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At the service of Truth

· Joseph Ratzinger’s episcopal ordination 35 years ago ·

“Our Munich, our Bavarian land, is so beautiful for the Christian faith awakened its best forces; it took nothing from its vigour but made it generous and free. A Bavaria in which people no longer believed would have lost its soul, and there is no preservation of monuments that it could use to deceive in this regard”. These are the words that the new Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger spoke on the occasion of his episcopal ordination on 28 May, 35 years ago, in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Munich. The principal consecrators were Bishop Josef Stangl of Würzburg, Bishop Rudolf Graber of Regensburg and Auxiliary Bishop Ernst Tewes of Munich. In appointing the not yet 50-year-old Professor of dogmatics at the University of Regensberg, Pope Paul VI had chosen to take the helm of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising as successor to Cardinal Döpfner an eminent theologian of the Second Vatican Council with an international reputation.

“In spirit we turn our gaze to you, beloved son: you have been graced with excellent spiritual gifts and above all you are an important teacher of theology who have transmitted  zeal and fruitfulness to your students as professor in theology. Therefore, in conformity with the existing treaties, by virtue of our Apostolic Mandate we appoint you Archbishop of the above-mentioned Metropolitan See of Munich and Freising”, says the Papal Letter for his appointment on 24 March 1977. So it was that after 80 years this office was once again entrusted to a priest from the Archdiocese.

The motto chosen by Archbishop Ratzinger, Cooperatores veritatis (co-workers of the truth) was taken from the Third Letter of John. In his autobiography Milestones [English edition, Ignatius 1997], Ratzinger explained: “As my episcopal motto I selected the phrase from the Third Letter of John ‘Co-workers of the truth’ in the first place because it seemed to me that it represented well the continuity between my previous task and the new office: in spite of all the differences it was and is always a matter of the same thing, of following the truth, putting oneself at its service. And since the subject of ‘truth’ has almost disappeared from today’s world because it seems too large for man and yet everything collapses if the truth is not in it, I thought that this episcopal motto was the most in line with our time, the most modern in the good sense of the term”.

A little less than a month later, on 2 June 1977, it was announced that in the Consistory on 27 June he would be created cardinal.

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