Are the "German Christians" of Nazi times reborn in the Synodal Path?

What is truth? How can it be found and how does freedom relate to truth? Is there one truth and several? These questions are essential for human beings, because man's deepest longing is directed towards the knowledge of truth, explains Cardinal Kurt Cardinal Koch, here in conversation with the Tagespost.

Eminence, dear Cardinal, this symposium of the Ratzinger Circle is above all about truth. This has always been a special concern of the theologian, Joseph Ratzinger and of Pope Benedict. His whole theology seems to be like a red thread the search for the real truth, and his work was at the same time always the well-founded confession of truth. His episcopal motto is: Cooperatores veritatis - we are co-workers of the truth. But is this still relevant today, in times when relativism, against which Ratzinger warned again and again, even as the successor of Peter, has long since manifested its dictatorship?

This dictatorship is indeed widespread even today. For it is one of the basic assumptions of the zeitgeist that claims to truth are immediately equated with indoctrination and intolerance, with fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Like all dictatorships, one supports the dictatorship of relativism by agreeing with it - loudly or silently. But one must question and expose it. For this dictatorship denies truth, but claims it for itself. The paradox of this dictatorship is that it relativises truth but makes its own relativism absolute. In this way, it shows its true face, which basically consists not in the denial, but in the subjectivisation and pluralisation of truth in the sense that everyone has their own "truth". Basically, however, there is no longer any truth, but only different views and opinions that people have to tolerate in order to be able to live together at all. Truth, however, that does not apply to all people and is therefore not universal, does not deserve this name.

Especially today, Pope Benedict XVI's passionate search for truth is highly topical, and that is why we are addressing it in our symposium. With his whole life and work, Joseph Ratzinger placed himself at the service of truth and saw his task as being "guardian of the sensibility for truth" and therefore concerned that people should not be diverted from their search for truth.

Is modern man, who thinks he is so enlightened, really still capable of truth?

Man can only be capable of truth if he admits to himself that he is first and foremost in need of truth. For man's deepest longing is directed towards the knowledge of truth. If man is honest with himself, he feels that in his heart he has a thirst for truth, and not for any partial truth but for the truth that is able to understand the meaning of life and the whole world. As a basic human question, St. Augustine, Joseph Ratzinger's eminent teacher, formulated what man desires more than truth: "Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem?" This means that the question of truth is identical with the question of man and that in the search for truth the specific dignity of man is indicated.

The Son of God Himself, we are told, said of Himself and testified that He is THE truth, THE way and THE life. And in the Gospel of John it is said that the truth makes free. Nevertheless, this path to real freedom seems to be obscured even in the Church. There seem to be many different truths floating around, at the expense of a once commanded commitment. Do we need a new and courageous orientation towards the only real truth?

For the Christian faith, the search for the true and the good is at the same time the question of God as the absolute truth. This truth has been revealed to us human beings in the history of salvation, most of all in Jesus Christ, and has thus been given to us. We human beings cannot find God's truth; we can only let ourselves be found by it. We cannot produce the truth of God; we can only bear witness to it.

Christian faith is the disciplined re-thinking of what God has thought and said before us. We cannot dispose of this revealed truth; we can only receive and pass it on in humility. Therein lies the true binding force of the truth revealed by God.

The particularly precious thing about the Christian faith is that truth has been given a name and is a person, as Pope Benedict XVI has expressed very profoundly: "At the beginning of Christianity there is not an ethical decision or a great idea, but the encounter with an event, with a person who gives our life a new horizon and thus its decisive direction" (Deus caritas est, n. 1). Jesus Christ is the way to truth because he is truth itself.

There is much uncertainty especially in the Church in Germany, which does not seem to be free of the temptation to develop into a "German Church". Looking forward certainly also requires an analysis of where and why what deficits have arisen in preaching and also in theological education. Which ones do you see?

The first addressee of the Revelation of God's truth is not simply the individual Christian. For he cannot believe from his own, but only with the Church. The individual Christian can only live his faith in the faith community of the Church. The first addressee of God's revealed truth is therefore the Church, namely the universal Church. Proclamation and theology are fruitful when their agents believe and think along with the whole Church and orient themselves to the true "origo" of the Christian faith, namely to the Revelation of God and its transmission in the living tradition of the Church.

Where Revelation is no longer the measure of proclamation and theology, but where, conversely, one's own thinking wants to decide what belongs to God's Revelation, there arises the irresistible urge to develop an original theology and proclamation. What the First Vatican Council said about the Pope also applies to every Catholic: "The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter so that they might bring to light a new doctrine through his Revelation, but so that with his assistance they might preserve and faithfully interpret the Revelation handed down by the apostles or the legacy of faith" (DS 3070).

One can hear again and again, also from Bishops, that there are supposedly new sources of Revelation. The spirit of the times and the - let me call it that - feelings of the faithful obviously play a role. Can the teachings of the Church be changed in this way? Is it or would it be a further development?

It irritates me that in addition to the sources of Revelation of Scripture and Tradition, new sources are being accepted; and it frightens me that this is happening - again - in Germany. For this phenomenon already occurred during the National Socialist dictatorship, when the so-called "German Christians" saw God's new Revelation in blood and soil and in the rise of Hitler. The Confessing Church protested against this with its Barmen Theological Declaration in 1934, the first thesis of which reads: "We reject the false doctrine as if the church could and must recognise other events and powers, figures and truths as God's Revelation apart from and in addition to this one word of God as the source of preaching."

The Christian faith must always be interpreted in a way that is both true to its origins and contemporary. The Church is therefore certainly obliged to take careful note of the signs of the times and to take them seriously. But they are not new sources of Revelation. In the three-step process of faithful knowledge - seeing, judging and acting - the signs of the times belong to seeing and by no means to judging alongside the sources of Revelation. I miss this necessary distinction in the orientation text of the "Synodal Path".

One speaks, reads and talks a lot about necessary reforms. Adaptation to the world and the political zeitgeist as well as the longing for the applause of the world seem to have a strong attraction there. Is Jesus Christ no longer considered the valid standard for reforms in the sense of an Ecclesia semper reformanda, which should not be an Ecclesia semper deformanda?

I would like to recall the important message "Our Hope" of the Würzburg Synod of Dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany: "The crisis of church life is ultimately not due to difficulties in adapting to our modern life and attitude to life, but to difficulties in adapting to the One in whom our hope is rooted and from whose being it receives its height and depth, its path and its future: Jesus Christ with his message of the 'Kingdom of God'." By putting conformity to Jesus Christ first, the way is opened for a true reform of the Church. It consists in conversion to Jesus Christ, who is the true newness that no other newness can ever catch up with. We Christians and the Church are renewed by living in the newness of God, to which Paul calls the Christians in Rome: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed and renewed in your minds, that you may prove and discern what is the will of God: what is pleasing to him, what is good and perfect" (Rom 12:2).

If we take this exhortation of the Apostle Paul seriously, we will realise that the real and authentic reformers in the Church are the saints. They live out that true renewal does not mean a less Christianity and does not intend a "church light", but a more and a deepening. And their testimony shows that true reform has the renewal of faith and church as its goal, not a new faith and a new church.

Where do you see the greatest dangers on the one hand and the greatest opportunities on the other for the empowerment of truth knowledge and truth mission today? What is really important now? What can be done so that as many people as possible experience and suspect: Veritas Liberabit Vos - The truth will set you free?

I see the greatest danger today in the fact that truth and freedom are no longer seen together, but are torn apart. In German theology today, there is a strong tendency to assume that freedom is the highest value for human beings and to judge from this what can still be considered the truth of faith and what must be thrown overboard. In contrast, the Christian faith faces the elementary challenge to show in a new way and above all to live that there can be no freedom past the truth of faith, insofar as real freedom consists in going forward on the path of truth.

Such freedom is granted to us above all in the encounter with God. For freedom can only grow in the encounter with freedom, and above all with that absolute freedom of God, which is precisely not the competitor but the guarantor of human freedom, because he is love. In the encounter with him, we also realise that even in the life of faith, freedom can only be realised in love. What matters today is the rediscovery of that symphony of truth and love in freedom that Pope Benedict XVI condensed into a single sentence: "Only when truth and love coincide can man become joyful, only truth makes free." Only truth makes free and not freedom true.

Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly called for the reconciliation of reason and faith. He has proved in an almost delicate way that only togetherness makes the wholeness of the human being possible. It is not by chance that we are talking here about the Enlightenment of the Enlightenment, which, as we know, tore this unity apart, with all the consequences from which we suffer today. Does this project still have a realistic chance if, for example, prenatal infanticide is declared a human right and even the church calls for widespread abortion and there is no clear commitment to the right to life - out of shame or cowardice? - is missing?

The reconciliation of faith and reason is also important to Pope Benedict XVI because only in this way can diseases of faith be avoided and pathologies of reason overcome. For without reason, faith threatens to obscure its truth, and without faith, reason threatens to become one-sided and one-dimensional. It is no coincidence that such pathologies of reason are also evident today in the understanding and practice of human rights. For if truth is no longer recognised as a universal quantity, but is subjectivistically pluralised, the question of whether human rights are really universal and belong to all human beings is also negotiated without bias today.

Closely related to this is the fact that today everyone talks about human rights, but by no means understands them in the same way. A fundamental shift has crept in, especially with regard to the elementary right to life. This is being replaced in the public sphere and even in jurisprudence by the right of self-determination to abortion in the alleged interest of women's reproductive health, with complete disregard for the human right to life of the unborn child. The talk of a "human right to abortion" documents the absurd nadir of this development, in which the unreasonable is declared the highest reason. Here, enlightenment about enlightenment is really called for.

Finally, because this Pilate question is obviously sounding loudly: What is truth?

With the aforementioned question, the praetor Pilate slipped into the role of the sceptical philosopher in order to expose Jesus' claim to truth as the fundamentalism of a messianic zealot. This question has been running through history ever since, right up to the present day, as a sceptical counter dogma to the truth of Jesus, who made his self-confession before the praetor: "I was born for this purpose and came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (Jn 18:37). This answer of Jesus contains the essence of how we Christians understand truth and what demands it makes on us: Christian truth is a person and shows its true face in Jesus Christ. The early Christian theologian Tertullian condensed this conviction in the one sentence that Jesus had by no means said that he was the habit, but the truth. Since this is indeed the case, it cannot be enough for us to be Christians out of habit. As believers, we are called to desire nothing more than the truth and to find it in God and in the testimony of his only Son.


Clarification statement by the Cardinal


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