Prince of the Church and theology

Fr Prof. Ignacy Dec

The laudation delivered by the Rector Prof. Ignacy Dec during the ceremony of conferring the honorary doctor's degree on His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Faculty of Theology in Wroclaw, on 27 October 2000.

Eminencies, Excellencies, Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, Magnificences, Ladies and gentlemen,
Every now and then the outstanding personalities of the past were described in brief, succinct sayings by their descendants. These were words of praise for their greatness and uniqueness. Up till now Saint Thomas Aquinas is said to be the most eminent theologian among saints and the greatest saint among theologians. St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, is said to be the most outstanding woman philosopher among saints and the greatest saint among women philosophers. Today, we are hosting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and conferring on him the biggest academic distinction. Asking who he is, we can answer briefly: 'In our century he is the greatest theologian among cardinals and the most outstanding cardinal among theologians'. It is not easy to speak about such a man and the one who was appointed to present him should remember the ancient warning that it is not the fools that lavish praise on a wise man when they praise him. However, when one must give praise - this is what a laudation is for - let us do it on the basis of truth, which our distinguished guest appreciates so much and to which he has devoted all his life.
My laudation consists of three points. Firstly, I will depict the Cardinal's life; secondly, I will characterize him as a theologian and thirdly, I will present him as a man of the Church.

1. Curriculum vitae

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was born on Holy Saturday, 16 April 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Upper Bavaria, the Diocese of Passau. He was brought up in the country being the youngest of three children. His family home provided him with deep religiousness and noble moral principles. In 1946-51 he studied at the Higher School of Theology and Philosophy in Freising and Munich. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1951 in Freising and afterwards as a priest he taught religious instruction 16 hours a week and continued his studies in Munich under the supervision of such professors as Romano Guardini and Gottlieb Soehngen. In 1953 he obtained a doctorate in theology with a thesis entitled 'The People and House of God in St Augustine's Doctrine of the Church' (Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustinus Lehre von der Kirche). Later he said, 'My first theme was the Church because it is the Church that opens a view of God'. St Augustine remained his favourite author. That's why Cardinal Ratzinger confessed that 'I would take the Bible and Confessions by St Augustine if I were to go to a desert island'. Four years later, in 1957 he obtained habilitation at the University of Munich in fundamental theology with a dissertation on Bonaventure's theology of history (Die Geschichtestheologie des heiligen Bonaventura). The next year he taught dogma and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising. In 1959 he was offered a position at the University of Bonn. During that time Cardinal Joseph Frings appointed him as his advisor and as his theological aide Ratzinger participated in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. In 1963 he moved to the university in Muenster and in 1966 to the famous University of Tuebingen, from where he went to Ratisbon (Regensburg) to teach dogmatic theology and history of dogma. There he also became Dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology and Vice-Rector from 1976 until his nomination as Archbishop of Munich and Freising (25 March 1977). On 25 November 1981 John Paul II appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Some say that from that moment 'the second' Ratzinger was born: open, progressive, and even somewhat liberal theologian changed into a conservative guardian of the Christian doctrine. Cardinal Ratzinger became Member of five congregations, two pontifical councils and one commission. He has already been conferred eight honorary degrees for his outstanding academic achievements.

2. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as theologian

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger belongs to the leading Christian theologians of the 20th century. His scholarly works and publications refer to broadly understood dogmatic and fundamental theology. In his theological output we also find works on liturgics, moral theology, social theology, theology of history and homiletics. His bibliography includes almost one thousand publications. Many of them have been published in several languages and some even in dozen or so. In Poland his most popular books are: Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger Report (on the state of the Church) and Salt of the Earth.
In the field of dogmatic theology Cardinal Ratzinger paid most attention to ecclesiology and Christology. Reflection on the Church has been his great passion, commencing with his doctoral dissertation, which has been already mentioned, to his famous Roman Report of the state of the Church. The ecclesiological vision of Cardinal Ratzinger shows evident biblical and patristic inspiration. For him the Church is most of all 'the Body of Christ' being revealed in its visible form, especially in the Eucharistic celebration. The word Ecclesia originally meant the local Church, which gathered to celebrate 'Lord's memory', 'brotherly community', community of 'the People of God'. The dimension of 'the mystery' of this community - as it is seen in the teaching of Vatican II - has an essential character. Thus the contemporary Prof. Ratzinger did not only sympathize with the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1973) but also he defended it with determination as if he had foreseen that later many a time he would officially have to 'revile' local doctrines concerning extremely dynamic ecclesiology of today, doctrines which sometimes deprive the Church of her mystery. After the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, devoted to the mystery of the Church and the implementation of the Vatican Council, Cardinal Ratzinger enhanced the concept of communio in his ecclesiological works. He stressed that the much and broadly commented thesis of the Church as People of God should be completed by the idea of the Church as communion.
The second main field of Cardinal Ratzinger's theological reflection is Christology. It was exactly from this domain that the above signalled concept of the Church took its dynamism. Cardinal Ratzinger devoted all his theological efforts to the event called Jesus Christ. Commencing with his first Christological works to the famous Declaration Dominus Iesus he has been faithful to the personally defined principle: solus Christus. It means that salvation of man and mankind is achieved solely through Christ and in Christ. Extra Christum nulla salus, but he also defended the ancient Christian principle Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus because the redemptive work of Christ is fulfilled through the Church and in the Church. In Ratzinger's Christology Jesus Christ is depicted as the Son of God - being 'from', which means proceeding and coming from the Father. He is also a complete being 'towards' or 'for', i.e. open and turned completely towards all brothers - people. Because of that Christ is the example of the existence of any Christian that should also be 'for', not for oneself, but 'for others'. Following Christ's example the existence of any Christian is 'pro-existence' and thus being, existing 'for' others.
The analysts of Ratzinger's Christology, including Archbishop Alfons Nossol, think that Cardinal Ratzinger is an adherent of the original 'Christology of sense'. It includes the thesis that Jesus Christ is embedded in the entire history of the world and mankind, giving it a new sense. The historical Jesus - man, who was Christ, the Anointed, the Chosen of God, constitutes the centre and decisive moment of all history. Jesus Christ is the mystery of completely unheard connection of 'Logos-Sense and sarx', 'Word and Flesh', sense and one of the figures of history. From now on, one cannot find sense of existence apart from him. This 'decisive merge of Logos and sarx, Word and flesh, faith and history' has obviously raison d'etre only because 'the historical man Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of God is the man Jesus'.
Many contemporary theologians regard this kind of theology as evangelical, coherent and intellectually pure, having great cognitive and expressive role. In its general profile it refers to Augustinism than to Thomism. It perfectly fulfills the main task of theology, which is to systematize and not to make contradictory the data of the Revelation'. Fr Prof. Czeslaw S. Bartnik thinks this theology is alive, reaching the bottom of the soul, very precise, accurate and gifted with 'some absolute pitch' of orthodoxy, and it perfectly corresponds with the signs and challenges of the times, with the epoch, culture and spiritual condition of the world in order to dash out into the future'.

3. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as man of the Church

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has rendered immense services to the Holy See and the entire Church mainly as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and also as President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which he opened for new theories, as well as President of the International Theological Commission. As Prefect of the Congregation, which guards the identity of the doctrine and the Christian faith, he shows extraordinary talent to solve disputes and theological problems. Here are some issues which were successfully solved with great prudence and love: Declaration on Masonic Associations (1983), agreement with Prof. Edward Schillebeeckx (1984, 1986), the problem of homosexualism and sexual ethics, Respect for human life Donum vitae (1987), Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (1989), Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum veritatis (1990), Concerning the Church as Communion Communionis notio (1992), Concerning the Communion of the Divorced Annus Internationalis Familiae (1994), Declaration Dominus Jesus (2000).
As a separate thing one should mention the very complicated problem of the so-called liberation theology and ecumenism. Referring to liberation theology Cardinal Ratzinger issued two instructions: Instruction on Certain Aspects of Theology of Liberation (Libertatis nuntius, 1984) and Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (Libertatis conscientia, 1986). In these documents he opposed the methodological effort to mix Christian and Marxist elements of self-understanding of man and the analysis of society. As the result of this mixture in liberation theology the obviously non-evangelical idea of fight between classes and the non-evangelical idea of fight for peace were glorified in the name of the Gospel, forgetting that the Gospel does not call to fighting for peace but to constant and consistent making peace, and the Gospel called 'blessed' those who are peace-makers. It is worth saying that the above-mentioned instructions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met severe criticism in those times. The Prefect was accused of destroying the whole liberation theology by issuing these two instructions and thus he did not allow Catholics of Latin America to take the ecclesial way to get out of their poverty and their slavery of Masonic timocracy. Only after the famous 'autumn of nations' of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe, many people were convinced of the rightness of that critical evaluation concerning the phenomenon of liberal theology.
Cardinal Ratzinger could not omit the question of ecumenism in his theological and ecclesial activities. The ecumenical dimension can be seen in almost all questions about faith he dealt with. In his opinion one should not speak about official ecclesial 'hindering' of the ecumenical movement. Certainly, one must not forget about the 'critical function' of the Congregation he presides. He pointed to this aspect when he wrote: 'If we move quickly on false roads, we depart from our target. That's why emphasis and criticism must stand in right relationships. Criticism, which does not come from negation, but results from common cause - from the truth - is not ... anything negative, but constitutes an indispensable part of Christian struggle for the right way'. An important task in ecumenical activity is the search for unity through variety, by showing what is positive. Recently, after the Declaration Dominus Iesus had been published critical voices against Cardinal Ratzinger were again raised in some liberal circles. Perhaps we need time so that the adversaries of some formulations and terms could stand on the side of the truth.
Looking at and evaluating the activities of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith one should notice that he uses a positive method in his actions. Instead of attacking he issues positive, constructive, dialogue, conciliatory acts since he regards the work of the Congregation not as judging and condemning but as common search for answers, helping those who ask and who have doubts whether they are faithful to Christian doctrine. His transmission of the doctrine of the faith is characterized by clarity, precision of thoughts, conscientiousness and accuracy of judgment. Thus he marvelously completes the papal teaching. In the Church he is a factor of stabilization, harmony, order and orthodoxy. Many astute observers of the contemporary Church are charmed by his extraordinary co-operation with John Paul II. Peter Seewald, who was interviewing him, observes, 'It is difficult to image Pope John Paul II without Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Ratzinger without the Pope. Without this special team Wojtyla-Ratzinger the Church would certainly function differently at the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third one. An anecdotal measure of this co-operation is the quoted words of the Pope who was to say quite often and at serious occasion: 'For God's sake, what would Cardinal Ratzinger say about this'. One should notice another thing that many a time Cardinal Ratzinger draws arrows of spiteful criticism aiming directly at the Vatican where nowadays the first "Servant of God's servants', of Slavonic origin, tries to build saving civilization of love in the world and show mankind the Church as a special place where God gives himself to man. Does this not astonish us that in this worthy work, which is endangered by the phantom of 'civilization of death' appearing as some alternative, the Pope receives help from a man belonging to the German nation?
And Cardinal Ratzinger speaks about John Paul II: 'I immediately felt sympathy for him. Most of all we have been connected by straightforwardness and openness, free from all complications, and also by sincerity that emanates from him.' He meets the Pope at the audience every week when he reports on the works of the Congregation. He often takes part in mutual discussions. They work out many documents together.


At the final part of this laudation let us again turn our attention to human attributes of Cardinal Ratzinger, to these features of his personality which we like in simple people and in scientists, the young and the old, the poor and the rich, believers and non-believers.
Cardinal Ratzinger is a luminous figure, Christian, priest, bishop and cardinal. He is radiant with simplicity, modesty, and humility. He is outgoing, straightforward, does not create any distance between people. He does not avoid people. He preaches passionately and administers sacraments. He admires the living faith of the Bavarian folk. He connects tradition and novelty. He is really Doctor - Prince of the contemporary Church and present-day theology.
Eminentissime Doctorande! Veni ad lauream!

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: