130. Progressive, Conservative or Roman Catholic? On the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger

November 1st, 2016

The last conversations. This is the title of recently published interviews with pope emeritus Benedict XVI and German journalist Peter Seewald. In the book Ratzinger reviews many episodes of his life and gives insights on this theological career and journey. The title suggests that this is probably the last book by Ratzinger. It seems then fitting to reproduce in the Vatican Files collection an article I published few years ago on Ratzinger’s theology.

“Progressive, Conservative or Roman Catholic? On the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger in Evangelical Perspective”, Perichoresis 6.2 (2008) 201-218.

The second half of the XXth century saw different popes leading the Roman Catholic Church through and beyond the most significant event of its recent history, i.e. the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). John XXIII (1958-1963) was the theologically conservative, yet pastorally alert pope who saw the need to end the introspective age of Vatican I and to develop a new phase in the life of the Church in confronting the modern world. Paul VI (1963-1978) was the thoughtful intellectual who had to administer the most difficult part of Vatican II (i.e. the final years) and oversee the beginning of its controversial implementation.

The reign of John Paul I (1978) passed unnoticed for its sheer brevity. John Paul II (1978-2005) was the genial interpreter of Vatican II, conservative in doctrine and morals, and progressive in social issues and world appeal. With him, the Church regained centrality in the world, re-launching the task of a “new evangelisation” and Catholic presence. Whereas the pre-Vatican II Church was living a process of gradual decay, she was revitalised by this pro-active pope and stirred to recover the centre stage in the global world. A Thomistic philosopher and charismatic leader, Wojtyla in his pontificate embodied the aggiornamento (i.e. updating) that was encouraged by Vatican II without losing the organic ties with tradition.

Now, the election of Benedict XVI represents an interesting development in the same line, i.e. the reception, elaboration and application of Vatican II with its message of gaudium et spes (joy and hope) for the world through the lumen gentium (light of all nations) who is the Christ represented by the Church.

1. Ratzinger’s Theological Catholicity

Joseph Ratzinger’s image before the public opinion is that of a conservative theologian who is opposed to liberation theology, cultural relativism, modern liturgical trends which downplay the mystery of the Mass and the solemnity of the rites, and Eucharistic inter-communion with other Christians.

The press has depicted Ratzinger as a grown old reformer who has become disillusioned and suspicious of any change. However, the image of the “enforcer of the faith” is just half of the truth.[1] The other side is perhaps less known, but still important. For example, Spanish reformed theologian Jorge Ruiz recalls Ratzinger’s role within the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the Eighties in officially endorsing an accommodating view of the Bible with respect to liberal understandings of Biblical revelation. As far as the Bible is concerned, Ratzinger represents “a moderate view within the liberal orientation of the Roman Catholic Church of Vatican II”.[2] The 1993 document by the Pontifical Biblical Commission – at the time headed by Ratzinger – “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” is an example of the reception of liberal presuppositions within the overarching exegetical tradition endorsed by the Church. Even the acclaimed new book on Jesus of Nazareth, while criticising radical applications of historico-critical methods, still encourages research to be pursued within their confines in a milder way.[3]

Early Evangelical reactions to his election to the papacy have applauded his “Bible-focused” theology.[4] His commitment to the Bible, however, must be understood in the context of his moderate liberalism as far as Biblical revelation is concerned. Moreover, his views of Scripture stem from traditional Catholicism which combines the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church. According to Vatican II language, they “are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence” (DV 9). In this sense, he is a modern conservative within the boundaries of a revitalised Roman Catholicism.

Ratzinger, in fact, has been one of the pivotal figures in the theological and ecclesiastical scene following Vatican II. As a young and brilliant theologian at the Council, he significantly contributed to the implementation of its main directives, while not relinquishing the traditional dogmatic outlook of the Church. He has been considered “progressive” in his youthful theological engagement for the renewal of the Church, and then “conservative” in his long-term service to his Church as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Ratzinger is often pictured as if he were the left wing theologian who became right wing in his mature years. These labels, of course, do not account for the “catholicity” of Ratzinger’s theology which is both traditional and aggiornata (updated). In assessing Ratzinger’s Roman Catholic theology, it is dangerous to contrast traditionalism and progressivism as if they were disrupting and conflicting trends within his work. There may have been different emphases and concerns between various stages of his career,[5] but the tale of the conversion from radical theologian to the inflexible watchdog of orthodoxy is naïf.

How do we account then for this change of attitudes and concerns? It depends on what kind of paradigm we use to interpret the theological flow of a Church or a theologian. In its theological genius, present-day Roman Catholicism is “catholic” in the sense of embracing both the highest respect for the given heritage of the Church and the strenuous attempt to find new ways of articulating it and living it out. The outcome is a dynamic synthesis which holds different elements together within the all-embracing system. Ratzinger well epitomises this kind of catholicity – strongly rooted in the tradition of the Church and yet also vigorously engaged in accomplishing her mission before the challenges of the modern world.

The motto of the theological journal Communio with which he has been associated since 1972 neatly sums up his theological vision: “a program of renewal through the return to the sources of authentic tradition”. In other words, aggiornamento is done through ressourcement (i.e. the fresh re-reading of biblical and patristic sources) since the two belong together. This appears to be the theological profile of Pope Benedict XVI.

2. The Catholic Church and Its Robust Self-Understanding

Even a scant look at Ratzinger’s massive bibliography indicates the width of his production and the spectrum of his expertise.[6] While it is impossible to isolate a single dominant theological theme, it is nonetheless comparatively easy to appreciate its main focus. Throughout his career as University professor and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the prominent theological interest of Ratzinger has been the doctrine of the Church. Being a theologian of Vatican II and being the Council an ecclesiological council, Ratzinger himself has worked on the reception of the ecclesiological significance of Vatican II for a reinvigorated Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Through the prism of ecclesiology, it is therefore possible to sketch out Ratzinger’s theology in terms of a robust Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Although this approach is selective, it is not a distortion.

2.1 “The People of God”: the Augustinian Heritage

The first aspect to underline for this introductory survey combines methodological and historical elements. As a doctoral student, Ratzinger started his theological career by reflecting on the patristic sources of the doctrine of the Church. His first significant contribution dealt with the self-apprehension of the Roman Church in the history of theology. Well before Vatican II would emphasise the image of the Church as the people of God (e.g. LG 9-17), in the early Fifties Ratzinger wrote his doctoral dissertation on Augustine’s view of the Church as the people and the house of God.[7] Not only did he anticipate the Council as far as ecclesiological themes were concerned, but in this first academic contribution, he also shared and consolidated the trend of ressourcement which the Roman Church was experiencing between the two World Wars. The early influence of Augustine strongly marked Ratzinger’s successive work to the point that he is considered an “Augustinian theologian”.[8]

Ratzinger’s study on Augustine’s ecclesiology is fascinating. He studied it against the background of Tertullian’s and Cyprian’s concepts of the Church. He highlighted the importance of the Donatist controversy and the confrontation with Paganism in the shaping of it. He then investigated the dogmatic significance of the populus Dei and concluded by establishing connections between Augustine’s view and an ecclesiology of the people of God. He pursued similar interests in further studies on the new people of God and the relationship between Israel and the Church.[9] The self-understanding of the Church as the people of God is spelt out in quasi-ontological terms, even though the metaphor is biblical. The ecclesiological profile is very high and her salvific mission and hierarchical structures are strongly defended.

In reading Ratzinger’s work on Augustine, one is reminded of B.B. Warfield’s interpretation of the great Latin Father. Warfield argues that there are two Augustines in Augustine, or rather, there are two main Augustinian theologies in Augustine himself. On the one hand, there is the Augustine who argues for a centripetal church which is invested with divine power to administer God’s grace. On the other hand, there is the Augustine who stresses the doctrine of divine free grace to lost and undeserving sinners. According to Warfield, the ambivalence in Augustine is resolved at the Reformation where his ecclesiology is seen in the context of the doctrine of grace, whereas the Roman Catholic tradition gives priority to the ecclesiastical administration of grace.[10] Ratzinger’s treatment of Augustine is perfectly in line with the traditional Roman Catholic reading of him.

Timothy George rightly remarks that Ratzinger’s theology is “Augustinian in perspective”.[11] This is true. It must be borne in mind, however, that the kind of Augustinianism that Ratzinger embraces is the ecclesiocentric Augustinianism which strongly underlines the centrality of the Church, rather than the Pauline, grace-oriented Augustinianism which was championed at the Reformation. The great Augustinian heritage is twofold. Ratzinger’s interpretation endorses the “catholic” Augustine at the expense of the “protestant” one. His Augustinianism recalls the ecclesiology which was questioned by the Reformation and is still a matter of theological division.

2.2 “Catholica”: Church, Churches and Ecclesial communities

Another prominent feature of Ratzinger’s ecclesiology is his interpretation of the marks of the Church, especially with regard to its catholicity. According to the Apostles Creed, the Church is “catholic” and the significance of this mark of the Church has been subject of intensive debate in the history of theology.[12] Though acknowledging its widely accepted strands of meaning (e.g. in the whole world, according to the whole counsel of God, in fellowship with the whole Church), there is an important nuance which is added and which further qualifies this nota ecclesiae.

According to Ratzinger, the catholicity of the Church is intertwined with the episcopalian structure of the Church.[13] The former is an expression of the latter in two ways. First, the presence of the bishop is essential to define the Church itself. There is no church if there is no valid bishop presiding over her. The implication is that those Christian groups which do not recognise a properly ordained bishop in their ecclesiastical outlook cannot claim the status of a church, but can be defined “ecclesial communities”, i.e. gatherings of Christians enjoying ecclesiality to some degree but lacking the fullness of the blessings of being a church. Second, the catholicity of the Church means the union of all the bishops whose fellowship is presided over by the bishop of Rome. It is not enough for a church to have an episcopalian structure: it must be in fellowship with the See of Rome which exercises the primacy. Unless a church is in fellowship with all other bishops and with Rome, it cannot be fully recognised as being part of the Catholic Church. Catholicity then is understood in terms of Roman episcopacy.

More recently, Ratzinger has come back to these important ecclesiological themes issuing the declaration Dominus Iesus (6th August 2000)[14] when he was still Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. While the document mainly deals with the relationship with other religions and the challenges of inter-religious dialogue, it also contains sections on the true meaning of the marks of the Church (e.g. n. 17). In critically addressing some practices and beliefs in the Roman Catholic Church, Ratzinger recalls what has been already pointed out in the last paragraphs. The Church is where there is a valid bishop, but there is also a further ecclesiological qualification. According to Dominus Iesus, the Church is where the mystery of the Eucharist is kept in its integrity, i.e. where it is celebrated according to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and sacramental representation of the sacrifice of the cross.[15] Moreover, as far as the primacy of the Pope is concerned, Ratzinger argues that the papal office is given “objectively” and therefore cannot be changed to the point of losing its objective nature. The papacy has a quasi-ontological status which pertains to the realm of objective, essential things. The implications for non-Catholic Christians are evident. In fact, those Christian groups which do celebrate the Lord’s Supper in other ways and with a different theology are not considered as churches properly defined. They are “ecclesial communities” and the condition for them to become part of the Church as particular churches is to come in full fellowship with Rome. Only a church in communion with Rome is a catholic church. This is Ratzinger’s interpretation of this mark of the Church.[16]

In his first speeches after being elected, pope Ratzinger has made it clear that he wants to commit himself to the ecumenical cause, i.e. the full restoration of the unity of the Church. This wish has been received in very positive terms by non-Catholics and even Evangelicals.[17] There is a problem, however, and it has to do with the meaning of the unity implied by Ratzinger. Given the quasi-ontological self-understanding of the Roman Catholic Church and the “objectivity” of her structures, what openness is given to Biblical reformation according to the Gospel? If Ratzinger’s ecclesiology reflects and implies the “objectivity” of the Roman Catholic Church as it stands, unity means adhering to this objective model by submitting to it. This way is not an Evangelical option.

2.3 “Salt of the World”: the Church and the World

The relationship between the Church and the world has been a matter of sustained concern for Ratzinger as theologian, Cardinal and then Prefect. His ecclesiological reflection is not only interested in reinforcing the self-understanding and practices of the Roman Church, but also to address critical issues concerning the place and mission of the Church in a global world. This side of his ecclesiological interests has been developed in a series of interviews in which Ratzinger has offered his thoughtful insights in a popular style.[18]

Ratzinger’s analysis of the modern world is fascinating. In particular, it underlines the challenges of the progressive erosion of the Christian heritage by the project of modernity. It also warns against the dictatorship of relativism and the danger of alien ideologies such as Marxism and liberalism, collectivism and radical individualism, atheism and a vague religious mysticism, agnosticism and syncretism. In critical dialogue with post-secular philosophers like Jürgen Habermas, he calls the Church not to be marginalized by secular trends and to launch afresh a strong Christian vision and initiative for a decaying world.[19] This is particularly true as far as Europe is concerned.[20]

Perhaps, an interesting case-study of Ratzinger’s convictions on these matters is the attempt to evaluate the first world-wide event in which the Pope took part after his election. This approach may speak better than many essays since Roman Catholicism is a highly symbolised and dramatic religion as well as having a sophisticated theology. It is in terms of a worldview that Ratzinger’s thought can be best assessed.

More than one million young people took part at the World Youth Day (WYD) in Cologne (Aug 16th-21st 2005) with pope Benedict XVI. It was an impressive gathering and a highly significant programme. What was its main message? It was the occasion to celebrate the catholicity of the Church of Rome. Every aspect was wisely organised to underline the centrality of the Church, its project and the importance to belong to it. At the heart of Europe, the Church attracted the attention of the whole continent. The pope was treated as past emperors were,[21] arriving on a boat on the river Rhine with crowds greeting him. The Church played the role of the privileged dialogue partner of Islam, one the most worrying concerns of the West. Whereas other Western agencies find it difficult to come to terms with Islam, Rome apparently does not.[22] Thinking of the future, a message was launched that Rome is the “home” of young people. Everybody is welcome in this large home, where you find fun, the Eucharist, music, friendship, devotion to Mary, etc. The Church provides everything. Participants could even benefit from plenary or partial indulgences that were issued by the Pope for the occasion. They took part in an open air Eucharist where the sacrifice of the cross was represented through the offering of the Church. The Church combined Middle Age practises and postmodern habits. Different speeches, homilies, and talks seemed to have Christ at the centre, but at a closer look, it was the Church that received centre stage.

Probably, not all the youth there will live out their faith in the coherent way they were encouraged to do. Many will continue to nurture their pick-and-choose spirituality. This is not the main point, however. The young people went back home with a solid impression of the power of the Church of Rome, a Church that has a youthful profile, which offers spiritual engagement and a cultural sense of belonging. It is not the case that their Christian identity will be strengthened, but their Catholic identity will. Perhaps, they will not consider themselves more Christian, but certainly more Catholic. The Roman Church aimed at giving a powerful boost especially to the European imagination. The message was conveyed in symbols and words. Here it is. The future of the continent (i.e. the youth) is with Rome. What else can be a reference point for them in this terrifying world? Who else can comfort them, give them fun and instruction in a safe environment? Moreover, before the pressing challenges of our day (e.g. Islam, peace and justice), Europe can rely on the Roman Church. She can act as representative of all and do the job better than any other else. Why not trust it? Finally, with the outstanding personalities of the previous pope and the present one, Europe has a loving father who is wise enough to be listened to. With all the uncertainties and bad teachers around, why not trust him? Is not Roman Catholicism the Christian option that better suits the continent? This is the question that was asked in Cologne by Benedict XVI. Did Evangelicals understand the grand theological vision behind WYD? Is it good news? Is it a promise? Is it a challenge? Is it a problem?

3. “Faith, Reason and the University”: the Clash with the Reformation

There is yet another important window on Ratzinger’s thought that can be opened in this introductory survey. It has to do with the rather unfortunate speech delivered at the University of Regensburg on 12th September 2006 on the topic “Faith, Reason and the Universities. Memories and Reflections”.[23] This lecture caused widespread turmoil in some countries where Muslims felt offended by the reference made by the Pope to the dialogue between emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian man in 1391 on the subject of Christianity and Islam. For some Muslims, the Pope did not distance himself from Manuel’s words concerning the coercive and violent nature of Islamic expansion at the expense of the use of reason. International media immediately mounted a case that turned this reference to an instance of Byzantine history into a political and diplomatic issue. The Pope had to rephrase his speech, reassuring Muslims of his un-offensive intentions as well organising an official event with ambassadors of majority Muslim countries where he underlined his appreciation for Islam and commitment to inter-religious dialogue.[24]

Unfortunately, much attention has been devoted to this rather secondary aspect of the lecture with the result of obscuring and downplaying its real content. What is really at stake in Ratzinger’s speech is his view of the relationship between faith and reason as championed by the Biblical faith and Greek reason. For Ratzinger, Christianity stems from the “inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical enquiry”. This “synthesis” is already envisaged in the “I am” saying of Exodus whereby God reveals Himself in a way that overcomes mythology and the Johannine prologue whereby the logos is both word and reason.[25] The instance of Paul’s mission whereby the Macedonian man appears to the apostle to plead with him to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10) is considered a vivid picture of the “intrinsic necessity” of the rapprochement. In Medieval Christianity the “synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit” finds its culmination and it is “an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion”. For Ratzinger this “convergence” is quintessential for Christianity, not only in terms of its historical past but also as a matter of its overall theological profile.

In the course of the lecture, Ratzinger singles out the main threats that this synthesis has encountered since Medieval times onto modernity and beyond. There have been attempts to “dehellenize” Christianity which the Pope considers to be dangers and fatal mistakes. First, Duns Scotus’ voluntarism sunders the synthesis whereby God’s transcendence is so exalted to become unattainable and hidden to reason. The analogy of being is therefore broken. Secondly, the XVI century Reformation with the sola Scriptura principle. In Ratzinger’s words, according to the Reformation “faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system”. The Pope thinks that Christianity needs such a system in order to be Christianity. Sola Scriptura is therefore a dangerous undercutting of the hellenized version of the Christian faith. The third threat comes from Liberal theology of the XIX and XX centuries. Harnack epitomises another facet of the “programme of dehellenization” whereby Christianity wishes to return simply to the man Jesus and his simple message underneath the accretions of hellenized theology. The final danger for the synthesis between faith and reason is “cultural pluralism” which argues that the hellenization of Christianity was an initial inculturation which is not binding on other cultures. Il va sans dire that Ratzinger rejects all these threats in order to safeguard the embrace between the Bible and Greek philosophy.

A critique of Ratzinger’s views on faith and reason as presented in this lecture would require much work which is not possible to do here. Suffice it to mention his negative consideration of the sola Scriptura principle which clashes with his profound convictions on the relationship between faith and reason. He is right to say that the Reformation wanted to re-discuss the relationship between Biblical and philosophical presuppositions as far as the Christian faith is concerned. He is right to see the Reformation as a threat to this balance. In this respect, Ratzinger comes very close to Cornelius Van Til, though from the opposite direction. For Van Til, Roman Catholicism is the historical outcome of a process of assimilation of mainly Aristotelian thought-products which have led to a radical transformation of the Christian faith. In arithmetical terms, traditional Roman Catholicism is “a synthesis of Aristotle plus Christ”.[26] In fairness to him, Van Til maintains that “Romanism has in it a large element of true Christianity”. The problem is that this healthy part is nonetheless “counterbalanced and modified by so much taken from non-Christian philosophy”.[27]

What Ratzinger perceives as an essential and inherent part of the Christian faith (i.e. the Greek reason combined to Biblical faith), the Reformed faith considers it the basic problem of Roman Catholicism. What Ratzinger perceives as a dangerous threat to the synthesis (i.e. sola Scriptura), the Reformed faith accepts it as the vital principle for the Christian faith. Christianity rejects all idolatry and stands solely on the Word of God. Ratzinger has an altogether different view than that of the Reformation.

4. Dealing with a Robust Roman Catholic Orthodoxy: Is the Reformation Over?

Joseph Ratzinger represents post-Vatican II Roman Catholic orthodoxy at its best. It has recovered the importance of Biblical revelation and patristic sources. It has restated its commitment to creedal orthodoxy and opened itself to ecumenical relationships. It is in critical dialogue with secular modernity, and nurtures a strong Christian worldview for a pluralistic world in turmoil. In light of these developments, the focus should be expanded to more general and important issues concerning Roman Catholicism as a whole. The issue is not merely academic, as if we were discussing Ratzinger’s theology in isolation from the significance of the Church he now represents at the highest level. The question whether the Reformation is over has been asked and seems to be something that many Evangelicals are asking, either implicitly or explicitly.[28] In other words, is there any reason to keep on opposing, questioning, distancing oneself from Roman Catholicism given the many positive things that can be seen in Rome today? To borrow Vittorio Subilia’s title, is the “problem” of Catholicism solved? [29] It is still there or not? If yes, to what degree?

In order to address the issue, the other side of the same post-Vatican II Roman Catholic orthodoxy should not be neglected. The two belong to one another. Here again, Ratzinger’s theology magnificently epitomises it. For instance, the Bible is always read in light of the authoritative magisterium. Nicene Christology is always intertwined to “objective” Roman Catholic ecclesiology. The Apostles Creed is confessed as well as the Canons of Trent and Vatican I. The cross of Christ is always related to the representation of the sacrifice of the Eucharist. The Spirit is always linked to the hierarchical structure of the Church. Ecumenism is always thought of in terms of other Christians being defective and the Church of Rome being the “catholic” Church. The mission of the Church is always pursued having in mind the catholic project to embrace the whole world. The ecclesiastical outlook of the Church is inherently combined with its political role. The list could easily be lengthened so as to indicate the way in which the Roman Catholic theological system is built and works.

The point is that Ratzinger’s orthodoxy is qualified by its being peculiarly Roman Catholic. Contrary to powerful trends in modern ecumenical thinking, “mere orthodoxy” does not exist in this world. There are different types of orthodoxies. Ratzinger’s is just one of them and it is robust. If Evangelical orthodoxy loses its biblical sharp edges and becomes engulfed in a “mere orthodoxy” type of thinking, Ratzinger’s theology may sound thrilling and appealing. In this sense, the Reformation may be considered as over. If Evangelical orthodoxy keeps its foundational principles of the Reformation and Revivals, the Reformation is not over since the program of continual biblical reform is always a task before all of us, Ratzinger and the Roman Catholic Church included.

In conclusion, it may be appropriate to quote a document that was issued in 1999 by the Italian Evangelical Alliance on the relationships between Evangelicals and Catholics. It deals with general trends within Roman Catholicism, but what it says can also be applied to the theologies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI since there are striking similarities. Here it is: “The current flurry of activity within contemporary Catholicism (the return to the Bible, liturgical renewal, the valorisation of the laity, the charismatic movement, etc.) does not indicate, in and of itself, that there is hope for a reformation within the Catholic church in an evangelical sense. It will only be as these developments make changes in the structural elements underlying the nature of Roman Catholicism, not expanding it further but purifying it in the light of God’s Word, that they can have a truly reforming function. In today’s scenario, these movements, although interesting, seem to promote the project of catholicity rather than that of reformation”.[30] A robust Evangelical Orthodoxy is still needed and Reformed Christians have a vital and unique role to play in promoting it.

[1] This is the title that was given to him by a biographer. John L. Allen, Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith (London-New York: Continuum 2000).

[2] Jorge Ruiz, “El eslabón perdido entre Castelar, Zapatero y Benedicto XVI”, Nueva Reforma 70 (Jul-Sept 2005) p. 12.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday 2007).

[4] Timothy George, “The Promise of Benedict XVI”, Christianity Today (June 2005) pp. 49-52. We should come back again to this article because it indicates the rather uncritical and positive impression that seems to be shared in some Evangelical circles.

[5] For instance, Ratzinger was on the editorial committee of Concilum, an international journal founded in 1965 wishing to promote the spirit of Vatican II. Dissatisfied with the liberal and radical tendencies within it, Ratzinger then resigned to support the more traditional journal Communio, founded in 1972 by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

[6] Ratzinger’s bibliography is extensive (more than 60 books and hundreds of articles) and the number of substantial studies on him is also impressive. For a survey of both primary and secondary sources, cfr. Aidan Nichols, The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger. An Introductory Study (Edinburgh: T&T Clark 1988) and Andrea Bellandi, Fede cristiana come stare e comprendere. La giustificazione dei fondamenti della fede in Joseph Ratzinger (Rome: PUG 1996).

[7] Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche, München 1954.

[8] Some observers have noticed the shift between the “Thomist” John Paul II to the “Augustinian” Benedict XVI as a promise of change in the theological orientation of the Roman Church.  These evaluations, however, fail to appreciate that Roman Catholicism is a vast synthesis of many different strands that coexist together. Any interpreter of the synthesis may bring his own emphases, but he is not supposed to alter it significantly.

[9] Das neue Volk Gottes, Düsseldorf 1969.

[10] Benjamin B. Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (1930; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker 1981). For Warfield’s interpretation of Augustine, I am indebted to Luigi Dalla Pozza, “Warfield l’apologeta di Princeton”, Studia Patavina XLIX (2002/2).

[11] T. George, cit.

[12] e.g. Yves Congar, Sainte Église. Etudes et approches ecclésiologiques (Paris: Cerf 1963); Avery Dulles, The Catholicity of the Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1985).

[13] This connection between catholicity and episcopacy is already argued in Ratzinger’s widely acclaimed Introduction to Christianity (London: Burns & Oates 1969) which is a profound commentary to the Apostles Creed.

[14] See www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

[15] On the theology of the Eucharist, see God is Near Us. The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius 2003). Further reflections on the liturgy are in The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius 2000).

[16] This ecclesiological self-understanding as applied to ecumenical issues was recently reinforced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” (29th June 2007). The document has stirred hot responses from different Christian bodies and is available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html. For instance, William Taylor, on behalf of World Evangelical Alliance, has written “Evangelical reflections on Pope benedict XVI’s June 2007 affirmation on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church” (28th August 2007). The useful paper is available at http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=1355 .

[17] e.g. Michael S. Horton, “What Can Protestants Expect from the New Pope?” (April 21, 2005) www.modernreformation.org/popedoc.htm.

[18] There are at least three such books: The Ratzinger Report. An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius 1985); Salt of the Earth. An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church at the End of the Millennium (San Francisco: Ignatius 1996), and the most recent God and the World. Believing and Living in our Time (San Francisco: Ignatius 2002).

[19] Their 2004 dialogue has been published in English in the book The Dialectics of Secularization. On Reason and Religion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2007).

[20] See his recent book Europe. Today and Tomorrow (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2007).

[21] It must be borne in mind that, in his extensive writings on ecclesiology, Ratzinger never questions the foundational institutional ambiguity of the Roman Church in her being a Church and a state (i.e. the Vatican) at the same time. As pope, he is primate and head of state. In this respect, he is a monarch who can be payed tribute as such.

[22] Ratzinger deals with the theology of dialogue and its challenges in Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions (San Francisco: Ignatius 2004).

[24] As a matter of fact, this amendment event has shown the Vatican ambiguity as far as the relationship between religion and politics is concerned. In order to present his apology, the Pope invited political representatives of national states, instead of Muslim religious leaders. The misleading given impression was that political authorities (i.e. ambassadors) represent religious adherents of one religion and not citizens of a nation in spite of their religion.

[25] The exegetical and canonical feasibility of these readings of the Biblical material is beyond the scope of this paper. However, this “metaphysical” hermeneutics leaning towards Greek categories have been and must be seriously questioned.

[26]  C. Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co 1969) p. 175. As for modern Catholicism, Van Til argues that “the former Aristotle-Christ synthesis and the former Kant-Christ synthesis have joined hands to form the Aristotle-Kant-Christ synthesis” (ibidem, 185).

[27] A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 168. More on Van Til’s approach to Roman Catholicism can be found in my book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Frankfurt-Bern-Oxford: Peter Lang 2003) pp. 65-78.

[28] Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over?An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Grand Rapids: Baker 2005). Cfr. my review in Themelios 32/1 (2006) pp. 103-104.

[29] Vittorio Subilia, The Problem of Catholicism (London: SCM 1964).

[30] The full text can be found in “An Evangelical Approach Towards Understanding Roman Catholicism”, Evangelicals Now (Dec 2000) pp. 12-13 or European Journal of Theology X (2001/1) pp. 32-35.

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