In 1999 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "Rites ... are forms of the Apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition." ... He had in the same book previously observed that these places, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, all are "connected with Petrine traditions" ... it is not only in Rome that Peter speaks in the Paradosis. He goes on: "The liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical equipment, something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development". Notice that he uses the term 'laws' in a way which has nothing whatsoever to do with enacted legislation. He is discerning principles of ecclesial life which go deeper than Canon Law. As Ratzinger continues, it seems to me that he shows a markedly limited enthusiasm for the intrusion into Liturgy, in the West, of the juridical authority of the papacy."The more vigorously the papacy was displayed, the more the question came up of about the extent and limits of this authority, which, of course, as such had never been considered. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the consciousness of the West [observe his emphasis that he is speaking of Western phenomena]. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not 'manufactured' by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity."
Ratzinger pauses briefly to say that "Here again, as in the questions of ikons and sacred music, we come up against the special path trod by the West." The significance of this is that, when he was dealing with those topics in his previous chapter, the cardinal was far from viewing East and West through equally benign spectacles. On the contrary, he gently chided the West for never having achieved a 'real reception' of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II. Here, as there, the balance of his sympathies appears to rest with what he understands to be the Eastern tradition. ("We come up against ..." is a significant phrase.) He admits a place for the more innovatory instincts of the West, but concludes: "it would lead to the breaking up of the foundations of Christian identity if the fundamental intuitions of the East, which are the fundamental intuitions of the early Church, were abandoned. The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."[My italics.]
It seems to me that Cardinal Ratzinger's concerns are less with Canon Law than with an unwritten law inscribed in the very nature of the Church (the embodiment of authentic tradition), which trumps the law embodied in transient canonical codes and enactments. He is not concerned to join in the scrimmage of canonists as they examine their manuals and gather their precedents in order to discover exactly how a particular decree of Paul VI might or might not be glossed. What he is writing is Theology. His subject is the Spirit-filled life of the Catholic Church.
The final part of this series is the piece I reprinted yesterday.