On the Future of Christianity – Cardinal Ratzinger

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI

1October-2001 — ZENIT.org News Agency
“Above All, We Should Be Missionaries”
VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has a blunt message for Catholics today. “We cannot calmly accept the rest of humanity falling back again into paganism,” says the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in “God and the World,” the new book-interview he granted German journalist Peter Seewald. St. Paul´s in Italy recently published the book. Following are some of the book´s questions and answers that were highlighted by the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

• Q: Many years ago, you spoke in prophetic terms about the Church of the future. At the time you said, “it will be reduced in its dimensions, it will be necessary to start again. However, from this test a Church would emerge that will have been strengthened by the process of simplification it experienced, by its renewed capacity to look within itself.” What are the prospects that await us in Europe?

• Cardinal Ratzinger: To begin with, the Church “will be numerically reduced.” When I made this affirmation, I was overwhelmed with reproaches of pessimism.

And today, when all prohibitions seem obsolete, among them those that refer to what has been called pessimism and which, often, is nothing other than healthy realism, increasingly more [people] admit the decrease in the percentage of baptized Christians in today´s Europe: in a city like Magdeburg, Christians are only 8% of the total population, including all Christian denominations. Statistical data shows irrefutable tendencies. In this connection, in certain cultural areas, there is a reduction in the possibility of identification between people and Church. We must take note, with simplicity and realism. The mass Church may be something lovely, but it is not necessarily the Church´s only way of being. The Church of the first three centuries was small, without being, by this fact, a sectarian community. On the contrary, it was not closed in on itself, but felt a great responsibility in regard to the poor, the sick-in regard to all. There was room in its heart for all those nourished by a monotheist faith, in search of a promise. This awareness of not being a closed club, but of being open to the totality of the community, has always been a constant component of the Church. The process of numerical reduction, which we are experiencing today, will also have to be addressed precisely by exploring new ways of openness to the outside, of new ways of participation by those who are outside the community of believers. I have nothing against people who, though they never enter a church during the year, go to Christmas midnight Mass, or go on the occasion of some other celebration, because this is also a way of coming close to the light. Therefore, there must be different forms of involvement and participation.

• Q: However, can the Church really renounce its aspiration to be a Church of the majority?
• Cardinal Ratzinger: We must take note of the decrease in our lines but, likewise, we must continue to be an open Church. The Church cannot be a closed, self-sufficient group.

Above all, we should be missionaries, in the sense of proposing again to society those values that are the foundation of the constitutive form that society has given itself, and which are at the base of the possibility to build a really human social community. The Church will continue to propose the great universal human values. Because, if law no longer has common moral foundations, it collapses insofar as it is law. From this point of view, the Church has a universal responsibility. As the Pope says, missionary responsibility means, precisely, to really attempt a new evangelization. We cannot calmly accept the rest of humanity falling back again into paganism. We must find the way to take the Gospel, also, to nonbelievers. The Church must tap all her creativity so that the living force of the Gospel will not be extinguished.

• Q: What changes will the Church undergo?
• Cardinal Ratzinger: I think we will have to be very cautious when it comes to the risk of forecasts, because historical development has always produced many surprises. Futurology often crashes.

For example, no one risked forecasting the fall of the Communist regimes. World society will change profoundly, but we are still not in a position to predict what the numerical decrease of the Western world will imply, which is still dominant, what Europe´s new face will be like, given the migratory currents, what civilization, and what social forms will be imposed. What is clear, in any event, is the different composition of the potential on which the Western Church will be sustained. What is most important, in my opinion, is to look at the “essence,” to use an expression of Romano Guardini. It is necessary to avoid elaborating fantastic pre-constructions of something that could manifest itself very differently and that we cannot prefabricate in the meanderings of our brain, but to concentrate on the essential, which later might find new ways of incarnating itself. A process of simplification is important, which will enable us to distinguish between what is the master beam of our doctrine, of our faith, what is of perennial value in it. It is important to propose again the great underlying constants in their fundamental components, the questions on God, salvation, hope, life, especially what has a basic ethical value.

Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal

The biography of Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, begins, of course, with his birth in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927, Holy Saturday, and baptized the very same day, in the newly blessed Easter water. This special baptism was seen from the beginning of his life as a very special blessing of Divine Providence.

Though he and the Ratzinger family saw Naziism as the spirit of Anti-Christ, Joseph was forced into the German army near the end of World War II. He escaped, surrendered to the US forces, and spent a few months in a POW camp. Upon his release, he and his brother Georg entered the seminary and were ordained priests together on June 29, 1951. After receiving his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich in 1953, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger became a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn. When Vatican Council II began in 1962, Fr. Ratzinger, only 35 years old at the time, was named chief “peritus” or theological advisor to the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Cardinal Frings and accompanied him to all four sessions of the council, having input on the writing of several of the Council Documents. From 1969 until 1977 Fr. Ratzinger taught theology at the University of Regensburg and, from 1969 until 1980, he was a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. In 1972, together with French theologian Henri de Lubac and the Swiss priest Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ratzinger founded the theological journal Communion which now has editions in 14 countries. It is notable that the Polish edition of Communio was brought about by the archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla.

Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was ordained archbishop of Munich-Freising on May 28, 1977 and was created a cardinal priest by Pope Paul VI on June 27, 1977, his titular church in Rome being St. Mary of Consolation (in Tiburtina).

On April 5, 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger was transferred by Pope John Paul II to the order of cardinal bishops as titular bishop of the suburbicarian see of Velletri-Signi. In 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger became the Prefect (head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of protecting the sacred deposit of the faith handed on from the apostles. As such, he was Pope John Paul II’s chief assistant in the formulation of the Pope’s teaching and writing. There is perhaps no one who worked more closely with Pope John Paul II during the course of his pontificate. Cardinal Ratzinger would generally have lengthy private meetings with the Pope twice per week. Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger also served president of the Pontifical Biblical and Theological Commissions.

On November 6, 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Vice-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, he served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Council for Christian Unity, the Council for Culture, the Commission Ecclesia Dei, and the Commission for Latin America. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had a decisive role in the writing of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” signed in October 1999 by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation in Augsburg, Germany. The declaration, one of the most important ecumenical steps since Martin Luther’s split with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, took place thanks to the dialogue held in November 1998 between Cardinal Ratzinger and Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselman in Munich.

As he approached his mid-seventies, Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to retire several times, but Pope John Paul II would not accept his resignation.

It seems Pope John Paul II knew God had other plans for the German Cardinal. At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, only the second day of the conclave. This speedy election demonstrates a remarkable consensus on the part of the 115 Cardinals who elected him by a two-thirds majority. Their vote was for a defender of the truth, a man of prayer, a humble servant of the servants of God.


Besides his academic articles and official Church documents, the new Pope Benedict XVI provides us with a window into his mind and heart through several books, the Ratzinger Report (1996), The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), God and the World (2002) and Introduction to Christianity. Joseph Ratzinger is the oldest cardinal to be named pope since Clement XII, who was also 78 when he became pope in 1730. He is the first German pope since Victor II (1055-1057).