Msgr. David Q. Liptak
Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in the February 2006 issue of First Things, provides an interesting assessment of Pope Benedict XVI from his academic days as a theologian to his election as Pope
During Vatican Council II (1962-65), he writes, Father Joseph Ratzinger "was much sought after as a rising theological star," where he began working closely with well established scholars like Jesuits Karl Rahner and Alois Grillmeier and Otto Semmelroth. By the close of the first session he was named a theological adviser to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne. (During the Council he continued to teach, successively, at Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg.) The great Dominican, Cardinal Yves Congar, described Father Ratzinger in his diary during the Conciliar years as "reasonable, modest, disinterested, and very helpful." According to Cardinal Dulles, Joseph Ratzinger "belonged to the inner circle of theologians whose thinking prevailed at Vatican II." Since he was only in his 30’s at the time, such an assessment is especially remarkable.
Joseph Ratzinger himself left us personal observations on various documents of Vatican II. From these, he clearly manifested, Cardinal Dulles notes, that he accepted three objectives set for the Council by Pope John XXIII; specifically, (1) renewal of the Church, (2) Christian unity, and (3) dialogue with the contemporary world.
As for interpreting the work of the Council, Cardinal Ratzinger is on record, beginning as early as a decade afterwards (1975), that – in Cardinal Dulles’s words – "the only viable course… was to interpret Vatican II in strictest continuity with previous Councils such as Trent and Vatican I … "
A misreading of the Council, as Joseph Ratzinger saw it, was largely due to – again, to cite Avery Dulles – "the unleashing of polemical and centrifugal forces within the Church and the prevalence, outside the Church, of a liberal-radical ideology that was individualistic, rationalistic, and hedonistic." Moreover, any misrepresentations needed to be corrected before an authentic reception could commence. Vatican II was fundamentally in continuity with the past.
Three documents appeared particularly significant to Joseph Ratzinger: the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). About the last named, Cardinal Ratzinger has lauded the Constitution on the Church for its "ecumenical sensitivity." According to Avery Dulles, the present Pope thinks that the Constitution on the Church "overcomes the impression that non-Catholic Christians are connected to the Church only by some kind of implicit desire." In fact, when it is studied alongside the Decree on Ecumenism, it "gives positive ecclesial status to Protestant and Orthodox communities."
In Avery Dulles’s words: "For Ratzinger, the Church is Catholic, but it is possible for particular churches or ecclesial communities to exist irregularly outside her borders. Some, such as the Eastern Orthodox Communities, deserve to be called churches in the theological sense of the word."
One of the questions about the Council for which most Christians seek an answer is the meaning of the phrase "subsists in," surely one of the most debated phrases of Lumen Gentium. (See "Misread Phrase," in "Faith Perspectives," The Catholic Transcript, February 2006, p. 27.) For the present Holy Father, Cardinal Dulles explains, the word "subsists" (subsistit, in Latin) "implies integral existence as a complete, self-contained subject. Thus the Catholic Church truly is the Church of Christ. But the term … is not exclusive; it allows for the possibility of ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church." Such a situation is not a "desirable mutual complementarity," but a "deficiency that calls for healing."
As for Mariology, the present Pope, writes Avery Dulles, is saddened by a misreading of the Council, which should have been seen as an impetus for new research into the mystery of Our Lady. Pope Benedict maintains that it is imperative to "turn toward Mary … in order to learn the truth about Jesus Christ …"
Both Popes, Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger, agree, in Cardinal Dulles’s judgment, that Vatican II has been seriously misread. Hence it "needs to be understood in conformity with the constant teaching of the Church." The authentic "spirit of Vatican II" is discovered within, and not apart from, the letter.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The Catholic Transcript