The Political Side of Benedict XVI
Book Analyzes Foundations of Pontiff's Social Thought
By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MARCH 28, 2010 ( We are accustomed to looking at the Popes for spiritual and theological guidance, but a recent book highlights the importance and influence of the social and political thought of Benedict XVI.

In "The Social and Political Thought of Benedict XVI," Thomas R. Rourke analyzes the Pope's record on these issues both before and after his election to the Chair of Peter. Rourke is a professor in the department of political science at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

While more known as a theologian, Benedict XVI is a very profound political thinker, and his social thought merits more attention that it has so far received, Rourke argued.

He starts off by looking at the anthropological foundation of the Pope's thought. In his book "On the Way to Jesus Christ" the then Cardinal Ratzinger looked at the development of the concept of a person.

The contribution of the Bible and Christian thought enabled the original Greek consideration on this to be considerably enriched, particularly in the aspect of seeing a person as a relational being. This leads to a spirituality of communion, which Rourke says is at the root of Benedict XVI's understanding of social doctrine.

Thus, in the community of the divine persons of the Trinity we discover the spiritual roots of the human community. So, in the Pope's anthropology it is not as though we are individuals who in a second moment enter into relations with other people. Rather, relationship is at the core of a person's nature.

This brotherhood among persons is grounded in the fatherhood of God and so differs fundamentally from a secular view of brotherhood, such as that espoused in the French Revolution.

Added to this is the dimension of creation. Created in the image of God human life is given an inviolable dignity, leading the pope to condemn a utilitarian interpretation of our humanity.


While this anthropology might seem very abstract it is a necessary foundation for political philosophy, explained Rourke. Our view of what the shared life of people should be is necessarily grounded on an understanding of what a person is and what a community is.

According to Rourke, Benedict XVI considers politics to be an exercise of reason, but a reason that is also informed by faith. As a result Christianity does not define learning as the mere acquisition of knowledge, but requires it to be guided by fundamental values, such as truth, beauty, and goodness.

When reason is separated from a clear understanding of the ends of human life, established by Creation and affirmed in the Ten Commandments, then it has no fixed reference points for making moral judgments. If this happens then the way is open to consequentialism, which denies that anything is good or bad in itself.

One interesting line of thought in the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger is the division between Church and state, Rourke comments. The separation by Jesus, in Mark 12:17, of the two -- "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's," meant that Christianity destroyed the idea of a divine state.

Prior to Christianity the union of Church and state was the normal practice and even in the Old Testament the two were fused. In fact, this was the cause of the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, as they refused to accept the state religion.

The separation of the two by Jesus was beneficial for the state, as it did not have to live up to expectations of divine perfection, Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed. This new Christian perspective opened the door for a politics based on reason.


Furthermore, he contended that when we revert to a pre-Christian understanding of politics we end up eliminating moral limitations, as happened in Nazi Germany and in communist states.

In today's world, the future Pontiff warned that mythological understandings of progress, science and freedom represent a danger. The element in common that they have is the tendency to the development of an irrational politics that places the search for power above the truth.

As Pope, he took up this theme again in his second encyclical on hope. He warned that what we hope for as Christians should not be confused with what we can achieve through political action.

Returning to what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book, "Church, Ecumenism, and Politics," Rourke added that the separation of church and state has become confused in modern times in being interpreted as ceding the entire public square to the state.

If this is accepted then democracy is reduced to a set of procedures, limited by no fundamental values. Instead, the future Pope affirmed the need for a system of values that goes back to the first principles, such as the prohibition of taking innocent human life, or the foundation of the family on the permanent union of man and woman.


Among the many other topics that Rourke examines is that of conscience. This might seem to have little in connection to social or political issues at first glance. Instead, it turns out to play a critical role.

It is in the inner forum of our conscience that we preserve the fundamental norms upon which the social order is based. It is also a limit on the power of the state, as the state does not have the legitimate authority to transgress these norms. So it is that conscience is at the roots of limited government.

The destruction of conscience is the prerequisite for totalitarian rule, the then Archbishop Ratzinger, explained in a lecture given in 1972. "Where conscience prevails, there is a limit to the dominion of human command and human choice, something sacred that must remain inviolate and that in its ultimate sovereignty eludes all control, whether someone else's or one's own," he said.

Rourke clarified that in saying this, the future pope was not diminishing what are the constitutional or institutional limits on power. The point being made is more fundamental. Namely, that no institution or structure can preserve people from injustice when those in authority abuse their power. In this situation it is the power of conscience, wielded by the people, that can protect society.

This, in turn, connects with faith, which is the ultimate teacher of conscience. Faith becomes a political force in the same way Jesus did, by becoming a witness to the truth in conscience. "The power of conscience is then to be found in suffering; it is the power of the Cross," explained Rourke in his summary of what the 1972 lecture expressed.

"Christianity begins," Archbishop Ratzinger said, "not with a revolutionary, but with a martyr."


Rourke's study includes an appendix that examines Benedict XVI's latest encyclical on social matters, "Charity in Truth." While he had almost finished the book when the encyclical was published Rourke noted that what the Pope wrote was consistent with the themes in his previous writings.

The introduction clearly shows this, Rourke noted, by its linking of truth with love and the idea that there is objective truth, contrary to the tendency towards relativism.

The encyclical concludes, Rourke commented, with the Pontiff's longstanding affirmation that what is truly human flows from Christ and that Christ leads us to discover the fullness of our humanity. This Christian humanism is what Benedict XVI holds out as our greatest contribution to development. A compelling and inspiring goal to strive for.


Ratzinger's Thesis Seen as Key to Understanding His Papacy

Translation of '57 Work on Bonaventure Published

ROME, FEB. 14, 2008  To understand the papacy of Benedict XVI, one should become familiar with his formation as a theologian, affirmed the publishers of Father Joseph Ratzinger's thesis on St. Bonaventure.

This month in the Antonian Pontifical University, an Italian translation of young Father Ratzinger's study of St. Bonaventure's theology of history, published in 1957 as part of the priest's preparation for becoming a professor, will be presented by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Father Pietro Messa, director of the Antonian's faculty of medieval and Franciscan studies, which collaborated in the publication of the translation, explained to ZENIT that current interest in this study is motivated by a desire to understand the thought of the man who is now Pope.

Cardinal Ratzinger himself discussed his thesis in a Nov. 13, 2000, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, saying his study of the 13th century theologian uncovered untold aspects about the relationship of the saint "with a new idea of history."

In that discourse, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that in the 12th century, Joachim of Flora offered a hypothesis of history "as a progression from the period of the Father -- a difficult time for human beings under the law -- to a second period, that of the Son -- with a greater freedom, more frankness, more brotherhood -- to a third, the definitive period of history, the time of the Holy Spirit."

"According to Joachim," added Cardinal Ratzinger, "this should be a time of universal reconciliation, of reconciliation between the East and the West, between Christians and Jews, a time without laws -- in the Pauline sense -- a time of true brotherhood in the world. The interesting idea I discovered was that a significant current of the Franciscans were convinced that St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order marked the beginning of this third period of history, and it was their aspiration to make it a reality. Bonaventure maintained a critical dialogue with this current."

Father Ratzinger's work, emphasized Father Messa, "has been resumed by numerous studies regarding the theology of St. Bonaventure, as the bibliographical references included at the end of this publication indicate, and this certainly shows its importance in Bonaventurian studies."

"Thanks also to this text," he added, "the research has been able to advance and some conclusions have been outdated, both because of the progress in the research and because currently we can benefit from many more critical works than those used by Ratzinger in 1957."

Then and now

Regarding the role of Father Ratzinger's thesis in Benedict XVI's pontificate, Father Messa said, "There are many elements in this study that could have a correspondence in the magisterium of the Pontiff," such as the centrality of Christ, supported by St. Bonaventure and fully present in the papal magisterium.

The priest referred further to words from well known Dominican theologian Father Yves Congar.

"Beginning from this study and the issue of the relationship between the local Churches and the universal Church, which played such a big role in postconciliar ecclesial debate, and of which one of the protagonists was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Father Congar wrote: 'Joseph Ratzinger, who has noted, we believe justly, some differences between Bonaventure and Thomas, gives a lot of importance to the role that the pope plays in Bonaventurian mysticism due to the Franciscan influence.'"

Taking that into account, Father Messa affirmed: "The question of if and in what way this Franciscan aspect characterizes his conception and exercise of the papacy is more than legitimate.

"Reading some of his writings and speeches, the hypothesis of a 'yes' answer is reinforced. Thus it is not surprising, rather it is fully understandable, that according to Benedict XVI, in order to understand the Petrine ministry, one has to return to St. Francis."


Catholic Biblical Scholarship

By Peter D. Brown

Benedict XVI has never wavered in his belief that the Bible itself is fundamentally one with the living tradition of the Church.

What can be done to improve Catholic biblical scholarship? Benedict is keenly aware that there is no easy answer to this question. Beginning with the encyclical Providentissimus Deus in 1893 and culminating with the landmark Pius XII encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943 the Church has in principle embraced and indeed enthusiastically encouraged modern biblical research. But this embrace paradoxically has always had aspects of awkwardness and unease. The openness to modernity was based on the desire to penetrate more deeply into the riches of Scripture while maintaining and fostering the treasures already possessed by the Church as seen in the traditional reading of the Bible. In many ways, the struggle over the correct approach to biblical interpretation is emblematic of the Church’s attitude to the modern world in general: very welcoming of what is good but very suspicious of that which undermines the Church and her mission. Achieving the right balance between world openness on the one hand and discernment of spirits on the other has been the central challenge of the Church in the modern age. The Church cannot turn back the clock with regard to the Enlightenment and modern thought but she must at the same time hold fast to the Tradition that she has been entrusted with handing down. This tightrope act between wholesale embrace of modernity on one extreme and the wholesale rejection of contemporary scholarship on the other has been an endeavor most difficult to maintain.

Benedict, before his elevation to the papacy, had in fact written and commented extensively on the relationship between the Church and biblical exegesis. He is clearly not entirely happy with the state of Catholic biblical scholarship. His views taken as a whole however seem to reflect his nuanced approach to the modern age generally and are thus not easily typecast as either “conservative” or “liberal.” According to Benedict, to understand Catholic biblical scholarship and its sometimes-strained relationship with the Magisterium in the current age, it is necessary to go back to about the dawn of the twentieth century. The Bible was under heavy attack in those days at the hands of European scholars, particularly in Germany. Their methods on any number of grounds had the effect of calling into question nearly everything the Bible affirmed. Their criticisms were highly sophisticated by the standards of their day. The critics were well schooled in the biblical languages and profoundly familiar with the biblical text and used this knowledge fundamentally to deconstruct the canon of Scripture by relativizing its message. Instead of the Bible of the people of God, the one of Divine origin and witnessing to eternal truths, they endeavored to show that the Bible actually represented a series of evolving human–based theological ideologies. These theologies, far from representing immutable truths about God, were in fact oriented to sociological or political goals that furthered the temporal interests of the theologians themselves. The priests, for instance, would write biblical literature that would promote sacrifice, liturgy, Temple worship, and whatever else advanced their religious agenda. Other religious factions would promote Israel’s kingly traditions and write texts that provided the pretext for the Davidic dynasty anointed by God and predestined to rule the world without end under a future Messianic figure. As one might expect, these scholars thought very little of Hebrew traditions and saw in the New Testament (at least in the earliest historical strata of Paul) an attempt to purge the Jewish religion of its outdated ceremonial practices and anachronistic worldview. The “New Testament religion” for them was in essence a commitment to personal moral excellence apart from interference from priests, liturgies and ceremonial rigmarole. Only later, with the emergence of the Church was the pure Gospel once again “corrupted” with new variations on the same old hidebound rituals (such as sacraments) and new religious authorities (like priests and bishops) to impose burdens on the people with the effect of preserving themselves in power. The rise of “early Catholicism” coincided with the decline of the primitive kerygma. It is not difficult to see that this scholarship was heavily jaundiced both with anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism as well as a kind of warmed over Lutheranism (i.e., the “real” gospel is a rejection of Jewish “works of the Law” — and by implication a rejection of the Catholic hierarchy, liturgy and sacraments as well.) But unlike Lutheranism, there was little sense of transcendent truth that is an essential part of any authentic Christian worldview. Many of the first generations of “higher critics” labored under two key assumptions. The first was that all truth claims were made to advance the interest of the person making the claim (Nietzcheanism); the claim to possess truth was essentially a will to power. The second was that ultimate truth itself was just an eschatological ideal to which evolving truth claims and counter claims constantly strived through history to attain (Hegelianism).

Given this, it is not too difficult to see why at the dawn of the twentieth century the Magisterium and the newly formed Pontifical Biblical Commission utterly closed the door to much higher criticism, believing its philosophical and theological presuppositions to be utterly incompatible with Church teaching. This attitude on the part of the Magisterium toward modern biblical criticism, which prevented Catholic scholars from pursuing whole lines of academic inquiry, mostly characterized the Scripture scholarship for the first half of the twentieth century in the Catholic Church. The fact that the Magisterium ran an unusually tight ship in this time period had several effects on the scholars’ attitude to Church authority. Rather than seeing the Church’s teaching office as an aid to fruitful scholarly inquiry, they came to see the Church as an intrusive pest, which had gone far beyond its mandate of teaching on faith and morals. The Church had issued numerous binding rulings on purely historical questions like the dates of composition of biblical books, the identity of the authors, and whether the authors used other sources in writing the work. Catholic scholars looked longingly to their Protestant and secular counterparts who seemed to have much greater freedom in nearly every respect. Catholics felt, not unjustifiably, that their scholarship was not being taken seriously since it could not directly engage in the scholarly conversation that seemed to exist everywhere but in the Catholic Church. Catholic exegetes, much like physicists being forbidden to explore Einsteinian relativity, felt artificially chained to the past. Beyond this, there were a number of exegetes who, in testing the limits of Pontifical Biblical Commission rulings, were stripped of their teaching posts. Benedict recounted this with some sense of regret in his 2003 address to the biblical commission. [1]

The irony of all this was that “high criticism” was causing shockwaves in the Protestant world, since believing Protestants after all were committed to the authority of Scripture as well as its historicity. Both had been greatly undermined by early uses of historical criticism. Particularly difficult to deal with was the sudden popularity of a German pastor and brilliant biblical scholar named Rudolph Bultmann. Though he was undoubtedly influenced by the rationalism of the German biblical guild, which I have summarized above, he did not proceed from a desire to destroy the Bible’s credibility. On the contrary, his goal was to make the real truth of the Bible accessible to modern man, for whom miracles and other supernatural occurrences were a stumbling block. In other words, Bultmann wanted to adapt the gospel message to people who doubted the supernatural order and just needed the transforming power of the kerygma itself. The original gospel message was Pauline and it emphasized deep personal and existential transformation with little interest in historical facts about Jesus. The crucifixion and the resurrection were all that mattered to Paul and the latter need not have been an historical event itself. The truth of Paul was that faith in the resurrection was all that mattered and not the fact of the resurrection itself. Paul’s mystical experience on the road to Damascus illustrated how the transforming power of the kerygma could be received apart from any concern with the actual event of the resurrection. In the early Church, Bultmann was fond of saying, Jesus need not so much have risen from the dead as that he ”rose into preaching.” [2] The gospel stories were nearly wholly legendary accounts of Jesus that the Church had adopted only later ultimately because the evangelists could never quite break from their Jewish obsession with historical narrative. Bultmann never supposed that form criticism could peel back the various layers of “legendary” material in the gospels and extract the historical core. The legend for Bultmann was an essential part of the gospel stories that could not be removed. His idea of “demythologization” did not call for removing myth from the story — this would presuppose that authentic historical information about Jesus was actually recoverable and this view Bultmann all but rejected. He wanted not to remove myth but to reinterpret it existentially and thus refashion it to meet the needs of his audience — much as the gospel writers themselves had allegedly transformed the primitive ahistorical kerygma of Paul into purported events of history for their own pastoral needs. Nonetheless, Bultmann assumed a great deal of creativity on the part of the gospel writers — a creativity, which for various motives was used to shape the “historical Jesus” into the “Jesus of faith.” Naturally, this approach assumed that large portions of the Bible were in fact little more than the accumulated theological imagination of the early Church. This insinuation did not sit well with much of the believing Protestant world, even to the part reared on the concept of “faith alone.” “Faith alone” in Bultmann’s sense was “faith alone” irrespective of the historical events upon which “faith” was ostensibly based. Bultmann’s methodology signaled a wake up call for Protestant scholars who had flirted with modern approaches but wanted to maintain some connection to confessional Christianity. Demythologization had brought to a head the problem of history for Christian believers. Could the message of the gospel in and of itself have power to save if the message was completely independent of things that actually happened? Could Christianity remain in any sense Christian and completely capitulate to the historical challenge of the Enlightenment by setting the gospel permanently adrift from its historical moorings? The ensuing confusion in the scholarly milieu moved many to a biblical fundamentalism defined by a thoroughgoing rejection of all modern exegetical science. Still others lost their faith entirely. But more than a few scholars realized that the new scholarship could only really be controverted on scholarly grounds. After all, they did not have a Magisterium to silence Bultmann. The only real way to defend the basic biblical narrative in academic circles was to master the modern scholarly methods and use them to point out the many historical and philosophical flaws in Bultmann’s “demythologization” methodology. His a priori rejection of the supernatural was neither “scientific” nor “rational,” by his own standards and his view that the early Church was uninterested in the historical Jesus could not adequately explain how the stories about Jesus originated in the first place.

About this time, Pius XII released his landmark 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu that was by all accounts the “magna carta” for modern Catholic biblical scholarship. With the overall goal of defending the Bible’s basic reliability and historical character, as well as deepening the Church’s biblical knowledge, the pope allowed for the first time scholars to subject the biblical text to literary criticism as well as what he termed the “historical method,” which certainly included historical criticism. Catholic scholars were permitted to reinvestigate questions of authorship, datings of biblical books and sources used by authors—all with the goal of defending the Bible and more deeply penetrating into its mysteries. The Pope obviously had no desire to open the floodgates of hypercritical rationalism or introduce the “demythologization” of Bultmann into Catholic exegesis—his desire was quite the opposite. It is debated even today how far the Pope really wished to go in opening the door to contemporary biblical science. But it is indisputable that by the 1940s Rome’s attitude was changing. Far from the mostly defensive posture of early Magisterial statements, there was a conviction on the part of Pius XII that the Church in the long run had nothing to fear from the many historical challenges to the Bible. There was an implicit confidence that modern scholarly methods if neutrally applied would ultimately vindicate the Bible’s many truth claims and above all the historical accuracy of its portrait of Jesus.

Nonetheless, there were many bumps along the road into modernity for Catholic exegesis. Catholic scholars, like Father Raymond Brown, who came of age after Divino struggled to carve a niche for themselves. On the one hand, they had no desire to embrace the more corrosive criticism which had already worked its way through the Protestant world and indeed Brown did much to keep the more extreme “demythologization” out of Catholic scholarship. They knew that this was not what Pius XII had in mind, and Brown, contrary to what many think, did labor to remain faithful to Church teachings—at least as he understood them. He was always very careful never directly to challenge the Church on any point of defined dogma. On the other hand, though the scholars were Catholic and indeed because they were Catholic, they did not want to be seen as simply carrying water for the Magisterium. This image of the Catholic scholar hampered in his pursuit of the truth by backward, reactionary Church officials was one that had to be shaken if Catholic scholarship could ever gain respectability. No one would take their exegesis seriously if they were seen to be just uncritically repeating past dogmas or recycling the mantras of fathers and doctors. Brown labored above all to be “objective” while still being Catholic, though like most modern scholars his methods always seemed to suppose a tension if not a dualism between loyalty to the Church and the practice of historical criticism.

Moreover, Brown undoubtedly picked up a degree of bitterness from Catholic scholars of the previous generation. The older scholars were happy with their new found academic freedom and the ultimate vindication of modern scholarly methods but they undoubtedly were angry that Divino was so late in coming and that many of their productive years had been lost. Brown, and other scholars of his generation, were conditioned to see the freedom to use critical methods as hard fought gains which should never be surrendered to more conservative, obscurantist elements in the Church who naively advocated turning back the clock to a more “pre-critical” era. Like most of his generation, Brown also came to believe that biblical fundamentalism was a far greater threat to Catholic biblical studies than the abuses of historical criticism. There is no doubt that in the course of their struggle for independence and respectability of peers many scholars of Brown’s generation and the one after were a bit more apt to cling to critical theories than perhaps they otherwise would have been inclined to. For them it was the season to establish and defend the legitimacy of critical methods in the Church, and not the season to confront that method’s many shortcomings. Catholic scholars had something to prove and they quickly set about trying to prove it. If they occasionally took issue with the interpretive tradition of their own Church, at least they would never be accused of fudging matters so that their own private theology took precedence over the critical meaning of the biblical text. Brown himself labored for objectivity too because he taught most of his career at a non-Catholic institution and was heavily involved in the post-Vatican II ecumenical outreach. In no way should one question his sincerity, but it is difficult to avoid the impression that personal motivations and professional considerations were partially at work in the way he approached the biblical text.

Even today many ask what good has come from “higher level criticism.” Another way of asking this question is “has Pius XII’s vision for Catholic biblical studies been realized?” or was it a colossal mistake to allow critical methods to gain preeminence in the Church? Many people would look at historical criticism and wonder whether anything has been learned by the new techniques. A person could not be faulted for believing that “historical criticism” as it has been practiced has only served to cast doubt over many biblical teachings that were once accepted without difficulty. Benedict himself has often spoken critically of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” which seems to corrode the modern approach to biblical text. But, for Benedict, returning to a “pre-critical” era in which the knowledge gained over the past two centuries is discarded is simply not an option for Catholic biblical studies. [3] To run from history and historical questions is ultimately to run from the incarnate nature of God’s word — a maneuver no less repugnant to faith than denying the humanity of Jesus. The very humanity of Scripture is the sole means to attain to its divinity and yet it is just this humanity that makes possible the useful employment of modern scholarly tools — inasmuch as the same tools have been used to penetrate the depths of other ancient literature. Moreover, one cannot effectively address Jesus to the contemporary age if one ignores the fact that modern man does indeed dare to ask if Jesus really was the sort of person that the gospels make him out to be. And no one with even a casual exposure to popular literature, movies and cable TV shows can deny that the Jesus of the Bible is only one of many available for public consumption. The fact that the Church for the first seventeen centuries flourished without facing these sorts of historical challenges does not mean that they can be avoided now. [4]

In truth, the situation in Catholic biblical scholarship is a bit better than it was a generation ago. After years of throwing every possible skepticism at the Gospel stories, most scholars today no longer doubt the basic historical character of a good portion of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ many miracles, or the gospel accounts of his passion. Even the Resurrection, formerly relegated to mystical subjectivism, is frequently treated to be in some sense “historical,” so as to account for the historical fact of the early Church’s faith. Few believe that the basic portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels is a total fabrication of the New Testament writers and the early Church. The much-publicized Jesus Seminar, once darling of the media, does not represent most Catholic New Testament scholarship. The very fact that the more revisionist reconstructions of Jesus must resort to hypothetical reconstructions of non-canonical texts (e.g. Q and the gospel of Thomas) is a tacit concession to one striking fact: the synoptic gospels, even when read critically, vindicate the traditional portrait of Jesus at least in its broad contours. The Bultmannian flight from history is seen today as quite passé and unnecessary.

Still the reflexive liberalism in Catholic biblical studies persists in many quarters. As critical methods are clung to as hard fought gains, more than a few have suspected that Catholic exegesis suffers from an identity crisis. [5] The Catholic guild has indeed seen the vindication of modern methods of biblical interpretation developed mostly by Protestants but at great cost. The virtual declaration of independence from the Magisterium in the 1960s by Catholic scholars has resulted in reams of scholarship unhelpful to the Church, whatever its merits otherwise. The struggle since that time has been to use modern tools in a manner that shores up rather than undermines the later tradition of the Church. What has long been needed is an exegesis that combines the best of the ancient and modern approaches while fully aware of the shortcomings of each—an approach that is post-critical not pre-critical.

Benedict’s own corpus and comments on biblical interpretation suggest definite ideas as to how modern approaches to the Bible can be successfully integrated into “faith’s hermeneutic.” [6] Indeed the importance of reconciling academic exegesis with its ecclesiastical counterpart has been a salient theme of his writings on scripture since at least Vatican II. Benedict surprisingly does not think that Catholic scholars’ problem is that they are too critical. On the contrary, they are insufficiently critical of limitations inherent in their own methods. [7] Take for instance modern scholarship’s assumption that the Bible can only be “objectively” interpreted apart from the Church’s life and tradition. As a matter of historical fact however there would be no Bible to interpret at all apart from a Church to receive it, believe it, and center its liturgical worship around it and the divine events it describes. A biblical criticism that does not recognize the inextricable historical unity of Bible and Church adopts a fundamentally unscientific and unhistorical posture toward revelation. [8] The word of God’s natural home is in the midst of the people of God, especially at worship. The limitations are as severe in studying the Bible outside the Church as they are in studying a species of trout outside its native pond. A biblical science that does not realize this in a self-critical way is inherently limited in its approach to sacred text. [9]

An objective posture toward interpreting the Bible, Benedict reminds us, does not entail approaching the text without prejudices but rather approaching it with the correct prejudices — prejudices that befit the objective nature of the thing being studied. Catholic exegetes must be at least methodologically open to the possibility that God can indeed intervene in history and bring about events which do indeed carry the meaning with which he vests them. They should at least admit the possibility that such events can in principle occur which have no exact precedent in history and cannot therefore be compressed into existing categories of human thought and experience. In other words, not every supernatural occurrence can be treated in purely worldly terms. [10] This can be true while at the same time one recognizes that the human words of scripture as well as the faith of the Church can be a true source of knowledge about events of the past. Not all knowledge of the past can be derived or authenticated from historical science. An historical criticism that at least does not rule out these possibilities a priori will be of tremendous benefit to the people of God.

But we must also stop to absorb the shockwaves of explosive statements of Benedict’s like this one: “the normative theologians of the Church are the authors of Sacred Scripture.” [11] This is a view that would revolutionize Catholic theology if even a fraction of its impact were ever felt. In truth, the Church has never so much denied this. The Church fathers themselves seem to have coined the term “theologian” to describe none other than John the Evangelist, the author of the “spiritual gospel.” But an honest look at the tradition would suggest that in practice the “normative theologians” of the Church might be more apt descriptions of St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas than men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul. The biblical writers were the purveyors of the raw data of revelation by which one could construct a theology to address practical or speculative questions of later ages. The traditional exegesis of the New Testament emphasized tapping the text for divine meaning. This was good as far as it went for the fathers and doctors were very effective in most cases in deriving or demonstrating doctrine right from the inspired words of Scripture. The only disadvantage of this was that they sometimes treated the narrative itself as an egg to be cracked through to obtain the nutritious yolk of God’s word. The importance of the egg itself was often missed. Often they did not read Luke as Luke or Paul as Paul but were interested mainly in the bottom line of truth apart from identification of truth with the author and his historical situation. Both the Church fathers and the scholastics tended to take isolated affirmations of Scripture and quickly press them into theological service sometimes quite apart from the literary context or the intentions of the original authors. Moreover historical questions about the sources used by biblical writers and their particular literary style in conveying truth were usually not even asked. The unsystematic character (real or imagined) of patristic and medieval exegesis has made it most difficult to incorporate the insights of the ancients into the modern discussion, even when there has been a desire to do so. [12]

But in treating the biblical authors as “normative theologians” Benedict resembles not a sola Scriptura Protestant so much as a prima Scriptura Catholic. Indeed, it is an implicit embrace of the historical critical approach to biblical text, when this method is neutrally applied. Perhaps the biggest gain of modern scholarship is the realization that the gospel writers were not artless chroniclers of facts but inspired theological commentators on the Christ event. And asserting the theological content of the gospels need not be done at the expense of their basic historical character. This was one of many false dichotomies presupposed by the first waves of critical scholars. There is no reason in principle why gospel narratives cannot be both theological and historical. N.T. Wright speaks for a generation of conservative yet critical Protestant scholars in affirming that the gospels are “more than history and biography but not less.”

But reckoning with the reality that the gospel writers shaped their material with motivations other than purely historical or doctrinal offers much untapped potential. Good use of source criticism can help us see not only the pieces but occasionally gain a glimpse of the whole glorious puzzle as well. Luke for instance, is not giving us merely a “blow by blow” factual account of Jesus’ life and times but is in fact telling the story in such a way that he is deliberately invoking themes of the Book of Isaiah. Indeed, Luke-Acts is in fact a highly stylized, carefully compiled commentary on Jesus, wherein the use of Isaianic citations and allusions is meant to drive home the reality that the exodus and restoration of Israel that the prophet described are being fulfilled in the Church in the first century. [13] There is further evidence that Luke wishes us to connect the imminence of Christ’s kingdom with Eucharistic table fellowship and indeed that Luke sees the kingdom of God as in some sense Eucharistic. [14]

Paul’s writings too shine in dazzling new light when viewed in the apostle’s own historical context. Paul emerges as more the one profoundly interested in harmony between Jew and Gentile in the Christian Church — the harmony to which emphasis on circumcision posed a threat — and less the crusader against some proto-Pelagian brand of works-righteousness. It seems increasingly likely that the center of his theology was ecclesiological and not soteriological — a modern critical insight which if true holds tremendous promise for recovering a fully Catholic Paul that historically minded Protestants can accept! And this Paul can be affirmed without sacrificing the crucial later insights of St. Augustine on grace, election and original sin. [15]

It is clear that good use of biblical criticism holds great promise not only for theology but for preaching and ministering to the Word as well. But Catholic homilists often are unable to make skillful use of the best of modern scholarship in unpacking the riches of God’s word. This is because the visions of Pius XII and Benedict XVI for Catholic biblical studies ironically have been realized more in conservative evangelical circles than in Catholic ones. A Protestant groomed in nearly any confessional tradition will naturally gravitate to the biblical authors as normative theologians and will tend immediately to appreciate the doctrinal, pastoral and homiletic applications of his work. But in Catholic circles both in the U.S. and Europe it must be candidly admitted that exegesis is usually practiced far more as a technical philological and literary discipline than a theological one. Early historical critics like Raymond Brown did advance some biblical theology but often in a way that pointed out holes below the water line in the bark of patristic and scholastic theology while doing little to suggest how the leaky hull might be patched up. Because of the mutual mistrust and the fragmentation in the academy, Catholic exegesis has tended to pay only passing attention to Catholic theology, while Catholic theology often makes precious little use of the results of biblical scholars. Because of the compartmentalization, very few contemporary theologians wade comfortably both in fields of scripture and systematic theology. Scripture as “the soul of sacred theology” remains a future hope rather than a present reality.

But there is every reason to be optimistic for the future of Catholic biblical scholarship. Benedict has never wavered in his belief that the Bible itself is fundamentally one with the living tradition of the Church — both in her later theology and her worship in the liturgy. This oneness is an ontological fact rooted in the incarnation of Christ and an historical fact rooted in the very nature of revelation. It is, in short, not merely one of a chorus of scholarly hypotheses. Benedict is quite aware that it will take some time for scholarship to catch up so to speak with “faith’s hermeneutic.” When this takes place the Church will have shown thather interpretive traditions are not only the oldest and the most venerable but also the only ones that can survive a thoroughgoing critical scrutiny. Catholic readings of Scripture will be at once most in keeping with true Christian teaching and living but also the most academically respectable. When this occurs, the Church will have put to rest the historical challenge to the veracity of the Holy Scriptures and will have enriched her knowledge of the Bible immeasurably. Benedict’s corpus suggests many philosophical and exegetical avenues for how this might ultimately be done. As the ideas of Benedict begin to make their mark on the Church, we may well be on the cusp of a golden age in Catholic biblical study.


1 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Relationship between Magisterium and Exegetes,” Address to Pontifical Biblical Commission in L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English (July 23, 2003) 8.

2 R. Bultmann, “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus,” in C.E. Braaten and R. Harrisville, The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ (New York: Abingdon, 1964) 15-42.

3 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on the Bible and the Church ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 114.

4 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis 133 “We can only give the Gospel to our age if we have an answer to the fundamental ideas of our time.”

5 L.T Johnson, “So What’s Catholic about it?” in Commonweal January 16, 1998.

6 J Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, (San Francisco: Ignatius 1987) 44-45.

7 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, 6- 16.

8 Brown for his part would wholeheartedly agree with this critique. See Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, 123. But in evaluating his own magisterial work Introduction to the New Testament at least one of his peers found its ecclesial sense lacking. It was a good as historical critical treatment but offered little in the way of contemporary pastoral and theological applications of Biblical text. See The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, 146.

9 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, 129 see also J. Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology. (San Francisco: Ignatius 2002) 45-50 for the dependence of all theology upon the Church.

10 Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, 17.

11 J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1987) 321. In truth, this is the premise of Benedict’s own approach as private theologian and not necessarily as the leading Church official. However, a study of his writings finds that he thinks that the primacy of Scripture is enshrined in Vatican II as well and thus normative for the Church.

12 L.T. Johnson, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2002). Use of the fathers and doctors seems no more a salient feature of Johnson’s own writings than the rest of Catholic exegesis however.

13 See for instance D. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, (Grand Rapids: Baker 2002).

14 S. Hahn, “Kingdom and Church in Luke Acts: From Davidic Christology to Kingdom Ecclesiology,” in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005).

15 For a popular survey of the New Perspective on Paul see N.T. Wright, What Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1997).


Mr. Peter Brown has degrees from Yale University and Franciscan University of Steubenville. Currently he works as a research intern at Catholics United for the Faith and is a freelance writer and lecturer on a wide variety of theological topics. He will soon be pursuing doctoral studies in Scripture and Biblical theology at Catholic University of America. He is married to Elizabeth who is active in post-abortion speaking and ministry. They live in Steubenville, Ohio. This is Mr. Brown’s first article for HPR.

 On Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by Joseph Ratzinger
Comments by George Weigel         Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Publication Date: November 20, 2006

On Monday evening, November 20, Pope Benedict XVI's newest book, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, was introduced at a conference at the United Nations co-sponsored by Ignatius Press, Edizioni Cantagalli, the Path to Peace Foundation, and the Sublacense Life and Family Foundation. Speakers included Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See Permanent Observer at the U.N.; Professor Marcello Pera, Senator of the Italian Republic; and EPPC Senior Fellow George Weigel, whose remarks follow:**

A close reading of Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures suggests that, several years before his now-famous lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI was distilling 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.

In the controversy immediately following the Regensburg lecture, 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, which is in a direct line of continuity with the book we are presenting tonight, was in fact addressed at least as much to the West as to Islam. Yes, the Pope warned 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 postmodern 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 synthesizes 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" [p. 27].

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 civilization, a disdain which has contributed in various ways to the decline of what was once the center 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..." [pp.30-31].

Proposition 3: The abandonment of Europe's Christian roots implies  the abandonment of the idea of "Europe" as a civilizational 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 misshaping) much of Western thought today -- a positivism that excludes all transcendent moral reference points from public life. Ratzinger asks whether such a positivism in 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..." [p.43].

And so, evidently, do civilizations.

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 civilization 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 civilizational 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" [ pp. 47, 49]

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 nonbelieving 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 " [pp. 50, 51-52].

In his fine introduction to Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Senator Marcello Pera 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 fetus 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" [pp. 18-19].

How might such decisions to live "as if God did indeed exist" effect the needed changes in the civilizational morale of the West -- and particularly the civilizational 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 defense, can be the agents of Europe's rebirth as a culturally self-confident civilization, capable of giving an account of its democratic political aspirations -- which is to say, a civilization willing to face squarely and respond imaginatively to the threat posed by the aggressive elements of the far different civilizational 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 civilization in the West and the crisis posed by jihadist ideology and its lethal expressions around the world can be engaged by believers and nonbelievers 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 civilization 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; and, if I may say, we are also blessed to have a companion on the journey such as Senator Pera, who can invite those who do not belong to the household of faith to the pilgrimage toward a more humane future proposed by Benedict XVI.


8 Keys to Reading Joseph Ratzinger's Work

Suggested by Archbishop Forte

ROME, JUNE 25, 2006 ( Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto recently presented eight keys for reading Joseph Ratzinger's theological work.

The archbishop, a member of the International Theological Commission, presented his ideas at the closing the first course of Specialization in Religious Information, organized by the University of the Holy Cross.

The prelate began his address June 17 by presenting, as the first key, an analysis of the historical and cultural context in which the theological work matured of the man who today is Benedict XVI.

After 1968, when the "age of utopia" and its vision of an essentially "useless" God came to the fore, Ratzinger's work began to develop its anti-ideological conviction, said Archbishop Forte, 56.

Moreover, after 1989, when the "age of disenchantment" and the idea of the "death" of God prevailed, Ratzinger's challenge was to "propose horizons of meaning, joy and hope," the Italian archbishop said.

During this period, Joseph Ratzinger elaborated the concept of "Deus caritas," which shows that the topic of his first encyclical was "long in maturing," observed Archbishop Forte.

The second key is the task Joseph Ratzinger assumed with his theology: "to give witness with the service of the intelligence to the Word amid the words of men," that is, "a 'diakonia' [service] to truth in the house of truth," namely, the Church.

In fact, "God is not found in solitude" but in a "community that remembers and narrates and which, at the same time, interprets the truth that has been transmitted to us," said Archbishop Forte.

Abandoning ourselves

The third key is the meaning of believing. Quoting Ratzinger himself, in his "Introduction to Christianity," Archbishop Forte said that to believe "means to give one's assent to that sense that we are not capable of building ourselves, but only to receive it as a gift, so that it is enough to accept him and abandon ourselves to him."

Illustrating the fourth key to the reading, the archbishop said that the God in whom one believes, can only be a personal god, God the Father, who is revealed in biblical history as the living God, that is, the God of Jesus Christ. An unknown God cannot be loved. Only a personal one can be loved, one who addresses us and who, at the same time, we can address.

In this context, the relationship between man and God must be characterized by the move from "dualism," which has opposed the human and the divine, faith and reason, in many periods of the modern spirit, to "meeting" and correspondence.

According to the fifth key of Ratzinger's thought, "the human and divine meet but are not confused in Jesus Christ," noted the prelate. God is not the answer to man's expectation, but is always superior; "he is the beyond who overtakes, disconcerts and troubles us."

The sixth key is the vision of the Church as the place where God dwells. "The Church must always live in docility to the Spirit and must be ready to acknowledge resistances to the Spirit," Archbishop Forte observed, indicating the importance of admitting faults of the past.


The seventh key, the vision of the beyond, eschatology, is a "dominant theme in Ratzinger's thought" and affects first of all the identity of the Christian: "a prisoner of the future of God," who must measure his decisions on the horizon of the infinite God, according to the archbishop.

In this connection, "the Christian lives in an anticipated and anticipating experience of the last things," through faith and the sacraments, but is also "critical reserve" because at times the Christian goes against the current.

The last stage illustrated by Archbishop Forte was the image that summarizes this theological work -- Mary -- synthesis of ecclesiology: "a concrete and personal icon in which the coordinates of Christian thought are expressed."

The archbishop concluded his address highlighting the differences between Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If Pope Karol Wojtyla was a personalist anthropologist, he said, then Pope Joseph Ratzinger is a theologian who is "almost a catechist," bearer of the possibility of the meeting of different traditions and cultures.

The course of Specialization in Religious Information took place March 3-June 16. During the course, professors of several pontifical universities and athenaeums of Rome alternated in addressing topics relative to religious information, to offer some keys to its reading in order to understand the Catholic Church better.


The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

An excerpt from God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald by Joseph Ratzinger

[Seewald:] We are used to thinking of suffering as something we try to avoid at all costs. And there is nothing that many societies get more angry about than the Christian idea that one should bear with pain, should endure suffering, should even sometimes give oneself up to it, in order thereby to overcome it. "Suffering", John Paul II believes, "is a part of the mystery of being human." Why is this?

[Cardinal Ratzinger:] Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love––this exodus, this going out of oneself-is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness.

Yet on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand it is so important to learn how to suffer––and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.

[Seewald:] What would actually have happened if Christ had not appeared and if he had not died on the tree of the Cross? Would the world long since have come to ruin without him?

[Cardinal Ratzinger:] That we cannot say. Yet we can say that man would have no access to God. He would then only be able to relate to God in occasional fragmentary attempts. And, in the end, he would not know who or what God actually is.

Something of the light of God shines through in the great religions of the world, of course, and yet they remain a matter of fragments and questions. But if the question about God finds no answer, if the road to him is blocked, if there is no forgiveness, which can only come with the authority of God himself, then human life is nothing but a meaningless experiment. Thus, God himself has parted the clouds at a certain point. He has turned on the light and has shown us the way that is the truth, that makes it possible for us to live and that is life itself. ...
[Seewald:] The soldiers abuse Jesus in a way we can hardly imagine. All hatred, everything bestial in man, utterly abysmal, the most horrible things men can do to one another, is obviously unloaded onto this man.

[Cardinal Ratzinger:] Jesus stands for all victims of brute force. In the twentieth century itself we have seen again how inventive human cruelty can be; how cruelty, in the act of destroying the image of man in others, dishonors and destroys that image in itself. The fact that the Son of God took all this upon himself in exemplary manner, as the "Lamb of God", is bound to make us shudder at the cruelty of man, on one hand, and make us think carefully about ourselves, how far we are willing to stand by as cowardly or silent onlookers, or how far we share responsibility ourselves. On the other side, it is bound to transform us and to make us rejoice in God. He has put himself on the side of the innocent and the suffering and would like to see us standing there too.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

A widely acclaimed theologian and author, he has written many important books on theological and spiritual themes. Ignatius Press has published twenty of his books in English. His most recent Ignatius Press book is Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, a masterful study of the challenge of truth, tolerance, religion and culture in the modern world.

Joseph Ratzinger's Primer on Ecclesiology
Interview With Ave Maria University's Father Matthew Lamb

NAPLES, Florida, JUNE 23, 2005 ( When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger released his book "Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today," he called it a primer of Catholic ecclesiology.

In it, the future Benedict XVI outlined the origin and essence of the Church, the role of the papacy and the primacy of Peter, and the Body of Christ's unity and "communio."

Father Matthew Lamb, director of the graduate school of theology and professor of theology at Ave Maria University, shared an overview of some of those themes as they appear in Cardinal Ratzinger's book.

Q: What is Cardinal Ratzinger's understanding of the origin and essence of the Church, as outlined in his book?

Father Lamb: Reading "Called to Communion" is a feast for mind and heart.

At the time of its release, Cardinal Ratzinger called it a "primer of Catholic ecclesiology." As with his other theological writings, this book beautifully recovers for our time the great Catholic tradition of wisdom, of attunement to the "whole" of the Triune God's creative and redemptive presence.

"Catholic" means living out of the "whole" of this divine presence. Such a sapiential approach shows how the New Covenant draws upon and fulfills the covenant with Israel. Israel was chosen and led out of Egypt in order to worship the true and only God and thus witness to all the nations.

In his preaching, teaching and actions, Jesus Christ fulfilled the messianic promises. At the last supper Our Lord initiated the New Covenant in his most sacred body and blood. Ratzinger wrote in "Called to Communion": "Jesus announces the collapse of the old ritual and … promises a new, higher worship whose center will be his own glorified body."

Jesus announces the eternal Kingdom of God as "the present action of God" in his own divine person incarnate. As the Father sends Jesus Christ, so Jesus in turn sends his apostles and disciples.

The origin of the Church is Jesus Christ who sends the Church forth as the Father sent him. The Apostles and disciples, with their successors down the ages, form the Church as the "ecclesia," the gathering of the "people of God."

Drawing upon his own doctoral dissertation on the Church in the theology of St. Augustine, Ratzinger shows that the people of God are what St. Paul calls the "body of Christ." The essence of the Church is the people of God as the Body of Christ, head and members united by the Holy Spirit in visible communion with the successors of the Apostles, united with the Pope as successor to Peter.

The Church continues down the ages the visible and invisible missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit through preaching and teaching, the sanctifying sacraments and the unifying governance of her communion with the successor of Peter.

Q: In "Called to Communion," what were his thoughts on the role of the Pope in the Church?

Father Lamb: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church … I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." In Matthew 16:17-19, these true words of the Lord Jesus transcend confessional polemics. From them Ratzinger brings out the role of the Pope.

Reflecting on the commission given to Peter he sees that he is commissioned to forgive sins. As he writes in "Called to Communion," it is a commission to dispense "the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is the personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon."

Q: What did Cardinal Ratzinger note about the primacy of Peter and the unity of the Church?

Father Lamb: He first shows the mission of Peter in the whole of the New Testament tradition. The essence of apostleship is witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus. Ratzinger shows the primacy of Peter in this role, as attested by St. Paul who, even when confronting St. Peter, acknowledges him in First Corinthians 15:5 as "Cephas" -- the Aramaic word for "rock" -- in his witness to the risen Lord.

As such he is the guarantor of the one common Gospel. All the synoptic Gospels agree in giving Peter the primacy in their lists of apostles. The mission of Peter is above all to embody the unity of the apostles in their witness to the risen Lord and the mission he entrusted to them.

As Ratzinger states in "Called to Communion," later the sees or bishoprics identified with apostles become pre-eminent and, as Irenaeus testifies in the second century, these sees are to acknowledge the decisive criterion exercised by "the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom. It was with this Church that every community had to agree; Rome was the standard of the authentic apostolic tradition as a whole."

Q: How does the papacy facilitate communion or "communio" in the Church?

Father Lamb: The papacy facilitates "communio" precisely by witnessing to the transcendent reality of the risen Lord. This was evident in the first successors to Peter. Like him, they witnessed to the commission Peter received -- many early popes were martyred.

The keys of the Kingdom are the words of forgiveness only God can truly empower. The papacy promotes communion by fidelity to the truth of the gospel and the redemptive sacramental mission of forgiveness. In "Called to Communion" Ratzinger writes: "By his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease."

Later Ratzinger returns to this theme of the need of the apostles and their successors for forgiveness as they are given a mission only the Triune God could fulfill.

His words in "Called to Communion," then, find a echo after he was elected Benedict XVI: "The men in question" -- the apostles -- "are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function" -- of being rock solid in their faith and practice -- "that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them."

Only through such forgiveness in total fidelity to Jesus Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will full communion in the Body of Christ come about. Ratzinger's "Eucharistic ecclesiology" follows the Fathers of Church in uniting the vertical dimension of the risen body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist with the horizontal dimension of the gathering of the followers of Christ.

"The Fathers summed up these two aspects -- Eucharist and gathering -- in the word 'communio,' which is once more returning to favor today," Ratzinger wrote.

Q: In his first statement, Pope Benedict said he wanted to pursue the commitment to enact the Second Vatican Council. What does that mean?

Father Lamb: It means that he is fully committed to follow his predecessors in enacting the teachings of Vatican II. He sees the Council as a "compass" with which to embark on the third millennium of Catholicism. We do not need another Council -- the Church is still drawing upon the riches of Vatican II.

He also indicates how this enactment is truly "Catholic," or according to the "whole." For such an enacting can only occur "in faithful continuity with the two- thousand-year tradition of the Church." Only in communion with the whole Church as the body of Christ down the ages "do we encounter the real Christ."

Cardinal Ratzinger vigorously counteracted those theologians and others who misread Vatican II as a break from the Church's past. Unable to ground such misreading in the texts of the Council itself, they often resorted to such terms as the "spirit" or "style" of the Council. The Pope pledges that he will follow his predecessors in promoting the genuine renewal of the Council within the whole of the Catholic tradition.

Q: In the same statement, Pope Benedict struck a cord of collegiality. What is his understanding of the papacy and the role collegiality plays in it?

Father Lamb: The relation between the pope and the college of bishops is the continuation of the primacy of Peter among the Twelve Apostles.

As he stated: "As Peter and the other apostles were, through the will of the Lord, one apostolic college, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the apostles -- and the Council forcefully repeated this -- must be closely united among themselves."

This unity and collegiality is, as the Pope remarks, "concerned solely with proclaiming to the world the living presence of Christ." This first statement of the Holy Father illustrates how his theology is born from his own profound friendship with Jesus Christ in his total dedication to the mission Jesus entrusted to his Church.

Q: What did Cardinal Ratzinger outline as the nature of bishop and priest in his book "Called to Communion"?

Father Lamb: The Eucharist and the other sacraments are not something any human person by his own powers can do truthfully. The Word Incarnate in Christ Jesus is the only one who can truthfully speak "This is my body" or "Your sins are forgiven." Only because Jesus sent forth his apostles as he was sent by the Father do we have a Church with her sacraments.

The Church as Eucharistic can only be found in communion with the bishops as successors of the apostles. Gathered around the altar, the Church is Eucharist. It is always both local and universal, just as it unites the vertical and horizontal.

Cardinal Ratzinger has emphasized that the universality of the Church was present in Jesus Christ as the Word Incarnate. The Church is Eucharist -- each local community celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is taken up within the whole Christ embracing all of the faithful throughout all time. At Mass we invoke the heavenly hosts as well as Our Lady and all the saints, as well as praying for the dead.

No local community on its own can give itself a bishop, any more than it is simply a celebration of itself cut off from the whole Catholic Church. The consecration of bishops make evident how they are in communion with the successor of Peter and receive their mission from the Lord himself mediated down the ages in communion with the apostles themselves who were called by Jesus.

Benedict XVI referred to this in his beautiful first statement as Pope reflecting on his being called to be a successor of Peter: "We have been thinking in these hours about what happened in Caesarea of Philippi 2000 year ago: 'You are Christ the Son of the living God,' and the solemn affirmation of the Lord: 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church … I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.'"

Like the Holy Father, each bishop is entrusted with the mission of fostering the unity and the catholicity of the Church entrusted to his care. Without unity, as Ratzinger observes, there would be no true holiness, for this demands the gifted love that is the bond of unity.

The bishop must cultivate an ever-deepening union with Christ -- like the apostles he must be "Christ's contemporary" -- for otherwise he would only be an ecclesiastical functionary.

Similarly, ordained priests share in the mission of the bishops just as chosen disciples shared in the mission of the apostles. As genuine apostolic activity is not the product of their own capabilities, so it is with ordained bishops and priests.

It is Christ speaking and acting through them as his instruments when they teach true doctrine, celebrate the sacraments, and govern properly. They can call "nothing" their own. It is all Christ's presence and action, just as all he had is from the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Ratzinger sums this up well in "Called to Communion": "This is precisely what we mean when we call the ordination of priests a sacrament: ordination is not about the development of one's own powers and gifts. It is not the appointment of a man as a functionary because he is especially good at it, or because it suits him, or simply because it strikes him as a good way to earn his bread. …

"Sacrament means: I give what I myself cannot give; I do something that is not my work; I am on a mission and have become a bearer of that which another has committed to my charge."

As with the bishop, so the "foundation of priestly ministry is a deep personal bond to Jesus Christ."


Some of the Works written by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI

This list is by no means complete:

German editions

Werte in Zeiten des Umbruchs(En: 'Values in a Time of Changes'), Freiburg im Breisgau 2005, ISBN    3-451-05592-9
Unterwegs zu Jesus Christus (En: 'On the Way to Jesus Christ'), Augsburg 2003, ISBN 3-936-48421-X
Glaube - Wahrheit - Toleranz. Das Christentum und die Weltreligionen (En: 'Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions'), 2. Aufl., Freiburg i. Brsg. 2003, ISBN 3-451-28110-4
Gott ist uns nah. Eucharistie: Mitte des Lebens (En: 'God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life'). Hrsg. von Horn, Stephan Otto/ Pfnür, Vinzenz, Augsburg 2001.
Gott und die Welt. Glauben und Leben in unserer Welt. Ein Gespräch mit Peter Seewald (En: 'God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald'), Köln 2000.
Der Geist der Liturgie. Eine Einführung (En: 'The Spirit of the Liturgy'), 4. Aufl., Freiburg i. Brsg. 2000.
Vom Wiederauffinden der Mitte. Texte aus vier Jahrzehnten (En: 'Recovering the Centre. A Selection of the Writings of Four Decades'), Freiburg i. Brsg. 1997.
Salz der Erde. Christentum und katholische Kirche an der Jahrtausendwende. Ein Gespräch mit Peter Seewald (En: 'Salt of the Earth. Christianity and the Catholic Church at the Turn of the Millennium. A Conversation with Peter Seewald.'), Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München, 1996, ISBN 3-453-14845-2
Wahrheit, Werte, Macht. Prüfsteine der pluralistischen Gesellschaft (En: 'Truth, Values, Power: The Cornerstones of a Pluralistic Society'), Freiburg/ Basel/ Wien 1993.
Zur Gemeinschaft gerufen. Kirche heute verstehen (En: 'Called to Communion. Understanding the Church Today.'), Freiburg/ Basel/ Wien 1991.
Auf Christus schauen. Ein übung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe (En: 'To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love') Freiburg/ Basel/ Wien 1989.
Abbruch und Aufbruch. Die Antwort des Glaubens auf die Krise der Werte (En: 'Deconstruction and Awakening. The Answer of Faith to the Crisis of Values'), München 1988.
Kirche, Ökumene und Politik. Neue Versuche zur Ekklesiologie [Robert Spaemann zum 60. Geburtstag zugeeignet], (En: 'Church, Ecumen and Politics. New Endeavours in Ecclesiology' [dedicated to Robert Spaemann on his 60. birthday]) Einsiedeln 1987.
Politik und Erlösung. Zum Verhältnis von Glaube, Rationalität und Irrationalem in der sogenannten Theologie der Befreiung (= Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften: G (Geisteswissenschaften), Bd. 279) (En: 'Politics and Deliverance. On the Relations of Faith, Rationalism and the Irrational in so-called Liberation Theology'), Opladen 1986.
Theologische Prinzipienlehre. Bausteine zur Fundamentaltheologie (= Wewelbuch, Bd. 80) (En: 'Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology'), München 1982.
Das Fest des Glaubens. Versuche zur Theologie des Gottesdienstes (En: 'Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy'), 2. Aufl., Einsiedeln 1981.
Eschatologie, Tod und ewiges Leben (En: 'Eschatology, Death, and Eternal Life'), Leipzig 1981. See: Eschatology (book).
Glaube, Erneuerung, Hoffnung. Theologisches Nachdenken über die heutige Situation der Kirche. Hrsg. von Kraning, Willi (En: 'Faith, Renewal, Hope. Theological Contemplations on the Present Situation of the Church'), Leipzig 1981.
Umkehr zur Mitte. Meditationen eines Theologen (En: 'Turning back towards the Centre. A Theologian's Meditations'),Leipzig 1981.
Zum Begriff des Sakramentes (= Eichstätter Hochschulreden, Bd. 79) (En: On the Concept of the Sacrament'), München 1979.
Die Tochter Zion. Betrachtungen über den Marienglaube der Kirche (En: 'Daughter Zion. Contemplations on the Church's Worship of Mary'), Einsiedeln 1977.
Der Gott Jesu Christi. Betrachtungen über den Dreieinigen Gott (En: 'God of Jesus Christ.'), München 1976.
Das neue Volk Gottes. Entwürfe zur Ekklesiologie (Topos-Taschenbücher, Bd. 1) (En: 'God"s New People. Concepts for Ecclesiology') Düsseldorf 1972.
Die Einheit der Nationen. Eine Vision der Kirchenväter (En: 'The Unity of the Nations. A Vision of the Church Fathers'), Salzburg u.a. 1971.
Das Problem der Dogmengeschichte in der Sicht der katholischen Theologie (= Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Forschungen des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen: Geisteswissenschaften, Bd. 139) (En: 'The Problem of Dogmatism from the Point of View of Catholic Theology'), Köln u.a. 1966.
Die letzte Sitzungsperiode des Konzils (= Konzil, Bd. 4) (En: 'The Council's Last Session'), Köln 1966.
Ereignisse und Probleme der dritten Konzilsperiode (= Konzil, Bd. 3), (En: 'Events and Issues of the Third Session of the Council') Köln 1965.
Die erste Sitzungsperiode des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils. Ein Rückblick (= Konzil, Bd. 1) (En: 'The First Session of the Second Vatican Council. A Retrospective'), Köln 1963.
Das Konzil auf dem Weg. Rückblick auf die 2. Sitzungsperiode des 2. Vatikanischen Konzils (= Konzil, Bd. 2) (En: 'The Council in Progress. Retrospective of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Council'), Köln 1963.
Die christliche Brüderlichkeit (En: 'The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood'), München 1960.
Die Geschichtstheologie des heiligen Bonaventura (habilisasjonsavhandling) (En: 'The Historical Theology of Saint Bonaventura'), München u.a. 1959.
Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche (diss. 1951) (En: 'The People and Mansion of God as Presented in Augustin's Doctrine of the Church'), München 1954.
Dogma und Verkündigung (En: 'Dogma and Annunciation')
Einführung in das Christentum (En: 'Introduction to Christianity') (1968, 2000)

Chronological Bibliography (English editions)
(This list is not complete. It appears to begin only with 1978. There is no mention of "Introduction to Christianity".)

God of Jesus Christ (1978)
The Ratzinger Report ISBN 0-89870-080-9 (1985)
Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (1986)
Principles of Christian Morality (1986)
Journey Towards Easter: Retreat Given in the Vatican in the Presence of Pope John Paul II (1987)
Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (1987)
Eschatology - Death and Eternal Life, Volume 9 in the series: Johann Auer and Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, ISBN 0-8132-0633-2 (Washington, D.C. 1988)
Mary: God's Yes to Man : Pope John Paul II Encyclical Letter : Mother of the Redeemer (1988)
"In the Beginning...": A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (1990)
To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love (1991)
Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year (1992)
The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (1993)
A Turning Point for Europe?: The Church in the Modern World-Assessment and Forecast (1994)
The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today's Debates (1995)
Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (1996)
Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997)
Salt of the Earth: an interview with Peter Seewald ISBN 0-89870-640-8 (1997)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Corrigenda (1998)
Ad Tuendam Fidem - to Protect the Faith (1998)
Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (1998)
Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World (1999)
The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000)
God and the World: A Conversation With Peter Seewald (2002)
God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2003)
Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions (2004)
The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking about God (2005)
Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion (2005)

Italian editions
Europa: I suoi fondamenti oggi e domani (2004)


Papal Copyright Goes to Vatican Publishing House

Includes Writings of Benedict XVI and Joseph Ratzinger

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2005 ( The Vatican Publishing House henceforth will officially oversee the copyright of the writings of the Pope and the magisterial works of the Holy See.

The publishing house will also assume similar control over the books and documents written by Joseph Ratzinger, the Holy See announced today.

For his part, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, today issued a decree in which he entrusted the Vatican Publishing House with "the exercise and protection, in perpetuity and for the whole world, of all the moral rights of author and of all the exclusive rights to economic utilization, without any exception or exclusion, of all the acts and documents with which the Holy Father exercises his own magisterium."

In carrying out this commission, clarified the decree, the director of the Vatican Publishing House, at present Salesian Father Claudio Rossini, "acts in the name and interest of the Holy See," being able to take recourse even to courts in the case of violation of rights.

Moreover, Cardinal Sodano issued a statement saying that the "Holy Father has entrusted the Vatican Publishing House with the exercise and protection of the copyright and of all exclusive rights to economic utilization of the acts, works and writings written by him prior to his elevation to the Chair of Peter."

The statement adds that, "without prejudicing the rights acquired by third parties concerning contracts already concluded with the author, from now on the Vatican Publishing House is also entrusted with the exercise and protection of the copyright concerning contracts still in force."

55 books in German

In statements to ZENIT, Father Rossini explained that shortly after being elected Pope, John Paul II also entrusted to the Vatican Publishing House the rights to the works he wrote as Karol Wojtyla.

"The difference is that, with Cardinal Ratzinger, we are faced with a very large quantity of books," the priest said. "A publishing house in Germany told me that there are more or less 55 in German, while in Italian, scattered in bookstores, there are around 43 volumes."

According to the new decree and the new statement, whoever wishes to publish books or anthologies of Ratzinger's or Benedict XVI's texts will have to ask permission from the director of the Vatican Publishing House.

Father Rossini said that part of the royalties of Benedict XVI's and Ratzinger's works, as was the case with John Paul II, are allocated to charitable works.

The Vatican Publishing House can be contacted at


Cardinal Ratzinger's Last Book Unveiled
Work on Europe Penned Before His Papal Election

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 21, 2005 ( The last book by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, written before he was elected Pope, was presented in Rome.

"L'Europa de Benedetto nella Crisi delle Culture" (Benedict's Europe in the Crisis of Cultures) was presented today in the Wedekind Palace. On hand were Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian bishops' conference, and Marcello Pera, the president of the Italian Senate.

"Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner unknown by humanity until now, excludes God from the public conscience," states the book.

The 143-page volume, published by the Vatican Publishing House and the Italian Cantagalli Publishers, includes three lectures of Cardinal Ratzinger.

The lectures were given, respectively, in 1992, in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, when he received the School and Catholic Culture award; in 1997 when he addressed the Pro-Life Movement of Italy; and on April 1, 2005, on the eve of John Paul II's death, when speaking at the Benedictine convent of St. Scholastica in Subiaco.

The latter lecture he gave after being conferred the St. Benedict for Europe prize by the Life and Family Foundation of Subiaco.

Common thread

The three lectures have a common theme: the crisis of cultures and the figure of St. Benedict of Nursia.

When presenting the book, Cardinal Ruini said that "Christianity received in Europe its most effective cultural and intellectual _expression from the historical point of view."

Now, however, this link "is called into question and runs the risk of being split by the internal logic of rationality that seems to prevail in Europe: a scientific and functional rationality," Cardinal Ruini said.

In this context, "God does not exist or at least cannot be proved and, therefore, all reference to God must be excluded from public life," the prelate added.

"At the same time," he added, "the moral conscience is weakened as a valid category in itself: Given that morality is nonetheless indispensable to live, the latter no longer takes as reference what is good or evil in itself, but only takes into account the assessment of the consequences of our behavior, useful or harmful."

According to Cardinal Ruini, the present comparison takes place "between this merely scientific and functional rationality and the great historical cultures."

Thus one can explain the rejection of the Christian roots of the European Union.

"Such a rationality," the cardinal said, "pretends to be universal, namely, valid for all and self-sufficient, and as such excludes that Christianity can be in its turn a determinant element in the building of today's Europe."