“My spiritual testament – [29 August, 2006] – If in this late hour of my life I look back at the decades I have been through, first I see how many reasons I have to give thanks. First and foremost I thank God himself, the giver of every good gift, who gave me life and guided me through various confusing times; always picking me up whenever I began to slip and always giving me again the light of his face. In retrospect I see and understand that even the dark and tiring stretches of this journey were for my salvation and that it was in them that He guided me well.
“I thank my parents, who gave me life in a difficult time and who, at the cost of great sacrifice, with their love prepared for me a magnificent abode that, like clear light, illuminates all my days to this day. My father’s lucid faith taught us children to believe, and as a signpost it has always been steadfast in the midst of all my scientific acquisitions; the profound devotion and great goodness of my mother represent a legacy for which I can never give thanks enough. My sister has assisted me for decades selflessly and with affectionate care; my brother, with the lucidity of his judgments, his vigorous resolve and serenity of heart, has always paved the way for me; without this constant preceding and accompanying me I could not have found the right path.
“From my heart I thank God for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the collaborators in all the stages of my journey; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I want to thank the Lord for my beautiful homeland in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, in which I have always seen the splendor of the Creator Himself shining through. I thank the people of my homeland because in them I have been able again and again to experience the beauty of faith. I pray that our land remains a land of faith, and I beg you, dear countrymen: Do not let yourselves be turned away from the faith. And finally I thank God for all the beauty I have been able to experience at all the phases of my journey, especially, however, in Rome and in Italy, which has become my second homeland.
“To all those whom I have wronged in any way, I heartily ask for forgiveness.
“What I said before to my countrymen, I now say to all those in the Church who have been entrusted to my service: Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused! It often seems that science — the natural sciences on the one hand and historical research (especially exegesis of Sacred Scripture) on the other — are able to offer irrefutable results at odds with the Catholic faith. I have experienced the transformations of the natural sciences since long ago and have been able to see how, on the contrary, apparent certainties against the faith have vanished, proving to be not science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently pertaining to science; just as, on the other hand, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith, too, has learned to understand better the limit of the scope of its claims, and thus its specificity. It is now sixty years that I have been accompanying the journey of Theology, particularly of the Biblical Sciences, and with the succession of different generations I have seen theses that seemed unshakable collapse, proving to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann etc.), the Marxist generation. I saw and see how out of the tangle of assumptions the reasonableness of faith emerged and emerges again. Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life – and the Church, with all its insufficiencies, is truly His body.
“Finally, I humbly ask: Pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and insufficiencies, welcomes me into the eternal dwellings. To all those entrusted to me, day by day, my heartfelt prayer goes out.”
My perspective and therefore my reception of this is slightly different from that of others. It seems it is the practice to obtain a Last Testament from any newly reigning Supreme Pontiff. There are those who insult these words, call them into doubt, but they seem to me to be exactly what Ratzinger, newly Benedict, would say as someone for whom death did not seem to be imminent. It was going on 17 years before he would, in fact, die. Is there a later, last Last Testament? I don’t know. This one speaks to me quite personally.
It is clear that not just the weight of the Pontificate had descended upon him, but he was seeing with the eye of the supreme pastor the consequences of any and all of his erroneous academic opinions of a lifetime were having upon the Lord’s little flock. As supreme pontiff, he was now supremely responsible for his opinions in a very personal way before the Absolute Truth, Christ Jesus. And he gently wants to make his example of conversion that which others can follow right to Jesus.
This is the testament of a consummate academic providing not any apologia so as to defend himself, but rather a mea culpa from a fellow pilgrim in faith and a pastor in trepidation (cf St Augustine), offering to the faithful a retraction of most everything in his life as peritus and professor.
This is not a sign of weakness, of an old man turned into a simpleton, an imbecile. No, no. This retraction is the German Shepherd at his finest. In almost unfathomable humility he has turned on himself so as feed the lambs, tend the sheep, pasture the flock. To offer such retractions at the end of one’s life is ever so Catholic. Benedict XVI is a student also of Augustine, and Augustine had his retractions. Augustine spoke of his desire for this project: “To gather together and point out, in a work devoted to this express purpose, all the things which most justly displease me in my books.”
Before jumping to conspiracy theories that this is a forgery, or that his last Last Testament has already been burned, perhaps we ought to do what real academics do, which is to ask which answer is the most simple, responding to the most questions with the most consistency and with no complications to hide behind. My question is this: Why did he retain this Last Testament for 16+ years? I think he did this because it perfectly summed up what he wanted to say.
At the time, I had been loudly complaining to my fellow scripture scholars that I was attacking a saint (Pope Benedict XVI) in my not-quite-yet-defended thesis on Genesis 2:4a-3:24. With excruciating scientific examination of texts I provided an explication of the biblical foundation concerning the transmission of original sin by propagation not imitation, thus explicitly contradicting Ratzinger’s 1986 highly emotional heretical sermon which condemned the doctrine of original sin as that which charges God of being a commandant of an extermination camp. Six pontifical universities were closely following the progress of my thesis, but more than this, so were some friends.
- Was it a friend of mine, Benedict’s sacramental Confessor, who brought my worries and protestations – and thesis – to his attention, as I had asked him to do? I wasn’t at that meeting, but from what I gather, that was the case.
- Was it a… I’m being careful here… a longtime assistant of Benedict and mutual friend of many decades for both Benedict and me who brought this to him? I wasn’t there, but I had insisted, and from what I gather, that’s what happened.
- Was my published thesis some months later brought forthwith to Benedict by yet another longtime friend and a close collaborator of Benedict on the terzo piano? Yes, 100%, but with his protestation that I shouldn’t look on this as any kind of attack (which was never my intention), but as a necessary act of charity (which was always my intention). For his part, he promised to try his best to bring about something even more, which is that I also be granted a private audience with Benedict.
- Was this sent to Benedict by myself but with the blessings and encouragement of Dom Gérard Calvet, OSB, founder of the abbey of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux in Vaucluse, France? Yes. With a two-page un-ignorable letter. I sent that 30 September, Feast of Saint Jerome, and a response came back 8 October, Birthday of Immaculate Mary.
- Benedict XVI already had in mind what he would do at Lourdes, France, on September 14, 2008, at his Angelus address, that is, to utterly reverse an entire lifetime of heretical thought on original sin, which had infiltrated, if you will, all of his Scripture studies, all of his theology, philosophy, his cultural perspective. He changes his mind on this, he changes his mind on everything. This changed everything. Now he was free. This Last Testament is sufficient. In Lourdes, he spoke of the Immaculate Conception with no ambiguity, no loopholes by which to retain any of his former perspective. Really, that text is extremely careful: no loopholes, no ambiguity. He was a new man.
His summary sentence in his retractiones, his Last Testament, is precisely the summary of my comments in my thesis about where he needed to be in heart and soul and mind and strength:
- “Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life – and the Church, with all its insufficiencies, is truly His body.”
This speaks to me of his almost unfathomable humility. This speaks to me most personally.
And about Benedict XVI, this affirms for me 1000% that he is a gentleman, a scholar, a believer in Christ Jesus, as he always was, however falteringly. In this he gives us the example of how to be a Christian, how to be a follower of Christ Jesus, how to be a priest, a pontiff.
Look, I’m not saying for a second that anything I had to say back in the day had anything to do with his Last Testament. No. I’m just saying that what he said speaks to me personally, and with reason. Just circumstantial. But it is what it is.
And having said that… This is how real this is for me… I now use this as an an examination of conscience in my own life, my own wretched life. How I long to have a smidgeon of Benedict’s humility before Jesus.
A Hail Mary for the repose of his soul… Hail Mary…
A Hail Mary in his honor beseeching his intercession… Hail Mary…