Rorate Caeli

Progressive liturgist tells us Ratzinger was motivated by sentimentality and guilt

Normally Rorate Caeli would be the last place you'd expect to find a translation of an interview with Andrea Grillo, progressive liturgist of Sant'Anselmo in Rome and purported ghost-author of Traditionis Custodes (or at very least the one who offered its author the template). It is nevertheless extremely illuminating to see what someone like this thinks about Ratzinger... Published in Italian at RAI News. - PAK

Ratzinger, between tradition and modernity. Interview with Andrea Grillo, professor of Theology and Philosophy of Religion at the Pontifical Institute S. Anselmo in Rome

Q: Professor, with the death of Benedict XVI disappears an absolute protagonist of the Catholic Church. A refined theologian and a man of great spirituality. Almost all observers have written that he was a conservative who revolutionized the Church. Do you share this judgment? 

Grillo: The different evaluations of Ratzinger depend in no small part on the fact that his thought went through at least three stages of development that cannot be understood as a linear process. The young Ratzinger wrote genuinely new or revolutionary things that the mature Ratzinger and then Pope Benedict wanted to clarify and sometimes retract. Until the Second Vatican Council there was a different Ratzinger, whom the very postconciliar experience from '68 onward profoundly changed.

Q: What do you think are the key words that can characterize his pontificate?

Grillo: As pontiff Benedict wanted to attempt a reinterpretation of the Vatican II conciliar reform that would avoid all ruptures and all discontinuity. However, this project has indirectly favored the anti-Conciliar forces present in the Church. In a sense he identified service to truth as continuity of tradition, in every field. This produced a bloc of tradition that stood as a true "device."

Q: We know that his theology was a theology of tradition. However, his critique of modernity contained elements of modernity or even postmodernity. Someone wrote that he was a Catholic "enlightenmentist" (the call in his will to reason and science). Do you agree?

Grillo: Only partially. There is no doubt that the theologian Ratzinger used reason with finesse in his relationship with faith. But after the startling beginnings between the 1950s and 1960s, his recourse to reason was rather anti-Enlightenment and apologetic. His argumentation very often landed in paradoxes, in the face of which tradition prevailed due to affection, not according to reason. 

Q: Let us delve for a moment into the issue of the ethical-moral relativism of the West -- a major theme of Ratzinger's. How should this point be understood?

Grillo: In this point, which also emerges well from his spiritual testament, Ratzinger highlighted the limits of the modern understanding of man, the world and God. But while at first this strong dialectic opened glimmers of light toward new visions of tradition, after the Council it became more and more a form of defending tradition from modernism. The modern has come to be [seen as] a corruption of tradition, to be defended against.

Q: What has been the limit of his pastoral action?

Grillo: The greatest limit is precisely the irrelevance of any "pastoral character" in the theology of the mature Ratzinger. Which means that tradition cannot undergo translation [to new situations]. Herein lies the reactive core to any real reform, which is read as a loss of truth, the substance of which does not allow new coverings. History, in Ratzinger's theology, has no depth

Q: The unprecedented "cohabitation" (perhaps the term is incorrect) alongside Pope Francis has led some to imagine conflicts between the two very different personalities. Have there been any?

Grillo: Not conflicts. But discontinuities. First of all in the relationship with Vatican II, of which Benedict is the father, while Francis is the son. This changes everything, first of all by freeing Francis from any sense of guilt.

Q: How much of Ratzinger is there in Francis?

Grillo: From a theological point of view very little. Perhaps the greatest continuity lies in the conception of ministry. 

Q: What is his greatest legacy? 

Grillo: The greatest legacy lies in the lucid realization that a project of reaction to the Second Vatican Council in the limited terms of an anti-modernist apologetics could not succeed. To have renounced the exercise of the Petrine ministry was the high point of a new awareness, matured laboriously and honestly even against himself, as is evident from the very different tone that emerges from his spiritual testament.