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  • Writer's pictureDom Dalmasso

Catholicism in light of Fiducia Supplicans Part 2

In part one of this three-part series on the Vatican’s latest document Fiducia Supplicans I summarized the context and content of the document. In this second part I would like to take a step back and look at the context of Martin Luther, the German pioneer of the Protestant movement in the history of Christianity.


In his book Principles of Catholic Theology Joseph Ratzinger begins by giving a theological genealogy, starting with Augustine, which leads up to the reformation, thereby shedding light on the context of Luther’s project:

With Luther another kind of division that had its roots in Augustine appeared in the Church. The split between Donatists and Catholics that rent the Church of [Augustine’s] African homeland caused the great doctor of the Church to distinguish with a sharpness until then unknown between the theological greatness of the Church as a salvific reality and her empirical existence: many who seem to be in the Church are outside her; many who seem to be outside her are in her. The true Church is the number of the predestined who, on the one hand, transcend the visible Church while, on the other hand, the reprobate are present at her very center.[1]


Ratzinger begins his genealogy with the distinction Augustine makes between “the city of God” and “the city of man.” The insinuation here, which Ratzinger will make explicit further on, is that this distinction indirectly paved the way for Luther’s justification in separating the apostolic structure of the visible Church (the “office”) from the Church’s pneumatic dimension (the spiritual communion of the believer). Of course, Ratzinger is quick to add that “For Augustine, it must be admitted, this concept had no adverse repercussions with regard to the value of the sacramental and apostolic structure of the Church and her tradition.”[2]


And yet, this Augustinian distinction turned into a deeply troubling crisis when it became a radical separation in the Western schism. It’s worth citing Ratzinger in full:

But the great Western schism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had imbued [Augustine’s concept] with a degree of realism that would have been inconceivable up to that time. For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form—the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution.[3]


Ratzinger sees the Western schism both as Augustine’s lofty contemplation turned into a nightmare and as the historical background for Luther’s “spiritual flight” from the visibility of the Church as an institution: “It is against this background of a profoundly shaken ecclesial consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the Church, ultimately came to experience the Church, not as the guarantor, but as the adversary of salvation.”[4]


Ratzinger explains that this led, for Protestantism, to an understanding of the Church which is both limited to the local community and extended to an indeterminate community of believers across space and time “known only to God.”[5] He adds that Protestantism’s “ecclesial anchor and […] the binding authority that sustains its agreements or disagreements remain unclear.”[6] It becomes evident that, for Ratzinger, the Church is characterized by a dialectic between its Apostolic anchor and its pneumatic holiness. The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar—a friend of Ratzinger’s—would call these two elements “the Petrine Structure of the Church” and “the Marian dynamism of the Church.”[7]


But what does this have to do with Fiducia Supplicans, one might ask? I am getting to that. At this juncture I want to capitalize on the point I made in the first blog post: namely that there is tension in the Church between its structure and its faithful, that there is tension between hierarchs themselves and between groups of the faithful themselves, that there is also pagans within the Church and Christians without the Church. This, it seems to me, is part of what the Second Vatican Council was iterating (a point rather disliked by traditionalists). And so, these passages from Ratzinger do in fact pertain to the tensions in Germany, to the tensions in the United States, to the tensions in the Church in general and to the tensions between the Church and the world. We must look at what the Church is more closely in order to have a better footing going forward; and Fiducia Supplicans is directly relevant to all of these observations because it pertains to the structural anchor of the Church, to the relationship between secular culture and its anthropology on the one hand, and to Christian culture and its anthropology on the other.


In my next blog post I want to look at the episcopacy (including the bishop of Rome) and the future of the Church within the current secular landscape.


[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 196.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 196.

[3] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 196.

[4] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 196.

[5] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 196.

[6] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 197.

[7] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 19xx).

Dom Dalmasso is a 2023 graduate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and philosophy. He was a Benedictine monk from early 2011 to late 2012 at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and was an active-duty United States Marine from August 2014 to August 2018. He runs the YouTube Show / Podcast The Logos Project, and is the editor-in-chief of The Ecclesia Blog. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles.

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