May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the “civilization of love”. The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!--Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cardinal Ratzinger was no Liberal--Tracey Rowland

Joseph Ratzinger attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) when he was in his mid-30s as a peritus,  or expert theological advisor, to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne. 

He was one of a number of young European theologians present who were frustrated by the rigidity of the pre-Conciliar theological establishment. 

Seminarians were taught with manuals containing summaries of Catholic doctrine dredged largely from 17th century commentaries on the works of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).   In the 1940s, this ‘manualist Thomism’ came under fire for being dry, narrow, ossified and not in all ways consistent with the classical Thomism it claimed to champion. 

Among the leading periti there was an almost universal belief that this theological diet was inadequate for dealing with the problems of the late 20th century. 

There had been two world wars, an economic depression and an unusually large number of psychopaths in positions of authority. 

People were emotionally wounded and in the midst of so much evil they doubted the existence of a personal God who cared about them.  The works of the existentialist philosophers spoke more directly to the grief and anxiety of the post-war generations than a framework built from Aristotelian categories and Latin maxims.  Accordingly, the periti set off on a course of renewing the intellectual life of the Church with reference to the perceived pastoral needs of ‘modern man’. Differences soon emerged, however, over the intellectual material to be put at the service of this renewal. After the Council many of the periti, Ratzinger included, were contributors to the journal Concilium. 

However, by the fifth Concilium Congress held in Brussels in 1970, it was obvious that there were sharp divisions among members of the editorial board and that there was no common line among the former periti on how the Conciliar documents were to be interpreted. 

Some were treating 1965 as a theological Year 0.  Everything that went before, including the papacy, was up for review.

In 1972, Ratzinger, with a group of friends including the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss blue-blood polymath, founded an alternative journal named Communio. 
Whereas Concilium authors tended to approach the documents of the Council with what Ratzinger called a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’, making every pre-Conciliar belief and practice questionable, the Communio authors offered a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’.  


  1. Brilliant. Thanks so much for reposting this, Winston. Yours, Bradley

  2. Excellent post!! I am so sick of these "spirit of Vatican II" Catholics who want to simply write off the years prior to 1965. We must do our best to follow Church Teachings with a 'hermenutic of continuity' and preserve the totality of the history of the Church.