Wherein Benedict XVI is now channeling his inner Augustine

You probably know that Benedict XVI’s life’s works as a theologian are being edited and released in different volumes.   Ignatius Press has the publishing rights for English.  His volume on Liturgy is available.  HERE

In German another volume has been issued.

In this volume he mentions, in his newly written forward, that he has rethought and changed him mind about a 1972 essay he had concerning Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.  Previously, he had not closed the door to this possibility.  Now, he thinks he was wrong back then.

This is a burning issue today, of course.

And so the former Pope – how weird is that to write – is going to be implicated in the debate about Communion for the civilly remarried.

What is important to remember, however, before people on the Left and on the Right start with their respective spittle-flecked nutties, is that… changing your mind is exactly what theologians do when they are looking back at their life’s work.

I bring to your attention the example of St. Augustine of Hippo, whom Ratzinger studied closely.  Late in life, Augustine reviewed his vast, and I mean vast, body of work and, in a volume called the Retractations, he made observations and corrections of his previous work.  In other words, he reviewed and he said when and where he got things wrong.

That’s what theologians do.

They get things wrong and they correct things after they have had time to work on them and think them through and, often, gather more information.

But just watch how the catholic Left, especially, will try to spin this.  It’ll go something along the lines of “The Pope Emeritus is entering the fray against Card. Kasper!” or, for the truly weird, “Did Card. Burke put the Pope Emeritus up to this?”, and even “Benedict, who promised he was going to be a good little monk in his garden convent, has broken his word!  He’s being political!”

Believe me, it’ll get crazy.

When and if you read some of the loony stuff, remember: St. Augustine’s Retractations.

This is what old theologians do.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. CharlesG says:

    1972 was also before Familiaris consortio.

  2. Fr_Marc says:

    Here in Germany, it already started to get crazy: In exactly the way you mention, Father! The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” called Benedict the “Dagegen-Papst” (Against-it-Pope), a game of words on “Gegenpapst” (Antipope). Nasty!

  3. juergensen says:

    Pray Benedict XVI doesn’t get demoted for this!

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    This should put the lie to the notion that anyone might have that there is a group-mind operating when one puts on the red shoes. Popes don’t always agree with other Popes, that is, until the Holy Spirit pins down the truth in an infallible act. Sadly, if Pope Emeritus Benedict were still Pope, would the last Synod have been anything like the circus it was? Indeed, would we even have had the Synod? Still, the world is not other than it is. Perhaps logic and truth will, yet, prevail, but probably not without a lot of prayer and suffering.

    The Chicken

  5. robtbrown says:

    CharlesG says:

    1972 was also before Familiaris consortio.

    Where does Familiaris Consortio address this?

  6. Thorfinn says:

    I also find merit in the view that theologians need a certain freedom to speculate, which may lead in fruitful or unfruitful directions: as long as the ground their work in orthodoxy. That’s why I’m not bothered by a von Balthasar speculating about how many will be saved, for example. And why it’s not surprising that the thinking of Joseph Ratzinger should change over time.

    Interesting that this news comes soon after Cardinal Kasper’s remarks contrasting P Benedict’s openness (to ?) to that of his less intelligent followers.

  7. VexillaRegis says:

    A German Shepherd never lets you down :-)

  8. Swanson says:

    Changing your mind is a hallmark of maturity.

    I wish more people understood this. It is not a sign of weakness or wishy-washy thinking. Or of heretical thought.

  9. Martlet says:

    I read that article, Fr. Marc, but was not aware of the play on words. Very, very sad.

  10. Martlet says:

    I read that article, Fr. Marc, but was not aware of the play on words. Very, very sad.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Changing your mind is a hallmark of maturity.”

    Changing your mind is a hallmark of changing your mind. What about the middle-aged man who changes his mind about who his wife should be? What about Einstein who, later in life, called the cosmological constant his biggest mistake (it may turn out that he was right the first time and the equations do need a cosmological constant).

    Sometimes, you make the right decision and sometimes you make the decision right, to quote
    Star gate SG-1’s General Landry, quoting Dr. Phil.

    The Chicken

  12. John of Chicago says:

    Really interesting. St. Augustine and Pope Benedict XVI are not the only theologians to change their minds later in life. I seem to recall a story that, shortly before his death (at about 50, I think), St. Thomas Aquinas apparently experienced a profound moment of insight and stopped his writing entirely. When an assistant urged him to get back to work, Thomas said simply: “I cannot, for all that I have written seems like straw to me.” and from then until his death he was silent.
    Despite this rather startling self-critique, some of Thomas’s writings (ethics, metaphysics, even logic) continued to be studied and glossed over the centuries while other parts of his work (such as natural sciences) are no longer valued.
    What Thomas would think of all that subsequent scholarly attention, who knows for he (wisely?) chose silence and stuck with it. As someone later noted: “To survive your enemies is a minor victory, to survive your disciples a major one.” Perhaps we should add–“to survive your own self, a miracle.”

  13. Papabile says:

    FYI…. Amazon is STILL sending out the uncorrected version of Vol. 11 of Benedict’s collected works.

  14. donato2 says:

    The question of Ratzinger and his possible retractions has been on my mind because I’m just finishing his book that is published by the Paulist press under the English title “Theological Highlights of Vatican II.” It is quite a disconcerting read. I’ve read nearly everything by Ratzinger that Ignatius Press has published, and “Theological Highlights of Vatican II” seems as though it was written by an entirely different person. It reads like a book that Fr. James Martin might have written had he been a peritus at Vatican II. In “Theological Highlights” the things I so love about Ratzinger — his precision of thought, subtle insights and courageous commitment to truth — are in short supply. Instead one finds not infrequently liberal shibboleths and vague sentiments that I could not imagine finding in any of Ratzinger’s later writings.

    I am aware that it is commonplace to assert that Ratzinger was a liberal during Vatican II and then changed; and that Ratzinger denies having changed. Maybe he didn’t change but he definitely matured and developed. Interestingly he and Hans Kung seem to have started from similar places and then developed in radically different directions. Such I suppose is an illustration of the consequences of the vagueness of Vatican II. It is this vagueness that has permitted the silent de facto schism that the Church has been experiencing over the last 50 years.

  15. acardnal says:

    Papabile, you can return the book to Amazon at no charge and receive refund or replacement. I once received a book with blank pages. . . not a single type written character on any page!

  16. Latin Mass Type says:

    In this volume he mentions, in his newly written forward

    How newly written? It must have been before the Synod…

    That might be good to know for certain when discussing this with certain people.

  17. Matt Robare says:

    From what I understand Pope Benedict “entered the fray against Card. Kasper” many, many times before and during his papacy.

  18. John V says:

    Here’s a link for the book on the web site of Herder, the German publisher. The Table of Contents and the Foreword can be viewed here. The Foreword doesn’t appear to be dated. Perhaps someone could do a quick translation?

  19. anna 6 says:

    Like Latin Mass, I would like to know when Benedict XVI wrote the forward. I would bet that it was done way before the synod.

  20. THREEHEARTS says:

    Father third paragraph I believe should be foreword not forward. is this a bad translation and will take years to change

  21. AvantiBev says:

    It has already gotten “crazy”. Let’s embrace the Sex Revolt of the past 45 years and get on board with cohabitation, shack ups and divorce while out of the other side of our duplicitous mouths we decry children living in poverty, children growing up to join gangs, children and “gun” i.e., human violence, etc.
    You want to help poor children but still embrace the zeitgeist of an age in which they are raised in constant uncertainty of their parents commitment to one another or even uncertainty about WHO the parent is! Kwazy!

  22. jacobi says:

    Well Pope Benedict is human like the rest of us. He must have been subjected, in the 1970s, and before, to the enormous surge of Modernism which used Vatican II as their vehicle to promote their various heresies.

    But it’s all quite simple really. Sex outside of a valid marriage between a man and a woman is a mortal sin and anyone in such a state may not receive Holy Communion other than by incurring a further mortal sin.

    You don’t have to be a theologian, whatever that is, to work that one out. It a matter of simple,logical, common or garden sense!

  23. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    @robtbrown: Familiaris consortio n. 84 explains the pastoral care of Catholics who have divorced and remarried:
    “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

    Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’ (180)”

  24. robtbrown says:

    Grateful to be Catholic,

    Thanks, but as it says, it’s a reaffirmation. JRatzinger no doubt was aware of the practice long before FC was promulgated.

  25. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    @robtbrown: Yes, Fr. Ratzinger was aware of the established practice in 1972 because he was ruminating about whether there might be some change to it. We know that when he was Prefect of the CDF he defended the established practice. Now he is saying, for the record, that he was wrong in 1972 to think that there was a possibility of change.

    As usual, Kasper has not caught up with Ratzinger.

  26. AnnTherese says:

    Reflection, change, and humility can be movements of the Holy Spirit if we are prayerful and discerning. Perhaps Benedict’s correction is a reaction to the Synod because it caused introspection and honest wrestling. I hope we can be as generous with Francis.

  27. marcelus says:

    I’ll tell one thing is wrong in the good Fr.’s suspicion: [Nope. It already happened in the Italian press.]

    “But just watch how the catholic Left, especially, will try to spin this. It’ll go something along the lines of “The Pope Emeritus is entering the fray against Card. Kasper”

    It has not been the left, but the “extreme” religious right? or what might you call them?, that has already begun the campaing against the Pope:


    Benedict XVI Reworks Essay of 1972 and Positions Himself as “Anti-Pope”

    Here we go. Excellent for the trad cause ….

    Playing with fire sorry. I do not expect PF to be scared or anything close, since I do not for a minute think BXVI’s intention is such,. They talk and they consult.

    As for the rest of the world, again , I can only imagine the headlines, for articles such as THIS is what they find translate and print. And remember , you are not talking about libs or lefties here. Just common church going non political fellows

    And in the end, this is the voice or traditionalists in the eyes of the common catholic all over the world.

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