Theology of Joseph Ratzinger: Fundamentals (2/2)

Joseph Ratzinger has always shown a great interest in ecumenism. First, he proposes a eucharistic ecclesiology that is established around the bishop and the Eucharist, at the same time as appealing to the words and the mystery not only as factors of ecclesial communion, but as signs of the presence of Christ. The Church is the people called by God that meet around the Word and the eucharistic body of Christ. This sacramental presence of Jesus Christ also has a continuation—as Ratzinger insists—in the apostolicity of the Church that is understood not only in the doctrinal sense, but also in the historical, ontological and sacramental sense. In this way, he tries to reconcile petrine primacy and episcopal collegiality. The ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants would be centred not only on prayer and common action, but also on the theological study of the concepts of Church, authority, sacraments, ministry and apostolic succession, thus offering a great variety of nuances and the possibility of ecumenical dialogue.

In the same way, he takes on the need to develop the theology of the ministry, from his research in ecumenical and ecclesial dialogue. Ratzinger offers some reflections on primacy and collegiality, as well the principles of the synods. In this sense, he seems to proceed in a descending way: starting from ecclesiology, he reaches the nature and mission of the ecclesial ministry. He reminds us of the simultaneous horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Church, at once theological and sociological. But he always emphasizes the vertical, the total dependence of the Church and the ministry of Christ and the trinitarian communion. So together with the unrenounceable instances of apostolicity and episcopacy, Ratzinger remembers the essential catholic and petrine ministries, understanding these as a service of unity and universality of the Church. Ratzinger also insists on the need for the Word, sacraments and ministry for the construction of the Church, and he recalls the ontological-sacramental dimension of holy orders—which has priority as regards functionality—and the radical dependency on Christ. Detailed attention is also paid to preaching which, together with the liturgy and the ministry, constitutes one of the places where Christ is made present in the Church, as the Augsburg Confession recalls. Ratzinger’s reflection on the liturgy lays the foundations so that preaching may reflect the voice of Christ. Scripture, the Church—as a place for the reading of the Word of God—and dogma constitute three clear references for the preacher. The essential thematic nucleus of preaching is—according to him—Christ and the Trinity, and there is continuous reference to the liturgy and to history, as a basis for the Christian kerygma. Also there are essential themes such as creation as an origin of all moral orientation and logos, that is to say, of the meaning and sense inscribed in nature. The call to conversion should remain in preaching, together with the reference to the parables that were taught by Jesus and the experience of the saint —which is enriching for all the Church. Thus, preaching, he concludes, must be born through meeting God and must take people to experience Him and His love.

In eschatology Joseph Ratzinger tries to develop a biblical and historical discipline, which is critical and ecclesial at the same time. He thus tries to bring together the apparently contradictory instances of history, metaphysics and eschatology. Starting from the term historia salutis, he reaches the ontological dimension of the Christian being: not everything could be pure salvific being. Something must have stayed in the interior of each saved person, understood according to Chalcedonian ontology, that would give place to a process of transformation in Christ, true God and true man. This christification and divinization will also take place in a total way—if our freedom permits it—at the moment of death. That is why eschatology must be a ‘‘theology of the resurrection.’’ Ontology, eschatology and history of Salvation all merge into the resurrection of Christ. He is identified with the kingdom of God, and in this way, eschatology is above utopias. In the same way, he underlines the concept of immortal soul, without renouncing the previous personalist developments. When talking of eternity and resurrection, heaven, hell and purgatory, Ratzinger maintains the habitual scheme of dialogue, personalist, communitarian, christological and trinitarian, at the same time as reaching the final consequences of the existence of freedom as a supreme gift, which has to reach truth and love.

Mariology is another of the big fields in which Ratzinger develops profound theological concepts. First, he seeks to strike a balance between the Christocentrism of the liturgical movement and the Marian devotion that is present nowadays. The conciliar debate on the ‘‘Marian theme’’ left a profound impression on his theology. That is why he also develops a theology of the mystery of the maternity of Mary. Ratzinger proceeds to conduct a biblical and theological examination of the figure of Mary, reviewing her Old Testament roots as the daughter of Sion. On the other hand, he offers an explanation of the title of the Inmaculate Conception and the dogma of the Assumption, taking as a starting point the liturgy, the biblical texts and related categories. He also relates the figure of Mary not only with Christology, but with ecclesiology. In this way, the mother of God is also the ‘‘first Church’’ and the ‘‘mother of all believers’’, because her co-redeeming efficiency comes from the ‘‘fiat’’ pronounced before God, in close collaboration with the redeeming mission of her Son, as can be seen at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–12).

Source: Pablo Blanco (2011) “The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger: Nuclear Ideas” Theology Today 68(2) 153-173

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