by Professor Dr. Wigand Siebel (from SAKA INFORMATIONEN December 1990, Jan 1991)
As explained in various articles of SAKA-INFORMATION this year, there are many bishops in the Roman Ecumenical Church who represent Arian positions in their teaching (1). They do not truly believe the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is true God from eternity. For them, Jesus is just an excellent human being who proved through his life and death that he was close to God, thus expressing divinity and finally being rewarded with divinity. The bishops Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann and Josef Stimpfle were treated as examples. They all retain the language of the Christian statements of faith, but give them a new meaning that profoundly contradicts Christian teaching, indeed seeks to abolish the basis of Christian faith.
The question arises how it was possible for priests who hold these views to become bishops at all. Would it not be easy to see in their writings that they deny the true deity of our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ? The Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (b. 1927) is, would have been responsible for such an examination. At least Kasper’s appointment as bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart falls under Ratzinger’s responsibility. Did Ratzinger fail here? Or is Ratzinger himself close to modern Arianism, is he even to be regarded as an Arian himself? Based on the results of the investigations to date, this question is posed with all urgency. And not least because Ratzinger is one of the most influential representatives of the Roman ecumenical church. After 25 years of teaching in Freising, Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg, he became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, and in 1981 Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. Questioning Ratzinger’s relation with Arianism should start with his book Introduction into Christianity, but then also on the basis of other writings and a declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
2. A book for an introduction to Christianity
a) An unsuspecting witness
Ratzinger’s book Introduction in Christianity (2) emerged, as the preface says, from lectures that Ratzinger held in the summer semester of 1967 for students from all faculties in Tübingen. He himself places his book in a special line of meaning. ‘What Karl Adam had masterfully achieved at this university almost half a century ago with his ‘essence of Catholicism’ should thus be attempted anew in the changed conditions of our generation’ (p. 6). Ratzinger thus stands by the side of the great orthodox dogmatist, Karl Adam, who did an extraordinary job in defending the truth of Catholic teaching with his book (3).
What Ratzinger’s book means was worked out by an unsuspecting witness in a discussion (4). It’s Walter Kasper. The following can be read about him: ‘In Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity‘ the denominational accent of K. Adams’ The Essence of Catholicism has been completely overcome. This signals a theological and ecclesiastical progress in ecumenical dialogue that was hardly imaginable 50 years ago. Of course, this also indicates that the question today no longer primarily revolves around the problem between Catholic and Protestant, but rather around the question of belief or non-belief. While K. Adams’ ‘essence of Catholicism’ was primarily ecclesiologically oriented, Ratzinger interprets it anthropologically (…). He wants to help ‘to understand Faith as realization of being truly man in our present world.’
As far as Ratzinger’s relationship to faith is concerned, Kasper writes: ‘The “conservative” reader is even expected to interpret many things that deviate significantly from traditional beliefs. What Ratzinger writes in the chapters on the descent into hell, resurrection, ascension, return of Christ, and the resurrection of the flesh is not in the least inferior to any demythologization theology, and one wonders why he repeatedly dismisses the program of demythologization so one-sidedly polemically.’
Kasper writes about Ratzinger’s Christology: ‘Many of Ratzinger’s interpretations have an almost liberating effect; one agrees with them all the more since they do not lead into shallow liberalism, but into really spiritual depths and are thus both Christian and theologically enriching. This applies above all to the two christological chapters and their attempt, which is primarily based on K. Barth, to convey functional and ontological christology; here Ratzinger has achieved a valid reinterpretation of the christological dogma of the ancient church.’ As is well known, the evangelical theologian Karl Barth represented a modalistic position; for him the divine persons are only God’s ‘modes of givenness’. Particularly noteworthy is Kasper’s statement that the Christology of Ratzinger is a ‘new interpretation’.
But Kasper also has reservations, for example against Ratzinger’s understanding of faith: ‘Following Fr. Hacker, Ratzinger rightly asserts against Luther that the detachment of love from faith leads to secularization, which excludes everything external from the realm of Christian faith and breaks up faith the pure inwardness of subjectivity is reduced (…). But here, too, the extremes touch! The union of faith and love, as Ratzinger carries out, yes, the statement ‘love is faith’ (…) has to be thought through logically to the end and also lead to secularization, to the ‘union of worship and brotherhood’ (…); that ultimately makes faith, albeit against Ratzinger’s declared intention (…)’, a mere ideological and salvation-historical superstructure over humanity.»
In terms of method, Kasper objects: ‘The presentation is more meditative and intuitive than argumentative and reflective. Ratzinger circles around his theme, plays with the various motifs and then leads them to a surprising synthesis (…). In this way he constructs an impressive picture, but the hard contours of the logical train of thought are not always easy to discern.’ In conclusion Kasper states: ‘Ratzinger’s work is a necessary and helpful book which one will not read without a great deal of theological and spiritual gain. But it should not yet be a theological draft that has been thought through as a whole. Aren’t its foundations still too unclear, its conclusions too ambiguous and contradictory?’
The lack of theoretical elaborationof the problems in Ratzinger’s book may have been one of the reasons why Kasper published his Introduction to Faith a few years later (1972). Undoubtedly he produced a more systematic and consistent work. In any case, the new, ‘functional and ontological Christology’ conveying Ratzinger’s view must have been a stimulus for Kasper.
Ratzinger commented on Kasper’s criticism, Kasper replied, and Ratzinger ultimately had the last word. (5) In the process, both have increasingly certified their scientific quality and thus laid the foundation for their later cooperation.
(Other parts will follow soon)