Sunday, April 19, 2015

Election of Benedict XVI, 2005: Priorities of His Pontificate, by Cardinal Camillo Ruini

Ten Years Ago Today:

The priorities of Benedict XVI's pontificate

by Camillo Ruini

In the homily at the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI said that he had no program of his own, if not the one that comes to us from the Lord Jesus Christ. This was a clear reminder of what is essential in Christianity. The new pontificate also situated itself in substantial continuity with that of John Paul II, whose main collaborator in terms of decisive content was Joseph Ratzinger.

In this context, it is not difficult to identify some of the priorities of Benedict XVI's pontificate.

The first and greatest priority is God himself, that God who is too easily pushed to the edges of our lives, focused on "doing," especially through "techno-science," and on "enjoyment-consumption." That God is even expressly negated by an evolutionist "metaphysics" that reduces everything to nature, to matter-energy, to chance (random mutations) and to necessity (natural selection), or more often is said to be unknowable according to the principle that "latet omne verum," all truth is hidden, as a result of the restriction of the horizons of our reason to that which can be experienced and measured, according to the view now prevalent. That God, finally, who has been proclaimed "dead," with the assertion of nihilism and the resulting collapse of all certainty.

The first effort of the pontificate is therefore to reopen the road to God: but not, however, by having the agenda dictated by those who do not believe in God and rely only upon themselves. On the contrary, the initiative belongs to God, and this initiative has a name, Jesus Christ: God reveals himself to us in some manner in nature and conscience, but he has revealed himself in a direct and personal manner to Abraham, Moses, the prophets of the Old Testament, and in an unprecedented manner he has revealed himself in the Son, in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection of Christ. There are therefore two paths, that of our search for God and that of God who comes in search of us, but only the latter of these permits us to know the face of God, his deep mystery, his attitude toward us.

This brings us to the second priority of the pontificate: prayer. This is not only personal prayer, but also and above all prayer "in" and "of" the people of God and the body of Christ, meaning the liturgical prayer of the Church.

In the preface to the first volume of his "Opera omnia," recently published in German, Benedict XVI writes: "The liturgy of the Church has been, since my childhood, the central activity of my life, and also became the center of my theological work." We can add that today it is the center of his pontificate.

This brings us to a controversial point, especially after the motu proprio permitting the use of the preconciliar liturgy, and even more after the lifting of the excommunication from the four Lefebvrist bishops. But even before this, Joseph Ratzinger had made this point very clear. He was one of the great supporters of the liturgical movement that paved the way for the Council, and one of the main proponents of Vatican II, and has always remained so. But with the implementation of the liturgical reform in the first years following the Council, he opposed the prohibition against using the missal of St. Pius V, seeing this as an unnecessary cause of suffering for the many people who loved that liturgy, in addition to being a rupture with the previous praxis of the Church, which, in the successive reforms of the liturgy in history, had not prohibited the liturgies in use until then. As pontiff, he has thus believed it necessary to remedy this inconvenience by making it easier to use the Roman rite in its preconciliar form. He was also driven to do this by his fundamental duty as promoter of Church unity. Moreover, he was moving in the direction already begun by John Paul II. In this spirit, the lifting of excommunication was granted in order to facilitate the return of the Lefebvrists, but certainly not in order to dispense with the essential condition of this return, which is full acceptance of Vatican Council II, including the validity of the Mass celebrated according to the missal of Paul VI.

In the positive sense, Benedict XVI has clarified the interpretation of Vatican II in his speech to the Roman curia on December 22, 2005, distancing himself from the "hermeneutics of rupture," which has two forms: the prevalent one, which sees the Council as constituting a radical novelty, and "the spirit of the Council" as much more important than the letter of its texts; the other, on the opposite extreme, sees only the tradition before the Council as valid, and the Council as a rupture rife with harmful consequences, as the Lefebvrists themselves maintain.

Benedict XVI proposes instead the "hermeneutics of reform," or newness in continuity, supported before him by Paul VI and John Paul II: this means that the Council constitutes a great novelty, but in continuity with the one Catholic tradition. Only this kind of hermeneutics is theologically sustainable and pastorally fruitful.

We have thus brought to light another priority of the pontificate: to promote the implementation of the Council, on the basis of this hermeneutics.

Ten Years Ago Today

In the same perspective, we can speak of a "Christological" or "Christocentric" priority of the pontificate. This is expressed in particular in the book "Jesus of Nazareth," an unusual effort for a pope, to which Benedict XVI dedicated "all of his free moments." Jesus Christ, in fact, is the way of God the Father, he is the substance of Christianity, he is our only Savior.

For this reason, there is terrible danger in the separation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, a separation that is the result of a unilateral absolutization of the historical-critical method, and more precisely an application of this method on the basis of the presupposition that God does not act in history. Such a presupposition, already by itself, represents in fact the negation of the Gospels and of Christianity. In this case as well, it is a matter of expanding the room for rationality, giving credit to a form of reasoning that is open, not closed, to the presence of God in history. This book puts us in contact with Jesus, and in this way introduces us into the substance, into the profundity and novelty of Christianity: reading it is an effort that costs a bit of exertion, but repays this abundantly.


At this point, we can return to the first priority, God, in order to take into consideration also the rational and cultural effort of Benedict XVI, for the purpose of opening contemporary reason to God and of making room for God in behavior and life, personal and social, public and private: particularly important here is the address in Regensburg, the more recent one in Paris, and also the one in Verona in 2006.

As for contemporary reason, Benedict XVI develops a "criticism from within" of scientific technological rationality, which today exercises cultural leadership. This criticism does not concern rationality in itself, which on the contrary has great value and merit, since it allows us to understand nature and ourselves as never before possible, and to improve enormously the practical conditions of our lives. It concerns, instead, its absolutization, as if this rationality constituted the only valid understanding of reality.

Such an absolutization does not proceed from science as such, nor from the great men of science, but rather from a "vulgate" that is very widespread and influential today, and yet is not science but a rather old and superficial philosophical interpretation of it. Science, in fact, owes its successes to its rigorous methodological limitation to that which can be experienced and measured. But if this limitation is universalized, by applying it not only to scientific research but to reason and human understanding and as such, it becomes unsustainable and inhuman, since it would prevent us from rationally pondering the decisive questions of our lives, which concern the meaning and purpose for which we exist, the orientation to give to our existence, and would force us to entrust the answer to these questions solely to our sentiments or arbitrary choices, detached from reason. This may be the most profound problem and also the drama of our present civilization.

Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI goes a step further, demonstrating that reflection on the very structure of scientific knowledge opens the way to God.

One fundamental characteristic of this knowledge is, in fact, the synergy between mathematics and experience, between hypotheses formulated mathematically and their experimental verification: this has produced the monumental, ever-increasing results that science is making available to us. But mathematics is a pure and "abstract" result of our rationality, which pushes beyond everything that we can imagine and represent materially: this happens in particular in quantitative physics – where a single mathematical formulation corresponds at the same time to the image of a wave, or of a particle – and in the theory of relativity, which implies the image of the "curvature" of space. The correspondence between mathematics and the real structures of the universe, without which our scientific predictions would not come true and our technologies would not work, therefore implies that the universe itself is structured in a rational manner, such that there exists a profound correspondence between the reason inside of us and the reason that is "objectified" in nature, or rather intrinsic to nature itself. But we must ask ourselves how this correspondence is possible: thus emerges the hypothesis of a creative Intelligence, which is at the origin of both nature and our rationality. The analysis, nonscientific but philosophical, of the conditions that make science possible therefore brings us back toward the "Logos," the Word of which Saint John speaks at the beginning of his Gospel.

Benedict XVI is not, however, a rationalist, he understands very well the obstacles that obscure our reason, the "strange penumbra" in which we live. For this reason, even at the philosophical level, he does not propose the reasoning that we have seen as an apodictic demonstration, but as "the best hypothesis," which requires on our part that we "renounce a position of domination and risk that of humble listening": the contrary, therefore, of the attitude that is widespread today, and is called "scientism."

In the same way, it cannot be called "scientific" to reduce man to a product of nature ultimately the same as all the others, denying that qualitative difference which characterizes our intelligence and our freedom. Such a reduction constitutes, in reality, the complete overturning of the point of departure for modern culture, which consisted in the defense of the human subject, or of his reason and freedom.

For this reason, as Benedict XVI said in Verona, precisely today the Christian faith presents itself as the "great yes" to man, to his reason and freedom, in a socio-cultural context in which individual freedom is emphasized on the social level, making it the supreme criterion of every ethical and legal decision, and in particular in "public ethics," while however denying freedom itself as a reality intrinsic to us, meaning as our personal capacity to choose and to decide, beyond biological, psychological, environmental, and existential conditioning and determinism.

Precisely the reestablishing of a genuine concept of freedom is another priority of the pontificate, the last of which I will speak.

This concerns personal and social life, both public structures and personal behaviors. Benedict XVI disputes, that is, the ethics and the conception of the role of the state and its secularism that he himself has called "the dictatorship of relativism," according to which there is nothing that is good or evil in itself, objectively, but everything must be subordinated to our personal decisions, which automatically become "rights of freedom." This excludes, at least on the public level, not only the ethical norms of Christianity and every other religious tradition, but also the ethical guidelines founded on the nature of man, meaning the profound reality of our being. This is a radical break, a genuine split with the history of humanity: a break that isolates the secularized West from the rest of the world.

In reality, personal freedom is intrinsically relative to other persons and to reality, it is freedom not only "from," but "with" and "for," it is shared freedom that is realized only in combination with responsibility. In concrete terms, Benedict XVI is sometimes accused of insisting unilaterally on anthropological and bioethical topics, like the family and human life, but in reality he similarly stresses social and environmental topics (although certainly without indulging in "ideological pollution"). His third encyclical, which is now imminent, will be dedicated to social topics. The common root of this twofold insistence is God's "yes" to man in Jesus Christ, and in the concrete it is the Christian ethics of love of neighbor, beginning with the weakest.

I conclude by returning to the beginning. Speaking in Subiaco the day before the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger invited everyone, including men of good will who are unable to believe, to live "veluti si Deus daretur," as if God exists. But at the same time, he affirmed the need for men who keep their eyes focused on God, and act according to this focus. It is only in this way, in fact, that God can return in the world. This is the meaning and the purpose of the current pontificate.

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