Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ratzinger: “for every statement advanced in one direction, the text offers one supporting the other side”

A week ago, I cited Protestant theologian David Wells describing Rome’s Divided Mind. The gist of what he was saying was this:

[Vatican II] actually endorsed two very different theologies and sometimes the differences could not be hidden. Neither side would accept ambiguity nor allow compromise. As a result, on some points the documents speak with two voices—one conservative and one progressive …

When neither side would back down and both insisted on having their views adopted, the Council searched for a reconciling statement which would be ambiguous enough to accommodate both schools of thought. When the Council was successful, both viewpoints were represented in one statement which obviously meant different things to different people …

There were times, however, when no reconciling statement could be found, and attempts to induce a surrender by one side or the other failed. In those cases, the Council would only endorse both positions with professional aplomb as if their mutual incompatibility were not longer glaringly obvious.

One kind of interpretive problem, then, which an analyst of the documents faces concerns the existence of those passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interests of both parties …

While reading Ratzinger’s work “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, a work recently re-published touting Ratzinger as now Pope Benedict XVI, it seems as if the good Herr has confirmed the essential correctness of Wells’s analysis of Roman methodology.

Discussing “The So-Called ‘Explanatory Note’” tacked on to the end of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which sought to clarify the relationship of “bishops acting in conjunction with their head” with “bishops acting independently of the Pope”, Ratzinger says:

A detailed analysis of this very intricate text would take us here too far afield. The end result, which is what we are concerned with, would be the realization it did not create any substantially new situation. Without doubt the scales here were further tipped in favor of papal primacy as opposed to collegiality. But for every statement advanced in one direction the text offers one supporting the other side, and this restores the balance, leaving interpretations open in both directions. We can see the text as either “primatialist” or collegial. Thus we can speak of a certain ambivalence in the text of the “explanatory note,” reflecting the ambivalent attitude of those who worked on the text and tried to reconcile the conflicting tendencies. The consequent ambiguity is a sign that complete harmony of views was neither achieved nor even possible (Ratzinger, “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, first published by Paulist Press, 1966, by special arrangement with Verlag J.P Bachem in Köln. English translation ©1966 by The Missionary Society of St Paul the Apostle in the State of New York; Introduction Copyright ©2009 by Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, pg s 170-171)

It should seem clear, even to the staunchest Roman Catholics now, that Wells was correct in his assessment, as it has been verified in print by Herr Ratzinger that official Roman documents “leave interpretations open in both directions”.

Now, this is a convenient state of affairs if you simultaneously (a) want to claim infallibility on a statement and (b) want to claim plausible deniability on a statement.

In the past, I have used phrases such as what Rome gives with one fork of its tongue, it takes away with the other

Speaking of “forked tongues” is not at all off the mark here. For in the light of Ratzinger’s statement, where, do we imagine, that Jesus’s statement fits into this official Roman methodology?

let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

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