Cardinal Ratzinger Calls Relativism the New Face of Intolerance

Has Advice for Young Theologians; Speaks of the Role of Universities

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MURCIA, Spain, DEC. 1, 2002 ( Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger thinks relativism has become the new expression of intolerance.

The prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed his opinion on a number of ecclesial issues when he met Saturday with a group of journalists, including a ZENIT correspondent.

The cardinal presided over the congress “Christ: Way, Truth and Life” at the Catholic University of St. Anthony here.

Q: Some interpret the fact of proclaiming Christ as a rupture in the dialogue with other religions. How can one proclaim Christ and dialogue at the same time?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I would say that today relativism predominates. It seems that whoever is not a relativist is someone who is intolerant. To think that one can understand the essential truth is already seen as something intolerant.

However, in reality this exclusion of truth is a type of very grave intolerance and reduces essential things of human life to subjectivism. In this way, in essential things we no longer have a common view. Each one can and should decide as he can. So we lose the ethical foundations of our common life.

Christ is totally different from all the founders of other religions, and he cannot be reduced to a Buddha, a Socrates or a Confucius. He is really the bridge between heaven and earth, the light of truth who has appeared to us.

The gift of knowing Jesus does not mean that there are no important fragments of truth in other religions. In the light of Christ, we can establish a fruitful dialogue with a point of reference in which we can see how all these fragments of truth contribute to greater depth in our faith and to an authentic spiritual community of humanity.

Q: What would you say to a young theologian? What aspects of Christology would you advise him to study?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Above all, it is important to know sacred Scripture, the living testimony of the Gospels, both of the Synoptics as well as the Gospel of St. John, in order to hear the authentic voice.

In the second place, the great councils, especially the Council of Chalcedon, as well as subsequent councils that clarified the meaning of that great formula on Christ, true God and true man. The novelty that he is really the Son of God, and really man, is not an appearance; on the contrary, it unites God to man.

In the third place, I suggest further study in the paschal mystery: to know this mystery of the suffering and resurrection of the Lord, and in this way to know what redemption is; the novelty that God, in the person of Jesus, suffers, bears our sufferings, shares our life, and in this way creates the passage to authentic life in the resurrection.

This relates to the whole problem of human deliverance, which today is understood in the paschal mystery; on one hand it is related to the concrete life of our time and, on the other, it is represented in the liturgy. I think this nexus between liturgy and life is central, both founded in the paschal mystery.

Q: What has Cardinal Ratzinger learned that theologian Ratzinger did not already know?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The substance of my faith in Christ has always been the same: to know this man who is God who knows me, who — as St. Paul says — has given himself for me. He is present to help and guide me. This substance has always continued to be the same.

In the course of my life I have read the Church Fathers, the great theologians, as well as present-day theology. When I was young, Bultmann’s theology was determinant in Germany: existential theology. Then Moltmann’s theology became more determinant: a theology of Marxist influence, so to speak.

I would say that at the present time the dialogue with the other religions is the most important point: to understand how, on one hand, Christ is unique, and on the other, how he answers all others, who are precursors of Christ, and who are in dialogue with Christ.

Q: What must a Catholic university do, bearer of the truth of Christ, to make the evangelizing mission of Christianity present?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is important that at a Catholic university one not learn just what prepares one for a certain profession. A university is something more than a professional school, in which I learn physics, sociology, chemistry. A good professional formation is very important, but if it was only this, it would be no more than a roof over different professional schools.

A university must have as foundation the construction of a valid interpretation of human existence. In the light of this principle we can see the place occupied by each one of the sciences, as well as our Christian faith, which must be present at a high intellectual level.

For this reason, a Catholic school must give fundamental formation in the questions of faith and especially of an interdisciplinary dialogue between professors and students so that together they can understand the mission of a Catholic intellectual in our world.

Q: Given the present quest for spirituality, many people take recourse to transcendental meditation. What difference is there between transcendental meditation and Christian meditation?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In a few words, I would say what is essential of transcendental meditation is that man divests himself of his own “I”; he unites with the universal essence of the world; therefore, he remains a bit depersonalized.

In Christian meditation, on the contrary, I do not lose my personality; I enter a personal relation with the person of Christ. I enter into relation with the “you” of Christ, and in this way this “I” is not lost; it maintains its identity and responsibility.

At the same time it opens, enters a more profound unity, which is the unity of love that does not destroy. Therefore, in a few words, I would say, simplifying a bit, that transcendental meditation is impersonal and, in this sense, “depersonalizing.” Christian meditation, meanwhile, is “personalizing” and opens to a profound union that is born of love and not of the dissolution of the “I.”

Q: You are the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly called the Inquisition. Many people are ignorant of the Vatican dicasteries. They think it is a place of condemnation. Of what does your work consist?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is difficult to answer this in two words. We have two principal sections: one disciplinary and the other doctrinal.

The disciplinary must be concerned with problems of offenses of priests, which unfortunately exist in the Church. Now we have the great problem of pedophilia, as you know. In this case, above all, we must help the bishops to find the adequate procedures. And we are a sort of court of appeals: If someone feels unjustly treated by the bishop, he can appeal to us.

The other, better known section, is the doctrinal. In this connection, Paul VI defined our task as “promoter” and “defender” of the faith. To promote, that is, to help dialogue in the family of the theologians of the world, to follow this dialogue, and encourage the positive currents, as well as to help the less positive tendencies to be conformed to the more positive ones.

The other dimension is to defend: In the context of today’s world, with its relativism, with a profound opposition to the faith of the Church in many parts of the world, with agnostic, atheist, etc., ideologies, the loss of the identity of the faith takes place easily. We must help to distinguish authentic novelties, authentic progress, from other steps that imply a loss of the identity of the faith.

We have two very important instruments at our disposal for this work, the International Theological Commission, with 30 theologians proposed for five years by the bishops; and the Biblical Commission, with 30 exegetes, who are also proposed by the bishops. They are forums of discussion for theologians
to find, so to speak, an international understanding, including among the various schools of theology, and a dialogue with the magisterium.

For us, cooperation with the bishops is fundamental. If possible, the bishops must resolve the problems. However, it is often theologians of international renown [who resolve them] and, therefore, the problem goes beyond the possibilities of a bishop. So it is taken to the congregation.

Here, we promote the dialogue with these theologians to arrive, if possible, to a peaceful solution. Only in very few cases is there a negative solution.

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