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Cardinal Dulles Explores Pope’s View on Vatican II

Contact: Michael Larkin
(212)636-7175
mlarkin@fordham.edu


NEW YORK—In the 40 years since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict’s views of this landmark event have remained fundamentally consistent, but there are instances where his theology has evolved, said Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., during the Fall McGinley Lecture on Oct. 25 at the Leonard Theatre on Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus.

Cardinal Dulles presented this shift in Pope Benedict’s thinking by reviewing his interpretation of some points in the four great constitutions of the council: Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Divine Revelation), Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

At Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI, who was then the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, was appointed as consultor to the subcomission revising the texts on Revelation and on the Church.  He belonged to an inner circle of German theologians who had a major role in shaping the council throughout its four sessions that extended from 1962 to 1965. According to Cardinal Dulles, the pope’s theology has been firmly rooted in the Augustinian tradition: He values prayer and worship, but is suspicious of social activism and of human claims to be building the Kingdom of God.

“For this reason, he most appreciates the council documents on the Liturgy and Revelation, and has reservations about the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, while giving it credit for some solid achievements,” said Cardinal Dulles, the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion Professor of Religion.

Cardinal Dulles added that a young Ratzinger lent considerable importance to the theology of the bishops and local churches. Later in his life, his views on the two groups had swung in the other direction.

“Since 1992, [Ratzinger] has contended that the universal church has ontological and historical priority over the particular churches. [The church] was not originally made up of local regional churches,” said Cardinal Dulles. “Those who speak of the priority of the particular church over the universal, he says, misinterpret the council documents.”

A similar shift is apparent in the pope’s view of episcopal conferences, which he had once characterized as “collegial organs with a true theological basis.” By 1986, according to Dulles, Ratzinger says, “we must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the church as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function.”
 
Cardinal Dulles noted that in interpreting the document on the Liturgy in his earlier commentaries, Ratzinger praised it highly but in later writings he pointed out many of its misinterpretations. “The Council Fathers,” he [Ratzinger] insists, “had no intention of initiating a liturgical revolution.  They intended to introduce a moderate use of the vernacular alongside of the Latin, but had no thought of eliminating Latin, which remains the official language of the Roman rite.

“Ratzinger seems to have nothing against the celebration of Mass according to the missal that was in use before the council,” said Cardinal Dulles.
 
Ratzinger’s theological orientation appeared to be shifting when he accepted the position of editor at the conservative review Communio in 1972, said Cardinal Dulles, who attributes Ratzinger’s later assessments on certain areas of Vatican II to  “finding his own theological path.”

“Ratzinger’s [Pope Benedict] career appears to have affected his theology,” said Cardinal Dulles. “As an archbishop and a cardinal he has had to take increasing responsibility for the public life of the church and has gained a deeper realization of the need for universal sacramental structures to safeguard the unity of the church and her fidelity to the Gospel.”

Fordham University’s McGinley Chair in Religion and Society was established in 1985 as a tribute to Laurence J. McGinley, S.J., who first attained distinction as a professor of theology and later served as president of Fordham University from 1948 to 1963. The McGinley lectures explore the relationship between religion and current social and political issues.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 15,800 students in its five undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.


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