Benedict XVI in prayer (Vatican Media)

    Letter #4, 2023 Wednesday, January 4: “Love is possible”

    In this letter, I send 10 quotations from Pope Benedict XVI on love and suffering.

    One or another of these may be a thought or sentence that you may wish to memorize, or keep.

    I then send two very interesting reflections by Catholic writers.

    The first is from George Weigel writing for First Things on the idea that Pope Benedict should quickly be proclaimed a “Doctor of the Church.”

    In his piece, Weigel gives the transcript of an interview he had with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome on September 20, 1997. Weigel rightly judges that the transcript is interesting because it reveals so much about the man: his acute intelligence, his eloquence, his excellent memory, all in the context of a conversation, not a written text. In other words, it shows the quality of Ratzinger’s mind with great clarity.

    The second piece is from Timothy Flanders, writing for the One Peter Five website. It is an interesting and thoughtful reflection from the perspective of a convert from Orthodoxy, and a Catholic who regards himself as a “traditionalist,” on the life, work and theology of Pope Benedict XVI.

    Good reading. —RM

    Ten quotes from Pope Benedict XVI on the beauty of love and suffering (link)

    By Katie Yoder

    January 3, 2023

    When Pope Benedict XVI published his first encyclical, he chose an everlasting topic: love.

    “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him,” he began the 2005 document Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) by citing 1 John 4:16. It was not the first — nor the last — time he would teach on the subject.

    Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died on Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95. A prolific author and scholar of theology, he served as head of the Catholic Church for nearly eight years, from 2005 until his resignation in 2013.

    Here are 10 quotes about love from the late Pope.

    1. “My dear young friends, I want to invite you to ‘dare to love.’ Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love.” — World Youth Day, 2007

    2. “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” — Homily, St. Peter’s Square, April 24, 2005

    3. “If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.” — Guanajuato, Mexico, Mach 24, 2012

    4. “Love is the light — and in the end, the only light — that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.” — Deus Caritas Est

    5. “Love grows through love.” — Deus Caritas Est 

    6. “The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.” — Deus Caritas Est

    7. “If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you.” — “Jesus of Nazareth”

    8. Jesus’ “death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.” —  Deus Caritas Est

    9. “Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

    “When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature.” —  “God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald”

    10. “Mary is a woman who loves. How could it be otherwise? As a believer who in faith thinks with God’s thoughts and wills with God’s will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves. We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel. We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus. We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus’ true hour.” — Deus Caritas Est 

    Here is a letter posted yesterday from Rome by American Catholic colleague and author George Weigel, writing for the journal First Things (link).

    Letters From Rome: #1

    On the Death of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

    By George Weigel

    Joseph Ratzinger, Doctor of the Church? (link)

    Tuesday, January 3, 2023

    In the days since his death on December 31, several commentators have expressed the hope that Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI and then Pope Emeritus, will eventually be named as a Doctor of the Church. In light of those hopes, I thought it would be interesting to revisit a conversation I had with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when I was preparing Witness to Hope, the first volume of my two-volume biography of Pope St. John Paul II.

    It was September 20, 1997, and we spoke, as we usually did, in the cardinal’s office in the Palazzo Sant’Ufficio. As always, the cardinal was dressed simply in a black house cassock with no pectoral cross. After discussing several other matters, I asked him about John Paul II’s recent decision to name St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, a Doctor of the Church, after petition to do so had been received from (if memory serves) well over two thousand bishops, in a campaign led by a retired auxiliary bishop of New York, Patrick Ahern. The decision had caused some controversy, as that rare title was typically given to distinguished theologians.

    When I asked Cardinal Ratzinger, point-blank, “Why is Thérèse of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church,” the cardinal laughed (which he did readily, caricatures of his personality notwithstanding), and refraining from any comment on the bluntness, even impertinence, of my question, he began to speak—in complete paragraphs, as was his wont. The following is a direct transcription of his response, which I think sheds light on his own concept of holiness and its many expressions:

    We have had distinct forms of Doctors of the Church, even before Anthony of Padua. We have on the one hand the great scholastic Doctors, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, who were professors and academicians and great Doctors in the scientific sense; in the patristic period we had great predicators who developed doctrine not in theological discussion but in predication, in homilies; we also have Ephraim, who developed his theology essentially in hymns and music. Now in these times we have new forms of Doctors and it’s important to lift up the richness of the different means of teaching in the Church. We have Teresa of Avila with her mystical experiences and her interpretations of the presence of God in mystical experience. We have Catherine of Siena with an experiential theology. And now we have Thérèse of Lisieux, who [created] in a different…way a theology of experience.

    It is important, in our scientifically minded society, to have the message of a simple and deep experience of God, and a teaching about the simplicity of being a saint: to give, in this time, with its extremely action-oriented approach, to teach that to be a saint is not necessarily a matter of great actions, but of letting the Lord work in us.

    This is also interesting for the ecumenical dialogue. Luther’s doctrine of justification was provoked by his difficulty in understanding himself justified and redeemed through the complex structures of the medieval Church. Grace did not arrive in his soul and we have to understand the explosion of ‘sola fide’ in this context: that he discovered finally that he had only to give fiducia, confidence, to the Lord, to give myself into the hands of the Lord—and I am redeemed. I think in a very Catholic way this returned in Thérèse of Lisieux: You don’t have to make great things. I am poor, spiritually and materially; and to give myself into the hands of Jesus is sufficient. This is a real interpretation of what it means to be redeemed; we don’t have to do great things, we have to be confident, and in the freedom of that confidence we can follow Jesus and realize a Christian life. This is not only an important contribution to the ecumenical dialogue but to our common question—how can I be redeemed, how am I justified? [Thérèse’s] “little way” is a very deep rediscovering of the center of Christian life.

    The other concept is that from the cloister, far from the world, one can do much for the world. Communion with Christ is presence to Christians all over the world. Everybody can be “efficient” for the universal Church in this day. This is also a new definition of “efficiency” in the Church. We have so many actions, and we have to discover that “efficiency” begins with communion with the Lord. This idea, that the heart of the Church is present in all the parts of the body, is a good correction to a merely pragmatic Church, an “efficient” Church in the external sense. It’s a rediscovery of the roots of all Christian action.

    She also had a new idea of heaven, of the relationship between eternity and time. To be present on earth and to do good on earth is my heaven. We have a new relationship between eternity and time: heaven is not absent from earth, but a new and stronger presence. Eternity is present in time, and living for eternity is living in and for the time at hand. By living a Christian life we are more present to earth, we are changing the earth; we can speak about a new eschatology here, which is an important doctrine.

    This dialectic of presence and absence is a very great doctrine. The subtlety of Thérèse is also wonderful in dealing with some of the demands for new Marian dogmas. She wrote, “Don’t always speak about the privileges of Mary, speak about her as being as we are.” There are some wonderful texts [along these lines] and these are very helpful corrections against these [hyper-Marian] tendencies…

    That was Joseph Ratzinger, twenty-five years ago, on the vocation to holiness and its many forms and modalities in the Church; on time and eternity; on handing oneself over in confidence to the Lord; on the irreducible Christocentricity of the Christian life. In remembering that conversation from a quarter-century ago, I cannot help but think that Ratzinger was allowing me a glimpse into his own deep interior life: the life of a man aptly described by Cardinal Joachim Meisner as having “the mind of twelve professors” and the clear piety of a child making his or her first Holy Communion.

    George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

    And here is the essay posted yesterday by Timothy Flanders (link):

    Trad Perspective on Benedict XVI (link)

    By T. S. Flanders

    January 3, 2023

    “I’m sorry about Benedict.”

    I turned from my dog to my daughter.

    “Did he die?” I asked my daughter.

    “Yeah,” she said.

    “Who died?” said my six-year-old son.

    “Pope Benedict, the former pope.”

    I was taking it in. It wasn’t hitting me yet.

    I said to my son: “Now he goes to judgment. We pray that he may get into purgatory and go to heaven!”

    My son went back to colouring.

    I went back to tending the dog.

    I had just spent over a week on a Christmas retreat from work and my phone. I hadn’t checked my email or social media in eight days. It was Saturday, December 31st at around 9am in the morning. The news struck me slowly. I remember seeing the Pope Emeritus in recent photos. He certainly looked elderly. A few days prior my friend had told me the Pope Emeritus was in poor health. My mind was in retreat mode, far from the politics and drama of the Vatican that I work in daily. In my heart I felt a peace and a sadness. There’s a peace when an old man dies in the Sacraments of Holy Church.

    We can have a reasonable hope that he was welcomed into purgatory.

    When an old man is graced with a Catholic death it is a peace because he has left this valley of tears and we hope that he has entered true life.

    And I felt a sadness. The sadness that millions of faithful feel today, for whom Benedict was their spiritual Holy Father. But for me and for Trads, this loss may be felt somewhat differently.

From Orthodox to Rome

    Years ago when I was Eastern Orthodox, I first encountered Joseph Ratzinger in his comments regarding the Eastern schisms and the east-west dialogue. To my mind, these comments showed the amount of erudition necessary to overcome centuries of bad blood and misunderstanding. I was also struck by his criticisms of the Protestant Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory (which Orthodox criticise) and his work for Biblical and Patristic models of atonement.

    These sentiments made my Eastern Orthodox mind become more open to the claims of Rome. It was in particular his statements regarding the Papacy that struck a chord with me.

    At the time I was dialoguing with a Roman Catholic and disputing with him about Orthodox critiques against Rome. I had in my mind the hyperpapalist view of the Papacy, which (then and now) seemed wholly contrary to the Patristic phronema on the episcopacy and the see of Rome. This Roman Catholic patiently explained to me that this hyperpapalist view was in error, and that “there was really only one authority in the Church: Tradition.”

    That made sense to me.

    If the Papacy were really in service to Tradition as its guardian, not its master, then I could accept Roman dogmas.

    At the time I did not realise just how much this view was both articulated and embodied by Joseph Ratzinger. But let me return to that in a moment.

Benedict’s Resignation

    I remember hearing the news about the resignation in early 2013. I was still Orthodox then, but spending my final Lent outside of communion with Rome. My close Catholic friends mourned the loss of Benedict as Pope, but for me I was never impacted closely by any modern pope in my conversion to Rome. Frankly I found the constant dwelling of Catholics on the person of the pope rather odd.

    I would later find out how much Ratzinger/Benedict sought to place the focus on the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, and stand out of the way to let the Faith speak. Again, he had already been articulating the things that I had come to believe in Rome for my salvation.

    That spring the western Lent was about a month earlier than the Orthodox Lent. I remembered attending my local Tenebrae service in which Allegri’s Miserere Mei was chanted. I was moved in my heart and knew my home was Rome. Again, unbeknownst to me this sacred music had been preserved directly and indirectly by Ratzinger/Benedict.

    Looking back, I see that I owe a lot to him, even if I didn’t know it at the time. For that I am thankful for his work in the Church. It was because of these things and others that I was later received into communion with Rome in May of 2013, shortly after Pope Francis was elected. After spending my whole Catholic life under Pope Francis, I still don’t regret this decision. I never have. And I’ve come to appreciate more over the years what Benedict did for the Church.

Ratzinger against Hyperpapalism

    This, I think, is one of the enduring contributions of Ratzinger to the crisis of the 20th century. I would learn later that the basic articulation of the authority in the Church by my Roman Catholic interlocutor had been expressing Ratzinger’s words and deeds in his career. Years later I would learn the many examples of this:

    In 1960 Ratzinger castigated Hans Küng who wanted to make the Council (Vatican II) into a parliament for changing doctrine. An ecumenical council, even if promulgated by the pope, was always at the service of the Tradition.

    In the 1970s Ratzinger – who was then a world famous celebrity priest theologian – openly criticised the liturgical reform and the banning of the Latin Mass by Paul VI. Clearly he was not a hyperpapalist, who felt the need to blindly accept the Novus Ordo and all its implementation even though the pope signed it.

    In the 1980s and 90s, Joseph Ratzinger slowly reintegrated the Latin Mass back into the liturgical life of the Church, putting into action his words under Paul VI.

    With Summorum Pontificum, he articulated this principle of Tradition, this “hermeneutic of continuity,” that the pope was not above the liturgical tradition, but was its guardian and “gardener.”[1]

    Thus I could see a consistency in Ratzinger the priest and pope – a constant return to Tradition as the one authority in the Church. Coming from Eastern Orthodoxy, this vision of the Papacy was one that I could accept because I knew it accorded with the First Millennium Papacy and all the oaths and confessions of Faith of popes and bishops.

    Guard the Tradition.

    That’s your job as pope.

Father of Trads

    Joseph Ratzinger was not a Trad. His school of thought was Communio, “ressourcement,” and he joined with the opponents of the Trad godfathers at the Council. Because of this, he accepted and defended various novelties and ambiguities promulgated by the Council.

    Nevertheless, he acted as a father to Trads.

    In the 1970s he was willing to stand (with Trads) on the principle of Tradition in opposition to the papal positivism that would command blind obedience to the Novus Ordo. His subsequent actions show (at least) that he agreed with this fundamental principle of Tradition which would cause him to liberalise the Latin Mass out of faithfulness to Tradition. It was a subordination of the Papacy itself to Tradition. These various liturgical acts were acts of a true traditionis custos. For more on this, read the compilation by Kwasniewski at New Liturgical Movement “Best Quotes on the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI.”

    For this, as a Trad, I thank Benedict for acting on this eternal principle of Holy Church.

    Of course, he can receive justified criticism for any errors or imperfections in his statements, judgments or decisions. But the Church is still mourning the death of the pontiff, and this is not the time for those criticisms. And I believe that the whole Trad movement owes a debt of gratitude to this body of work in which the man helped establish the liturgical tradition as Trads have argued for decades. Ratzinger helped the fundamental principle argued by Trads to become truly a mainstream proposition, not a fringe theory.

Ratzinger Down the Memory Hole

    And so it seems that the new regime of iconoclasm under Traditionis Custodes seeks to send these fundamental Ratzingerian doctrines down the memory hole. As I wrote a year ago on this:

    The entire justification given in Traditionis Custodes was explicitly proposed to Benedict XVI after Summorum Pontificum. Peter Seewald told Benedict in 2017 what Francis would say about Benedict’s work in 2021. How did Benedict respond?

    [Peter Seewald:] The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of St Pius X.

    [Benedict XVI Emeritus:] That is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now. The rite must develop. In that sense reform is appropriate. But the continuity must not be ruptured. The Society of St Pius X is based on the fact that people felt the Church was renouncing itself. That must not be. But as I said, my intentions were not of a tactical nature, they were about the substance of the matter itself. Of course it is also the case that, the moment one sees a Church schism looming, the Pope is obliged to do whatever is possible to prevent it happening. This also includes the attempt to lead these people back into unity with the Church, if possible.[2]

    [My comments]: It is fallacious to claim, as Pope Francis did, that Summorum Ponitificum was “primarily” about the SSPX. Benedict says clearly “this is just absolutely false!” It is, rather, “about the substance of the matter itself.” It is quite clear to anyone who studies Ratzinger’s thought that he condemned Paul VI’s suppression of the Latin Mass in 1969, without any consideration of what the SSPX was or was not doing.[3] That’s why His Eminence Cardinal Sarah, the greatest living exponent of Ratzinger’s thought (whom Benedict appointed to implement his “reform of the reform”condemned Traditionis Custodes on the basis of the reform itself, regardless of the SSPX. (His Eminence’s text is also found in From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War, pp. 295-297.[4] Reconciling with the SSPX, as Benedict says above, was of secondary importance. In other words, Summorum Pontificum would have been necessary even if SSPX never existed.

    It was about the substance of the matter itself.

    This is the type of doctrine from Ratzinger that our enemies fear. They fear it because as Kwasniewski recently said regarding Vatican II, this is not some fringe theologian talking. I believe that Trads need to appreciate this aspect of Benedict. He is in some sense a “hostile witness” for the Trad movement. He himself is not a Trad, yet he articulates in numerous places important talking points for Trads to raise. It seems that one of the tactics of our enemies is to label us as “fringe” and “dissenters” who are more or less crazy. By going to Benedict, we can help bring our enemies to a more reasonable understanding of our position. Those of good will among them who will not be convinced by quotations from Archbishop Lefebvre may be convinced by quotations from Ratzinger.

    We may see the storm increase now that Benedict is dead, as our contributing editor Kennedy Hall argues. If so (and I think this is likely), they will only increase their efforts at sending Benedict down the memory hole. Learning something of Benedict helps us counter this for the sake of Tradition.

    Let us pray for his soul, and prepare for battle.

    T. S. Flanders
    Octave of St. John
    Tenth Day of Christmas

[1] As he had described the Papacy in his preface to Reid’s Organic Development of the Liturgy.

[2] Benedict XVI, Last Testament: In His Own Words, trans. Jacob Philips (Bloomsbury, 2016), 201-202.

[3] “The prohibition of the missal that was now decreed [in 1969], a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.” Joseph Ratinzger, Milestones, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Ignatius, 1998), 146-148.

[4] Cardinal Sarah: “What is at stake is therefore much more serious than a simple question of discipline. If she were to claim a reversal of her faith or of her liturgy, in what name would the Church dare address the world? Her only legitimacy is her consistency in her continuity.”

Facebook Comments