"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


The press has loved to dwell on the differences between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.   Of course, it looks for news, and subtle differences are not news.   They have to be transformed into something dramatic.   Shades of grey are turned into black and white.   Emphasis must be changed to catch peoples' attention.  This process of turning events into news becomes a habit of mind.   I had a journalist uncle for whom every event in his private life was turned into a news story, so that his ordinary conversation had to be taken with a pinch of salt.   If this is true of secular news, it is even more true of religious news in a secular climate.   It was true in the reporting of the 2nd Vatican Council, and it is true in the reporting of the differences between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Before we go into the real relationship between the two popes, a short note is necessary about the pre-conciliar reform movement, because this forms the background of one of the most influential groupings in Vatican II and  of at least two popes and, I will argue,of a probable third.   Under a cloud for suspected "modernism" and often forbidden to write and publish before the council, they were invited to take part by Pope John XXIII.  They were joined by others at the council, including Archbishop Wojtyla and the young Fr Joseph Ratzinger.   In the end, they were largely responsible for  writing the principal documents.  When Archbishop Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, he started making them cardinals.  Some of the theological giants of the 20th Century were among them:people like  Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Louis Bouyer.   There was also  Hans Urs von Balthasar, the greatest name after Henri de Lubac, who, probably because he had left the Jesuits, was not invited to the Council.   Another Jesuit who shared their convictions was Teilhard de Chardin, but he was busy doing his own thing.

A very significant fact, little talked about in those pre-conciliar days, was the presence in Paris of some of the leading Orthodox theologians of the day, refugees from the Russian Revolution and their offspring.   Their influence on the Ressourcement theologians was strong; and, if in the post-Conciliar Church, talk of a "eucharistic ecclesiology" and "theosis" is commonplace, it is largely thanks to them.   The truth is that both groups of theologians, Catholic and Orthodox, probably much to their surprise, discovered that, even where they hotly disagreed, they were arguing from within the same Tradition.   Fr Georges Florovsky, one of the greatest of the Orthodox, said that the Orthodox and the Latins did not have two traditions but one Tradition. Their different versions of that Tradition are  no longer in harmony with one another, but they belong to each other, nevertheless.   It must have helped that both groups shared an antagonism towards the neo-Thomism of the day, and both found the solution in a return to the Fathers.   Why wasn't this relationship well known?   It must be remembered that both sides were under a cloud in those pre-conciliar days.   The French theologians were suspected of modernism because of their insistence that  contemporary Catholic certainties must be judged in the light of the whole Catholic Tradition.   The Orthodox were suspected back home simply because they lived in a Catholic country.   I once asked an Orthodox archimandrite why these writers always attack the Catholic Church in their books.   He laughed and said that their books would be dismissed in Orthodox countries as heterodox if they did not distance themselves from Rome.   I am sure that when these times are long enough in the past to be viewed with historical perspective, the relationship between the Russian Orthodox and French Catholic theologians after World War II, informal and unself-conscious though it was, will be one of the most significant events in the 20th Century Church.

  The  principal tenet of the resourcement theologians was that if the Church needs renewal and if received solutions fail to solve problems in the modern world, we must go back to the sources to find different possible developments, and hence, new, more adequate solutions.  Of course, they did not deny the basic truth of the Church as they saw it; but they believed that some practices and some teachings had become unbalanced and impoverished, and there was a need to look to the Fathers for a deeper understanding of the Church than was current and learn from them a more wholesome practice.  As Marcellino d'Ambrosio wrote in Crossroads, "Ressourcement" was the way to "Aggiornamento" - a good Vatican II word. They believe, above all, in Tradition, that  the Holy Spirit is equally present in Tradition at all times and that Tradition provides us with a suitable hermeneutic for understanding dogmatic decrees and other documents from councils and popes.   This hermeneutic is often called nowadays the Hermeneutic of Continuity.  

Another tenet is that Nature and Grace, human happiness and Salvation belong to each other.   Nature is created by God to share in the Divine Life and is thus incomplete without it.   Everything is related in someway to God both as Creator and Redeemer.   Human beings have a natural need for God and hence a natural desire for God that shows itself in the quest for the good, the true and the beautiful, and they have a natural sense of the sacred.   The dynamism of these natural needs or urges goes beyond created things and will only be fully satisfied by God's free gift of Grace: they are Nature's gateway to God's free gift of salvation. 

  All this comes together in the Liturgy, or ought to, if the Liturgy is adequate to the purpose; and the saw that the beauty, truth, and goodness of the liturgy were a closed book to the majority of the people, most of whom had stopped going to Mass.   Hence, they backed Liturgical Reform before and during Vatican II but were appalled by the results after the Council because, in "the spirit of Vatican II", largely invented by the media, the sacred and transcendence were replaced by horizontal relationships among the celebrants, and beauty was replaced by entertainment; and this has produced disastrous results, just the results they would have predicted.  For them, renewal of the Church had been greatly damaged by the very instrument they had decided was to be used to bring people back.

However, all was not lost because this grouping of theologians gave us two popes; and the way they have acted shows that it is not so much the text of the Misa Normativa that is to blame, but the way it has too often been celebrated, though there is a need, Pope Benedict believes, to recuperate much that is beautiful in the old rite.

   The question arises, Will the process of ressourcement leading to aggiornamento, started in Vatican II and partly frustrated by the influence of the media, be further blocked or delayed by Pope Francis, or will it continue.   We know that he won't want to restore the Liturgy to its pre-conciliar glory; but Pope Benedict didn't want to do this either.   The Pope Benedict that wanted to restore the pre-Vatican II liturgy in all its glory is an invention of those who understood his tastes, but not his theology. 

Two questions remain:

  •  Will Pope Francis continue with the agenda of the Ressourcement theologians, even though he is too young to have been a member of that group? 
  • Will he continue to pursue a"reform of the reform" in liturgical matters?

The Differences Between the Popes.

a)  Pope Benedict was a theologian (peritus) during Vatican II who belonged to the theological grouping mentioned above that played a major role in writing the main Council documents and in the discussions that followed each one.   De Lubac especially was a major contributor to the texts that the bishops in Council voted on.   He and Wojtyla wrote the basic text of Gaudium et Spes, and it was his scholarship behind the document on the Church.  Even so, to its frustration, the group found its major concerns ignored and even contradicted when, after the Council, the press and those who learned about the Council through the press talked about "the spirit of Vatican II". This was  despite the fact that the concerns of these theologians were clearly expressed in the documents themselves    

Hence, during his pontificate, Benedict was still fighting for his vision of the liturgy with its basis in Tradition, which was a major concern of the group. It was to be a traditional liturgy, because Tradition is central to the Ressourcement group; but it was to be a traditional liturgy that had been "opened up" so that ordinary people could have immediate access to the "sacred".  According to de Lubac, experience of the sacred is the basic experience upon which any religion is built. To replace it by anything else, human solidarity, for example, is the equivalent of a religion's suicide.   Grace is built on Nature and can ignore it as its peril.   In the liturgical changes it had, at best, been reduced to a secondary consideration and, at worst, completely ignored.

  In a word, Pope Benedict wanted to revive the renewal part of the Council as he understood it which he believed had been unfairly partly smothered by the media.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, was too young to experience the Council directly, has no wars left over from it, no sense of injustice or axe to grind, no sense of disappointment over the results, nor is he an academic theologian, though he has a good grasp of theology.  As a good Jesuit, he simply accepts the tools that Vatican II and its aftermath have handed to him and tries to do the best with them.

b)As an academic theologian, Pope Benedict is inclined see liturgy in abstract and to compare the liturgy he celebrates with other liturgies.   As such, he enjoyed the historical setting of St Peter's, and had nothing against wearing pieces of clothing worn by his predecessors; but it is typical of the media-type presentation that he was labelled a "conservative", a political adjective with absolutely no theological content: it is about as accurate and relevant as calling him an orange!!

   After permitting the general use of the 1964 Mass, he was asked if he could see it taking over from the Misa Normativa, he said that the realities of life were against it, as only a small proportion of the faithful understand Latin.   He admitted that when so many wonderful liturgical treasures had been abolished without any protest from the faithful, it was because they had been cut off from the liturgy and had never known these treasures in the first place.   He said that he had nothing against communion in the hand and standing for communion, and had given communion in the hand many times, but that he thought it inappropriate for St Peter's.   He restored the right to celebrate the "old Mass" because, as a ressourcement theologian, he considered Tradition to be a superior authority to both pope and bishops, and he considered the "old Mass" to be an expression of that Tradition, and, therefore, unabolishable - not a "conservative" position of any kind: a theological one. He said that neither the pope nor the bishops had a power to abolish it, (or ordain women priests and bishops).  On the other hand, he supported Pope John Paul II's plea to the Orthodox to help us understand Vatican I in the light of the first thousand years of Church history: let Catholic Tradition bring a new look at present Catholic certainties, without denying them, but allowing the first thousand years of Catholic Tradition to interpret them: again, not a "conservative" position in any way, but a ressourcement position, one they applied to the liturgy in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Pope Francis is not an academic theologian but a South American pastor.   Ressourcement theologians deny the existence in the real world, in the world created by God, of any "profane" area, any "non-sacred" area, any religiously neutral area of human experience, where God is objecively absent and can be disregarded. The secular, non-religious world, simply has no objective existence for Catholics.

  South America is still a continent that is Catholic enough to celebrate this fact.   Its fiestas are a glorious mixture of the sacred and the so-called profane, serious religion and religious play, even Grace and sin, because they are human.   During these fiestas, the liturgy has the smell of the street - to quote Pope Francis - and grace is everywhere and turns up where you least expect it, as Charles Peguy, Georges Bernanos and Paul Claudel knew from experience and illustrated in their writings at a time when France was Catholic.  In such an environment and culture, the liturgical changes after Vatican II were electric in their effect and fitted the culture like a glove.  A truly Catholic culture was able to claim the Mass for itself.   "Conservatives" in Europe and America complain of liturgical abuses, but in our continent, abuses have actually decreased.    Liturgical abuses, old style: a priest celebrates thirty Masses on the trot - only the central part of course - one after the other, to collect a hundred soles or pesetas a time.  (It has even been known to use the same host and wine!!)  He probably had a woman, of course, or several, and many "nephews" to support, and this was done by selling the sacraments. Then he was gradually replaced by priests educated in the new rite.   Of course, many followed the bad example of American priests who  found they had a new freedom to "experiment" and to "adapt" to South American culture, but without the deep sense of the sacred that Latin Americans so often have.   For the record, these American missionaries were and are so often heroic in their love for the people; and much will be forgiven them because they have loved much. Moreover, the sense of the sacred flourishes in South America in the most unlikely atmospheres.  Hence you cannot expect Pope Francis to have the same attitude and tastes towards liturgy as Pope Benedict has, even if, as I suspect they do, they agree theologically.

On the other hand, he is old enough to have followed the events of Vatican II, and to have had his own heroes among those who took part.   There is concrete evidence that he shares many of the goals of the "Ressourcement" movement of theologians.   Pope Benedict has told people that he and Pope Francis agree completely in theology; and I do not believe this to be only for public consumption.   I believe that, in Pope Francis, we have a next generation ressourcement theologian, and this for the following reasons:
i)   Right at the announcement of his election, he quoted St Ignatius of Antioch.   He is the Bishop of Rome, a church that presides in love.   We know he is critical of the Vatican set-up, and he is using the Gospel as his guide for Vatican reform.   He talks of all ecclesial authority as a service.   If he is using the phrase of St Ignatius as an interpretation of the truth in Vatican I, as a way of digging deeper than the decrees of that Council to give them a new interpretation, at least in pastoral practice, then he is acting as a ressourcement theologian.   

In the world, law is backed by force, as you will soon find out if you decide to break it.  The Church has to have laws, but they must be an expression of love and faith, both in the one who gives the order and in the one who obeys.   Since the time of Constantine, these two very different realities have been confused; but now that the Church is without force, the difference is more visible.

ii)   He has no particular interest in the "old Mass" but allowed it and supported those who wished to celebrate it, using the ressourcement argument that it is an expression of Catholic Tradition.

iii)  As Archbishop, he was the main compiler of the documents of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), and he spoke of these conferences as the "magisterium" of South American bishops.   It is unusual to use that word for the teaching office of a regional church.   This and other indications he gave while Archbishop, mean, I think, that he is going to take collegiality seriously, which hasn't happened up till now; but it was on the Ressourcement agenda at Vatican II.

iv)   Finally, this theme of a poor church among the poor which is the subject of an unfinished encyclical by Pope Benedict which Pope Francis is going to finish was a major theme in the conciliar call for reform.   It is in continuity with a book by Yves Congar OP, a ressourcement theologian, called "Power and Poverty in the Church", and published by Helicon Baltimore 1964.
(Pour Une Eglise Servante et Pauvre, Ed. du Cerf).   If it is out of print then it is the time to print it again - a very inspiring book.

Hence, I believe there is evidence that we are going to have continuity, but we are going to break new ground as Pope Francis concentrates on other aspects of reform that were called for by Vatican II.

Is he going to pursue the "reform of the reform"?   I doubt it, but, on his showing as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he won't stop others from doing so, as long as the reforms do not smell too much of the sacristy.

Benedict Wanted a "Poor" Church, Too

The encyclical of Francis conceived and written by his predecessor is not the only sign of continuity between the two most recent popes. On the "poverty" of the Church as well there is harmony. It is enough to reread what Ratzinger said in Freiburg in 2011, in one of the capital discourses of his pontificate 

ROME, June 17, 2013 – There have been two news items in recent days that have shed new light on the relationship that binds Pope Francis to his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

The first is the announcement, made on June 13 by Jorge Mario Bergoglio himself, of the imminent release of an encyclical written “with four hands”:

“Pope Benedict passed it along it to me. It is a powerful document, even I will say there that I have received this great work: he created it, and I have carried it forward.”

It is the encyclical on faith that pope Joseph Ratzinger had planned to publish after the previous ones dedicated to the other two theological virtues: charity and hope. At the time of his renunciation of the pontificate it was almost finished.

Curiously, the first encyclical of Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est," had also made use of some material prepared during the previous pontificate. But in that case its general construction, and the first of its two great sections in particular, the more theological one, was typically Ratzingerian.

This time, instead, almost the whole composition of the encyclical is by Ratzinger. It is as if pope Bergoglio had limited himself to writing its preface and conclusion. His signature becomes a strong sign of acknowledgement of the pope who preceded him.


The second news item instead concerns a book published this year in Germany, it too written "with four hands": by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, a former president of Cor Unum, and by the theologian and psychiatrist Manfred Lütz, a member of the pontifical academy for life and a consultant to various Vatican offices.

It is a book that right from its title - "The legacy of Benedict and the mission of Francis: Eliminate worldliness from the Church" - is aimed at delineating a continuity between the two popes, in particular between the address delivered by Benedict XVI to "Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society" on September 25, 2011 in Freiburg, during his last voyage to Germany, and the statements of Francis on the Church as "poor and for the poor."

The two authors presented the book to Ratzinger at the beginning of June, meeting him at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican gardens.

"I live like a monk, I pray and read. I am well," Ratzinger told his two visitors, according to what Lütz reported in the newspaper "Bild" of June 5.

And as for the continuity between him and Francis, he commented: "From the theological point of view we are perfectly in agreement."

The contents of this meeting received scant media coverage. But it must be noted that the address of Benedict XVI in Freiburg also passed unjustifiably under silence when it was delivered, in spite of the fact that it was one of the most significant not only of that voyage to Germany, together with the one to the Bundestag in Berlin, but of the whole pontificate:

> "To remove courageously that which is worldly in the Church…"

The only vaticanista who highlighted the matter from Rome was Andrea Gagliarducci, on his weekly blog in English:

> MondayVatican



by Andrea Gagliarducci

"In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world."

Moreover: "Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other."

And finally: "Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world."

Who said this? 

A first – instinctive – answer to this question would be: Pope Francis. He made "a Church of poverty and for the poor" his mark from his very first meeting with journalists. He, who has increasingly often repeated that "institutions are useful, but up to a point". He even exhorted the future Papal nuncios to “keep their inner freedom.” 

The statements at the beginning of this article are actually not Francis’. They are Benedict XVI’s. The now Pope emeritus made those remarks in Freiburg, on September 25, 2011, to Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society. 

Benedict XVI’s words are relevant beyond the German context, even if it is true that the German Church experiences this pitfall in a very specific way. The German Church is wealthy thanks to the kirchensteuer, the State tax – of a considerable amount – on religion. It has been able to multiply social structures and charities, becoming almost self complacent. Thus, the German Church has lost sight of God, while social structures have become the center of its work. The most painful thing is that an ever smaller number of Christians is employed in Catholic-inspired social institutions. However, love and care for the other, an essential aspect of the mission of the Church, came from Christianity. In the name of social services, identity is lost. And, lacking identity, the orientation of the mission of the Church is also lost. 

As we noted earlier, this is not only a problem in Germany. Recently, Archbishop Mariano Crociata, Secretary General of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, standing before 200 workers from Catholic-inspired health facilities, underlined the need for all – workers and institutions – to preserve their identity and to have workers properly formed about Catholic principles.

More generally – in the wider context comprising all services and institutions that claim to be Catholic inspired – much has been debated, for example, about the identity of Catholic universities. A debate that has been fierce in the United States. The Cardinal Newman Society is one of the associations that is carrying on the quest for identity: its website is full of denunciations of government interference in the hiring of teachers in Catholic schools and universities. At the same time the Cardinal Newman Society does not hesitate to call attention on universities that are ever more detached from their own Catholic heritage. 

A recently released book addresses these issues. Written by the journalist Manfred Luetz and Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President Emeritus of Cor Unum (the Vatican “dicastery” supporting Catholic charities), “Benedict’s legacy and Francis’ mission” (Benedikts Vermächtnis und Franziskus' Auftrag: Entweltlichung der Kirche, Verlag Herder) delineates a certain continuity between Benedict’s speech in Freiburg and Pope Francis’ words. 

Cordes and Luetz presented a copy of the book to Benedict XVI, whom they met at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, within the Vatican walls, where he is now living. Benedict reportedly agreed: yes, there is a certain theological continuity between his Freiburg speech and Francis’ preaching. 

It is still uncertain how Pope Francis will transform this message, captured in well-meaning slogans, into concrete endeavors. 

During his pontificate, Benedict XVI not only maintained how important it was for the Church to become "less worldly ". He used the word "demundanization", which means, according to Msgr. Ludwig Müller, to "separate and unify" – but also to build a legal framework to overcome the identity threat. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith. But the question is: how can faith be nurtured if there is not a true adherence to the Gospel when teaching, caring, or carrying on works of charity in the name of the Church?

Under Benedict XVI there was a reform of the Caritas Internationalis constitution, based on the motto Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth (not accidentally the title of Benedict XVI’s social encyclical). The motu proprio Intima Ecclesia was also released, to regulate diocesan charities and reinforce the bishops’ oversight over them.

That is the starting point Pope Francis has inherited, and from which he looks onwards to a reform of Pastor Bonus, the apostolic constitution that regulates the work of Curial offices. Will this reform achieve a change of hearts or will it merely be an organizational restructuring? 

Ultimately, "it is not a question here of finding a new strategy to re-launch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully here and now in the utterly sober light of day, appropriating it completely, and stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit".

Benedict XVI said it in Freiburg. But it seems hardly anyone took note of it at the time.


The book:

Paul Josef Cordes, Manfred Lütz: "Benedikts Vermächtnis und Franziskus' Auftrag: Entweltlichung der Kirche," Verlag Herder, pp. 160, euro 14.99.


Pope Francis announced the encyclical "by four hands" while conversing on June 13 with the members of the ordinary council of the secretariat of the synod of bishops.

The preparatory address for the occasion - which was not delivered - announced "further developments to foster even more the dialogue and collaboration among the bishops and between them and the bishop of Rome."

Improvising, the pope added that the postsynodal exhortation that he is preparing to write will address the topic of "evangelization in general," not only in countries of ancient Christian tradition.

Among the themes to be addressed at a future synod, he called attention back to the problem of the family, since today many people are living together without getting married and marriage is becoming "provisory."

He also called for reflection on the "grave problem" of secularized anthropology. "Secularity has become secularism," he cautioned. And he warned against the risks of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, the infusion of which is now giving rise to a "new culture" that constitutes for Catholics "a very serious anthropological problem."


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


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