The Theology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger underwent developments over the years, many of which were characterized by his leadership position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is entrusted with preserving the Catholic faith in its entirety. His theology originated in the view that God speaks to us through the Church today and not just through the Bible. The Bible is not a natural science textbook, but rather it is the essential testimonial of God’s revelation. One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. Thus Scripture would not wish to inform us about how the different species of plant life gradually appeared or how the sun and the moon and the stars were established. Its purpose ultimately would be to say one thing: God created the world. The world is not a chaos of mutually opposed forces; nor is it the dwelling of demonic powers from which human beings must protect themselves. Rather, all of this comes from one power, from God's eternal Reason, which became -- in the word --the power of creation. All of this comes from the same Word of God that we meet in the act of faith. The Bible was written to help us understand God's eternal Reason. The Holy Scripture in its entirety was not written from beginning to end like a novel or a textbook. It is, rather, the echo of God's history with his people. The theme of creation is not set down once for all in one place; rather, it accompanies Israel throughout its history, and, indeed, the whole Old Testament is a journeying with the Word of God. In this respect, the Old and New Testament belong together. Thus every individual part derives its meaning from the whole, and the whole derives its meaning from Christ. The Bible is constantly readapting its images to a continually developing way of thinking. In this way, a gradual and interactive process reveals something deeper and greater. We Christians do not read the Old Testament for its own sake but always with Christ and through Christ.
His letter has two parts. A theological speculative part, in which he describes "the intrinsic link between that Love and the reality of human love". The second part deals with practical aspects, and calls the world to new energy and commitment in its response to God's love.
Benedict writes about love of God, and considers this important and significant, because we live in a time in which "the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence":
"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John's Gospel describes that event in these words: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should ... have eternal life" (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel's faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might" (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere "command"; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us."
Benedict develops a positive view of sex and Eros in his first encyclical, which finally does away with the traditional Victorian view of the human body. Love between men and women is a gift of God, which should not be exploited: Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. ... but ... Eros, reduced to pure "sex", has become a commodity, a mere "thing" to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great "yes" to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.
By admitting negative Church attitudes towards the human body he sets a new tone. By referring to the erotic Song of Songs, Benedict XVI stresses caring for the other in a most sensual way and thus openly transcends the traditional Catholic procreation view of sex. Unlike previous writings of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the document of Pope Benedict does not contain condemnations, indicating a more pastoral approach of the new Pope. At the same time, his discussion of love is implicitly within the confines of conjugal relationships.
Benedict argues in his letter against two mistaken notions of hope: 1.) Christians who may have focused their hopes too much on their own eternal salvation, and 2.) those who have placed their hope exclusively on science, rationality, freedom and justice for all, thus excluding any notion of God and eternity. Christians find lasting hope by finding their loving God, and this has real consequences for everyday life:
We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just "informative" but "performative" — that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses? Before attempting to answer the question, let us return once more to the early Church. It is not difficult to realize that the experience of the African slave-girl Bakhita was also the experience of many in the period of nascent Christianity who were beaten and condemned to slavery. Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or Bar-Kochba. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.
Benedict refers to St. Paul, who wrote from prison Paul is sending the slave back to the master from whom he had fled, not ordering but asking: "I appeal to you for my child ... whose father I have become in my imprisonment ... I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart ... perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother ..." (Philem 10-16). He refers then to the Letter to the Hebrews, which says that Christians here on earth do not have a permanent homeland, but seek one which lies in the future (cf. Heb 11:13-16; Phil 3:20).
To Benedict, this does not mean for one moment that they lived only for the future: present society is recognized by Christians as an exile; they belong to a new society which is the goal of their common pilgrimage and which is anticipated in the course of that pilgrimage. A Christian has a present and future, because of the hope for Jesus Christ, which is life changing. All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. This hope gives a realistic perspective to understanding suffering and helping others: We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. Benedict believes that not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering are we healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Through the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus draws the faithful into his "hour;" he shows us the bond that he willed to establish between himself and us, between his own person and the Church He opines that the Church was founded by Christ in the sacrifice of the Cross. At the same time, he describes the Church as his Bride and his body. This concept, the Church as the mystical body of Christ, goes back to St. Paul and has been subject to many conversations by The Fathers of the Church but also more recently at Vatican II. A contemplative gaze "upon him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ's sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church. The Church "draws her life from the Eucharist" (31). Since the Eucharist makes present Christ's redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that "there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's very origins" . The Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body. Hence, in the striking interplay between the Eucharist which builds up the Church, and the Church herself which "makes" the Eucharist, the primary causality is expressed in the first formula: the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave himself to her in the sacrifice of the Cross. The Church's ability to "make" the Eucharist is completely rooted in Christ's self-gift to her. What does this mean? According to Benedict, the Eucharist which is union with Christ has a profound impact on our social relations. Because "union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own." The relationship between the Eucharistic mystery and social commitment must be made explicit. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion between brothers and sisters who allow themselves to be reconciled in Christ, who made of Jews and pagans one people, tearing down the wall of hostility which divided them (cf. Eph 2:14). Only this constant impulse towards reconciliation enables us to partake worthily of the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. Mt 5:23-24).
The Eucharist and the Church
In a special letter on the Eucharist and the Church, Benedict describes the Eucharist, causal principle of the Church.
Theology, science and the dialogue with other cultures
In an address to the faculty at the University of [[Regensburg, Germany, Benedict discussed the preconditions for an effective dialogue with Islam and other cultures. This requires a review of theology and science. The Pope considers the modern concept of science too narrow in the long run, because it allows the determination of "certainty" only from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements. "Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of science". .
Benedict believes that not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering are we healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Through the sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus draws the faithful into his "hour;" he shows us the bond that he willed to establish between himself and us, between his own person and the Church
He opines that the Church was founded by Christ in the sacrifice of the Cross. At the same time, he describes the Church as his Bride and his body. This concept, the Church as the mystical body of Christ, goes back to St. Paul and has been subject to many conversations by The Fathers of the Church but also more recently at Vatican II.
A contemplative gaze "upon him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ's sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church. The Church "draws her life from the Eucharist" (31). Since the Eucharist makes present Christ's redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that "there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's very origins" . The Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up as his body. Hence, in the striking interplay between the Eucharist which builds up the Church, and the Church herself which "makes" the Eucharist, the primary causality is expressed in the first formula: the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave himself to her in the sacrifice of the Cross. The Church's ability to "make" the Eucharist is completely rooted in Christ's self-gift to her.
What does this mean? According to Benedict, the Eucharist which is union with Christ has a profound impact on our social relations. Because "union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own."
The relationship between the Eucharistic mystery and social commitment must be made explicit. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion between brothers and sisters who allow themselves to be reconciled in Christ, who made of Jews and pagans one people, tearing down the wall of hostility which divided them (cf. Eph 2:14). Only this constant impulse towards reconciliation enables us to partake worthily of the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. Mt 5:23-24).
This limited view of scientific method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.
The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby Benedict acknowledges "unreservedly" the many positive aspects of modern science, and considers the quest for truth as essential to the Christian spirit, but he favours a broadening our narrow concept of reason and its application to include philosophical and theological experiences, not only as an aim in itself but so we may enter as a culture the dialogue with the other religions and cultures from a broader perspective:
Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.
This objective of Pope Benedict XVI has so far not been widely reviewed.
In absence of a large body of papal teachings of Benedict XVI, the Ratzinger theology is often cited. While there are likely to be many similarities between the teachings of Benedict and Ratzinger, the theology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has been somewhat unique because of his "watchdog" office, which required him to address a larger variety of issues. This differentiated Ratzinger from virtually all other bishops or cardinals, except of course, the Holy Father himself. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was much on his own, since he had only a small staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Young Ratzinger was something of a "rebel", who early on discarded the Thomism of his professors and much of the dominant traditional school theology. He viewed the early proposals for Vatican II, as narrow, stiff and insufficiently pastoral. Only in the seventies, Ratzinger felt that he had finally developed his own theological view. ,
Karl Rahner raises these issues. Does the Prefect defend "only" the official Magisterium, Church teachings within the framework of Canon Law? If so, he is clearly speaking for the Church and not on his own. Does he in so-called gray areas of theology, questiones disputatae, where the Magisterium has not ruled, impose his theological view on others?
Ratzinger's own theological view began with a open rebellion against powerful established thomist theology.
His theology on revelation was discussed during Second Vatican Council. In Rome he continued the view, that revelation, meaning God communicates with us, is always more than can be expressed in purely human words. God’s revelation is not a big cold stone fallen from heaven many years ago, a stone which only needs to be dissected and analyzed. God has a living message to us.
I refer to what might be called Christian positivism. Christian belief is not merely concerned with the eternal, the “totally other”, … on the contrary, it is much more concerned with God in history, with God as man. By thus seeming to bridge the gulf between eternal and temporal, between visible and invisible, by making us meet God as man, the eternal as the temporal, as one of us, it knows itself as revelation
As such, like all his predecessors, he does not view the search for moral truth as a dialectic and incremental process, arguing that essential matters of faith and morals are universally true and therefore must be determined at the universal level: "the universal church ... takes precedence, ontologically and temporally, over the individual local churches." Accordingly, too , he was often seen as a key player in the centralization of the hierarchy under John Paul II.
To Pope Benedict XVI, liturgy means openness to God, community of faith, worldwide unity with the Church and its history; it means “celebrating the mystery of the living Christ”. To get there, Ratzinger calls for an almost revolution like liturgical movement to rekindle the spirit of Vatican II. Not surprisingly at one of the first masses of his pontificate he urged Catholics to show a greater devotion to the "Eucharistic Jesus."
This Ratzinger quote on the liturgy reform of the council is symbolic for his interpretation of Vatican II. He has spoken only positively about the Vatican II council, but differentiated between the council and a spirit of the council, which has nothing in common with its texts and resolutions. As noted above, believes that essential elements of the Council, such as the spirit if liturgy still need to materialize and has shown no evidence that he intends to reverse or limit the decisions of that council. He has, however, stated in books and interviews that Vatican II did not represent a radical break; a new age, but a more pastoral reformulation of old truths earlier doctrine, but applied the teachings of the Apostles and church fathers to the contemporary world. Indeed the council documents quoted 205 times the allegedly conservative Pope Pius XII more than any other person. Benedict has also spoken out against some post-conciliar innovations, especially liturgical novelties, which forget their purpose, and he continues to remind the faithful that the Council did not entirely do away with the former rite and many of its noble features.
In the pre-conclave mass to the assembled cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica, he warned, "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires." This view is in part his interpretation of Vatican II..
Benedict is a theologian in a modern orthodox (conservative) vein. His theology aims at a synthesis of Thomism, philosophical personalism (with such proponents as Martin Buber, John Paul II — tempered however by phenomenology, and, more recently, Leon Kass) and the 'Nouvelle Théologie' of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. This is a sharp contrast with the school of thought, until recently ascendant in the theological academy of Europe and the United States, represented by Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and Edward Schillebeeckx.
Ratzinger's election as pope was met with enthusiasm from many prominent Anglicans. The Archbishop of Canterbury described Ratzinger as "a theologian of great stature, who has written some profound reflections on the nature of God and the church". Scotland's senior Anglican Bishop Idris Jones also had a positive view of the new pope and stated "I offer the warmest of welcomes to the new Pope...under his leadership the church will continue to work for the poor and underprivileged in the world." However, a council of Bishops rejected the Popes view of Catholic authority which was mirrored by Benedict's refusual to alter the Catholic position on refusing to recognise the Church of England.
Although teaching opposition to death penalty, he has stated that there may be among Catholics a "legitimate diversity of opinion
He has also defended the traditional Church position on the indissolubility of marriage and thus rejected that the divorced be allowed to remarry during their spouses' lifetime. In a 1994 letter to the bishops he said that those who do so are not in a state to receive communion.
Ratzinger has maintained that the Catholic Church does not possess the authority to ordain women to the priestly sacramental ministry (the Vatican, and the Catholic Church by extension, have long held that this is shown by Jesus's choosing only men as apostles, saying this was the constant practice and consistent teaching of the Church).
In The Spirit of the Liturgy in 2000, Ratzinger attacked Rock and Roll as "the expression of elemental passions" and described some rock concerts as becoming "a form of worship ... in opposition to Christian worship." However, he is a great lover of classical and folk music, and included much new music into his recent pastoral visit to Cologne.
While one needs to differentiate between pure theology and derived social teachings such as birth control and homosexuality, it is obvious, that, as with his predecssors, the often pointed positions of Benedict XVI are not without controversy
LGBT rights advocates widely criticized his 1986 letter to the Bishops of the Church, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, in which he stated that "although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." However, then Cardinal Ratzinger also said: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."
In a separate letter dated September 30, 1985, Ratzinger reprimanded Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for his unorthodox views on women, homosexuals, and doctrinal issues, stating, "The Archdiocese should withdraw all support from any group, which does not unequivocally accept the teaching of the Magisterium concerning the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity." Archbishop Hunthausen was temporarily relieved of his authority.
Benedict XVI is also against gay couples adopting children, he wrote a Vatican Paper concerned with the adoption of children into same-sex couples. "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."
In response, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that such an approach "would result in at least the facilitation of evil" – not merely its toleration. For the full text of the letter, see: On "The Many Faces of AIDS" (See also Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility). Critics argue that Ratzinger's approach would lead to increases in the frequency of HIV/AIDS infections, while many Catholics dispute this and emphasize the value of faithful relationships or chastity, as it is scientifically impossible to contract the disorder without having sex with an infected person, unless via some other means such as a blood transfusion or sharing a needle.
In the spring of 2005 Pope Benedict opposed a referendum in Italy, which aimed at liberalising a restrictive law about artificial insemination and embryonic stem cell research. This was the first direct intervention in Italian politics since the collapse of the Democrazia Cristiana party. The most active person inside the Church was Cardinal Camillo Ruini, but Benedict XVI gave him clear support.
Particular controversy was stirred up by the Italian clergy's strategy of restraining Italians from voting. Since the referendum had been called on a summer weekend, turn out was expected to be low. Not voting would have helped invalidate the referendum, which needed to reach a quorum of 50% of voters, whereas voting "No" (i.e. to maintain the current legislation) might have helped reaching it, making the referendum valid and therefore actually helping the "Yes" advocates. Critics of this tactic argue that this misplaced non-voters into the "No" front, though the same could be said the other way around. It was also alleged that it hampered the secrecy of the vote.
On March 7, 2003, Ratzinger wrote a letter to congratulate German writer Gabriele Kuby on her book, Harry Potter; Gut oder böse? ("Harry Potter; Good or evil?", ISBN 3-928929-43-7), about the literary phenomenon of Harry Potter, a popular series of books about a young student of magic. Kuby's book meant to prove that the Harry Potter books would "corrupt" the religious spirit of young generations and prove false the rumours that Pope John Paul II liked the series.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that "[it is a] very informed book [...] It is good that you, esteemed and dear Mrs. Kuby, enlighten the people about Harry Potter, because there are subtle seductions, that act unconsciously, deeply distorting Christianity in the soul, before it can properly grow". Kuby later asked permission to make this judgement public, which was granted.
In 1990 Ratzinger commented on the Galileo affair, and quoted philosopher Paul Feyerabend as saying that the Church's verdict against Galileo had been "rational and just". Two years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled, and officially conceded that the Earth was not stationary. In January 2008 Ratzinger cancelled a visit to La Sapienza University in Rome, following a protest letter signed by sixty-seven academics which said he condoned the 1633 trial and conviction of Galileo for heresy.