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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.

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"the salvation of souls"The choice of words is significant!

"The salvation of souls"---I would agree IS a significant term.It certainly does harken back to an earlier time in the Church---when the totality ofthe human person, its development as soul, mind, body, personality, etc. didnot matter. Only the spiritual entity---the soul, mattered.In traditional, institutional churchese lingo---the soul is a spiritual beingis made in the image of God. But what that is exactly---is hard to pinpoint.That humans are body/soul entities---and are intended by God to be that. We are notangels---but embodied spirits.Unfortunately, in the past (pre-Vatican days), the soul seemed to be much more importantthan the body. So, the official church often used the term, "the salvation of souls"as though---the body was just a paper shopping bag that contained the real entity, the soul---which is the only entity that really mattered. Indeed, nothingphysical really matters---in this mind set.That is why Benedict had/has a hard time with Teilhard de Chardin----he's much too positive,optimistic, concerned with the development of embodied soul/matter to suit Benedict.And incarnational theology---and its messiness? This does not fit well into Benedict's"let's put everything into its place, by category, by degreee, by status, by level of spirituality---everything neat and orderly".I absolutely believe that when individuals come from nations that experienced oppression, they themselves become oppressors when they achieve any authority. We have seen it in JP II, living under facism as a teen/young man and then under many decades of communism. Joseph Ratzinger under facism and then, living with half of Germany under communism. And Cardinal Rode---living in Slovinia under communism---oppressed and oppresive. Dark theology and a darker opinion of humanity and the world in which the human race lives.It would cause one to question---do they really believe that Christ's death and resurrection has only an effect on human souls---and absolutely nothing at all to do with the whole person, with the created world and with the direction of human history.

The Popes speech was addressed to the Bishops of Brazil, who face daunting problems, including providing pastoral care for an enormous population with many of the problems proper to a relatively recent urbanization, in which the state does not always succeed in being an instrument for the promotion of justice and the common good. And his solution is to warn them to protect their seminarians from secularism with its sinister tendency to value openness and consensus? A disturbing thought: the most thoroughly formed of those young men may one day soon be invited to study in Rome and to join the ranks of what John Allen recently described as the Churchs leadership-class.

The listening Brazilian bishops know that the young men that 'knock on the doors of seminaries' are being out-numbered 18 to 1 per capita by married evangelical ministers. Brazil Cardinal Humes called for optional celebacy but reneged when his plane landed in Rome... Benedict may not respect secular wisdom but two of its rules still apply apply; 1. 'the firstest with the mostest wins'; 2. an NFL penalty ' too many men on the field' if not called unbalances the 'field' ...If it really is about salvation of souls, the clergy die-off should be a priority addressed by pre-vatican II types and Benedict but it is not even on the discussion table.

First, I thought Little Bear'insight on leaders from oppressed backgrounds taking the darker view was quite good.I would like to see a less fuzzy idea of the dangerous "secularism" that BXVI is against.The recent German Catholic pullback after the lifting of the excommunications of the Lefebrivites shows that the problem of Catholics being more "secular" is really the problem of the church being too "Roman."The problem of harkening to the magisterium has recently ben thrown into clear light by the removal (after numerous years of service) by Archbushop PIlarccyk (sometimes referred to as a moderate) for publicly supporting the ordination of women. The bishop's role, ge says is to uphold "authentic" teaching, the CCC, forget infallibility. The poor Charity Sister say, I've been saying this for 30 years - why now?This is the big loyalty test that will be inforced on anyone under control including seminarians and the clergy to be -often reinforced by canonists and their sanctional approach.I submit this is a major reason why the 'hermenutic of continuity" is found incredible by many - and perceived as power clericalism.Cardinal Humes, I suspect, thought he'd get nowhere at the "roman" power center, whereas the "secular" folks in ths "year of the priest" wonder why mandatory celibacy and women's ordination can't even be placed on the table.Millions have walked away (at the threat of the "salvation of their souls") from our Church here and elsewhere as well. I would submit because they don't believe that and they are in favor of those awful things like consensus and openness.At bottom, I see the rift in the Church just widening more under this (to borrow L.B."s words) "dark" view.

David:You use a phrase -- "the messy-ness of modern life" -- that I've seen used a great deal in various formulations.But I always wonder: messy compared to what? To those simpler good old days?Honestly, isn't there a real danger here of valorizing our historical moment in a way that becomes counter-productive to the discussion?

The trouble with the Pope's approach is that the argument applies, in form at least, to all pre-modern types of religion. Suppose an imam said the same thing about those attracted to fundamentalist brands of Islam. -scholars of fundamentalism has shown that certain people are attracted to more rigid, certain, ways of viewing the world. But the attraction of some people to an anti-modern lifestyle is no proof of the truth of that lifestyle in each and every component--for Muslims or for Catholics. Each change has to be evaluated on its own terms.And there's a circular argument in there too: 1) We are right because we are attracting the best people; 2) they are the best people because they see we are right.

Gregory--I think the Pope is expressing, as he often does, a great nostalgia for the past, but a past he does see through somewhat rose-colored glasses. To me, nostalgia ain't what it used to be. A clarification: What do you mean by "valorizing our historical moment"? You mean this "modern" moment, or the recent, and much-lamented, good old days of not so long ago?

How many young men are attracted to the life-style of Jean-Marie Vianney That is one question and another is this. How sound of mind are those who are thus attracted?

Yes, Joseph. And how many others are alienated by those so attracted--and alienated for moral reasons?

And how many others are alienated by those so attractedand alienated for moral reasons?And how many are alienated by those who are alienated by sanctity?But, really, what's the moral objection to anyone who would try to imitate the life of the Cure d'Ars? This I gotta hear.

Gregory asked about the "messiness of modern life" as opposed to what, and I have to say it has been my experience that the same people who dislike the messiness of modern life are also apt not to like history either -- unless of course it is the sort of sanitized history which serves as an apologia for their own preconceived views. The problem of seeing things only through the lens of one's ideas about how the world HAS to be is -- surprise! -- it's not Christian. Jesus didn't live that way, and the gospels give testimony to the fact. He was willing to be surprised. He was surprised by the goodness and creativity of others, by the grace of that which is, and the lively God-given spirit he encountered in the people he met. "Your faith has saved you" is not something that Roman prelates are likely to say. (They'd rather say what we give you has saved you.) But Jesus said it, often. Sure it was messy, but what brought him to the cross was not the mess. It was the mirthless, cleanly consistent ideologies (both religious and political) of the power elites of his time. Benedict seems very worried that God has disappeared from the scene. I really don't know why. But I suspect that worry is a token of not accepting the fact, which faith perceives, that God is in the messiness of life.

Who defines sanctity? A defining feature of modernity is that not everyone agrees what sanctity in this age looks like. The problem is, what counts as "imitating" in a fruitful way, in our century?

Sounds like the regret is loss of Empire and total obedience. How acutely others here have observed that messiness is the human condition. How far we have come from John XXIII who fought to bring the spirit back into the church. Much of what he strived for is now a reality. But the resorationists, like Benedict want to put everything into a neat little box of falsity.

Remember the old saying -- a martyr is one who lives with a saint? I'm convinced there are many ways to God, and comparing them is comparing apples and oranges. Parents love children in different ways, and vice versa. Same with friendships.There are undoubtey times and places where a particular virtue or virtues are neededf no doubt. I'm thinking of the coursge needed to be a Christian these days in China and some Islamic countriess. But I don't doint that different sorts of courage are needed by different individuals. Then there's the question whether we're all called to "the same degree of holines". I really dislike that phrase -- it seems to imply that God pulls out some hypothetical ruler and measures all of us with it. But we're different individals, and, I think, incommensrable. Not that some people don't love God more, but who is to measure them?

Ann OllvierAnother version: A saint in heaven is a saint in glory; a saint on earth is a different story.I once said to a priest I knew; "I have heard that the pastor you live with is very pious." He replied: "Yes, and you can't imagine what it is like living with that piety!" And the pious pastor -- he was later named a bishop.

Mr. Gibson - you contrast Ratzinger and B16 at various periods of his life. Here is another way of looking at the man - contrasts his dominant personality type as theologian vs. pope:Cardinals Turn On Pope InvisibleBy John Follain, Sunday London TimesIn the hushed Apostolic Palace off St Peters Square, Pope Benedict XVI starts the day with a 7am mass in his private chapel, followed by a lone breakfast. No press summary is brought to him. He meets a few visitors in the morning and then, after a lunch served on gold-rimmed plates bearing his seal, retires to his study to write speeches and read theological works throughout the afternoon and evening.The Popes daily routine, as described by Vatican insiders, is being blamed for a series of blunders that have prompted a rare show of dissent from exasperated cardinals.Critics claim he is leading the church and its 1.2 billion faithful like a monarch cut off from the world outside his palace windows, helped only by loyal but inept advisers. People feel disoriented, a senior Vatican official confided last week. Its a feeling common to both traditionalists and reformers. Our impression is that there isnt anyone at the wheel. Hailed by his peers as the most intelligent candidate when he was elected Pope in 2005, the 81-year-old German pontiff has provoked outrage and a rebuke from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, by revoking the excommunication of four breakaway bishops from the ultra-conservative Society of St Pius X.They included a British bishop, Richard Williamson, who has denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers.Benedict then named Father Gerhard Maria Wagner as the Bishop of Linz, in Austria. Wagner had preached that Hurricane Katrina was retribution for the activities of abortionists, prostitutes and homosexuals in New Orleans.Simmering discontent within the church exploded with the debacle over Williamson, who was subsequently removed from his post as head of a seminary in Buenos Aires and ordered to leave Argentina.German Cardinal Walter Kasper, in charge of Jewish relations, denounced misunderstandings and management errors in the curia (the Popes civil service) an implicit attack on the Pope himself.Upset by the Williamson and Wagner decisions, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schnborn met the Pope in Rome earlier this month. The audience failed to reassure Schnborn, who called a meeting of Austrian bishops. They in turn urged the Vatican to learn from past mistakes and respect the rules for appointing bishops. They demanded scrupulousness and sensitivity in future.Violating the custom that cardinals do not criticise one another, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the congregation of bishops, launched a loud denunciation of his Colom-bian colleague, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who was in charge of relations with the Society of Pius X. On a bus carrying dignitaries to a religious ceremony in Rome, Re was overheard protesting that Castrillon Hoyos had forced colleagues to take a hasty decision. He only gave me a few hours to sign. All because Castrillon will soon turn 80 and retire. If he hadnt solved the problem right away, it would have been too late for him, Re fumed. For many inside the Vatican, the issue is the Popes style of leadership.People feel that the Pope is governing in a very monarchical way. He fails to consult bishops and he has isolated himself by ignoring advice which could stop him making mistakes, said Marco Politi, a leading Vatican analyst. The Pope believes he doesnt need to take account of public opinion. He studies the files that are brought to him and decides very much on his own. The atmosphere around him is that he mustnt be disturbed by criticism or visitors. Benedict offended Muslims with a 2006 speech quoting a Byzantine emperor who described the prophet Muhammads teachings as evil and inhuman.He upset Israel and Jews by saying he wanted to make a saint of Pope Pius XII, despite criticism that Pius had failed to speak out against the Holocaust during the second world war.Then he offended homosexuals by saying that their behaviour was a destruction of Gods work. Benedict is ruling the church from the top of the mainmast, he doesnt have experience of holding the rudder, said Gian-carlo Zizola, a writer on Vatican affairs. He performs the duties of a pope in the mornings, but in the afternoon and evenings hes a theologian. Benedict meets far fewer people than John Paul II and does not share his predecessors habit of inviting guests to lunch and dinner. On the top floor of the Apostolic Palace he is flanked by Georg Gnswein, 52, his personal secretary.Father Georg is very strict, he selects who does and doesnt see the Pope and keeps everyone punctual, a Vatican observer said. Several insiders fault Benedicts choice of advisers, most of whom he has known for years.The Pope has surrounded himself with collaborators who act more like obsequious subjects than real advisers, said Zizola. His main adviser, secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 74, has the Popes ear but little political or diplomatic experience. Church leaders are praying for a more harmonious leadership by the Pope, who will seek to mend relations with Israel on a visit to Jerusalem in May.At the Vatican last week Gordon Brown invited Benedict to Britain later this year or next, which may also help to bolster the pontiffs reputation.Bertone is expected to make new appointments to strengthen his team soon.Sacking people would be like asking the Pope to go back on his decisions and that doesnt happen, Zizola said.

Here is a good example of the difference between Benedict XVI and John XXIII. When John issued hundreds of fake baptismal certificate to Jews, as a papal nuncio in France, his fellow bishops taunted him for lying. Now tell me which person here would not "lie" for his child facing death. This, by the way, is a classic example of the ends justifying the means. Certainly tricky in other cases. Jesuits anyone?

If bishops generally are expected to offer their resignations at age seventy five and cardinals who are eighty or older may not vote in papal elections, is there not something decidedly odd about a bishop of Rome who is still clinging to his office at the age of eighty three? Really!

Making the rounds on the internet today is a BXVI note on Peter Damian who would confront the crimes of monks around him.But the problem is Benedict wants to maintain the "spotless bride of Christ" image protected for years in many quarters of weongdoings and unable to say it's wrong and needs to listen more. Bill D.'s post is noteworthy for Benedict's being cocooned - hence his aversion to "consensus and openness."So Secularism becomes an easy scapegoat for a Church that won't heal its own problems.By the Way, it's easy to toss around terms like sanctity. We live in a deeply human Church, stumbling along, lurching backward in terms of policy and failing to come to grips with major issues of the day, except by repeating the formula of CCC.

B16 is setting the example and way too many of the less-than-stellar hierarchy are following suit. Rule like an emperor; brook no dissent; expect unfettered, unquestioning loyalty; assume that they know everything about anything.

B16 = a frightened old man who "fights" rather than "flights" and is lost in the abyss of intellectual pursuits and past glories, both ecclesial and academic.Not good for the leadership of the world's largest Christian denomination.

Guys, let's keep it respectful, please.

It seems so far in this post that the Pope's main point has been overlooked. The Church and the priesthood exist to bring people closer to God through a relationship with Christ...that is salvation. What he seems to be driving at is that when the Church ONLY talks about more secularly acceptable values like "equality, liberty and solidarity" and not essential truths of faith like "sin, grace...the last things" then the Church is not being true to Her mission.The Church's temporal concerns must be related to the transcendent concerns of eternal life with the "Risen Lord". The ecclesial enviornment becomes secularized when its leaders no longer want to talk about spiritual things but want to focus mainly or even only on temporal or material concerns. In any event, the Pope's writings and teaching don't reveal him to be an autocratic dictator who's afraid of his own shadow.

Mike G: I don't think anyone here (or almost anyone as far as I can tell) would dispute your point. But the Church does not talk ONLY about those values, as the Pope seems to be saying. He seems to be positing a Manichean view of the post-conciliar church. One could equally say that when the Church speaks ONLY of essential truths like sin, grace..and the last things" it is not being true to Her mission. I'd see Catholicism as both/and, as we say, not either/or.

There is also this question. Does a class of presbyteral functionaries as envisaged by Benedict best meet the needs of Christ's church? Benedict seems to have surrounded himself with people who either will not raise this question, or if they do, soon drop it when they learn that it must never be asked.

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.