Newsflash Archives > Benedict XVI and God
The following is an excerpt from an article in April's Special Issue of Inside the Vatican magazine. To read the complete article and view all included photos and documents, please click here to view the PDF version.
BENEDICT XVI AND GOD
- BY EMILY RIELLEY
"WE LOVE GOD IN ALL THAT WE LOVE"
The Pope has a very distinctive theological viewpoint. The editor of the English edition of Communio magazine, a journal of theology, analyzes Benedict’s theological system
David Schindler (above left), greets Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in December. Schindler is editor of Communio magazine, which was founded by the Pope in 1972 when he was a young priest and theologian.
David Schindler is Edouard Cardinal Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology and Provost-Dean of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He is also editor of the English-language edition of Communio: International Catholic Review, a theological journal founded in 1972 by Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Henri de Lubac, among others. There are 15 different national editions of Communio, whose editors meet biannually to plan their common work.
This interview has a twofold goal: to bring the insights of a collaborator and reader of Ratzinger to bear on Pope Benedict’s approach to culture in general and American culture in particular; and to present Ratzinger’s approach to important questions of the day in light of the American historical experience. Following Benedict’s theology, it attempts to bring to light some of the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of America and the Church in America.
Professor Schindler, you have been involved with Communio since the North American edition was founded. In his autobiography, Milestones, then-Cardinal Ratzinger described the founders’ goal for Communio as "an international journal whose work would both be done out of the heart of communion in sacrament and faith, and also lead to its enhancement... Since the crisis in theology had emerged out of a crisis in culture, and, indeed, out of a cultural revolution, the journal had to address the cultural domain, too." What part does Communio play in the cultural landscape today?
DAVID L. SCHINDLER: The journal was founded most basically to recover a Godcentered understanding of the Church and of the human being. And also to recover the fact that the reality of our being in the Church and the reality of our being in the world is a matter, in the deepest sense, of love.
This task of recovery is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council, and it is even more important today, I would say, than it was then.
Joseph Ratzinger had to step down from editorial work at the German edition when he moved to Rome, of course, but he continued to contribute articles. He gave an address, "Communio: A Program," in 1982, on the 10th anniversary of the journal’s founding, which was a beautiful recapitulation of its history and mission.
This past December (2007), he invited the various national editors to hold the annual winter meeting in Rome, where he received them in the Vatican and was able to greet each one personally. On another note, he cited articles from the 2006 Communio issue devoted to the Wedding at Cana in Jesus of Nazareth, in the section on symbols in the Gospel of John, and he says he continues to read the German edition regularly.
How did you first meet Cardinal Ratzinger?
SCHINDLER: Through Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss theologian and co-founder of Communio. In 1984, Balthasar was awarded the Paul VI International Prize by Pope John Paul II, who asked him to organize a conference in September 1985 on the work of Adrienne von Speyr. Ratzinger held a reception for Balthasar at Castel Gandolfo immediately following the conference, and it was at this reception that Balthasar introduced me to Ratzinger. I had been editor of the North American edition of Communio for three years by then.
How would you characterize Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian?
SCHINDLER: What’s characteristic is his capacity for integration. His scholarship is marked by a great integration of academic theology and spirituality -- and always in a way that speaks from within the heart of our cultural problems. A sign of this integration: when you read his homilies, they provoke you into thinking, and when you read his theology, it inclines you to pray. Simply, he does theology in the manner of the great saints and doctors of the Church -- a way of doing theology that is badly needed in our time.
The German philosopher Robert Spaemann has spoken of Benedict’s theology as a retrieval, a mutual enrichment between old and new; he says Ratzinger the theologian never felt the need to reconstruct theology from the ground up via a new schema, as, for example, Karl Rahner did, because Ratzinger was too historically grounded to go that way. In what sense is Benedict retrieving something that was both already there, and, in a sense, lacking in our times?
SCHINDLER: Newness and oldness: a beautiful point. To me, this is again the greatness of Benedict. He’s simply doing what every saint and doctor of the Church has done. He has gone back to the roots of his being and of the Church’s being: the Gospel. And he’s done it entirely naturally, in the sense that he recovers it precisely in the context of his own historical being. That is, he recovers it while living in the 20th century and today in the face of the problems of Nazism, Communism, and liberalism. What results is a development. So the idea that his emphasis on, say, the structure of being as centered in God and filiality were somehow recent inventions is nonsense. These things are the heart of the Gospel. In other words, this recovery and development is what real theologians do. This is epitomized in Benedict, as Spaemann observes, and also can explain why so many theologians become very obscure: they want to be new. Benedict has no interest in being new. He has an interest in being faithful. And the creativity takes care of itself because we’re historical beings. Everyone, especially the theologian, has to look at his own work in this way and to ask: What is the cause of the obscurities? There can be difficulties in someone’s thought and so on, but what is remarkable in Benedict’s work, and what is really one of his great gifts to the Church, is that his thought is jargon-free. And it’s jargonfree because he has no interest in speculation, in the sense of saying, let’s speculate on this without regard, say, for the integrity of human life and ecclesial life. He says what he has to say to keep alive the memory of what has been given.
Pope Benedict has made Christian ecumenism and dialogue with people of other faiths key objectives of his pontificate.
Could you say something about his way of engaging people in conversation?
SCHINDLER: He’s very simple and gentle, always curious about the world. Always very much full of wonder at things. He has a great capacity as a listener. If you do not interrupt him during a conversation, you can easily end up spending the entire time speaking mostly about yourself, responding to his questions about you and your work.
How does he deal with people with whom he disagrees?
SCHINDLER: People who disagree with him are often a bit disarmed to discover how respectful he is of what they have to say. In any conversation he is concerned about the truth, but it’s always clear that in defending the truth, he’s defending something that is integral to the dignity of the other person. He’s not defending his ego, but rather something that is greater than himself and that is necessary for the realization of the dignity of both himself and the interlocutor.
How does Pope Benedict XVI engage the question of culture?
SCHINDLER: At the heart of his basic proposal to culture is a particular conception of dialogue. Dialogue for Benedict is something we are before it is something we do. For Benedict, human existence is dialogue with God, specifically, with the Creator. Relation to God lies at the core of our being as creatures and thus we implicitly invoke the question of the nature and existence of God in all of our conscious acts. As Aquinas says, we know God implicitly in all that we know, and we love God implicitly in all that we love.
Embedded within the dialogue with God is an implicit dialogue with all other creatures, relation to whom is given to us inside the relation with the Creator.
Why is Benedict’s conception of dialogue relevant to American culture, where polls indicate both a high belief in God and a widespread interest in the very question of God?
SCHINDLER: Interestingly, Benedict says the problems of the West can all be traced back to the forgetfulness of God. In what sense is that true in America? First of all, one has to recognize the sincerity of Americans; they are not cynical when they say they believe in God. The question is how that is understood. ...
To read the complete interview and view all included photos and documents, please click here to view the PDF version.
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