A cavalcade through the centuries, for one who wishes to understand the world and the Church today, is how the new volume can be summarized. Published by LEV, the Vatican publishing house, the book brings together Cardinal Walter Brandmueller’s writings, published in L’Osservatore Romano in the last decades.
Eloquent Events: The Action of the Church in History is the title of the book in which the cardinal, longtime president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, roams through pontificates, councils, excommunications and conclaves, to delineate the face and mission of the Church and to reflect on “the concrete reality” rather than just common ideas about her.
The Bavarian Cardinal explained this further in this interview with ZENIT. At 85, prudent and reserved, Cardinal Brandmueller did not wish to speak of his university colleague Joseph Ratzinger – because “he is still alive and I respect him”. Even less so did he wish to express a judgment on the pontificate of his Successor, Francis, because – he said – “I am an historian and I speak of the past, not of the present or the future.” And, in fact, on history and the past, the cardinal has so much to say, to bring to light and to remember, beginning with Vatican Council II whose “badly interpreted” teachings are still far from being implemented. Following is a translation of the interview.
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ZENIT: Your Eminence, tell us about your book — what are the “eloquent events” of which the title of the book speaks?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: There are so many: the relation between the Church and art, the presence of John Hus at the Council of Costanza, Martin Luther’s visit to Rome in 1510 at the Council of Trent, the relation between Galileo Galilei and the Church; but also the role of the Catholic Church in Communist Germany, that of the German Pontiffs, and so forth.
ZENIT: Of what use today is this trip, through the centuries of the Church’s history?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: I think that, in our times, this book might have little success. The interest of the majority today, also in directive environments of the Church, is orientated to the present, or better, to the future. “Yes – it is said – we must study ecclesiastical history,” but there aren’t many who consider the urgency of this discipline. Instead, there are so many who hold that it is “a dealer in antiquity,” that keeps curiosity, recounts edifying episodes, sometimes also scandalous and amusing ones but, all together, of little use to resolve the problems of today. Isn’t it true that many say this? This thought is symptomatic of those widely spread philosophical heresies, such as utilitarianism and pragmatism, which are truly destructive intellectual currents, especially when they invade theological thought and the pastoral approach
ZENIT: In the book’s Introduction you write: “He who knows the concrete past of the Church perceives the vital reality …” Can certain problems, certain challenges or, if we wish, lacuna of the Church today, therefore be resolved in light of the past?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: Absolutely. In the course of the centuries, the Church acts, realizes her own being. When all is said and done, we cannot know the nature of a thing but through its action. Therefore, the nature of the Church also is not known by not considering her action in the course of history.
ZENIT: Have you singled out, in your studies, a guiding thread in all these centuries?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: The guiding thread is always the same: the genuine mission of the Church, or the authentic transmission of the truth of the Gospel and of Christ’s grace to humanity of all centuries through the Sacraments. The way the Church caries out her mission can be studied by taking seriously the results of historical research.
ZENIT: And what does historical research say? Has the Church always fulfilled her mission to the end?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: Always more or less! (laughs). It isn’t an homogenous course. There are moments of great religious benefits, but many other periods of decadence. Such is life …
ZENIT: According to your “historical” eye, what moment is the present, under Francis’ pontificate, for the universal Catholic Church?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: Precisely because I am an historian, I am concerned with the past, not the present. Everything is in movement now, everything is open … It will be for my colleagues of the coming century to give a judgment.
ZENIT: Taking a step back and concentrating on the last 50 years since Vatican Council II, how can this crucial half century be described for the life of the Church?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: (Laughs) There are so many things to say … In the book there is a study of mine which focuses in particular on the post-conciliar conflicts of interpretation. Decades, certainly many [years] – too many – moved by problems that to a great extent still await a resolution.
ZENIT: Is it also the fault of the “Council of the Media,” of which Benedict XVI spoke?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: Yes, also, but it isn’t a distinctive trait of the Vatican. During Vatican Council I the newspapers of the time also reported inexact news and played an important role.
ZENIT: What, then, is the cause of these distortions of the conciliar teachings?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: They are due, perhaps, to a false concept of what the Church is. If the Church defines herself as the mystical Christ present in history, a human-divine reality, a Council is certainly interpreted differently. An Ecumenical Council, such as Vatican II, is the implementation of the supreme Magisterium of the Church, whose documents are of decisive value for the Church. Many, instead, have always considered it, recounted it and interpreted it only as an historical, human, sociological, political reality and so on.
ZENIT: Are fifty years, therefore, not yet enough to understand and implement the conciliar teachings?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: No. Vatican Council II is still far from being realized in the life of the Church. It is still necessary to study the documents in a more profound way and then mplement them.
ZENIT: In your opinion, is the theory plausible that Francis could convoke a Vatican Council III?
–Cardinal Brandmuller: Everything is possible, but I don’t think so … In any case, we are not speaking of the future. As I mentioned to you, I am an historian, I prefer to speak of the past.