Short thoughts from Cardinal Ratzinger on modern Christian thought

RatzingerReportI’m currently reading, and am almost done with, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church. On August 15, 1984, journalist Vittorio Messori interviewed Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI). This book is a compilation of that interview and discusses a lot of interesting things. Many of the topics go over my head, probably because I’m not Catholic and therefore not “in tune” with their way of thinking on certain issues (such as the seriousness Ratzinger has about liturgy).

One of the things I found interesting, and relevant to my situation, are Ratzinger’s thoughts on sola scriptura and ecclesiology.

Below is a transcript from the book. Anything in “quotes” is Ratzinger, whereas the rest is Messori. I hope my spelling and punctuation is correct. Keep in mind as well that there is a context to the conversation. I think what I have posted is enough context to get the point, but if you get confused it might be worth checking out the book yourself.

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But why should Protestantism—which is undergoing a crisis no less than the Catholic Church—attract theologians and believers who, up to the Council, had remained faithful to the Roman Church?

“It is not easy to say. The following consideration suggests itself to me: Protestantism arose at the beginning of modern times, and thus it is much more closely related to the inner energies which produced the modern age than Catholicism is. It has acquired the form it has today largely in the confrontation with the great philosophical currents of the nineteenth century. It is wide open to modern thought, and, as well as constituting a threat to it, that constitutes both its opportunity and its danger. So it is that those Catholic theologians, particularly, for whom their inherited theology no longer means anything, imagine that here they will find a path already blazed for the fusing of faith and modern thought.”

What principles are involved here?

“Then as now the sola scriptura principles plays a key role. What today’s average Christian deduces from this principle is that faith comes from one’s individual perception, from intellectual application along with the contributions of experts, and a view such as this strikes him as more modern and more obvious than the Catholic position. Let us go deeper. Once this view has been adopted, the Catholic concept of the Church is automatically no longer tenable; a model of the Church must be sought elsewhere within the wide spectrum of the phenomenon of ‘Protestantism’.”

Ecclesiology then, as almost always, comes into the picture.

“Yes. For the modern man on the street, the most obvious concept of the Church is what technically one would call Congregationalist or Free Church. It implies that the Church is a changeable form depending upon how men organize what pertains to faith. Consequently one has to adapt as far as possible to the demands of the present moment. We have already mentioned this several times, but it is worthwhile returning to it: today many people can hardly understand any more that behind a human reality stands the mysterious divine reality. And as we know, this is the Catholic understanding of the Church, and it is far harder to accept than the one we have just outlined, which is not simply the Protestant understanding but one that has developed within the phenomenon of ‘Protestantism’.”

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