Benedict XVI – a Pope of old Christianity

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

Considerations on the theologian Joseph Ratzinger and the Pontiff Benedict XVI

Whenever a Pope dies, the entire ecclesial and world community is moved, as it sees in him the confirmation of the Christian faith and the principle of unity among the various local churches. Many interpretations can be made of the life and actions of a Pontiff. I will make one from Brazil (from Latin America), surely partial and incomplete.

It should be noted that only 23,18% of Catholics live in Europe and 62% in Latin America, the rest in Africa and Asia. The Catholic Church is a Church of the Second and Third World. Future Popes will likely come from these Churches, full of vitality and with new styles of incarnating the Christian message in non-Western cultures.

With reference to Benedict XVI, it is convenient to distinguish the theologian Joseph Ratzinger and the Pontiff Benedict XVI.

 

the theologian

Joseph Alois Ratzinger is a typical Central European intellectual and theologian, brilliant and erudite. He is not a creator, but an excellent expositor of the official theology. This came through clearly in the various public dialogues he had with atheists and agnostics.

It did not introduce new visions, but gave another language to the already traditional ones, especially founded in Saint Augustine and Saint Bonaventure. Perhaps something new is his proposition of the Church as a small, highly faithful and holy group as the "representation" of the whole. The number of the faithful was not important to him. The small, highly spiritual group that stands in for everyone was enough. It so happens that within this group of pure and holy there were pedophiles and people involved in financial scandals, which demoralized their understanding of representation..

Another singular position, the subject of an endless polemic with me, but which gained resonance in the Church, was the interpretation that the “Catholic Church is the only Church of Christ”. Conciliar discussions and the ecumenical spirit changed “is” to “subsists”. In this way, a way was opened for the Church of Christ to “subsist” in other Churches. Joseph Alois Ratzinger always claimed that this change was just another synonym for "is", which the meticulous research of the theological acts of the Council did not confirm. But, he continued to support his thesis. Furthermore, he asserted that the other Churches are not churches, but have only ecclesial elements.

He went so far as to state, several times, that this position of mine had spread among theologians as something common, which led to new criticisms by the Pope. However, he was isolated, as he had caused great disappointment to other Christian churches, such as Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and others, by closing the doors to ecumenical dialogue.

He understood the Church as a kind of fortified castle against the errors of modernity, placing the orthodoxy of faith, always linked to the truth (his tonus firmus), as the main reference. Despite his sober and courteous personal character, he showed himself as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, extremely tough and implacable. About a hundred theologians, the most prominent, were sentenced either to the loss of the chair, or with the ban on teaching and writing theology or, as in my case, with “obsequious silence”

Thus notable names from Europe such as Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeck, Jacques Dupuis, B. Haering, JM Castillo among others. In Latin America, the founder of Liberation Theology, the Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez and the theologian Ivone Gebara were censored, as well as the author of these lines. Others were hit in the US like Charles Curran and R. Haight. Even a deceased theologian from India, Father Anthony de Mello, had his books banned, as well as another Indian Belasurya.

Latin American theologians, disappointed, never finished understanding why the collection “Theology and Liberation”, in 53 volumes, involving dozens of theologians (about 25 volumes were published), which was intended to subsidize seminaries, base ecclesial communities and Christian groups committed to human rights. It was the first time that a major theological work had been produced, outside Europe, with worldwide resonance. But it was soon aborted. Theologian Joseph Ratzinger has shown himself to be an enemy of the friends of the poor. This will go down negatively in the history of theology.

There are many theologians who claim that he was seized by an obsession with Marxism, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He published a paper on liberation theology, Libertatis nuntius (1984), full of warnings, but without explicit condemnation. A later document, Libertatis Conscientia (1986) it highlights its positive elements, but with too many restrictions. We can say that he never understood the centrality of this theology: the “option for the poor against poverty and for liberation”. This made the poor protagonists of their liberation and not mere recipients of charity and paternalism. The latter was the traditional view and that of Pope Benedict XVI. He suspected that there was Marxism within this protagonism of the historical force of the poor.

 

The Pontiff

Benedict XVI, as Pontiff, inaugurated the “Return to great discipline”, with a clear restorative and conservative tendency, to the point of reintroducing the Mass in Latin and with its back to the people. He caused general estrangement in the Church itself when, in the year 2000, he published the document “Dominus Jesus”. There he reaffirms the old medieval doctrine, superseded by the Second Vatican Council, according to which “outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation”. Non-Christians were at grave risk. Again, he denied the designation of “church” to the other Churches, which provoked general irritation. They would only be ecclesial communities. With all his astuteness he polemicized with Muslims, with evangelicals, with women and with the fundamentalist group against Vatican II.

His way of leading the Church was not charismatic like that of John Paul II. He was guided more by orthodoxy and vigilant zeal for the truths of faith than by openness to the world and tenderness towards the Christian people as Pope Francis does.

He was a legitimate representative of the old European Christianity with its pomp and political-religious power. In the perspective of the new phase of planetarization, European culture, rich in all fields, closed itself off. Rarely has it been open to other cultures like the ancient ones in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It never got rid of a certain arrogance of being the best and in the name of that colonized the whole world, a tendency not yet completely overcome.

Despite his limitations, but because of his personal virtues and the humility of having renounced, due to the limits of his strength, the papal office, he will surely count himself among the blessed.

*Leonardo Boff, theologian, philosopher and writer, is a member of the International Earth Charter Commission. Author, among other books, of The search for the right measure: the ambitious fisherman and the enchanted fish (Vozes).

 

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