Many biographers give us two Joseph Ratzingers: the pre-Vatican II liberal and the post-conciliar conservative. Two writers are challenging this myth, says Anna Arco Ratzinger's Faith; The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Tracey Rowland, OUP £12.99 Pope Benedict XVI; The Conscience of Our Age, A Theological Portrait by D Vincent Twomey SVD, Ignatius £9.94 Long portrayed as the Church's guard dog, vilified or, worse, ignored by theologians, Pope Benedict has shown himself in the last few years to be a scholar-pope, whose breadth and understanding of humanity, as well as peerless scholarship, have come into ever clearer focus.
The image of the "Panzerkardinal" has wavered and has been replaced with that of a man with an incredible faith in love (Deus Caritas Est) and a strong sense of the place of the Church in today's world (Spe Sal vi).
But vestiges of old prejudices remain: for some liberals he continues to represent an ultra-conservative perspective which threatens to undermine the changes wrought by Vatican II, while for some conservatives his close associations with Vatican II and Karl Rahner make him a dangerous liberal.
Ratzinger's Faith; The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI offers a challenging but approachable analysis of the Holy Father's considerable body of thought, placing it in the context of the Second Vatican Council and beyond, in clear, careful prose which makes difficult concepts easy to understand without losing intellectual integrity. Professor Tracey Rowland, of the John Paul ll Institute in Melbourne, presents a comprehensive overview of Pope Benedict XVI's faith.
It shows the inadequacy of crude labels to describe a man whose breadth and depth of thought reaches far further back than 1965 and far further forward than 2020.
Pope Benedict's body of work can seem a bit overwhelming. He has been, and still is, a prolific writer, covering a wide spectrum of systems of "knowing". Dr Rowland manages to condense his ideas into a slim, readable volume without being too reductive.
Her book provides a excellent starting place for anyone who is interested in gaining an understanding of Pope Benedict's thought, where he stands in the context of the 20th century and the long history of the Church. And the well-organised end notes make the beginnings of a very good further reading list.
Dr Rowland rejects in part the popular perception that Joseph Ratzinger began life as a radical thinker and became a conservative after the student uprisings in 1968. Instead, she illustrates how he has been consistent in his theological precepts even if his attitudes to the problems facing the Church and humanity in modernity appear to have changed.
Starting with the Pope's theological contemporaries, she moves on to the Second Vatican Council where a young Fr Joseph Ratzinger acted as a peritus, or expert theological adviser, to Cardinal Frings of Cologne.
By placing him in these contexts she does away with the notion that he and Karol Wojtyla (John Paul H) were progressives who became conservatives in the face of the cultural revolutions in the 1960s and 1970s by analysing Ratzinger's readings of the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar Church.
As an Aquinas scholar, she elaborates on the different strands of Thornist thought which she argues Ratzinger was reacting to and against. This can seem off-putting to the non-theologian at first, but persevere, because she navigates the reader through these complex notions smoothly. The reader is rewarded with a clearer understanding of both Vatican II and the Pope's theological interpretation of it.
Dr Rowland's Ratzinger is a man for whom the starting point of a complex theological and philosophical outlook is startlingly simple. Faith in Christ is at the heart of his thought. Without Christ, there can be no reason because "faith without reason ends in fideism, but reason without faith ends in nihilism".
From there, she moves on to his positions on the importance of scripture, revelation and tradition and shows how the influences of St Augustine and St Bonaventure play out on his theology, philosophy, and epistemology and in later chapters on his views on Christian ethics, ecclesiology, his critique of modernity and his attitudes to the liturgy.
Pope Benedict's thought emerges as a comprehensive and coherent whole, which draws from a number of different schools of thought backed by tradition and suffused with Christ's love.
Dr Rowland presents Benedict XVI not as an antithesis to John Paul 11, but as a pope whose vision complements his predecessor's. In very simple terms, where Pope John Paul II focused on the theology of the body. Pope Benedict focuses on the theology of culture. Ifs a shame that two books on Pope Benedict's theology should come out in such a close succession, as they both offer something different even while covering some of the same material.
Fr D Vincent Twomey, SVD was a doctoral student under Professor Ratzinger and his Pope Benedict XVI, The Conscience of Our Age, A Theological Portrait shows the admiration of a student for his former Doktorvater.lt is a composite book — a true theological portrait — which looks at both the theology and the man behind it. Littered with anecdotes and discursive footnotes, Fr Twomey shows the human face of a man who is without doubt an intimidating thinker. It is not as well organised or tightly argued as Dr Rowland's book but it makes up for its occasional untidiness with an admiring tenderness for and a knowledge gained from years of studying under the Holy Father.
While I thoroughly enjoyed both books, Dr Rowland's left a lasting impression. Ratzinger's Faith is intelligent and fascinating. Although it is academic, it is accessible, clear and rarely dry. It is the sort of book that will help Catholics and nonCatholics who have encountered Ratzinger as Pope Benedict begin to understand why he does the things he does. You don't have to be a diehard Papa Ratzi fan to find it a wellwritten , well-researched and comprehensive book, but I suspect you might be a fan by the time you've finished.