Ratzinger’s In the Beginning: God the Father

Ratzinger begins his first homily by noting that while the words of Genesis 1.1 – 19 “stirs the heart from afar with its beauty and dignity and gives it and inkling of the mystery of eternity” (3), he also notices that they “give rise to a certain conflict. They are beautiful and familiar, but are they also true? . . . it was not in neat succession that the stars were hing and the green of the fields created; it was rather in complex ways and over vast periods of time that the earth and the universe were constructed as we know them” (3).

Ratzinger then goes on to say that the Christian’s solution to this problem is the way in how he interprets the Genesis narrative:

One answer twas already worked out some time ago, as the scientific view of the world was gradually crystallizing; many of you probably came across it in your religious instruction. It says that the Bible is not a natural science textbook, nor does it intend to be such. It is a religious book, and consequently one cannot obtain information about the natural sciences from it. One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. (4)

As an Old Earth Creationist, I wonder what Ratzinger would say about scientific foreknowledge in the Biblical texts. This does not mean, thought, that Ratzinger wishes to divide religious life from scientific life. As he states on the next page,

Thus Scripture would not wish to inform us about how the different species of plant life gradually appeared or how the sun and the moon and the stars were established. Its purpose ultimately would be to say one thing: God created the world. The world is not, as people used to think then, a chaos of mutually opposed forces; nor is it the dwelling of demonic powers form which human beings must protect themselves. The sun and the moon are not deities that rule over them,  and the sky that stretches over their heads is not full of mysterious and adversary divinities. Rather, all of this come form one power, from God’s eternal Reason, which became – in the Word – the power of creation. All of this comes from the same Word of God that we meet in the act of faith. (5)

But if this view is correct, Ratzinger points out, why was Galileo put on trial? He points out that non-believers might think that Catholic teachers might be trying to hide behind this teaching. He also points out another potential problem: “If theologians .. can shift the boundaries her between image and intention, between what lies buried in the past and what is of enduring values, why can they not do so elsewhere – as, for instance, with respect to Jesus’ miracles?” (7)

Ratzinger then goes on to say that the standard for interpretation must be the unity of the Biblical narrative:

… Genesis 1, which we have just heard, is not, form its very beginning, something that is closed in on itself. Indeed, Holy Scripture in its entirety was not written from beginning to end like a novel or a textbook. It is, rather, the echo of God’s history with his people. It arose out of the struggles and the vagaries of this history, and all through it we can catch a glimpse of the rises and falls, the sufferings and hopes, and the greatness and failures of this history. The Bible is thus the story of God’s struggle with human beings to make himself understandable to them over the course of time (8 – 9)

After pointing out that Christ is the final end of Biblical interpretation for both the Old Testament and the New, Ratzinger’s first point in relationship to the Genesis narrative is that “Israel always believed in the Creator God, and this faith is shared with all the great civilizations in the ancient world” (10). Ratzinger spends the next few pages pointing out that faith in the ancient world was not a fairy tale, as often thought in the modern world.

As to Christology, the Genesis narrative is echoed in the beginning of John’s gospel. This shows us, says Ratzinger, that Christians read the Old Testament “always with Christ and through Christ” (16), as the ancient and medieval churches understood well. Ratzinger ends with this note:

The reasonableness of the universe provides us with access to God’s Reason, and the Bible is and continues to be the true “enlightenment,” which  has given the world over to human reason and not to exploitation by human beings, because it opened reason to God’s truth and love. . . God is the Lord of all things because his their creator, and only therefore can we pray to him. For this means that freedom and love are not ineffectual ideas but rather that they are sustaining forces of reality.

And so we wish to cite today, in thankfulness and joy, the church’s creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” Amen. (18)


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