Pope Benedict, his theology has evolved
By Michael Larkin, Fordham
NEW YORK—In the 40 years since
the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict’s views of
this landmark event have remained fundamentally consistent, but there
are instances where his theology has evolved, said Avery Cardinal
Dulles, S.J., during the Fall McGinley Lecture on Oct. 25 at the Leonard
Theatre on Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus.
Cardinal Dulles presented this shift in Pope Benedict’s thinking by
reviewing his interpretation of some points in the four great
constitutions of the council: Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy), Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on the
Divine Revelation), Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church) and Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in
the Modern World).
At Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI, who was then the young theologian
Joseph Ratzinger, was appointed as consultor to the subcomission
revising the texts on Revelation and on the Church. He belonged to an
inner circle of German theologians who had a major role in shaping the
council throughout its four sessions that extended from 1962 to 1965.
According to Cardinal Dulles, the pope’s theology has been firmly rooted
in the Augustinian tradition: He values prayer and worship, but is
suspicious of social activism and of human claims to be building the
Kingdom of God.
“For this reason, he most appreciates the council documents on the
Liturgy and Revelation, and has reservations about the Constitution on
the Church in the Modern World, while giving it credit for some solid
achievements,” said Cardinal Dulles, the Laurence J. McGinley Professor
of Religion Professor of Religion.
Cardinal Dulles added that a young Ratzinger lent considerable
importance to the theology of the bishops and local churches. Later in
his life, his views on the two groups had swung in the other direction.
“Since 1992, [Ratzinger] has contended that the universal church has
ontological and historical priority over the particular churches. [The
church] was not originally made up of local regional churches,” said
Cardinal Dulles. “Those who speak of the priority of the particular
church over the universal, he says, misinterpret the council documents.”
A similar shift is apparent in the pope’s view of episcopal conferences,
which he had once characterized as “collegial organs with a true
theological basis.” By 1986, according to Dulles, Ratzinger says, “we
must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological
basis, they do not belong to the structure of the church as willed by
Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete
Cardinal Dulles noted that in interpreting the document on the Liturgy
in his earlier commentaries, Ratzinger praised it highly but in later
writings he pointed out many of its misinterpretations. “The Council
Fathers,” he [Ratzinger] insists, “had no intention of initiating a
liturgical revolution. They intended to introduce a moderate use of the
vernacular alongside of the Latin, but had no thought of eliminating
Latin, which remains the official language of the Roman rite.
“Ratzinger seems to have nothing against the celebration of Mass
according to the missal that was in use before the council,” said
Ratzinger’s theological orientation appeared to be shifting when he
accepted the position of editor at the conservative review Communio in
1972, said Cardinal Dulles, who attributes Ratzinger’s later assessments
on certain areas of Vatican II to “finding his own theological path.”
“Ratzinger’s [Pope Benedict] career appears to have affected his
theology,” said Cardinal Dulles. “As an archbishop and a cardinal he has
had to take increasing responsibility for the public life of the church
and has gained a deeper realization of the need for universal
sacramental structures to safeguard the unity of the church and her
fidelity to the Gospel.”
Fordham University’s McGinley Chair in Religion and Society was
established in 1985 as a tribute to Laurence J. McGinley, S.J., who
first attained distinction as a professor of theology and later served
as president of Fordham University from 1948 to 1963. The McGinley
lectures explore the relationship between religion and current social
and political issues.
Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering
exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to
approximately 15,800 students in its five undergraduate colleges and its
six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in
the Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis Calder Center
Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.