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).
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