Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Re: Benedict XVI's Trip - April 2008

Interview with David Schindler, Editor of the American edition of Communio:

Inside the Vatican, April 2008, 76-85.

“We Love God in All That We Love”

David Schindler is Edouard
Cardinal Gagnon Professor of
Fundamental Theology and Provost-
Dean of the John Paul II
Pontifical Institute for Studies on
Marriage and Family at The
Catholic University of America,
in Washington, D.C. He is also
editor of the English-language
edition of Communio: International
Catholic Review, a theological
journal founded in 1972
by Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs
von Balthasar, and Henri de
Lubac, among others.
There are 15 different
national editions of
Communio, whose editors
meet biannually to
plan their common work.
This interview has a
twofold goal: to bring the
insights of a collaborator
and reader of Ratzinger to
bear on Pope Benedict’s approach to culture
in general and American culture in particular;
and to present Ratzinger’s approach to important
questions of the day in light of the American
historical experience. Following Benedict’s
theology, it attempts to bring to light
some of the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of America
and the Church in America.
Professor Schindler, you have been involved with
Communio since the North American edition was
founded. In his autobiography, Milestones, then-
Cardinal Ratzinger described the founders’ goal
for Communio as “an international journal whose work
would both be done out of the heart of communion in sacrament
and faith, and also lead to its enhancement... Since the
crisis in theology had emerged out of a crisis in culture, and,
indeed, out of a cultural revolution, the journal had to
address the cultural domain, too.” What part does Communio
play in the cultural landscape today?
journal was founded most
basically to recover a Godcentered
understanding of the
Church and of the human
being. And also to recover the
fact that the reality of our
being in the Church and the
reality of our being in the
world is a matter, in the deepest
sense, of love.
This task of recovery is at
the heart of the Second Vatican
Council, and it is even more
important today, I would say,
than it was then.
Joseph Ratzinger had to
step down from editorial work at the German
edition when he moved to Rome, of course,
but he continued to contribute articles. He
gave an address, “Communio: A Program,”
in 1982, on the 10th anniversary of the journal’s
founding, which was a beautiful recapitulation
of its history and mission.
This past December (2007), he invited the
various national editors to hold the annual
winter meeting in Rome, where he received
them in the Vatican and was able to greet
each one personally. On another note, he
cited articles from the 2006 Communio issue
devoted to the Wedding at Cana in Jesus of Nazareth, in the
section on symbols in the Gospel of John, and he says he
continues to read the German edition regularly.
How did you first meet Cardinal Ratzinger?
SCHINDLER: Through Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss
theologian and co-founder of Communio. In 1984, Balthasar
was awarded the Paul VI International Prize by Pope John
Paul II, who asked him to organize a conference in September
1985 on the work of Adrienne von Speyr. Ratzinger held
a reception for Balthasar at Castel Gandolfo immediately
following the conference, and it was at this reception that
Balthasar introduced me to Ratzinger. I had been editor of
the North American edition of Communio for three years by

How would you characterize Joseph Ratzinger as a
SCHINDLER: What’s characteristic is his capacity for integration.
His scholarship is marked by a great integration of
academic theology and spirituality — and always in a way
that speaks from within the heart of our cultural problems.
A sign of this integration: when you read his homilies,
they provoke you into thinking, and when you read his theology,
it inclines you to pray. Simply, he does theology in
the manner of the great saints and doctors of the Church —
a way of doing theology that is badly needed in our time.
SCHINDLER: The German philosopher Robert Spaemann has spoken of Benedict’s theology as a retrieval, a mutual enrichment between old and new; he says Ratzinger the theologian never felt the need to reconstruct theology from the ground up via a new schema, as, for example, Karl
Rahner did, because Ratzinger was too historically grounded to go that way. In what sense is Benedict retrieving something that was both already there, and, in a sense, lacking in our times?
SCHINDLER: Newness and oldness: a beautiful point. To me, this is again the greatness of Benedict. He’s simply doing what every saint and doctor of the Church has done. He has
gone back to the roots of his being and of the Church’s being: the Gospel. And he’s done it entirely naturally, in the sense that he recovers it precisely in the context of his own
historical being. That is, he recovers it while living in the 20th century and today in the face of the problems of Nazism, Communism, and liberalism.
What results is a development. So the idea that his emphasis on, say, the structure of being as centered in God and filiality were somehow recent inventions is nonsense. These things are the heart of the Gospel. In other words, this recovery and development is what real theologians do. This is epitomized in Benedict, as Spaemann observes, and also can explain why so many theologians become very obscure: they want to be new. Benedict has no interest in being new. He has an interest in being faithful. And the creativity takes care of itself because we’re
historical beings. Everyone, especially the theologian, has to look at his own work in this way and to ask: What is the cause of the obscurities? There can be difficulties in someone’s
thought and so on, but what is remarkable in Benedict’s work, and what is really one of his great gifts to the Church, is that his thought is jargon-free. And it’s jargon-free because he has no interest in speculation, in the sense of saying, let’s speculate on this without regard, say, for the
integrity of human life and ecclesial life. He says what he has to say to keep alive the memory of what has been given.
Could you say something about his way of engaging
people in conversation?
SCHINDLER: He’s very simple and gentle, always curious
about the world. Always very much full of wonder at things.
He has a great capacity as a listener. If you do not interrupt
him during a conversation, you can easily end up spending
the entire time speaking mostly about yourself, responding
to his questions about you and your work.
How does he deal with people with whom he disagrees?
SCHINDLER: People who disagree
with him are often a bit disarmed to
discover how respectful he is of what
they have to say. In any conversation
he is concerned about the truth, but
it’s always clear that in defending the
truth, he’s defending something that
is integral to the dignity of the other
person. He’s not defending his ego,
but rather something that is greater
than himself and that is necessary for
the realization of the dignity of both
himself and the interlocutor.
How does Pope Benedict XVI
engage the question of culture?
SCHINDLER: At the heart of his
basic proposal to culture is a particular
conception of dialogue. Dialogue
for Benedict is something we are
before it is something we do. For
Benedict, human existence is dialogue
with God, specifically, with the
Creator. Relation to God lies at the
core of our being as creatures and
thus we implicitly invoke the question
of the nature and existence of
God in all of our conscious acts. As
Aquinas says, we know God implicitly
in all that we know, and we love
God implicitly in all that we love.
Embedded within the dialogue with God is an implicit dialogue
with all other creatures, relation to whom is given to
us inside the relation with the Creator.
Why is Benedict’s conception of dialogue relevant to
American culture, where polls indicate both a high belief
in God and a widespread interest in the very question of
SCHINDLER: Interestingly, Benedict says the problems of
the West can all be traced back to the forgetfulness of God.
In what sense is that true in America? First of all, one has to
recognize the sincerity of Americans; they are not cynical
when they say they believe in God. The question is how that
is understood.
Here, the point is that even when the relation to God is
important in peoples’ lives, it tends to remain fragmentary in
nature. That is, the relation to God may be one important part
of life in general, but then there is a relation to the economy,
to one’s profession, to one’s operating in the public order,
and each of these has its own logic. There’s a certain purpose
to the economy, making a profit and so forth; there’s a certain
approach to owning things, to being a homeowner;
there’s a certain understanding of one’s profession, all given
in professional schools and law schools. It is not that the relation
to God has no influence, but the
influence is by way of a moral inspiration.
The relation to God does not
provide the deepest form and end of
these various activities. The logic of
these other activities is established
on its own, independent of and
alongside the person’s relation to
At the heart of Ratzinger's theology is this effort to recover the "God-centeredness” of all things, to recover the true nature of the creature’s relation to God. Relation to God is what is most fundamental about the creature and what forms the creature as a creature from the beginning for as long as the creature exists. What the creature is in his deepest reality is “from-God” and
“for-God.” This is what it means to have the structure of a “son in the Son.”
How is dialogue possible, then, with those who do not believe in God, or for whom belief in God is
a matter of purely private belief? Don’t we need something more, like a natural law, to dialogue with men of other beliefs?
SCHINDLER: That’s just the point.
For Benedict, the question of God’s
existence emerges from the heart of
reason and nature. This was one of
the major points that was often overlooked
in the Regensburg lecture,
which had a double intention.
On the one hand, the point of the lecture
was to initiate a dialogue with the West to
show that reason opens organically to God.
That means the dynamics of reason and
nature themselves are violated if reason and
nature are not probed all the way through to
the question of their origin and end. Perhaps one can put this
most sharply by recalling what Benedict has said regarding
the nature of conscience, which is in every human being.
He suggests that the term “anamnesis,” from the Greek
for “memory,” is more basic than the term “synderesis,” that
is, the primitive sense of right and wrong. By “anamnesis,”
he means that an implicit memory or recollection of God is
rooted in the creature’s conscience. So we can’t engage our
own being without the implication of this memory in some

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Ratzinger
states that the anamnesis of the Creator is “identical with the
foundations of our existence.” The point, in terms of dialogue,
then, is to be able to show — to one who does not
believe — that belief in God is not an arbitrary addition to
human existence or a fragment of
human life, but rather a reality that
fulfills what most fundamentally
defines human action and knowledge as such.
In regard to America, the burden
of Benedict’s proposal regarding
God is twofold: First, to show that
the question of God is not a matter of
something that’s simply beyond reason
or non-rational, but is in fact necessary
for the integrity of reason and
nature. This being so, the second
point is to show that the relation to
God can never be merely a fragment.
Rather, the logic of the creature has
to inform every human thought and
every human action from the inside.
It has to inform all the other relations,
for example, the economic,
familial, political, and cultural relations.
One of the tasks called for here is
a recovery of something that has
often been lost in modern times —
what Aquinas says is the natural
desire to know the truth about God.
The desire is not simply supernatural,
although of course it is only fully
realized in faith, but it is already built
into nature in its created reality as
But the Declaration of Independence,
for example, clearly speaks
about the creator and is framed in
terms of men having been “created.”
What is missing here, in terms
of the memory of God as Benedict understands
SCHINDLER: A good way to respond to the
issues here is in the language of rights. Typically,
in our culture, the predominant understanding
of rights is that they are first of all
either immunities from coercion, or an entitlement. In both
cases, a right is conceived as a claim that the self first has on
the other. Interestingly, what flows from Benedict’s understanding
of creation is that human life is a gift calling forth a
response of gratitude.
Much more needs to be said here, but rights emerge, in
Benedict’s understanding, from a context of other-centered-
ness. That means, from the context of a call to respond to the
other and to serve the other.
Benedict’s understanding of creation warrants recognition
of unconditional human rights, but notice that in his understanding
of creation, rights are never first entitlements and
are never first self-centered. It is a view of rights only as
embedded within the call to respond to the other: what I have
a right to be is what I must be to serve others in their integrity.
What does this “other-centeredness”
imply for legitimate human
autonomy — that is, freedom?
SCHINDLER: This is a difficult
question. If there’s one thing that has
characterized Ratzinger’s theology
from the beginning, it’s the recognition
of the essential dependence of
the creature. Creaturely existence is
filial through and through. That is, to
be a creature is to be from another
and for another.
This is what Christ reveals to us.
And he reveals it in terms of a perfection:
in Jesus, “filiality” is
revealed to be a dimension of what is
ultimate, because God never exists
only as Father. He also always exists
as the Son and as the Spirit. Sonship
is divine. And what creatures are, are
sons and daughters in the Son.
This point is emphasized already
in Ratzinger’s commentary on
Gaudium et Spes following the Second
Vatican Council, and it is also
the salient feature of his Christology
in Jesus of Nazareth. It is this “filiality”
that is fundamental to the autonomy
of the creature, properly understood.
It is this “filiality” with its
implied dependence upon God that is
missing from so much of America’s
understanding of the human being
and of human freedom.
In fact, it is this failure to integrate
“filiality” — and thus dependence —
into autonomy and freedom and
indeed rights, in so much of American discourse,
that grounds what we may call the
characteristic tendencies of America, from its
founding documents to the present, toward a
deistic and Pelagian understanding of human
freedom. It’s these characteristic tendencies
that inform the dominant, self-centered characteristic
of rights.
What do you mean by deistic and Pelagian?
SCHINDLER: What I mean is a failure to recognize the distinct
Fatherly origin inside all of human being and human
action — from their beginning and all along the way.
For an American, it might seem difficult,
after gaining a clear awareness of
these tendencies, to reconcile a real love
for our country with our theological tradition.
What would Benedict say is a
healthy love of country?
SCHINDLER: I have never read anything in Benedict to
make me think he would attenuate the importance of patriotism.
Patriotism involves a love of
one’s own. It is an extension of the
love of one’s family, in the sense of
one’s soil, one’s history, what one
has been given, and a willingness
even to die for that. This is a profound
thing, for instance, in Benedict’s
own person. He is Bavarian
and beautifully so.
Patriotism does not imply being
uncritical, however; it implies releasing,
through one’s criticism, the positive
elements that are really being
intended. The point is to provide a
criticism, if you will, from God’s
perspective and the perspective of the
whole of humanity. Even more basic
than our relation to our own family is
our relation to God. That, by the way,
is the meaning of the text when, in
response to “blessed is the womb that
bore you,” Jesus answers that blessed
are those who hear and keep the
word of God. He is not opposing the
two; he is ordering them. And it just
so happens that Mary had the benefit
of being first in both. This deepens
the unity: her body is a knowing of
the will of God. You cannot for a
moment detach the two in her.
Benedict would tell an American
not to be anti-American, but to love
America. And the criticisms that he
would, does, and will raise regarding
America are not antithetical to that,
but are ways of helping America
purify the things that are good — and
one can talk abundantly about them.
The moral energy of America is very real
and is not a defect. America’s emphasis on
equality and rights is indispensable for any
adequate conception of the human being.
The fact that people still do believe in God,
and the fact that people are still not cynical
by and large — unless they happen to be
working, say, for the Washington Post or the New York Times
— is a positive thing.
Americans generally have a lot of common sense. The
point is to deepen these things in terms of what we have been
talking about here, but without losing the uniqueness of

America, which has a real contribution to make to the
Church. As Benedict himself has said, we need to emphasize
the positive, but we need to clarify the criticisms that are necessary
to enable what is positive to flourish as it ought, in all of its integrity.
To go back to the question of the importance of God: How do
we give public status to this question of God’s existence in a
pluralistic society, and in dialogue with the world’s great
religious traditions?
SCHINDLER: This is a very large question. Let me say just
two things here. The first is about dialogue, the second
about the question of pluralism inside the Western liberal state.
First, dialogue. The Regensburg lecture emphasized, in relation to the West, that reason
is inherently open to God. The second point was to show, with
respect to Islam, for example, the sense in which God as logos is inherently reasonable.
The dialogue he proposes between East and West regarding
God’s existence is simultaneously affirming something in
both traditions while also calling both traditions to a greater
integrity, at least as seen from the point of view of Catholicism.
And in relation to pluralism
inside the Western liberal
state . . .
SCHINDLER: The first thing
that needs to be said in this
context is that every pluralism
presupposes some sense of
unity. You can’t have absolute
difference without tacitly
invoking some conception of
unity. You need something in
common before you can say
two things are different. But
here is where we need to ponder
in more sustained fashion
the claims of the liberal state.
Now the claim in the liberal
state, and especially in America,
is that to have unity inside a state, it suffices to establish
a purely juridical unity that avoids the enshrinement of any
substantive truth about the nature and destiny of the human
being. It relegates those questions to the private sphere.
The question that needs to be pondered, it seems to me, in
light of the theology of Benedict, is whether any such purely
juridical unity suffices or can even actually exist.
But isn’t this the genius of the separation of Church
and state that is so fundamentally affirmed in America?
SCHINDLER: The separation of Church and state, in the
sense of a distinction of powers, is a great achievement of the
West, and one that Benedict
strongly endorses. The question
is what this separation actually
means. The issue is whether the
legitimate and necessary separation
of Church and state entails a
purely juridical conception of
the state, say, à la John Courtney
Murray’s articles of peace,
according to which one claims
that the constitutional order
must avoid any substantive truth
about the human person.
It is this purely juridical
understanding of the state that
Pope Benedict rejects. He has
said this on various occasions,
for example, most recently on
January 1, 2008, in his statement
for the World Day of Peace: “the
juridic norm, which regulates
relationships between individuals,
disciplines external conduct,
and establishes penalties for offenders,
has as its criterion the
moral norm grounded in nature
itself. Human reason is capable
of discerning this moral norm, at
least in its fundamental requirements,
and thus ascending to the
creative reason of God which is
at the origin of all things.”
There is much to be sorted
out here, but Benedict’s point is
that the question of the truth
about the human being remains
intrinsically relevant for the
state, while the liberal state,
instead, insists on bracketing
that question for purposes of the
public constitutional order.
It could be shown, although
we can’t do it here, that in fact
the purely juridical notion of the
state inevitably embodies
notions of freedom, reason, and
God that are already in clear tension
with those of Catholicism.
The purely juridical state always promotes a proceduralist
form of debate in civil society as a whole, because by definition
the state cannot permit the resolution of debate in
terms of a substantive truth that would be juridically binding
for everyone.

Debate in liberal society can have as its only end the continuance
of the debate for its own sake. Thus debate inside a
purely juridical state inevitably takes the form of manipulation
via the cosmetic arts, for example, advertising, political
strategies, and so on, which replace any serious pursuit of
This points us in the direction of what Benedict means
when he refers to the dictatorship of relativism.
Could you summarize what Benedict sees as the fundamental
problems faced by mankind today?
SCHINDLER: The first thing I would say is that the problems
he sees are all bound up with Evangelium Vitae’s striking
phrase regarding the totalitarian inversion of democracy
— a totalitarianism of the strong over the weak. It seems
to me that he sees the gravest threat to civilization to be this
widespread tendency toward instrumentalism, which renders
the culture unable to see the inherent value in the innocent,
the weak, the vulnerable, the “useless.” And perhaps the
most virulent threat comes from what is one of the
strongest assets of modern Western culture, namely its
technological power. Especially as that has been brought to
bear, for example, in the areas of reproductive technology.
At the heart of this problem, then, is the failure to recognize
that something is good or true or beautiful simply by
virtue of its being (verum et bonum qua ens).
As Ratzinger pointed out in his early book, Introduction to Christianity, a great shift
occurs in modernity: the dictum that something is true and good by virtue of its being, that is, its being-given, or better still, its being given by God, is replaced with the dictum that something is true or good only quia factum, that is, insofar as man has made it or modified it.
That something is good by virtue of its being, that is to say, its being-given by God, is what is implied by a doctrine of creation and a recuperation of the centrality of God, and
thus we come back to the point where we started in this conversation
and to the question of the forgetfulness of God.
I would like to add another comment here regarding the
dictatorship of relativism. Perhaps relativism is easy enough
to understand: the idea that each person constructs his or her
own truth, or that truth claims in the end are a matter only of
personal preference. But why call that a dictatorship?
When we think of dictatorship we think of claims to truth
being imposed by tanks. In the West, there is
no question in the liberal state of tanks
imposing the state’s claims to truth.
The point is that what is being imposed
is much more subtle. It is the imposition of
a public ethos which always and in advance reduces every
claim of truth (by whatever group or person in society) to
merely an expression of private preference. At least, that is,
for purposes of public order and from the perspective of the
state. Given this ethos, which denies any unconditional truth
for purposes of public order, it follows that there can be no
unconditional recognition of human rights. Therefore it will
be the case that the strong will always prevail over the weak.
Or that the dignity of the
weak will be threatened by
the power of the strong.
What then is Benedict’s fundamental proposal in the face of these problems?
SCHINDLER: As Benedict has often said, the problems indicated here go to the very roots of our being, and therefore our response has to be equally radical, must also go to the roots of our being. And so we return to what we said at the outset, that fundamental for Benedict, fundamental for the human beings of today — as it has been in a different way for all human beings in all times and all places — is recuperation of the centrality of the reality of God, and therefore also love, at the heart of their lives. Really, the response indicated in the theology of Benedict is very simple. What is needed as a response to the problems of today is simply sanctity: a sanctity of life, that is, understood in all of its ontological depth and breadth. What is meant most properly by a culture of life and a civilization of love is a recuperation of the “Dies Domini,” the day of the Lord, as an entire way of life. We have to recover a stillness at the heart of our activism which makes room for God and for the other in their integrity. And, again, Benedict invites us to “remember” this in the manner archetypically realized for us in Mary’s fiat. ●
Emily Rielley is managing editor of the North American
edition of Communio: International Review. She has BA in
English from the University of Dallas, and an MTS from the
John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. She lives in Arlington,

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