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Pontificate of Benedict XVI

Author(s): Rusch William

ISBN13: 9780802848680

ISBN10: 0802848680

Publisher: W.B.Eerdmans

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  • Few persons of the theological stature of Joseph Ratzinger , and with such a developed corpus of theological works , have been elected Pope. There is no question that his pontificate will be extremely influential for the Roman Catholic Church and the world. But the question is In what ways?

    This volume, published on the fourth anniversary of Benedicts election as Pope, offers considered insights into that key question. William Rusch has pulled together an ecumenical gathering of viewpoints , Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, and Roman Catholic. Coming from this spectrum of Christian traditions, the authors examine how the life experiences and theological reflections of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will likely influence the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

    Cheryl Bridges Johns (Pentecostal)
    Sara Butler (Roman Catholic)
    Dale T. Irvin (Baptist)
    Metropolitan Maximos (Greek Orthodox)
    Harding Meyer (Lutheran)
    Richard John Neuhaus (Roman Catholic)
    Ephraim Radner (Episcopalian)
    William G. Rusch (Lutheran)
    Joseph D. Small (Presbyterian)
    Geoffrey Wainwright (Methodist)


    William G. Rusch has been executive director of the Foundation for a Conference on Faith and Order in North America, director of the NCC Commission on Faith and Order, and director of other ecumenical organizations. The author or editor of several books, including Ecumenism: A Movement toward Church Unity, he now teaches at Yale Divinity School, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and New York Theological Seminary.
  • Rusch William

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    Again and again, [conference] participants expressed their pleased surprise at discovering that Ratzinger . . . was an intense but modest partner in exploring the truth of the Christian tradition and its more effective communication in a world frequently hostile to that truth. Those who have known Ratzinger over the years know him to be a man eager to listen, learn, and candidly respond to questions such as those addressed by the contributors to this volume.

    - Richard John Neuhaus (from the afterword)

    In his noteworthy encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II noted that, 'At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture' (para. 3). At the start of his own pontificate, Benedict XVI reiterated this sentiment, recognizing the tragic reality of Christian disunity, but also his special role as Pope to shepherd all of Gods children along the path towards the unity Christ has promised (see the homily at Benedicts inaugural Mass, 24 April 2005). The essays in The Pontificate of Benedict XVI: Its Premises and Promises are a Protestant and Orthodox rejoinder to the Catholic Churchs stated commitment to ecumenism, and together they constitute a kind of barometer of where the task of ecumenism stands now four years into the reign of Benedict XVI.

    The overall tenor of the essayists is hopeful, even if a few of them signal reservations, and, in some cases, outright disagreement, with certain elements of Benedicts vision of the Church. Without a doubt, the most aggressive essay comes from Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh, who takes issue with Benedicts adherence to the traditional Catholic claims about the Bishop of Rome being the sole successor of Peter and of, therefore, possessing universal jurisdiction over Christs Church. Metropolitan Maximos especially bristles at the assertion of a 1992 letter released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the Orthodox, along with all Protestant communities, are 'wounded brothers' for refusing to accept papal primacy. Before he gets to the end of his essay, Maximos lodges other complaints, most notably, about the shortcomings of another CDF document, Dominus Iesus, but he concludes on a conciliatory note, drawing inspiration from a statement Ratzinger made while still a cardinal to the effect that, in ecumenical discussions, 'Rome must not demand from the East more recognition of the doctrine of primacy than was known and practiced in the first millennium.' In Maximos view, if Ratzinger still maintains this opinion, then his ascension to the papacy truly does represent a sign of hope for rapprochement between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox.

    Maximos essay may be the most interesting piece in this collection, simply on account of the passion with which he approaches his subject. Two other essays in particular stand out. The first is by Ephraim Radner of the Episcopal Church who engages Ratzingers theology around the matter of Christian division, specifically in regard to the present relationship of the Anglican Communion to the Roman Catholic Church. As the title ('Providential Pluralism: An Ecumenical Gift?') of his essay implies, Radner seeks to read the pluralistic reality of contemporary Christian experience in a positive light, by attempting to demonstrate how the Anglican Communion in its conciliar polity has a specific, providentially ordained gift to offer the Church Catholic. If this assumption is correct, Radner wonders if there exists the possibility for an exchange of gifts between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, with Rome offering in return its '(right) understanding of the priority of the universal church over particular churches,' a key theological motif throughout Ratzingers writings on ecclesiology.

    The other essay worth highlighting comes from Geoffrey Wainwright, certainly no stranger to the ecumenical scene. A bit surprisingly, Wainwright does not focus on a specific ecumenical issue, but instead offers an extended treatment of Benedicts reflections on the Christian response to 'the unavoidable question' of human mortality. Wainwrights piece displays the kind of depth that one would expect from a theologian who has been at the forefront of his field for nearly four decades. As he is known to do, Wainwright incorporates lyrics from one of Charles Wesleys hymns into his essay, giving the indication that he sees significant resonances between the Wesleyan tradition to which he remains committed and Roman Catholic theology as articulated by Pope Benedict. That Wainwright would see such resonances makes sense, as a much of his lifes work has been dedicated to achieving eucharistic fellowship between Methodists and the Roman Catholic Church.

    While the three pieces touched on above especially stand out, the overall quality of all the essays in this collection is quite impressive. Realistically, The Pontificate of Benedict XVI: Its Premises and Promises should appeal to any theologian concerned with the present state of the ecumenical movement. The editor, William G. Rusch, has done a fine job of bringing together voices from a variety of Christian traditions and organizing them into a coherent whole that serves as a critical assessment of the first four years of Benedict XVIs papacy. Let us pray that as Benedicts pontificate moves forward Christians everywhere will be filled with the hope so manifest in these essays, so as to work towards the unity that Christ prayed for his followers to have.

    - Ryan Marr, Saint Louis University. Catholic Books Review


Pontificate of Benedict XVI