Pope Benedict’s Dramatic Telegram to a Dubia Cardinal
cardinal joachim meisner’s funeral was celebrated today. Cardinal Meisner was one of the four Cardinals to submit a dubia to Pope Francis asking the pope to clarify several ambiguities raised by Amoris Laetitia.
A message from Pope Francis was read out by Archbishop Nikola Eterović, Apostolic Nuncio to Germany. To the surprise of those present, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, and Personal Secretary to Benedict XVI, read out a message by the Pope Emeritus.
The message from Pope Benedict was greeted with a standing ovation, I am told.
Here is what Pope Benedict wrote:
What particularly impressed me in that last talk with the retired Cardinal, was the loosened happiness, the inner joy, and the confidence that he had found. We know that it was difficult for him, this passionate shepherd and pastor, to leave his office, especially in a time in which the Church especially needs convincing shepherds who resist the dictatorship of the Zeitgeist and quite decisively from the Faith live and think. But what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he had learned to let go and lived ever more out of the deep certainty that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when sometimes the boat is filled almost to capsizing.
Two things recently certainly made him always more happy:
On the one hand, he has always told me how deeply he in the Sacrament of Penance, how young people, especially young men, are experiencing the grace of forgiveness – the Gift, they have indeed found the life that only God can give them.
The other, that always touched him and gave him joy, was the quiet growth of Eucharistic Adoration. At the World Youth Day in Cologne this was a central point for him – that there was Adoration, a silence, in which only the Lord spoke to the heart. Some Pastoral and Liturgical experts were of the opinion that such silence in looking at the Lord can not be achieved with such a huge number of people. Some were also of the opinion that Eucharistic Adoration was overtaken as such, by the Mass, since the Lord would want to be received in the Eucharistic bread and not be looked at. But that this Bread can not be eaten like any food, and that the Eucharistic sacrament “welcomes” all dimensions of our existence – that reception must be worship, has now become very clear again. Thus, the time of Eucharistic Adoration at the Cologne World Youth Day has become an interior event, which remained unforgettable not only to the cardinal. This moment since then was always inwardly present to him and a great light for him.
When, on his last morning, Cardinal Meisner did not appear at Mass, he was found dead in his room. His Breviary had slipped out of his hands: he had died praying, in the sight of the Lord, talking to the Lord. The kind of death that was given to him, shows once again how he lived: in the sight of the Lord and in conversation with him. So we can confidently recommend his soul to the goodness of God. Lord, we thank you for the testimony of your servant Joachim. Let him now be an intercessor for the Church of Cologne, and on the whole earth! Requiescat in pace!
Now, here is what is significant, I believe:
1) Pope Benedict must know that Cardinal Meisner was one of the dubia cardinals.
2) Pope Benedict describes Cardinal Meisner as “this passionate shepherd and pastor” — many of the progressive interpreters of AL have falsely charged the dubia cardinals of being somehow lacking in compassion or being bad pastors and shepherds for holding to the Church’s perennial teaching.
3) (...)as Pope Benedict says, something has been upsetting Cardinal Meisner, namely the “dictatorship of the Zeitgeist” (“spirit of the age”) which in Pope Benedict’s opinion, produces a) unconvincing shepherds, who b) go along with the spirit of the age and c) do not live and think “decisively” from a place of “faith“.
… So if Cardinal Meisner was not such a person, but instead was someone who valiantly opposed the spirit of the age, and the Cardinal was known by Pope Benedict to have doubts about the majority interpretation of AL, doesn’t this present the conclusion that Pope Benedict shares Cardinal Meisner’s view?
4) The progressive interpreters of AL have been careful to constantly claim that their interpretation of AL is being placidly received by the pastors and people of God around the world. Those who disagree have pointed to the dubia and contradicting promulgations of AL diocese-by-diocese and parish-by-parish. Moreover, many people feel (as I do) that the Church is in fact at a very serious point of doctrinal and historical crisis precisely because of AL and Pope Francis’ refusal to answer the dubia submitted by Cardinal Meisner. And here, Pope Benedict paints a very shockingly serious picture of the current state of the Church: “in this last period of his life, [Cardinal Meisner] had learned to let go and lived ever more out of the deep certainty that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when sometimes the boat is filled almost to capsizing.”
… this biblical analogy is not a happy picture! Nor is “dictatorship” a word someone who survived the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin would use lightly. Finally, Pope Benedict is not a man prone to exaggeration or hyperbole! Pope Benedict is painting a picture that, in fact, all is not well, and that Cardinal Meisner’s great faith allowed him to trust in God to protect His Church even when things look like they are almost the end.
But of course, couldn’t Pope Benedict be more generally referring to all the troubles of the Church and the world? For some clarity, we need to understand what Pope Benedict means by the “dictatorship of the zeitgeist.”
What does Pope Benedict mean by Zeitgeist?
Pope Benedict’s most famous phrase of his theological life was the term “dictatorship of relativism” by which he means, “the falsehood, asserted with power, that says truth cannot be known”. It is one of the biggest post-modern fallacies. But the “dictatorship of the zeitgeist” is something slightly different, and even more pernicious: it is the effort to use the pressures of the progressive, secular establishment to force the Church to abandon the truth.
John Allen in his biography of Pope Benedict (page 267) describes how Cardinal Ratzinger believes progressive theologians such as Charlie Curran and Hans Kung are guilty of being agents of the zeitgeist:
Even more pointedly (Allen, page 262) :
Therefore, when Pope Benedict says zeitgeist, he means something specific: the spirit of the age which attempts to change the Church’s teaching so that it mimics the shape of secular culture and loses its distinctive qualities, which are always traceable back to the biblical teaching of Christ and revelation itself.
On the question of AL and its interpretation, it is simply a given fact that the progressive view has far more in common with the zeitgeist of the age than does the historical, perennial teaching. It is unquestionable that a church which allows more publicly divorced-and-remarried people to receive Communion is a church that looks less like the historical Catholic church and more like progressive, lower-c christian churches and … most notably, looks more like the German Catholic church.
Remember that the progressive interpretation of AL has its origin in the intervention of German Cardinal Water Kasper and the lobby of the German cardinals, and recall that the German church had already been practicing the progressive interpretation of AL even before AL was written! Pope Benedict is acutely aware of the situation of the church in Germany, and is conscientiously writing about how Cardinal Meisner stands out in contrast to its zeitgeist and Pope Benedict ends by thanking God not only for the Cardinal’s witness but for his “testimony” as well.(Meisner’s last testimony was the dubia.)
Cardinal Meisner, in Pope Benedict’s view, was a German shepherd who resisted the predominant dictatorship of the zeitgeist in his country AND WE KNOW that Cardinal Meisner’s last days –literally his most famous and last major public act– was to submit a dubia to Pope Francis related to AL and to stand by it until his dying day, opposing the zeitgeist of the German church and the wider forces of this age.