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The following is the translated text of an address delivered in Ancona recently by a Vatican-II scholar in the Roman Curia who presents a major argument against the 'hermeneutic of discontinuity' propagated by the so-called 'Bologna school' of post-Conciliar progressivists. Sandro Magister provided the translation in connection with his article on the late Swiss thinker Romano Amerio (see NEWS ABOUT THE CHURCH).

Mons. Marchetto is the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants.

This is a remarkable document. Even though it is written in academic style, it is very accessible. It is the first overview I have seen made available to laymen of the histories - factual and interpretative - of Vatican-II that have been turned out since 1965. In presenting them, Mons. Marchetti identifies the key arguments that they make for their interpretation of Vatican-II either as discontinuity with the past, or 'renewal in continuity'.

Hermeneutic interpretations
of Vatican Council II

by mONS. Agostino Marchetto

I would like to begin by recalling – by way of setting the stage – the vital importance of the profound connections between theology and Church history and law. I have worked in this area for the past thirty-five years, as shown in part by my book Chiesa e papato nella storia e nel diritto. 25 anni di studi critici [The Church and the Papacy in History and Law: 25 Years of Critical Studies (Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 2002).

I add the fundamental consideration of the importance and doctrinal, spiritual, and pastoral value of Vatican Council II: it is, intrinsically, an "icon" of Catholicism, in communion with its origin and past – identity in evolution, fidelity in renewal. This brings the need for a genuine hermeneutic – meaning a well-grounded, respectful interpretation of what an Ecumenical Council is.

Vatican II was colossal. The official proceedings alone fill 62 large volumes that provide a solid foundation for a correct assessment and interpretation. But many began to weave their interpretive web before the publication of the indispensable proceedings issued by the council's ruling bodies, basing themselves instead upon private writings (personal diaries), contemporary newspaper reports and columns, although these were sometimes exceptional. I think, for example, of those of P. Caprile.

This already brings into question their judgment, their contrary criticism, because even a superficial reading reveals discrepancies and a variety of attributions and "merits" (for some positions that in the end were "victorious"), an incomplete understanding with respect to the complexity of synodal affairs (a canvas of regulations, "pressure," movements, "battles" against "conservatism" or the curia, or in defense of tradition or of the avant-garde, the teaching of the Magisterium, or pastoral-ecumenical interpretations of John XXIII).

This naturally does not mean a rejection of material from diaries, as, for example, E. Manieu did with Congar's conciliar diaries. Among other things, these bring flavor and constitute "ingredients" that go into the whole, but they must be subordinated to the official proceedings without sliding toward a fragmentary history, in the style of a news account or an encyclopedia, with dispersion, dissection, vivisection, or excoriation of the Council itself.

We recall here the diaries of Chenu, Edelby, Charue – and the archived letters of Suenens and De Smedt – Congar, Prignon, Betti, and Philips, in anticipation of that of Felici. We mention, furthermore, the volumes of S. Schmidt on Bea, B. Lai – for Siri – and J. Ratzinger – with two "reminders" on the purpose of the Council and on the "sources" of Revelation, not to mention – still speaking of recollections - that of Card. Suenens.

On all this, see my book Il Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. Contrappunto per la sua storia [Vatican Council II: A Counterpoint to Its History], Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005, pp. 407.

The underlying problem with the use of diaries is, for many, connected to the effort to diminish the importance of the final conciliar documents (the "spirit" of the Council! But it is, instead, the spirit of this corpus), a synthesis of Tradition and renewal (aggiornamento), to assert research "guided" beforehand, which appeared ideological from the beginning. This focused solely on the innovative aspects, on discontinuity with Tradition.

We find the most striking testimony in the volume L'evento e le decisioni. Studi delle dinamiche del Concilio Vaticano II [The Event and the Decisions: Studies on the Dynamics of Vatican Council II], edited by Maria Teresa Fattori and Alberto Melloni.

The focus on discontinuity is also the result of the current general historiographical tendency that (after and against Braudel and the Annales) privileges, in historical interpretation, "the event," understood as discontinuity and a traumatic transformation. So then, in the Church, if this "event" is not so much an important fact, but a rupture, an absolute novelty, the emergence "in casu" of a new Church, a Copernican revolution, in short the transition to a different form of Catholicism – losing its unmistakable characteristics – this perspective cannot and must not be accepted, precisely because of the uniqueness of Catholic identity.

The aforementioned volume, consequently, criticizes the conciliar "hermeneutics" of men who are certainly not "closed" toward Vatican II or opposed to it, such as Jedin, Kasper, Ratzinger, and Poulat himself.

It thus emerges that what was an extreme, radical position (opposed to "consensus") in the heart of the conciliar majority (there was also extremism in the minority, which would later be manifested with the schism of Archbishop Lefebvre), succeeded, after the Council, almost in monopolizing the interpretation until now, rejecting any alternative approach, sometimes with the barbed accusation that these are anti-conciliar (see G. Dossetti, "Il Vaticano II. Frammenti di una riflessione [Vatican II: Fragments of a Reflection]").

It is therefore necessary to recall here the intention (in the singular, although many contrast the two) of John XXIII and Paul VI concerning the Council. After a mild initial perplexity ("a tangled thicket"), Montini in fact adhered wholeheartedly to the Council's initiative, meaning aggiornamento.

It should be enough to think of his letter to Card. Cicognani to unite reflection on the Church ad intra and the Church ad extra. By way of illustration, I cite my article "Tradizione e rinnovamento si sono abbracciati: il Concilio Vaticano II [Tradition and Renewal Have Embraced: Vatican Council II]", in Rivista della Diocesi di Vicenza, 1999 / no. 9, pp. 1232-1245, and in "Bailamme", no. 26 / 4, June-December 2000, pp. 51-64).

The subtitles of this article: Underlying problems; The intention of Pope John and the significance of T(t)radiiton; The intention of Paul VI; A model embrace: collegiality and primacy; Dialogue and consensus at the Council, in order to arrive at the embrace between renewal and Tradition.

Here I will cite just one passage, in which Paul VI attests that "it would not, therefore, be accurate to think that Vatican Council II represents a breach, a rupture, or a liberation from Church teaching, or that it authorizes or promotes adherence to the mentality of our age, in what is ephemeral or negative about it" ("Insegnamenti di Paolo VI [Teachings of Paul VI]", vol. IV, 1966, p. 699).

With this background in place, we can now recall the hermeneutic situation in the 1990's, for those who want to complete and deepen the study of my book on the Council.

We must first say immediately that for us, this situation is not good, because it presents an imbalance, an almost monotonous interpretation, failing to follow the idea of embrace as already presented.

The "Bologna group"

In fact, that group of scholars from Bologna – let's call them that – led by Prof. G. Alberigo and ably assisted by an affiliated team of authors (including, but not limited to, some from the Louvain), who find themselves fundamentally united in a single line of thought, succeeded, through a wealth of means, industriousness, and generous friendships, in monopolizing and imposing an off-kilter – in our opinion – interpretation, thanks especially to the publication of Storia del Concilio Vaticano II [History of Vatican Council II], published by Peeters/Il Mulino, in five volumes, already released in Italian and nearly ready for final publication in French, English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese.

The gravity of the resulting situation can be grasped by reading the presentation of my research in the volumes of the work already cited (pp. 93-165).

To be specific, I will review some of my criticisms of the "Conclusione e alle prime esperienze di ricezione [Conclusion and the first experiences of implementation]" written by G. Alberigo in volume V. There the author summarizes his perennial points of view, which we have criticized many times.

I refer to the contrast drawn between John XXIII and Paul VI, to the question of "modernity" (what does this mean?), and to the unwarranted passage from this to "humanity."

We refer to the displacement of the Council's center of gravity from the assembly (and the accompanying Acta Synodalia) to the committees (and to the personal diaries), to the tendency to consider as "new" frameworks that are not new at all, to the view of an "autocephalous" conciliar assembly, to the biased vision of religious freedom.

We also intend to refer to the reductionist inspiration of the Synodus Episcoporum; to the "disparity among the various approved measures: their degree of elaboration and of correspondence to the major outlines of Vatican II is strikingly uneven" (we ask ourselves: who has the right to judge in this regard?); to the view that the voting of the Council Fathers was worthless, to the belittling of the code of canon law in favor of the selective application of its norms.

I also refer, in a critical vein, to the "black week" – which was not dark, but instead was a week of renewed clarity – to the "Nota Explicativa Praevia" (which was intended to constitute a pre-existing "hermeneutic standard"); to the supposed "long delay" between the conciliar decisions and their implementation, which was thought to justify "tumultuous spontaneity"; to the reform of the curia "in the context of a new centralizing ecclesiology, which was therefore inconsistent with Vatican II."

We also intend to refer to the "conciliar silence" (the council remained "mute": but was this really true?) on certain arguments (the ends of matrimony, responsible procreation, and priestly celibacy); to the "trauma caused to the entire Christian world by the encyclical Humanae Vitae"; to the need for a new criterion of interpretation for Vatican II; to the reiterated defense of the conciliar canonization of Pope John; to the downplaying of the conciliar texts relative to the event; and to the criticism of the standard edition of these texts and, by extension, of the Acta Synodalia edited by Mons. Carbone.

But the great question (an "epochal transition?"), which is answered in the affirmative, is posed in the following chapter, again by Alberigo, in volume V of the "History." In it, the author's thought is a bit less drastic and more limited in its expression, in some cases, than it was before (see for example the correct assertion that "there did not exist a council of the majority and a council of the minority, much less a council of winners and one of losers. Vatican II is the result of all the factors at play within it").

We, too, make note of this with pleasure after writing at such length, in previous volumes, against the idea of an "anti-conciliar" minority.

Nevertheless, in this last chapter as well, Alberigo continues to advance his well-known points of view, which to us are highly deserving of criticism because they are clearly compromised by his ideology.

We will leave aside a number of questions, important as they are, and consider that the author presents Vatican II "above all as an event," and after this as "the totality of its decisions." It is here that we must object to this prioritization.

If, then, "event" is understood as seen today by secular historiography, which we have already considered – in the sense, that is, of a rupture with respect to the past – we cannot accept such a characterization (see our note on "L'evento e le decisioni [The event and the decisions" in A. H. C., 1998, pp. 131-142, and in "Apollinaris," 1998, pp. 325-337).

The event is then presented, rightly, with its connection to "aggiornamento," passed through the filter of Chenu and of the "pastoral focus," but here again with further recourse to this theologian, and the mention of the disagreement with his "approach to research" on the part of the late Mons. Maccarrone.

Pastoral focus and aggiornamento, for Alberigo, created "together the premises for overcoming the hegemony of theology, understood as the isolation of the doctrinal dimension of the faith and its abstract conceptualization, and also of legalism," with rather serious assertions: "The faith and the church no longer appear as commensurate with doctrine, which does not even constitute the most important dimension of these. Adherence to doctrine, and above all to a single doctrinal formulation, cannot be the ultimate criterion for discerning membership in the Unam Sanctam."

In any case, on the topic of ecumenism, Alberigo returns to maintaining that the non-Catholic observers "were substantially members, although sui generis (informal), of the council," during which there was a "communicatio in sacris," albeit an imperfect one.

The author continues: "In this manner there emerged – although in faint outline – in Vatican II a pastoral-sacramental conception of Christianity and the church that tends to replace an earlier doctrinal-disciplinary conception." To replace? I ask, stunned.

There follows the chapter "Physiognomy of the church and the dialogue with the world," with an initial confusion of terminology and a differentiation of Pope John and Pope Paul VI on this topic.

The author also notes differences between the two popes with respect to Vatican I: "Thus Pope Paul found himself insisting upon the hierarchical constitution, to the point of introducing the possibility of a hierarchical communion. This led to difficulty with full agreement with the ecclesiology of the conciliar majority, which would have preferred not to revisit the depiction of the church as 'mystical body.' This difficulty culminated in the 'Nota Explicativa Praevia' for the third chapter of Lumen Gentium." So many wild leaps, even after this, to differentiate the two popes.

Another burning question is illustrated under the title "Vatican II and tradition." In this regard, for the author, there is "substantial continuity" between the preparatory and final texts, but there is also "discontinuity with respect to Catholicism during the centuries of medieval Christendom, and during the post-Tridentine period. What emerge are not substantial novelties, but an effort to re-propose the ancient faith in terms understandable to the contemporary man."

And yet, immediately after this, there reappears the distinction between the Church and the Kingdom of God (in such a way that the Church is not considered as the seed and beginning of this Kingdom), thus establishing "the premises for the overcoming of ecclesiocentrism, and thus a relativizing of ecclesiology itself, and for a refocusing of Christian reflection."

Prof. Alberigo thus introduces the vision of a "parallelism of powers: episcopacy-pope-curia-public opinion." There is indulgence here toward a certain psychologism (fear, weariness, apathy, marginalization), the singling out of continental episcopal conferences that do not exist, the creation of unfounded analogies (with parliamentary lobbies, with the "nations" of the councils of the late middle ages), and a reminder (which was valid for all, and not only for the Coetus of the traditionalists) of the warnings from Paul VI against the organization of groups within the Council, and of the "test of jealousy, which has stalled almost all the commissions."

The treatment that Alberigo reserves for the curia is of the usual sort. The curia had a "hegemony in both the pre-preparatory and preparatory phases." It was "the central axis for the entire life of Vatican II, an axis with its own vision of the church, which it jealously guarded," and here he mentions by name Card. Ottaviani, Mons. Felici, and the Secretaries of State, who "had powerful influence over the council, both directly and by influencing the pope."

And Alberigo does not realize that the Secretaries of State in particular are the pope's closest collaborators, his longa manus.

"The greatest extent of curial influence," the author continues, "was seen above all in the impact that the preparatory outlines had on the council's work, right until the end." Alberigo here persists in his error - those outlines were not drawn up by the curia.

Alberigo then takes up his well-known thoughts on the "primary importance of the action of the Spirit, and not of the pope or of the church and its doctrinal universe" concerning the Council, on the Church's social doctrine, on the "steering" of the Council, on the manner of confronting the "profane" sciences, and, with theological reflection of Protestant origin, on the "acceptance of history."

He speaks of "an organic relationship between history and salvation," with the transcendence of "the dichotomy between profane history and sacred history. [...] Thus history is recognized as 'theological terrain'."

He also presents his well-known thoughts on the rigorous use of the historical-critical method, and the weighing down of Vatican II with "a certain number of decrees of pre-conciliar inspiration," although Alberigo does concede that the Council, "on the whole, exceeded expectations."

Our critical presentation is also directed against the supposed "novelty" of this Council if, beyond what is said about its legitimate differences with respect to previous councils, he means that the criteria of "pastoral focus" and "aggiornamento" had been "unusual for Catholicism – or even foreign to it – for too long," while underestimating the juridical aspect of the Council (its decisions are imagined to have been "guidelines, and not rules").

Again on the institutional theme, the author attests, erroneously, to an "overturning of priorities [...] consisting in the abandonment of reference to ecclesiastical institutions, to their authority and effectiveness as the center and standard of the faith and of the church."

This is a serious and imbalanced assertion, if one considers that, before this, Alberigo had asserted: "The hegemony of the institutional system over the Christian life had reached its apogee with the dogmatic definition of the primacy and magisterial infallibility of the bishop of Rome. [...] It is instead faith, communion, and willingness to serve that make the church; these are the guiding values by which is measured the evangelical inadequacy of its structure and of the behavior of its institutions." But why contrast things this way? I ask myself.

From this one draws the conclusion that "the implementation of Vatican II – and perhaps even its comprehension – are still uncertain and embryonic."

We would not be so radical, and in any case, Alberigo especially should not have invoked the support of the extraordinary Synod of 1985, which came out in opposition to hermeneutics such as his.

Besides, how can the author condemn the presumed melding of the Church with secular institutions, when he continually proposes a democratization of the Church?

Could the Council have done more? he asks himself in the end. "The question is embarrassing, and the answer is unclear," but Alberigo does reply, revealing his disappointment. And yet Vatican II was not ecumenical "strictu (sic!) sensu." Why not? "It left the Catholic church much different than the one in the bosom of which it had begun."

At this point, the author calls "for consultation" Jedin, Rahner, Chenu, Pesch, Villanova, and Dossetti, to introduce us to the "third era of the Church's history" (thus Pesch, who finds me highly critical), and to define the event of Vatican Council II as an "epochal change," and an "epochal transition."

In fact, "on the one hand it is the point of arrival and conclusion for the controversialist post-Tridentine period, and – perhaps – for the long Constantinian centuries; on the other hand it is the anticipation and the point of departure for a new cycle of history."

And what do we say in this regard? We repeat, first of all, that we do not accept the perspective of separating the event from the conciliar decisions, and we reiterate that this is, for us, a great event, not a rupture, a revolution, the creation almost of a new Church, the rejection of the great Council of Trent and Vatican Council I, or of any previous ecumenical Council.

There was certainly a change of direction, but to use a traffic metaphor, this was not a "U-turn." There was, in short, an "aggiornamento," and this term explains the event well, with the combination of "nova et vetera," of fidelity and openness, as demonstrated moreover by the texts approved at the Council - all the texts.

The event, therefore, is an ecumenical synod (see M. Deneken's ""L'engagement oecuménique de Jean XXIII," in Revue des Sciences Religiesuse", 2001, pp. 82-86), which means it should not be considered prejudicial to analyze it as such, beginning with what this represents for the Catholic faith, albeit with its own distinctive characteristics, which cannot contradict what other ecumenical Councils have defined. It is an event of unity, of consensus.

The Church, furthermore, has always been the friend of humanity, although this naturally does not mean friendship with modernity tout court - and besides, what is meant by that?

Alberigo is inclined to believe that "the council displays many elements of continuity with traditions, but its novelties are also significant, and possibly more numerous." But we do not make an issue of quantity, but of quality rather, of faithful evolution, not of subversive revolution.

And history will tell us if Vatican II will be considered an "epochal transition," an "epochal shift." We need do nothing but wait and work, in the meantime, for a correct, true, authentic "reception" of this Council, not only in its novelties, but also in its continuity with the great Christian, ecclesial, Catholic tradition. If I have discussed Prof. Alberigo here at great length, it is because I find in him the root of so much false interpretation.

For the sake of consistent treatment, I will also recall here the volume Il Concilio inedito. Fonti del Vaticano II [The Undisclosed Council: Sources of Vatican II], edited by M. Fagioli and G. Turbanti, with two significant citations.

The first concerns the "organization of the archive and the official publication of the proceedings, [which] seem intended to place significant preconditions on the authenticity of the possible interpretations of the council itself.

In effect, Paul VI always demonstrated preoccupation and sharp discomfort toward the consequences that biased (sic!) interpretations of the documents might have upon ecclesiastical discipline, fearing that radical tendencies might prevail in the process of implementation, and that serious divisions might arise within the ranks of the Church."

And isn't this a legitimate concern for a pope? The authors concede this only in part, because "inspection of the available documentation [...] ultimately paints a clear picture of the council which, in the light of other sources, appears be biased on the whole."

In what sense? we allow ourselves to ask. Certainly it is the one given by the official documents, which leave room for the pursuit of other contributions ("different sources"), but not in such a way as to contradict that which emerges "ex actis et probatis."

The second citation concerns important news about the "History of Vatican Council II" overseen by Alberigo, and that is the fact that "the studies conducted up until now have used a relatively small portion of the raw documentation."

In a footnote, they add: "The sources gradually collected by the team that collaborated on the 'History of the Council' were ordinarily made available to all. But this does not alter the fact that each of the collaborators on the 'History' made more or less extensive use of these, according to his own discretion, even referring to other outside sources."

This is good to know, because it confirms our judgment on the selection "ad usum delphini" of the sources. This is one of the great literary weaknesses of the "History," in which the combination of official and unofficial sources appears difficult and forced.

The volumes published under the direction of Prof. Alberigo were also prepared from conferences and colloquiums arranged for that purpose, held in various places and reported in specific publications. These meetings have their significance, because they reaffirm the tendencies outlined above. Those who wish to do so can find ample representation of this in my volume already cited.

I also point out, in particular, "A la veille du Concile Vatican II. Vota et réactions en Europe et dans le catholicisme oriental" (M. Lamberigts and Cl. Soetens ed., Leuven, 1992), in which Alberigo (as he also does elsewhere) furnishes his personal "hermeneutical criteria" for a history of Vatican Council II that I have strongly criticized.

A meeting of a certain importance was then held in Klingenthal (Strasbourg) in 1999, giving rise to the volume by Mons. Doré and A. Melloni, entitled Volti di fine Concilio [Perspectives at the End of Council]. The book includes "Studi di storia e teologia sulla conclusione del Vaticano II [Historical and Theological Studies on the Conclusion of Vatican II]." The final comments are composed by Mons. Doré, who is fundamentally engaged in a difficult effort of combining and assembling what others separate. I published a review of this book in "Apollinaris" LXXIV (2001), pp. 789 - 799.

General research on the Council
and the accompanying hermeneutics

Around 1995, audacious attempts at overarching investigations wrre resumed, with accounts that were somewhat "narrative," provisional, and a little bit rushed, of the conciliar event "as a whole."

The risks? The authors remained tied to their biased view of the council, and it is difficult to carry out truly scholarly research with an interpretive goal that requires a certain sedimentation over time (that is, a certain "distance" from the event), a long and patient work of assimilation and perusal of the conciliar "chronicles" and of the contemporary journalistic articles (which still exert broad and harmful influence), in the light of the "Atti Conciliari [Council Proceedings]," completed only in 1999.

Just in Italy, we find first of all volume XXV/1 and 2 of the Storia della Chiesa [History of the Church] begun by Fliche-Martin, edited by M. Guasco, E. Guerriero, and F. Traniello.

There the treatment of Vatican Council II was entrusted to R. Aubert, a well-known Belgian historian. In this presentation (see op. cit., pp. 177-196) I observed, first of all, a few flaws similar to those found in the "Bologna group," but with a more balanced approach.

In any case, Aubert's final consideration, which places Paul VI "entirely on the course marked out by John XXIII," tells us much about his contrary position with respect to the conviction of Alberigo and those who take after him, including those in Belgium.

Chapter VII then illustrates the synodal texts, the theological "merit" of which should be more strongly emphasized, in our view, partly for the sake of the implementation desired by all, beyond all partiality.

In fact, by virtue of underlining certain shortcomings of the conciliar documents, we ask ourselves whether sufficient room is left for the acceptance of that "doctrinal magisterium in a pastoral perspective" that was characteristic of Vatican II.

This is a general question and a difficulty of our times, even if, clearly, "the power and authority of the documents must be evaluated according to their literary genre, developmental parameters, and topics of discussion."

Still on the subject of the conciliar hermeneutic that most interests us here, we ask whether it is right to assert – as Aubert does – "the persistence of numerous ambiguities in the text, in which traditional affirmations and innovative proposals often find themselves more overlapping than truly integrated."

And again: "This lack of consistency often produces divergences of interpretation, according to the unilateral insistence upon certain passages rather than others. Under this aspect, a serenely conducted historical study can permit a better understanding of what were the deep intentions of the great majority of the assembly, beyond the concern for the wider 'consensus'."

Nonetheless, we maintain that one cannot arrive at conciliar thought as such, abstracting from the preoccupation with that "consensus" which was a distinctively synodal feature, and was sought not only for its own sake, but also because it expressed fidelity to Tradition and the desire for embodiment, for aggiornamento.

Furthermore, only the definitive texts approved by the Council and promulgated by the Supreme Pastor are genuine; otherwise, everyone would accept them, as often happens, in his own way, as a pretext for his own personal excursion or for his own theological or factional preference.

Aubert addresses the same argument in a work written with two other authors (G. Fedalto and D. Quaglioni), entitled Storia dei Concili [History of the Councils]" (San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, 1995), and, more recently, with N. Soetens, in volume XIII of the Histoire du Christianisme (entitled "Crise et Renouveau, de 1958 à nos jours") published in 2000, under the direction of Jean-Marie Mayeur (there is also an Italian translation). In comparison with the previous effort, which was largely successful, collaboration with Soetens does not seem to have been to Aubert's advantage.

Situating himself a bit beyond this author, possibly in the right direction, is Joseph Thomas, who was entrusted with the treatment of Vatican II for the collective volume I Concili Ecumenici [The Ecumenical Councils]," published by Queriniana and edited by Antonio Zani, in 2001, in an Italian translation from the French in 1989. His entry seems to me not sufficiently restrained or impartial.

Alberigo, too, undertook a synthesis of his own, publishing a Storia dei Concili ecumenici [History of the Ecumenical Councils, Brescia, 1990)] by various authors, reserving for himself the treatment of the Vatican Councils. About fifty pages were dedicated to Vatican II. Having noted this, we have nothing to add to the extensive observations already made above.

I cannot, moreover, fail to mention, publications outside Italy that are indicative of a theological-sociological combination, Vatikanum II und Modernisierung. Historische, theologische und soziologische Perspektiven, (hrsg. F-X. Kaufmann, A. Zingerle, ed. F. Schoening, Paderborn, 1996).

I am not a sociologist, so I do not express critical judgments in this area, but there are many things that should be said in this instance as well, at least when one erupts into one-dimensional and, for us, arbitrary interpretations of the Council itself. This is the case with the professor Klinger, and, to a lesser extent, with Pottmeyer, but in another context.

Regarding sociology, we reject the idea that this is the "mistress" of theology, and we maintain our distance from its so-called sociological "scope." This seems right and well-founded to us.

On the other hand, "Montanism" or "neo-Montanism" (which can give rise - it is said here - to a "ghetto") are historical-theological concepts, about which the historian and the theologian must say something, as in the case, for example, of "hierocracy." We do not mean by this to devalue an "interdisciplinary project" such as this book, although we do acknowledge the underlying risks.

For a correct interpretation of the Council

Before such a vast hermeneutical effort - and we could have gone on much longer - so fundamentally one-dimensional in its prevailing interpretive approach, we might feel a bit isolated, holding a much different position, even though we are consoled by what happened with the Council of Trent, and think of the exegesis of Sarpi, which was ultimately surpassed.

We are in any case convinced that the history, the documents, the future judgments (ex actis et probatis" will bring hermeneutical justice, with time. In the meantime, we need patience, but also work, effort, resources.

The new phase, nonetheless, appeared – it seems to us – during the last decade, and we first recall here the volume of the late Prof. L. Scheffczyk (later made a cardinal) entitled La Chiesa. Aspetti della crisi postconciliare e corretta interpretazione del Vaticano II [The Church: Aspects of the Preconciliar Crisis and the Correct Interpretation of Vatican II]" (Jaca Book, Como, 1998, with a presentation by Joseph Ratzinger), in which the hope is expressed that there will be a recovery of the "Catholic" meaning of the Church's reality, after the postconciliar crisis in this regard.

The author has put his finger on the affliction of modern hermeneutics, in exactly these words: "Every interpreter and group seizes upon only that which corresponds to his preconceptions," and to those of the (conciliar) "majority."

But the one who escapes this affliction is precisely the one who was the guardian and editor of the "Acta," collected in the Archive of Vatican Council II, founded with extraordinary prescience by Paul VI.

I refer to Mons. V. Carbone. I will not list here his various studies of clarification, on crucial topics of conciliar hermeneutics, but just one apparently tiny yet exceptionally important volume, Il Concilio Vaticano II, preparazione della Chiesa al Terzo Millennio [Vatican Council II, Preparing the Church for the Third Millennium], Città del Vaticano, 1998. The work collects the articles on the great council published by the author in L'Osservatore Romano.

Also on the positive side, and still in the field of wide-ranging studies of the council, there is the book by A. Zambarbieri I Concili del Vaticano [The Vatican Councils]" (San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, 1995).

This is, in our view, the best overview published so far in Italian, partly for the historical sense that pervades it. It sometimes displays, however, a certain indulgence toward positions created by the ideological vortex of the "group of Bologna," while its most serious shortcoming is revealed in the presentation of the "Nota Explicativa Praevia."

It is, however – we repeat this happily – good research, with concise, fast-paced presentations of the various documents, thanks in part to extensive knowledge of the bibliography. The language is plain and the judgments are almost always moderate, far from the journalistic style, relying upon the sure guidance of P. Caprile in the matter of the daily events, and with precise references to the "Acta" edited by Mons. Carbone.

Finally, it would seem unjust to me not to cite here, in the positive context, the volumes entitled Paolo VI e il rapporto Chiesa-mondo al Concilio [Paul VI and the Church-World Relationship at the Council]", and Paolo VI e i problemi ecclesiologici al Concilio [Paul VI and Ecclesiological Problems at the Council]," both published by the Paul VI Institute in Brescia. These conclude the "trilogy" of international study colloquiums on Paul VI's contributions at the Council, which are of great importance for us, too.

But we cannot go any farther, because with the bibliography on Papa Montini we would enter into an extremely vast field, even if this pertains to his conciliar efforts and postconciliar exegesis. Nor can we address here the hermeneutical sector, in relation to papal primacy and the relationship between primacy and collegiality, an eminently synodal pairing that has given rise to various interpretations and different emphases.

But I will make three exceptions, to recall, above all, the publication of the proceedings of the important theological symposium held at the Vatican in December of 1996, on the primacy of the successor of Peter, and then a complete study by R. Tillard on L'Eglise locale. Ecclesiologie de communion et catholicité.

I cite this work because it indicates how far one can move the theological pendulum in the direction of "localization," while still taking one's cue from Vatican II, in order to balance, perhaps, the earlier excess of an almost disembodied "universalism."

But it's always a question of excesses. The third exception concerns the work of J. Pottmeyer, Le rôle de la papauté au troisième millénaire. Une relecture du Vatican I et du Vatican II, published in Paris in 2001, which first appeared in English. Of special interest to us is his exegesis of Vatican II, from which emerges a "(papal) primacy of communion." What this means is that it is the pope's role "to represent and maintain the unity of the universal communion of the Churches." But the part of the work that we find "progressive" to the point of extremism, with rather harsh judgments, is the last part.

I do not want to end without referring to three relatively recent positive developments, which provide solid hope for a general change of tone in the future interpretation of the Council. I conclude in this way not because I want to respect at all costs the expression "dulcis in fundo" [sweet at the end], but because there is truly reason for it.

Not long ago, a new center of research on Vatican Council II was created at the Pontifical Lateran University. This center organized, in 2000, an interesting international study conference on "The Lateran University and the preparation of Vatican Council II," and after this it repeated its scholarly efforts with another conference, on the topic "John XXIII and Paul VI, the two popes of the Council." The title itself expresses the intention of not presenting these two great popes in opposition or contrast. And this is significant, even apart from the addresses given at the conference.

Even more "sweet" for us was the international conference on the implementation of Vatican Council II, held at the Vatican at the end of February, 2000, for the occasion of the Great Jubilee. There we finally saw attention being paid to our many hermeneutic preoccupations.

To understand this, one need simply read the pontifical address published in the February 28-29, 2000 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, pp. 6-7. I will cite just one passage from this: "The Church has always understood the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. They are rules that are contained within the fabric of the faith, and not outside of it. To interpret the Council while supposing that it involves a rupture with the past, while in reality it adheres to the course of the perennial faith, is decidedly misleading."

Finally, the address that Benedict XVI gave to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, sounded extraordinarily sweet to our ears. In it, he pointed out the correct hermeneutics of the Council, which is not of rupture. I encourage you to read it attentively (L'Osservatore Romano, December 23, 2005, pp. 4-6).

The Magisterium has now clearly indicated the correct way to interpret the Second Vatican Council. For this we are profoundly grateful to the Lord, and to the pope.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 3/19/2008 6:11 AM]
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11/18/2007 6:17 PM
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Fr. Neuhaus comments in his usual cogently effective manner on current political issues about which the Church needs to be heard and is makin itself heard.

the first puiece is his argument about why it is legitimate for the Church to be heard on political issues, and in the second, he cvomments on the major documents issued by the recently concluded fall assembly of the US bishops conference. He starts his presentation with a brief introduction, shown below in smaller letters.

Debating the Separation of Religion and Politics
By Richard John Neuhaus
First Things
Friday, November 16, 2007

Last Saturday, the British magazine The Economist, sponsored a debate on this resolution: “Religion and politics should always be kept separate.” There was an audience of about a thousand, and at the beginning of the debate the vote was about five to one in favor of the resolution. This is Manhattan, after all.

At the end of the debate the house was pretty evenly divided but still with a slight majority in favor. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State was the lead for the other side. He spent most of his time highlighting some of the less circumspect statements of Jerry Falwell and others on the “religious right” who, according to Lynn, want to establish a theocracy in America. Barry Lynn deeply mourns the passing of Jerry Falwell.

Herewith my opening statement at the debate. The connections between religion and politics is a huge subject and, in First Things and elsewhere, I have addressed other dimensions of the question. But this was tailored to an audience assumed, correctly, to be strongly hostile to the argument. And the house was turned around, almost. You might perhaps find the statement of some interest.

I speak in favor of the separation of church and state, and therefore against the resolution that religion and politics should always be kept separate. Permit me to explain.

To enforce the exclusion of religion from politics, or from public life more generally, violates the First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise of religion.”

The free exercise of religion is the reason for the separation of church and state — a principle that aims not at protecting the state from religion but at protecting religion from the state.

In the First Amendment, religious freedom is of a piece with, indeed is in the very same sentence with, free speech, free press, free assembly, and the right to challenge government policy. Hence the resolution put before this house flatly contradicts the guarantees of a free and democratic society enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.

Secondly, I urge you to oppose the resolution because it is foolish to attempt to do what by definition cannot be done. Such an attempt can only intensify confusions and conflicts, further polarizing our public life.

To exclude religion is to exclude from politics the deepest moral convictions of millions of citizens — indeed, in this society, the great majority of citizens. Thus the resolution before this house is a formula for the death of democracy and should be resolutely defeated.

What do we mean by politics? I believe the best brief answer is proposed by Aristotle. Aristotle teaches that politics is free persons deliberating the question “How ought we to order our life together?”

The 'ought' in that definition indicates that politics is in its very nature, if not always in its practice, a moral enterprise. The very vocabulary of political debate is inescapably moral: What is just? What is unjust? What is fair? What is unfair? What serves the common good? On these questions we all have convictions, and they are moral convictions.

It is not true that our society is divided between a moral majority of the religious, on the one hand, and an immoral or amoral minority of the nonreligious, on the other. Atheists can have moral convictions that are every bit as strong as the moral convictions of the devout Christian or observant Jew.

What we have in the political arena is not a division between the moral and the immoral but an ongoing contention between different moral visions addressing the political question — how ought we to order our life together?

This ongoing contention, this experience of being locked in civil argument, is nothing less than democracy in action. It is Lincoln and Douglas debating the morality of slavery; it is the argument about whether unborn children have rights we are obliged to respect; it is the argument over whether the war in Iraq is just or unjust. And on and on.

These are all moral arguments to which people bring their best moral judgment. In short, our political system calls for open-ended argument about all the great issues that touch upon the question “How ought we to order our life together?”

The idea that some citizens should be excluded from addressing that question because their arguments are religious, or that others should be excluded because their arguments are nonreligious or antireligious, is an idea deeply alien to the representative democracy that this constitutional order is designed to protect. A foundational principle of that order is that all citizens have equal standing in the public square.

But what about the institutions of religion such as churches or synagogues? They may understand themselves to be divinely constituted, but, in the view of the Constitution, they are voluntary associations of citizens who join together for freely chosen purposes. They are in this respect on the same constitutional footing as labor unions, political action groups, professional associations, and a host of other organizations formed by common purpose.

In the heat of the political fray, all these institutions are tempted to claim that, on the issues that matter most to them, they have a monopoly on morality. All of them are wrong about that.

Religious institutions are also — some might say especially — tempted to claim a monopoly on morality. Whether it is the religious right or the much less discussed religious left, their leaders sometimes make a political assertion and then claim, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jim Wallis, a prominent leader of the religious left and of the Democratic party’s effort to reach so-called values voters, has even written a book with the title God’s Politics. In his book, he lays out, among many other things, how the prophet Isaiah would rewrite the federal budget of the United States. This is presumption and foolishness of a high order.

But the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion guarantees that foolish things will be done in the name of religion. Just as the guarantee of free speech ensures that foolish things will be said in innumerable other causes. We all —l eft and right, liberal and conservative — have a constitutional right to be stupid.

As I have suggested, religion cannot be separated from politics. More precisely, religion cannot be separated from democratic politics. But I do believe that religious leaders should be more circumspect and restrained than they sometimes are in addressing political issues, and that for two reasons.

The first and most important reason is that the dynamics of political battle tend to corrupt religion, blurring the distinctions between the temporal and the eternal, the sacred and the profane. So the first concern is for the integrity of religion.

The second concern is for the integrity of politics. Making distinctively religious arguments in political debates tends to be both ineffective and unnecessarily polarizing. Citizens who are religious, like all citizens, should as much as possible make arguments on the basis of public reasons that are accessible to everyone.

That is my advice to both the religious left and the religious right, to both Jim Wallis and Pat Robertson. But they are under no constitutional obligation to accept my advice, and, based on past history, they probably won’t. Remember the constitutional right to do dumb things.

There is a long and complicated history by which the West, and America in particular, has arrived at our commitment to freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of political action. These freedoms, as they are enshrined in the First Amendment, are all of a piece.

Our history and our commitment is not shared by everyone in the world. In most dramatic contrast today are Islamic societies in which, as many see it, the brutal choice is posed between monolithic religion or monolithic secularism. We have to hope that is not the case, but that is a problem for Muslims to resolve.

Thank God, and thank the American Founders, our circumstance is very different. Ours is a pluralistic society in which, by the means of representative democracy, all citizens — whether religious, nonreligious, antireligious, or undecided — are on an equal footing as they bring their diverse and sometimes conflicting moral visions to bear on the great question of politics — how ought we to order our life together?

The resolution before the house is “Religion and politics should always be kept separate.”

Because it violates the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and associated guarantees such as free speech, because it is alien to the American experience, and because it could not be implemented without undermining the equality essential to a pluralistic and democratic society, I urge you to defeat this profoundly illiberal resolution.

By Richard John Neuhaus

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has just completed its fall meeting in Baltimore, and, with predictable alacrity, the usual suspects are jumping in to reap what benefits they can for their favored causes. Which I suppose means that I’m jumping in too. Fair enough.

The focus of attention is on the “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document and a statement on the Iraq War. The latter is technically a statement by the outgoing president of the conference, Bishop William Skylstad, but it is approved by the conference.

“Faithful Citizenship” is in a decades-long line with election-year documents issued by the conference and is sometimes referred to as a voting guide, which it is not. This year’s document is different in that it is the product of a much wider process of consultation and was debated on the floor in open session.

“Faithful Citizenship” is a carefully considered reflection on political responsibility, the difference between “intrinsic evils” and prudential judgments, and the ways in which conscience is rightly formed.

Several news stories have highlighted that the bishops left “loopholes” or created “leeway” for Catholics to vote for pro-abortion candidates. That is not true. The document repeatedly and emphatically gives top priority to the protection of innocent human life in instances such as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research.

But, of course and of necessity, it also says: “In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.”

The “conscience clause” is not a loophole but speaks to a solemn obligation. It is clear Catholic teaching that one must act in accord with conscience, even if one’s conscience is misguided. At the same time, one is obliged to form one’s conscience according to moral truth. It is also the Church’s teaching, reiterated in this document, that acting according to a rightly formed conscience is a matter that impinges upon one’s eternal salvation.

It is obvious that some Catholics are, if not pro-abortion, at least of the view that opposition to abortion is trumped by other matters they consider more important, such as an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, their preferred health plan, or a Democratic victory in the presidential election.

If knowingly and with full intent they collaborate in the intrinsic evil of abortion, they may say that the conscience clause provides them with a loophole. In such an instance, as “Faithful Citizenship” rightly underscores, they are provided only with the choice to surrender their soul’s salvation.

The first news reports on Bishop Skylstad’s statement on Iraq, which was approved by the conference, highlighted the statement that the situation in Iraq is unacceptable and unsustainable. One can hardly imagine how anyone could say that it is acceptable and sustainable. The question is what is to be done about it.

The statement says that the conference “encourages our national leaders to focus on the morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal, of fostering a ‘responsible transition’ and withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal.”

The statement goes on to say: “We do not have specific competence in political, economic, and military strategies and do not assess particular tactics, but we can, as teachers, share a moral tradition to help inform policy choices. Our Catholic teaching on war and peace offers hard questions, not easy answers. Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention.”

Exactly. People may argue until the cows come home about the rightness or wrongness of what was done in 2003, but the question now is what is required for a “responsible transition,” recognizing that such a transition entails many considerations, including stability in the Middle East, the credibility of American power in world affairs, and the prospect of securing a government of law and basic decency for the Iraqi people.

The statement is notable also for lifting up concerns that are largely neglected by others, especially the plight of refugees and of the Chaldean Christians in Iraq.

All in all, the statement on Iraq is a carefully considered moral reflection on a set of problems that do not lend themselves to easy resolution.

In this statement, as in the “Faithful Citizenship” document, the bishops have provided an example of how teachers of the Church can inform public discourse by neither exceeding their competence nor shirking their responsibility.

11/19/2007 6:48 PM
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Here is a translation of a Page 1 article in Osservatore Romano yesterday, Sunday, 11/18/07. The author is a liturgist, a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who often writes for the Italian media and FIDES, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Sixty years since Pius XII's encyclical
Mediator Dei on liturgical reform

Let the liturgy dispute
be waged without prejudice

By Fr. Nicola Bux

There is a battle going on about the liturgy. But unlike the one waged at the start of the 20th century which led to the Liturgical Movement, the issue now is over the traditional Roman rite.

But the Holy Father assures us: the battle for the correct interpretation and worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy is necessary in every generation.

Today, in seeking to fulfill liturgical reform, the stake is great: "to reach an internal reconciliation within the Church itself" (Apostolic letter with the Motu Proprio summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007).

Should we ignore the Pope's appeal, if we truly love the church and sacred liturgy?

Now, if those who love or have discovered the traditional liturgy are also convinced "of the value and sanctity of the new rite', everyone else should reflect on the fact that "in the history of liturgy, there is growth and progress but no rupture. What was sacred and great for preceding generations remains sacred and great for us, and cannot suddenly be prohibited altogether or in fact,judged to be dangerous."

Benedict XVI's words remind us of others: "If on the one hand, we observe with pain that in some regions, the sense, the consciousness and study of liturgy are often rare or non-existent, on the other hand, we note with great apprehension that some are too eager for novelty and have strayed far from the way of healthy doctrine and prudence. In their interest and desire for renewal, the latter often propose principles that, in theory or in practice, compromise the holy cause of liturgy itself and are often contaiminated with errors that have an impact on the Catholic faith and ascetic doctrine."

Those words were written by Pope Pius XII in the Introduction to his encyclical Mediator Dei. The logic is the same as Benedict's: tradition is necessary, and innovation is ineluctable - both are in the nature of the ecclesial body as well as of the human body.

Tradition and innovation are not opposed to each other but are complementary and interdependent. Therefore, it makes no sense to be extreme, to just be an innovator or a traditionalist.

Rather, Pius XII suggests, the two poles in this confrontation should meet each other and face off without prejudice and with great charity, under the guidance of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline, and with the help of the Order of St. Benedict, both mentioned in his encyclical.

It is right that we should begin with Mediator Dei, published on November 29, 2007, by the Servant of God Pius XII: this was the most important doctirnal document on the liturgy before Vatican-II, without which one cannot fully understand the Liturgical Constitution Sacrosanctum concilium issued 16 years alter, on December 4, 1963.

It was the principal source for the classical formulation and doctrinal contents, as well as for comparison between the traditional liturgy and the proposed reforms.

Reading that encyclical 60 years after it was issued helps to overcome prejudice against the pre-conciliar church and against a Pope whom his successor John XXIII described as 'Doctor optimus, Ecclesiae sanctae lumen, divinae legis ad monitor" (Supreme doctor, light of the Holy church, divine law and guide) in his first encyclical Ad Petri cathedram. Those are the three titles given by a liturgical antiphon in the Roman Missal to Doctors of the Church.

Pius XII did not limit hismelf to enunciating his liturgical doctrine through the encyclical, but followed through with reforms: He allowed the use of the vernacular with Latin for some parts of the liturgy in some countries of Europe and Latin America where Catholicism was in no danger; he allowed certain conditions for celebrating the Vespertine Mass in 1957, in a revival of the liturgical day; he revised the rules on eucharistic fasting (1953), as well as the indications for renewing sacred music, following the footsteps of St. Pius X.

It is well known that as early as 1946, "Pius XII had already instituted a commission for the general reform of the liturgy, which started its work in 1948, and which would be absorbed in 1959 into the Second Vatican Council's preparatory commission for the liturgy.
It is therefore not out of place to say that Vatican-II's constitution on the liturgy started to take shape in 1948, taking off rom Pius XII's encyclical" (Andrea Tornelli, Pio XII. Eugenio Pacelli, un uomo sul trono di Pietro, Milano, 2007, p. 510).

The preparatory work, which had been done in depth, would help avoid a rejection in the Council as had happened to other preliminary draft documents for Vatican-II.

And the way was paved by Mediator Dei, which would earn Pius XII as well the title of 'divini cultus instaurator' (renewer of the divine rite of worship).

The rite of worship or liturgy takes place only for, with and in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we do not really get to adore God the Father nor succeed in sanctifying ourselves.

Therefore, it is not us who make the liturgy, as the introduction to Mediator Dei explains: "'Tthe Mediator between God and men' (1 Tim, 2,5), the great Pontiff who entered the heavens, Jesus Son of God (cfr Heb 4,14), taking on himself the work of mercy with which to enrich the human species with supernatural gifts...awaited by all, bringing health to souls with the continuous exercise of prayer and sacrifice, until on the Corss, he offered himself as an immaculate victim to God in order to strip our consciences of dead works and serve the living God (cfr ivi,9,14)...the Divine Redeemer wished therefore, that the priestly life started by him in his mortal Body...should not cease in the course of centuries within his muystical Body which is the Church; and therefore, he offered a visible rite of priesthood to be offered wherever 'they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering' (cfr Mal 1,11 ), so that all men, from the East and from the West, freed from sin, and with the obligation of conscience, would spntaneously and gladly serve God. Therefore, the Church, faithful to the mandate received from its Founder, continues the priestly office of Jesus Christ above all in the Sacred Liturgy."

Such an introduction makes us understand that no one can speak of liturgy without starting with Christ as Mediator Dei, and without understanding liturgy as the supreme and continuous manifestation of Christ's mediation.

Christ is the place of encounter between God and man, making liturgy the summit of the life of the Church and the source of every grace. The liturgy as culmen et fons, the celebrated dyad of Sacrosanctum concilium which synthesizes the concept, is already found in Mediator Dei.

The first part of the encyclical is entitled
Nature, origin and progress of liturgy

Man should turn to God, orient himself toward God: this is manifested by rendering 'the worship owed to the one true God' (I,1).

In the Old Testament, it is God himself who established the norms for worship. In the New Testament, it is the revelation that Jesus himself fulfilled with his life, death and resurrection, that becomes an offering and a worship pleasing to God, until "entering into the heavenly beatitude, he wished that the rite instituted by him in his earthly life should be continued without interruption" (I,1).

Christ's work of Redemption is re-formulated analogously in Sacrosanctum concilium (cfr 5-6).

Pius XII's encyclical traces liturgical norms and institutions to the will of the Lord. He is their author and therefore they should be followed with joyous obedience. The altar on which the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered is elevated - it is a high altar (ara), not a table, to signify that we receive the liturgy from on high, and that we do not make it up from below.

There is a second essential element in Catholic liturgy: "In every liturgical action, therefore, its Divine Founder is present together with the Church: Christ is present in the august sacrifice on the altar, both in the presence of his minister, and supremely in the Eucharistic species. He is present in the Sacraments where it is by his virtue that they are effective instruments for sanctity; and He is present in the praises and supplications addressed to God, as it was written: 'Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in their midst'(Mt 18,20)".

That passage is cited in the paragraph of Sacrosanctum concilium about the presence of Christ (no. 7) with he addition of the line "He is present in the word, since it is he who speaks whenever Sacred Scripture is read in Church". Before that, it describes Christ as the 'Mediator between God and men' and 'the fullness of divine worship' (no. 5).

Thus, the encyclical could define liturgy as "the integral worship of the mystical Body of Christ, that is, its Head as well as its members."

Liturgy serves to raise our spirit evermore towards God in order to consecrate it: "And so, the priesthood of Jesus Christ continues to be actual in the succession of time, since liturgy is nothing but the exercise of that priesthood" (I,1).

Priest, presbyter or bishop, each one knows that he participates intimately in the sacrifice and - the Latin word for priest, sacerdos, comes from sacer, sacred, and dos, endowment - should help the faithful 'climb' towards God, siource of all sanctity. For this, the rites of sacramental worship - liturgical actions that are repeated again and again in a prescribed manner - are an effective tool, somewhat like regular exercises for the soul.

That is the reason "the entire coomplex of worship rites that the Church offers to God should be both internal and external. External, because it requires the participation of man who is made up of body and soul; because God has said that "by getting to know him through things that are visible, we may be attracted to love the things that are invisible" (Roman Missal, Preface for Christmas, I,2).

Worship does not involve only the individual but all humanity. In it, the unity of the mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, is made manifest.

"But the essential element of worship should be internal. It is necessary to always live in Christ, to dedicate oneself totally to Him, so that in him, with him and for him, one can give glory to God.
Sacred liturgy demands that both these elements be intimately conjoined
... Otherwise, religion becomes formalism without foundation and without content... the Divine Teacher would consider unworthy of the sacred temple and expel those who think to honor God only with the sound of well-constructed words and theatrical gestures, and who are convinced that they can well look after their eternal salvation without uprooting inveterate vices from their souls (cfr Mk 7,6; Isa 29,13)" (I,2).

The encyclical, according to the classic doctrine of ex opere perato and ex opere operantis Ecclesiae, recalls that "the worship rendered to God by the Church in union with its Divine Head, has its maximum efficacy of sanctification" in the Mass and the Sacraments.

It warns against theories on 'objective piety' which lead to ignoring 'subjective piety' or that which is personal. Such theories live on today in the idea that 'community participation' in the liturgy is exclusive.

Instead, the effectiveness of liturgy requires the right spiritual dispostion both of the faithful as well as the priest, not only during the liturgy but in preparation for it.

Thus, the encyclical calls for the Pauline exhortation "Everyone must examine himself' especially before the Eucharist.

It recalls the proper attitude for participating in liturgy: "Genuine piety, that which the Angelic Doctor called 'devotion', is the principal act of the virtue of religion by which men orient themselves correctly, towards God, in order to dedicate themselves freely to worship" (cfr St. Thomas, Summa Theol. II.a IIae, q. 82 a. 1).

For this reason, it is necesary to "subject our senses and their faculties to reason illuminated by faith". To do this, "it is necessary to keep in mind the Pauline teaching : "You are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (cfr 1 Cor 3.23).

The true piety, pr devotion, necessatry to the liturgy, comes from belonging to Christ, and through him, to God. The awareness of belonging to the Lord makes the rite of worship operate unceasingly "until Christ is formed in us" (cfr Gal 4,19)" (I,2).

The Church hierarcy should watch over the correspondence between lex orandi and the faith, so that the worship which the Church renders to God "is a continuous profession of the Catholic faith and an exercise of hope and charity" (I,2).

Liturgy as manifestation of the Church

Pius XII, referring to the constitution Divini cultus of his predecessor Pius XI, observed that the church hierarchy "had no doubts about changing everyting - outside the substance of the eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments - that it considered no longer appropriate and to add whatever can best contribute to honoring Christ and the august Trinity, and to the instruction and healthy encouragement of the Christian people." (I,4).

Liturgy is composed of divine and human elements. "That is why pious institutions obliterated by time are sometimes called back into use and renewed" (I,4).

That is the criterion that guided Pope Pius XII in restoring the Ordo of Holy Week, reviving an old tradition which would be accepted as well in the conciliar Constitution (cfr Sacrosanctum concilium, No. 50).

Pope Paul VI applied it too in the 1965 edition of the Roman Missal, when he lightened the old Mass by ridding it of redundancies which had accrued over the years.

And that same criterion is back in force in the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI.

That criterion, according to Mediator Dei, presides over the evolution of rites without falling into archeologism (the old for the sake of being old): "The Liturgy of early Christianity is doubtless worthy of veneration, but an old practice, by mere reason of being old, is not necessarily the best....Even the more recent liturgical rites are respectable which emerge with the influence of the Holy Spirit" (I,5).

Liturgical reform, according to Pius XII, results from necessity, because liturgy itself continually tends to re-form itself in the course of organic development. Abuses cannot and should not make it dubious. So he reminds us that there exists a Congregation for Divine Worship "to safeguard the sanctity of the rites of worship against abuses."

Liturgy is a manifestation of the Church - Body and Head. It is an organism that produces ever-new energies while conserving its fundamental form. All this would be reaffirmed in the liturgical constitution (cfr No. 21).

But Pius XII also points out that popular piety has contributed in noteworthy manner to the development of liturgy - pietyunderstood as participation "in the very sentiments of Jesus Christ himself".

How much has been written that before the Second Vatican Council, liturgy did not favor popular participation, and that the Council restored the liturgy to the people!

The second part of Pius XII's encyclical touches on eucharistic worship and within it, the participation of the faithful "not with passive, negligent or distracted attendance but with such commitment and fervor to come intointimate contact with the High Priest as the Apostle Paul said: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2,5), offering with him and for him, sanctifying himself with him" (II,2).

Could one think that the participation in liturgy desired by the Council can do away with this? How would it be if liturgy did not demand "to reproduce in itself, for as much as humanly possible, the same spiritual state of the Divine Redeemer when he made a sacrifice of himself: humble subnmission of the spirit, which is adoration, praise, thanksgiving to the supreme Majesty of God... It demands, in sort, our mystical death on the Cross with Christ" (II,2)?

Did the Council change anything in this respect?

The peak of the participation of the faithful, according to Pius XII, is to offer the eucharistic sacrifice together with the priest, offering themselves as sacrificial victims, citing for this the Letter to the Romans: "I urge you therefore, brothers,... to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. " (12,1).

At this point, the encyclical recalls that one could then say of the faithful what the Roman Canon says: "Your faith has been recognized and your devotion noted" (II,2).

Even St. Leo the Great in the fifth century asked himself: "Is it not then the priestly function to consecrate to the Lord a pure conscience and offer with him on the altar of the heart the immaculate sacrifices of our worship?" (Discourses, 4,2).

Thus, liturgy helps the faithful to actualize what the Apostle Paul said: "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2,19-20). Could the Council have meant otherwise in the matter of participation?

The encyclical also deals with the means for promoting such participation: from responses to the priest, to sacred song. Still, external participation does not count as much as the awareness of belonging to the Body of Christ, which is the true sense of participation in the liturgy.

The participation of the faithful is meant to "enrich their life in growing glorification of the Lord" (II,2). This does not mean that everyone must 'do something' but there are other more profound modalities such as silence, reverence for mystery, attentiveness to gestures, signs and symbols.

Participation is inseparable from piety because Christian worship should contribute to the sanctification of the faithful. The rites of liturgy have a mystagogic function of realizing the union of the faithful with God, their 'divinization.'

With great pastoral intuition, Pius XII aimed to render it more 'intelligible'. In what sense? By assuring 'comfortable and fruitul' participation, which culminates in sacramental and mystical communion with the Lord.

Pius XII woudld intervene another time, in 1957, to define the duty of active and conscious participation by the faithful. The nature of liturgy requires such participation.

But on this subject, Sacrosanctum Concilium almost makes a counterpoint to Mediator Dei (especially No. 14; also cfr, in stating the primacy of the Word of God in liturgy, the use of the vernacular alongside Latin, some legtimate adaptation to accommodate different cultures, except where it concerns the substantial unity of the Roman rite.

We will not treat here of what the encyclical says about eucharistic communion, except to underline the importance of preparing for it and for giving thanks, that "through the means of the Eucharist, Christ dwells in us, and we dwell in Christ; and as Christ remaining in us lives and works on us, so it is necessary that, remaining in Christ, we live and work for him" (II,3).

Thus adoration of Christ begins in our hearts, and participation of the faithful reaches its culmination in adoration, just as the liturgical rite itself reaches its end (cfr II, 4).

Proposition Number 4 of the Bishops Synod of 2005 recognizes that adoration "arises from the eucharistic action - which in itself is the greatest act of adoration by the Church, which prepares its faithful to participate fully, consciously, actively and fruitfully in the sacrifice of Christ according to the wishes of Vatican-II - and leads back to it."

The link between celebration and adoration was reaffirmed by Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005:

"At the time of the liturgical reform, the Mass considered as a eucharistic meal and adoration of the Blessed Sacrmaent were oftn seen to be in opposition to each other: that the Eucharistic Bread was not given to us to contemplate but to eat, according to a then widespread notion.

"But the Church's experience of prayer has shown the lack of sense in such a contrapostiion. St. Augustine said, 'Nemo autem illum carnem manducat, nisi prius adoraverit...peccemus non adorando'- No one eats this flesh without first adoring it; we would sin if we did not adore it(cfr Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9 CCL XXXIX 1385).

"In fact, it is not that in the Eucharist we receive just something. It is the encounter and unification of persons, but the person that comes to meet us and wishes to unite himself with us is the Son of God. Such a unification can only be realized through adoration.

"To receive the Eucharist means to adore him whom he receive. Precisely thus and only then do we become one with him.... And in this personal act of encounter with the Lord, even the social mission which is encompassed in the Eucharist matures, to explode the barriers not only between the Lord and us, but also and above all, the barriers which separate us from each other."

This long citation is not a digression, and it contains the statement of St. Augustine which can also be found in Mediator Dei in the paragraph on Eucharistic adoration (II,4), a sign that there is no discontinuity between the Magisterium of Pius XII and that of the Church today.

Adoration requires the disposition to receive Christ with due reverence and, in particular, it means that the Eucharist is sacrifice and sacrament at the same time. Thus, the Church from the earliest times never considered the presence of the Eucharistic monstrance in the altar of celebration as conflictual.

The centrality of Christ

In the third part, the encyclical is about the divine office and the liturgical year, taking off from the principle that the ideal of Christian life is intimate union with the Lord, which can come only "through our Lord Jesus Christ", who, as mediator between God and us, shows to the heavenly Fahter his glorious stigmata, who "lives forever to make intercession for them" (Heb 7,25).

It recommends to the faithful the recitation of the Psalms and active participation in tee recitation of the Vespers for Sunday and religious feasts.

On the liturigcal year, it recalls that it has at its center "the person of Jesus Christ... our Savior, in the mysteries of his humiliation, redemption and triumph. Evoking anew these mysteries of Jesus Christ, the sacred liturgy aims to make all believers participants, such that the Divine Head of the mystical Body lives in the fullness of his sanctity in every single member" (III,2).

In this context, the Pope does not fail to stigmatize "how far from the true and genuine concept of liturgy are those modern writers who, deluded by claiming a higher mystic discipline, dare to affirm that one should not concentrate on the historical Jesus, but on a 'pneumatic and glorified' Christ, and who prclaim with certainty that th piety of the faithful has been silenced, for whom Christ is almost dethroned, obscuring the glorified Christ who lives and reigns for ever and ever and sits at the right hand of the Father, substituting for him the earthly Christ. Some have even succeeded in removing from the Church all images of the suffering Christ. But these false opinions are all contrary to traditional doctrine.

"'Believe in Christ born of flesh,' St. Augustine said, 'and you will arrive at the Christ born of God, beside God" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 123, n. 2). Sacred liturgy presents us with all of Christ, in the various aspects of his life" (III,2), as even Eastern liturgy continues to do. The liturgy is the persistence of the mysteries of Christ in the mystery of the Church, and that of the Virgn and the saints" (cr III,3).

The fourth part of the encyclical is dedicated to pastoral directives: from recommendations of devotional forms such as examination of conscience, to which "the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit cannot be alien" (Iv,1), to 'avoiding that liturgical prayer be reduced to nothing but vain ritualism".

One can say much more but we have space limitations - because today, secularism is undermining Christian worship. The true goal to reach is "to be holy and immaculate in his presence' (Eph 1,4). That is how to promote the liturgical spirit and apostolate so that, as Pius X said in his Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudine, the liturgy should shine with three ornaments: "sanctity, which abhors every profane influence; the nobility of images and forms served by all genuine art; and finally, universality, whereby the catholic unity of the Church is expressed even while preserving legitimate regional customs and practices" (IV, 2).

Pius XII does not fail to deplore the proliferation of images without reason or the exposition of false relics and other similar practices.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors Pius X and Pius XI, Pius XII urges the use of musica sacra and Gregorian chant even for popular use, of schoale cantorum, of prayer responses in Latin and in the vernacular, without excluding modern music and song (as long as they are suitable to the sanctity of the place and to the sacred acts, without seeking extraordinary or unaccustomed effects), and popular religious songs.

On sacred art, the Pope advised avoiding "with wise equilibrium, excessive realism on the one hand, and exaggerated symbolism on the other, but taking account of the needs of the Christian community rather than the personal judgment and taste of the artists" and that "it is absoluitely necessary to keep the door open to modern art, if - with the proper reverence and honor - it can serve sacred places and sacred rites, and can join its voice to the wondrous canticle of glory that geniuses have sung over the centuries about the Catholic faith" (Iv,2).

This recommendation, which was particularly urgent then when the Church was girding to restore and rebuild the destruction of war, was also carried on by Paul VI, and remains very relevant.

Pius XII then expressed his concern for the formation of clergy and for lahymen who can serve at the altar, referring to the treasures contained in sacred liturgy that are appropriate for forming Christian thought and deed, without separating these from spirituality.

Lastly, he reminds us that liturgy on earth is a preparation and a hope for the celestial, where "in company with the Mother of God and our kindest Mother, we will sing 'to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, all blessing and honor and power for ever and ever' (Rev 5,13)" (Iv,2).

In the sacred liturgy, we do not measure time, nor splednor, or the candles and incense, because nothing is more important than the work of God that liturgy is, in itself, which is a foretaste of Paradise.

An itinerary from the sensible to the spiritual, it orients us to the Jerusalem on high, where Christ and the Father await us who are pilgrims towards heaven.

Earthly liturgy takes place in temples which we construct and will come to an end, but in the eternal Jeruslaem, 'its temple is the Lord God omnipotent and the Lamb (REv 21,22).

Liturgy constitutes a permanent call to enter the heavenly city. For the Fathers of the Church, liturgy was the divine mystery entrusted to men to be treated with veiled hands as the Byantine angels do.

"Whoever does not do this," St. Francis admonishes, "should know that he must explain to the Lord Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment" (Ep to the clergy, 14).

Nothing changes in traditional doctrine

We noted at the beginning that the remote cause for the opposition to the traditional Roman rite is different. Not a few interventions directed aginst the Motu Proprio have advanced the idea that the objector cannot recognize himself in the Missal of Pius V, even though these persons had previously used it, in the version of Blessed John XIII, and that it was the Mass celebrated during all of Vatican-II.

And how can they reconcile that objection with what Paul VI said during the sessions of the Council: "Nothing has changed in the traditional docctrine. What Christ wanted is what we too want. What wass, remains. What the Church taught for centuries, we are teaching in the same way."

Since sacred liturgy manifests the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, which is the same as it has been for all time, then it would seem like the objectorsd speak for a Church that is not what the Council defined in its dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium and which underlies Sacrosanctum concilium.

The latter document, as we have shown, owes a great deal to the preparations carried out under the reforming work of Pius XII, and even earlier, in his reflections on the Church as the mystical Body of Christ in the encyclical Mystici corporis, which was in turn incorporated into Lumen gentium.

The doctrine of the Church as a body united with Christ and that of integral worship by the entire Body of Christ - head and members- are
inseparable. Mediator Dei has the merit that it started a balanced reform of the liturgy on such a solid basis.

L'Osservatore Romano - 18 novembre 2007)


Here is some background info/commentary on Mediator Dei from New Catholic on the Rorate caeli blog:

Two years after the end of hostilities in Europe, Pope Pius XII, considering the several and growing abuses of the corrupt wing which was threatening to engulf the Liturgical Movement - abuses which had multiplied in intensity during the 1930s and in the war years, particularly in the Germany he knew so well and loved so much, in Belgium, and in France - decided that the time had come for the Apostolic See to take control of the Movement once again and to deter and subdue its bizarre deviations.

More than forty years had passed since the stern measures by which Pope Saint Pius X (whom Pope Pacelli would soon beatify and canonize) successfully tamed the great impulses which had characterized the Liturgical Movement since its beginnings in the previous century and guided them towards its true Traditional end: "the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church" (Motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, 1903).

It was clear to Pius XII that the worst aspects of Modernism (as well as several Jansenist ideas on Sacred Liturgy) had infiltrated the Liturgical Movement. Or rather: the measures adopted by Saint Pius X against Modernists had been so successful at driving them underground that their worst ideas survived only as corruptions of the Liturgical Movement.

Mediator Dei was, then, a solemn gesture to hold in place and within the limits of orthodoxy the centrifugal forces which were causing increasing distress and scandal throughout the Church.

Yet, it would not be appropriate to limit the scope of this majestic encyclical to the abuses of the Liturgical Movement. It was, first and foremost, the definitive and unsurpassed Papal document on Sacred Liturgy, as current today as it was then.


Mediator Dei's Relevance for the Modern Day
posted by Shawn Tribe

On the 20th of November, 1947, sixty years ago to the day, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical, Mediator Dei, dedicated to the topic of the sacred liturgy. As a document, it remains as important now as it was then, perhaps more so.

First and foremost, of course, it presents the liturgical theology of the Church as expressed in the venerable Latin liturgical tradition. It bears pertinent witness to the matter of organic development as contrary to either radical innovationism, an immobilistic kind of traditionalism or idealized archeologism; it bears witness to the interior and exterior dimensions of the sacred liturgy. The liturgical depths of the encyclical are indeed too many to go into in this brief mention.

Beyond these aspects, the encyclical also acts as a kind of historical witness, commenting upon some of the liturgical triumph and struggles of the time that were taking place in the context of the Liturgical Movement; a movement which, like all others, had its positives and its negatives; its goods and its excesses:

...while We derive no little satisfaction from the wholesome results of the movement just described, duty obliges Us to give serious attention to this "revival" as it is advocated in some quarters, and to take proper steps to preserve it at the outset from excess or outright perversion. Indeed, though we are sorely grieved to note, on the one hand, that there are places where the spirit, understanding or practice of the sacred liturgy is defective, or all but inexistent, We observe with considerable anxiety and some misgiving, that elsewhere certain enthusiasts, over-eager in their search for novelty, are straying beyond the path of sound doctrine and prudence. Not seldom, in fact, they interlard their plans and hopes for a revival of the sacred liturgy with principles which compromise this holiest of causes in theory or practice, and sometimes even taint it with errors touching Catholic faith and ascetical doctrine." (Paras. 7-8)

Coming less than two decades before the Council, after which so much liturgical turmoil would be felt in so many parishes of the Latin rite, a reading of Mediator Dei might seem eerily prophetic:

"Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion.

But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See." (paragraph 62).

The picture Pius XII paints of this "crooked liturgical path" (to develop upon the image of "the straight path" used by him) is the picture of so much modern parish liturgical praxis and modern liturgical thought.

Of course, this is not so much a case of prophetic insight as it is a testament to the fact that these liturgical propositions were not created ex nihilo at or after the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, many practices we today think of as "post-conciliar", while not as prevalent, did find their advent in the pre-conciliar period under the broad banner of the Liturgical Movement - enough so that Pius XII felt compelled to address these propositions, and it is a correction that is still quite relevant.

After all, the influence wielded by the archeologistic/innovationist school of the Liturgical Movement was able, despite this correction, to push many of these very things through in both thought and practice: the ancient table form of altar did become de rigeur to a great extent; black vestments were rarely seen and often opposed; many paintings and bits of statuary were removed from churches; it became fashionable for a resurrected form of Christ to be placed on the cross in place of the crucified Christ; chant was pushed aside and polyphony thought of as "art music".

Mediator Dei is both a sober reminder of our own task today to re-enchant the liturgy, as well as an excellent tool for liturgical formation. Particularly on this the anniversary of this great encyclical I would encourage people to read it and to study it.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/21/2007 5:48 PM]
11/20/2007 1:15 AM
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By Maurizio Fontana
Issue of 19-20 November 2007

Sixty years since the publication of Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei, the debate on liturgy is alive and open. The recent going into force of Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum - which allows celebration of the traditional Mass without asking the local bishop's permission - has fueled a confrontation which has never really died down since the Second Vatican Council.

In the November 18 issue of L'Ossrvatore Romano, Nicola Bux, referring to Mediator Dei, reaffirmed the importance of a wide-ranging debate on liturgy carried on 'without prejudice and with great charity'. A confrontation, he said, that should be guided by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline.

We therefore interviewed Mons. Albert Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of that Congregation.

Let us start with Mediator Dei. could we summarize its most relevant aspects?

With that encyclical, Pius XII - working also on the basis of what Pius X wrote in his Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini - sought to present to the faithful a theological summary of the intimate essence of liturgy. He dwelt on pointing out its origins and defined it as Christ's priestly act to render praise and glory to God and, above all through his supreme sacrifice, to fulfill God the Father's plan for the salvation of mankind. In this sense, Christ is at the center of prayer and the priestly function of the Church.

"The Divine Redeemer," we read in the encyclical, " intended that the priestly life he began in his mortal body with his prayers and his sacrifice, should not cease in the course of centuries in his mystical Body which is the church."

Essentially, the encyclical shows that the rite of worship is not ours, but Christ's, in which we all take part. That is more or less the line that Benedict XVI has offered in his liturgical writings before asnd after he became Pope: namely, it is not us who carry out the liturgical rite, but in performing it, we are simply conforming to a heavenly liturgical act which happens in eternity.

Pius XII's encyclical on liturgy preceded Vatican-II's Sacrosanctum concilium by 16 years. What relationship can we find between the two documents? Is there a continuity? And is it true, as Fr. Bux wrote yesterday, that without Mediator Dei, one cannot fully understand Vatican-II's liturgical constitution?

One can definitely say that the pre=-conciliar liturgical reform begun by Pius XII was an opening for what would take place in Vatican-II.

The fact that Sacrosanctum concilium was the first document to come out of Vatican II confirms not only the primary importance of liturgy for the life of the Church, but also that evidently, the Council Fathers already had ready instruments at their disposition to proceed to a rapid definition of the issues and the renewal of the liturgy.

One must also remember that most of the experts who worked in the pre-conciliar reform were integrated into the committee that prepared Sacrosanctum concilium.

In fact, Sacrosanctum concilium - even with its emphasis on the pastoral concern to make liturgy more effective and participatory - expresses the concept of participation in the celestial liturgy quite well. In a way, this aspect of Mediator Dei flows naturally into Sacrosanctum concilium.

Even in the formulation of the two documents, we can see a more or less identical scheme of composition. The links are quite clear -Sacrosanctum concilium continues the great tradition of Mediator Dei, just as Mediator Dei itself was in line with preceding Popes, particularly Pius X.

So with this continuity, perhaps some prejudices against the pre-conciliar church, and in particular, against Pius XII himself, may be overcome...

We can certainly hope so. Moreover Cardinal Ratzinger - in Rapporto sulla Fede [The Ratzinger Report, English ed.] spoke of the difference between a faithful interpretation of the Council and an approach to it that was rather adventurous and unreal, as advanced by some theological circles animated by what they would soon call 'the spirit of Vatican II' but which he instead called an anti-Spirit or Konzils-Ungeist.

The same distinction can be seen relatively to what happened in liturgy. In many of the innovations that have been introduced, one can see substantial differences between what Sacrosanctum concilium textually says and the post-conciliar reforms that were carried out.

It is true that the document allowed room for interpretation and research, but it was not an invitation to liturgical renewal understood as something to realize ex novo. On the contrary, it declared itself fully within the tradition of the Church.

As you pointed out, from Mediator Dei to the Vatican-II documents, the centrality of Christ in the liturgy was always affirmed with clarity and vigor. Has the so-called post-conciliar church been able to embody this?

With this, we touch a sore point. It is, in fact, a practical problem: the value of the norms and instructions given in the liturgical books [the books officially used by the Church for its rites] have not been fully understood by everyone in the Church. Let me make an example.

That which takes place at the altar is well explained in the liturgical texts, but some isntructions have not been taken seriously at all. In fact, there has been a tendency to interpret the post-conciliar liturgical reform as if it intended 'creativity' to be the rule. But that is not allowed by the published norms.

So, in many places, the liturgy does not seem to express Christocentrism at all, but rather a spirit of immanentism and of anthropocentrism. [In blunt terms, 'anything goes' and 'me, me, me - I am the center of all'].

But true anthropocentrism should be Christocentric. That which is happening at the altar is not something that is 'ours' - it is Christ who acts, and the centrality of his figure takes away the act from our control, so to speak. We are absorbed - and we should let ourselves be absorbed - in that act, so much that at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, we proclaim the stupendous doxology which says, "For him, in him, and with him".

So the 'creative' tendency I referred to is not allowed at all in the instructions found in the liturgical books. Unfortunately, the practice comes from a wrong interpretation of the Council texts or perhaps an unfamiliarity with them and with liturgy itself!

We must keep in mind that liturgy has a 'conservative' character, but not in the negative sense that the word has today.

The Old Testament shows us the great faithfulness [of the Jews] to their rites, and Jesus himself continued to observe the rites of his ancestors faithfully. Therefore, the Church followed such examples.

St. Paul says, "I pass on to you that which I received" (1 Cor 11,23), not 'that which I made up'. This is very central. We are called on to be faithful to something that does not belong to us, but which is given to us. We should be faithful to the seriousness with which the sacraments should be celebrated. Why should we fill up page upon page of instructions if everytone thinks he is authorized to do as he pleases?

After the publication of Summorum Pontificum, the debate between so-called traditionalists and innovators has re-ignited. Is there a sense to this?

Absolutely not. There was not and there is no break between the before and after, there is a continuous line.

With respect to the traditional Mass, there had been a growing demand for it over time, which also became more organized little by little. At the same time, faithfulness to the standards of celebrating the sacraments was falling. The more such faithfulness diminished, along with the beauty and wonder of liturgy, the more some Catholics looked back to the traditional Mass.

So in fact, who have been asking for the traditional Mass to be made more easily available? Not just the organized groups, but even those who have lost respect for Masses that are not performed with appropriate respect for the actual norms of the Novus Ordo.

For years, the liturgy has undergone so many abuses, and so many bishops have simply ignored them. Pope John Paul II made a heartfelt appeal in Ecclesia Dei afflicta, which called on the Church to be more serious about the liturgy. And he did it again in the Instruction Redemptoris sacramentum. But many liturgists and diocesan offices of liturgy criticized the Papal documents. [And obviously did nothing mostly about it.]

The problem then is not so much about the traditional Mass, but an almost unlimited abuse of the nobility and dignity of the Eucharistic celebration. And this was something about which Pope Benedict could not be silent, as we saw in his explanatory letter to the bishops and in his many speeches. He feels a great sense of pastoral responsiblity.

Therefore, this document [Sunmmorum Pontificum], beyond being an attempt to bring back the Society of St. Pius X into the Church is also a gesture, a strong call from the universal Pastor for a sense of seriousness about the liturgy.

Is it also a reflection on those who are responsible for the formation of priests?

I would say so. Moreover, in the face of some arbitrary concessions in liturgy that one cannot take seriously, one must ask what are they teaching in seminaries now?

One cannot approach liturgy with a superficial, 'unscientific' attitude. That goes both for those who have a 'creative' interpretation of liturgy as well as for those who presume too easily that they are recreating liturgy as it was in the early days of the Church. In liturgy, one always needs careful attentive exegesis; one cannot launch into fanciful and ingenuous interpretations.

Above all, there is a tendency in some liturgical circles to undervalue how much the Church matured in the second millennnium of its history. They talk about impoverished rituals, but this is a very banal and simplistic conclusion.

Instead, we believe that the Tradition of the Church manifests itself as a continuous development. We cannot say that one part of tradition is better than another. What matters is the action of the Holy Spirit through the highs and lows of history. We should be faithful to this continuity of tradition.

Liturgy is central for the life of the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi, but also lex vivendi. (We pray as we believe and as we live). For a true renewal of the Church - as Vatican-II intended - liturgy must not be limited only to being an academic study. It should become an absolute priority in the local Churches.

That's why it is necessary that the proper importance should be given at the local level to liturgical formation according to what the Church teaches.

After all is said and done, the priestly life is tightly related to what the priest celebrates and how he does it. If a priest celebrates the Eucharist well, then one can be sure that he is disposed to consistency (with the Church) and that he indeed becomes part of the Sacrifice of Christ. And so, the liturgy can be that fundamental in the formation of priests who are holy.

And that is a great responsibility for the bishops who, in this way, could do so much for a renewal of trhe Church.

An aspect that is not secondary in this debate on liturgy is on sacred art, starting with the important matter of liturgical music. Recently, this newspaper confronted this issue and reported some considerations by Mons. Valentin Miserachs Grau which were hardly reassuring.

The Congregation is still studying the document for the new antiphonal, and we have consulted the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music; we hope to come to a quick conclusion.

To sing is to pray twice, St. Augustine has said, and I think this is very true, especially of Gregorian chant which is a priceless treasure.

In Sacramentum caritatis, the Pope spoke clearly about the ned to teach Gregorian chant and Latin in seminaries. We should guard, preserve and value this immense patrimony of the Catholic church and use it to praise the Lord. But we certainly need to do much work on this aspect.

Of course, there are many songs used in Church which are not in the Gregorian tradition. We have to make sure they are truly edifying for the faith, that they provide spiritual nourishment to those who participate in the liturgy, and that they truly prepare the hearts of the listeners to listen to the Word of God.

In any case, the contents (lyrics) of songs used in Church should be watched closely by the bishop to avoid, for instance, New Age concepts. In this respect, a great sense of discretion is necessary with respect to musical instruments that are appropriate for Church, that they can serve to edify the faith.

In terms of church architecture, the dialog with the specialists is pretty well delineated. More difficult is that with figurative artists. While some leading contemporary artists appear to be involved in works that interpret sacred themes, they seem to be far less involved when it comes to works specifically intended for places of worship. Is it simply a matter of commissions or does the dialog with modern artists that was so dear to Paul VI need new impetus?

The Council dedicated an entire chapter to sacred art. Among the principles stated is the relationship between art and faith. Dialog is essential. Every artist is a special inddividual, with his own style of which he takes great pride. So we must be able to enter the artist's heart with the dimension of faith. It's not easy, but the Church should find a way to carry on a more profound dialog.

In fact, on December 1, the Congregation is sponsoring a day of 'study' at the Vatican on this mattter. We hope this will be an occasion to give new impetus to the dialog with artists and to the promotion of sacred art.

L'Osservatore Romano - 19-20 novembre 2007)
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 11/20/2007 1:15 AM]
12/6/2007 1:45 PM
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The AsiaTimes columnist has not yet written on Spe salvi, but his readers opened a forum on it, and he has joined it, first posting his comment on Paragraph 7, and going on to respond to some of the comments. I am reproducing these here:


The portion of the encyclical that struck me the most is this:

We must return once more to the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated.

The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia.

The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium — faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen.

Saint Thomas Aquinas,4 using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see.

The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo” —and thus according to the “substance” — there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence.

To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject.

In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent — at least in Germany — in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see).

This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof”.

Rightly, therefore, recent Protestant exegesis has arrived at a different interpretation: “Yet there can be no question but that this classical Protestant understanding is untenable.”

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen.

Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

This is a critical distinction. Kierkegaard agrees with Benedict against Luther: what he calls "passion" in faith creates an ontological reality, which is not merely a subjective attitude. This is demonstrated clearly by Wyschogrod in his book on Kierkegaard and Heidegger, and runs counter to the usual view of Kierkegaard as a subjectivist.

Alisdair McIntyre in his little book on Edith Stein, the Jewish convert to Catholicism who died at Auschwitz and was canonized as a saint, offers a remarkable insight into Stein's philosophical training. Kant had argued that we cannot know "things in themselves" and see only phenomena, which we process through pre-existing categories of mind which are so to speak hard-wired into our brains. But this cannot account for the way in which we actually we perceive reality.

As Husserl countered, when we hear a song, we do not hear notes, but we hear a song. Husserl's phenomonology focused instead upon the way in which the mind responds to a reality whose organization into a greater whole actually exists outside of us. Stein was trained by a Husserl student (Reinach), and her philosophical training, in McIntyre's view, prepared her for her conversion experience. He draws a parallel to the conversion experience of Rosenzweig, who was re-converted to Judaism from a secular Jewish background.

The Kantian "refutation" of scholasticism, which lies at the foundation of liberal Protestantism (as well as the "transcendental theology" of Karl Rahner) makes faith ultimately a subjective entity. If it is not entirely subjective (hope for pie in the sky) it must "give us something even now of the reality we are waiting for," as Benedict says.

Here new difficulties arise. The practice of Judaism is to bring the "world to come" into everyday life (the Sabbath as the foretaste of the world to come, in the clearest example). Rosenzweig thought Judaism to be a self-sustaining fire within a kinship community, and was dreadfully wrong.

This view of European orthodoxy was challenged by the Holocaust, and no alternative has emerged. The "religionless Christianity" of Bonhoeffer, in which the isolated individual prays in his own room, cannot sustain itself; nor can the revival-meeting enthusiasm of successive "great awakenings" in the American kaleidescope of Protestant denominations.

In recreating the People of God out of the Gentiles, the Catholic Church allowed in too much of the Gentiles' own self-worship, and in Europe foundered on pagan infiltration.

Much as I agree with Benedict that faith must "give us something even now of the reality we are waiting for," I would emphasize the word "something," for human efforts to meet God halfway through religious institutions seem to be approximations; yet it is in the character of faith that we must hope that our approximations, as inadequate as they may have been in the past, yet will succeed, even if we have to suffer through many false starts, until God intervenes to solve the problem at the Resurrection of the Dead.


Responding to a reader who commented about MacIntyre:

I appreciate your well-considered comment, as always. In fairness to MacIntyre, he did not take Husserl as an exemplar, but rather thought him an able critic of Kant. Edith Stein did not come to Catholicism via Husserl but rather through reading St. Teresa of Avila. I mention the critique of Kant in the context of Benedict's rejection of the subjective interpretation of faith.

When you say,

The distinctions of "subjective" and "objective" are modern claptrap.

What B16 attempts to hide with his talk of "a reality present within us" is his search for subjective conviction that somehow transcends the need for belief in historical reality

I think you are a bit unfair to Benedict.

Kant may be claptrap, but it is diabolically refined claptrap that managed to engross most of the leading Christian thinkers for more than a century (including the early Barth, who later recognized his error, not to mention Rahner). Luther also may be "modern claptrap," but he cannot be dismissed out of hand, either.

For Benedict to address such matters falls under his job description. I don't understand what is added by asserting that the Resurrection is "historical reality," any more than Sinai is "historical reality." Witnesses swore they saw Jesus after the Resurrection, to be sure, but Joseph Smith also had witnesses to swear that he found Golden Tablets (which I think moronic - pun intended).

One has to believe in something that lies beyond proof, and the question of how this something manifests itself in the reality of daily life is an important one. Pascal's wager isn't a very strong form of persuasion (you might as well bet on Jesus, but you'll find out if you've won after you're dead).

As for the issue of ethnicity: I have insisted that the RCC is the "indispensable institution of the West," but somehow we have to explain why the Church has diminished so drastically in Europe (including Italy, Spain, and Ireland), except for a few pockets such as Poland.

The score in Europe seems to be, Gates of Hell 1, St. Peter 0. Now, that is not the end of things. Islam more or less wiped out the Greek church, but its remnant flourished in Europe, and now, perhaps, the remnant of the European Church will flourish in the Global South. But the "churches of national salvation," as Russell Hittinger called them in an excellent 2006 article in First Things, was the source of Europe's problem, in my view.

Israel is another ethnicity. It is an anti-ethnicity. It was founded directly by God for His service, first by summoning Abraham out of Haran, and then by leading Israel out of Egypt.

"Chosen" people is a poor term. "Invented" people would be more appropriate. I do not know how the Lord could suppress the self-worship of the powerful and proud peoples of the world except by creating His own people out of shepherd folk and itinerant mercenaries, and saying in effect, "This is my people; no other people need apply for the role."

As I've argued in the past, the existence of the State of Israel is one of the most powerful arguments to prospective converts in the Global South.

To the same reader, he ripostes:

Of course a Christian must believe that the Resurrection is historical reality. The question is whence the belief. "Weighing the evidence" does not, in my view, lead to belief in Jesus Christ or anything itself (although in fairness it certainly can lead to disbelief in the angel Moroni).

Mt. Sinai may or may not be a "foundational myth," but the Resurrection also may be dismissed as a "foundational myth." Both are supernatural events in which one can believe or not.

In fact, if we dismiss Sinai as a foundational myth, we obviate if not destroy Jesus' self-revelation as the fulfillment of the Sinaic Covenant. You appear to be arguing that Reason, properly employed, can and should lead us to belief in Jesus Christ and more generally in the doctrines of the Catholic Church. I do not believe that this is the case. And that is a very long discussion, which we have been having for some time.


And to the further reply:

I agree with your statement that

I can't say that belief in Jesus is the inevitable outcome of sincere intellectual inquiry: faith is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor a snapshot frozen in time but the product of complicated life journeys that neither I nor others are competent to judge. I do say that sincere intellectual inquiry should lead to respect and that the anti-Christian attitude of secularists is puerile and self defeating for the West.

But I do not understand the distinction between the historicity of Jesus and the "mythological" character of Israel's founding. If the Catholic Church is Israel, and Jesus made sons of Abraham from stones, is the RCC the perpetuation of a myth, and did Jesus make sons of a mythological figure?


On second thought, maybe I should include the input from the reader with which Spengler carries on this discussion....[/C

Here is the link -

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/6/2007 1:46 PM]
12/7/2007 4:19 PM
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Cardinal Kasper's Ecumenism:
Truth Above All

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, December 4, 2007 – Eight days before it was published on the last day of November, Benedict XVI had announced the release of the encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, to the cardinals gathered in Rome from all over the world, at the meeting that opened the consistory.

For many of them, the announcement came as a surprise.

But the topic at the center of the discussion was not that of the encyclical, but the current state of ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the other Christian confessions.

The cardinals' meeting with the pope took up the entire day of Friday, November 23. Benedict XVI entrusted the task of introducing the discussion to cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity.

17 other cardinals spoke after Kasper's address. The meeting was held behind closed doors, but the Holy See press office, in a concise summary, related that some of the speakers indicated the implementation of the Church's social doctrine and the defense of life and the family as some of the more promising areas for ecumenism.

Others proposed continuing with the "purification of memory." Still others asked for greater attention in using "forms of communication more attentive to not wounding the sensibility of other Christians."

This last request was also presented in Kasper's address. Referring to the "Five responses" published last July by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, the cardinal had noted that these "have raised perplexity and have occasioned a certain discontent" in some Christian confessions, especially among the Protestants. And he added:

"It is to be hoped that the form, language, and public presentation of such declarations could be reviewed."

After the midday break, another 16 cardinals spoke that afternoon.

Some expanded the attention to relations with the Jews and with Islam. There was talk about the "encouraging sign" represented by the letter of the 138 Muslim personalities, and by the visit of the king of Saudi Arabia to the Holy Father.

And in this regard, a few days later a letter was made public from the cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, to Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, with the announcement of a future audience between the pope and the prince, together with some of the signatories of the letter of the 138, and of an agenda of dialogue "on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation".

A brief response from Cardinal Kasper on a few particular points and a speech by the pope concluded the day.

The Holy See press office has not put Kasper's address online, nor can it be found on the Vatican website. But it was printed in L'Osservatore Romano the following day.

In any case, it makes for very interesting reading. Because it clearly describes – on the part of someone with authority on the subject – the current state of ecumenical relations, in this order:

– with the pre-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches;
– with the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine, Syrian, and Slavic traditions;
– with the ecclesial Communities born of the Protestant Reformation;
– with the "evangelical" Communities;
– with the Charismatic and Pentecostal Communities.

Kasper accompanies this diagnosis with indications on how to continue this journey fruitfully.

Here, then, is the complete text of his relation, delivered in Italian to the cardinals on November 23 and translated into the other languages by www.chiesa:

Information and reflections
on the current ecumenical situation


In the time available, it will unfortunately be possible to present information and reflections on the current ecumenical situation only in broad outlines, and not in a comprehensive way. Nevertheless, I hope that my presentation can bring to light the action of divine providence, which leads toward the unity of separated Christians, to make their witness an increasingly clear sign for the world.


I will begin with an initial observation that I believe to be essential. What we call ecumenism - which should be distinguished from interreligious dialogue - has its foundation in the testament left to us by Jesus himself, on the eve of his death: "Ut unum sint" (John 17:21).

Vatican Council II defined the promotion of Christian unity as one of its principal goals (Unitatis Redintegratio 1) and as an impulse of the Holy Spirit (UR 1,4). Pope John Paul II declared that the ecumenical venture is an irreversible journey (Ut Unum Sint 3), and Pope Benedict XVI, from the first day of his pontificate, took on as one of his primary commitments the unsparing effort for the restoration of the full and visible unity of all of Christ's followers. He understands that the display of good intentions does not suffice for this.

There is a need for concrete actions capable of reaching within the mind and motivating the conscience, urging each person to that interior conversion that is the precondition for all progress along the path of ecumenism (homily given April 20, 2005, before the college of cardinals). Ecumenism, therefore, is not an optional choice, but a sacred obligation.

Naturally, ecumenism is not synonymous with an easygoing humanism, nor with ecclesiological relativism. It is based upon the firm awareness that the Catholic Church has of itself and of its catholic principles, of which the decree on ecumenism speaks (UR 2-4). It is an ecumenism of truth and charity; these two are intimately connected, and cannot be substituted for each other. Above all, the dialogue of truth must be respected. The concrete norms for this are presented in a binding manner in the "Ecumenical Directory" of 1993.

The most significant - and most gratifying - result of ecumenism over the past few decades is not the various documents, but the recovery of fraternity, the fact that we have rediscovered that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, that we have learned to appreciate one another and have begun together the journey toward full unity (cf. UUS 42).

Along this journey, the see of Peter has become over the past forty years an increasingly important point of reference for all the Churches and all the ecclesial Communities. If the initial enthusiasm has been replaced by an attitude of greater sobriety, this demonstrates that ecumenism has become more mature, more adult. Ecumenism has by now become a daily reality, perceived as something normal in the Church's life. It is with great gratitude that we must acknowledge in this development the action of the Spirit who guides the Church.

More specifically, we can distinguish three fields within ecumenism. First of all must be mentioned the relations with the ancient Eastern Churches and with the Orthodox Churches of the first millennium, which we recognize as authentic Churches on the ecclesiological level, having maintained, as we have, the faith and apostolic succession.

In the second place, we recall the relations with the ecclesial Communities that emerged directly or indirectly - like the free Churches - from the Reformation of the 16th century; these have developed an ecclesiology of their own, on the basis of Sacred Scripture.

Finally, the recent history of Christianity has seen a so-called "third wave," that of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, which emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and have since spread all over the world with exponential growth. Ecumenism must therefore face a varied and differentiated reality, characterized by very distinctive features depending on the cultural contexts and the local churches.


Let's begin with the Churches of the first millennium. Already in the first ten years of dialogue with the pre-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches, or the period between 1980 and 1990, we achieved important results. Thanks to the agreement reached by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II with the respective patriarchs [of Constantinople], it was possible to move beyond the ancient Christological controversies that rose up around the Council of Chalcedon (451) and, in regard to the Assyrian Church of the East, around the Council of Ephesus (381).

In its second phase, dialogue was focused on ecclesiology, or on the concept of ecclesial communion and its criteria. The next meeting is planned for Damascus, from January 27 to February 2, 2008. It is there that discussions will be held for the first time on the draft of a document on "The nature, constitution, and mission of the Church."

Thanks to this dialogue, Churches of ancient tradition, and even of apostolic tradition, are again establishing contact with the universal Church, after living on its fringes for 1500 years. That this should happen slowly, step by step, is completely normal given the circumstances, or the long centuries of separation and the great differences of culture and mentality.

Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine, Syrian, and Slavic traditions was begun officially in 1980. We share with these Churches the dogmas of the first millennium; the Eucharist and the other sacraments; the veneration of Mary, mother of God, and of the saints; the episcopal structure of the Church.

We consider these Churches, together with the ancient Eastern Churches, as sister Churches of the local Catholic churches. Differences already existed in the first millennium, but at that time they were not perceived as a cause of division within the Church.

The real and proper separation took place through a long process of estrangement and alienation, cased by a lack of mutual understanding and love, as Vatican Council II observed (UR 14). What is happening today is therefore, necessarily, a reverse process of mutual reconciliation.

The most important steps were taken during the Council. We must recall, for example, the meeting and exchange of correspondence between Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical patriarch Athenagoras, the famous "Tomos apapis," and the erasing from the Church's memory of the reciprocal excommunications of 1054, on the day before the conclusion of the Council.

On this basis, it was possible to revive some forms of ecclesial communion from the first millennium: the exchange of visits, messages, and missives between the pope and the patriarch, especially the ecumenical patriarch; the cordial coexistence and collaboration of many local churches; the permission granted by the Catholic Church for the liturgical use of its places of worship by Orthodox Christians who live among us in diaspora, as a token of hospitality and communion.

During the Angelus message delivered on the occasion of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that we are already in nearly full ecclesial communion with these Churches.

In the first ten years of dialogue, from 1980 to 1990, there was an emphasis and focus upon what we have in common in regard to the sacraments (the Eucharist above all) and the episcopal and priestly ministry. Nonetheless, the political upheaval of 1989-90 complicated our relations instead of simplifying them. The return of the Eastern Catholic Churches to public life, after years of brutal persecution and heroic resistance paid even at the price of blood, was seen by the Orthodox Churches as the threat of a new "uniatism."

Thus, during the 1990's, in spite of the important clarifications brought by the meetings in Balamand (1993) and Baltimore (2000), dialogue stagnated. The crisis became more severe above all in relations with the Russian Orthodox Church after the canonical establishment of four [Catholic] dioceses in Russia in 2002.

Thanks be to God, after many patiently conducted efforts it was possible to resume dialogue last year; in 2006, a meeting was held in Belgrade, and about a month ago we met again in Ravenna. On this occasion, there has been a decisive improvement at the level of atmosphere and relationships, in spite of the departure of the Russian delegation for inter-Orthodox reasons. Thus has begun a promising third phase of dialogue.

The document from Ravenna, entitled "The ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church," marked an important breakthrough. For the first time, our Orthodox counterparts recognized a universal level of the Church, and admitted that at this level, too, there exists a protos, a primate, who can only be the bishop of Rome, according to the taxis [hierarchy] of the ancient Church.

All of the participants are aware that this is only a first step, and that the journey to full ecclesial communion will still be long and difficult; nevertheless, with this document, we have laid a foundation for future dialogue. The theme that will be addressed in the next plenary session will be: "The role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium."

Specifically in regard to the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, relations have been noticeably smoothed over in recent years. We could say that there is no longer a freeze, but a thaw. From our point of view, a meeting between the Holy Father and the patriarch of Moscow would be helpful.

The Patriarchate of Moscow has never excluded such a meeting categorically, but maintains that before this it is opportune to resolve the problems that exist, in its view, in Russia, and above all in Ukraine. It must in any case be remembered that many meetings take place on other levels. Among these, we mention the recent visit of Patriarch Alexius to Paris, considered by both sides as an important step.

To sum up, we can affirm that there is still be the need for a continual purification of historical memory and for many prayers so that, on the common foundation of the first millennium, we may succeed in healing the fracture between East and West, and in restoring full ecclesial communion.

In spite of the difficulties that remain, there is the strong and legitimate hope that, with the help of God and thanks to the prayer of so many of the faithful, the Church, after the division of the second millennium, will return in the third to breathing with both its lungs.


We now move on to relations with the ecclesial Communities born from the Reformation. Encouraging signs have also appeared in this area. All the ecclesial Communities have expressed their interest in dialogue, and the Catholic Church is in dialogue with almost all of the ecclesial Communities.

A certain agreement has been reached in the realm of the truths of faith, above all regarding the fundamental questions of the doctrine of justification. In many places, there is fruitful collaboration in the social and humanitarian sphere.

There has been the gradual spread of an attitude of mutual trust and friendship, characterized by a profound desire for unity, which endures even though there are, from time to time, some harsh exchanges and bitter disappointments. In fact, the solid network of both personal and institutional relationships that has been developed is capable of withstanding the occasional tensions.

There has been no stoppage of the ecumenical situation, but rather a profound transformation. This is the same transformation experienced by the Church and by the world in general. I will limit myself here to citing just a few of its aspects.

1) After reaching a fundamental agreement on the doctrine of justification, we now find ourselves having to discuss again the classic controversial themes, above all that of ecclesiology and the ecclesial ministers (cf. UUS 66).

In this regard, the "Five responses" released last July by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith have raised perplexity and have occasioned a certain discontent. The agitation that arose around this document was, for the most part, unjustified, because the text does not affirm anything new, but restates Catholic doctrine in a concise form. Nonetheless, it is to be hoped that the form, language, and public presentation of such declarations could be reviewed.

2) The different ecclesiologies necessarily lead to different views of the aims of ecumenism. So there is a problem in the fact that we lack a common concept of ecclesial unity as the goal to be attained. This problem is all the more serious if we consider that ecclesial communion is for us Catholics the precondition for Eucharistic communion, and that the absence of Eucharistic communion brings great pastoral difficulties, above all in the case of mixed couples and families.

3) While, on the one hand, we are struggling to overcome the old controversies, on the other hand new divergences are emerging in the ethical field. These concern in particular the questions related to the defense of life, to marriage, to the family, and to human sexuality.

Because of these new divisions that are being created, common public witness is significantly weakened, if not impossible. The crisis taking place within the respective Communities is clearly exemplified by the situation that has arisen in the Anglican Communion, which is not an isolated case.

4) Protestant theology, marked during the first years of dialogue by the "Lutheran Renaissance" and by Karl Barth's theology of the Word of God, has now returned to the motifs of liberal theology. As a result, we are seeing that, on the Protestant side, the Christological and Trinitarian foundations that were until now common presuppositions are sometimes diluted. What we held to be our common heritage has begun to melt here and there like the glaciers in the Alps.

But strong countercurrents have also arisen in reaction to the phenomena mentioned above. All over the world there is the strong growth of evangelical groups, whose positions mostly coincide with ours on the fundamental dogmatic questions, especially in the ethical field, but are often very divergent on ecclesiology, the theology of the sacraments, biblical exegesis, and the understanding of tradition.

There are high Church organizations that want to bring into Anglicanism and Lutheranism elements from the Catholic tradition, in regard to the liturgy and the ecclesial ministry. To these are added an increasing number of monastic communities which, often living according to the Benedictine rule, feel close to the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, there are pietist communities that, in the face of the crisis over ethical questions, feel a certain discomfort in the Protestant ecclesial Communities; these look with gratitude to the clear statements of position by the Pope, of whom they had spoken in less kind tones not long ago.

All of these groups, together with the Catholic religious communities and the new spiritual movements, have recently created "spiritual networks," often grouped around monasteries like Chevetogne, Bose, and above all Taizé, and also in movements like the Focolari and Chemin neuf.

In this way, we can say that ecumenism is returning to its origins in small groups of dialogue, prayer, and bible study. Recently these groups have even spoken publicly, for example at the great gathering of the movements in Stuttgart in 2004 and 2007. Thus promising new forms of dialogue are emerging beside the official talks, which are often becoming more difficult.

This general panorama thus shows us that there is not only an ecumenical rapprochement, but that there are also fragmentations and centrifugal forces at work.

If we also take into account the many so-called "independent Churches" that continue to spring up, above all in Africa, and the proliferation of small groups that are often very aggressive, we come to realize that the ecumenical landscape today is very uneven and confused.

This pluralism is nothing other than the mirror of the pluralist situation of so-called "postmodern" society, which often leads to religious relativism.

In the present context, there is therefore special importance in meetings such as the plenary assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, which took place in February of last year in Porto Alegre (Brazil), the "Global Christian Forum," and the "European Ecumenical Assembly," held in September of 2007 in Sibiu/Hermannstadt (Romania).

These conferences are meant to bring together in dialogue the various divergent groups, and, as much as possible, to hold together the ecumenical movement with its highlights and shadows, and with its new challenges in a situation that has changed, and is still changing rapidly.


Speaking of pluralism leads me back to the third wave of Christian history, or the spread of the Charismatic and Pentecostal groups, which, with about 400 million faithful all over the world, are in second place among Christian communities in numeric terms, and are witnessing exponential growth. With no common structure or central authority, these are very different from one another. They consider themselves as the fruit of a new Pentecost; consequently, the Baptism of the Spirit takes on a role of fundamental importance for them.

Referring to them, Pope John Paul II had already noted that this phenomenon must not be considered in an exclusively negative way, because, beyond the undeniable problems, it attests to the desire for spiritual experience. But this does not remove the fact that, unfortunately, many of these communities have come to espouse a religion that promises earthly happiness.

With the classic Pentecostals, it has been possible to open official dialogue. With others, there are serious difficulties because of their somewhat aggressive missionary methods.

The Pontifical Council for the promotion of Christian unity, in the face of this challenge, has organized on various continents seminars on ecumenism for bishops, theologians, and laypeople: in Latin America (Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires), in Africa (Nairobi and Dakar), in Asia (Seoul and Manila). The result of these seminars also appears in the final document of the general assembly of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida (2007).

It is above all necessary for us to make a pastoral examination of conscience, and ask ourselves self-critically: why do so many Christians leave our Church? We should begin by asking ourselves, not what is wrong with the Pentecostals, but what our pastoral shortcomings are. How can we respond to this new challenge with a liturgical, catechetical, pastoral, and spiritual renewal?


This question leads us to our final question: how should we continue the ecumenical journey? It is not possible to give a single reply. The situation is too diverse, depending on the geographical region, the cultural atmosphere, and the local churches. The individual bishops' conferences must be the ones to take on their responsibilities.

In principle, we should begin on the basis of our common heritage of faith, and remain faithful to that which, with the help of God, we have already achieved ecumenically. As much as possible, we must present a common witness to this faith in our increasingly secularized world. This also means, in the current situation, rediscovering and reinforcing the foundations of our faith.

In fact, everything becomes unstable and empty of meaning if we do not have a firm and conscious faith in the living God, Triune and One, in the divinity of Christ, in the salvific power of the cross and the resurrection. For those who no longer know what sin is, and what entanglement in sin is, the justification of the sinner has no relevance.

It is only by basing ourselves upon our shared faith that we are able to talk about our differences. And this must be done in a clear but non-polemical way. We should not offend the sensibilities of others or discredit them; we should not point our fingers at what the others are not and what they do not have.

We should, rather, give witness to the richness and beauty of our faith, in a positive and welcoming way. We expect the same attitude from others. If this happens, then we and our counterparts will be able to carry out, as the encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (1995) says, an exchange not only of ideas but of gifts, which will enrich both sides (UUS 28; 57). Such an ecumenism of exchange is not an impoverishment, but a mutual enrichment.

In the dialogue founded upon spiritual exchange, theological dialogue will also have an essential role in the future. But this will be fruitful only if it is sustained by an ecumenism of prayer, of conversion of the heart, and of personal sanctification.

Spiritual ecumenism is, in fact, the very soul of the ecumenical movement (UR 8; UUS 21-27), and we should be the first to promote this. Without a true spirituality of communion, which allows us to make room for the other without giving up our own identity, all of our efforts would be scattered in an arid and empty activism.

If we make our own the prayer that Jesus pronounced on the eve of his death, we need not lose courage and waver in our faith. As the Gospel says, we must have trust that whatever we ask in the name of Christ will be granted (John 14:13).

When, where, and how will not be for us to decide. This must be left to him who is the Lord of the Church, and will gather his Church from the four winds.

We must satisfy ourselves with doing our best, recognizing with gratitude the gifts we have received, meaning what ecumenism has achieved so far, and look to the future with hope. It is enough to look, with a minimum of realism, at the "signs of the times" to understand that there is no realistic alternative to ecumenism, and above all no alternative for faith.

12/13/2007 3:49 PM
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Should the vast size of the universe concern us? Could indeed we fail to notice it? We have researchers trying to give us some estimate of its distance in terms of light years and billions of years in the making.

Pascal, in a famous passage, said that the infinite spaces of the heavens frightened him. Why did they not exhilarate him? Space is not so overwhelming if we have reasons to think that it had a creator.

Yet, one of the reasons why people do not want the universe to be created, even if it is created, is because of what it implies. It suggests that a reason can be given for its existence, size and all.

Further, this reason may just have something to do with ourselves. That is, we may not be just an afterthought in the whole system, as if we were utterly insignificant.

A quick way out of the implications of personal responsibility, then, is simply to deny any meaning at all either to the universe or to ourselves within it. That leaves us supposedly "free" but, at the same time, meaningless, except for any possible meaning we might give ourselves, a meaning that is not particularly consoling.

Actually, this denial of an intelligent origin of things usually does not leave us free either. Rather it leaves us stuck in a determined universe that is doing what it must do. We are as a result anything but free.

I often find philosophic principles in unexpected places. Linus and Charlie Brown are standing on a knoll; the darkest of nights surrounds them. While gazing into the mysterious night sky, Charlie says to Linus, "Have you ever considered the enormity of the universe, Linus?" The question is definitely a new one for Linus, who clearly has not thought of it.

In the next scene, with his arms wide as if taking it all in, Charlie continues, "Nobody knows what lies out there beyond the stars." This very observation suggests that we do wonder about what is "beyond the stars."

The third scene has no words. In awe, both Charlie and Linus continue to stand and stare at the dark night. Finally, Linus, obviously reflecting on the enormity question, says to Charlie, "I don't even know what's in the next block."

Both the enormity of the universe and what is going on in the next block can be, perhaps ought to be, of concern to us. Our minds, Aristotle said, are capable of knowing all things. We just do not have time in this life to get around to them all, but we would like to if we could. That very curious fact may be one of the reasons why we wonder about the given insufficiency of this life to cover all that is.

Why do we have such a power to know, which evidently comes first to be fully aware of itself in our early twenties? It is a power that requires more for its flourishing than we can possibly have time for in one lifetime. It seems like a natural invitation to frustration. There are not a few who take it as such.

I have often asked the question of myself, "Why is it all right to be a human being?" You may wonder what Schall is mumbling about when you see him walking across campus! But a turtle does not ask himself, "Why is it all right to be a turtle?" - or at least I have never met one that did.

But a human being who does not ask himself such a question of himself, by implication, is failing to be a human being. We are peculiar kinds of beings. We not only are, but want to know what we are, why we are. For us, it is not enough just to exist.

Yves Simon makes a very insightful remark in this regard. The only way that we can be the kind of being we are, the one that does not even know what is going on in the next block, is for us not to be anything else but ourselves, but what we are. This means, logically, that I want what is not myself to be precisely "not myself."

The enormity of the universe is not, somehow, opposed to the obvious particularity in the universe. Indeed, the power of intellect seems to suggest that, in the end, I am really not deprived of what is not myself. If I set myself to it, I can know what is not myself. Indeed, this endeavor to know what is not myself seems to be what I am supposed to do.

Well, this is heavy stuff. But in the enormity of the universe I do not want anyone to forget Linus'S earnest realization that he didn't even know what is going on in the next block. It is amazing what we do not know about what is going on next door. We do not in fact want anyone to know everything about ourselves or we them unless we love them.

What is the conclusion to all this reflection on everything and every thing? In his Lost in the Cosmos, a title not wholly related to the enormity of the universe, Walker Percy asked the following pertinent question: "Why is it possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus, which is 6,000 light-years away, than you presently know about yourself, even though you've been living with yourself all your life?"

As I say, the universe is enormous and we are in it, as what is going on in the next block. It may of course be mere babbling to think of these things, or it may finally be a sign that you have begun to wonder about what is, including about yourself and what goes on in the next block.

Originally published in The Hoya, Georgetown University, November 30, 2007.
12/24/2007 8:30 PM
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by Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, DEC. 23, 2007 ( In Benedict XVI's Dec. 1 address to an audience with participants in the Forum of Catholic-Inspired Nongovernmental Organizations, he warned against basing international relations on a relativistic logic.

We can look with satisfaction, the Pope said, to an achievement such as the universal recognition of the juridical and political primacy of human rights. Nevertheless, he continued, discussions at the international level "often seem marked by a relativistic logic which would consider as the sole guarantee of peaceful coexistence between peoples a refusal to admit the truth about man and his dignity, to say nothing of the possibility of an ethics based on recognition of the natural moral law."

If the relativistic position is accepted, the Pontiff warned, we run the risk of laws and relations between states being determined by factors such as short-term interests or ideological pressures. Benedict XVI urged those present to counter the trend toward relativism, "by presenting the great truths about man's innate dignity and the rights which are derived from that dignity."

The Pope's long-standing concern over the dangers of relativism is well-known. He is far from alone in recognizing the danger this presents in the area of human rights.

Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international politics at the University of Oslo, supports the natural law tradition as defended by the Catholic Church. Matlary, who was state secretary for foreign affairs for Norway from 1997-2000, released earlier this year an English translation of her collection of essays titled "When Might Becomes Human Right: Essays on Democracy and the Crisis of Rationality" (Gracewing).

Today, Matlary comments, human rights have become a sort of new political bible, but unfortunately this bible is often affected by a profound relativism when it comes to its fundamental values.

Matlary's book is focused on the situation in Europe, where, she warns, relativism is leading to attempts to redefine human rights. In fact, she continues, there is a real paradox present, because on the one hand Europe and the West urge the world to respect human rights, but on the other hand refuse to define, in an objective manner, what these rights mean.

Matlary explains that the contemporary emphasis on human rights stems from the rejection of the evils of the Nazi regime, which saw the dangers of subjects obeying orders by a legal ruler that were, however, contrary to morality. The subsequent 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is formulated in such a way, she argues, that it is clear they are to be regarded as inborn for every person. The declaration can, therefore, be regarded as a natural-law document.

Today, however, human rights are often regarded as being dependent on the political process, Matlary continues. While the 1948 declaration defends the right to life, many states have legalized abortion. Similarly, the 1948 text proclaims the right of a man and a woman to marry, but there is increasing pressure in many countries to establish a "right" to same-sex marriage.

Another example is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989. It stipulates that a child should have the right to know and be cared for by its parents. Only a few years later, this is ignored by the use of anonymous donors for invitro fertilization treatments, Matlary comments.

Matlary examines a number of factors that have contributed to the triumph of an ethical relativism in Europe. One of these is secularization, which means forgetting the Continent's Christian roots, as well as the values Christianity has contributed to politics and law. To this is added increasing immigration from other cultures, and uncertainty over the concept of tolerance. As well, an aversion to the concept of objective truth, often combined with the mentality of political correctness, undermines attempts to define common values.

There has also been a marked politicization of human rights, Matlary observes, as was evident in a number of conferences organized by the United Nations in the 1990s, on themes such as demography, the family and women's rights.

The debate on values and human rights, Matlary states, is also marked by a profound subjectivism. In many countries religion increasingly ceases to be based on adherence to an institutional identity and becomes "religion à la carte." Subjectivism has also contributed to the decline of ideology, but has replaced it with a superficial desire to follow the latest fashionable public personality and the trends popularized in the media.

The last section in Matlary's book considers how the case for natural law can be made in the midst of the prevailing relativism. Christianity has a vital role to play in this effort, she maintains, through its teaching in the area of anthropology, including the strong emphasis the Church places on inherent human dignity.

We cannot impose Christian norms in the political sphere, Matlary acknowledges. Nevertheless, on many points regarding the human person and rights there is no contradiction between faith and reason. The task, therefore, is not to create Christian states, but states based on the truth about the human being. What Europe needs, consequently, is politicians who are prepared to dedicate themselves to the common good, according to what is universally right and wrong based on the standard of human dignity.

Matlary admits that even among Christians there is often a legitimate plurality in the political arena, allowing flexibility between diverse courses of action. There are, however, some issues over which there cannot be compromise, those that concern human dignity.

This concluding section also looks at the contribution made by the Vatican to the debate over human rights. In a chapter dedicated to Pope John Paul II, Matlary commented on his skillful public diplomacy, as well as the quieter, but also very effective, contribution made by Vatican diplomats around the world.

A further chapter examines the analysis of modern rationality made by the current Pope, in many writings authored when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One of the matters dealt with by him was the notion of human freedom, which many today regard as having no limits.

The lack of willingness to limit personal autonomy, Matlary comments, ultimately lies in the inability to define the human being and what is good and bad about human nature.

Another defect identified by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, according to Matlary, is the idea that rationality is limited to the technical area only. Accepting this means we no longer have any idea of how to reason about right and wrong, as well as denying there is any standard of ethics outside of an individual.

In addition, Cardinal Ratzinger criticized a purely materialistic concept of rationality that ignores the philosophical and theological dimensions of our nature, thus reducing the idea of progress to the merely technical and economic dimensions; an argument still present in the thought of Benedict XVI.

Juridical norms need to be founded on morality, which in turn is grounded in nature itself, explained the Pontiff in his message for the World Day of Peace. Without this solid foundation, the Pope counseled, the juridical norms will be "at the mercy of a fragile and provisional consensus" (No. 12).

"The growth of a global juridical culture depends, for that matter, on a constant commitment to strengthen the profound human content of international norms, lest they be reduced to mere procedures, easily subject to manipulation for selfish or ideological reasons," he warned (No. 13). A timely reminder that the political process is not the absolute master, but needs to be oriented by the truths inherent in human nature.

12/26/2007 4:40 PM
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First Things (December 2007)

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. This essay is adapted from a lecture delivered at the National Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Conference at Oberlin, Ohio.

The Oberlin conference on The Nature of the Unity We Seek, which met fifty years ago, in September 1957, marked an important stage in the ecumenical movement. For the first time, the churches in North America in large numbers committed themselves to the quest for Christian unity.

The composition of the conference was diverse, including delegates from several Orthodox churches and the Protestant Episcopal Church, as well as Lutherans, Reformed, Methodists, Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Adventists, and others.

The delegates heard thoughtful addresses by a brilliant array of theologians from North America, Europe, and Asia, including a sermon by the secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft.

After some days of discussion, the delegates came up with a “Message to the Churches,” which recommended steps toward a greater visible manifestation of the unity of the Church.

Although I had to leave the United States in June 1957 for a three-year sojourn in Europe, I can recall the interest that the scheduled Oberlin Conference aroused in the Catholic Church even before I left. My own professor and mentor in ecumenism, Fr. Gustave Weigel, S.J., took part in the conference as one of the two Catholic observers. The other was my good friend the Paulist editor of Catholic World, John B. Sheerin.

At the time, H.P. Van Dusen judged that the Oberlin Conference “cast virtually no light on the theme which the gathering was summoned to examine,” which remains theologically defensible. But, in my estimation, the conference achieved all that could reasonably have been expected of it.

Large multilateral conferences of this type, gathering for the first time, cannot be expected to come up with profound new consensus statements. The delegates were effectively exposed to the complexities of the problem in the areas of faith, liturgy, and the Christian life. They became conscious of the length of the road ahead but at the same time were eager to bring their respective churches, with God’s help, as far as they could along that road.

The ecumenical movement, which had been going on for a generation in Europe, was formally launched in the United States. Oberlin stands near the beginning of a half century of thriving ecumenical activity. The impetus toward unity was strengthened, four years later, by the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches at New Delhi and then, in 1963, by the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order at Montreal. The full and official entry of the Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

In those early days, Catholic ecumenists, like their Orthodox colleagues, were conscious that their participation in the ecumenical movement was in some ways problematic because of the claims of their own Church to possess all the means of salvation entrusted by the Lord to his Church.

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in its Toronto statement of 1950 indicated that such claims to exclusivity were not an obstacle to membership in the World Council of Churches, provided that the churches in question were at least able to Recognize “vestiges” or “elements” of the true Church in communities other than their own.

Without concealing or minimizing the specific claims of the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council found ways of showing how that Church could and should pursue ecumenism. Four important insights, all expressed by Vatican II, undergirded the commitment of Catholics to this new apostolate.

First of all, the scandal of Christian division posed difficulties for the Catholic Church’s own missionary work. It was a stumbling block that impeded what the council called “the most holy cause of proclaiming the gospel to every creature.”

Non-Christians often reacted to missionary efforts with the feeling that, before asking them to convert, the missionaries ought to agree among themselves about what Christianity is. Why should the past quarrels among European or American Christians, some asked, be visited upon young churches from other parts of the world? Did it make any sense for an African, for example, to join the Swedish Lutheran Church or to become a Southern Baptist?

In the second place, the Catholic Church recognized that the divisions among Christians impoverished her catholicity. She lacked the natural and cultural endowments that other Christians could have contributed if they were united with her. Catholicity required that all the riches of the nations should be gathered into the one Church and harvested for the glory of God.

Third, the fullness of Christianity in Catholicism did not imply that all other churches were devoid of truth and grace. For all their differences, they shared considerable commonalities in faith, worship, and ministerial order.
The council taught, in fact, that non-Catholic churches and communions were “by no means deprived of significance and importance for the mystery of salvation” because the Holy Spirit could use them as instruments of grace. Vatican II, therefore, represents a sharp turn away from the purely negative evaluation of non-Catholic Christianity that was characteristic of the previous three centuries.

And fourth, the Catholic Church, insofar as she was made up of human members and administered by them, was always in need of purification and reform. Through ecumenical contacts, other Christian communities could help her to correct what was amiss, to supply what was lacking, and to update what was obsolete.

Regarding the ecclesial status of non-Catholic Christians, Pius XII had taught as late as 1943 that they could not be true members of the Church because the Body of Christ was identical with the Catholic Church. Such Christians could not belong to the body except by virtue of some implicit desire, which would give them a relation that fell short of true incorporation.

From a different point of view, Vatican II taught that every valid baptism incorporates the recipient into the crucified and glorified Christ, and that all baptized Christians were to some extent in communion with the Catholic Church. Their status, therefore, was quite different from that of non-Christians, although these, too, could be related by desire or orientation to the People of God.

Relying on the new ecclesiology of communion, Catholic ecumenists now perceived their task as a movement from lesser to greater degrees of communion. All who believed in Christ and were baptized in his name already possessed a certain imperfect communion, which could be recognized, celebrated, and deepened. The ecumenical movement aspired to the full restoration of the impaired communion among separated churches and communities. Paul VI felt authorized to declare that the communion between the Catholic and Orthodox churches was “almost ­complete.”

Following the example set by John XXIII, the next few popes cultivated cordial relationships with prominent leaders of other churches. Paul VI enjoyed relations of deep affection and respect with Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury.

John Paul II continued this tradition and in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995) reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism as a permanent priority. Benedict XVI in his inaugural homily as pope, on April 24, 2005, renewed this commitment. His meetings with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and with Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury have been major landmarks in his pontificate.

The principal instrument of ecumenism over the past half century has been a series of theological conversations between separated churches. Proceeding on the basis of what they held in common, the partners tried to show that their shared patrimony contained the seeds of much closer agreement than had yet been recognized.

Rereading their confessional documents in light of Scripture and early creeds as shared authorities, they produced remarkable convergence statements on traditionally divisive subjects such as justification, Mariology, Scripture and tradition, the Eucharist, and the ordained ministry.

The achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), the Groupe des Dombes, and the World Commission on Faith and Order in its Lima paper on baptism, Eucharist, and ministry deserve our admiration. I personally stand by the ecumenical ­statements that I have signed, including those of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue and of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

And yet, valuable though it was, the convergence method was not without limitations. Each new round of dialogue raised expectations for the future. The next dialogue, at the price of failure, was under pressure to come up with new agreements. The process would at some point reach a stage at which it had delivered about as much as it could. It would eventually run up against hard differences that resisted elimination by this method of convergence.

When the dialogues attempted to go beyond convergence and achieve full reconciliation on divisive issues, they sometimes overreached themselves. Although not all would agree, I think the much vaunted Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith, signed in 1999, exaggerated the agreements.

After stating quite correctly that the Lutheran and Catholic dialogues of previous decades had come to a basic consensus on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, the Joint Declaration goes on to assert, more dubiously, that the remaining disagreements could now be written off as “differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis,” and therefore as not warranting condemnation from either side. It even described these differences as “acceptable.”

In my judgment, some of the unresolved differences are more correctly classified as matters of doctrine.

Is the justified person always and inevitably a sinner worthy of condemnation in the sight of God? Are human beings able, with the help of grace, to dispose themselves to receive sanctifying grace?

Can they merit an increase of grace and heavenly glory with the help of the grace they already have? Do sinners, after receiving forgiveness, still have an obligation to make satisfaction for their misdeeds?

On questions such as these, Lutherans and Catholics seem to give incompatible answers. Nothing in the Joint Declaration persuades me that such differences are mere matters of theological speculation or linguistic formulation.

Bilateral conversations have been particularly useful for churches with a firm and ample doctrinal tradition, such as the Orthodox, the Lutheran, the Anglican, and the Catholic. They have dispelled past prejudices, identified real but unsuspected agreements, and enabled the parties to say more together than they previously deemed possible. But to the extent that churches rely on different normative sources or different exegetical methods, the dialogues have been less ­fruitful.

Many of the twentieth-century dialogues have opted to take Scripture, interpreted by the historical-critical method, as their primary norm. This method has worked reasonably well for mainline Protestant churches and for the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

But many Christians do not rely on the critical approach to Scripture as normative. Catholics themselves, without rejecting the historical-critical method, profess many doctrines that enjoy little support from Scripture, interpreted in this manner. They draw on allegorical or spiritual exegesis, authenticated by the sense of the faithful and long-standing theological tradition.

As a consequence, certain Catholic doctrines, such as papal primacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and purgatory, have been banished to the sidelines. Unable to cope with doctrines such as these, the dialogues have treated them as an ecumenical embarrassment.

Dialogues conducted according to the dominant methods of the past century have tended to be reductive, and many doctrinally conservative Christians, strongly wedded to their beliefs, have abstained from ecumenical involvements for fear of doctrinal compromise.

Indeed, since the 1980s, some of the churches heavily committed to ecumenical dialogue have shown anxiety about maintaining their own identity. Some observers speak of a reconfessionalization in the ecumenical landscape.

The negative criticisms of the Joint Declaration from both the Protestant and the Catholic sides are illustrative of this new tendency. Without wanting a return to the polemics of the past, some critics fear that a vague spirit of civility is being allowed to replace the theological candor and rigor of earlier centuries.

This reaction against immoderate irenicism may be found in some recent official teaching of the Catholic Church. A new concern for orthodoxy, as Walter Kasper has noted, lies behind the “Letter on Some Aspects of the Church Considered as Communio” issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992.

The same is true of the declaration Dominus Iesus issued by the same congregation in 2000 and of the “Note on the Expression ‘Sister Churches’” issued at the same time.

Dominus Iesus, in particular, goes further in the direction of Catholic exclusivity than does Vatican II, as the council has generally been understood. Reacting against ecclesial relativism, it vigorously denies that the Church exists today in a fragmented form, in which no one body could claim identity with the Church of Christ.

This declaration contains no suggestion that the Body of Christ is broader than the Catholic Church or that one may be incorporated in the former without being a member of the latter. Instead it asserts that in holding that the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Roman Catholic communion, the council intended to say that the Church of Christ, his Body and Bride, is identical with the Catholic Church, outside of which there are only elements or fragments of the true Church.

The teaching of Dominus Iesus is repeated in substance in the “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” made public by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 10, 2007.

One minor difference is that where Dominus Iesus had asserted that the Church of Christ is “present and operative” in all churches that have preserved the apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, the Responses state that the same may be true of ecclesial communities that have not preserved these structural elements.

Some would regard the recent trend toward reconfessionalization as a defeat for ecumenism. This judgment would be true if it meant a retreat of the confessions into their own shells and a refusal to encounter others.

But reconfessionalization need not mean what Cardinal Kasper calls “an apprehensive, self-absorbed, defensive attitude.” It may be an opening to a new kind of dialogue, in which the partners are eager to express their own distinctive heritage so that they may be able to share it with others.

John Paul II consistently opposed styles of ecumenism that seemed to aim at settling for a least common denominator. In an address to the Roman Curia on June 28, 1980, he laid down the principle that “the unity of Christians cannot be sought in a ‘compromise’ between the various theological positions, but only in a common meeting in the most ample and mature fullness of Christian truth.”

In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he proposed a better alternative. After stating that “the unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed truth in its entirety,” he went on to say that dialogue is not merely an exchange of ideas but also, in some way, “an exchange of gifts.”

Later, in the same encyclical, he wrote: “Communion is made fruitful by the exchange of gifts between the churches insofar as they complement each other.” In these words he called for a new chapter in the history of ecumenism.

For some years now, I have felt that the method of convergence, which seeks to harmonize the doctrines of each ecclesial tradition on the basis of shared sources and methods, has nearly exhausted its potential. It has served well in the past and may still be useful, especially among groups that have hitherto been isolated from the conversation.

But to surmount the remaining barriers we need a different method, one that invites a deeper conversion on the part of the churches themselves. I have therefore been urging an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of testimony.

This proposal corresponds closely, I believe, with John Paul II’s idea of seeking the fullness of truth by means of an “exchange of gifts.”

There are not many examples of the kind of ecumenical encounter I am envisaging, but one comes to my mind. In January 2006, the theology department at Durham University hosted at Ushaw College, a neighboring Catholic seminary, an international conference of Catholics in conversation with Orthodox, Anglicans, and Methodists.

Conducting an experiment in what the conference called “receptive ecumenism,” the speakers were asked to discuss what they could find in their own traditions that might be acceptable to the Catholic Church without detriment to its identity. The Catholic participants, including Cardinal Kasper, were asked to evaluate the suggestions and judge their practical feasibility. The discussion, I am told, was informal and did not lead to any set of agreed conclusions.

Unlike some recent models of dialogue, ecumenism of this style leaves the participants free to draw on their own normative sources and does not constrain them to bracket or minimize what is specific to themselves. Far from being embarrassed by their own distinctive doctrines and practices, each partner should feel privileged to be able to contribute something positive that the ­others still lack.

This does not mean, of course, that the churches should be uncritical of themselves or others. Where they express, or hear others expressing, singular beliefs, they should carefully examine the grounds for such views. But that is different from abdicating or suppressing their special convictions as a matter of ­principle.

With this mentality, Catholics would want to hear from the churches of the Reformation the reasons they have for speaking as they do of Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone, while Catholics tend to speak of Christ and the Church, Scripture and tradition, grace and cooperation, faith and works.

We would want to learn from them how to make better use of the laity as sharers in the priesthood of the whole People of God. We would want to hear from evangelicals about their experience of conversion and from Pentecostals about perceiving the free action of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

The Orthodox would have much to tell about liturgical piety, holy tradition, sacred images, and synodical styles of polity. We would not want any of these distinctive endowments of other ecclesial families to be muted or shunted aside for the sake of having shared premises or an agreed method.

Conversely, Catholics would not hesitate to go into the dialogue with the full panoply of beliefs, sustained by our own methods of certifying the truth of revelation. We are not ashamed of our reliance on tradition, the liturgy, the sense of the faithful, and our confidence in the judgment of the Magisterium.

One of the doctrines most distinctive to the Catholic Church is surely the primacy of the pope as the successor of Peter — a primacy that the First Vatican Council set forth in clear, uncompromising language. Because Catholics cherish this doctrine, we should not be content to keep it to ourselves.

The successor of Peter, we believe, is intended by Christ to be the visible head of all Christians. Without accepting his ministry, Christians will never attain the kind of universal concord that God wills the Church to have as a sign and sacrament of unity. They will inevitably fall into conflict with one another regarding doctrine, discipline, and ways of worship.

No church can simply institute for itself an office that has authority to pronounce finally on disputed doctrines. If it exists at all, this office must have been instituted by Christ and must enjoy the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Petrine office is a precious gift that the Lord has given us not only for our own consolation but as something to be held in trust for the entire­ oikoumene.

John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint expressed a desire to work with leaders and theologians of other churches in seeking ways for the Petrine office to be exercised such that it could be beneficial to them as well as to Catholics.

These other churches and communities will have to consider the ways in which they could receive the primatial ministry of the bishop of Rome. A dialogue on this subject is already underway. For some communities, perhaps, the papacy will be the final piece by which to complete the jigsaw puzzle of Christian unity.

Each party will engage in ecumenical dialogue with its own presuppositions and convictions. As a Roman Catholic, I would make use of the methods by which my church derives its distinctive doctrines.

I would also expect that any reunion to which Catholics can be a party would have to include as part of the settlement the Catholic dogmas, perhaps reinterpreted in ways that we do not now foresee.

Other churches and ecclesial communities will have their own expectations. But all must be open to possible conversion. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us, as Vatican II recommended, “without obstructing the ways of divine Providence and without prejudging the future inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

How then can Christian unity be envisaged? That is the question asked at Oberlin five decades ago.

The first condition, I believe, is that the various Christian communities be ready to speak and listen to one another. Some will perhaps receive the grace to accept what they hear credibly attested as an insight from other communities.

The witnesses and their hearers need not insist on rigorous proof, because very little of our faith can be demonstrated by deductive methods. Testimony operates by a different logic. We speak of what has been ­graciously manifested to us and what we have found to be of value for our relationship with God. If others accept what we proclaim, it is because our words evoke an echo in them and carry the hallmark of truth.

The process of growth through mutual attestation will probably never reach its final consummation within historical time, but it can bring palpable results. It can lead the churches to emerge progressively from their present isolation into something more like a harmonious chorus. Enriched by the gifts of others, they can hope to raise their voices together in a single hymn to the glory of the triune God. The result to be sought is unity in diversity.

True progress in ecumenism requires obedience to the Holy Spirit. Vatican II rightly identified spiritual ecumenism as the soul of the ecumenical movement. It defined spiritual ecumenism as a change of heart and holiness of life, together with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians. We must pray to God to overcome our deafness and open our ears to what the Spirit is saying to the churches, including our own.

No mutual rapprochement can be of any value unless it is also a closer approach to Christ the Lord of the Church. We must ask for the grace to say only what the Spirit bids us say and to hear all that he is telling us through the other.

Then we may hope that, by accommodating what other communities are trying to tell us, we may be enriched with new and precious gifts. By accepting the full riches of Christ we lose nothing except our errors and defects. What we gain is the greatest gift of all: a deeper share in the truth of Christ, who said of himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

12/26/2007 6:09 PM
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"‘Twas the night before the Holiday, and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...."

"I saw three ships come sailing in,
on a Holiday-Day in the morning...."

"I’m dreaming of a White Holiday,
with every Holiday Card I write...."


Advent seems now to be a season in which we have an unending series of pre-Christmas celebrations, usually – even mandatorily –called "pre-Holiday parties."

The "Night Before Christmas," that is, "the Night Before the Holiday Season" is something of an anti-climax to the pre-Christmas festivities. We had a solemn High Mass for Christmas here on Gaudete Sunday, a sort of Christmas in the middle of Advent.

Christmas seems something like a moveable feast, to be celebrated whenever. It fluctuates to the convenience of the market. It seeks the schedule of the world, but the world does not wait in hushness for it. If we cannot make it on December 25th, any other day after Thanksgiving will do, depending on our other obligations. We can gear up the Christmas spirit almost any day of the year: Year-round Christmas stores. Christmas in July. We do not have to be dependent on mere time.

Of course, a multitude of different traditions about how and when to celebrate Christmas abound. We have St. Nicholas Day, we have Christmas itself, and we have the Feast of the Magi, now moved often by the Church itself to some convenient Sunday.

In the Philippines, an ex-student told me, they have the Missa de Gallo on the days before Christmas. [Teresa's Note: This is a novena of dawn Masses, starting Dec.16, called "misa de gallo' from the Spanish term for it, 'Mass at Cock's Crow']. But, among us, if some religion or group does not have a Christmas, they arrange to have something like it about the same time.

The twelve days after Christmas, which were the traditional time to celebrate it, still have some play, the successive days when "my true love" says something to me about a partridge in a pear tree. A feast was basically something one celebrated when its day arrived, and not sooner. Still, nothing is wrong with anticipation or expectation.

Indeed, this mood of "what is about to come among us?" and "What will I receive?" is essential to a proper understanding of Christmas. In fact, I think the theology of Christmas is what lies behind all real expectation in this world. "A Child is given to us, a Son is born unto us." Without that, the world is a pretty dull place.

During Advent, I went to the Holiday Concert of the McLean Symphony across the river. Included in the concert was a medley of Christmas music and a singing of "carols." The director, a lively black American, in his little introduction, wished us all "A Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays."

The "carols" that were sung included the traditional Christmas hymns and songs, from "Rudolf" to "Silent Night" to "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." Just why it is all right to wish an audience a "Happy Hanukkah" but not, in the same breath, a "Blessed Christmas" is beyond me. If I were Jewish, I think I would be embarrassed at such an introduction.

No American before the last part of the twentieth century would ever have imagined that the phrase "Merry Christmas" was either offensive to anyone or prohibited from public speech because it was. By that principle of possibly offending someone, we could get rid of practically every word in the English language. Christmas may be the only feast day whose very name is forbidden to mention.

Cal Thomas thinks maybe we need not make a big deal of it. If someone has not a clue what Christmas is, let him alone and don’t say anything to him. Yet, currently, from almost every quarter, we make an effort to wish anyone we encounter his equivalent of a "happy holiday" in whatever tradition he is in. We usually use his names.

The Vatican itself seems to note every major holiday of every other religion as well as sending condolences to every tragedy and blessings to every happiness that happens any place in the world. I presume, in return, they are feted with reciprocal greetings in Rome on Christmas and Easter, if not on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter or the Feast of the Holy Rosary.

But here, though curious about them, I am not particularly interested in these wide-spread efforts to alter or suppress Christmas. The "war on Christmas" has received increasing attention from Christians themselves, who are always destined, it seems, to be slow to wake up to attacks on their fundamental beliefs.

It is one thing to be overly sensitive so that the slightest hint of disdain is attacked with full force. American Jews sometimes seem to react in this way. The increasing Muslim presence in our media aggressively protests criticism of its record and reminds us that no such criticism is allowed in lands Islam controls.

On the other hand, it is not a virtue to be run over roughshod. Meekness does not exactly mean never standing up for or to anything. The effort to make sure that what one holds or does is accurately understood and portrayed is a worthy one.


But if there is any prevailing theme at Christmas, 2005, it is the Christian realization that its very presence in our culture is more and more restricted. It is allowed, no matter what its own numbers, little and sometimes no public space as if this is what "democracy" means. Today, we can find a highly articulated version of "democracy" that does maintain this view, one that excludes religion as the condition of its own well-being, of its own definition of itself.

At his Angelus message on December 4, 2005, Benedict XVI remarked: "Religious liberty is indeed very far from being effectively guaranteed everywhere: in certain cases it is denied for religious or ideological reasons; at other times, although it may be recognizable on paper, it is hindered in effect by political power or, more cunningly, by the cultural predominance of agnosticism and relativism" (L’Osservatore Romano, English, December 7, 2005).

It seems clear he was not just talking about Saudi Arabia or China, though in neither of those countries is there anything even closely resembling religious freedom.

A "democratic" theory that presupposes the truth of relativism and agnosticism – usually today called "diversity" – means that claims, especially religious claims to truth, that are not based on these theories are dangerous and need to be restricted. Their adherents need to be changed, denied a place in education or politics that would allow them to claim positive membership in the polity on the basis rather on a theory of human dignity.

Thus, the promotion of "democracy" based on relativism means the removal of religion. Religion is only a private, preferably invisible, relation to God, whatever that might be. The late medieval writer Marsilius of Padua had a theory something like this.

But what interests me is why, suddenly, is Christmas a rock of contradiction? It is, after all, the loveliest and warmest of feasts. The annual giving of gifts, the remembering of family and friends, the general festivity are in fact, though not only this, civic goods. They are things that soften the harshness we often find in the public order.

However, it seems to me that the current opposition to Christmas is a deliberate rejection of this very sentiment. What Christmas implies causes many finally to realize that it is not just a spontaneous or harmless gushing of something within the human spirit.

This Christmas spirit, and its mysterious and delightful effect on its adherents, has a specific origin and a specific content that is not "replaceable" by any other non-theological understanding of what it is. When we wish someone "merry Christmas," we cannot avoid reminding ourselves and those we greet, that the very possibility of such a wish is itself a grace. We imply things that are given to us which we must freely accept or reject, but in so doing we live by a different spirit.

A student of mine recently wrote an e-mail to me in which he told me that he was going to celebrate Christmas but not its "materialism." I humorously, but seriously, told him that Christmas is, in fact, the very feast of "materialism," that is what it is about. It is about the goodness of material things, perhaps especially the goodness of human babies. The Incarnation and the Nativity are precisely those dogmas that once and for all refute the ever-recurring Manichean tendency to look upon matter as evil.

The "materialism" that we often associate with Christmas – the stores, the tinsel, the glitter, the hassle – is after all the other side of what it means to be in a body and in time. We Christians do not in the least object to giving gifts, to decorations, to understanding what it is all about. We invented such ideas.

Like anything else, there can be an excess, but in the very core of the idea of festivity, as Josef Pieper pointed, there is this sense of abundance and excess, of overflowing, and more than we can imagine. The paradigm of this understanding is seen in its fullest glory at the Nativity, at Christmas. Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Thus, if I filter it all out, I think that the current efforts to suppress Christmas have definite theological origins or ones deeply rumbling through the human spirit. They sense that what Christmas implies is not some neutral feeling of fellowship or well-being but a reminder that somehow what is best among us is not simply open to us on our own terms. The wish for a "merry Christmas" includes an understanding of our human condition, of our fallen-ness and redemption.

Nativity scenes will often have about them the premonitions of the Cross. But I do not think it is this side of Christianity that is being rejected in the current movement against Christmas.

Rather it is the very notion that there is a presence in the world – a spirit – that somehow transforms lives and makes possible things that are in their own way "superhuman." The "natural" life of man, as Aquinas said, is, in fact, "superhuman," that is the life that we given in this world because of the Nativity.

The opposition to Christmas, I think, is rooted in the human will constantly being confronted by grace. And this grace implies that what we really want, what really makes us human, is not something that we can give to ourselves. Rather it is something that we must freely receive on its own terms. It is not, at bottom, something we can either take or leave, that will leave us as we were before. Rather it is something we must accept or reject.

And the rejection, if we choose it, requires our constructing an alternative view of the world, of our redemption, in which whatever Christmas means does not exist and, even more radically, is not allowed to exist. The joys of Christmas, in other words, do not come on our own terms. Christmas is not interchangeable with other beliefs or philosophies. It is what it is, and this is why it sometimes incites that strange voluntary opposition that we often find to what is, in fact, good as seen to be manifested in the Feast of Christmas.


So, then, what is Christmas? In a letter of Pope Leo the Great (d. 461), we read, "To speak of our Lord, the Son of the blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man, is of no value to us if we do not believe that He is descended from the line of ancestors set out in the Gospel.... No doubt the Son of God in His omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as He did to the patriarchs and prophets.... No mere figure, then, fulfilled the mystery of our reconciliation with God, ordained from all eternity."

From a fifth century pope we are reminded of the stark realism, indeed materialism, of Christianity. Christ is not an abstraction, not a "semblance of a human form," no "mere figure." It is not even enough to hold that Christ is the Son of Mary. We need to know who Mary was, from whence is her own birth, one firmly rooted in her Jewish ancestors, even unto the origins of what it is to be a human being.

Christ is "true and perfect man," yet, he is involved in the mystery of our reconciliation with God," something "ordained from all eternity." This is the Word, the Word that was made flesh.

The "celebration" of Christmas, or any feast for that matter, cannot begin or be fully appreciated until we recognize, or at least glimpse, the cause for the celebration.

What is there to celebrate? Celebrations without a what to celebrate are at best artificial and empty. Human beings cannot really manufacture a celebration that does not have transcendent overtones, to which it is a response out of the abundance of our surprise. The joy in what we are, in that we are, has origins not in ourselves.

Christianity is composed of the understanding of two basic truths, the first is an understanding of the inner life of the Godhead; the second is that One of the Persons within this Godhead became man, not any One but this One – the Son.

What we call the Trinity refers to the fact that within the Godhead we find (because it is revealed to us) not a kind of inertness, but a vibrant life of unity in otherness that can best be described as personal and social. We get these latter ideas themselves largely from our efforts to understand what this life might mean.

This Trinitarian God, complete and happy in Himself, created the world from nothing, that is, neither from previous matter nor from His own substance such that the world itself is God. The world exists because of the freedom of God, of his complete inner Life, not from any necessity in God to need something else besides the inner Trinitarian Life.

However, God did not create just to see if He could do it, as a sort of confirmation of His own spectacular powers. He created the world that other free creatures could be given or could behold, according to their capacities, this inner Life. To do this, of course, such beings had both to know and to be free. They had to exercise their freedom to choose God’s way at His invitation. By the very nature of a free creature, the invitation could be (and in fact was) rejected.

The cause of this astonishing rejection lies close to the wonderment about why Christmas is warred upon, namely, because of a refusal to admit that we are not sufficient in ourselves – that what is really our destiny is something more than we could expect or hope for by our own powers. We refuse to become more than we are, a refusal that involves a greater love.

So the Incarnation as we know it has the note of reconciliation about it. The Nativity of the Lord in a manger is God’s initiative about how to repair the rejection of Him that we know as original sin or the Fall. Evidently, the avenue God chose, as Leo intimates, was one of a number of alternatives that were theoretically available to Him.

The only way a free being can reject his own rejection, as it were, is freely to acknowledge the initial disorder in the light of a Savior who is capable of providing a link to the Godhead. That link is the Incarnation and Nativity. This is why we speak of the Word made flesh, Who is like unto us in all things but sin, Who is a child so that we cannot be deceived about His reality in this world.

What we are left with is precisely Christmas. The way the Father chose to restore us to what He had intended for us in the first place seems at first improbable. Yet, it is somehow enormously logical.

It happened in an out-of-the-way place, in Bethlehem, at a time in world history when the evangelist tells us that the whole world was at peace under Augustus Caesar. What was put into the world at this birth would be crucified in this same world, under a later Emperor’s governor, Pontius Pilate, some thirty years later.

But what was put into the world continues. The Holy Spirit was to be sent. The vast drama of our history has followed, and it still follows. Some two thousand years later we still find here the stone that the builder rejected, too often we reject it ourselves. We still balk at a carpenter, at shepherds, at angels on high.

And yet, the very account of this event still seems to divide us because it is not neutral, even in its telling. It is not just another "event" in human history. It is the event in human history. We should not doubt that behind all the ferment about Christmas, the suspicion persists that this singular event is what causes the division between those who celebrate Christmas and those who hate it, war upon it.

In spite of the song, we cannot "have ourselves a merry little Christmas." We can only be given what Christmas is, that is, a Child Who is born to us, Who is Christ the Lord. Nothing more, nothing less.

"‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring...."

"I saw three ships come sailing in,
on Christmas Day in the morning."

"I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,
with every Christmas Card I write...."

12/28/2007 1:03 PM
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by Tina Beattie
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Dec. 27, 12007

The conflict between science and religion promoted by secular intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens is a smokescreen.
Behind it is an important argument about global power in a post-postmodern age.

The Economist recently published a colour supplement titled "In God's Name: A Special Report on Religion and Public Life" (3 November 2007).

The accompanying leading article included a rueful admission: "The Economist was so confident of the Almighty's demise that we published His obituary in our millennium issue." There is an almost palpable sense of discomfort at a leading international journal finding itself confronted with the unexpected resurgence of religion as a newsworthy topic which merits serious debate.

As the article points out, much of this can be attributed to the upsurge in various forms of religious extremism during the last thirty years, and the recent atheist backlash by bestselling authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

If we are to understand this phenomenon and its social and political implications, then we must go beyond the headline-grabbing confrontations between religious and atheist extremists.

We need to explore some of the complex underlying reasons for the persistence of religion after a century in which it more or less disappeared from view in western politics and public life, and was banished by totalitarian communist regimes.

The wrong argument

We might begin by recognising that the concept of religion is misleading, so that our discussions become mired in misrepresentations and over-simplifications.

Our modern understanding of religion is informed by a post-Enlightenment approach in which science, reason and progress have replaced religion as the organising focus of western life, but the word "religion" also has connotations associated with 19th-century western imperialism.

The word derives from the Latin religio. It has had different meanings through Roman and then Christian history, but it acquired its present meaning during the quest for objective, scientific knowledge and colonial conquest which together shaped modern British history.

During the Victorian era, new "sciences" such as anthropology and ethnology developed in order to study the "primitive" peoples and societies whom Europe's empire-builders encountered in their travels. Enthusiasm for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution meant that the study of religion came into being as a way of ranking and studying other cultures in comparison to the defining norm of western civilisation, by scholars who believed that the white western male stood on the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder.

The word "science" also changed its meaning during the 19th century, from a generic word used to describe all forms of knowledge including theology and philosophy, to one more narrowly focused on an objective, rationalist approach to knowledge based on empirical evidence alone.

That is why the nature of the current confrontation between "science" and "religion" is so problematic, because we are dealing with two slippery concepts which come freighted with a deeply ambivalent historical legacy.

The 19th-century confrontation between religion and science was largely fuelled by a power-struggle between men of science and men of God, most of them members of the Victorian ruling classes. Whereas the clergy and the Church of England had previously ruled the roost of English public life, in the mid-19th century the dynamics of power shifted, and scientists began to wrest much of the authority from their clerical counterparts in shaping intellectual enquiry and values.

But just as this "war" masked a much more amicable and creative dialogue between scientists and theologians in a society which was still largely Christian in its beliefs, so today the attempt to portray the relationship between science and religion as one of irreconcilable conflict is a distortion of a more pluralist intellectual and religious environment.

Many scientists see no fundamental conflict between science and faith, and some argue that quantum physics challenges any attempt to maintain a strict distinction between scientific and philosophical or theological knowledge.

Some scientists - such as the head of the human-genome project, Francis S Collins - have converted from atheism to Christianity as a result of their scientific research. Many members of the scientific community have sought to distance themselves from the self-publicising polemics of Richard Dawkins and his fellow "new atheists", for they see the fact that Dawkins in particular has become so dogmatic and ideologically driven in his militant atheism as a betrayal of the very scientific values which he claims to represent.

The attempt to stage a war between religion and science - whether fuelled by religious or scientific fundamentalists - is part of the problem and not part of the solution with regard to the times we are living in.

If we seek to preserve our liberal western values, then we need to resist the spirit of aggression and confrontation which is becoming increasingly characteristic of public debate - in Britain and the United States especially - concerning the role of religion in society. [I think there is a great difference, though, between the UK and the US: In the US, religion in public life has always been evident from the Founding Fathers and in the nation's founding documents. In the UK, as Tony Blair's PR man once memorably said "We don't do God", that is, not in public. Nor not very muchin private iehter, where the US remains a firm, affirmative chuirch-going nation.]

With regard to debates about Islam, we must recognise how the portrayal of Muslims as violent fundamentalists still resonates with those 19th-century beliefs that white westerners are inherently superior to their savage and barbaric counterparts in other cultures and religions.

Also lurking within the media treatment of religion today is a masked anti-Catholicism, for that too has been a feature of modern societies such as Britain and America whose values have been largely shaped by Protestantism. Unless we are attentive to these subtexts, our discussions about religion risk being vehicles for unacknowledged prejudices and historical animosities which can only serve to fuel conflict in these uncertain times.

The limits of rationalism

One way to understand the current crisis in values and beliefs is to situate it in the context of late modernity or postmodernity, when the democratic and scientific values which emerged in the various intellectual and political revolutions of the 18th century are disintegrating.

Today, we face a world of complexity and plurality which some find exhilarating in its freedoms and opportunities, but others find terrifying in its lack of certainties and truths.

The term "postmodernism" is associated with Jean-François Lyotard's book, The Postmodern Condition, published in 1979, but the era of postmodernity had its genesis in the aftermath of the second world war, when all the values which had sustained modern western societies for two centuries were in meltdown.

How could visions of progress and the civilising power of reason survive two world wars and the Nazi genocide? How could science provide answers to human suffering, when it had provided us with such a devastating capacity for destruction and killing?

This uncertainty has increased as the full implications of the 20th century have dawned upon us. Never in human history did so many people slaughter one another in the name of so many ideologies and visions of progress, all of them informed by a post-religious secular ideology - whether it was the quasi-paganism of Nazism or the atheism of the Soviet Union, China or Cambodia.

If the Enlightenment signified the liberation of western societies from the tyranny of religion and theocratic rule, we discovered in the 20th century that the cruelty of God-fearing societies might be rivalled only by that of godless societies.

Although the new atheists are dogmatic in their refusal to accept that line of argument, it remains the context in which we must situate our reflections on the crises confronting us at the beginning of the 21st century.

Those with greater historical sensitivity and philosophical insight than Dawkins know that the gulags, Hiroshima and the gas-chambers have cast a pall over western memory and consciousness, and we are right to distrust the forms of knowledge and the political systems in which such violence was able to take root and grow.

Contrary to what many people hoped, scientific rationalism did not deliver us from the evils of violence, war and hatred, nor did religion wither and die in the glare of the scientific gaze.

Instead, religion has revived in virulent new forms which are parasitic upon modernity, for religious extremism is informed by the same ahistorical and literalistic understanding of truth which informs scientific approaches to knowledge, with their shared resistance to ambiguity, doubt and complexity in the quest for meaning.

In both cases, the poetic and holistic wisdom of past generations - much of it embedded in religious traditions - is set aside in favour of an aggressive and one-sided dogmatism which ruptures the fabric of human life in its communal and creative dimensions.

But if modernity created the conditions in which religious and scientific fundamentalisms took root, it is postmodernity which has created the kind of volatile social environment in which these opposing forces encounter one another with potentially explosive violence.

While postmodernism destabilises all claims to truth and creates a widespread mood of doubt and scepticism, it also creates a cultural vacuum in which every form of extremism and identity politics can flourish, while sapping us of the collective vision and energy needed to challenge corrupt and unjust political structures.

One of the great myths of postmodernism is its celebration of the death of the "meta-narrative", its paradoxical claim that the only universal truth is that there is no universal truth. [The very definition of relativism!] But this is a lie, for never has humankind been so dominated by a single meta-narrative as it is today, when global capitalism threatens to eliminate every other narrative and every other meaning from human life.

While the histories and traditions which have bound people together and conferred upon communities a sense of meaning and belonging are under siege from all directions, a relentless and inhumane system of global economics is sweeping away the last vestiges of human dignity and hope for those who are exiled, exploited and commodified by the wars, corruptions and burgeoning inequalities which our economic system brings in its wake. This is the context in which we must situate our reflections if we want to ask why so many people are attracted to rigid and dogmatic forms of religion.

A fury for certitude

Mark Juergensmeyer, in his fine study of religious violence, Terror in the Mind of God (2001), argues that religion is rarely in itself a cause of war and violence, but it can provide a potent moral justification for violence as a form of resistance to perceived injustices and inequalities.

Thus the current phenomenon of religious extremism must be understood in the context of the widespread failure of secularism and the modern nation state in their inability to challenge deprivation and injustice. Faced with the combined forces of western military and economic power, disenfranchised and alienated groups begin to see the West as the primary source of global injustice and moral corruption.

From this perspective, religious zealotry can be interpreted as the other face of the metropolitan fancy-dress parade which constitutes the consumerist lifestyles of postmodern urban elites, reflecting as they do the banality and homogeneity of a global market which is no respecter of boundaries, cultures and traditions.

Instead of freedom we have choice, and instead of values we have labels and lifestyles. We citizens of the western democracies have become solipsistic consumers indifferent to the squandering of our hard-won freedoms and rights by governments for which terrorism has become a byword for ever-more draconian strategies of surveillance and control.

As democracy withers and the political forum is colonised by the suave-speaking mediocrities of the soundbite era, as blatant self-interest on the part of the world's most powerful nations becomes an excuse for every kind of collusion in the politics of corruption and violence, we in whose names the battles are being fought have allowed our horizons to shrink so that we see no further than the nearest shopping-mall.

And we are the privileged ones, the citizens whose security merits any injustice, any violation of human rights, against the immigrants, fanatics and foreigners who threaten our vacuous existence. Should we be surprised that some of them are declaring war on us?

For many others, it is religion - particularly in its more dogmatic forms - that offers a potent alternative; those drawn to it include people both disenfranchised from the beginning because they are too poor or too oppressed to participate in the postmodern shop-fest, and people who are afraid of what they perceive as the moral meltdown of modern western culture.

In these forms of religion, people can find certainty instead of confusion, clear rules instead of ambiguity, tight-knit communities instead of shifting and transient relationships; and all this is presided over by a wrathful male God who hates all the things they hate - particularly gays, feminists and libertarians of every description - and who sanctions violence in order to keep His values safe from corruption.

What vision of democracy?

On 9/11, the postmodern condition met its nemesis. When Osama bin Laden's suicidal supporters selected their targets, they were selecting symbols which represent the west's economic, military and political hegemony with all its corrupted values and degenerate politics. Living as we do in the swirl of history which followed that event, we lack the critical distance to assess its impact and evaluate its consequences.

However, the shift in western attitudes from the laissez-faire pluralism of postmodernity to the more hard-edged antagonism of cultural commentators such as Dawkins, AC Grayling, Polly Toynbee and other guardians of secular truth has to be understood in that context.

If sufficient critical distance is not possible, it is possible to say that since 9/11 we have gone beyond the postmodern condition; and that what we do next will determine whether we discover in our new circumstances the abyss of a violent nihilism and war without end, or the beginnings of a new and hopeful flourishing among peoples in harmony with our natural environment, which is our only hope of redemption.

The latter would require that we recognise the awesome responsibilities which come with our much vaunted values of freedom, democracy and human rights. In the era of war without end in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the contrast between the protests of the public and the indifference of its leaders (as after the huge worldwide demonstrations of February 2003) is a stark expression of how these values are routinely traduced.

The most pressing question confronting us lies here: how to respond to the slow death of democracy. The recent confrontation between religion and science is in this context a smokescreen which is distracting us from much more urgent political and intellectual issues.

It allows the secular intelligentsia to hide behind a convenient and inflated - where not fabricated - myth of religious extremism which masks from us our own complicity in the murder and mayhem by which western global supremacy and our own privileged status within that are now maintained.

The Buddhist monks of Burma have shown us that religion is not always the enemy of freedom. Sometimes it can inspire very great acts of courage in the name of democracy and human rights.

If religions have too often sanctioned killing in the name of God, they also have the capacity to instil in their followers the understanding that sometimes, there are values worth dying for. [This is, of course, a secular version of Pope Benedict's St. Stephen Day homily about Christian martyrdom.]

Let us listen to the silence of those - for now - defeated monks. In our noisy and increasingly violent defence of freedom, we must ask ourselves what vision of democracy inspired them to protest in peace and to die in hope.

I think it was Martin Luther King who asked: "If there is nothing you are willing to die for, is there anything you have that's worth living for?" The postmodern condition gave us nothing to die for and nothing to live for, but it seems to have given us a great deal we are willing to kill for.

Tina Beattie, The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2007) . This article is published by Tina Beattie , and under a Creative Commons licence. Tina Beattie is reader in Christian studies, Roehampton University, England. Among her books are God's Mother, Eve's Advocate (Allen & Unwin, 2002) and New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (Routledge 2005).

1/20/2008 7:49 PM
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The long read is the Introduction to the book, but first, here's an overview about the book and its author.

Joseph Ratzinger:
Life in the Church and Living Theology
Fundamentals of Ecclesiology

Author: Maximilian Heinrich Heim
Length: 500 pages
Edition: Hardcover

This is a major work on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, by a highly regarded German theologian, priest and writer.

Since his election to the Papacy, Ratzinger's theology, and in particular his ecclesiology (theology of the Church), has been in the limelight of theological and ecumenical discussions.

This important work studies in detail Ratzinger's ecclesiology in the light of Vatican II, against the ongoing debate about what Vatican II really meant to say about the life of the Church, its liturgy, its worship, its doctrine, its pastoral mission, and more.

Has his theology of the Church changed since Vatican II, or has it continued to develop consistently? Is the Catholic Church one church among many churches? Is she the object of hope or a historical reality?

Ratzinger the theologian figures centrally in this investigation, not as the former Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but as a thinker and as a writer.

Maximilian Heinrich Heim is a Cistercian priest and the Prior of the Abbey in Stiepel, Germany. He has a doctorate in theology and has taught fundamental theology at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. This study on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger won prestigious awards, the Cardinal Innitzer Prize in Vienna, and the Johann-Kaspar Zeuss Prize in Kronach, Germany.

We cannot return to the past, nor have we any desire to do so. But we must be ready to reflect anew on that which, in the lapse of time, has remained the one constant. To seek it without distraction and to dare to accept, with joyful heart and without diminution, the foolishness of truth—this, I think, is the task for today and for tomorrow. [1]

Joseph Ratzinger is considered by some to be the representative of a "petrified theology", [2] whereas for others [3] he is a voice that claims to speak the truth and makes it possible to perceive "the whole in its depth dimension" [4]

This dissertation places him — amid the tensions of present-day disputes within the Church about the patrimony of the Second Vatican Council — as an ecclesiologist at the center of this discourse, by setting forth his statements about the Church as a central aspect of an existential theology.

Because theology and ecclesial life have been melded into one in an unusual way in Ratzinger's work, his theological thought can be characterized as "existential", without thereby relegating it to the realm of the merely subjective.

Ratzinger is in fact concerned about a theology that proceeds, not from a private being, but rather from an existence that has surrendered itself to the Church, [5] in other words, "a theology of ex-sistere, of that exodus by which the human individual goes out from himself and through which alone he can find himself", [6] a theology, therefore, that seeks God in the Church and through the Church as its preexisting center.

Consequently, its task consists of "keeping what is earthly and human so that it is transparent toward the truly fundamental reality, the divine reality that opens itself to us through Christ in the Holy Spirit". [7]

If we understand theology this way, it becomes clear that Ratzinger's thought, in keeping with the patristic tradition, is defined, not by an opposition [8] between salvation history and its ontological unfolding, [9] but rather by a mutual ordering of the two that constantly adheres to the "prae [logical and temporal priority] of God's action". [10] This means that "faith in an actio Dei is antecedent to all other declarations of faith", because for God,

it is precisely relationship and action that are the essential marks; creation and revelation are the two basic statements about him, and when revelation is fulfilled in the Resurrection, it is thus confirmed once again that he is not just one who is timeless but also one who is above time, whose existence is known to us only through his action. [11]

Defending this "primacy of God" [12] brings about a development in Ratzinger's theology — as Dorothee Kaes explains — from a theology that originally had a more pronounced orientation toward salvation history [13] to thinking that is more characteristically metaphysical, [14] and this development occurs as a response to the intellectual debates of a given time period. [15]

Since my dissertation on Ratzinger's ecclesiology is situated within the context of the postconciiar developments in the Church, I was confronted with the question about an adequate reception of that image of the Church that the Second Vatican Council had outlined.

In this regard, Ratzinger is not only a contemporary witness, but also a theologian who, as Thomas Weiler [16] has attempted to demonstrate, was himself able to exert influence on the Council's ecciesiology.

Although it is not my purpose simply to reverse Weiler's approach and to maintain that the Council influenced Ratzinger the theologian, it is still undeniable that there was a reciprocal effect [17] and that consequently Ratzinger must be understood not only as an expert in the conciiar ecclesiology, as one of those who helped to shape it, but at the same time also as one of its most resolute defenders and as someone who continues to interpret and apply it concretely in his writings.

Thus two sets of questions result for the development of my theme: first, an inquiry into the Church's understanding of herself in Lumen gentium and, secondly, an investigation of Ratzinger's ecclesial life and the main lines of his ecciesiology; which has been shaped by his career.

The first part of the dissertation, about Lumen gentium, will set out to provide the conceptual frame of reference for the discussion of Ratzinger's ecclesiological outline in the second part, whereby the fundamental themes of mystery, the People of God, and collegiality, which are structural elements of Lumen gentium, serve as the main coordinates for the systematic development of the subject.

I have chosen them as guidelines for presenting Ratzinger's theology as well, because he himself associates them with the authority of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church. [18]

In any case the second part does not intend to make a detailed comparison with Lumen gentium; rather, it intends to show the importance of the main ecciesiological themes of the Constitution on the Church in Ratzinger's work, to note points of agreement or differences and modifications, and, where appropriate, to point out changes in Ratzinger's approach.

In this regard, the question of how and when Ratzinger articulated the ambiguities [19] in Lumen gentium will serve as a litmus test for whether or not there was a change in his perspective. For this reason it is necessary to pay special attention to the historical factor in our discussions.

This is accomplished, on the one hand, by tracing the principal stages of development both for Lumen gentium and for Ratzinger and, on the other hand, by explicitly examining the historical context at pivotal points of the systematic treatment of the subject. In this I am guided by the following suggestion of Weiler:

A thorough study of Ratzinger's postconciliar ecclesiological writings would of course have to investigate which of Ratzinger's ideas remained unchanged and where, if at all, a change can be noted.

Why did that happen? And with regard to the ideas that remained the same, one should ask whether they, in being brought into a new historical and theological context, do not acquire a different significance.

Finally: Does the fact that Ratzinger's ideas remained the same really correspond thoroughly to the Second Vatican Council, which was, after all, in Ratzinger's view as well, "only the formulation of a task", which is to say, the beginning of a fundamental change, the accomplishment of which was (and is) still in the future? [20]

Before I outline the structure and division of my investigation, I should clarify why I take up Lumen gentium and not Gaudium et spes as the frame of reference for my discussion of Ratzinger's ecclesiology, even though the latter, in my opinion, would also be quite possible and reasonable. [21]

The answer is twofold: First, in keeping with Ratzinger's approach, I attempt to shed light on the Church's intrinsic nature. For this purpose Lumen gentium is a suitable reference. Moreover, according to Wolfgang Beinert, the "other fifteen constitutions, decrees, and declarations lead to this Council document or are derived from it". [22]

The second reason for my decision is related to the first. It can be expressed precisely by means of a programmatic statement by Ratzinger of his position in the year 1975:

An interpretation of the Council that understands its dogmatic texts as mere preludes to a still unattained conciliar spirit, that regards the whole as just a preparation for Gaudium et spes and that looks upon the latter text as just the beginning of an unswerving course toward an ever greater union with what is called progress —such an interpretation is not only contrary to what the Council Fathers intended and meant, it has been reduced ad absurdum by the course of events.

Where the spirit of the Council is turned against the word of the Council and is vaguely regarded as a distillation from the development that evolved from the "Pastoral Constitution", this spirit becomes a specter and leads to meaninglessness. [23]

Ratzinger traces the cause of this subsequent influence of Gaudium et spes, which he regards as problematic, back to the spirit of the preface. [24] In his opinion, the text of the Pastoral Constitution serves as "a kind of countersyllabus" for many theologians, who imagine that it "represents, on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789". [25]

But since "the world, in its modern form" cannot be regarded as a homogeneous entity, the Church's progress cannot consist of "a belated embrace of the modern world". [26] From this insight Ratzinger derives the following basic rule, ten years after the end of the Council: "We must interpret Vatican Council II as a whole and ... our interpretation must be oriented toward the central theological texts." [27]

The two reasons just outlined, Ratzinger's preference for an essential ecciesiology and his partiality for the dogmatic documents of the Council, led me to select Lumen gentium as the background against which to present his ecclesiology.

This means simultaneously, however, that the "outward-looking" perspectives are considered only in passing in this dissertation. This is true, specifically, with regard to Ratzinger's statements on the complicated question of the relation between the Church and the world [28] and his writings concerning ecumenism [29] as well as interreligious dialogue [30] and, last but not least, concerning the relation between the Church and Judaism. [31]

My subject is further limited by the fact that I concentrate above all on the initiatives Ratzinger has taken as a scholar, and not on the contributions he has made to theological discussion in his official, magisterial capacity, even though it was impossible to avoid some overlapping on certain questions.

After these preliminary remarks concerning methodology, I would like to define now more precisely the principal points of this dissertation and to explain its structure. Part I, on the Church's self-understanding according to Lumen gentium, comprises two sections, one historical and one systematic.

The latter is subdivided, following the sequence of the first three chapters of Lumen gentium, under the headings of "The Mystery of the Church", "The People of God", and "The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular the Episcopate".

Because of their intrinsic relatedness, the themes of chapters 4 through 8 of Lumen gentium on the laity (4), on the universal call to holiness in the Church (5) on consecrated religious (6), on the eschatological character of the pilgrim Church and her union with the Church in heaven (7), and finally on the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church (8) are considered in the chapter on the People of God.

In chapter I, on the mystery of the Church, an essential point is the aspect of communio; here the trinitarian communio is presented as the origin and purpose of Church unity.

In chapter 2, in keeping with the Dogmatic Constitution, I will elaborate on the participation of the People of God in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Christ - an aspect that plays a relatively insignificant role in Ratzinger's ecclesiology.

In chapter 3, the college of bishops takes center stage in my discussion. There I will examine above all the sacramental understanding of the episcopal ministry and inquire about how the "Preliminary Note of Explanation" added, to Lumen gentium should be evaluated, both historically and with regard to its contents —a problem that was of decisive importance especially for Ratzinger as one of the theologians at the Council.

Part 2 of this book deals with Ratzinger's ecclesiology. It is structured along the lines of Lumen gentium and treats in succession the principal themes of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. In it I intend to show which fundamental ideas Ratzinger adopts in his ecciesiology, which themes he prefers, and which ones he modifies in his presentation or does not take into account at all.

As in the first part of this dissertation, the systematic section is preceded by a historical section I, which discusses the "Outline of the Ecclesiological Plan from a Biographical Perspective".

In this "prelude", the question of the consistency in Ratzinger's theological thought is especially explosive. Section 2 deals at first, in chapter I, with the Church as sign of faith and mystery of faith. Three central concepts of Ratzinger's ecciesiology are examined therein, namely, Body of Christ, Eucharist, and communio. The chapter concludes with critical reflections on the question of the subsistence of the Catholic Church.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the Church as the People of God In it I will point out Ratzinger's references to rabbinical theology so as to demonstrate by means of concrete examples the ecciesiological consequences of the scriptural unity of the Old and New Testaments that he insists upon.

In particular, this line of Ratzinger's reasoning is important also for the controversial question of the ontological priority of the universal Church. The chapter goes on to deal with his oft-repeated claim that the term "People of God" has been misunderstood in a sociological sense, and the problem of democratic structures in the Church is discussed along with the themes of "relativism" and "majority rule". Comments on the section "The Universal Call to Holiness" conclude the chapter.

In this context the importance of the mariological declaration for Ratzinger's ecclesiology is stressed, but also the problem of the Church's sinfulness, with reference to the verse from the Song of Solomon "I am black but beautiful", [32] which has been applied to the Church, and with the assistance of the image of the casta meretrix.

The conclusion of the main part of my work is chapter 3, on Ratzinger's understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the Church and, especially, of episcopal collegiality.

By way of introduction, the latter is set forth as an ecumenical paradigm, and then it is examined with regard to its origin, to the inherent tension between collegiality and primacy, and to its pastoral implications.

The last part of this chapter is devoted to those emphases in Ratzinger's thought that have changed so much over the course of time that one can speak of an early and a later Ratzinger.

Specifically, from his judgments on the value of bishops' conferences and of the synod of bishops, it will become evident how the later Ratzinger assigns a different theological weight to collegial formations than the earlier Ratzinger did.

Part 3 presents a "synoptic" overview. In summarizing, it compares the ecclesiology of Lumen gentium with that of Ratzinger. My concluding essay on the problematic position of modernity in intellectual history, which is behind Ratzinger's ecclesiology, attempts to sketch an outline of his thought against this backdrop and to pave the way toward a more nuanced answer to the question of its continuity or discontinuity.

Finally, in a concluding remark, the liturgy is depicted as the hermeneutic locus of theological ecclesiology, in keeping with the axiom lex orandi-lex credendi, so as the emphasize and reflect critically on what is distinctive about Ratzinger's markedly eucharistic theology of communio.


[1] J. Ratzinger, "Der Weltdienst der Kirche: Aurwirkungen von Gaudium et spes im letzten Jahrzehnt", IKaZ 4 (1975):439-54. Reprinted in Principles, 373-93, as the epilogue, "Church and World: An Inquiry into the Reception of Vatican Council II". Citation at 393.
[2] HŠring, Ideologie, 21.
[3] We should mention here, for example, Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnuer as representatives of Ratzinger's "circle of students". The names of the members of this Schuelerkreis ad of those who presented papers at their gatherings were published in Mitte, 316f.
[4] See Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz PfnŸr, "Introduction", in Pilgrim Fellowship, 9-16, citation at 12.
[5] See the foreword of W. Baier et al., eds., Weisheit Gottes—Weisheit der Welt: Festschrift uer Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger zum 60. Geburtstag (Sankt Ottilien: EOS-Verlag, 1987), I:v.
[6] Principles, 171-90, citation at 189.
[7] Horn and Pfnuer, "Introduction", 9-14, citation at 10.
[8] In this way, Ratzinger decisively distances himself from Bultmann's thesis that "the word, the kerygma, is the real salvation-event, the 'eschatological event', that leads man from the alienation of his existence to its essence.

This word is present wherever it makes itself heard; it is the always-present possibility of salvation for mankind. It is clear that, in the last analysis, this primacy of the word that, as such, can always be spoken and thus can be posited as always present, cancels the notion of a continuous series of salvation-historical events" (Principles, 176), in that it separates a theologically insignificant history from a theologically relevant "story".

The latter remains, in Bultmann's scheme, a "word-event" unconnected with the historical events. Compare Kaes, 89f. Ratzinger sees in this opposition between salvation history and metaphysics a problem that did not come so acutely to the fore until after the Second Vatican Council.

The reason for this may be explained by the fact that "Vatican Council II did not link its debate on salvation to the already existing patristic term dispositio (or dispensatio) but rather coined for itself, as a borrowing from the German, the expression historia salutis. Therewith we have also an indication of the source of the problem that, in our century, has entered Catholic theology by way of Protestant thought" (Principles, 572).
[9] See ibid.
[10] Ibid., 185.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Pilgrim Fellowship, 284-98, citation at 287.
[13] Along with G. Soehngen, Ratzinger stresses "emphatically that the truth of Christianity is not the truth of a universally accepted idea but the truth of a unique fact" (Principles, 174). Cf. G. Sšhngen, Die Einheit in der Theologie (Munich: Zink, 1952), 347.
[14] For particulars, see Kaes, 86-88.
[15] Pt. 3, sec. 2, of this book, "Ratzinger's Ecciesiology against the Background of Issues in Intellectual History".
[16] Cf. Weiler, 151-283, esp. 281-83.
[17] See J. Ratzinger, "Geleitwort" [preface], in Weiler, xiii; similarly: G. Alberigo, "Die konziliare Erfahrung: SelbstŠndig lernen", in Wittstadt, 2:679-98, esp. 688f.
[18] See Church 3-20; "Ecciesiology", 123-52.
[19] Cf. Pt. 2, sec. 2, chap. 3, ¤ 4, "Aspects during the Council in Tension with the Later Perspective", and pt. 3, sec. I, "Comparison between the Main Lines of Lumen gentium and of Ratzinger's Ecclesiology".
[20] Weiler 315. In the same passage, Weiler cites J. Ratzinger, Die letzte Sitzungsperiode des Konzils (Cologne: Bachem, 1966), 73; cf. Highlights, 183.

In 1996, Weiler declared (11f.) that, even though the theme of "Church" is an important focal point in Ratzinger's work as a whole, "it is astounding that so far relatively few publications have been dedicated to this important aspect .... A monograph on Ratzinger's ecclesiology has not yet appeared."

Weiler did not consider the unpublished dissertation of K.-J. E. Jeon, Die Kirche bei Joseph Ratzinger: Unter- suchungen zum strukturierten Volk Gottes nach der Kirchenlehre Joseph Ratzingers (unpublished dissertation, Innsbruck, 1995).

An extensive list of further publications on Ratzinger's theology can be found in Weiler, 11f. Worth noting also is the bibliography of secondary literature compiled by Helmut Moll under the title "Rezeption und Auseinandersetzung mit dem theologischen Werk von Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger", in Mitte, 309-15.
[21] It seems to me that Ratzinger's stance with regard to Gaudium et spes deserves separate study, since Ratzinger has grappled with this document on several occasions. He declared in 1975, for example, that Gaudium et spes is "the most difficult and, [along] with the 'Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy' and the 'Decree on Ecumenism', also the most [consequential]" Council document, on account of the problem of finding a suitable concept of "the world" (Principles, 378).
[22] Beinert, "Kirchenbilder in der Kirchengeschichte", in Kirchenbilder, Kirchenvisionen: Variationen ŸUeber eine Wirklichkeit, ed. Beinert, 58-127, citation at III (Regensburg: Pustet, 1995).
[23] Principles, 390.
[24] Cf. ibid., 379. For a more detailed discussion, see t. 2, sec. I, chap. 3, ¤ 1, Of this book, "The Council: 'The Beginning of the Beginning'?"
[25] Principles, 381, 382.
[26] Ibid., 390.
[27] Ibid.
[28] "See, for example, "Weltoffene Kirche? †berlegungen zur Struktur des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils", in Volk Gottes, 107-28. Cf. also "Der Christ und die Welt von heute: Ueberlegungen zur Pastoralkonstitution des Zweiten Vatikamschen Konzils", in Dogma, 183-204, along with the commentary on articles 11-22 of Gaudium et spes, in LThK.E, vol. 3 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1968), 313-54.
[29] An example is the striking essay entitled "Prognosen fŸr die Zukunft des …kumenismus", in Mitte, 181-94. It also contains the so-called Ratzinger formula, which states that "Rome must not demand more from the East by way of doctrine on the primacy than was formulated and practiced during the first millennium." We will treat this subject more thoroughly in this book in pt. 2, sec. 2, chap. 3, ¤ 4.2, entitled "Concrete Forms of Episcopal Collegiality, as Variously Interpreted".
[30] See, for example, Salt of the Earth, 243-55.
[31] See the first volume of the Urfelder series, which especially promotes dialogue between Jews and Christians: J. Ratzinger, Many Religions-One Covenant, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999).
[32] Song 1:5.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 1/20/2008 7:54 PM]
2/12/2008 1:37 PM
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by Avery Cardinal Dulles
First Things (February 2008)

This is an excellent overview of the subject and comes at the right time. The question is at the heart of the controversy over the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews, and with the rationale for evangelization in the context of inter-religious dialog.

Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. Almost every page confronts us with a decision of eternal consequence: Will we follow Christ or the rulers of this world?

The gospel is, according to Paul, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16). The apostles and their associates are convinced that in Jesus they have encountered the Lord of Life and that he has brought them into the way that leads to everlasting blessedness. By personal faith in him and by baptism in his name, Christians have passed from darkness to light, from error to truth, and from sin to holiness.

Paul is the outstanding herald of salvation through faith. To the Romans he writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Faith, for him, is inseparable from baptism, the sacrament of faith. By baptism, the Christian is immersed in the death of Christ so as to be raised with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The Book of Acts shows the apostles preaching faith in Christ as the way to salvation. Those who believe the testimony of Peter on the first Pentecost ask him what they must do to be saved. He replies that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and thereby save themselves from the present crooked generation (Acts 2:37-40).

When Peter and John are asked by the Jewish religious authorities by what authority they are preaching and performing miracles, they reply that they are acting in the name of Jesus Christ and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Paul and his associates bring the gospel first of all to the Jews because it is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. When the Jews in large numbers reject the message, Paul and Barnabas announce that they are turning to the Gentiles in order to bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 13:46-47).

A few chapters later in Acts, we see Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi. When their jailer asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer and his family at once accept baptism and rejoice in their newfound faith (Acts 16:30-34).

The same doctrine of salvation permeates the other books of the New Testament. Mark’s gospel ends with this missionary charge: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

John in his gospel speaks no less clearly. Jesus at one point declares that those who hear his word and believe in him do not remain in darkness, whereas those who reject him will be judged on the last day (John 12:44-50).

At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Twelve, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). John concludes the body of his gospel with the statement that he has written his account “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

From these and many other texts, I draw the conclusion that, according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism.

The New Testament is almost silent about the eternal fate of those to whom the gospel has not been preached. It seems apparent that those who became believers did not think they had been on the road to salvation before they heard the gospel.

In his sermon at Athens, Paul says that in times past God overlooked the ignorance of the pagans, but he does not say that these pagans were saved. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul says that the Gentiles have come to a knowledge of God by reasoning from the created world, but that they are guilty because by their wickedness they have suppressed the truth and fallen into idolatry.

In the second chapter of Romans, Paul indicates that Gentiles who are obedient to the biddings of conscience can be excused for their unbelief, but he indicates that they fall into many sins. He concludes that “all have sinned and fall short” of true righteousness (Rom. 3:23). For justification, Paul asserts, both Jews and Gentiles must rely on faith in Jesus Christ, who expiated the sins of the world on the cross.

Animated by vibrant faith in Christ the Savior, the Christian Church was able to conquer the Roman Empire. The converts were convinced that in embracing Christianity they were escaping from the darkness of sin and superstition and entering into the realm of salvation. For them, Christianity was the true religion, the faith that saves. It would not have occurred to them that any other faith could save them.

Christian theologians, however, soon had to face the question whether anyone could be saved without Christian faith. They did not give a wholly negative answer. They agreed that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, because they looked forward in faith and hope to the Savior, could be saved by adhering in advance to him who was to come.

The apologists of the second and third centuries made similar concessions with regard to certain Greek philosophers. The prologue to John’s gospel taught that the eternal Word enlightens all men who come into the world.

Justin Martyr speculated that philosophers such as Socrates and Heraclitus had lived according to the Word of God, the Logos who was to become incarnate in Christ, and they could therefore be reckoned as being in some way Christians.

Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen held that the Wisdom of God gave graces to people of every generation, both Greeks and barbarians.

The saving grace of which these theologians were speaking, however, was given only to pagans who lived before the time of Christ. It was given by the Word of God who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was no doctrine that pagans could be saved since the promulgation of the gospel without embracing the Christian faith.

Origen and Cyprian, in the third century, formulated the maxim that has come down to us in the words Extra ecclesiam nulla salus —”Outside the Church, no salvation.” They spoke these words with heretics and schismatics primarily in view, but they do not appear to have been any more optimistic about the prospects of salvation for pagans.

Assuming that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere, writers of the high patristic age considered that, in the Christian era, Christians alone could be saved. In the East, this view is represented by Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom. The view attributed to Origen that hell would in the end be evacuated and that all the damned would eventually be saved was condemned in the sixth century.

In the West, following Ambrose and others, Augustine taught that, because faith comes by hearing, those who had never heard the gospel would be denied salvation. They would be eternally punished for original sin as well as for any personal sins they had committed.

Augustine’s disciple Fulgentius of Ruspe exhorted his readers to “firmly hold and by no means doubt that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, and all heretics and schismatics who are outside the Catholic Church, will go to the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The views of Augustine and Fulgentius remained dominant in the Christian West throughout the Middle Ages. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reaffirmed the formula “Outside the Church, no salvation,” as did Pope Boniface VIII in 1302.

At the end of the Middle Ages, the Council of Florence (1442) repeated the formulation of Fulgentius to the effect that no pagan, Jew, schismatic, or heretic could be saved.

On one point the medieval theologians diverged from rigid Augustinianism. On the basis of certain passages in the New Testament, they held that God seriously wills that all may be saved.

They could cite the statement of Peter before the household of Cornelius: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). The First Letter to Timothy, moreover, declares that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

These assurances made for a certain tension in Catholic teaching on salvation. If faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, how could salvation be within reach of those who had no opportunity to learn about Christ?

Thomas Aquinas, in dealing with this problem, took his departure from the axiom that there was no salvation outside the Church. To be inside the Church, he held, it was not enough to have faith in the existence of God and in divine providence, which would have sufficed before the coming of Christ. God now required explicit faith in the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

In two of his early works (De Veritate and Commentary on Romans), he discusses the hypothetical case of a man brought up in the wilderness, where the gospel was totally unknown. If this man lived an upright life with the help of the graces given him, Thomas reasoned, God would make it possible for him to become a Christian believer, either through an inner illumination or by sending a missionary to him.

Thomas referred to the biblical example of the centurion Cornelius, who received the visitation of an angel before being evangelized and baptized by Peter (Acts 10). In his Summa Theologiae, however, Thomas omits any reference to miraculous instruction; he goes back to the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.

A major theological development occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The voyages of discovery had by this time disclosed that there were large populations in North and South America, Africa, and Asia who had lived since the time of Christ and had never had access to the preaching of the gospel. The missionaries found no sign that even the most upright among these peoples had learned the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation by interior inspirations or angelic visitations.

Luther, Calvin, and the Jansenists professed the strict Augustinian doctrine that God did not will to save everyone, but the majority of Catholic theologians rejected the idea that God had consigned all these unevangelized persons to hell without giving them any possibility of salvation. A series of theologians proposed more hopeful theories that they took to be compatible with Scripture and Catholic tradition.

The Dominican Melchior Cano argued that these populations were in a situation no different from that of the pre-Christian pagans praised by Justin and others. They could be justified in this life (but not saved in the life to come) by implicit faith in the Christian mysteries.

Another Dominican, Domingo de Soto, went further, holding that, for the unevangelized, implicit faith in Christ would be sufficient for salvation itself. Their contemporary, Albert Pighius, held that for these unevangelized persons the only faith required would be that mentioned in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” They could therefore be saved by general revelation and grace even though no missionary came to evangelize them.

The Jesuit Francisco Suarez, following these pioneers, argued for the sufficiency of implicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with an implicit desire for baptism on the part of the unevangelized.

Juan de Lugo agreed, but he added that such persons could not be saved if they had committed serious sins, unless they obtained forgiveness by an act of perfect contrition.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits of the Gregorian University followed in the tradition of Suarez and de Lugo, with certain modifications.

Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible.

In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them.

In the same letter, the pope reaffirmed that no one could be saved outside the Catholic Church. He did not explain in what sense such persons were, or would come to be, in the Church. He could have meant that they would receive the further grace needed to join the Church, but nothing in his language suggests this. More probably he thought that such persons would be joined to the Church by implicit desire, as some theologians were teaching by his time.

In 1943, Pius XII did take this further step. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, Mystici Corporis, he distinguished between two ways of belonging to the Church: in actual fact (in re) or by desire (in voto). Those who belonged in voto, however, were not really members. They were ordered to the Church by the dynamism of grace itself, which related them to the Church in such a way that they were in some sense in it.

The two kinds of relationship, however, were not equally conducive to salvation. Those adhering to the Church by desire could not have a sure hope of salvation because they lacked many spiritual gifts and helps available only to those visibly incorporated in the true Church.

Mystici Corporis represents a forward step in its doctrine of adherence to the Church through implicit desire. From an ecumenical point of view, that encyclical is deficient, since it does not distinguish between the status of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians.

The next important document came from the Holy Office in its letter to Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1949. The letter pointed out—in opposition to Father Leonard Feeney, S.J., and his associates at St. Benedict Center—that, although the Catholic Church was a necessary means for salvation, one could belong to it not only by actual membership but by also desire, even an unconscious desire. If that desire was accompanied by faith and perfect charity, it could lead to eternal salvation.

Neither the encyclical Mystici Corporis nor the letter of the Holy Office specified the nature of the faith required for in voto status. Did the authors mean that the virtue of faith or the inclination to believe would suffice, or did they require actual faith in God and divine providence, or actual faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism, made some significant departures from the teaching of Pius XII. It avoided the term member and said nothing of an unconscious desire for incorporation in the Church.

It taught that the Catholic Church was the all-embracing organ of salvation and was equipped with the fullness of means of salvation. Other Christian churches and communities possessed certain elements of sanctification and truth that were, however, derived from the one Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church today. For this reason, God could use them as instruments of salvation.

God had, however, made the Catholic Church necessary for salvation, and all who were aware of this had a serious obligation to enter the Church in order to be saved. God uses the Catholic Church not only for the redemption of her own members but also as an instrument for the redemption of all. Her witness and prayers, together with the eucharistic sacrifice, have an efficacy that goes out to the whole world.

In several important texts, Vatican II took up the question of the salvation of non-Christians. Although they were related to the Church in various ways, they were not incorporated in her. God’s universal salvific will, it taught, means that he gives non-Christians, including even atheists, sufficient help to be saved.

Whoever sincerely seeks God and, with his grace, follows the dictates of conscience is on the path to salvation. The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, makes it possible for each and every person to be associated with the Paschal mystery.

“God, in ways known to himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him.” The council did not indicate whether it is necessary for salvation to come to explicit Christian faith before death, but the texts give the impression that implicit faith may suffice.

Vatican II left open the question whether non-Christian religions contain revelation and are means that can lead their adherents to salvation. It did say, however, that other religions contain elements of truth and goodness, that they reflect rays of the truth that enlightens all men, and that they can serve as preparations for the gospel.

Christian missionary activity serves to heal, ennoble, and perfect the seeds of truth and goodness that God has sown among non-Christian peoples, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of those evangelized.

While repeatedly insisting that Christ is the one mediator of salvation, Vatican II shows forth a generally hopeful view of the prospects of non-Christians for salvation. Its hopefulness, however, is not unqualified: “Rather often, men, deceived by the evil one, have become caught up in futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or, some there are who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness.” The missionary activity of the Church is urgent for bringing such persons to salvation.

After the council, Paul VI (in his pastoral EChortation Evangelization in the Modern World) and John Paul II (in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio) interpreted the teaching of Vatican II in relation to certain problems and theological trends arising since the council.

Both popes were on guard against political and liberation theology, which would seem to equate salvation with formation of a just society on earth and against certain styles of religious pluralism, which would attribute independent salvific value to non-Christian religions.

In 2000, toward the end of John Paul’s pontificate, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, which emphatically taught that all grace and salvation must come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator.

Wisely, in my opinion, the popes and councils have avoided talk about implicit faith, a term that is vague and ambiguous. They do speak of persons who are sincerely seeking for the truth and of others who have found it in Christ.

They make it clear that sufficient grace is offered to all and that God will not turn away those who do everything within their power to find God and live according to his law. We may count on him to lead such persons to the faith needed for salvation.

One of the most interesting developments in post-conciliar theology has been Karl Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians.” He taught that God offers his grace to everyone and reveals himself in the interior offer of grace. Grace, moreover, is always mediated through Christ and tends to bring its recipients into union with him. Those who accept and live by the grace offered to them, even though they have never heard of Christ and the gospel, may be called anonymous Christians.

Although Rahner denied that his theory undermined the importance of missionary activity, it was widely understood as depriving missions of their salvific importance. Some readers of his works understood him as teaching that the unevangelized could possess the whole of Christianity except the name.

Saving faith, thus understood, would be a subjective attitude without any specifiable content. In that case, the message of the gospel would have little to do with salvation.

The history of the doctrine of salvation through faith has gone through a number of stages since the High Middle Ages. Using the New Testament as their basic text, the Church Fathers regarded faith in Christ and baptism as essential for salvation.

On the basis of his study of the New Testament and Augustine, Thomas Aquinas held that explicit belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation was necessary for everyone who lived since the time of Christ, but he granted that in earlier times it was sufficient to believe explicitly in the existence and providence of God.

In the sixteenth century, theologians speculated that the unevangelized were in the same condition as pre-Christians and were not held to believe explicitly in Christ until the gospel was credibly preached to them.

Pius IX and the Second Vatican Council taught that all who followed their conscience, with the help of the grace given to them, would be led to that faith that was necessary for them to be saved. During and after the council, Karl Rahner maintained that saving faith could be had without any definite belief in Christ or even in God.

We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses.

The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century.

Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.

Scripture itself assures us that God has never left himself without a witness to any nation (Acts 14:17). His testimonies are marks of his saving dispensations toward all. The inner testimony of every human conscience bears witness to God as lawgiver, judge, and vindicator.

In ancient times, the Jewish Scriptures drew on literature that came from Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The Book of Wisdom and Paul’s Letter to the Romans speak of God manifesting his power and divinity through his works in nature.

The religions generally promote prayer and sacrifice as ways of winning God’s favor. The traditions of all peoples contain elements of truth imbedded in their cultures, myths, and religious practices. These sound elements derive from God, who speaks to all his children through inward testimony and outward signs.

The universal evidences of the divine, under the leading of grace, can give rise to a rudimentary faith that leans forward in hope and expectation to further manifestations of God’s merciful love and of his guidance for our lives.

By welcoming the signs already given and placing their hope in God’s redeeming love, persons who have not heard the tidings of the gospel may nevertheless be on the road to salvation. If they are faithful to the grace given them, they may have good hope of receiving the truth and blessedness for which they yearn.

The search, however, is no substitute for finding. To be blessed in this life, one must find the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, which is worth buying at the cost of everything one possesses. To Christians has been revealed the mystery hidden from past ages, which the patriarchs and prophets longed to know.

By entering through baptism into the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, Christians undergo a radical transformation that sets them unequivocally on the road to salvation. Only after conversion to explicit faith can one join the community that is nourished by the Word of God and the sacraments. These gifts of God, prayerfully received, enable the faithful to grow into ever greater union with Christ.

In Christ’s Church, therefore, we have many aids to salvation and sanctification that are not available elsewhere. Cardinal Newman expressed the situation admirably in one of his early sermons:

The prerogative of Christians consists in the possession, not of exclusive knowledge and spiritual aid, but of gifts high and peculiar; and though the manifestation of the Divine character in the Incarnation is a singular and inestimable benefit, yet its absence is supplied in a degree, not only in the inspired record of Moses, but even, with more or less strength, in those various traditions concerning Divine Providences and Dispositions which are scattered through the heathen mythologies.

We cannot take it for granted that everyone is seeking the truth and is prepared to submit to it when found. Some, perhaps many, resist the grace of God and reject the signs given to them. They are not on the road to salvation at all. In such cases, the fault is not God’s but theirs. The references to future punishment in the gospels cannot be written off as empty threats. As Paul says, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).

We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance.

God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Who, then, can be saved?
- Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments.
- Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found.
- Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled.
- Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will.
- Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice.

God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. This essay is adapted from the Laurence J. McGinley Lecture delivered on November 7, 2007.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 2/12/2008 1:41 PM]
2/25/2008 12:36 AM
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The Judaic Factor in Western Culture
By Jacob Neusner
Theology Today
October 1977

In checking out Rabbi Neusner online today, I came across this 1977 article by him, which I found quite instructive, because it offers a very original view, at least to someone like me whose mindset has been wholly shaped by my Catholic upbringing.

For most people, "Judaism" is equivalent to the "Old Testament." Presumably, therefore, if we describe the many and important ways in which the Hebrew Scriptures (which Jews know as Tanakh) have shaped the life of the west, then we will be defining the Judaic factor in western culture.

This widely-held conception is false, for two reasons.

First, it ignores the fact that the values of Tanakh are mediated to the west not through Judaism but through Christianity and Christian culture. This is implied, for example, by the very name by which Tanakh is called, that is, the "Old Testament."

The "Old" is old in relationship to the "New" Testament, and the latter is understood, by Christians, to complete the message of the former, and, indeed, to impart upon the "Old" its true and authoritative meaning.

Furthermore, so far as Tanakh is known in the west, it is known in the way in which it is read through Christian eyes.

Accordingly, we cannot claim that the Judaic contribution to western civilization takes the distinctive and particular form of the Hebrew Bible, because the Tanakh is not distinctive to Judaism alone, and it is not mediated by Judaism at all.

Second, the conception that the Judaic contribution is principally the Tanakh ignores the development of Judaism over the past two thousand years. That conception treats the continued presence of the Jewish people in the west as of no account.

It takes the position that the only thing of importance about that people is its connection to ancient Israel. This negative assessment of Judaism, of course, is part of the earliest Christian conception that the true Israel continues through the people which was no people, the people of God, the New Israel, the Church of Christ.

It, of course, bears within itself an interesting contradiction, since it concedes what it also denies, which is that the Jews do bear some relationship, if not a quite legitimate one, to the religion of ancient Israel portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Accordingly, all that the Jews have contributed is the "Old Testament," but they cannot truly claim to carry forward even that document as they do not constitute its continuators.

If, as I have implied, Judaism and the religion of the ancient Israelites represented by the Tanakh are not one and the same thing, it follows that Tanakh stands behind two great religions of the west, Judaism and Christianity. Neither can claim wholly and completely to exhaust the potential meaning of Tanakh, for the other bears contrary testimony and gives witness to the notion that there are other meanings, legitimately lived out, in alternative communities of faith.

Judaism carries the imperatives of Sinai forward through its second Torah, the one claimed to have been revealed alongside the written Torah. This second Torah, alleged also to have been revealed at Sinai, is called the oral Torah, and ultimately finds expression in the Mishnah, a second century document, and in the literature of exegesis and augmentation of Mishnah generated by Mishnah, for example, the Palestinian Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud, and the great legal and theological enterprise built upon the foundations of both. It would lead us far afield to discuss how these modes of Torah complement and complete the written one everyone in the west knows.

Central to my argument is the conception that the Judaic contribution to the west cannot be defined, let alone assessed, without close consideration of the role of the Jewish people and its long and coherent history, inclusive of how Judaism, for its part, also took over and transmitted Tanakh.


How, then, shall we define the Judaic component of western civilization, specifically, that component which both is affective in the formation of the world-view of the west and distinctive to Judaism in particular? To answer this question, we must establish two paramount criteria.

First, we want to stress the aspect of distinctiveness. What has Judaism in particular contributed? Second, we emphasize the aspect of the common culture of the west, so we ask what Judaism has contributed to the west? The second question places limits upon the potential answer, but not less than the first.

The west has not received its vast code of morality from Judaism in particular. The west does not look to Judaism for its theological-philosophical conception of God, though that conception is shared by Judaism and Christianity in its philosophical formulations, as monotheism is common to the great religious traditions of the west.

The radical social perspectives of the prophets reach the west through the thought of Christian moralists, beginning, after all, with the teachings of Jesus himself.

Not only so, but the Jews, a people of one religion, do not play a central role in the formation of western civilization as we know it. Their presence has been on the margins of the normative societies, and their situation upon the frontiers of the acceptable was precarious and parlous. Had they wanted, they could in any case have done remarkably little to affect the values of the majority, whatever the character of that majority.

Furthermore, the Jews have always preserved strong links with the non-western world not affected by Christianity, the central bulwark of western civilization. Jews have been not only international within the west but far beyond its limits, in India, Iran, Iraq, and through the Moslem world of North Africa and Spain.

In the very centuries in which western civilization was taking shape, the great centers of Judaic creativity were in Islam, whose philosophy, metaphysics, science, and other cultural achievements shaped, and were richly shaped by, Jewish participation and Judaic thought.

And we must take note of that third world of eastern Europe, which has always had one foot in the west, and the other in Asia and the Middle East. Its particular Christianity, to be sure, is shared with the west. But its historical experiences, the shaping of its societies and the complex cultural life of its populations, respond to what happens at least as much in Central Asia as in England, France, and Germany. The Mongols, after all, shaped Russian history long before the Enlightenment, and for a much longer time.

Accordingly, so far as the Jews have lived in these three worlds, western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Islamic countries, their distinctive contribution to the life of any one of them cannot be understood to exhaust their role in all of them.

When we consider that the majority of the Jewish people lived their lives not in western but in eastern Europe for nearly the whole of the modern history of the west, we realize that the definition of the distinctive Jewish factor in western culture in particular is not going to be easy.


I have dwelt upon the problem of definition so that the proposed solution will be understood in context. The way toward defining and then evaluating the Jewish factor clearly must begin in Tanakh, within the stated qualifications. But it must further be a way continuous with the post-biblical history of the Jewish people and of Judaism. And it must finally take account of the perceptions and responses of the civilization of which Judaism formed a small but interesting part, namely, the west.

These three conditions are met if we ask, What elements in the biblical heritage of Judaism and Christianity are familiar to the west, but are expressed and carried forward in ways distinctive to Judaism so that the west could perceive the familiar in an unfamiliar way? Let me spell this out, first in a negative way.

We cannot point to the Talmud or its Mishnah as the principal
expressions of Judaism which have contributed to western culture, because their place and role in the west are of no consequence whatsoever, and this despite their centrality in the definition of Judaism from the second century to the present. But we also cannot ignore Mishnah (to persist in a single example), for, if we do, we miss what is at the heart of Judaism.

We cannot point to biblical morality as the distinctive contribution of Judaism in particular, but we also cannot ignore the fact that Judaism does carry forward the biblical morality in interesting and particular ways.

And, as I shall now propose, there are elements of the biblical perception of the world and its definition of society that: (1) are familiar to the west; (2) are worked out in an unfamiliar way in Judaism; and, (3) are known in this peculiar and alien Judaic guise just as widely as these same elements are known in their friendly and familiar Christian one.


To meet the stated condition, we had best begin with the one fact which the west knows and responds to in Judaism, which is the existence of the Jewish people.

People who know nothing whatsoever about the Jews or about Judaism do know, both from direct observation and from cultural "conditioning," that Jews exist as a group, that they have existed for a long time, and that they continue to exist in the very centers of western culture.

In what measure does the existence of the Jews as a persistent group carry forward an element in the common biblical heritage, and in what ways does the existence of the Jews constitute an important and distinctive expression of that common heritage?

Let us begin with the biblical heritage itself. One principal component of the biblical world-view is Israel, the people brought into existence not by natural processes of history, but by supernatural intervention.

The participants in the exodus from Egypt are described as a mixed multitude, a non-people, a mass of diverse people. At Sinai they become Israel. And what makes them Israel is that the revelation of the Lord to Moses, the Torah, is addressed, in particular, to their group.

The content of revelation is not new in its historical context. The moral rules of the Torah will not have surprised a passing Egyptian, who also knew that one should not murder, steal, or commit adultery.

What is new at Sinai is that the law is addressed to Israel, an entire group. And the corning-into-being of the group, now the people, is tied to the revelation itself. This is new: that the nation is bound together as a group through its covenant with God.

Rewards and punishments are communal, not solely individual. The entire community suffers for the moral failures of individuals. Not everyone sells the poor for silver, but the entire nation suffers if the poor are oppressed in its midst.

Israel is not a natural, ethnic community, but a creation of revelation. Israel becomes a nation through covenant, and its existence and its history depend upon its adherence to that covenant. Morality is not a private affair, and the fate of the nation depends upon the behavior of individuals.

A second important component of the biblical heritage is the idea of the kingdom of God, a people ruled by God's will. The monarchy is called into being - that is to say, government exists - by the grace of God, and not through natural evolution.

The monarchy to begin with is a national institution and is the work of prophecy, beginning with Saul, a prophet who became king. The king is not the center of the religious life and is not deified. He is anointed of the Lord, a messiah in the simple, old sense.

The third and last component of importance here is the conception that morality determines the fate of the people. What God wants of the people, the criterion by which he judges the people, is not rite but right, not cult but the shape of society and culture. Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

What the prophets reject is not the cultic act of the individual who is wicked, but the cult of the nation Israel as a whole. History is decided by morality. Accordingly, Israel's history is the principal arena for the working out of morality, and the condition and character of the people determine its fate.

The history of the people is central, because what that history reveals - the intersection between the moral law and the society which is to keep that law - tells us about what is significant in what happens, and because we know the reason for what is significant.

Israel's history, moreover, is represented as the center and focus of world history, and world history is moving not aimlessly but toward the end of days.

It shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established at the top of the mountains and exalted above the hills, and all nations shall look to it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. And he will teach us of his ways and we shall walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations and decide for many peoples, so that they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

With this vision Israelite religion enters universal history.

These three elements, the conception that Israel is not a natural thing but a matter of choice, divine choice, and human response, the idea of the kingdom of God, and, finally, the principle that the moral condition of the people as a whole is determinative of its fate - these three conceptions of the meaning of "being a group," or, to state matters more elegantly, of the vocation of nationhood, are entirely familiar to us.

The reason is that diverse western theories of society (in secular terms) invoke them. The issue, moreover, of who is Israel-who is that unnatural, supernatural people called into being in a covenant and called upon to conform, in their collective being, to the revealed will of God (in theological terms) - is vexed.

From the formation of biblical Israel to the creation of the State of Israel, diverse groups, taking up the biblical legacy, have declared themselves to be the True Israel, the Israel after the spirit, the saving remnant of Israel, and the like.

Here is a biblical legacy, therefore, contained within a single word, Israel, which links the historical phenomena of western thought about the nature and the calling of a group. There is no point in the formation of the nations of the west and the formulation of nationalism as the definitive character of society in the west at which the biblical legacy, for good or ill, is absent.

'People' is made to define the limits of society. Being of the people places one within the frontiers, and not being one of the people sets him or her outside the bounds.

So far as Israel's heritage is claimed by the church and by diverse churches, moreover, the old theological conception of peoplehood was given a still further interesting nuance.

The conception of the nation-church, defined by a common heritage and moving toward a common fate defined by faithfulness to a covenant, stands behind the institutional forms of western religion, on the one side, and the ideological constructs of western nationalism, on the other. This is a massive component of western civilization-one which, to be sure, may in the end turn out to destroy that very civilization which it defines.

But for the present purpose, we must return to the issue, What is the distinctive Jewish factor as expressed in western culture and its appropriation of the notion of the holy, covenanted people? What of Israel after the flesh, the Jewish people? What has the west learned from its distinctive notion of peoplehood?


The first thing to establish is that the west has learned not solely from the Scriptures, but from the living example of Israel after the flesh, the Jewish people. The presence of the Jews in the west is a relatively recent phenomenon. But Jews lived in western countries in their formative years, and the world of the west knew full well that there were Jews in the world.

What they learned from that fact is that there was and always would be an alternative to the dominant mode of religiosity, Catholic Christianity. The appeal of Judaism, through its Scriptures to its living being, never wholly escaped Christian eyes.

"Judaizers" in the church were feared specifically because they could, and in some interesting instances did, become Jews. While conversion to Judaism is not a major social fact, the possibility and potentiality of conversion occupies Christian minds, and not only in a negative way.

The persistence of Israel after the flesh thus is a well known fact. And conclusions drawn from that fact were not wholly adverse. For the reformers within the church and the Reformation, when it came, saw and grasped the possibility of a community formed of God and sustained against the majority by faith.

Israel after the flesh proved an inspiration to the Reformation, even leading to the admission of living Jews to England and the extension of human rights to Jews in Holland.

New England was shaped by a vision of a city upon the hill, and Israel among the nations, deriving not solely from Scripture but from the fact of the persistence of that old, stubborn, and enduring Israel.

Yet the old, the Catholic Church, in its insistence upon a moral law among human society, a bond, joining society, consisting of more than this-worldly accidents, cannot be thought to have departed from the biblical ideal.

In its relationship to Israel after the flesh, moreover, the "official church" insisted that the Jewish people must endure, for theological purposes to be sure, and made possible Israel's persistence in Europe, while also making miserable Israel's life in Europe.

What is important in the history of the west and its consciousness is the recognition, accorded by the church, to the importance of the persistence of Israel after the flesh. That fact underlined the original, biblical conviction in its then-contemporary mode. It further made possible the very persistence of the alternative to Christianity, the example of loyalty to an alien and unpopular ideal and way of life, constituted by the Jewish people.


What, above all, the west learned from the extraordinary life of Israel is that what is unpopular and alien, what stands against the will of the majority, can survive and will endure.

And the attitudes toward Israel in the west, furthermore, formed the paradigm for the restraint of the diverse majorities of the west in the face of unpopular minorities.

The rights of individuals and of dissenting groups, by reference to the continuing toleration of Israel in Europe, could be no less than those of Israel. The reason such rights had to be extended was to be spelled out.

But I am inclined to think that beyond all reason was hidden the small doubt that perhaps the dissenting group had something to contribute, and that Israel after the flesh, bearer of salvation in the ancient dispensation, has yet a role to play in the coming salvation.

Israel, for its part, had to account for its condition of toleration as subjugation. How can the people of God take a place among the least and most despised of the peoples? This question, asked by Judah Halevi, found its answer in the conception that Israel, while despised, was to serve as the heart of humanity, just as the Scriptures had said, and that worldly power and glory bear no relationship to supernatural truth.

On the face of it, this is the other side of the coin of toleration on the part of the church - even against the state - in the formative centuries of western civilization. And, as I said, it also served to inspire the Reformers, particularly of the left, and to legitimate and justify their dissent.

I leave matters at the end of the Reformation, because not much new happened thereafter. The west had taken shape. Its conceptions of the individual and the group, the nation and society, were formed.

The most current ideas of the higher calling of society and the importance of attaining justice and morality in the community are to be traced back in a continuous line to the Scriptures and to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation.

The respect accorded to dissent - the toleration of the alien, the capacity to accord rights and respect to the opposition, and the restraint exercised by the majority in the protection of the minority - these distinctive and precious commitments of western civilization in its confrontation with its own disagreeable varieties of opinion and belief, to begin with were worked out, not with invariably happy results but commonly with truly dreadful ones, in the encounter with Israel.

But, it must be said, the problematic of the encounter - the issue of coping with diversity and dissent begins in the conception, born in ancient Israel and nurtured within the Jewish people thereafter, that the character and conscience of society as a whole do make a difference.

It will follow that the community cannot be indifferent to the conduct and beliefs of its constituents. And the balance between concern for the character of society as a whole and the capacity to tolerate, and ultimately accord full human rights to people who do not share the common conception of the right character of society as a whole - the need to find that balance begins in the presence of enduring, dogged, and terribly stubborn Israel.

That is why I offer, as the principal and most interesting Judaic factor in western culture, the Jewish people itself.


Going on with 'digging into the past', here is a profile on Rabbi Neusner that came out in the New York Times on April 13, 2005, which mentions Cardinal Ratzinger's appreciation for "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus !

Scholar of Judaism,
Professional Provocateur

The New York Times
April 13, 2005

Jacob Neusner, a mild-seeming, grandfatherly man relaxing in his easy chair, might have published more books than anyone alive. "As of this morning, 905," he said recently. It was 4 p.m. The count was still good.

Hold it! Mr. Neusner, 72, a professor of theology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., has just called to say there are 924. This year alone there have been 22 books, most in his field, ancient Judaism. And no, he doesn't count revisions or translations.

Mr. Neusner studies rabbinical writings of the first 600 years A.D., when rabbinic Judaism evolved. He has translated both the Palestinian Talmud (35 volumes) and the Babylonian, twice (second translation, 46 volumes). In fact, he has translated most of the ancient rabbinic literature. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him probably the most prolific scholar in the nation.

The majority of Mr. Neusner's books are published by academic presses, including Brill, the University of Chicago Press and the University Press of America. Most are bought by libraries and scholarly institutions, though some, like "Judaism: an Introduction," published by Penguin in 2002, are trade books.

Mr. Neusner said it was impossible to know the total sales figures for all 924 books, though he does receive annual royalties for them ranging "between the high four and low five figures."

For instance, he said, reading from a recent royalty statement, his 1988 book "The Mishnah: A New Translation," published by Yale University Press, sold 698 copies last year. "Comparing Religious Traditions," published in 2000 by Wadsworth, a textbook company, sold 535 volumes in 2004.

In his early work, Mr. Neusner challenged the traditional belief that the Talmud - the Jewish laws and the commentaries on them by ancient rabbis - incorporated the stories and deeds of specific men. Rather, he said, they were texts designed to teach Judaism.

"It's like reading the Iliad," said William Scott Green, who has written and edited books with Mr. Neusner. "Do you think the characters actually said everything that was written?"

"He was saying, 'Maybe that's not the point,' " added Mr. Green, a professor of religion and Judaic studies at the University of Rochester and dean of the college there.

Mr. Neusner is not strictly speaking an Orthodox Jew, though he said he was "most taken with the intellectual depth of orthodoxy." He doesn't wear a yarmulke or attend temple regularly, but keeps kosher.

His parsing of the Talmud, he said, has led him to believe that "there was more than one Judaism." Recently, though, he has been searching for similarities between texts in an effort to develop a coherent view of the religion.

Just as Mr. Neusner has been prolific, he has been criticized for sloppiness, especially in his translations. One critic was Saul Lieberman, who was head of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York, until his death in 1983. Mr. Lieberman wrote that one of Mr. Neusner's translations "belonged in the wastebasket," Mr. Neusner recalled.

Mr. Neusner's sharp tongue has also made him enemies among his colleagues. He has been known to sign letters to opponents, "Drop Dead."

Did he really do that? "Not very often," he said dryly. Can he explain? "I'm too old to remember what the occasion was."

In 1996, Mr. Neusner published a devastating critique of a doctoral thesis by a young scholar, Christine Hayes. There, for all to see, was "Are the Talmuds Interchangeable? Christine Hayes's Blunder."

Ms. Hayes is now a professor at Yale. "I have no comment about Professor Neusner," she said in an e-mail message.

Prominent scholars in his field declined to discuss him for this article. Two called his early work "brilliant," but said they were afraid of retaliation for any critical comments.

Politically, Mr. Neusner is conservative. He has attacked affirmative action and feminism. While serving on the council of the National Endowment for the Arts, he defended Senator Jesse Helms.

"It gets worse," he said, noting that he was also on the council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. "I was a bigger supporter of William Bennett," its conservative chairman, he added.

In 1981, while a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I., Mr. Neusner wrote "A Commencement Address You'll Never Hear" for the student newspaper, blasting colleagues for lax standards.

"We created an altogether forgiving world, in which whatever slight effort you gave was all that was demanded," he wrote to the students.

"When you were boring," he said, dripping with venom, "we acted as if you were saying something important."

Mr. Neusner left Brown in 1989. He had a residency at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., where he is still a member, and then went to the University of South Florida. In 2000 he joined Bard full time.

Meanwhile, he has also written that Christians must inevitably embrace Judaism. "If Christians take the Hebrew Scriptures to their height," he said, "they will find that Judaism embodies those imperatives, the commandments of the Old Testament, in a way Christianity does not."

Still, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican prelate in charge of church doctrine, gave him a blurb for his 1993 book "A Rabbi Talks With Jesus," praising "the union of respect for the other party with carefully grounded loyalty to his own position."

All this from a benign-appearing figure who spends his days poring over ancient Hebrew, Syriac and Aramaic tracts. "You can do more than one thing at a time," he pointed out.

Still, he added: "I rewrite incessantly. I can work on a preface for 10 days." When the material is difficult, he works only in the mornings. If it's easy, he continues into the afternoon.

Mr. Green attributes Mr. Neusner's productivity to his powers of concentration and his "intellectual discipline." Another explanation for his prodigious output is that some books are similar.

"First there is a scholarly version, then a popular version," said David Kraemer, librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary and a professor of Talmud and Rabbinics. "If 300 of them are independent works, it's still amazing."

Mr. Neusner might have learned his practical approach to writing from his father, Samuel, the founder and publisher of The Jewish Ledger in West Hartford, Conn., where Mr. Neusner grew up. At 13, he published his first article in the paper.

He graduated from Harvard, and in 1953, on a fellowship to Oxford, read Gerald Reitlinger's "Final Solution" and discovered the enormity of the Holocaust. "The question of my career became, 'What do we do now?' " Mr. Neusner said.

He returned to New York, to the Jewish Theological Seminary, then to Columbia University. "I was not intellectually challenged until I met the Talmud, in October 1954," he said.

Today Mr. Neusner lives on a suburban street in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He and his wife, Suzanne, an artist, have four children. One, Noam, a former speechwriter for President Bush, is the White House liaison to Jewish groups and an associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.

At the moment, Mr. Neusner is writing a rabbinical bestiary. "I'm a dog person," he said. "I've had 32 years of dogs. When the last child left, I let the last dog die."

But he's already looking ahead to the next project. Maybe it will be an intellectual history of ancient Judaism. "I'm daydreaming," he said.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 2/25/2008 1:01 AM]
3/2/2008 8:19 PM
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Preface to Christianity for Modern Pagans:
Pascal's Pensées

(Edited, Outlined, and Explained)

Pascal is the first postmedieval apologist. He is "for today" because he speaks to modern pagans, not to medieval Christians.

Most Christian apologetics today is still written from a medieval mind-set in one sense: as if we still lived in a Christian culture, a Christian civilization, a society that reinforced the Gospel.

No. The honeymoon is over. The Middle Ages are over. The news has not yet sunk in fully in many quarters.

It has sunk in to Pascal. He is three centuries ahead of his time. He addresses his apologetic to modern pagans, sophisticated skeptics, comfortable members of the new secular intelligentsia.

He is the first to realize the new dechristianized, desacramentalized world and to address it. He belongs to us. This book is an attempt to reclaim him.

I thought of titling this book "A Saint for All Skeptics" —but Pascal was no saint, and he wrote for nonskeptics as well as for skeptics. But I know no pre-twentieth-century book except the Bible that shoots Christian arrows farther into modern pagan hearts than the Pensées.

I have taught "Great Books" classes for twenty years, and every year my students sit silent, even awed, at Pascal more than at any other of the forty great thinkers we cover throughout the history of Western philosophy and theology.

Why then is he not better known? Why was I taught every major philosopher except Pascal in studying the history of philosophy in four colleges and universities? "Late have I loved thee", Pascal; why did I have to discover you so late, as a maverick?

Because that's what Pascal is: a maverick philosopher in today's Establishment; a sage rather than a scholar; a human being rather than a "thinker"; not just smart but wise. That's what philosophy is supposed to be "the love of wisdom"--but we've come a long way since Socrates, alas.

There are also religious reasons for ignoring Pascal. For one thing, he's too Protestant for Catholics and too Catholic for Protestants. Yet he's not somewhere in the muddled middle.

Protestants who read the whole of the Pensées cannot help noticing that Pascal was totally, uncompromisingly, unapologetically and enthusiastically Catholic. On everything that separates Protestants from Catholics (Church, saints, sacraments, Pope, and so forth) he took the Catholic side in unquestioning assent and obedience to the Church, even to the extent of submitting to the Church when, with doubtful fairness, she condemned his Jansenist friends' writings.

Catholics see that code word, "Jansenism", and see red. Isn't Jansenism a heresy, and wasn't Pascal a Jansenist? Yes, Jansenism is a heresy, but Pascal was not a Jansenist.

Those who dismiss Pascal with the label of "Jansenist" are like those who call all orthodox Christians "fundamentalists": the label reveals more about the labeler than about the labeled. (It usually reveals these three things: that he does not seek truth, facts or accuracy; that he rejects orthodox, supernaturalistic Christianity; and that he thinks of himself as a "progressive", which today means a decadent.)*

What are the facts? What was Jansenism, and what was Pascal?

Jansenism, as defined and condemned by the Church, was not simply the emphasis, in Bishop Jansenius' Augustinus, on otherworldliness or detachment. That's simply Christianity, if Christianity is defined as what Christ actually taught.

Nor was Jansenism simply the fanatical, wholehearted love of God and sanctity. That's what Moses taught (Dt 6:) and Jesus reaffirmed as "the whole law and the prophets" (Mt 22:37).

Nor was Jansenism simply the emphasis on the seriousness of sin and divine judgment; that, too, is simply Christ's emphasis.

Yet these are things nearly everyone means when dismissing "Jansenism", rather than the highly technical theological errors about moral maximalism and theological Calvinism that the Church condemned as heretical.

"Jansenism" in the popular sense (otherworldliness, "fanaticism", and divine "judgmentalism") is the single most hated teaching in the Western world today. The world will do anything to get rid of the consciousness of sin, for the smell of its sins stinks to high Heaven and makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a church service.

There is enormous social and psychological pressure, inside the Church as well as outside her, to ignore, deny or minimize sin, as Molina and the Jesuits did in Pascal's day. (You can read Pascal's brilliant satire on them in his Provincial Letters. But beware: though they are beautifully rhetorical, they are also very technical.)

It seems that the most important question in the world, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30), is never asked; and if it is, the answer is not to be born again but just born; not otherworldly but this-worldly; not repentant but respectable; not self-denying but self-affirming (see Mt 16:24).

Yet even if every voice in the world should preach the gospel of spiritual auto-eroticism, there are two voices that tell us we are sinners in need of a Savior: the voice of conscience within and the voice of God without: in Scripture, in all the prophets and saints and above all in the teaching of Jesus and his living Church.

And these two voices, not society's, are the only two we can never escape, in this world or the next. Better to make peace with them even if it means war with the whole world, rather than vice versa. That is not Jansenism, it is simply Christianity.

Catholics who read this may suspect that Pascal was really a kind of Protestant evangelical spy. This is two-thirds true. He was an "evangelical", like Jesus, and he was a spy, like Kierkegaard, whose mission was "to smuggle Christianity back into Christendom". But he was not a Protestant.

His uncompromising Catholicism seems at first to burn bridges rather than build them between Catholics and Protestants. But he does build bridges between some Catholics and some Protestants and burn the bridges between another kind.

Both very liberal and very conservative Protestants are deeply threatened by Catholicism. For the liberals, "the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic", as Fr. Ruder gibes. And for many fundamentalists. Catholics are pagans, not even Christians:

Church-worshipers, Pope-worshipers, Mary-worshipers, saint-worshipers, superstition-worshipers, sacrament-worshipers, idol-worshipers, and works-worshipers. But Pascal builds bridges to evangelical Protestants by showing them how evangelical a Catholic mind can be, and how deeply Christocentric.

What Pascal does in the Pensées, without consciously trying, is the same thing C. S. Lewis did in Mere Christianity: to show us the infinite importance of the common core beneath the denominational differences.

Honest reunion between Catholics and Protestants — which is clearly close to Christ's own heart: see John 17:21 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 — can come about only in one way: without compromise; in strength, not in weakness.

The fact that Pascal, like Augustine, seems both too Catholic and too Protestant points the way to this reunion. Its secret is simple: the Christian orchestra will play in harmony (not necessarily unison) if and only if all the instrumentalists have the "purity of heart" to "will one thing" (in Kierkegaard's perfect phrase), have one absolute will to follow the will of their common conductor, Christ.

The absolute center of Catholicism is Christ. The absolute center of Protestantism is Christ. The Catholic and Protestant circles can join only from the center outward. The two wheels can be aligned only on a common hub.

And that common hub — Christ — is precisely the single point to which Pascal drives us through all his points in the Pensées. Every pensée, every word in every pensée, is a cobblestone in the road leading to the same Christ, a sign pointing to the same home. The whole structure of Pascal's argument is Christocentric. I shall now let the whole cat out of the bag and state Pascal's ultimate conclusion right here at the beginning:

Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God, or of ourselves. (no. 417)

The only other two Christian writers who may be more powerful ecumenical bridges than Pascal are Augustine and C. S. Lewis. And both of them shared the same simple secret of the centrality of Christ.

Pascal always thought of himself as an Augustinian. When he became ill, he gave away all his books, a very large library for his day, and kept only two to be his sole nourishment until he died, two he could not part with: the Bible and the Confessions.

"A wise choice", comments Muggeridge. A wise comment.

*Note on "sexist" language: Those who insist on changing the centuries-old convention by which "he" is shorthand for "he or she" are invited to pay their dues to the newly neutered grammar god and add a "she" to each "he" in the following sentence, then read it aloud. If he (Or she) does not have a tin ear for language, he (or she) will change his (or her) mind about his (or her) linguistic "improvement", I (or we) think.


Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College who uses that dialog format in a series published by Ignatius Press, called "Socrates Meets..." So far, Dr. Kreeft has written Philosophy 101 by Socrates, Socrates Meets Marx, Socrates Meets Machiavelli and Socrates Meets Sartre.

Dr. Kreeft has written more than forty books, including C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic Christianity, Back to Virtue, Three Approaches to Abortion, and The Philosophy of Tolkien. His most recent Ignatius Press books include You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer. (A complete list of Ignatius Press books by Kreeft can be viewed on his author page.)

5/19/2008 3:47 PM
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Years of teaching courses on Vatican II and Ecclesiology have provided me the data of an ongoing survey that continues to produce amazingly consistent results. The question is simple: "What is the first word that comes to mind when I say, 'Vatican II'?" Invariably the response is "renewal" and "change."

The same answer comes from countless groups of adults with whom I have reflected on the Council that Pope John Paul II described as "the gift of the Holy Spirit" to the Church of our time.

The follow-up question produces similarly consistent results, though it may be difficult to discern at first. To the question, "What kind of change?" people point first to the liturgy: Mass said in English, priest facing the assembly, laity serving as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, communion received in the hand.

Often mentioned is the adaptation of the discipline of abstinence from meat on Friday. Others point to participation on parish or diocesan pastoral or finance councils, while some refer to institutional innovations such as the synod of bishops, the International Theological Commission, and the many new pontifical councils.

Seemingly widely diverse, these examples have something in common; they are visible and institutional changes. Observable changes such as these naturally draw our attention; they are the first things we notice. The Council, however, did not see changes as ends in themselves, but as means to something higher. The challenge is to look beyond them, or through them, to discover that more profound reality. Such a "looking beyond" is natural for Catholic faith, which perceives the Son of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and the bestowal of grace in the visible signs we call sacraments.

What is that more profound reality? It is holiness, as unchanging in its nature as doctrine, the essence of the sacraments, and the hierarchical constitution of the Church. Holiness, that is, life in communion with God in faith, hope and charity lived in the ongoing conversion that is an unending task for the Church, is fundamentally the same in all ages. The real challenge of Vatican II is the change or renewal of hearts that in the Gospels is called metanoia.

It is possible to get distracted, caught up in the liturgical and institutional dimension of renewal, and lose sight of the fact that these are at the service of making the Church's mission more effective. That mission is identical to Christ's own: the reconciliation of men with God through the forgiveness of sins and justifying grace that makes those who receive it sharers in God's own life.

All the liturgical adaptations are intended to bring about that "fully conscious and active participation" [1] in the liturgy that is fundamentally a matter of the heart.

Similarly, the new expressions of the Church's ages-old faith [2] is intended to arouse faith and to convey the salvific value of what God has revealed so that modern man may discover the "meaning for life" of what the Church teaches.

And the reorganization of institutions and the establishment of new ones have as their goal to facilitate the living out of the Christian life and a more effective realization of the Church's mission [3] in which all share and for which all are responsible.

In other words, the Council's aim is to perfect the inner man, to be the agent of the conversion of the heart that produces the fruit of those immanent activities that are the very essence of religion. "The exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God" (Dignitatis Humanae, no. 3). This is reflected in the very first words of the first text promulgated by the Council:

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 1).

The immanent acts, which Pope John Paul II calls "consciousness" and "attitudes," [4] are the source of the visible actions of engagement in the Church's life and mission.

Faithful to this vision, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have underscored that the call to holiness is the chief teaching of the Council. "This strong invitation to holiness could be regarded as the most characteristic element in the whole Magisterium of the Council, and so to say, its ultimate purpose." [5]

"It is possible to say that this call to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the Gospel." [6] Yet the message is only now beginning to resound among the faithful.

The following reflections are an attempt to identify and analyze some of factors that have contributed to muffling the message, and to point out the balance required in order to be faithful to the Council's teaching.

The Need for Balance
Between Holiness and Action

The new ecclesial awareness brought by the Council produced a kind of giddiness of activity. The Council stressed that everyone participates in the Church's mission, and there was no lack of energy for translating that into a whirlwind of activity. Cardinal Ratzinger identified the problem:

There is a popular idea today, which can also be found among the hierarchy, that a person is only a Christian insofar as he is committed to ecclesiastical activities. The trend is a type of ecclesiastical therapy of getting up and doing; the idea is to assign a committee to everyone or in any case, at least some commitment within the Church.

It is thought that there must always be some sort of ecclesiastical activity, the Church must be spoken about or something must be done for it or within it. But a mirror which only reflects itself is no longer a mirror . . . .

It can happen that a person is continually active in ecclesiastical associations and activities but he may not be a Christian at all. It can also happen that a person simply lives only by the Word and the Sacrament and puts the love that comes from faith into practice, without ever sitting on an ecclesiastical committee, without ever bothering about the latest in ecclesiastical politics, without ever participating in synods or voting at them. And yet, he is a true Christian.

We do not need a more human Church but a more divine one; only then will it be really human. And for this reason all that is man-made within the Church must reflect its pure character of service and withdraw in the face of what counts, the essential. [7]

Activity is necessary, but it needs to be seen as the fruit of spiritual renewal. The implementation of the Council will be based on a proper understanding of the relation between being and action, captured in the principle operatio sequitur esse: action follows upon being.

Though the perception has been widely diffused that one must select one or the other, prayer or activism, sacramental worship or being really engaged, in the texts of Vatican II the two stand together and cannot be separated.

There always has been and always will be a priority of contemplation over action, of sacramental worship over mission, because contemplation and the liturgy are the sources of the grace that transforms our being into Christ, and it is from this renewed being that actions flow.

Thus, the priority of contemplation and worship poses no threat to action and mission, but rather assures their integrity. The Council itself offers us the necessary balance:

It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 2).

It can be tempting to think that all we need in order to make the Church's mission complete is better organization, more efficient institutions, more professional conduct, the latest methods.

Recognizing the validity of a concern for effectiveness, Henri de Lubac sensed a troubling spirit that can accompany it. Is it motivated by "a pure overflowing of charity," or is it based on "this illusion . . . that it is enough to make a change of method . . . to obtain results which primarily suppose a change of heart?" [8]

Without vigilance, even a justifiable concern for efficiency can lead one to regard all elements of the Church as subject to revision based on the criterion of greatest productiveness.

Doctrine and sacramental worship are then judged by their power to elicit the active participation that supposedly defines the Council's intention. This produces a new kind of hierarchy of truths that has nothing to do with the Council's understanding of the phrase. [9]

How would this affect the theology of the Eucharist, and its role in the renewal of Vatican II? A renewal in keeping with the conciliar magisterium must recognize the Eucharist as "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10).

The Church is not built up without our activity, but that activity is essentially a cooperation with God. For this reason the edification of the Church is not solely proportioned to our labors. The fruits of our labors exceed what we can rightfully expect because the Church is built up by the Eucharist, [10] and this reminds us that its unity and mission are a gift that must be constantly received anew.

This is where the teaching of the Council on Mary takes on great pastoral significance for the Council's implementation. Mary is the model of how we must receive in order actively to take our place in God's plan. Both the plan itself and the grace that transformed her being are God's.

Her being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in order to bear fruit for salvation, and the overshadowing of the entire Church on Pentecost in order to engage in its saving mission, indicate that all of the Church's activity must be seen as presupposing an epiclesis. "If there is to be spiritual fruit actualizing the mystery of Christ in our lives, there must be an invocation of the Holy Spirit, epiclesis." [11]

In all these actions and for all these actions, the necessary role of an intervention of the Holy Spirit, of epiclesis, is to assure that neither the 'earthly means' nor the institution produce these actions by themselves. It is a matter of a work which is absolutely supernatural, divine and divinizing. [12]

A major casualty in this enthusiasm of activity has been a genuine apostolate and spirituality of the laity. The risk is real that the model for an active lay man or woman is holding a stable and often salaried position in the Church.

The model can include the highly visible functions of sitting on the parish council and serving as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist or performing the function of lector. The greatly increased numbers of laity involved in such functions is indeed a fruit of the Council.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of the lay faithful engages in those "voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God," and thereby strives for holiness and builds up the kingdom of God, in relative obscurity, amidst the daily activities of family and job, social, political, economic and cultural life.

The implementation of the Council with respect to the renewal of the temporal order through the laity will require a spirituality for the laity that does full justice to the primacy of the immanent activities that animate the lay apostolate. The Council stresses those inner activities in texts such as the following:

For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne-all these become "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (Lumen Gentium, no. 34).

Finally all Christ's faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives — and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world (Lumen Gentium, no. 41).

A distillation of the Council's teaching will provide the necessary balance between contemplation and action, sacraments and mission, and will look to Mary as the model of all ecclesial activity.

Balance of truth and love:
on liberal and conservative

Back to word association. Students and audiences attending talks unfailingly associate a strong emphasis on the social gospel and the preferential love for the poor with the word "liberal," and a strong concern for doctrinal integrity with "conservative."

To demonstrate the inadequacy of these categories to embrace the Christian mystery, consider how it would make Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II simultaneously arch-liberals and arch-conservatives.

In the two arguably most widely recognized Catholics of the last half of the last century, love for the poor and love for the truth coexist in harmony and simplicity. In them the social gospel and doctrinal integrity do not exist in tension, but as necessary complements, even as truth and love are one in God, and the meaning of Christ's death is captured in terms of both love (Jn 15:13) and truth (Jn 18:37). To choose one at the expense of the other undermines the integrity of the one that is chosen.

Of course no Christian, let us hope, explicitly rejects either truth or love. This renders difficult the following consideration of other dichotomies between the liberal and conservative mindsets or tendencies. [13]

Notwithstanding that aligning various positions with liberal or conservative inclinations has its limitations, my informal surveys lead me to think that the general correlations retain a certain validity.

My main point is to show that both the liberal and conservative dispositions, when allowed to cross certain lines, present obstacles to the interpretation of Vatican II and to the renewal-through-conversion envisioned by it.

Triumphalism, Criticism and Renewal

Vatican II was an ecclesiological council. Because ecclesiology reflects Christology, errors about Christ recur as errors about the Church. The most fundamental errors about Christ regard the unity of his divine and human natures.

Paralleling this there are two tendencies in ecclesiology. One emphasizes the divine dimension to the point of obscuring the human dimension, while the other obscures the divine dimension by over-emphasizing the human.

Though the Church is both human and divine, the distinction between the two is absolutely necessary as a condition for renewal. An over-emphasis on the Church's divine element produces the pre-Vatican II reality known as triumphalism, which aligns with a conservative stance.

How can there be renewal if it is thought that virtually everything is of divine institution? Further, if the four notes of the Church are to serve as signs pointing to this divine dimension, then how can account be made of the sins of its members?

Vatican II met this question head on, always distinguishing between the divine and human aspects of the Church, and between the Church as such and the individuals that she embraces. This fundamental distinction is also the critical principle for understanding John Paul II's candid recognition, in conjunction with the Jubilee, of the sins of the sons and daughters of the Church. This has consternated some who espouse a kind of hyper-apologia of the Church's divine constitution.

The liberal tendency is to place strong accent on the human element of the Church. In the extreme, it can be difficult to see the presence of God or the fulfillment of his promises, and it can degrade into a hyper-critical attitude toward the Church. This too makes conversion impossible, for there must be hope of a future based on God's promises and grace if conversion is to be genuinely Christian. [14]

The Council was a great examination of conscience for the Church, [15] and thus a call to conversion. Conversion presupposes the identification of sin — a judgment, self-criticism in the light of God's word.

Paul VI's great vision for the Council was that it would engage in this self-criticism in order to embrace the call to conversion. It would deepen its awareness of its own mystery by reflecting on what God has revealed about the Church. Then it would "compare the ideal image of the Church just as Christ sees it . . . with the actual image which the Church projects today," recognizing that "the actual image of the Church is never as perfect, as lovely, as holy or as brilliant as that formative Divine Idea would wish it to be."

This would prompt conversion, prompted by "an almost impatient need for renewal, for correction of the defects which this conscience denounces and rejects." [16] And this renewal would yield the fruit of renewed missionary activity through dialogue.

As the Church deepens its being in Christ, the result will be Christ-like activity: operatio sequitur esse. Like the Lord, the Church will become more and more the one who comes to serve.

After the Council it became fashionable to criticize the Church and, for some, the process of self-criticism became an end in itself. It drifted beyond criticism of the human dimension alone, [17] and called into question elements long considered pertaining to the divine dimension.

Such criticism removes the very possibility of conversion, since it makes certitude about the truth impossible. There is no longer any measure for judgment or criticism. [18]

Rather than humbly present the Church for remolding according to the divine vision for her, this tendency resulted in remolding the Church to make her conform to the expectations of modern man, a danger about which Pope Paul VI had given sufficient warning. [19]

Criticism of the Church is a delicate matter. It might be likened to the uncomfortable position in which middle-aged adults find themselves with respect to their parents. How does one balance the respect due to one's parents with the desire to assist them in dealing with their imperfections?

On the one hand, there is the objective norm of human happiness that one desires for his parents. On the other, there is the love they deserve because life itself and much more was their gift.

[There is a Part 2.]

5/19/2008 4:04 PM
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Part 2:

Conscience, Authority, and Obedience

Unrestrained, the liberal stance stresses the individual and conscience to the point that authority is viewed with suspicion and seen as a threat. This removes the very possibility of conversion.

By its own inner logic it tends toward a separation between Christ and the Church, holding at least implicitly that it is possible to be faithful to Christ without being faithful to his Church. It is even claimed that one can be a good Catholic without adhering to what the Church teaches.

Because the claim is seldom made outright, it might be helpful to see what this stance really is when analyzed.

Let's give the name "ecclesial agnosticism" to the product of the analysis. It is a disincarnate ecclesiology. If agnostics don't deny God, they deny that he can be known, certainly that he became a man and can be identified with Jesus of Nazareth.

Similarly, without denying the existence of the Church, without even denying that the Church possesses apostolic authority to teach, one can deny that this Church can be concretely identified, or that the conditions for infallible teaching are ever realized.

But an unverifiable God cannot make demands on anyone, nor can a Church that possesses a charism of infallibility that can never be verified. The very condition of conversion, knowledge of absolute truth, becomes impossible to ascertain.

On the conservative side is the tendency to see in sound doctrine the answer to all problems. If the liberal spirit greeted the Catechism of the Catholic Church with reticence, reservation and resentment, the conservative spirit saw it as confirmation of its conviction and the perfect instrument for exposing erroneous teaching.

But before it is an instrument for judging others, it is a sure guide for one's own faith. Neither liberals nor conservatives outdo the other when it comes to personal attacks and presumption about motives.

Liberals see conservatives as afraid of change, clinging to old traditions and institutions, while conservatives see liberals as insufficiently grounded in tradition and too ready to compromise with the spirit of the day. Each can express exasperation and intolerance with respect to the other.

But the first form of intolerance should be intolerance of the sin within, which is just another way to describe conversion. The truth is certainly worth fighting for, but the first battle is within oneself. This is the authentic renewal, and it can be obscured or put off for later when one's energies are directed towards checking the errors of others.

Furthermore, Jesus teaches us that those who know the truth are called to suffer for those who do not. While it is true that the truth is greater than any relationship, it is also a fact that the family divided two against three and three against two is not a goal but only a predictable outcome of bringing truth into a world marked by sin.

If conservatives are to be a real force for renewal in the Church, they must reinvent Christ-like service and suffering precisely for those who are in need of it.

For the liberally minded, obedience is difficult to reconcile with human dignity and can even pose a threat to it, while for the conservatively minded obedience is one of the highest virtues and reasoning can be seen as a threat to it.

Vatican II's teaching on dignity, conscience and obedience transcends these opposing tendencies, and the realization of the Council's teaching in the life of the Church will require a discovery by both parties of its balanced synthesis of these notions.

The Dialogue Between Faith and Reason

Liberals and conservatives are mistaken about the dialogue between faith and reason. Liberals tend to side with reason because this is thought to be the province of the individual and guarantee of autonomy, while conservatives side with faith.

The contrast between the caricature of the Church before Vatican II and the actual state of affairs today is striking, if not to say lamentable. If the windows were shut because dialogue with world was a dangerous affair, running the risk of error corrupting the faith, today people are open to dialogue with every religion and philosophy, including those blatantly antithetical to Catholicism, yet they retain a suspicion of just one institution — the hierarchical Church.

We have gone from believing that truth exists only in the Church to being disposed to finding it just about anywhere except in the Church.

Conservatives are suspicious of the dialogue. They have seen how it can corrupt the faith, and they tend toward fideism. Henri de Lubac has described this inclination as "an orthodoxy so complete and so easy of decision that it looks rather like indifference . . ." This produces a way of "submitting to dogma . . . in principle and in advance." [20]

But assent and obedience given in advance can only be to what one thinks the Church teaches. In this case, faith cannot be the light for their living. It can be venerated as from a distance, it can serve to distinguish one group from another, but it cannot put down roots in daily life.

This deficient adherence of faith "establishes its own lists of what is suspect — in the fashion of religious authority itself – and is ready to call the authority to order, if need be . . . it brands as 'liberalism' or 'modernism' every effort made to disentangle Christianity in its real purity and its perpetual youth, as if this were an abandonment of doctrine." [21]

People of this mindset can learn from Mary, who is the model of this dialogue. Her assent to the One who spoke through the angel Gabriel did not eliminate questions; rather, it gave rise to them. And she continued to ponder what she experienced.

In Mary, God's word "is not taken up rashly to be locked into a superficial first impression and then forgotten." Rather, it "is given a place of permanent abiding in which it can gradually unfold its depth."

Treasuring all that God said to her, "Mary held a conversation with the Word. She entered interiorly into a dialogue with the Word. She addressed the Word and allowed herself to be addressed by it in order to arrive at its basic meaning." [22]

The dialogue between faith and reason is born of the humility that asks if one has accurately understood what God has revealed. It is not an invitation to question the veracity of what God has revealed.

If there is good reason to be wary of this dialogue because it has produced questionable fruit since the Council, as too often the findings of the human sciences seem to have greater authority than the Church's teachings, [23] the dialogue is no less necessary. Gaudium et Spes provides the fundamental principles that must guide this dialogue, without which both faith and reason are impoverished.

On Truth and Love,
Unity and Holiness

For liberals the emphasis is on relationships and tolerance as the formula for unity. For conservatives it is on truth, doctrinal purity and visible unity that is correspondingly pure.

The conservative stance disposes people to sacrifice relationships for the sake of purity of truth and unity, while the liberal inclination is toward compromising on the latter for the sake of the former.

Neither measures well against the Gospel, or against Vatican II, where truth, love and unity, as well as patience, forgiveness and reconciliation are recognized as pertaining to the Church's life and mystery.

The Church is indeed one and holy, and her unity and holiness are essentially the same as God's, since they are nothing other than a participation in the unity and holiness of God through Christ. However, while Christ is totally without sin, the Council considers the Church's holiness "real although imperfect" (Lumen Gentium, no. 48) since "the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (Lumen Gentium, no 8).

The Council's approach to unity is similar. On the one hand it is a gift from God that cannot fail, on the other hand there is a humble acknowledgement of the actual historical situation of division among Christians.

It is the task of theologians to wrestle with this conciliar teaching and do full justice to it. A one-sided emphasis on how the human element in the Church affects the realization of holiness and unity cannot deplete them of content. Nor should a one-sided emphasis on their reality obscure how sin affects their realization in the Church.

The Church is a sign of salvation inseparable but distinct from the sign that is Christ. If the Church's self-testimony is to be accurate and credible, she has no alternative but to speak about her unity and holiness as "real though imperfect." [24]

Full justice to the Council's teaching is also missing in ecclesiologies that place the realization of unity and holiness in the future, as if they are not real attributes and supernatural gifts that are properties of the Church. The reason is that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church already, and thus so do all her properties. [25]

The relationship between truth and unity brings out tendencies of both liberals and conservatives. For liberals unity is a given, and it can be preserved by being accepting of others. Truth can be the enemy of unity because truth divides. If we are free to hold our own opinions, then we can be one in that freedom that we grant one another, and the purpose of authority is above all to safeguard that freedom.

Liberals tend to see the apostolic teaching office as divisive, as a threat to unity, while conservatives see it as the guarantee of unity, since they see that there can be no unity without truth.

For conservatives, authority serves unity by drawing firm lines that cannot be crossed and by expelling those who cross them, while for liberals silence on issues claimed to be controverted is the wisest use of authority.

Liberal unity is more the absence of hostility than it is a genuine bond based on commonly held principles. Stressing truth risks melting and dissolving unity. There is no room for conversion because the objective content of unity is so underplayed. Conservative unity, in contrast, leaves little room for conversion by wanting a perfect unity. But if perfection comes by way of expulsion of all who are not yet perfect, there is no conversion.

These tendencies produce a set of impossible expectations for our bishops and priests. The subject requires an entirely different article, even a book. Here it suffices to observe that for both liberals and conservatives the post-Vatican II experience of pastoral leadership, and of the apostolic teaching office in particular, has been one of frustration.

For liberals, it is the frustration of interference, of close-minded and rigid adherence to and outmoded tradition that stultifies the free-blowing Holy Spirit. For conservatives, it is the frustration of perceived compromises on the truth in favor of not creating hostilities.

Liberals would remind the bishops of the compassionate, patient, forgiving Jesus, the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, while conservatives are impressed by the fact that he boldly admonished those in error and had the courage to watch the rich young man and many followers walk away from him rather than compromise on his teaching. All would do well to remember that Christ is the source of both truth and unity, and so are our bishops.

Since Vatican II, the tendency to elevate unity above the truth is certainly one of the more serious betrayals of the Council, and of the entire Catholic Tradition.

If unity is the highest good and the function of every pastor is to keep as many sheep in the fold as possible, then truth risks being reduced to a means, and subject to manipulation for the sake of unity. In this case, every group and every individual possesses a kind of power of veto over what they consider offensive and unacceptable.

The resulting unity is no longer the unity for which Christ prayed and for which he died. Only when we see his death in terms of both truth and love do we arrive at the theological depth of the mystery of their unity.


The Council, it has been claimed, was an unresolved juxtaposition of liberal and conservative elements, of old and new ecclesiologies. Consequently, the claim goes, Catholics must choose between the two. But this is a false dilemma.

The Church's tradition is simultaneously conservatizing and progressive. Its law is conversion. That conversion is the underlying gift of Christ to the Church, and it is in its essence irrevocable, both on the part of God, who ceaselessly provides the graces of fidelity, and on the part of the Church, who in Mary is the faithful handmaid of the Lord.

"The same motive that induces one endowed with continuity to cling imperturbably to truth will compel him also to be open to every new truth. The ability to remain constant in the Yes once given requires an unremitting readiness to change." [26] Conversion is a mystery of continuity and growth.

Like the Church itself, the Council falls into the category of mystery, because it is an action of the Church and an expression of its mystery of being both divine and human. The same tendency to reduce the Church to one element of its mystery has been applied to the Council, with the result of reducing it to a merely human clash between liberal and conservative forces.

The assertion that we must choose one or the other has been one of the most significant weaknesses of post-Vatican II theology, and this has presented a significant obstacle to the renewal that the Council began.

It would be more correct to see the Council in the same light in which the apostles saw their first assembly in Jerusalem after the Lord ascended. "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . ." (Acts 15:28).

At this first council, human action and divine agency combined, and new teaching arose out of the old.

That new teaching, and the entire body of doctrine of which it was a part, was the fruit of Peter's conversion in understanding the mysterious ways of God
. It constituted a call to conversion on the part of those who would see the Church as a radical break with Judaism, as well as those who saw it as simply reduced to Judaism.

No less a conversion is required today of those who see Vatican II as a departure from the Tradition or as a completely new beginning.


[1] This is the well-known phrase of Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14.

[2] On the new formulae of faith, see Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, nos. 41, 83, 85.

[3] This is essentially the reason given by Pope John Paul II for the revision of the Code of Canon Law in Sacrae Disciplinae Leges (January 25, 1983).

[4] See Sources of Renewal. On the Implementation of Vatican II (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980).

[5] Motu proprio, Sanctitatis Clarior, March 19, 1969; AAS 61(1969), p.149.

[6] Christifideles Laici, no. 16.

[7] "Reform from the Beginnings," article in 30 Days, November 1990, pp. 66-67. The same theme is taken up in The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), pp. 45-53.

[8] The Splendor of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), pp. 293-294.

[9] On the hierarchy of truths, see the article, "The Hierarchy of Truths" in The Catholic Faith, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January/ February, 2000).

[10] On this see Dominicae Cenae, no. 4.

[11] Je Crois en l'Esprit Saint, III. Le Fleuve de Vie coule en Orient et en Occident (Paris: Cerf, 1980), p. 348.

[12] Je Crois en l'Esprit Saint, III, p. 350.
[13] Some of what follows agrees with and was inspired by the article of Cardinal Francis George, "How Liberalism Fails the Church," in Commonweal, November 19, 1999.

[14] Cardinal Ratzinger gives a profound analysis of this in his book, Principles of Catholic Theology. Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), pp. 372-373.

[15] Ibid., p.

[16] Ecclesiam Suam, nos. 10-11.

[17] See the judicious discussion of the limits of criticism by Pope John Paul II in Redemptor Hominis, no. 4.

[18] Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar remark in his Intervention on the Occasion of the Presentation of the Declaration, Dominus Iesus: "missing the question of truth, the essence of religion does not differ from its 'non-essence,' faith is not distinguished from superstition, experience from illusion. Finally, without a serious apprehension of the truth, the appreciation of other religions becomes absurd and contradictory, since there are no criteria for ascertaining what is positive in a religion."

[19] In Ecclesiam Suam, nos. 48-49.

[20] The Splendor of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), pp. 100-101.

[21] Ibid., p. 283. All of chapter 8 of this remarkable book could be read with great profit with respect to our subject.

[22] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "'You are Full of Grace': Elements of Biblical Devotion to Mary," in Communio, XVI (1989), N. 1, p. 61.

[23] See Pope John Paul II's remarks on the uncritical acceptance of the findings of the human sciences as an obstacle to conversion in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, no. 18.

[24] The best treatment of this subject of which I know is by Rene Latourelle in Christ and the Church, Signs of Salvation (Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1972).

[25] This is one of the assertions of the Declaration, Mysterium Ecclesiae, of June 24, 1973.

[26] From Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand, as quoted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Principles of Catholic Theology. Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), pp. 63-64.

This article was originally published in a slightly different form in the November/December 2000 issue of Catholic Dossier.

5/30/2008 2:22 AM
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‘Inter-religious dialogue
– a risk or an opportunity?’

by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
President of the Pontifical Council
for Inter-Religious Dialog

Delivered at Heythrop College, London
May 27, 2008

Full text courtesy of

We develop in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. To say this is to state the obvious.

There is no religiously homogenous society. In Europe, from kindergarten onwards, young children rub shoulders with companions of all origins and different religious affiliations.

There is nothing surprising about this if one thinks of what Paul Tillich wrote: “Religion is the substance of culture” (in Théologie de la culture, éd. Placet 1978 p. 92;[Theology of Culture, 1959]. History knows no non-religious cultures!

Nevertheless in Europe from the eighteenth century onwards a conviction began to appear that faith is incompatible with reason. Although he was a believer, Descartes was to apply his methodical doubt to matters of faith.

This current of thought was to give birth to the philosophy of the Enlightenment: reason has access to truth on its own. Natural moral standards, tolerance, deism or even, for some, atheism led to the belief that man is self-sufficient.

After the considerable progress of the sciences (Newton died in 1727), the development of travel and missions, and unresolved social crises, it seemed to many that Christianity, with its dogmas and
moral teaching, did not serve progress. All people were thus considered to belong to a common humanity and, endowed with reason, easily discovered that a natural religion exists, without
dogma and without fanaticism. The individual sufficed unto himself.

There was no need to look to religion to explain man’s origin, nor to await a happiness beyond this earth. Thus man is placed at the centre of the world and the supernatural is eliminated. At the level of ideas, this vision of things was to lead to Scientism (all that human reason does not justify does not exist) and at the level of achievements, to the French Revolution (to organize society without God), culminating in the twentieth century with the two forms of totalitarianism (Marxism-Leninism and the Nazi ideologies ).

It is very obvious that the Church contested this vision of things and maintained that to exclude the religious from reason was to amputate man, created in the image of God.

Pope John-Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio expresses it well: “In God there lies the origin of all things, in him is found the fullness of the mystery, and in this his glory consists; to men and women there falls the task of exploring truth with their reason, and in this their nobility consists” (no. 17).

But this God whom we dismissed in the past is reappearing in public discourse today. News stands are full of books and magazines on religious subjects, esotericism and the new religions.

“The revenge of God” (Gilles Képel) has been spoken of. Today, one cannot understand the world without religions. And this – for here indeed is the great paradox of the current situation – is because they are seen as a danger: fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism have been or still are associated with a perverted form of Islam.

It is not, of course, a question of the true Islam practised by the majority of this religion’s followers. Still today it is a fact that people kill for religious reasons (the assassination of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul). I read that 123 Christians met with death in 2007 in Iraq, India and Nigeria because they were Christian.

The reason is that religions are capable of the best as well as of the worst: they can serve holiness or alienation. They can preach peace or war. Yet it is always necessary to explain that it is not the
religions themselves that wage war but rather their followers!

Hence the need, once again, to conjugate faith with reason. For to act against reason is in fact to act against God, as Pope Benedict XVI said at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006: “’In the beginning was the LOGOS’…. Logos means both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason…. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures”.

Thus we are in a world in which because of material and human precariousness, the dangers of war and the hazards of the environment, in the face of the failure of the great political systems of the past century, men and women of this generation are once again asking themselves the essential questions on the meaning of life and death, on the meaning of history and of the consequences that amazing scientific discoveries might bring in their wake.

It had been forgotten that the human being is the only creature who asks questions and questions himself. It is remarkable that Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, should underline this aspect of things in its introduction:

Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in past ages. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found?”(n. 1).

Thus we are all condemned to dialogue.

What is dialogue? It is the search for an interunderstanding
between two individuals with a view to a common interpretation of their agreement or their disagreement. It implies a common language, honesty in the presentation of one’s position and the desire to do one’s utmost to understand the other’s point of view.

Applied to inter-religious dialogue, these presuppositions make it easier to understand that in the context of religion it is not a question of being “kind” to others to please them! Nor is it a matter
of negotiation: I find the solution to problems and the matter is closed.

In inter-religious dialogue it is a question of taking a risk, not of accepting to give up my own convictions but of letting myself be called into question by the convictions of another, accepting to take into consideration arguments different to my own or those of my community.

All religions, each one in its own way, strive to respond to the enigmas of the human condition. Each religion has its own identity but this identity enables me to take the religion of the other into consideration. It is from this that dialogue is born. Identity, otherness and dialogue go together.

My Christian faith proclaims that Jesus “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9) This means that in every human being there is the light of Christ.

Consequently, all that is positive existing in religions is not without shadows. All that is positive shares in the great Light which shines on all the lights.

One then understands better the prologue of Nostra Aetate and the document “Dialogue and Proclamation”: all that is true and holy in every religion is accepted, strengthened and brought to its completion in Christ.

It is the logic of the Incarnation: the Logos assumes, purifies and glorifies human nature! But be careful: we do not say “all religions are of equal value”. We say “All those in search of God have equal

The aim of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, established by Paul VI on the day of Pentecost 1964, is to apply this vision of things which emerged from the Declaration Nostra
(the Second Vatican Council’s shortest declaration).

The Dicastery has three goals:
· to further mutual knowledge, respect and collaboration among Catholics and the members of non-Christian religions;
· to encourage and coordinate the study of these religions;
· to promote the training of people destined for interreligious dialogue.

It is important to emphasize that the artisans of this inter-religious dialogue are not officials of our Dicastery but members of the faithful and pastors from the local Churches.

We only intervene to help them in order to encourage in a doctrinally correct manner knowledge and collaboration among believers who are called, in the very first place, to convert, that is, to draw close to God and submit to his will. This type of dialogue is an essentially religious activity.

Our Council is structured as follows:
· a group of members who are Cardinals and Bishops from various countries, who meet at a Plenary Assembly every two/three years;
· a group of consultors: about 30 specialists from more or less everywhere;
· the staff of the Dicastery.

All together we endeavour to follow the path marked out by Benedict XVI: “to examine God’s mystery in the light of our respective religious traditions and wisdom so as to discern the values likely to illumine the men and women of all the peoples on earth, whatever their culture and religion…. Our respective religious traditions all insist on the sacred character of the life and dignity of the human person…. Together with all people of good will, we aspire to peace. That is why I insist once again: inter-religious and intercultural research and dialogue are not an option but a vital need for our time” (Address to the members of the Foundation for Inter-Religious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, 1 February 2007).

It is always necessary to return to Nostra Aetate, particularly paragraphs nos. 2 and 3:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.

Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (Jn 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (II Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life” (no. 2).

And it is necessary to mention the special relations which unite Christians and Muslims who “worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty… who has also spoken to men” (no. 3), as well as the existing bonds with the Jews, from whom “the Church … received the revelation of the Old Testament” and to whose race, “according to the flesh” Christ and the Apostles belonged (cf. no. 4).

Then one understands better, as the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990) said, that inter-religious dialogue “does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest”, but “is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills”.

Thus, “through dialogue, the Church seeks to uncover the ‘seeds of the Word’, a ‘ray of that truth which enlightens all men’, these are found in individuals and in the religious traditions of mankind”.

Consequently, “the religions constitute a positive challenge for the Church: they stimulate her both to discover and acknowledge the signs
of Christ’s presence and of the working of the Spirit, as well as to examine more deeply her own identity and to bear witness to the fullness of Revelation which she has received for the good of
all” (no. 56, passim).

One can say that from the end of the Second Vatican Council to our own day, Catholics have moved on from tolerance to encounter, to arrive at dialogue:
- dialogue of life: good neighbourly relations with non-Christians which encourage the sharing of joys and troubles;
- dialogue of works: collaboration with a view to the well-being of both groups, especially peoplewho live alone, in poverty or sickness;
- dialogue of theological exchanges which permits experts to understand in depth the respective religious heritages;
- dialogue of spiritualities which makes available the riches of the life of prayer of both to all, in both groups.

Inter-religious dialogue therefore mobilizes all those who are on their way towards God or towards the Absolute.

Believers who carry on this kind of dialogue do not pass unnoticed. they are a society’s wealth. Since citizens who adhere to a religion are the majority, there is a “religious fact” that is essential, to the extent that all religious faith is practised in the heart of a community (the “confessions”)!

By their number, by the length of their traditions, by the visibility of their institutions and their rites, believers are present and can be identified.

They are appreciated or they are opposed, but they never leave one indifferent, which brings their leaders to get on with other communities of believers without losing their identity and to meet each other without antagonism.

Civil authorities must only take note of the religious fact, watch in order to guarantee the effective respect for freedom of conscience and religion, and only intervene if this freedom is damaging to the freedom of non-believers or disturbs public order and health.

But more positively, it is always in the interest of leaders of societies to encourage interreligious dialogue and to draw on the spiritual and moral heritage of religions for a number of values likely to contribute to mental harmony, to encounters between cultures and to the consolidation of the common good.

Moreover all religions, in different ways, urge their followers to collaborate with all those who endeavour to:
– assure respect for the dignity of the human person and his fundamental rights;
– develop a sense of brotherhood and mutual assistance;
– draw inspiration from the “know-how” of communities of believers who, at least once a week, gather together millions of widely differing people in the context of their worship in authentic
spiritual communion;
– help the men and women of today to avoid being enslaved by fashion, consumerism and profit alone.

To conclude, then, to the question: “Inter-religious dialogue: a risk or an opportunity”? I answer, it is both!

If this is so, you might ask me: “But then why is it that religions frighten people?”

I answer that we should not fear religions: they generally preach brotherhood! It is their followers of whom we should be afraid. It is they who can pervert religion by putting it at the service of evil

Religious fanaticism, for example, is a perversion of religion, as is the justification of terrorism in the name of religious values. Religious leaders must have the courage to condemn and to excise these “tumours”.

Unfortunately, however, other factors contribute to fostering a fear of religions:
- the fact that we are very often ignorant of the content of other religions;
- the fact that we have not met the believers of other religions;
- our reticence in confronting other believers for the simple reason that we have not very clear ideas about our own religion!
- and then, of course, the acts of violence or terrorism perpetrated in the name of a religion.

And, further, the difficulties encountered in practising their faith by believers belonging to minority groups in countries where a majority religion enjoys a privileged status because of history or law.

In order to remedy this situation it is necessary to:
- have a clear-cut spiritual identity: to know in whom and in what one believes;
- consider the other not as a rival, but as a seeker of God;
- to agree to speak of what separates us and of the values that unite us.

Let us take the case of Islam. What separates us cannot be camouflaged:
- the relationship with our respective Scriptures: for a Muslim the Qu‘ran is a “supernatural dictation” recorded by the prophet of Islam, while for a Christian, Revelation is not a book, but a
- the Person of Jesus, whom Muslims consider to be only an exceptional prophet;
- The dogma of the Trinity which leads Muslims to say that we are polytheists.

But there are also realities which see us united and sometimes even collaborating in the dissemination of the same cause:
- faith in the oneness of God, the Author of life and of the material world;
- the sacred character of the human person which has permitted, for example, collaboration of the Holy See and of Muslim countries with the United Nations Organization to prevent resolutions that damage families;
- vigilance to avoid symbols considered “sacred” from being made the object of public derision.

I would like to indicate also, some concrete areas of life where Christians and Muslims together can contribute effectively to the common good of society:
- First, by witnessing to a life of prayer, both individual and communal, recalling that "Man does not live on bread alone". In our world today it is a must to stress and to show the necessity of an interior life.
- Secondly, Christians and Muslims faithful to their spiritual commitments can help to understand better that freedom of religion means much more than to have a Church or a Mosque at their disposal (this is obvious and the minimum you can ask) but it is also to have the possibility to take part in public dialogue through culture (of schools, universities) and also through political and social responsibilities in which believers must be models.
- Together Christian and Muslims must not hesitate to defend the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the family, as they did in the framework of recent meetings organized by the United Nations Organization.
- They should not refrain from uniting their efforts fighting against illiteracy and disease.
- They have the common responsibility to provide moral formation for youth.
- Finally, they must be peacemakers and teach the pedagogy of peace in the family, in the church and mosque, at school and at university.

In the "Open Letter" of the 138 Muslim leaders addressed to the Christian religious leaders, it is opportunely stressed that Christian and Muslims represent 55% of the world population and consequently, if they are faithful to their own religion, they can do a lot for the common good, for peace and harmony in the society of which they are members.

Such a context is favourable for calmly tackling ancient, thorny “subjects”: the question of the human person’s rights; the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion; reciprocity with
regard to places of worship.

Lastly, what engenders fear is above all a lack of knowledge of the other. It is necessary for us to first become acquainted with one another in order to love one another! This is God's will.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in Turkey: “We are called to work together, so as to help society to open itself to the transcendent, giving Almighty God his rightful place…” (Meeting with the President of the
Religious Affairs Directorate, Conference Room of the “Diyanet”, Ankara, 28 November 2006).

Finally, I should say that Christians and Muslims are heralds of a two-fold message:

1. Only God is worthy of adoration. Therefore all the idols made by men (wealth, power, appearance, hedonism) constitute a danger for the dignity of the human person, God's creature.

2. In God's sight, all men and women belong to the same race, to the same family. They are all called to freedom and to encounter Him after death.

If I may say so, believers are prophets of hope. They do not believe in fate. They know that, gifted by God with a heart and intelligence, they can with His help, change the course of history in order to orientate their life according to the project of the Creator: that is to say, make of humanity an authentic family of which each one of us is a member.

Anyway, for us Christians we must always remember Paul's exhortation in the letter to the Romans: "Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another." (14:19)

It is a beautiful roadmap, isn't it!

But having said that, we must be humble. We have not explained God! We have to stop on the threshold of mystery, "…the Mystery of God where man is grasped instead of grasping, where he worships instead of reasoning, where he himself is conquered, instead of conquering." (Karl Rahner)

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/20/2008 9:47 PM]
6/20/2008 10:34 PM
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How Pius XII protected Jews
By Jimmy Akin
Catholic Answers

Pius XII's wartime actions have been dredged up once again. I have previously posted a couple of informative articles on this thread which cite documentation that counter the black myth that has been so powerfully built against him. Here is more.

The twentieth century was marked by genocides on an monstrous scale. One of the most terrible was the Holocaust wrought by Nazi Germany, which killed an estimated six million European Jews and almost as many other victims.

During this dark time, the Catholic Church was shepherded by Pope Pius XII, who proved himself an untiring foe of the Nazis, determined to save as many Jewish lives as he could. Yet today Pius XII gets almost no credit for his actions before or during the war.

Anti-Catholic author Dave Hunt writes, "The Vatican had no excuse for its Nazi partnership or for its continued commendation of Hitler on the one hand and its thunderous silence regarding the Jewish question on the other hand. . . . [The popes] continued in the alliance with Hitler until the end of the war, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from the Nazi government to the Vatican."[1]

Jack Chick, infamous for his anti-Catholic comic books, tells us in Smokescreens, "When World War II ended, the Vatican had egg all over its face. Pope Pius XII, after building the Nazi war machine, saw Hitler losing his battle against Russia, and he immediately jumped to the other side when he saw the handwriting on the wall. . . . Pope Pius XII should have stood before the judges in Nuremberg. His war crimes were worthy of death."[2]

One is tempted simply to dismiss these accusations, so wildly out of touch with reality, as the deluded ravings of persons with no sense of historical truth. This would underestimate the power of such erroneous charges to influence people: Many take these writers at their word.

Stepping out of the nightmare fantasyland of Hunt and Chick and back into sunlight of the real world, we discover that, not only was Pius XII no friend of the Nazis, but that his opposition to them began years before the War, before he was elected to the papacy, when he was still Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State.

On April 28, 1935, four years before the War even started, Pacelli gave a speech that aroused the attention of the world press. Speaking to an audience of 250,000 pilgrims in Lourdes, France, the future Pius XII stated that the Nazis "are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult."[3]

It was talks like this, in addition to private remarks and numerous notes of protest that Pacelli sent to Berlin in his capacity as Vatican Secretary of State, that earned him a reputation as an enemy of the Nazi party.

The Germans were likewise displeased with the reigning Pontiff, Pius XI, who showed himself to be a unrelenting opponent of the new German "ideals" — even writing an entire encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge* (1937), to condemn them. When Pius XI died in 1939, the Nazis abhorred the prospect that Pacelli might be elected his successor.

[*Written unusually in German, Mit Brennender Sorge (With burning concern) is widely believed to have been drafted by Pacelli as the Vatican's German diplomatic expert at the time.]

Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, writes: "Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929. . . . The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of Cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ "[4]

Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide states that Pius XI "had good reason to make Pacelli the architect of his anti-Nazi policy. Of the forty-four speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least forty contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. . . . Pacelli, who never met the Führer, called it ‘neo-Paganism.’ "[5]

A few weeks after Pacelli was elected Pope, the German Reich’s Chief Security Service issued a then-secret report on the new Pope. Rabbi Lapide provides an excerpt: "Pacelli has already made himself prominent by his attacks on National Socialism during his tenure as Cardinal Secretary of State, a fact which earned him the hearty approval of the Democratic States during the papal elections. . . . How much Pacelli is celebrated as an ally of the Democracies is especially emphasized in the French Press."[6]

Unfortunately, joy in the election of a strong Pope who would continue Pius XI’s defiance of the Nazis was darkened by the ominous political developments in Europe. War finally came on September 1, 1939, when German troops overran Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Early in 1940, Hitler made an attempt to prevent the new Pope from maintaining the anti-Nazi stance he had taken before his election. He sent his underling, Joachim von Ribbentrop, to try to dissuade Pius XII from following his predecessor’s policies.

"Von Ribbentrop, granted a formal audience on March 11, 1940, went into a lengthy harangue on the invincibility of the Third Reich, the inevitability of a Nazi victory, and the futility of papal alignment with the enemies of the Führer. Pius XII heard von Ribbentrop out politely and impassively.

"Then he opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalogue of the persecutions inflicted by the Third Reich in Poland, listing the date, place, and precise details of each crime. The audience was terminated; the Pope’s position was clearly unshakable."[7]

The Pope secretly worked to save as many Jewish lives as possible from the Nazis, whose extermination campaign began its most intense phase only after the War had started. It is here that the anti-Catholics try to make their hay: Pius XII is charged either with cowardly silence or with outright support of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews.

Much of the impetus to smear the Vatican regarding World War II came, appropriately enough, from a work of fiction — a stage play called The Deputy, written after the War by a little-known German Protestant playwright named Rolf Hochhuth.

The play appeared in 1963, and it painted a portrait of a Pope too timid to speak out publicly against the Nazis. Ironically, even Hochhuth admitted that Pius XII was materially very active in support of the Jews.

Historian Robert Graham explains: "Playwright Rolf Hochhuth criticized the Pontiff for his (alleged) silence, but even he admitted that, on the level of action, Pius XII generously aided the Jews to the best of his ability. Today, after a quarter-century of the arbitrary and one-sided presentation offered the public, the word ‘silence’ has taken on a much wider connotation. It stands also for ‘indifference,’ ‘apathy,’ ‘inaction,’ and, implicitly, for anti-Semitism."[8]

Hochhuth’s fictional image of a silent (though active) Pope has been transformed by the anti-Catholic rumor mill into the image of a silent and inactive Pope — and by some even into an actively pro-Nazi monster.

If there were any truth to the charge that Pius XII was silent, the silence would not have been out of moral cowardice in the face of the Nazis, but because the Pope was waging a subversive, clandestine war against them in an attempt to save Jews.

"The need to refrain from provocative public statements at such delicate moments was fully recognized in Jewish circles. It was in fact the basic rule of all those agencies in wartime Europe who keenly felt the duty to do all that was possible for the victims of Nazi atrocities and in particular for the Jews in proximate danger of deportation to ‘an unknown destination.’ "[9] The negative consequences of speaking out strongly were only too well known.

"In one tragic instance, the Archbishop of Utrecht was warned by the Nazis not to protest the deportation of Dutch Jews. He spoke out anyway and in retaliation the Catholic Jews of Holland were sent to their death. One of them was the Carmelite philosopher, Edith Stein."[10]

While the armchair quarterbacks of anti-Catholic circles may have wished the Pope to issue, in Axis territory and during wartime, ringing, propagandistic statements against the Nazis, the Pope realized that such was not an option if he were actually to save Jewish lives rather than simply mug for the cameras.

The desire to keep a low profile was expressed by the people Pius XII helped. A Jewish couple from Berlin who had been held in concentration camps but escaped to Spain with the help of Pius XII, stated: "None of us wanted the Pope to take an open stand. We were all fugitives, and fugitives do not wish to be pointed at. The Gestapo would have become more excited and would have intensified its inquisitions. If the Pope had protested, Rome would have become the center of attention. It was better that the Pope said nothing. We all shared this opinion at the time, and this is still our conviction today."[11]

While the U.S., Great Britain, and other countries often refused to allow Jewish refugees to immigrate during the war, the Vatican was issuing tens of thousands of false documents to allow Jews to pass secretly as Christians so they could escape the Nazis.

What is more, the financial aid Pius XII helped provide the Jews was very real. Lichten, Lapide, and other Jewish chroniclers record those funds as being in the millions of dollars — dollars even more valuable then than they are now.

In late 1943, Mussolini, who had been at odds with the papacy all through his tenure, was removed from power by the Italians, but Hitler, fearing Italy would negotiate a separate peace with the Allies, invaded, took control, and set up Mussolini again as a puppet ruler. It was in this hour, when the Jews of Rome themselves were threatened — those whom the Pope had the most direct ability to help —that Pius XII really showed his mettle.

Joseph Lichten records that on September 27, 1943, one of the Nazi commanders demanded of the Jewish community in Rome payment of one hundred pounds of gold within thirty-six hours or three hundred Jews would be taken prisoner. When the Jewish Community Council was only able to gather only seventy pounds of gold, they turned to the Vatican.

"In his memoirs, the then Chief Rabbi Zolli of Rome writes that he was sent to the Vatican, where arrangements had already been made to receive him as an ‘engineer’ called to survey a construction problem so that the Gestapo on watch at the Vatican would not bar his entry. He was met by the Vatican treasurer and secretary of state, who told him that the Holy Father himself had given orders for the deficit to be filled with gold vessels taken from the Treasury."[12]

Pius XII also took a public stance concerning the Jews of Italy: "The Pope spoke out strongly in their defense with the first mass arrests of Jews in 1943, and L’Osservatore Romano carried an article protesting the internment of Jews and the confiscation of their property. The Fascist press came to call the Vatican paper ‘a mouthpiece of the Jews.’ "[13]

Prior to the Nazi invasion, the Pope had been working hard to get Jews out of Italy by emigration; he now was forced to turn his attention to finding them hiding places.

"The Pope sent out the order that religious buildings were to give refuge to Jews, even at the price of great personal sacrifice on the part of their occupants; he released monasteries and convents from the cloister rule forbidding entry into these religious houses to all but a few specified outsiders, so that they could be used as hiding places.

"Thousands of Jews — the figures run from 4,000 to 7,000 —w ere hidden, fed, clothed, and bedded in the 180 known places of refuge in Vatican City, churches and basilicas, Church administrative buildings, and parish houses. Unknown numbers of Jews were sheltered in Castel Gandolfo, the site of the Pope’s summer residence, private homes, hospitals, and nursing institutions; and the Pope took personal responsibility for the care of the children of Jews deported from Italy."[14]

Rabbi Lapide records that "in Rome we saw a list of 155 convents and monasteries — Italian, French, Spanish, English, American, and also German — mostly extraterritorial property of the Vatican . . . which sheltered throughout the German occupation some 5,000 Jews in Rome. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo; sixty lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and half a dozen slept in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute."[15]

Notice in particular that the Pope was not merely allowing Jews to be hidden in different church buildings around Rome. He was hiding them in the Vatican itself and in his own summer home, Castel Gandolfo. His success in protecting Italian Jews against the Nazis was remarkable.

Lichten records that after the War was over it was determined that only 8,000 Jews were taken from Italy by the Nazis[16] — far less than in other European countries.

In June, 1944, Pius XII sent a telegram to Admiral Miklos Horthy, the ruler of Hungary, and was able to halt the planned deportation of 800,000 Jews from that country.

The Pope’s efforts did not go unrecognized by Jewish authorities, even during the War. The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Herzog, sent the Pope a personal message of thanks on February 28, 1944, in which he said: "The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for us unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of divine Providence in this world."[17]

Other Jewish leaders chimed in also. Rabbi Safran of Bucharest, Romania, sent a note of thanks to the papal nuncio on April 7, 1944: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews. . . . The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."[18]

The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, also made a statement of thanks: "What the Vatican did will be indelibly and eternally engraved in our hearts. . . . Priests and even high prelates did things that will forever be an honor to Catholicism."[19]

After the war, Zolli became a Catholic and, to honor the Pope for what he had done for the Jews and the role he had played in Zolli’s conversion, took the name "Eugenio" — the Pope’s given name — as his own baptismal name.

Zolli stressed that his conversion was for theological reasons, which was certainly true, but the fact that the Pope had worked so hard on behalf of the Jews no doubt played a role in inspiring him to look at the truths of Christianity.

Lapide writes: "When Zolli accepted baptism in 1945 and adopted Pius’s Christian name of Eugene, most Roman Jews were convinced that his conversion was an act of gratitude for wartime succor to Jewish refugees and, repeated denials not withstanding, many are still of his opinion. Thus, Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz wrote in the summer issue, 1964, of Conservative Judaism: ‘Many Jews were persuaded to convert after the war, as a sign of gratitude, to that institution which had saved their lives.’ "[20]

In Three Popes and the Jews, Lapide estimated the total number of Jews that had been spared as a result of Pius XII’s throwing the Church’s weight into the clandestine struggle to save them.

After totaling the numbers of Jews saved in different areas and deducting the numbers saved by other causes, such as the praiseworthy efforts of some European Protestants,

"The final number of Jewish lives in whose rescue the Catholic Church had been the instrument is thus at least 700,000 souls, but in all probability it is much closer to . . . 860,000."[21]

This is a total larger than all other Jewish relief organizations in Europe, combined, were able to save.

Lapide calculated that Pius XII and the Church he headed constituted the most successful Jewish aid organization in all of Europe during the war, dwarfing the Red Cross and all other aid societies.

This fact continued to be recognized when Pius XII died in 1958. Lapide’s book records the eulogies of a number of Jewish leaders concerning the Pope, and far from agreeing with Jack Chick that he deserved death because of his "war crimes," Jewish leaders praised the man highly:[22]

"We share the grief of the world over the death of His Holiness Pius XII. . . . During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims" (Golda Meir, Israeli representative to the U.N. and future prime minister of Israel).

"With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history” (Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress).

"More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror" (Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, following Rabbi Zolli’s conversion).

Finally, let us conclude with a quotation from Lapide’s record that was not given at the death of Pius XII, but was given after the War by the most well-known Jewish figure of this century, Albert Einstein:

"Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty


[1] Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1994), 284.
[2] Jack Chick, Smokescreens (China, California: Chick Publications, 1983), 45.
[3] Robert Graham, S.J., ed., Pius XII and the Holocaust (New Rochelle, New York: Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 1988), 106.
[4] Joseph Lichten, "A Question of Moral Judgement: Pius XII and the Jews," in Graham, 107.
[5] Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York: Hawthorn, 1967), 118.
[6] Ibid., 121.
[7] Lichten, 107.
[8] Graham, 18.
[9] Ibid., 19.
[10] Lichten, 30.
[11] Ibid., 99.
[12] Ibid., 120.
[13] Ibid., 125.
[14] Ibid., 126.
[15] Lapide, 133.
[16] Lichten, 127.
[17] Graham, 62.
[18] Lichten, 130.
[19] American Jewish Yearbook 1944-1945, 233.
[20] Lapide, 133.
[21] Ibid., 215.
[22] Ibid., 227-228.
[23] Ibid., 251.


I do not understand what Israel - and Jewish leaders who seem to have made it their lifework to condemn Pius XII for inaction about the Holocaust - think they gain by painting Pius XII so negatively.

They know realistically that the Holocaust would have happened regardless of what Pius XII could have said - because there was nothing he or any other world leader at the time could do against a determined tyrant whom the world did not stop earlier.

Hitler had launched his war - and the only way to stop him and his evil deeds was to defeat him militarily. Certainly not a task nor a responsibility for the Pope or the Catholic Church!

To accuse Pius XII of 'enabling' Hitler in any way - by his supposed 'silence' or because of the pre-war Vatican Concordat with Germany - while ignoring the positive testimony of Jews who benefited from Pius XII's assistance and people like the wartime Rabbi of Rome, Golda Meir or Albert Einstein [and even of the opportunist playwright Hochhuth contradicting the thesis of his own play which has caused so much unnecessary pain and gross injustice] is simply perverse if not downright malicious.

May the Holy Spirit work his grace on those who need it in connection with this case, so that the Servant of God Pius XII may have his due!

6/23/2008 12:59 AM
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June 20, 2008

"The kind of life that incorporates intelligence clarifies what life is. We are, therefore, special, after all, in the way we are 'selves.' These are all issues in the philosophy of being. There is no such thing as epistemology separated from metaphysics."
- Robert Sokolowski [1]

"Strictly speaking, nothing more than 'It is snowing' is said about the world when I say 'I know it is snowing,' but something new is said in another dimension on the margin of the world, and specifically on this particular edge that is me as an agent of truth...."
- Robert Sokolowski [2]


Let me begin with the two above-cited passages. The first tells us that incorporating intelligence into his life explains what a rational being is.

He is a being who knows what is not himself. He personally is the one who knows and delights in knowing. He is a being whose knowing is metaphysical, is of what is. Knowing what is not simply the mind of the knower really occurs.

Moreover, each person who ever existed, in a felicitous phrase, stands at the "edge of the world." As it were, I am myself the "edge" of the world looking out on it, asking what it is that I see.

All particular beings who are human, hence their unity, whether living or dead, belong at this "margin" because they do or did something no other being does. They know what they are not.

And they tell each other about it in words, pictures, and writings. This very knowing what they are not is itself somehow necessary for the world to be what it is. The world needs to be known by beings who can know. That knowing is what this book is about.

Previously, on Ignatius Insight (March 1, 2006), I commented on Msgr. Robert Sokolowski's incisive and powerful book, Christian Faith & Human Understanding, a book I much admire.

Msgr. Sokolowski's new book, Phenomenology of the Human Person, is just published by the Cambridge University Press in England. The book is nothing less than a masterpiece of philosophical clarity and depth of understanding.

The book draws on a lifetime devoted to teaching, writing, conversing, and meditating on the great issues and minds - Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and particularly Edmund Husserl, though not neglecting the moderns before and after him. The great questions are asked: "How do we know?" "What is it we know?" "Why do we know?"

Sokolowski does not think that the task of the philosopher is only to ask questions but also to give as clear and basic, yes, as truthful an answer to them as possible. The purpose of philosophy, as he often says, is to "make distinctions" whereby we can finally understand what is.

Fully to understand something is to know its truth. It is also to speak this same truth to others, to listen to others speaking of it. All the while we know that we are not gods. The gods know the truth; we human beings only seek it, love it.

But our seeking is not a form of skepticism that denies any possibility of knowing anything. Rather it is a step by step verification of what we do know. Our ignorance comes from too much light, not from no light at all.

"Truth is the conformity of the mind with reality," as Aquinas often said. This book explains this sentence.

In a real way, Sokolowski's present work brings together and makes clear the varied reflection that went into his previous studies and academic essays, especially his earlier books, God of Faith and Reason; Husserlian Meditations; Presence and Absence; Pictures, Quotations, and Distinctions; Eucharistic Presence; and Introduction to Phenomenology.

We have here a distillation of all he has been thinking about, but also a presentation of how all the separate studies and issues fit together. We see the whole and the parts in the whole.

Let me say in the beginning, lest the book seem too formidable to ordinary reader, among whose membership I include myself, that the exotic-sounding word, "phenomenology," along with other technical words of philosophic jargon that often appear in Sokolowski's works, should not frighten us off.

Sokolowski writes, at the same time, both for the ordinary reader and for the scholar, as all good philosophers should. The author patiently tells any sensible reader, in quite clear English, what each word or concept means. He explains why he finds it useful, indeed necessary, to examine the item under discussion.

He knows about sense impressions, definitions, propositions, and arguments. He tells us about the relation of words, concepts, and things. He repeats his point, says it in another way. He gives an example, often several examples.

He has followed Aristotle, who always gave one focused example of a philosophic point in which the universal or thing discussed could be found. Sokolowski also follows Cicero who, more attentive to us slower learners, often gave ten examples, not one only, just to be sure we got the main point.

Few thinkers have covered the range of philosophy and its history more thoroughly or more directly than Sokolowski, the really remarkable professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America.

Sokolowski's lectures and seminars each semester carefully work their way through the Metaphysics or Politics of Aristotle, or the Leviathan of Hobbes, or something in Aquinas or on faith and reason.

In this book the usual academic nomenclature of footnotes, citation, and bibliography is kept to a blessed minimum, still the reader is aware of the massive learning contained in it.

This learning is something the author does not keep to himself as if somehow it belonged to himself alone as his private property. He consciously seeks to explain it in clear speech to provide any normal reader the opportunity to understand the issue under discussion.

In this sense, this book is a conversation with anybody and anybody who can and is willing just to think. The reading of it is, in a real sense, itself a conversation with Sokolowski, always a delight. But it is a conversation with Sokolowski himself conversing with the philosophers.

One of the purposes of the human race, "at the margins of the world" is that such on-going conversation takes place across souls, across cities, across oceans, across time. In this book we talk as much with Aristotle as we do with Sokolowski. We too are at the "edge."

On finishing this remarkable book, my judicious advice to all past and present students of philosophy, or theology, or any thing else for that matter, is simply to drop everything. Read this book! It is a free education in everything you ever wanted to know but never found out where to go to find it. Indeed, it is an education in what you wanted to know even if you did not know you wanted to know it.

This book comes as close as any that I know to putting everything together in a concise, intelligible way. It follows the proper order of mind as it seeks to follow the order of being in the things that are. It is a book that will take the reader to other books but with a mind now much better prepared to understand what he is reading.

Sokolowski, like Aristotle, as I mentioned, never gives a principle or point without offering a graphic or typical example of the point he is trying to make. Sokolowski is particularly successful in the individual examples he uses throughout this text. These examples in fact serve as a secondary way of seeing its overall unity.

The book has a genius for keeping the ordinary reader informed about what the author is talking about. What is said before is repeated just when we are about to forget what the point is about in the overall argument. Philosophical method is found here in the book's very reading. The philosopher, for whom this book is also written, does not live in a different world apart from the ordinary person.

Philosophy is not for elitists, even though some of our kind are more intelligent than others. Sokolowski knows that the most intelligent are not always the most truthful, which is partly also what this book is about. The truths and "untruths" of the philosophers is largely what is behind the rise and fall of nations.

Sokolowski can speak philosophical talk with the best of them, of course. But when he does, he also makes it intelligible to the ordinary man what he is doing. But still, he is also speaking to the philosophers as such about what is philosophy, its range and how it is grounded in our knowing, in our knowing of the truth.

The human person, including the philosopher, is an "agent" of truth. He is someone who puts truth before us through his words and arguments.

What continually strikes us about this book, I think, is its marvelous pedagogy. No step is taken without a statement of what is being talked about. Always there is an example. No example stands unexplained or unrelated to our understanding the point. Most examples are repeated in other contexts as the argument proceeds.

I would not say that the book makes a teacher superfluous, but I do say that no attentive reader needs to wait for some professor, even Schall, to explain the book to him. Indeed, this book in many ways bypasses the professors who are often the cause of the problems that Sokolowski considers.

This situation of getting to the minds that can know is one of the reasons for writing the book in the first place. It provides a place for truth when it is not being spoken among us.

Yet, the book is itself a marvelous example of what it says it is, a way to enter the conversations, past and present, with anyone who uses words truthfully and properly, with anyone who also seeks to know what is true. Indeed, it enters into the "untruths" which are themselves part of the discourse of knowing the truth, as Aquinas taught us.

If there is any one problem with which the book is most concerned, it is the so-called epistemological problem. That is, how is it that we can know reality and not our own "image" of reality? How is it that we know that we know and at the same time know that what we know really exists?

Sokolowski is at pains to show where this epistemological problem came from in the history of philosophy. He presents a careful thesis about how one is to explain what a philosopher wants to articulate but, in the process, often ends up making things worse. The way we know "things" and not "representations" of things is in some ways the most fundamental problem of particularly modern philosophy.

Sokolowski does not hesitate to address what should be addressed. What is at stake is our unique place in the world itself.


From his early philosophical studies in Louvain, Sokolowski has sought to come to terms with the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl (d. 1938), about whom he has written so much.

Essentially, Sokolowski's contribution to philosophy is to explain how the approach to describing real things that is found in Husserl, known as phenomenology, as a way to confront modern idealism, supplements or completes a true metaphysical understanding of things that was found in the classic writers, especially Aristotle and Aquinas.

Sokolowski thus intends to defend Aristotle and Aquinas precisely with the addition of Husserl. He does not conceive himself as rejecting or isolating either Aristotle or Husserl from each other. He does not lapse into idealism but, by carefully describing how it is and how it appears to us, makes the real more real in line with what Aquinas called esse or being.

Thus, Sokolowski does not think philosophy, in its basic task, was complete with Aristotle or Aquinas. He does think what they said was true and explained reality. The additions of phenomenology, in the way Sokolowski uses it, only serve to make the initial insights of the classical authors more visible and striking.

This book is first a philosophy book. That is, it is a theoretic or contemplative look the whole, of everything that is. I might add, this is not a theology book, but rather, as Sokolowski shows clearly, say, in his treatment of the "Verbum" in Aquinas, how revelation and theology can and do, in fact, incite philosophy to see and articulate itself better in its own order.

Philosophy does this articulation by first having posed to itself its own questions, as we read in Fides et Ratio. Philosophy knows that some things it cannot complete or fully grasp by itself. The "absence" of things thus becomes itself a provocative issue in philosophy.

We should not be surprised, as Sokolowski showed in his God of Faith and Reason, that philosophy gains from revelation, while the latter cannot really make full sense to us without the aid of philosophy. This latter position is something Benedict XVI insists on time and again.

The original title of this book was "The Agent of Truth." Evidently, the editors feared that such a title would be seen by too many folks, not as a philosophy book, but as a detective story! Thus, we have the present rather heavy title, Phenomenology of the Human Person.
What the human person is, and this is a central thesis of the book, is himself, in his active and inter-related being, an "agent" of precisely "truth."

Sometimes, when we read Plato or other philosophers, it seems that they conceive truth as a kind of "abstraction," a separated form. Of course, Plato's "forms" are ultimately to be seen in the "Good" so that they suddenly become less abstract than they might seem. And when Christians like Augustine read Plato, they have little difficulty relating this "Good" to God.

Aristotle showed us that the forms are also in things. This is the realism Sokolowski deals with here. The "person," as the "agent of truth," means that truth only exists in a knowing being actively, personally — "I say it is true" — stating the truth based on what is there to be affirmed. Moreover, it must actually be affirmed as knowing.

But Sokolowski, like Chesterton here, is a common man's philosopher. Theoretic philosophy, the mind accurately reflecting on what it does know about the world, is a special function of philosophy. The reminder of the specific purpose of philosophy, its justification in the order of knowing, is a recurrent theme in this book.

But before we can talk about philosophy at its highest level of insight, we have gradually to work our way through the simplest of things and how any normal person knows them. What do we know when we know them?

In this sense, this book takes us through Aristotle's logical works, his experimental reflections, his practical intellect (ethics, poetics, rhetoric, and politics), and his theoretical intellect that looks at substance, the soul, and being itself.

The book takes one step at a time. Each new step is explained in the light of the previous one but adds what is new.


Again, what does it mean to say that the "human person is an agent of truth?" Sokolowski's own approach, as he explains, is different from most modern philosophers, including Husserl, in that he does not begin philosophy from the experience of the solitary person reflecting on himself and what he knows. This isolation is the origin of the epistemological problem, of how does the mind get out of itself.

In his reading of Aristotle's Politics, Sokolowski shows that the modern "state of nature" theories of politics somehow posit an imaginary condition of man in which there was no politics. Politics must be argued to; it is not natural. The philosophical problem is to explain how he came to be political. This theory may be all right as a dream theory but it never happened and doesn't explain what it needs to explain.

The modern theory arose because something was lost, namely the primacy of the contemplative life itself. "Machiavelli and Hobbes force the philosophical speaker or writer back into being one of the contenders in the natural attitude and the practical order. For them ruling is the best life, not thinking, and the mind essentially governs and does not contemplate" [3]. But the best life is not the political life.

Aristotle, on the other hand, simply found that already, whenever we encounter him, man was already a political animal making political decisions. What needed to be explained, and this is what Aristotle's Ethics and Politics are about, is how he acts in relation to himself and in relation to others when he lives and acts within a city. This explanation is what Aristotle derived from observation and intelligence in the Politics.

Taking a similar approach, Sokolowski shows that the raw material of knowing is already present in most of us already in our normal conversation. We do not first define something and then rush out and find someone to whom to explain it. We are first speaking with someone about something. We gradually clarify what it is we are talking about. We seek and speak in public. We presuppose "veracity," as Sokolowski calls it.

That is, we cannot clarify things unless we are telling the truth and we know we are. Even lying presupposes truth. If everyone is always lying, there is not only no truth but no communication whatsoever.

Some of the most beautiful passages in this book are those in which Sokolowski tells us about how our use of syntax, of identifying, naming, and designating things in order enables us to transcend our immediate experience. Words themselves bear what we speak of and refer back to their origins. Once we have spoken or written or even painted in the world, we belong to the discourse of mankind at its margin.

The "edge" that is "me" is the extraordinary fact that I too am capax omnium, capable of knowing all things, which is one of the proper definitions of a mind. Being is not really complete until it is known. It is known in conversation, in the conversation of those who seek to know and explain accurately what they encounter of what is.

The formal philosopher, for his part, is concerned precisely with the whole. He cannot leave aside or out any thing that is. The notion that somehow revelation must be left out on "philosophical grounds" is itself un-philosophical. But when it is encountered, it must be confronted in a philosophic way.

The person is, in Sokolowski's haunting phrase, "an agent of truth." This agency includes all truth. Hence it enables him, "me," at the "edge" of the world, to himself be all things by being himself. The one who is at the "edge" is the one who knows as he is thinking of what is there, as he is knowing it.

That this position at the "edge" of the world would cause anyone to wonder about the world, about his mind that knows, about his very desire to know what is, to the limits and reach of his own being, can surely be no surprise.

Yet, it is a surprise. It is this "surprise" that each of us is, in our very being, an "agent," that is, an actor in the world that we did not cause to be.

Truth, Aquinas said, exists in the "mind." But it is in the mind affirming what is there, what is not in its own mind. Something is there besides ourselves, but we can know it and in knowing it, also know our own knowing and its ways. But knowing involves truth. We all must begin here. This is what Sokolowski's penetrating book is about.

This is a book of our time, a time that needs to know that it can know the truth — and that it can also lie to itself if it doesn't.

Ours is a time that needs to know that time is itself under the sway of being, of the metaphysics that begins in wonder and seeks to know the why of things, including the things of itself and those with whom it converses.

The human person is an "agent of truth." This is what we are. Something "new" is at the "margin of the world." The something new is indeed "me" who, with all who come to be in their time, stands at the world's "edge" affirming, as Plato said, of what is that it is, of what is not, that it is not. The world itself cannot do this for itself. It needs an "agent of truth" within it.

Phenomenology of the Human Person is a philosophy book. It looks to the whole, When we speak the truth to one another, we are "agents of truth." Sokolowski has initiated us into the conversation with all agents who can speak the truth because they have minds and words.

It is the most exclusive city in the world, perhaps because it includes all of us, and the reason, itself personal, why we exist in the first place.


[1] Robert Sokolowski, Phenomenology of the Human Person (Cambridge: University Press, 2008), 311. (ISBN 978-0-521-71766-3, 345 pp, $26.99, paperbound).

[2] Ibid., 14.

[3] Ibid., 317.

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