Did the Church place too many of her theological eggs in one Bavarian Easter basket?
The question occurs as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — born on Holy Saturday and baptized the same day in the newly-blessed Easter water — celebrates his 94th birthday tomorrow, April 16.
With the death of Father Hans Küng, 93, during the Easter Octave, the generation to which Joseph Ratzinger belongs is passing away. Ratzinger, the Bavarian, and the Swiss Küng were 30-something theological wunderkinds, both part of what Ratzinger called the “Rhine alliance” of northern European theologians who would definitively shape the work of the Second Vatican Council.
The Rhine Flows Into the Tiberwas the title of one of the more famous books on Vatican II, and Cardinal Ratzinger flowed farther than anyone, becoming, as it were, the Tiber itself upon his election as supreme pontiff in 2005.
The current theological chaos in Germany, where the “binding synodal path” raises the possibility of schism, invites renewed attention to German theology, one of the most influential forces in ecclesial life in the past century. For 60 years, from his ordination in 1951 to his abdication in 2013, Joseph Ratzinger was at the center of it. Indeed, he became something of an anchor in stormy seas. After his abdication, the boat began to drift.
In the late evening of his life, Ratzinger/Benedict can be understood as the Church’s singular, multi-generational response to the reforming agenda of German theology. Would that reform be Catholic, returning to the great and wide tradition, or Protestant, diverging from it?
For generations a great number of German bishops have been on the Protestant side of many questions. Ratzinger/Benedict kept them Catholic. Since he departed in 2013, the Protestantizing wing has been in ascendance.
Peter Seewald, who was Ratzinger’s privileged interlocutor for four interview books, published last year Volume I of his definitive biography, Benedict XVI: A Life (1927-1965). Volume II will be published later this year.
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