Thursday, November 16


Ratzinger on Borromeo

While I have been posting lately on fairly concrete historical matters relating to the recent past in the Church, I think this reflection gives us some food for thought on the real point of it all:

"There is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term 'restoration' is understood accoridng to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this is precisely the task that imposes itself today in the second phase of the post-conciliar period. yet the word 'restoration' is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word 'reform', a term that has a wholly different sound to us today. Perhaps I can clarify the matter with an example taken from history. For me Charles Borromeo is the classic expression of a real reform, that is to say, of a renewal that leads forward precisely because it teaches how to live the permanent values in a new way, bearing in mind the totality of the Christian fact and the totality of man.

"It can certainly be said that Charles Borromeo rebuilt ("restored") the Catholic Church, which also in the area around Milan was at that time nearly destroyed for awhile, without making a return to the Middle Ages. On the contrary, he created a modern form of the Church. How little 'restorative' such a reform was is seen, for example, in the fact that Charles suppressed a religious order that was nearly in decline and assigned its goods to new, live communites. Who today possesses a similar courage to declare that which is interiorly dead (and continues to live only exteriorly) belongs definitively to the past and must be entrusted with clarity to the energies of the new era? Often new phenomena of Christian awakening are resisted precisely by the so-called reformers, who in their turn spasmodically defend institutions that continue to exist only in contradiction with themselves.

"In Charles Borromeo, therefore, we can also see what I meant to say with 'reform' or 'restoration' in its original meaning: to live outstretched towards a totality, to live from a 'yes' that leads back to the unity of the human forces in conflict with each other. A 'yes' that confers on them a positive meaning within the totality. In Charles Borromeo we can also see the essential prerequisite for a similar renewal. Charles could convince others because he was a man of conviction. He was able to exist with his certitudes amid the contradictions of his time because he himself lived them. And he could live them because he was a Christian in the deepest sense of the word, in other words, he was totally centered on Christ. What truly counts is to reestablish this all-embracing relation to Christ. No one can be convinced of this all-embracing relationship to Christ through argumentaion alone. One can live it, however, and thereby make it credible to others and invite others to share it."
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Ratzinger Report pp. 38-39 (Ignatius, 1985)

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