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Pope Benedict XVI: at the root of the crisis: the idea of Church.

The Ratzinger Report was published in 1985. It is an interview with the Cardinal about the state of the Church. The following is an extract from Chapter Three. Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI. Subheadings added.--Editor

The facade and the mystery

Interviewer (I): So, it's a crisis. But where, in your opinion, is the principal point of rupture, the crack which, by widening, threatens the stability of the whole edifice of the Catholic faith?

No doubts exist in Cardinal Ratzinger's mind: the alarm must focus before all else on the crisis of the understanding of the Church, on ecclesiology: "Herein lies the cause of a good part of the misunderstandings or real errors which endanger theology and common Catholic opinion alike."

Cardinal: "My impression is that the authentically Catholic meaning of the reality Church is tacitly disappearing, without being expressly rejected. Many no longer believe that what is at issue is a reality willed by the Lord himself. Even with some theologians, the Church appears to be a human construction, an instrument created by us and one which we ourselves can freely recognize according to the requirements of the moment. In other words, in many ways a conception of Church is spreading in Catholic thought, and even in Catholic theology, that cannot even be called Protestant in a 'classic' sense. Many current ecclesiological ideas (ecclesia, Latin for assembly or Church) rather refer to the model of certain North American 'free churches,' in which, in the past, believers took refuge from the oppressive model of the 'State Church' produced by the Reformation. Those refugees, no longer believing in an institutional Church willed by Christ, and wanting at the same time to escape the State Church, created their own church, an organization structured according to their needs."

Catholics today

I: How is it with Catholics instead?

Cardinal: "For a Catholic, the Church is indeed composed of men who organize her external visage. But, behind this, the fundamental structures are willed by God himself, and therefore they are inviolable. Behind the human exterior stands the mystery of a more than human reality, in which reformers, sociologists, organizers, have no authority whatsoever. If the Church, instead, is viewed as a human construction, the product of our own efforts, even the contents of the faith end up assuming an arbitrary character: the faith, in fact, no longer has an authentic, guaranteed instrument through which to express itself. Thus, without a view of the mystery of the Church that is also supernatural and not only sociological, Christology itself loses its reference to the divine in favour of a purely human structure, and ultimately it amounts to a purely human project: the Gospel becomes the Jesus-project, the social-liberation project or other merely historical, immanent projects, that can still seem religious in appearance, but which are atheistic in substance."

People of God

I: During Vatican II there was a great emphasis--in the interventions of some bishops, in the statements of their theological advisers, but also in the final documents on the concept of the Church as "People of God," a conception which subsequently seemed to dominate in the post-conciliar ecclesiologies. Cardinal: "That's true. There was and there still is this emphasis, which in the Council texts, however, is balanced with others that complete it. A balance that has been lost with many theologians. Yet, contrary to what the latter think, in this way there is the risk of moving backward rather than forward. Here indeed there is even the danger of abandoning the New Testament in order to return to the Old.

'People of God' in Scripture, in fact, is a reference to Israel in its relationship of prayer and fidelity to the Lord. But to limit the definition of the Church to that expression means not to give expression to the New Testament understanding of the Church in its fullness. Here 'People of God' actually refers always to the Old Testament element of the Church, to her continuity with Israel.

But the Church receives her New Testament character more distinctively in the concept of the 'Body of Christ.' One is Church and one is a member thereof, not through a sociological adherence, but precisely through incorporation in this Body of the Lord through Baptism and the Eucharist. Behind the concept of the Church as the People of God, which has been so exclusively thrust into the foreground today, hide influences of ecclesiologies which de facto revert to the Old Testament; and perhaps also political, partisan and collectivist influences. In reality, there is not truly a New Testament, Catholic concept of Church without a direct and vital relation not only with sociology but first of all with Christology. The Church does not exhaust herself in the 'collective' of the believers: being the 'Body of Christ' she is much more than the simple sum of her members."

I: For the Cardinal, the gravity of the situation is accentuated by the fact that--on so vital a point as ecclesiology--it does not seem possible to bring about a clarification through promulgations. And although these have not been lacking, in his view what would be necessary is a work in depth.

Cardinal: "It is necessary to recreate an authentically Catholic climate, to find again the meaning of the Church as Church of the Lord, as the locus of the real presence of God in the world. That mystery of which Vatican II speaks when it writes those awesomely challenging words which correspond nonetheless to the whole Catholic tradition: 'the Church, or, in other words, the Kingdom of Christ now present in mystery.' (Lumen Gentium, no. 3).

"It is not ours, it is His"

I: In confirmation of the "qualitative" difference of the Church with respect to any other human organization whatsoever, the cardinal recalls that "only the Church, in this world, goes beyond even the radically impassable frontier: the frontier of death. Living or dead, the members of the Church live in association with the same life that proceeds from the incorporation of all in the Body of Christ."

I: It is the reality, I observe, that Catholic theology has always called communio sanctorum, the communion of "saints", in which all the baptized are "saints".

Cardinal: "Of course. But it must not be forgotten that the Latin expression does not mean only the union of the members of the Church, living or dead. Communio sanctorum means also to have 'holy things' in common, that is to say, the grace of the sacraments that pours forth from the dead and resurrected Christ. It is precisely this mysterious yet real bond, this union in Life, that is also the reason why the Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we please. She is, rather, His Church. All that which is only our Church is not Church in the deep sense; it belongs to her human--hence secondary, transitory--aspect."

Obedience and hierarchy

I: Does the modern forgetfulness or rejection of this Catholic concept of the Church, I ask, not also involve consequences in the relation with the ecclesial hierarchy?

Cardinal: "Certainly. And among the gravest. Here lies the origin of the decline of the authentic concept of 'obedience.' According to some it would no longer even be a Christian virtue but a heritage of an authoritarian, dogmatic past, hence one to be overcome.

"If the Church, in fact, is our Church, if we alone are the Church, if her structures are not willed by Christ, then it is no longer possible to conceive of the existence of a hierarchy as a service to the baptized established by the Lord himself. It is a rejection of the concept of an authority willed by God, an authority therefore that has its legitimation in God and not--as happens in political structures--in the consensus of the majority of the members of an organization.

"But the Church of Christ is not a party, not an association, not a club. Her deep and permanent structure is not democratic but sacramental, consequently hierarchical. For the hierarchy based on the apostolic succession is the indispensable condition to arrive at the strength, the reality, of the sacrament. Here authority is not based on the majority of votes; it is based on the authority of Christ himself, which He willed to pass on to men who were to be His representatives until His definitive return. Only if this perspective is acquired anew will it be possible to rediscover the necessity and fruitfulness of obedience to the legitimate ecclesiastical hierarchies."
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Article Details
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Author:Messor V.
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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