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The World in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

Journal of Moral Theology
2013, Journal of Moral Theology
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Journal of Moral Theology
, Vol. 2, No. 2 (2013): 109-132
The World in the Theology of JosephRatzinger/Benedict XVI
Tracey Rowland
TABLOID CARICATURE OF
Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI isthat he has imbibed too much of the thought of St. Augus-tine, leaving him with a neo-Manichean stance of hostilityto the world. A related caricature draws Catholics into twocamps: the camp of the grace sniffers and the camp of the heresysniffers, with the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrineof the Faith presented as the captain of the latter. A third caricature isthat Joseph Ratzinger was so shocked by the student demonstrationsat the University of Tübingen in 1968 that he has developed a patho-logical fear of “the world” ever since. These various caricatures arenot only simplistic, but they fail to engage with Ratzinger/Benedict’sactual academic work on the issue of the relationship between thechurch and the world, and the church and the cultures of modernityand post-modernity. Contrary to these caricatures, a number ofscholars who are not necessarily in agreement with Ratzinger’s gen-eral theological framework, nonetheless agree that Ratzinger’s theol-ogy does exhibit a quality of consistency over the decades and is notreacting one way or another to events in world history. In otherwords, the argument is that Ratzinger/Benedict’s theology is
not
driven by his emotional response to world events. Joseph A. Komon-chak, for example, has written that “from Ratzinger’s
Introduction toChristianity
(1968) down to the homily he delivered on his installa-tion as Pope Benedict XVI, a distinctive and consistent approach hasbeen visible.”
1
Similarly, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, a former studentof Ratzinger, wrote at the time of Ratzinger’s election to the papacy,that “the negative slogans are wrong, the personal descriptions aretrue, and the biographical explanations are, in general, misleading.They overlook that Ratzinger has from early days had a consistenttheological vision.”
2
Finally, Lieven Boeve and Gerard Mannion have
1
Joseph A. Komonchak, “The Church in Crisis: Pope Benedict’s Theological Vi-sion,”
Commonweal
(3 June 2005): 11-14. Note: This paper was submitted to theeditor in the final week of the papacy of Benedict XVI.
2
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, “From Theologian to Pope: A Personal View Back, Pastand Public Portrayals,”
Harvard Divinity Bulletin
33 (2005).
A

110

Tracey Rowland
concluded that

Ratzinger’s theological insights have not fundamen-tally changed, but have rather demonstrated a firm internal con-sistency throughout more than fifty years.”
3
The purpose of this article is, therefore, to situate the work of Jo-seph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in the context of early twentieth centu-ry German Augustinian studies, which was far removed from earlierGerman Protestant appropriations of the thought of St. Augustine.Further, the article presents a summary of Ratzinger’s theologicalunderstanding of the concept “the world” in the context of rival in-terpretations of
Gaudium et spes
, the Pastoral Constitution of theSecond Vatican Council on the Church in the Modern World.The young Joseph Ratzinger’s appropriation of the thought of St.Augustine was mediated through the scholarship of Fritz Hofmann,Erich Przywara, Romano Guardini, Gottlieb Söhngen and Henri deLubac.
4
Hofmann was a professor of Theology at the University ofWürzburg, and in 1933 he published a seminal work on the ecclesi-ology of St. Augustine which the young Ratzinger read in preparationfor his own doctoral dissertation on the concepts of the People ofGod and the House of God in the works of St. Augustine. In thispublication, Hofmann paid particular attention to the role of graceand the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Hofmann’s treatment ofAugustinian ecclesiology was followed in 1940 by another Augustini-an reflection, this time the “God is Love” theme, which was later tobecome the title of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical.
5
In the inter-bellum period, the Jesuit Erich Przywara (1889-1972)was also publishing material on Augustine and was one of the mostinfluential German-speaking Jesuits of the twentieth century. He wasa teacher of both Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar and aspiritual director of the Carmelite-martyr, Jewish-convert, and phi-losopher, Edith Stein. Przywara was also for a time the editor of theinfluential journal
Stimmen der Zeit
and one of those responsible forhaving the works of John Henry Newman translated into German. Inall, he wrote some 60 books and 600 articles including
Crucis myste-
3
Lieven Boeve and Gerard Mannion, ed.,
The Ratzinger Reader
(London: Continu-um, 2010), 12. Nonetheless, Boeve and Mannion do observe that Ratzinger’s
tone ofwriting
became more polemical after 1968.
4
Erich Przywara, “St. Augustine in the Modern World,” in
A Monument to Saint Augustine,
ed. Martin D’Arcy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1930); Fritz Hofmann,
DerKirchenbegriff des hl. Augustinus in seinen Grundlagen und in seiner Entwicklung
(Munich: Max Hueber, 1933); Gottlieb Söhngen, “Wissenschaft und Weisheit imaugustinischen Gedankengefüge,”
Einheit in der Theologie
(München: Verlag, 1952);Romano Guardini,
Die Bekehrung des Aurelius Augustinus: Der innere Vorgang inseinen Bekenntnissen
(Münich: Grünewald, 1945), published in English translationas
The Conversion of St. Augustine
(Chicago: Regnery, 1966); Henri de Lubac,
Cor- pus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et l’Église au moyen âge
(Paris: Aubier, 1944).
5
Fritz Hofmann,
Gott ist die Liebe: die Predigten des. Hl. Augustinus über den 1. Jo-hannesbrief
(Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1940).

Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

111

rium: Das christliche Heute
(1939), a work which was later praised byRatzinger, and
Humanitas: der Mensch Gestern und Morgan
(1952).For Przywara, the most perfect reincarnation of Augustinianism inthe modern world was to be found in the writing of John HenryNewman. Przywara concluded that Newman “settles accounts withthe Reformation more thoroughly than Hegel and Kierkegaard,” and“he prophetically anticipated the conviction, born of the fiascos ofLausanne, Stockholm and Malines, that the Reformation cannot beovercome by ‘negotiations’ of any kind, but only by a thoroughgoingreversal of ‘first principles’.”
6
There was, in short, nothing remotelyProtestant about Przywara’s appropriation of Augustine.The same can also be said of the Augustinian appropriations ofRomano Guardini (1885-1968) who was a professor at the Universityof Munich from 1948-1962 and thus an important figure during theyears when Ratzinger was a seminarian. Karl Rahner describedGuardini as a “Christian humanist who led Germany’s Catholics outof an intellectual and cultural ghetto and into the contemporaryworld.”
7
Von Balthasar said of Guardini that he believed that “it isnot Christ who is in the world, but the world is in Christ” and furtherthat the “immensity of this reversal” was “the very basis” of Guardini’s thought.
8
Guardini was also highly critical of the extrinsi-cist account of the relationship between nature and grace. In his 1939work
Welt und Person,
which predated Henri de Lubac’s
Surnaturel
by seven years, he wrote:
Seen in the fullness of its energy as Paul proclaimed it and Augustineunfolded it, grace means something that is, not added on to the na-ture of man for his perfection, but rather the form that man definite-ly is. Of course, this presupposes that we understand by the term“man” what once again Paul and Augustine mean: not some beingartificially let loose in a “pure nature,” but rather that human beingwhom God intends and of whom Scripture speaks.
9

In his later work
Freedom, Grace and Destiny
, Guardini suggestedthat the ultimate character of the world is not “Nature” but “Histo-ry.”
10
Since it proceeds from an act of God, nature exists
within
theworld; it is a reality constructed in accordance with certain principleswithout consciousness or liberty, which has to operate in conformity
6
Erich Przywara, “St Augustine and the Modern World,” in
A Monument to Saint Augustine
, 280.
7
Robert. A. Krieg,
Romano Guardini: The Precursor of Vatican II
(Indiana: Universi-ty of Notre Dame, 1997).
8
Hans Urs von Balthasar,
The Theology of Karl Barth
(San Francisco: Ignatius,1992), 330.
9
Romano Guardini,
Welt und Person
(Würzburg: Werkbund, 1939), 186-7.
10
Romano Guardini,
Freedom, Grace, Destiny
(London: Harvill, 1961), 120-1.

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