Month: February 2004

Mixed Reactions to The Passion

No, I have yet to see “the movie” (perhaps this weekend?), but many bloggers around the internet have already done so, and are posting their reviews and responses.

  • Dave Armstrong (“Cor ad cor loquitur”) praises the film and expresses his hope:
    May all Christians unite in our prayers and efforts: that this extraordinary movie may bring about many changed lives, and more and more committed disciples of our Lord Jesus. This is our moment. The time is now. Let’s stop our stupid and petty in-fighting (over these basic issues where we should all readily agree) and show the world what Christianity is really all about. The film is the first step: our behavior as Christians is the crucial second part of the witness. Please God, be with us; it’s the least we can do to thank You for what You have done for us . . .
  • Bill Cork shares his concerns and criticisms, and posts a valuable list of resources on the presentation of Jews in The Passion and Scripture.
  • Fr. Rob (“Thrown Back”):
    there is a scene after Jesus’ scourging where Mary wipes up His blood. I was moved to think about the Mass, and every time I look into the Chalice when I say “this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant…”. That blood, and the blood at the foot of the Pillar, are the same. . . . I will never celebrate Mass the same way again.

  • A Saintly Salmugundi asks two very pertinent questions:

    1. Why is it that people are beating down the doors to see this film about Jesus while priests and ministers talk about Jesus every Sunday and it is like pulling teeth to get people to come to church and sit in their pews?
    2. If Christians will come out en mass to see “The Passion” what can we do to get them to come out en mass on election day and vote for pro-life candidates?

  • Writing for the NRO, S.T. Karnick ponders the film’s excessive violence, and offers this defense:
    It is dreadful. It is difficult to watch. We do not want to see it. We should not want to see it. We cannot want to see it. And that, again, is exactly Gibson’s point. There is a reason that we do not want to see this. We do not want to accept our complicity in this horror. We do not want to accept responsibility for it. We just want to be left alone.
  • Guest editorial on “Rerum Novarum” by Mark Downey, on Mel Gibson’s “Traditionalism”:
    I choose to believe that Mr. Gibson is not really an “ultra-traditionalist” at heart. I refuse to believe that he is being hypocritical in order to sell his movie. In the attempt to practice his Catholic Faith without the confusion (which is certainly in abundance), I believe Mel finds himself swimming in the dangerous whirlpool of “private judgement Catholicism”. . . .
  • Forgive me for not mentioning it sooner, but Secret Agent Man posts The Mother of All Essays on The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt.

* * *

LifeSite has been compiling positive reviews of The Passion, perhaps to counteract the negative commentary circulating around the internet. The conservative news site Newsmax quotes Rabbi Mark Gellman of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, NY, the Jewish half of the Rabbi-Priest television duo The God Squad, describing the film’s “stunning beauty and daring violence that forces all of us to grow up and learn to accept people who tell their own stories.” Gellman also told The New York Times recently:

“We have to allow people to tell their own story,” Rabbi Gellman said, though he cautioned that people of all faiths must take responsibility for the effects of the stories they tell.

“Jews who are secure in their Jewishness and secure in the compassion of their Christian friends will see the Christian story in a new way,” he said.

One of the film’s most powerful moments for Rabbi Gellman is a scene in which Jesus is taken down from the cross. Instead of looking at Jesus, as she does in Michelangelo’s Pietà, Mary looks directly at the camera, he said, as if to say, “We all did this.”

The film’s brutality is poignant, Rabbi Gellman said, because “the alternative is some anemic, cartoon version of the story.” (“After Months of Contention, ‘The Passion’ Arrives in Theaters, by Stephanie Rosenbloom. New York Times Feb. 24, 2004)

Gellman’s praise comes in sharp contrast to this interview back in August 2003, when he and Msgr. Hartman differed strongly on whether the film should be made at all.

It should be noted, however, that while he believes that Christians have a right to “tell their story,” Rabbi Gellman still has reservations about The Passion. The God Squad offers this balanced yet critical editorial on the importance of “Seeing Through Others’ Eyes”, which is worth reading in its entirety.
* * *

Finally, Catholic Light refers to a guest comment by Joel C. Rosenburg on NRO about “a vicious, anti-semitic film”:

Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky went to Berlin in January to show German, French and other European officials excerpts of a vicious, anti-Semitic film.

With all the media attacks on Mel Gibson and his new film, you might think Sharansky showed excerpts of The Passion of the Christ. He did not. Sharansky wanted European officials to see a real anti-Semitic film. So he showed them excerpts of Al-Shatat (“The Diaspora”), a $5.1 million, 30-part “mini-series” produced by Syrian television. . . . [Read More]

MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) has video clips of the aformentioned film [WARNING: EXTREMELY VIOLENT], as well as an article on the key characteristics of Arab anti-semitism. While the Blood Libel has faded from Christianity, it remains alive and well in the Arab world, in comparison to which the present criticism and concerns over The Passion‘s potential to fuel anti-semitism, while to a certain degree warranted, seems rather misplaced, paling in comparison to the propaganda presently circulating in the Middle East.

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Trusting God’s Forgiveness

The 1976 production of Luther was on television this past weekend — based on the famous play by the British playwriter John Osborne. I thought it was very well done, if somewhat flawed in its attempt to cover the entire span of Luther’s life. I have yet to see last year’s film starring Joseph Fiennes, but I thought that Stacey Keach was a much better pick for the role (rugged and heavy set, he definitely looks the part of the fiery German theologian).

Osborne portrays Luther as extremely tormented and self-obsessed: emotionally, psychologically, even physically crippled by his guilt — hardly fit to be a monk, and one who I imagine might even be expelled on grounds of mental instability in modern times. Osborne’s portrayal reminded me of a passage by Roland H. Bainton, author of Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther:

[Wrestling with God’s judgement] Luther reported to Staupitz, and his answer as “Ich verstehe es nicht!” — “I don’t understand it!” Was, then, Luther the only one in all the world who had been so plagued? Had Staupitz himself experienced such trials? “No,” said he, “but I think they are your meat and drink.” Evidently, he suspected Luther of thriving on disturbances. The only word of reassurance he could give was a reminder that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins. But Luther was too obsessed with the picture of Christ the avenger to be consoled with the thought of Christ the redeemer. 1

I think that our culture suffers today predominantly from a lack of belief in sin — that is to say, I haven’t noticed that many people wrestling with guilt on the level of Brother Martin, or reduced to such fear and trembling by the thought of God’s divine judgement. Most of the time it seems that our thoughts are elsewhere, preoccupied with worldly things.

At the same time, I think that some, like Luther in his early days, have a tendency to err in the other direction, where remorse conceals an unhealthy self-preoccupation with one’s sin, a lack of trust in God’s grace and an acceptance of his gift of salvation in Christ. Osborne addresses this issue in a striking passage from his play, where Luther, minutes away from celebrating his first Mass, is mercilessly berating himself for his sins, and his spiritual advisor is obliged to break the spell of self-obsession with a dutiful recitation from the Creed:

MARTIN: All you teach me in this sacred place is how to doubt —

BRO. WEINAND: Give you a little praise, and you’re pleased for a while, but let a little trial of sin and death come into your day and you crumble, don’t you?

MARTIN: But that’s all you’ve taught me, that’s really all you’ve taught me, and all the while I’m living in the Devil’s worm-bag.

BRO. WEINAND: It hurts me to watch you like this, sucking up the cares like a leech.

MARTIN: You will be there beside me, won’t you?

BRO. WEINAND: Of course, and if anything goes wrong, or if you forget anything, we’ll see to it. You’ll be all right. But nothing will — you won’t make any mistakes.

MARTIN: But what if I do, just one mistake. Just a word, one word — one sin.

BRO. WEINAND: Martin, kneel down.

MARTIN: Forgive me, Brother Weinand, but the truth is this —

BRO. WEINAND: Kneel.

(Luther kneels)

MARTIN: It’s this, just this. All I can feel, all I can feel is God’s hatred.

BRO. WEINAND: Repeat the Apostle’s Creed.

MARTIN: He’s like a glutton, the way he gorges he, he’s a glutton. He gorges me, then spits me out in lumps.

BRO. WEINAND: After me, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, make of Heaven and Earth . . .

MARTIN: I’m a trough, I tell you, and he’s swilling about in me. All the time.

BRO. WEINAND: “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . .”

MARTIN: “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . .”

BRO. WEINAND: “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate . . .

MARTIN (almost unintelligibly): “Was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hell; the third day He rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” And every sunrise sings the song for death.

BRO. WEINAND: “I believe –”

MARTIN: “I believe –”

BRO. WEINAND: Go on.

MARTIN: “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins;

BRO. WEINAND: Again!

MARTIN: “The forgiveness of sins.”

BRO. WEINAND: What was that again?

MARTIN: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

BRO. WEINAND: Do you? Then remember this: St. Bernard says that when when we say the Apostles Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” each one of us must believe that his sins are forgiven. 2

So I pray that all of you who read this, myself included, will have a Blessed Lent, and realize in our life the words attributed to Pope Clement XI (“The Universal Prayer“):

. . . Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer, temperate in food an drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions. Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered. Put me on guard against my human weaknesses. Let me cherish your love for me, keep your law, and come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is happiness in heaven, that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal.

Help me prepare for death, with a proper fear of judgement, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death, to the endless joy of Heaven.


  1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland H. Bainton. pp. 45-46. New American Library, 1978.
  2. Luther, by John Osborne. pp. 29-32. Penguin Books, 1961.

Trusting God’s Forgiveness

The 1976 production of Luther was on television this past weekend — based on the famous play by the British playwriter John Osborne. I thought it was very well done, if somewhat flawed in its attempt to cover the entire span of Luther’s life. I have yet to see last year’s film starring Joseph Fiennes, but I thought that Stacey Keach was a much better pick for the role (rugged and heavy set, he definitely looks the part of the fiery German theologian).

Osborne portrays Luther as extremely tormented and self-obsessed: emotionally, psychologically, even physically crippled by his guilt — hardly fit to be a monk, and one who I imagine might even be expelled on grounds of mental instability in modern times. Osborne’s portrayal reminded me of a passage by Roland H. Bainton, author of Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther:

[Wrestling with God’s judgement] Luther reported to Staupitz, and his answer as “Ich verstehe es nicht!” — “I don’t understand it!” Was, then, Luther the only one in all the world who had been so plagued? Had Staupitz himself experienced such trials? “No,” said he, “but I think they are your meat and drink.” Evidently, he suspected Luther of thriving on disturbances. The only word of reassurance he could give was a reminder that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins. But Luther was too obsessed with the picture of Christ the avenger to be consoled with the thought of Christ the redeemer. 1

I think that our culture suffers today predominantly from a lack of belief in sin — that is to say, I haven’t noticed that many people wrestling with guilt on the level of Brother Martin, or reduced to such fear and trembling by the thought of God’s divine judgement. Most of the time it seems that our thoughts are elsewhere, preoccupied with worldly things.

At the same time, I think that some, like Luther in his early days, have a tendency to err in the other direction, where remorse conceals an unhealthy self-preoccupation with one’s sin, a lack of trust in God’s grace and an acceptance of his gift of salvation in Christ. Osborne addresses this issue in a striking passage from his play, where Luther, minutes away from celebrating his first Mass, is mercilessly berating himself for his sins, and his spiritual advisor is obliged to break the spell of self-obsession with a dutiful recitation from the Creed:

MARTIN: All you teach me in this sacred place is how to doubt —

BRO. WEINAND: Give you a little praise, and you’re pleased for a while, but let a little trial of sin and death come into your day and you crumble, don’t you?

MARTIN: But that’s all you’ve taught me, that’s really all you’ve taught me, and all the while I’m living in the Devil’s worm-bag.

BRO. WEINAND: It hurts me to watch you like this, sucking up the cares like a leech.

MARTIN: You will be there beside me, won’t you?

BRO. WEINAND: Of course, and if anything goes wrong, or if you forget anything, we’ll see to it. You’ll be all right. But nothing will — you won’t make any mistakes.

MARTIN: But what if I do, just one mistake. Just a word, one word — one sin.

BRO. WEINAND: Martin, kneel down.

MARTIN: Forgive me, Brother Weinand, but the truth is this —

BRO. WEINAND: Kneel.

(Luther kneels)

MARTIN: It’s this, just this. All I can feel, all I can feel is God’s hatred.

BRO. WEINAND: Repeat the Apostle’s Creed.

MARTIN: He’s like a glutton, the way he gorges he, he’s a glutton. He gorges me, then spits me out in lumps.

BRO. WEINAND: After me, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, make of Heaven and Earth . . .

MARTIN: I’m a trough, I tell you, and he’s swilling about in me. All the time.

BRO. WEINAND: “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . .”

MARTIN: “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . .”

BRO. WEINAND: “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate . . .

MARTIN (almost unintelligibly): “Was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hell; the third day He rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” And every sunrise sings the song for death.

BRO. WEINAND: “I believe –”

MARTIN: “I believe –”

BRO. WEINAND: Go on.

MARTIN: “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins;

BRO. WEINAND: Again!

MARTIN: “The forgiveness of sins.”

BRO. WEINAND: What was that again?

MARTIN: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

BRO. WEINAND: Do you? Then remember this: St. Bernard says that when when we say the Apostles Creed “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” each one of us must believe that his sins are forgiven. 2

So I pray that all of you who read this, myself included, will have a Blessed Lent, and realize in our life the words attributed to Pope Clement XI (“The Universal Prayer“):

. . . Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer, temperate in food an drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions. Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered. Put me on guard against my human weaknesses. Let me cherish your love for me, keep your law, and come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is happiness in heaven, that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal.

Help me prepare for death, with a proper fear of judgement, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death, to the endless joy of Heaven.


  1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland H. Bainton. pp. 45-46. New American Library, 1978.
  2. Luther, by John Osborne. pp. 29-32. Penguin Books, 1961.

Around the Blogosphere . . .

  • Yeah! Christine — formerly of “Christus Victor” — returns with her own solo blog: “Laudem Gloriae”. =)
  • Mark (“Minute Particulars”), asking what if Rome really doesn’t care? — on the implications of those who believe that the Pope was “morally and criminally negligent, in allowing predator priests to flourish.”
  • G. Thomas Fitzpatrick (“Recta Ratio”) posts a few personal suggestions for Lenten practices, and recommends An Exercise in the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori.
  • Dennis (“Vita Mea”) had the opportunity to meet a presidential candidate over lunch.
  • Dr. Philip Blosser (“Scripture and Catholic Tradition”) offers a page-by-page analysis of Harold Bloom’s reading of St. Paul in Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. (“Yet even an intellect so learned and fecund as Bloom’s can betray signs of inadvertent influence, if not entrapment, by uncritically received ideological trends of his age . . .”)
  • William Luse (“Apologia”) goes to the movies and blogs a not-exactly-raving review of Return of the King, in which he includes the startling confession:
    I know it’s my own fault. I missed the boat on this one. Back in the mid-seventies, when the Tolkien craze began, I saw people – hip-eyes, straight arrows, rednecks, Christians, atheists, panhandlers and drug addicts – walking around campus and coming out of Goring’s bookstore with an LOTR in each hand, one in the armpit, and The Hobbit in a hip pocket. While I tried to learn how to write, read back issues of The Sewanee Review, played intellectual hot potato with various philosophies, and even began toe-dipping in the Christian pond – some Bonhoeffer here, some Muggeridge there – it seemed the whole world was reading Tolkien.

    To which I reply — it’s never too late! 😉

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Struggle Against Marxism

Kevin Miller and Paul Rex have blogged on the republication of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in Italy, reported by Zenit.Org. The 12th edition of this famous text features a new introduction by the Cardinal, in which he “assesses the effects of the last 30 years on the Church” and expresses the belief that “1968, the year of student revolutions, and 1989, the pivotal year for Marxism’s decline, are key to understanding the late 20th century.

Marxism has often been described as a “secular religion,” expressing a comprehensive worldview, conception of human nature rooted in historical determinism. So engaging was “the Marxist doctrine of salvation” that many struggle with it’s demise, and with great difficulty coming to grips with its legacy of suffering and oppression.

“Suffice it to think of how discreet the discussion on the horrors of the Communist ‘gulags’ has been, and the little that Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s voice has been heard: Nothing is said about all this,” he affirms.

“The silence has been imposed by a certain sense of shame,” [Ratzinger] contends. “Even Pol Pot’s bloody regime is only mentioned, in passing, every now and then. But the disillusion has remained, together with a profound confusion. Today no one believes any longer in any great moral dictates.” 1

According to Ratzinger, the ultimate effect of Marxism was a pragmatism which justified the use of terror as the instrument of the good. “When the time came that all could see, if only on the surface, the ruins caused in humanity by this idea, people preferred to take refuge in a pragmatic life and publicly profess contempt of ethics.”

Introduction to Christianity was first published in 1968, when protestors battled the police on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and a flurry of radical student-uprisings swept across Western Europe.
As John Allen Jr. notes in his biography, at the time that Cardinal Ratzinger was teaching, “the theology faculties of Tübingen became ‘the real ideological center’ of the movement towards Marxism, — home, for instance, to the German philosopher Ernest Bloch, author of Principle of Hope, a Marxist analysis of Christianity and social change and whom Ratzinger remarked “made Heidegger contemptible for being petty bourgeois.” 2

It was a period in which students and faculty alike fell victim to the indoctrination of Marxism, where the Cross of Christ was denounced as a “sado-masochistic glorification of pain,” where the Church was accused as sharing in “the capitalist exploitation of the poor,” and traditional Catholic theology of “propping up the system.” And while Germany never embraced the violence that marked other protests, says Allen, they made full use of the theory and language of violent revolution, enough to warrant alarm of Germans who lived a few miles away from a Communist state.

Ratzinger would join two Lutheran theologians at Tübingen in confronting the Marxist presence on campus (“we saw the confessional controversies we had previously engaged were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having, together, to bear witness to our common faith”). After three years, however, he grew tired of student opposition (he and Fr. Hans Kung were both subject to constant student sit-ins and occupations of the pulpit), and decided to lend his support to establishing the Univeristy of Regensburg. His years at Tübingen revealed to him:

“a new spirit creeping in, a spirit in which fanatical ideologies made use of the spirit of Christianity . . . the unanimous will to serve the faith had come to pieces. Instead there was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel. That experience made it clear to me that the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the council. . . . I did see how real tyranny was exercised, even in brutal forms . . . anyone who wanted to remain a progressive in this context had to give up his integrity.” 3

In Milestones Ratzinger explains further the dangers he perceived in Marxism:

. . . the destruction of theology that was not occuring (through its politicization as conceived by Marxist messianism) was incomparably more radical [then Bultmann’s existentist Christianity] precisely because it took biblical hope as its basis but inverted it by keeping the religious ardor but eliminating God, and replacing him with the political activity of man. Hope remains, but the party takes the place of God, and along with the party, a totalitarianism that practices an atheistic sort of adoration ready to sacrifice all humaneness to its false God. I myself have seen the frightful face of this aetheistic piety unveiled, its psychological terror, the abandon with which every moral consideration could be thrown overboard as a bourgeois residue when the ideological goal was at stake.4

  1. “Cardinal Ratzinger Blames 1968 and 1989 for the Contempt of Ethics — Postwar Cynicism and Marxism’s Fall Paved the Way for Pragmatism”. Zenit.Org. February 19, 2004.
  2. “For Bloch the human being, the natural world, and history all have the fundamental character of not-yet being: nature moves toward the future; history experiments; the human hopes. . . . daydreams, visions, stories, myths, and folklore [provide] the material for a critique of the present situation and the impetus for revolution. Because the stories of religion have so often expressed humanity’s future yearnings, Bloch defined religion as that which reveals the telos of reality. Therefore, Bloch concluded, God is a projection of what humanity is, the desire for the future.” – Rebecca S. Chopp, Praxis of Suffering: An Interpretation of Liberation and Political Theologies (Orbis Books, 1986).
  3. Salt of the Earth (Ignatius, 1996). pp. 76-77.
  4. Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 1998).
  • “Occasionally, people ask if they can borrow a book I’ve mentioned to them, and I’m forced to say lending it would be contrary to my Christian faith. Not the lending itself, of course, but the breaking of fingers when the book isn’t returned within a week.” — Tom (Disputations)
  • “According to my partner Penner, the rare moment of ecumenism between Catholics and Calvinists during the Sixteenth Century was when they agreed to drown the Mennonites. . . . Which is generally what a fervent commitment to pacifism gets you.” — Peter Sean Bradley (Lex Communis).

Just two little quotes which brought a smile to my face perusing the blogs this week. Many more choice little snippets from the Blogosphere here, compiled by TS O’Rama.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s battle with Marxism

Kevin Miller and Paul Rex have blogged on the republication of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in Italy, reported by Zenit.Org. The 12th edition of this famous text features a new introduction by the Cardinal, in which he “assesses the effects of the last 30 years on the Church” and expresses the belief that “1968, the year of student revolutions, and 1989, the pivotal year for Marxism’s decline, are key to understanding the late 20th century.

Marxism has often been described as a “secular religion,” expressing a comprehensive worldview, conception of human nature rooted in historical determinism. So engaging was “the Marxist doctrine of salvation” that many struggle with it’s demise, and with great difficulty coming to grips with its legacy of suffering and oppression.

“Suffice it to think of how discreet the discussion on the horrors of the Communist ‘gulags’ has been, and the little that Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s voice has been heard: Nothing is said about all this,” he affirms.

“The silence has been imposed by a certain sense of shame,” [Ratzinger] contends. “Even Pol Pot’s bloody regime is only mentioned, in passing, every now and then. But the disillusion has remained, together with a profound confusion. Today no one believes any longer in any great moral dictates.” 1

According to Ratzinger, the ultimate effect of Marxism was a pragmatism which justified the use of terror as the instrument of the good. “When the time came that all could see, if only on the surface, the ruins caused in humanity by this idea, people preferred to take refuge in a pragmatic life and publicly profess contempt of ethics.”

Introduction to Christianity was first published in 1968, when protestors battled the police on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and a flurry of radical student-uprisings swept across Western Europe.
As John Allen Jr. notes in his biography, at the time that Cardinal Ratzinger was teaching, “the theology faculties of Tübingen became ‘the real ideological center’ of the movement towards Marxism, — home, for instance, to the German philosopher Ernest Bloch, author of Principle of Hope, a Marxist analysis of Christianity and social change and whom Ratzinger remarked “made Heidegger contemptible for being petty bourgeois.” 2

It was a period in which students and faculty alike fell victim to the indoctrination of Marxism, where the Cross of Christ was denounced as a “sado-masochistic glorification of pain,” where the Church was accused as sharing in “the capitalist exploitation of the poor,” and traditional Catholic theology of “propping up the system.” And while Germany never embraced the violence that marked other protests, says Allen, they made full use of the theory and language of violent revolution, enough to warrant alarm of Germans who lived a few miles away from a Communist state.

Ratzinger would join two Lutheran theologians at Tübingen in confronting the Marxist presence on campus (“we saw the confessional controversies we had previously engaged were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having, together, to bear witness to our common faith”). After three years, however, he grew tired of student opposition (he and Fr. Hans Kung were both subject to constant student sit-ins and occupations of the pulpit), and decided to lend his support to establishing the Univeristy of Regensburg. His years at Tübingen revealed to him:

“a new spirit creeping in, a spirit in which fanatical ideologies made use of the spirit of Christianity . . . the unanimous will to serve the faith had come to pieces. Instead there was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel. That experience made it clear to me that the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the council. . . . I did see how real tyranny was exercised, even in brutal forms . . . anyone who wanted to remain a progressive in this context had to give up his integrity.” 3

In Milestones Ratzinger explains further the dangers he perceived in Marxism:

. . . the destruction of theology that was not occuring (through its politicization as conceived by Marxist messianism) was incomparably more radical [then Bultmann’s existentist Christianity] precisely because it took biblical hope as its basis but inverted it by keeping the religious ardor but eliminating God, and replacing him with the political activity of man. Hope remains, but the party takes the place of God, and along with the party, a totalitarianism that practices an atheistic sort of adoration ready to sacrifice all humaneness to its false God. I myself have seen the frightful face of this aetheistic piety unveiled, its psychological terror, the abandon with which every moral consideration could be thrown overboard as a bourgeois residue when the ideological goal was at stake.4

  1. “Cardinal Ratzinger Blames 1968 and 1989 for the Contempt of Ethics — Postwar Cynicism and Marxism’s Fall Paved the Way for Pragmatism”. Zenit.Org. February 19, 2004.
  2. “For Bloch the human being, the natural world, and history all have the fundamental character of not-yet being: nature moves toward the future; history experiments; the human hopes. . . . daydreams, visions, stories, myths, and folklore [provide] the material for a critique of the present situation and the impetus for revolution. Because the stories of religion have so often expressed humanity’s future yearnings, Bloch defined religion as that which reveals the telos of reality. Therefore, Bloch concluded, God is a projection of what humanity is, the desire for the future.” – Rebecca S. Chopp, Praxis of Suffering: An Interpretation of Liberation and Political Theologies (Orbis Books, 1986).
  3. Salt of the Earth (Ignatius, 1996). pp. 76-77.
  4. Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 1998).