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United in Christ

What makes a nation into a community of brothers and sisters, and the nations into a community of humankind? Nearly 70 years ago, Joseph Ratzinger addressed these issues in two lectures. The answers he gave are no less groundbreaking today.


by Dr. Christian Schaller

Buchcover: Joseph Ratzinger Gesammelte Schriften Kirche-Zeichen unter den Völkern

“The Unity of the Nations” and “Christian Brotherhood”

“The Unity of the Nations” and “Christian Brotherhood”: Taken together, these two addresses can be seen as a coordinate system for Joseph Ratzinger’s understanding of society, community, and the state. Many of the ideas that Ratzinger later developed further and expressed pointedly in his major speeches on these topics as Pope Benedict XVI are already present here. The two addresses, which were written almost 70 years ago, are still indispensable today in properly ordering the subjects of charity, love of neighbor, nations, and state.

In Jesus Christ, God has not only spoken to men but has also finally and radically made it possible for them to speak to him; for in him God became man and, as man, finally stepped out of his totally different being and entered into the dialogic situation of all men. Jesus the man stands as such within the community of discourse which unites all men as beings of the same order. The man Jesus can be addressed by every man, but in him it is God who is addressed.

(The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, p. 47, part two of the book: "An Attempt at Synthesis", chapter: "The Basis of Christian Brotherhood: Faith")

In Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, we have a theologian who embarked on the search for the “unity of the nations” and “Christian brotherhood” in two published works, with which he initiated an attempt to describe how orienting of the community of man in the secular sphere towards Christ offers a viable opportunity for a more humane coexistence. In these two publications, which come from lectures given in 1958 in Vienna and in 1962 in Salzburg, Joseph Ratzinger describes the elements that transform a nation into a community of sisters and brothers and the nations into a community of humanity.

Papst Benedikt schaut aufs Kreuz

Unity of mankind – Unity in Christ

“Peace on earth to men of good will” – these tidings to the shepherds in the field at Bethlehem rang out at around the same time as the Pax Romana was proclaimed by the emperor Augustus, who was, as Virgil prophesied: “he, who you know was long promised to you, ... the bringer of the golden age.” What at first glance appears to be identical here is, in fact, irreconcilably different at its core.

One saw the unity of mankind as something initiated and directed by an earthly authority, because divinity, which was part of the world, did not itself govern. But the God of Jesus Christ is a God who, as one who is over and above the world, took the pieces of the one Adam, of mankind, fragmented by separation in sin, and in the second Adam, (as Saint Paul characterizes Christ theologically) formed them into one body of Christ.

Here it was not man against man, state against state, not patrons of peace in the human/political sense against the saving peace that only God himself can give, not the concept of gathering people and subjects under the provisions of a state system against a religiously motivated de-individualization of the individual. The communion of Christians is the reunification of mankind, the establishment of man’s universal unity as one humanity through the mystery of Christ’s becoming man, though his passion and his resurrection.

Highway to Heaven Fahne

Through the incarnation, Christ changed humanity, indeed each individual person.

Through the incarnation, Christ changed humanity, indeed each individual person; something that happens to one person affects all of us. By becoming man; that is, by God clothing himself in humanity, Christ drew all human beings to himself and touched them in their innermost being. They have been joined together in the one body that is Christ.

God’s entering into history is linked to a dynamic of unity that describes the transition from isolation to communio, from fragmentation and disunity to movement towards God, from the old Adam to the new Adam, from the old man to the new man.

What is meant here is not the forces of the stronger power with his armies, who, in the name of establishing unity, erects a fence around man’s existence; rather it refers to the gathering together of humanity in the body of Christ. This is what the Fathers meant when, following Saint Paul, they described the Church as the body of Christ. This is where all hope for the fulfillment of unity in the name of Jesus Christ is directed.

Created for freedom and for dignity

And so, in concrete terms, the way to unity lies in Christ and faith in him. For there, where the center of human thought and action is located, outside of human requirements and human purposes, the dimension of creatureliness is also to be found, which means not dependency, but dignity; not control from the outside, but freedom.

What emerged in antiquity from the Church Fathers, most notably Augustine, in their opposition to the Stoics and their universal deification of God and man, or to Platonism and its dialectic of irreconcilable separation between God and the world, is a sober-minded consideration of the reality of human life.

The Ten Commandments: The foundation for a flourishing society

With the Ten Commandments, God distributes the kingdoms among mankind, provides the basis for social coexistence, and lays the foundation for a flourishing society, based upon the principles – the rights – carved in stone that Moses delivered to the people of Israel.

If by ordering himself towards Christ, man is freed from his total reliance on the things of this world, thus becoming a man before the face of God, then he is no longer first and foremost a citizen, a member of a grand polity or a political/ideological association. Rather, he recognizes himself in his very nature as a human being who at last also sees his fellow human beings as brothers and sisters whose existence was likewise born from the love of God. To recognize this “fellow man” dimension once more and to continue exploring it as the basis for shaping one’s own life is likewise a key requirement for coexistence in public life.

At first glance, it may seem counterproductive to attempt to get at the heart of Christianity using a term that describes the “dogmatic” aspect of Christianity, its “Catholic matrix”; but for Ratzinger, it is precisely in the Symbolum (the Creed) that the very newness of the Christian faith is expressed.

Papst Benedikt im Seitenportrait

The true bond among people

The two texts offer a deep insight into the understanding of fraternity and the coexistence of peoples and nations that has been shaped by Joseph Ratinzger. A lasting and far-reaching dimension of the recognition of humanity in the other is grounded in our common orientation towards the God who is now approachable by us, who has come to the aid of us human beings in Jesus Christ.

No man-made community, whether it is the nation (with all its dangerous potential for exclusion and making enemies) or Marxism (with its collectivization and leveling of all human and individual characteristics) can accomplish what this one, universally healing dimension of the fellowship of the human race can.

The knowledge that all human beings have their origin in the will of God is thus the true condition for peace on earth and among men. Reading these two lectures, written almost 70 years ago and still indispensable today in properly ordering the subjects of charity, love of neighbor, nation, and state, also opens the way to a true understanding of creation and what it means to be human.

Joseph Ratzinger, Die Einheit der Nationen. Eine Vision der Kirchenväter, Salzburg 1971. 22005; JRGS 1, 555-570.
Joseph Ratzinger, Die christliche Brüderlichkeit, München 1960. 2
2006; JRGS 8, 37-101.

The author, Dr. Christian Schaller, is deputy director of the Pope Benedict XVI Institute.