May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the “civilization of love”. The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!--Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Truth About the Pope—and Why It Matters | An Interview with Dr. Tracey Rowland

Winston Elliott, Tracey Rowland, Barbara Elliott
| Ignatius Insight | October 15, 2010

Tracey Rowland is Dean and Associate Professor of Political Philosophy and Continental Theology at the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne), a member of the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham and a member of the editorial board of the English language edition of Communio, founded, among others, by Joseph Ratzinger. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (2003), Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI (2008), and, most recently, Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010). She recently took time from her busy schedule to discuss the work and thought of Joseph Ratinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

Ignatius Insight: You've now written two books about the theology and thought of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. If you had to describe his theology and thought to someone who knew little or nothing about the topic, what would you say?

Dr. Rowland: I would say that he is interested in the relationship between God and the human person and in particular the role of love and reason in this relationship. He wants people to understand that while there is something called Christian morality, Christianity is not just another option on the menu of ethical codes. It is about a personal relationship with the Trinity, and without that the ethical code can seem incomprehensible and oppressive.

Ignatius Insight: What misunderstandings or misrepresentations of Benedict's thinking do you find most bothersome or in need of correction?

Dr. Rowland: Unfortunately many people, in particular journalists, can only think in dialectical categories like: left-wing, right-wing, progressive, conservative. They never ask questions like: conserve what? or progress toward what? It is very difficult to present Ratzinger's ideas in sound-bites without doing violence to the nuances.

There is, for example, a sense in which it may well be right to classify Ratzinger as a progressive in 1964 and a conservative today but what changed is not the actual theological beliefs held by Ratzinger, but the historical and theological contexts. In 1964 to be progressive meant wanting to introduce some flexibility into a theological framework which had become ossified and dry. It meant being critical of Su‡rezian Thomism. Today, being progressive means being in favour of contraceptives, women priests, homosexual "marriage" and Marty Haugen.

As Cardinal Francis George has often written, it is not a case of being left wing or right wing, but being for Christ. In some social contexts that will look right wing, in others, left-wing, but these terms and labels are not the standard, and nor are they stable.

Ignatius Insight: Who were some of the essential intellectual and theological influences—both ancient and contemporary—on the young Ratzinger?

Dr. Rowland: Among the Patristic theologians, St Augustine was clearly the most influential, among the medieval theologians it was St. Bonaventure, and thereafter there were a number of significant nineteenth century influences associated with the Tübingen School, such as Adam Mšhler, and there was also the influence of Blessed John Henry Newman. Among twentieth scholars, the key influences were: Romano Guardini, Josef Pieper, Martin Buber, Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Karl Rahner was also someone with whom he collaborated at the Council and probably by whom he was to some degree mentored at the Council, but as Avery Dulles observed, Ratzinger grew to understand that he and Rahner lived on different theological planets: whereas Rahner found revelation and salvation primarily in the inward movements of the human spirit, Ratzinger finds them in historical events attested by Scripture and the Fathers.

Ignatius Insight: Rupert Shortt, in a recent review of Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed, wrote that "Professor Ratzinger's volte-face [in the late 1960s] was matched by what struck many observers as a shift in his character. An earlier openness was supplanted by intolerance and gloom. The psychological element, wholly overlooked by Rowland, is revealing." Shortt obviously believes that Ratzinger's theology and perspective changed dramatically and suddenly some forty year ago. Is there evidence for that argument? And why is the debate over this topic so important?

Dr. Rowland: First, let me say that my book was published in the Guide for the Perplexed series which the publishers market as an 'upper level introduction to the thought of those writers readers can find especially challenging'. Concentrating on what it is that makes the subject difficult to grasp, these books explain and explore key themes and ideas. In other words, the book was not written as a biography, nor was there ever any brief from the publisher to delve into the psychological drives of the subject. The brief was to present an account of Ratzinger's thought for theology students trying to get a grip on its essential contours, with special reference to his contributions to the discipline of theology. Accordingly, the dominant theme of the book was how Ratzinger has dealt with what in Principles of Catholic Theology (1982) he called the severest crisis in Catholic theology in the twentieth century, namely, 'understanding the mediation of history in the realm of ontology'. Most of the material presented relates to that problematic.

That said, I think that just as there are at least two fundamentally different approaches to the documents of Vatican II, the 'hermeneutic of rupture' and the 'hermeneutic of reform' or continuity, there is an analogous division of interpretation over Ratzinger himself. What everyone agrees upon is that Ratzinger is an intellectual. No one tries to argue that he has been infected with peasant piety herding cows in the Bavarian alps as some tried to dismiss Wojtyła as a Carpathian peasant. The line becomes, this fellow was one of the most gifted clerics of his generation, open to new ideas and progressively oriented, but then in 1968 he found students demonstrating outside his lecture theatre and claiming that Christ was a sado-masochist. He then, so this narrative goes, had something like a breakdown from which he has never recuperated, and since that time he has been a neurotic conservative. This way one can acknowledge his talent but dismiss his substantive judgments on the grounds that they are the result of emotional fragility rather than intellectual rigour.

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