Saturday, July 23, 2005

Reading Ratzinger

This week's (July 25) The New Yorker has a very interesting piece by this title written by Anthony Grafton about Joseph Ratzinger. (Alas, it's not in the on-line edition.) It appears as if Ratzinger as a young theology student and theologian was considered a liberal, part of the movement that was opening of the Church, as encouraged by the second Vatican Council. In particular, he wrote about how there may be elements of the Truth that are not found within the Church, and that Catholics were right to find them and incorporate them into the Church's theology and ritual.

One passage particularly grabbed me. When Ratzinger wrote his second dissertation (which he needed to become a professor), he wrote about St. Bonaventure, a leader of the newly formed Franciscan Order and how Bonaventure mediated between two conflicting schools of Franciscan thought. The "Spirituales" insisted that the Franciscans return to the strict rule of Francis "who, like Jesus, had told his disciples to take no thought for the morrow." The other school, the "Relaxati" "accepted the need for the order to own property so that it could educate its members and secure continuity." (Do I hear echoes of Storey-Wilkenson controversey?)

Ratzinger showed how Bonaventure successfully synthesized these two schools of thought, agreeing with the Relaxati that earthly continuity and institution-building was a worthy activity, but adopting some of the Spirituales' critique to remind the institution-builders of the spiritual basis of what they were doing.

According to Grafton, Ratzinger showed how "the most exalted figures in the Church [e.g., Bonaventure] could learn new truths even from men who challenged orthodox doctrine; within carefully prescribed limits, the hierarchy could learn from its heretics."

However . . . Ratzinger's dissertation was rejected by one of his readers

because it argued . . . that "revelation," for Bonaventure and his contemporaries, referred not only to Scripture buy also to "something greater than what is merely written down, 'a transaction between God and a 'receiving subject.'"
By the late-1960s, however, Ratzinger found himself on the conservative side of the divide, unable to follow the movement he helped start to its radical conclusion. He noted that "many Catholics moved from a narrow, inward-fixed Christianity to an uncritical openness to the world," and found this development dangerous.

I find myself sympathetic with Ratzinger insofar as his criticism is on an uncritical openness to the world, rather than on openness per se. I do wonder whether he has gone too far the other way, walling the Church from even worthy innovation and light in an effort to keep unworthy tendencies at bay (Grafton says this is what has happened), but I understand his concern.

I found this article illuminating on the questions of Quaker identity that Friends like Liz Oppenheimer and Martin Kelly and others have written about. My own objection and discomfort with the rhetoric of many of my fellow-liberal Quakers is their unwillingness to evaluate or judge -- or discern, to use the technical word -- the value of innovations to historic Quaker faith and practices, and in fact talk about such discernment as if it were itself a heretical practice. To me, there is a world of difference between saying, "There are many paths to God" and "Every path leads to God." The path being followed by those who murdered (by last count) 83 people in Egypt last night does not lead to God.

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