Christopher COLLINS, S.J., The Word Made Love: The Dialogical Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013. pp. 181. ISBN 978-0-8146-8078-0.
Reviewed by Marc TUMEINSKI, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA 01612
Rev. Collins identifies the main focus of his book as an examination of what he describes as Ratzinger’s ‘dialogical approach to theology.’ At the heart of Benedict’s theology, the author sees an emphasis on personal encounter, communication and communion: in the Trinity, between God and creation, between Jesus and the Church, between God and the human person. His hope and argument is that Ratzinger’s personalist theological approach is well-suited to today’s culture (p. xiii). I highly recommend this book; it is well worth reading and studying deeply, especially for those who already have some level of familiarity with Ratzinger’s writings.
The first chapter describes some of the formative influences on Ratzinger, including his family, seminary formation, academic work, particular teachers and writers, the Second Vatican Council, and various contemporaneous theological developments (e.g., around Scriptural exegesis, the liturgical movement, study of the Fathers, the philosophy of personalism). In the following chapters, Collins lays out four strands of Ratzinger’s dialogical theology, in terms of: 1) revelation, 2) Jesus, 3) the Church, and 4) creation and eschatology. The analysis in chapter three of Ratzinger’s Christology is particularly strong, with insightful chapter sections on topics such as: the Person of Jesus, the scandal of the particularity of Christ, links between theology and anthropology, faith and history, the Logos as Person, and Revelation in Scripture and Tradition. Collins ends the book with a brief two-page epilogue, perhaps a bit too brief, about how Ratzinger ‘does theology well.’ This text also contains a useful bibliography, particularly for Ratzinger’s major written works, and an index.
Collins clearly lays out his goals at the beginning of the book and of each chapter, thus providing helpful pointers for his readers. This is particularly useful for students. He draws deeply from Ratzinger’s own words, as well as from commentaries on his works, including by Ratzinger’s own students.
The author provides a thick reading of Ratzinger’s writings and speeches. He does presume a certain level of knowledge on the part of his readers. I would therefore recommend having a shelf of Ratzinger’s texts close at hand while you read this volume, or at least have ready access to his major works. You will want to read (or re-read) Ratzinger’s works as you go through Collins’ book. In addition, given its depth and presumed theological proficiency, I do not see this text working very well in a typical undergraduate course; at the very least, it would require some strong guidance from an instructor.
Collins identifies several tensions with which Ratzinger has grappled in his theology, e.g., tensions between the Incarnation and the Cross (p. 83ff.), continuity and development in Revelation (p. 95ff.), Christological and pneumatological aspects of the Church (p. 98ff.), and literary schema and reality in Scriptural interpretation (p. 148ff.).
Presumably, other themes related to Ratzinger’s dialogical theology, in addition to the four covered in this text, could fruitfully be studied, e.g., liturgical theology, the mystery of suffering, justice and solidarity, etc. (cf. p. xii). Of necessity, Collins had to be selective, given Ratzinger’s extensive corpus. In light of his emphasis on Ratzinger and dialog, however, and his demonstrated understanding of Ratzinger’s theology, I would have been interested in reading what Collins thought of Ratzinger on the themes of discourse with other Christian denominations as well as on Jewish-Christian dialog. Perhaps a future volume, which I would very much enjoy reading.