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Pope Benedict XVI, Theologian of Joy: An Interview with Monsignor Joseph Murphy, author of Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI | Carl E. Olson

Part 1 | Part 2

Ignatius Insight: In Christ Our Joy you emphasize how Joseph Ratzinger, in his Christological writings, focuses on both the Incarnation and the Cross. Why is this significant and how does it relate to other aspects of his work, especially soteriology and ecclesiology?

Monsignor Murphy: In the Christological section of Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger mentions that, broadly speaking, there have been two major approaches to the mystery of Christ, one which concentrates on the mystery of the Incarnation and the other on the Cross. An approach based on the Incarnation tends to focus on the being of Christ, who is both God and man. The interlocking of God and man, so to speak, appears as the truly decisive factor. This approach is in keeping with the old Patristic adage "what is not assumed is not saved", which proved immensely helpful in the formulation of the early Christological dogmas. The risk of a unilateral Incarnation-based approach to the mystery of the redemption is to produce a static, optimistic view of man, in which sin plays at most a secondary role.

The other major approach, stressed by St. Paul and in later times by the Reformers, is based on the Cross, and stresses the victory of Christ over sin and death. The risk here is to produce an anti-world interpretation, which sees Christianity as a "constantly appearing breach in the self-confidence and self-assurance of man and of his institutions, including the Church" (Introduction to Christianity, p. 230).

An adequate Christology, and consequently an adequate soteriology and ecclesiology, must somehow embrace both approaches, without reducing them to a facile synthesis. It must pay due attention to the unity of Christ and his saving work. The "being" of Christ, which is the focus of the Incarnation-based approach, is also "doing". This means that it is intrinsically connected with his saving activity, which is the focus of the approach based on the Cross. Christ's being is in reality "actualitas"; it is a stepping beyond oneself, an exodus. His being is not a static resting in himself but the act of being sent out, of being son, of serving. In short, his "being" is "doing" and his "doing" is "being".

This interesting way of connecting the Incarnation and the Cross is intimately bound up with Ratzinger's notion of person, which stresses the importance of relatedness: the person is "from" someone (ultimately, God), and "for" others. The more a person abandons himself "for" the other, especially for the other who is God, and the more he moves away from himself towards the other, the more he comes to himself and fulfils himself. Jesus Christ, in giving himself, "is the one who has moved right out beyond himself and, thus, the man who has come completely to himself" (Introduction to Christianity, p. 235).

All of this has consequences for our understanding of the Church and Christian life. The piercing of Christ's side shows that his existence is now completely open: "now he is entirely 'for'; now he is truly no longer a single individual but 'Adam', from whose side Eve, a new mankind, is formed" (Introduction to Christianity, p. 241). The blood and water which flow from Christ's side point to the basic Christian sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and thus to the Church, which is the new community of men and women. To live as a new creation, to be fully part of the new community, means to live like Christ, in a community of relationships, in a spirit of giving oneself for the other. All of this is made possible by Christ's saving work, which we receive into our own lives through the sacraments.

Ignatius Insight: In writing about the Blessed Mother, Ratzinger has often focused on her being the Daughter of Zion. What is the importance of that and how does it relate to the theme of joy?

Monsignor Murphy: In 1977 Joseph Ratzinger published a short but profound book on Mariology, Daughter Zion (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1983), in which he identifies the Daughter of Zion theme as one of five Old Testament strands of thought which were taken over by the New Testament and by the later Christian tradition, especially by the liturgy, in order to understand better the person of the Virgin Mary and her role in the history of salvation. The other strands are (1) the figure of Eve; (2) the barren women who eventually bear a child: Sarah, Rachel, Hannah; (3) the great salvific figures of Esther and Judith; and (4) personified Wisdom.

For Ratzinger, the Daughter of Zion has particular significance. In Old Testament thought, this figure comes to represent Jerusalem and indeed Israel as a whole. Israel, the chosen people, enjoys a covenant relationship with God, which is based on God's love, mercy and grace. The covenant itself is seen more in terms of a marital relationship than as a political or legal arrangement. In this context, especially in the prophetic writings, Israel is often described in feminine terms as woman, virgin, beloved, wife and mother. In the New Testament, Mary is seen as the true Daughter of Zion, in whom God takes up his dwelling, so much so that she becomes the Mother of God, the Theotokos.

The connection with joy is already clear in the prophets Zechariah and Zephaniah, who urge the people, the Daughter of Zion, to rejoice because God is victorious and present in the midst of Israel. Israel can rejoice because her hope is sure, since it is solidly founded in God's saving work, his consoling presence and his promises. However, in Old Testament times, the promises await fulfillment.

The hope of Israel is realized in the Virgin Mary, who is to be the mother of the long-awaited Savior, and it is significant that when the angel Gabriel addresses her, he does so in a manner which recalls the Daughter of Zion prophecies: "Rejoice!" This is why Pope Benedict constantly emphasizes that Christianity, which really begins with the angel's words to Mary, is an invitation to joy. Mary is at the same time the Daughter of Zion and the true Israel, in whom the old and new covenants, Israel and the Church are inseparably one. Mary teaches us what the Church is to be, namely, God's dwelling place. She also teaches us to place our trust in God in an attitude of complete openness and self-giving. In doing so, she indicates where we will find true joy.

From all of this, we can understand the place of Marian devotion in Christian life. As Joseph Ratzinger puts it: "Marian devotion is the rapture of joy over the true, indestructible Israel; it is a blissful entering into the joy of the Magnificat and thereby it is the praise of him to whom the daughter Zion owes her whole self and whom she bears, the true, incorruptible, indestructible Ark of the Covenant." (Daughter Zion, p. 82).

Ignatius Insight: You often refer to Introduction to Christianity, widely considered an essential work by Joseph Ratzinger. What are some other works by Ratzinger/Benedict that you think are at the core of his large body of theological work?

Monsignor Murphy: In many ways, Introduction to Christianity is the closest Joseph Ratzinger came to producing a theological synthesis, even though it is incomplete and there are significant developments in later writings. It has to be remembered that Introduction to Christianity was first published forty years ago (in 1968), yet it remains an extraordinarily fresh work and a classic of modern Catholic theology. Introduction deals with the question of faith and belief in the modern world, before commenting in an original way on the contents of the Apostles' Creed. As my book aims to present Ratzinger's approach to the main elements of Christian belief, it is only natural that I quote and refer to it quite frequently.

It is a pity that Ratzinger's doctoral thesis, People and House of God in St. Augustine's Doctrine of the Church, has never been translated into English. It is important for a better understanding of the genesis of Ratzinger's thought as contains the basic insights on the Church in her inner nature and in her relationship to the state that he develops in his later writings. Ratzinger's Habilitationsschrift, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, is important for his thinking about salvation history and about the distinction between eschatology and utopia.

Regarding Ratzinger's strictly theological work, one would also have to mention Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, which is intended as a manual for students of theology, although it is quite original in its presentation. As to other areas of theology, much of his thought is developed in a series of articles published in various journals or collections. These were often republished in books such as his important volume on fundamental theology, Principles of Catholic Theology, his recently republished meditations on the Trinity, The God of Jesus Christ, his more recent works on ecclesiology among which I would count Church, Ecumenism and Politics, and Called to Communion, his collection of articles and meditations on the Eucharist, God is Near Us, and his volume of articles on religious pluralism, relativism and faith, Truth and Tolerance. Regarding Christology, apart from the relevant chapters of Introduction to Christianity, one would have to mention his interesting attempt at developing a spiritual Christology, Behold the Pierced One, and, above all, his most recent book, Jesus of Nazareth. His liturgical writings are also very significant and already proving quite influential. In this regard, his liturgical trilogy must be mentioned: The Feast of Faith, A New Song for the Lord and, above all, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

For readers unfamiliar with the Pope's thought, an easier introductory approach could begin with his short autobiography Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, which explains the context for much of his earlier work, and his three book-length interviews, The Ratzinger Report, Salt of the Earth and God and the World.

Ignatius Insight: What do you think is the place of Joseph Ratzinger in 20th century theology? What are some aspects of his work that will likely to have a significant influence on theological studies and writing in the years to come?

Monsignor Murphy: It is very difficult to prognosticate how Joseph Ratzinger will be seen in the history of 20th century theology. Now that he is Pope, many who were unfamiliar with his work previously will want to know more about his thinking. His theology is less speculative than that of Karl Rahner or Bernard Lonergan, and, largely because of his other commitments, he did not produce a monumental synthesis like that of Hans Urs von Balthasar. His thought has a lot in common with that of ressourcement theologians, like Henri de Lubac, who did much to recover the rich heritage of the Fathers and prompt a greater appreciation of the complexity, subtlety and variety of medieval thought beyond the simplifications of a large part of the manual tradition. With regard to medieval thinkers, it is true that Joseph Ratzinger is more influenced by Augustinianism and by its continuation in the Franciscan tradition found in St Bonaventure than by the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, whereas de Lubac devotes more attention to the latter. Also Ratzinger's thought has a very strong Scriptural component, as can be seen in Introduction to Christianity and even more so in Jesus of Nazareth.

I am of the view that Pope Benedict's approach to doing theology is likely to have a strong influence. In the introduction to Christ Our Joy, I outlined some of the characteristics of his theology, mentioning among other things that it is very Scriptural, profoundly rooted in tradition, especially in the Fathers, and is also both pastoral and spiritual. While the necessary distinctions must be made between Pope Benedict's personal theology and his Magisterium, we do find something of his theological approach in his official teaching. At present, following a number of General Audience talks on the Apostles and the early Church, recently published by Ignatius Press [Jesus, The Apostles, and the Early Church], the Pope is engaged in a very interesting series on the Fathers of the Church, in which he explains the key aspects of their thought and gives some indication of their relevance to contemporary debates. I believe this is likely to encourage theology students to delve into the riches of the Patristic writings and this is sure to benefit both theological reflection and preaching in the future. As a result, we can hope for a more reflective and spiritual style of theological writing, which draws on Scripture and tradition, while being sensitive to the questionings of our contemporaries.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
All books by or about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Excerpts from books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Articles about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI's Theological Vision: An Introduction | Monsignor Joseph Murphy
The Theological Genius of Joseph Ratzinger | An Interview with Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.
The Courage To Be Imperfect | The Introduction to Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait) | D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.

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