ROME — At the conclusion of an international symposium in Rome, Pope Francis granted the prestigious "Joseph Ratzinger Award" to two professors for their exemplary scholarship in theology.

The 2013 winners were the Anglican canon professor Rev. Richard Burridge, dean of Kings College, London, and Catholic professor of theology Christian Schaller, vice director of the Pope Benedict XVI institute of Regensburg, Germany.

“Special congratulations go to the revered professor Richard Burridge … and professor Christian Schaller, who have been awarded this year’s Joseph Ratzinger Prize,” said Pope Francis on Oct. 26.

“Also on behalf of my beloved predecessor, whom I was with three or four days ago — I express my congratulations: May the Lord always bless you and your work in the service of his Kingdom,” he added.

An international group of the pope emeritus’ former students started the Ratzinger Foundation for the purpose of scholarly research and study.
 The Joseph Ratzinger prize has been awarded each year since 2011.

The award is given to scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger.

The Pope met with participants of the symposium, which was held by the Joseph Ratzinger Foundation, at the close of their conference entitled “The Gospels, Historical and Christological Research.”

Scholars from around the world had gathered to discuss the main themes found in the Jesus of Nazareth series of books written by Benedict XVI before and during his papacy. The three volumes involve an in-depth study of the life and person of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels.


Francis on Benedict’s Books: ‘A Gift to the Church’

Pope Francis took a moment during his audience with the group to reflect on these works: “I remember when the first volume came out, some people were saying: But what is this? A pope doesn’t write books of theology; he writes encyclicals!”

“Certainly Pope Benedict had considered this problem,” he continued, “but even in this case, like always, he followed the voice of the Lord in the light of his conscience.”

“He made a gift to the Church, and to all men, of that which was most precious to him: his knowledge of Jesus, the fruit of years and years of study, theological confrontation and prayer. Because Benedict XVI did theology on his knees, and we all know it. And this has made it available in the most accessible form,” explained Pope Francis.

“The work of Benedict XVI has stimulated a new season of study between history and Christology regarding the Gospels,” the Pope added.

Award winner Burridge described how his academic work complemented that of Benedict XVI.

“I have been working for the last 30 years on the literary character of the Gospels and in particular how they relate to the literary genre of Greco-Roman biographies. And, obviously, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote his biography of Jesus of Nazareth in which he has argued also that the key to interpreting the Gospels is through the portrait of Jesus, and I've demonstrated how you do that by looking at Greco-Roman biographies,” he told CNA on Oct. 25.

Burridge is the first non-Catholic to receive the Joseph Ratzinger Award.

“It is a huge honor. I'm so grateful to the Holy Father and to the Church for honoring my work in this way and the fact that it means that the way in which we read the Gospels across the world has changed now,” he said.

The Anglican scholar added, “The fact that we are now dialoguing and working together and sharing in conferences is really important, as we together try to understand what God is saying to us and as together we try to build his Church here on earth.”


An Honor and a Responsibility

Fellow award winner Christian Schaller told CNA Oct. 25 that he feels the award is a responsibility as well as an honor.

“It is a very great honor and pleasure for me, of course, but it is also a responsibility to the fact that one is even more intensely involved [in studying] the works of Joseph Ratzinger.”

According to Pope Francis, “No one can measure how much good has been done” through the works of Joseph Ratzinger.

However, the Holy Father added, “But all of us have a certain idea by having heard what a grace these books on Jesus of Nazareth have been for many people — they have nourished their faith, given them depth or even (helped) them approach Christ for the first time in an adult manner, joining the demands of reason with the search for the face of God.”