|Mark Brumley on the Writings of a Future Pope
NAPA, California, 26 APRIL 2005 (ZENIT)
In Benedict XVI we are blessed
with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard
about Jesus Christ, the Church and its mission to the world.
So says Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, which is the primary
publisher of the English-language editions of Cardinal Ratzinger's
Brumley shared with ZENIT how the German cardinal engaged in the
sophisticated work of a theologian while he held a high ecclesiastical
office, and why he may be one of the greatest theologians of our time.
Q: What are some of the most remarkable contributions that Cardinal
Ratzinger made to theology over the last 20-some years as prefect for
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
Brumley: It's important to distinguish between Cardinal Ratzinger's work
as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and his work as
His contributions to theology as prefect of the CDF are different in
kind from his contributions as a theologian, even though they both
obviously agree with Catholic teaching.
As prefect of the CDF, he issued documents that are part of the Church's
Spirit-guided magisterium. Catholics are to receive and accept this
teaching as authentic Catholic teaching. These documents are more than a
mere theologian's contribution to theology.
At the same time, since theologians don't have access to divine
Revelation apart from how it has been expressed in the divinely inspired
Scripture and the Spirit-assisted Tradition as interpreted by the
magisterium, the ongoing work of the magisterium by definition
"contributes to theology."
Responsible theologians make use of magisterial teaching in order
reasonably and systematically to reflect on what God has revealed. So
the work of the prefect of the CDF does, in fact, "contribute to
That said, Cardinal Ratzinger has continued to publish theological works
apart from exercising the authority of his CDF office. Some of these
works closely relate to certain documents and concerns of the CDF.
For example, his book "The Nature and Mission of Theology" is tied to
the CDF document "The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," among other
things. His book "Called to Communion" contains first-rate theological
discussions of the nature of the Church, the papacy, and the hotly
disputed theological issue of the relationship between the local
diocesan Church and the universal Church.
Likewise, his recent book "Truth and Tolerance," which deals with
Christianity and non-Christian religions, provides the reflections of
Ratzinger the theologian on Church teaching contained in the document "Dominus
Iesus," issued by Ratzinger the prefect of the CDF.
As is appropriate for the work of a theologian, "Truth and Tolerance"
amplifies and goes deeper than what is contained in "Dominus Iesus,"
which simply restates Church teaching that is binding on Catholics.
Q: What will Pope Benedict XVI bring of himself and his theological
interests to the pontificate?
Brumley: Although Ratzinger the prefect is distinguishable from
Ratzinger the theologian, we are blessed in Pope Benedict XVI with a
theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about
Jesus Christ, the Church and her mission to the world.
He will, I believe, continue the twofold task of Vatican II
renewing the inner life of the Church and reinvigorating the Church's
mission in the world. He is committed to a renewal of biblical studies
and a deepening of ordinary Catholics' appreciation of and participation
in the sacred liturgy.
He staunchly proclaims the universal call to holiness of Vatican II. He
understands the importance of dialogue among Christians and dialogue
with world religions and seekers, while he upholds the integrity of
Catholic faith and insists on a renewed missionary drive to spread the
gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
And he knows that in the areas of morality and social justice, the
Christian message has not been tried and found wanting, as G.K.
Chesterton noted, but has been found difficult and left untried.
Furthermore, he sees the threat of radical relativism and many other
Q: What have you thought of Cardinal Ratzinger's writings over the
Brumley: My reading of his writings has led me to think that he is one
of the greatest theologians of our time. His writings reflect his
commitment to a living Catholic tradition, an understanding of the faith
that is ever ancient and ever new.
It is remarkable that we have a Pope who has written so much prior to
becoming Pope. Also remarkable is the fact that, while he has held a
high ecclesiastical office, he has at the same time engaged in the
sophisticated work of a theologian.
His writings cover a wide range of approaches including highfalutin,
cutting-edge theology in "Principles of Catholic Theology" and "Truth
and Tolerance," pastoral reflections in "Co-workers of the Truth," and
profound analyses of various modern ideologies and straight talk to
reporters about his life, his faith and the state of the Church in "Salt
of the Earth," "God and the World" and "The Ratzinger Report."
Those who stereotype him as a rigid, backward thinker simply haven't
read him or fairly read him. His recent book on the Eucharist, "God is
Near Us," is a wonderful contribution to John Paul II's Year of the
Eucharist, and his "Introduction to Christianity" is a classic. His
first volume of memoirs, known as "Milestones," shows the profound faith
and learning of this great man.
Q: What do you consider to be Pope John Paul II's theological legacy?
Brumley: It's extremely difficult to summarize his theological legacy in
a short space. The ongoing pastoral application of Vatican II to the
issues facing the Church and the world is probably his main legacy. The
enrichment of personal faith and the universal call to holiness are two
important themes in that regard.
John Paul II's emphasis on Vatican II's ecclesiology of communion is
also important. He saw such communion as an earthly participation in the
divine communion of the Holy Trinity brought about through Jesus Christ
and spread in the world through the Church. The immediate expression of
that mission is the call for a new evangelization.
With respect to his moral theology, John Paul's Christian humanism and
his "theology of the body" are fundamental. Solidarity and subsidiarity
received special emphasis in his social teaching, which is in turn
rooted in an emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the mutual
obligations human beings have to one another by virtue of their being
made in God's image and called to the same destiny in Jesus Christ.
Finally, John Paul's Marian teaching stresses the centrality of Jesus
we say all we do about the Blessed Virgin because of her relation to
Christ and his Church. Mary is the model of faith, the grace-enabled
"yes" of faith that entrusts the self to God and in this way embraces
the offer of divine communion.
Q: How do you think Pope Benedict will build on John Paul's legacy?
Brumley: As Pope John Paul II's right-hand man, theologically speaking,
he contributed to the development of that legacy to begin with. Also,
both John Paul II and Benedict XVI were influential at Vatican II and
had their views of the Church's mission today shaped by it.
I expect Benedict XVI will continue John Paul II's call for a new
Cardinal Ratzinger's selection of the name Benedict suggests as much.
I suspect that John Paul II has already begun to intercede for his