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Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect and Theologian

Mark Brumley on the Writings of a Future Pope

NAPA, California, APRIL 27, 2005 (Zenit) - In Benedict XVI we are blessed with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about Jesus Christ, the Church and its mission to the world.

So says Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, which is the primary publisher of the English-language editions of Cardinal Ratzinger's works.

Brumley shared with us how the German cardinal engaged in the sophisticated work of a theologian while he held a high ecclesiastical office, and why he may be one of the greatest theologians of our time.

Q: What are some of the most remarkable contributions that Cardinal Ratzinger made to theology over the last 20-some years as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Brumley: It's important to distinguish between Cardinal Ratzinger's work as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and his work as a theologian.

His contributions to theology as prefect of the CDF are different in kind from his contributions as a theologian, even though they both obviously agree with Catholic teaching.

As prefect of the CDF, he issued documents that are part of the Church's Spirit-guided magisterium. Catholics are to receive and accept this teaching as authentic Catholic teaching. These documents are more than a mere theologian's contribution to theology.

At the same time, since theologians don't have access to divine Revelation apart from how it has been expressed in the divinely inspired Scripture and the Spirit-assisted Tradition as interpreted by the magisterium, the ongoing work of the magisterium by definition "contributes to theology."

Responsible theologians make use of magisterial teaching in order reasonably and systematically to reflect on what God has revealed. So the work of the prefect of the CDF does, in fact, "contribute to theology."

That said, Cardinal Ratzinger has continued to publish theological works apart from exercising the authority of his CDF office. Some of these works closely relate to certain documents and concerns of the CDF.

For example, his book "The Nature and Mission of Theology" is tied to the CDF document "The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," among other things. His book "Called to Communion" contains first-rate theological discussions of the nature of the Church, the papacy, and the hotly disputed theological issue of the relationship between the local diocesan Church and the universal Church.

Likewise, his recent book "Truth and Tolerance, which deals with Christianity and non-Christian religions, provides the reflections of Ratzinger the theologian on Church teaching contained in the document "Dominus Iesus," issued by Ratzinger the prefect of the CDF.

As is appropriate for the work of a theologian, "Truth and Tolerance" amplifies and goes deeper than what is contained in "Dominus Iesus," which simply restates Church teaching that is binding on Catholics.

Q: What will Pope Benedict XVI bring of himself and his theological interests to the pontificate?

Brumley: Although Ratzinger the prefect is distinguishable from Ratzinger the theologian, we are blessed in Pope Benedict XVI with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about Jesus Christ, the Church and her mission to the world.

He will, I believe, continue the twofold task of Vatican II -- renewing the inner life of the Church and reinvigorating the Church's mission in the world. He is committed to a renewal of biblical studies and a deepening of ordinary Catholics' appreciation of and participation in the sacred liturgy.

He staunchly proclaims the universal call to holiness of Vatican II. He understands the importance of dialogue among Christians and dialogue with world religions and seekers, while he upholds the integrity of Catholic faith and insists on a renewed missionary drive to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

And he knows that in the areas of morality and social justice, the Christian message has not been tried and found wanting, as G.K. Chesterton noted, but has been found difficult and left untried. Furthermore, he sees the threat of radical relativism and many other "isms."

Q: What have you thought of Cardinal Ratzinger's writings over the years?

Brumley: My reading of his writings has led me to think that he is one of the greatest theologians of our time. His writings reflect his commitment to a living Catholic tradition, an understanding of the faith that is ever ancient and ever new.

It is remarkable that we have a Pope who has written so much prior to becoming Pope. Also remarkable is the fact that, while he has held a high ecclesiastical office, he has at the same time ...

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