The Point of Departure
“What truly is the point of departure of the enemies of religion for the sewing of the great serious errors by which the faith of so many is shaken? They begin by denying that man has fallen by sin and been cast down from his former position. Hence they regard as mere fables original sin and the evils that were its consequence. Humanity vitiated in its source vitiated in its turn the whole race of man; and thus was evil introduced amongst men and the necessity for a Redeemer involved. All this rejected, it is easy to understand that no place is left for Christ, for the Church, for grace or for anything that is above and beyond human nature; in one word the whole edifice of faith is shaken from top to bottom.” (Pius X, Ad Diem Illium Laetissimum, Feb 2, 1904)
In my article titled Heart of Betrayal, I explored what I consider to be the root error of modern phenomenological and personalistic heresies: the denial of Being as the fundamental theological and philosophical concept, and its replacement by the category of relationship. As Cardinal Ratzinger has written, “God is wholly relationship.” God therefore comes to be seen as Something or Someone in a state of development and in a process of unfolding through history, and not as the Supreme Being Whose Truth has been revealed in Its fullness for all ages.
In order for such a heresy regarding the most fundamental truth about God’s Divine Nature to triumph, the whole edifice of the faith must be shaken. And, according to Pope St. Pius X, the key to this shaking is a denial of the Church’s doctrine concerning original sin. Cardinal Ratzinger has done just that. The following is taken from his book In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (William B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 1995). [bold-type emphasis is mine]:
“In the story that we are considering [Ch. 3 of Genesis], still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term ‘original sin’. What does this mean? Nothing seems to us today to be stranger or, indeed, more absurd than to insist upon original sin, since, according to our way of thinking, guilt can only be something very personal, and since God does not run a concentration camp, in which one’s relatives are imprisoned because he is a liberating God of love, who calls each one by name. What does original sin mean, then, when we interpret it correctly?
Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without – from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are ‘present.’ Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives – themselves – only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event – sin – touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin- damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.” (P. 71-73).
First of all, I would suggest that we might search 2,000 years of history and never find another statement so clearly and profoundly heretical made by a member of the Church in as high a position as that occupied by Cardinal Ratzinger. What Cardinal Ratzinger here denies, of course, is the dogma of the faith that original sin is passed down from Adam to all men through generation. Cardinal Ratzinger considers such a view of sin misleading and imprecise and, in fact, ridicules it as stemming from a view of God which sees Him as the Commandant of a Consecration Camp Who imprisons one’s relatives just because of the fact that they share a common descent. In so doing, of course, he is directly contradicting Scripture and the clearly defined teaching of the Church. The following is from the Decree Concerning Original Sin of the Council of Trent:
“For that which the Apostle has said, ‘By one man, sin entered into this world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned.’ (Rom 5:12), is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the Apostles, even infants who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration which they have contracted by generation. For, ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5).
Adam’s original sin was, first of all, a denial of the immutable Nature and Being of God. It was a calling into question of His Supreme Being and Authority as expressed in His commandment and prohibition to man. Secondly, it was a repudiation of man’s wholly contingent and dependent nature, as expressed in Satan’s temptation to Eve, ”No, you shall not die the death.” Finally, it culminated in a profound lie concerning the true relationship of man to God: “For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” Original sin is, in other words, a violation of the truth about nature and being at all levels.
As explored in my article Heart of Betrayal, it is this ontological reality of things which is the object of the war conducted by Modernism against the Faith. Modernism, especially as found in Phenomenalism and Personalism, seeks to make the Faith primarily a matter of an ongoing and developing relationship. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the paragraph quoted above in which he tries to give new meaning to original sin, uses some form of the word relationship 13 times. Not once, however, in all this overdone discussion of “relationality” is there a consideration of man’s relationship to God. The focus is exclusively on our relationship to our fellow man.
It follows quite logically, therefore, that since our Faith is one of ongoing relationship, and not fundamentally a matter of God’s Immutable Being (and the truth of our nature created in the image of God),virtually everything else must also be subject to re-interpretation and change. In previous articles I have dealt with specific heresies of Cardinal Ratzinger concerning Transubstantiation, and also the Universal Sovereignty of God as expressed in the Catholic doctrine concerning the Social Kingship of Christ. We must realize, however, that what is at stake here is the very truth of Revelation itself. All truth must be made relational to this same process of historical development as exemplified in the Cardinal’s “re-doing” of the doctrine of original sin.
The core idea which Cardinal Ratzinger uses in order to accomplish this relativizing of truth is the notion of “essential Christianity.” And since Cardinal Ratzinger makes Scripture to be theology’s “singular authority” (see Heart of Betrayal), then it is Scripture which must be “essentialized.” The perfect place to start is the first two chapters of Genesis. Most Catholics today, of course, believe in evolution. And since these chapters of the story of Creation are clearly anti-evolutionary in both their literal and “spiritual” content, then it is obvious that they provide a real embarrassment to all those who have capitulated to evolutionary theory, but at the same time wish to still believe that Holy Scripture is the Word of God. The “essentializing” of these first chapters of Genesis therefore provides the key to the whole Modernist Biblical agenda.
The primary tool used in this essentializing of scripture is a twofold criterion which distinguishes between “form” and “content.” The following passage will illustrate Cardinal Ratzinger’s employment of these criteria. After posing the question as to the “truth” of the Creation account in Genesis 1:1-19, the Cardinal continues:
“One answer was already worked out some time ago, as the scientific view of the world was gradually crystallizing; many of you probably came across it in your religious instruction. It says that the Bible is not a natural science textbook, nor does it intend to be such. It is a religious book, and consequently one cannot obtain information about the natural sciences from it. One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. Anything else is an image and a way of describing things whose aim is to make profound realities graspable to human beings. One must distinguish between the form of portrayal and the content that is portrayed. The form would have been chosen from what was understandable at the time – from the images which surrounded the people who lived then, which they used in speaking and in thinking, and thanks to which they were able to understand the greater realities. And only the reality that shines through these images would be what was intended and what was truly enduring (In the Beginning….).”
After thus defining the criteria by which he is going to essentialize all of scripture, and therefore all of theology and revelation, Cardinal Ratzinger makes the following astonishing admission:
“I believe that this view is correct, but it is not enough. For when we are told that we have to distinguish between the images themselves and what those images mean, then we can ask in turn: Why wasn’t that said earlier? Evidently it must have been taught differently at one time or else Galileo would never have been put on trial. And so the suspicion grows that ultimately perhaps this way of viewing things is only a trick of the church and of theologians who have run out of solutions but do not want to admit it, and now they are looking for something to hide behind. And on the whole the impression is given that the history of Christianity in the last four hundred years has been a constant rearguard action as the assertions of the faith and of theology have been dismantled piece by piece. People have, it is true, always found tricks as a way of getting out of difficulties. But there is an almost ineluctable fear that we will gradually end up in emptiness and that the time will come when there will be nothing left to defend and hide behind, that the whole landscape of Scripture and of the faith will be overrun by a kind of ‘reason’ that will no longer be able to take any of this seriously.
Along with this there is another disquieting consideration. For one can ask: If theologians or even the church can shift the boundaries here between image and intention, between what lies buried in the past and what is of enduring value, why can they not do so elsewhere – as, for instance with respect to Jesus’ miracles? And if there, why not also with respect to what is absolutely central – the cross and the resurrection of the Lord?….As far as theological views of this sort are concerned, finally, quite a number of people have the abiding impression that the church’s faith is like a jellyfish: no one can get a grip on it and it has no firm center. It is on the many halfhearted interpretations of the biblical Word that can be found everywhere that a sickly Christianity takes its stand – a Christianity that is no longer true to itself and that consequently cannot radiate encouragement and enthusiasm. It gives, instead, the impression of being an organization that keeps on talking although it has nothing else to say because twisted words are not convincing and are only concerned to hide their emptiness.” (In the Beginning….,p.8-9).
The extraordinary thing about all this, of course, is that Cardinal Ratzinger has just given us a description of what he personally has done to the Catholic Faith. Undaunted, however, he now proposes two more criteria by which we are supposed to be able to pick out the truly essential “content” of Scripture.
The first criterion which the Cardinal proposes for the interpretation of Scripture is “the unity of the Bible.” This is, of course, nothing new. The Church has always spoken of what is called “the analogy of Faith” – the exegetical principle that individual scriptures must be interpreted in the light of the entirety of the Faith, including all of Scripture. The difference is that such legitimate use of the notion of “the analogy of Faith” begins by leaving intact the whole of Tradition. Cardinal Ratzinger, on the other hand, has done just the opposite. Over the series of articles I have written on this subject, we have seen how the Cardinal has denied the Church’s doctrines on Original Sin, Transubstantiation, the Kingship of Christ, and the inerrancy of the Magisterium. We have to realize, therefore, that when he is talking about any sort of “unity” of faith or scripture, he is effectively starting from a blank slate. What is to be decided about the unity of faith or scripture will for the most part be an enterprise carried out through personal analysis and dialogue with others, using entirely subjective criteria, and for the most part either ignoring or re-interpreting dogmatic formulations from the past.
Thus, for instance, the creation account of the Bible is personally re-interpreted by Cardinal Ratzinger as something which only came to light during the Babylonian captivity. The first chapters of Genesis, according to the Cardinal, owe their origin to this period. The Babylonian religion taught that heaven and earth were formed from the body of a slain dragon, and mankind was formed from its blood. The “essential” meaning of the Genesis creation account, therefore, is that it was written contra this Babylonian myth in order to teach the Jews that creation is an expression of God’s goodness rather than the realization of some pagan nightmare (ibid,p.14). We are consequently led to presume that everything else, including the Fall of the entirety of mankind through Adam’s sin (by generation), is “man-made” and not included in the “content” of “essential” truth.
The second criteria used to judge the true content of Scripture, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, is the following: “the Bible is a whole and that we only understand its truth when we understand it with Christ in mind – with the freedom that he bestowed on us and with the profundity whereby he reveals what is enduring through images.” (ibid, p.16).
All this, of course, is simply an invitation to unlimited subjectivism. Despite the apparent orthodoxy of Cardinal Ratzinger in other statements and situations (we remember that Pope Pius X recognized this strange combination of orthodoxy and heterodoxy as a hallmark of Modernist writings), these criteria leave virtually no place for a Divinely constituted Church which is the guardian of Revealed Truth through the exercise of an inerrant Magisterium. The vast majority of the doctrines which are considered part of the Deposit of Faith now come to be viewed as “forms” which expressed a certain state of evolutionary historical development and religious consciousness, but which must now be superseded if we are to attain to that true freedom in Christ which is the object of our quest. These doctrines had limited and transient usefulness, but now act as a sort of pharisaical blockage to our evolutionary growth in the Faith.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s “essential Christianity”, however, does leave a great deal of room for ecumenism; and this, I believe, is what the “point of departure” is really about. We must “essentialize” the faith to the point where there is no substantial disagreement with other religions, or at least with other “Christian” faiths. In his book God and the World, the interviewer (Peter Seewald) asks Cardinal Ratzinger the following question: “The Church prays for Christians to be reunited. But who ought to join up with whom?” The Cardinal replies:
“The formula that the great ecumenists have invented is that we go forward together. It’s not a matter of our wanting to achieve certain processes of integration, but we hope that the Lord will awaken people’s faith everywhere in such a way that it overflows from one to the other, and the one Church is there. As Catholics, we are persuaded that the basic shape of this one Church is given us in the Catholic Church, but that she is moving toward the future and will allow herself to be educated and led by the Lord. In that sense we do not picture for ourselves any particular modes of integration, but simply look to march on in faith under the leadership of the Lord – who knows the way.” (P. 452-53)
“We can only humbly seek to essentialize our faith, that is, to recognize what are the really essential elements in it – the things we have not made but have received from the Lord – and in this attitude of turning to the Lord and to the center, to open ourselves in this essentializing so that he may lead us onward, he alone.” (P. 453)
We cannot let the above statement pass without noting that Cardinal Ratzinger obviously considers that such things as the Syllabus of Pius IX, the Syllabus of Pius X, the encyclical Pascendi of Pius X, the decisions of the Biblical Commission under Pius X, literally dozens of encyclicals during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries condemning Liberalism and Modernism, and the doctrines of Transubstantiation and Original Sin as defined by the Council of Trent are all things and doctrines that “we have made” and therefore not “essential” to the Faith. And, as we shall see in a moment, he also applies these criteria to the task of denying the traditional doctrine of baptism as taught by Trent. Before turning to this subject, however, we offer one more quote concerning changes necessary for “essentialization”:
“And that is exactly what the office of pope, and the office of a bishop, is there for, to guarantee the breadth, on one hand, and, on the other, to open up what is closed, what could lead to sectarianism, and to integrate it into the whole.” (ibid, p.456).).
In other words, the new role of the office of Pope is to insure the disintegration of all that is uniquely Catholic.
Having begun this article with original sin, it is only fitting that we close with baptism. In God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), Cardinal Ratzinger is asked the following question by Mr. Seewald: “In canon 849 of Church canon law it says: ‘Baptism…[is] necessary to salvation in fact or at least in intention.’ But what happens, when a man dies unbaptized? And what happens to the millions of children who are killed in their mothers’ wombs?” The Cardinal’s answer runs as follows:
“The question of what it means to say that baptism is necessary for salvation has become ever more hotly debated in modern times. The Second Vatican Council said on this point that men who are seeking for God and who are inwardly striving toward that which constitutes baptism will also receive salvation. That is to say that a seeking after God already represents an inward participation in baptism, in the Church, in Christ.
To that extent, the question concerning the necessity of baptism for salvation seems to have been answered, but the question about children who could not be baptized because they were aborted then presses upon us that much more urgently.
Earlier ages had devised a teaching that seems to me rather unenlightened. They said that baptism endows us, by means of sanctifying grace, with the capacity to gaze upon God. Now, certainly, the state of original sin, from which we are freed by baptism, consists in a lack of sanctifying grace [the reader is reminded at this point that Cardinal Ratzinger is here summarizing the “unenlightened” view which has prevailed in the past – this is not his view; as we have seen, he considers the traditional view of original sin ‘misleading’ and ‘imprecise’]. Children who die in this way are indeed without any personal sin, so they cannot be sent to hell, but, on the other hand, they lack sanctifying grace and thus the potential for beholding God that this bestows. They will simply enjoy a state of natural blessedness, in which they will be happy. This state people called limbo.
In the course of our century, that has gradually come to seem problematic to us. This was one way in which people sought to justify the necessity of baptizing infants as early as possible, but the solution is itself questionable. Finally, the Pope made a decisive turn in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, a change already anticipated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when he expressed the simple hope that God is powerful enough to draw to himself all those who were unable to receive the sacrament.” (P.401-402)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quite to the contrary, asserts just the opposite:
“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” (#250)
In God and the World, each of the sacraments is discussed over the space of 43 pages. The fact that any of these sacraments imparts sanctifying grace is never discussed – except in the particular passage quoted above, wherein Cardinal Ratzinger uses the term to characterize a view of baptism which he considers “unenlightened, “problematic”, and “questionable.”
In the version of this chapter which appeared as an article in the March, 2004 issue of Christian Order Magazine, I concluded with an appeal to make these very serious errors of Cardinal Ratzinger more widely known – especially in the face of an immanent transition of the Papacy. Cardinal Ratzinger has now been elected as Pope Benedict XVI. I now consider this appeal to be all the more urgent as a means to facilitate the return of Pope Benedict and all the hierarchy to traditional Thomistic philosophy and metaphysics. I believe that there can be no reform or renewal of the Church without such a return.
Authored by: James Larson – © 2008