These two books go hand-in-glove. Boeve and Mannion introduce extended excerpts from the numerous works of Joseph Ratzinger, theologian and present Bishop of Rome, while Rowland aims to lay out the antecedents for his theological formation and examines the trajectory of his thinking over five decades of scholarly and pastoral writing. Both have the merit of deep acquaintance with Pope Benedict’s whole oeuvre and present it with stellar exposition. They are both suitable for classroom use and academic libraries, seminarians, and pastors should count them among their collections.
While there are some areas of common concern between these two volumes, the thematic presentation differs somewhat. For Boeve and Mannion, they have organized their collection of the Pope’s writings under eight main headings: theological foundations (revelation, tradition, hermeneutics); Christ, humanity and salvation; ecclesiology; Christian faith in the encounter between the Church and the world; ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; magisterium; liturgy, catechesis and evangelization; and finally, the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. For Rowland, seven densely packed chapters discuss, firstly, Ratzinger’s exposure of and affinity toward German romanticism; secondly, the cultivation of a humanism that attends to the importance of the Incarnation; thirdly—in arguably the best of her chapters—a survey of the pope’s key ideas on revelation, tradition and hermeneutics; fourthly, an examination of the pope’s encyclical literature with a focus on a long-standing concern of his on the theological virtues; fifthly, the place of history and ontology after Heidegger; sixthly, the uniqueness of Christianity; and lastly, the pope’s vision of unity. Rowland’s volume also contains a select bibliography of Ratzinger’s books and articles, as well as his official writings as pope, and an additional listing of secondary works that engage Ratzinger’s work in some fashion.
If a criticism may be lodged against Boeve and Mannion’s Reader, it is that frequently the editors get in the way of Ratzinger’s own thought. One can only provide so much explanation or provide so much ancillary commentary to some already very thick material, which has the added disadvantage of being de-coupled from its original home. No single piece of Ratzinger’s writing is given in full (though many excerpts are quite lengthy) and nearly all of it has pre- and post editorial comment. It would have been sufficient to mine representative excerpts from the Ratzinger corpus, explain the reason for selection, provide a bit of detail on its importance, and let the man speak. However, if one is searching for expert analysis of Ratzinger’s thought, one could do worse. The editors have presented an excellent systematization of the pope’s writings, especially in his more academic treatises drawn up when he was a working theologian.
If Rowland’s book is meant to be an introductory manual for Ratzinger’s oeuvre, the results are mixed. Firstly, it is pitched toward a graduate-level readership, especially seminarians. Secondly, while her chapters do give a very thoughtful overview, and one gets a sense that she is thoroughly at home in the pope’s entire corpus of writings (and particularly Principles of Catholic Theology), her chapter on ontology and history after Heidegger strikes me as being less revealing and oddly out of place. That there is much to learn about the mid- to late-twentieth century interpretation of Martin Heidegger from Catholic theologians is not in doubt, yet it does not seem that Ratzinger was particularly enamored of him or wrote a great deal explicitly on the effects of his philosophical system on historical consciousness. Ratzinger’s chief interlocutor on the question of transcendent and immanent time is Karl Rahner, though both men will cede that the Christian “event” is utterly transformative for individual and collective “being.” Modernity, with its key feature of evolutionary development, problematizes both. But there is often more engagement with the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar on the subject than that of Ratzinger.
There have been other attempts at clarifying the pope’s thought for the serious student. In 2007, Dominican Father Aidon Nichols rolled out his own introduction to the Pope’s theological writing, followed up the next year by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne’s The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches. Rowland herself has made Ratzinger the subject of a previous study from 2009, Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (also reviewed on this web page). There seems to be no shortage of interest in Pope Ratzinger’s scholarship and official pronouncements, though it is not always elucidated in ways that the ordinary reader can absorb. No doubt this is owing to the very technical concepts that Ratzinger has chosen to explore these last five decades, but it may be for this reason that so many of his devotees have been so busy trying to introduce him to the uninitiated that they simply have shrouded him in continued mystery. But these two books make a worthy pairing and are valuable additions to “Ratzinger Studies.”