Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The collapse of his theology: the main reason for the resignation of Benedict XVI?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

It is always risky to name a theologian to the role of pope. He can make his particular theology the universal theology of the Church and impose it worldwide. I suspect this has been the case with Benedict XVI, first as a cardinal appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the former Inquisition), and later as pope. Such a deed has no legitimacy and becomes a source of unfair condemnations. He in fact condemned more than one hundred theologians for not fitting in with his theological interpretation of the Church and the world.

Health reasons and a feeling of powerlessness against the severity of the crisis in the Church led him to resign. But not only that. The text of his resignation speaks of deteriorating strength of body and mind and an inability to address issues that hindered the performance of his mission. I believe the deeper reason for his resignation is hidden behind these words: the perception of the collapse of his theology and the failure of the model of Church that he wanted to implement. An absolute monarchy is not absolute to the point of overcoming the inertia of aging Curial structures.

The central theses of his theology were always problematic for the theological community. Three of them ended up being refuted by the facts: the concept of the Church as a "small reconciled world", that the City of Man only has value before God through the mediation of the City of God, and the famous "subsistit" which means only in the Catholic Church does the true Church of Christ remain; all other churches can not be called churches. This narrow view of a keen intelligence, but one held hostage to itself, did not have enough intrinsic strength or the necessary adhesion to be implemented. Might Benedict have recognized the collapse and consequently resigned? There are reasons for this hypothesis.

The Pope Emeritus found his master and inspiration in St. Augustine, in fact the latter was the subject of some personal conversations with him. He took his basic perspective from Augustine, beginning with his antepenultimate theory of original sin (transmitted by the sexual act of procreation). This makes the whole of humanity a "convicted mass." But within it, God, through Christ, established a saving cell, represented by the Church. It is "a small reconciled world" that holds the representation (Vertretung) of the rest of lost humanity. It is not necessary for it to have many members. A few are enough, if they are pure and holy. Ratzinger incorporated this vision. He completed it with the following reflection: the Church is constituted by Christ and the twelve apostles. So it is apostolic. It's just this little group. It excludes the disciples, the women and the masses who followed Jesus. For him they don't count. They are reached through the representation (Vertretung) that the small reconciled world takes on. This ecclesiological model ignores the vast globalized world. He then wanted to make Europe "the reconciled world" to reconquer humankind. It failed because the project was not taken up by anyone and was even ridiculed.

The second thesis is also taken from St. Augustine and his interpretation of history: the confrontation between the City of God and the City of Man. In the City of God are grace and salvation -- it is the only path that leads to salvation. The City of Man is built by human effort. But, as all its humanism and its other values are already contaminated, they aren't able to be saved because they haven't gone through the mediation of the City of God (Church). So it is plagued by relativism. Cardinal Ratzinger consequently harshly condemned liberation theology, because the latter sought liberation by the poor themselves, made autonomous subjects of their history. But since it's not coordinated with the City of God and its cell, the Church, it's insufficient and vain.

The third is a very personal interpretation of his that he gives of Vatican II when he speaks of the Church of Christ. The first conciliar draft said that the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ. In the discussions seeking ecumenism, replaced is by subsists in to make room for the Church of Christ to be fulfilled in other Christian churches, in their own way, too. That interpretation, which was upheld in my PhD, earned an explicit condemnation from Cardinal Ratzinger in his famous document Dominus Iesus (2000), where he states that subsists comes from subsistence which can only be one and occurs in the Catholic Church. The other "churches" have "only" ecclesial elements. That "only" is an arbitrary addition that he makes to the official text of the Council. Both some notable theologians and I myself show that that existential meaning doesn't exist in Latin. The meaning is always specific: "be embodied","be objectively fulfilled." That was the "sensus Patrum", the sense of the Council Fathers.

These three main theses have been refuted by the facts: in the "small reconciled world" there are too many pedophiles even among the cardinals, and thieves of the Vatican Bank money. The second, that the City of Man doesn't have salvific weight before God, is built on an error by restricting the action of the City of God only to the realm of the Church. Within the City of Man is also the City of God, not in the form of religious consciousness but in the form of ethical and humanitarian values. The Second Vatican Council guaranteed the autonomy of earthly realities (another name for secularization) which has value independent of the Church. For God they count. The The City of God (Church) is made through explicit faith, through celebration and through the sacraments. The City of Man, by ethics and politics.

The third -- that only the Catholic Church is the one and only Church of Christ and, moreover, that there is no salvation outside of it -- a medieval thesis resurrected by Cardinal Ratzinger, was simply ignored as offensive to the other faiths. Instead of "outside the Church there is no salvation","the universal offer of salvation to all human being and the world" was introduced into the discourse of priests and theologians.

I nurture the strong suspicion that such a failure and collapse of his theological edifice took from him the needed strength of body and spirit to the point that, as he confesses, he felt incapable of exercising his ministry. Captive of his own theology, he had no alternative but to honestly resign.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic hypothesis, and extremely plausible. I remember when Ratzinger made many of these statements, and the backlash that ensued. With all due respect to him(of which I have very little), I'm glad his theological vision collapsed before his eyes. Maybe a way can be made for a theology that is inclusive and empowering.

    I love your blog, by the way!