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Cardinal Ratzinger, Max Scheler and

The theology of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is well known in Catholic
circles.~ A professor of theology anda peritus at the second Vatican

Council, the young Archbishop of Munich and Freising has written

extensively on the doctrines of revelation and tradition.2 Curiously,
Ratzinger’s thought has received little scrutiny. A most noteworthy
commentary is provided, however, by Walter Kasper who in reviewing
Introduction to Christianity (1968) observed its &dquo;latent idealism&dquo;.3 And
even though Ratzinger denied the accuracy of Kasper’s analysis, the issue
was not investigated further. That is the aim of this essay.

Ratzinger’s theology is compelling. It appears to accomplish the

extraordinary, to unite a systematic exposition of the doctrines of the
Christian faith with an historical investigation of their origins. This
attempted synthesis is evident in the Cardinal’s christology. It is based on
an anthropology in which the primary dynamism in all men and women is
IOVC.4 And since, as conceived by Ratzinger, Jesus Christ has displayed
complete selflessness in his life, death and resurrection, he is the perfect
human being who in this outpouring of self has simultaneously revealed
himself to be divine. But this re-statement of the doctrine of Chalcedon is
not without its historical warrants. According to Ratzinger the conclusions
of scriptural exegesis on the titles of Jesus, viz., &dquo;Son of God&dquo; and &dquo;Son&dquo;,
corroborate the insight that Jesus lived wholly for his heavenly Father. On
the face of it, Ratzinger’s method demonstrates the compatibility of
dogmatic theology with biblical studies.
Despite its apparent reconciliatory qualities Ratzinger’s theology evinces
a persistent weakness: His approach to the Christian faith loses sight of the
individuality of its founder. Ratzinger’s explicitly christological discussions,
his reflections on baptism, and his meditations on the life of Jesus of
Nazareth fail to distinguish Jesus from those who call themselves.
Christian. To put this another way, Ratzinger’s work does not offer _

adequate identifying accounts of Jesus and thereby implies that Jesus can
be thought of as one ’son’ among many possible others. His method risks
conflating christology and anthropology.
The shortcoming in Ratzinger’s christology stems from his reliance on
the thought of Max Scheler (1875-1922).5 Scheler stands among Edmund
Husserl and Martin Heidegger as one of the great German
phenomenologists. During his &dquo;middle period&dquo; (1911-1921) Scheler sought
to provide a philosophical foundation for Christian, and in particular
Catholic, theology. And even though Scheler himself became an atheist in
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his last years, his work has left a deep imprint on the endeavours of such
theologians as Romano Guardini and Karl Rahner.6 Scheler’s
phenomenology has also influenced Ratzinger, as he himself has
acknowledged.’ This influence is manifest quite clearly in Ratzinger’s
approach to the identity of Jesus Christ. With Scheler, Ratzinger
presupposes a dichotomy between a person’s actions and the person’s
&dquo;inner&dquo; self. But this means that Ratzinger cannot take everyday
description seriously. Who and what Jesus was is to be determined,
then, apart from his history in Palestine. In other words, Ratzinger’s
apparent synthesis of systematic and historical methods is in fact the
subsuming of the latter into the former. And as a result, without an
historically grounded portrait of Jesus Ratzinger’s theology tends to
confuse talk about Jesus with talk about men and women in general.
My reading of Ratzinger’s theology is in sympathy with Kasper’s.
Ratzinger’s &dquo;latent idealism&dquo; is expressed in the distinction between what a
person does and who a person is. In concluding this essay I will argue that
this bifurcation does not correspond to the ordinary way we know one
another. If Ratzinger would move beyond Scheler’s view of personal
knowledge, he would strengthen his christology. But to reach this
conclusion I must first expose the difficulty in Ratzinger’s treatments of
Jesus and the Christian life, and then review Ratzinger’s appropriation of
Scheler’s phenomenology.

The loss of Jesus’ Individuality .

Over the past decade in his discussion of Jesus Christ and the Christian life
Ratzinger has reiterated the claim that Jesus has revealed what it means to
be a person. This idea appears in seminal form in 1966 when in the article
&dquo;Zum Personenverstaendnis in der Theologie&dquo; Ratzinger argues that we
should adopt a new concept of person.8 Relying on the work of Hedwig
Conrad-Martius, a student of Max Scheler, Ratzinger attempts to show
how we can speak of persons in &dquo;relational&dquo; terms. This discussion is
confusing, however, for Ratzinger does not clarify what he means by the
categories substance and relation. Moreover, he takes an uncritical
approach to the Hebrew scriptures and maintains that a &dquo;relational&dquo; or
&dquo;dynamic&dquo; view of person is expressed in biblical statements such as
Genesis 3:22, &dquo;the man has become like one of us&dquo;, and Psalm 110, &dquo;the
Lord said to my Lord&dquo;. The point Ratzinger tries to make by these
references is that to be a person is to be a subject who is committed to
giving and receiving from other subjects. In this perspective men and
women become like God, the Trinity of ’persons’, when they are dedicated
to an &dquo;I-Thou&dquo; relation and belong to a community, a &dquo;We&dquo;.
Within this exclusive scheme Ratzinger points to Jesus as the clearest
example of what is involved in pursuing a wholly relational life. &dquo;The Son
can do nothing on his own&dquo; (Jn S:I9~ and &dquo;I and the Father are one&dquo; (Jn

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10:30) are interpreted by Ratzinger to mean that Jesus is the perfect

person. His life flows &dquo;from&dquo; the Father and in turn he lives &dquo;for&dquo; the
Father. And what is most significant, according to Ratzinger, is that Jesus
is not an &dquo;ontological exception&dquo;.9 Again, just what Ratzinger intends by
this expression is not clear. But the soteriological import of Jesus’ sonship
is evident: All who chose to follow Jesus can become complete persons and
sharers in God’s life.

Therefore it belongs to the essence of the existence of the disciples

that each one ... does not try to form the substance of the enclosed I,
but enters into the pure relating to the other and to God, and so
comes directly in truth to himself and into the fullness of his

individuality, because he enters into unity with the one to whom he is

In Ratzinger’s view we do well to see ourselves not as self-contained
’morals’, but as constituted by our relationships with others. Ratzinger tries
to remove what he takes to be a conceptual obstacle, viz., a &dquo;substantial&dquo;
view of person, so that we may give ourselves away and become full

persons. According to Ratzinger Jesus is not an exception but an example

for others to imitate.
In his Introduction to Christianity (1968) Ratzinger seeks to root his
understanding of Jesus as the perfect person or &dquo;relation&dquo; in the New
Testament. He adopts a form of the &dquo;new quest&dquo; and contends that much
more can be said about Jesus than is admitted by liberal theologians who

propose &dquo;a modern stock idea of the ’historical Jesus’.&dquo;&dquo; That Jesus’ first
followers perceived him to be more than a prophet is evident, Ratzinger
argues, when we consider Jesus’ titles. Philippians 2:5-11 discloses how the
meaning of &dquo;Son of God&dquo; was radically re-interpreted in light of the Easter
event. The primitive community associated this title with the designation
&dquo;servant&dquo; and this means that Jesus was seen as the person who
‘emptied’ himself and, surrendering existence-for-himself, entered into the
pure moment of the ’for’.&dquo;12 This perception is complemented according to
Ratzinger by Jesus’ awareness of his special relationship to God. The title
&dquo;Son&dquo; originates with Jesus himself in his prayerful address to God as
&dquo;Abba&dquo;, and indicates that he deliberately set out to obey his Father. In
Ratzinger’s view these two historico-critical conclusions corroborate his
concept of Jesus as a pure relation of love. Jesus gave himself away and
thereby lived a life as a person in the proper sense of that word.
In Ratzinger’s treatment of the titles of Jesus we can perceive both a
strength and a weakness of his programme. The strength is his vision of
human destiny. Picking up on his idea that Jesus is not an ontological
exception Ratzinger insists that we should take note of the character of
&dquo;Jesus’ experience of prayer ... which, while distinguishing his relations
with God from those of all other men, yet does not aim at any kind of
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exclusiveness but is designed to include the others in its own relationship to

God&dquo;.’3 Even though this statement leaves ’Jesus’ status as a special case
quite ambiguous, it does enable Ratzinger to provide a provocative
interpretation of the so-called satisfaction theory of St. Anselm of
Canterbury. In Jesus God has become man so that the &dquo;hominization&dquo; of
the human community would be advanced to a radically new and final
stage. Jesus is the individual in whom the future has appeared. He is &dquo;the
exemplary man, in whom the true figure of man, God’s intention for him,
comes fully to light&dquo;. 14 Remarks of this sort contribute to making
/11lroduction a best seller. By setting Jesus in an evolutionary perspective
Ratzinger is able to offer inspiring comments about the vocation of all men
and women.’ A weakness in the section on Jesus in the Illtroductioll is its
approach to the scriptures. Whereas in &dquo;Zum Personenverstaendnis&dquo;
Ratzinger reads the Bible uncritically, in I ntroductio11 he shows his
awareness of critical issues. The problem, however, stems from the fact
that he is selective in his use of exegetical studies. Ratzinger’s treatment of
the titles &dquo;Son of God&dquo; and &dquo;Son&dquo; does not include a demonstration of
how he has reached his conclusions, it simply chooses scriptural works
(those of Ferdinand Hahn and Joachim Jeremias)15 whose results are
needed to support his own thesis. To be sure, these are reputable
authorities. But Ratzinger’s principles for picking and employing some of
their conclusions are not evident. There is something in all of this that is
reminiscent of proof-texting. Ratzinger appears to have a preconception of
the notion of person and of Jesus as the complete person. Biblical passages
and scriptural studies seem to be drawn on when they fit into these a prior
In the late 1960’s it was Ratzinger’s view that Jesus is the exemplar of
self-realization. A sampling of his writings in the mid-1970’s displays some
of the ways this idea has come to maturity, but not without some
aberrations. In his article &dquo;Taufe, Glaube and Zugehoerigkeit zur Kirche&dquo;
(1976) Ratzinger describes baptism as the entrance into the &dquo;trinitarian
life&dquo; of God. The baptized enters into fellowship with each of the divine
’persons’, especially with Jesus. &dquo;To be baptized is the beckoning to
participate in Jesus’ relationship with God&dquo;.’6 Through the baptismal
ceremony itself the individual takes on the name of Christ in a way
analogous to the custom in patriarchal societies of the wife assuming the
husband’s name at marriage. In a startling comparison, Ratzinger points
out that just as the bride abandons her name, so those who follow the
example of Jesus relinquish their former manner of living. No longer do
they live for themselves. Now they live as &dquo;sons&dquo;, as &dquo;servants&dquo;, after the
example of Jesus. .

Much could be said about Ratzinger’s discussion of baptism. But for our
purposes the most important thing to observe is the implication that men
and women can become united with God. Ratzinger contends that the
union of the baptized with God surpasses the wedding of husband and wife.
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&dquo;It [ baptism] uproots our self-control more profoundly than the deepest
human union can. Our existence from this point on should be that of
’sonship’, that is, we should belong so much to God, that we become
’attributes’ of God&dquo;.&dquo; This statement is problematic, for it seems to
manifest a trait that is typical of German Idealism: The relation between
God and human beings is one of identity. The logic is straightforward:
When we become Christians, we become divine. And while Ratzinger
himself may not have intended this conclusion, it does follow from the
sense of his remarks. It appears therefore that Ratzinger’s claim that Jesus
is not an ontological exception has borne unwanted fruit.
If this implication were only found in a single remark in one essay, there
would be little cause to mention it. However, something similar is evident in
Ratzinger’s Der Gott Jesu Christi (19 76). This book is a meditation on the
Trinity, and in the course of his reflections Ratzinger takes up what
Christians mean when they confess that God &dquo;.. , became man&dquo;. 18 The
structure of this section points out that Jesus’ life is being recollected.
However, the content rarely fits Jesus alone. In the sub-section entitled
&dquo;The Childhood of Jesus&dquo; Ratzinger describes the childlike qualities of
sonship and trust that all men and women should embody. In &dquo;Nazareth&dquo;
he treats the general traits of piety, simplicity and industriousness. In
&dquo;Revelation and Concealment&dquo; Ratzinger focuses on loneliness and
solitude, and in &dquo;Death and Resurrection&dquo; on &dquo;the inner, theological
dimension of death&dquo;. Ratzinger’s treatment of Jesus’ transfiguration is one
of the few moments in the exercise when Jesus is spoken of a special case.
His reflection on the meanimg of the incarnation is not therefore a
portrayal of Jesus. It is a depiction of the Christian life in general.
In itself Ratzinger’s meditation may be inspirational. It may instill in
some of its readers a desire to become more virtuous, more Christ-like. But
&dquo;... became men&dquo; does not identify Jesus himself and therefore it does not
set limits to what Ratzinger means when just prior to this sub-section he
states, &dquo;We become God through participation in the nurturing of the
Son&dquo;.t9 This statement is most misleading. It suggests that human beings
have the potential to become divine, and they can do so by sharing in the
common reality called sonship. Since the particularity of Jesus is not

singled out in the course of the book, Jesus can be misconstrued to be

merely one son among many.
This review of Ratzinger’s writings over the past decade leads to the
conclusion that something has gone awry with his christological
programme. Good intentions notwithstanding, Ratzinger’s thought has
yielded a confused view of the relation between God and the human
community, and it implies that Jesus is one religious leader among others in
the world’s history. Some of Ratzinger’s statements even suggest that the
infinite qualitative difference between God and human beings does not exist
for Christians. And insofar as Jesus is depicted in universal terms it is
indicated that the movement he has set in motion does not differ from other
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humanistic and religious traditions whose ideas and values have proven to
be insightful and therapeutic for the human community at large. Surely
Ratzinger does not want to say that the Christian faith is a form of
humanism. But the reader cannot help but infer this from some of his
remarks and from the absence in his writings of a description of Jesus as a
most extraordinary individual. In wanting to present a new concept of
person and an account of Jesus as the standard which governs the meaning
of &dquo;person&dquo; Ratzinger has allowed his thought to give rise to overtones that
he himself would not accept.

The Source of the Difficulty

Why is this the case? How are we to account for the confusion between
Christian belief and modern humanism in a theologian who in so many
other respects would be classified as a conservative?2° In large part the
shortcomings in Ratzinger’s theology are due to his reliance on the thought
of Max Scheler. In his middle period Scheler propounded an understanding
of persons as models to which Ratzinger’s interpretation of Jesus as the
exemplary man bears a family resemblance. A brief review of Scheler’s
philosophy of ethics and religion will demonstrate that Ratzinger has
appropriated Scheler’s presuppositions and his inadequate view of personal
A person’s moral development, observes Scheler, depends on the good
example of others. To be sure, we can teach the lesser values through
commands. For example, parents can instruct their children to avoid what
is physically harmful by imperatives such as &dquo;Do not play with matches&dquo;.
But when it comes to the virtues, we learn best by being attracted to
somene who embodies noble human qualities such as integrity and
goodness. As Scheler himself states it in his Formalism in Ethics and Noll-
Formal Ethics of Values (1916): &dquo;Nothing on earth allows a person to
become good so originally and immediately and necessarily as the
identical and adequate intuition [Anschauung] of a good person in his
goodness 11.2 According to Scheler the adoption of a value such as integrity
or goodness occurs as a person assumes the posture of a disciple before a
master who incorporates this trait. The bond of affection between the two
individuals leads the learner to discover the normative properties which the
model represents.
For Scheler ethics and religion are intimately bound together. Having
posited that the deepest motivation in men and women is love, he reasons
that as an individual matures in generosity he or she becomes more a
person and indeed gains a closer resemblance to God who is perfect love
and the &dquo;infinite holy person&dquo;.22 The task of ethics is to facilitate this
process of self-realization by presenting and arranging those properties that
fit the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Therefore over against
Immanuel Kant’s formal conception of ethics Scheler espouses a
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&dquo;material&dquo; view. The phenomenologist conceives of ethics as the realm of

values which rank from the lowest, that is, the pleasurable, to the highest,
that is, sanctity. And as the scheme implies, the individual who is of the
most upright character is also the one who is holy. Simultaneously, he or
she is also a generous and highly actualized person. In Scheler’s view talk
about the moral life and talk about God are closely allied.
Interestingly, Friedrich Nietzsche and Scheler are kindred spirits.13 Both
men judge speak solely of a &dquo;categorical imperative&dquo; is to ignore
that to
bring about the betterment of individuals and the human
those traits that
community. Moreover, Nietzsche’s and Scheler’s respective discussion of
&dquo;over-men&dquo; and models manifest their common awareness of the
importance of personal example in human life. Their paths veer sharply
apart, however, when Scheler insists that virtues are not a subjective
matter. He contends that there is an objective order or &dquo;logos&dquo; of
normative qualities, and congruent with it on the side of the moral agent
there is an emotional a priori which determines the individual’s perception
of values. This immediate intuition is structured to correspond to the
hierarchy of the non-subjective properties themselves. Or, as Scheler writes:

[It] is characteristic of the nature of a man of high moral standing

that the involuntary and automatic appearances of his inner
conations [strivings], and the non-formal values at which the
conations &dquo;aim&dquo;, follow an order of preference, and that such
conations are an already virtually formed complex of contents for
willing -
as measured against the objective order of non-formal
value-ranks. 14

The values by which men and women ought to live are more than a product
of social and historical factors. They are given within the design of creation
itself, and it is towards these qualities that the &dquo;preference&dquo; or judgment of
people is oriented.
These two claims -
that ethics and religion are one and that values are
objectively given -
form the foundation for Scheler’s conception of
persons as models or &dquo;ideals&dquo; .25 In his view ideal persons do not emerge
haphazardly in the course of history. They originate as expressions of
&dquo;universal types&dquo; that are themselves aligned with the hierarchy of values.
Thus, since the lowest trait is pleasure and the highest is holiness, the lowest
&dquo;type&dquo; of person is the bon vivant, and the highest is the saint. The person
who serves as a model denotes the configuration of values that consitutes
his or her type or paradigm. In Scheler’s words, a personal model is &dquo;a
structured value-complex in the form of unity of the unity [sic] of the
person, a structured thisness of values in the form of the person... &dquo;26 To
put this concretely, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and Confucius are models
of the paradigm saint. In their cultures each man stands for the loftiest
potential of human being. Each represents the supreme constellation of
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values, viz., holiness, generosity and full personhood. Successive
generations in each tradition have witnessed individuals, e.g., Francis of
Assisi, who became enamoured with the archetypal holy man, and then
through their discipleship these men and women appropriated the
normative qualities found in their master. In other words, by following the
example of their respective models all people can incorporate into their lives
the universal values these individuals express.
This view of persons as ideals produces an ambiguity. This &dquo;paradox&dquo;,
as Scheler himself calls it, is disclosed when Scheler observes that an

exemplary person is of little interest apart from the reality to which he or

she refers. Scheler writes:

Although we frequently say, &dquo;This is my model&dquo;, what we mean by

&dquo;model&dquo; is not at all this factual man in his flesh and blood. We mean
that this X is an exemplificalion of our model proper perhaps the

only one, perhaps evidentially the &dquo;uniequely&dquo; possible one. But even
in thiscase he functions merely as exemplar.37

For Scheler an exemplary individual betokens something beyond himself or

herself. Therefore the particularity of the person is not to be taken
seriously. What is important about Jesus or Mohammad is not conveyed in
the stories about these men. Rather it is grasped in the general set of values
denoted by the saint. This reasoning results in a seeming contradiction:
Although disciplies want to follow the example of their master, they are not
interested in knowing who and what he or she is.
Scheler has tried to establish principles for a philosophical anthropology,
and he has located Jesus within these. In effect therefore Scheler was a
Christian apologist during his middle period. As such, he sought to
demonstrate the universality of the Christian faith at the expense of its
founder’s particularity. Jesus is a token of what all people can become. And
when we turn from Scheler’s phenomenology to Ratzinger’s theology, we
can see a family resemblance in their presuppositions, and we also discern
its consequence: Anthropology has eclipsed christology.
The bedrock for Ratzinger’s talk about Jesus consists of Scheler’s
presuppositions for his view of persons as models. The first of these is the
conviction that love is the basic striving in all men and women. According
to Ratzinger all people are created in the likeness of God who is Himself
infinite generosity. In &dquo;Zum Personenverstaendnis&dquo; Ratzinger makes this
claim when he states that the reality of being a person is &dquo;not a self-enclosed
substance, but the phenomenon of total relating, which in its fullness
ultimately only God can enter into, but which exists as the orientation of all
personal beings&dquo;.&dquo; According to Scheler and Ratzinger the primary desire
of all ’persons’, divine or human, is love.
A second jointly held premise is that ethics and religion are united.
Ratzinger succinctly expresses this position in his Introduction when in his
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treatment of the parable of the last judgment (Matt 25:33-46) he asserts that
&dquo;love is faith&dquo;.19 Whoever strives to become a &dquo;being for&dquo; others is on the
way to becoming a person, a pure relating. Simultaneously, this individual
discovers fellowship with God who has revealed Himself and thereby made
known what &dquo;person&dquo; truly means. In Ratzinger’s enterprise self-
realization is an act of faith.
A third presupposition which Ratzinger acquires from Scheler is the
conviction that there is an objective order of moral values. In his
Introduction Ratzinger speaks of Jesus as the disclosure of the &dquo;logos&dquo;;
&dquo;The meaning that sustains all being has become flesh; ...&dquo;3° Further,
Ratzinger characterizes his endeavour in the Introduction as &dquo;the Christian
revaluation of values&dquo;.3’ In his essay on baptism Ratzinger adopts
existentialist terms to refer to Jesus Christ as the &dquo;ground
of existence&dquo;.32 The upshot of these two discussions is that ethical decisions
are not a subjective matter. They take their meaning and validity from their
correspondence to the design (the logos) which lies behind creation.
Ratzinger agrees therefore with Scheler: There exists a transcendent set of
values which should direct the efforts of all men and women to develop into
Given these three presuppositions it is not surprising to find that
Ratzinger’s understanding of Jesus as the &dquo;exemplary man&dquo; is very similar
to Scheler’s view of ideal persons. While the phenomenologist presents
Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha and Confucius as representations of a

configuration of objective properties, the theologian refers to Jesus as the

embodiment of the logos. For example, in the Introduction Ratzinger
writes, &dquo;According to this [the incarnation] the meaning of all being is first
of all no longer to be found in the sweep of the mind which rises above the
individual, the limited, into the universal; it is to be found in the midst

of time, in the countenance of one man&dquo;.33 Men and women can apprehend
God’s design for creation through Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover, in
Scheler’s view people are drawn towards the &dquo;saint&dquo;, and through their
affection for this person they grasp the reality he or she stands for.
Similarly, in Ratzinger’s perspective, as displayed in Der Goit Jesu Christi,
those who meditate on the life of Jesus can discover the personal traits that
should be embodied in each phase of their lives. Filial obedience, devotion
and diligence, and the estrangement that prompts prayer are found,
according to Ratzinger, in Jesus’ story. Therefore they can be embraced by
the entire human community. The convergence of these many points of
comparison between Scheler’s thought and Ratzinger’s supports the ’

conclusion that Scheler’s work on personal models undergirds Ratzinger’s

discussions of Jesus Christ and the Christian life.

Knowledge of Persons and Christology

The ambiguity that emerges in Scheler’s discussion of model persons
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frequently occurs in idealist modes of thought. On the one hand a person’s

history is said to be somehow related to the person. But on the other it is
regarded as secondary, for it is assumed that the ’essence’ of the person is
not directly recognizable. In &dquo;Vorbilder und Fuehrer&dquo; Scheler claims that
while it is necessary that Jesus was a historical figure, the details of his
&dquo;accidental, positive-historical ’life’ are of small concern to his followers.
Reasoning tha the ’real’ Jesus is only apprehended by means of a
phenomenological or intuitive process, Scheler insists that: &dquo;All historical
knowledge of Jesus teaches us nothing, absolutely nothing about the saint,
Jesus&dquo;.34 On this kind of account of personal knowledge there is an
unbridgeable chasm between what a person does and who he or she is.
In appropriating Scheler’s phenomenology Ratzinger has adhered to the
distinction between the accidental and the essential. In his Introduction
Ratzinger argues that the application of the &dquo;critical method&dquo; to history
means that &dquo;only the ’phenomenal’ or outer surface of what has happened
comes into view&dquo;.31 Thus just as in physics where, according to Ratzinger,
we have found that &dquo;being retires behind appearance&dquo;, so too in theology
we have realized that a scientific method &dquo;can see the man Jesus all right,
but can only with difficulty discover the Christ in him, which as a truth of
history cannot simply be checked as right or wrong by reference to the
documentary evidence&dquo;.36 In this perspective there are then two levels of
apprehension. The first, the visible, is perceived according to the canons of
historico-critical investigation. And the second, an invisible or hidden
reality, is known by means of an intuitive analysis of the kind demonstrated
in Ratzinger’s Introduction.
An upshot of this differentiation is that Ratzinger is skeptical of the
contribution that the historico-critical method can make to theology. In a
recent article, &dquo;Was bedeutet Jesus Christus fuer mich?&dquo; (1973) Ratzinger
The ecclesiastical tradition in which the movement based on Jesus
has remained alive up until to day gives me simultaneously trust for
more reality than in the attempts to reconstruct a chemically pure
historical Jesus out of the distillation process of historical reason. I
trust the tradition in its entire breadth. And the more reconstructions
I see coming and going, the more I feel myself confirmed in this
In Ratzinger’s judgment the historian’s knowledge of Jesus has little
influence on the believer’s acknowledgment of the founder of Christianity.
His remark that the tradition gives him &dquo;trust for more reality than ... a
chemically pure historical Jesus&dquo; manifests the dualism inherited from
Scheler. In his view historical studies treat the phenomenal or accidental,
and they offer nothing substantial to the theologian’s efforts to say who and
what Jesus is.
To be sure, the act of faith is not produced by historical verification. It is
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an acknowledgment made in response to God’s grace as mediated through

the believing community. Yet, as Ratzinger himself insists, faith is not
independent of history. 38 It would be undermined, for example, if historians
proved that Jesus of Nazareth was not crucified. But granted this statement
of the relation between faith and history, there does exist the grey area
concerning the theological relevance of the actual details about Jesus’
words and deeds.39 Do the ways Jesus taught make any difference in
christology? Does an exegete’s re-appraisal of what constitutes the original
version of Jesus’ parables have bearing on a theologian’s enterprise? &dquo;No&dquo;
appears to be Ratzinger’s answer to both of these questions. His comments
in &dquo;Was bedeutet Jesus Christus fuer mich?&dquo; and his use of the scriptures
imply that the subtleties of historical reconstructions do not enter into
systematic reflection upon the Christian belief. However, if my examination
of Ratzinger’s christology is accurate, then it is precisely an attentiveness to
the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, that Ratzinger’s work requires. But
to do this, it must adopt an alternative view of the relation of a person’s
actions to personal identity. ,

As a rule, we identify a person on the basis of what is observable .40 A

physical description allows us to locate someone in a crowd. On a more
human level, one person is distinguished from another by means of actions
characteristic of each. Typical ways of acting and &dquo;pet&dquo; phrases give a
person away. It is this very strategy, for instance, that sports fans rely on
when they select their idols. In a basketball or baseball game players
disclose their personalities as well as their athletic abilities. Novelists too
pursue this tack. The literary critic and novelist Henry James has
pinpointed this access to personal knowledge with his rhetorical question,
&dquo;What is incident but the illustration of character?&dquo;41 In sum, we regularly
assume that a person’s standard way of handling a situation reveals what
sort of an individual he or she is.
In Ratzinger’s writings we find no attempt to provide a portrait or
sketch of Jesus. There is no comment on Jesus’ actions, for example, his
healing or calling the disciplies, which demonstrated an unusual sense of
personal authority. Nor is mention made of Jesus’ distinctive use of
&dquo;Amen&dquo; or &dquo;but I say to you&dquo;. Yet in Jesus’ day characteristics like these
led his family to think him disturbed (Mk 3:2o-21) and his neighbours to
differentiate him from other teachers (Mk 1:22-28). Ratzinger takes little
interest in the things that would show what kind of person Jesus was.
Instead, as we have already seen, in the Introduction he delves into Jesus’
self-understanding as indicated by his use of &dquo;Abba&dquo; and the primitive
community’s interpretation of &dquo;Son of God&dquo;. And in Der Gott Jesil Christ
Ratzinger focuses more on the virtues all men and women can share with
Jesus than on Jesus’ distinctive traits. Therefore to the extent that
Ratzinger is concerned about identifying the founder of Christianity, he
seeks to do so on the basis of such concealed ’realities’ as Jesus’ prayer life ,

and the early community’s view of him.

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There are a number of problems with Ratzinger’s method of

distinguishing Jesus. First, this route to personal knowledge is by itself
precarious. To say, for example, who Robert Krieg is solely on the basis of
his spirituality and his friends’ impression risks being highly intuitive and
subjective. A larger, more public perspective is required to keep this first
one from being myopic. Secondly, in relying so heavily on Jeremias’ study
of &dquo;Abba&dquo;, Ratzinger has t~ed his christology to a stake that has been
loosened in recent years. In Jesus the Jew (1973) Geza Vermes has
observed that other charismatics of Jesus’ time, e.g., Hanan, grandson of
Honi, employed &dquo;Abba&dquo; as Jesus did and saw themselves as possessing a
unique relationship to God. 42 Recently, in Prayer in the Talmud (197 7)
Joseph Heinemann has maintained that Jesus used &dquo;Abba&dquo; according to a
traditional form of private prayer, distinct from synagogue prayer.43 Thus
while it is still necessary to call attention to Jesus’ understanding of his
intimate fellowship with &dquo;the Father&dquo;, it is not sufficient to do only this if
one is trying to describe Jesus. There are logical and historical

shortcomings to Ratzinger’s approach to Jesus’ identity.

The third and last weakness in Ratzinger’s way of talking about Jesus is
a functional one. At the outset of this essay it was noted that the very
categories of Ratzinger’s thought obscure Jesus’ individuality. The notion
of person as relation in elusive. It offers no conceptual edge for
understanding what Ratzinger means when he claims that while Jesus is not
an otological exception, he does stand in a special relationwhip with God.
Since a clear line is not drawn here, Ratzinger’s remarks about Jesus and
the Christian life imply that Jesus is one among many. Divine sonship is a
reality which all men and women can equally participate in with Jesus.
Moreover, Ratzinger’s statements seem to identify God and the human
community, divine ’persons’ and human persons. Given the Idealist slant of
Ratzinger’s thought, his theology demands an approach to Jesus that will
highlight his singularity. By taking ordinary description seriously Ratzinger
could offset the tendency of his categories to present Jesus in general or
universal terms.
Ratzinger’s writings tend to reduce christology to anthropology. Or, to
put it another way, his theology begins with anthropology and reaches
toward christology without attaining its end. It starts by assuming that the
fundamental dynamism in all people is love, but it does not demonstrate
that &dquo;love&dquo; is used analogously when ascribed to God and Jesus Christ.
This theology rightly holds that men and women can only respond to God
within a community, but it does not remind us that we do not precisely
know what we mean when we apply &dquo;person&dquo; and &dquo;fellowship&dquo; to God.
One of the ways that Ratzinger can clearly discriminate between the human
or Christian community on the one hand and on the other the founder of

Christianity is by stressing the particularity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is absolutely unique. That is, not only is he an extraordinary
human individual, he is also (in the language of Chalcedon) &dquo;true God&dquo;.
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While historical investigation does not necessarily lead beyond a

recognition of what sort of a person Jesus was, it does provide a solid point
of reference so that talk about Jesus does not become confused with
general considerations about values and virtues. Ratzinger’s theology
makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the Christian life
by offering a vision of the heights to which we are called. But to prevent
any suggestion that Jesus is an instance of a more universal reality,
Ratzinger would do well to recount Jesus’ action and words.

1. Joseph Ratzinger was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising on March 25, 1977.
On April 16, 1927 he was born in Marktl am Inn. At the University of Munich Ratzinger
pursued his doctoral studies under the direction of Gottlieb Soehngen. Cf., Herder
Korrespondenz, XXXI (May, 1977), 271; also, The Tablet, CXXXI (April 2, 1977), 338.
2. Among Ratzinger’s works on revelation and tradition not otherwise cited in this essay
are: Das Problem der Dogmengeschichte in der Sicht der katholischen Theologie (Cologne:
Westdeutscher Verlag, 1966); "Kommentar zur Offenbarungskonstitution", Lexikon fuer
Theologie und Kirche: Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil (Freiburg: Herder, 1966, II, pp.
498-528: "Tradition", Lexikon fuer Theologie (Freiburg:
und Kirche Herder, 1957), X, pp.
293-299; Revelation and Tradition (New York: Herder, 1966 (1965)); "Offenbarung,
Schrift, Ueberlieferung", Trierer Theologische Zeitschrift, LXVII (1958), 13-27.
3. The exchange between Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger occurred in a series of three
articles. (The third, though published in Kasper’s name, concludes with Ratzinger’s
rejoinder). Cf. Walter Kasper, "Das Wesen des Christlichen", Theologische Revue, LXV
(1969), columns 182-188; Joseph Ratzinger, "Glaube, Geschichte und Philosophie: Zum
Echo auf ’Einfuehrung in das Christentum’," Hochland, LXI (1969), 533-543; Walter
Kasper, "Theorie und Praxis innerhalb einer theologia crucis: Antwortet auf J. Ratzingers
’Glaube, Geschichte und Philosophie’," Hochland, LXII (1970), 152-159. Also, note that
the translations from German throughout this essay are my own unless otherwise
mentioned. For his assistance in this task and his advice I am indebted to Josef Meyer zu
4. In categorizing Ratzinger’s christological starting point as anthropological, I am
agreeing with Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, translated by V. Green (New York: Paulist
Press, 1976), pp. 17-20. Kasper points out that Ratzinger’s christology presumes "a
phenomenology of love, which is stronger than death". (p. 136).
5. Two introductory texts have shaped my perspective on the phenomenology of Max
Scheler and its influence on Catholic theology: Heinrich Fries, Die katholische
Religionsphilosophie der Gegenwart
(Heidelberg: F. H. Kerle Verlag, 1949) and Manfred S.
Frings, Max Scheler: A Concise Introduction into the World of a Great Thinker
(Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1965). A more recent and focused study is Heinz
Leonardy, Liebe und Person: Max Schelers versuch eines ’phaenomenologischen’
Personalismus (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976).
6. Fries, op. cit., pp. 272-282; pp. 253-260.
7. Ratzinger has mentioned his reliance on Scheler’s thought along with his indebtedness to
Romano Guardini and Augustine of Hippo; cf. Ratzinger, "Glaube, Geschichte und
Philosophie", p. 543.
8. Joseph Ratzinger, "Zum Personenverstaendnis in der Theologie", in Dogma und
Verkuendigung, edited by Joseph Ratzinger (Munich: Erich Wewel Verlag, 1973), pp. 205-
224. First published under the title "Zum Personenverstaendnis in Dogmatik", in Das
Personenverstaendnis in der Paedagogik und ihren Nachbarwissenschaften, edited by J.
Speck (Munster, 1966), pp. 157-171.
9. Ibid., 217-219.
10. Ibid., 212-213.
11. Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, translated by J. R. Foster (New York:
Seabury Press, 1969), p. 157. First published under the title Einfuehrung in das
Christentum (Munich, 1968).
12. Ibid., p. 164.
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13. Ibid., p. 167.

14. Ibid., p. 176.
(Gottingen, 1966), pp. 319-333. Joachim
15. Friedrich Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstifel
in Theologisches Woerterbuch zum N.T., V, pp. 653-713. Also by
Jeremias, "Pais Theou",
the same author, Abba (Gottingen, 1966), pp. 15-67.
16. Joseph Ratzinger, "Taufe, Glaube, und Zugehoerigkeit zur Kirche", Internationale
katholische Zeitschrift, V (1976), 222.
17. Ibid., p. 224.
18. Joseph Ratzinger, Der Gott Jesu Christi (Munich: Koesel Verlag, 1976), 56-69.
19. Ibid., 2p. 55.
20. Ratzinger’s interpretation of "Gaudium et spes" and his views on Christian Marxist
dialogue show that he is not to be categorized as a liberal theologian. Cf., "Der Weltdienst
der Kirche", Internationale katholische Zeitschrift, IV (1975), 439-454; "Ich glaube an
Gott den allmaechtigen Vater", Internationale katholische Zeitschrift, IV (1975), 10-18;
"Wandelbares und Unwandelbares in der Kirche", Internationale katholische Zeitschrift,
VII (1978), 182-184.
21. Max Scheler, Formalism in Ethics and Non-formal Ethics of Values, translated by
Manfred S. Frings and Roger L. Funk (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press,
1973), p. 574.
22. Scheler, op. cit., p. 94. Cf. Max Scheler, On the Eternal in Man, translated by Bernard
Noble (London: SCM Press, 1960), p. 226.
23. Ernst Troeltsch has characterized Max Scheler as "the Catholic Nietzsche"; cf. Der
Historismus und seine Probleme, in Gesammelte Werke, III (tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul
Siebeck), 1922), p. 609.
24. Scheler, Formalism, p. 43.
25. Scheler’s view of persons as models is expressed not only in his Formalism but also in
his essay "Vorbilder und Fuehrer", Schriften aus dem Nachlass Band I, Gesammelte
Werke, X (Bern: A. Francke A. G. Verlag, 1957), pp. 257-288. This essay was first
published in 1921, but Scheler had been working on it since 1912; cf. Maria Scheler’s
comments in Gesammelte Werke, X, pp. 514-515.
26. Scheler, Formalism, p. 578.
27. Ibid., p. 582.
28. Ratzinger, "Zum Personenverstaendnis", p. 213.
29. Ratzinger, Introduction, p. 154. Scheler’s views are manifest in Ratzinger’s response to
those such as Alfons Auer and Bruno Schueller who advocate the so-called autonomy of
morality. In his report for the meeting of the International Theological Commission
(December, 1974), Ratzinger speaks of "the inseparable unity of faith and life". And he
maintains that: "Lack of the notion of God brings about the moral deficiency of the pagan
world, conversion to God in Jesus Christ coincides with the conversion to imitation of Jesus
Christ". Cf. Problems of the Church Today (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic
Conference, 1976), pp. 74-83. Originally published in L’Osservatore Romano (December
26, 1974). Ratzinger’s essay is also published (with footnotes) in Prinzipien christlichler
Moral (Eisnsiedeln, 1975). For a review of the discussion in Germany on the specificity of
Christian ethics, see Richard A. McCormick, "Notes on Moral Theology: 1976",
Theological Studies XXXVIII (March, 1977), 64-68.
30. Ratzinger, Introduction, p. 141.
31. Ibid., p. 168.
32. Ratzinger’s, "Taufe", p. 222.
33. Ratzinger, Introduction, p. 141.
34. Scheler, "Vorbilder", p. 288.
35. Ratzinger, Introduction, p. 144.
36. Idem.
37. Joseph Ratzinger, "Was bedeutet jesus Christus fuer mich?". in Dogma und
Verkuendigung, p. 139. First published in Wer ist Jesus von Nazaret - fuer mich?, edited
by H. Spermann (Munich, 1973), pp. 23-26.
38. There is little doubt that Ratzinger appreciates the issue of faith and history, and he has
repeatedly insisted on the historicity of Christian belief. Cf. "Was ist fuer den christlichen
Glauben heute konstitutiv?", in Mysterium der Gnade, edited by H. Rossman and J.
Ratzinger (Regensburg: F. Pustet, 1975), pp. 11-19; "Tradition and Fortschritt", in
Freiheit des Menschen, edited by Ansgar Paus (Graz: Verlag Styria, 1974), pp. 9-30; "Heil
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und Geschichte", Wort und Wahrheit, 25 (1970), 3-14; "Glaube, bgeschichte und
Philosophie"; "Heilsgeschichte und Eschatologie", in Theologie im Wandel, edited by J.
Ratzinger and J. Neumann (Munich: Wewel, 1967), pp. 68-89; and Das Problem der
Dogmengeschichte in der Sichte der katholischen Theologie (Cologne: Westdeutscher
Verlag, 1966).
39. Helpful discussions of the relationship between faith and history are: Walter Kasper,
Jesus the Christ, pp. 1-40; Leander E. Keck, A Future for the Historical Jesus (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1971); Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer (New York:
Macmillan Company, 1966).
40. The notion of personal identity that I am employing is derived from diverse sources.
Among these are: Hans W. Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,
1975); Stanley Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life (San Antonio: Trinity
University Press, 1975); Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
(Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 175-188; and John McMurray, The Self (New York:
Harper, 1957).
41. Henry James, "The Art of Fiction", in Walter Besant and Henry James, The Art of
Fiction (Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske and Company, no date), p. 69. James’ essay was written in
response to a lecture delivered by Besant at the Royal Institution, April 25, 1884. For this
reference to James’ work I am indebted to Hans Frei, op. cit., p. 88.
42. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: Collins, 1973), pp. 210-213.
43. Joseph Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud. Studia Judaica 9. (New York: Walter de
Gruyter, 1977), pp. 189-192.

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