THE THEOLOGICAL PEDAGOGY OF
Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is one of the important figures in the
catholic theological area. He is known for his orthodoxy throughout his
theological enterprise. Commonly, orthodoxy means the objectification of faith.
This objectification of faith does not de- privatize the faith but only de-
personalize it. He was the center of attraction before and after the Second
Vatican Council. In his special way of theologizing Cardinal Ratzinger seems
not to be divided as a pre and post Vatican theologian. Many Critics do so.
They divides his theological career as pre Vatican liberal theologian and a
post Vatican conservative- orthodox theologian
But A detailed study of his theology expresses the reality that he was
stable in his theological pedagogy; but he had to become an apologetic against
the theological extremism happened just after the Council. Before the Vatican
Council, Cardinal Ratzinger was celebrated as a genius of liberal and
progressive ideas. There were not many accusations against his theological
pedagogy. Most of his ideas were novel to the then existing theological saga.
He tried to move forth from the Tridentine methodology of anathema sit to a
peaceful communion of Churches. But he is accused to be a brutal orthodox ruler
of Catholic Kingdom as the prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith.
Actually He fought against the aberrations of the decisions of the Council.
There are a few critics of Ratzinger who opine that he
was stable in his ideas and theological methodology both before and after the
council. But the radical and extreme liberal and orthodox interpretations of
the thinkers just after the council made his theology alien to them. For the
extreme liberalists his theology became conservative and orthodox and for the
extreme orthodox, liberal. In my opinion Ratzinger always proposed a middle stand
without harming the orthodox core of the doctrines of Church. He was ready to
accept any of the progressive attitudes which did not curtail the deposit of faith
that is the objective data which constitutes Church’s body of doctrine.
Even if so, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger accused of some mistakes
in using and accepting the categories of the pluralistic communion of the
individual churches. Even though he was correct in his theological expositions,
his theology in its totality, was criticized as it was not ready to afford the
dynamic categories of other cultures. 1This
theme is dealt in this chapter. The main criticism leveled against him was his
imposition of Platonic categories over all the cultures. For the Asian and
Latin American theologians he was a dictator of categories to theologize. He
also preserves an inherent pessimism in his writings.2
Whatever he sees as different from his categories is condemned. Thus many of
the decisions of Ratzinger as the Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine and
Faith- the old agency for the Inquisition of the heretics were accused as the
misuse of his authority. Even if so it is true that the Ecumenical Patriarch of
Constantinople awarded him a golden cross for understanding Catholicism and
Orthodoxy well. 3
This chapter intends to explore the
theological nuances lay behind the controversy between Ratzinger and the
theologians of various cultural contexts.
2.2 Theological background of Cardinal Joseph
Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927 in Marktl Inn in the
Bavarian diocese of Passau. He was ordained priest in 1954 in Freisng of the
Munich diocese. He attained his doctorate in St. Augustine’s theology of and
later he became a lecturer in dogmatic theology in the most famous German
universities like Munster, Tubingen, and Regensburg. Along with his
assignments, Ratzinger published scholarly works and essays which enjoyed wider
circulation. He did not focus on any special area but he dealt with the
comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith. He always tried to
establish the core of Christian faith, without rejecting the modern progressive
movements. The Introduction to
Christianity, his celebrated work, became classic reader for the students
of Christian religion.
As an expert in the catholic
tradition he was appointed as the theological expert to participate in the
Second Vatican Council. Being one of the founders of Concilium which is called to be progressive wing of theology,
Ratzinger was reputed to the category of open minded theologians of the world.
But after the council, especially
when he was appointed as the prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine and
Faith, he was accused of a change in his theological attitude. It is
interesting to hear his own assessment of this attitudinal change:
It is not I who have changed
but others. At our very first meetings I pointed out two prerequisites to my
colleagues. The first one: our group must not lapse into any kind of
sectarianism or arrogance as we were the new true church, an alternative
magisterium with a monopoly on the truth of Christianity. The second one:
discussion has to be conducted without any individualistic fights forward, in confrontation
with the reality of Vatican II with the true letter and the true spirit of the
council not with an imaginary Vatican III. The prerequisites were increasingly
less observed in the following period up to a turning point – which set around
1973- when someone began to assert that the texts of Vatican II were no longer
point of reference of catholic theology. Indeed it was flatly stated that the
council still belonged to the traditional….. It was not possible to move
forward very much with such documents. They must be surpassed. Hence the
council was only a starting point. But in those years I very soon disengage
myself from the directorate as well as from the contributors’ staff. I have always tried to remain true to
Vatican II, to this today of the Church without any longing for a yesterday
irretrievably gone with the wind and without any impatient thrust toward a
tomorrow that is not ours.4
These words of Ratzinger explicitly express his stand
point towards the aftereffects of the Second Vatican Council. He tried to
resist those who were giving ample importance to orthopraxy, but teaches that
the right conduct or orthopraxis should always be enrooted in the orthodoxy of
the Church. Right action always presupposes right belief. The bare actions without
right belief are not Catholic. According to Ratzinger right belief always
accepts the true meaning of the scripture, which read within the living
tradition of Church.5
The theologians who are not based in the right belief not complement the church
because the error never complements the truth.6
Ratzinger never allowed
the theologians to divide the Church as pre and post. There is no pre and post
conciliar Church but only one Church that commenced in the Pentecost by the
living presence of Holy Spirit. There is no break in this continuity. Vatican
II did not want to change the faith but to represent it in an effective way. Thus
it becomes impossible for a Catholic to take a position for Vatican II but
against Trent or Vatican I. One who accepts Vatican II will accept the whole
tradition of the Church. This argument of Ratzinger directly expels the
theories of extreme progressivism. Against the traditionalists he argues that
it is impossible for a Catholic to favour Trent and Vatican I and stand against
Vatican II simultaneously. So, every partisan destroy the whole which can
exists only as an indivisible unity.7
Unlike the theologians who fell in
the storm of progressivism, Ratzinger stood with the true spirit of Vatican II.
For him, the true tradition means defend the council. Dismissing the criticisms
against him as an extreme orthodox, Ratzinger portrays himself as a safe
guardian who did not intend to restore the progressive ideas of Second Vatican
Council with the extreme traditional thoughts, but as the well-wisher who
strived to limit the aberrations of the conciliar proposals. His prefect ship
is a way to recover the lost values.
Formation of the Theological Categories of Joseph Ratzinger
Ratzinger seems to be linear narrator throughout his
intellectual outcomes. For him, there is an uninterrupted historical
progression of the salvific plan of God. This cannot be violated. There is no
scope for any new theology or new categories of interpretation but the deposit
of faith and the categories to interpret it righty are given solely to the
ownership of the Church. Orthodoxy is the guardian of faith. The task of the
theologian is to help the believers to comprehend the already revealed
mysteries of God. So, for Ratzinger, the membership of the Church is not human
venture. One becomes the member of the Church not through sociological
adherence, but through incorporation in the body of Christ through Baptism and
The body of Christ, the newly instituted Israel, is an undisrupted progression
of the people of God of the Old Testament. Church is not only a sum total of
but it is the real body of Jesus. Only the Church goes beyond the impassible
frontier of death.
Stating that the Church is not ours but of Christ,
Ratzinger tries to emphasizes the mono-nature of the interpretative categories
of the deposit of faith. “Christianity is not from us. It is a revelation that
is to say a message which has been entrusted to us as a deposit and which we do
not have the right to reconstruct according to our whims.10
It is noteworthy that Ratzinger places the human aspect of the Church in a
The changeable part of the Church is secondary to the unchangeable part of the
Church. So the changes must be in tune with the permanent, unchangeable,
God-given deposit of faith. Then we cannot consider Church as a democratic
institution in which the decisions of the majority will reign over. Church, in
its base, is sacramental and hierarchical. Here the will of God reigns. Not the
majority of votes but the authority of Christ is the norm of the Church. Human
thoughts and deeds help the Church to enact the will of God here in this earth.
In this background, Ratzinger explains how to change
the human parts of the Church. He accepts the dictum Ecclesia Semper Reformata, which means the Church is to be reformed
according to the signs of the time. Gaudium
et Spes makes this idea clear, stating that the fidelity of the bride,
Church, to the bridegroom, Christ, does not imply the infidelity to her children.12
Church is obliged to change her externality to help her children to find out
her bridegroom through the changing means of the time. Quoting the Roman
Liturgical formula of Peace (Lord Jesus Christ, look not upon my sins,
but upon the faith of your Church) he teaches us how to make changes in the
traditional formulas of the Church. Some theologians argue that the personal
pronoun ‘my’ should be replaced with ‘our’, the collective pronoun. But before
arguing for the change the theologians must try to understand what the
importance of the term ‘my’ is here in this formula. Here, ‘my’ stands for the
personal conviction of one’s sinfulness. It should not be just converted to
‘our’; because there is no other place in the liturgy where the same nuance is
used. Can we change ‘my’ to ‘our’? Yes. But what is important is that in the
new emphasis of ‘we’ the personal conviction of sin should not be disappeared.
So, before changing or integrating the faith, a
theologian must consider the intention of the Church.13 Faith
is not individual, but we believe together. The purpose of a theologian in the
Church is not to become an individual scholar, but to serve the believing
community. No theologian wants to be a creator of faith, but his task is to
deepen people in the deposit of faith. Many theologians consider dogma as an
assault on their freedom. But, in reality, “dogmas are not walls that prevent
us from seeing but they are windows that open upon the infinite.” 14 All
the theological expositions are cultured. So we have to stick our thoughts on
the fundamentals of faith: credo (which indicates what is to believe), the
prayer- our father (what we have to hope), the Decalogue (what is to do) and
the sacraments. Theologians should not be ignorant of these basic while they
are dealing with high theological problems.
In short, Ratzinger cannot be considered as an extreme
orthodox in his ideas. He always tries to preserve the traditional values of
the Church. He is very much interested in the integration of faith into other
cultural categories. To the questions arouse on the integration of Christian
faith in the African culture, he states: “Then more and more significance
attacks to the debate as to whether the worship of the ancestors can be taken
into Christian faith-structure in any form. The veneration of Saints and prayer
for the departed souls create bridges here which make a fruitful exchange of
This statement explicitly expresses the particularity of Ratzinger’s logic.
Unlike the modern theologians Ratzinger’s theologizing always starts and
enroots in the Catholic dogmas. He never tries to bend the traditional dogmas
according to the present situation but bends the situation according to the
unchangeable faith of the Church. Ratzinger accepts that man is saved even
without a visible membership in the Church. He can be saved also by sincerely
following the sound of his conscience. But this provision should move to the
extreme of ‘anonymous Christians’ that leads less importance to the Baptism of
Christianity and Other Cultures
Whenever he deals with the concept
of Pluralism, Ratzinger has no doubt about the unique role of Christ as the
universal savior. Christ is the one and only savior for the humanity. In his celebrated book, ‘Truth and
Tolerance,’ Ratzinger explains the two methods of understanding the place of
other religions and their cultures. Firstly, other religions can be considered
as the preparatory ways to Christianity. There are many instances in the Holy
Scripture where this preparatory nature of other religions has been stressed.
The eternal covenant of God with Noah is the first instance. This is covenant
of God is not only with the Hebraic community but also with the whole humanity.
The off-springs of Noah are considered to be new base for humanness in this
earth. The second instance is the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus (Mt
2:1-23). It is interesting that the astronomy of the pagan religions, which is
measured as the superstition for the Christian believers, lead to the infinite
and True God, Jesus Christ. This scriptural narration opens the possibility to
see other religions and their cultures as the preparatory ways for the
Christianity. The third instance is the debate of St. Paul with the people of
Athens (Acts. 17:16-34). It is to be noted that St. Paul starts his arguments,
taking the very altar of the pagans into account. For him, the altar of Athens
which is dedicated to ‘the unknown God’ is space to speak about the true God,
he believes. This means we have much space in other religions and culture to
integrate our Christian faith.
Moving forth in the book True and
Tolerance, we see Ratzinger vehemently criticize the ideas of Dr.
Radhakrishnan, a Hindu theologian and the Buddhist thinkers. Ratzinger put
forward a historical pattern for the formation of religions:
Three ways of moving beyond myth
In his understanding,
the term ‘myth’ does not have a positive meaning. It seems to be understood as
an added material, such as ways of expression, literary genres etc., to the
primitive experience of a particular religion. In the first phase, the
primitive experience, a person or a community receives the glimpse of the
existence of the divinity. In the second stage of the formation of religions,
this pristine first experience is slowly embodied by myths to preserve it
forever and for better comprehension of the community it receives. There is the
third and final stage where the mythical religions try to move beyond the myth.
Thus various phases of religious experience become active; namely, mysticism,
monotheistic revolution and enlightenment.
tries to strip off the myth of the religious categories and absolute value is
seen to experiences. Here a new foundation for myth is given. It becomes the
symbol of reality. Mysticism esteems the imageless, unmetaphysical and
mysterious experience of the mystic as the only determinative and ultimate
reality in the realm of religion. In the final stage of such experience the
mystic will no longer be able to say to his God, I am Yours, the expression he
uses is I am Thee.17
This is not correct. This is the attitude of Buddha for Ratzinger. In the
monotheistic revolution that we find in the formation of Israel community there
is no place for man mad myths, but the divine call through prophets is
esteemed. In the third phase of enlightenment myth gives way to a
pre-scientific knowledge. It can also be equated to some sort of rational
knowledge. Enlightenment gives absolute value for the rational experience at
all times. Criticizing Radhakrishnan’s theological model, Ratzinger includes
his ideas in the last category of enlightenment along with the whole Hindu
tradition. He blames the Radhakrishnan for teaching relativity, giving absolute
value for the imageless spiritual experience. The Asian religions are
criticized that they do not consider God as a person and they do not separate
I- Thou relation.18
Christianity denies this. It focuses on the divine call which is audible in
Monotheism of India
is also criticized. It is not of Israel. It is directed towards the
aforementioned mysticism. Unlike the Israel community, which was formed through
a revolution, Indian monotheistic religions were formed through evolution. They
try to make a peaceful balance between many gods and do not take away any gods.
In the Indian mysticism the inwardness of the mystic gets much stress. Here the
God is passive. Here man moves upward. In Indian monotheism the opposite
happens. Here God is active, but man is passive. We are only part of the
activities of god. 19For
Ratzinger, the way of the Asian religion is not acceptable and he always sees a
duality between mysticism and Revelation.
1 A.M. Ren, “A Critical survey of Joseph Ratzinger’s
Understanding of Religious Pluralism from an Asian Perspective,” Ecumenical Trends 40 (2011)11. 7.
2 J. L. Allen, Pope Benedict XVI (New York, NY: Continuum Press, 2000) 216-217.
3 D.V. TWOMEY, Pope Benedict: The Conscience of Our Age (San Francisco: Ignatius
4 S. Attanasio- G.
Hanson, The Ratzinger Report: An
Exclusive Interview on the Church. Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori (San Francisco, Ignatius Press,
5 The Ratzinger Report, 23.
6 The Ratzinger Report,24
7 The Ratzinger Report, 28.
8 The Ratzinger Report, 47.
9 F. Biot, “The Idea of Orthodoxy in Cardinal Ratzinger’s
Book: Conversation on the Faith” Conc192
(1987) 4. 124.
10 J. Ratzinger, Conversation on the Faith, 112 as cited in F. Biot, “The Idea of Orthodoxy in Cardinal Ratzinger’s
Book: Conversation on the Faith” Conc192
(1987) 4. 128.
11″The Idea of Orthodoxy
in Cardinal Ratzinger’s Book,” 124.
12 Vatican Council II, Gaudim
et spes, 43
13 The Ratzinger Report, 50.
14 The Ratzinger Report, 72.
15 The Ratzinger Report, 196.
16 J. Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance. Christian Belief and World Religions (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) 26.
17 Truth and Tolerance, 33.
18 Truth and Tolerance, 34.
19 Truth and Tolerance,35.