2. L'Osservatore Romano (October 10-11, 2012): special text (preface to collection of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger's Council documents)
3. Homily on the opening mass of the "Year of Faith" (October 11, 2012)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
we are on the eve of the day when we will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II and the beginning of the Year of Faith. With this Catechesis I would like to begin to reflect - with some brief thoughts – on the great ecclesial event that was the Council, an event of which I was a direct witness. It, so to speak, appears to us like a giant fresco, painted in its great diversity and variety of elements, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And just like before a great work of art, still today we continue to grasp that moment of grace, that extraordinary richness, to rediscover particular passages, fragments, pieces.
Blessed John Paul II, on the threshold of the third millennium, wrote: "I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning" (Apostolic Letter. NMI, 57). I think this is telling. The documents of the Second Vatican Council, to which we must return freeing them from a mass of publications that often instead of making them known, have hidden them, are, for our time, a compass that allows the ship of the Church to set sail, in midst of storms or calm and quiet waters, to navigate safely and reach port.
I remember I was a young professor of fundamental theology at the University of Bonn at that time, and it was the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Frings, a human and priestly point of reference for me, who took me with him to be his consultant theologian, later I was also appointed a council expert. It was a unique experience for me, after all the fervor and enthusiasm of preparation, I could see a living Church - almost three thousand Council Fathers from all parts of the world gathered under the guidance of the Successor of the Apostle Peter - at the school of the Holy Spirit, the true driving force of the Council. Rarely in history have we been able, as then, to almost concretely "touch" the universality of the Church at a time of great accomplishment of its mission to bring the Gospel to all ages and to the ends of the earth. These days, if you see once again the images of the opening of this great Gathering, on television or other media, you too will be able to feel the joy, hope and encouragement taking part in this event of light gave to all of us, a light which radiates still today.
In the history of the Church, as I think you know, various councils have preceded the Second Vatican Council. Usually these large ecclesial assemblies were convened to define key elements of the faith, especially to correct errors that put her in danger. We think of the Council of Nicaea in 325, to counter the Arian heresy and to emphasize the divinity of Jesus, as the only Son of God the Father, or that of Ephesus in 431, which defined Mary as the Mother of God; the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, which affirmed the one person of Christ in two natures, the divine and the human person. Closer to our time, we have the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, which clarified the essential points of Catholic doctrine before the Protestant Reformation, or Vatican I, which began to reflect on various issues, but had time to produce only two documents, one on knowledge of God, revelation, faith and relationships with reason and one on the primacy and infallibility of the Pope, because it was interrupted by the occupation of Rome in September 1870.
If we look at the Second Vatican Council, we can see that at that moment in the journey of the Church there were no particular errors of faith to correct or condemn, nor were there specific issues of doctrine or discipline to be clarified. Thus we can understand the surprise of the small group of cardinals in the chapter house of the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where, on January 25, 1959, Blessed John XXIII announced the diocesan Synod for Rome and the Council for the Universal Church. The first question he asked himself in preparing for this great event was how to start it, what specific task to assign to it. Blessed John XXIII, in his opening speech, on October 11, fifty years ago, gave a general indication: faith had to speak in a "renewed", more incisive way - because the world was rapidly changing – while keeping its perennial contents, without giving in or compromise. The Pope wanted the Church to reflect on her faith, on the truths that guide her. But this serious, in-depth reflection on faith, had to outline the relationship between the Church and the modern age in a new way, between Christianity and some essential elements of modern thought, not to conform itself to it, but to present to our world, which tends to move away from God, the need of the Gospel in all its grandeur and in all its purity (cf. Address to the Roman Curia for Christmas greetings, December 22, 2005). The Servant of God Paul VI indicated this very well in his homily at the end of the last session of the Council - December 7, 1965 – with words that still today are most relevant, when he affirmed that in order to properly asses this event, and I quote, "it is necessary to remember the time in which it was realized. In fact, the Pope says, it took place at a time in which, everyone admits man is orientated toward the conquest of the kingdom of earth rather than of that of heaven; a time in which forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly, to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in which secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society;... it was at such a time as this that our council was held to the honor of God, in the name of Christ and under the impulse of the Spirit". Thus said Paul VI. He concluded by indicating in the question of God the central focus of the Council, that God, I quote again, that " He is real, He lives, a personal, provident God, infinitely good; and not only good in Himself, but also immeasurably good to us. He will be recognized as Our Creator, our truth, our happiness; so much so that the effort to look on Him, and to center our heart in Him which we call contemplation, is the highest, the most perfect act of the spirit, the act which even today can and must be at the apex of all human activity"(AAS 58 , 52-53). We can see how the time in which we live continues to be marked by forgetfulness and deafness towards God. I think, then, that we must learn the simplest and most basic lesson of the Council, namely that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, which is love of the Trinity, and in the encounter, both personal and community, with Christ who directs and guides life: from which everything else follows. The important thing today, just as it was the desire of the Council Fathers, is that we can once again see - clearly - that God is present, He takes care of us, He answers us. And that, instead, when there is no faith in God, what is essential collapses, because man loses his profound dignity and that which makes his humanity great, against all reductionism. The Council reminds us that the Church, in all its components, has the duty, the mandate to transmit the Word of God that saves, so that the Divine call, which contains our eternal blessing, can be heard and welcomed.
Looking in this light at the richness contained in the documents of Vatican II, I would like to mention the four constitutions, almost like the four points of a compass that can guide us. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us how to worship in the Church at the beginning is adoration, there is God, there is the centrality of the mystery of Christ's presence. And the Church, the Body of Christ and a pilgrim people in all ages, has the fundamental task to glorify God, as expressed by the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium. The third document which I would like to mention is the Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum: the living Word of God calls the Church and vivifies her along the journey through history. And the way in which the Church brings the light she has received from God the whole world so He may be glorified, is the underlying theme of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
The Second Vatican Council is a strong call for us to rediscover the beauty of our faith every day, to know nourish a deeper understanding of it, a more intense relationship with the Lord, to truly live our Christian vocation. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the whole Church, help us to realize and to fulfil all that the Council Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, guarded in their heart: the desire that all may know the Gospel and meet the Lord Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thank you.
2. L'Osservatore Romano (October 10-11, 2012): special text (preface to collection of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger's Council documents)
It was a splendid day on 11 October 1962 when the Second Vatican Council opened with the solemn procession into St Peter’s Basilica in Rome of more than two thousand Council Fathers. In 1931 Pius XI had dedicated this day to the feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, mindful that 1,500 years earlier, in 431, the Council of Ephesus had solemnly recognized this title for Mary in order to express God’s indissoluble union with man in Christ. Pope John XXIII had chosen this day for the beginning of the Council so as to entrust the great ecclesial assembly, which he had convoked, to the motherly goodness of Mary and to anchor the Council’s work firmly in the mystery of Jesus Christ. It was impressive to see in the entrance procession bishops from all over the world, from all peoples and all races: an image of the Church of Jesus Christ which embraces the whole world, in which the peoples of the earth know they are united in his peace.
It was a moment of extraordinary expectation. Great things were about to happen. The previous Councils had almost always been convoked for a precise question to which they were to provide an answer. This time there was no specific problem to resolve. But precisely because of this, a general sense of expectation hovered in the air: Christianity, which had built and formed the Western world, seemed more and more to be losing its power to shape society. It appeared weary and it looked as if the future would be determined by other spiritual forces. The sense of this loss of the present on the part of Christianity, and of the task following on from that, was well summed up in the word “aggiornamento” (updating). Christianity must be in the present if it is to be able to form the future. So that it might once again be a force to shape the future, John XXIII had convoked the Council without indicating to it any specific problems or programmes. This was the greatness and at the same time the difficulty of the task that was set before the ecclesial assembly.
The various episcopates undoubtedly approached the great event with different ideas. Some of them arrived rather with an attitude of expectation regarding the programme that was to be developed. It was the episcopates of Central Europe – Belgium, France and Germany – that came with the clearest ideas. In matters of detail, they stressed completely different aspects, yet they had common priorities. A fundamental theme was ecclesiology, that needed to be studied in greater depth from a Trinitarian and sacramental viewpoint and in connection with salvation history; then there was a need to amplify the doctrine of primacy from the First Vatican Council by giving greater weight to the episcopal ministry. An important theme for the episcopates of Central Europe was liturgical renewal, which Pius XII had already started to implement. Another central aspect, especially for the German episcopate, was ecumenism: the shared experience of Nazi persecution had brought Protestant and Catholic Christians closer together; this now had to happen at the level of the whole Church, and to be developed further. Then there was also the group of themes: Revelation – Scripture – Tradition – Magisterium. For the French, the subject of the relationship between the Church and the modern world came increasingly to the fore – in other words the work of the so-called “Schema XIII”, from which the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World later emerged. This point touches on the real expectations of the Council. The Church, which during the Baroque era was still, in a broad sense, shaping the world, had from the nineteenth century onwards visibly entered into a negative relationship with the modern era, which had only then properly begun. Did it have to remain so? Could the Church not take a positive step into the new era? Behind the vague expression “today’s world” lies the question of the relationship with the modern era. To clarify this, it would have been necessary to define more clearly the essential features that constitute the modern era. “Schema XIII” did not succeed in doing this. Although the Pastoral Constitution expressed many important elements for an understanding of the “world” and made significant contributions to the question of Christian ethics, it failed to offer substantial clarification on this point.
Unexpectedly, the encounter with the great themes of the modern epoch did not happen in the great Pastoral Constitution, but instead in two minor documents, whose importance has only gradually come to light in the context of the reception of the Council. First, there is the Declaration on Religious Liberty, which was urgently requested, and also drafted, by the American Bishops in particular. With developments in philosophical thought and in ways of understanding the modern State, the doctrine of tolerance, as worked out in detail by Pius XII, no longer seemed sufficient. At stake was the freedom to choose and practise religion and the freedom to change it, as fundamental human rights and freedoms. Given its inner foundation, such a concept could not be foreign to the Christian faith, which had come into being claiming that the State could neither decide on the truth nor prescribe any kind of worship. The Christian faith demanded freedom of religious belief and freedom of religious practice in worship, without thereby violating the law of the State in its internal ordering; Christians prayed for the emperor, but did not worship him. To this extent, it can be said that Christianity, at its birth, brought the principle of religious freedom into the world. Yet the interpretation of this right to freedom in the context of modern thought was not easy, since it could seem as if the modern version of religious freedom presupposed the inaccessibility of the truth to man and so, perforce, shifted religion into the sphere of the subjective. It was certainly providential that thirteen years after the conclusion of the Council, Pope John Paul II arrived from a country in which freedom of religion had been denied by Marxism, in other words by a particular form of modern philosophy of the State. The Pope had come, as it were, from a situation resembling that of the early Church, so that the inner orientation of the faith towards the theme of freedom, and especially freedom of religion and worship, became visible once more.
The second document that was to prove important for the Church’s encounter with the modern age came into being almost by chance and it developed in various phases. I am referring to the Declaration “Nostra Aetate” on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. At the outset the intention was to draft a declaration on relations between the Church and Judaism, a text that had become intrinsically necessary after the horrors of the Shoah. The Council Fathers from Arab countries were not opposed to such a text, but they explained that if there were an intention to speak of Judaism, then there should also be some words on Islam. How right they were, we in the West have only gradually come to understand. Lastly the realization grew that it was also right to speak of two other great religions – Hinduism and Buddhism – as well as the theme of religion in general. Then, following naturally, came a brief indication regarding dialogue and collaboration with the religions, whose spiritual, moral, and socio-cultural values were to be respected, protected and encouraged (ibid., 2). Thus, in a precise and extraordinarily dense document, a theme is opened up whose importance could not be foreseen at the time. The task that it involves and the efforts that are still necessary in order to distinguish, clarify and understand, are appearing ever more clearly. In the process of active reception, a weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion which, from the historical and theological viewpoints, are of far-reaching importance; for this reason the Christian faith, from the outset, adopted a critical stance towards religion, both internally and externally.
If at the beginning of the Council the dominant groups were the Central European Episcopates with their theologians, during the Council sessions the scope of the common endeavour and responsibility constantly broadened. The bishops considered themselves apprentices at the school of the Holy Spirit and at the school of reciprocal collaboration, but at the same time servants of the word of God who were living and working in faith. The Council Fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different Church. They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. It was only in their capacity as bishops that they were now Council Fathers with a vote and decision-making powers, that is to say, on the basis of the Sacrament and in the Church of the Sacrament. For this reason they neither could nor wished to create a different faith or a new Church, but rather to understand these more deeply and hence truly to “renew them”. This is why a hermeneutic of rupture is absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the Council Fathers.
In Cardinal Frings I had a “father” who lived this spirit of the Council in an exemplary way. He was a man of great openness and breadth, but he also knew that faith alone leads us out into the open, into that space which remains barred to the positivist spirit. This is the faith that he wished to serve with the authority he had received through the sacrament of Episcopal Ordination. I cannot but be ever grateful to him for having brought me – the youngest professor of the Catholic theology faculty of the University of Bonn – as his consultant to the great Church assembly, thereby enabling me, alongside the others, to attend that school and to walk the path of the Council from within. The present volume contains a collection of the various writings that I presented at that school. They are thoroughly fragmentary offerings, which also reveal the learning process that the Council and its reception meant and still means for me. I hope that despite all their limitations, these various offerings, combined, will help to make the Council better understood and to implement it in a healthy ecclesial life. I warmly thank Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller and his collaborators at the Pope Benedict XVI Institute for the extraordinary commitment they have taken on in order to produce this volume.
Castel Gandolfo, on the Feast of Saint Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli
2 August 2012
Benedictus PP. XVI
3. Homily on the opening mass of the "Year of Faith"
[T]his celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of the Book of the Gospels with the same book that was used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, they also offer us the possibility of going beyond commemorating. They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church’s pilgrimage along the pathways of history.
The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and complete convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).
The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man. The Servant of God Paul VI, two years after the end of the Council session, expressed it in this way: “Even if the Council does not deal expressly with the faith, it talks about it on every page, it recognizes its vital and supernatural character, it assumes it to be whole and strong, and it builds upon its teachings. We need only recall some of the Council’s statements in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel” (General Audience, 8 March 1967). Thus said Paul VI in 1967.
We now turn to the one who convoked the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated it: Blessed John XXIII. In his opening speech, he presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: “What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively […] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time” (AAS 54 , 790,791-792). So said Pope John at the inauguration of the Council.
In the light of these words, we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change.
If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths.
If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith, a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.
Venerable and dear Brothers, 11 October 1962 was the Feast of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the new evangelization. May she help us to put into practice the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom […] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:16-17). Amen.