A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Joseph Ratzinger's Primer on Ecclesiology

Interview With Ave Maria University's Father Matthew Lamb

Part 1

NAPLES, Florida, 23 JUNE 2005 (ZENIT)

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger released his book "Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today," he called it a primer of Catholic ecclesiology.

In it, the future Benedict XVI outlined the origin and essence of the Church, the role of the papacy and the primacy of Peter, and the Body of Christ's unity and "communio."

Father Matthew Lamb, director of the graduate school of theology and professor of theology at Ave Maria University, shared with ZENIT an overview of some of those themes as they appear in Cardinal Ratzinger's book.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: What is Cardinal Ratzinger's understanding of the origin and essence of the Church, as outlined in his book?

Father Lamb: Reading "Called to Communion" is a feast for mind and heart.

At the time of its release, Cardinal Ratzinger called it a "primer of Catholic ecclesiology." As with his other theological writings, this book beautifully recovers for our time the great Catholic tradition of wisdom, of attunement to the "whole" of the Triune God's creative and redemptive presence.

"Catholic" means living out of the "whole" of this divine presence. Such a sapiential approach shows how the New Covenant draws upon and fulfills the covenant with Israel. Israel was chosen and led out of Egypt in order to worship the true and only God and thus witness to all the nations.

In his preaching, teaching and actions, Jesus Christ fulfilled the messianic promises. At the last supper Our Lord initiated the New Covenant in his most sacred body and blood. Ratzinger wrote in "Called to Communion": "Jesus announces the collapse of the old ritual and ... promises a new, higher worship whose center will be his own glorified body."

Jesus announces the eternal Kingdom of God as "the present action of God" in his own divine person incarnate. As the Father sends Jesus Christ, so Jesus in turn sends his apostles and disciples.

The origin of the Church is Jesus Christ who sends the Church forth as the Father sent him. The Apostles and disciples, with their successors down the ages, form the Church as the "ecclesia," the gathering of the "people of God."

Drawing upon his own doctoral dissertation on the Church in the theology of St. Augustine, Ratzinger shows that the people of God are what St. Paul calls the "body of Christ." The essence of the Church is the people of God as the Body of Christ, head and members united by the Holy Spirit in visible communion with the successors of the Apostles, united with the Pope as successor to Peter.

The Church continues down the ages the visible and invisible missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit through preaching and teaching, the sanctifying sacraments and the unifying governance of her communion with the successor of Peter.

Q: In "Called to Communion," what were his thoughts on the role of the Pope in the Church?

Father Lamb: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church ... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." In Matthew 16:17-19, these true words of the Lord Jesus transcend confessional polemics. From them Ratzinger brings out the role of the Pope.

Reflecting on the commission given to Peter he sees that he is commissioned to forgive sins. As he writes in "Called to Communion," it is a commission to dispense "the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is the personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon."

Q: What did Cardinal Ratzinger note about the primacy of Peter and the unity of the Church?

Father Lamb: He first shows the mission of Peter in the whole of the New Testament tradition. The essence of apostleship is witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus. Ratzinger shows the primacy of Peter in this role, as attested by St. Paul who, even when confronting St. Peter, acknowledges him in First Corinthians 15:5 as "Cephas" — the Aramaic word for "rock" — in his witness to the risen Lord.

As such he is the guarantor of the one common Gospel. All the synoptic Gospels agree in giving Peter the primacy in their lists of apostles. The mission of Peter is above all to embody the unity of the apostles in their witness to the risen Lord and the mission he entrusted to them.

As Ratzinger states in "Called to Communion," later the sees or bishoprics identified with apostles become pre-eminent and, as Irenaeus testifies in the second century, these sees are to acknowledge the decisive criterion exercised by "the Church of Rome, where Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom. It was with this Church that every community had to agree; Rome was the standard of the authentic apostolic tradition as a whole."

Q: How does the papacy facilitate communion or "communio" in the Church?

Father Lamb: The papacy facilitates "communio" precisely by witnessing to the transcendent reality of the risen Lord. This was evident in the first successors to Peter. Like him, they witnessed to the commission Peter received — many early popes were martyred.

The keys of the Kingdom are the words of forgiveness only God can truly empower. The papacy promotes communion by fidelity to the truth of the gospel and the redemptive sacramental mission of forgiveness. In "Called to Communion" Ratzinger writes: "By his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease."

Later Ratzinger returns to this theme of the need of the apostles and their successors for forgiveness as they are given a mission only the Triune God could fulfill.

His words in "Called to Communion," then, find an echo after he was elected Benedict XVI: "The men in question" — the apostles — "are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function" — of being rock solid in their faith and practice — "that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them."

Only through such forgiveness in total fidelity to Jesus Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will full communion in the Body of Christ come about. Ratzinger's "Eucharistic ecclesiology" follows the Fathers of Church in uniting the vertical dimension of the risen body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist with the horizontal dimension of the gathering of the followers of Christ.

"The Fathers summed up these two aspects — Eucharist and gathering — in the word 'communio,' which is once more returning to favor today," Ratzinger wrote. ZE05062321


Interview With Ave Maria University's Father Matthew Lamb

Part 2

NAPLES, Florida, 24 JUNE 2005 (ZENIT)

Benedict XVI sees the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as a compass for Catholicism in the third millennium, says an American theologian.

Father Matthew Lamb, director of the graduate school of theology at Ave Maria University, shared with ZENIT highlights from the then Joseph Ratzinger's book "Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today" and his first statement as Pope.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: In his first statement, Pope Benedict said he wanted to pursue the commitment to enact the Second Vatican Council. What does that mean?

Father Lamb: It means that he is fully committed to follow his predecessors in enacting the teachings of Vatican II. He sees the Council as a "compass" with which to embark on the third millennium of Catholicism. We do not need another Council — the Church is still drawing upon the riches of Vatican II.

He also indicates how this enactment is truly "Catholic," or according to the "whole." For such an enacting can only occur "in faithful continuity with the two- thousand-year tradition of the Church." Only in communion with the whole Church as the body of Christ down the ages "do we encounter the real Christ."

Cardinal Ratzinger vigorously counteracted those theologians and others who misread Vatican II as a break from the Church's past. Unable to ground such misreading in the texts of the Council itself, they often resorted to such terms as the "spirit" or "style" of the Council. The Pope pledges that he will follow his predecessors in promoting the genuine renewal of the Council within the whole of the Catholic tradition.

Q: In the same statement, Pope Benedict struck a cord of collegiality. What is his understanding of the papacy and the role collegiality plays in it?

Father Lamb: The relation between the pope and the college of bishops is the continuation of the primacy of Peter among the Twelve Apostles.

As he stated: "As Peter and the other apostles were, through the will of the Lord, one apostolic college, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the apostles — and the Council forcefully repeated this — must be closely united among themselves."

This unity and collegiality is, as the Pope remarks, "concerned solely with proclaiming to the world the living presence of Christ." This first statement of the Holy Father illustrates how his theology is born from his own profound friendship with Jesus Christ in his total dedication to the mission Jesus entrusted to his Church.

Q: What did Cardinal Ratzinger outline as the nature of bishop and priest in his book "Called to Communion"?

Father Lamb: The Eucharist and the other sacraments are not something any human person by his own powers can do truthfully. The Word Incarnate in Christ Jesus is the only one who can truthfully speak "This is my body" or "Your sins are forgiven." Only because Jesus sent forth his apostles as he was sent by the Father do we have a Church with her sacraments.

The Church as Eucharistic can only be found in communion with the bishops as successors of the apostles. Gathered around the altar, the Church is Eucharist. It is always both local and universal, just as it unites the vertical and horizontal.

Cardinal Ratzinger has emphasized that the universality of the Church was present in Jesus Christ as the Word Incarnate. The Church is Eucharist — each local community celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is taken up within the whole Christ embracing all of the faithful throughout all time. At Mass we invoke the heavenly hosts as well as Our Lady and all the saints, as well as praying for the dead.

No local community on its own can give itself a bishop, any more than it is simply a celebration of itself cut off from the whole Catholic Church. The consecration of bishops make evident how they are in communion with the successor of Peter and receive their mission from the Lord himself mediated down the ages in communion with the apostles themselves who were called by Jesus.

Benedict XVI referred to this in his beautiful first statement as Pope reflecting on his being called to be a successor of Peter: "We have been thinking in these hours about what happened in Caesarea of Philippi 2000 year ago: 'You are Christ the Son of the living God,' and the solemn affirmation of the Lord: 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church ... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.'"

Like the Holy Father, each bishop is entrusted with the mission of fostering the unity and the catholicity of the Church entrusted to his care. Without unity, as Ratzinger observes, there would be no true holiness, for this demands the gifted love that is the bond of unity.

The bishop must cultivate an ever-deepening union with Christ — like the apostles he must be "Christ's contemporary" — for otherwise he would only be an ecclesiastical functionary.

Similarly, ordained priests share in the mission of the bishops just as chosen disciples shared in the mission of the apostles. As genuine apostolic activity is not the product of their own capabilities, so it is with ordained bishops and priests.

It is Christ speaking and acting through them as his instruments when they teach true doctrine, celebrate the sacraments, and govern properly. They can call "nothing" their own. It is all Christ's presence and action, just as all he had is from the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Ratzinger sums this up well in "Called to Communion": "This is precisely what we mean when we call the ordination of priests a sacrament: ordination is not about the development of one's own powers and gifts. It is not the appointment of a man as a functionary because he is especially good at it, or because it suits him, or simply because it strikes him as a good way to earn his bread. ...

"Sacrament means: I give what I myself cannot give; I do something that is not my work; I am on a mission and have become a bearer of that which another has committed to my charge."

As with the bishop, so the "foundation of priestly ministry is a deep personal bond to Jesus Christ."
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