Friday, August 27, 2010

Pope or Heretic? An Evaluation of Benedict XVI

By Jacob Michael

LumenGentleman Apologetics
© 2003-2006

Link to this article by referencing this address:
http://www.lumengentleman.com/content.asp?id=179

Among the many ways in which one might choose to respond to the vast ecclesial crisis of our modern age, Sedevacantism certainly presents itself as one of the least intellectually challenging, and therefore, one of the easiest and most tempting paths to take. How do we explain the difficulties of Vatican II? Easy! The pope who convoked the council and the pope who promulgated its documents were heretical anti-popes, and therefore the council documents are invalid. Problem solved. How do we explain some of the confusing actions and statements of John Paul II, such as praying with pagans in Assisi, or telling the Jews that their Old Covenant was never revoked by God? Easy! He was an heretical anti-pope, and so his statements and actions have no bearing on Catholic reality.

This approach is undoubtedly satisfying on an emotional level. Seeing the decline of the Church in these days, finding it harder and harder to locate a good Mass, hearing report after report of scandal - this is all deeply frustrating for a Catholic who has any kind of love for the Church. There is a kind of inner struggle that goes on here, a need to resolve the tension; the instinct to give in to the emotional reaction and simply cry out "Heresy! Heretics! None of you are Catholic!" is strong indeed. Far more difficult is the work involved in sorting through the council documents or papal writings and trying to reconcile them with Tradition.

Between these two positions is the position that goes ahead and gives voice to the frustration, condemns the council and the popes (if not with words like "heresy" or "heretic," certainly with phrases like "contrary to the Faith," or "opposed to Sacred Tradition"), but stops short of dealing with the implications of such statements.

Neither of these positions, Sedevacantism or quasi-Sedevacantism, is tenable. But the problem lies in the "hermeneutic of suspicion" that so many well-intentioned Catholics fall into; a kind of cynicism that takes a defensive approach to any Church document issued after the reign of Pope Pius XII. Heresy hunting is easy; words by their very nature require interpretation, and most words can be bent, twisted, and taken to conclusions that the speaker or author never intended. As a former Protestant, I am more than well-acquainted with this fact; this "hermeneutic of suspicion" is the grid through which I learned to read the Catholic Church's teachings. The worst possible motive is always assumed; if something can be interpreted in either a good sense or a bad sense, the bad sense is presumed to be the sense intended, and false conclusions are drawn. For example: the Church teaches that Mary was conceived Immaculate; therefore, the Church is teaching that Mary was sinless and had no need of a Savior, that she is holy just as God is holy. Another example: the Church teaches that Christ is offered to God at every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; therefore, the Church teaches that Christ is crucified repeatedly. Protestations to the contrary are then immediately viewed as double-speak, an attempt to cover the truth when one has been caught in a lie.

It is not difficult to see this principle at work in the way some choose to receive and deal with the council, and especially with papal teachings and actions. Benedict XVI recently visited Auschwitz, and is reported to have asked, in a speech, "Where was God in those days? Why was he silent?" One Traditionalist writer has responded to this by saying "This is blasphemy. God has never remained silent during any evil committed by man upon his fellow men." (source) Must we assume the worst about the pope? How many times do we read similar sentiments in the Psalms? The great Crucifixion Psalm which Our Lord quoted on the Cross is just one example: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer." (Ps. 22:1-2) The Psalmist wants to know why God is so "far ... from the words" of his lament - that is to say, he wants to know why God has forsaken him and remained silent in the face of his suffering - is this "blasphemy"? Shall we respond to the Psalmist with the terse answer, "God has never remained silent during any evil committed by man upon his fellow men"?

While the pope hardly stands in need of my defense, I find that I must take the opportunity to answer some of the rhetorically-posed questions concerning Benedict XVI's orthodoxy. Increasingly I have been receiving emails from readers of this site, providing quotes from Benedict XVI (whether as pope or as Cardinal Ratzinger) that are intended to prove his heterodoxy. I have yet to see a quote that wasn't ripped from its context, squeezed through the filter of deep suspicion, interpreted in the worst possible light, and isolated from other statements within the body of Benedict XVI's work.

Perhaps most representative of this phenomenon is the quote being bandied about the Internet concerning what Father Ratzinger said with regard to Eucharistic Adoration. The quote, in part, reads as follows:

Eucharistic adoration or quiet visiting in church can, reasonably, not simply be thought of as conversation with the God who is thought present in a locally-circumscriptive manner. Statements such as "God lives here" and conversation with the locally-thought God based on such [thinking] express a mistake [misjudgment] of the Christological event as well as the idea of God, which necessarily repels the thinking man who knows about the omnipresence of God. If one were to justify going to church on the grounds that one must visit the God who is only present there, this would indeed be a justification which would make no sense and would rightfully be rejected by modern man. (Ratzinger, Die sakramentale Begr√ľndung christlicher Existenz, p. 26, source)

Of course, it has been claimed and will continue to be claimed that Ratzinger is here rejecting the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, and by extension, repudiating the dogma of transubstantiation. But anyone who is more than superficially familiar with his work knows exactly what he is saying here: he speaks of something very similar to this false way of thinking in Introduction to Christianity, when he discusses how pagan religions build shrines and then superstitiously believe that they can only worship their gods at those places. The key ideas in the above quote are expressed in such phrases as "locally-circumscriptive [lokal zirkumskriptiv]" and "one must visit the God who is only [nur] present there." For those who may be a bit unsure of the meaning of "locally-circumscriptive," it means "to restrict to a particular location." In other words, it is false to think of God as being present in the Church in a way that would restrict His presence to that location alone. Not only is this rightly rejected by modern man, it ought to be rejected by any orthodox Catholic who knows his faith.

Is Ratzinger denouncing Eucharistic Adoration? Hardly. If he was saying this, it would appear he has changed his mind since then, for he recently wrote:

God is near. God knows us. God is waiting for us in Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us not leave him waiting in vain! Let us not, through distraction and lethargy, pass by the greatest and most important thing life offers us. We should let ourselves be reminded, by today's reading, of the wonderful mystery kept close within the walls of our churches. Let us not pass it heedlessly by. Let us take time, in the course of the week, in passing, to go in and spend a moment with the Lord who is so near. During the day our churches should not be allowed to be dead houses, standing empty and seemingly useless. Jesus Christ's invitation is always being proffered from them. This sacred proximity to us is always alive in them. It is always calling us and inviting us in. This is what is lovely about Catholic churches, that within them there is, as it were, always worship, because the eucharistic presence of the Lord dwells always within them. (Ratzinger, God is Near Us [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2003], p. 103)

In another work written while he was a Cardinal, Ratzinger makes the following statement about Protestants and Protestantism:

"... there is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today ... It is obvious that the old category of 'heresy' is no longer of any value. Heresy, for Scripture and the early Church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the Church, and heresy's characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of him who persists in his own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now centuries-old history, Protestantism has ... [often given] rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian, whose separation from the Catholic affirmation has nothing to do with the pertinacia characteristic of heresy ... The conclusion is inescapable, then: Protestantism today is something different from heresy in the traditional sense, a phenomenon whose true theological place has not yet been determined." (Ratzinger, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993], pp. 87-8)

Most Holy Family Monastery comments on this quote with the usual rhetorical flair, saying "This is clearly Benedict XVI's worst and most explicit heresy so far, besides his teaching that Christ may not be the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. This is such an incredible heresy that there is absolutely nothing that anyone on earth can say to defend this apostate. It is undeniable proof that he is not a Catholic." I suppose MHFM would be the first to proclaim that the devil is in the details.

The important detail here in this quote is, of course, the canonical description of heresy as something that involves a personal and pertinacious (obstinate) decision on the part of an individual. One cannot be held guilty of rejecting a teaching with which one is not even familiar, or of which one is not yet aware. The Church condemns the abstract principles of Protestantism, and condemned as heretics those original Protestants who knowingly, willingly, and pertinaciously distorted the Catholic Faith. Now, 500 years after the fact, can we apply the label of "heretic" to a person who was born into a Protestant family, was raised as a Protestant, and today lives as a Protestant who is unaware of the Church's teachings? Perhaps in the strictly objective and material sense, yes, but certainly not in the formal, canonical and subjective sense, for this individual has made no personal and obstinate decision to remain outside the Church or to deny Her teachings. The Code of Canon Law defines heresy as follows:

Heresy is the obstinate [pertinax] denial or obstinate [pertinax] doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith. (Canon 751)

Ratzinger is thus right to say that today's situation within Protestantism is "something different from heresy in the traditional sense," since it rarely involves the necessary condition of pertinacity or obstinacy. What exactly is involved in Protestantism today is, as Ratzinger said, "a phenomenon whose true theological place has not yet been determined." This is not at all to say that the Protestant doctrines, considered in the abstract and apart from a person who believes them, are not heretical; his words are, quite obviously, to be understood in the context of persons who have not willingly rejected the Catholic Faith, and as such, cannot be properly called heretics.

The second "worst and most explicit heresy" of Benedict XVI, as alluded to above, concerns his statements regarding the Jews and the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The Cardinal said this:

"I have ever more come to the realization that Judaism ... and the Christian faith described in the New Testament are two ways of appropriating Israel's Scriptures, two ways that, in the end, are both determined by the position one assumes with regard to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The Scripture we today call Old Testament is in itself open to both ways. For the most part, only after the Second World War did we begin to understand that the Jewish interpretation, too, in the time 'after Christ', of course possesses a theological mission of its own." (Ratzinger, Milestones [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1998], pp. 53-4)

The same line of thought was expressed by Ratzinger in another published work, wherein he said:

It is of course possible to read the Old Testament so that it is not directed toward Christ; it does not point quite unequivocally to Christ. And if Jews cannot see the promises as being fulfilled in him, this is not just ill will on their part, but genuinely because of the obscurity of the texts and the tension in the relationship between these texts and the figure of Jesus. Jesus brings a new meaning to these texts - yet it is he who first gives them their proper coherence and relevance and significance. There are perfectly good reasons, then, for denying that the Old Testament refers to Christ and for saying, No, that is not what he said. And there are also good reasons for referring it to him - that is what the dispute between Jews and Christians is about. (Ratzinger, God and the World [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2000], p. 209)

Anyone who has bothered to crack open the dusty family bible that sits on the bookshelf (which, unfortunately, does not include a vast majority of Traditional Catholics) knows that what Ratzinger says here is true. The key word he uses above is the word "unequivocally," which means "without ambiguity." The Old Testament points to Christ, and that much is certain - the Cardinal affirms this above, saying "there are ... good reasons for referring it to him." But if it points to Christ, it does so by way of shadowy figures and cryptic prophecies which, precisely because of their ambiguous nature, admit of more than one possible interpretation - which is certainly not the same thing as saying that these texts admit of more than one true interpretation.

Take, for example, Isaiah's prophecies about the "Servant" of the Lord. One text reads, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations." (Is. 42:1) St. Matthew applies this text to Our Lord and says that it is fulfilled in Him (cf. Matt. 12:14-21). This is what St. Thomas Aquinas would call the allegorical interpretation of the literal sense of the prophecy; yet, we find elsewhere in Isaiah that the immediate and historical interpretation of the text must see this "Servant" as a reference to Israel:

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off." (Is. 41:8-9)

But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. (Is. 44:1-2)

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. (Is. 44:21)

For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. (Is. 45:4)

And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." (Is. 49:3)

It cannot be denied, then, that the Old Testament prophecies can admit of both meanings: the "Servant" is Israel, in the immediate historical and literal context, and yet it is also true that this "Servant" is a type and foreshadowing of Christ Himself. Ratzinger is absolutely correct to say "There are perfectly good reasons, then, for denying that the Old Testament refers to Christ and for saying, No, that is not what he said." He does not say that the conclusion is correct, or that these "good reasons" legitimate the non-Christological interpretation; he only admits that the texts do not apply solely to Christ, a fact which cannot be denied.

Again on the question of the Eucharist, Ratzinger has been accused of denying the Real Presence. He writes:

There were those who were filled with the thought: Jesus is really there. But 'reality', for them, was simply physical, bodily. Consequently, they arrived at the conclusion: In the Eucharist we chew on the flesh of the Lord; but therein they were under the sway of a serious misapprehension. For Jesus has risen. We do not eat flesh, as cannibals would do. (Ratzinger, God is Near Us, p. 84)

Before we leap to the conclusion that Ratzinger is denying the presence of Jesus' flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we would do well to revisit the declarations of the Council of Trent. In the thirteenth session, the Council defined the Church's teaching on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist - and one will search the text in vain for words like "physical" or "literal." Instead, the Council says that Christ is "sacramentally present to us in his own substance" (cap. 1), in contrast to the fact that He "always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing." The literal and physical flesh of Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven; it is the substantial and sacramental body of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist. Thus, Ratzinger is correct: we most certainly do not "eat flesh, as cannibals would do," because cannibals eat the physical, natural, and literal flesh of human beings; Catholics do not do this. We receive Christ's flesh in the sacrament in a substantial way, and in a sacramental way - not in a physical or natural way.

Several quotes have been emailed to me from one particular chapter in Ratzinger's book, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, wherein Cardinal Ratzinger responds to a letter sent to him by a Lutheran bishop. I wish there was space here to reproduce both letters in their entirety; the Lutheran puts some rather challenging questions to Ratzinger concerning points of Catholic doctrine over which they disagree, and Ratzinger, to his credit, never once compromises in order to appease the Lutheran.

While reproducing all of the two letters is not feasible, it will be useful, I think, to at least provide the full context of the question(s) which Ratzinger is answering. The Lutheran minister poses the following inquiry:

"Ecclesial communion, into which each individual is introduced by faith and by baptism, has its root and center in the holy Eucharist." Would one not have to conclude from [this] that Churches and ecclesial communities who ... "have not preserved a valid Eucharist" are cut off from the root and the heart of ecclesial fellowship - although we have previously stated together that - despite the divisions that exist - we are received by baptism and by faith into a fellowship with one another, whose heart is the gospel of Jesus Christ himself? (Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005], p. 244)

Ratzinger responds as follows:

Of course the fellowship with Jesus Christ himself, and with his saving Word, based on baptism, is and remains as important as it was portrayed by the Council's Decree on Ecumenism; no one intends to call that into question. The "eucharistic ecclesiology" that is taken up in the document presupposes baptism and reinforces the Christological center. Besides, I reckon as one of the important results of ecumenical conversations particularly the realization that the question of the Eucharist cannot be restricted to the problem of "validity." Even a theology along the lines of the concept of succession, as is in force in the Catholic and in the Orthodox Church, should in no way deny the saving presence of the Lord in the Evangelical Lord's Supper. The place of the Eucharist is of course seen differently within the framework of the ecclesiology of the Reformed tradition from how it is seen in the Catholic and the Orthodox tradition. There is no doubt that the dialogues still have a great deal of work before them here. Yet this difference, and the question it implies, cannot diminish what has so far been found on the path of ecumenism. (Pilgrim Fellowship, p. 248)

As an interpretation of this statement by Ratzinger, the MHFM organization declares:

This is total heresy! This means that it doesn't matter if one receives the Lord truly or not; you are saved either way. The Protestant "Eucharist" is a saving Eucharist! The actual Real Presence of the Lord in Catholicism is meaningless, according to Benedict XVI. source

Once again, subtleties and attention to detail do not appear to be the special concern of cynics and Heresy Hunters. The Lutheran minister has not asked Ratzinger about salvation; he has asked if a valid Eucharist is a necessary component of "ecclesial fellowship," and Ratzinger acknowledges that such fellowship is based upon baptism, and that there is a kind of "presence" of Christ in the Evangelical "Lord's Supper" (notice he does not call this the "Eucharist" in relationship to Protestantism, as MHFM does). What kind of presence? Ratzinger does not elaborate beyond the use of the adjective "saving," which describes the presence of Christ, not the "Lord's Supper." He never uses the phrase "a saving Eucharist." All he does is acknowledge the point: Christ is in some way present with those who gather together to commemorate His death in the Evangelical "Lord's Supper."

Neither does Ratzinger draw the conclusion from this that "it doesn't matter if one receives the Lord truly or not; you are saved either way," and he certainly does not suggest that "The actual Real Presence of the Lord in Catholicism is meaningless."

It is understandable why some people would have a problem with this statement of Ratzinger's, especially if they profess a radical kind of belief in Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus which does not allow for salvation outside the visible structure of the Church - something which even so great a scholar as Msgr. Joseph Fenton admitted as a possibility in his work, The Catholic Church and Salvation in the Light of Recent Announcements by the Holy See. For those Catholics who accept the Church's teaching on the subject, it can be admitted that Jesus is at least spiritually present and close to those who sincerely draw near to Him through their remembrance of His Passion - indeed, we must believe that if such an individual is sincere, then Our Lord is most certainly present with them, and giving them the necessary graces to make their entrance into the One True Church.

On the question of the Papacy, the Lutheran minister writes:

In our conversations we recognized that the office of pope is subordinate to Holy Scripture and has a duty toward it. With this presupposition, the recognition of this office as a Petrine ministry for the unity of the Church becomes conceivable. Now we read ... "The primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the episcopal College are essential elements of the universal Church"; and the conclusion is drawn: "The ministry of the primacy involves, in essence, a truly episcopal power, which is not only supreme, full, and universal, but also immediate, over everybody." Can this be justified from the Bible? (Pilgrim Fellowship, p. 245)

One can sense a certain disbelief in the Lutheran minister's tone, and a rhetorical edge to the question: "Surely this cannot be justified from Scripture?" Ratzinger remains undaunted in his response:

The sentence quoted ... is taken from almost word for word from Vatican I and Vatican II; it merely repeats what is said at length there in the same terms. On this point in particular we kept most carefully to the Council texts. The question about the biblical basis of the doctrine on the primacy of the two Vatican Councils is a classic point of controversy that has been a matter of debate for a long time and certainly needs to be debated further. A document from the Congregation [CDF] had no business intervening in this debate, but it could, quite properly, repeat the doctrine as given, without changing the theological task associated with it. (Pilgrim Fellowship, p. 250)

MHFM understands this quote to mean the following:

This means that Vatican I's definition that Our Lord conferred the primacy upon St. Peter and his successors ... needs to be debated further. This is just astounding heresy. (ibid.)

The expression used here, that "Vatican I's definition" concerning the Papacy "needs to be debated further," has little in common with what Ratzinger actually said: that "the biblical basis of the doctrine" of the Papacy "has been a matter of debate for a long time," and that it "needs to be debated further." It is one thing to accept a dogma of the Church and to give it the assent of Faith; it is another thing to show how that dogma is supportable by Sacred Scripture - this is why Pope Pius XII said "It is also true that theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition." (Humani Generis, 21)

Certainly Ratzinger is not suggesting that the Scriptural support for the papacy needs to be questioned by Catholics; rather, he is suggesting that it should be a subject of further debate between Catholics and Protestants, in order to demonstrate to Protestants that this teaching is based on Scripture.

Passing from Cardinal Ratzinger's pre-election writings, we return again to address a few of his statements that he has made as Pope Benedict XVI:

At Easter we rejoice because Christ did not remain in the tomb, his body did not see corruption; he belongs to the world of the living, not to the world of the dead; we rejoice because he is the Alpha and also the Omega, as we proclaim in the rite of the Paschal Candle; he lives not only yesterday, but today and for eternity (cf. Heb 13:8). But somehow the Resurrection is situated so far beyond our horizon, so far outside all our experience that, returning to ourselves, we find ourselves continuing the argument of the disciples: Of what exactly does this "rising" consist? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and the whole of history? A German theologian once said ironically that the miracle of a corpse returning to life - if it really happened, which he did not actually believe - would be ultimately irrelevant precisely because it would not concern us. In fact, if it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us? But the point is that Christ's Resurrection is something more, something different. If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest "mutation", absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history. (Easter Vigil Homily, April 15, 2006, source)

It is alleged that in this quote, Benedict XVI both "accepts the process of evolution as valid," and also "reduces the miracle of the Resurrection to a random process," thereby "rejecting the reality of the Resurrection."

Notice, however, the hermeneutic of suspicion at work here: the pope says nothing about the validity of the theory of evolution in this quote, nor does he profess his own belief in it. Still less does he say or even imply that "Christ's Resurrection is a stage in the process of evolution," or that "the miracle of the Resurrection" is the result of "a random process." He is appealing to evolution by way of analogy to show how Christ's Resurrection does indeed concern all of us: and this is why he says "we may borrow the language" of evolution.

Evolution posits the "mutation" of one kind of body into another: a complete transformation. This is, says the pope, similar to what happened in the Resurrection: Christ did not merely resuscitate His old human body, but rather, He took on a completely new and glorified body, a body that is somehow even more elevated than the human bodies we possess.

The closest analogy in the modern world is this idea of "mutation" in evolution - but merely saying so does not mean that evolution is true, nor does it mean to place the Resurrection at the end of the long process of the evolution of bodies. It merely means that the error of the evolutionist in explaining the origin of the species actually has some grain of truth or applicability to it, when it is divorced from the context of the origin of the species and applied to what happened to Christ's human body in the Resurrection: as St. Paul says, "I tell you a mystery ... we shall all be changed." To somehow find support for evolution in the pope's statement here is the mark of a bad exegete, and something I would expect from a liberal, not a professed Traditionalist.

In another address, Benedict XVI made the following remarks to the Episcopal Conference of Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and Capo Verde:

One of the tasks through which the Church in your region most visibly expresses love of neighbour is her involvement with a view to social development. Many ecclesial structures enable your communities to serve the poorest of the poor effectively, a sign of their awareness that love of neighbour, rooted in love of God, is constitutive of Christian life. So it is that "the entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 19). However, Christianity must not be reduced to a purely human wisdom or confused with a social service, for it is also a spiritual service.

Nor, for disciples of Christ, can the exercise of charity be a means of engaging in proselytism, because love is free (cf. ibid., n. 31). You often serve human beings in collaboration with men and women who do not share the Christian faith, especially Muslims. Thus, the efforts made for an encounter in truth of believers of different religious traditions contributes to achieving in practice the authentic good of individuals and of society. It is indispensable to increasingly deepen brotherly relations between the communities in order to encourage a harmonious social development, recognizing the dignity of each person and enabling everyone to practice their religion freely. (Address of Benedict XVI, February 20, 2006, source)

By now it will not be difficult to guess which portions of this quote are identified as "heretical." First, the Holy Father rejects "proselytism" as part of the "exercise of charity"; second, he bids the bishops to "increasingly deepen brotherly relations between the communities," and also to "[enable] everyone to practice their religion freely." To the first part of the statement, it must be observed that the pope is contrasting "proselytism" with the fact that "love is free." In the context of mission and conversion, then, it is apparent that by "proselytism" he means to indicate conversion-by-coercion - something which the Church has always condemned. Notice that he does not say that the bishops should not spread the faith and attempt to convert souls, only that they should not "proselytize," a word that has taken on the negative connotation of a conversion that is obtained by means of pressure or coercion. As for the second part, ensuring that Man is able to practice his religion freely is a necessary pre-condition to true conversion. Again, the root of this matter is to be found in the fact that a true conversion must include the free assent of the will; God has created Man with a free will, and only the free and unimpaired assent to Faith can be considered legitimate. If Man is hindered from exercising his free will in such matters, then there can be no true conversion - which is not to say that he can be totally free to publicly practice whatever faith he chooses (for example, a Satanist could not be free to sacrifice a human victim just because his religion demands it), because such is not his immutable right. On the other hand, false religions can and should be tolerated to the extent that such toleration would be more conducive to their ultimate conversion:

On the other hand, the rites of other unbelievers, which are neither truthful nor profitable are by no means to be tolerated, except perchance in order to avoid an evil, e.g. the scandal or disturbance that might ensue, or some hindrance to the salvation of those who if they were unmolested might gradually be converted to the faith. For this reason the Church, at times, has tolerated the rites even of heretics and pagans, when unbelievers were very numerous. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-IIae, q. 10, a. 11)

Clearly, in the case of these bishops addressed by the pope, who live in areas that are greatly populated by Muslims, it would be more advantageous to tolerate their religion in order that true conversions might occur (the full and free assent to the Catholic Faith).

As mentioned above, time and space prevent an exhaustive analysis of every single utterance of Benedict XVI which is put forth as supposed evidence of heresy. Unfortunately, those who are bent on hunting down and exposing the mythical papal heresies will always be able to dig up more dirt than any can easily be dealt with. That is the nature of cynicism: everything is suspect, nothing gets a free pass, and no potential evidence, no matter how weak, is left alone - just so long as one accusation can be made to stick.

The quotes that have been examined above should suffice to demonstrate at least the basic counter-argument: Ratzinger is often quoted out of context, and no attempt whatsoever is made to understand his statements or to reconcile them with orthodoxy before the charge of "heresy" is leveled. When a little bit of charity is applied, however, and when we begin with an orientation that wants to assume the best instead of the worst, the accusations prove to be weaker than at first suspected. A little bit of clarification (not to mention a bit of familiarity with Tradition) goes a long way towards obtaining a better appreciation of Benedict XVI.

Read a short follow-up to this article: Ratzinger's Resurrection Heresy: A Brief Note on Another Misreading.

Jacob Michael
© 2003-2006 LumenGentleman Apologetics

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