Sunday, April 30, 2006

Benedict Begins to Disclose the Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform in Vatican II

The Continuity is the Church as Believing Subject

1) In the sermon of the Inaugural Mass of April 24, 2005, Benedict said, “My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”

2) On October 16, 2005, during an interview on Polish television, Benedict said: “I forgot to mention the many documents that he [John Paul II]I left us – 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents be assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future [2].

3) On December 22, 2005, he spoke to the Roman Curia about the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that consists in asserting “that the texts of the council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the council.” The critique of the council is in reality the assertion that the texts of Vatican II “are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless.”

4) In his “Ratzinger Report of 1984, Benedict laid the blame for the debacle following the council, not on the council or its documents but on the failure to confront those documents with a subjective attitude analogous to that when confronting scripture. He said: “I am convinced that the damage that we have incurred in these twenty years is due, not to the `true’ Council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces; and outside the Church it is due to the confrontation with a cultural revolution in the West: the success of the upper middle class, the new `tertiary bourgeoisie,’ with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic stamp.”[1]

Hence, his message is “to return to the authentic texts of the original Vatican II.”[2] Messori says, “For him, he repeats to me, `to defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is also our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the `right’ and `left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a `break’ and an abandonment of the tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither a return to the past nor a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them.’”[3]

5) A critical point is the nature of magisterial documents, in particular, those of an ecumenical council that is the will of all the bishops of the world in union with the Pope. Since those documents “must be adhered to with the loyal and obedient assent of faith,” [4] they, like scripture cannot be read like “any kind of historical book such as, for example, Homer, Ovid, or Horace.” [5] The point is that one has to experience being the Church as Subject in order to understand the “meaning” of the texts of Vatican II. These texts, as the result of an infallible function of the Magisterium. “Lumen Gentium” 25 reads:

“Although the bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy the privilege of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely, when, even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that amongst themselves and Peter’s successor the bond of communion, in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely. This is still more clearly the case when, assembled in an ecumenical council, the are, for the universal Church, teachers of and judges in matters of faith and morals, whose decisions must be adhered to with the loyal and obedient assent of faith.”

6) The insight that can most help us here is Benedict’s understanding of the meaning of revelation and the act of faith as its reception. In his autobiography, he disclosed: “Revelation is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of `revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no revel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (`Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject…”[6]

The Church as Believing Subject: The Continuity:

7) On April 6, 2006, in response to a youth studying in Rome, Benedict responded:

“Sacred Scripture has two subjects. First and foremost, the divine subject: it is God who is speaking. However, God wanted to involve man in his Word. Whereas Muslims are convinced that the Koran was verbally inspired by God, we believe that for Sacred Scripture it is `synergy’ – as theologians say – that is characteristic, the collaboration of God with man.

"God involves his People with his Word, hence, the second subject – the first subject, as I said, is God – is human. There are individual writers, but there is the continuity of a permanent subject – the Pope of God that journeys on with the Word of God and is in conversation with God. By listening to God, one learns to listen to the Word of God and then also to interpret it. Thus, the Word of God becomes present, because individual person die but the vital subject, the People of God, is always alive and is identical in the course of the millenniums; it is always the same living subject in which the Word lives.”[7]

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The Church as "Subject:" ("Subsistit in")

Let's go a little deeper - with Benedict XVI. In November 2000 at a symposium in Rome on the reception of Vatican II by the Church, he addressed the meaning of the phrase "subsistit in" that appeared in Lumen Gentium #8. He is recounting the answer given to the thesis of Leonardo Boff which states that the Church of Jesus Christ "subsists in" many churches due to the fact that "the `historical Jesus' would not as such have conceived the idea of a Church, nor much less have founded one. The Church, as a historical reality, would have only come into existence after the resurrection, on account of the loss of the eschatological tension towards the immediate coming of the kingdom, caused in its turn by the inevitable sociological needs of institutionalization. In the beginning, a universal Catholic Church would certainly not have existed, but only different local Churches with different theologies, different ministers, etc. No institutional Church could, therefore, say that she was that one Church of Jesus Christ desired by God himself; all institutional forms thus stem from sociological needs [underline mine] and as such are human constructions which can and even must be radically changed again in new situations [underline mine].... so one might say that in all of them or at least in many, the `one Church of Christ' subsists..."(J. Ratzinger, "Ecclesiology of the Constitution on the Church, Vatican II, `Lumen Gentium'").

Pius XII in "Mystici Corporis" had said "The Catholic Church `is' (est) the one mystical body of Christ." Ratzinger responds: "The difference between subsistit and est conceals within itself the whole ecumenical problem. The word subsistit derives from the ancient philosophy as later developed in Scholastic philosophy. The Greek word hypostasis that has a central role in Christology to describe the union of the divine and the human nature in the Person of Christ comes from that vision. Subsistere is a special case of esse. It is being in the form of a subject who has an autonomous existence. Here it is a question precisely of this. The Council wants to tell us tat the Church of Jesus Christ as a concrete subject in this world can be found in the Catholic Church. This can take place only once, and the idea that the subsistit could be multiplied fails to grasp precisely the notion that is being intended. With the word subsistit, the Council wished to explain the unicity of the Catholic Church and the fact of her inability to be multiplied: the Church exists as a subject in historical reality.

"The difference between subsistit and est however contains the tragedy of ecclesial division. Although the Church is only one and "subsists" in a unique subject, there are also ecclesial realitites beyond this subject - true local Churches and different ecclesial comunities. Because sin is a contradiction, this difference between subsistit and est cannot be fully resolved from the logical viewpoint. The paradox of the difference between the unique and concrete character of the Church, on the one hand, and, on the other, the existence of an ecclesial reality beyond the one subject, reflects the contradictory nature of human sin and division. This division is something totally different from the relativistic dialectic described above [Boff]in which the division of Christians loses its painful aspect and in fact is not a rupture, but only the manifestation of multiple variations on a single theme, in which all the variaitons are in a certain way right and wrong.

"The vision of the Council is quite different: the fact that in the Catholic Church is present the subsistit of the one subject the Church, is not at all the merit of Catholics, but is solely God's work, which he makes endure despite the continuous unworthiness of the human subjects. They cannot boast of anything, but can only admire the fidelity of God, with shame for their sins and at the same time great thanks. But the effect of their own sins can be seen: the whole world sees the spectacle of the divided and opposing Christian communities, reciprocally making their own claims to truth and thus clearly frustrating the prayer of Christ on the eve of his Passion [Jn. 17, 23-24]. Whereas division as a historical reality can be perceived by each person, the subsistence of the one Church in the concrete form of the Catholic Church can be seen as such only through faith" (Idem.)

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Development” of this "Subject," Not Discontinuity: The “Re-readings

He continues (from the far above): “This also explains many structures of Sacred Scripture, especially the so-called `re-reading.’ An ancient text is reread in another book, let us say 100 years later, and what had been impossible to perceive in that earler moment, although it was already contained in the previous text, is understood in-depth.
And it is read again, ages later, and once again other aspects, other dimensions of the Word are grasped. So it was that Sacred Scripture developed, in this permanent rereading and rewriting in the context of profound continuity, in a continuous succession of the times of waiting.

At last, with the coming of Christ and the experience of the Apostles, the Word became definitive. Thus, there can be no further rewriting, but a further deepening of our understanding continues to be necessary. The Lord said: `The Holy Spirit will guide you into depths that you cannot fathom now.
Consequently, the communion of the Church is the living subject of Scripture. However, here too the principal subject is the Lord himself, who continues to speak through the Scriptures that we have in our hands.

I think that we should learn to do three things: to read it in a personal colloquium with the Lord; to read it with the guidance of teachers who have the experience of faith, who have penetrated Sacred Scripture: and to read it in the great company of the Church, in whose liturgy these events never cease to become present anew and in which the Lord speaks with us today.

Thus, we may gradually penetrate ever more deeply into Sacred Scripture, in which God truly speaks to us today.”[8]


The Church comes to a consciousness of herself as “continuous” only by the reform that leads to the experience of the self as gift. As every subject, the Church “finds herself, by the sincere gift of self.”[9]

Therefore, only if the Church prays, does she know the Christ who is the meaning of the words of Vatican II, because these words are spoken with his authority ("He who hears you, hears me” Lk. 10, 16). These conciliar words are, as has been seen above, infallible. But more important than infallibility, they are words spoken with the authority of Christ, and therefore bind as the Word of God[10] - and you cannot recognize the face of the risen Christ without self-gift because like is known by like. He who is self-gift can be known only by a subject who is self-gift. Vatican II is about the risen Christ, and therefore, only whose who pray understand it.

In a word, if the Church prays, the Church will be the continuous Subject Who understands and assimilates the texts and meaning (Christ Himself) of the Council

[1] “The Ratzinger Report,” Ignatius (1985) 30.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. 31.
[4] Lumen Gentium #25.
[5] Benedict XVI, at the meeting with the youth of Rome and the Lazio region, Thursday, 6 April L’Osservatore Romano, N. 15 – 12 April 2006, 6/7.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” Ignatius (1997) 108.
[7] Benedict XVI, “The Mission for Youth and For All Making God Present in Society,” L’Osservatore Romano N. 15 – 12 April 2006, 6/7.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Gaudium et Spes #24.
[10] To say that “doctrinal decisions can exist – if at all – solely in situations where the Church may lay claim to infallibility” and that “outside of this sphere, only argument would hold weight,” means that “there could be no certainty shared by the whole community of the Church. It seems to me [Ratzinger] that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith which radicalizes certain one-sided developments which began to make their appearance around the High Middle Ages... As a strictly circumscribed juridical category, infallibility first developed with such rigorous clarity in the Middle Ages, as was demonstrated in the controversy with Kung.... No one believed it necessary to reduce the living organism of the doctrine of the faith to the skeleton of infallibility but, on the contrary, saw the essential precisely in the vital figure delineated by the rule of faith and the Creed. Both in doctrine and in liturgy, what really matters is lost when one feels obliged to distill a juristical minimum, beyond which everything is left subject to arbitrariness. Here too, we would do well to learn to look once more beyond the fence of Western thinking and to make the attempt largely intact in the East.” On the `Instruction Concerning the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’ in “The Nature and Mission of Theology,” Ignatius (1995) 111-113.

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