Unpacking the Pope

Helen Sidhu recommends Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI by Tracey Rowland.

Ratzinger’s Faith:

The Theology of

Benedict XVI

By Tracey Rowland

Oxford University Press, 2008

214 pages, $24.95

To order: oup.com

(800) 445-9714


When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, secular media reports abounded with caricatures such as “God’s Rottweiler.” Yet, within a year, the tone had changed, with one Rome correspondent bemoaning that the Pope had “become a pussycat.” Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI should shatter both perceptions.

According to Rowland, Ratzinger views love as the core of Christianity. This is evident throughout his writings and addresses, most famously in Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), his first encyclical; his approach to ecumenism, which centers on speaking the truth in love; and his discussions on moral issues.

Rowland differentiates be--tween the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict, such as their diverse approaches to the “culture of death.” She notes that whereas John Paul focused on the commodification of the human person and the theology of the body, Benedict focuses on how “the marketing of vulgar art, music and literature, and the generation of a very low, even barbaric, mass culture” affects the Church.

One area central to Ratzinger’s thought is the liturgy. Rowland highlights the importance of beauty in the Mass and observes: “Ratzinger empathizes with the Protestant reverence for the Scriptures and the focus on Christology, but he has no empathy with the Protestant hostility to beauty.” He believes that the liturgy should be deeply joyful, solemn, communal and festive, and faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next.

The book also provides important clarification of Ratzinger’s reading of the Second Vatican Council. He is critical of parts of Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), which he believes employs “downright Neo-Pelagian terminology” that appears to view man as autonomous from God rather than radically dependent on him. Rowland clarifies that Ratzinger is not rejecting the document but arguing for a more genuine hermeneutic of the Council that correctly interprets it in a Christ-centered light that is always in continuity with Church Tradition, not a break from it.

The book provides a thorough intellectual background of Ratzinger’s thought, situating him in relation to the great theologians of the Church, such as Augustine, Aquinas and Bonaventure, and contemporary theologians, including de Lubac, von Balthasar and Rahner. It also offers important discussions about the historical and political issues that have impacted the Pope’s faith.

Ratzinger’s Faith is one of the most important works written on Benedict XVI, presenting his sometimes complex work with clarity and wit — and revealing him as a theological tour de force who understands the challenges of the Church in the modern world and is not afraid to face them head on.

Helen Sidhu writes

from Melbourne, Australia.

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