Reflection on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger (pope benedectXVI)
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This essay looks at ways in which the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, shows affinities with Reformation theological thought. Following a brief look at the background to my own interest in Ratzinger, I present some important features of his theology, shedding light on it particularly through drawing attention to those theological figures in the Christian tradition, Augustine and Bonaventure, who have influenced him the most. A brief treatment is then offered of how these theological forefathers are reflected in his work and, following this, Reformation “flavours” shown to have been present in his writings are traced, briefly, through examining three areas of his thought: ethics, his theology of political life, and ecumenism. The purpose of the article is to indicate, in an incipient way for an audience largely of the Reformed tradition, that Ratzinger is not as distant from their theological concerns as might easily be imagined. An address that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to give to the Professors and students of the Faculty of Theology at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, in July 2011, forms the background to this article on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger and its affinities with Reformation thought. Occasioning these reflections also is the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, which has led to a sprouting of conferences and commemorative lectures throughout the world – in Roman Catholic circles in particular. Joseph Ratzinger has been vocal, indeed controversial,among the Council’s main interpreters and much interest has developed in his theological views and in the main factors influencing them. Among these are his German origins, his upbringing and education in the land where the Reformation began, and his professorial work in Catholic theological faculties in several German universities side by side with colleagues in parallel Protestant faculties. Even a superficial glance at his writings leaves no doubt that this Germanborn theologian, whose “theology has always been in intense conversation with the Reformation traditions” (Neuhaus 1998), exhibits an interesting affinity with themes and concerns that are important to the Churches of the Reformation. My purpose here is to try to highlight some of these themes and concerns and thus indicate how this theologian, who is currently head of the Roman Catholic Church, is closer than one might expect to the heritage of the Reformation. A rhetorical question that is sometimes posed in English to indicate a lack of surprise is: “is the Pope Catholic?” But here I am asking: in what sense might the Pope be Reformed?!