Recently here at this website, I quoted Valentin Tomberg saying:
The darkening which today is described as ‘the present crisis of the Catholic Church’ can lead to the necessity for the solitary sons of the Church to hurry to the aid of the Holy Father, the most solitary of solitaries, in order to save the Church from the abyss toward which she is moving …
I also noted that Valentin Tomberg had written these words shortly after the Second Vatican Council. And I added that now, forty years later:
It might be more appropriate to say “towards which she has been moving”. For there are signs of a turning of the tide – that the Church is now more conscious of this abyss and that under His Holiness, Benedict XVI, it is beginning to turn aside from [its] direction.
Now to my mind, the direction of the abyss which Tomberg had in mind (and heart) is lucidly elaborated in this valuable document, The Ratzinger Report, stemming from the middle of the 1980s. This book can also be seen as a companion to Salt of the Earth (which I’ve also reviewed here).
For both books are interviews with the former Cardinal Ratzinger about the state of the Church and the world at the end of the twentieth century, and because they are interviews – rather than complex treatises on theology – they can offer highly accessible doorways into the profound thought and heart of the man who is now the Holy Father.
Now in this earlier volume, the emphasis is perhaps slightly less on contemporary society and more on the Mystery of the Church, in the wake of Vatican II.
Here Ratzinger is deeply occupied with what he sees as the “authentic crisis” in the Church following the Council.
Ratzinger and a Church in Crisis
Thus, he expounds his view of Vatican II that:
What the Popes and Council Fathers were expecting was a new Catholic unity, and instead one has encountered a dissension which – to use the words of Paul VI – seems to have passed over from self criticism to self destruction. There had been the expectation of a new enthusiasm, and instead too often it has ended in boredom and discouragement.
There had been the expectation of a step forward and instead one found oneself facing a progressive process of decadence, that to a large measure has been unfolding under the sign of a summons to the presumed `spirit of the Council’”.
By`presumed’ it might be explained that the future Pope means not so much the text that is contained in the Council documents, which can be interpreted according to Catholic tradition – but rather an imputed`spirit’ involving a movement towards negation of hierarchy within the Church, decentralisation and democracy – a movement Ratzinger sees as leading towards a`clone’ of Protestantism, entirely foreign to Catholicism. For him the result is clear – a Church in crisis:
The damage that we have done to the Church in these 20 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 a cultural revolution in the west.’
Thus for the Holy Father:
Real reform of the Church presupposes an unequivocal turning away from the erroneous paths whose catastrophic consequences are already incontestable.
And his prescription for the reform in the Church? His prescription is Mystery, defense of the Mystery:
Communio sanctorum means … to have ‘holy things’ in common, that is to say the grace of the Sacraments that pours forth from the dead and resurrected Christ. It is precisely this mysterious yet real bond, this union in life that is also the reason why the Church is not our Church [but] rather his Church … Her deep and permanent structure is not democratic but sacramental, consequently hierarchical.
For the hierarchy based on the apostolic succession is the indispensable condition to arrive at the strength, the reality of the sacrament. Here authority is not based on the majority of votes, it is based on the authority of Christ himself, Only if this perspective is acquired anew will it be possible to rediscover the necessity and FRUITFULNESS of obedience to the legitimate ecclesiastical hierarchies …
FRUITFULNESS … I, myself, have emphasised this word from the man who is now our Holy Father. For it is commonly assumed in many liberal, Protestant and New Age circles, that there is no value at all to the hierarchy, that it is simply a human construct, now outmoded and devoid of worth.
Many making this assumption can thus see a clinging to hierarchy as nothing but power politics. But what if it is the reverse that is actually more true? And that it is often those seeking to destroy the hierarchy that are trying to grab power, and that those trying to preserve the Mystery of the Hierarchical Church, often have far humbler and more morally noble motives.
This, in any event, is my own conclusion having studied this situation for more than a decade. And it is the conclusion and the living experience of countless more traditional Catholics, that the hierarchy and a respect for the hierarchy and the tradition, generates an amazing amount of rich, rich fruit in their lives …
That fruit involves the cognition of the Mystery, the Catholic Mystery. Still for those who have not experienced the fruitfulness of this Mystery, the lineaments of the Catholic tradition, the hierarchy and the sacraments, can understandably appear as irrelevant archaisms.
And this of course, consequently leads to tragic misunderstandings. Why are Catholics bothering to defend the tradition when it’s obviously just worthless – unfruitful? This is what many a modern mind clearly thinks – subconsciously at least. Ratzinger addresses this condition:
For the modern man in the street, the most obvious concept of the Church is what one would technically call Congregationalist or Free Church. It implies that the Church is a changeable form, depending upon how men organise what pertains to faith. Consequently one has to adapt as far as possible to the demands of the present moment … today many people can hardly understand anymore that behind a human reality stands the mysterious divine reality … this is the Catholic understanding of the Church, and it is far harder to accept than … the Protestant understanding (Emphasis mine).
But for Joseph Ratzinger the way is clear. Although he has kind and respectful words for Protestantism, it is pointless and self-destructive to let Catholicism become a “clone” of Protestantism. Thus he speaks of the Sacraments. Of Holy Communion, he says the
Eucharist is not only a`brotherly meal’. The Mass is the common sacrifice of the Church in which the Lord … communicates himself to us … consequently its redeeming power extends to all men, those present and those far away, the living and the dead”. The redeeming power extends to all humanity … this is the reason the Catholic priest celebrates the Mass, even if not a single soul is present, beside himself.
Thus for Joseph Ratzinger:
It is therefore necessary to return to the authentic context of the Sacrament where men encounter mystery.
And in terms of the mysterious Sacrament of Confession, Ratzinger has said:
The sense of the scandal through which a man can say to another man `I absolve you from your sins’ must be rediscovered [for the] priest draws authority from Christ.
I hope that the above quotations will serve to give indication of something of the thrust of this book and the thrust of the pontificate of the present Holy Father.
There is far more to the book, of course. Ratzinger turns his acute attention to many, many other aspects of modernity and the Church with his erudite, penetrating and surprising analysis – not to say his very profound and very human, heartfelt wisdom.
That being said, it should be noted that some may find the book a little dated – coming as it does from a time when the Soviet Union still existed and Vatican II was just twenty years old and not forty five. And the Church was only beginning to deal with many of the “progressive” abuses committed in its name.
Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck
Yet even if it may be a little dated, this is still the voice of a most profound and uniquely-positioned soul reflecting on the scandal and the mystery at the heart of the Catholic Church.
And I pray that the thought contained in this book from this beautiful soul, who has lived a painstakingly dedicated life deeply, so deeply within the Catholic Mystery … I pray that the thought within this book may be heard and contemplated by those who assume – consciously or not – that the tradition holds no worth, no FRUIT.
For the truth is rather the reverse. And the fruit of the tradition can change one’s life … forever.
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