Cardinal Ratzinger on Why It's Not Time for Vatican III

Also Discusses Interreligious Dialogue, and Fallout from “Dominus Iesus”

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MURCIA, Spain, DEC. 4, 2002 ( Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger thinks it’s too early to talk about a Third Vatican Council.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith shared this view, and others, in a wide-ranging interview with journalists last weekend. He was in Spain for the congress “Christ: Way, Truth and Life,” at the Catholic University of St. Anthony. The first parts of this interview appeared Sunday and Tuesday.

Q: It has been said that it is necessary to convoke a Vatican III so that the Church will adapt to the new times. What do you think?

Cardinal Ratzinger: First of all, I would say it is a practical problem. We have not implemented sufficiently the legacy of Vatican II. We are still working to assimilate and interpret this legacy, as vital processes take time. A technical measure can be applied rapidly, but life has paths that are much longer. Time is needed to grow a forest; time is needed for a man to grow.

Thus, these spiritual realities, such as the assimilation of a council, are ways of life, which have need of a certain duration and cannot be completed from one day to the next. That is why the time has not yet arrived for a new council.

This is not the primary problem, but it would also be a practical problem: We had 2,000 bishops for Vatican II, and it was already extremely difficult to have a meeting of dialogue. Now, we would have 4,000 bishops, and I think we would have to invent technique for dialogue.

I would like to recall something that happened in the fourth century, a century of great councils. When, 10 years after a council, St. Gregory Nazianzen was invited to participate in a new council, he said: “No! I’m not going. Now we must continue to work on the other one. We have so many problems. Why do you want to convoke another one immediately?” I think that this somewhat emotional voice demonstrates that time is required to assimilate a council.

In the time between two great councils, other forms of contact are necessary among the episcopates: the synods of Rome, for example. Without a doubt, it is necessary to improve the procedure, because there are too many monologues. We must really find a synodal process, a common way. Then there are the continental, regional, etc., synods, the effective work of the episcopal conferences, the meetings of episcopal conferences with the Holy See.

In the course of five years, we [in the Roman Curia] see all the bishops of the world. We have improved these visits “ad limina” a lot, which before were very formal and now are genuine meetings of dialogue. Therefore, we must improve these instruments in order to have a permanent dialogue among all the areas of the Church and among all the areas of the Holy See, to achieve a better application of Vatican Council II. And then, we will see …

Q: How can one maintain fidelity to the Church and favor communion, while remaining open to the Spirit to lead us to the fullness of truth? In other words, how is it possible not to fall into the extremes of rigidity or rupture?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I think that it is, above all, a question of the maturity of personal faith.

To all appearances, fidelity and openness seem to exclude one another. However, I think that authentic fidelity to the Lord Jesus, to his Church, which is his Body, is a dynamic fidelity. The truth is for everyone, and all are created to go to the Lord. His open arms on the cross symbolize at the same time for the Church Fathers maximum fidelity — the Lord is nailed to the cross — and the embrace of the world, to attract the world to himself, and make room for all.

Therefore, an authentic fidelity to the Lord participates in the dynamism of the person of Christ, who can open himself to the different challenges of reality, of the other, of the world, etc. However, at the same time, he finds his profound identity there, which does not exclude anything that is true; it only excludes falsehood.

To the degree that we enter into communion with Christ, in his love that accepts all of us and purifies all of us, in the measure in which we participate in communion with Christ, we can be faithful and open.

Q: What is the present state of the ecumenical communication of the concept of Church? In the wake of the instruction Dominus Iesus” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there were criticisms among the representatives of the evangelical churches, because they did not accept or did not understand well the statement that, rather than churches, they should be considered as Christian communities.

Cardinal Ratzinger: This topic would call for a long discussion. In the first place, we were told that if in “Dominus Iesus” we had only spoken about the unique character of Christ, the whole of Christianity would have been delighted with this document, all would have joined in applauding the congregation. “Why did you add the ecclesiological problem that has resulted in criticisms?” we have been asked.

However, it was also necessary to talk about the Church, as Jesus created this Body, and he is present throughout the centuries through his Body, which is the Church. The Church is not a hovering spirit.

I am convinced that we [in “Dominus Iesus”] have interpreted Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium” in a totally faithful manner, while in the last 30 years we have increasingly attenuated the text. In fact, our critics have said to us that we have remained faithful to the letter of the council, but we have not understood the council. At least they acknowledge that we are faithful to the letter.

The Church of Christ is not an ecumenical utopia; it is not something we make; it would not be the Church of Christ. This is why we are convinced that the Church is a Body, it is not just an idea, but this does not exclude different ways of a certain presence of the Church, even outside the Catholic Church, which are specified by the council. I think it is evident that they exist, in so many hues, and it is understandable that this generates debates within the Church.

Q: Do you think that the Church, especially in the Western world, is prepared to address de-Christianization and the great void that is left? Or is there still among the men of the Church a vision of Christianity, and not of a missionary Church?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I think that in this connection, we have much to learn. We are too concerned with ourselves, with structural questions, with celibacy, the ordination of women, pastoral councils, the rights of these councils [and] of synods …

We always work on our internal problems and we do not realize that the world is in need of answers; it does not know how to live. The world’s inability to live properly is seen in drugs, terrorism, etc. Therefore, the world is thirsty for answers — and we remain with our problems.

I am convinced that if we go out to meet others, and we present the Gospel to them in an appropriate way, even our internal problems will be relativized and resolved. This is a fundamental point: We must make the Gospel accessible to today’s secularized world.

Q: What do you think is the starting point to coordinate the growth of humanity’s technical and scientific power with faith and morality?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is something that must be rediscovered, because the scientific models change; hence, the situation of dialogue between science and faith is faced with new challenges.

An important instrument, for example, is the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which I am now also a member and, in fact, a short while ago I participated for the first time in one of it meetings.

To date, it was only an assembly of scientists — physicists, biologists, etc. Now, philosophers and theologians have also joined. We have seen that dial
ogue between the sciences and philosophy and theology is difficult, because they are totally different ways of addressing reality, with different methods, etc.

One of these academics — he was a specialist in human brain research — said, There are two irreconcilable worlds; on one hand we have the exact sciences for which, in their field, there is no freedom, there are no presence of the spirit and, on the other hand, I realize that I am a man and that I am free.

Therefore, according to him, they are two different worlds — and we do not have the possibility to reconcile these two perceptions of the world. He himself acknowledged that he believed in the two worlds: in science that denies freedom, and in his experience of being a free man.

However, we cannot live in this way; it would be permanent schizophrenia. In this present situation of acute methodological specialization on the part of both approaches, we must seek the way in which one discovers the rationality of the other, and develop a genuine dialogue.

For the time being, there is no formula. This is why it is extremely important that proponents of the two approaches of human thought meet: the sciences, and philosophy and theology. In this way, they can discover that both are expressions of authentic reason. But they must understand that reality is one and that man is one.

This is why it is very important that in universities and faculties they not be distinct disciplines separated from one another, but in permanent contact, in which we learn to think with others and to find the unity of reality.

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