On the Medicine for Sinners, the Conflicting Prescriptions of Ratzinger and Bergoglio - Tidningen Kulturen

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Given the instructions of the bishops of the region of Buenos Aires - approved in writing by Pope Francis - of the bishops of Malta, of still other bishops and most recently by the episcopal conference of Germany, it is evident by now that the main argument that the innovators are enlisting to justify communion for the divorced and remarried is the one that is hinted at in this evocative phrase from “Amoris Laetitia,” borrowed in turn from “Evangelii Gaudium,”

"Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. […] The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

” the agenda-setting document of the current pontificate: "The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

This is a statement that is frequently associated - including in the preaching of Jorge Mario Bergoglio - with the meals that Jesus consumed with sinners.

But it is also a statement that has been laid bare and criticized at its core by Benedict XVI.

It is enough to compare the texts of one and the other pope in order to verify how much they are in conflict with each other.

In Pope Francis, the association between the Eucharist and Jesus’ meals with sinners is postulated in allusive form and with the calculated use of assistance from footnotes.

In “Amoris Laetitia,” the key passage is in paragraph 305:

"Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end."

To which is attached footnote 351:

"In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, 'I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy' (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak' ( ibid., 47: 1039)."

If one then goes back to “Evangelii Gaudium,” here is what it states in paragraph 47:

"Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. […] The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

Here as well with a reference to a footnote, number 51:

"Cf. Saint Ambrose, De Sacramentis, IV, 6, 28: PL 16, 464: 'I must receive it always, so that it may always forgive my sins. If I sin continually, I must always have a remedy'; ID., op. cit., IV, 5, 24: PL 16, 463: 'Those who ate manna died; those who eat this body will obtain the forgiveness of their sins'; Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Joh. Evang., IV, 2: PG 73, 584-585: 'I examined myself and I found myself unworthy. To those who speak thus I say: when will you be worthy? When at last you present yourself before Christ? And if your sins prevent you from drawing nigh, and you never cease to fall – for, as the Psalm says: what man knows his faults? – will you remain without partaking of the sanctification that gives life for eternity?'"

In Joseph Ratzinger as theologian and pope, instead, we find ourselves in the presence of a straightforward argumentation, aimed at proving the untenability of the association between the Eucharist and Jesus’ meals with sinners, with the results that follow from this.

Here is how he develops this argumentation on pages 422-424 of volume XI of his Opera Omnia, “Theology of the Liturgy,” published in 2008 and edited by the current prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller:

“The idea according to which the apostolic Eucharist is connected to the convivial everyday community of Jesus with his disciples [. . . ] is widely radicalized in the sense that [. . .] the Eucharist is made out to originate more or less exclusively in the meals that Jesus consumed with sinners.

“In such positions, Jesus’ intention for the Eucharist is made to coincide with a rigidly Lutheran doctrine of justification, as the doctrine of grace granted to the sinner. If in the end meals with sinners are admitted as the only sure element of the tradition of the historical Jesus, the result is a reduction of all Christology and theology to this point.

“But what follows from that is an idea of the Eucharist that no longer has anything in common with the tradition of the primitive Church. While Paul refers to receiving the Eucharist in a state of sin as eating and drinking ‘one’s own condemnation’ (cf. 1 Cor 11:29) and protects the Eucharist from abuse with an anathema (cf. 1 Cor 16:22), here it even appears as the essence of the Eucharist that it should be offered to all without any distinction or preliminary condition. It is interpreted as the sign of the unconditional grace of God, which as such is immediately offered even to sinners, and in fact even to nonbelievers, a position that in any case has very little in common even with the conception that Luther had of the Eucharist.

“The conflict with the entire New Testament tradition of the Eucharist into which the radicalized idea falls refutes its point of departure: the Christian Eucharist was not understood on the basis of the meals that Jesus had with sinners. [. . .] One piece of evidence against the derivation of the Eucharist from the meals with sinners is its closed character, which in this follows the Passover ritual: just as the Passover supper was celebrated in the rigorously circumscribed domestic community, so also there existed for the Eucharist, from the very beginning, conditions of access that were well established; it was celebrated right from the beginning in the domestic community of Jesus Christ, so to speak, and in this way it built up the ‘Church’“

It is evident that Ratzinger’s argumentation supports the ban on communion for the divorced and remarried, and not only for them: a ban that found clear expression in his magisterium as pope, as before in the magisterium of his predecessors.

As it is also not surprising that the allusive statements of Pope Francis support interpretations in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried: interpretations that he himself has not only permitted, but explicitly approved.

The conflict is there. And to judge from Ratzinger’s arguments it is not only practical, “pastoral,” but touches on the pillars of the Christian faith.


Sandro Magister



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