I thought I would share these words from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about the Papacy, from 1991 , at least 14 years before he was elected pope, and at which time no one, least of all himself, ever thought he would one day become Pope. Much of what he says rings very actual today...
The power of God over human weakness
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
from CALLED TO COMMUNION (1991)
An assertion of Jesus that we must keep in mind even if the Vicar of Christ and Successor of Peter today appears to be the greatest skandalon for the faith.
The context for the above excerpt will be better appreciated in this interview with an American theologian on the book CALLED TO COMMUNION when Ignatius Books, which first published the English edition in 1996, re-issued it in 2005 after its author became Pope…
CALLED TO COMMUNION:
…In order to understand the way in which Peter is a rock, a quality he does not have of himself, it is useful to keep in mind how Matthew continues the narrative. It was not by “flesh and blood” but by the revelation of the Father that he had confessed Christ in the name of the Twelve.
When Jesus subsequently explains the figure and destiny of the Christ in this world, prophesying death and resurrection, it is flesh and blood that respond: Peter “scolds the Lord”: “By no means shall this ever be” (16:22). To which Jesus replies: “Be gone, behind me, Satan; you are a stumbling block (skandalon) for me” (16:23).
Left to his own resources, the one who by God’s grace is permitted to be the bedrock is a stone on the path that makes the foot stumble.
the tension between the gift coming from the Lord and man’s own capacity is rousingly portrayed in this scene, which is some sense anticipates the entire drama of papal history. In this history we repeatedly encounter two situations.
- On the one hand, the papacy remains the foundation of the Church in virtue of a power that does not derive from herself.
- At the same time, individual popes have again and again become a scandal because of what they themselves are as men, because they want to precede, not follow, Christ, because they believe that they must determine by their own logic the path that only Christ himself can decide: “You do not think God’s thoughts, but man’s (Mt 16:23)…
…The Roman primacy is not an invention of the popes, but an essential element of ecclesial unity that goes back to the Lord and was developed faithfully in the nascent Church...
the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure…It depicts the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man’s capacity and God’s sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present.
If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite.
The men in question are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them.
The mystery of the Cross is perhaps nowhere so palpably present as in the primacy as a reality of Church history. That its center is forgiveness is both its intrinsic condition and the sign of the distinctive character of the God’s power…
When the Church adheres to these words in faith, she is not being triumphalistic but humbly recognizing in wonder and thanksgiving the victory of God over and through human weakness.
Whoever deprives these words of their force for fear of triumphalism or of human usurpation of authority does not proclaim that God is greater but diminishes him, since God demonstrates the power of his love, and thus remains faithful to the law of the history of salvation, precisely in the paradox of human impotence.
For with the same realism with which we declare today the sins of the popes and their disproportion to the magnitude of their commission, we must also acknowledge that Peter has repeatedly stood as the rock against ideologies, against the dissolution of the word into the plausibilities of a given time, against subjection to the powers of this world.
When we see this in the facts of history, we are not celebrating men but praising the Lord, who does not abandon the Church and who desired to manifest that he is the rock through Peter, the little stumbling stone: “flesh and blood” do not save, but the Lord saves through those who are of flesh and blood.
To deny this truth is not a plus of faith, not a plus of humility, but is to shrink from the humility that recognizes God as he is. Therefore the Petrine promise and its historical embodiment in Rome remain at the deepest level an ever-renewed motive for joy: the powers of hell will not prevail against it…
primer on ecclesiology
Interview with Fr. Matthew Lamb
Ave Maria University
NAPLES, Florida, JUNE 24, 2005 (Zenit) - When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger released his book "Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today," he called it a primer of Catholic ecclesiology.
In it, the future Benedict XVI outlined the origin and essence of the Church, the role of the papacy and the primacy of Peter, and the Body of Christ's unity and communio
Fr. Matthew Lamb, director of the graduate school of theology and professor of theology at Ave Maria University, shared with us an overview of some of those themes as they appear in Cardinal Ratzinger's book.
What is Cardinal Ratzinger's understanding of the origin and essence of the Church, as outlined in his book?
Reading the book is a feast for mind and heart. At the time of its release, Cardinal Ratzinger called it a "primer of Catholic ecclesiology." As with his other theological writings, this book beautifully recovers for our time the great Catholic tradition of wisdom, of attunement to the "whole" of the Triune God's creative and redemptive presence.
"Catholic" also means living out the "whole" of this divine presence. Such a sapiential approach shows how the New Covenant draws upon and fulfills the covenant with Israel. Israel was chosen and led out of Egypt in order to worship the true and only God and thus witness him to all the nations.
In his preaching, teaching and actions, Jesus Christ fulfilled the messianic promises. At the Last Supper Our Lord initiated the New Covenant in his most sacred Body and Blood. Ratzinger wrote: "Jesus announces the collapse of the old ritual and ... promises a new, higher worship whose center will be his own glorified body."
Jesus announces the eternal Kingdom of God as "the present action of God" in his own divine person incarnate. As the Father sends Jesus Christ, so Jesus in turn sends his apostles and disciples.
The origin of the Church is Jesus Christ who sends the Church forth as the Father sent him. The Apostles and disciples, with their successors down the ages, form the Church as the ecclesia, the gathering of the "people of God."
Drawing upon his own doctoral dissertation on the Church in the theology of St. Augustine, Ratzinger shows that the people of God are what St. Paul calls the "body of Christ."
The essence of the Church is the people of God as the Body of Christ, head and members united by the Holy Spirit in visible communion with the successors of the Apostles, united with the Pope as successor to Peter. The Church continues down the ages the visible and invisible missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit through preaching and teaching, the sanctifying sacraments and the unifying governance of her communion with the successor of Peter.
In "Called to Communion," what were his thoughts on the role of the Pope in the Church?
"You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church ... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven."
In Matthew 16:17-19, these true words of the Lord Jesus transcend confessional polemics. From them Ratzinger brings out the role of the Pope.
Reflecting on the commission given to Peter he sees that he is commissioned to forgive sins. He writes that it is a commission to dispense "the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is the personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon."
What did Cardinal Ratzinger note about the primacy of Peter and the unity of the Church?
He first shows the mission of Peter in the whole of the New Testament tradition. The essence of apostleship is witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus. Ratzinger shows the primacy of Peter in this role, as attested by St. Paul who, even when confronting St. Peter, acknowledges him in First Corinthians 15:5 as "Cephas" -- the Aramaic word for "rock" -- in his witness to the risen Lord.
As such he is the guarantor of the one common Gospel. All the synoptic Gospels agree in giving Peter the primacy in their lists of apostles. The mission of Peter is above all to embody the unity of the apostles in their witness to the risen Lord and the mission he entrusted to them.
As Ratzinger points out, the sees or bishoprics identified with the apostles later become pre-eminent and, as Irenaeus testifies in the second century, these sees are to acknowledge the decisive criterion exercised by "the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom. It was with this Church that every community had to agree; Rome was the standard of the authentic apostolic tradition as a whole."
How does the papacy facilitate communion or communio in the Church?
The papacy facilitates communio
precisely by witnessing to the transcendent reality of the risen Lord. This was evident in the first successors to Peter. Like him, they witnessed to the commission Peter received -- many early popes were martyred.
The keys of the Kingdom are the words of forgiveness only God can truly empower. The papacy promotes communion by fidelity to the truth of the gospel and the redemptive sacramental mission of forgiveness. [I bet Bergoglio has never thought about his notion of 'mercy' in terms of the Petrine ministry as Cardinal Ratzinger points out here. On the other hand, he may say he is only following the Lord's words to Peter that "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven", in his, Bergoglio's arbitrary dicta that some sins the Church always considered sins can - like divorce and adultery which Jesus himself branded sins - with this Successor of Peter, no longer be considered sin.]
Ratzinger writes: "By his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease."
Later Ratzinger returns to this theme of the need of the apostles and their successors for forgiveness as they are given a mission only the Triune God could fulfill.
His words find an echo after he was elected Benedict XVI: "The men in question" -- the apostles -- "are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function" -- of being rock solid in their faith and practice -- "that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them."
Only through such forgiveness in total fidelity to Jesus Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will full communion in the Body of Christ come about. Ratzinger's Eucharistic ecclesiology follows the Fathers of Church in uniting the vertical dimension of the risen body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist with the horizontal dimension of the gathering of the followers of Christ.
"The Fathers summed up these two aspects -- Eucharist and gathering -- in the word communion
, which is once more returning to favor today," Ratzinger wrote.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/18/2017 5:00 AM]