Ratzinger's Misunderstanding of the Reformation

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johnbugay

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm still working my way through Scott Hahn's book. My contention had been that Michael Horton was correct to direct people to interact with Ratzinger/Benedict's theology, but wrong to recommend a work like Hahn's, given that Hahn would not only provide a summary of Ratzinger/Benedict, but would provide his own (quite flawed) editorial slant on it.

I've already given several instances where that was the case, where Hahn just sort of amplifies and re-spins what Ratzinger/Benedict was saying. But here's where I was wrong: I was willing to give Ratzinger/Benedict the benefit of the doubt, that he would either be knowledgable about or honest with what the Reformation was all about.

But in tracking down one reference, I came across another reference that seems to show that Ratzinger himself misunderstands the Reformation, and he shows no indication that he is familiar in any way with the Reformed confessions, Reformed orthodoxy, or the genuine doctrine of sola Scriptura.

In 1984, Ratzinger sat for an interview in "Communio," a journal that he founded along with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. In it, he discusses RC trends in Luther scholarship (and to his credit, he suggests that perhaps from their side this was not quite "historically truthful and theologically adequate"), but he himself betrays his own misunderstandings:

http://communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/ratzinger11-3.pdf

The history of reformed Christianity very clearly illustrates the limitations of exegetic unity: Luther had largely abandoned the line separating the teachings of the church from theology. Doctrine which runs counter to exegetic evidence is not a doctrine to him. That is why, throughout his life, his doctorate in theology represented to him a decisive authority in his opposition to the teachings of Rome. The evidence of the interpreter supplants the power of the magsterium. The learned academic (Doctor) now embodies the magisterium, nobody else. (215)

Most obvious is his misuse of the word "reformed" in regard to Luther. At this point, when he was already a Cardinal and also the prefect of the RCC's leading doctrinal enforcer, he should at least be familiar with this basic terminology. Of course, the Reformation extended far beyond Luther, and the Magisterial Reformers (including Luther himself) exhibited a tremendous effort to explain the authority of lesser authorities with Scripture itself being the sole infallible norm.

Today as well, thanks to historical and exegetical studies, we are seeing a tremendous confluence of opinions on all kinds of Scriptural issues.

(Ratzinger of course is interested in saying that church unity can only come from having an "infallible magisterium," headed by an infallible "successor of Peter," to clearly state what the official doctrine is, and to provide a correction mechanism when such doctrine is transgressed.)

So Ratzinger's explanation fails on two counts. But if the infallible pontiff can get this wrong, and (knowingly or unknowingly) repeat a story that has no legs, it's no wonder we are seeing this same kind of thing, writ large, among the unofficial Catholic apologist wannabees.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
Ratzinger with the heretic Rahner?!

In 1984, Ratzinger sat for an interview in "Communio," a journal that he founded along with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner.
It is interesting to know that the present Romish pontiff may not even understand the core doctrines of the reformation.
What I find even more fascinating is that Ratzinger would have co-founded a journal with a modalist heretic like Rahner.
 

johnbugay

Puritan Board Freshman
What I find even more fascinating is that Ratzinger would have co-founded a journal with a modalist heretic like Rahner.

I have to apologize; it wasn't Rahner (though he was published there); it was founded by Ratzinger, De Lubac, Von Balthasar, Bouyer, Walter Kaspar, and others.
 

Rich Koster

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Knowing his former.....political ties.... I'm surprised he doesn't think it means "Today Wittenburg, tomorrow the world".
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
johnbugay said:
Most obvious is his misuse of the word "reformed" in regard to Luther.

Luther's theology was no less reformed than Calvin's or Bucer's. It was Lutheranism that abandoned his thought on issues such as predestination.

The excerpt you quoted is correct, actually, except that Ratzinger understates Luther's doctrine. The reformed doctrine is that one can challenge the powers that be if one has scripture. The magisterium may be mistaken or downright heretical in its interpretation and therefore doctrine must always be reformed to line up first with Scripture and tradition second.

If I only had that one passage to go on, I'd say that Ratzinger's analysis was wrong only in that it understates Luther's actual teaching.
 

dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Her teaching authority and her popes is unscriptural

Since before the Protestant reformation the Roman catholic church has tried to insert itself as the mediator between God and man and her magesterium has placed itself equal to and above the Bible in many cases. Her teaching magesterium teachings are often entirely unscriptural. Ratzinger is also returning her mentality to a pre Vatican II way of thinking.
 

johnbugay

Puritan Board Freshman
johnbugay said:
Most obvious is his misuse of the word "reformed" in regard to Luther.

Luther's theology was no less reformed than Calvin's or Bucer's. It was Lutheranism that abandoned his thought on issues such as predestination.

Philip – this was never a question of how much of Luther’s theology could be called “reformed.”

The problem, as I stated it in my initial post, was that Ratzinger misunderstands the Reformation. He doesn’t know who the players were (aside from Luther and Barth); he doesn’t seem to know the differences between two of the main branches of Protestantism, the Lutherans and the Reformed.

Schaff notes that these differences in terminology were evident “since the middle of the sixteenth century.” But Luther never called himself “reformed,” always “evangelical.”

Let me give you some context.

Ratzinger’s statement isn’t merely about Luther. He is stating, “in the history of reformed Christianity …” This is in the context about efforts to find unity; the excerpt I provided is in answer to this question:

Question: Can we claim that the present-day pluralism in the theologies of both the Catholic and the Protestant churches will ease the way toward an approximation among the churches or merely an approximation among Catholic and Protestant theologians?

So Ratzinger spends some space discussing issues that have been narrowed a bit by “exegetes” who are using the “historico critical method and the more recent methods of literary scholarship.” In the context of these efforts, Ratzinger says, “under certain circumstances, a Lutheran exegete may think more along ‘Catholic’ lines and be more in tune with tradition than his Catholic counterpart.” Change the “C” to a “c” and so far so good.

He then asks the question, “what kind of community such an agreement among exegetes would create.”

Here he cites Harnack and Barth; whereas it might be said that Barth, broadly, comes from a “reformed” tradition, one could not say that Harnack is “reformed” in any way.

I interact with a lot of Catholics in internet-based discussions. If I were to make a mistake such as mixing up the Franciscans and the Dominicans, my interlocutor would immediately cut off the discussion, claiming that I knew nothing about Catholicism.

Anyone who has done any amount of discussion with Catholics will have seen Fulton Sheen’s line to the effect that only one of a hundred critics of the Catholic Church actually knows anything about it.

So no matter how valid the point I was making, if I (or you) were to mix up the Dominicans and the Franciscans, this would immediately give the Catholic the opportunity to say, “you don’t understand Catholicism.”

Ratzinger’s failure to make the proper distinctions – to simply lump Harnack and Barth with Luther, under the heading of “reformed,” is akin to you or I saying, “what’s the big difference between Franciscans and Dominicans; it’s just a bunch of guys who wear robes.” One wouldn’t want to call this bigotry directly; but the kind of disdain that these statements embody is quite evident, and it has no place in a supposedly scholarly discussion of something as important as “church unity.”

But it's a kind of disdain that is neverthess picked up and eagerly repeated now by virtually every Catholic apologist who sees himself in service to Rome


* * *

I quoted Ratzinger:

The history of reformed Christianity very clearly illustrates the limitations of exegetic unity: Luther had largely abandoned the line separating the teachings of the church from theology. Doctrine which runs counter to exegetic evidence is not a doctrine to him. That is why, throughout his life, his doctorate in theology represented to him a decisive authority in his opposition to the teachings of Rome. The evidence of the interpreter supplants the power of the magisterium. The learned academic (Doctor) now embodies the magisterium, nobody else.


The excerpt you quoted is correct, actually, except that Ratzinger understates Luther's doctrine. The reformed doctrine is that one can challenge the powers that be if one has scripture. The magisterium may be mistaken or downright heretical in its interpretation and therefore doctrine must always be reformed to line up first with Scripture and tradition second. If I only had that one passage to go on, I'd say that Ratzinger's analysis was wrong only in that it understates Luther's actual teaching.

I'm sure you're wrong about this. I'm sure there are others here who could go into a lot more detail about what the reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura actually is all about. But even so, “Luther’s actual teaching” is far from what Ratzinger describes.

Here’s what Luther said in his debate with Eck (1518):

It is not in the power of the Roman pope or an inquisitor of heresy to create new articles of faith. Rather (it is their task) to judge according to existing articles of faith. No Christian believer can be forced (to believe an article) beyond Holy Scripture – which in the true sense is of divine right – apart from new and confirmed revelation.”

It is the Catholic Magisterium which believes it can create new “articles of faith.” Indeed, it had done so. What Luther has done here is not to claim, as Ratzinger said, that “his doctorate in theology has made him a decisive authority.” He does not say that the individual interpreter “supplants the power of the Magisterium.” Luther is not claiming that individual interpreters may make their own doctrine. They merely have freedom of conscience not to view teachings which go beyond the boundaries of Scripture as “doctrine.” This was just Luther at an early point in his thinking. Luther, the Lutherans, and Reformed thinkers later clarified the actual role of the individual’s conscience with regard to Scripture and doctrine.

Ratzinger here again, in addition to his confusion of the term “reformed,” adds hyperbole about what Luther actually taught.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
http://communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/ratzinger11-3.pdf

The history of reformed Christianity very clearly illustrates the limitations of exegetic unity: Luther had largely abandoned the line separating the teachings of the church from theology. Doctrine which runs counter to exegetic evidence is not a doctrine to him. That is why, throughout his life, his doctorate in theology represented to him a decisive authority in his opposition to the teachings of Rome. The evidence of the interpreter supplants the power of the magsterium. The learned academic (Doctor) now embodies the magisterium, nobody else. (215)

I agree that this error is pretty fundamental. It expresses a certain amount of theological blindness or, perhaps, people who don't think it is worth getting to know the opponent.

If it is any consolation, it is the same kind of argument that Calvin and Luther repeatedly had to counter. It appears that the apologetic encounters haven't improved in the nearly 500 years.

I think it reflects the fact that, for most Roman Catholics, the only way they can conceive of binding authority is in a "magisterium". It doesn't much matter how many times the Reformed apologist explains that Protestants don't view the teaching office of the Church in the same way that a papist does.

Our view gives less credit to man and more credit to God. It recognizes that men sin but God's Providence overrules. It recognizes that Churches and councils err but the Word stands forever. It sees a redemption in human history where the Law is lost until it is completely forgotten but, in God's mercy, it was found when men were cleaning out the Temple. Man forgets. Man fails. But the Promise remains.

To the Roman Catholic, however, if you prick her Magisterium, she bleeds to death. The teaching office had to be infallible always or it was never so. Historical revisionism has to occur to bring abject contradiction together.

In other words, infallible magisterium is at the core of thinking. It's not possible, perhaps, for them to even think outside this category. You have to ask: "What color is the sky in your world?" and the answer is "Whatever the magisterium says it is...."

Perhaps it says quite a bit about how captive to this theology even Ratzinger is. Maybe we expect he's able to rise above this captivity but he is, after all, just a man.
 

johnbugay

Puritan Board Freshman
If it is any consolation, it is the same kind of argument that Calvin and Luther repeatedly had to counter. It appears that the apologetic encounters haven't improved in the nearly 500 years....

Whether it is just stupidity, or outright hypocrisy, it is a far worse offense now in this era of "ecumenism," of "charity."

Such things should be noted.
 

johnbugay

Puritan Board Freshman
What I find even more fascinating is that Ratzinger would have co-founded a journal with a modalist heretic like Rahner.

I have to apologize; it wasn't Rahner (though he was published there); it was founded by Ratzinger, De Lubac, Von Balthasar, Bouyer, Walter Kaspar, and others.

Well, I knew I had seen these two (Ratzinger and Rahner) together. Actually, in 1961, "in the midst of the preparations for the Second Vatican Council, Joseph Ratzinger, together with Karl Rahner, published the volume Episcopat und Primat (The Episcopate and the Primacy). [Ratzinger's] contribution [to this work] was entitled 'Primacy, Episcopate, and Successio Apostolica'."

(That work is published here: Amazon.com: God's Word: Scripture - Tradition - Office (9781586171797): Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: Books)

I'm taking a look at this one now.
 

dudley

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I agree that this error is pretty fundamental

Rich(Semper Fidelis) says "I agree that this error is pretty fundamental. It expresses a certain amount of theological blindness or, perhaps, people who don't think it is worth getting to know the opponent."

"Getting to know the opponent" may perhaps be dangerous in the eyes of Joseph Ratzinger. The truth is roman catholicism is loosing ground and despite the few Scott Hahns there are 15 million ex roman catholics who are now Protestants like me and even you, John Bugay in the United States. There are many ex rc's here on the PB also.

In 2006 I was a Roman Catholic however "I began a faith journey of getting to know the opponent", which was Protestantism. I discovered that there was at the Reformation two major issues that divided roman catholics from the Protestant reformers, authority and justification.

I discovered in my studies that Justification is seen by Protestants as being the theological fault line that divided Roman Catholic from Protestant during the Reformation, it as well as Authority are still the major dividing lines today.

Rich says: "To the Roman Catholic, however, if you prick her Magisterium, she bleeds to death. The teaching office had to be infallible always or it was never so. Historical revisionism has to occur to bring abject contradiction together."

I saw her bleeding as I studied further and I am a Reformed Protestant today because I surrender to the objective truth I found in Protestantism and the Reformed faith. I am an ex Roman Catholic. I renounced Roman Catholicism after I found this truth. "If you also see the glory of this truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, then raise up the white flag of surrender and stop fighting ..."

That is what perhaps blinds Joseph Ratzinger ... an unconsciencious fear that getting to know the opponent may change your perspective.

Authority was why I initially left Roman Catholicism in 2006, because of my disillusionment with the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger, who I believed then and also now was returning the rc church to a pre Vatican II mentality.

Roman Catholics are taught and I also believed that the Protestant Reformation was a rebellion solely against authority of the Roman magesterium and the pope. I left the rc church at first as a Rebellion against papal authority and what I saw as abuse of that authority. However as I studied the Protestant Reformation and Protestantism I began to see another picture. I began to understand the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura and began to see that being Protestant was not just a protest but a stand for the truth of the Gospel alone and the authority of scripture alone.

As I studied Protestantism further I began to understand the Protestant doctrine of Justification and began to see the fallacy of Roman catholic teaching on Justification. It was at that time I truly became a Protestant and understood what it meant to be Protestant. I could relate with John Calvin when he said I had a "true Protestant conversion."

Justification by faith alone is the essential difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant church. R.C. Sproul explains this well: "The Roman Catholic view of justification [is that] God declares a person to be just when justice (or righteousness) inheres in the person. The person, under divine analysis or scrutiny, is found to be just. God justifies the just. ...By stark and radical contrast the Reformation view of justification is that God declares a person just based upon something [external to them], something not inherent in the person: the imputed righteousness of Christ."

Romans 4:5 very clearly teaches that we are at the same time justified and sinners: "Now to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Notice that it says "God justifies the ungodly." That is, justification respects the ungodly. Therefore, justification cannot be based upon anything inherent in us--because we are ungodly when we are first justified. Also notice that justification is given to the one who does not work for it, but to the one who believes. Therefore, you do not earn justification through good works. Instead, it is given to you simply through faith.

There are also many verses which speak of this righteousness as being given to us, indicating that it is imputed. Romans 4:6 says that God "reckons [or imputes] righteousness apart from works." Romans 5:17 says that believers receive the "gift of righteousness" from Christ.

There is one more thing we need to keep very clear about faith: it is not something worthy of merit that earns us justification. It is connects us with Christ's righteousness, but does not earn us Christ's righteousness. Faith is an act, but it is not a work. In other words, God doesn't give justification because of any value in your faith--because your faith is a such a great thing that it deserves reward--but because it is how you are united to Christ.

In getting to know the opponent I discovered and came to believe that the Protestant Reformation was absolutely necessary.I believe the communication and purity of the Gospel was at stake than and it is still today. Amidst all the conciliations going on today, we need to keep this in mind: things have not changed that much."

It is why I left the Roman catholic church and why I am now a Reformed Protestant.

In Faith alone,
Dudley
 
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