A Well-Rounded Pope
Interview on Benedict XVI's Qualities and Fundamental
By Gisèèle Plantec
ROME, JUNE 11, 2008 - Benedict
XVI is impressive in his well-rounded character -- a man who goes
easily from playing the piano to visiting world leaders to explaining
to children the mystery of the Eucharist, affirmed a scholar from a
Legionary of Christ Father Juan Pablo Ledesma
talked with ZENIT about the German Pope -- his most striking qualities
and the ideas that presumably govern his thought.
ZENIT approached Father Ledesma, dean of
theology at the Regina Apostolorum university, following a conference
he helped to organize last month on "The Voice of the Christian Faith:
'Introduction to Christianity,' by Joseph Ratzinger -- Benedict XVI --
40 Years Later."
Q: How do you think Benedict
XVI's theology was born?
Father Ledesma: Suffice it to
recall his formation. Following his priestly ordination, he began to
work as vicar in a parish, where his intellectual gifts became evident.
He earned a doctorate in theology in 1954, with a thesis on the concept
of the Church as house and people of God in the thought of St.
Later on, he completed his degree with another
thesis, on St. Bonaventure, reflecting his extensive culture and
profound theological understanding drawn from patristic and medieval
sources. He taught in several universities, including Munich and
Tubingen. In 1961 he was appointed to the chair of fundamental theology
and, three years later, took part as a theological expert in the Second
Q: What are Benedict XVI's
qualities that you most admire?
Father Ledesma: There are so many
-- perhaps what impresses me most is his simplicity and depth. I am
ever more fascinated by his first words as Pope: "Laborer in the
vineyard of the Lord ... ineffective instrument." These words evoke the
Rule of St. Benedict, the sixth degree of humility, that in which the
monk is happy with the poorest and most ordinary things, and considers
himself a useless and unworthy laborer in regard to all that obedience
imposes on him.
I am also impressed by the
profound, simple and spontaneous expressions of his very personal love
for Jesus Christ. It is a love that is manifested in his words and
gestures and, above all, in his way of celebrating the Eucharist.
Everything, in his person and ministry, is centered on Jesus Christ.
I am also attracted by the way
the Pope greets each person. He pauses, without hurry, knows how to
listen, encourage and smile. It is easy to see Christ's goodness in his
look and in his way of accepting his neighbor. I am impressed to see
the Pope playing the piano, greeting the greats of the world or
explaining to children how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, using the
example of electricity or a microphone, to show how invisible things
are the most profound and important.
Q: In a few words, what are the
most important ideas that govern Joseph Ratzinger's thought?
Father Ledesma: That is a
difficult and risky question. I believe it might be the concept of
faith. For him, faith needs a "you" to sustain it. It needs a you who
knows us and loves us, so that we can trust and confide in him as a
"child nursing in its mother's arms." Thus, faith, trust and love
conform a unique whole, an identical, indestructible reality. For Pope
Benedict, this faith is a lived faith.
I very much like his
interpretation of the word Amen, which is not only the response of
faith to the Creed of the Church. To pronounce Amen means faith, trust,
abandonment, fidelity and love. Amen is not a particle that ends all
prayers, but the total adherence of the person who prays, who believes,
who loves revealed Love -- logos-veritas -- as love incarnate.
Amen, in sum, is the total and radical answer to
the whole symbol-creed: all or nothing. There are no alternatives,
pretexts or half measures. Just as the person is a totality, the
response of faith and love must be total: Amen is synonymous with "all."
I believe that truth is also the
crucial point in the mind and teaching of Joseph Ratzinger. For him,
the greatest problem that exists and that the man of today faces is the
lack of truth: relativism, the negation of truth.
Q: Do you see some relationship
between "Introduction to Christianity" and the two last encyclicals?
Father Ledesma: Both in "Deus
Caritas Est" as well as in "Spe Salvi," we find the same pastor,
thinker and theologian who makes concepts accessible. Forty years ago,
Professor Ratzinger himself said: "Love generates immortality, and
immortality proceeds only from love. [...] If He has resurrected, we
will also resurrect, because love is stronger than death. [...] Either
love is stronger than death or it isn't."
Therefore, if love is true love, it must need
infinitude, indestructibility. This reflection seems important to me
because it is the basis of everything and the key to understand the
eschatology that Pope Benedict XVI offers us in his "Spe Salvi."
Q: However, is there not a way in
which love and judgment seem to be a contradiction?
Father Ledesma: On the contrary.
Love, if it is true love, calls for judgment because it is also just. A
love that judges is necessary, because the injustice of the world
cannot have the last word. It would be unjust. A love that destroyed
justice would be unjust, it would not be love.
Beyond the day of rendering accounts, fearful
and menacing, the Christian knows that his judge will be Truth,
Trinity, Love, a person who, being man, is also our brother: Jesus
Christ. In face of judgment, these words written 40 years ago console
us and give us hope: "Man cannot disappear totally, because he is known
and loved by God. If all love longs for eternity, love of God not only
yearns for it, but realizes and personifies it" ["Introduction to
Q: What more personal and less
academic aspect of Benedict XVI's personality would you highlight?
Father Ledesma: I especially like
the legend of St. Corbinian's bear, motive of Pope Benedict's motto. It
is an ancient legend. The holy founder of the Diocese of Freising, the
monk Corbinian, was on his way to Rome. He took with him a beast of
burden. A bear attacked and killed the animal. The saint reprimanded it
and ordered it to take the baggage in the animal's stead. In this way,
they both arrived in Rome.
Cardinal Ratzinger applied this to himself,
making use of the words of St. Augustine when commenting on Psalm
72:22: "I have become a beast of burden, and, precisely because of
this, I am with you." God makes use of him, uses him, burdens him, but
precisely because of this, God is close to him.
Q: What is Benedict XVI's message
for this world, for today?
Father Ledesma: Every Wednesday
we hear his word as universal pastor of the Church, and in so many
homilies, addresses, messages. It is always the same message, with
I very much like what he expressed during his
visit to the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz: "God has not abandoned us in a
desert of nothingness. [...] The eyes of Christ are the look of God who
In other words, his message is the same message,
the same as that of Christ in the Gospel: Jesus Christ is the Son of
God. He is always present for men, yesterday, today and tomorrow. The
Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, the "historical Jesus," the
Christ. God is love. We have been saved in hope.
Thesis Seen as Key to Understanding His Papacy
Translation of '57 Work on
ROME, FEB. 14, 2008 To understand the papacy of
XVI, one should become familiar with his formation as a theologian,
affirmed the publishers of Father Joseph Ratzinger's thesis on St.
This month in the Antonian Pontifical University, an
Italian translation of young Father Ratzinger's study of St.
Bonaventure's theology of history, published in 1957 as part of the
priest's preparation for becoming a professor, will be presented by
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the
Father Pietro Messa, director of the Antonian's faculty of
medieval and Franciscan studies, which collaborated in the publication
of the translation, explained to ZENIT that current interest in this
study is motivated by a desire to understand the thought of the man who
is now Pope.
Cardinal Ratzinger himself discussed his thesis in a Nov.
13, 2000, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, saying his
study of the 13th century theologian uncovered untold aspects about the
relationship of the saint "with a new idea of history."
In that discourse, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that in
the 12th century, Joachim of Flora offered a hypothesis of history "as
a progression from the period of the Father -- a difficult time for
human beings under the law -- to a second period, that of the Son --
with a greater freedom, more frankness, more brotherhood -- to a third,
the definitive period of history, the time of the Holy Spirit."
"According to Joachim," added Cardinal Ratzinger, "this
should be a time of universal reconciliation, of reconciliation between
the East and the West, between Christians and Jews, a time without laws
-- in the Pauline sense -- a time of true brotherhood in the world. The
interesting idea I discovered was that a significant current of the
Franciscans were convinced that St. Francis of Assisi and the
Franciscan Order marked the beginning of this third period of history,
and it was their aspiration to make it a reality. Bonaventure
maintained a critical dialogue with this current."
Father Ratzinger's work, emphasized Father Messa, "has
been resumed by numerous studies regarding the theology of St.
Bonaventure, as the bibliographical references included at the end of
this publication indicate, and this certainly shows its importance in
"Thanks also to this text," he added, "the research has
been able to advance and some conclusions have been outdated, both
because of the progress in the research and because currently we can
benefit from many more critical works than those used by Ratzinger in
Then and now
Regarding the role of Father Ratzinger's thesis in
Benedict XVI's pontificate, Father Messa said, "There are many elements
in this study that could have a correspondence in the magisterium of
the Pontiff," such as the centrality of Christ, supported by St.
Bonaventure and fully present in the papal magisterium.
The priest referred further to words from well known
Dominican theologian Father Yves Congar.
"Beginning from this study and the issue of the
relationship between the local Churches and the universal Church, which
played such a big role in postconciliar ecclesial debate, and of which
one of the protagonists was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Father Congar
wrote: 'Joseph Ratzinger, who has noted, we believe justly, some
differences between Bonaventure and Thomas, gives a lot of importance
to the role that the pope plays in Bonaventurian mysticism due to the
Taking that into account, Father Messa affirmed: "The
question of if and in what way this Franciscan aspect characterizes his
conception and exercise of the papacy is more than legitimate.
"Reading some of his writings and speeches, the hypothesis
of a 'yes' answer is reinforced. Thus it is not surprising, rather it
is fully understandable, that according to Benedict XVI, in order to understand the Petrine
ministry, one has to return to St. Francis."
Vatican II and the Ecclesiology of Joseph Ratzinger |
Introduction to Joseph Ratzinger: Life in the Church and Living Theology
—Fundamentals of Ecclesiology with Reference to
Lumen Gentium |
Fr. Maximilian Heinrich Heim
We cannot return to the past,
nor have we any desire to do so. But we must be ready to reflect anew
on that which, in the lapse of time, has remained the one constant. To
seek it without distraction and to dare to accept, with joyful heart
and without diminution, the foolishness of truth—this, I think, is the
task for today and for tomorrow. 
Joseph Ratzinger is considered by some to be the
representative of a "petrified theology",  whereas for others  he
is a voice that claims to speak the truth and makes it possible to
perceive "the whole in its depth dimension"  This dissertation
places him—amid the tensions of present-day disputes within the Church
about the patrimony of the Second Vatican Council—as an ecclesiologist
at the center of this discourse, by setting forth his statements about
the Church as a central aspect of an existential theology. Because
theology and ecclesial life have been melded into one in an unusual way
in Ratzinger's work, his theological thought can be characterized as
"existential", without thereby relegating it to the realm of the merely
subjective. Ratzinger is in fact concerned about a theology that
proceeds, not from a private being, but rather from an existence that
has surrendered itself to the Church,  in other words, "a theology
of ex-sistere, of that exodus by which the human individual goes out
from himself and through which alone he can find himself",  a
theology, therefore, that seeks God in the Church and through the
Church as its preexisting center. Consequently, its task consists of
"keeping what is earthly and human so that it is trans- parent toward
the truly fundamental reality, the divine reality that opens itself to
us through Christ in the Holy Spirit". 
If we understand theology this way, it becomes
clear that Ratzinger's thought, in keeping with the patristic
tradition, is defined, not by an opposition  between salvation
history and its ontological unfolding,  but rather by a mutual
ordering of the two that constantly adheres to the "prae [logical and
temporal priority] of God's action".  This means that "faith in an
actio Dei is antecedent to all other declarations of faith", because
for God, it is precisely relationship and action that are the essential
marks; creation and revelation are the two basic statements about him,
and when revelation is fulfilled in the Resurrection, it is thus
confirmed once again that he is not just one who is timeless but also
one who is above time, whose existence is known to us only through his
Defending this "primacy of God"  brings
about a development in Ratzinger's theology—as Dorothee Kaes
explains—from a theology that originally had a more pronounced
orientation toward salvation history  to thinking that is more
characteristically metaphysical,  and this development occurs as a
response to the intellectual debates of a given time period. 
Since my dissertation on Ratzinger's
ecclesiology is situated within the context of the postconciliar
developments in the Church, I was confronted with the question about an
adequate reception of that image of the Church that the Second Vatican
Council had outlined. In this regard, Ratzinger is not only a
contemporary witness, but also a theologian who, as Thomas Weiler 
has attempted to demonstrate, was himself able to exert influence on
the Council's ecciesiology. Although it is not my purpose simply to
reverse Weiler's approach and to maintain that the Council influenced
Ratzinger the theologian, it is still undeniable that there was a
reciprocal effect  and that consequently Ratzinger must be
understood not only as an expert in the conciiar ecclesiology, as one
of those who helped to shape it, but at the same time also as one of
its most resolute defenders and as someone who continues to interpret
and apply it concretely in his writings.
Thus two sets of questions result for the
development of my theme: first, an inquiry into the Church's
understanding of herself in Lumen gentium and, secondly, an
investigation of Ratzinger's ecclesial life and the main lines of his
ecciesiology; which has been shaped by his career. The first part of
the dissertation, about Lumen gentium, will set out to provide the
conceptual frame of reference for the discussion of Ratzinger's
ecclesiological outline in the second part, whereby the fundamental
themes of mystery, the People of God, and collegiality, which are
structural elements of Lumen gentium, serve as the main coordinates for
the systematic development of the subject. I have chosen them as
guidelines for presenting Ratzinger's theology as well, because he
himself associates them with the authority of the Second Vatican
Council's Constitution on the Church.  In any case the second part
does not intend to make a detailed comparison with Lumen gentium;
rather, it intends to show the importance of the main ecciesiological
themes of the Constitution on the Church in Ratzinger's work, to note
points of agreement or differences and modifications, and, where
appropriate, to point out changes in Ratzinger's approach. In this
regard, the question of how and when Ratzinger articulated the
ambiguities  in Lumen gentium will serve as a litmus test for
whether or not there was a change in his perspective. For this reason
it is necessary to pay special attention to the historical factor in
our discussions. This is accomplished, on the one hand, by tracing the
principal stages of development both for Lumen gentium and for
Ratzinger and, on the other hand, by explicitly examining the
historical context at pivotal points of the systematic treatment of the
subject. In this I am guided by the following suggestion of Weiler:
A thorough study of
Ratzinger's postconciliar ecclesiological writings would of course have
to investigate which of Ratzinger's ideas remained unchanged and where,
if at all, a change can be noted. Why did that happen? And with regard
to the ideas that remained the same, one should ask whether they, in
being brought into a new historical and theological context, do not
acquire a different significance. Finally: Does the fact that
Ratzinger's ideas remained the same really correspond thoroughly to the
Second Vatican Council, which was, after all, in Ratzinger's view as
well, "only the formulation of a task", which is to say, the beginning
of a fundamental change, the accomplishment of which was (and is) still
in the future? 
Before I outline the structure and division of
my investigation, I should clarify why I take up Lumen gentium and not
Gaudium et spes as the frame of reference for my discussion of
Ratzinger's ecclesiology, even though the latter, in my opinion, would
also be quite possible and reasonable.  The answer is twofold:
First, in keeping with Ratzinger's approach, I attempt to shed light on
the Church's intrinsic nature. For this purpose Lumen gentium is a
suitable reference. Moreover, according to Wolfgang Beinert, the "other
fifteen constitutions, decrees, and declarations lead to this Council
document or are derived from it".  The second reason for my
decision is related to the first. It can be expressed precisely by
means of a programmatic statement by Ratzinger of his position in the
An interpretation of the
Council that understands its dogmatic texts as mere preludes to a still
unattained conciliar spirit, that regards the whole as just a
preparation for Gaudium et spes and that looks upon the latter text as
just the beginning of an unswerving course toward an ever greater union
with what is called progress—such an interpretation is not only
contrary to what the Council Fathers intended and meant, it has been
reduced ad absurdum by the course of events. Where the spirit of the
Council is turned against the word of the Council and is vaguely
regarded as a distillation from the development that evolved from the
"Pastoral Constitution", this spirit becomes a specter and leads to
Ratzinger traces the cause of this subsequent
influence of Gaudium et spes, which he regards as problematic, back to
the spirit of the preface.  In his opinion, the text of the
Pastoral Constitution serves as "a kind of countersyllabus" for many
theologians, who imagine that it "represents, on the part of the
Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era
inaugurated in 1789".  But since "the world, in its modern form"
cannot be regarded as a homogeneous entity, the Church's progress
cannot consist of "a belated embrace of the modern world".  From
this insight Ratzinger derives the following basic rule, ten years
after the end of the Council: "We must interpret Vatican Council II as
a whole and ... our interpretation must be oriented toward the central
theological texts." 
The two reasons just outlined, Ratzinger's
preference for an essential ecciesiology and his partiality for the
dogmatic documents of the Council, led me to select Lumen gentium as
the background against which to present his ecclesiology. This means
simultaneously, however, that the "outward-looking" perspectives are
considered only in passing in this dissertation. This is true,
specifically, with regard to Ratzinger's statements on the complicated
question of the relation between the Church and the world  and his
writings concerning ecumenism  as well as interreligious dialogue
 and, last but not least, concerning the relation between the
Church and Judaism.  My subject is further limited by the fact that
I concentrate above all on the initiatives Ratzinger has taken as a
scholar, and not on the contributions he has made to theological
discussion in his official, magisterial capacity, even though it was
impossible to avoid some overlapping on certain questions.
After these preliminary remarks concerning
methodology, I would like to define now more precisely the principal
points of this dissertation and to explain its structure. Part I, on
the Church's self-understanding according to Lumen gentium, comprises
two sections, one historical and one systematic. The latter is
subdivided, following the sequence of the first three chapters of Lumen
gentium, under the headings of "The Mystery of the Church", "The People
of God", and "The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in
Particular the Episcopate". Because of their intrinsic relatedness, the
themes of chapters 4 through 8 of Lumen gentium on the laity (4), on
the universal call to holiness in the Church (5) on consecrated
religious (6), on the eschatological character of the pilgrim Church
and her union with the Church in heaven (7), and finally on the Blessed
Virgin Mary; the Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and of the
Church (8) are considered in the chapter on the People of God. In
chapter I, on the mystery of the Church, an essential point is the
aspect of communio; here the trinitarian communio is presented as the
origin and purpose of Church unity. In chapter 2, in keeping with the
Dogmatic Constitution, I will elaborate on the participation of the
People of God in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of
Christ—an aspect that plays a relatively insignificant role in
Ratzinger's ecclesiology In chapter 3, the college of bishops takes
center stage in my discussion. There I will examine above all the
sacramental understanding of the episcopal ministry and inquire about
how the "Preliminary Note of Explanation" added, to Lumen gentium
should be evaluated, both historically and with regard to its
contents—a problem that was of decisive importance especially for
Ratzinger as one of the theologians at the Council.
Part 2 of this book deals with Ratzinger's
ecclesiology. It is structured along the lines of Lumen gentium and
treats in succession the principal themes of the Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church. In it I intend to show which fundamental ideas Ratzinger
adopts in his ecciesiology, which themes he prefers, and which ones he
modifies in his presentation or does not take into account at all. As
in the first part of this dissertation, the systematic section is
preceded by a historical section I, which discusses the "Outline of the
Ecclesiological Plan from a Biographical Perspective". In this
"prelude", the question of the consistency in Ratzinger's theological
thought is especially explosive. Section 2 deals at first, in chapter
I, with the Church as sign of faith and mystery of faith. Three central
concepts of Ratzinger's ecciesiology are examined therein, namely, Body
of Christ, Eucharist, and communio. The chapter concludes with critical
reflections on the question of the subsistence of the Catholic Church.
Chapter 2 is devoted to the Church as the People of God In it I will
point out Ratzinger's references to rabbinical theology so as to
demonstrate by means of concrete examples the ecciesiological
consequences of the scriptural unity of the Old and New Testaments that
he insists upon. In particular, this line of Ratzinger's reasoning is
important also for the controversial question of the ontological
priority of the universal Church. The chapter goes on to deal with his
oft-repeated claim that the term "People of God" has been misunderstood
in a sociological sense, and the problem of democratic structures in
the Church is discussed along with the themes of "relativism" and
"majority rule". Comments on the section "The Universal Call to
Holiness" conclude the chapter. In this context the importance of the
mariological declaration for Ratzinger's ecclesiology is stressed, but
also the problem of the Church's sinfulness, with reference to the
verse from the Song of Solomon "I am black but beautiful",  which
has been applied to the Church, and with the assistance of the image of
the casta meretrix. The conclusion of the main part of my work is
chapter 3, on Ratzinger's understanding of the hierarchical
constitution of the Church and, especially, of episcopal collegiality
By way of introduction, the latter is set forth as an ecumenical
paradigm, and then it is examined with regard to its origin, to the
inherent tension between collegiality and primacy, and to its pastoral
implications. The last part of this chapter is devoted to those
emphases in Ratzinger's thought that have changed so much over the
course of time that one can speak of an early and a later Ratzinger.
Specifically, from his judgments on the value of bishops' conferences
and of the synod of bishops, it will become evident how the later
Ratzinger assigns a different theological weight to collegial
formations than the earlier Ratzinger did.
Part 3 presents a "synoptic" overview. In
summarizing, it compares the ecclesiology of Lumen gentium with that of
Ratzinger. My concluding essay on the problematic position of modernity
in intellectual history, which is behind Ratzinger's ecclesiology,
attempts to sketch an outline of his thought against this backdrop and
to pave the way toward a more nuanced answer to the question of its
continuity or discontinuity. Finally, in a concluding remark, the
liturgy is depicted as the hermeneutic locus of theological
ecclesiology, in keeping with the axiom lex orandi-lex credendi, so as
the emphasize and reflect critically on what is distinctive about
Ratzinger's markedly eucharistic theology of communio.
 J. Ratzinger, "Der Weltdienst der Kirche:
Aurwirkungen von Gaudium et spes im letzten Jahrzehnt", IKaZ 4
(1975):439-54. Reprinted in Principles, 373-93, as the epilogue,
"Church and World: An Inquiry into the Reception of Vatican Council
II". Citation at 393.
 Häring, Ideologie, 21.
 We should mention here, for example, Stephan
Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür as representatives of Ratzinger's
"circle of students". The names of the members of this
Schülerkreis ad of those who presented papers at their gatherings
were published in Mitte, 316f.
 See Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz
Pfnür, "Introduction", in Pilgrim Fellowship, 9-16, citation at 12.
 See the foreword of W. Baier et al., eds.,
Weisheit Gottes—Weisheit der Welt: Festschrift für Joseph Kardinal
Ratzinger zum 60. Geburtstag (Sankt Ottilien: EOS-Verlag, 1987), I:v.
 Principles, 171-90, citation at 189.
 Horn and Pfnür, "Introduction", 9-14,
citation at 10.
 In this way, Ratzinger decisively distances
himself from Bultmann's thesis that "the word, the kerygma, is the real
salvation-event, the 'eschatological event', that leads man from the
alienation of his existence to its essence. This word is present
wherever it makes itself heard; it is the always-present possibility of
salvation for mankind. It is clear that, in the last analysis, this
primacy of the word that, as such, can always be spoken and thus can be
posited as always present, cancels the notion of a continuous series of
salvation-historical events" (Principles, 176), in that it separates a
theologically insignificant history from a theologically relevant
"story". The latter remains, in Bultmann's scheme, a "word-event"
unconnected with the historical events. Compare Kaes, 89f. Ratzinger
sees in this opposition between salvation history and metaphysics a
problem that did not come so acutely to the fore until after the Second
Vatican Council. The reason for this may be explained by the fact that
"Vatican Council II did not link its debate on salvation to the already
existing patristic term dispositio (or dispensatio) but rather coined
for itself, as a borrowing from the German, the expression historia
salutis. Therewith we have also an indication of the source of the
problem that, in our century, has entered Catholic theology by way of
Protestant thought" (Principles, 572).
 See ibid.
 Ibid., 185.
 Pilgrim Fellowship, 284-98, citation at 287.
 Along with G. Söhngen, Ratzinger
stresses "emphatically that the truth of Christianity is not the truth
of a universally accepted idea but the truth of a unique fact"
(Principles, 174). Cf. G. Söhngen, Die Einheit in der Theologie
(Munich: Zink, 1952), 347.
 For particulars, see Kaes, 86-88.
 Pt. 3, sec. 2, of this book, "Ratzinger's
Ecciesiology against the Background of Issues in Intellectual History".
 Cf. Weiler, 151-283, esp. 281-83.
 See J. Ratzinger, "Geleitwort" [preface],
in Weiler, xiii; similarly: G. Alberigo, "Die konziliare Erfahrung:
Selbständig lernen", in Wittstadt, 2:679-98, esp. 688f.
 See Church 3-20; "Ecciesiology", 123-52.
 Cf. Pt. 2, sec. 2, chap. 3, § 4,
"Aspects during the Council in Tension with the Later Perspective", and
pt. 3, sec. I, "Comparison between the Main Lines of Lumen gentium and
of Ratzinger's Ecclesiology".
 Weiler 315. In the same passage, Weiler
cites J. Ratzinger, Die letzte Sitzungsperiode des Konzils (Cologne:
Bachem, 1966), 73; cf. Highlights, 183. In 1996, Weiler declared (11f.)
that, even though the theme of "Church" is an important focal point in
Ratzinger's work as a whole, "it is astounding that so far relatively
few publications have been dedicated to this important aspect .... A
monograph on Ratzinger's ecclesiology has not yet appeared." Weiler did
not consider the unpublished dissertation of K.-J. E. Jeon, Die Kirche
bei Joseph Ratzinger: Unter- suchungen zum strukturierten Volk Gottes
nach der Kirchenlehre Joseph Ratzingers (unpublished dissertation,
Innsbruck, 1995). An extensive list of further publications on
Ratzinger's theology can be found in Weiler, 11f. Worth noting also is
the bibliography of secondary literature compiled by Helmut Moll under
the title "Rezeption und Auseinandersetzung mit dem theologischen Werk
von Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger", in Mitte, 309-15.
 It seems to me that Ratzinger's stance with
regard to Gaudium et spes deserves separate study, since Ratzinger has
grappled with this document on several occasions. He declared in 1975,
for example, that Gaudium et spes is "the most difficult and, [along]
with the 'Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy' and the 'Decree on
Ecumenism', also the most [consequential]" Council document, on account
of the problem of finding a suitable concept of "the world"
 Beinert, "Kirchenbilder in der
Kirchengeschichte", in Kirchenbilder, Kirchenvisionen: Variationen
über eine Wirklichkeit, ed. Beinert, 58-127, citation at III
(Regensburg: Pustet, 1995).
 Principles, 390.
 Cf. ibid., 379. For a more detailed
discussion, see t. 2, sec. I, chap. 3, § 1, Of this book, "The
Council: 'The Beginning of the Beginning'?"
 Principles, 381, 382.
 Ibid., 390.
 "See, for example, "Weltoffene Kirche?
Überlegungen zur Struktur des Zweiten Vati- kanischen Konzils", in
Volk Gottes, 107-28. Cf. also "Der Christ und die Welt von heute:
Überlegungen zur Pastoralkonstitution des Zweiten Vatikamschen
Konzils", in Dogma, 183-204, along with the commentary on articles
11-22 of Gaudium et spes, in LThK.E, vol. 3 (Freiburg im Breisgau:
Herder, 1968), 313-54.
29 example is the striking essay entitled
"Prognosen für die Zukunft des Ökumenismus", in Mitte,
181-94. It also contains the so-called Ratzinger formula, which states
that "Rome must not demand more from the East by way of doctrine on the
primacy than was formulated and practiced during the first millennium."
We will treat this subject more thoroughly in this book in pt. 2, sec.
2, chap. 3, § 4.2, entitled "Concrete Forms of Episcopal
Collegiality, as Variously Interpreted".
 See, for example, Salt of the Earth, 243-55.
 See the first volume of the Urfelder
series, which especially promotes dialogue between Jews and Christians:
J. Ratzinger, Many Religions-One Covenant, trans. Graham Harrison (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999).
 Song 1:5.
The Master Key: Pope Benedict XVI's Theology of Covenant
Among his many contributions to Catholic
theology, one Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's, now Pope Benedict XVI's,
most important is his theology of covenant. Arguably as significant as
John Paul II's theology of the body, Ratzinger's theology of covenant,
once assimilated by the Church, promises to transform and revitalize
the Church's approach to matters ranging from Scripture study to
ecumenical dialogue. The theology of covenant gives nothing less than
the master key to a unified interpretation of Scripture centered on the
person and work of Jesus Christ.
Ratzinger's work in this area is firmly
based on a fundamental principle: the theology of covenant is integral
to Christian identity as given by divine revelation, especially as the
latter is recorded in the New Testament. This theology cannot be
primarily based on contemporary concerns, such as the perceived needs
of ecumenical dialogue, however important such concerns may be.1
Ratzinger's approach to Scripture in
working out the theology of covenant is noteworthy. He interprets the
sacred texts with great scholarly care and learning. Yet, unlike many
recent theologians, he also clearly treats these texts as normative for
Christian doctrine. Ratzinger refuses to set aside central doctrinal
statements of the New Testament or treat them as somehow "up for
grabs." The theologian, above all, must fully confront the person and
work of Christ, for "Christology thus appears as a synthesis of the
covenantal theology of the New Testament, which is grounded in the
unity of the entire Bible."2
What is a covenant?
In the biblical conception, a covenant is
not a contract or mutual agreement between God and man, but an unsought
gift of God to man. "The covenant then is not a pact built on
reciprocity, but rather a gift, a creative act of God's love."3 In
their concrete historical realizations, the covenants of God take
multiple forms. The Apostle Paul uses "covenants" in the plural to
describe God's dealings with Israel (cf. Rom. 9:4). Ratzinger notes, in
particular, that the Old Testament distinguishes the Noahite,
Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants.
For Paul, the most important of these
covenants are the Abrahamic and the Mosaic, which relate to the new
covenant in different ways. While all the covenants enter into human
history, the Abrahamic and new covenants share in a divinely guaranteed
permanence, in contrast to the "transitory" and "provisional" nature of
the Mosaic covenant.4 Whereas the Abrahamic covenant is "fundamental
and enduring," the Mosaic covenant is "intervening" (Rom. 5:20).5 The
Mosaic Law was a form of divine pedagogy designed to "fall away once
the pedagogical goal has been achieved,"6 and the goal of the Law is
none other than Christ himself (cf. Rom. 10:4). Hence, the Mosaic
covenant is a transitory "stage in the decrees of God, which has its
own time. All this Paul has brought out clearly, and no Christian can
The new covenant
The establishment of the new covenant is
described by the words of institution spoken by Jesus over the cup
during the Last Supper. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus says,
"This is my blood of the covenant" (Mark 14:24), which echoes the
institution of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 24:8. A covenantal ritual
of this kind establishes a blood-union or kinship between its
participants. Through the covenant, God establishes a "mysterious
consanguinity" between himself and man.8
By declaring the cup to be the "blood of
the covenant," Jesus is stating that his blood, poured out in his
Passion and made really present in the Eucharist, will reestablish the
bond of kinship between God and man. In this way, "the words of Sinai
are intensified to an overwhelming realism." The Last Supper was
fundamentally the "sealing of the covenant," and the Eucharist is now
"an ongoing reenactment of this covenant renewal." The Letter to the
Hebrews describes the institution of the Eucharist, in which the blood
of Jesus is really offered to the Father, as "a cosmic Day of
Atonement" (cf. Heb. 9:11-14, 24-26).9 In sacramental communion, the
disciple is united both physically and spiritually with Christ (cf. 1
The broken covenant
Paul and Luke give a somewhat different
version of the words that Jesus spoke over the cup. Instead of the
"blood of the covenant," the cup is described as the "new covenant in
my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25). This formula alludes to Jeremiah's prophecy
of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). In this prophecy, the new
covenant, never to be broken, is expressly contrasted with the Mosaic
"covenant they have broken" (Jer. 31:32).11 "The history of Israel
repeatedly appears in the Old Testament as a history of the broken
covenant. In contrast, the covenant with the patriarchs is considered
eternally valid."12 It is the Mosaic Law that renders the covenant
conditional and subject to being broken. Moreover, the tablets of the
Law, which symbolized the Mosaic covenant, have been "lost forever"
with the destruction of the temple. Indeed, it has not been possible to
live in accordance with the Mosaic covenant, as formulated in
Deuteronomy, since that destruction. By the preaching of the prophets,
"Israel knew that even though it celebrated again and again the renewal
of the covenant, it could not regain the lost tablets, which God alone
had the power to give and to inscribe."13
The implication of Ratzinger's
observation is crucial. It is not the New Testament, much less later
Christian theology, that first declared the Mosaic covenant to have
been broken. It was the prophets of the Old Testament. Thus, the
neo-Deuteronomic program advanced by the Pharisees and later adopted by
the rabbis is not in accordance with Scripture, even if attention is
restricted to the Old Testament. Rather, the way forward lies with the
new covenant given by God "in the flesh and blood of the Risen
Christ."14 In the final analysis, the Mosaic Law points from within
itself to beyond itself, "for Moses himself is a prophet and can be
understood correctly only if understood prophetically."15 This is a
particular application of St. Augustine's principle, reaffirmed by the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, that "the New Testament lies hidden
in the Old and the Old is unveiled in the New."16
The Deuteronomic curses
By gravely violating the Mosaic Law,
Israel had incurred the curses of the Deuteronomic covenant (cf. Deut.
28:15-68; 30:1). In order to perfectly fulfill the Law, Jesus had to
take upon himself those curses. "Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of
taking upon himself the 'curse of the Law' incurred by those who do not
'abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them.'"17
In Gal. 3:10, Paul quotes Deut. 27:26, the summary curse of the
Deuteronomic covenant, which encapsulates the longer list of
conditional curses ritually imposed on Israel when the covenant was
instituted (cf. Deut. 27:14-26). Because Jesus took these curses upon
himself on the Cross (cf. Gal. 3:13), his death served as "the perfect
realization" of the Day of Atonement.18
The transitory nature of the Mosaic Law
does not imply that the new covenant lacks a law of its own, for Paul
also speaks of "the Torah of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), namely, "the dual
commandment of love."19 Thus, the new covenant calls all who accept it
to "their own faithful conduct" (cf. Heb. 3:13),20 for Christ "imposes
duties upon us and challenges us to obedience."21
The children of Abraham
For Paul, "the promise of Abraham
guarantees from the beginning the inner continuity of salvation
history, from the patriarchs of Israel to the coming of Christ and the
Church of Jews and Gentiles."22 Scripture presents salvation history
not as a dichotomy between the new covenant and those of the Old
Testament but rather as a "dynamic unity of the entire history."
Indeed, from the perspective of eternity, there is only "one covenant,"
the "eternally valid" covenant of Abraham now perfectly fulfilled in
The Abrahamic covenant was structured
from the beginning to be fulfilled by Christ. In the very ritual
establishing the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Gen. 15:12-21), God enacted
"symbolically a conditional curse" upon himself, offering his own life
as a surety. This ritual was a "sign of the Cross of Christ, in which
God vouches for the indestructibility of the covenant with the death of
his Son." Thus, the full meaning of the Abrahamic covenant is revealed
only when "God binds his own existence to the creature, man, by taking
human nature upon himself."24
For Paul, the children of Abraham are
those in covenant with God by faith (cf. Gal. 3:6-7). God's promise to
Abraham of blessing for the Gentiles (cf. Gen. 12:3) is the foundation
of the gospel (cf. Gal. 3:8-9). In fact, the gospel can be described as
the proclamation that the blessing for the Gentiles is now coming to
pass through Christ (cf. Eph. 3:6). Within covenantal history, the
promise of blessing was given to Abraham and fulfilled by Jesus, who
"opens up and fulfills the wholeness of the Law and gives it thus to
the pagans, who can now accept it . . ., thereby becoming children of
The Catechism, Ratzinger notes, presents
the same teaching. The "'full number of the nations' now takes its
'place in the family of the patriarchs.'"26 Jesus is "the promised
shoot of Judah, who unites Israel and the nations in the kingdom of
God." Therefore, members of all nations enter the "People of God with
Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of
the Davidic Kingdom,"27 understood not merely as a temporal political
entity, but as God's rule on earth extended from heaven (cf. Isa.
52:7). In consequence, there is only one People of God, the Body of
Christ, in which both Jews and Gentiles are welcome. "The mission of
Jesus is to unite Jews and pagans into a single People of God."28
Paul's understanding of the Body of
Christ as an organic "grafting" of the Gentiles into Israel was
confirmed by the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate 4; the Church
"draws nourishment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive
branches of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11:1724)." God
prunes from this tree only those branches that refuse belief in Christ
(cf. Rom. 11:20). Therefore, the Old Testament remains central to faith
in Christ. "There is no access to Jesus and thereby can be no entrance
of the nations into the People of God without acceptance in faith of .
. . the Old Testament."29
In regard to dialogue between Catholics
and those outside the faith, Ratzinger insists that Jesus Christ must
be seen not as a barrier but as the only doorway to the desired unity,
for through Jesus, "the God of Israel has become the God of the
nations." As Paul described, Jesus has united Jew and Gentile in one
For he is our peace,
who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of
hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and
ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the
two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body
through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Eph.
This communion in Christ "is not empty
theological rhetoric, but an empirical state of affairs," visible
wherever the Church is present.30
Ratzinger qualifies the authentically
Catholic approach to ecumenical dialogue with a distinction drawn from
J. A. Cuttat. "To try to make mankind better and happier by bringing
the religions together is one thing," which one might call humanitarian
ecumenism; "To pray ardently for the unification of all mankind in the
love of the same God is something else," which one might call
Christocentric ecumenism. "And it may be that the former is Lucifer's
most subtle temptation, designed to frustrate the latter."31 Ecumenical
dialogue, in order to be authentically Catholic, must be firmly
Christocentric, i.e., centered on the new covenant established in Jesus
Christ, for "the renunciation of truth and conviction does not elevate
man but hands him over to the calculations of utility and robs him of
1. Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger, Many Religions — One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the
World, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999),
2. Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger, "The New Covenant: A Theology of Covenant in the New
Testament," Communio: International Catholic Review 22, no. 4 (1995):
635-651 at 650. This work later appeared, in a different translation,
as the second chapter of Many Religions (pp. 47-77). All references
herein to this work will be to the Communio translation.
3. Ratzinger, "New
4. Ibid., 638.
5. Ibid., 639.
6. Ibid., 640.
7. Ibid., 646.
8. Ibid., 642.
9. Ibid., 643; cf. idem,
Many Religions, 45.
10. Ratzinger, "New Covenant," 642.
11. Ibid., 644.
12. Ibid., 640.
13. Ibid., 644.
14. Ibid., 645.
15. Ibid., 648.
16. Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 129; cf. Ratzinger, Many Religions, 36.
17. Catechism, 580; cf. Gal. 3:10.
18. Ratzinger, Many Religions, 32.
19. Ratzinger, "New Covenant,"
647; cf. idem, Many Religions, 33-34.
20. Ratzinger, "New Covenant," 645.
21. Ratzinger, Many Religions, 106.
22. Ratzinger, "New Covenant," 646.
23. Ibid., 640.
24. Ibid., 649.
25. Ratzinger, Many Religions, 41.
26. Catechism, 528; cf. Ratzinger,
Many Religions, 25.
27. Ratzinger, Many Religions,
28. Ibid., 26; cf. idem, "New
29. Ratzinger, Many Religions, 28.
30. Ibid., 103.
31. Ibid., 102.
32. Ibid., 106.
Mr. Stephen Pimentel has a Master of Arts
degree in theology from Christendom College. He is the author of
Witnesses of the Messiah: On the Acts of the Apostles 1-15 (Emmaus
Road, 2002) and Envoy of the Messiah: On the Acts of the Apostles 16-28
(Emmaus Road, 2005). He is also a contributor to the anthologies
Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass
(Emmaus Road, 2004) and Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the
Mystery of Marriage (Emmaus Road, 2007). This is his first article in
© Ignatius Press
Volume Gathers Benedict XVI's Key Thoughts
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2006
(Zenit.org).- A new volume published in Italian by Libreria Editrice
Vaticana gathers key phrases pronounced by Benedict XVI in the first
year of his papacy.
"Pensieri Spirituali" (Spiritual Thoughts) gathers phrases chosen from
his encyclical, homilies, meetings and audiences, and from moments when
he spoke without notes.
Lucio Coco, compiler of the texts, explained that the topics "are faith
in God, the centrality of Jesus and the love that is given us and that
man must transform into self-giving."
In these pages are thoughts on confidence, journeying, charity,
education, the Eucharist, happiness, Jesus Christ, Mary, the Word of
God, patience, work, silence, suffering, life, consecrated life, and
man's vocation, among many others.
Among the quotes is this one from the Pope's address to clergy in the
Diocese of Aosta last July 25: "Suffering itself is the way to
transformation, and without suffering nothing is transformed."
The quoted thoughts cover the period April 2005 to March 2006. They
derive from papal documents available on the Vatican's official Web
page as well as from the section that Vatican Radio dedicates to the
Benedict XVI's Top 15 "Words"
Used During His First 100 Days
VATICAN CITY, JULY 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here are
of the most striking "words," as Benedict XVI likes to call the
of his thoughts, articulated during the first 100 days of his
* * *
First words: "Dear brothers and sisters, after the
Pope, John Paul II, the Lord Cardinals have elected me, a simple,
worker in the Lord's vineyard" -- first words after being elected Pope,
from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, April 19.
John Paul II: "I seem to feel his strong hand
mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment
addressed specifically to me, 'Do not be afraid!'" -- first message
the Sistine Chapel, April 20.
Program of pontificate: "My real program of
is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen,
with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be
by him, so that he himself will lead the Church at this hour of our
-- homily during the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, April 24.
Eucharist: "The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an
duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the
being nourished by the Eucharistic bread and experiencing the communion
of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is
a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue
the journey we must make every week" -- homily during the closing Mass
of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Bari, May 29.
Ecumenism: "With full awareness, therefore, at the
of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood,
Peter's current successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work
tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's
-- first message from the Sistine Chapel, April 20.
Interreligious dialogue and dialogue with
"Aware of this, I address everyone, including the followers of other
or those who are simply seeking an answer to the fundamental questions
of life and have not yet found it. I address all with simplicity and
to assure them that the Church wants to continue to weave an open and
dialogue with them, in the search for the true good of the human being
and of society" -- first message from the Sistine Chapel, April 20.
Human rights and the defense of life: "The freedom
kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to
slavery" -- homily during the Mass to take possession of the Basilica
St. John Lateran, May 7.
Family: "The Church cannot cease to proclaim that in
with God's plans (cf. Matthew 19:3-9), marriage and the family are
and permit no other alternatives" -- letter to Cardinal Alfonso
Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, May 17.
Relativism: "Today, a particularly insidious
to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and
of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as
the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the
of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people
one another, locking each person into his or her own 'ego'" -- address
to participants in the ecclesial congress of the Diocese of Rome, June
Solidarity: "To make a concrete response to the
of our brothers and sisters in humanity, we must come to grips with the
first of these challenges: solidarity among generations, solidarity
countries and entire continents, so that all human beings may share
equitably in the riches of our planet. This is one of the essential
that people of good will must render to humanity. The earth, in fact,
produce enough to nourish all its inhabitants, on the condition that
rich countries do not keep for themselves what belongs to all" --
to seven new ambassadors to the Holy See, June 16.
Terrorism: "To all who nurture sentiments of hatred
to all who carry out such repugnant terrorist acts I say: God loves
which he created, and not death. Stop in the name of God!" -- Angelus
On if it's difficult to be Pope: "In a certain
yes. I never thought of this ministry, but the people are very good to
me and support me" -- statements to journalists, Introd, Italy, July 25.
St. Benedict of Norcia: "He is a fundamental
point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable
roots of his culture and civilization" -- first general audience, April
Judaism: "The history of relations between our two
has been complex and often painful, yet I am convinced that the
patrimony' treasured by Christians and Jews is itself the source of the
wisdom and inspiration capable of guiding us toward 'a future of hope'
in accordance with the divine plan" -- address to a delegation of the
Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, June 9.
Islam and peace: "I wouldn't like to generalize. It
has elements that could make peace prevail; it also has other elements.
We must always try to identify the best elements" -- statements to
Introd, Italy, July 25.