Benedict XVI: Mankind’s Greatest Challenge Is the Quest for God

‘Benedict said ‘the center of history is the living God who opened himself in Jesus Christ, and true progress is found in faith,’ according to former student Father Stephan Horn, organizer of the annual Ratzinger Schulerkreis.

(photo: 2005 L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — Benedict XVI considers the quest for God to be contemporary society’s foremost challenge, according to one of the emeritus pope’s former students, who has organized the annual meeting of Ratzinger’s students to discuss that very topic.

The Ratzinger Schuelerkreis will gather Aug. 28-30 to discuss the theme set by their former professor. The group has gathered to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church since 1978, shortly after their mentor was pulled from academia to become a bishop.

“Benedict XVI identified, from his earliest theological studies, a faith in the progress of man that he deems to be an ideology,” Salvatorian Father Stephan Horn told CNA.

In reply to that ideology, Father Horn said, Benedict has maintained that “the center of history is the living God who opened himself in Jesus Christ, and true progress is found in faith.”

Father Horn was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger’s academic assistant at the University of Regensburg from 1971 to 1977 and is now organizer of the annual Schuelerkreis meeting.

He related that the 40 or so members of the Schuelerkreis form a sort of “theological family,” and that in addition to the historial nucleus of the group, there was formed in 2008 a secondary group of younger theologians who have studied Benedict’s thought in depth.

The idea for the annual meeting arose in 1977, when then-Bishop Ratzinger was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, and when he moved to Rome in 1981 to take up the post of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it continued.

Benedict’s former students thought that the annual tradition would have stopped once Ratzinger was elected pope, yet he wanted to maintain the tradition and continued to meet with his former students.

Since his 2013 resignation, Benedict has not attended the Schuelerkreis, except to say Mass for the group at its conclusion.

However, he closely follows the works of his former students and personally chooses the themes of discussion from among a set of three which the members of the Schuelerkreis present to him at the end of each annual gathering. In recent years, they have focused on the theology of the cross; the question of God amid secularism; and ecumenism.

Father Horn said Benedict “did not explain in depth the reasons why he asked us to discuss ‘Speaking About God in the Contemporary World,’ but is evident that, to him, the word of God is the true need of today’s world and that the Church needs to find new ways to speak about God.”

Father Horn underscored that “today’s culture itself makes speech about God necessary, as there is a different trend — that is, speaking only about what man can do, about the so-called ‘homo Faber’” and so there is a need for “a new way to search for truth and to meet the great challenges of modern man.”

According to Father Horn, the search for new means to speak of God has been at the core of Benedict’s theological work since the Second Vatican Council.

“It has been widely said that the Second Vatican Council spoke about the Church and the relation between the Church and the world. But Joseph Ratzinger saw that the quest for God was the main issue at the Second Vatican Council, as was shown by the fact that the very first document issued by the Council was the constitution on the liturgy,” Father Horn explained.

The emphasis on liturgy was further developed by Ratzinger when he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising.

“During the years he was the archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger focused also on liturgy, according to what he had developed in the previous years as a professor in Regensburg, when he tried to foster a way to translate the language of the faith for contemporary man,” Father Horn stressed.

Father Horn also higlighted that, as pope, Benedict emphasized the education of priests and the people of God, and he created a sort of “catechumenal theology.”

“Ratzinger has always thought that the search for truth does not merely come from an intellectual action, but it is, rather, one of the ways of life. And so theologians must be beside the catechumens, that is, all who are on a Christian path, speaking with them, developing theology and faith.”