For almost half a century, Pope Benedict XVI offered to the Church, as his answer to relativism, selfishness and despair, a Christian epiphany of truth, unity and joy.
Fellow-worker with the truth
What is most striking about Benedict XVI’s life is how he always sought to open up the way of truth, to people living in our difficult modern times. He understood the challenges. He was fully aware of how the metaphysical range of the human intelligence had come to be neglected. He also perceived the decline of the theology of creation, a branch of theology that sees nature and the human body as a ‘message’ sent forth by the wisdom of God.
These were the considerations that guided him in his exposition of the doctrines of the faith, from his lectures on catechesis, given in Lyon and Paris in 1983, through to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, and the Compendium, in 2005. This also explains why he insisted so much on the harmony of faith and reason, first of all in Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio, on which he collaborated with Pope John Paul II in 1992 and 2005, then in his talks at Regensburg and at the Collège des Bernadins in Paris, in 2006 and 2008, without forgetting the marvellous lecture that he gave at the Sorbonne in 1999 on Christianity as the religio vera.
We live in an age of hesitation and doubt, a time when Europe is drowning in nihilism. He spoke to this age and to this Europe about the enduring relevance of natural law, about respect for man and creation, and about the need to “make faith visible, as that for which the world is waiting, now that both the liberal experiment and the Marxist experiment have failed.”
I remember the day when I said to him that it was thanks to the love of truth that filled his books that I had been able to recover hierarchical communion; it seemed to me that he was touched by this. Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for having incarnated the love of the truth in a way that was so attractive, both for me and for many others.
Artisan of unity
Benedict XVI was conscious throughout his life that unity is both a fruit and in a way a proof of the truth. He was equally concerned with the continuity of the Church’s magisterium, since this is the means by which the truth is kept secure. This is why, after the optimistic expectations of renewal at the time of the Second Vatican Council, he soon distanced himself from those who wanted to make the council into a ‘super-dogma’, and to use it to effect a revolution and a clean break with the past. This explains why he helped to found the journal Communio, in response to Concilium.
This concern for genuine unity was the light by which he was guided. It explains, in the first place his opposition as a theologian, and then as archbishop of Munich, to the los von Rom (‘the path, or estrangement, from Rome’). It explains also why he rejected, as an unprecedented rupture, the prohibition of the former liturgical rites: Benedict XVI was keenly aware that it is Catholic unity across time that guarantees unity in the faith. Then it explains his attempts to overcome false conceptions of the nature of the people of God, of relations with other religions, and of ecumenism — especially in the year 2000, with the Declaration Dominus Iesus. Then there was his desire, expressed on 22nd December, 2005, to interpret Vatican II according to a ‘hermeneutic of reform in continuity’. Again, we may thing of his struggle against the collapse of Christology. He read the Scriptures according to the analogy of the faith, and so understood that they do not speak of Jesus as a merely historical figure, but above all as ‘Son’, in the full metaphysical sense of the word. And finally, in place of a ‘bureaucratic’ understanding of ecclesial communion, Benedict XVI recovered both an authentic sense of the true dignity of the mystical Body, and a filial piety toward the Church and her history.
I remember the day in July 1988 when, in company with those who would found the Fraternity of St Peter, I asked him if there was a place in the Church for priests who would never say the new rite of Mass and who would never cause a schism. He answered: “The hand that the Church offered to Archbishop Lefebvre is still there for those who want to take it.” Thank you, Pope Benedict, for having been for me, and for so many others, an artisan of unity in truth.
READ ON BELOW…RORATE CÆLI: Benedict XVI: A Personal Testimony – by Fr. Louis-Marie de Blignières, FSVF