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A Posthumous Book by Benedict XVI

JANUARY 23, 2023

Entitled Che cos’e il Cristianesimo (What is Christianity?), this book collects 16 texts from the period following Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013, most were written around 2018, with the last in 2022. It was published by Italian publisher Mondadori on January 18.

Opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism
In a previously unreleased text, Benedict XVI deplores that Vatican II “did not address the Reformation’s fundamental questioning of the Catholic priesthood in the 16th century.” It is a “wound that is felt today and which, in my opinion, must be addressed in an open and fundamental way.”

Benedict XVI sees Luther's original error as his vision of an irreconcilable opposition between the priestly concept of the Old Testament and the priesthood conferred by Jesus Christ. However, the early church had already connected the Old Testament priesthood with the New Testament ministries and did not view justification by faith and by works as opposed.

Protestant Worship and the Mass Are Fundamentally Different
Because of their opposing theological foundations, “it is quite clear that the [Protestant] Last Supper and the Mass are two fundamentally different, mutually exclusive forms of worship. Let those who preach intercommunion today remember this,” warns Joseph Ratzinger.

Benedict XVI points out that, in the liturgical reform, “Luther's theses played a certain tacit role, so that certain circles could claim that the decree of the Council of Trent on the sacrifice of the Mass had been tacitly abolished.”

He then expresses the suspicion that the harshness of the opposition to the Old Mass also stemmed in part from the fact that some saw in it an idea of sacrifice and expiation which was no longer acceptable.

The Modern World Accepts Luther
Finally, the late pope emeritus writes: “It is obvious that modern thought ... is more at ease with Luther’s approach than with the Catholic approach. For an explanation of Scripture that sees the Old Testament as a way to Jesus Christ is almost inaccessible to modern thought.”

Dialogue with Islam
Benedict XVI criticizes certain attempts at dialogue between Christians and Muslims, which emphasize that both the Bible and the Koran speak of the mercy of God. From this stems the imperative to love one's neighbor, but it is also claimed that both texts contain calls for violence.

The result is that, in a certain sense, we place ourselves above the two religions and we affirm that there is good and bad in both and that it is therefore necessary to read the Bible and the Koran with a hermeneutics of love and opposing violence taking both into account.

False Tolerance in the West
In another text, Joseph Ratzinger notes that the “great powers of tolerance do not grant to Christianity the tolerance they propagate,” he criticizes. With their “radical manipulation of man” and “distortion of the sexes through gender ideology,” they are clearly opposed to Christianity, he writes.

He adds: “The intolerance of this apparent modernity towards the Christian faith has not yet turned into open persecution, and yet it manifests itself in an increasingly authoritarian way with the aim of achieving, by a appropriate legislation, the eradication of what is essentially Christian.”

Finally, he refutes the criticism that the Christian faith is inherently intolerant because of its claim to truth and universality. This view is based on the suspicion that the truth is dangerous. But it is the societies that oppose the truth that are intolerant.

According to Elio Guerriero, co-editor, an imperative condition by Benedict XVI was to publish the book only after his death. “For my part, I do not want to publish anything in my lifetime. The rage of the circles against me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of the least of my words immediately provokes a murderous clamor on their part.”
From a once-Lutheran pastor, converted to the Novus Ordo, and involved in his diocese's efforts at ecumenical dialogue:

Why Lutherans can thank God for the Papacy of Benedict XVI

Posted on February 24, 2013 by Schütz

I have been asked to pen a few words for my wife’s parish newspaper on Benedict XVI’s papacy. I thought I would focus on his relationship with Luther and the Lutherans. I hope the editor of the magazine does not mind me publishing it ahead of time here on my own page.

On February 28, 2013, at 8pm in the evening, Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy comes to an end. Everyone has a different assessment of his papacy, each from their own point of view. From my point of view, as a “Lutheran in communion with the Bishop of Rome”, Benedict XVI will always stand out as unique among all the popes of history as the only one who really read, knew, and understood Martin Luther.

Part of the reason for this is that Benedict XVI is a German. Except for John Paul II (who came from a country even more uniformly Catholic than Italy), all other popes since Adrian VI (d.1523) were Italians. Not one of them had any first-hand lived experience of Lutheranism. Joseph Ratzinger on the other hand was raised in an environment where Catholics and Lutherans lived side by side. Since Luther forms part of the literary heritage of Germany, his bible and his writings were easily accessible to the young Ratzinger, who once claimed that he had already read all of Luther’s pre-reformation writings by the time he entered University. He continued his theological education in German universities where both Protestant and Catholic theologians and biblical exegetes were studied.

All of this would have greatly helped him understand the theological issues that divided and still divide Catholic and Lutherans. It was this background that gave him such a great advantage when he was negotiating the final deal on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999. It was Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who saved this Declaration from a dismal death at the draft stage. Cardinal Cassidy, the Australian prelate who was the head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity at the time, had given up on it. But Ratzinger travelled to Germany, where, in his brother Georg’s home, he met together with Lutheran leaders to find the right formulas for affirming the joint faith of Catholics and Lutherans in regard to the doctrine of Justification. Thanks to this rescue mission, the Joint Declaration was signed into concrete history on October 31, 1999:

Quote:Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

In an address in November, 2008, Pope Benedict addressed the central passage in Paul that caused so much division between Catholics and Lutherans.

Let us now reflect on a topic at the centre of the controversies of the century of the Reformation: the question of justification. How does man become just in God’s eyes?…

Quote:It is precisely because of his personal experience of relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul henceforth places at the centre of his Gospel an irreducible opposition between the two alternative paths to justice: one built on the works of the Law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ. The alternative between justice by means of works of the Law and that by faith in Christ thus became one of the dominant themes that run through his Letters…

Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love.

“If faith is not opposed to charity” – that was always the Catholic concern. In Catholic dogmatic tradition, faith was often seen as an intellectual exercise. Thinking of faith in this way made it impossible for Catholics to affirm that “faith alone” could justify. But Pope Benedict understood the way in which Luther (and no doubt St Paul) meant “faith”: a complete self-entrustment to Christ, which had the spiritual effect of conforming the soul to Christ in such a way that a true union with Christ was effected. It was as unimaginable to Luther that such faith could ever be without love as it was to St James and St Paul (cf. James 2:14f).

Benedict was the first pope ever to preach from a Lutheran pulpit (at the Roman Lutheran Church in March 2010) and the first to visit Luther’s monastery in Erfurt in September 2011. On that latter occasion, he met with Germany’s Lutheran Church leaders. In his speech, he correctly identified the two driving issues for Luther: “Wie kriege ich einen gnädigen Gott” (“How do I find a gracious God?”) and “Was Christum treibet?” (“What promotes Christ?”)

In respect to the first question, Pope Benedict said:

Quote:The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? …The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? …The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

And in reflection on the second, he said:

Quote:God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “Was Christum treibet” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

It is certainly what was at the heart of Ratzinger/Benedict’s own spirituality, and why I believe he was a very “Lutheran” pope. Many commentators will tell you that Ratzinger’s theology was “Christological” – but it was more than this: it was “Christocentric”. Christ was at the centre of his faith and theology in a way that was quite new in Catholic papal teaching. Again and again, you will find references in Benedict’s teaching to seeking the face of God in the human Christ. References to a “theology of the Cross” and a focus on the personal aspect of the mystery of the incarnation permeate Benedict’s teaching as strongly as it did Luther’s.

Perhaps this is why Pope Benedict XVI was such a strong promoter of the “new evangelisation” in our age. He was an “evangelical” pope, who knew that faith begins with a personal encounter with Jesus. He opened his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), with these words:

Quote:Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

As he retires to a life of prayer, precisely to enter more deeply into that encounter with his Lord, Benedict XVI leaves us with a body of decisive papal teaching that will pave the way for future reflections between Lutherans and Catholics. Although we cannot perhaps hope that the new pope will have the same depth of appreciation for Lutheranism as his predecessor, it is my prayer that the relationship between Catholics and Lutherans which he fostered will grow and bear fruit in the years to come under the new papacy.

Dear Bishop Friedrich,
Dear Friends from Germany,

I extend a cordial welcome to all of you, who represent the leaders of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, to the Apostolic Palace, and I am delighted that you have come to Rome as a Delegation at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Thereby you also show that our deep longing for unity can only bear fruit if it is rooted in common prayer. I would like to thank you, dear Bishop, in particular, for your words, that with great sincerity, express the common effort for deeper unity among all Christians.

In the meantime, the official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics — as written here — can look back at more than 50 years of intense work. You mentioned 30 years. I think that it was 30 years ago, after the Pope’s Visit, when we officially initiated the dialogue but we had in fact already been dialoguing for some time. I too was a member of the “Jaeger-Stählin-Kreis” that came into being directly after the War. Therefore, one can speak of either 50 or 30 years. Notwithstanding the theological differences that continue to exist on questions that in part are fundamental, a “togetherness’ has developed between us which is increasingly becoming the basis of communion lived in faith and in spirituality between Lutherans and Catholics. What has already been achieved reinforces our trust in continuing the dialogue, for only in this way can we stay together on that path which is ultimately Jesus Christ himself.

Hence the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism, as my Venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II said in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, is not a mere strategy of communication in a changing world, but a fundamental commitment of the Church, starting with her own mission (cf. nn. 28-32).

To some of our contemporaries the common goal of full and visible unity of Christians today seems once again to be very distant. The conversation partners in the ecumenical dialogue express ideas on the unity of the Church that are entirely different. I share the concern of many Christians that the fruits of the ecumenical endeavour, above all in relation to the idea of Church and ministry, are still not sufficiently acknowledged by the ecumenical spokespeople. However, even if new difficulties always arise, let us look with hope to the future. Although the divisions among Christians are an obstacle to fully moulding catholicity in the reality of the Church’s life as was promised in Christ and through Christ (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4), we trust in the fact that under the Holy Spirit’s guidance ecumenical dialogue, such an important instrument in the Church’s life, will serve to overcome this conflict. This will also happen, in the first place, through the theological dialogue which must contribute to an understanding of the open-ended questions, that are obstacles on the path to visible unity and to the common celebration of the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity among Christians.

I am pleased to say that in Germany the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the topic: “Baptism and growing ecclesial communion”, has been flanked by a bilateral commission for dialogue, since 2009, between the Bishops’ Conference and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, which has resumed its activity on the topic: “God and the dignity of man”. This thematic context also includes in particular the problems that have recently arisen in relation to the protection and dignity of human life, as well as urgent questions on the family, marriage and sexuality, which cannot be silenced or neglected merely to avoid endangering the ecumenical consensus attained so far. We hope that in these important questions related to life, new confessional differences will not emerge but rather that we will be able together to testify to the world and to men what the Lord has shown us and is showing us.

Today ecumenical dialogue can no longer be separated from the reality and the faith life of our Churches without harming them. Thus, let us turn our gaze together to the year 2017, which recalls the posting of Martin Luther’s theses on Indulgences 500 years ago. On that occasion, Lutherans and Catholics will have the opportunity to celebrate throughout the world a common ecumenical commemoration, to strive for fundamental questions at the global level, not — as you yourself have just said — in the form of a triumphant celebration, but as a common profession of our faith in the Triune God, in common obedience to Our Lord and to his Word. We must give an important place to common prayer and to interior prayer addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of mutual wrongs and for culpability relative to the divisions. Part of this purification of conscience is the mutual exchange appraising the 1,500 years that preceded the Reformation, and which we therefore have in common. For this reason we wish to implore together, constantly, the help of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to take further steps towards the longed-for unity and not to be satisfied with the results we have achieved so far.

We are also encouraged on this journey by this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It recalls the Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The early Christians were constant in these four actions and in their behaviour so the community grew with Christ, and from it flowed this “togetherness” of men and women in Christ. This extraordinary and visible witness to the world of the unity of the early Church could also be an incentive and a norm for us on our common ecumenical journey in the future.

In the hope that your visit will reinforce further the effective collaboration between Lutherans and Catholics in Germany, I implore for you all the grace of God and his abundant Blessings.
See also: 

Open Letter to Confused Catholics - wherein the errors and heresies of Martin Luther and their effects on the Vatican II are repeatedly discussed.

Mass of Luther - by Archbishop Lefebvre

The Blasphemies of Luther