The Pope's speeches at Martin Luther's monastery
Pope Benedict XVI has visited the monastery of the man who ignited the Reformation. The Pope made two speeches, both reproduced below. Perhaps sometime soon, as a manifesly generous gesture of true ecumenism, the Vatican might consider Martin Luther as a candidate for beatification, in honour of his profound prayer life, his generous attitude to accepting sacrifice and the genuine and practical love he had for the poor. But above all, for his his holiness, the sanctity of his intellect, his love for God, His Word, and the holy life, and for cleansing the Church of error. He is, beyond dispute, a true Doctor of the Church.
ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
ECUMENICAL PRAYER GATHERING
23 SEPTEMBER 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through them” (Jn 17:20). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke these words to the Father in the Upper Room. He intercedes for coming generations of believers. He looks beyond the Upper Room, towards the future. He also prayed for us. And he prayed for our unity. This prayer of Jesus is not simply something from the past. He stands before the Father, for ever making intercession for us. At this moment he also stands in our midst and he desires to draw us into his own prayer. In the prayer of Jesus we find the very heart of our unity. We will become one if we allow ourselves to be drawn into this prayer. Whenever we gather in prayer as Christians, Jesus’ concern for us, and his prayer to the Father for us, ought to touch our hearts. The more we allow ourselves to be drawn into this event, the more we grow in unity.
Did Jesus’ prayer go unheard? The history of Christianity is in some sense the visible element of this drama in which Christ strives and suffers with us human beings. Ever anew he must endure the rejection of unity, yet ever anew unity takes place with him and thus with the triune God. We need to see both things: the sin of human beings, who reject God and withdraw within themselves, but also the triumphs of God, who upholds the Church despite her weakness, constantly drawing men and women closer to himself and thus to one another. For this reason, in an ecumenical gathering, we ought not only to regret our divisions and separations, but we should also give thanks to God for all the elements of unity which he has preserved for us and bestows on us ever anew. And this gratitude must be at the same time a resolve not to lose, at a time of temptations and perils, the unity thus bestowed.
Our fundamental unity comes from the fact that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And that we confess that he is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The highest unity is not the solitude of a monad, but rather a unity born of love. We believe in God – the real God. We believe that God spoke to us and became one of us. To bear witness to this living God is our common task at the present time.
Does man need God, or can we do quite well without him? When, in the first phase of God’s absence, his light continues to illumine and sustain the order of human existence, it appears that things can also function without God. But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life. A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him. Our primary ecumenical service at this hour must be to bear common witness to the presence of the living God and in this way to give the world the answer which it needs. Naturally, an absolutely central part of this fundamental witness to God is a witness to Jesus Christ, true man and true God, who lived in our midst, suffered and died for us and, in his resurrection, flung open the gates of death. Dear friends, let us strengthen one another in this faith! This is a great ecumenical task which leads us into the heart of Jesus’ prayer.
The seriousness of our faith in God is shown by the way we live his word. In our own day, it is shown in a very practical way by our commitment to that creature which he wished in his own image: to man. We live at a time of uncertainty about what it means to be human. Ethics are being replaced by a calculation of consequences. In the face of this, we as Christians must defend the inviolable dignity of human beings from conception to death – from issues of prenatal diagnosis to the question of euthanasia. As Romano Guardini once put it: “Only those who know God, know man.” Without knowledge of God, man is easily manipulated. Faith in God must take concrete form in a common defence of man. To this defence of man belong not only these fundamental criteria of what it means to be human, but above all and very specifically, love, as Jesus taught us in the account of the final judgement (Mt 25): God will judge us on how we respond to our neighbour, to the least of his brethren. Readiness to help, amid the needs of the present time and beyond our immediate circle, is an essential task of the Christian.
This is true first and foremost in our personal lives as individuals. It also holds true in our community, as a people and a state in which we must all be responsible for one another. It holds true for our continent, in which we are called to European solidarity. Finally, it is true beyond all frontiers: today Christian love of neighbour also calls for commitment to justice throughout the world. I know that Germans and Germany are doing much to enable all men and women to live in dignity, and for this I would like to express deep gratitude.
In conclusion, I would like to mention an even deeper dimension of our commitment to love. The seriousness of our faith is shown especially when it inspires people to put themselves totally at the disposal of God and thus of other persons. Great acts of charity become concrete only when, on the ground, we find persons totally at the service of others; they make the love of God credible. People of this sort are an important sign of the truth of our faith.
Prior to the Pope’s visit there was some talk of an “ecumenical gift” which was expected from this visit. There is no need for me to specify the gifts mentioned in this context. Here I would only say that this reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism. In general, when a Head of State visits a friendly country, contacts between the various parties take place beforehand to arrange one or more agreements between the two states: by weighing respective benefits and drawbacks a compromise is reached which in the end appears beneficial for both parties, so that a treaty can then be signed. But the faith of Christians does not rest on such a weighing of benefits and drawbacks. A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually or negotiate between us. It is the foundation for our lives. Unity grows not by the weighing of benefits and drawbacks but only by entering ever more deeply into the faith in our thoughts and in our lives. In the past fifty years, and especially after the visit of Pope John Paul II some thirty years ago, we have drawn much closer together, and for this we can only be grateful. I willingly think of the meeting with the Commission led by Bishop Lohse, in which this kind of joint growth in reflecting upon and living the faith was practised. To all those engaged in that process – and especially, on the Catholic side, to Cardinal Lehmann – I wish to express my deep gratitude. I will refrain from mentioning other names – the Lord knows them all. Together we can only thank the Lord for the paths of unity on which he has led us, and unite ourselves in humble trust to his prayer: Grant that we may all be one, as you are one with the Father, so that the world may believe that he has sent you (cf. Jn 17:21).
ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
MEETING WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF
THE EVANGELICAL (LUTHERAN) CHURCHES OF GERMANY
23 SEPTEMBER 2011
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 EKD 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.