Longtime Vatican Aide, Now a Bishop; "Semina Verbi"

Former Secretary Under Cardinal Ratzinger Is Installed

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- On Tuesday, in St. Peter's Basilica, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger celebrated the episcopal installation of Monsignor Josef Clemens, the former secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Under Bernini's imposing bronze and gold chair of St. Peter, the new prelate was welcomed into the fraternity of bishops by 13 Vatican cardinals, more than 35 bishops and the melodious voices of the Legionaries of Christ choir.

Tourists who happened in on the basilica on that cold evening on the feast of Epiphany were able to witness the intimate warmth that the Vatican offers to one of its own.

The Mass was celebrated in Bishop Clemens' native tongue, German, as well as in Latin and Italian.

Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, a longtime friend of Josef Clemens, read the first reading in impeccable Italian. Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's private secretary, sat with his fellow bishops behind a row of cardinals that included Giovanni Battista Re, Renato Martino and Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who head the dicasteries overseeing bishops, justice and peace, and clergy, respectively.

Cardinal Ratzinger in his homily spoke of the mission of the bishop "in a dark world."

"A careful reading of the sacred Scriptures shows us something new," said Cardinal Ratzinger. "We see not only the pilgrimage of the faithful toward God, but the pilgrimage of God toward us."

"God comes down from the stars, just as the song says," said the cardinal, referring to a popular Italian Christmas song, "and looks for man."

"And this is the beautiful mission of a bishop: to be an instrument of the pilgrimage of God towards humanity," he said.

"In a dark world," said Cardinal Ratzinger speaking without notes, "the bishop lights a candle of great joy and is the carrier of the divine light."

Bishop Clemens, in a short thank-you speech after the Mass, said: "I wish to add something to Cardinal Ratzinger's invitation to the bishop not to proclaim himself but the message of the one who sends him."

"The bishop is also one who guides the gaze of humanity toward the star which never is never spent; that man will not lose himself on other paths," said Bishop Clemens.

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"Seeds of the Word"

Ecumenism -- what it is and how it should be carried out -- has long been a source of debate in theological and pastoral circles within the Church.

This week, La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal that is vetted by the Vatican's Secretariat of State before publication, weighs in on the issue with an article entitled, "The Seeds of the Word, Elements of Truth in Non-Christian Religions."

The article refers specifically to a debate going on in Italy and Germany, but its points may be of interest to English-speaking ecumenical watchers.

The argument in brief is that the "semina Verbi" (seeds of the Word) referred to by the Church Fathers as present in classical Greek thinkers "has been illegitimately extended by the Second Vatican Council to include religions, cultures and national traditions of non-Christian people," according to the article.

"It is the scandal of those who in the words of Jean Dumont, want to keep separate Rome and Jerusalem," continues the Civiltà Cattolica article.

The article states that for some German theologians, "the doctrine of 'semina Verbi' was applied by the apologist Fathers only to certain great thinkers, not to ancient religions as a whole."

So Justin, for example, praises Socrates, while Clement refers to the Greek poets and philosophers who have recognized the one true God.

Yet this idea of a seed of truth present in pre-Christian thinkers, the German argument goes, "does not lend itself neither to the promotion of a theory of universal redemption nor of a re-evaluation of pagan religion."

Vatican II, however, did just that.

"Semina Verbi," according to La Civiltà Cattolica, appears only once in a Vatican II document ("Ad Gentes," Article 1, No. 11), but its idea pervades other documents, particularly "Nostra Aetate," on non-Christian religions.

Further, says the article, "a discussion on 'semina Verbi' cannot but enlarge itself to other related themes ... regarding the salvation of non-Christians, the salvific value of non-Christian religions, the absolute salvific role of Christianity ... and the rapport between these and the missionary duty of the Church."

La Civiltà Cattolica admits it is "praiseworthy to establish the exact meaning of the formula 'semina Verbi' in those ancient authors," but it admonishes those theologians who seek "to set in stone that meaning."

"It is as if," continues the article, "the conscience of the Church cannot progress and cannot reflect on its faith in order to preach it in a planetary context that is no longer that of the Fathers and which imposes problems almost unknown in their time."

"Beyond the truth of the faith, which must be conserved and preserved 'eodem sensu eademque sententia,'" says the article, "the negation of any possible development in teaching and in the predication of those same truths and of pastoral behavior risks the danger and the suspicion of fundamentalism, despite every good intention."

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Pius XII and the Cold War

Historians and others will be interested in a new book entitled "Religion and the Cold War," edited by Dianne Kirby and published by Palgrave-Macmillian, which collects a series of essays by academics on the Vatican's role in the Cold War.

The book is a fascinating read because it brings together quite different approaches to and opinions on Vatican politics in Europe and in America, the role of Pius XII, the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, and even a look at how Christianity was portrayed in films of the time.

Two essays, for example, consider the role of Pius XII in the Cold War -- and arrive at radically different conclusions.

Frank Coppa, professor of history at St. John's University, New York, takes the view that Pius XII played an integral role in the political maneuverings of the Cold War. Coppa writes:

"Pope Pius XII mobilised Catholic forces to combat communism, initiating a global campaign against Bolshevism in general and the Soviet Union in particular, thus contributing to the opening of the Cold War. American historians have finally recognised the part played by the United States in provoking the Cold War, [but] the papal role has not always been recognised."

By contrast, Peter Kent of the University of New Brunswick, in his essay "The Lonely Cold War of Pope Pius XII," claims that the Vatican role was ineffectual:

"While the Roman Catholic Church provided much of the ideological rhetoric of the Cold War, it had little direct influence on the course of events. … On the outbreak of war in 1939, the newly-elected Pius XII recognised that Soviet communism posed a major threat to the traditional Catholic civilisation of Europe. Believing that the continued dislocation of European society by war would only work to the advantage of international communism, the Pope's first objective was to assume a posture of impartiality so that he could be available as a mediator."

Coppa argues, however, that Pius XII was anything but impartial. The former writes:

"On 1 July 1949, the decree was promulgated in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, providing papal support for a condemnation and excommunication [of communist supporters] which had never been launched against Nazism. The accusations sanctioned by Pius XII against communism were equally applicable to Nazism, which likewise violated the basic teachings of the Faith but for reasons still debated, from 1939 to 1945, he chose not to unleash such charges against it, or its adherents. However, in the post-war period Pius proved critical of nazism as well as communism, as he moved closer to the Western allies."

Kent, however, sees a Pius XII in 1950 as a man without allies. Myron Taylor, the U.S. president's personal representative to the Pope, closed the American Office to the Vatican, and the Church in Eastern Europe was under attack.

"While the 1950 Holy Year appeared as an impressive public display of the Church triumphant," concludes Kent, "this only put a good face on a difficult situation. ... Pope Pius XII stood alone internationally and within his Church as he celebrated the Holy Year of 1950."

There are many other interesting essays that deserve to be read, on Harry Truman's religious legacy, on the situation of local churches in Yugoslavia, Germany, France and England. My advice is to get the book and learn more.

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Fatima, Continued

My article on Fatima (see Rome Notes, Jan. 1) provoked a number of responses, though I stand by the story. Those interested in the full text of the statement by the rector of the Fatima shrine, plus an in-depth look at the controversy, will want to get the February issue of Inside the Vatican magazine (www.insidethevatican.com).

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.