Benedict XVI: a life of intellectual and spiritual quest

Benedict XVI-life-intellectual-spiritual-quest

Disappeared on December 31, 2022, Benedict XVI wrote these few lines in 2006 in his "spiritual testament":

"For sixty years I have accompanied the path of theology, in particular of the biblical sciences, and with the succession of different generations, I have seen theses which seemed unshakeable crumble, revealing themselves as mere hypotheses […] J have seen and I see how, from the tangle of assumptions, the reasonableness of faith emerged and still emerges. Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life – and the Church, with all its shortcomings, is truly its body".

Words that sum up the intellectual and spiritual quest of a lifetime as a researcher.

The believer's conviction is unshakeable and is summed up here in homage to Christ by repeating his own words addressed to the Apostle Thomas on the evening of the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of John (14,6).

As a good disciple of Saint Augustine, on whose doctrine he wrote his first thesis, it is a tribute to the "total Christ", that is to say to the person of Christ to whom the Church is united as his body, according to the Pauline doctrine (1 Co 12). But this conviction does not confine the theologian to a closed world of certainties. For him, welcoming God's Revelation in faith leads above all to "seeking God and allowing oneself to be found by Him", according to the key expression of his speech at the Collège des Bernardins.

The shared doubt

In this approach, the path of the believer, not exempt from doubts, can cross that of the agnostic or even the atheist: "what happens to the believer, struggling with the waves of doubt, also happens to the unbeliever, who doubts his unbelief" already wrote Professor Ratzinger in his book "The Christian Faith Yesterday and Today".

Even more: doubt, another Augustinian category, "which prevents one and the other from shutting themselves up in their ivory tower, could become a place of communion".

But above all, the Christian faith welcomes the Logos made flesh, according to the expression also found in the Gospel of John (1,14). Now, the Logos is both personal God and creative Reason. Since then, "Religion of the Logos, Christianity does not relegate faith to the domain of the irrational, but attributes the origin and meaning of reality to creative Reason, which, in the crucified God, manifested itself as love".

A photo taken between 1962 and 1965 in Rome shows Josef Ratzinger (left), then professor of theology, with Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne who chose him as an adviser to the Vatican. AFP

Dialogue between faith and reason

The contemplation of the Logos determines the first major axis of Ratzinger's theological research: the fruitful dialogue between faith and reason. Like any dialogue, it is not one-sided. Benedict XVI, for example, expressed it with regard to the relationship between science and faith: "Science and faith possess a fruitful reciprocity, almost a complementary requirement of the understanding of reality". This reciprocal fruitfulness requires the believer to remember that "not to act according to reason is contrary to the nature of God", as the pontiff reaffirmed in his much-maligned speech at the University of Regensburg.

In return, it requires the philosopher or the scientist not to exclude the question of God, the ultimate question which bears the demands of both theological research and the secular sciences and keeps reason from closing in on itself.

Ratzinger drew on the thought of Henri de Lubac, whose work Catholicism profoundly marked his career, the idea that an atheistic humanism turned against man. The necessary dialogue between faith and reason, often expressed in Ratzinger in the form of the relationship between Love and Truth, led him to explore, for example, the relationship of faith to culture.

So in a speech to the doctrinal commissions of the dioceses of Asia, he seeks to show "the right and the capacity of the Christian faith to communicate itself to other cultures, to assimilate them and to communicate itself to it". Nourished by various cultures, Christianity cannot be confused with any.

Another theme flowing from this first axis – faith and reason – is that of political theology. Here we can refer to another pontifical discourse, an exercise in which Benedict XVI collected the fruit of previously more developed reflections and nourished by more recent readings. It's about his speech in the Bundestag in 2011. He stated there:

"Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never imposed on the state and on society a revealed right, nor a legal settlement deriving from a revelation. It has on the contrary referred to nature and reason as true sources of law – he referred to the harmony between objective and subjective reason, a harmony which nevertheless presupposes the fact of both being spheres founded in the creative Reason of God."

Biblical sciences and theology

The second major axis of the thought of Benedict XVI, also mentioned in his spiritual testament, is the search for the right relationship between biblical sciences and theology. Expert at the Second Vatican Council, the German theologian delivered in 1969 a comment of part of one of the major documents of this Council, the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, commentary in which he returns to the state of the question of the relationship between exegesis and theology during the conciliar work.

Ratzinger observes a lack. The bishops gathered in Council were convinced that the Church had a message to transmit to the men of their time, and that this message should be founded in Scripture. However, the only exegesis available to the bishops at the time was historico-criticism, that is to say the search as precise as possible for elements of context, events and literature, allowing a better knowledge of the meaning of the biblical texts, of which the corpus spans several centuries.

However, by methodological requirement, this exegesis confines Scripture to the past. As a result, the reference to Scripture seemed to confine the Church to the past, or else, by seeking to be the Church of the present time, it risked being unfaithful to its identity, forged more than 1500 years ago. backward. The Council sought to emerge from this impasse by initiating a reading of Scripture in the unity of the biblical text and "in the living tradition of the whole Church", inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In the meantime, this attention to the relationship between exegesis and theology, seen as a crucial issue for the mission of the Church, constantly inhabited the mind of Joseph Ratzinger. We see traces of it in the first pages of his work.Jesus of nazareth", published in 2007 under the double signature Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, of which he speaks as "the fruit of a long inner journey".

The theologian pope hails the advent in the 1970s of canonical exegesis "which aims to read the different texts by relating them to the totality of unique Scripture".

For Benedict XVI, canonical exegesis, without discrediting historico-criticism, makes up for the lack observed at the Second Vatican Council. But even more, what makes the ever-renewed topicality of the biblical writings is the Church which is both nourished by them and is its living subject: "The people of God - the Church - is the living subject of Scripture, and in it the biblical words are always present, which obviously implies that this people themselves admit that they receive themselves from God and, ultimately, from Christ incarnate, that they also accept to be organized, directed, oriented by Him".

Thus, as for the dialogue faith and reason, the right relationship between exegesis and theology has its source in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh, and refers to it. Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, recalls first of all that theological research is inseparable from the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Church recognizes as true God and true man, revealer of the one God.

His genius will have been to discern the fundamental issues of theology from the end of the Second World War until the first decade of the XNUMXst century, a period of confrontation of the Church with the accelerated secularization of Europe and with multicultural exchanges and multi-religious worldwide.

The two axes of his thought encourage the constant renewal of intra-ecclesial reflection based on Scripture received as the living Word and a constant effort of dialogue for the Church and its multiple interlocutors. He will have testified that theology is a scientific discipline always in motion, tirelessly scrutinizing the mysteries of God, of the world and of the man he created, without ever being able to master them.

Brice de Malherbe, President of the Faculty of Notre-Dame de Paris, Collège des Bernardins, College of Bernardine

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.


Image credit: Shutterstock/vipflash


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