The emeritus Pope reflected that God "simply cannot leave 'as is' the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that he himself has granted. Only He, coming to share in the world's suffering, can redeem the world."
In the Cross, he said, one perceives "what God's mercy means, what the participation of God in man's suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father's fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love."
The discussion then turned to the missionary impulse, which was once informed by the conviction that all who died unbaptized would certainly go to hell.
Benedict noted, "there is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma" and that since the 1950s "the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized … has been fully affirmed."
He noted that the great missionaries of the 1500s were compelled by their belief in the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, and that the changing understanding of this necessity led to "a deep double crisis": a loss of motivation for missionary work, and a loss of motivation for the faith itself.
The emeritus Pope addressed both the theory of the 'anonymous Christian' and indifferentism as inadequate solutions to the crises, and offered instead the idea that Christ's loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model.
He concluded by again emphasizing that the true solution to evil is the love of Christ: "The counterweight to the dominion of evil can consist in the first place only in the divine-human love of Jesus Christ that is always greater than any possible power of evil."
"But it is necessary that we place ourselves inside this answer that God gives us through Jesus Christ," he added, saying that receiving the sacrament of confession "certainly has an important role in this field."
Receiving confession, he said, "means that we always allow ourselves to be molded and transformed by Christ and that we pass continuously from the side of him who destroys to the side of Him who saves."
Below please find L'Osservatore Romano's full English translation of the interview:
Servais: Your Holiness, the question posed this year as part of the study days promoted by the rectory of the Gesu (the residence for Jesuit seminarians in Rome) is that of justification by faith. The last volume of your collected works highlights your resolute affirmation: "The Christian faith is not an idea, but a life." Commenting on the famous Pauline affirmation in Romans 3:28, you mentioned, in this regard, a twofold transcendence: "Faith is a gift to the believers communicated through the community, which for its part is the result of God's gift" ("Glaube ist Gabe durch die Gemeinschaft; die sich selbst gegeben wird," gs iv, 512). Could you explain what you meant by that statement, taking into account of course the fact that the aim of these days of study is to clarify the pastoral theology and vivify the spiritual experience of the faithful?
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Benedict XVI: The question concerns what faith is and how one comes to believe. On the one hand, faith is a profoundly personal contact with God, which touches me in my innermost being and places me in front of the living God in absolute immediacy in such a way that I can speak with Him, love Him and enter into communion with Him. But at the same time this reality which is so fundamentally personal also has inseparably to do with the community. It is an essential part of faith that I be introduced into the "we" of the sons and daughters of God, into the pilgrim community of brothers and sisters. The encounter with God means also, at the same time, that I myself become open, torn from my closed solitude and received into the living community of the Church. That living community is also a mediator of my encounter with God, though that encounter touches my heart in an entirely personal way. Faith comes from hearing (fides ex auditu), St. Paul teaches us. Listening in turn always implies a partner.
Faith is not a product of reflection nor is it even an attempt to penetrate the depths of my own being. Both of these things may be present, but they remain insufficient without the "listening" through which God, from without, from a story He himself created, challenges me. In order for me to believe, I need witnesses who have met God and make Him accessible to me. In my article on baptism I spoke of the double transcendence of the community, in this way causing to emerge once again an important element: the faith community does not create itself. It is not an assembly of men who have some ideas in common and who decide to work for the spread of such ideas. Then everything would be based on its own decision and, in the final analysis, on the majority vote principle, which is, in the end it would be based on human opinion. A Church built in this way cannot be for me the guarantor of eternal life nor require decisions from me that make me suffer and are contrary to my desires. No, the Church is not self-made, she was created by God and she is continuously formed by him. This finds expression in the sacraments, above all in that of baptism: I enter into the Church not by a bureaucratic act, but through the sacrament. And this is to say that I am welcomed into a community that did not originate in itself and is projected beyond itself. The ministry that aims to form the spiritual experience of the faithful must proceed from these fundamental givens.
It is necessary to abandon the idea of a Church which produces herself and to make clear that the Church becomes a community in the communion of the body of Christ. The Church must introduce the individual Christian into an encounter with Jesus Christ and bring Christians into His presence in the sacrament.
Servais: When you were Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, commenting on the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification of Oct. 31, 1999, you pointed out a difference of mentality in relation to Luther and the question of salvation and blessedness as he had posed it. The religious experience of Luther was dominated by terror before the wrath of God, a feeling quite alien to modern men, who sense rather the absence of God (see your article in Communio, 2000, 430). For these, the problem is not so much how to obtain eternal life, but rather how to ensure, in the precarious conditions of our world, a certain balance of fully human life. Can the teaching of St. Paul of justification by faith, in this new context, reach the "religious" experience or at least the "elementary" experience of our contemporaries?
Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to emphasize once again what I wrote in Communio (2000) on the issue of justification. For the man of today, compared to those of the time of Luther and to those holding the classical perspective of the Christian faith, things are in a certain sense inverted, or rather, is no longer man who believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him. In this regard, I find it significant that a Catholic theologian may profess even in a direct and formal this inverted position: that Christ did not suffer for the sins of men, but rather, as it were, had "canceled the guilt of God." Even if most Christians today would not share such a drastic reversal of our faith, we could say that all of this reveals an underlying trend of our times. When Johann Baptist Metz argues that theology today must be "sensitive to theodicy" (German: theodizee empfindlich), this highlights the same problem in a positive way. Even rescinding from such a radical contestation of the Church's vision of the relationship between God and man, the man of today has in a very general way the sense that God cannot let most of humanity be damned. In this sense, the concern for the personal salvation of souls typical of past times has for the most part disappeared.
However, in my opinion, there continues to exist, in another way, the perception that we are in need of grace and forgiveness. For me it is a "sign of the times" the fact that the idea of the mercy of God should become more and more central and dominant – starting from Sister Faustina, whose visions in various ways reflect deeply the image of God held by the men of today and their desire for the divine goodness. Pope John Paul II was deeply impregnated by this impulse, even if this did not always emerge explicitly. But it is certainly not by chance that his last book, published just before his death, speaks of God's mercy. Starting from the experiences which, from the earliest years of life, exposed him to all of the cruel acts men can perform, he affirms that mercy is the only true and ultimate effective reaction against the power of evil.
Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end. Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line. His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God's mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him. In my view, this makes clear that, under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.
It is certainly no coincidence that the parable of the Good Samaritan is particularly attractive to contemporary man. And not just because that parable strongly emphasizes the social dimension of Christian existence, nor only because in it the Samaritan, the man not religious, in comparison with the representatives of religion seems, so to speak, as one who acts really so in conformity with God, while the official representatives of religion seem, as it were, immune to God. This clearly pleases modern man. But it seems just as important to me, nevertheless, that men in their intimate consciences expect the Samaritan will come to their aid; that he will bend down over them, pour oil on their wounds, care for them and take them to safety. In the final analysis, they know that they need God's mercy and his tenderness. In the hardness of the technologized world in which feelings no longer count for anything, the expectation however increases of a saving love that is freely given. It seems to me that in the theme of divine mercy is expressed in a new way what is means by justification by faith. Starting from the mercy of God, which everyone is looking for, it is possible even today to interpret anew the fundamental nucleus of the doctrine of justification and have it appear again in all its relevance.
Servais: When Anselm says that Christ had to die on the cross to repair the infinite offense that had been made to God, and in this way to restore the shattered order, he uses a language which is difficult for modern man to accept (cfr. Gs 215.ss iv). Expressing oneself in this way, one risks likely to project onto God an image of a God of wrath, relentless toward the sin of man, with feelings of violence and aggression comparable with what we can experience ourselves. How is it possible to speak of God's justice without potentially undermining the certainty, deeply established among the faithful, that the God of the Christians is a God "rich in mercy" (Ephesians 2:4)?
Benedict XVI: The conceptuality of St. Anselm has now become for us incomprehensible. It is our job to try again to understand the truth that lies behind this mode of expression. For my part I offer three points of view on this point: