method reduces the reality they study to its (the method’s) proportions. Ratzinger puts this position into words: “If I know a priori (to speak like Kant) that Jesus cannot be God, and that miracles, mysteries and sacraments are three forms of superstition, then I (the exegete with this philosophy) cannot discover what cannot in fact be in the sacred books.” My philosophical theory has prevented me from seeing what might be there. What I see is my theory, not the reality. Ratzinger does not deny that there is value in the “historical-critical” method. Generally, if it is used to study the history of the Roman emperors, say, it works fine. When the method is used on the Bible, two problems arise. The method wants to find out about the “past as something past.” History further is said to be “uniform.” This means that all instances of a given type will be judged to be the same on the basis not of fact but of theory. The method brings us to the past, not to the present.

Secondly, the world in theory must be held to be always the same. The method requires this. The crisis of exegesis is a crisis of the philosophical presuppositions that guide its method by which it reaches conclusions such as that Jesus did not affirm his own divinity. “The problem of exegesis is connected . . . with the problem of philosophy. The indigence of philosophy . . . has turned into the indigence of our faith. The faith cannot be liberated if reason itself does not open up again.” Reason, in other words, knowing itself, must see that it is grounded in what is, over which it has no control. What is controls what we know and not vice versa. The exclusion of any reality, however, is contrary to the object of reason itself. “Human reason is not an autonomous absolute.” Ratzinger thinks that scholastic philosophy in the twentieth century in a sense failed because it tried to do the impossible, that is, provide a totally rational ground of the faith that a priori excluded the possibility of faith’s openness to reason.

Yet, it was reality, not reason, that decided that to which reason was open. And reality included the reality of God and his activity in time. Faith cares for and about reason. “It is not the lesser function of the faith to care for reason as such. It does not do violence to it; it is not external to it; rather, it makes it return to itself.” Thus, faith can liberate reason from itself by asking it questions that it could not itself have anticipated, yet about which it can consider. “Reason will not be saved without the faith, but the faith without reason will not be human.”

Finally, Ratzinger asks, “Why, in brief, does faith still have a chance?” His answer is remarkable: “because it is in harmony with what man is.” Kant lies at the heart of the problems that much modern philosophy has with the faith. Because he arbitrarily cut off any path to reality, he has to “postulate” substitutes for what reason animated by faith could reach, which remains, in spite of this philosophy’s presuppositions, reality, what is. “In man there is an inextinguishable yearning for the infinite,” Ratzinger concludes. “None of the answers attempted are sufficient. Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being. For this reason, the Christian faith finds man today, too.” That is to say, it “finds” man in the today because the active God is not limited to the rigid past moment examined by the philosophical suppositions contained in much exegesis.

In conclusion, let me remark that Josef Ratzinger is acutely aware that what is behind the philosophical and religious movements that propose themselves as alternatives to orthodox Christianity, many of which already disguise themselves in Christian terminology, is the effort to solve all human problems and disorders by human means. Ratzinger’s awareness that Marxism is not altogether dead and how it might reappear reminds me of what Paul Johnson wrote back in 1989:

Perhaps the most important single thing which the Judaeo-Christian tradition established was the principle of monotheism and the concomitant rejection of natural phenomena—sun, moon, trees, rivers, woods, and symbolic animals—as objects of worship. There is among the more active environmentalists an element of pantheism, one might almost say of paganism. . . . The ideological scene . . . may become more complicated by the next century (2000). . . . But whatever form this conflict of ideas takes, we can be confident that the radicals will continue to insist that human behavior can be transformed by political process and that the state must play the leading role in this transformation. Hence those who remain skeptical of this contention . . . must continue to focus on two fundamental points— the natural imperfection of human beings and the limits which must be imposed on state power. 3

Josef Ratzinger’s discourse in Guadalajara on contemporary intellectual movements is a remarkable reminder of the nature of the democratic state when it is based on relativism, of the confluence of liberation theology with its emphasis on politics joined with Eastern mysticism with its lack of definiteness about the divinity and things themselves. What Josef Ratzinger has shown is that orthodoxy remains the intelligible alternative to the ideologies of our time at the precise point wherein each deviates from reality, from what is. ?


1 See James V. Schall, Liberation Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982); “Counter-Liberation,” Orbis, 30 (Fall 1986), 426-32; “Liberation Theology: Afterthoughts,” Social Justice Review, 86 (September-October 1995), 143-48.

2 Cardinal Ratzinger elaborated the problem of relativism and democracy more in detail in his Address on his Induction to the French Academy, found in L’Osservatore Romano, English, February 10, 1993. On this address, see James V. Schall, “The Threat Posed by Modern Democracy,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, XCIV (June 1994), 31-32, 46-47.

3 Paul Johnson, “Is Totalitarianism Dead?” Crisis, 7 (February 1989), 16.

Reverend James V. Schall, S.J., is now teaching at Georgetown University after having taught at the University of San Francisco and the Gregorian University in Rome for twelve years. A prolific writer, he is the author of many books and hundreds of articles. A frequent contributor to HPR, Fr. Schall is also a regular columnist in Crisis magazine. His last article in HPR appeared in January 1997


What a Biographer of Joseph Ratzinger Is Expecting
Interview With Pablo Blanco

ROME, JUNE 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The author of a book on the life and theology of Joseph Ratzinger says that the new Pope has only one program: "to do the will of God."

Pablo Blanco, who has a doctorate in philosophy and who studied the life and writings of the present Holy Father for many years, told ZENIT in this interview that Benedict XVI is "perfectly capable of addressing the great challenges of the present."

Blanco's book is entitled "Joseph Ratzinger. Una biografía" (Joseph Ratzinger: A Biography), published by Eunsa.

Q: When you wrote the book, did you ever think that Cardinal Ratzinger might one day be Pope?

Blanco: Of course not. I was interested in Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian and man of the Church, not as Pope. Anyway, now, in time, I have realized that the cardinals -- with the inestimable help of the Holy Spirit -- know how to choose.

This Pope is most qualified on several fronts and, in my opinion, perfectly capable of addressing the great challenges of the present: of addressing secularization, of promoting ecumenism and of stimulating a resolute and sincere evangelization, to mention only three magic words.

Q: You wrote that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II collaborated very closely, not only on Friday afternoons and alone, but also on Tuesdays, the day before the general audiences. From here stemmed several Wednesday catecheses and documents. Now that Ratzinger is Pope, do you think there is someone who can help him with the catecheses?

Blanco: Frankly, I don't know. Ratzinger was famous for writing everything [John Paul II] read. I imagine he will have valuable collaborators, but he will be responsible, in a very personal way, for everything he says or writes.

Q: Are there aspects of Benedict XVI which you think the media have not highlighted?

Blanco: I think that what is very important in his life is what he said in the homily at the start of his pontificate: that his only program is to do the will of God.

Throughout his life, one can see how he lets himself be led by that invisible hand of God, which takes him where he would rather not go: He ceased being a professor to become archbishop of Munich, he went to Rome to take up one of the hardest posts in the Church: that of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and accepted his election as Pope, beginning to exercise his pontificate with great ease, under the name of Benedict XVI.

All this seems to me not only courageous but a great ability to let God act.

Q: You wrote that Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the main architects of the Second Vatican Council and post-conciliar period in the whole Church. In what areas has he most defended the Council?

Blanco: I think he has a privileged vision of the ensemble of all the present problems of the faith.

Among many other topics, one could single out the centrality of Jesus Christ and the importance of the liturgy, morality, of women in the Church, of the priesthood as service and of ecumenism as a priority task and, finally, the primacy of the logos over the ethos, that is, the decisiveness of the Creed in the life of Christians.

Proof of this, for example, is Vatican II's Catechism, which he himself was responsible for stimulating and coordinating.

In any case, it is clear that -- as the protagonist that he was of the Council -- he knows where the Church must go; all that is needed is to continue to listen to the voice of God in this continuous Pentecost.


Eucharist in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI
Scott Hahn on the New Pope's Potential Revival

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, JUNE 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's pontificate is not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation -- of the mystery of the Eucharist.

So says Scott Hahn, professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of "The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" (Doubleday).

He shared with ZENIT how he thinks Benedict XVI's teachings will enhance the faithful's understanding and experience of Eucharist.

Q: What was distinctive about then Cardinal Ratzinger's approach to the Eucharist?

Hahn: I don't think any theologian since Matthias Scheeben in the 19th century has shown us the profound interrelation of all the mysteries of Christianity. The doctrine of the Eucharist, for Cardinal Ratzinger, cannot be properly studied or expressed apart from the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the Church.

The Eucharist itself is a Trinitarian mystery; we cannot receive the Son without receiving the Father who sent him in the flesh and the Spirit through which he comes. The Trinity comes to us in the Eucharist. And as the Trinity comes to us, we are raised up into the very presence of the divine glory.

This mystery is connected to the Incarnation because it's not just a historical event in the past, but an ongoing reality -- a supernatural mystery -- in our very midst. It all hangs together.

Cardinal Ratzinger's ecclesiology -- his theology of the Church -- is Eucharistic, incarnational and Trinitarian. At the same time, his Eucharistic theology is ecclesiological, incarnational and Trinitarian.

Q: Cardinal Ratzinger often described the Eucharist as the "heart of life." What does he mean by that?

Hahn: The Eucharist is our encounter and our communion with the Blessed Trinity. That is the heart of life. It's the source of life. It's the summit of life. Communion with the Blessed Trinity is the very definition of heaven, so it doesn't get any better than that. The amazing thing is that we have heaven in every Mass.

This is a theme Cardinal Ratzinger returned to repeatedly in many of his books. The coming of Jesus Christ -- what the Greek New Testament calls his "parousia" -- is not simply some far-off event. It is his presence in the Eucharist.

Fundamentalists reduce the meaning of "parousia" to Christ's coming at the end of time; but for first-century Greek-speakers the word meant "presence." Catholic theology holds on to that original meaning.

In his book "Eschatology," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "The parousia is the highest intensification and fulfillment of the liturgy. And the liturgy is parousia. … Every Eucharist is parousia, the Lord's coming, and yet the Eucharist is even more truly the tensed yearning that He would reveal His hidden Glory."

Q: How do you think Pope Benedict's teachings may enhance the faithful's understanding and experience of Eucharist during the rest of the year of the Eucharist?

Hahn: So many people in the media have already written him off as a restorationist, pining for a return to pre-conciliar forms of worship. But they're missing his point. It's not about restoration of the liturgy so much as re-appropriation -- re-appropriating the mystery of the Eucharist, which is both divine and human.

After the [Second Vatican] Council, some theologians tried to democratize the Church and secularize the liturgy by reducing the mystery to debates between so-called conservatives and liberals.

Cardinal Ratzinger preferred to return to the classic sources: the Scriptures -- both Old and New Testaments -- and Tradition, as well as the best of the modern theologians. Only through such "ressourcement" can aggiornamento truly work.

I think Pope Benedict will de-politicize the Eucharist. He'll direct our attention away from the hot-button issues, which are really peripheral issues -- such as the battles over liturgical language and decoration.

It's not that he doesn't have opinions in these matters. He does, and he has expressed them in pointed ways. But he always draws his opinions from the depths of theological and historical study, and from the depths of his personal prayer.

I believe he'll ask us to plumb those same depths -- especially Catholics who speak, teach, write and guide others in the fields of theology, liturgy and so on. Out of the depths of our study and prayer, he'll guide us to a true re-sacralizing of the liturgy.

Q: If those are peripheral issues, what's at the core?

Hahn: That the Eucharist creates a flesh-and-blood bond -- a family bond -- between us and God. This is another recurring theme in his books. It's the strong undertow in his "Many Religions -- One Covenant" and "The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood."

Christ assumed human flesh in order to give that flesh for us, and give that flesh to us. The Eucharistic liturgy is a sacrificial covenant meal. It renews a covenant, and every covenant seals a family bond. As the Son of God became human, so we become divine -- "sons in the Son," to use the favorite phrase of the Church Fathers.

Q: Who, then, is a member of the family?

Hahn: I believe that will be a key consideration of Benedict's pontificate. He has already demonstrated his eagerness for ecumenical dialogue. If he does no more than continue the work he began as a cardinal, he will articulate the doctrine of the Eucharist in powerful biblical terms, which will be powerfully persuasive to Protestants.

The heavenly liturgy is the key to understanding the biblical books of Hebrews and Revelation. And the experience of liturgy is key to understanding much of the Bible -- both the Old and New Testaments.

What Leviticus and Deuteronomy were to the Old Covenant, Hebrews and Revelation are to the New Covenant. Without a knowledge and experience of the liturgy, so much of the content of these books is inaccessible to us.

Pope Benedict is himself a profound biblical theologian, steeped in the Fathers and Doctors -- especially Augustine and Bonaventure -- and in the Judaic and rabbinic traditions as well. I don't think any pope since St. Peter has taken up such deep study of the ancient rabbis.

I suspect that he will make an understanding of the Eucharist essential to the ecumenical project, and he will conduct the dialogue in covenantal terms. This will make it possible to engage not only Protestants, but also Jews, who share the covenantal roots of Abrahamic religion.

Q: In his first homily, Pope Benedict said, "The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service entrusted to me." How might the centrality of the Eucharist play out in his papacy and ministry?

Hahn: The Eucharist is the place where the Church is most perfectly herself. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the Kingdom abides where the King reigns. Jesus' lasting presence with us is in the Eucharist. As vicar of Christ, Benedict is prime minister to the King of Kings, serving him first of all in the Eucharist.

The Church holds many treasures in common -- the Scriptures, Tradition, the magisterium, the saints. But it is in the liturgy that the Church is most perfectly herself.

And once we understand the liturgy as the heavenly liturgy, as Pope Benedict does, then we have become full, conscious and active citizens of the Kingdom. The heavenly liturgy becomes the norm that norms the other norms. It's our standard, our touchstone, our sustenance, our light -- as I said before, our source and our summit.

We'll see very soon how this plays out in his pontificate. The synod in October will conclude the Year of the Eucharist with a Churchwide reflection on the Eucharist. Watch for the themes I mentioned: the heavenly liturgy, the de-politicization of the liturgy, and the re-sacralization of the liturgy.


Father R.J. Neuhaus' Outlook on Benedict XVI

"Remarkable Gentleness, Combined With a Keen Intellectual Curiosity"

NEW YORK, JUNE 6, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has modest expectations for ecumenism and expects the path to unity to involve an unforeseen initiative of the Holy Spirit, says Father Richard John Neuhaus.

The editor in chief of First Things shared with ZENIT his views about the new Pope and what could be expected in his pontificate.

Q: Would you share some of your personal experiences with Cardinal Ratzinger, and what special gifts you think he brings to the papacy?

Father Neuhaus: I have known Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, for more than 20 years, and we have been in conversation about many things.

As everybody knows, he is a master theologian and, I think, might have been recognized as one of the theological giants of the last 100 years if he had not offered the prime of his life to serving John Paul the Great as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As everybody should know, he is a person of remarkable gentleness and serenity, combined with a keen intellectual curiosity in engaging alternative viewpoints.

As for personal experiences, in 1988 I invited him to deliver our annual Erasmus Lecture here in New York, which was followed by a conference of several days with Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians.

The public lecture, held in midtown Manhattan, was rudely disrupted by gay activists who waved their pink triangles while screaming pleasantries such as "Sieg Heil!" "Nazi Ratzy!" and "Inquisitor Go Home!" I finally had to call the police to clear the protesters and restore order.

Throughout, the cardinal was the very picture of tranquility. When he got a chance to speak he prefaced his lecture, which was on the subject of biblical interpretation, with a moving reflection on the 1968 student rebellion in Europe that helped him to understand more deeply the indispensability of civility in human relations.

On this and other occasions, it was obvious to me that his tranquility is rooted in a tried and tested faith. The next day the tabloid headlines blazoned, "Gays Protest Vatican Biggy." He chuckled at his new title of Vatican Biggy.

Q: Benedict XVI has emphasized ecumenism as a priority. Does that surprise you at all?

Father Neuhaus: No, not at all. This has been among his constant concerns and interests, and he has written extensively on the subject of ecumenism. As a German he has had extensive experience with the traditions coming out of the 16th-century divisions, especially Lutheranism and Reformed, or Calvinist, Christianity.

He has a sympathetic appreciation of what Martin Luther got right, and an incisive but non-polemical analysis of what he got wrong, and why. As head of CDF, he was responsible for the doctrinal aspects of all the ecumenical dialogues in which the Church is engaged, and will continue to exercise that responsibility.

Although he would of course admit nothing, I see clear evidence of his hand in key passages of the 1995 encyclical on Christian unity, "Ut Unum Sint." In this pontificate we will, I expect, see a very clear line of authority as the Pope, the chief doctrinal officer of the Church, employs CDF to coordinate other offices dealing with matters of doctrine. CDF was, for instance, intensely involved in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic declaration on justification.

Q: What does the emphasis on ecumenism say at a time when there are so many concerns about pro-life issues?

Father Neuhaus: There is a strong connection. The Baptist theologian Timothy George speaks about "the ecumenism of the trenches," referring to the ways in which Catholics and evangelical Protestants in this country have come to know and trust one another in the pro-life cause.

This was also critically important to the continuing project called Evangelicals and Catholics Together, ECT, which Charles Colson and I launched in 1994. I have over the years been in contact with Cardinal Ratzinger on developments in ECT, and he has been entirely supportive. To be sure, as a European he has had relatively little firsthand experience with American evangelicalism, which is very different from what "evangelical" means in Germany.

But he is very much aware of the explosive growth of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere, and that is undoubtedly comprehended in his ecumenical vision. The Church's oft-repeated understanding is that the commitment to ecumenism is "irrevocable," and the goal of ecumenism is the establishment of "full communion."

On the latter point, Pope Benedict's expectations are markedly modest. In his writings he has insisted that the only unity we can seek, the only unity pleasing to God, is unity in the fullness of truth. He has said that our 16th-century Catholic and Protestant forebears who were at one another's throats were, in an important way, closer to one another than is sometimes the case with contemporary theological dialogues because they both understood that what was at stake was the truth that God intends for all his people.

He has also emphasized that the way toward unity is not a matter of our programs and schedules but of faithful waiting upon a new initiative of the Holy Spirit which we can neither control nor anticipate. This does not mean that there is less urgency in his ecumenical devotion than was the case with, to cite the obvious instance, John Paul the Great. The ecumenical commitment is irrevocable and every possible step is to be carefully nurtured, including increased cooperation with other Christians in contending for the culture of life against the culture of death.

Q: Coming from Germany, does he bring a special viewpoint about ecumenism?

Father Neuhaus: While I have already addressed that in part, it is noteworthy that some of the first statements of Pope Benedict have strongly affirmed the quest for reconciliation with Orthodoxy.

For John Paul, being a Pole, the Orthodox reality was more pressingly immediate, but I have no doubt that Benedict shares his yearning for the time when the Church will once again "breathe with both lungs, East and West."

I have said that what we share with the Orthodox is such that the only thing lacking for full communion is full communion, and I do not think Pope Benedict would disagree with that. Sometimes being close neighbors makes things more difficult. In that sense, it is possible that the Orthodox will be less uneasy in dealing with a German rather than with a Pole. Admittedly, that is a "non-theological factor," but God also uses non-theological factors in achieving his purposes.

Q: What has struck you the most about the new Holy Father so far?

Father Neuhaus: There are several things, but perhaps I should mention first his modesty. He has said in several different ways that he does not want to impose his person or his personal views, but to be a faithful servant of the received tradition.

We now have another pope who is a high-powered intellectual. Under John Paul some worried that his distinctive theological-philosophical perspective was making too strong an imprint on magisterial teaching.

Benedict seems to be anticipating the same concern in his case. After all, he has a "paper trail" a mile wide and miles long, having registered his views on so many questions. He seems to be saying that he is well aware that the responsibilities of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian and Joseph Ratzinger the prefect of CDF are significantly different from his responsibilities as Pope Benedict, and that is surely right.

Another subtle signal since his election, which I expect will become more explicit, is that he wants it understood that the Pope is "the servant of the servants of God," and especially of his fellow bishops.

His earlier strictures regarding national conferences of bishops have, I believe, been seriously misunderstood. He is, in fact, a great champion of episcopal collegiality and doesn't want national conferences or other institutions getting in the way of bishops being bishops, which means, above all, being authentic teachers of the faith in their local churches.

Q: How did non-Catholic Christians generally view Cardinal Ratzinger?

Father Neuhaus: The indications are that he is being very well received by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He does not have, and I expect is not likely to develop, what is called the "star quality" surrounding John Paul. That has a lot to do with different personalities. And it has to do with very different life stories.

John Paul's biography could hardly have been more dramatic: life under Nazism and Communism, the early loss of his mother and brother, the successful challenging of the Soviets' "evil empire," and on and on. His life made great material for producers of admiring comic books.

I suppose there will be comic books about Benedict, but they will be less exciting. Compared with John Paul, his has been a life of remarkable step-by-step continuity.

Despite the Hitler years, his was a happy Bavarian childhood, an early discernment and fulfillment of a priestly vocation, a very successful career as theologian, followed by elevation to cardinal archbishop and then on to Rome. And now he is Pope. It is a life within the Church for the Church.

In the quiet warmth of his personality, the excitement is in the vibrancy of his faith and the profundity of his thought. I mentioned at the outset his gentleness of manner and serenity of soul. Those are not bad qualities to have at the center in a time when gentleness and serenity are in short supply.

I need only add that it would be a serious mistake to think gentleness and serenity mean weakness or lack of firm resolve.


Benedict XVI As Known by Co-worker

Interview with Father Augustine Di Noia

ROME, MAY 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is a person of great inner tranquility, intensely dedicated to his work for the Church, and very "tradition-minded," said a close collaborator.

So as to get to know the reality of the man behind the image portrayed at times by the media, ZENIT interviewed Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, who worked with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the latter was prefect of the congregation.

Father Di Noia described their working relationship as a "smooth operating team," due to the Holy Father's keen listening skills.

The Dominican priest said that after having worked directly with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the last three years, he has always been impressed by the example of work ethic that he sets: "It's certainly true that he is a person of intense dedication. He puts in a full day of work every day -- not only when he was here in the office but also via a remarkable number of publications, presentations, lectures, panel discussions.

"It's quite noteworthy to consider even the enormous amount of correspondence he received, of course with the help of secretaries. So he's a person of real dedication, discipline, focus and has that academic element in the sense of man who thinks and writes a lot, but is willing to share his knowledge with anyone who's willing to listen or talk with him as he's quite the conversationalist too."

Benedict XVI has even sacrificed many of his personal interests to work entirely for the Church and faith, said Father Di Noia.

"There is a willingness to make sacrifices in the sense that, naturally I presume, he would have been perfectly happy doing what he was doing before -- that is as archbishop of Munich, living in Germany and serving the Church there -- when John Paul II sent for him to come to the Roman Curia," he said.

Laughing, he added: "I suppose every Catholic, every religious or priest is trained to say 'yes' first, and think about the consequences later.

"This was the case with him -- Peter called and he came, leaving behind his life in Germany, family, friends and culture for more than 22 years. And now, of course, he will never permanently return again."

Yet, Father Di Noia pointed out, he has embraced Rome, just as it is evident that Rome, via welcoming posters around town and excited applause throughout his installation ceremony as their bishop, has clearly embraced him.

"I can't tell you how many ordinary people I've met on the street," said the undersecretary, "who tell me how happy they are at the 'obvious choice' of leader that was chosen. So it's been nice to see that support from Rome."

Regarding the spirituality of the new Pope, his co-worker said: "One of the things which is evident from working with him, that will now become evident to the whole world, is that he's a person of tremendous inner tranquillity.

"You sense, immediately in his presence, a person who, as the old spiritual writers used to say is 'recollected.' That is to say, he's not thrown into a kind of panic by anything, I mean, he's just a calm (and therefore one supposes), deeply spiritual person. Usually that's a sign of an inner life and a person who is in communion with God.

"He has written a great deal about his own spirituality and the kinds of things that he recommends to others. It's clearly a deeply liturgical spirituality.

"What I mean by that is that the liturgical year, the seasons, the great feasts, are integrated into the experience of the spirit. So it's not a kind of spirituality that is purely private, if you will, but one that feeds on the liturgical year."

Father Di Noia offered an example: "He would always leave for his yearly retreat between Ascension and Pentecost -- in fact, he would be gone now on retreat in this period. He liked to celebrate the retreat in the period in which Christ is promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you pay attention to the liturgy every day, we have those kinds of texts, so that's, I would say, deeply patristic; that is rooted in the fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine. It's a rich, ecclesial spirituality."

He also added that the Pope who chose the name Benedict XVI also has a "deep kind of love for St. Benedict" and the Benedictines, with whom "he enjoys being with."

"St. Benedict pointed out that his monks, in addition to praying the hours of the liturgy, also work. This is not a kind of spirituality that doesn't get its hands dirty. This is a man who works and does everything he does in the name of Jesus Christ," said Father Di Noia.

According to the former prelate's undersecretary, these components will be communicated "because naturally a person who has a deep spirituality will want to communicate it to others, although as Pope now he'll also have to allow for the attraction of many other kinds of spirituality which might not have attracted him before."

Then, pointing up to a picture of St. Thérèse of Lisieux hanging in his office, Father Di Noia revealed the new Pope's special devotion to her: "I know also, that he is very much attracted by the 'way' of the 'little flower,' and was instrumental in her becoming a doctor of the Church as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

Though the Church might speak of faith and spirituality, the reality is that secular standards tend to judge in absolute terms of "conservative" or "liberal," value judgements that exasperate the Dominican priest when applied to Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

He said: "There is a natural desire on the part of people to try to classify a little bit, in order to figure out who a person is.

"However, I think the best way of describing Benedict XVI is that he is a 'tradition-minded person.' That is to say, he's a person, independent of his now being Pope, who saw the Second Vatican Council as the recovery of the deepest identity of the Catholic tradition, going back all the way to the scriptures, the fathers of the Church and the liturgy, which was the driving passion behind most of the great figures of that council."

Father Di Noia continued: "The view of many of those great fathers of the council, and the theologians too -- Von Balthasar, Congar, you can mention many names -- was that once the tradition is exhibited like a great painting or work of art, it doesn't need explanation. Once it's presented, people see it and love it. This was certainly what John Paul II believed -- the face of Christ is beautiful and people will be drawn to it.

"And Cardinal Ratzinger is absolutely a man of the inspiration of the council, and of what I would call 'tradition-mindedness.' It is certainly true that there were other people at the council who interpreted it as merely a matter of 'aggiornamento,' or catching up with the times, but for someone like Cardinal Ratzinger, and we've talked about this in light of his writings on the subject, 'aggiornamento' on its own is always seeking to accommodate itself to the times. In other words it is, as a concept, empty. It adjusts itself to whatever the norm is.

"Now, progressives or liberals could seem to have embraced primarily the agenda of updating, but not necessarily the heart of the council, which was 'ressourcement,' or the recovery of tradition."

Father Di Noia went on to say that all this, however, is entirely independent of the fact that the man is now Pope.

He said: "you see this in the deep confusion and the comments made over the last weeks such as 'what policies will he embrace' or 'I don't care for his policies, they're too conservative.' It's as if we were talking about the transition of a U.S. presidency."

The Dominican father said that in reality it's a larger and much more diverse role than that of a head of state: "The Pope is more bound to be faithful to the tradition than any of us are, in the sense that he is its articulator.

"He is the Successor of Peter, so just as Peter received the Gospel and message of salvation from Our Lord, so does his successor.

"Thus these labels which were also applied to past Popes, though well-meant, are simply confusing and confuse those who hear them. It's a question of being faithful to the gift of love and truth which we have received from Christ, and which the Pope, as Successor of Peter, is obligated by vow and profession, to pass on."


Benedict XVI's Commitment to Faith and Reason in Universities

Timothy O'Donnell on New Pope's Mission in Academia

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, MAY 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Our new Holy Father will continue the good work initiated by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic constitutions "Sapienta Christiana" and "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

So says Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College, whose faculty members take an oath of fidelity to the magisterium every year.

O'Donnell shared with ZENIT why he thinks that Pope Benedict XVI will carry on his predecessor's legacy by stressing the synthesis of faith and reason in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Q: How is Christendom College acquainted with the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI?

O'Donnell: I first met Cardinal Ratzinger in 1996 during a trip to Rome. I was able to meet with him at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and introduce him to the work of Christendom College. He was a very gracious man and showed a keen interest in the work of Christendom.

I told him that every year the entire faculty at our liberal arts college voluntarily takes the oath of fidelity to the magisterium of the Catholic Church in the presence of our bishop. Cardinal Ratzinger was moved by this and expressed his gratitude and admiration for our work.

I told him that this takes place each year at our opening Mass as a way of signifying to our entire student body that there can be no real conflict between faith and reason, nor is there to be found any limitation on academic freedom through joyfully embracing the teaching of the Church.

He also expressed to me at that time his delight that Christendom College prided itself not only on its academic excellence but also on its fidelity to the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

It is because of this and Christendom's strong support from the late Jan Cardinal Schotte, Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops, that Cardinal Ratzinger graciously agreed to become the honorary chairman of our 25th anniversary dinner committee in 2002.

On several other occasions he has also welcomed groups of Christendom students and pilgrims to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to his early morning Masses in Vatican City.

Q: What was your impression of him as an intellectual?

O'Donnell: It was clear from our conversation that Cardinal Ratzinger is a man of refined intellect, who is deeply sensitive to the trends of contemporary thought. He sees clearly the dangers of a brutal secularism with its accompanying moral relativism, which would strip human life of its true meaning and dignity.

I found myself impressed not only by the clarity of his thought, but also by his gentleness and kindness, which was quite contrary to the unfair portrayal given to him in by some the media at that time.

Q: Benedict XVI was a university professor who understands the workings of academia. How do you think this will impact his pontificate?

O'Donnell: I believe that Pope Benedict XVI's experience as a university professor will have a great impact on his pontificate, perhaps very similar to the impact that John Paul II's university experience had on his pontificate.

I think that our current Holy Father will continue the good work initiated by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic constitutions "Sapienta Christiana" and "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

I think he will find it particularly important to continue to speak to the vital role that must be played by Catholic institutions of higher learning in an effort to once again re-engage the culture and communicate effectively to the world the great synthesis of the Catholic intellectual tradition, which unites both faith and reason and recognizes in both of them a common source in Almighty God.

This can only be achieved if the university maintains a strong Catholic identity with a special commitment to the Gospel as it is communicated through the magisterium.

Q: How do you expect the new pope to deal with implementation of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," the document that required verification of a theologian's fidelity to the magisterium?

O'Donnell: I believe that "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" will be very important to Pope Benedict. Evidence of this can be seen in a beautiful document that his Congregation put out entitled, "On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian."

This lucid document should go a long way to helping theologians who are seeking the truth with sincerity to recognize that there is a special ecclesial dimension to their mission within Catholic education that does require fidelity to the deposit of faith as it is communicated by the Church, without which they are not really doing Catholic theology at all.

They may be performing an important task in the field of religious studies but that, however, deals primarily with what man believes about God rather than the proper subject of theological study that has for its object God and his loving revelation to man.

"Ex Corde Ecclesiae" insists upon the special bond that should exist between the Catholic theologian and the Church in the service of truth. This beautiful and vital ecclesial dimension of the work of the Catholic theologian needs to be embraced joyfully in service to the Church and all humanity.

The apostolic constitution speaks of the Catholic university as being "consecrated" in a special way to the search for and acquisition of truth. It must therefore be open to everything relating to God, man and the created order. The Catholic theologian has a crucial role to play in this essential mission.

As the Second Vatican Council taught in "Dei Verbum," sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition and the magisterium are like three pillars that are so interconnected "that one can't really stand without the others." They should be used and joyfully accepted by the theologian in his effort to help explicate the Faith in service to the Church and a world that hungers for the saving truth of Christ.

Q: A corollary: Do scholars have anything to fear under Benedict XVI's papacy?

O'Donnell: The fact that Pope Benedict XVI is a man of great intellect and scholarly ability should reassure scholars everywhere that they have nothing to fear.

Sadly, often times this fear stems from a belief that they will loose their "freedom." As the Pope beautifully stated in his opening homily, "this yoke of Christ... does not weigh down on us, oppressing us and taking away our freedom."

Pope Benedict, like all true academicians, is totally committed to the search for and acquisition of truth. It must be remembered that truth is the object of the intellect. Once truth has been discovered there is a special obligation to submit to the truth when it is recognized. This is what the human heart and mind were made for by the God who loves us.

We must remember that, contrary to popular opinion, an open mind is not in itself a perfection. The mind is made for truth. The purpose of scholarly endeavor is the acquisition and comprehension of truth.

To that end, scholars, who share this love for the pursuit and acquisition of truth, should rejoice that a man of such intellect, learning and deep faith has been elevated to the papal throne.

I believe his pontificate will be a grace for our broken, suffering world. The election of Pope Benedict should be a source of joy and hope for all those who love the Church, love the Faith and are committed to "communicating the whole truth about man," which is revealed most fully in Jesus Christ.


My cousin the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI’s cousin Erika Kopp, who lives in Blackburn South and migrated to Australia from Germany with her husband Karl in 1955, recalls visiting a shop with her then six-year-old cousin Joseph and her aunt.

Felicity Dargan writes.

“THE SHOPKEEPER WAS AN elderly woman and she asked Joseph ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ Mrs Kopp said.

“He replied: ‘I am going to be a Bishop’.”

Mrs Kopp, 79, was not surprised. “That was Joseph’s upbringing,” she said. “There was lots of prayer. His father was a high-ranking policeman and before he went on patrol he would always make the sign of the cross.”

So did the shopkeeper ask young Erika what she wanted to be when she grew up?

“Yes”, she chuckled. “I said a baker and I was. I worked in my father’s bakery shop.”

The events of the past few weeks have been overwhelming for Mrs Kopp and her family. Karl died in 2003 at the age of 83 but she is close to her daughter Veronica and three granddaughters Laura, 28, Rebecca, 26 and Helen, 23.

A bright and active woman, Mrs Kopp is delighted that her cousin has been chosen to lead the world’s Catholics, and has full confidence in him.

“I think he is the best person,” Mrs Kopp said. “His mental capacity is still as good as if he were younger.

“I feel very excited and proud. Joseph is such a good man, a simple man, very quiet. He is also such a controlled man, very exact, always on time. I don’t think he can help himself. His father was like that.

“Joseph has studied all his life and this is the highest thing you can achieve. He was always so clever, such a strong thinker. That is a gift from God. Even as a little boy everyone realised, Joseph is the wunderkind.

“When we were children I said to Auntie (Joseph’s mother Maria), ‘I wish I could be as clever as Joseph’, and she always said ‘Erika, when you finish school, you will be able to count your money’.

“Auntie meant that I would be bright enough to get on in life. I’m not as clever as Joseph, but I’ve got a good IQ and I’m 79.”

Mrs Kopp’s father, Benno Rieger, was the brother of Pope Benedict’s mother Maria and young Erika spent childhood holidays with Joseph and his siblings Georg and Maria.

So how did Mrs Kopp hear the news about her cousin’s election?

“My 86-year-old German friend phoned in the morning and said ‘Erika, your cousin is Pope’, she said.

“I said ‘Martha, I don’t know’, and she said ‘Yes, it’s true.’

“I phoned Veronica and said ‘Joseph is the Pope, they voted for him’.”

Laura said her grandmother’s phone had been “melting” with calls to Germany as the family monitored developments at the Vatican.

“We have heard stories about Grandma’s cousin the Cardinal since we were kids,” Laura said. “It’s all a bit manic at the moment.”

Mrs Kopp has since spoken to her 84-year-old brother Benno in Germany. She also has a sister in Germany, Flora, who is 82.

“Benno always thought Joseph would have a better life not being Pope,” she said. “When Joseph was called to Rome (on 25 November, 1981 he was made Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), everyone in Munich was worried that Joseph would be homesick because he and his siblings were so close and were being separated.

“When we were children Maria, Joseph’s sister, used to say, ‘If Joseph is a priest I will cook for him.’ And that is what she did. Maria looked after Joseph in the Vatican. She never married. Joseph had an apartment a bit outside and Maria was like his housekeeper.

“When Maria died (on 2 November, 1991, aged 69) Joseph took it very hard. They were so close.”
Mrs Kopp has many fond memories of childhood holidays with Joseph and his family.

“Joseph wasn’t a sportsperson,” she said. “They had all the music you could imagine and a big piano which Joseph and Maria played a lot. I rode Maria’s bicycle. Uncle spent all his money on their education and Joseph attended a very exclusive school.

“Joseph’s mother did a lot for him. She was my sponsor when I was confirmed. She was very talented and a hard worker. She made Joseph teddy bears and animals and rabbits, whatever you can think. She made them by hand.

“I was at Joseph’s ordination (on 29 June, 1951) and he said ‘Erika, I haven’t seen you for 14 years’. I would never have known how long it had been. Later he said to me ‘Erika, I’ve still got my animals’.

“Auntie was also a very good cook. She made these wonderful preserved walnuts and after our meal we were each given one.”

The childhood playmates last saw each other in 1985 when Mrs Kopp visited Germany and her cousin was Cardinal of Munich.

“I visited his residence which was like Buckingham Palace,” she said.

Mrs Kopp proudly shows off clippings from German newspapers charting her cousin’s rise, along with a letter from her cousin Maria when Joseph was appointed Cardinal in June 1977.

“Everyone says we look the same, they say ‘Erika, you look more like Joseph than his sister’,” she beams.

Family and friends have suggested Mrs Kopp visit her cousin in Rome.

“What would I say to a Pope?” she said. “I would say ‘Joseph, I am so proud of you. I hope God helps you carry this hard mission.”

Until then, Mrs Kopp has a congratulatory card to send Pope Benedict XVI.

“I bought one from Coles,” she said. “I just want him to know how proud I am of him.”

By Felicity Dargan


"I Don't Think Benedict XVI's 'Program' Is to Combat Relativism"

Interview With Journalist Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale

ROME, MAY 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- For Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, the new Pope will seek "to proclaim and witness the simplicity, purity and beauty of faith in Jesus Christ."

In his book "Benedict XVI, Custodian of the Faith" (Piemme, 2005), a collection of testimonies and reminiscences about the prelate who would become Pope, the journalist describes the personality of a man of the Church who is as authoritative in the field of science as he is humble from the human point of view.

To learn more about the 265th Roman Pontiff, ZENIT interviewed Tornielli.

Q: What will be the novelties of Benedict XVI's pontificate?

Tornielli: As he has already done since the first hours after the election, I think the new Pope will seek to turn attention away from the figure of the Pope, insofar as person, so that all attention is centered on him whose Vicar the Pope is.

This is why I think Benedict XVI has already made the important decision not to celebrate beatifications personally, reserving for himself only the canonizations.

Moreover, I have been very impressed by the accent he places when emphasizing that the Pope is first and foremost Bishop of Rome. On Saturday, May 14, for the first time, the Pope did not celebrate the beatifications, but the next day he presided over the ordination of 21 new priests of his diocese, the Diocese of Rome. I think these are important signs, above all from the point of view of the ecumenical commitment.

Q: It has been said that what John Paul II was for communism, Benedict XVI will be for relativism.

Tornielli: I wish to make a clarification. Just as I avoid the caricature that certain progressive environments have made of Ratzinger over the past 20 years, I also try to be on guard against a certain error: to think that he will be a Pope on the basis of what Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was and said.

I don't think that Benedict XVI's "program" is to combat relativism. I believe, instead, that he will seek to proclaim and witness the simplicity, purity and beauty of faith in Jesus Christ.

The antidote to relativism is not a program, it is not a theory, it is not and can never be an invective or a denunciation. An invective, a denunciation, however, were more useful vis-à-vis communism. No, the antidote is in a people, even small in number, that lives the faith and witnesses the fullness of life.

Q: John Paul II filled the squares. In your opinion, is it for Benedict XVI to fill the churches?

Tornielli: I don't know if this will happen. Personally, I hope churches and squares are full. But if John Paul II with his charism and his extraordinary personality could fill squares, it will be hard for Benedict XVI or any one else to fill the churches.

The churches will be filled, God willing, thanks to the Pope's testimony, but above all the testimony of all Christians. "I am not alone!" Benedict XVI repeated during the Mass [for the inauguration of his pontificate]. The Pope is not a super-ruler of the Church, he is not an absolute monarch; he is the servant of the servants of God. And the task of proclamation and witness is everyone's.

Q: Was it singular to elect as Pope the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? What challenges is the Church trying to respond to with this election?

Tornielli: I think the election is not so much linked to the role as such, but rather to Ratzinger's personality, his preparation, his depth. I think that with this election the Church wishes to again propose what is essential in the Christian faith.

Q: As Cardinal, Ratzinger expressed his great admiration for the liturgy in Latin, manifesting reservations over the reform carried out in this area during the Second Vatican Council. What do you foresee Pope Benedict XVI will do in regard to the liturgy?

Tornielli: Let's look at what he has done. The celebrations over which he has presided have been of exceptional simplicity and beauty.

I hope that, little by little, without divisions or traumas, this taste for the liturgy well celebrated, which allows one to perceive the grandeur of the mystery that is lived in the Mass and that has God as protagonist -- who comes into our midst and speaks to us -- and not the cleverness or inventiveness of the priest or the community, will gain ground.

In his programmatic discourse on the first day after the election, Pope Ratzinger spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist and of the correct liturgical celebration.

I think it will be one of the key points of his ministry, although for the time being I cannot foresee what the concrete steps will be. I also think that there will be greater tolerance in regard to traditionalists, and perhaps the next months might also be decisive for the re-composition of Monsignor Lefebvre's mini-schism.

Q: It seems that during Vatican II the then young Ratzinger always posed the question: "And the doctrine?" Forty years after the Council, in what way will Benedict XVI consolidate the clergy's and Catholics' obedience to sound doctrine?

Tornielli: I was very impressed by the way in which the Pope spoke about doctrine and the papal chair the day he took possession [of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran].

He did not reaffirm a doctrine, asking everyone to obey. He explained that everyone, including the Pope, must obey Christ, and that Peter's charism is precisely in this obedience. To confirm brothers in the faith is an act that cannot be separated from love and service.

The more it is seen that the Christian faith is the encounter with something great and beautiful, the more it will be understood that the "depositum fidei," the doctrine -- and not our ideas or interpretations -- is key to penetrating this mystery in the truest way.

Q: Can we expect reforms from Benedict XVI?

Tornielli: I would like to remind that Ratzinger has said several times that he would like a reform of the Roman Curia, which he thinks has become too gigantic and bureaucratized. I would not exclude the possibility that the Pope will take a step in this direction.


Pope Benedict XVI| An Interview with Monsignor Michael R. Schmitz

Monsignor Michael R. Schmitz was ordained by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1982. As a German who has had significant contact with Pope Benedict XVI, IgnatiusInsight.com asked Msgr. Schmitz his opinion of the effect of our new pope on Germany. For Germany, we wondered, will this be a time of hope and renewal of faith?

Msgr. Schmitz, 47, is a German, born and educated, but now serves as the U.S. Provincial Superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Msgr. Schmitz oversees the U.S. branch of this new order of priests devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass. As a priest studying in Rome, he had regular contact with his fellow countryman Cardinal Ratzinger. During the year prior to his election as pope, Msgr. Schmitz and several others from his order met with Cardinal Ratzinger to bring him up to date on the new order of priests.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What have been your relations to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI?

Msgr. Schmitz: I had the great honor to have been ordained by the present pope in 1982 when he was in his first year as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Since that time I had the opportunity to meet the Cardinal quite regularly during my studies for the doctorate in Rome when I was living in the Teutonic College in the Vatican. His Eminence used to celebrate Mass every Thursday in the chapel of the college and have breakfast with us afterwards, which was the occasion of short conversations and encounters with him.

Also, I had the chance to meet him several times in audiences and only recently, during the year before his election, he received the Prior General of the Institute of Christ the King, Msgr. Gilles Wach, and me for a meeting where we could present to him the more recent developments of our young community. During this occasion the Cardinal again showed his interest and love for all matters liturgical and especially his deep respect for the more ancient forms of the Roman Rite.

IgnatiusInsight.com: This pope is the first from Germany in more than 400 years. Could you share any personal feelings that you had upon learning of the outcome of the Conclave

Msgr. Schmitz: As everyone else was, I was deeply touched by the outcome of the last Conclave because it witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit during the election of a new Pope. Holy Providence does not leave the Church alone and astonishes ever anew all those who may depend in their judgment about the future on purely human calculation.

Certainly, Benedict XVI is a gift of Holy Providence and shows through his very presence as Vicar of Christ that "the Church is alive", as he has put it himself in his sermon during the solemn beginning of his ministry. The fact that he is German is important for all Germans, but I would stress that Germany is much more regionally structured than non-Germans would believe. Germany was united under Prussia in 1870, and its kingdoms and principalities only disappeared totally after 1918, which afterwards created a vacuum used by evil forces to deceive the German faithfulness toward authority. Still, the former political structure is very present in the different regions of Germany, whose population speaks many different forms of the German language.

One of the most important regions in Germany is the "Freistaat" of Bavaria. Together with being a German, His Holiness is a Bavarian and has always shown a great love for his country. He was Archbishop of Munich in Bavaria, and he taught as a professor in Bavarian universities for many years. His brother conducted one of the most important church choirs in Bavaria, and the links of the Ratzinger family to its Bavarian-Austrian roots are very visible. I am from the Rhine Valley and traditionally, the ecclesiastic principalities on the Rhine, especially the Archdiocese of Cologne, have always been in close relationship with Bavaria.

For centuries Bavarian princes governed, as Prince-Archbishops, the part of the Rhine I come from. The Rhine Valley and Bavaria are among the only regions in Germany that have always stayed Catholic. The atmosphere of the two regions and their historical links are penetrated by a deeply Catholic feeling. Also, for this reason, I was very grateful to Holy Providence for having given to Holy Mother Church a visible head and a Vicar of Christ rooted in a Catholicism of heart and mind coming from a rich tradition of faithfulness to the Holy See and of veneration of the Blessed Sacrament and the Virgin Mary.

IgnatiusInsight.com: In difficult years following the First World War, Germany saw the rise of Hitler and every generation since has had to live with the legacy of one of history’s most evil men. Germany culture in the post World War II era was forced to grapple with this shameful period. What will the election of a German and obviously holy man, who was alive during the time of Hitler, who himself quietly resisted Hitler, as did his father, do to Germans’ perceptions of themselves in general and on the world stage?

Msgr. Schmitz: I am confident that Pope Benedict XVI will help other people to perceive Germany and the Germans in a more appropriate way than just as a nation whose history was partly dominated by shameful oppression through an inhuman dictatorship.

My grandfather was killed during the war in a train accident because his chauffeur did not see the coming train at a crossing, whose lights were off during the time of the air raids. Our parish priest said to my grandmother "perhaps Holy Providence wanted to spare your husband because he certainly would have ended in a concentration camp".

My grandfather helped many Jews and others who were persecuted by the Nazi regime and always defended his faith openly. My mother secretly copied the famous sermons of the upright "Lion of Muenster" Bishop Clemens August Count von Galen against the Nazi terror. One morning she entered her office and found two Gestapo members sitting on her desk. They took her to be interrogated, and only the mercy of an elderly judge who pitied her youthful beauty saved her from the worst.

I tell you these episodes of my family only as examples of the many Catholic Germans who opposed the regime and suffered dire consequences for their faithfulness to the Church. My generation and those after me have not known this time personally nor are we responsible for anything that happened then. I am sure His Holiness, who was elected by an international College of Cardinals, will help convey to the world the message that no nation should be the target of a collectively assigned culpability and that we have to see the individual person and his personal value before we condemn him for his national origin.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Germany is perhaps one of the most secularized countries in the world. The rates of church attendance are low, below 30 percent, and many Germans no longer value the three K’s, Kinder, Küche, Kirche. Will Benedict XVI make a difference?

Msgr. Schmitz: Europe as a whole is secularized to the point that its political authorities seem to be afraid to acknowledge the Christian roots of its civilization. This behavior could be compared to a child denying his mother in her very presence.

As a matter of fact, Germany suffers from this secularization even more because of the historical influence of liberal Protestantism, which has long since lost its religious meaning but still dominates the political atmosphere with its consequences. The link between Church and State in Germany seems to sometimes foster a certain ecclesiastical adaptation to this atmosphere, even by some of the hierarchal authorities. Instead of emphasizing a Catholic identity in front of the State, like in Poland for instance, many representatives of the Church in Germany have chosen to act more like state officials than as clergy.

This secularized view of the their own position is very obvious in the theological faculties in the state universities whose staff lately has contributed quite a bit to the image of the German ecclesiastical world as coldly opposed to the Holy See and critical even of the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith. The Church in Germany has been compared to a "frozen giant". Too much self-centeredness and interminable sterile discussions about the same old "modern questions" have paralyzed ecclesiastical life in Germany, which seems to be afraid of its own quite glorious tradition of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI, with his deep theological knowledge and his awesome intellectual qualities, has already answered many of the theological discussions in the past and will now contribute by his strong Papal presence in giving to the Church in Germany what he has defined as two qualities of the universal Church of today: "life and youth"!

IgnatiusInsight.com: It appears the first time Pope Benedict XVI will leave Italy, he will travel to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day. What do you think the possible effect will be?

Msgr. Schmitz: His much-expected visit to World Youth Day will be like an oxygen mask to the Church in Germany. The enthusiasm on St. Peter’s Square during the beginning of his ministry clearly shows that he knows how to speak to the world’s youth. His long experience as a university professor has given him all the skills necessary to attract the attention of his youthful audience. He does not need to be taught by others how to speak to the youth and how to convey to them the great message of the love of Christ.

The entire life of His Holiness has been dedicated to this task, and the large number of his academic pupils, followers, and admirers reveals the force of his intellect and the charism of his person, strengthened now and magnified by the office he has received from the Lord. I am sure that he will not only continue the apostolate for the youth initiated by John Paul II but that he will add to it a new direction of catechetic depth and clear religious instruction after the example of Venerable Pius XII and Blessed John XXIII, who also were "youthful popes".

IgnatiusInsight.com: Americans statistically claim German heritage perhaps more than any other nationality. How might this pope’s relations to America and the English-speaking world in general differ from Pope John Paul II?

Msgr. Schmitz: Since I have been in America, I have had the personal experience of a strong German presence in American culture. Names, habits, even religious devotions still show the German roots of large parts of the population.

The Papacy is above all national heritage, and the task of the Roman Pontiff as Vicar of Christ on earth and successor of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome really is on a universal scale. However, I am confident that the love for Germany and its history at its best, which I have encountered in the United States, will help German-rooted Americans to strengthen their link to the Papacy during this pontificate. The fact that we have a Bavarian pope and that Americans like Bavarian customs, not to speak of Octoberfest and Bavarian beer, will again facilitate a personal link to the great figure on the Papal throne because he is a real son of Bavaria.

On a much higher level, though, most of the American Catholics share with their German fellow believers an ancestral love for the Holy See and a filial devotion toward the Holy Father. Above all useless criticisms of the past forty years, this "Romanity" has survived and every day will unite the Church in America more to the Roman Pontiff actually represented by this great intellectual but humanly sympathetic and modest pope called Benedict XVI.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?

Msgr. Schmitz:  The choice of the name Benedict by the present pope appeals to us as very familiar because St. Benedict and his rule and contribution to Catholic culture are dear to us. The personal meetings we have had with the former Cardinal Ratzinger have also linked us emotionally to this fine and holy clergyman.

Our Prior General, Msgr. Wach, the Sisters of our new female branch, and I were present on St. Peter’s Square during the ceremony of the beginning of the Papal ministry. Humanly, theologically, and as faithful, we experienced a unique moment in history, which has strengthened even more the link of our Institute to the Papacy, to which we have been always faithful. The way Pope Benedict XVI fills the highest office that God can bestow on a human being here on earth shows that Christ is always present in His Church and does not leave Her alone in a situation of crisis. Many hopes are now put on the present Pontiff, who has to govern the Church in difficult times and is well aware of many different sensibilities.

Instead of asking him to fulfill immediately our personal expectations, which may well be limited and partial, we should follow his urgent invitation to pray for him to our Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to our Blessed Mother who is so dear to him. This is not the hour of demanding quick solutions but the hour of prayer, respect, and faithfulness toward the Holy Father. If we keep near to him and implore heavenly graces for him, the Lord of the Church will certainly give His Vicar all the wisdom and strength necessary to govern His flock.


My Friend, Benedict XVI   An Interview with Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ

These are Father Joseph Fessio’s answers to a series of questions posed by IgnatiusInsight.com's Valerie Schmalz about Pope Benedict XVI. They were answered on April 21, 2005, before Father Fessio got on an airplane to fly to Rome for the formal installation of Pope Benedict XVI.

You have a long-standing relationship with Pope Benedict XVI. Can you describe when you first met him?

Father Fessio: I first met Fr. Joseph Ratzinger when I arrived in Regensburg, (then West Germany) in the fall of 1972. I began my doctoral studies there and he was my doctoral director.

How that happened is a story in itself. I had begun my theological studies in France at the Jesuit Theologate in Lyons. There I was befriended by Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J., a wonderful man of the Church and a renowned theologian. When the time came for me to decide upon the subject for a doctorate I asked his advice. He immediately told me that I should do my doctorate on Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar whom he considered one of the greatest theologians of the era, if not all time. When I asked him where I should do it he immediately said, “Go to Regensburg and do it under Fr. Joseph Ratzinger; he’s a fine young theologian.” Fr. de Lubac graciously wrote to Fr. Ratzinger on my behalf and Fr. Ratzinger who was not accepting many new graduate students since he had so many already, accepted Fr. de Lubac’s recommendation.

Joseph Ratzinger was then as he is now, a very quiet and gracious person, always willing to listen; but when he speaks, he speaks with great clarity and depth of understanding. Even then one felt a presence because of his goodness, his openness, and his wisdom.

How has your relationship continued through the years?

Father Fessio: The doctoral students of Cardinal Ratzinger once they had received their doctorates, found a Schulerkreis (or student circle) that had yearly meetings. Those meetings were usually two to three days long, held at a monastery, and had a specific theological topic and one or two invited speakers. We celebrated Mass together, ate together, listened to lectures and discussed them together. In the evenings, we would often sit around a table and have conversation accompanied by glasses of white wine.

In the period 1987-1989, four priests, working with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, planned and established the Association de Lubac, Speyr, von Balthasar whose main work was a house of formation in Rome called Casa Balthasar. The four priests were Fr. Jacques Servais, S.J. another Jesuit who remains rector of Casa Balthasar, Fr. Mark Ouellet who is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec, Fr. Christoph Schönborn, OP who is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and myself. (Jesuits are by rule required neither to seek nor to accept ecclesiastical preferment. Fr. Servais and I did not seek any nor were any offered us!) Once Casa Balthasar was established, in 1989, we all met once a year to review the progress and plan the coming year. This gave us an opportunity to spend some time with Cardinal Ratzinger who would come to Casa Balthasar for a meeting, dinner and recreation after dinner. I also had the occasion to visit him in his apartment or in his office a number of times throughout the years.

How did you choose to publish his works and why did he choose Ignatius Press to publish so many of his works in English translation?

Father Fessio: Ignatius Press was begun in 1978, with our first books published in 1979. The original intent was to make available in English the works of the great contemporary Catholic theologians of Europe. We began with Louis Bouyer and Hans Urs von Balthasar. We soon added Cardinal Ratzinger to our list of authors. He very graciously accepted Ignatius Press as his English language publisher.

What is the impact of Urs von Balthasar on the new pope?

Father Fessio: The reason Fr. de Lubac directed me towards Fr. Ratzinger to do my dissertation on von Balthasar was that Fr. Ratzinger was both a personal friend and a student of the works of von Balthasar. Certainly von Balthasar has had a profound effect on Pope Benedict just as he has on any one who has spent time studying his massive and rich corpus.

Which of his works would you recommend to those wondering about the direction of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy?

Father Fessio: For those who would like an idea of the direction of this new papacy, I would recommend starting with The Ratzinger Report. It was an interview he gave to Vittorio Messori in 1985. Cardinal Ratzinger comments very openly there on the strength and weaknesses of the Church at that time. Not too much has changed except for the increase in enthusiasm generated by the vibrant papacy of John Paul II; the major challenges remain.

What is Pope Benedict XVI like as a person? What about his reputation as an “enforcer” ?

Father Fessio: As a person, Pope Benedict is courteous, kind, gracious, soft-spoken, with an ever-present sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. I’ve never heard him express anger or raise his voice. He listens very attentively to people and while clear and firm in his expression of the truths of the Catholic Faith, he always speaks or writes with profound courtesy and respect. He has a reputation as an enforcer because he had that task assigned to him. Even in treating dissident theologians, he was always open and fair, thorough and objective. Although there are still lingering complaints about the “secrecy” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there is simply no basis for that. The Congregation has worked with complete transparency. I can’t think of anyone in the Vatican who has been more open to being interviewed or being questioned on any topic than Cardinal Ratzinger. Of course, when he is obliged to tell someone who considers himself a Catholic of good standing that what that person is teaching or advocating is incompatible with Catholic truth, that is often not well received. In trying to explain the hostility toward Cardinal Ratzinger, I can only think that it is a projection of the anger of those who are being corrected upon the one who has to administer the correction.

Comparisons will be inevitable with Pope John Paul II. Would you venture a comparison and a few thoughts on the relationship between then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II?

Father Fessio: Certainly Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II were the closest of collaborators. Pope John Paul II brought Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome in 1981 to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and he stayed there until he was elected Pope in 2005. No other prefect of a Vatican congregation has stayed so long in the same position. It was customary that Ratzinger would see the Holy Father once a week to discuss whatever matters were important at that time.

They both have “charisma” but of different sorts. Pope John Paul II was an actor on the world’s stage, very outgoing and with a personal magnetism that was palpable. But Pope Benedict, while quieter and more serene in his demeanor, also has a warmth and a presence which all those who have come into contact with him have remarked. I think that John Paul II, especially in his prophetic role, proclaimed Christ to the whole world. Pope Benedict will do the same but I believe he will turn his attention more towards the Church hierarchy. Just as St. Benedict through his monasteries penetrated and informed a rising Christian civilization in Europe, Pope Benedict will focus on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, on solemn and properly celebrated liturgies, so that the Church herself will be better able to go forth into the world and be a light to the nations.

Why do you think Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen so quickly as pope?

Father Fessio: I can only speculate on why Benedict was chosen so quickly but I do think that the following elements had a role to play. In the synod which elected John Paul II in 1978, all or virtually all of the cardinals hand ample opportunity to get to know each other during the four years of the Second Vatican Council which ran from 1962-1965. Therefore they had a much better personal knowledge of their peers. However, with the expansion of the College of Cardinals, and with the emphasis on new cardinals in far-flung parts of the world, I think it’s true that going into the conclave most of the cardinals did not know most of the other cardinals. In such an important decision, I doubt that anyone, especially someone with experience in administration, would want to elect someone who was not well known to him. Since cardinals get to know each other when they come together, and that’s normally done in Rome, obviously cardinals who are living in Rome or near Rome, and those visiting often in Rome such as those in Italy and in Western Europe would know each other better. They’d also have more access to each other’s writings. For these reasons I think that the most likely candidates were in those groups.

But Cardinal Ratzinger was certainly the best known of the cardinals. He was older and he had published many books, spoken around the world, and acted in a very public way as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Divine Faith. He was also extremely respected even by those who disagreed with him. So, while there was much suspense during the conclave, now that the choice has been made, it almost seems like it was a necessity. Despite the fact that there were cardinals with wonderful qualifications, there really was no one that had his depth of knowledge and experience, including experience with the Curial offices of the Vatican.

Critics have said that Benedict XVI is “backward looking” instead of “forward looking” and that he is at heart opposed to the Second Vatican Council. How would you respond to that charge?

Father Fessio: Every Pope, and every Catholic, must be both backward-looking and forward-looking. The truths of the Catholic Church are God’s message entrusted to fallible human beings by God Himself through his Son Jesus Christ. Our task is to receive that message and contemplate it, appropriate it, explain it, defend it and then pass it on intact. John Paul II did that. Cardinal Ratzinger did that, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and I have no doubt that Pope Benedict XVI will do the same. As for the Vatican Council, Pope Benedict was a theological peritus or advisor for the Council and was very influential at the Council; he’s one of its architects. And he made it very clear in his first public statement as pope the day after he was elected that he fully supports the Second Vatican Council. He says powerfully: “I too declare, as I start in the service that is proper to the successor to Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue to the commitment to enact [exsecutionem] Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church [duorum milium annorum].” This is a statement typical of Cardinal Ratzinger. He affirms in unmistakable terms that he is a pope of the Council. But he also says that he is going to pursue its implementation. The implication is that the Council has not been or at least has not been fully implemented yet. Further, he affirms he will implement the Council in continuity with the tradition. A clear statement that he does not read the Council as a break with tradition but as an extension of tradition.

To those wondering about the spiritual life of the new pope, do you have any insights? Does he have any particular devotions to Mary, any other saints?

Father Fessio: The Cardinal was born on Holy Saturday, and was brought by his parents to the parish church and baptized at the Easter Vigil Mass. So he was born both naturally and supernaturally in the midst of the great Paschal Mystery of the Church. I’ve heard him say very candidly that his life has been liturgical from the beginning; that he always feels nourished by the celebration of the Mass and the praying of the Divine Office. He admired his fellow theologian von Balthasar for promoting kniende Theologie (kneeling theology) and his works could not have been produced by a man who was not a man of deep personal prayer. His devotions are Catholic devotions, to the saints, but particularly to St. Joseph his patron, and of course to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Do you know what his favorite foods are? What is his favorite music?

Father Fessio: I don’t know what his favorite foods are but Mozart is his favorite composer. While he leads a simple life, he’s a Bavarian who enjoys a good meal, and he does love to listen to classical music. He also plays the piano.

Do you have any personal stories about the new pope you can share with us?

Father Fessio: There are many stories I could tell but let one suffice. He was asked by a very skeptical and agnostic journalist, Peter Seewald for a book-length interview. The cardinal, generous as always, agreed to this and made himself available to answer all his questions, even the most hostile ones. After that experience – the results of which were published as The Salt of the Earth – Peter Seewald became a Catholic! Later he did another book-length interview which became God and the World. The man sarcastically called God’s rotweiler or the panzer kardinal is a man who in real life can touch the hearts of the most hardened skeptics. He has given his life and all his gifts to the service of the Lord and the Church. And when he speaks he speaks with a power that comes from beyond him but that works marvelously through him.