What Can Protestants Expect From The New Pope?

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Notafraid
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What Can Protestants Expect From The New Pope?

BY MICHAEL S. HORTON




In his first speech as pope, Benedict XVI declared, “The current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.”1 Before he took the name Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had already established a name for himself as the “Vatican’s doctrinal watch-dog,” head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. In that capacity, Cardinal Ratzinger was the guiding hand in John Paul II’s famous encyclicals, such as Dominus Iesus, which continued to regard the theology of the Reformation as “gravely deficient.” Yet he has also led Vatican consultations with mainline Protestants and evangelicals. What can Modern Reformation readers expect of the new pope? Will he look back to the pre-conciliar legacy of the Inquisition (the former name of the Congregation he headed was once upon a time called the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition)? Or will he be a catalyst for Roman Catholic-Protestant unity? Or perhaps something in between? For all of us who care about truth and unity, these are not irrelevant questions.




What I’m offering here is not an essay so much as a series of quotations from some representative works written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger over the last twenty-five years. A prolific and colorful writer, Ratzinger is also a first-rate theologian: clear in argument, concise in presentation, and conversant with other traditions.




First, some background is necessary. While John Paul II can certainly be praised for his uncompromising stand on Christian social ethics and called for greater Christian unity, it must not be forgotten that he was regularly calling for a renewal of devotion to traditional Roman Catholic teaching, the cult of Mary, and in his papal visits to Latin America especially, warned against the incursion of Protestantism as if the Council of Trent had never been convened. All along the way, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was his theologian-in-residence.


In 1988, John Paul II issued a document calling the faithful to obtain plenary indulgences (offered every 25 years) in the jubilee year of the Church in 2000, which caused the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to pull out of the jubilee celebrations in Rome, although the Lutheran World Federation remained involved. The 1988 papal declaration outlined the conditions for the indulgence: “Catholics must have been to confession, and on the day they wish to receive the indulgence they must receive the Eucharist and pray in one of the various places, such as churches in Rome, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, in a Catholic cathedral or in any place where they are visiting those in difficulty. An indulgence can also be obtained in a jubilee year by refraining from smoking or alcohol and ‘donating a proportionate sum of money to the poor’ or by ‘devoting a suitable portion of personal free time to activities benefiting the community, or other similar forms of personal sacrifice.’”


On February 9-10, 2001, the Vatican’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity called upon the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to engage in a consultation on indulgences. Dr. Idair Pedroso Mateus, a Reformed theologian from Brazil, who served on the consultation, likened indulgences to the “prosperity theology” of neo-pentecostalism.2 “An official ‘note’ by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warns that describing Protestant churches as ‘sister churches’ can cause ‘ambiguities,’” since the Church of Rome “’is not sister but ‘mother’ of all the particular Churches’” Furthermore, this appellation can only apply to “those ecclesial communities that have preserved a valid episcopate and Eucharist.” The cardinal’s note, approved by Pope John Paul on June 9, is ‘to be held as authoritative and binding,’ according to Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to the bishops’ conferences.”3


Then in September, 2000, the encyclical Dominus Iesus, signed by Ratzinger and promulgated by Pope John Paul, ignited a firestorm of protest, especially from Lutheran and Reformed bodies that had been engaged in fruitful ecumenical dialogue. On the other hand, defenders of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) read Dominus Iesus differently, as a statement on Rome’s side of “honest ecumenism,” which is only read negatively by left-of-center ecumenists. The phrase “gravely deficient” is directed at non-Christian religions. Non-Catholics are in a state of grace, their baptism is recognized, and they are therefore “in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.”4


At the same time, The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was engaged in ecumenical discussions on justification especially with the Lutheran World Federation, which issued in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (ET, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000): “The present Joint Declaration [1999] has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ,” despite remaining questions and issues (10-11). Building on previous consultations, the Joint Declaration affirmed remarkable agreement in essential points regarding justification and should be closely read as a clear advance in the ecumenical discussion. Nevertheless, key aspects of the evangelical doctrine of justification are, as in joint statements issuing from the U. S.-based group, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, are left unresolved while a common agreement in the gospel is nevertheless assumed. In other cases, particularly the capitulation on the Lutheran World Federation side to a definition of faith as “faith, hope, and love,” the evangelical doctrine of faith is explicitly rejected. Faith is love of God and neighbor, the document says (32). The conclusion of the Declaration is that the anathemas of each body no longer apply. “The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations of the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration. Nothing is thereby taken away from the seriousness of the condemnations related to the doctrine of justification (26).


While mainline Protestants demonstrate ambivalence about this new pope, probably in large measure because of their liberal biases in theology and ethics, evangelicals have been practically unanimous in their praise. While doctrinal tensions still exist, Benedict XVI is seen as building on the “culture of life” so admirably defended by John Paul II. As for Norman Geisler, “He’s going to hold the line” against liberalism and relativism.5


With this background, we now turn to some of the representative statements by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, to obtain a better idea of what we might expect from his pontificate. Hopefully we will see that there is much to appreciate in an age of increasing pressure to conform the church’s message to the spirit of the age, while also recognizing the distance that remains between genuinely evangelical churches and the Bishop of Rome.

Catholic Doctrine
I will refer throughout to Cardinal Ratzinger, since the writings from which I am drawing pre-date his papacy, and I begin with The Ratzinger Report (1985).6 In describing the structure and content of Catholic faith, he argues against those who reduce the gospel to a banishment of all negative thinking, when sin is the obvious backdrop that cannot be underplayed. “The attempt to give Christianity a new publicity value by putting it in an unqualifiedly positive relationship to the world—by actually picturing it as a conversion to the world—corresponds to our feeling about life and hence continues to thrive” (56). Such “progressivism,” so widely praised in the years after Vatican II, “has today come under suspicion of being merely the apotheosis of the late-capitalist bourgeoisie, on which, instead of attacking it critically, it sheds a kind of religious glow.” “A Christianity that believes it has no other function than to be completely in tune with the spirit of the times has nothing to say and no meaning to offer…It is not the ideology of adaptation that will rescue Christianity,” despite their immediate publicity value, but only re-entering “the apostolic tradition [1 Cor 4:13]; nothing can rescue it but the prophetic courage to make its voice heard decisively and unmistakably at this very hour.” “Anyone who looks, however briefly, at the history of religion will learn to what extent it is dominated by the theme of guilt and atonement, with what abstruse and often strange efforts man has attempted to free himself form the burdensome feeling of guilt without being able actually to do so” (58). But the answer is metanoia, which is not only “repentance” (change of mind), as one finds it in Greek, but a full conversion of the soul and its actions (60-1).


Referring directly to the Hitler Youth movement’s slogan, says Rantzinger, Dietrich von Hildebrand writes, “Thus the fluidity of existence that is required of the Christian is, at the same time, ‘the exact opposite…of the cult of constant activity….’ In other words, Christian metanoia is, to all intents and purposes, identical with pistis (faith, constancy), a change that does not exclude constancy but makes it possible” (62). But it’s more than “a ‘formal conservatism,’ which is not necessarily grounded in truth (63). “In contrasting the two modes of change, von Hildebrand, I think, has made abundantly clear the true nature of the Christian readiness to change as opposed to that of the [Nazi] ‘cult of activity’” (64). “One thing above all should be clear [from the gospel as “good news”]: the joyous character of Christian faith does not depend on the effectiveness of ecclesiastical events. The Church is not a society for the promotion of good cheer, whose value rises and falls with the success of its activities,” like various social and civic institutions (81).


He says he does not understand why theology cannot be communicated to the church today the way Luther’s catechism did, instead of the tortured textbooks we now have. In this respect, at least, the Reformation was simply recovering ancient catechesis, at least in form (Decalogue, Our Father, the sacraments, the Creed) (131).


An untiring foe of theologians who threaten traditional Catholic teaching, Ratzinger defends Vatican II while nevertheless challenging the left-wing excesses that followed in its wake. (Even the Council itself was divided between advocates of ressourcement (going back to the sources for the current situation) and aggiornamento (openness to change). “We need only recall the names of Odo Casel, Hugo Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou to have before our eyes a theology that knew—and knows—that it was close to the Scriptures because it was close to the Fathers. This situation seems, in the meantime, to have ceased to exist” (134). The historical-critical method and the faith of the Church are affirmed together in Vatican II (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), but these are in origin and purpose at odds. For the Church holds “the understanding of Holy Scripture as an inner unity in which one part sustains the other, has its existence in it, so that each part can be read and understood only in terms of the whole” (135-6).


He doesn’t think that Karl Rahner’s theology of self-transcendence gets it right either. Rahner was a key theologian at Vatican II, who argued that humanity is essentially open to God, revelation, and grace, and thus underscored the correlation between revelation and general human experience. Because of this, all people—even atheists, reveal that God’s grace is at work in their lives when they display love for their neighbor. But Ratzinger remains unconvinced:

Is it true that Christianity adds nothing to the universal but merely makes it known? Is the Christian really just man as he is? Is that what he is supposed to be? Is not man as he is that which is insufficient, that which must be mastered and transcended?...Is not the main point of the faith of both Testaments that man is what he ought to be only by conversion, that is, when he ceases to be what he is? Does not Christianity become meaningless when it is reinstated in the universal, whereas what we really want is the new, the other, the saving trans-formation?...A Christianity that is no more than a reflected universality may be innocuous, but is it not also superfluous? And, it might be noted in passing, it is simply not empirically true that Christians do not say anything in particular that can be opposed; that they say only what is universal. They say much that is particular. Otherwise, how could they be a ‘sign that is rejected’ (Lk 2:34)? (166).


He also offers terrific criticisms of ex...

More... http://www.modernreformation.org/catholicism.htm about 1/3 into the article...




[This message has been edited by Notafraid (edited 4/25/2005 11:24p).]
Notafraid
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Check out what he says about the times of the Reformation!

"For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form--the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. It is against this background of a profoundly shaken ecclesial consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the Church, ultimately came to experience the Church, not as the guarantor, but as the adversary of salvation."7



[This message has been edited by Notafraid (edited 4/25/2005 11:06p).]
Guadaloop474
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If PBXVI puts the hammer down on wayward Catholics, like those people who are active in "A Call To Action", then you can expect the Episcopal Church and the ELCA to grow, because that is the logical place for those people to go. The faithful Catholics, though, should become even more faithful.

This pope will drive the protestants crazy with his pronouncements on inside baseball Catholic theology, but he will delight evangelical protestants with his firm stances on nixing homosexual marriage, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research...Definitely a mixed bag for the protestant faithful, but a true Godsend for me!!

Texasag73
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S
I'm probably gonna get flamed for this, but many protestants are wondering if he is the Anti-christ, or if he is the false prophet discussed in Revelation.

Not only is he a respected leader raising up out of Europe/eastern Europe (where many theologians have predicted) but he has already made several statements about "uniting all faiths".
Alpha and Omega
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That's why it is so important to put one's views of eschatology into the right perspective. The Revelation was a revelation of events that took place in the 1st Century, not the 21st. Pope Benedict XVI is no more the anti-Christ than Mel Gibson. "Uniting all faiths" is an excellent goal but it ain't gonna happen. Besides the church of our Savior is already united through the mercy and grace of the Father. That is the work of the heavenly Father, not an earthly Father!
Patriarch
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AG
quote:
The very thing that will make Joseph Ratzinger give the liberals in his church a run for their money is the same thing that will cause him to look at evangelical Protestants with a jaundiced eye. And so, ironically, the agreement that I have with Benedict XVI is also the ground of our disagreement. Because he is not a relativist, and neither are classical Protestants, we both believe the other to represent a deficient form of the Christian faith. Because he is not a relativist, honest disagreement with him is possible. But arguing with a relativist is a waste of time; it would be better to save your breath for cooling your porridge.

By the way, our disagreement even extends down to his Roman numerals. Three of the Benedicts that preceded the present occupant of the Vatican were antipopes. One of them, Benedict X, for some reason still got his number to count. But there were two Benedicts XIII and two Benedicts XIV. This means, by a fair-minded Protestant reckoning, the current pope is actually Benedict XVIII. But in the spirit of ecumenicity, I will conform to popular usage.


--Doug Wilson
http://www.dougwils.com/
Proudest Grasshopper
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S
Revelation is mostly an account of a vision (given to John in the 1st century)fortelling events that will take place in the future.

Although, I'm not saying they will necessarily take place in the 21st century. But they are events that have not yet transpired.
Notafraid
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Please take the Revelation conversations elsewhere...
Redstone
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AG
Do some really believe that Benedict might be the Antichrist?

What denomination - ? I know the 7th Day Ad. and some Pentecostals have put out some weird stuff in recent years, after Hal Lindsey has (fortunately) faded from the scene...
jkag89
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Redstone- These folks certainly think so, but it appears from this distasteful little presentation they think the anti-Christ is not a particular pope but the papacy itself. http://www.iconbusters.com/iconbusters/docs/how/how.htm

Notafraid- sorry about contributing to the thread drift. I haven't read the whole linked article yet but I expect it to be an interesting read.
Notafraid
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Redstone,

Are you ever gonna answer my question?

Did you, or did you not accused me of purposely and knowingly misquoting Roman Doctrine?
Redstone
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AG
dp

[This message has been edited by Redstone (edited 4/26/2005 12:37p).]
Redstone
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AG
Here is what I wrote:
No.
YOU are the one who wrote:
"the medieval system known as the mass, where an unbloody sacrifice occurs that they claim is truly a propitiation? This mechanism, along with the other sacraments is where all justice ether occurs, or is increased. So, IF he believed that God only saved him through this mechanism, offered by the hands of men, that does not seem like the Christian faith we find in the scriptures."

Link and highlight from Trent, or some other (not obviously insane anti-Catholic) source. What you wrote is a total and complete misrepresentation, and I think you know this. But wouldn't it be useful to you and everyone else if you could back it up?

A belief only in salvation through a human mechanism by the "hands of men" alien to Scripture? You are well into Jack Chick territory here. You have ignored my VII challenge to link and highlight, and I expect the same here. Please challenge, thats part of what this board is for, but there are far better ways to go about it.

I stand behind every single word.
If you want to revisit this topic, why? There were no highlights from Trent, as I requested, to back up your characterization of the Mass (and the sacraments). Thats fine, but the issue should be closed.

Here is the link:
http://texags.com/main/forum.reply.asp?topic_id=431158&page=1&forum_id=15

I'm tired of this. I'm close to not responding to you directly. It's childish...
Redstone
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AG
89,

The revived Roman empire - - - I've seen some tv about that. Hopefully, the dispensatalist viewpoint will fade as the Left Behind stuff saturates the market and people get sick of it...but who knows I guess.
Notafraid
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Redstone,


You have avoided answering the specific question again.

Perhaps this will help… below is your exact quote. And you rightly state that you said this BEFORE I had shown you the specific links of Trent, but AFTER, I have informed you that the language had come directly from Trent. You were so sure that I was wrong, even purposely misleading (even though you had not gone and looked at the Eucharistic texts from Trent.), that you felt the need to accuse me of this:

quote:

What you wrote is a total and complete misrepresentation, and I think you know this.



So, do you agree that this was accusing me of purposely and knowingly misrepresenting Roman Catholic doctrine? All you have to do is say, Yes, or No. That has been my only simply question for about 5 posts now...

quote:

I'm tired of this. I'm close to not responding to you directly. It's childish...



You are tired of this? But we haven’t even really gotten started on anything… You won’t answer my first question, and I have about 5 or 6 more.

I am not trying to offend you. I am just taking you at your word by doing this… Didn’t you say?: “as I stated on other threads, if I ever "cross a line" by all means highlight and link, because I am open to it”, here:

http://texags.com/main/forum.reply.asp?topic_id=432631&forum_id=15&page=last

And didn’t you say this?:

“If I have ever crossed the line, as I have said on another thread, post the links, post the quotes. I'm open to apology, but I think you will be hard pressed to come up with something.”

http://texags.com/main/forum.reply.asp?topic_id=431158&page=1&forum_id=15


Why are you being so resistant now (even calling it childish) that I am getting at the very things that show what you did and did not do, and say?

It is interesting that even there you were again so sure of yourself that I would be hard pressed to find you ever doing anything wrong… You sound both open, and not open to an honest analisys at the same time…



[This message has been edited by Notafraid (edited 4/26/2005 1:46p).]
Sink Maggots
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1 John 2:22 -- This is the antichrist , the one who denies the Father and the Son.


That's the antichrist -- unbelievers. There are many -- not just one.

In this case I wouldn't call him an antichrist because obviously Benny believes in the Father and Son.

However, I will say I'd compare him to the man mentioned in II Thess. 2:3.
Notafraid
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Redstone,

Also, while you are at answering my other thing, why did you change the words of what I had said? You added the word “human” in there:

quote:

A belief only in salvation through a human mechanism by the "hands of men" alien to Scripture? You are well into Jack Chick territory here.



That changes the whole context of what I said… Did you do that purposefully so that you could name call with the “Jack Chick” stuff?


Notice, I am asking you rather than just being so sure or even making an accusation that you are a liar and a deceiver right off the bat, the way you accused me of being and doing with Roman Catholic doctrine? Isn't that more of a “spirit” open to the evidence, or the explanations of the writer? …Is that not key to a “productive spirit of discourse”…



[This message has been edited by Notafraid (edited 4/26/2005 1:51p).]
Redstone
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AG
My response is posted above, is in the thread I linked earlier, and is also here:
http://texags.com/main/forum.reply.asp?topic_id=432631&forum_id=15&page=last

There are the threads for people to see for themselves if they care to.

I am not going to respond any further. I very much dislike posting about "personal" internet conflicts - you are the first and I hope the last. Let's stick to discussion about religion and philosophy, which may only be possible from my perspective with other posters.

This is my last post on the subject. If you consider it too indirect or some sort of "avoidance" - then by all means take it as a personal victory instead.
Notafraid
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quote:

My response is posted above, is in the thread I linked earlier, and is also here:
http://texags.com/main/forum.reply.asp?topic_id=432631&forum_id=15&page=last



But that “response” as you called it was not an answer to the question!

quote:

There are the threads for people to see for themselves if they care to.



Is this all a stage for you to show “other people” things? I will do this in email with you, or over the phone if you would like, but I think since you drug me around in public for several days, that you should be held accountable for your own words in public.

quote:

I am not going to respond any further. I very much dislike posting about "personal" internet conflicts - you are the first and I hope the last. Let's stick to discussion about religion and philosophy, which may only be possible from my perspective with other posters.



Well, you only apparently dislike it when you begin to look bad, because you were fine posting the link over and over, trying to draw other people in continually, posting my words over and over again, dragging stuff across a couple of different threads. That seems a very hypocritical position for you to take at this point.

quote:

This is my last post on the subject. If you consider it too indirect or some sort of "avoidance" - then by all means take it as a personal victory instead.



You yourself requested on more than one occasion that I should post the links, and the text, and you’d be glad to look at any of your behavior and see if it was perhaps over the line, and you even stated that you’d certainly be willing to apologize if you had done anything wrong… When it is pointed out to you that, you out of nowhere pounced on me, called me a liar and a deceiver, actually said other derogatory names, took my sentences out of context, all the while sure that I was wrong. Are you now reneging on that?

If you don’t want to work through this then fine, but the Lord knows what you have done, and the spirit that you approached me (what I called unproductive, which was a nice word for it).

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