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Theology and piety


Published in

La Vanguardia

Josep Ignasi Saranyana

Professor Emeritus of the University of Navarra

I met Prof. Joseph Ratzinger personally on January 28, 1980, although we had already written to each other a few times since the end of 1970, due to specific questions concerning my doctoral dissertation thesis . He summoned me to his house in Regensburg, where he had retired for a few days to rest. He was already Archbishop of Munich and a cardinal at the time. We spent about two hours talking about theological questions, because Ratzinger was always a great conversationalist, with a very fine sense of humor. Before going to his meeting, I asked some German colleagues to describe the character of the new cardinal. I remember that one of them told me, without further ado: "He is a pious theologian, who preaches every Sunday". This comment, said as it were in passing, reveals a lot.

In fact, since the end of 1969, already in Regensburg as Full Professor, he and his sister Maria left home quite early every day to go to a church where he celebrated Mass. This surprised the professors at the university, because it was unusual for an academic theologian to celebrate Mass every day without having a pastoral assignment in the diocese. Moreover, the fact that he preached a homily every Sunday was even more admirable.

My colleague's comment links to another event, this time in Pamplona, when he came to be invested with an honorary doctorate. The ceremony took place on Saturday, January 31, 1998. Ratzinger extended his stay until Tuesday, February 3, when he flew early in the morning to Hamburg, where a very intense workshop awaited him. Anticipating that he would not be able to celebrate in Germany, he asked to be able to move the Mass from Tuesday to Monday, after the canonical hour of vespers, that is, shortly before dinner. On that day, I was able to concelebrate with him and his secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens, at the high school Mayor Belagua.

Ratzinger was truly a pious theologian, a scholar of fine speculation, who warned that theology and piety must go hand in hand, otherwise we would build an empty, barren and soulless "system". Theology is a knowledge of the living God and his revelation. It demands, therefore, a coherence of life, which is not required of a philosopher, physicist or mathematician, although it would be desirable.

That is why Ratzinger has been such a free theologian, according to that well-known maxim of St. Augustine: "Love and do what you will"; with a freedom that has allowed him to go against the current, many times, and to evolve in his own conclusions. An emblematic case, which illustrates this, is his well-known guide graduate Eschatology, the only one he wrote, which has had more than six editions in German, from the first one in 1977 to the last one, in 2006, in which he openly corrects and clarifies previous affirmations.

Another trait has been his love for tradition, and his terror, thus, with all its letters, of breaking with the historical origins of the Church. He repeated at all times the essential continuity between Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of our faith, that is, that "Christ is the Son of the living God," with the words of Peter and Martha's confession. With this same conviction, he warned about the importance of combining discontinuity with continuity, referring to the reception of the Second Vatican Council. In his famous speech to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005, he rejected the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" and proposed the "hermeneutic of reform". Some have considered this speech as his most outstanding contribution to the magisterium of the Church and, by the same token, the golden rule of the theological science of our time. I would venture to add four other speeches: his lectures at the University of Regensburg (2006) and at La Sapienza (2008, albeit frustrated), and the speeches at Westminster Hall (2010) and at the Reichstag (2011).

May such a great theologian and Roman Pontiff rest in peace in the House of the Father.