2021 Ratzinger Prize Laureate: ‘The Sexual Revolution Left Behind a Deep Track of Destructions’

German philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz discusses secularism, feminism, gender theory and the need to create a new theology promoting the complementarity of masculinity and femininity.

German philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz
German philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz (photo: Bjoern Haenssler / Courtesy of subject)

The eleventh edition of the Ratzinger Prize was won by philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and Old Testament theologian Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger, both German. 

Instituted by the Ratzinger Foundation in 2011, this award is meant to encourage the research in theology and any other academic research inspired by the Gospel, in the tradition of Pope Benedict’s teachings.

The award ceremony took place Nov. 13 in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, in the presence of Pope Francis. The 2020 Ratzinger prizewinners, French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion and Australian theologian Tracey Rowland, were also present to receive their award after the 2020 prize ceremony was canceled due to coronavirus restrictions.

The four scholars then met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican on Nov. 15. The Register interviewed Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz following this meeting to seek her views on the excesses caused by the ideologies stemming from the 1968 sexual revolution, in particular gender ideology and other postmodern issues. 

Born in 1945, she is professor emeritus of philosophy of religion and comparative religious studies at TU Dresden. Her research focuses on the philosophy of religion of the 19th and 20th centuries, and she is a specialist on Catholic philosopher Edith Stein and theologian Romano Guardini, to whom she has dedicated a number of writings

She currently heads the European Institute for Philosophy and Religion at the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological University in Heiligenkreuz, Austria. 


You have just met Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, after receiving the Ratzinger Prize at the Vatican. Can you tell us what your discussions were about? 

These were moments of great humanism and scholarship. We, four laureates, introduced our work to the pope emeritus, and he commented on our four topics in a low voice, but clear and prudent and sympathetic. 


As a leading professor of the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological Hochschule, how would you describe his greatest contribution to the philosophical world of his time? 

I would say that his understanding of Logos shows explicitly the contribution of Greek reason to Christian dogmatics and teaching; and he interpreted the wonderful tension and complement of Greek and Hebrew wisdom as the two sources of Christianity.


How has he influenced your thought?  

Pope Benedict spoke about the “court of the Gentiles” in the temple of Jerusalem, where non-Jews were listening to the revelations of the prophets. So my duty in an agnostic society in East Germany from 1993 to 2011 was to open such a court. Also, I am deeply convinced that Logos is the instrument of clearing one’s mind before entering the faith [debate, discussion enables people to enter the faith with a clear mind]. “Omnia nostra,” said St. Augustine — “all belongs to us” — when we are able to integrate also the wisdom of other cultures into Christianity. It is not about melting, but integrating, and leading all wisdom into eternal Sophia [from Greek, “wisdom”].


In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano a few years ago, you said that you became a believer by studying philosophy, especially that of the 19th and 20th centuries, which nevertheless proclaimed the “death of God.” How do you explain this?

The theology of the 1960s, when I was studying in Munich, was not attractive for me: too much historical criticism, also in methodology, too much existentialism (for example, the death of God in the Protestant theology of Dorothee Sölle), etc. 

In philosophy I learned to see the structures and objective orders of thinking and of the world, the contradictions of atheism, the senselessness of denying the truth. Also, the deep meaning of the objective world, that is much more than a construction of human mind.


In his time, Romano Guardini, whose thought you have studied in depth, saw nihilism as the greatest peril for postwar youth. How do you think he would view today’s society?  

He always tried to see two sides of a cultural phenomenon. Also, in his time, he saw a great peril and a great chance altogether in the uprising technical world. 

Today, he would for sure criticize the loss of human personality built by the Creator, for example, the desperate self-destruction even of one’s own body (all aspects of “trans-”, including transhumanism, the seductive theories of autonomy). But he believed in the strength of the rules of creation, the rules of redemption; he believed in the Church as the undestroyable instrument of the Spirit.


While analyzing the process of secularization in the West in an article published on Vita e Pensiero, you noted a return of the sacred. What form does it take?  

Unfortunately, one type of return of the sacred is esoteric practices, in all its strange helplessness. The other phenomenon that arises among the young generation: They are rediscovering adoration, the adoration of the Eucharist, of Jesus, the veneration of the Virgin Mary (also under the influence of Medjugorje). All that happens beyond the confessional borders. 

I know young priests who had to study a hypercritical theology. They built up groups to “survive” in faith and have decided to go a new-old way of prayer and dogma.


You have also studied feminist theology and women’s history extensively in your career, which naturally led you to look into gender theory, toward which you have never hidden your hostility. What danger does this ideology represent for you?

It represents, in one word: decarnation. It represents the despising of one’s own body, its language, its divine gift.


In the same vein, how do you perceive the question of the ordination of women, which many people are crying out for today, for the sake of equality, and to put an end to the “excesses of clericalism”?  

Man and woman are equal in dignity and different in duties or charisms. That is the charm of the creation: no neutral somebody. The field of Christian woman is the whole world — especially the next generation [of women], in its vulnerable status. 

The priest is to serve — to nourish, console, strengthen — men and women in their endless duties. The masculinity of Jesus has evidently a meaning, as well as the femininity of Mary. Both concepts are fundamental; we need a new theology to open our blind eyes for that.


While some people today challenge the relevance of certain teachings of Humanae Vitae, you have reaffirmed its relevance, half a century after the sexual revolution of 1968. How can this encyclical inspire today’s society? 

It is obvious that the sexual revolution left behind a deep track of destructions: broken relations, short and unreliable connections, pornography, autoerotic and polymorph sexuality, “production” of children in another woman’s womb, etc. The encyclical speaks about the natural physical and psychic desires of man and woman, of their loving dialogue, of their confidence into life, or, better, into God, of their longing for children — without techniques, without pills, without manipulation. Maybe it is an ideal, but how to proceed in these complicated topics, without an ideal? Even if many people think they cannot follow this path, they can understand its beauty.

Benedict XVI meets with recipients of the Ratzinger Prize on Nov. 13, 2021.

Benedict XVI Meets with Recipients of the Ratzinger Prize

Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, a specialist on the German philosopher Edith Stein, and Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger, an Old Testament theologian from Germany, were presented with the 2021 Ratzinger Prize by Pope Francis in an award ceremony at the Vatican on Nov. 13.