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In the land of the Rising Sun, an outstanding book with a new interpretation of Ratzinger as theologian and pope. Written by a specialist in German history and culture. And with a Latin title: “Renovatio Europae Christianae” (by Sandro Magíster, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it)
ROME, August 6, 2015 – More than two years into the reign of Francis, perhaps the most universally acclaimed pope in history, in faraway Japan an important book has been published that presents a portrait not of him but – surprisingly – of his humble and mistreated predecessor.
In history and culture Japan is far away precisely from that Europe, and even more from that Christian Europe, which the author of the book identifies as the key to understanding the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Proclaiming this right from the title in Latin: “Renovatio Europae Christianae.”
And yet it is precisely this distance of the point of observation that makes the book original. Benedict XVI has received the volume as a gift, has read the extensive summary prepared for him in German by the author, and has himself found it “surprising” and new. Because it was conceived and written “neither from within the community of faith nor from the perspective of my adversaries, but rather from a third place, from the outside.”
This is what the author read in the handwritten thank-you card that the pope emeritus sent to him through the nunciature of Tokyo.
The author’s name is Hajime Konno. He is 42 years old and is an agnostic, although he comes from a family of Orthodox Christian faith. From 1998 to 2002 he studied Germanic history and culture in Berlin, at the Humboldt-Universität, and at that time became interested in the “Kulturkampf” that was dividing the Catholic Church itself in Germany, on the question of abortion clinics. Since 2006 he has taught German studies at the University of the Prefecture of Aichi. After the pontificate of Joseph Ratzinger he returned to Germany, to Munich, to study the Catholicism of Bavaria up close, with pilgrimages on foot to the Marian shrine of Altötting and with the processions of Corpus Domini. He is the author of numerous works, including a book on Max Weber that has also been translated into German. But his greatest work is now this book, which in 500 pages offers the Japanese people for the first time a methodical portrayal of Ratzinger as theologian and pope, against the background of the history of Europe:
Hajime Konno, “Kyoko Benedikutusu Jurokusei. Kirisutokyoteki Yoroppa no Gyakushu [Benedictus PP. XVI. Renovatio Europae Christianae]”, Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 2015.
For the non-Japanese as well the book is of great interest. The author has written an extensive summary of it in German, which can be read on these web pages both in the original and in Italian translation:
The final part of the summary is reproduced further below, in which this statement stands out: “Above all Benedict XVI was the pope of the ‘logos’. With the power of his words, his most powerful weapon, he fought for Christian Europe.”
But even more interesting is the second chapter of the summary and the book. There Konno brings to light the universalistic presumption of the contemporary West, which wants to impose its own values on the whole world, excluding non-Western cultures, especially the Asiatic.
This leads – as Konno notes – to cultural conflicts not only in the West between progressives and conservatives, but also in the East, as for example in Japan between universalists and nationalists.
And the Catholic Church? Konno responds that Christianity was indeed the source of modern values in the West, but in its turn is now in conflict precisely with the anti-Christian consequences and impositions of this modernity. The Catholic Church is therefore like an “East” in the West. And Ratzinger, first as theologian and finally as pope, was a tremendous, lucid protagonist of this global encounter/clash between Church and modernity.
The following is the index of the volume:
PREFACE – “The clash of civilizations” revisited after 20 years
I – THE REDISCOVERY OF “CHRISTIAN EUROPE”
1. Cooperation of Church and State in Germany
2. A German conservative as pope
II – “THE ORIENT IN EUROPE”
1. The Formation of the Roman Catholic Church
2. The Way to antimodernism
3. The Age of World Wars and total mobilisation
III – SEMINARIST IN HITLER’S GERMANY, 1927-1945
1. Birth in Upper Bavaria
2. Father Georg Ratzinger
3. Bavaria and national socialism
IV – SUPERVISOR AT THE COUNCIL, 1945-1966?
1. Germany in 1945. “Modification” or “destruction”?
2. “Theological prodigy”. Ordination and theological research
3. Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council
4. Activity at the Council as a theologian
V – PROFESSOR AGAINST THE TIDE, 1966-1977?
1. Germany in the 1960’s. “Destruction” overwhelms “Modification”
2. Professor at the University of Tübingen
3. 1968. Turning point of postwar Germany
4. Skepticism toward the “dictatorship of time”
VI – SPIRITUAL LEADER OF BAVARIA, 1977-1982
1. Archbishop of Munich and Freising
2. Statements during the Bavarian years
3. Farewell to the Fatherland
VII – IRON CARDINAL IN THE VATICAN, 1982-2005
1. Prefect of the sacred congregation for the doctrine of the fait
2. Dialogue with Vittorio Messori
3. 1990. The end of the Cold War and the beginning of globalisation
4. Dialogues with Peter Seewald
5. Two-front strategy for “Christian Europe”
VIII – SUCCESSOR OF SAINT PETER, 2005-2013
1. “Habemus papam”
2. “Papacy of logos” and “cautious openness”
3. Faith and reason
4. Sexual morality
5. Hierarchy and liturgy
6. Responses to “the clash of civilizations”
7. Between “Bavarian” and “German”
8. Pope emeritus
IX – NON-CONFORMIST OF THE HOLY SEE
POSTSCRIPT – From Nicolai-Cathedral (Tokyo) to Altötting (Bavaria). My way to Bavarian Catholicism.
Below is the final part of the summary of the book written by the author himself, without the abundant footnotes and bibliographical references found in the complete text.
Among the witnesses cited in the volume is also a Japanese, Yasuaki Satono, a former pupil of Ratzinger as theologian and still a member of the “Schülerkreis,” the circle of his ex-students that meets periodically in Rome.
Yasuaki Satono has published three works on his teacher in Japan, under the titles:
– “The teachings of Professor Ratzinger and my memories of him”;
– “The new pope. My journey of faith”;
– “Benedict XVI. Observations on Islam.”
Benedict XVI entered the stage of world politics as a Church leader endowed with clear principles and strong will. The name selected as pope, Benedict, indicated his pessimistic diagnosis of the times, or his comparison between the situation today and the late-Roman decadence at the time of Saint Benedict. Already in his homily on the eve of his election to the see, on April 18, 2005, he had clearly taken a position in this regard.
The pope’s objective was first of all the defense and reinforcement of the Christian foundations of Europe, even though during his pontificate the curia also dealt intensively with relations with non-European countries, as for example the socialist republics of China and Vietnam. Benedict did not intend to subject himself to fashion and limit himself to governing with diligence. He wanted to decide what should be changed and what not, always on the basis of the Church’s position and independently of the spirit of the times. He was by no means pledged to anti-modernism. He simply intended to preserve the elements that he saw as necessary for the Church, regardless of the fact of whether they were modern or premodern. He eliminated the papal tiara from the pontifical coat of arms, he renounced the title of “patriarch of the West,” he addressed environmental problems with passion.
Above all he was, de facto, the pope of the “logos”: with the power of his words, his most powerful weapon, he fought for Christian Europe. He opened the Church to the most recent means of communication, including YouTube and Twitter, he rehabilitated Latin and the Tridentine Mass, he reached out to the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, he consolidated the liturgy as the solemn actualization of the mysteries, he placed the Eucharist at the center of Christian life, he encouraged the administration of communion on the tongue and was not afraid, even after the much-criticized discourse in Regensburg, to discuss the violence of radical Islamists.
As interlocutors in the ecumenical movement, Pope Benedict XVI carefully chose Churches like the Orthodox and the Anglican, establishing good contacts with both while still inviting conservative Anglican dissidents to join the Catholic Church. The culmination of the friendship between Catholic and Orthodox was the encounter with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. Benedict XVI also went to Great Britain, meeting with both Queen Elizabeth and the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and beatifying Cardinal John Henry Newman in Glasgow. It was not possible to organize a trip to Russia, yet Benedict also had good relations with the patriarch of Moscow, Cyril I, since he was metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Although at the time of the council Ratzinger had worked for a positive evaluation of Protestantism, Pope Benedict XVI kept his distance from the “ecclesial communities” of the Reformation.
The progressives inside and outside of the Catholic Church did not recognize the pope’s ability to act autonomously apart from the spirit of the time. To these groups a pontiff who had as his motto “cooperatores veritatis” appeared as an arrogant, unbearable prince of the Church. They did all they could to promote a negative image of the pope and rejoiced over his unexpected resignation. Among the means used, an important role was given to anti-Germanism. The method of stigmatizing Ratzinger as German, even though he rarely emphasized his Germanic identity, resembles that used by anti-Semitism when even Jewish converts are still accused of remaining Jews.
In Germany, his birthplace, Pope Benedict XVI has always been a topic of debate. On the one hand his election was a sort of stroke of liberation. The fact that a German had been elected pope and therefore, so to speak, the supreme spiritual authority of the West, was in itself sensational. English tabloids like “The Sun” could not pass up the chance to compose mocking headlines (“From Hitler Youth to… Papa Ratzi”). Benedict reacted to all of this by emphasizing his Bavarian rather than German patriotism and on May 28, 2006 he went to visit the former concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the same time, however, he also highlighted the importance of Germany. The progressives left no stone unturned in accentuating the problems of sexual abuse and of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, in order to undermine the authority of the pope. Conservative German Catholics, for example those gathered in the initiative “Deutschland pro Papa” or in the “Forum Deutscher Katholiken” found themselves disarmed in the face of the markedly anticlerical climate that prevailed in German public opinion.
Although Benedict XVI did not expressly intend to do so, in fact he brought the dominion of modern values into question. In the context of his criticism of Marxism he supported Western parliamentary democracy, but his siding in favor of democracy was by no means unconditional. He decisively refused to introduce it into the Church, which is ordered in a hierarchical way. He also looked with skepticism at public opinion polling. His distance from the popular will is not explained only by his experience with the student movement in the 1960’s, but was already rooted in his distancing himself from National Socialism, which in its time was accompanied by thunderous applause from the majority of the population. He also did not share the optimistic evaluation of modern-day man and the progress of society.
His attitude followed in the footsteps of Christian social conservatism. The appreciation of the family and of heterosexual marriage was in contradiction with the present-day multiplication of family models. The emphasis placed on the role of Christianity as the pre-political basis of liberal democracy was aimed against secularism. Benedict XVI disapproved of the criticism of Eurocentrism and reiterated the Christian character of Europe. Not only in political questions, but also and above all in cultural ones he took positions and acted as an active champion of old European culture against the tides of globalization.
Pope Benedict XVI was a nonconformist on the throne of Peter. When from the seat of gold he imparted the blessing in Latin, excommunicated dissidents, held the universal Church together and affirmed the unicity of the Catholic faith, he was in fact showing his authoritative side. It comes as no surprise that his detractors, like Leonardo Boff or Johann Baptist Metz, should have criticized him. Nonetheless, the question can also be seen in a different way if it is placed within the situation in which the Church finds itself. If one looks at the dominant position of modern values, the Catholic Church is an oppressed minority while its critics belong to the majority. Thus Ratzinger’s authoritative attitude was a reaction to the prevailing situation.
In any case, the combative spirit was only one side of Joseph Ratrzinger. Although he armored himself, in a certain sense, against his opponents, he never lost the willingness for dialogue. Even his most ardent critic, Hans Küng, was given a friendly reception at Castel Gandolfo. In his encyclicals, Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly dealt with themes like “love” and “hope.” Substantially he remained a Bavarian patriot, with enthusiasm always in his heart for the procession of Corpus Domini. In this sense he resembles the prince of ancient China Ling Wang (Gao Changgong). Even though he fought on the battlefield wearing a mask of the devil, the features of the face that this concealed were delicate.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.