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Letter #13, 2023 Wed Jan 11: Lombardi

[2023-01-11]
[Engleză]
Vatican Media

    The casket of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died in Rome on the last day of the year 2022, December 31.

    Below, a brilliant text by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, 80 (link) which seems certain to serve for future generations as an exemplary biography of the just deceased Pope, who was much loved by many Catholics, but also much criticized, even condemned, by many, who agreed with most of the world’s secular press who maintained for 40 year, unanimously and falsely, that Ratzinger was rigid, “doctrinaire” and psychologically and spiritually cruel.

    So it is a document to read and keep.

    However, Lombardi’s document, after one reads it, does prompt a number of questions — 21 to be exact…

    And the fact that it does prompt these questions may be the most significant thing about it…

    Above, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., 80, for many years the head of the Vatican Press Office.

    In this photo, he is in the Vatican Press Office, speaking to journalists.

    For almost exactly 10 years, from July of 2007 until July of 2016, Lombardi was ever calm, accurate, and clear while presenting to the world media the actions, positions, motivations and teachings of the Holy See, of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, with regard to various events.

    Lombardi has just published a magisterial account of Pope Benedict‘s life — a brilliant summary which all disciples of Benedict ought to read and remember. (link) The complete text is below.

    Nothing else like it has been published in these days since the late Pope died on December 31.

    Lombardi, after leaving his post as the spokesman for Popes, became the head of the Vatican’s official Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation (link), which means that Lombardi is, in a certain sense, the single most important custodian of the official memory of Benedict, who he was and what he accomplished in his pontificate and in his life…

    “I don’t think my role is to explain the Pope’s thinking or explain the things that he already states in an extraordinarily clear and rich way.”—Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., in a September 8, 2006 interview with American journalist John Thavis for Catholic News Service (link)

    “It’s a balance we have to work at every day. There’s no easy recipe.” —Lombardi, in the same 2006 interview with Thavis, when asked what he thought of the complaints of journalists that the Vatican was too secretive. Lombardi said the complaints are understandable since the Church, he said, is still finding ways to live in the new “society of communications” and at the same time trying to maintain the proper degree of prudence and reserve… (link)
    Letter #13, 2023 Wednesday, January 11: Lombardi

    A text on Pope Benedict XVI‘s life, death and legacy (link) that Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., 80, has just published in Rome (dated December 31, 2022), in the prestigious Jesuit Catholic bi-weekly Civiltà Cattolica is long, careful, wise, detailed, and balanced.

    It is an exemplary biography.

    I learned a great deal from it… even though I already knew much of what it contains.

    Why is it exemplary?

    At first I thought it exemplary because it splendidly puts everything together in one place, perfectly.

    The piece is “Mozart-ian.”

    It flows like a river, or a forest stream.

    It is melodious.

    In reading it, the life of Benedict comes off the page into the mind as one, unified, complete life, filled with reason, faith, and goodness.

    “A great biography,” I said to myself. “I really have to send this out, even though it is quite long(!).”

    I thought: “Fr. Lombardi, hats off to you. Thank you for a brilliant summary of Benedict’s life and work.”

    ***

    Then, as I reflected, I realized that the text was missing some things.

    And after some minutes, I realized it was missing many things.

    And so I slowly came to see that this document was exemplary in… a different way.

    It was not exemplary because of what it included, in its very clear, eloquent way, but… for what it excluded.

    And it is the purpose of this letter to begin to explain what it leaves out…

    In the hope of completing the picture.

    ***

    1. “It was my father…”

    As I prepared to post the text in this letter — and the entire text is below — I started to write a little introduction — what you see above — and the thought suddenly struck me: “This text is missing one striking thing that Ratzinger told me in one of our first interviews in the 1990s…”

    What was missing?

    That it was his own father, Ratzinger said, who, though not university-trained, was the greatest single influence on his intellectual life, due to his father’s broad private reading in German history, and to the clarity with which his father expressed his ideas and conclusions to his young son, Joseph.

    Well, I thought, Lombardi could not have known that (I never published that interview, and he never said it to anyone else, so it did not become part of the “official history” of his life).

    So it was understandable.

    2. “I split my thumbnail…”

    Then, as I read about Ratzinger’s experience in the Second World War, when he was just 16 and 17, in 1943 and 1944, I realized another detail was missing: that Ratzinger had suffered an injury to his hand while using the gun that was handed to him for practice.

    In fact, Ratzinger told me, he knew nothing about shooting a weapon, and was completely ignorant of what to do to fire the gun, and something went wrong… and he caught the thumb of his left hand in the trigger mechanism, and split the thumbnail of his left hand.

    He even showed me the thumbnail. After a lifetime, one could still see the line of the healed injury down the middle of the thumbnail, where it had been split so many years before, then healed, leaving a raised scar.

    Well, I thought, ok, that too was a detail that few knew about.

    It was a detail concerning his military service that Ratzinger was somewhat embarrassed by, so, even though it was a “humanizing” detail that disproved in itself the false image of being a “Panzer Kardinal” (meaning, “the cardinal who was relentlessly aggressive like a German Panzer tank”) it was so little known that it did not make it into the public biography.

    Again, understandable.

    3. “I just walked away…”

    Then, as read on, I noticed that Fr. Lombardi had described Ratzinger’s release from the open-air prison camp where he was detained along with 50,000 other German soldiers in the summer of 1945 in this way:

    “Finally freed, he was home again on June 16, 1945.”

    But Ratzinger had told me that there was never a time when he was “freed” by the Americans.

    He told me that he and the 50,000 slept under the open sky, and shivered, and that it was quite miserable.

    He was shivering.

    And he told me that, one day, when he felt he really, really wanted to go home, and when he saw there were no guards, he simply walked away.

    Unconcerned that he might have been shot had he been seen by an American soldier.

    ***

    The 21 missing things

    And at that moment, for the first time, I thought: “Actually, quite a lot of details have been left out of this essay… though mostly on rather minor points…. But I wonder if also some more important points are not covered…”

    And then I started to read the text again, and to note down things that were not there… events, experiences, issues, that do not appear in this biography.

    And rather soon, counting the three admittedly minor details listed above, I had a list of 21 rather significant “missing” parts of Ratzinger’s life in this otherwise exhaustive and exemplary biography.

    And this set me to thinking how hard it really is to get to finally get to the truth of things.

    Indeed, to thinking that the various factors, incidents and influences that determine a person’s decisions and the course of a person’s life but perhaps especially the life of a leader, of someone whose decisions affect the lives of millions, even billions, and perhaps not just for a week or a month or a season, but for decades and centuries to come — like the decision to allow again the old liturgy greater space, or the decision to resign the papacy — are so numerous that no human can ever come to the end of it.

    In short, that perhaps we can never fully, exhaustively, completely understand why events occur as they do.

    That we must live in a tension of “not knowing.”

    That we must live in the quandary of “was this really the reason for what happened, or was there really… an even deeper cause?”

    Here is a summary of the 21 missing points in Ratzinger’s biography, counting the three above, and 18 to follow…

    ***

    4. “Rejected”

    Lombardi discusses Ratzinger’s second dissertation, his “Habilitationschrift” (a second doctoral thesis written, as is customary in Germany, to obtain a chair in a German university) on “the theology of history in St. Bonaventure” in the 1950s.

    This dissertation was really a wrestling with the influence of the Abbot Joachim of Fiore‘s thought on Bonaventure.

    It was a wrestling with Joachim’s controversial idea that… the “age of the Father” (of the law) and “the age of the Son” (of grace) would (soon) be followed by a new and final age “of the Holy Spirit” (of superabundant grace) — an age in which the pouring out of that Holy Spirit on mankind would no longer be contained within (Joachim seemed to suggest) the ossified and ossifying structures of the Church, but fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.

Fr. Lombardi writes:

    “After his doctorate on St. Augustine, defended in 1953, came the goal of obtaining the license to teach. Here he experienced a difficult and almost dramatic passage in his life, due to the open clash between two influential professors of the Munich Faculty – Gottlieb Söhngen, his teacher, and Michael Schmaus – over his dissertation on St. Bonaventure. Eventually the work was accepted, and Ratzinger became a lecturer in 1957. But these tensions would leave a profound legacy. The young theologian, who had until then had achieved mostly brilliant successes and high praise, had the novel experience of harsh criticism…”

    Ok…

    But this leaves out an important fact: Ratzinger’s thesis, as he himself told me, was actually… rejected.

    Beyond an “open clash” between advisors, beyond “eventually the work was accepted,” beyond “tensions,” beyond “harsh criticism,” there was… actual rejection.

    “Rejected.”

    Ratzinger had to rewrite the thesis — throwing away a full one-third of it — and there was a real chance that the rewrite might have been rejected too.

    Yes, Ratzinger’s career hung in the balance.

    Lombardi allows us to glimpse that, but not fully.

    The full danger of his situation is not included in this biography.

    (Note: As Pope, Ratzinger saw to it that the original, rejected version of his thesis was published in full. The rejected section dealt with God’s revelation of Himself to men. In other words, how God communicated with human beings. This is of central importance… And evidently Ratzinger believed that what he wrote on the topic in his rejected dissertation was true and… important to publish. But why? (see link, link, link, and especially link).

    ***

    (It’s getting late, this letter is already too long — especially since the entire text of Lombardi’s long essay is below — so, this letter will have to end here… perhaps you might be interested to see what you think is missing in the biography of the late Pope Benedict XVI, may he rest in peace… Please send any insights you have, because a second — or a third and a fourth — set of eyes are always more perceptive… perhaps together we may be able to get to the bottom of some mysteries and vexed questions. One clue: look at the very end, not of the text itself, but at the last of all the footnotes… That may hold a key… A presto….)

    (To be continued)
Benedict XVI special commemorative issue

    Inside the Vatican is dedicating our next issue (March-April 2023) to a presentation of the life, work, thought and faith of the late Pope Benedict XVI.

    It will be a longer issue than usual (we are presently planning for 100 pages, perfect bound, like our Special Issue on Mary, just published) and will feature reflections from bishops and cardinals, writers and theologians, musicians and poets, on Pope Emeritus Benedict the person, and on the rich spiritual legacy he has left behind.

    Subscribe now or give a gift of Inside the Vatican magazine. Your order today will ensure you receive the special “Benedict XVI” commemorative March-April 2023 issue of Inside the Vatican magazine included with your subscription!
Subscribe Now for our Special Commemorative Issue on Benedict XVI

    Here is the full text of Fr. Lombardi’s magisterial study of Pope Benedict’s life and work:
    Benedict XVI In Memoriam (link)

    By Federico Lombardi, SJ

    December 31, 2022

    The Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away on December 31, 2022, at the age of 95, at the Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican, to where he had retired after retiring from the papacy and where he spent the last years of his long life in retreat and prayer. A significant exception had been the trip he made to Regensburg from June 18-22, 2020, to visit one last time his beloved elder brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, just days before his death. His last public appearance had been on June 28, 2016, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the presence of Pope Francis on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

    Pope Francis had visited him several times, and various friends and visitors were also able to see him, reporting news and images that circulated via social media, so that we continued to feel accompanied by his discreet but vigilant presence, which was also sometimes manifested in responses to letters or short messages, through which his kindness and the sharpness and intensity of his spiritual presence invariably shone. Written interventions of more significant content had, however, been very few indeed.

    Stages of a long life: from Bavaria to Rome

    Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria. It was early on Holy Saturday morning, and on that very morning he was baptized, as he recounts, “with the newly blessed water of ‘Easter night,’ which was then celebrated in the morning. […] Personally, I have always been grateful that, in this way, my life was from the beginning immersed in the Paschal mystery, since it could only be a sign of blessing.”[1] Joseph came into the world into a Bavarian family of deep-rooted Catholic tradition and modest circumstances – his father, also named Joseph, was a policeman, and his mother Maria was a housewife, but occasionally worked as a cook for the sake of the family budget. He was the third and last child, being preceded by his sister Maria and brother Georg.[2]

    Joseph’s childhood unfolded in a basically normal and happy manner, with the family moving to different locations in Bavaria as a result of his father’s service assignments: after Marktl am Inn, in 1929 to Tittmoning (which would remain for Joseph the land of childhood dreams and happy times), in 1932 to Aschau, in 1937 to Traunstein. Here in 1939, at the age of 12, Joseph entered the archdiocesan seminary, where he had been preceded by his brother Georg. These were the years which saw the rise of the Nazi regime; Joseph felt the approaching storm in the air, but he lived through it, protected by the deeply Catholic environment of the Bavarian province and his family, where the anti-Nazi attitude was widespread, though not militant.

    He began to directly pay the costs of the onset of Nazism when the seminary was requisitioned shortly after his entry and he had to be compulsorily enrolled in the Hitlerjugend (the Hitler Youth), but he did not participate in its activities. At 16, in the depths of World War II, he was assigned to the anti-aircraft duty in the city of Munich. He was a soldier, but with other seminarians he could continue his studies, attending classes at a city gymnasium.

    In September 1944, he was discharged from the anti-aircraft unit and sent to Burgenland – on the border of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia – for labor service and then, following an illness, to the Traunstein barracks. In the confusion of the final months of Germany’s collapse, he deserted and returned home, but upon the arrival of the Americans he was considered a prisoner of war and taken, along with 50,000 others, to an open-air prison camp under harsh conditions near Ulm. Finally freed, he was home again on June 16, 1945.

    Through all these events, his vocation to the priesthood remained solid. Although institutions were still in a precarious condition, Joseph resumed his studies in Munich and Freising. He prepared for the priesthood with mature spiritual discernment and entered deeply, with gusto and passion, into the world of theological studies, favored by the proximity and guidance of personalities of first-rate cultural and spiritual stature. This is the time when familiarity with the thought of St. Augustine was born in him, becoming his point of reference, his favorite and fundamental author. He was also able to engage in fascinating readings of great contemporary theologians, such as Henri de Lubac.

Sursa: www.InsideTheVatican.com


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