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 ... (Read More)
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.