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The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt

September 23rd, 2011
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Here is a transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt. Following a brief video. The church you see at the beginning of the video is the church at the cloister, where Luther took his monastic vows. He was ordained a priest at the Erfurt cathedral (if I may correct the pope), the room you see toward the end of the video is the “chapter room,” where the monks would gather regularly to review their order’s rules and attend to matters concerning their life together. Say what you want about this Pope, but he knows and understands Luther’s theology much better than most of the so-called “Lutherans” in the mainline/liberal Lutheran churches today. What I’ve always appreciated about Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is that he has never compromised Rome’s doctrinal position, and has invited serious conversation and dialogue based on clear confession, something that can rarely be said about the leaders of any of the large liberal member churches of the Lutheran World Federation. Whenever an invitation for dialogue based on honest confession is offered, it is an important opportunity to bear witness to Christ and His Gospel.

 

September 23, 2011. (Romereports.com) (-ONLY VIDEO-) Behind closed doors the pope met with representatives of Germany’s Evangelical Church. In a powerful speech the pope spoke about Martin Luther, who led the Protestant Reform.  He encouraged the ecumenical dialogue to continue so both groups can strengthen their relationship even more.

Benedict XVI recalled the question once asked by Martin Luther, which gave rise to Lutheranism: “what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God.?” The pope went on to say,  that this question is still relevant. It’s a question, he said, that each person should ask themselves.

FULL SPEECH:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I begin to speak, I would like first of all to thank you for this opportunity to come together with you. I am particularly grateful to Pastor Schneider for greeting me and welcoming me into your midst with his kind words. At the same time I want to express my thanks for the particularly gracious gesture that our meeting can be held in this historic location.

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the Lutheran Church of Germany here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

The risk of losing this, sadly, is not unreal. I would like to make two points here. The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

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  1. September 23rd, 2011 at 08:36 | #1

    Thanks for sharing that!

    But the side step of “what divides us” begs the question even as the divider, that is, the papacy, was beneficently smiling into the face of the Lutherans. Who has the authority to institute and distribute grace but Christ? Who has the authority to withhold the cup of communion or to issue indulgences as a fund raiser? Desecration is the more deadly precursor of secularization. The ‘respect’ shown the ‘holy father’ and every avoidance of raising the issue of authority with this false authority strikes at the heart of the surety of faith Luther was seeking as well as the boldness and clarity of his actions and writing when the One in whom faith can be sure found the lost and wandering Luther in the Scripture. This nice talk of the anti-Christ merely proves that the anti-Christ loses his authority when the body of Christ himself is weakened as it appears to be in the world today. It’s the way of every parasite to desire a healthy body even as he himself is working to purloin its vitality.

    • September 23rd, 2011 at 08:43 | #2

      Joel, the thing I always appreciate about Pope Benedict XVI, and his former self, Cardinal Ratzinger, is that he is always quick to recognize and freely admit that the differences between us are serious and significant. He does not compromise his confession and does not demand we compromise ours. The liberal Lutherans who sold out the doctrine of justification are very well known to him. I do not think that we need always to react with the kind of vitriol that your comment exhibits. I think we only do a disservice to an opportunity to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel when we react in this way. I would advise we listen, respectfully, and take his offer for honest/open dialogue seriously.

  2. September 23rd, 2011 at 08:46 | #3

    “Say what you want about this Pope, but he knows and understands Luther’s theology much better than most of the so-called “Lutherans” in the mainline/liberal Lutheran churches today.”

    I have shouted from the tree tops and railed against the lack of catechesis of the children and laymen of the Lutheran Church! At the root of most the problems in our church is that Luther’s Small Catechism has been “lost”. This lack of a basic Lutheran education has led to this in today’s Lutheran Church:

    “The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian {read Lutheran} denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.”

    IXOYC

  3. John Maxfield
    September 23rd, 2011 at 11:58 | #4

    Thanks for posting this. Despite the fundamental questions of justification, authority, law and gospel, etc. that still divide true Lutherans from the church of the papacy, I am often amazed at how central for Pope Benedict is Luther’s concept of faith. A concept sadly neglected and often misunderstood not only among liberal “Lutherans” but I think also many confessional Lutherans.

  4. September 23rd, 2011 at 13:02 | #5

    Reading Ratzinger’s speech, my own catechesis jumped out at me more than once. Dang, he even knows the Lutheran Christological hermeneutic, “What presents Christ?” I am perpetually disappointed that he takes my confessions a whole lot more seriously than many of my fellow Lutherans do. I find that as much as I admire him for his faith, he also strengthens my (Lutheran) faith. May he have many more years.

  5. Diane Hammond
    September 23rd, 2011 at 14:45 | #6

    Thank you for posting this Rev. McCain. My husband and I were privileged to visit the monastery in Erfurt in May and had a worship service with other Lutherans in the chapel where we see Pope Benedict in the video. During our stay, a Vatican emissary was checking out the monastery for security reasons and such, so we were made aware of the upcoming visit in September.

  6. September 26th, 2011 at 06:27 | #7

    Hi Paul,

    I must confess some frustration with your response above! But maybe it’s just me. I don’t know if you played any football, but I got to play offensive line for four years (I guess it shows) in high school. And although I’ve never repeated what my high school coach said my senior year I’ll dare to tell you in this context, he said I was the best lineman he’d ever coached. Maybe I’m just a victim of line man mentality!

    As a lineman I learned very quickly I had a particular spot and assignment on the team. My job was never to look good, but to bash heads to clear the way for others. I quickly learned that many times in the game you are blamed for a bad outcome. The backs come back the huddle and scream, “Come on line, block!” Even after you’ve carried out the assignment as written. And when there comes a big score and success the only credit you get is when the prima donnas on the team want to show everyone how gracious they are to complement the dumb, lowly linemen. I guess I’m still a line man. It’s not my job to tell the ball carriers what to do, I merely do my assignment by the play book.

    On the team of Christianity we are pleased to have a player-coach who designed the plays assigns the parts and will judge performance of every position. He’s even better than Johnny Unitas, who I believe player-coached for the Baltimore Colts back when. So far as the Pope is concerned my play book says, “Mark and avoid,” because of his false doctrine and rebuke what is wrong. Now you certainly can blame me if you want for peoples’ not listening to the Gospel, but I’m just following the play book. When the coach watches the game tapes, I don’t think he’ll blame me for being in the dog fight. He will also look at the game tapes of what you are doing. I would pray in this game, that Jesus would Unitas. If you think that innovation and breaking off the game plan he’s written up is prudent, well I guess there’s nothing I can do about that. But I’ll follow the playbook and trust it. I’m just a dumb line man. I want to know nothing but Christ.

  7. Aaron Christie
    September 28th, 2011 at 22:08 | #8

    I appreciate Ratzinger’s clarity and understanding of Luther’s hermeneutic. He’s an impeccable scholar. Sadly, however, he can only deal with the positiva – what we have in common. He cannot and dare not wade into the negativa – what confessional Lutherans are against. Otherwise, he must soon begin conceding that the Mass is a dragon’s tail, he is the current holder of the office of the Anti-Christ, and that Luther ought to be canonized immediately for bringing Justification by grace through faith to light once again.

    Secondly, Benedict’s clarity is not consistent with his practice. If Luther was so right with his Christo-centric hermeneutic, then he ought to lift Luther’s excommunication asap! Now THAT would be a leap forward in ecumenical relations. No pope will ever do this, however. Why? Sasse was right: post papal infallibility, the papacy is irreformable.

    This topic is dear to me because my father’s side of the family is entirely Catholic. That’s why I’m eagerly waiting for a pope (and I’ve been watching!) to preach the free, unmerited forgiveness of sins. When he finally does, the pope will become a true bishop of souls. Until then, the pope has good clarity – but not much verity.

    Just a few late night thoughts from WELS World

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