Easter according to Joseph Ratzinger
Easter Vigil, Saint Peter Basilica. The largest church in Christendom is in the dark for the start of the service to signify the darkness in Jesus’ tomb before what Christians believe was his resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Then, the some 10,000 faithful in the basilica lit candles as the pope moved up the central aisle on a wheeled platform he uses to conserve his strength and then the basilica’s lights were turned on when he reached the main altar.
The Pope speaks of darkness and light. «The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil». «The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general». «If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk». «Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?» «With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify».
Jesus came to illuminate the world. But it seems that the whole Church is living in darkness. The darkness is made up also by those who disobey the Church, who confuse the renovation with the disobedience, who – maybe unconsciously, probably consciously – break the Union of the Church. Benedict XVI remembered it during the Chrism Mass, on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday is the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, and the Pope uses the occasion to ask all priests, including himself, to meditate upon what their consecration really means. The Pope asked: «Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him», which entails a renunciation of oneself and «of the much-vaunted self-fulfillment»? Being Christ-like means not to be served but to serve, not taking but giving, he said. If that is the nature of the priesthood, then what should be the response of priests when faced with «the often dramatic situation of the Church today». Then, without specifying the country, Pope Benedict said a group of priests from a European nation have issued a call for disobedience of Church teaching, specifically regarding the question of women’s ordination.
Last year the president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, condemned a «Call to Disobedience», signed by 250 of Austria’s 4,200 Catholic priests. The document urged Catholics to begin a campaign in support of women priests and «priestless Eucharistic liturgies», as well as for Communion to be given to non-Catholics and remarried divorcees. Also, 311 theologians from Austria, Germany and Switzerland signed a memorandum last year demanding the ordination of women and married men, as well as an «open dialogue» on the Church’s «structures of power and communication».
Pope Benedict asked: «Is disobedience a path of renewal for the church?». Then, he added hat Blessed John Paul II taught «irrevocably that the church has received no authority from the Lord» to ordain women. Pope Benedict said perhaps such campaigns are motivated by concern for the Church and believe that «the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and bring the church up-to-date». «But – the Pope then asked – is disobedience really a way to do this?». And the Pope concluded that true renewal must be based on lives that are radically conformed to Christ and God’s will.
The search for Jesus was topical in Joseph Ratzinger’s research. This is the reason why, to crown in a proper manner a brilliant career as theologian, Ratzinger thought that he had to write a book about the ‘historical’ Jesus according to Gospels. Once he had been elected Pope, the plan did not change. He already published two parts of his work (the uprising will be about the Gospel of the Infancy). The second part of Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is about Holy Week: from the Entrance to Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Re-reading some extracts of the book is a way to have an accurate picture of this Pontificate and of its guidelines.
The coena Domini according to Joseph Ratzinger
«The breach of friendship extends into the sacramental community of the Church, where people continue to take ‘his bread’ and to betray him. Jesus agony, his struggle against death, continues until the end of the world, as Blaise Pascal said on the basis of similar considerations. We can also put it in the other way around: at this hour, Jesus took upon himself the betrayal of all ages, the pain cause by betrayal in every era, and he endured the anguish of history to the bitter end».
Last Supper. Judas is going to betray Jesus. How many times the Church has been betrayed? How many times the Benedict XVI’s Pontificate itself has been «stabbed» in the back? Some example: during the first months of the Benedict XVI’s pontificate, the translations of his speeches and lectios were delivered in considerable late. Then, an entire – and relevant – part of his magisterium has been kept hidden, since it has not been covered by media. The same medias highlight the “utter chatters” of several «Judas» that break the friendship, and whose breach extends into the sacramental community of the Church. This is the deep reason of Confession. Benedict XVI explained it when he went to visit the prison of Rebibbia, in Rome. Giovanni, one of the prisoners, asked the Pope why he would need to be absolved for his sins by a priest. «If I think I badly behaved – I made people suffer – and I get on my knees in the front of God, and I beg for His forgiveness, would he absolve me? » Benedict XVI answered that, yes, God would absolve him, but that the sin does not only deal with a «vertical dimension, it is not just about the relationship with God. Sin also has an horizontal, social dimension. If I make sins – even if I am not aware of it – I also damage the community of the faithful. So, the sin is not only personal, but it also deals with society. This is the reason why I need absolution».
It is the same absolution Judas is not able to reach for. If anything, because he does not think that he could eventually be forgiven. «His second tragedy, after the betrayal – Ratzinger writes – is that he can no longer believe in forgiveness. His remorse turns into despair. Now he sees only himself and his darkness; he no longer sees the light of Jesus, which can illumine and overcome the darkness. He shows us the wrong type of remorse: the type that is unable to hope, that sees only its own darkness, the type that is destructive and in no way authentic».
How can a Catholic be like Judas? The Gospel of John – Ratzinger notices – «does not offer any psychological interpretation of Judas’ conduct. The only clue he gives is a hint that Judas had helped himself to the contents of the disciples’ money box, of which he had charge (12:6). In the context we are interested about, the evangelist merely says laconically: “Then, after the morsel, Satan entered into him” (13:27)»
In summary, for John «what happened to Judas is beyond psychological explanation. He has come under the dominion of another. Anyone who breaks off friendship with Jesus, casting off his ‘easy joke’, does not attain liberty, does not become free, but succumbs to other powers. To put it another way, he betrays this friendship because he is in the grip of another power to which he has opened himself”».
The liberty Ratzinger is writing about come only from being disciples of Jesus, as he also underlined during the Chrism Mass on the last Good Thursday. This thought is at the basis of Joseph Ratzinger’s Papal Magisterium. And this Magisterium has a specific goal: to turn back the man to God.
Pilate according to Joseph Ratzinger
Who was Pontius Pilate? Only the Gospel of Johh tells about the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. Only John deeply depicts who was Pilate. Who is Pontius Pilate? Everyone of us can be Pontius Pilate, Joseph Ratzinger explains in his Jesus of Nazaret. Benedict XVI also talked about Pilate in the homily in Plaza de la Revoluciòn at La Habana, Cuba. In the Passion according to Joseph Ratzinger, the “character” of Pilate is also a paradigm of our times.
«The image of Pilate in the gospels – Benedict XVI writes – presents the Roman Prefect quite realistically as a man who could be brutal when he judged this to be in the interest of the public order. Yet he also knew that Rome owed its world dominance not least to its tolerance of foreign divinities and to the capacity of Roman law to build peace. This is how he come across us during Jesus’ trial».
Pragmatic, conscious that the Roman dominance was also owed to the Roman tolerance of different faiths, surprised that Jews – i.e. the aristocracy of the Temple – presented to him as friends of Rome asking for his intervention (an intervention he did not deem necessary, since he knew that Jesus was not a revolutionary leader), Pilate probably considered Jesus as a religious fanatic, maybe a violator of Judaic principles – which he was not interested about.
Here is Jesus in the front of Pilate. «So, are you a king?»; Pilate asks. And Jesus answers: «You do say it. I am a king». But the Jesus’ kingship – Jesus has said previously – «is not of this world. If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not handed over to the Jews».
«This ‘confession’ of Jesus – Ratzinger writes – places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accused claims kingship and kingdom (basileìa). Yet he underlines the complete otherness of this kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: no one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus’ case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order».
Which are the Jesus’ kingship characteristic? «This kingdom – the Pope writes – is powerless. It has no legion. With these words Jesus created a thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom, and he held it up to Pilate, the representative of classical wordly power». Jesus goes over: to make the essence and the particular character of the power of this kingship, he does not speaks about authority, but he bears witness to the truth is the essence of his regality.
«What is truth?» The pragmatic Pilate’s question remain unanswered. It is a topical question in political argument and in discussion of foundations of the law. «It is – the Pope writes – the question that is also asked by modern political theory: can politics accept truth in a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular tradition that in reality are merely forms of holding on the power? What would be a world without truth?»
Yet, Pilate dismiss this question as unanswerable. In the course of his conversation with Jesus, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus is not a rebel, and his message and his activities pose no threat for the Roman rules. Pilate still fears that perhaps there is something really divine in Jesus. Jews play off one fear against another and – Ratzinger writes – «they appeal to the entire practical fear of forfeiting the emperor’s power, being removed from office, and thus plunging into a downward spiral. The declaration: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (Jn 19:12) is a threat».
Cooperatores veritatis (coworkers in truth) is the episcopal motto that Joseph Ratzinger chose. Truth divides, brings dissensions and difficulties. After revoking the excommunication to four lefevbrist bishops, Benedict XVI is attacked from the flak of the same bishops of Catholic Church. So he decides to write a letter to bishops, in the one he explains why some lack of thought happened, but he complains of his brothers ready «to bite and devour».
Was writing that letter the right thing to do, since it brought even more critics? Benedict XVI could have preferred peace, like Pontius Pilate did. Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus was not a rebel. He knew the truth. But in the end «the concern for career proves stronger than fear for divine powers».
Resurrection according to Joseph Ratzinger
«Jesus has not returned to a normal human life in this world like Lazarus and the other whom Jesus raised from the dead. He has entered upon a different life, a new life – he has entered the vast breadth of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers».
Benedict XVI dedicated himself for months to the chapter about the Resurrection of Jesus. Resurrection is the key of Christianity. It is the entrance upon the vast breadth of God. Joseph Ratzinger’s thought is condensed in his words about Resurrection. Christianity is condensed in Resurrections.
Resurrection is something completely new, and Christian can only astonish about it. «For the disciples, too – Ratzinger writes – this was something utterly unexpected, to which they were only slowly able to adjust. Jewish faith indeed know about a resurrection of the dead at the end of time. New life was linked to the inbreaking of a new world and thus made complete sense. If there is a new world, then there is also a new mode of life there. But a resurrection into definitive otherness in the midst of the continuing old world was not foreseen and therefore at first made no sense. So the promise of resurrection remained initially unintelligible for the disciples».
Jesus makes everything new. Nobody had thought of a crucified Messiah, and «the fact was there – Ratzinger writes – and it was necessary, on the basis of that fact, to take a fresh look at Scripture». It is the process of theology that developed in all the eras. Theology – and Ratzinger knows it – is nothing more than the – always perfectible – try to tell the mystery of Jesus. This is the reason why the Pope let the magisterium loose from his books on Jseus of Nazareth.
The announcement of the novelty of the Gospel is topical for the Benedict XVI’s magisterium. Scripture yielded new insights in the light of the unexpected turn of events. «The new reading of the Scripture – Ratzinger writes – could begin only after the Resurrection, because it was only through Resurrection that Jesus was accredited as the one sent by God. Now people had to search the Scripture for both Cross and Resurrection, so as to understand them in a new way and thereby come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. This also presupposes the fact that for the disciples Resurrection was just as real as the Cross. It presupposes that they were simply overwhelmed by the reality that, after their initial hesitation and astonishment, they could no longer ignore reality. It is truly he. He is alive; he has spoken to us; he has allowed us to touch him, even if he no longer belongs to the realm of the tangible in the normal way».
One can interpret not only the Benedict XVI’s Papal magisterium, but even the extraordinary adventure of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, as a search for the key to understand the mystery of resurrection and to interpret it through times, people and Church of today. This search began at the times of his thesis for certification to teach theology on Saint Bonaventure’s theology of history.
It was the times of Joachim of Fiore. In his works, he affirmed a Trinitarian rhythm of history. He considered the Old Testament as the age of the Father, followed by the time of the Son, the time of the Church. To be awaited yet was the third age, that of the Holy Spirit. Where did the hope for the arousal of a new time comes from? The answer of Joachim of Fiore is that it would come a new monasticism. In his view, St. Francis of Assisi was the initiator of the new time and in his order the community of the new period –- the community of the time of the Holy Spirit, which left behind it the hierarchical Church, to begin a new Church of the Spirit, no longer connected to the old structures. There was, hence, the risk of a very serious misunderstanding of the message of St. Francis, of his humble fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church, and such a mistake implied an erroneous vision of Christianity as a whole.
Bonaventure – Benedict XVI said in the 10 march 2010 general audience – addressed the problem. He knew that St. Francis and the new community he created, so different from the monasticism known up to then, called for a new interpretation; he understood that there was the practical need of structures and of insertion in the reality of the hierarchical Church, of the real Church, needed a theological foundation, also because the others, those who followed the spiritualist conception, showed an apparent theological foundation: he knows that – although taking into account the necessary realism – it was not necessary to lose the novelty of the figure of St. Francis”.
Bonaventure harmonized the positions: he remembers that Jesus Christ is the last word of God, in him God has said all, giving and expressing himself -, but at the same time he underlines that Church is not immobile, fixed in the past and that novelties cannot be exercised in her. “Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt,” the works of Christ do not go backward, do not fail, but progress, says the saint in the letter De tribus quaestionibus. Christ is not the end of history. He is the center of history.
Bonaventure’s method – he harmonizes the novelty with Christ, the rebuilding with the adherence to Church, the fathers of the Church with modernity – is at the basis of Joseph Ratzinger’s method. From there, the extraordinary adventure of Pope Benedict XVI began.
Toward the year of Faith
And adventure that lead him to proclaim a Year of Faith, whose climax will be a public profession Credo of the people of God that religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new are called to do (as indicated in the apostolic letter Porta Fidei). Benedict XVI explained what the deep sense of the Year of Faith in the homily of the Chrism Mass, on Good Thursday.
«The Year of Faith – he said – commemorating the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, should provide us with an occasion to proclaim the message of faith with new enthusiasm and new joy. We find it of course first and foremost in sacred Scripture, which we can never read and ponder enough. Yet at the same time we all experience the need for help in accurately expounding it in the present day, if it is truly to touch our hearts. This help we find first of all in the words of the teaching Church: the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are essential tools which serve as an authentic guide to what the Church believes on the basis of God’s word. And of course this also includes the whole wealth of documents given to us by Pope John Paul II, still far from being fully explored».
Catechism, Church’s documents, prayer: these are the key words for the Year of Faith. These are the key words of the Pontificate. A Pontificate that made of the Gospel its main topic. Ratzinger’s revolution has come. A revolution whose symbol is Jesus of Nazaret, to whom Benedict XVI – not casually – already dedicated two books.
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