e-mail us


Ratzinger’s Iesus omits love, the poor


In Dominus Iesus, the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that proclaimed the Catholic church’s role in salvation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is not teaching the essence of Christianity. Without the essential, none of the arguments of the document can be sustained. Two items are most serious: He leaves aside the centrality of the law of love and he has no place for the decisive importance of the poor. In this document, both of these aspects are completely absent.

For Jesus, as we find in the entire New Testament, love is all (Matthew 22: 38-39), for God is love (1 John 4: 8, 16), and only love can save (Matthew 25: 34-47), a love that must be unconditional (Matthew 5: 44). None of this is found in the cardinal’s document. He only speaks of “revealed truths” and that theological faith means that one must adhere to these truths. Yet the cardinal knows well that faith alone cannot save.

As all of the councils have taught, the only faith that can save is faith that has been “informed by love.” Well-known is Blaise Pascal’s phrase, “Truth that is outside of charity is not God, it is only an image and idol that no one should love or adore.” This is a screaming absence in such a document as this one, something that can only be excused if the author were someone with no spiritual experience, one who does not know the God who is “a communion of divine persons,” who does not love God and neighbor, one who lazily adheres to written and abstract truths. The text reveals no sense of love of anyone; it only expresses a love for its own system. Without compassion, with no intent at comprehension, it damages and destroys the beliefs of others.

Worse yet is the fact that there is no mention of the poor. For Jesus and the New Testament, the poor are not just one theme among many. The poor are the starting point where one begins to understand the gospel as the good news of liberation. The poor stand as the final criteria of salvation or damnation.

It is useless to belong to the Roman Catholic church, to have all the means of salvation, to submit yourself heart and mind to the hierarchical system, to take unto yourself all revealed truths, unless you have love, for without love, you are nothing (1 Corinthians 15:2). If we have no love for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the refugee and the prisoner, no one -- not me or Ratzinger -- can hear the words of the Beatitudes, “Come to me, blessed of my Father, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25: 34), because “when you do this to one of these least ones, you did this to me” (Matthew 25: 45). The question of the poor is so essential to the tradition of Jesus that when Paul went to verify his doctrine before the apostles in Jerusalem, these demanded of him the care of the poor (Galatians 2:10).

The theological tradition of the church has always correctly argued that where Christ is, there too is the church. Christ is in the poor; thus the church must also be in the poor. Not only in the poor who happen to be good workers, but also purely and completely in those people who are simply poor. By being poor, they have less life and for this reason are the first recipients of this good news and the first who benefit from the liberating intervention of the God of life.

There is no resonance of this announcement of liberty and compassion to be found in this hopeless Vatican document. The question of the poor is fertile ground for opening a rich and open ecumenism, for discussions with all churches, religions, spiritual traditions and people of good will. The centrality of the message of Jesus is to be found in unconditional love and in the poor, and not in the ideological discussion put together in the cardinal’s document.

There is a form of the negation of the living God that only ecclesiastics can pull off -- by speaking of God, of God’s revelation and of God’s grace, but without showing any sort of compassion for the poor and the wretched. These are not speaking of the God of Jesus who did in fact hear the cry of the oppressed, and who came down to save them, but of an ecclesiastic fetish designed by human beings in their thirst for power. The image of God that emerges from this document is that of a funereal God who died long ago, but who left as a testament some choice phrases from the New Testament, which the Vatican hierarchy wishes to use to build an edifice that would offer salvation only for those who would enter it.

We are moving toward a single world society. This world society has the face of the Third World, because 4 billion people -- of a total of 6 billion, according to the data of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- live beneath the level of poverty. Who is to wipe the tears of these millions of victims? Who will hear the cry that rises up from this wounded earth, from the hungry and marginalized tribes of the earth?

This document has no ears for such tribulation. And the one who deafens himself before the cry of the oppressed can have nothing to say of God, nothing to say in the name of God. The Christianity presented by Ratzinger is not exportable: It is the expression of the darkest part of the West, which is increasingly becoming irrelevant to the rest of the world.

This document closes out the second millennia with a kind of Christianity that should not be prolonged out of respect for the mystery of God who reveals God’s self in history, out of love for Jesus Christ, whose meaning and message were meant for all and were never meant to diminish or exclude anyone, out of respect for the other Christian churches who keep alive the memory of Jesus, and out of respect for the other religions and spiritualities by means of which God has visited salvation and grace upon all human beings.

In the new millennia, there will come forth a new Catholic ecumenism like that being developed in the hierarchy by those who have been converted to the gospel idea of service and promotion of the faith, and in Catholic and Christian communities with an ecumenical spirit founded in the mystery of a living encounter with the spirit and with the resurrected one, at the service of men and women, beginning with the most poor and most miserable, in communion with and in dialogue with others who live out the spiritual dimension of human existence. It is the mission of each and every one of us to revive and promote the sacred call of the Divine and the Mystical that burns within each and every human heart as well as in the entire universe.

Without this sacred call, we will not save life, we will not be able to guarantee a hopeful future, neither for the human family nor for our common home, the Earth. Toward this end, all ecumenism is desirable, and all synergy indispensable. And Rome, one day post-Ratzinger locutum -- after Ratzinger has had his say -- will also have to put its shoulder to this messianic task.

Leonardo Boff, professor of ethics and the philosophy of religion at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, is a laicized Franciscan priest and the author of more than 40 books on liberation theology. This article, translated from Spanish by Fr. Michael Seifert of Brownsville, Texas, is an excerpt from a full statement that can be found online at http://www.uca.edu.ni/koinonia/relat/233e.htm

National Catholic Reporter, November 24, 2000