The Pope Emeritus Prays, But Also Advises. Here’s How
With Francis reigning, Benedict extols John Paul and above all his encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” on the foundations of morality. He was a pope, he says, who was not afraid of “how his decisions would be received”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 17, 2014 – In his latest interview, with “Corriere della Sera,” Pope Francis has revealed that he has struck a deal with Joseph Ratzinger on a new role for the “pope emeritus,” unprecedented in the history of the Church:
“The pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum. It is an institution. We have not been accustomed to this. Sixty or seventy years ago, the bishop emeritus did not exist. It came after the Council. Today it is an institution. The same thing must happen for the pope emeritus. Benedict is the first, and perhaps there will be others. We do not know. He is discrete, humble, he does not want to be a nuisance. We have spoken about it and have decided together that it would be better that he see people, get out and participate in the life of the Church. [. . .] Some may have wished that he would retire to a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican. I have thought of the grandparents who with their wisdom, their advice bring strength to the family and do not deserve to end up in a nursing home.”
No sooner said than done. A few days ago a book came with a previously unpublished text by Benedict XVI. And this is not a matter of just any sort of text. But of a judgment that the last pope – under the reign of his successor – is pronouncing on his predecessor, John Paul II. A veritable public judgment not only on the person but on the central features of that memorable pontificate.
With accents that cannot help but be juxtaposed with the current situation of the Church.
Some media, in covering the news of this text by the “pope emeritus,” have emphasized the passage in which he recounts how the question of liberation theology was addressed in the first phase of Karol Wojtyla’s pontificate.
But there are other significant passages. Two in particular.
The first is where Benedict XVI says what were, in his judgment, the most important encyclicals of John Paul II.
Out of the fourteen encyclicals, he indicates the following:
– “Redemptor Hominis” of 1979, in which pope Wojtyla “offers his personal synthesis of the Christian faith,” which today “can be of great help to all those who are seeking”;
– “Redemptoris Missio” of 1987, which “highlights the permanent importance of the Church’s missionary task”;
– “Evangelium Vitae” of 1995, which “develops one of the fundamental themes of the entire pontificate of John Paul II: the inviolable dignity of human life, from the first moment of conception”;
– “Fides et Ratio” of 1998, which “offers a new vision of the relationship between the Christian faith and philosophical reason.”
But to these four encyclicals, each of them revisited in just a few lines, Benedict XVI surprisingly adds another to which he dedicates a whole page, reproduced further below.
It is “Veritatis Splendor” of 1993, on the foundations of morality. Perhaps the most overlooked and unapplied of all those of John Paul II, but which Ratzinger says must be studied and assimilated today.
A second significant passage is that in which Benedict XVI speaks of the 2000 declaration “Dominus Iesus.”
“Dominus Iesus,” Ratzinger writes, “summarizes the indispensable elements of the Catholic faith.” And yet it was the most contested document of that pontificate, inside and outside of the Catholic Church.
In order to diminish its authority, opponents used to attribute the paternity of “Dominus Iesus” solely to the prefect for the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, without the real approval of the pope.
And yet it is precisely the complete harmony between him and John Paul II in publishing “Dominus Iesus” that the “pope emeritus” is maintaining today. Giving the new look behind the scenes found below.
Benedict XVI admires pope Wojtyla for “the courage with which he carried out his task at a truly difficult time.”
And he adds:
“John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around in concern at how his decisions would be received. He acted on the basis of his faith and convictions, and he was also ready to take fire. The courage of the truth is to my eyes one of the main criteria of holiness.”
This judgment is very similar to the one on Paul VI expressed by Ratzinger in the funeral homily he delivered on August 10, 1978 as archbishop of Munich:
“A pope who today would not undergo criticism would be failing in his task in the face of these times. Paul VI resisted telecracy and demoscopy, the two dictatorial powers of the present. He was able to do so because he did not take success and approval as the parameter, but rather conscience, which is measured by the truth, by the faith. This is why on many occasions he sought compromise: the faith leaves very much open, it offers a wide spectrum of decisions, it imposes as the parameter love, which feels obligated toward everything and therefore imposes great respect. This is why he was able to be inflexible and decisive when what was at stake was the essential tradition of the Church. In him this toughness did not derive from the insensitivity of one whose journey is dictated by the pleasure of power and by disdain for persons, but from the profundity of the faith, which made him capable of bearing the opposition.”
The following are the two passages from the text by Benedict XVI discussed above:
ON “VERITATIS SPLENDOR”
The encyclical on moral problems “Veritatis Splendor” took many years to ripen and remains of unchanged relevance.
The constitution of Vatican II on the Church in the contemporary world, contrary to the tendency of moral theology at the time to focus on the natural law, wanted Catholic moral doctrine on the figure of Jesus and his message to have a biblical foundation.
This was attempted by fits and starts for only a brief period. Then the opinion took hold that the Bible does not have any morality of its own to proclaim, but refers to moral models valid for their time and place. Morality is a question of reason, it was said, not of faith.
So on the one hand morality understood in terms of natural law disappeared, but its Christian conception was not affirmed in its place. And since neither a metaphysical nor a Christological foundation could be recognized for morality, recourse was had to pragmatic solutions: to a morality based on the principle of seeking the greater good, in which there is no longer anything truly evil or truly good, but only that which, from the point of view of efficacy, is better or worse.
The great task that John Paul II took on in this encyclical was that of rediscovering a metaphysical foundation in anthropology, as also a Christian concretization in the new image of man in Sacred Scripture.
Studying and assimilating this encyclical remains a great and important duty.
ON “DOMINUS IESUS”
Among the documents on various aspects of ecumenism, the one that prompted the greatest reaction was the declaration “Dominus Iesus” of 2000, which summarizes the indispensable elements of the Catholic faith. [. . .]
In the face of the firestorm that had developed around “Dominus Iesus,” John Paul II told me that he intended to defend the document unequivocally at the Angelus.
He invited me to write a text for the Angelus that would be, so to speak, airtight and not subject to any different interpretation whatsoever. It had to be completely unmistakable that he approved the document unconditionally.
So I prepared a brief address: I did not intend, however, to be too brusque, and so I tried to express myself clearly but without harshness. After reading it, the pope asked me once again: “Is it really clear enough?” I replied that it was.
Those who know theologians will not be surprised that in spite of this there were afterward some who maintained that the pope had prudently distanced himself from that text.
“Accanto a Giovanni Paolo II. Gli amici e i collaboratori raccontano”, con un contributo esclusivo del papa emerito Benedetto XVI, a cura di Wlodzimierz Redzioch, Edizioni Ares, Milano, 2014, pp. 236, euro 15,90.
The two documents commented on by due documenti commentati da Benedetto XVI:
> Veritatis splendor
With regard to the declaration “Dominus Iesus,” one can note that it continues to be criticized even at the highest levels.
In February of 2010, during an ecumenical symposium organized in Rome by the pontifical council for Christian unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who presided over and introduced it, responded to this question from Vatican Radio:
Q: In your opening discourse, you affirmed that with the publication of the document ‘Dominus Iesus’ mistakes were made with ecumenical partners. What do you mean?
A: I do not mean that there are doctrinal mistakes, in that this document reflects Catholic doctrine, but that there are problems with some formulations, which are not easily accessible for our partners.
On the German television channel ZDF, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the pontifical household and secretary to Benedict XVI, revealed on March 15 that the last September the pope emeritus sent to Pope Francis – at his request – four pages of notes on his interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica.”
“Benedict XVI granted the request of his successor, offering a few reflections and observations on particular observations or questions that he believed could be developed further on another occasion. Naturally I will not tell you about what.”
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.