Those who know Ratzingerian thinking couldn't help but wonder if, were he not Pope, the Boss would've been out there as one of the lantern-swinging faithful. Benedict XVI has long maintained a great affinity for Luther; here's a relevant snip from the John Allen archives:
[F]ew figures have exercised greater influence on him than Luther. In a 1966 commentary on Vatican II’s “The Church in the Modern World,” Ratzinger said that the document leaned too heavily on Teilhard de Chardin and not enough on Luther - a remarkable comment in an era with no offical Lutheran-Catholic contact, when many Catholics still branded Luther a heretic.
“Ratzinger has been involved in dialogue with Lutherans from way back,” said Br. Jeffrey Gros, ecumenical affairs specialist for the U.S. bishops. “In the 1980s he was even interested in declaring the Augsburg Confession [the first Lutheran declaration of faith] a Catholic document. To think that he wanted to torpedo this [agreement] is a total misread.”
On July 14, 1998, Ratzinger fired off a letter to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine calling such reports a “smooth lie.” Protesting that he had sought closer relations with Lutherans since his days as a seminarian, he said that to scuttle the dialogue would be to “deny myself.”
On Nov. 3, 1998, a special ad hoc working group met at the home of Ratzinger’s brother Georg in Regensburg, Bavaria, to get the [Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on justification] back on track. Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselmann convened the group, which consisted of him, Ratzinger, Catholic theologian Heinz Schuette and Lutheran theologian Joachim Track.
By all accounts, Ratzinger played the key role. “He was very positive, very helpful,” Track said when he spoke to NCR by telephone. Track said Ratzinger made three concessions that salvaged the agreement.
First, he agreed that the goal of the ecumenical process is unity in diversity, not structural reintegration. “This was important to many Lutherans in Germany, who worried that the final aim of all this was coming back to Rome,” Track said. Second, Ratzinger fully acknowledged the authority of the Lutheran World Federation to reach agreement with the Vatican. Finally, Ratzinger agreed that while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God’s gracious acts.
Anderson said Lutherans are grateful for Ratzinger’s help. The two churches still have much ground to cover, however, before reaching full communion.
“Since the Reformation, we’ve had separate histories. The declaration of papal infallibility on the Catholic side, and the ordination of women on ours, are two obvious examples,” Anderson said.
Still, observers say the event in Augsburg will mark a true breakthrough. “This is the first time the Catholic church has ever entered into a joint declaration with any of the churches of the West,” Gros said. “We’ve never tackled a theological issue like this that was so church-dividing. In that sense, we’re looking at a major achievement.”
PHOTO: AP/Jens Meyer