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by Ulrich H J Kortner
Sunday, Jun. 10, 2007 at 9:12 AM
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) sought to introduce Christianity into Christendom when the state religion had become confortable and indistinguishable from the world. Kierkegaard like Boff calls us to authenticity in a world of reversible cups and self-righteousness.
CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT CHRIST
Boff against Ratzinger
On the Controversy between Benedict XVI and Liberation Theology
By Ulrich H. J. Kortner
[This article published May 20, 2007 on derStandard.at is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://derstandard.at/druck/?id=2887719.]
Leonardo Boff, prominent representative of Latin American liberation theology, sharply criticized pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of his Brazil trip [“A Missionary of Ignorance,” derStandard 5/18/2007]. Boff condemns his negative attitude toward liberation theology and Catholicism with an indigenous-black-Latin American face as an expression of theological, historical and political ignorance.
Obviously impressed by the growth of charismatic churches in Brazil and worldwide, Boff’s criticism culminates in the reproach Benedict XVI propagates a theology without spirit. Boff hears a fundamentalist tone when the pope emphasizes Jesus Christ’s absolutely central place even in social affairs. The “christomonism” of the pope only causes problems in the dialogue between the religions and led to a kind of dictatorship of Christ in the church as though the Holy Spirit were not the source of truth, justice and love.
The current conflict between Boff and Benedict XVI, formerly cardinal Ratzinger, has a long history. As prefect of the Congregation of Faith, the present pope imposed a teaching prohibition on Boff. The “Boff case” was an exemplary reckoning of the Vatican with liberation theology altogether.
The Vatican recently condemned liberation theologian Jon Sobrino on account of allegedly heretical views on questions of Christology. He was reprimanded for devaluing Christ’s divinity in his writings about the “liberating Jesus.” Sobrino’s condemnation rightly triggered a storm of indignation worldwide and a wave of solidarity among theologians.
Benedict XVI’s understanding of Christ’s divinity can be read in his bestseller “Jesus of Nazareth.” The author says this book is only an expression of his personal search “for the face of the Lord” and not a text with doctrinal authority. Everyone is free to contradict him. Some reviewers obviously regard this as a sensation.
That Ratzinger published the work under his double name “Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI” puts the spotlight on the modesty of the author. That the pope, not simply Mr. Ratzinger, draws his picture of Jesus gives the book an authority that catholic theologians can hardly ignore in their future exegetical and dogmatic work.
CONFESSION OF JESUS
Ratzinger’s restorative views of the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church, jointly responsible for the present stagnation in the ecumene, are rightly criticized by Boff and many other theologians. Nonetheless Ratzinger alias Benedict XVI cannot simply be written off completely as a fundamentalist and political reactionary. His Jesus book is very readable. Concerning the dialogue of the religions and the situation of Christendom, this pope and his uncomfortable message deserve a wide hearing – even among non-catholic.
The problem of the churches today is no longer a christomonism without spirit as Boff says but a Christianity without Christ. The spirit disappears into a diffuse spirituality. In contrast, the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is described as the spirit of Christ. This is a criterion for testing the spirits on the market of religious possibilities.
Christianity is distinguished from all other forms of religion by the confession of Jesus Christ as the bringer of salvation. Christians who believed and believe in him are called bringers of salvation.
This confession includes faith in the God proclaimed by Jesus who is Israel’s God. Not a vague spirituality or openness to God but confession to Christ is the crucial “marker” in which the label “Christianity” is known on the market of religious possibilities and impossibilities. From here, the identity of faith and church can be defined.
This also requires honesty on the part of the churches about their situation without glossing over reality. Thrown back to the beginnings of understanding, what does Christ mean for this world? What does it mean to be a Christian?
[Translator’s note: Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), author of 25 books, insisted faith in the God of infinite love involved scandal, paradox, sacrifice and engagement. He sought to introduce Christianity into Christendom when the state religion (in Denmark) had become comfortable and indistinguishable from the ways of the world. Kierkegaard like Boff calls us to authenticity in a world of reversible cups and instrumental reason, a world of half-truths and fish stories, a world of self-righteousness and self-destruction brought to us by a rainbow/gutter press. Encouraging one another means putting courage in one another as solidarity means supporting and nurturing the authenticity of diversity. Another world is possible, a world where many worlds fit and everyone has a place.]
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