Danger and salvation – At Bishop Bentz’s ordination, Cardinal Lehmann about the office of bishop

udo bentz ordinationIn his homily at the ordination of Bishop Udo Bentz as auxiliary bishop of Mainz, last Sunday, Cardinal Karl Lehmann drew heavily on St. Augustine, and especially on his thoughts on the office of bishop, and the dangers of it. The cardinal wants to emphasise the fact that a bishop always remains a part of the faithful, with whom he  shares a common Christianity.

There is also a personal element in the homily, towards the end, as Cardinal Lehmann reflects on his many years as bishop of Mainz and the people he shared that time with. It is hard not to read this in the light of his upcoming retirement. Aged 79, it is a safe bet that Cardinal Lehmann will retire between now and his 80th birthday, on 16 May next year. He has been the bishop of Mainz since 1983, and as such he is the longest-serving German bishop, and one who is still the ordinary of the diocese he was ordained for.

Here is the cardinal’s homily in my translation:

lehmann“Honourable sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Dear brother Dr. Udo M. Bentz, about to be ordained as bishop!
Dear co-consecrators Karl-Josef Cardinal Rauber and Archbishop Stephan Burger!
Dear brothers in the office of deacon, priest and bishop!

What is a bishop? Why and how do we have such an office in the Church? An initial answer can already be found in the word for this service. “Episcopus“, from which the word bishop comes, is one who “oversees”, and a “guardian”, a “supervisor”. From the Bible, the word also derives from “shepherd”. Incidentally, the liturgy of ordination, the act of ordination, with its ancient signs and gestures, words and hymns, so eloquent and filled with meaning, that any preaching can be but a small introduction to these events. I will mention but one especially impressive image: during the entire prayer of ordination two priests hold the Gospel book above the head of the ordained. The bishop should be completely under the Gospel and serve Him.

Today I choose another path and will discuss some words from Saint Augustine. As is well known, as bishop of Hippo on northern Africa, he would always speak about the office of bishop on the day of his ordination. He would certainly also have done so at bishops’ ordinations in the African Church province. Sita, the titular see of Udo Bentz, in north Africa, belonged to it. One can already learn much from these homilies.  I want to try and do so with you.

For that purpose I have chosen a text from the homilies, which is incidentally also quoted in the great text about the Church from the Second Vatican Council (LG 32): “What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation” (Serm. 340, 1: PL 38, 1483).

During the Second Vatican Council this text was cited as an important point in relation to the statements concerning the laity. That may surprise, since there is a separate chapter on bishops. Here in relation to the laity, they and the holders of offices become in a very fundamental way like brothers, yes, like a family of God, through which the new commandment of love in realised. At many points, especially in the second chapter of the Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council strongly emphasised this fundamental commonality. That is why it is a very fundamental decision of the Council to concentrate the understanding of the People of God on the commonality of all believers, and not in advance on any distinction between the various charisms, services and offices. A “true equality” can then be established in building up the Body of Christ and in the call to holiness. As LG 32 puts it: “And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need. Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teacher” (Constitution on the Church “Lumen gentium”, Chapter 4, par. 32). It is understandable that these words from Saint Augustine have often been repeated very often in recent years and decades, together with the remarks from the Constitution on the Church about the laity.

Certainly, one should not take this text as noncommittal expression of a mere personal modesty. This is about a true theology of office and at the same time about the unity of Christianity in the variety of tasks.

“For you I am a bishop…” Augustine does not see the office as contained in itself, in its value and power. Her understands it entirely in relation to the task entrusted to him. The office of bishop is entirely a service to the sisters and brothers in the faith. Augustine also says this in another way, that  the guidance and leadership are only fulfilled in the fruitfulness and “usefulness” of his service to the people.

As we know, Augustine considered the task of being bishop a burden on his shoulder and which often also depressed him. From that comes the anxiety and doubt if he really did justice to his task, especially in the eyes of others, and fulfilled it adequately before God. This is in sharp contrast to many homilies at a first Mass or anniversary of a bishop, even in our time. For Augustine wonder if this high office, which certainly demands much of him, is not a great danger to himself. We often think differently and often believe that a high official is already closer to God because of his position, and has so many merits that God will automatically save him and give him eternal life. For Augustine, the office is no relief, but a danger to his salvation, as becomes very clear in the sermon quoted at the beginning. In the Middle Ages they thought similarly. One need only think of Dante.

What comforts the bishop of Hippo in the face of this danger, is the shared Christianity with all sisters and brothers. Here the bishop is part of “normal” Christian life. There each is first responsible for himself when this can also be freely extended to others. So Augustine can say, in short, “Learning is dangerous, but students are safe”. He who stands “above” others, must be judged and addressed according to the measure of his task. The terror of this diminishes when one completely becomes a part of the flock of believers. This unity is even more important than the office alone.

Many burdens of office become light when one is quite humble in relations with the normal and simple People of God. I personally often like to speak in this regard of belonging to the “foot soldiers” of God. It then also becomes visible what has been given and asked of others and does not overestimate oneself. This unity in Christianity with many other makes more modest and humble. It is in any case contrary to all overconfidence of office.

Nevertheless, Augustine is very much aware about the own responsibility of the office, which he does not underestimate. He also does not deny it. He talks about the office as a duty (officium). He agrees with Pope Gregory the Great that the bishop is the “watcher”, the one who looks ahead and so has to lead the way. He must be ready for conflicts if the Gospel demands it. Like Jesus he must also be willing to give his own life. This can result in a profound loneliness. That is why the unity with all the faithful is, once again, so important.

That one statement by St. Augustine, “What I am for you…”, which reflects, with many similar insights in his work, a deep grounding in the Triune God, says more about the office of bishop and its execution than many great treatises about the theology of office. I am in any case grateful to St. Augustine for these words. For me they remain valuable and helpful.

As bishop, I have been able to experience  this mutual support, this shared Christianity and life in various duties here in Mainz for a long and rich time. I thank the many women and men, young and old for the solidary way with which they supported our service. Time and again, I was able to gratefully feel this foundation, together with my predecessors Bishop Stohr and Cardinal Volk, and the auxiliary bishops Joseph Maria Reus, Wolfgang Rolly, Franziskus Eisenbach, Werner Guballa and Ulrich Neymeyr. This applies to both voluntary and paid staff. Because of it I was able to always do my duty with joy and gratitude. A prerequisite is certainly that one listens to others and remains in dialogue with them and that one acknowledges what others say until the end, as Saint Benedict teaches us in his rule, and that one is also willing to accept corrections. Only in this way unity is possible without blurring the differences in responsibilities.

With this gratitude I also ask that we maintain this valuable heritage of a good tradition in the Church, for which Saint Augustine stands and which once again comes to life in the Second Vatican Council, through our working together, not only today, but also tomorrow, as an indispensible element in the construction of the Church of Mainz. I also wish this spiritual and pastoral heritage for you, dear Udo M. Bentz, in the name of all present on your ordination day and for your service. Carry the torch of faith onwards. The fire still burns under the ashes. Amen.

Karl Cardinal Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz”

bentz

Looking ahead to some future appointments

With the start of the new year, we can look ahead to some changes that may come up over the course of it. There will undoubtedly be plenty of surprises, but when it comes to bishops’ appointments, we can expect a few, and again most of them in Germany, although an important one will take place in Belgium.

lehmannThere are two active prelates in Germany who are over the age of 75. One of them is Cardinal Karl Lehmann (pictured), the bishop of Mainz, who will turn 79 on 16 May. He may retire this year, but it is also entirely possible that he will stay on until his 80th birthday, much like Cardinal Meisner in Cologne. We can’t judge if there is any recent tradition of late retirements in Mainz, as five of Cardinal Lehmann’s six immediate predecessors died in office, well before retirement age. The only exception is Cardinal Hermann Volk, who retired on his 79th birthday in 1982.

The other active prelate is Bishop Manfred Grothe, auxiliary bishop of Paderborn and Apostolic Administrator of Limburg. He will be 76 on 4 April. As a new bishop for Limburg is expected sometime this year, it is very likely that Bishop Grothe will retire from both his offices.

werbsTwo other German bishops will reach the age of 75 this year, and thus tender their resignation. Bishop Norbert Werbs (at right), auxiliary bishop of Hamburg, will reach the retirement age on 20 May, and Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen will do so on 29 October. For Hamburg, the retirement of Bishop Werbs will be the second step in the full changeover of the archdiocese’s bishops. Archbishop Thissen already retired last year, and the last auxiliary bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke, will follow late next year. A new archbishop and one or more new auxiliaries appear to be on the books this year.

The final, and perhaps biggest change this year, will be retirement of Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels (pictured below). Even for this blog this will be a landmark, as his appointment back in 2010 marked one of the first major blog posts here, one that was copied and read by thousands of people.

léonardWho will succeed Archbishop Léonard is anyone’s guess, but if the tradition in Belgium is an indication, he will be from Flanders. Since 1832, the office of archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels has been alternately held by a Flemish and a Walloon prelate, and Archbishop Léonard hails from Namur. The bishops of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or Hasselt are possibilities, as are one of the three auxiliaries bishops of Mechelen-Brussels. If the successor already is a bishop, that is, and the whole idea of tradition may be ignored and another Walloon priest of bishop may be appointed. Whoever it will be, it will certainly be interesting.

And then, lastly, there will be new appointments. Berlin, Hamburg and Limburg are extremely likely, but we have seen that sometimes the waiting period is long. Still, Berlin and Hamburg are important and large sees, and for Limburg a new bishop will be a good step forwards towards permanency and a new beginning.

For Erfurt, the wait is over – Ulrich Neymeyr appointed as new bishop

neymeyrIt’s taken two years but at long lost the Diocese of Erfurt has a bishop again. From Mainz comes 57-year-old Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr as the successor of Bishop Joachim Wanke, who retired on the first of October of 2012 for health reasons. Bishop Neymeyr, until today the sole auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Mainz, becomes the second bishop of Erfurt, which was established in 1994. Before that, since 1973, it had been the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen.

Over the past two years, Erfurt has been led by auxiliary Bishop Reinhard Hauke, who has served as diocesan administrator and has made no secret of the vacancy being exceptionally long. Other bishops, like Bishop Gerhard Feige of neighbouring Magdeburg, have likewise done so, especially when other dioceses, such as Cologne, seemingly were given precedence when needing new bishops. And although the daily affairs of Erfurt are ensured by the presence of a diocesan administrator, general governmental procedures and documents could not be adapted or retracted while there was no proper diocesan bishop. Those limitations are now gone with the appointment of Bishop Neymeyr.

neymeyr

Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr was born in Herrnsheim, a part of the city of Worms on the River Rhine, south of Frankfurt. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Mainz in 1982 by Cardinal Hermann Volk. His successor and the current bishop of Mainz, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, consecrated him a bishop after St. John Paul II appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Mainz and titular bishop of Maraguia in 2003. After 11 years fulfilling that position, Bishop Neymeyr now moves to Erfurt.

For Mainz the move means the beginning of a complete change in bishops. Bishop Neymeyr was Mainz’s only auxiliary bishop, which leaves the ordinary, 78-year old Karl Cardinal Lehmann. His retirement should be accepted between now and May of 2016, when the cardinal turns 80. The diocese is home to some 800,000 Catholics and includes such cities as Mainz, Worms and Darmstadt.

As a priest, Bishop Neymeyr was the conrector of the seminary of Mainz and later parish priest in Rüsselsheim, east of Mainz, and Worms, in the south of the diocese. As bishop he was episcopal vicar with special responsibility for youth, a task field he is also active in in the German bishops’ conference. Additionally, he also sits on the conference’s media commission.

wanke benedict xviThe Diocese of Erfurt encompasses the major part of the German state of Thuringia and was initially created in 1973 from parts of the dioceses of Würzburg and Fulda, which now border it to the west and southwest. At the time it wasn’t a full diocese because of the unique circumstances of being within the Communist state of East Germany. As the Apostolic Administration of Erfurt-Meiningen, it was first led by Bishop Hugo Aufderbeck, who died in 1981 and was succeed by Bishop Joachim Wanke. In 1994, following the German reunification, Erfurt-Meiningen was made a full diocese under the name Erfurt and Bishop Wanke was made its first bishop. He stayed on until 2012 when he retired for health reasons. During that time he hosted Pope Benedict XVI when he visited in 2011 (see image at right). There has in fact been an earlier Diocese of Erfurt, established by Saint Boniface in 742, but that was suppressed again in 755, seemingly without ever having had its own bishop. The cathedral of Erfurt is rooted in that time however. The current St. Mary’s dates from 1154, but was built on the site of the first church built around 742. Erfurt is home to some 150,000 Catholics in 63 parishes.

Photo credit: [1] © Bistum Mainz, [2] © Bistum Mainz / Matschak, [3] Kay Nietfeld dpa/lth (cropped version)