David Schindler on Cardinal Ratzinger's Ecclesiology

Interview With Editor of Communio

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 1, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The understanding of the Church as the sacrament of Christ’s love has been an abiding feature of Joseph Ratzinger’s life and will likely remain so, says a longtime colleague.

That is how David Schindler, editor in chief of the theological journal Communio and academic dean at the John Paul II Institute, assesses the man who is now Benedict XVI.

Schindler shared with ZENIT how ecclesiology has always been at the center of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological concerns, even as a young priest at the Second Vatican Council.

Q: What was Cardinal Ratzinger’s tie with the journal Communio? What has been your experience working with him on the journal?

Schindler: Communio: International Theological Review is a quarterly journal founded in 1972 by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and Joseph Ratzinger. Since the founding of the German edition, 13 sister additions have been initiated, including a Polish edition that Karol Wojtyla founded.

Ratzinger remained an active organizer of the journal, writing and editing until he was named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. Although at that time his responsibilities precluded continued formal involvement in Communio, his keen interest in the work of the journal continued.

In 1992, he delivered the keynote address at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Communio in Rome. This address was published in the American edition of the journal and many of the cardinal’s articles continue to be published in Communio.

I was first introduced to Cardinal Ratzinger by Balthasar in Rome in September of 1985 at a celebration of Balthasar’s 80th birthday, which was hosted by Ratzinger. At that time and in my encounters with the cardinal in subsequent years, I have found him to be a man of deep humility and profound intelligence, gifts he has placed entirely at the service of Christ and the Church.

As everyone who knows him has experienced, his demeanor is self-effacing and gentle, and there is a childlike wonder about him, an intense interest in the topic at hand. He is a man completely unconcerned with the trappings of power — in fact, it is precisely his humility that enables him to speak with such courage in defense of the truth.

His assertions, although clear and trenchant, are not made on his own behalf but rather always at the service of something much greater than himself, the integrity of which he desires to safeguard.

Q: The idea of «communio» is, obviously, a key idea behind your magazine. But what is the theological significance of the word? And how does it figure in Benedict XVI’s outlook?

Schindler: The term «communio,» in its fundamental meaning, seeks to recover the nature of the Church as a communion of persons. This loving communion includes the hierarchical-Petrine structure that guarantees the objectivity of love.

There was much discussion following the Second Vatican Council of the notion of the «People of God» as the dominant understanding of the Church.

«Communio» does not so much contradict this notion as transform it, emphasizing the initiative of God, who established and maintains the unity of the Church through Jesus Christ with the cooperation of his mother Mary, whose fiat made her person the first home of God on earth — hence the basic «figure» of the Church.

The notion of the Church as «communio» thus contrasts with the notion of the Church as «congregatio.» While «communio» emphasizes the nature of the Church as a gift from God, established «from above,» «congregatio» indicates a community that comes to be «from below,» by virtue of the decision of the individual wills of the community, in the manner of a democratic body.

This theocentric understanding of the Church as the sacrament of Christ’s love has been an abiding feature of Cardinal Ratzinger’s life. I think one can safely say that ecclesiology has always been at the center of his theological concerns, and was already indicated in his significant work at the Council itself, though he was only in his mid-30s at the time.

Q: How is «communio» the core from which the life of the Church unfolds, as Cardinal Ratzinger has said?

Schindler: The communion of persons that makes up the Church is an icon of the divine Trinitarian communion of Persons. The life of the Church is drawn intrinsically from the life of God, in and through Christ and the promise of his abiding, vivifying presence in the Church.

The Church springs from the bosom of the Trinity, from the life of divine love, revealed in and through Christ by means of the loving obedience of Mary’s fiat.

Q: What is Communio’s relationship to Vatican II?

Schindler: Communio was founded for the purpose of assisting in the ecclesial and cultural renewal called for by the Council. The intention has been not only to articulate and develop the true meaning of the Council, but also to assist in generating the «civilization of love» desired by the Council.

The journal’s basic aim in this context is to show how the theological and spiritual riches of the Church’s magisterial tradition enable us to meet squarely the grave problems of contemporary culture, and to sustain hope in the face of these problems.

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