Ratzinger's Faith

As the Pope ends his first visit to the United States in his new role as Pope, more American's are trying to understand this man. Is he the conservative that many feared? Christianity Today reviews Tracey Rowland's Ratizinger's Faith, which attempts to explain this Pope:

In the usual telling of the tale, Joseph Ratzinger went from being a progressive reformer at the Second Vatican Council to being God's reactionary Rottweiler as the Catholic Church's chief doctrinal authority under John Paul II.

That standard account misses the truth about the Bavarian theologian who has become Pope Benedict XVI. Tracey Rowland—professor of political philosophy and continental theology at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia—paints a more complete picture in her new book, Ratzinger's Faith, arguing that Ratzinger's fundamental theological convictions have remained essentially constant while the world around him has changed. Ratzinger's Faith is the first serious book on Benedict's theology since Aidan Nichols' excellent 1987 volume The Thought of Joseph Ratzinger. Unlike Nichols, however, Rowland proceeds thematically, not chronologically, and she strikes a balance between lucid accessibility for non-specialist readers and the kind of scholarly precision that theologians require.

The key to Ratzinger, Rowland explains, is his place in history. Never enthralled by the prevailing neoscholastic Thomism he encountered as a student, Ratzinger gravitated toward an Augustinian and Bonaventurian emphasis on love as an antidote to the hyper-rationalism of God as the logos of pure reason. Ratzinger's long-running theological emphasis on beauty and history can also be traced to his early studies, and the theme of God as love marked his first encyclical as pope.

. . .

For Ratzinger, according to Rowland, "a 'daring new' Christocentric theological anthropology is the medicine that the world needs," and "it is the responsibility of the Church to administer it." We can understand our human destiny only through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

This emphasis on Christology is central to Ratzinger's thinking on just about everything else. Responding to the then-dominant view of revelation that championed its "propositional character," Ratzinger argued that revelation is not a mere collection of true statements about God. Revelation is Jesus Christ himself—not the Greek philosophers' unmoved-mover, but the God of Trinitarian and human relationships, active in the world as creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Dei Verbum, Vatican II's decree on revelation, restored, in Ratzinger's words, the "focus on the biblical God for whom it is precisely relationship and action that are the essential marks."

Revelation, however, is more than a text; here Rowland explains Ratzinger's reservations about the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship: Scripture must be read within a tradition, for the truth of revelation is mediated through a historically defined community—the church—that one can never interpret from the outside. To reject the providential guidance of the Holy Spirit in the historical development of Christian doctrine is to miss the historical role that the Christian church must play in its transmission.

In this light, Ratzinger argues that the church should be viewed sacramentally—as the sacrament of salvation to the world, as the institution that makes Christ present to humanity. Rowland repeatedly stresses that Ratzinger resists all attempts to think of the church in political or sociological terms. In its essence, the church consists of communities that gather to celebrate the Eucharist, but these don't make the Eucharist; the Eucharist makes the communities—which means, as Ratzinger puts it, that the universal church is "logically and ontologically prior to the particular churches."

It becomes easier to understand, then, Benedict's emphasis on church unity, the collegiality of bishops, and the ministry of unity entrusted to the bishop of Rome. Evangelicals might wonder where this places them. Ratzinger stands firmly in continuity with Vatican II in insisting that the church of Christ exists most fully and rightly only within the Catholic Church, but that there are elements of sanctification and truth in churches and ecclesial communities outside Catholicism's formal structure.

Read it all here.

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This book was also reviewed in the Church Times last week, see Lucy Beckett's review at

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