From Ratzinger to Benedict XVI, a theologian who became pope

« Each time I read the works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, I realize more and more clearly that he does “theology on his knees”: on his knees, because, even before being a very great theologian and master of the faith, we see that he is a man who truly believes, who truly prays; we see that he is a man who personifies holiness, a man of peace, a man of God wrote Pope Francis. as a preface to a collection of homilies of the pope emeritus.

Pope in spite of himself, Joseph Ratzinger had to abandon his dear studies to serve the Church in a different way. This did not prevent this pope from remaining fundamentally a theologian, pursuing his research despite his pastoral charge, and even during his retirement. His triptych on Jesus is the most notable demonstration of this, signed both Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVIand thus open to discussion theological.

Very young in the corridors of spiritual power

The prospect of being given the helm of a leaky Church frightened him. On the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger secretly hoped to finally be able to retire to his native Bavaria, to continue his work as a theologian, between his piano and his library. At 78, his election propelled the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the head of the Church, then shaken by history and modernity. More a theologian than a pastor, his intellectual power and his sense of duty have made him a pope who, at the risk of being misunderstood at times, leaves an impressive doctrinal legacy.

The whole life of Benedict XVI will be marked by this tension between his aspiration to research and his service as pastor. Ordained a priest immediately after the war, he was quickly appointed as a professor at the Freising seminary in 1952. A specialist in Saint Augustine and the Franciscan theologian Saint Bonaventure, he led a university career in 1958, teaching theology in Freising, Bonn, Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg. Pursuing his research under the influence of Romano Guardini and the Jesuit Henri de Lubac, he developed an ecclesiology nourished by the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church.

A theologian at heart, an academic, he was nevertheless very early in the alleys of ecclesial power. During the Second Vatican Council, the young theologian was an expert and theological adviser to Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne: he was only 35 years old. In a nod to history, the future prefect Ratzinger worked in particular on the revision of the Holy Office which, during Vatican II, became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he directed for a quarter of a century.

Fine and complex thinking

In the breath of the Council, he passes for a reformer. In 1968, however, he showed himself to be less confident with regard to the conciliar orientations, particularly with regard to the liturgical reform of Pope Paul VI. The student movements of May destabilize him. Conversely, his shrewd and complex thinking sometimes confuses his interlocutors: faithful to Vatican II, he never ceases to demonstrate that this is not a council of rupture and that the heritage must be preserved, which makes this holder of tradition look like a conservative.

This did not prevent, to his great surprise, his appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977. He was created cardinal by Paul VI the same year. If the new bishop does not hide his disappointment at seeing theological research disappear, he invests himself stubbornly in this diocesan office. In fact, from this appointment and until his retirement as pope emeritus, he carried out his pastoral responsibility head on, while participating tirelessly in theological reflection.

Archbishop, he quickly established himself as the doctrinal reference for the Church of Germany. What does not escape John Paul II who, in 1981, appointed Cardinal Ratzinger prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the central body of the Vatican whose mission is to ” promote and protect doctrine and morals in conformity with the faith throughout the Catholic world “, underlines the new prelate.

For nearly twenty-four years, the German cardinal held one of the most influential positions in the Curia and established himself as the rigorous guardian of dogma. The severity of the German cardinal condemning both his ex-colleague and friend Hans Küng and Leonardo Boff, the initiator of the
liberation theology, earned him the nickname of ” Panzerkardinal “, to which he will answer that” kindness also implies the ability to know how to say no ».

If he is not (yet) in the front line, the closest collaborator of the Polish pope participates in the elaboration of the essential texts of the long pontificate of Karol Wojtyla. Ratzinger will also chair the commission responsible for the new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Poor communication man

Passionate about teaching, therefore, a figure of authority and guardian of orthodoxy, Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope, was nonetheless a poor man of communication. However, theological subtleties are difficult to combine with the media universe. Benedict XVI multiplies solid homilies and well-structured speeches but must also take care of public appearances, participate in WYD… He is not, however, an “above ground” theologian: alongside John Paul II and more markedly once again becoming pope, he courageously and steadfastly attacks paedocriminality in the Church, the revelation of which strikes the institution at the dawn of the 21st century.

Drama to which are added several controversies: the upheavals ofVatiLeaks casethe rapprochement with the fundamentalists, or even the misstep vis-à-vis Islam during a speech pronounced at the University of Regensburg on the relationship between reason and faith, which inflames the Muslim world.

During the funeral of John Paul II, over whom Cardinal Ratzinger presided as dean of the cardinals, he evoked during the homily his fears for the Catholic Church in strong terms: “ The little boat of Christian thought has often been tossed about, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to individualism, from agnosticism to syncretism. Having a clear faith, following the creed of the Church is often defined as fundamentalism. We are in the process of establishing a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive explains the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Far from giving up, the cardinal theologian finds himself propelled to the 265th pope of the Catholic Church.

Three great encyclicals

At the age of 78, governing the Church did not prevent him from tirelessly pursuing intellectual work. Author of some fifty works, Ratzinger, who became pope, signed three major encyclicals (God is love in 2005 ; Saved in Hope in 2007 ; Charity in Truth 2009) always combining intellectual rigor and pedagogical and pastoral good sense. This connoisseur of the habits and customs of the Curia will unfortunately not find the energy necessary to make it evolve.

He renounced his papal seat in 2013 to everyone’s surprise: a meadowmother for five centuries. Following his resignation in 2013, the pope emeritus will have lived in retirement in the Vatican. Taking a vow of silence so as not to embarrass his successor, Benedict XVI finally expressed himself on several occasions, in often partial or instrumentalized texts, as in the review of the German clergy, in 2019, about sexual assault: “ Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these societal changes he tried to explain.

During his trip to France in September 2008, Benedict XVI confided his vision of the foundations of theology during his speech to Bernardins : « The classic expression of the need for the Christian faith to make itself communicable to others is summed up in a sentence from the First Letter of Peter (…): “You must always be ready to explain yourself to all those who ask you to give an account of the hope that is in you” (3, 15) “. Pope Ratzinger’s vocation as a theologian was summed up in his episcopal motto: Collaborator of the truth ».

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.