Ratzinger: “The Petrine ministry…while preserving its substance as a divine institution, can find expressions in various ways according to the different circumstances of time and place.”

Originally posted

Surely by now, everyone reading this space has purchased their copy of (now archbishop) J. Michael Miller’s The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development and Mission of the Papacy.  This book was published in 1995 by Our Sunday Visitor, and is an expansion on +Miller’s 1979 doctoral thesis, which the Gregorianum published in 1980 under the title, The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology.

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Chapter 16 of this book is titled: “Facing the Future: 21 Theses on the Papal Ministry”

What might the future hold, in terms of the form and function of the Papal Ministry? Turn to page 357:

Thesis 14: In order to fulfill its specific mission, the Petrine ministry has assumed many different forms in the past and will continue to do so in the future

Because the people of God are on a pilgrimage, the pope must have the freedom to respond to new challenges, thereby revealing new facets of the Petrine ministry. We must be on guard, therefore, lest we too quickly identify contingent forms with what is dogmatically essential to the papal office. (Do you see here how the ministry is obviously distinct from the office? -NVP)

Miller immediately goes on to support this thesis with a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF at the time:

“The Petrine ministry…while preserving its substance as a divine institution, can find expressions in various ways according to the different circumstances of time and place.” -Cardinal Ratzinger (as Prefect of the CDF), Communionis Notio, 28 May 1992, P.18

From the Latin: “quodque, salva substantia divina institutione definita, diversimode pro varietate locorum et temporum se manifestare potest”

I looked up the source, and indeed it is an official document of the CDF, signed by Ratzinger:


The topic at hand, obviously, is the possibility of changing the structure of the papacy, to meet the varying needs of the Church and its members, while maintaining the essential nature of the office. This was Ratzinger’s dream, to somehow overcome the Petrine stumbling block for the sake of unity. And if changing the structure of the Petrine ministry was necessary, he was open to it.

Back to the Miller book, page 358:

Ratzinger admits that “without a doubt there have been misguided developments in both theology and practice where the primacy is concerned.” A particular way of exercising the primacy might well have been the pope’s duty for the Church’s welfare at one time, without its being so in the future. In the words of Hermann Pottmeyer, “the present juridical and organizational form of the office of Peter is neither the best imaginable nor the only possible realization.”

Now let’s take a look at Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1997 book-length interview with Peter Seewald, Salt of the Earth, page 257:

Seewald: “Do you think that the papacy will remain as it is?”

++Ratzinger: “In its core it will remain. In other words, a man is needed to be the successor of Peter and to bear a personal final authority that is supported collegially. Part of Christianity is a personalistic principle; it doesn’t get vaporized into anonymities but presents itself in the person of the priest, of the bishop, and the unity of the universal Church once again has a personal expression. This will remain, the magisterial responsibility for the unity of the Church, her faith, and her morals that was defined by Vatican I and II. Forms of exercise can change, they will certainly change, when hitherto separated communities enter into unity with the Pope. By the way, the present Pope’s (JPII) exercise of the pontificate—with the trips around the world—is completely different from that of Pius XII. What concrete variations emerge I neither can nor want to imagine. We can’t foresee now exactly how that will look.”

Ahem. “I neither can nor want to imagine.” Oh man, how unknowingly prophetic is that? Then again, if you self-fulfill your own prophesy, is that cheating?

“Forms of exercise can change, they will certainly change”

He’s not exactly on the fence about it, is he?

Now let’s move to the following year, and another document written by Cardinal Ratzinger in his official role as Prefect of the CDF, The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church, 18 November 1998:

At this moment in the Church’s life, the question of the primacy of Peter and of his Successors has exceptional importance as well as ecumenical significance. John Paul II has frequently spoken of this, particularly in the Encyclical Ut unum sint, in which he extended an invitation especially to pastors and theologians to “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”…

“The pilgrim Church, in its sacraments and institutions, which belong to this age, carries the mark of this world which is passing”.44 For this reason too, the immutable nature of the primacy of Peter’s Successor has historically been expressed in different forms of exercise appropriate to the situation of a pilgrim Church in this changing world…The Holy Spirit helps the Church to recognize this necessity, and the Roman Pontiff, by listening to the Spirit’s voice in the Churches, looks for the answer and offers it when and how he considers it appropriate.

Consequently, the nucleus of the doctrine of faith concerning the competencies of the primacy cannot be determined by looking for the least number of functions exercised historically. Therefore, the fact that a particular task has been carried out by the primacy in a certain era does not mean by itself that this task should necessarily be reserved always to the Roman Pontiff… (ahem, you mean like delegating the Governance role without relinquishing the Office, per Canon 131.1? -NVP)

In any case, it is essential to state that discerning whether the possible ways of exercising the Petrine ministry correspond to its nature is a discernment to be made in Ecclesia, i.e., with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in fraternal dialogue between the Roman Pontiff and the other Bishops, according to the Church’s concrete needs. But, at the same time, it is clear that only the Pope (or the Pope with an Ecumenical Council) has, as the Successor of Peter, the authority and the competence to say the last word on the ways to exercise his pastoral ministry in the universal Church.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,Prefect, CDF, Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church (published in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 18 November 1998, page 5-6) HERE

But wait! There’s more:

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It’s 2008 and Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI. This collection of essays, in various forms, goes back to 1987. The 2008 edition was translated by our new friend, Archbishop Miller. Turn straight to page 38 to read Benedict waxing poetic about the idea of not one, not two, but THREE members in an expanded Petrine ministry. He literally uses the term “papal troika.”

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Talk about shifting the Overton Window. How about having a book published after you’ve become pope, introducing the radical idea of a papal troika as being plausible, and then pulling back to the slightly less radical idea of a diarchy, making the latter seem positively moderate by comparison.

But remember, there is absolutely zero evidence that Pope Benedict ever once, even for a moment, considered the idea of altering the structure of the papacy, you stupid layperson.

17 thoughts on “Ratzinger: “The Petrine ministry…while preserving its substance as a divine institution, can find expressions in various ways according to the different circumstances of time and place.””

  1. Mark,
    Your book extract from “Church, Ecumenism & Politics” interested me very much. That sounded really bad. But, I noticed the entire extract was in reference to what someone else had said, or was saying. Pope Benedict was merely summarizing the view of author E. Petersen (1935). Pope Benedict often did this to deal directly with an external proposition, many of which he didn’t agree with and then demonstrated in subsequent pages why.
    So I was interested in what came after the concluding sentence of your extract (” …. unity of all Christians”).
    It comes from an essay (the book is a collection of his essays), chapter titled “The primacy of the Pope and the unity of the people of God”. The next page goes on *in his own words*
    – quote, after “… unity of all Christians”; the Petersen quote is complete; Benedict continues … –
    “2. The interior basis for the primacy: Faith as responsible personal witness
    Is this, then—the reconciliation of collegiality and primacy—the answer to the question posed by our subject: the primacy of the pope and the unity of the People of God? Although we need not conclude that such reflections are entirely sterile and useless, it is plain that they are a distortion of trinitarian doctrine and an intolerably oversimplified fusion of Creed and Church pol- ity. What is needed is a more profound approach. It seems to me that it is important, first of all, to reestablish a clearer connec- tion between the theology of communion, which had developed from the idea of collegiality, and a theology of personality, which is no less important in interpreting the biblical facts. Not only does the communal character of the history created by God be- long to the structure of the Bible, but also and equally personal responsibility. The ‘‘we’’ does not dissolve the ‘‘I’’ and ‘‘you,’’ but rather it confirms and intensifies them so as to make them almost definitive. This is evident already in the importance that a name has in the Old Testament—for God and for men. One could even say that in the Bible ‘‘name’’ takes the place of what philosophical reflection would eventually designate by the word ‘‘person.’’10 Corresponding to God, who has a name, that is, who can address others and be addressed, is man, who is called by name in the history of revelation and is held personally responsi- ble.11 … It is in keeping with this personal structure, furthermore, that in the Church there has never been anonymous leadership of the Christian community. Paul writes in his own name as the one ultimately responsible for his congregations. But again and again he addresses by name those also who hold authority with him and under him; recall the lists of greetings in 1 Corinthians and the Letter to the Romans, or the comment in 1 Corinthians 4:17: ‘‘Therefore I sent you Timothy . . . , to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every Church;’’ or the Let- ter to the Philippians, in which Paul (4:2) singles out Euodia and Syntyche and addresses his ‘‘true coworker’’ in the second person singular. Along these same lines, lists of bishops were compiled already at the beginning of the second century (Hegesippus) so as to emphasize for the historical record the particular and personal responsibility of those witnesses to Jesus Christ.14 This process is profoundly in keeping with the central structure of the New Testament faith: to the one witness, Jesus Christ, correspond the many witnesses who, precisely because they are witnesses, stand up for him by name. Martyrdom as a response to the Cross of Jesus Christ is nothing other than the ultimate confirmation of this principle of uncompromising particularity, of the named in- dividual who is personally responsible.15”
    – end quote –
    His essential answer to Petersen is *not to agree*, but to say this instead: “Although we need not conclude that such reflections are entirely sterile and useless, it is plain that they are a distortion of trinitarian doctrine and an intolerably oversimplified fusion of Creed and Church pol- ity.”
    I don’t think it shifts the Overton window because I don’t think that excerpt describes his thought at all. He was responding to a claim. And he rejects the claim: “not entirely sterile and useless; are a distortion of Trinitarian doctrine; intolerably oversimplified fusion of Creed and Church pol-ity”.

  2. Octave of Corpus Christi, 2022 A. D.
    Thanks, Doc, for so well illustrating the Reading Tea Leaves (RTL) approach to Pope Benedict’s renunciation that underlies the substantial error thesis….
    What you claim as Pope Benedict “plausibly” presenting is simply not present in the text you quote. Pope Benedict is not advocating a papal troika. Where in the text does Benedict endorse that notion? That is you interpretation, or I daresay, your imagination.
    It’s like Miss Barnhardt claiming proof of creation of a split-ministry papacy is that Pope Benedict supposedly endorsed Gaenswein’s May 2016 Gregorian speech, because a third-party nameLESS source told her he said so! That’s third-hand hearsay. Not very solid evidence. Gaenswein’s words are just that: Gaenswein’s.
    In Corde Christi,
    C P Benischek

  3. This is excellent. These are the money quotes that connect Benedict’s thought process on the Papacy to the Modernist Nouvelle Theologie position. This is perfectly consistent with Benedict’s obsession with hermeneutic of continuity, trying to square Vatican I teachings with the new theology. It is absurd to think Benedict, an expert theologian who thrived in the world of the Nouvelle Theologie for decades somehow took a radically different position than his peers. This explains exactly why Benedict carefully chose the words he did in his resignation speech. Bottom line: he doesn’t think he can completely resign from the Petrine ministry (“office) because of its quasi-sacramental nature but believes the form the Petrine ministry can take is subject to change based on circumstances.

  4. Mark, that last quote is a bit disingenuous, no? In “Church, Ecumenism, and Politics,” Benedict is quoting and discussing the view of E. Peterson, not his own personal view. Two sentences after this (p.39), in the very next paragraph, Benedict gives us HIS view: “Although we need not conclude that such reflections are entirely sterile and useless, it is plain that they are a distortion of the trinitarian doctrine and an intolerability oversimplified fusion of Creed and Church polity.” The words “distortion of” and “intolerability” do not in any way sound like “agreement with” the opinion he is critiquing.
    After this Benedict goes on for a couple pages discussing how some, in and effort to discount primacy, have misconstrued the foundation of faith to be the ‘profession’ and not the ‘man’. On p.42 (after building an argument) he concludes “The answer is: The profession of faith exists only as something for which someone is personally responsible, hence the procession of faith is connected with the person.” Ratzinger even discusses in detail the primacy cannot be separated out and is necessary for opposition of world and Church.
    The other quotes are stronger, but your one from 2008 is clearly refuting the arguments of others, not claiming them as his own.

      1. I guess I think its disingenuous because it is a critique of E.Peterson’s view, but you claimed it to be his view. But 2 sentences later, he provides us his opinion saying “it is plain that they [views he just critiqued] are a distortion of trinitarian doctrine and an intolerably oversimplified fusion…” If this was 10 chapters later, I would understand. But it comes across a bit underhanded when he explains himself only 2 sentences later…. it would not have been hard to include that in your screenshot. So unfortunately it has that appearance (if you have the book).
        Im not against you. And I like your stuff. Just being honest on how it read to me…

    1. Jorge Bergoglio is no Pope. It is incumbent to point out all his supporting heresy and apostate errors.
      Benedict is Pope. He is Holy Father, validly elected. Until this, he was seen as “the greatest theologian ever named Pope”.
      I am more than willing to consider the Miller Thesis, and I appreciate the work done here and elsewhere to publish the hypothesis and it’s speculations. But, at the end of the day, they’re still speculations. We must speculate, because officially we have no answers beyond the inexplicable and infamous invalid resignation – made *just a week* after Benedict read the top secret papers and letters, leaked by Benedict’s private butler.
      I think, truth be told, there is equal possibility that the “why” can be traced right back to the comprehensive crisis in the senior Church Hierarchy, in alliance with OWG leaders, the crisis detonated with the leak – the game was up. One week after the leak, he was resigned the Ministerium. Spare me the tripe, all you “Frannyplenists”, he didn’t know are care about the difference between Munus and Ministerium in this act of supreme significance in the universe (not just the world).
      I give much credence to the good will and intent of the Holy Father, I have read many of his books, used to have quite a library of them. I am open to the possibility of total deception. But that case needs to be clear, convincing, obvious, honest … and the product of charity toward the reigning Vicar of Christ.

      1. Aqua,
        I think we are all in the “Jorge Bergoglio is no Pope” camp. I think there is agreement that Benedict’s resignation was invalid based on what he SAID. Also I think there is agreement that Benedict knew what he was doing in his verbiage. So what is left to postulate is the “why.” And on this, I am in agreement that this is all speculation. Did he play the word games as a way to preserve “primacy” or did he do it in an effort to expand the ministry?
        My personal opinion seems very ‘colored’ by past information, and I admit that. Having read Windswept House, it seems that during the JPII papacy there was an almost “open secret” to force a pope to resign. And therein, M.Martin postulates a way to preserve the papacy and AVOID abdicating via “word games” (resigning as ‘bishop of Rome’ instead of “pope”). Additionally having read The Ratzinger Report years ago, I came away with the sense of a deep somberness, that he lamented the direction of and his participation in Vatican II. Several times within he walks back previous positions and dislikes how things turned out. Then becoming Pope, Benedict seemed to reinforce my bias via incremental corrections back towards tradition, culminating in Summorum Pontificum. Then there was the significant changes to the English/German translations to better reflect the Latin. Latin and tradition kept being pushed to the fore…. For me, the “body of work” point towards placating, not reinventing.
        Lastly for me is that all of the prophesies point towards an ‘imprisoned pope’ (emerich), a false pope who is a destroyer (st Francis), them both being alive simultaneously (Fatima). Though I am open to additional information, I see nothing from past saints regarding the danger being an ‘expanded ministry,’ and certainly nothing pointing towards the pope as the instigator.
        Regardless, thank you as always Mark Docherty for thoughtful posts that spur something thoughtful….

      2. MarkV said: “For me, the “body of work” point towards placating, not reinventing.”
        That is precisely my thought.
        And dittos about Mark and his excellent blog.

        1. Remember that when +Ganswein was describing what Benedict had accomplished in expanding the Petrine ministry, he compared the act to God’s singular act of the Immaculate Conception.

      3. But that was Ganswein., who said it. Always Ganswein or some similar filter.
        Our Pope may very well be a prisoner in actual fact.

  5. And no. We may disagree on this, but when I read it, Benedict did not “lay out the argument for the Troika.” E.Peterson did. Benedict’s rebuked this as intolerable, a distortion, and an oversimplified fusion of different ideas. Hardly an agreement. Supported then by the next 6 pages of text defending primacy…. at least the way I read it.

  6. I still don’t understand how this interpretation of his failed resignation is the most charitable. Instead of lying or speaking in riddles he is assumed to be a pseudo heretic (does believing you could split the papacy in half reach the level of heresy?) and basically asserts the assistance of the Holy Spirit let him attempt to do that. Again, it’s like the claim that popes can be manifest heretics so long as they do not speak ex cathedra because they are not always infallible: true, they can err, but if they could teach soul destroying heresy we couldn’t be obligated to submit to the pope’s ordinary teachings ( which we are).

  7. I think Mark and Ann have shown us time and time again how Ratzinger and the other nouvelle theologians used the method of “moving the overton window”. I am sad to say that is has shattered any ideas I had of Ratzinger being “orthodox”. But in all honesty I would rather know the truth. Objectively without judging his heart Ratzinger has done a lot of damage to the Church and I wouldn’t be surprised if many souls went to hell due to his poor choices.
    Mark, I really want to applaud the time and effort you and Ann took reading and pouring over all these materials. I truly believe it was the Holy Spirit leading you to connect the dots. The truth is a difficult pill to swallow.

    1. Or, another reading of events is that the Pope was surrounded by evil beyond most normies comprehension – and responded according to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
      If we really believe that Peter is the Vicar of Christ in every age, and that “Papal Infalibility” is true, not because of magic, but because God is actually, substantially, practically present with the validly elected, single occupant Pope … then we must at least entertain the possibility that what the Holy Father (for that is what Benedict XVI is) did is not consummate evil (that is the allegation, and no doubt a possibility) but a holy service to God in a moment of supreme spiritual trial.
      I have heard more than one of my Priests (including a NO Priest a number of years ago) refer to this current crisis as the Passion of Holy Mother Church, Body of Christ, parallel to the physical Passion suffered by Our Lord two millenia ago. Normal does not describe what happens during The Passion. We should at least be open to that possibility and pray for wisdom and perseverance.
      *IF* Pope Benedict is on *THAT* path, then his own perseverance would very much be aided by prayers of the Faithful, seeing him suffer the supreme spiritual violence alone.
      And *IF* the other reading is correct … we will know in due time, but God will be the ultimate judge.

  8. Our Lady of Perpetual Help
    27th June, 2022 A. D.
    Pope Benedict by his own words remains in the Enclosure of St Peter, suffering at the Foot of the Cross. As all can see. He wears white. Etc. He’s the Catholic one of the two who do wear white. Again, as all can see.
    It is misguided, however, whatever one’s camp, to think he is culpable for his resignation of part of the active ministry, and I for one am unpersuaded by this part Barnhardt thesis, although overall I think Ann got the invalidity of the resignation right based on coercion, evil motives, and threat of force. But to take Gaenswein as gospel on the mind of Benedict makes no sense. Ann herself admits–rightly, as he is reputed to be Lavendar Mafia, and to my thinking a mole in the Benedict camp, a kind of Wormtongue in the open pay of Bergoglio–that she wouldn’t trust him as far as she could “throw him by his eyebrows.”
    (In a rather amusing irony, as you may recall, after Gaenswein was sanctioned by the Antipope for failing to contain Pope Benedict on the Sarah book defending the celibate priesthood [one of three of The Great Interventions of Pope Benedict during his self-imposed exile], Gaenswein was kicked out of his office and role as head of the Anti-Papal Household, but to date has not been deprived of the title. Has he lost the ministry but retained the munus, despite his literal office there now being occupied by another warm body.)
    Pope Benedict is not sending souls to Hell, as some here seem to think, and even dare say. That’s gaslighting mentality. He’s swimming in very deep waters. All we know is that he is the Pontiff, suffering for Holy Mother Church. I personally believe Pope Benedict is the Katechon.
    Is there any doubt by contrast that Bergoglio’s ambitious, sometimes ambiguous (sometimes not) actions and statements attempting to destroy and disfigure Holy Mother Church and Catholic doctrine, have any other aim than sending souls to Hell?
    Oremus pro Pontifice nostro
    B e n e d i c t u s
    C. P. Benischek
    New York, N. Y.

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