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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Some Excerpts from Pope Benedict I suppose that over the past year, many of us have been getting to know Pope Benedict, perhaps mostly by reading his writings and others' reminiscences of him. Concerning the latter, I liked an anecdote about Professor Ratzinger at Münster from the theologian Francis Schüssler Fiorenza: One day, I met Ratzinger outside of class, because two Dominican theologians from the United States needed a translator. Wanting to make a good impression, I dressed up in my best suit, which was a black one. As a result, Ratzinger addressed me as "Father." When I explained that I was a layperson, he pointed to my black suit, because at German universities priests did not wear clerical collars but regular black suits. During this meeting, after many other questions, one of the Dominicans asked, "Did Jesus have a vision of God in Mary's womb?" At that point, Ratzinger looked surprised. He turned to me, and asked in German, "Did I understand that question correctly?" I nodded yes. Answering directly in Latin, Ratzinger quoted William of Ockham: Miracles should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Obviously, he knew more English than he let on. Taking a break this late afternoon, I was looking through back issues of the Ecumenical Review, and the July 2005 issue (vol 57, no 3) reprinted a presentation that Pope Benedict XVI, then obviously still Fr Joseph Ratzinger, gave in August 1971 as a member of the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission in Louvain. The Commission was considering a report on "The Unity of the Church and the Unity of Humanity." I thought that some of you might appreciate a couple excerpts, if you have not come across this elsewhere: That the church has not fully "arrived" as long as it remains a mere Western import is denied by no one today. Even so, it is clear that faith can be identified with no form of culture. Faith must again and again be translated anew, and translation means to penetrate the form of thinking and living, not merely to change the words. On the other hand, translation also means identity in essentials. Yet how can one discover this essence, since it never appears in pure form, but always only in historical forms which, as such, are not absolute? The Christ event itself is an event in space and time, i.e. in a particular, in itself accidental, cultural situation; and again, it appears to us never otherwise than in the partly accidental interpretation of the first witnesses. What in this accidental aspect has become necessity by virtue of the eternal significance of Jesus Christ? How far must we all, in order to be Christians, become Jews and Greeks? The questions can be made more concrete: How far are all Christological titles irreplaceable, or how far can or must they be supplemented by new ones? What in Christian liturgy belongs to the proper order of the liturgical year, in order that it should remain Christian, and what is changeable? It will be clear that the mere concept of the incarnation is insufficient: incarnation does not come to us in a unilinear way, but only brokenly, through death and resurrection. It is also clear that the first appropriation of the Christian message in the earliest church has the character of a model; Jewish and Greek culture here undergo a certain crucifixion: existing concepts and forms were broken up and so brought to a new fruitfulness. But these general rules take away from the concrete questions nothing of their sharpness; rather; they are making them even sharper. ... When one considers the effects of technological civilization upon the unity of mankind, a remarkable contradiction comes to light. On the one hand, technology has developed into a comprehensive form of life and thought; in the language of technology, there is an unbroken possibility of communication across all barriers. On the other hand and at the same time, with the advance of the kind of positivistic thinking which technology encourages, the language of philosophy has become more and more fragmented, so that philosophy today consists for the most part only of philosophies which exist side by side very largely without communication. Hand in hand with the universalizing of technological communication goes a break-off of communication in the questions of meaning, in the realm of the really human, which no longer appear to be communicable. The unity of mankind is thus more sharply threatened than ever before. With this historical process, faith also has lost its language, or it speaks no more than a special language, which is understood only within Christianity yet outwardly is scarcely comprehended any more. Within particular churches, this process has also led to language difficulties between different groups which confront each other across almost insuperable barriers. Is the church in the technological world really condemned to be speechless, to a pluralism without communication, to the ghetto? Does she have possibilities to express her unity anew, and thus to make a contribution to the unity of mankind? If uniform formulae are no longer possible, where are the standards by which the inner unity of the unlike can be recognized? Such questions have to do by no means merely with the self-preservation of the church. They concern the continuance of human life. That becomes clear when one looks seriously at the inner problematic of technological development. The question - how technological development can be carried further without ending in the self-destruction of mankind - becomes the fundamental problem of existence in this, our world. Technical development without humane standards is senseless. The worldwide protest of youth, in spite of the questionableness of many of its forms, is ultimately grounded here, in an uprising against a science which describes itself as value-free, yet hands man over to a value-less existence and in so doing detroys him. The technological world, which begins by making faith speechless, thus turns into a direct question to faith: By what standards can true humanity be measured? ...

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