As I write this, I’m looking at the cover of one of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s books, now reissued under his papal name. The book is titled God’s Word, and the cover shows a photograph of the Holy Father.
He’s slightly off-center because he’s holding up the book of the Gospels — covering himself, as it were, with the word of God.
For me, that cover is emblematic of his pontificate thus far. His hallmark is the centrality of the word of God. That’s where he has kept our focus — not on fads or scandals or the world’s alarms. Christ, the Word Incarnate, is the solution to every world crisis. Pope Benedict has invited us, insistently and consistently, to encounter Christ in the word inspired, the sacred Scriptures.
And he has done this through some very large labors.
In 2008 he summoned the world’s bishops to a Synod on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”
From that synod, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Scriptures will soon be published — a major act of the Pope’s teaching office.
In 2007, he declared a Year of St. Paul, in which he dedicated himself and the Church to intensive study of the great apostle. But even before that, he had devoted his weekly audiences to close-up studies of the individual men and women of the New Testament. Afterward, he went on to the Church Fathers and the medieval teachers, considering them especially as biblical interpreters.
Meanwhile, he has spent every moment of his “spare time” writing his multivolume study Jesus of Nazareth.
These acts of Benedict’s papacy are certainly continuous with the labors of his pre-papal lifetime. It’s as if God’s grace has brought his life’s work as a theologian to a kind of completion, or perfection, with the gift of Petrine authority.
As a theologian, Joseph Ratzinger had proposed some astonishing and radical ways of looking at Scripture. He said “Catholic dogma ... derives all its content from Scripture,” and “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture.”
He taught that the “normative theologians” are not the tenured faculty at any Catholic institution, but rather “the authors of holy Scripture.”
Some years ago, George Weigel described Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body as “a kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences.” He predicted that it would reshape the Church’s “theology, preaching and religious education,” compelling “a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed.”
I believe Pope Benedict is also setting a “theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences” — an explosive biblical doctrine that could reshape theology, preaching and religious education. But it’s not about sex this time. It’s about the Word Inspired and the Word Incarnate.
It may be many years before we see the dramatic consequences, but I think we can already reckon the power and force of Benedict’s great project.
I believe this will be his lasting legacy to the Church: to restore the word of God to its rightful place at the center of Church life.
Scott Hahn, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology, is a professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
About This Series
Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of what a Pope is. On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.
The untold story right now in the media is how much God has worked through Pope Benedict XVI in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago.
As the media tries in vain to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal on him, those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these tributes tell why.
We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.
— The Editors