A Well-Rounded Pope
Interview on Benedict XVI's Qualities and Fundamental Ideas

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 Roman university.

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. Augustine.
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 Vatican Council.

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 Christianity"].

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 particular accents.

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 loves us."

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.


Ratzinger's Thesis Seen as Key to Understanding His Papacy
Translation of '57 Work on Bonaventure Published

ROME, FEB. 14, 2008  To understand the papacy of Benedict XVI, one should become familiar with his formation as a theologian, affirmed the publishers of Father Joseph Ratzinger's thesis on St. Bonaventure.

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 Clergy.

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 Bonaventurian studies."

"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 1957."

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 Franciscan influence.'"

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 |
The 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. [1]

Joseph Ratzinger is considered by some to be the representative of a "petrified theology", [2] whereas for others [3] he is a voice that claims to speak the truth and makes it possible to perceive "the whole in its depth dimension" [4] 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, [5] 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", [6] 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". [7]

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 [8] between salvation history and its ontological unfolding, [9] but rather by a mutual ordering of the two that constantly adheres to the "prae [logical and temporal priority] of God's action". [10] 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 action. [11]

Defending this "primacy of God" [12] 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 [13] to thinking that is more characteristically metaphysical, [14] and this development occurs as a response to the intellectual debates of a given time period. [15]

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 [16] 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 [17] 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. [18] 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 [19] 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? [20]

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. [21] 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". [22] 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 year 1975:

    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 meaninglessness. [23]

Ratzinger traces the cause of this subsequent influence of Gaudium et spes, which he regards as problematic, back to the spirit of the preface. [24] 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". [25] 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". [26] 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." [27]

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 [28] and his writings concerning ecumenism [29] as well as interreligious dialogue [30] and, last but not least, concerning the relation between the Church and Judaism. [31] 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", [32] 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.


[1] 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.

[2] Häring, Ideologie, 21.

[3] 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.

[4] See Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, "Introduction", in Pilgrim Fellowship, 9-16, citation at 12.

[5] 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.

[6] Principles, 171-90, citation at 189.

[7] Horn and Pfnür, "Introduction", 9-14, citation at 10.

[8] 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).

[9] See ibid.

[10] Ibid., 185.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Pilgrim Fellowship, 284-98, citation at 287.

[13] 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.

[14] For particulars, see Kaes, 86-88.

[15] Pt. 3, sec. 2, of this book, "Ratzinger's Ecciesiology against the Background of Issues in Intellectual History".

[16] Cf. Weiler, 151-283, esp. 281-83.

[17] See J. Ratzinger, "Geleitwort" [preface], in Weiler, xiii; similarly: G. Alberigo, "Die konziliare Erfahrung: Selbständig lernen", in Wittstadt, 2:679-98, esp. 688f.

[18] See Church 3-20; "Ecciesiology", 123-52.

[19] 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".

[20] 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.

[21] 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" (Principles, 378).

[22] Beinert, "Kirchenbilder in der Kirchengeschichte", in Kirchenbilder, Kirchenvisionen: Variationen über eine Wirklichkeit, ed. Beinert, 58-127, citation at III (Regensburg: Pustet, 1995).

[23] Principles, 390.

[24] 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'?"

[25] Principles, 381, 382.

[26] Ibid., 390.

[27] Ibid.

[28] "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".

[30] See, for example, Salt of the Earth, 243-55.

[31] 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).

[32] Song 1:5.


The Master Key: Pope Benedict XVI's Theology of Covenant
by Stephen Pimentel

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 revoke it."7

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 Cor. 6:16).10

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 Christ.23

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 Abraham."25

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

Ecumenical dialogue

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 Body:

    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. 2:14-16)

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 his greatness."32

End Notes

   1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Many Religions — One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 102, 106.
   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 Covenant," 636.
   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, 27-28.
  28. Ibid., 26; cf. idem, "New Covenant," 646.
  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 HPR.

© 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 Pope.


Benedict XVI's Top 15 "Words"

Used During His First 100 Days

VATICAN CITY, JULY 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here are some of the most striking "words," as Benedict XVI likes to call the formulation of his thoughts, articulated during the first 100 days of his pontificate.

* * *

First words: "Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope, John Paul II, the Lord Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble 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 clasping 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 from the Sistine Chapel, April 20.

Program of pontificate: "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by him, so that he himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history" -- homily during the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, April 24.

Eucharist: "The Sunday precept is not, therefore, an externally-imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the celebration, 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 on 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 beginning 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 followers" -- first message from the Sistine Chapel, April 20.

Interreligious dialogue and dialogue with non-believers: "Aware of this, I address everyone, including the followers of other religions, 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 affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to weave an open and sincere 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 to 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 of St. John Lateran, May 7.

Family: "The Church cannot cease to proclaim that in accordance with God's plans (cf. Matthew 19:3-9), marriage and the family are irreplaceable and permit no other alternatives" -- letter to Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, May 17.

Relativism: "Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own 'ego'" -- address to participants in the ecclesial congress of the Diocese of Rome, June 6.

Solidarity: "To make a concrete response to the appeal of our brothers and sisters in humanity, we must come to grips with the first of these challenges: solidarity among generations, solidarity between countries and entire continents, so that all human beings may share more equitably in the riches of our planet. This is one of the essential services that people of good will must render to humanity. The earth, in fact, can produce enough to nourish all its inhabitants, on the condition that the rich countries do not keep for themselves what belongs to all" -- audience to seven new ambassadors to the Holy See, June 16.

Terrorism: "To all who nurture sentiments of hatred and to all who carry out such repugnant terrorist acts I say: God loves life, which he created, and not death. Stop in the name of God!" -- Angelus address, July 10.

On if it's difficult to be Pope: "In a certain sense, 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 reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization" -- first general audience, April 27.

Judaism: "The history of relations between our two communities has been complex and often painful, yet I am convinced that the 'spiritual 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 International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, June 9.

Islam and peace: "I wouldn't like to generalize. It certainly has elements that could make peace prevail; it also has other elements. We must always try to identify the best elements" -- statements to journalists, Introd, Italy, July 25.