Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ratzinger on Peter's Authority
Today is the Feast of the Sts. Peter and Paul. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite books written by Ratzinger, Called to Communion (trans., A. Walker; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 63-65:
The power of the keys recalls the word of God to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:22. Along with the keys, Eliakim receives in trust ‘dominion and control over the dynasty of the descendants of David.’ But the word that the Lord addresses to the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, whom he reproaches for shutting the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven to men (Mt 23:13), also helps us to comprehend the content of this commission logion. As the faithful steward of Jesus’ message, Peter opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven; his is the function of the doorkeeper, who has to judge concerning admission and rejection (cf. Rev 3:7). In this sense, the significance of the reference to the keys clearly approximates the meaning of binding and loosing. This latter expression is taken from rabbinic language, where it stands primarily for the authority to make doctrinal decisions and, on the other hand, denotes a further disciplinary power, that is, the right to impose or to lift the ban.... If we bear in mind the parallel to the word of the risen Jesus transmitted in John 20:23, it becomes apparent that in its core the power to bind and to loose means the authority to forgive sins, an authority that in Peter is committed to the Church (cf. Mt 18:15-18).
This seems to me to be a cardinal point: at the inmost core of the new commission, which robs the forces of destruction of their power, is the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. Behind the talk of authority, God’s power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church; in the background we hear the word of the Lord: ‘It is not the healthy who have need of the physician, but those who are ill; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Mk 2:17).
The Church can come into being only where man finds his way to the truth about himself, and the truth is that he needs grace. Wherever pride closes him to this insight, man cannot find the way to Jesus. The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are the words of forgiveness, which man cannot speak of himself but are granted by God’s power alone. We also understand now why this periscope passes directly over into an announcement of the Passion: by his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease.