The Freedoms of Pope Benedict XVI

Among the vast contributions of Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict in his rich writings and catecheses, it seems to me that his other greatest contribution is an orientation towards freedom.

Freedom of liturgical expression

Immediately after Vatican II, a certain rigidity arose in regards to liturgical expression. With few exceptions besides the Eastern Churches and the Carthusian Order, variety in liturgical expression vanished.

I once spoke with a Norbertine priest who left his order during that time to become a secular priest. He spoke fondly of the Christmas Sequence and other aspects of the Premonstratensian Rite, which were effectively suppressed. Without this liturgical expression, he did not feel the need to stay in the order.

In my experience, dismissal of liturgical expression is rarely accomplished by argument, but by belittling and even sarcasm. This can be true on all sides. Pope Benedict allowed, explained, fostered, and in the case of the revolutionary liturgical generosity of the Ordinariates, invented brand new kinds of ecumenism out of whole cloth.

Freedom from positivism

In the post-scientific age, biblical criticism and philosophy were narrowed into very weak, positivistic sciences. While the renaissance of a robust philosophy has yet to be seen outside of certain key centers, biblical studies have already turned the corner.  In the Catholic world, one of the early leaders of this recovery is the Communio school, of which Joseph Ratzinger was a founder.

If truth is symphonic, as his close colleague von Balthasar wrote, then the “science” of theology does not need to be astringently limited to what is strictly demonstrable on the most skeptical grounds. We can synthesize as well as analyze. We can draw from thinkers who wrote well before the 19th century and take them seriously.

His nuanced approach is beautifully laid out in his preface to his first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy.

Freedom for “simple faith”

Without in the least despising learning, Pope Benedict always had a heart for the “simple believer,” and believed that as a bishop fostering simple faith was his role. See for example his Communio article “The Church and Scientific Theology.”

I’ve known theology professors who truly subscribed to a scorched earth policy regarding the faith of childhood. In order to come to an adult faith, they held, childhood faith must be eradicated, and all the more so if one is to be a theologian. One hears less of this kind of thing in modern homilies than before, but perhaps it is still current in some theology faculties. “Theology is not catechetics” was one formulation I have often heard, as if these were two separate projects rather than one integrated whole.

Besides the grave danger of the enterprise–who is to say that the shards of faith will be united again?–there is an unreasonable hermeneutic of rupture here.  The faith of children is the foundation for adult faith, not its opposite. I believe this continuity was displayed in his own life, even in public.

In listening to Pope Benedict’s homilies over the years, two expressions have impressed me as said with particular emphasis. One, during Christmas, is “Bambino.” The other, during Easter, is the Pauline expression “newness of life.” Both of these point to a unified faith, a fully mature Christian theologian who is unembarrassed to be a simple, receptive believer.

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A hymn text for the mourning period

Because parishes are holding Masses, Vespers, and other prayer services for the repose of the soul of Pope Benedict, I thought I would write a hymn text, in case it is helpful at this time, to help people pray.

The primary scriptural references are Song of Songs 7:8, Wisdom 7:27, and Luke 7:35,

I originally wrote the text in 10.10.10.10, with EVENTIDE, the tune associated with Abide with Me, in mind.

Wisdom is vindicated in the wise.
Clean are their hearts; perceptive are their eyes.
Prophets and friends of God Who dwells in them,
As He once dwelt in hay, in Bethlehem. Continue reading “A hymn text for the mourning period”

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Pope Benedict XVI’s Spiritual Testament

29 August 2006

My spiritual testament

When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

I thank my parents, who gave me life in difficult times and prepared a wonderful home for me with their love, which shines through all my days as a bright light until today. My father’s clear-sighted faith taught us brothers and sisters to believe and stood firm as a guide in the midst of all my scientific knowledge; my mother’s heartfelt piety and great kindness remain a legacy for which I cannot thank her enough. My sister has served me selflessly and full of kind concern for decades; my brother has always paved the way for me with the clear-sightedness of his judgements, with his powerful determination, and with the cheerfulness of his heart; without this ever-new going ahead and going along, I would not have been able to find the right path.

I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I would like to thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through time and again. I thank the people of my homeland for allowing me to experience the beauty of faith time and again. I pray that our country will remain a country of faith and I ask you, dear compatriots, not to let your faith be distracted. Finally, I thank God for all the beauty I was able to experience during the various stages of my journey, but especially in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second home.

I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way.

What I said earlier of my compatriots, I now say to all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused! Often it seems as if science – on the one hand, the natural sciences; on the other, historical research (especially the exegesis of the Holy Scriptures) – has irrefutable insights to offer that are contrary to the Catholic faith. I have witnessed from times long past the changes in natural science and have seen how apparent certainties against the faith vanished, proving themselves not to be science but philosophical interpretations only apparently belonging to science – just as, moreover, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith has learned to understand the limits of the scope of its affirmations and thus its own specificity. For 60 years now, I have accompanied the path of theology, especially biblical studies, and have seen seemingly unshakeable theses collapse with the changing generations, which turned out to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher, etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann, etc.), the Marxist generation. I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.

Finally, I humbly ask: pray for me, so that the Lord may admit me to the eternal dwellings, despite all my sins and shortcomings. For all those entrusted to me, my heartfelt prayer goes out day after day.

Benedictus PP XVI.

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