Luther and the unity of the churches: an interview with (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Nevertheless, it is true that agreement among exegetes is capable of surmounting antiquated contradictions and of revealing their secondary character. It can create new avenues of dialogue for all the great themes of intra-Christian controversy: Scripture, tradition, magisterium, the papacy, the eucharist, and so on. It is in this sense that there is, indeed, hope even for a church which undergoes the afore-mentioned turmoil. However, the actual solutions which aim for deeper assurance and unity than merely that of scholarly hypotheses cannot proceed from there alone. On the contrary, wherever there develops a total dissociation of Church and exegesis, both become endangered: exegesis turns into mere literary analysis and the church loses her spiritual underpinnings. That is why the interconnection between church and theology is the issue: wherever this unity comes to an end, any other kind of unity will necessarily lose its roots.

Read it carefully and read it all (emphasis mine).

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Church History, Ecclesiology, Ecumenical Relations, Lutheran, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic, Theology

19 comments on “Luther and the unity of the churches: an interview with (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

  1. Athanasius Returns says:

    [blockquote] the interconnection between church and theology is the issue: wherever this unity comes to an end, any other kind of unity will necessarily lose its roots. [/blockquote]

    Canon Harmon, thanks for this. A more timely admonition I do not know. Where for Episcopalians in particular is the tradition of ecclesiastical life to which {now} Pope Benedict XVI refers? When did the unity of church and theology break for ECUSA/TEC? Seems we ought to start at the root. I hope we’ll hear more from you on this, as I am sure your wisdom and scholarship would be of great value to us mere bloggers.

  2. Christoferos says:

    As a good Anglican, I have to say there is a great deal that is wrong in Benedict’s basic assumptions that all tend toward a very self-serving Roman magisterium; also, I have to say there is a great deal that is right in his ecclesiology.

    To answer Athanasius Returns, (although I would neither call my comments in the blogosphere either wisdom or scholarship), the unity of church and theology, for then Cardinal Ratzinger, would have broken down for ECUSA/TEC in the roots of the English Reformation and further still in the American rebellion against divinely established authority. This is not a problem emerging in 1876 (REC breaks away), or the 1970s (pre-APA breaks away), or 2000 (AMiA breaks away) or 2007 (CANA breaks away), or 2008 (whole Dioceses begin breaking away). To take Anglican ecclesiology at all seriously, a serious Catholic of his ilk must first overcome the difficulty of keeping a straight face.

    That is why I found it so ridiculous when apostate Episcopal bishops were appealing to Nicene ecclesiology from the other side of the Reformation, as would all Roman Catholics. To make the no-boundary-crossing appeal to Nicea, one would have to first report to the nearest Roman Catholic or Orthodox bishop and submit to his (no need to say his OR her) authority.

    So at its outset, the PROTESTANT Episcopal Church USA is in violation of the most basic aspects of now-Benedict’s opinions on the matter simply by existing as a jurisdiction outside of Roman ecclesiological occupation.

    So when did the unity of church and theology break for ECUSA/TEC for then-Ratzinger-now-Holy Father? When Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England.

    What I have trouble keeping my own straight face about is the blatant and willful disregard for the embarrasing (to the Roman Catholic, especially a now-Pope) state of the Papacy in the 16th century. To suggest that the Reformation would have taken a different course if some theological points made by Catholics at the time had been more widely publish is either a blatant disregard for history (most likely where he is concerned), or it is a betrayal of astonishing ignorance (less likely where he is concerned). Roman Catholic priests at the time of the Reformation were trying to keep the Scriptures out of the hands of ordinary people, not because of some high regard for ecclesiology, but rather because they feared that its contents would undermine the bureaucratic system they had manufactured, which now-Pope Benedict refers to as “the Church,” and to which he astonishingly believes St. John to have referred in recording Jesus’ prayer to the Father for unity. For the Reformation Anglican such as I am, one who is trying to embrace the theological concept of catholicity and communion in addition to reformed theology, it is very, very difficult to treat this piece with anything but amused incredulity.

    The greatest threat to unity right now is a unity of the sort that Benedict rightly refers to as a new Babel. That sort of unity is what TEC/ECUSA is now arguing to be the sort of unity for which Jesus was praying. I find them both to be of the same ilk however: “we don’t have to agree on everything, but above all you MUST submit to our imperial authority.” I prefer a an Anglican hierarchy: the collective, Spirit-filled reasoning of the universal Church today must be humble before the traditional interpretation of the Scriptures by the Church that has gone before, which in turn must be humble before the Scriptures themselves.

    The manufactured hierarchy, and the acrobatics to justify itself, of Roman ecclesiology reached the zenith of its corruption in the early 16th century, provoking the Reformation. The only reason the Roman Catholic church has any intelligibility at all is because they have had to become biblically literate enough to respond to the Reformation for the last nearly 500 years. The priests and monks at that time believed the Scriptures to be a vile danger. The pope at that time was selling indulgences because he wanted to build St. Peter’s. They burned anyone who threatened them at the stake. Works of love in addition to faith and hope? I think not.

    At least now successive popes are actually acquainted with the contents of Scripture. This is quite a coup for the Reformation, so let’s us outside the jurisdiction of the “one true expression of God’s Church on earth” keep up the good work.

  3. Paula Loughlin says:

    Christeforos,
    The good news is that the Popes no longer beat their wives.
    Truly there is so much villification in your post. I am sick at heart reading it. But it is this statement that truly leaves shaking my head. “The only reason the Roman Catholic church has any intelligibility at all is because they have had to become biblically literate enough to respond to the Reformation for the last nearly 500 years. ”
    How does one respond to this? Wm Tighe help!

  4. rob k says:

    Paula – I, an Anglican, am embarrassed by no. 2.

  5. Paula Loughlin says:

    Thanks rob k,
    It just stinks knowing I have to ante up the cash to get my whore of babylon dress from the dry cleaners.

    I don’t know if Catholics and Protestants will ever truly reunite. It is not something that keeps me awake at night. I am honest enough to admit for many person Catholic beliefs and practices would be a hinder to their life in Christ. That to me comes first. If having to say one believes in Purgatory means it sows doubt in your heart about faith in God. It is just plain not meant you believe it. God has and still does turn something that could be bad and has used it for good.

    Perhaps without the Reformation even more people would have lost faith as the secular age took hold. Maybe instead of a Church or churches battling eternal strifes and being nibbled to death by ducks. We have a place that most closely practices and teaches which brings us closer to Christ.

    The strife in the TEC saddens me, because for the members to find peace I honestly believe there must be separation. Deciding and working for how that separation is going to happen and building the churches for the refugees takes time. Time I know many of you don’t have. It must be hearbreaking to not have a home.

    God bless.

  6. Dr. William Tighe says:

    Hic et ubique, Paula. Actually, “Christoferos” rather amusingly falls into the pit which he thinks he has dug for BXVI, when he writes of “a blatant disregard for history (most likely where he is concerned)” and then goes on to write “Roman Catholic priests at the time of the Reformation were trying to keep the Scriptures out of the hands of ordinary people, not because of some high regard for ecclesiology, but rather because they feared that its contents would undermine the bureaucratic system they had manufactured, which now-Pope Benedict refers to as “the Church,” and to which he astonishingly believes St. John to have referred in recording Jesus’ prayer to the Father for unity.” Does he have any evidence for this, or is it merely his own dark speculations? About a hundred years before the Reformation the most noted German preacher of his day, Geilo von Kaisersberg, observed that “giving a man the Scriptures and bidding him to read and interpret it for himself is like giving a two-year-old child a knife and letting him play with it.” Given the actual events of the Reformation, and the subsequent proliferation of “Bible-based” Protestant groups, my sympathies are wholly with Geilo (and, indeed, Martin Luther himself came to believe by the 1530s that “common men” ought not to read the Scriptures as a whole, as they would inevitably be misled by sectaries and enthusiasts — further demonstrating the prescience and accuracy of Geilo’s observation). On the contrary, there is no evidence whatsoever that even the most corrupt of “Roman” popes and prelates were consciously defending “the bureaucratic system that they had manufactured;” rather, they thought that they were defending “the Church.” Indeed, “Christoferos” is simply recycling old Protestant objections to Catholicism, without realizing (and here is his own “blatant disregard for history”) that the contentions of those Reformers and their defenders who interested themselves in history and sought to prove (a) that “Roman errors” were a relatively late-arriving corruption of “apostolic Christianity” (whether “late-arriving” is to be defined as ca. 600 AD with many main-line Protestant apologists, or at the time of Constantine [ca. 315 AD] or even right after the death of the Apostle John [ca. 100 AD]) and (b) that the “apostolic church” professed “the Gospel” of *sola fide* *sola Scriptura* and either an invisible or a visible divisible Church, cannot be sustained, as they are both contradicted by all that we know of the apostolic and subapostolic Church of the first two centuries.

    The essay by Ratzinger which is linked in this posting first appeared in English in his *Church, Ecumenism, Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology* which was published by Continuum/Crossroads in 1988 (and in the UK some years later by St. Paul’s Press). This has long been out of print, but around Christmas last year I saw a notice that the work was to be reissued by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) in march or April of this year. The same book also contains a more scholarly essay on Luther, as well as an absolutely brilliant (and brilliantly understated) essay critique of Anglicanism, in the context of the difficulties for the “Catholic side” in any dialogue with Anglicans in understanding who can speak with authority for what Anglicanism is and is not, particularly with regard to whether a “Catholic interpretation” of Anglican formularies can be regarded as authoritative for Anglicans, or not; or whether all Anglican formularies are “moving targets” that can never be pinned down to a fixed meaning.

    If Ignatius Press has indeed published the book, I would urge you to search it out; the essay alone in it on “The Martyrological Structure of the Papal Primacy” (an essay which makes abundant use of the writings on Church unity of Reginald, Cardinal Pole, who died as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1558) makes its price worthwhile (even if the articles in the section on politics seem a bit outdated, focussing as many of them do on Marxism and neo-Marxian liberalism; but even there they are relevant in the light of the growth of a practically atheistic “humanism” as the dominant paradigm in the West, especially in Europe — a paradigm into which both TEC and the white and Anglophone Anglican churches seem to be investing, to the point of constituting themselves its “chaplains” and religious advocates).

  7. Words Matter says:

    [i]any intelligibility at all is because they have had to become biblically literate [/i]

    And yet remain Roman Catholic! Amazing.

    [i]as they would inevitably be misled by sectaries and enthusiasts[/i]

    A correct prediction, as it turns out.

    And finally, if I remember correctly, translations of the scriptures were available in print before the reformation, with complete Church approval. Not whole bibles, but then, most people didn’t read and print was something of a luxury.

  8. vulcanhammer says:

    Looks to me like His Holiness’ bedtime reading is Bossuet’s [url=http://books.google.com/books?id=vigRAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA18&lpg=RA1-PA18&dq=history+of+the+variations+of+the+protestant+churches&source=web&ots=HL_EwXnrKt&sig=NtDMUfpC_9U_N1oxTbohghoGwHQ&hl=en]History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches[/url].

  9. Dr. William Tighe says:

    I may be mistaken in this, but I think that the only European country (or language) in which translations of the Bible into English were forbidden was England (maybe perhaps Scotland also), and that because of Lollardy. I think that numerous translations, at least of some parts of the Bible, circulated in French and German, and probably languages such as Castilian, Catalan and possibly Italian as well.

  10. Dr. William Tighe says:

    Re: #8

    And fine reading, albeit limited and outdated, it would be, too — but I doubt that HH has anything to learn from Bossuet that his own experience and scholarly activities would not already have taught him!

  11. Dr. William Tighe says:

    Here is the book:

    http://www.ignatius.com/ViewProduct.aspx?SID=1&Product_ID=3273&AFID=42

    it is to be published in April 2008

  12. Words Matter says:

    Dr. Tighe,

    I was thinking that in [i]The Stripping of the Altars[/i], Professor Duffy talks about devotional books of scripture texts that circulated in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Or perhaps Prof. Haigh wrote about that in [i]English Reformations[/i]? Am I remembering wrong?

  13. Dr. William Tighe says:

    It’s in both books, but a lot more in Duffy’s.

  14. Words Matter says:

    Ok, so there were texts of scripture in England in Catholic England. Not whole bibles, perhaps, but as I said above, literacy wasn’t then what it is now.

  15. Paula Loughlin says:

    Thank you Dr. Tighe.

  16. Christoferos says:

    Rob k, sorry you are embarrassed. I did overstate the case there at the end…. but at least the thread became more interesting as a result…

    Dr. Tighe and Paula,

    I had not intended to vilify anyone but the villains of the 16th century who were burning people left and right for having and distributing the Scriptures. Surely you are not defending the popes of the 16th century for burning people at the stake for simply promulgating the contents of Scripture and the kerygma? I don’t think it betrays an ignorance of history to find that indefensible…. Dr. Tighe, since you have more letters after your name, you’ll have to be more specific for this dense Reformation Anglican as to how I have fallen into a pit. Could you please throw me a life-line instead of just passing by on the other side? I’d be happy to swim the Tiber if you can reach me with argument. I do not defend Protestant persecution of Catholics, and if anything I wrote conjured that historical memory, I am sorry.

    However, I have not tired of investigating the actual history of the English Reformation yet…. perhaps you have not ever heard of Thomas Garrett, and perhaps you believe Cardinal Wolsey to have simply been a good steward of the Apostles’ teaching? Perhaps you do not remember the stories of Latimer and Ridley? Cranmer? Did you remember why he was burned at the stake? Did you agree with the 16th Century Roman Catholic hierarchy’s behavior? Was all of that justifiable to prevent the common man from reading the Scriptures without the helpful assistance of a Catholic priest? Would they all have recanted if they had had been given reasons to their mind, extra information at the last minute, just before the Catholic Church, extending what Benedict calls the missing piece of Protestantism, its “love,” by burning them at the stake?

    And what of orders to arrest John Clark, John Fryth, Henry Sumner, William Betts, Richard Taverner, Richard Cox, Michael Drumm, Godfrey Harman, Thomas Lawney, Radly, Udal, Diet, Goodman, William Bayley, Robert Ferrar, John Salisbury of Gloucester from Wolsey?

    Is this rehearsal of history making you tired?

  17. Dr. William Tighe says:

    “Is this rehearsal of history making you tired?”

    Not really. I am sorry that they were burnt — just as I am sorry that 5 Anabpatists or anti-Trinitarians were burnt in Elizabeth I’s reign, or 2 in James I reign; but such were the times. And yet I account them for the most part as heretics who were justly excommunicated for erroneous beliefs.

  18. Paula Loughlin says:

    It is an historical fact that heresy was regarded as a crime against the State. Both under Catholic and Protestant rulers. The Pope did not burn anyone. I would not want live under 16th century legal conditions, either religious or secular for all the tea in Ceylon. It was a brutal, unforgiving, harsh, intolerant, nasty time to be the subject of any legal attention.

    And as Dr. Tighe has pointed out when Protestants were the ruling party they hardly broke out the comfy pillow in dealing with heretics.
    It was never reading the Bible per se that was the great crime. It was the publication and possession of unauthorized translations. Does that mean I think it should have been a crime? No, but that is not the same as anyone having a Bible being persecuted and burnt at the stake.

    We have a hard time understanding the passion that ignited the wars between Catholics and Protestants, whether it be France, England, Germany or Switzerland. Each of these countries saw the rise of rival faiths not only as a religious matter but as a threat to the good order of the State. It was that era’s equivalent to our war on terror.

    I no more blame Calvin’s Geneva on modern Protestants than I blame St Bart’s massacre on modern Catholics. Both are not arguments agains Christianity but against state religions and state power being centered in one man, whether King or Pastor

    Also as Christians let us pray for the religious martyrs of today instead of letting the sins of yesterday harden our hearts today.

  19. Words Matter says:

    [i]understanding the passion that ignited the wars[/i]

    It helps to remember that before the past 200-300 years, religion was a constituent factor in a community’s identity. To deny the religion was treason against the community.

    Saints Thomas More and +John Fisher pray for us.