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There has been little change in the composition of the College of Cardinals lately, but then suddenly one change follows another. One day after the 80th birthday of Belgian Cardinal Danneels (more on that later), the Church mourns the passing of Stanisław Kazimierz Cardinal Nagy.
The half-Polish half-Hungarian theologian was born in 1921 in the southern Polish town of Bieruń Stary, which had been German until earlier that year.
In 1937, young Stanisław answered his religious calling and joined the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, better known as the Dehonians, named after their 19th-century founder, Fr. Léon Dehon. As a member, he was sent to study Catholic theology and philosophy at the renowned universities of Kraków and Lublin.
In 1945, Nagy was ordained as a priest of the Dehonian Congregation, and was appointed as seminary rector in Kraków and Tarnów. He continued his studies at Lublin and in 1952, Fr. Nagy received a promotion in moral theology. He remained at the university as a professor in the same subject.
Over the course of the years, Fr. Nagy’s theological career saw him as a member of the International Theological Commission, the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commission and the editorial staff of the Catholic Encyclopedia, all in the early 1970s.
He also authored several books on topics such as ecumenism and his countryman, Blessed Pope John Paul II. In recognition of his contributions to the field of theology, John Paul II chose to include Fr. Nagy in the College of Cardinals. He did so in the consistory of October 2003. Prior to this, Fr. Nagy was consecrated as Titular Archbishop of Hólar.
Cardinal Nagy, already 82 at the time of his creation, became cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria della Scala. He never participated in a conclave, due to his age.
With the passing of Cardinal Nagy, and the 80th birthday of Cardinal Danneels, there are now 203 cardinals in the Church, of whom 112 are electors.
Pope Francis’ recent homily about salvation, and even more so Father Thomas Rosica’s comments about it, has led to much speculation, confusion and even anger about one of the most essential questions in the faith: the question of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe it’s good to shine a small light on this difficult theological topic.
First of all, let’s start with the words that Pope Francis spoke in his homily of 22 May:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
The Church has always upheld the universality of redemption in contrast to some Protestant communities, who have limited it to a certain group of predestined faithful. A glance on the Catholic Encyclopedia page about this topic points our attention to some Scripture passages which bear this out. I’ll quote a few, but do read the link above especially the subsection titled ‘Universality of Redemption’, to get an idea of traditional Catholic teaching about this subject.
1 John 2:2: “He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.”
1 Timothy 2:4: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “he is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers.”
2 Corinthians 5:19: “I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, by which He brought about redemption for humanity, was not in any way limited. It’s target audience, so to speak, included every human being in past, present and future. But in order to properly understand this, we must try and understand how redemption works.
Perhaps it can be best likened, for the purpose of this blog post, to some form of medication, a pill perhaps, which works for everyone. It can relieve everyone of the pain of some illness. But it doesn’t do so automatically: we must take the pill for it to work. It is no different in the case of redemption. In order for it to work in us, we must make the conscious decision to accept it. That is once again perfectly in accordance with the free will that God has created us with and which He always respects.
So, yes, Pope Francis is correct and in full agreement with Catholic teaching when he says that Christ also redeemed atheists. However, as is sort of their job description, they haven’t accepted it yet. They haven’t yet taken their medication, so it can’t do its work. But unlike a pill, redemption has no sell-by date. It doesn’t go bad if left on the shelf for too long.
Father Thomas Rosica, who is not the press chief of the Vatican as some media would have it, offers some answers to questions about the Pope’s homily. He does not relegate all atheists to Hell (nor to Heaven, for that matter), but presents some much-needed nuance to the discussion, based on several passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most important is that Christ is the final Judge: He will decide on the fate of everyone, based on how they have lived (and in that matter there can be no opposition between faith and works, as both are integral parts of a person’s life).
Also important in the discussion above is Paragraph 171 of the Catechism, which asks “What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?”
This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.
In short, if a person knows that the Church that Christ founded is necessary for salvation, and nonetheless refuses to be part of her, he or she can not be saved. So, is this true for atheists, then? I would say that it isn’t for the vast majority of them. Many people are atheist or agnostic out of ignorance, and generally not wilfully so. They do not know the Church as necessary for salvation, so it can’t be held against them if they refuse to be part of her.
In his homily of last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke much about “good works”. This lines up well with the above quote from the Catechism: “those who … sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
There is much more that may be said about this, but the post is getting overly long anyway, so I’ll leave it at this. But I will add an addendum:
Fr. Rosica’s explanations (and those of others) do not contradict what Pope Francis has said, and nor do they indicate some division in the Vatican between the Pope and the Curia. That many media do choose to present it as such, should serve as a warning to us to always remain vigilant when reading or hearing someone’s interpretation of Church affairs and teaching.
In the run-up to tomorrow’s inauguration of King Willem Alexander there has been much attention paid to Catholic notions of kingship. While Christ is the one King, the Church also teaches much about the duties of earthly kings. Bishop Jos Punt’s homily is an excellent example of the latter. It also contains an interesting glimpse of the religious landscape of the Netherlands and the role of tolerance, as well as a theological explanation of the globus cruciger. Recommended reading (for Dutch readers, the original text).
A recording of the Mass, by Dutch public television, may be viewed here.
In closing, some words by Father Jim Schilder, priest of the basilica of St. Nicholas:
“Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. But is also two days before the inauguration of our Crown Prince. That is, you could say, a moment of renewal. A threshold to a new era, without breaking with the past. That is also what we see in this time of Easter. On the one hand it is a time of revolutionary renewal through the resurrection of Christ, and on the other hand a time of a new covenant rooted in the old. It is still about the way that God wants to travel with us, about his continuous invitation to follow Him. We can do this by answering the call of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This goes beyond the two commandments He gave before, and which were already present in the Old Testament: To love God, and your neighbour like yourself. In the Gospel of John He asks us to love each other as He has loved us. His love was characterised by the fact that His entire earthly life was devoted to the other. “I have come to serve.” May the same, we pray, also be true for our new head of state.”
Photo credit:  Isabel Nabuurs,  Fr. Jim Schilder.
His episcopal motto, taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, was “Christ is Yes”. Two days ago, Bishop Bernhard Rieger returned to that eternal positive confirmation, as he passed away in the quiet of the small town of Kressbronn on the shores of Lake Constance, south Germany, the place where he retired to in 1996.
Bernhard Rieger was born in 1922 in central Baden and reached adulthood as World War II broke out. This marked his late teens and early twenties, as he was drafted into the Labour Service, and later into the Wehrmacht. Until the end of the war, Rieger served as soldier and wireless operator on both the Eastern and the Western Fronts, and was taken prisoner of war by the Allies in France. There, he entered the so-called “barbed wire seminary” in Chartres. There he met the Nuncio to France, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, who would later become Pope John XXIII. Returning to Germany, Rieger studied theology in Tübingen and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951 by Bishop Carl Joseph Leiprecht of Rottenburg.
For most of his years as priest, Father Rieger worked as a parish priest throughout the Diocese of Rottenburg, and also as teacher of religion, advising the bishop on matters of education. In 1975, Fr. Rieger was appointed to the cathedral chapter and the priest council, and from 1977 onward, he held the title of Monsignor.
In 1984, Msgr. Rieger was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart (the diocese had had a change of name in 1978), with the titular see of Tigava. Within the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Rieger was a member of the media commission.
In 1996, Blessed Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation, and Bishop Rieger retired to the shores of Lake Constance.
Photo credit: Wolfgang Kirchherr
Following the example of many other leaders, Catholic and otherwise, the Dutch bishops also released a statement following Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would resign at the end of this month. Below follows the text in my translation.
Before this official statement, Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, shared his own thoughts about the news. He noted how the Holy Father clearly seemed very fatigued when he last met the Holy Father in September.
“Today we received the news about the resignation, at the end of this month, of Pope Benedict XVI. As for so many others, this news was a surprise to us.
The Holy Father announced that his resignation would take effect on Thursday 28 February at 8pm. His age and health are the decisive reasons for this radical and historical decision.
Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest theologians in the Catholic world of the second half of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. His knowledge is not only limited to dogmatics, which he taught in his younger years, but extends over the entire field of theology. This was also expressed in his encyclicals, other letters and addresses as contributions to the magisterium of the Church. He also showed himself a true shepherd of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, then, has played a role in the Roman Catholic Church which should not be underestimated. We are very grateful for his pontificate.
In his statement, Pope Benedict XVI also announced the conclave in which a new Pope will be elected. Cardinal Eijk will participate in this conclave.
At the age of 78, Cardinal Ratzinger heard the call of the Lord and accepted the highest office in the Church. Now, almost 8 years later, he decided to retire. We pray for Pope Benedict, that he may be richly “blessed” by God, also after his resignation.”
Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam also expressed his surprise at today’s news. He expressed the hope that the Pope would continue to travel with us in prayer, “in the pilgrimage that our life on earth most deeply is”. He asked all faithful in the diocese to pray for Pope Benedict and the Church.
Despite my impression that the length of Pope Benedict’s messages is getting shorter, his latest one, for the coming season of Lent, is still an elegant theological discourse on the two virtues of faith and charity.
Starting from a raft of Biblical quotations and references, the Holy Father demonstrates how these two are “intimately linked,” how the love of God is the source of our faith, and how our faith enables us to love God and the neighbour.
“Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.”
An excellent read, and a text we can all study and reflect upon as we enter Lent.
My Dutch translation is available here.
Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano
In an excellent CNS video, Father Wojciech Giertych explains why Catholic priests are men only, and also delves into the counter-cultural nature of Christ and the unique closeness to Him that women often achieve.
Fr. Giertych is the Theologian to the Papal Household and, as such, advises the Pope on theological issues and checks the theological clarity of papal publications.
As the rumours had it with an increasing level of certainty culminating in a confirmation, a new bishop for the Bavarian Diocese of Regensburg is announced today, five months after the previous ordinary, Gerhard Müller, was called to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The new bishop is Rudolf Voderholzer, a 53-year-old theologian who was a close collaborator of now-Archbishop Müller and can therefore be considered to belong to the ‘school of Ratzinger’.
Bishop-elect Voderholzer (pictured above with Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the pope’s brother) studied under Müller and worked as his assistant while the latter taught at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Since 2005 he taught Dogmatics and Dogmatic History in Trier and he has led the Benedict XVI Institute, established by Müller to collect and edit the writings of the pope, since 2008.
Bishop-elect Voderholzer was considered a likely successor to Müller, although nothing was certain in a Germany that had four vacant dioceses until Regensburg was filled today.
The 78th bishop of Regensburg was ordained to the priesthood in 1987 by Munich’s Cardinal Wetter. He worked as a parish priest until he earned in decree in Dogmatics under then-Professor Müller. Next to his academic career, he continued working in the parishes near Trier.
In the words of Fr. Wilhelm Gegenfurtner, who led the vacant diocese as Apostolic Administrator in the past five months:
“We are grateful for his Yes, by which he agreed to the decision of the Holy Father. The time of his consecration to bishop and the acceptance of his office will be announced in the coming days. But I already invite all the priests, deacons, members of religious orders and lay people, the ecclesial institutes and associations of the entire diocese to celebrate this festive day with us. The celebration of the bishop’s consecration will be a witness of th shared faith in Christ the Eternal High Priest, a confession of the unity of the diocese and a sign of the loyalty and unity with the new chief shepherd.”