John C. CAVADINI, ed. Explorations in the Theology of Benedict XVI. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012. pp. viii + 318. $30.00 hb. ISBN 978-0-268-02309-6. Reviewed by Ryan MARR, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63103.
When the authors of this collection published their work, they could not have anticipated Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papal office. In light of this historic occasion, interest in the book will likely exceed initial expectations. Presently, Catholic theologians, and in fact the Church as a whole, are taking stock of the unique contributions and overall significance of Benedict’s papacy. Explorations in the Theology of Benedict XVI, edited by John C. Cavadini, offers a welcome, scholarly voice to this conversation. The contributors, comprised mostly of heavy hitters from North America, are sympathetic interpreters of Benedict’s theology, though not uncritically so. As Khaled Anatolios puts it in his blurb for the book, “these essays provide an appreciative but rigorous engagement with the breadth and depth of Benedict’s theology” [emphasis mine]. Considering the level at which the essays are written, the ideal audience for the book will be those who are already familiar with the fundamental themes in Benedict’s theology.
The essays are organized into three major sections: (1) “The Dynamic of Advent,” (2) “Caritas in Veritate,” and (3) “God is Love.” While the individual chapters are of comparable quality, three contributions particularly stand out. In “Resolving the Relativity Paradox,” Edward Oakes, S.J., utilizes Benedict’s famous remarks regarding the “dictatorship of relativism” to launch a critique of Christological relativism. Drawing upon Ratzinger’s nuanced approach to the topic, Oakes demonstrates how adopting relativism wholesale renders us incapable of “making… distinctions between different forms of religion and distinctions within a religion itself,” thus undercutting our ability to purify harmful forms of religious belief and practice (quote from Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, p. 204). Francesca Aran Murphy’s essay (“Papal Ecclesiology”), meanwhile, provides a helpful overview of Benedict’s ecclesiology. Murphy’s piece presents a nice complement to Oakes’, because it highlights how Benedict, while being an apologist for the uniqueness of Christ and the truthfulness of Catholicism, has also called for the Church to be appropriately self-critical. In Murphy’s words: “As Ratzinger interprets it, the ‘negative’ forgetting of the past is the necessary first step toward the ‘positive’ step of restoring love. Rearranging and changing our stock images of the past is the prerequisite condition for healing the wounded body of the Church” (p. 232).
The final essay worth drawing special attention to is Gary Anderson’s “The Baptism of Jesus: On Jesus’ Solidarity with Israel and Foreknowledge of the Passion.” As evidenced in his monograph, Sin: A History, Anderson is a master of conducting innovative biblical scholarship that operates from a firm commitment to Catholic doctrine, though without allowing his doctrinal convictions to overdetermine his reading of the biblical text. His contribution to this collection represents another noteworthy publication in his impressive track record of scholarship. Here, Anderson draws upon the theology of the Book of Tobit to challenge the notion that Jesus coming to John for baptism “shows demonstrably that Jesus thought he was a sinner who needed repentance,” as Paul Hollenbach claims. Rather than laying out the details of Anderson’s chapter, I will leave for readers the joy of working through Anderson’s rebuttal on their own, as my own summary could in no way do justice to the depth and ingenuity of his treatment.
Explorations in the Theology of Benedict XVI would serve as an excellent text for a graduate level course on Ratzinger’s theology. As mentioned above, students who are less familiar with Benedict’s thought might want to start with a more basic introduction, such as Aidan Nichol’s The Thought of Benedict XVI (2005) or Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith (2008). For the already initiated, however, I would highly recommend Explorations. Cavadini et al. have provided us with an illuminating retrospective on the life and work of one of Catholicism’s greatest living theologians.