Before the ninetieth birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Easter Sunday, Tracey Rowland published in these pages an appreciation for what she called a “Ratzinger Revolution” – a theological foundation on which, she predicts, future scholars and pastors will rebuild a Church damaged by secularism. Rowland speaks of a “treasury to be mined by future generations trying to piece together elements of a fragmented Christian culture.”
Yet as “Father Benedict” turns 90, it is evident that a great deal has already been built upon his thought. Future generations will certainly develop that further, but rather than building a house upon Ratzinger/Benedict’s foundation, they will be finishing rooms that he has already roughed in.
Or to push the metaphor in the opposite direction, the foundations of the household of faith were being radically undermined, and Ratzinger did much of the necessary restorative work to shore them up.
While the breadth of Ratzinger’s thought touches on the full range of theology, and other disciplines besides, his key contributions – where the foundation was most threatened – were the place of sacred scripture, the correct interpretation of Vatican II, and the liturgy.
By the time Ratzinger was ordained in 1951, several generations of biblical scholarship – while making great scientific advances – had begun to erode the central and sacred role of the Bible in the life of the Church. Advances in biblical archaeology, study of ancient languages and literary criticism had produced remarkable new understandings of the biblical texts. Scripture scholarship, though, had slipped away from theology and become something akin to classics, as if the Bible were Greek epic poetry or Latin rhetoric.
Ratzinger accepted all that was good in the new methods, but insisted that if the scriptures were to have any relevance for today, they had to be read in light of the faith, to be read as divine revelation received and lived by the Church. Biblical scholarship that, for example, tried to get to the “real” text behind centuries of patristic reflection, was treating the text as something separate from the people it was addressed to – the Church.
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