February 9, 1999
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Can Cardinal Ratzinger be trusted? Conservative Catholics tend to think so. "Nice" Traditional Catholics wish to think so. "Nasty" Traditionalists think not. Who is right?
The question arose in agonising form in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebvre was negotiating, principally with the Cardinal, to obtain bishops for Catholic Tradition. Conservatives blamed him then (and still do) for not, finally, trusting Rome. Ten years later Conservatives found themselves facing the same question when the Cardinal appealed to them to trust Rome in the matter of the liturgy. Do they now follow through on their own policy of trust?
The occasion was the Conservative Catholics' gathering in Rome last October to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pope's Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei" of July 1988, condemning Archbishop Lefebvre but apparently favouring the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Here is a fair summary of the speech, quoted in full in the December issue of "Inside the Vatican", in which the Cardinal appealed for the Conservatives' trust:
-Despite the positive fruits of "Ecclesia Dei", said the Cardinal, there is amongst Conciliar Catholics much distrust of you Conservative (Ecclesia Dei) Catholics, because of your attachment to the old liturgy. This need not be, if only both sides will abide by the letter (as opposed to the so-called "spirit") of the Second Vatican Council.
- For on the one hand, the Cardinal went on, the text of the Council's Constitution on the liturgy does not promote the wild excesses of the so-called "creative" liturgists who, by pushing the text too far in one direction only, have in the name of community worship virtually emptied out the priesthood, sacrifice, all mystery and sacredness. Quite to the contrary that text never forbade the Tridentine Mass, it does not mention Mass facing the people, it encourages Latin. In fact when a celebration of the New Mass is faithful to Pope Paul VI's Missal, it is closer to the Old Mass than it is to any of the wild new liturgies.
-On the other hand the same text, following the admirable Liturgical Movement which led up to the Council's Constitution, does call for more active participation of the people in the liturgy, as opposed to the excessively private and individual following of Mass which had become the norm for Mass-goers before the Council.
-Therefore, concluded the Cardinal, a new Liturgical Movement to restore a truly liturgical unity-in-diversity of Conciliarists and Conservatives is not something that you Conservatives must distrust. Quote: "Dear friends, I would like to encourage you not to lose patience - to keep trusting..."
Thus Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be suggesting that Rome is pondering another liturgical reform which would give us a Mass neither wildly new nor completely old, and he seems to be asking lovers of the old liturgy to wait patiently for this reform of the reform, and to trust Rome meanwhile. Now the Cardinal seems to be a "nice" man, and few Cardinals in Rome say so many favourable things about the old liturgy as he does. Yet can Rome, even as represented by him, be trusted in the matter of the liturgy?
Alas, the answer must be no. Why?
Because while the Cardinal's heart may be open to the Tridentine Mass, his mind is blocked, and in a man of his calibre, the mind rules the heart. His sympathy with the old Mass is relatively superficial, his opposition to it is profound. All this is clear to see in the autobiographical memoirs for the first 50 years of his life, 1927-1957, which he published two years ago in a little book called "Milestones", available in the USA from Ignatius Press, San Francisco. The matter is of interest to all Catholics, because it shows how crippled is even the seeming best of today's Romans when it comes to defending the Faith. Despite their apparent benevolence they cannot defend what they no longer understand.
Josef Ratzinger was born of humble but devout parents in 1927 in a deeply Catholic part of the world, South Germany, close to the Austrian frontier. Youngest of three children in a tranquil home, he grew up with a natural love of God, Church, family and homeland which never left him. He describes how he was also indelibly marked in childhood by the Traditional (then normal) Catholic liturgy, because the great Church ceremonies of the different seasons of the year impressed deep in his soul the sense of the Catholic mysteries.
Here is why the Cardinal has so little sympathy for the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" in the name of which the Church's liturgy has been turned into a wasteland. Towards the end of "Milestones" are a few pages severely condemning the Novus Ordo Missal of 1969 as a "self-made", or artificial, liturgy, pages which Conservative Catholics love to quote and which many a Traditional Catholic could not have written better. No wonder the Cardinal seemed to receive Conservatives kindly in Rome last October! No wonder he might tempt Traditionalists out of their Traditional fortress!
Then where is the Cardinal's problem? Back to "Milestones". After his happy childhood overshadowed by the rise of Nazism and the wartime years marked by its collapse, in 1945 he entered near Munich the re-constituted Major Seminary to begin his studies for the priesthood, where he says (p.42), "We wanted not only to do theology in the narrower sense, but to listen to the voices of man today" - here for the Catholic reader a red light begins to wink! For nobody may mind any brave young man wishing to grapple with horrors which have just nearly engulfed his world - but what Catholic can conceive of his Church's eternal theology as being somehow too narrow to embrace modem man?
So the young Ratzinger plunges with enthusiasm into the study of modern philosophers. By contrast, I had difficulties in penetrating the thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made". For, says Ratzinger, he and his fellow-seminarians were presented with "a rigid neo-scholastic thomism that was simply too far afield from my own questions... We, being young, were questioners above all" (p.44).
Now it is all very well pleading youth, but since when was the point of questions anything other than to find answers? Is searching better than finding? That is the modem mentality. Either Ratzinger's teachers did not appreciate the Catholic truth of St. Thomas, or Ratzinger did not appreciate his teachers, whichever it be or both, this young philosophy student is missing out on truth. His brilliant mind is pursuing something else - its own satisfaction upon its own (modern) terms? What will he do when he comes to theology? The crucial Chapter VI tells.
To begin theological studies in 1947, he asks to go not to the diocesan seminary, but instead to the Munich University Theological Faculty "to become more fully familiar with the intellectual debates of our time" (p.47), so as to become later a professional theologian. But, again, are modern (university) questions really more valuable than the Church's (seminary) answers? Does this student have a sense of truth? The star teacher at the Faculty, whose "liberalism restricted by dogma" deeply appealed by its modern-ancient balance to the young Ratzinger (p.52), was a certain Professor Maier, whose "liberal-historical method" in approaching Scripture "opened up dimensions of the text that were no longer perceived by the all-too-predetermined dogmatic reading" (p.52)! In other words, history's relativising had more to give to our young theologian than dogma's absolutes? His mind is at sea!
For he is thinking with the mind not of the Catholic Church but of these humanly brilliant German thinkers, about whom he says, "German arrogance perhaps also contributed a little to our belief that we knew what was what better than `those down there' (i.e. in Rome)" (p.58). Ratzinger and his teachers would submit to a decision of Rome, but basically they felt themselves superior. Chapter VI of "Milestones" abounds in quotations to illustrate the downfall of our pious young Bavarian - intellectual pride.
The pious heart is still there, but it is completely out-weighed and out-gunned for Ratzinger by the dazzling intellectualism of Germany's top modernists, all of whom he will meet and befriend when, after being ordained priest in 1951, he embarks in 1952 upon the academic career he has hoped for. For the next 25 years he is professing theology in Germany in one prestigious seminary or university after another. Let us take a look at how his mind is now working as he sets out to teach (p. 108, 109).
In 1953, to obtain his "Habilitation", or final qualification to profess theology, he describes how he prepared a thesis on the great medieval Doctor, St. Bonaventure. Here is Ratzinger's argument, in which he says he still believes (comments in brackets):
The word "revelation" can mean either the act of revealing or the content revealed [true]. Whereas we usually use the word to mean the content revealed [true], Bonaventure uses it to mean the act of revealing [maybe]. Therefore "revelation" means the act of revealing ["Therefore"? Who made Bonaventure dictator of meanings?]. But there is no act of revealing without someone to reveal to [true, but wait for it ...] . Therefore Church Revelation [act or content??] always includes as an essential element the Church being revealed to. Therefore Revelation, Scripture and Tradition [now Ratzinger has definitely slidden back from act to content!] are all incomplete without the Church or persons being revealed to. Therefore whatever of religion comes to us from God must be no ready-made and finalized product or content such as Catholicism was always supposed to be, but it must incorporate the in-put of us modern men. In brief, in the old days God told men what was in the Catholic religion, but that religion fell dead. Now man tells God what is in the Catholic religion, and religion is again living!
From 1953 to 1988 to 1998 we can see that Cardinal Ratzinger's thinking has not changed. In 1988, in the name of "living Tradition", he did his honest best to stop Archbishop Lefebvre from going into "schism" with his "dead Tradition". In 1998 he did his honest best to keep Conservative Catholics loyal to Rome by trust in a new liturgical reform movement which will of course actively involve living modern man, because without that living in-put the liturgy, like Revelation and Tradition, will be dead. But the excessively private Tridentine Mass is too fixed and ready-made to allow for any such in-put. Therefore the Cardinal's Rome can be trusted not to preserve the Tridentine Mass.
Yet all the while the Cardinal in his heart genuinely appreciates the incomparable sacredness and mystery of the old liturgy (pp. 18-20, 146-149). Alas, that liturgy never took a hold of his head, so it cannot govern his thinking or action. Unless or until he changes his thinking, i.e. doctrine, the Tridentine Mass is bound to remain for him a sentimental side-line. In other words, prior to the Council Josef Ratzinger was a ring-leader of Fiftiesists or Bing Crosby Catholics. Maybe his heart was "dreaming of a white Christmas", but his head was ready filled with the poison of man-centered Vatican II.
Your Eminence, if ideas did not matter, you might be a good Catholic, but since the virtue of faith is seated in the mind and not in the heart, then so long as your mind swings between Tradition and modernity you are, despite yourself, in your position as Guardian of the Faith, a terrible enemy of the Catholic Church.
We might wish to trust you, but we cannot.
Men, remember that there are 5-day Igantian Spiritual Exercises available for you at the Seminary from April 5 to 10. These Exercises are an incomparable means of truly renewing Catholic Life.
With all good wishes and blessings for a fruitful Lent,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Richard Williamson