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George Pell, Forward in Tracey Rowland, Ratzingers Faith: The Theology of

Pope Benedict XVI (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Name: John-Mark Igboalisi, OP
Course: History of Doctrine
Lecturer: Fr Emeka Nwosuh, OP
Title: An Attempt at the Theological Vision of Benedict XVI
George Cardinal Pell wrote, in Tracey Rowlands book, Ratzingers Faith: The Theology of
Pope Benedict XVI, that no pope in history has published as much high quality theology on such
variety of issues, although his works have not had the same seminal importance as those of Hans Urs
von Balthasar, Yves Congar, and Karl Rahner who were before him. Other popes may have made
important contributions to the development of doctrine, like Leo the Great and John Paul II
especially with his Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae, but the role of Benedict XVI especially
during the papacy of John Paul II was of immense significance as regards his role as Prefect of the
Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. In this essay, we shall attempt to retrieve the insights of
Benedict XVI which somewhat form the structure of his theological vision. We shall consider his
theological influence, his insights on biblical theology, Christology, ecclesiology and liturgy.
Background Influence
As a theologian, Benedict XVI is considered enormously competent. This competency is
evident in his exercise of the office he held in the Vatican, which made him to be called watchdog.
He was almost like versed in all aspects of theological discipline, Scripture, ecclesiology, moral
theology and so on. He was well immersed in patristic understanding, biblical texts, writings of
contemporary theology and philosophy. He is a man of culture as well as learning. As a German who
grew during the reign of Nazi occupation such experience somewhat shaped his personality and
He was more inclined toward Platonic insights. His coat of arms bears the motto
Cooperatores Veritatis, Co-workers of the Truth. He considers truth as illumining the world of the
sensible and the experiential from beyond, finding its ultimate embodiment in the person of Christ,
who is the way th Truth and the life. He considers Plato as doing battle against the radical
enlightenment of his day that denied that truth was in any way accessible to human beings. Benedict
sees parallels here with contemporary, post-Enlightenment Western civilization with its skepticism,
limiting knowledge and truth to what can be empirically demonstrated. While in modern thought,
ultimate reality remains unknowable, postmodernist understanding reduces all knowledge and meta-
narratives to systems of meaning, socially constructed on the basis of ones social location thereby
considering knowledge as relative. Benedict XVI considers this as the dictatorship of relativism.
Regardless of his inclining towards Platonic thought, he was a realist, who would not compromise
the truth of faith. Such that George Wiegel describes him as a man thoroughly convinced that ideas
have real-world consequences and that decent human societies cannot be erected on false foundation.
Augustines theology influenced Benedict XVI more than the insights from Thomas Aquinas
who though built on Augustine but used Aristotelian epistemology frame. Benedict XVIs doctoral
dissertation on the Church as the People and House of God was built around Augustines City of
God. Here Benedict contrasted the ancient Roman city with its gods and the true City of God
revealed in the Church. In one of his article, he demonstrated his indebtedness to Augustine:
Cf. Thomas Rausch, Pope Benedict XVI: An Introduction to His Theological Vision
(New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2009 ), pp. 39-40, 41-43, 46-47.
Cf. Thomas Rausch, Pope Benedict XVI, pp.65-66.
Augustine has kept me company from more than twenty years. I have developed my theology in a
dialogue with Augustine, though naturally I have tried to conduct this dialogue as a man of today.
Rausch enunciates that Benedict XVIs intellectual background influence is hinged on three aspects.
First, from Plato he learned to understand and privilege truth as the intelligible. Second, he built his
anthropology on that of Augustine. Third, his epistemology and understanding of eschatology were
influenced by Bonaventure.
Biblical Theology
Benedict XVI was very devoted to the Scripture. He played a major role in the final draft of
the document Dei Verbum which focuses on divine revelation and its transmission. He approaches
Scripture as a theological reality because it is first and foremost Gods word to the Church. It sees
it as a narrative witnessing to a special revelation that reaches its fulness in the incarnation and
subsequent mission of the Church. It is unique, transcending what human can know in light of
natural reason. He strives to preserve the priority of the divine initiative and to distinguish revelation
from what is merely human wisdom. In most of his works, he makes use of scriptural text. He
devoted a series, Jesus of Nazareth, to discuss his contribution to biblical Christology. He sees a
continuity between the New Testament Church and the patristic era since writings of the latter bring
us close to the era of the Scriptures.
He begins his critique of the historical-method by first appreciating the historicity of the
Christian revelation. He insists that we must Scriptures historical contexts and literary forms if we
are to grasp its meaning and internalize it. Therefore, the historical-critical method is an n
indispensable tool, helping us to understand how biblical texts came to be written and what they
meant to their first audience. However, he identifies some flaws with ths method. First, it use of
evolutionary model. He notes that while this model may be legitimate in the natural sciences, there
is no evidence that religious and spiritual ideas develop along the same evolutionary path or rules.
Secondly, it suggests hermeneutic of suspicion. This kind of interpretation considers mysteries as
transformed into things, dead things at that, which scholars can assemble or disassemble at their
pleasure like a scientist studying a plant outside of its habitat. Thirdly, an exaggeration of this
method pits faith and reason against each other. It separates faith and reason. At the end of the day,
it makes the Scripture loses its unified perspective, becoming like a jumble of unconnected texts.
The Church has always been at the centre of Benedict XVIs theological vision and
reflection. In fact, it is the point of departure of his theology. Thomas Rausch notes that if his
ecclesiology began with his dissertation on Augustine, Lumen Gentium constitutes its focus. He is
described as an exemplar of moderate universalist ecclesiological tendencies. What this underscores
is that he emphasizes the universal Church over its local or particular expressions. He objects to any
horizontal ecclesiology which reduces the Church to a mere sociological entity or human community.
Cf. Thomas Rausch, Pope Benedict XVI, p.102.
Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), p.83.
Cf. Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000),
For him, the Church is a communion founded on the Eucharist with apostolic succession. Its
permanent structure is not democratic, but sacramental, consequently, it is hierarchical.
In his book, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, he articulates his
preference of the universal Church over the local or particular Church. He argues that the catholicity
of the Church, concretely realized in many forms, belongs to the essence of the Church from the very
outset. In the apostolic period, figure of the apostle itself stands outside the scope of the local
principle. The apostle is not bishop of a community, but rather a missionary for the whole Church.
This figure is the strongest refutation of every purely local conception of the Church, for the apostle
expresses in his person the universal Church; he is her representative and no local Church can claim
him for herself alone.
He considers the liturgy as the prayer of the Church, a prayer moved and guided by the Holy
Spirit. It is the prayer in which Christ unceasingly becomes contemporary with us and enters into our
lives. In his Spirit of the Liturgy he articulates his understanding of the liturgy in relation to the
Church. He makes use of biblical passages and attempts to demonstrate how the liturgy is like a
rehearsal for the fulfilment which is to come. He uses the analogy of play-theory to articulate the
essence of the liturgy. He notes that play takes out of the world of daily goals and their pressures into
a sphere free of purpose and achievement, releasing us from a time from all burdens of our daily
world of work. It takes us to a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can
let life flow freely. But there is another dimension to this play and it is the sense of childrens play
which seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life. This fuller sense
of the analogy of play reveals that we are children, who anticipate eternal life. So at the liturgy we
rediscover within us, true childhood as we contrast this reality with the reality of intimate union with
God. The Christian liturgy is in reference to God without whom this vision of anticipation becomes
a wasteland and quite indeterminate.
There are other aspects to his theological vision, for example, his social teachings as well as
moral theology. One striking feature about his personality is that he is ardent for the preservation of
what is true and upholding it even if he does not become popular. More so, when it comes to the
fight for the Truth, he can appear to be ferocious, not to the individual but to those ideologies which
tend to reinvent the truth.