Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life

Editor: This excerpt from God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life is taken from the chapter titled “God’s Yes and His Love Are Maintained Even in Death”

At this point I should like to include a question about which some people argue in extremely heated fashion: The German translation no longer says, “for many”, but “for all”, and this takes into account that in the Latin Missal and in the Greek New Testament, that is to say, in the original text that is being translated, we find “for many”. This disparity has given rise to some disquiet; the question is raised as to whether the text of the Bible is not being misrepresented, whether perhaps an element of untruth has been brought into the most sacred place in our worship. In this connection, I would like to make three points.

I. In the New Testament as a whole, and in the whole of the tradition of the Church, it has always been clear that God desires that everyone should be saved and that Jesus died, not just for a part of mankind, but for everyone; that God himself-as we were just saying–does not draw the line any- where. He does not make any distinction between people he dislikes, people he does not want to have saved, and others whom he prefers; he loves everyone because he has created everyone. That is why the Lord died for all. That is what we find in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (8:32); and in the fifth chapter of the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “One has died for all” (2 Cor 5:14). The first Letter to Timothy speaks of “Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim 2:6). This sentence is particularly important in that we can see, by the context and by the way it is formulated, that a eucharistic text is being quoted here. Thus we know that at that time, in a certain part of the Church, the formula that speaks of a sacrifice “for all” was being used in the Eucharist. The insight that was thus preserved has never been lost from the tradition of the Church. On Maundy Thursday, in the old missal, the account of the Last Supper was introduced with the words: “On the evening before he died, for the salvation of all he . . .” It was on the basis of this knowledge that in the seventeenth century there was an explicit condemnation of a Jansenist proposition that asserted that Christ did not die for everyone. [8] This limitation of salvation was thus explicitly rejected as an erroneous teaching that contradicted the faith of the whole Church. The teaching of the Church says exactly the opposite: Christ died for all.

We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf, the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden. We must finally come to the point where we no longer believe it to be better to live without faith, standing around in the marketplace, so to speak, unemployed, along with the workers who were only taken on at the eleventh hour; we must be freed from the delusion that spiritual unemployment is better than living with the Word of God. We have to learn once more so to live our faith, so to assent to it, that we can discover in it that joy which we do not simply carry round with us because others are at a disadvantage, but with which we are filled, for which we are thankful, and which we would like to share with others. This, then, is the first point: It is a basic element of the biblical message that the Lord died for all-being jealous of salvation is not Christian. [9]

2. A second point to add to this is that God never, in any case, forces anyone to be saved. God accepts man’s freedom. He is no magician, who will in the end wipe out everything that has happened and wheel out his happy ending. He is a true father; a creator who assents to freedom, even when it is used to reject him. That is why God’s all-embracing desire to save people does not involve the actual salvation of all men. He allows us the power to refuse. God loves us; we need only to summon up the humility to allow ourselves to be loved. But we do have to ask ourselves, again and again, whether we are not possessed of the pride of wanting to do it for ourselves; whether we do not rob man, as a creature, along with the Creator-God, of all his dignity and stature by removing all element of seriousness from the life of man and degrading God to a kind of magician or grandfather, who is unmoved by anything. Even on account of the unconditional greatness of God’s love-indeed, because of that very quality-the freedom to refuse, and thus the possibility of perdition, is not removed.

3. What, then, should we make of the new translation? Both formulations, “for all” and “for many”, are found in Scripture and in tradition. Each expresses one aspect of the matter: on one hand, the all-embracing salvation inherent in the death of Christ, which he suffered for all men; on the other hand, the freedom to refuse, as setting a limit to salvation. Neither of the two formulae can express the whole of this; each needs correct interpretation, which sets it in the context of the Christian gospel as a whole. I leave open the question of whether it was sensible to choose the translation “for all” here and, thus, to confuse translation with interpretation, at a point at which the process of interpretation re- mains in any case indispensable. [10] There can be no question of misrepresentation here, since whichever of the formulations is allowed to stand, we must in any case listen to the whole of the gospel message: that the Lord truly loves everyone and that he died for all. And the other aspect: that he does not, by some magic trick, set aside our freedom but allows us to choose to enter into his great mercy.

Now let us turn back to look at yet a third saying in the Last Supper accounts: “This is the new covenant in my blood.” We saw just now how Jesus, in accepting his death, gathers together and condenses in his person the whole of the Old Testament; first the theology of sacrifice, that is, everything that went on in the Temple and everything to do with the Temple, then the theology of the Exile, of the Suffering Servant. Now a third element is added, a passage from Jeremiah (31:31) in which the prophet predicts the New Covenant, which will no longer be limited to physical descendants of Abraham, no longer to the strict keeping of the law, but will spring from out of the new love of God that gives us a new heart. This is what Jesus takes up here. In his suffering and death this long-awaited hope becomes reality; his death seals the Covenant. It signifies something like a blood brotherhood between God and man. That was the idea underlying the way the Covenant had been depicted on Sinai. There, Moses had set up the altar to represent God and, over against it, twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and had sprinkled them with blood, so as to associate God and man in the one communion of this sacrifice. What was there only a hesitant attempt is here achieved. He who is the Son of God, he who is man, gives himself to the Father in dying and thus shows himself to be the one who brings us all into the Father. He now institutes true blood brotherhood, a communion of Godand man; he opens the door that we could not open for ourselves. We can do no more than give a little tentative thought to God, and it is not in our power to know whether or not he responds. This remains the tragic element, the shadow hovering over so many religions, that they are simply a cry to which the response remains uncertain. Only God himself can hear the cry. Jesus Christ, both Son of God and man, who carries on his love right through death, who transforms death into an act of love and truth, he is the response; the Covenant is founded in him.

Thus we see how the Eucharist had its origin, what its true source is. The words of institution alone are not sufficient; the death alone is not sufficient; and even both together are still insufficient but have to be complemented by the Resurrection, in which God accepts this death and makes it the door into a new life. From out of this whole matrix-that he transforms his death, that irrational event, into an affirmation, into an act of love and of adoration-emerges his acceptance by God and the possibility of his being able to share himself in this way. On the Cross, Christ saw love through to the end. For all the differences there may be between the accounts in the various Gospels, there is one point in common: Jesus died praying, and in the abyss of death he upheld the First Commandment and held on to the presence of God. [11] Out of such a death springs this sacrament, the Eucharist.

We finally have to return to the question with which we started. Did Jesus fail? Well, he certainly was not successful in the same sense as Caesar or Alexander the Great. From the worldly point of view, he did fail in the first instance: he died almost abandoned; he was condemned on account of his preaching. The response to his message was not the great Yes of his people, but the Cross. From such an end as that, we should conclude that Success is definitely not one of the names of God and that it is not Christian to have an eye to outward success or numbers. God’s paths are other than that: his success comes about through the Cross and is always found under that sign. The true witnesses to his authenticity, down through the centuries, are those who have accepted this sign as their emblem. When, today, we look at past history, then we have to say that it is not the Church of the successful people that we find impressive; the Church of those popes who were universal monarchs; the Church of those leaders who knew how to get on well with the world. Rather, what strengthens our faith, what remains constant, what gives us hope, is the Church of the suffering. She stands, to the present day, as a sign that God exists and that man is not just a cesspit, but that he can be saved. This is true of the martyrs of the first three centuries, and then right up to Maximilian Kolbe and the many unnamed witnesses who gave their lives for the Lord under the dictatorships of our own day; whether they had to die for their faith or whether they had to let themselves be trampled on, day after day and year after year, for his sake. The Church of the suffering gives credibility to Christ: she is God’s success in the world; the sign that gives us hope and courage; the sign from which still flows the power of life, which reaches beyond mere thoughts of success and which thereby purifies men and opens up for God a door into this world. So let us be ready to hear the call of Jesus Christ, who achieved the great success of God on the Cross; he who, as the grain of wheat that died, has become fruitful down through all the centuries; the Tree of Life, in whom even today men may put their hope.


[8] Denzinger-HŸnermann, no. 2005.

[9] I have fully developed this idea in my little book Vom Sinn des Christseins (Munich, 1965), pp. 39ff.

[10] The fact that in Hebrew the expression “many” would mean the same thing as “all” is not relevant to the question under consideration inasmuch as it is a question of translating, not a Hebrew text here, but a Latin text (from the Roman Liturgy), which is directly related to a Greek text (the New Testament). The institution narratives in the New Testament are by no means simply a translation (still less, a mistaken translation) of Isaiah; rather, they constitute an independent source.

[11] This reflection was adumbrated by E. KŠsemann in 1967, in an address at the Congress of the German Evangelical Church (published under the title: “Die Gegenwart des Gekreuzigten” [The presence of the Crucified], in E. KŠsemann, Kirchliche Konfiikte, vol. I [Gšttingen, 1982], pp. 76-91, especially 77, 8of.).