Introduction to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's "God's Word:
Scripture, Tradition, Office" | Peter Hunermann and Thomas Sodin | Ignatius Insight
Introduction to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's God's
Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office | Peter Hunermann and Thomas Sodin
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, published three volumes in the series Quaestiones
Disputatae: two as professor on theology, and
one as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. All three
include important pieces from his pen; all three have attracted a good deal of notice;
all three are concerned with how God's word is alive in the Church; all three
were written with ecumenism in view; and they all respond to the question of how
the truth of the Christian faith can be recognized and articulated, how we can
witness to it and hand it on to others. The two earlier pieces are from the
context of the Second Vatican Council, and the third is of paradigmatic significance
for the development of Vatican theology.
In 1961, in the midst of the preparations for the Second Vatican Council,
Joseph Ratzinger, together with Karl Rahner, published the volume Episkopat
und Primat (The Episcopate and
the Primacy). His contribution was entitled
"Primacy, Episcopate, and Successio Apostolica". At the end of the first section, the writer
comes to this conclusion:
The Vatican Council [he means the First Vatican Council] represents a
condemnation of papalism just as much as of episcopalism. Actually, it
characterizes both doctrines as heresies, and, in place of one-dimensional
solutions on the basis of late theological ideas or those of power politics, it
sets the dialectic of the reality already given, stemming from Christ, a
dialectic and a reality that confirm their obedience to the truth in their very
renunciation of a uniform formula satisfying to the intellect.
In the second part, the nature of the apostolic succession, as "being
taken into the service of the word"  and as following the apostles, is
shown as essentially based on and influenced by the apostolic tradition.
"'Apostolic succession' is by its nature the living presence of the word
in the personal form of the witness."  It is against this horizon that
the agreement and the difference between papal and episcopal succession are
The fact that, according to the Vatican Council, not only episcopalism but also
papalism in the narrow sense should be regarded as a condemned doctrine is
something that must no doubt be impressed in the public consciousness of the Christian
world to a far greater extent than has hitherto been the case. 
In 1965, during the final year of the Council's work, Joseph Ratzinger (again,
together with Karl Rahner) published volume 25 of the Quaestiones
Disputatae, under the title of Offenbarung
und †berlieferung (Revelation and
Tradition, QD 17). His own [first] piece is
also entitled, "The Question of the Concept of Tradition: A Provisional
Response". The question that sets the tone is of ". . . the way the
word of revelation uttered in Christ remains present in history and comes to man".
 Joseph Ratzinger begins with an analysis of the way the question was put in
the Reformation period, then works out fundamental theses regarding the
relation between revelation and tradition, and thus interprets the concept of
tradition in the documents of Trent. In his concluding reflection, he sums up
his findings: "We are faced with a concept according to which revelation
does indeed have its [its 'once-for-all' character], insofar as it took
place in historical facts, but also has its constant 'today', insofar as what
once happened remains forever living and effective in the faith of the Church,
and Christian faith never refers merely to what is past; rather, it refers
equally to what is present and what is to come."  Tradition comprises:
1. the inscription of revelation ( the gospel) not only in the Bible, but in
In 1989, Joseph Ratzinger published Quaestio no. 117, Schriftauslegung im Widerstreit (Biblical Interpretation in Conflict). This records
the "Erasmus Lecture" that the writer delivered at the Lutheran
Center for Religion and Society in New York and the papers discussed in the
subsequent workshop with scholars of various Christian denominations. The
Cardinal's lecture is entitled "Biblical Interpretation in Conflict: The
Question of the Basic Principles and Path of Exegesis Today". This
represents a fundamental discussion of questions concerning biblical exegesis
ecumenically, and, starting from a "self-critical reflection"  on
mod- ern critical methods, it sketches the outlines of a new synthesis. The
central watchwords of this new synthesis are:
2. the speaking of the Holy Spirit throughout the whole age of the
3. the conciliar activity of the Church;
4. the liturgical tradition
and the whole of the tradition of the Church's life. 
1. The unity of "event and word"; if these are separated in a dualist
scheme, then this cuts "the biblical word off from creation and abolishes
the interrelationship of meaning between the Old and New Testaments". 
2. The way that revelation is "greater" in relation to the news about
it. "The biblical word bears witness to the revelation but does not
contain it in such a way that the revelation is completely absorbed in it and
could now be put in your pocket like an object."  It follows from this
that, "There is a surplus of meaning in an individual text, going beyond
its immediate historical setting." And at the same time, Scripture as a
whole has its own status. "It is more than a text pieced together from
what the individual authors may have intended to say, each in his own
historical setting."  This essentially stems from the fact that
Scripture witnesses to the word of God, which tradition also produces.
These three pieces are closely related to the central task that Benedict XVI
sees as being set for his pontificate. In his "First Message", of
April 20, 2005, before the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, and which he was
addressing, not just to his "most reverend brothers", but also to his
"dear brothers and sisters in Christ" and to all "men of
goodwill", he said,
Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged
to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the
Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially
responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted
with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22:32). With full
awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that
Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary
task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all
Christ's followers. 
Working at this task demands both boldness in the Spirit and an authenticity of
action founded in faith. It requires profound insight into theological
relationships. These three publications offer us essential insights into the
problem areas posed by this task. They open up perspectives toward solutions
that Joseph Ratzinger saw as a theologian and cardinal and that remain
important for his pontificate.
The main focus that Benedict XVI is setting for his pontificate has prompted
the Herder publishing house and the current editors of the Quaestiones
Disputatae series, with its wealth of tradition, to reissue these important
texts. They wish that Benedict XVI may have the "assistance" that
Jesus promised and all that help which is essential for the achievement of this
 See below, 20.
 See below, 23.
 See below, 30.
 See below, 41.
 See below, 86-87.
 See below, 87.
 Schriftauslegung im Widerstreit, QD
117 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1989), 24.
 See below, 121.
 See below, 122-23.
 See below, 123.
 "First Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the End of the
Eucharistic Concelebration with the Members of the College of Cardinals in the
Sistine Chapel", Wednesday, April 20, 2005, no. 5.
God's Word: Scripture,
Tradition, Office | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
In this book Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, presents the Word of God as a living reality in the Church.
God's Word, according to Ratzinger, is encountered in the Bible, in Tradition, and through the teaching Office of the Bishop, who, through apostolic succession, is to be the servant of and witness to the divine Word. Ratzinger
examines as well the relationship between the Episcopacy and the Papacy. He also considers the nature of
Apostolic Succession, and he responds to Reformed objections to the Catholic view of the subject. His treatment
is sympathetic to the concerns of non-Catholic Christians while remaining faithful to Catholic teaching and
This book also includes the famous Erasmus Lecture of Cardinal Ratzinger, which assesses the strengths and
weaknesses of modern critical approaches to biblical interpretation. Ratzinger proposes a new approach that
avoids the pitfalls of a narrowly critical outlook on the Bible without succumbing to fundamentalism.
God's Word provides profound insights into Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to renew the Church's participation in
God's Truth through the divine Word, as well as the Church's mission to proclaim the Word to all people.
"The calm, clear, and precise teaching that has characterized the theological work of Joseph Ratzinger as
Peritus, Archbishop, Prefect, and Pope is placed before the Christian reader in this newly republished volume,
God's Word:Scripture, Tradition, Office. Both refreshing and prophetic, this writing lays the groundwork for
the two great initiatives that Pope Benedict XVI has stated are the top priorities of his pontificate,
evangelization and ecumenism. Bypassing the bland contemporary approach that reduces these noble objectives
to mere niceness, this book faces the problems that, if resolved, will make possible the 'New Evangelization'
envisioned by Pope John Paul II and the 'full and visible unity of all Christ's followers' so desired by Pope
Benedict XVI himself. This book, though not light reading, will be of interest and inspiration to all Christians
who honestly seek truth and unity." -- Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz
"This book brings together three important treatises on the issue of Scripture and Tradition from the pen of
one of the greatest theologians ever to hold the papal office. Written with clarity and insight, this book
helps us to trace the development of this important theme in Catholic theology since Vatican II, and it also
opens up fruitful avenues of ecumenical advance. A little masterpiece!" -- Timothy George, Founding
Dean, Beeson Divinity School Samford University.
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was for over two decades
the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope
John Paul II. He is a renowned theologian and author of numerous books.
A mini-bio and full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press are
available on his IgnatiusInsight.com
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