About Ignatius Insight
  Who We Are
  Ignatius Press
  Ignatius Press catalogs
  Catholic World Report
  Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  IP Novels site
  IP Religious Ed blog
  IP Critical Editions

Introduction to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's God's Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office | Peter Hünermann and Thomas Södin

Print-friendly version

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.

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. [1]
In the second part, the nature of the apostolic succession, as "being taken into the service of the word" [2] 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." [3] It is against this horizon that the agreement and the difference between papal and episcopal succession are determined.

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 Überlieferung (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". [4] 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." [5] Tradition comprises:
1. the inscription of revelation ( the gospel) not only in the Bible, but in hearts;
2. the speaking of the Holy Spirit throughout the whole age of the Church;
3. the conciliar activity of the Church;
4. the liturgical tradition and the whole of the tradition of the Church's life. [6]
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" [7] on mod- ern critical methods, it sketches the outlines of a new synthesis. The central watchwords of this new synthesis are:

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". [8]

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." [9] 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." [10] This essentially stems from the fact that Scripture witnesses to the word of God, which tradition also produces.

Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
NEW books by or about 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

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. [11]
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 task.

Peter Hünermann
Thomas Södin


[1] See below, 20.

[2] See below, 23.

[3] See below, 30.

[4] See below, 41.

[5] See below, 86-87.

[6] See below, 87.

[7] Schriftauslegung im Widerstreit, QD 117 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1989), 24.

[8] See below, 121.

[9] See below, 122-23.

[10] See below, 123.

[11] "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 practice.

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 Author Page.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


World Wide Web


Place your order toll-free at 1-800-651-1531

Ignatius Press | San Francisco
Web design under direction of Ignatius Press.
Send your comments or web problems to:

Copyright © 2018 by Ignatius Press

IgnatiusInsight.com catholic blog books insight scoop weblog ignatius