I’ve accused Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) of being dishonest in his use of language and sources, and this is another example.
I plan to do a more complete examination of Ratzinger’s defense of the papacy in his 1996 work “Called to Communion,” but I wanted to point out a particularly egregious example of what I’ve called below, The Catholic Hermeneutic.
It occurs with the first piece of evidence that Ratzinger cites. Peter’s name appears first in the great pre-Pauline hymn given to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 15:1-11. Peter is not in view here in any other way, but for Ratzinger, it is a foundational piece of evidence for (a) Peter’s importance and (b) a papacy:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Ratzinger calls this a “weighty piece of evidence in the ancient formula of faith,” and suggests that “Paul is entitled to consider himself an apostle in the full sense because the risen Lord appeared to him and called him. We thus begin to grasp something of the weight of the fact that Peter had the privilege of being the first to see the Lord and that he entered into the confession formulated by the primitive community as the first witness.” (Called to Communion, 50).
In reality, this is nothing but eisegesis, that is, reading into a text something that is just not there. Ratzinger, in using this as a Petrine proof text, completely misses the genuine significance of the passage.
“We may even see in this circumstance something like a new installation in the primacy, in the first rank among the apostles. When we add to this that we are dealing with a very ancient pre-Pauline formula, which Paul transmits with great reverence as an unassailably secure part of the tradition, the significance of the text is plain for all to see” (ibid.)
First of all, note that this is the sum and total of Ratzinger’s argument. Peter is mentioned, and so “the significance of the text is plain for all to see.”
That is just an extremely weak (and even impertinent) observation from this passage. Because that is not “the significance of the text.” But it is typical of the Roman urge to usurp some mention of Peter where Peter is not the focus, to read pre-conceived notions of a papacy back into it, and to turn it into some weighty, significant evidence of something that is just not there.
Because in the first place, “as of first importance,” according to Paul, this is a passage about the Resurrection of Christ, and the surety of it. The first reason for the development of this passage, this pre-Pauline hymn, is that “an array of witnesses can testify to Jesus’ resurrection, which is inferred by his appearance to them (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p. 689).
Citing several writers, [Garland] says “it is altogether more satisfactory to admit, however much some deplore the fact, that in [this passage] Paul intends to guarantee the historicity of the resurrection by suggesting that doubters may check with the many eyewitnesses who are still living…The adverb [ephapax, describing 500 witnesses at the same time, at once] emphasizes that this was not a spiritual vision that each experienced over the course of time; it was an event that all witnessed together.”
For Ratzinger to see this as a significant Petrine text is further evidence of the self-absorption that Rome sees in itself.
In actuality, there are other elements to this text that are all still more important than the “Petrine” component.
Garland suggests that another reason behind this list of witnesses is “to form a chain from Cephas to the Twelve, to the five hundred, to James, to the Apostles, to Paul himself. It establishes a continuity in the message that he passed on to them that goes back to the very beginning.”
Most commentators on Matthew are adamant that absolutely no “succession” is hinted at in the New Testament. However, this is Paul’s version of a “petrine succession.” And it is a succession not of ordinations, but rather, it is a succession of the same message: Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He himself took the initiative of “appearing” to his disciples. This is the Gospel in its purest form. It is the same Gospel that Peter preached in Acts: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that, we are all witnesses.”
Further, this passage speaks to the fact that, as Irenaeus said, “What [the apostles” first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the Scriptures so that they [the Scriptures] would be the foundation and pillar of our faith” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1, citing 1 Tim 3:15).
For Ratzinger to take a mere mention of Peter in a context such as this one to say that it somehow suggested a Petrine primacy that led to the papacy, is the worst kind of way to read something into a text that’s just not there.
This is just one more example of how Catholic apologists — Ratzinger included — misuse Scripture and in doing so, deceive people into believing that they are the “one true church.”