Fr Aidan Nichols Home Page

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Home Page


by Fr Aidan Nichols


Foreword                                 1
   I The Bavarian background             5
   II	Augustine and the Church	       27

	III	Bonaventure and saving history 51

	IV	Christian brotherhood	          66

	V	The event of the Council       	 76

	VI	Reflections on the Creed	      104

	VII	More ecciesiological essays	133

	VIII	The eschatology theme         155

	IX	The preacher	                  188               

	X	The liturgist	                  207              
   XI	Back to foundations	            225
   XII	The prefect	                  241
   Conclusion		                     292
   Bibliography		                  297
   Index	                           	333


Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, writing in the preface to a work by a Dominican author, remarks:
c'est le Tout qui est Ia verité. [1] 'Truth is the whole.' And referring back to Irenaeus of Lyons - the first great theologian in the Church's history - he reminds his readers that theology needs to express unity: the unity of the covenants, the unity of the Creator with the Redeemer, the unity of philosophy and faith. [2] For this reason, theological specialisation, despite its undoubted merits, carries occupational hazards for the wider spiritual and intellectual culture of the Church at large.

Moreover, still thinking of the example offered by Irenaeus, he pleads for a recognition of the ecciesial or churchly character of theology, the way in which it should feed on the Church's sources and feel with the Church's mind. The setting of theology in the midst of the Church ought not, he says, to deprive it of its vigour or close off its openness to new styles of thought. Whether that is so in his own case, the reader may be in a position to judge from the material to be found in this book.

This study has a modest purpose: to introduce, with a good deal of both paraphrase and direct citation, the principal writings of a German Catholic theologian who has been additionally entrusted with the presidency of the doctrinal organ of the Roman primacy. His occupation of that post has not lacked its attendant controversies. This book will not enter upon an evaluation of the disciplinary actions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Ratzinger's prefecture. Such a project would necessitate consideration of a host of factors relevant to governmental prudence in the Church, taking it too far from its subject which is Ratzinger's theology. However, since the cardinal's actions can hardly be separated from his ideas, perusal of these pages may make those who are concerned with such issues better informed.

My own interest in Cardinal Ratzinger's theology arose fortuitously. When, at the suggestion of Father Fergus Kerr, then of Blackfriars, Oxford, I was invited by the Press Officer of the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Bruno Heim, to present to the media the documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on liberation theology (curiously disjoined into a negative and a positive statement as these were), I naturally began to enquire into the thinking of the Prefect of the Congregation whose seal they bore. This interest was stimulated by the appearance of Rapporto sulla fede, Englished as The Ratzinger Report. [3] That 'report' made it clear that Ratzinger's criticisms of liberation theology (in some of its forms) belonged with a far wider vision of faith and the Church. On the impressive coherence of that vision, and the confidence with which it is entertained, Professor J. K. S. Reid of the Church of Scotland, a seasoned ecumenist, has lately written more sympathetically - though, of course, from a different confessional standpoint - than many Catholic commentators on the now celebrated little dark-red book which has sold world-wide some hundreds of thousands of copies. [4]

An attempt by the present writer, in the pages of the London Tablet, to highlight the positive challenge behind Ratzinger's negative criticisms of the present state of Church and theology met with a mixed response. Letters to the Editor remained wholly sceptical. Most of the private correspondence I received struck a different note, perhaps summed up in the elderly priest from Shropshire who wrote to share his gratified surprise that the Lord had raised up 'a new Athanasius - and from Germany, of all places!' Such disparity of judgment has its humorous aspect. Yet on a matter of such importance, a dialogue of the deaf is surely dangerous for the Church. I have written this book partly in the hope of broadening the terms of this discussion, partly for my own education, and partly in the belief that the exposition of the thinking of any notable Christian mind will be of some value to someone. For theology, which issues from preaching and returns to it, has no higher task than the edification of the Church. Like St Paul, it wishes that

your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. [5]

I must thank Pauline Stuart of Edinburgh for suggesting that I should write this book; and Elisabeth Heister of Freiburg, the Reverend Michael Sharkey of the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Reverend John Berry of Fisher
House, Cambridge, for their help in procuring the materials with which to do so.
My gratitude is also due to my former Christ Church tutor, Dr. P. G.J. Pulzer, now Gladstone Professor of Politics in the University of Oxford, for his bibliographical assistance with the '
Bavarian background', and to my Prior, Father Robert Ombres, for taking responsibility for the reading of the proofs during my unavoidable absence in the Levant.

Aidan Nichols, OP,
Feast of St Gregory the Great, 1987.

1. 'J. Ratzinger, 'Préface', in J. H. Nicolas O.P.,
Synthèse dogmatiquc. De la
Trinité a Ia Trinité
(Fribourg 1985), p. 5.

2. lrenaeus, Adversus Haereses IV. 33. 8.

3. V. Messori, A colloquio con il cardinale Joseph Ratzinger. Rapporto sullafede
(Milan 1985). The book was anticipated in idem., 'A colloquio con il cardinale
Joseph Ratzinger: Ecco perché la fede è in crisi', Jesus VI. ii (ii November
1984). Thc English translation is
The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco 1985).

4. J. K. S. Reid, 'The Ratzinger Report', Scottish Journal of Theology 40. I (1987), pp. 125-133.

5. Philippians i, 9-11.

Section Contents Copyright ©; Mark Alder and Fr Aidan Nichols 1988, 2001

Version: 30th March 2001


 Fr Aidan Nichols Home Page

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Home Page