Month: September 2011

Pope Benedict among the Lutherans

There’s no question that the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue matters greatly to Pope Benedict XVI.

In discussions of Fides et Ratio, he extended the invitation to Protestants to read the works of “the Catholic Luther” — his works written prior to the Reformation, which he himself claimed to have read in their entirety prior to entering university.

John Allen Jr. tells the tale of how reconciliation between Catholics and Lutherans in the form of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was realized through the intervention of an unlikely source: the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (“Ratzinger credited with saving Lutheran pact” National Catholic Reporter 9/10/99).

On September 23, Pope Benedict addressed representatives of the Protestant EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), a federation of 22 Lutheran, Unified and Reformed Protestant regional church bodies in Germany, headed by Council Chair Nikolaus Schneider. The encounter took place in the former Augustinian Convent in Erfurt, which was once the home of Martin Luther.

Benedict XVI and Nikolaus Schneider, president of the council of the Evangelical Church inSource: Getty Images

According to Zenit, the deliberately ecumenical dimension to the Pope’s visit to Germany was in anticipation of an upcoming Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Reformation, in view of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.

The rumor of the Church’s “rehabilitation of Martin Luther” was first instigated by the British journalist Richard Owen in 2008, on news that Luther would be the topic of the Pope’s annual theological seminar (“Ratzinger Schülerkreis”) at Castel Gandolfo. Predictably, the Pope’s visit to the Lutheran congregation in 2011 reinvigorated Lutheran hopes — Kartrin Gorin-Eckardt, President of the Lutheran synod, asserted that “the reappraisal had already taken place” because the Pope has actually spoken about “the entire trajectory” of Luther’s life (Is the Catholic Church moving to rehabilitate Martin Luther?” “Vatican Insider” La Stampa 9/23/11).

However, As David Jones observes, the more logical conclusion is that the Pope’s primary objective is not a “Catholic rehabilitation of Martin Luther” (to which there are substantial theological obstacles, as we will see)
but rather to identify avenues of religious and cultural solidarity — as he does with the Islamic community — against the greater threat of secularism.

A published interview with Ratzinger, ‘Luther and the Unity of the Churches’ (Communio Vol. 11, 1984) provides helpful background reading for those seeking insight into the Holy Father’s ecumenical intentions as well as his comprehension of Martin Luther himself. He remarks on current trends in “Catholic Luther scholarship”, the move towards a “historically truthful and theologically adequate image of Luther” and the question of Luther’s excommunication. He rightly points out that, while “Luther’s excommunication terminated with his death because judgement after his death is reserved for God alone”, the rehabilitation of Luther — the question of whether or not Luther’s proposed teachings separate the churches — is an entirely different matter:

To be sure, one must keep in mind that there exist not only Catholic anathemas against Luther’s teachings but also Luther’s own definitive rejections of Catholic articles of faith which culminate in Luther’s verdict that we will remain eternally separate. … After his final break with the Church, Luther not only categorically rejected the papacy but he also deemed the Catholic teachings about the eucharist (mass) as idolatry because he interpreted the mass as a relapse into the Law, and, thus, a denial of the Gospel. To explain all these contradictions as misunderstandings seems to me like a form of rationalistic arrogance which cannot do any justice to the impassioned struggle of those men as well as the importance of the realities in question. The real issue can only lie in how far we are today to go beyond the positions of those days and how we can arrive at insights that will overcome the past.

It must be said that Ratzinger himself is skeptical — or realistic — about attempts to bridge the theological gulf (“the skillfull approach leading to unity as suggested by H. Fries and K. Rahner in their theses remains an artificial exploit of theological acrobatics which, unfortunately, does not live up to reality”).

Ratzinger is “convinced that the question of final union of all Christians remains unanswerable” (reminding us that this is also tied into the question of the unification of Israel). Nonetheless, he does broach the question of concrete ecumenical goals in the here and now. There’s a lot to unpack here but I found it to be a helpful window into what he is doing in his pontificate:

The actual goal of all ecumenical endeavors must naturally be to convert the plurality of the separate denominational churches into the plurality of local churches which, in reality, form one church espite their many and varied characteristics. However, it seems to me that in a given situation it will be necessary to establish realistic intermediate goals; for, otherwise, ecumenical enthusiasm could turn into resignation or, worse, revert to a new embitterment that would place the blam for the breakdown of the great goal on the others. Thus the final days would be worse than the first. These intermediate goals will be different depending on how far individual dialogues would have progressed. The testimony of love (charitable, social works) always ought to be given together, or at least in tune with each other whenever separate organizations appear to be more effective for technical reasons. One should equally try to witness together to the great moral questions of our time. And, finally, a joint fundamental testimony of faith ought to be given before a world which is torn by doubts and shaken by fears. The broader the testimony the better. However, if this can only be done on a relatively small scale, one ought to state the possible jointly. All this would have to lead to a point where the common features of Christian living are recognized and loved desite the separations, where separation serves no longer as a reason for the contradiction, but rather as a challenge to an inner understanding and acceptance of the othew hich will amount to more than mere tolerance: a belonging together in the loyalty and faithfulness which we show for Jesus Christ. Perhaps it will be possible for such an attitude to develop which does not lose sight of final things but, meanwhile, does the closest thing by undergoing a deeper maturity toward total unity, rather than making a frantic scramble for unity which will remain superficial and at times rather ficticious.

Now, there is the question of the Holy Father’s personal understanding of Martin Luther, and what the world (and perhaps we as Catholics) might learn from him today. In Pages 218-220 of his interview, Ratzinger presents his understanding of Luther and the key question which compelled him:

It seems to me that the basic feature is the fear of God by which Luther’s very existence was struck down, torn between God’s calling and the realization of his own sinfulness, so much so that God apears to him sub contrario, as the opposite of Himself, i.e., as the Devil who wants to destroy man. To break free of this fear of God becomes the real issues of redemtpion. Redemption is realized the moment faith appears as the rescue from the demands of self-justification, that is, as a personal certainty of salvation. This “axis” of the concept of faith is explained very clearly in Luther’s Little Catechism: “I believe that God created me. . . . I believe that Jesus Chris . . . is my Lord who saved me . . . in order that I may be His . . . and serve him forever in justice and innocence forever.” Faith assures, above all, the certainty of one’s salvation. The personal certainty of redemption becomes the center of Luther’s ideas. Without it, there would be no salvation.

Ratzinger explains how Luther’s understanding thus alters the traditional theological Catholic perspective – the refashioning of the theological landscape:

Thus, the importance of the three divine virtues, faith, hope, and love, to a Christian formula of existence undergoes a signficant change: the certainties of hope and faith, though hitherto essentially different, become identical. To the Catholic, the certainty of faith refers to that which God worked and which the church witnesses. The certainty of hope refers to the salvation of individuals and, among them, of one’s self. Yet to Luther the latter represented the crux without which nothing else really mattered. That is why love, which lies at the center of the Catholic faith, is dropped from the concept of faith, all the way to the polemic formulations of the large commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galations: maledicta sit caritas, down with love! Luther’s insistence on “by faith alone” clearly and exactly excludes love from the question of salvation. Love belongs to a realm of “works” and thus becomes “profane.”

Ratzinger revisits Luther’s spiritual dilemma in his Address to the Evangelical Church of Germany on September 23, 2011 (Former Augustinian Convent, Erfurt). As the Holy Father points out, circumstances have changed dramatically in our day and age. Whereas Luther was preoccupied with the question of his own sinfulness, his guilt before God, and the certainty of his own redemption through Christ — humanity in this age — secularized, deChristianized — is by and large ambivalent about such matters:

What constantly exercised [Luther] was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?” [better translated, according to David Schütz, as Luther’s search for a gracious God]: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For Luther theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. And insofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.



"The Forgotten Pope"

Fr. Zuhlsdorf reminds us that June 28th was the anniversary of John Paul I’s death (17 October 1912 – 28 September 1978):

Please say a prayer for Papa Luciani today.

33 days. Not the shortest reign as Bishop of Rome, but pretty short.

Lori Pieper directs us to her blog, On Pilgrimage:

He has been my personal spiritual mentor as well as my model as a writer, ever since his election. It’s a shame Catholics don’t know more about his life and writings.

Illustrissimi is a wonderful book, out of print, but available used. You can also learn a lot about JPI as Pope from his audiences and Angelus addresses at the Vatican web site (there are English translations for all but one). There is also the book I contributed to: The Smiling Pope: The Life and Teaching of John Paul I which has his writings as a bishop and cardinal. I’ve also written tons about him on my blog.

In the last few days I’ve started making progress on organizing a conference in New York next year to commemorate the centenary of his birth (October 17, 1912). If anyone is interested in furthering knowledge about Pope John Paul I, please pray for its success.

The process for his beatification is making progress. The diocesan process was completed in 2006 and they are now writing the Positio. Someday soon I hope we will be able to pray not just for but to him.

Andrea Tornielli (“Vatican Insider”, La Stampa) describes “the humility of a pastor of the world “:

It passed like a murmur, just 33 days, as many as the years of Jesus’ life. He was forgotten by scholars, sages, and important ecclesiastical circles, nearly crushed between two great popes and two great pontificates – his predecessor Paul VI and his successor John Paul II. Yet Pope Albino Luciani, the humble mountain son of a socialist worker, remains in the heart of the simple folk. Many of the faithful are still moved and attracted by the grateful smile that John Paul I showed to the world during his briefest of reigns. … [Read More]

Jesus vs. the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services

Proposed HHS regulations for “Required Health Plan Coverage” to be implemented next year will compel every employer to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and abortifacients, which Catholics (and perhaps other religious organizations) will judge as morally-reprehensible.

The Obama administration in their graciousness has provided some form of “conscience-exemption”:

Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services. A religious employer is one that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii). 45 C.F.R. §147.130(a)(1)(iv)(B).

but the guidelines here are drawn so narrowly that few, if any, religious organizations will actually qualify for exemption.

As Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB notes, in framing the definition of “religious employer” thus “the HHS has plunked itself right in the middle of the sanctuary. It is trying to define what a religion does and does not do.”:

Catholic hospitals, charities and educational institutions provide about $30 billion worth of service annually in this country. No one presents a baptismal certificate at the emergency room. The hungry do not recite the Creed to get groceries at the food pantry. Students can pursue learning at The Catholic University of America, Villanova or any other Catholic college without passing a catechism admissions test. The commitment to serve those in need, the sick, the hungry, the uneducated, is intrinsic to Catholicism. No federal rule (except now HHS’s) says the church must limit its service to Catholics if it is to be true to its teaching. HHS doesn’t get the parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the stranger simply because he was in need.

Look at the numbers. Catholic hospitals admit about 5.6 million people annually. That’s one out of every six persons seeking hospital care in the United States. Catholic Charities serves more than 9 million people annually. Catholic colleges and universities teach 850,000 students annually. Among those served are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics and members of any other religious or irreligious group you can name.

Indeed, it seems as though Jesus himself wouldn’t pass muster at the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.

(HT: Wheat & Weeds).


Christopher’s Fiery Hot Sriracha Chili Ramen

  • Take one packet of ramen — my standby is Nissin Top Ramen, chiefly because it’s 3/$1 at your local market. Preferred flavor is chili.
  • When preparing ramen, add the seasoning packet, several squirts of Sriracha chili sauce (enough to turn the water completely red), and a handful of fresh Indian chilis (chopped or straight).
  • Wait for it to cook (about 3 minutes). Right around the tail end, add 1-2 eggs to the mix and stir in. This will thicken the broth a bit. Top it off with additional squirts of sriracha to satisfaction.

With a mere handful of ingredients you, too, can turn a 33 cent package of instant noodles into a delicious, fiery stew!

Peter Hitchens on his brother, Christopher

I do not loathe atheists, as Christopher claims to loathe believers. I am not angered by their failure to see what appears obvious to me. I understand that they see differently. I do think that they have reasons for their belief, as I have reasons for mine, which are the real foundations of this argument.

It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.

It is also my view that, as with all atheists, he is his own chief opponent. As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him. His arguments are to some extent internally coherent and are a sort of explanation – if not the best explanation – of the world and the universe.

He often assumes that moral truths are self-evident, attributing purpose to the universe and swerving dangerously round the problem of conscience – which surely cannot be conscience if he is right since the idea of conscience depends on it being implanted by God. If there is no God then your moral qualms might just as easily be the result of indigestion.

Yet Christopher is astonishingly unable to grasp that these assumptions are problems for his argument. This inability closes his mind to a great part of the debate, and so makes his atheist faith insuperable for as long as he himself chooses to accept it.

Peter Hitchens, “How I found God and peace with my atheist brother” (Daily Mail 3/15/10).

SSPX in Rome

On September 14, 2011, at the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a meeting was held between His Eminence, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of this Congregation and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, His Excellency, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J., Secretary of this Congregation, and Monsignor Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and His Excellency, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, and Fathers Niklaus Pfluger et Alain-Marc Nély, General Assistants of the Fraternity

Following the petition addressed on December 15, 2008, by the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, the Holy Father had taken the decision of lifting the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and to open at the same time doctrinal conversations with the Fraternity, aiming to overcome the difficulties and the problems of a doctrinal nature, and to achieve a healing of the existing fracture.

Obedient to the will of the Holy Father, a mixed study commission, composed of experts of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X and of experts of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, assembled eight times for meetings that took place in Rome between the month of October 2009 and the month of April 2011. These conversations, whose objective was that of presenting and examining the major doctrinal difficulties on controversial themes, achieved their goal, which was that of clarifying the respective positions and their motivations.

Given the concerns and requests presented by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X regarding the integrity of the Catholic faith considering the hermeneutic of rupture of the Second Vatican Council in respect of Tradition – hermeneutic mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI in his Address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005 -, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes as a fundamental basis for a full reconciliation with the Apostolic See the acceptance of the Doctrinal Preamble which was delivered in the course of the meeting of September 14, 2011. This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the sentire cum Ecclesia, while leaving open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.

In the course of the same meeting, some elements were proposed regarding a canonical solution for the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, which would follow the eventual and hoped-for reconciliation.

Meanwhile, La Porte Latine, the website of the French District of the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), has also released, with the approval of Bishop Bernard Fellay, a communiqué by its Superior, Fr. R. de Cacqueray, on the inter-religious meeting to be hosted in Assisi on October 27, 2011, 25th anniversary of a similar meeting held in the same city under the auspices of Pope John Paul II.

The reaction of the Society to the upcoming event is entirely predictable — a “dreadful blasphemy”, an “odious humiliation”, an “occasion of scandal for all the earth” — in which the Holy Father is deemed complicit.

Summer Reading

I’d like to apologize for the lack of posting. I have devoted much of the summer to catching up on reading — pursuing my interest in (and remeding my ignorance of) various subjects. Here are some books in which I’ve immersed myself in my time offline:

So, what are you reading lately? What interests and engages you? and what would you recommend?