Inés San Martín
Typically, Pope Francis and German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich are considered allies. Recently, however, the two men offered contrasting takes on the legacy of one of the modern world’s most influential social and political movements – ironically enough, ‘Marxism.’
While the Bavarian cardinal said in a recent interview that the father of Communism had “unmistakably” influenced Catholic social teaching, Francis wrote in the preface of a collection of writings of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on Faith and politics that Marxism is wrong to deny humanity’s dependence on God.
The book on Benedict’s writings, titled Liberating Freedom: Faith and Politics in the Third Millennium, will be released in Italian on Friday at a Rome presentation in the Senate. It will include Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. The preface was published in advance on Sunday by the Italian newspaper, La Stampa.
Quoting one of the texts from Benedict included in the book, Francis says the state is “not the totality”, and that by demanding to be “the totum of human possibilities and hopes,” as the Roman State did, it forges and impoverishes humanity.
“With [this] totalitarian lie, [the Roman state] became demonic and tyrannical,” Benedict XVI wrote in the text quoted by Francis.
It’s on that basis, according to Francis, that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later Benedict – alongside St John Paul II elaborated and proposed “a Christian vision of human rights capable of questioning on a theoretical and practical level the totalitarian claim of the Marxist State and the atheist ideology on which it was based.”
In an unnamed text that dates back to the 1970s, which, according to Francis, shows “a theological depth…proper to an authentic pastor”, Ratzinger contrasts Marxism and Christianity by noting the latter’s preferential attention for the poor.
“We must learn – once again, not only at the theoretical level, but in the way we think and act – that alongside the real presence of Jesus in the Church and in the sacrament, there exists that other real presence of Jesus in the little ones, in the trampled of this world, in the last, in whom he wants us to find him,” Ratzinger wrote in the text quoted by Francis.
The profound contrast between Christianity and Marxism, according to Ratzinger, shows in the abysmal difference on how redemption should happen: “Redemption occurs through liberation from all dependence, or is the only way to liberation, the complete dependence on love, which would then also be true freedom?”
Over a span of 30 years, Francis wrote, Ratzinger “accompanies us to the understanding of our present”, noting that today more than ever, humanity continues to be tempted to refuse “any dependence on love that is not a person’s love for their ego”.
Such dependence for the “I and its desires”, the Pontiff writes, leads to the danger of the “‘colonisation’ of consciences by an ideology that denies the basic certainty that humankind exists as male and female to whom the task of the transmission of life is assigned”.
Such ideology, Francis writes in the preface to Benedict’s book, goes to the extent of “planning and rationally” producing human beings and considers “logical and licit” to eliminate what is no longer considered as “created, donated conceived and generated, but made by ourselves”.
The best way to defend humanity from these ideological reductions, the pontiff writes, is tied to putting obedience to God as the limit of obedience to the state.
At around the same time, Cardinal Marx said that the father of communism can be “very helpful” in light of current revolutions and wars.
“Human rights without material participation remain incomplete,” Marx told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. “Without him [Karl Marx], there would not be any Catholic social doctrine,” the cardinal reportedly said, also stating that the sociologist is not responsible for the crimes committed in his name.
The prelate also said that he’s always been fascinated by the writings of the man who shares his name, and that in his opinion, the Church’s social teaching owes recognition to that Marx.
“We’re on the shoulders of Karl Marx,” he said, quoting Jesuit theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning. “This doesn’t mean that he’s a father of the Church. But his position has always been a point of discussion.”
In any case, he said, “we shouldn’t have allowed unbridled capitalism to steal from us the banner of justice towards the workers and of solidarity towards those who are trampled.”
“Historically [you can’t] separate a thinker from what was later done in his name by others,” he said, according to the Vatican’s newspaper of record, L’Osservatore Romano, that had an article on May 5 collecting some of the cardinal’s words under the headline of “Marx in back-lighting” [Marx in controluce]. “It’s also true that he must not even be held responsible for all that was done as a result of his theories, up to the Stalin gulags.”
Marx gave two interviews, one to the Frankfurter and one to the Rheinische Post, with similar content in both, ahead of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of the Communist Manifesto on May 5, 1818.
Speaking about the manifesto written by a man described by the Vatican’s paper as “one of the bitterest critics of the Church and priests”, the cardinal acknowledged it had “impressed” him.
According to the cardinal, now that “real socialism” has ended in Europe, it’s perhaps possible to “have a more impartial look at his philosophy”, because he’s a thinker who’s “contributed to shaping our history” even in “a negative sense”.
Marx, who was made a cardinal by Benedict XVI, also told the story that St John Paul II used to jokingly call him “nostro marxista” [our Marxist].
Among other things, the cardinal highlighted that Karl Marx was an “acute analyst of capitalism”, and that today its political end ecological impact have become visible: “that which is technically possible can be done” and “that which generates revenue must face no obstacle”.