What Cardinal Ratzinger Was Thinking in 2002

Gave Interview With Journalists in Spain

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The proclamation of Christ and his Gospel in a relativist world was for the future Pope Benedict XVI one of the main challenges of the Church.

This is how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained it on Nov. 30, 2002, in this interview with journalists, among whom were several of ZENIT’s writers.

The interview took place at St. Anthony’s Catholic University of Murcia, Spain, where the cardinal was attending an International Congress on Christology.

We offer this long interview which reflects some of the characteristic features of the new Pope, considered one of the most important contemporary theologians.

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 instrumen
ts 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.

Q: This past year has been difficult for Catholics, given the space dedicated by the media to scandals attributed to priests. There is talk of a campaign against the Church. What do you think?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In the Church, priests also are sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.

In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1% of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church. It is a logical and well-founded conclusion.

Q: There is a debate over the inclusion of the word of God and references to Europe’s Christian past in the preambles of the future Constitution. Do you think there can be a united Europe that has turned its back on its Christian past?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I am convinced that Europe must not just be something economic [or] political; rather, it is in need of spiritual foundations.

It is a historical fact that Europe is Christian, and that it has grown on the foundation of the Christian faith, which continues to be the foundation of the values for this continent, which in turn has influenced other continents.

It is imperative to have a foundation of values and, if we ask ourselves what that foundation is, we realize that, beyond the confessions, there are no others outside the great values of the Christian faith. And this is why it is imperative that in the future Constitution of Europe mention is made of the Christian foundations of Europe.

I do not wish to fall into the error of constructing a political Catholicism. The faith does not provide political recipes, but indicates the foundations. On one hand, politics has its autonomy, but on the other there is no total separation between politics and faith. There are foundations of the faith that later allow for political reasoning. The question, therefore, is what are these foundations that will enable politics to function? What are the aspects that must be left free?

In the first place, it is critical to have an anthropological moral vision, and here faith enlightens us. Is the person of God necessary to have this anthropological vision, which guarantees the freedom of political reasoning?

A morality that dispenses with God, fragments, and, therefore, at least the great intuition that there is a God who knows us and who defines the figure of man as an image of God, belongs to these foundations. Moreover [to mention God] is not an act of violence against anyone, it does not destroy anyone’s freedom, but opens to all the free space to be able to construct a truly human, moral life.

Q: There are seminary professors of the Basque region who go so far as to justify ETA’s terrorism, or who don’t condemn it categorically. There seem to be connections between these priests and liberation theology. There is even talk of an indigenous Basque church. What decision can be made against this?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In this case, one simply applies what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said between the years 1984 [see «Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation'»] and 1986 [see «Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation»] on liberation theology.

Christianity is certainly related to liberty, but true liberty is not political liberty. Politics has its autonomy; this was emphasized above all by the Second Vatican Council and must not be constructed by faith as such; it must have its rationality.

One cannot deduce from sacred Scripture political recipes and much less so justifications of terrorism. I think that in regard to this specific case everything has been said in the two Instructions of our Congregation on liberation theology.

The novelty of Christian messianism consists in the fact that Christ is not immediately the political messiah, who effects the liberation of Israel, as expected. This was the Barabbas model for the liberation of Israel, which they wanted to achieve immediately, including with terrorism.

Christ created another model of liberation, which was achieved in the apostolic community and in the Church exactly as it has been constituted, conformed and witnessed in the New Testament. However, as mentioned, everything has already been said in those two Instructions.

Q: If we made an evaluation of Pope John Paul II’s extraordinary activity, what would be this papacy’s most important contribution? How will Christianity remember this Pope?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I am not a prophet; that is why I do not dare say what they will say in 50 years, but I think the fact that the Holy Father has been present in all areas of the Church will be extremely important.

In this way, he has created an extremely dynamic experience of catholicity and of the unity of the Church. The synthesis between catholicity and unity is a symphony — it is not uniformity. The Church Fathers said it. Babylon was uniformity, and technology creates uniformity.

The faith, as seen at Pentecost where the apostles spoke all languages, is symphony: It is plurality in unity. This is manifested with great clarity in the Holy Father’s pontificate, with his pastoral visits, his meetings.

I think some documents will be important forever: I want to mention the encyclicals «Redemptoris Missio,» «Veritatis Splendor,» «Evangelium Vitae» and also «Fides et Ratio.» These are four documents that will really be monuments for the future.

Lastly, I think he will be remembered for his openness to the other Christian communities, to the other religions of the world, to the secular world, to the sciences, to the political world. In these areas he has always made reference to the faith and its values, but at the same time he has also shown that the faith is able to enter into dialogue with everyone.

Q: What is John Paul II’s contribution to interreligious dialogue?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Holy Father sees his own mission as a mission of conciliation in the world, a mission of peace. Whereas in the past, unfortunately, there were religious wars, the Holy Father wishes to show that the right relation between religions is not war, nor violence, it is dialogue, and the attempt to understand the elements of truth that are found in the other religions.

The Holy Father does not want to relativize the uniqueness of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but he wants to show that this truth about Christ cannot be proclaimed with violence or with human power, but only with the force of truth. And for this, a human contact of dialogue and love is necessary, as the apostles showed in the great mission of the early Church: without making use of worldly power, using the force of conviction.
The testimony of suffering, of charity, and of dialogue, convinced the ancient world. The Holy Father simply tries to nurture this force of dialogue and love of the first centuries in the relation with the religions.

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 dialogue 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 han
d, 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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