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The Roman Ideology is Totalitarian

"The historical Jesus wsas a victim of a similar absolutist system constructed by the scribes and Pharisees.. In the name of this system, they rejected Jesus as a flase prophet, an enemy of truth, Beelzebub, a traitor to the traditions and a seducer of the people..``Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?' (Mt 15,3)."
The Roman Ideology is Totalitarian
On the Vatican Declaration "Dominus Jesus"

By Leonardo Boff

[This address in Munich in the year 2000 originally published in the Munsteraner Forum fur Theologie und Kirche is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.muenster.de/~angergun/dominus-boff.html.]

At the end of the solemnities on the occasion of 2000 years of Christianity, Cardinal Ratzinger presented us with a doctrinal document. How a part of the church, the Vatican hierarchy, thinks about revelation, the will of God in Christ and the nature of the church is explained unadorned and undisguised. All women and men of good will, believing and spiritual persons, all Christian churches and every person who belongs to these churches now know what they can expect and what they cannot expect from the hierarchical church of the Vatican regarding the future of the micro- and macro-economic dialogue. This future is horrific but agrees completely with the system worked out by the hierarchical church of the Vatican in the course of the last centuries and is now presented on stone tablets of the law: the iron, inexorable, cruel and merciless Roman system.

1. The incredible aggressiveness of a timid cardinal

Sarcastically but truthfully, the work can be summarized very simply: "Christ is the only road to redemption and only the church has the right of entrance. No one can travel this road without passing this toll gate." Elsewhere: "Christ is the telephone but only the church is the telephone company. All telephones near and far can only communicate the church." The church and Christ together form the single "whole Christ" (Nr.16). "As there is only a single Christ, there is only a single body of Christ, a single bride of Christ: the one catholic and apostolic church" (Nr.16).

Apart from communication by the church, everyone including non-Christians is objectively in a "grave deficient situation" (Nr. 22). This is underlined by a quotation from the catechism of the Catholic Church: "We should believe in no one but God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Nr.7).

What causes such reductionism? The roman system answers because "the final and complete character of Jesus Christ's revelation requires it" (Nr.4). Tens of thousands of years may pass away, people may emigrate to other planets and galaxies and history to the Last Judgment may turn to stone because there is absolutely nothing new in the things of revelation. "No new public revelation can be expected any more before the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Nr.5). The system is completely closed. All reality is the private property of the church (the Vatican hierarchy) that should spread over the whole world.

What is said to people who have behind them a development of millions of years and their own spiritual encounter with God? What is said to other Christians who are not Roman Catholics? The answers are unequivocal. Like daggers to the hearts of the addressants, they leave no questions open: "To you believing persons of the world, members of religions which are often older than our Christianity (like Buddhism or Hinduism), I proclaim this depressing inconsolable truth: you don't have a `theological faith', you only have `convictions'. Your teachings are not effects of the Holy Spirit but something invented by persons in their search for truth" (Nr. 7). Even if you have some positive elements, a divine origin cannot be awarded to them (Nr.21). They don't belong to you. They belong to us since you receive those elements of goodness and grace from the mystery of Christ (Nr. 8). You orthodox churches with your hierarchy and Eucharist, you are only `partial churches' without complete community because you do not accept the primacy of the pope (Nr.17). You evangelical churches, some of you arose from the Reformation and others later, listen attentively to this judgment: you are `not churches in the true sense' (Nr. 17); you are `separated communities' [... ] whose effectiveness goes back to the fullness of grace and truth placed in your hands by the catholic church'" (Nr. 17).

Now hear what the 2nd Vatican council decided and what we confirm: `The only true religion [... ] is realized in the catholic apostolic church which has received the commission from Jesus the Lord to spread itself among all people' (Nr.23). All people are obliged to follow because outside this truth you are irretrievably in error."

The document, a very clear presentation of totalitarian rule, says mercilessly and brutally to everyone: "Without Christ and the church, you don't have anything that is your own. If by chance you should have any positive element, it does not belong to you but to Christ and the church. Nothing is left to you but conversion. Without conversion, you run the objective risk of being lost."

After this declaration, it is clear to us, the mortal defenders of micro- and macro-ecumenism, that every initiative of the Vatican in this area works with deceptions and sets traps. When the document urges continuing the dialogue, the themes of faith are not emphasized but only respect toward people who are equal in dignity but absolutely unequal as to the objective conditions of salvation.

With these theses, bashful Cardinal Ratzinger has proven to be an exterminator of all future ecumenism. How did this totalitarian system arise, this roman ideology, which has produced so many victims and in its discourse spreads exclusion and hopelessness?

2. Rome's hierarchical capitalism

This kind of discourse is not unique to roman ideology but characterizes all contemporary totalitarian forms of rule: nazi-fascism, Stalinism, religious sect movements, regimes of national security in Latin America, market fundamentalism and neoliberal unity thinking. The system is totalitarian and closed in itself. In the case of the Vatican hierarchy, catholic theologians speak of "totatus" when they criticize the absolutism of the popes. Reality begins and ends where the totalitarian ideology begins and ends. For the system, there is no hereafter or world to come. As the document by Ratzinger says, every person must hand himself over "by completely submitting and willingly approving with mind and will" (Nr.7). There is only truth within the system. Only the one who shows obedience to the system has a share in the kindness of truth, namely of redemption. Everyone else is in error.

Whoever claims to be exclusively in possession of absolute truth is condemned to act intolerantly towards others. In all these forms of totalitarian rule, the same strategy of converting, subjugating, demoralizing or destroying others is encountered. In Latin America, we know these methods very well. The first Spanish missionaries who came to Mexico, Peru or the Caribbean with the absolutist roman ideology applied them scrupulously. They regarded the deities of the indigenous religions as false, their teachings as pure inventions of people and removed them with the sword blessed by the cross.

The echo of the laments, which the Aztec sages started singing at that time can still be heard today: "You say that our gods are not true. What you say to us is very new. Therefore we are confused and depressed. Do nothing to our people that brings disaster and corrupts... We cannot remain silent" (Miguel Leon Portilla, A conquista da America Latina vista pelos indios, Vozes, Petropolis 1987). The Mayas grieved: "Oh, let us mourn because the Spanish Christians have come... For their sake, our flowers are wilted. To bring their flowers to life, they have damaged and destroyed our flowers... Darkening the sun is what they wanted to accomplish here... That `true' God who comes from heaven merely wanted to speak of sin. His teaching only focused on sin. They filled us with fear" (Leon Portilla).

Could Cardinal Ratzinger imagine what a pious Presbyterian would feel in assisting original inhabitants in the primeval forest of the Amazon or what a Taoist monk would think when absorbed in his contemplation in being told at an inter-religious meeting that they are unbelieving or not a church with something divine or positive and that everything they have only comes from Christ and the church? Mocked and humiliated, they would cry like the Aztecs and the Mayas. Their grief would strike the heart of God who always hears the cry of the oppressed without the entirely superfluous mediation of the church. However because they are honest and wise, they would surely only smile about the great arrogance, lack of respect and great spiritual emptiness as to God's ways in the lives of the peoples.

The strategy of the Vatican document obeys the same logic as the totalitarian forms of rule: the logic of demoralization and degradation up to total contempt of theological values in the convictions of others. This logic destroys all the flowers of the non-catholic religious garden so that only the flower of the Roman Catholic Church flourishes. All this happens with appeal to God, Christ and the divine revelation so that one cheerfully violates the Second commandment prohibiting misusing the holy name of God or submitting to human interests.

What is the origin of this merciless fundamentalist rigorism? The historical research will not be summarized here which was pursued by the best catholic historians and exegetes and which Cardinal Ratzinger knows all about since he studied this in Freising, Bonn, Tubingen and Regensberg. For historical reasons that cannot be justified, a church society of unequals organized as a pyramid arose out of a brotherly and sisterly community at the beginning of Christianity.

In the first centuries until far beyond the first millennium, Christian people had a share in power in the "church as the community of believers", in the selection of office holders and in their decisions according to an ancient motto: "What concerns everyone must be discussed and decided by everyone". Later the people were only asked and finally completely marginalized and robbed of their original ability. Thus an indisputable division and inequality arose in the church: on one side, a hierarchy that knows everything, teaches everything, discusses everything and decides everything and on the other side - or rather below - the multitude of powerless believers left behind who have to obey and follow the hierarchy unconditionally.

This reality is perverse and contradicts the original meaning of Jesus' message. However the mechanisms of legitimation function to enforce acceptance. The Vatican hierarchy works out a corresponding theology with the goal of justifying, sacralizing and strengthening its power. A divine origin is imputed so that this power becomes absolute, unimpeachable and unchangeable while in reality it is an historical product of an inexorable progressive dispossession. To erect this building of pharaohs, the Vatican hierarchy manipulated decrees, falsified the famous Testament of Constantine and issued the "Dictatus Papae" by Gregory VII in the year 1075 in which the absolute power of the papacy was fixed with words like these: "The pope is the only person whose feet are kissed by all princes (this was true up to the middle of the 19th century with Pius XII). His judgment may not be changed by anyone. Only he may change anyone's judgment though he may not be judged by anyone". Pius IX who unhappily was even canonized proclaimed the infallibility of his office so that he could decide everything by himself without the approval of the church. The holy scriptures are interpreted in the light of this totalitarian ideology. While his doctrine was only "invented" out of a lust for power, all opposite perspectives are spiritualized or simply concealed or silenced, even the most essential. The document by Cardinal Ratzinger continues this method without the least hesitation even though hesitation could be expected from someone who was once a recognized competent theologian.

The historical Jesus was a victim of a similar absolutist system constructed by the scribes and Pharisees. In the name of this system, they rejected Jesus as a false prophet, as an enemy of truth, Beelzebub, a traitor of the traditions and a seducer of the people. Jesus opposed them and we say the same thing today to Cardinal Ratzinger: "through your tradition which you hand down, you make void the word of God" (Mk 7,13). "Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" (Mt 15,3).

What does Cardinal Ratzinger suppress in favor of false traditions?

3. Theological errors making the document unacceptable

Cardinal Ratzinger does not teach about the essentials of Christianity. Therefore the whole argument collapses in itself. Ratzinger did not mention the most crucial points. He did not proclaim the central significance of love or the decisive rank of the poor. These two problems are completely absent in Ratzinger's document.

For Jesus and for the whole New Testament, love is the most important commandment (Mt 22,38-39) because God is love (1 Joh 4,8.16). Only love brings redemption (Mt 25,34-47), unconditional love (Mt 5,44). Nothing of this is in the document of the cardinal. He only speaks of revealed truths and a theological faith represented by the complete acceptance of these truths. The cardinal knows that faith alone does not save because all the councils say that only faith penetrated by love saves (fides caritate informata). This gap is very deplorable and only understandable when someone is spiritually inexperienced, who doesn't know how to encounter "God as a community of divine persons, who neither loves God nor the neighbor but stubbornly holds fast to abstract written truths. By arguing in a cold and uncaring way, he proves that he loves nothing but his own system. Unfeeling and uncomprehending, he scorns and destroys the creeds of others.

Even worse, the text does not refer to the poor at all. For Jesus and the whole New Testament, the poor are not one theme among others. The poor are the place where one discovers the gospel as the Good News of liberation ("Blessed are you poor"). Conduct toward the poor is the decisive criterion for salvation or damnation. If I belong to the Roman Catholic Church, have all the means of rede3ption, submit with mind and heart to the hierarchical system and accept all revealed truths but have not love, "then I gain nothing" (1 Cor 13,2). If we do not love the hungering, thirsty, naked, homeless and imprisoned, then neither we nor Cardinal Ratzinger will hear the beautification: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25, 34) because "as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25,45). The question of the poor was so important for Jesus' heirs that the Jerusalem apostles demanded of Paul that he remember the poor when he defended his teaching before them. (Gal 2,10).

The theological tradition always argues correctly: Where Christ is, there is the church. However Christ is with the poor. Therefore the church is (or should be) where the poor are, with all the poor because they are poor, not only with the good and hard-working poor. Their poor existence means that life is taken from them. For that reason, the promise and liberating intervention of the God of life are directly firstly to them.

No trace of such a promise of freedom or sympathizing can be found in the miserable Vatican document. An open and fruitful ecumenical movement can develop with all churches, religions, spiritual traditions and people of good will on the basis of the question about the poor. We discover the heart of Jesus' message in the unconditional love and in the poor, not in the motley ideological collection joined together in the document of the Vatican. There is a form of blasphemy which only church people engineer: to speak of God, his revelation and his grace without attesting the least compassion with the poor and offended. They do not speak of the God of Jesus who hears the cry of the oppressed and descends to liberate them (Ex 3,4) but of a church office fetish "invented" (Nr.7) by people in their lust for power. The document shows a dark picture of God. This God has already been dead for a long time but left behind selected sentences of the New Testament as a testament with which the Vatican hierarchy erects an exclusive edifice of redemption for those who enter.

There are other grave theological deficits, which should be uncovered. The document scoffs at the saying "the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world" (John 1,9). This light does not only enlighten the baptized or roman Catholics. The document criticizes the Holy Spirit "that blows where it will" (John 3,8), not only over those who adopt the thought patterns of the cardinal. Jesus emphasized that "the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him", not only in Rome (Jerusalem) or in Krakau (on the Garizim: John 4,21-23) but by all people who are open for the spiritual, holy dimension of the universe in which the divine mystery is revealed. The apex of his revelation is the incarnation.

The document mocks people when it withholds what is decisive in Jesus' message: the unconditional love and the central importance of the poor and oppressed. In their place, an indigestible menu of quotation torn from their contexts is served in order to justify discrimination and unequal treatment in contradiction to Jesus' manifest will. Jesus forbids anyone calling himself master or father or consider himself more important or first in relation to others "for you are all brethren" (Mt 23,6-12) (Pope, lat. Papa is the abbreviation of "pater pauperum" =pa-pa= father of the poor). The roman hierarchy urgently needs conversion so that it can take its place in the totality of God's people and in service to the community of faith. The roman hierarchy does not represent a faction but a function in favor of a "church as a community of believers and servants".

The document is light years away from the climate of cheerfulness and goodwill characterizing the gospels and the deeds of Jesus. The document is a text of scribes and Pharisees, not of Jesus' disciples. All human and divine virtues are absent in the text. Condemning, damning and excluding overshadow acknowledging, understanding and including as the rainbow does, the symbol of the first covenant that God concluded with life and humanity. Ratzinger doesn't want the great variety of colors in the one rainbow but only the imperative supremacy of the black color, that shade of the sinister Vatican hierarchy.

4. Geneva inspires the ecumenical movement, not Rome

With this document, Cardinal Ratzinger dug the grave for the ecumenical movement in the perspective of the Vatican hierarchy. His merit was to shatter all illusions. From now on, we can no longer count on the Vatican hierarchy if we spiritually and religiously seek peace for humanity. On the contrary, the belief system of the roman hierarchy represents a great hindrance on account of its capitalist thinking concentrating the divine truth with itself and because of its arrogance in treating others.

The roman hierarchy embraces neither the whole church nor the whole hierarchy of the world church. Within the hierarchy, there are cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests who go the way of the gospel in a mutual learning process, open dialogue and truthful search for the religious peace. Their foundation is the radical experience of the mystery concealed and revealed in the course of the whole history of the universe and humanity with a singular form in the religions and in Christianity. Still we are not animated on this way by Rome.

If the Vatican continues its excluding conduct, Christian ecumenism will no longer pass through Rome but through Geneva, the seat of the World Council of Churches. There Jesus' inheritance is carried forward, an inheritance open for the dimensions of the spirit, renewing the face of the earth and moving the hearts of nations and people. Ratzinger's document arising from an iron-closed system is completely unreceptive for the reality greater than itself. The system acts like the frog that lives in the depths of the well and knows nothing of the worlds beyond the narrow bounds of its well. A document that promotes the dialogue of the world religions must highlight the dramatic situation that the earth and humanity pass through. Nothing of this can be read in the document. The significance of the ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is not exhausted in preparing the way for the peace of the religions but aims at creating justice and peace between the nations and preserving the whole creation.

We are on the way to the one world society. This worldwide society shows the face of the third world since four billion of the six billion people live under the poverty line according to the data of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Who will wipe away the tears of these billions of victims? Who hears the cries rising from the starving and excluded peoples of the earth and from the wounded earth?

The document is deaf for these sufferings. Whoever pretends not to hear the cries of the oppressed cannot speak for God or in God's name. The Christianity presented by Cardinal Ratzinger may not spread over the world. The document belongs to the darkest and most depressing traditions of the occident that becomes more and more the accident. Ratzinger's document stands at the end of the second millennium of a Christianity that cannot continue.

What is central is honoring God's mystery revealed in history. What is uppermost is loving Jesus Christ whose life and message did not mock or exclude anyone. What is crucial is living in community with other Christian churches who want to carry on the remembrance of Jesus. What is decisive is showing respect to all other religious and spiritual ways on which God encounters all people with salvation and grace. A new catholic ecumenism will arise in the new millennium when important parts of the hierarchy convert to the base of the church and catholic or Christian communities are converted to service and strengthening faith in the sense of the gospel. This ecumenism founded on the spirituality and mysticism of encounter with the spirit and the Resurrected serves men and women beginning with the poorest and broken and also community and dialogue with other spiritual traditions. Everyone is sent to kindle and keep burning the holy flame of the divine and of mystery that burns in every heart and in the whole universe.

Without this holy flame, we will neither save life nor secure a hopeful future for the family of humanity and their common house, the earth. For these projects, all ecumenism is desirable and all cooperation indispensable. One day - post Ratzinger locutum - Rome will have to join this messianic project.

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