Joseph Ratzinger: a man sent by God

Adequate words elude me to praise a man who made such a profound impact on the Church. I found myself turning to God’s own words to capture the impact of Joseph Ratzinger’s teachings, leadership, and liturgical sense: “There was a man sent by God… middle of it” (John 1:6-7). Though intended for John the Baptist, these words do justice toRatzingeras a great witness of light for our times.

Reflecting onRatzinger’s enormous legacy, I am drawn to three additional passages of Scripture: the scribe , theadministratorand the true worshiper. These passages reflect the main elements of Ratzinger’s legacy as a theologian, pastor and prophet of liturgical renewal. As a whole, his teaching served as a light, reflecting the true light, shining in the darkness of a world that was closed to the divine.

“Therefore,every scribeinstructed in the things of the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a family man who takes out of his treasure things new and old”(Matthew,23: 52).

The Old and New Treasure reflects Ratzinger’s uncanny ability to return to the sources of Scripture and the Church Fathers and extract newinsightsfrom them. He looked at tradition with new eyes, as he understood the problems and needs of the moment. At a time when it was fashionable to discard the history of the Church, he helped to recover it and make it live again, ordering his thinking for the renewal of the Church.

In my opinion, Ratzinger will be remembered as the greatest theologian of the 20th century, having the longest and most impactful legacy of any Catholic theologian since Cardinal John Henry Newman (priest beatified by Benedict XVI and canonized by Francis). It represents the best of what was intended with theressourcement movement (a movement that proposed the renewal of the Catholic liturgy in the 20th century). He understood that something new was needed, although this new style was not supposed to create a break with the past, but to offer a fresh presentation of what is always new and never old. Every time I read a small passage from one of his books or a speech he gave, I am constantly impressed by the depth with which he spoke about all the subjects he addressed. Each sentence exudes unexpected wisdom.

It is impossible to capture his theological contribution in a small tribute, but his writings on biblical interpretation provide a perfect example. Bible study had become almost completely secular and skeptical. Faithful Christians, therefore, were tempted to dismiss critical scholarship. Ratzingerproposed, on the other hand, especially in his Erasmus Lecture, a new synthesis, founded on the primacy of reading the Bible as a text unified with faith, while drawing on any useful historical and literary insights from the new methodology.

His view of the interpretation of scripture ultimately points us to a central theme of his theology as a whole: the harmony of faith and reason. In his speech at Regensburg, he explained how the Bible itself communicates this vision to us:

“Logos means reason and word – a reason that is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely like reason. , spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often tiresome and tortuous strands ofbiblical faithfind their apex and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says theevangelist.”

The Bible addresses us as rational beings and invites faith as a response of the mind informed by the truth of creation.

His“Introduction to Christianity”encapsulates his work broader, reintroduction of the fundamentals of Christianity, showing us that we need to abandon our complacency to hear the Gospel message again. Likewise, he wanted us to see Jesus anew in his volumes of “Jesus of Nazareth”, as “ a historically plausible and convincing figure” (vol. 1,XXII). he never completed his intendedmagnumopusof a complete work of systematic theology (giving himself rather to serve as bishop, prefect of the Vatican, and pope), yet we still have an extensive body of works on a wide range of topics that will keep us busy for some time to come.

As Pope, his poignant analysis of the Church and the world is best seen in the monumental speeches he delivered across Europe:

Regensburg– onfaith and reason (known for Benedict XVI’s comments on violence in Islam).

Paris – on the role of the Benedictines in the formation of culture, uniting the word and the work in the search for God.

Rome – the speech he could not make due to the protests at the university, La Sapienzia, about the university and the truth.

London – at Westminster Hall, site of the trial of Thomas More, on faith and democracy.

Berlin – uttered the Reichstag ruler of his own nation, on the need for justice as the foundation of law.

In all these speeches, he called for a robust relationship of faith and reason (both of which are undermined in our culture). ) to restore humanity and a path for the renewal of the West.

“What is the wise and faithful administrator that the lord will establish over his workers to give them their measure of wheat in due time?” . (Lucas 12: 42).

Ratzinger, like St. Gregory the Great, was not allowed to embrace a life of silent contemplation and study, as he was thrust into the center of the Church’s pastoral life. His work in this service was not a distraction or opposition to his theological vocation. His ecclesial service allowed his theological vision to organically shape the life of the Church.

He knew what was at stake in the Church’s mission, beginning his seminary training in the furnace of the Second World War . As a young priest, he continued his studies, taught catechesis, performed parish functions and became a university professor. He irritated his colleagues from the start with his essay, “The New Pagans and the Church,” upsetting even his bishop, Cardinal Joseph Wendel. This essay started a long struggle against secularism in society and also in the Church.

The Second Vatican Council, a truly crucial moment in his life, placedRatzinger, at the age of thirty-five years, in the midst of the Church’s efforts to find a new way to engage the modern world. As an expert, or specialist in theology, under one of the most influential bishops, Cardinal Josef Frings, he had the opportunity to help shape the direction of the Council, particularly advocating the rejection of pre-prepared documents and helping to draft new texts. After the Council, he achieved success as a teacher, serving in Bonn, Münster andTübingen, before settling for a time in Regensburg.

The Lord called him to be a pastor, however, andhe reluctantly dropped out of university and accepted his appointment as Archbishop of Munich in 1977. He was made a cardinal by Paul VI shortly afterwards, and just a few years later John Paul II convinced him, once again reluctantly, to come to Rome to serve as its prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His service in this position flowed naturally from his commitment to the truth in the service of the Church’s ministry. He lived up to his episcopal mottoworking in collaboration with bishops around the world, especially in the creation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Elected chief pastor of the flock, in , proved to be a kind but courageous Pope. He acted cautiously, however, not wanting to force his views on Church reform (to a fault), but acted for the salvation of souls anyway. We see this in their reluctance to promote liturgical reform, but in their willingness to bypass English bishops to form ordinariates for Anglicans. Creating the ordinariates was a historic move, showing its boldness in forming new structures and infringing on political correctness when it mattered most. Another example of this courage can be found inSummorumPontificum, removing restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

No one thought administration was Ratzinger’s strong point as pope. He had his priorities, though. He emphasized the appointment of solid bishops and ensured that his nominees were doctrinally solid and willing to engage the culture and evangelize. He also implemented reforms to address sexual abuse (based on his work at theCDF) and to regularize financial practices (which faced strong opposition).

Throughout his ministry as a priest, bishop , official of the Curia and Supreme Pontiff, he gave us the necessary food in due time. In a time of doctrinal and pastoral chaos, the Lord raised Ratzinger to feed us the truth of His Gospel in a way that would not shy away from the challenges presented by secular culture. In fact, he considered faith the only antidote to the anti-human spirit of our time. He insisted that true freedom comes only from obedience to God.

“But the hour is coming, and has now come, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, and these are worshipers that the Father desires”(John 4: 23).

Ratzingerunderstood the only necessary thing, of which Jesus spoke to Martha (Luke : 42 ). Sitting at the Lord’s feet, entering into communion with Him – these are the most important realities in the life of the Church. Ratzingerunderstood “one thing” in the midst of a spiritual crisis in which material concerns were placed before faith and worship. That is why he faced liberation theology, which sought to transform the Kingdom of God into something political and earthly. It was a moment of experiential catechesis, more focused on the signs of the time than on the Gospel. In response,Ratzingerserved as a prophet calling the Church to worship in spirit and truth.

In a recently released preface to the Russian edition of the volume 11 (the first released) of hisoperaomnia, he described the centrality of the liturgy:

“ It has become increasingly clear that the Church’s existence lives from the very celebration of the liturgy and that the Church is in danger when the primacy of God no longer appears in the liturgy and, consequently, in life. The deepest cause of the crisis that has shaken the Church lies in the obscuring of God’s priority in the liturgy. All this led me to dedicate myself to this topic more than before, because I knew that true liturgical renewal is a fundamental condition for the renewal of the Church.”

Ratzinger has called us to put Christ first. place and center our liturgy on him and not on ourselves. His theological view as a whole tires of reorienting us to a theocentric rather than an anthropocentric view and practice.

Worship has become mundane, flat and self-centered – an ineffective form of entertainment. In one of his greatest works,“The Spirit of the Liturgy”,Ratzingerdoes not beat around the bush when examining the worship of the golden calf and observing that it is a “circle closed in on itself”, “egoism”, “banal self-gratification”and “self-initiated.” Although he uses an Old Testament image, there is no doubt what he is referring to. We need worship more than anything else. It is not self-affirmation, it is not a sociological meeting, it is not a time of instruction, but real and genuine worship.

Ratzinger asks us, in a must-read speech, to let the beauty of Christ permeate us, “being hit by the arrow of Beauty that wounds.” Simply talking about the truth of faith is not enough. We need to experience the beauty of what we believe, which must shine in our adoration. The liturgy expresses the joy of the heavenly Jerusalem, bursting into time: “The feasts are a participation in God’s action in time, and the images themselves, as a remembrance in vile form level, s involved in liturgical representation”. The form of the liturgy is important; our actions within itandare important; music is important; images matter because they all mediate a heavenly reality and therefore must adequately represent what they mean.

Those awaiting a reform of the reform were disappointed by the lack of decisive action by the Ratzinger papacy . Instead of initiating further tampering with the liturgy, he sought to restore its organic and comprehensive continuity through theSummorumPontificum. Standing side by side, he wanted the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite to enrich each other, putting liturgical reform further on the horizon, but taking a more natural course. Although apparently derailed, we must still allow this long process to bear fruit. We must fight to preserve and spread the prophetic liturgical legacy ofRatzinger.


Ratzingerus offers a model of faithful service to the Lord and His Church. He never considered himself worthy of his ministry, but saw himself as a “simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard”. He wanted to retire even before his papacy began, but he served to the fullest extent of his strength. As a good administrator, who has been entrusted with the truth and the worship of the Church, he will be prepared to receive his reward.

Knowing his true quality, we can be sure that his legacy will not be dismantled. Despite any actions to limit or reverse it, it will continue to shine and illuminate the Church when the names of its critics are long forgotten. Ratzingerdid not work to create a legacy for himself, but to point us to the Lord. In this service, he follows in the footsteps of John the Baptist as a man sent by God to bear witness, bear witness, and inspire faith. Time will prove the enduring value of his work as a theologian, pastor, and liturgical prophet.

Those who have been enriched by Ratzinger’s teachings and examples must work hard to appropriate and preserve his legacy. In my mind, we have just begun to communicate the rich treasures that this steward has brought into the house of the Lord. As we remember this great man sent to us by God, we must consider how we can become co-workers in the truth with him.

©1977 The ImaginativeConservative. Published with permission. Original in English.

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