The Aufklärung as the Hermeneutical Framework of the Christo-Ecclesiology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment movement that swept across much of Europe, notably France, England and Germany, came to mean different things to different peoples, embodying different strands and currents of thought. Even with the national and cultural specificities, the common element that cut across national boundaries was the appeal to reason as the point of departure in interpreting individual and communal behavior. The Aufklärung, that is, the German strand of the Enlightenment, was particularly acute in its interaction and more pointedly, its challenge of traditional Christian orthodoxy and doctrines. Given this obvious interest in Christian thought by the Aufklärung, it is quite predictable that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI became concerned with the perspectives and positions of the Aufklärer. To Ratzinger, the Aufklärung marked an enduring criticism of revealed faith, a critique that the Church is yet to fully engage and respond to. The critique of faith by the Aufklärung has lost nothing of its freshness and attraction, two centuries later. This task of opening avenues of rational engagements with the modes of thought of the Aufklärung is not just the expedient thing to do. There is a more profound reason: Christianity, as Ratzinger has repeatedly pointed out, is a religion of the Logos, a Logos that at the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), entered history. To foster this rapport between faith and the Aufklärung, Ratzinger therefore finds a ready tool in the Johannine appropriation of the Greek concept of the Logos. In Ratzinger, one discerns a five-fold usage of the concept of logos that could be useful in creating a space of interaction and engagement with the Aufklärung: As Creative Reason, Son, Person, Unity of Love and Word. These five appropriations of logos will therefore provide avenues by which Ratzinger will engage the Aufklärung. What this dissertation seeks to achieve by way of moving the needle of knowledge is to study Ratzinger from the philosophical prism of the Aufklärung, that is, how do Ratzinger’s theological ideas, convictions and conclusions place him in dialogue and engagement with the philosophical currents of the post-Aufklärung era, especially the philosophers that emerge from Germany? This thesis therefore places Ratzinger in dialogue with notable Aufklärung figures like Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger around the central Christological and Ecclesiological questions as seen in the multiple appropriation of the concept of logos by Ratzinger. Overall, one gains a deeper appreciation not only of Ratzinger’s Christo-ecclesial hermeneutical framework, but also the philosophical currents and presuppositions that shaped and contextualized the thinking of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, especially from the prism of the dialogue between faith and reason, and the continuous relevance for such a hermeneutical framework for today’s Church, as we continue to grapple with the challenges of the autonomy of reason and science vis-à-vis the traditional claims of Christian orthodoxy.