By Leonardo Boff, Folha de São Paulo, Sept.27, 2000
This response was forwarded to a companion in the U.K. who passed it on to Anglican Left. I have not seen it elsewhere and thought it was important enough to pass on. It expresses my feelings better than anything I've seen from any Anglican source. -- Ted M.
As our millennial celebrations of Christianity come to a close, Cardinal J. Ratzinger has gifted us with a document for which we should all be very grateful. In it, without ruse or subterfuge, he lays out the thinking of that part of the Church known as the Vatican hierarchy. He tells us what they think of revelation, of the plan of God in Christ, of the nature of the Church, and of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Now all women and men of good will, religious and spiritual people, Christian churches and their faithful know precisely what they can expect (and what not to expect) of the Vatican hierarchy with respect to the future of small and large scale ecumenical dialogue. While the prospect that is presented is discouraging, it is one that is absolutely coherent with the system that the Vatican hierarchy has been working out over the course of the past couple of centuries and has now communicated in this rigid exposition. This is, after all, the Roman system, immutable, implacable, cruel and pitiless.
The Unheard of Aggression of a Timid Cardinal.
To put it in a simple way - picaresque, but true - I offer here a summary of the document: "Christ is the only road to salvation, and the church is the only tollgate." Or, in other words, "Christ is the telephone, but the only operator is the Church. All local and long distance calls must come through the Church." The Church and Christ form "a single whole Christ" (# 16). Thus, just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: "a single Catholic and apostolic Church" (# 16). Outside of the mediation of the Church, all others, including the "followers of other religions objectively speaking are in a gravely deficient condition" (# 22). The document accentuates its posture by quoting from the Catechism: "Thus we must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (# 7).
Why the reductionism? This is where the Roman system, Romanism, reveals itself. Things are reduced in this way, we are told, because of "the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ" (# 4). Millennia may come and go, human beings could migrate to other planets or galaxies, but history will remain as if petrified until the final judgment, for there will be absolutely nothing new in terms of revelation: "we should await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (#5). The system has been completed, it is closed, and the private property of the Church (the Vatican hierarchy), which of course must share this system with the whole world.
What would the Church say to those human beings - after millions of years of evolution and spiritual encounters with God - and those other non-Roman Catholic Christians? The answers are clear and unyielding, true knife-thrusts to the hearts of these people: "And to you religious people of the world, including those who belong to religions much more ancient than our Christianity (as is Buddhism and Hinduism, for example), I must share with you this most distressing truth: you have no "theological faith"; you only have "beliefs", your doctrines are not of the Spirit, but something "which is religious experience still in search of the absolute truth" (#7). If your religion were to possess some positive elements, "you could not attribute to them a divine origin" (#21), for they are not yours, but ours, as these positive elements have "received from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace which they contain." (#8). And you Orthodox Churches, while you might have a hierarchy and the Eucharist, you can only be known as "particular churches", without full communion, for you do not accept the primacy of the Pope (#16). And you Evangelical churches, those who came forth from the Reformation as well as those who came forth afterwards, pay attention to this: you are not "churches in the proper sense", you are "separated communities" whose efficacy derives from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church" (#17).
And now listen to all that the Second Vatican Council taught and what we affirm: "We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people" (#23). Know that only in the Catholic Church exists the truth. All people are obliged to cling to her, for outside of this truth all of you would be found in irremediable error. In the end this document, a supreme expression of totalitarianism, would say to everyone, in a cruel and merciless way: without Christ and the Church you have nothing; and if just by chance you were to possess something positive, it would not because it is from you, but because it comes from Christ and the Church. For you there is no other option but conversion. Outside of conversion there is only the real, objective risk of damnation.
For those of us mortal beings who seek to promote local and global efforts at ecumenism, such a pronouncement as this one leaves it clear that any initiative by the Vatican in this area is in reality a farce, or else, the laying of the groundwork for a trap. The calls that the document makes toward the continuation of ecumenical dialog have nothing to do with religion, but rather speak of the desire to dialogue about respect for human beings, about the fact that we have been created equal in dignity, although absolutely unequal in as much as the objective conditions for salvation.
With this thesis, the timid Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has appointed himself as the executioner of the future of ecumenism. How did Romanism come to be such a totalitarian system, one that has created so many victims and has produced so much talk of exclusion and desperation?
Hierarchical, Roman Capitalism
This type of discourse is not specific to Romanism. It is found in all manner of contemporary totalitarianisms, be they Fascist Nazism, Stalinism, religious sectarianism, Latin American regimes of national security, free market fundamentalists or that very special mindset of neoliberalism.
The system is totalitarian, and closed in upon itself. In the case of the Vatican hierarchy, it is a "totatus" a term Catholic theologians used when they criticized papal absolutism. In this scheme of things, reality begins and ends where ideological totalitarianism begins and ends. Nothing exists beyond the system. All should submit themselves to it, as the document of Ratzinger points out, in "obedience, with full submission of the intellect and a freely assenting will" (# 7). The truth is only found within the system. Only those who are obedient to the system can participate in the benefits of its saving truth. Everyone else is in error.
The one who supposes that only he or she possesses absolute truth is condemned to intolerance of those who are lacking such truth. The strategy is the same in all of these totalitarianisms: either convert the ones who are in error, or subjugate them by force, or destroy them. We know this method well here in Latin America. It was applied with great attention to detail by the first Iberian missionaries who brought the absolutist Roman ideology to Mexico, to the Caribbean and to Peru. They judged the divinities of the indigenous religions as false, and their religious doctrines were taken to be pure human invention. They destroyed these religions with the cross backed by a sword.
We hear the echoes of the laments of the Aztec wise men even today: "They said that our gods were not true gods. They speak a new word. This word disturbs us, we are uneasy. Listen, sirs, do not do something that will shame our people or destroy them, for we could not be at peace" (Miguel Leon-Portilla, The Conquest of Latin America as Seen by the Indians, Vozes, Petropolis, 1987, 21-22). The Maya sobbed, "Woe are we, for they have come (the Spanish Christians)" they have come to make our flowers wilt. So that their flower might prosper, they killed and ate our flower" to castrate the sun: this is what they have come to do here. That "true" God who comes from the heavens, this god only speaks of sin, it is only about sin that he can teach. They have taught us fear" (Leon-Portilla, op.cit. 60-62).
Could Cardinal Ratzinger imagine what a pious Presbyterian, working with Indians in the Amazon jungle, or a Taoist monk, immersed in contemplation, would feel if during an inter-religious meeting they were told that theirs was not faith, or that they were not church, that in them there was nothing divine or positive, and that what they do have that is of benefit they have only because of the goodness of Christ and the Church? They would feel humiliated and offended, they would have reason to weep as did the Aztecs and the Maya. And their cry would reach the heart of God, who hears the cry of the oppressed, and without the unnecessary mediation of the Church. As they are wise and just people, surely they would simply smile in the face of such arrogance, at such a lack of respect and at such a shallow spirituality coming from those who pretend to know the ways of the Lord who is present in the life of the peoples of the earth.
The strategy of the Vatican document follows the same logic as the above-mentioned totalitarian states - picking away at the others' convictions, reducing them to the point that the Vatican completely denies that there is any theological value left at all. They destroy all of the flowers in the non-Catholic garden until only one is left, all alone in its arrogant solitude, the single flower of the Roman Catholic Church. And all of this is done in the name of God, of Christ, and divine revelation, happily sinning against the second commandment of the Law of God, which prohibits the use of God's name in vain - which prohibits the use God's name to cover-up purely human interests.
How is it that the Vatican became so rigidly fundamentalist and merciless? We do not want to go into all of the historical research, work done by some of the best Catholic historians and exegetes, people well known by Cardinal Ratzinger. Indeed, these people studied in his own classrooms in Freising, Bonn, Tübingen, and Regensburg. The research offers understandable, though not justifiable, historical reasons of how those fraternal communities from the beginning of Christianity ended up as an unequal, hierarchal ecclesial society.
From the very beginning, and well beyond the year 1000, the Christian community, following the ancient adage, "that which is in the interest of all should be discussed and decided by all", participated as a "community of the faithful", taking part both in decision making as well as in the election of leaders. In time, the community was only consulted in matters of importance, and, in the end, became shut off from the decision making process, having lost the power that it once possessed. With this, there arose within the Church an undeniable division and inequality - on the one hand an all-knowing hierarchy, master of all, who spoke and decide on all the issues of life, living outside of and beyond the reach of the powerless and poor faithful, who had to completely obey the hierarchy.
This reality is in itself perverse and contrary to the original message of Jesus. To make it acceptable then, the hierarchy had to put play mechanisms that would justify its existence. The Vatican hierarchy elaborated a theology that had the objective of justifying, reinforcing, and sacralizing its power. To assure that this power would be understood as irreformable, untouchable, and absolute, they assigned to it a divine origin, although in reality it is the product of history, the creation of an implacable process of the expropriation of power. To create this Pharonic state, the Vatican hierarchy began to manipulate various decrees, even, in the famous case of the Testament of Constantine, falsifying documents and imposing, with Gregory VII in 1075 in his Dictatus Papae ("The Dictatorship of the Pope") the absolute power of the pope in these words: "The pope is the only man whom all the princes of the earth should come to so as to kiss his feet (and this was held as true up until the mid-part of the past century, with Pius XII); his teachings cannot be changed by anyone and only he has the right to change the teachings of everyone else; he cannot be judged by anyone at all." And toward the end of this process, Pius IX, he of unhappy recent beatification, was declared infallible in his teaching. He decided that he could decide whatever he wished, "alone and without the consent of the Church." It is from this context of ideological totalitarianism that the Vatican hierarchy reads the scriptures and takes from them whatever they need to justify doctrines created by its thirst for power. The Vatican hierarchy spiritualizes whatever might be contrary to its way of thinking or simply ignoring those parts of scripture that oppose this kind of thinking, including the most essential passages. Cardinal Ratzinger's document continues this method without even the smallest bit of subtlety that one would actually expect from a man who in his day was recognized as a competent theologian.
It is worth remembering the historical Jesus was himself the victim of similar absolutist system, one built by the scribes and Pharisees. In its name, Jesus was rejected as a false prophet, and called an enemy of the truth, a Beelzebub, one who betrayed the tradition and who seduced the people. Jesus contradicted them, and, we would use Jesus' very words in response to Cardinal Ratzinger, "Truly I say unto you, you annul the laws of God in order to put into place your own traditions…and worse things you have done as well." (Mark 7: 13); "in order to protect your own traditions, you neglect the teachings of the precepts of God" (Mark 15: 3). What is it that Cardinal Ratzinger leaves aside in the name of spurious traditions?
Theological Errors which Make the Vatican Document Unacceptable
Cardinal Ratzinger is not teaching the essence of Christianity. Without the essential, none of the arguments of the document can be sustained. Amongst others, two items are most serious: he leaves aside the centrality of the law of love and he has no place for the decisive importance of the poor. In this document, both of these aspects are completely absent.
For Jesus, and as we find in the entire New Testament, love is all (Matthew 22: 38-39), for God is love (1 John 4: 8, 16), and only love can save (Matthew 25: 34-47), a love that must be unconditional (Matthew 5: 44). None of this is found in the Cardinal's document. He only speaks of "revealed truths" and that theological faith means that one must adhere to these truths. Yet the Cardinal knows well that faith alone cannot save. As all of the Councils have taught, the only faith that can save is faith that has been "informed by love" (fides caritate informata). Well-known is Blas Pascal's phrase, "Truth that is outside of charity is not God, it is only an image and idol that no one should love or adore" (Pensées, # 582). This is a screaming absence in such a document as this one, something that can only be excused if the author were someone with no spiritual experience, one who does not know the God who is "a communion of divine persons", who does not love God and neighbor, one who lazily adheres to written and abstract truths. The text reveals no sense of love of anyone; it only expresses a love for its own system. Without compassion, with no intent at comprehension, it damages and destroys the beliefs of others.
Worse yet is the fact that there is no mention of the poor. For Jesus and the New Testament, the poor are not just one theme amongst many. The poor are the starting point where one begins to understand the Gospel as the Good News of liberation ("blessed are you who are poor"). The poor stand as the final criteria of salvation or damnation. It is useless to belong to the Roman Catholic Church, to have all the means of salvation, to submit yourself heart and mind to the hierarchical system, to take unto yourself all revealed truths, unless you have love, for without love, you are nothing (1 Corinthians 15: 2). If we have no love for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the refugee and the prisoner, no one, not me nor Cardinal Ratzinger can listen to the words of the Beatitudes, "Come to me, blessed of my Father, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Matthew 25: 34), because "when you do this to one of these least ones, you did this to me" (Matthew 25: 45). The question of the poor is so essential to the tradition of Jesus, that when Paul went to verify his doctrine before the apostles in Jerusalem, these demanded of him the care of the poor (Galatians 2: 10).
The theological tradition of the Church has always correctly argued that where Christ is, there too is the Church. Christ is in the poor; thus the Church must also be in the poor. Not only in the poor who happen to be good workers, but also purely and completely in those people who are simply poor. By being poor, they have less life, and for this reason are the first recipients of this good news and the first who benefit from the liberating intervention of the God of Life.
There is no resonance of this announcement of liberty and compassion to be found in this hopeless Vatican document. The question of the poor is fertile ground for opening a rich and open ecumenism, for discussions with all churches, religions, spiritual traditions and people of good will. The centrality of the message of Jesus is to be found in unconditional love and in the poor, and not in the ideological discussion put together in the Cardinal's document. There is a form of the negation of the living God that only ecclesiastics can pull off - by speaking of God, of God's revelation and of God's grace, but without showing any sort of compassion for the poor and the wretched. These are not speaking of the God of Jesus who did in fact hear the cry of the oppressed, and who came down to save them (Exodus 3: 4), but of an ecclesiastic fetish designed by human beings in their thirst for power. The image of God which emerges from this document is that of a funereal God who died long ago, but who left as a testament some choice phrases from the New Testament, which the Vatican hierarchy wishes to use to build an edifice that would offer salvation only for those who would enter it.
There are other grave theological insufficiencies that are important to denounce: the document offends the Word which "illuminates every human being who comes into this world" (John 1: 9), and not only those who are baptized and are Roman Catholics. The document blasphemes against the Spirit "which blows where it might" (John 3: 8) and not only on those who are tied into the Cardinal's scheme of things. Jesus emphasized that the "true worshipers that the Father wants are those who worship in Spirit and in Truth" and not only in Rome (Jerusalem) or Garizim (Cracow): John 4: 21-23). That is, the Spirit comes to all those open to the spiritual and sacred dimensions of the universe, to the manifestations of the Divine Mystery, whose culmination is found in the Incarnation.
In refusing to admit the essence of Jesus' message (unconditional love and the centrality of the poor and oppressed), the document ridicules human beings. The document offers an indigestible menu of citations torn out of the scripture so as to justify the discrimination and inequalities produced in it, clearly against the will of Jesus who prohibited that anyone be called teacher or father ("Pope" is the abbreviation for "father of the poor" pater-pauperum). Jesus prohibited that anyone consider themselves better than the rest, "because you are all sisters and brothers" (Matthew 23: 6-12). The Roman hierarchy is in urgent need of conversion so that it can find its place within the totality of God's people and its appropriate service to the community of faith. The hierarchy is not some faction, but a function of the "Church as a community of faithful and of services".
This document is light years from the jovial and benevolent atmosphere of the Gospels and the life of Christ. It is a text of scribes and Pharisees and not of the disciples of Jesus, a text lacking of human and divine virtues, designed more to judge, to condemn and to exclude rather than to value, understand and include as does the symbol of God's first covenant with human kind and life itself - the rainbow. Ratzinger does not want a multitude of colors bound within the unity of the same rainbow. He would rather have the predominant color of the sorrowful Vatican hierarchical curia: the imperious color black. Only an old, bitter and fading church could produce such melancholic and spiritually corrupt text.
Ecumenism goes through Geneva and not through Rome
With this document, as far as the Vatican hierarchy is concerned, Cardinal Ratzinger has dug the grave for ecumenism. The publication has the merit of clearing away any illusions about this. >From now on, we know that we cannot count on the Vatican hierarchy in the search for spiritual and religious peace amongst humankind. On the contrary, with its capitalistic hoarding of divine truth, with its arrogant manner of dealing with others, Christianity in its Roman hierarchical form is actually a great obstacle to this search.
The Roman hierarchy, however, is not the church, nor does it even represent the worldwide ecclesiastic body. Within the hierarchy there are cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests who follow the Gospel example of mutual learning, of open dialogue, and of the sincere search for religious peace, all of this based on the radical experience of the Mystery, which has revealed itself and hidden itself throughout history of the universe and of humanity, and which has taken shape - a singular form in each case - in all religions, as well as that of Christianity. But this is not the road that Rome promotes.
If the restricted attitude of the Vatican continues, then Christian ecumenist will not go through Rome, but through Geneva, the seat of the World Council of Churches. It is there that the tradition of Jesus will be lived out, open to all dimensions of the Spirit, which fills the face of the earth and warms the hearts of nations as well as individuals. As Ratzinger's document is the result of a closed, rigid system, it cannot be open to any reality outside of its own. It is like a frog that lives at the bottom of a well and knows nothing of the many worlds that exist outside of the well. A document which takes aim at worldwide religious dialogue should demonstrate an awareness of the way such a discussion would impact upon the dramatic situations that presently course across the Earth and across Humankind. But none of this is found in this document. The point of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not only toward establishing religious peace. Such dialogue is directed toward the construction of justice and peace among the nations, such work is directed at saving creation itself.
We are moving toward a single world society. This world society has the face of the Third World, because four billion people - of a total of six billion - according to the data of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, live beneath the level of poverty. Who is to wipe the tears of these millions of victims? Who will hear the cry that rises up from this wounded earth, from the hungry and marginated tribes of the earth?
This document has no ears for such tribulation. And the one who deafens himself before the cry of the oppressed can have nothing to say of God, can nothing to say in the name of God. The Christianity presented by Cardinal Ratzinger is not exportable to the rest of the world: it is the expression of the darkest part of the West, which is increasingly becoming irrelevant to the rest of the world. This document closes out the second millennia with a kind of Christianity which should not be prolonged out of respect for the Mystery of God who reveals God's self in history, out of love for Jesus Christ, whose meaning and message were meant for all and were never meant to diminish or exclude anyone, out of respect for the other Christian churches who keep alive the memory of Jesus, and out of respect for the other religions and spiritualities by means of which God has visited salvation and grace upon all human beings. In the new millennia which we are now beginning, there will come forth a new Catholic ecumenism like that which is being developed at important levels of the hierarchy by those who have been converted to the Gospel idea of service and promotion of the faith, at the grassroots' level of the Church and in Catholic and Christian communities with an ecumenical spirit founded in spirituality and in the mystery of a living encounter with the Spirit and with the Resurrected One, at the service of men and women, beginning with the most poor and most miserable, in communion with and in dialogue with others who live out the spiritual dimension of human existence. It is the mission of each and every one of us to revive and promote the sacred call of the Divine and the Mystical which burns within each and every human heart as well as in the entire universe.
Without this sacred call, we will not save life, we will not be able to guarantee a hopeful future neither for the human family nor for our Common Home, the Earth. Toward this end, all ecumenism is desirable, and all synergy indispensable. And Rome, one day, post Ratzinger locutum - after Ratzinger has had his say - will also have to put its shoulder to this Messianic task.
Translation by Michael Seifert