Benedict XVI at Fatima Benedict XVI at Fatima  Editorial

Ratzinger and faith as a journey

Our Editorial Director reflects on the journey of faith of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, saying he was a witness and master of dialogue with all.

By Andrea Tornielli

If there is one theologian and one Pope who throughout his life reflected and taught on the reasonableness of faith, it was Joseph Ratzinger. It is no coincidence that he also spoke about it in the final lines of his spiritual testament, made public on the day of his death: “I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life - and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.”

This repeated emphasis, however, has never meant - in Ratzinger's view - reducing faith into a philosophical “system,” into an architecture of ideas, into a list of moral norms, ending up forgetting that the Christian faith is the encounter with a Person, as we read in the prologue of the encyclical Deus caritas est. In an interview written with the German monthly magazine Herder Korrespondenz, published in July 2021, the Pope Emeritus observed: “The believer is a person who questions himself.... In this sense, the thought of a ‘flight into pure doctrine’ seems to me absolutely unrealistic. A doctrine that existed only as a sort of nature reserve, separated from the everyday world of faith and its demands, would in some way represent the renunciation of faith itself. Doctrine must develop in and from the faith, not alongside it.”

Already as a cardinal, in 2001, Ratzinger had spoken very clear words to avoid falling into this reductionism, which are worth reiterating today: “The nature of faith is not such that from a certain moment onwards one can say: ‘I possess it, others do not’... Faith remains a journey. Throughout the course of our lives it remains a journey, and therefore faith is always threatened and in danger. And it is also healthy that it thus escapes the risk of becoming an ideology that can be manipulated. At the risk of hardening us and making us incapable of sharing reflection and suffering with our brother who doubts and questions. Faith can only mature to the extent that it bears and takes on, at every stage of existence, the anguish and strength of unbelief, and finally crosses it to the point of becoming viable again in a new era.”

Faith, as Benedict XVI himself recalled and as Francis likes to repeat, is only transmitted by attraction and not by proselytism or imposition. The believer is not the one who “possesses” something that he can “administer.” The Christian does not dispense pre-packaged answers to explain everything to everyone. The Christian can only reverberate some spark of the gift he has undeservedly received, and when this happens it is by pure grace. Therefore, he is called to seek God by dialoguing with everyone, taking on the existential doubts and wounds of those who do not believe, accompanying everyone, without ever considering that he himself has “arrived'. In this, too, Joseph Ratzinger, also in this,has been a witness and a master.

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01 January 2023, 13:33