Ratzinger to Benedict: A hermeneutic of continuity
Joseph Ratzinger’s life is often tracked by dividing it into discrete stages, notably the progressive of the Council, the reactionary of the post-conciliar era, and now the irenic pastor-pontiff of encyclicals like Deus Caritas Est etc. I tend to see more continuity than discontinuity (something he appreciates in himself), though with a distinct flowering of his inherent “Augustinian” pessimism (an overused phrase, but apt in Ratzinger’s case, I think) since the 1960s. Other factors in his darkening vision of life in the church and the world might include more personal rather than ideological or theological factors, such as his innate distaste for the messy-ness of modern life (or much of anything) and for modern culture. He also enjoys mixing it up with his foes, which may be part and parcel of his careers as a theologian and as an upwardly mobile churchman. Every once in a while the “old” Ratzinger emerges, and reveals in plain terms what remains his worldview–as for example he does in this fairly routine address on vocations that he delivered this week to a group of Brazilian bishops:
Esteemed brothers, in the decades following the Second Vatican Council, some interpreted the openness not as a demand flowing from the missionary ardor of the Heart of Christ, but as a step toward secularization, perceiving there certain strong Christian values, such as equality, liberty, solidarity. They showed themselves ready to make concessions and discover areas of cooperation. We witnessed the interventions of some ecclesiastical officials in ethical debates, which responded to the expectations of public opinion, but which failed to speak of certain essential truths of the faith, such as sin, grace, theological life and the last things. Without realizing it, many ecclesial communities fell into self-secularization. Hoping to charm those who were not joining, they saw many of their members leave, cheated and disillusioned. When our contemporaries come to us, they want to see something that they do not see elsewhere, namely, joy and the hope that springs from the fact that we are with the Risen Lord.
At present there is a new generation born in this secularized ecclesial environment who, instead of looking for openness and consensus, see how the gap between society and the positions of the magisterium of the Church, especially in the ethical field, is ever greater. In this desert lacking God, the new generation feels a great thirst for transcendence.
It is the young men of this new generation who knock on the door of seminaries, and who need to find formators who are true men of God, priests totally dedicated to formation, who give witness of the gift of themselves to the Church, through celibacy and an austere life, according to the model of Christ the Good Shepherd. Thus, these young men will learn to be sensitive to the encounter with the Lord, in daily participation in the Eucharist, loving silence and prayer, working first of all for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
And of course he goes on to cite the Cure d’Ars as the role model for priests…
In any case, some will agree, others disagree, with Benedict’s assessment. But I think it shows in which camp he has cast his lot in the ongoing battle in the church.