I’m continuing to discuss Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s work, “Called to Communion,” originally a series of messages that Ratzinger delivered in 1990, including a “theology course” for 120 bishop and some additional addresses to synods of bishops. Ratzinger described this work as “a primer of Catholic ecclesiology.”
The header of this blog cites Calvin discussing “those corruptions, by which Satan, in the papacy, has polluted everything God had appointed for our salvation.” (Institutes, 4.1.1). There’s a line from a Keith Green song, sung from the perspective of the devil, who says, “I mix a little truth with every lie, to tickle itching ears.” Reading Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion,” I sensed that this is part of the methodology.
What follows here is the outline of the first section of the portion of Chapter one dealing with “the New Testament Witness on the Origen and Essence of the Church.
Within this chapter, this first section highlights some areas in which there might not be any outright lies or disagreements, except that the particular Roman spin “pollutes” them.
The first section,” entitled “Jesus and the Church,” (the topic of the next several postings) flows like this:
Jesus preached a “Kingdom”.
Jesus’s belief that the end was near would have made him desire to gather the eschatological people of God.
The sole meaning of Jesus’s activity is to gather the eschatological people of God.
“The Kingdom was promised, and what came was Jesus.”
Jesus is never alone
“The dynamism of unification” is a component of the new people as Jesus intends it.
Jesus himself is a point of convergence, and this “people” becomes a people solely through his call and the response to his call
The community had structure: (There were 12 apostles, and there were 70 or 72 disciples)
Prayer is a badge of this community
The disciples’s request, “teach us to pray,” and Jesus’s giving of “The Lord’s Prayer” is an indication that the disciples knew they were “a new community with Jesus as its source.”
Flowing out of prayer, and as the mark of worship, Jesus transformed the Passover “into an entirely new form of worship, which logically meant a break with the temple community”
Jesus announced the collapse of the old ritual and centers on a new, higher worship, focused on the Eucharist
Solely in terms of this center (in the Eucharist) does this “people of the New Covenant” have the status of “a people.”
Here, within the space of about eight pages, the flow of Ratzinger’s argument ranges from “Jesus Preached the Kingdom, founded a Church, called “a people” to himself as the convergence point, and “updated” the Passover in such a way that “the Eucharist” was the central form of worship in this community.
Some of these points aren’t debatable. For example, there is no question that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and sought to gather his people around himself.
I’d like to note that Ratzinger cites statistics to prove his point about the Kingdom: “This can be demonstrated statistically alone, by the fact that of the 122 mentions of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, ninety-nine belong to the synoptic Gospels, of which another ninety uses of the term occur in the sayings of Jesus.” (21)
Thomas Schreiner, in his “New Testament Theology,” clarifies and defines further the concept of the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven). He says:
The kingdom of God is a central theme in Jesus’ ministry, and the meaning of the concept must be discerned from the OT because Jesus nowhere defines it. When Jesus referred to God’s kingdom, he had in mind God’s saving power; the fulfillment of his saving promises. When God’s saving promises become a reality, then those who are God’s enemies will be judged. … The kingdom can be explained in terms of the already-not yet. The kingdom was inaugurated in Jesus’ ministry but not yet consummated. It had arrived, but the full salvation and judgment promised had not yet come to pass.” (79)
It is clear from Schreiner’s willingness to draw from the Old Testament that Ratzinger’s statement, “The sole meaning of Jesus’s activity is to gather the eschatological people of God,” that this is not entirely true. Jesus’s purpose is a higher purpose than “calling a people.” More fundamentally than this: he is also to manifest God’s saving power.
The narcissism evident in Ratzinger’s “the sole purpose is to call a people” (which he then later defines as” the Roman Catholic Church”) is something that one would expect from Rome. (Later, Ratzinger tries to provide “exegesis” for why, precisely, Rome should be the theological focus of the New Testament, and I will discuss this as well).
In fact, it is not “the Church” that is the central focus of the New Testament; God is the central focus of the New Testament.
Our survey of “God” in the NT reveals that he is foundational for NT theology. The God of the NT is not a new god; he is the God of the OT—the creator and redeemer. The promise of universal blessing given to Abraham and his descendants in the OT is fulfilled by this God. (167)
Prior to the “eschatological purpose of calling a people,” God already has a people. He already has made promises; He rules over history, and he fulfills his promises in Jesus Christ. He demonstrates, in the most remarkable way, that his word is reliable and true. He “judges those who practice evil.” According to Schreiner, “All human beings are called upon to honor and worship the creator God. (167)”
This is the reason why “Jesus calls a people.” The reason is not “to bring the Roman Catholic Church into existence.” It is to reveal His own glory.
Again, Schreiner elaborates: “Jesus called attention to God’s saving work on behalf of his people … The kingdom promises are fulfilled in Jesus and through his ministry and death and resurrection. As the Son of Man, he will determine who enters God’s kingdom on the final day” (79). “In each and every case (the message of each NT writer), we find that God has begun to fulfill his saving promises in Jesus Christ, and yet believers still await the completion of what God had promised” (116). Schreiner emphasizes the “already-not yet” character of Christ’s life on earth. God’s program had been begun, but it was not yet completed. So again, it is necessary to qualify what Ratzinger said. Yes, the coming of Christ is the Kingdom, and “the gathering of the people” is the eschatological meaning of this coming, but there is more to it than we can currently see.
Admittedly, I have not shown the in-depth argument for Ratzinger’s position. I have let him state it though. And I have provided a competing vision of Christ in the New Testament which places God, and Christ as revealing God, as the central focus.
To this point, the Reformation says, “Soli Deo Gloria,” to God Alone be the Glory. Joseph Ratzinger is making the case that the Church is glorious, too.
Yes, it’s true, that one reason Christ came was to call the eschatological people of God. But that’s not the central reason, and nor is it his central accomplishment.
To the proprietors of the “Called to Communion” website: Yes, as you claim, you are “where the Reformation meets Rome.” But the Reformation beheld God in Christ, that is, God in his full Glory. God in Christ is the focus of the New Testament. Does Christ point people back to Rome? Or does he point them further and deeper toward God? Why should the Reformation leave God (admittedly the point of convergence) and turn their gaze away from God and toward Rome?