Vatican II represents to some theologians the emergence of Roman Catholicism from an intellectual and cultural ghetto, its embrace of modern culture in aim of the furtherance of the Gospel. Other theologians criticize modern western culture as a rocky soil in which the Gospel has little chance of survival. Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, has focused her previous scholarship on the interpretation of Vatican II and the theology of culture. Her first book, Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II (2003), addressed whether Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes should be read as an accommodation to modern culture—envisioned as a religiously neutral space—or whether elements of culture should be seen as antithetical to the Gospel. Rowland's latest book, Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, extends her inquiry, showing the implications of Joseph Ratzinger's thought in the cultural sphere.
As Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Ratzinger had been popularly portrayed as backing away from progressive reforms within Catholic theology and ecclesial life by taking a critical stance toward modern culture. Rowland, on the contrary, argues that Ratzinger's evaluation of modernity and postmodernity does not imply a negative attitude towards human nature and its cultural products, but instead arises out of his sustained theological engagement with vital theological issues of the twentieth-century.
In Ratzinger's Faith, Rowland frames her narrative around with “key themes” within Ratzinger's thought, attending to his interventions into recent theological controversies. These themes are united by a central thesis: in the theology of the current Pope, the truth of Christianity is not discovered through a disembodied reason, but instead is revealed through “culturally embodied practices” in which the true is bound up with the beautiful and the good (74). The first chapter situates Ratzinger within the terrain of post-Vatican II theology by sketching the struggles between various Catholic schools of thought in the twentieth-century. The second chapter analyzes Ratzinger's engagement with the aggiornamento of Vatican II, in particular Gaudium et Spes, exploring to what extent the church can embrace the culture of modernity in its presentation of the Gospel. The third chapter, “Revelation, Scripture and Tradition,” surveys the relationship between reason and tradition in Ratzinger's theology. Rowland surveys, in the fourth chapter, Benedict XVI's treatment of eros and agape in the encyclical Deus caritas est and its implications for Christian morality. Chapters five, six and seven contextualize Ratzinger's range of sometimes controversial stances on current problems within Catholic theology, respectively on ecclesiology, politics and liturgy.
Ratzinger's Faith is an excellent map of the contours of twentieth-century Catholic theology insofar as it relates the thought of the current Pope to recent and current schools of (principally Catholic) theology, including neo-scholasticism, transcendental Thomism, the Ressourcement theologians and Radical Orthodoxy. Rowland's book furnishes the theological context to Ratzinger’s stance on numerous recent debates and even helps to theologically situate current ecclesial developments, for example Ratzinger's recent steps toward normalizing the use of the Anglican liturgy within the Roman Catholic Rite.
Maintaining that Ratzinger has remained theologically consistent over many decades, Rowland approaches his vast work by integrating common themes across his many different careers. However, as the title of the book indicates, the book might not sufficiently distinguish between Ratzinger's roles as theologian, bishop, prefect for the CDF and Pope. Particularly in the context of ecumenical dialogue, it would help to distinguish between his work as an academic and as an authoritative teacher. Given the commonalities between Ratzinger's assessment of modern liberal culture and parallel assessments by liberation theologians, one would have expected a treatment of Ratzinger's engagement with liberation theology.
Ratzinger's Faith is accessible, engaging and current, and will prove useful for both the classroom and for the informed reader.