Friday, September 2, 2011

Joseph Ratzinger in Communio, Volume 1: The Unity of the Church

By Pope Benedict XVI, Eerdmans, 202 pages.

Readers get vintage Joseph Ratzinger in this volume, as the then-cardinal fought a rapidly secularizing culture that was, after Vatican II, deeply influencing the Church itself. The "People of God," which Ratzinger shows to have its origins well before the 1960s, had transformed into the spearhead idea for the democratization of the Church.

Ratzinger dismisses this idea repeatedly, asserting that the Church does not get its mission or theology from the people, but from Christ. Jesus is the founder, head, and main actor of the Church.

The author is at his best when pinpointing the erroneous ways of thinking that were making their way into the Church from the outside. He is equally magnificent at discussing why certain views err. The democratic view of Church and theology has its roots in the social science view of theology and Church.

The 1970s and 80s were hotbed years for the sociological view of the Church. Notions like "rights," "experience," and "empowerment" were more important than truth, tradition, and the deposit of the faith.

Ratzinger notes that sociology throws much of Church teaching, perhaps the Church in its real nature, into doubt: "such a shift [towards a sociological viewpoint] certainly does not bring us to the kernel of the New Testament, that is, to what alone justifies the very existence of Christendom: faith in truth disclosing itself."

Sociologists tend to place the highest sovereignty in the people. This idea made many Catholic thinkers and churchgoers anti-hierarchical, readily questioning the opinions and rules given by the hierarchy. Perhaps this was a cleansing period, since theologians like Ratzinger were forced to articulate the whys and hows of the hierarchy and magisterium to skeptical audiences both within and outside of the Church.

Thus Ratzinger often goes against the grain of popular thinking, even popular thinking within the very hierarchy of the Catholic Church. As prefect of the CDF he was forced to put the brakes on certain ecumenical endeavors. Yet his reasoning points to a more mature, truth-oriented goal:

"The true chance for ecumenism does not lie in revolt against the Church as it is, in a Christianity as free of the Church as possible, but in a deepening of the reality which is the Church." The social scientist theologians of the 1970s and 80s were seeking feel-good solutions to Christian disunity, whereas Ratzinger was seeking the truth.

Regarding liturgy, a central concern of the current pontiff, he points in these writings to a sociological watering down of the truth. He notes that creativity and originality came to be the defining characteristic of liturgical prayer and music after Vatican II. The priest always had to add an original, creative spin to the prayers at Mass, and music was judged by how contemporary it was rather than how timeless and representative of the truth it could be.

In all of this Ratzinger smelled the true thinking of the sociologists, even the Catholic ones. They strongly disliked the Church because they saw it as an "institution," which in the rebellious days of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, was something to oppose.

The pages of Joseph Ratzinger in Communio offer readers a deeply fulfilling view of the Church.

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