This is the Preface written by Cardinal Ruini, himself an outstanding theologian, for the new 832-page book that puts together various texts by Cardinal Ratzinger and then Benedict XVI on the themes of faith, reason, love and truth.
RATZINGER'S THEOLOGY OF THE 'ABSOLUTE'
by CARDINAL CAMILLO RUINI
April 30, 2009
The theologian then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has occupied himself with theology practically his whole life and is certainly one of the most elevated and significant voices of contemporary theology, who, with his election to the Pontifical office, has acquired further extraordinary authoritativeness.
It is a good rule, when we seek to grasp the overall sense of a great human and intellectual undertaking, to inform ourselves first of how the author conceives it himself.
Very indicative in this respect are two brief statements by Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI.
The first is found in the book La mia vita
[English edition, Milestones
]. Differentiating his theology from that of Karl Rahner, Ratzinger writes: "For my part, my whole intellectual formation had been shaped by Scripture and the Fathers, and profoundly historical thinking". [The sentence that preceded this said about Rahner: "His was a speculative and philosophical theology in which Scripture and the Fathers in the end did not play an important role and in which the historical dimension was really of little significance".]
Much more recent is the second statement which comes from the Preface written by Benedict XVUI for the first volume of his Opera omnia
The liturgy of the Church has been for me, since my infancy, the central activity of my life, and has also become....the center of my theological work.
As my specific subject I chose fundamental theology, because I wanted first of all to pursue to the end the question, 'Why do we believe?'
But this question also includes right from the beginning the other one on the right response to give to God, and therefore, also the question of divine service.
Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and liturgy are therefore the vital humus of Ratzinger's theological reflections, and from this basis, he faces, without half measures, the question of truth - and of beauty and 'livability' [vivibilita
, i.e., the possibility of living something], that of the Christian faith, in the actual historical situation and in relationship to other forms of rationality and other modalities of understanding the prevailing ways of living today.
From his first first academic opening lecture [prolusione
], held at the University of Bonn in June 1959, dedicated to the God of faith and the God of the philosophers, Ratzinger has given form and expression to the fundamental nucleus of his theology:
The Absolute - which the Greek philosophers had acknowledged in some way, although they considered it inaccessible to men - is really the God of man, the God who speaks to us and listens to us, the God who in Jesus Christ gave himself totally for us.
Thus, between faith and reason there exists a profound and indestructible relation, and Christianity can rightfully present itself as the 'true religion'.
Moreover, since the divine Logos is identical to the Agape - the original Love which is the measure of authentic love - Christian truth therefore finds its concrete expression in the ethic of love for one's neighbor, in caring for those who suffer, for the poor and for the weak, beyond any differences in social conditions.
Thus, the force which allowed the missionary expansion of Christianity resides in the synthesis that it was able to realize between reason, faith and the praxis of life.
This synthesis - linked to Christianity's claim to truth - has held up through the centuries and the succession of cultures, but in the modern era, both appear to be overwhelmed.
"At the end of the second millennium," wrote Cardinal Ratzinger in the book Fede Verita Tolleranza
[Faith, Truth, Tolerance], "Christianity finds itself - precisely in the place of its original diffusion, Europe - in a profound crisis, based on the crisis of its claim to truth".
The central commitment of the theological work of our current Pope has been essentially how to emerge from this crisis. To this end, he has analyzed repeatedly the historical reasons for the present difficulty, not concealing those that come from within Christianity and the Church itself.
With the passing of the centuries, indeed, Christianity had unfortunately become largely human tradition and state religion, contrary to its own nature.
It is therefore a merit of the Enlightenment to have re-proposed - mostly in opposition to the Church - those values of rationality and freedom that are nourished by the Christian faith.
But Ratzinger's attention has been addressed to opening the faith to the roads of the future, rather than merely analyzing the past.
"To widen the spaces of reason" is the formula for his fundamental direction. Scientific rationality, based on experiment and calculation, and historical criticism - although both are important and irrenunciable - cannot by themselves satisfy man's desire to know and to give sense and direction to our existence.
Concretely, Ratzinger questions both the attempt to make the theory of evolution [biological] an explanation which seems to be, at the least, potentially universal and self-sufficient to explain all of reality, as well as the tendency of historical criticism to reduce teh figure of Jesus to an evanescent summary of historiographic hypotheses.
On the contrary, it is necessary to open oneself - in an attitude of humble listening - to God who interpellates us in all Creation and who, above all, showed us his face in Jesus.
Even today, Christianity must show itself to be a proposal for a good and authentic life, as the best opportunity offered to man to find hope, happiness and joy.
That is why the theology of Ratzinger-Benedict XVI is deeply concerned with the great ethical and historical problems of our time.
His analyses of relativism and its 'dictatorship', which threatens to dry up the vital lymph of European civilization, and on the other hand, his commitment to propose in appropriate and relevant terms the actual context of the great moral and cultural heritage that comes to us from our history, represent an extraordinarily relevant contribution offered not only to the believer, but to whoever wishes to face responsibly the challenges which are before us.
How evocative and fecund in this respect is the proposal formulated by Cardinal Ratzinger in a lecture in Subiaco on the eve of John Paul II's death.
He called on those who cannot seem to believe to "live as if God exists': "In this way, no one will be limited in his freedom, and all our affairs will find a support and a standard that they urgently need".
We have seen how liturgy was always for Benedict XVI the central activity of his life and the center of his theological work.
Thus, even in dealing with ethical and historical problems, he never indulges in moralism which would entrust the task of overcoming these difficulties principally to the moral effort of the individual adn of teh collectivity.
God's freely given action is always decisive - the presence in our lives of his love and his mercy. That is why prayer - particularly liturgical prayer in which the Church joins Christ to pray and praise God, remains the greatest resource which, even today, mankind can have at his disposal.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/3/2009 11:02 PM]