New book compiles Ratzinger’s contributions to the Synod of Bishops

More than 30 years of “interventions” shed light on “the maturation of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council,” editor says.

Joseph Ratzinger Benedetto XVI e il Sinodo dei Vescovi, edited by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, is a new book that was officially released on Tuesday, April 29 at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome.

The volume brings together for the first time all the “interventions” of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, at the various gatherings of the Synod of Bishops. Thus we have the opportunity to retrace his activities at the 20 synodal assemblies in which he took part, from 1977—when, in his capacity as archbishop of Munich and Freising, he spoke at the Fourth Assembly on the theme “The catechesis of our time”—to 2012, when, as Pontiff, he spoke on the theme “The New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian Faith.”

Attending the book’s official release were Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Scientific Committee of the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and editor of the Opera Omnia of Joseph Ratzinger, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana LEV), and historian Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio.

Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI attended 10 Ordinary General Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, nine Special Assemblies, and one Extraordinary Assembly. As Pope he presided over five synods: three Ordinary General Assemblies (2005, 2008, and 2012) and two Special Assemblies (in 2009, for Africa, and for the Middle East in 2010). His contributions during the Synods of Bishops as well as the pronouncements issuing from those gatherings enable the reader, as the Pope Emeritus himself stated in a letter to the Archbishop Eterovic, “to see the path of the Synods in the past 35 years, and the collaboration of the Bishops and the Pope, as well as the maturation of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, as reflected in the synods.”

“The idea [for the book] was born during the pontificate of Benedict XVI,” Archbishop Eterovic told Vatican Radio on April 30. “Doing some studies, in fact, I have seen the great wealth of the interventions of Cardinal Ratzinger during the Synod of Bishops. I thought it would be useful to publish all of his speeches together, even to see his theological thought. It’s interesting, because Pope Benedict XVI has resumed and enriched many of the themes developed in the assemblies of the synod as Pontiff. So you can get an idea of the whole of his thought, which, we might say, is always an expression of his love for the Church and service to ecclesial communion.”

As noted by the cardinal-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, at the presentation of the book, the teaching of Benedict XVI is “a precious heritage for the Church, a doctrinal richness that deserves to be discovered every time with depth and love for the truth.”

In his speech for the book’s release, published in L’Osservatore Romano on April 30, Müller also points out that the Church should be conceived as hierarchica communion, that is, informed by a communal vision to which the Synod of Bishops is in service. Precisely due to the fact that it is called to manifest ever more “the spirit of communion that unites the bishops with the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops among them,” the Synod of Bishops does not replace either the pope or the bishops.   

Rather, the synod has a function that aims not so much to intervene between the pope and bishops, but to bring them closer and to foster more directly their unity, according to Müller.

In this sense, it is understandable that the synod has essentially a consultative function, in the broader context of the unity of faith and the ecclesial communion of the Church, to whose protection and service the ministry of the Successor of Peter is ordered. This aspect is evident particularly in respect to the synod; it “is an event which makes it particularly clear that the Successor of Peter, in the fulfilment of his office, is always joined in communion with the other bishops and with the whole Church” (Pastores Gregis, No 58).

This fact also helps us to understand, Cardinal Müller goes on, why the Synod of Bishops cannot be assimilated to a “permanent council” or replace the ecumenical council. The synod, by its nature, cannot become a permanent body of government of the Church, governed by principles similar to those that regulate many democracies or political institutions.

As evidence of this, Müller notes that it is not majority, but consensus tending to unanimity, that is in the Church the fundamental criterion by which decisions are made, both in the synod and for every other prominent ecclesial assembly. Unanimity is in fact the ecclesial criterion of an assessment, carried out in the light of faith, as well as warranty and seal of the Spirit, “the soul of the one Church of Christ” (Pastores Gregis No 58), of the goodness and truth of the Church’s decisions. Without action and guidance of the Spirit, Müller claims, it would not be possible to access the Truth, to which the Holy Spirit has always fulfilled an objectifying function in view of a faithful, albeit creative, continuity in the Tradition of the Church. Otherwise, no truth and faith, but politics and lobbyists, would dominate the genesis of ecclesiastical decisions and, consequently, the experience of the Church as a whole would be marred. 

Cardinal Camillo Ruini was among the keynote speakers at the presentation of the new book. “The texts, which are contained in the book, are placed in very different historical contexts—from 1980 until 2012—and shows how [Ratzinger] is very capable of reacting to the historical context, to interpret it theologically, spiritually, also to promote the unity of the Church and the bishops with the Pope,” Cardinal Ruini told Vatican Radio.

The fourth speaker, Professor Andrea Riccardi, is a lay historian and founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio. He gave a historical slant to his presentation, by stressing “the value of preserving the memory of such important documents as the synod activity of the Church.” “The synod history of Pope Benedict XVI is a very important story in the evolution of a reality, of a fundamental institution in a global Church, subjected to conflicting tensions,” Riccardi argued. “I believe that in a Church that needs unity, but is also facing the risk of fragmentation, this synod is a providential institution.”

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About Alberto Carosa 42 Articles
Alberto Carosa is a Catholic journalist who writes from Rome, especially for US Catholic newspapers and periodicals.