Ratzinger and Daniélou, an extraordinary ecclesial mission


The conference entitled “Ratzinger, Daniélou and the mystery of history” will be held on 12th and 13th February at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. Father Giulio Maspero, professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Theology Faculty and Full member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, is one of the organizers of the conference. In this interview, he talks about the initiative, the thought of the two theologians, their intellectual inclinations and leading role. “Even though both of them have been great intellectuals and university professors, they committed themselves to helping the Church and the poorest people, in obedience to Christ” he affirmed.

Why did you put Jean Daniélou and Joseph Ratzinger together as the topic of a conference?

In 2014 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the death of Jean Daniélou. He was an open minded Jesuit theologian and he considered his spiritual mission as the expression of the faith to the real truth of Christ. He reminds us of his brother Jorge Bergoglio, today Pope Francis. Some years ago, with Jonah Lynch and the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, we dedicated a study day to this important French theologian, whose thought is not sufficiently appreciated. So we decided to celebrate his anniversary with a conference. After Pope Benedict resigned, along with the Patres Association we asked the Ratzinger Foundation to put these two great theologians together. They lived during the 20th century, that was so important from the theological point of view. They are very different: one of them is French and the other one is German, one is a patrology scholar and the other is a dogmatic scholar and they have got different dispositions. It is because of these differences that we can appreciate their thought. We realized we had a good idea when the Pontifical Academy of Theology started supporting our initiative; the President of the Academy P.R.Tremblay, one of Ratzinger’s students, will make the first presentation of the conference. We are also supported by other Italian and international academic institutions, such as the Library and Art Gallery of the Accademia Ambrosiana of Milan, the University of Bologna (Alma Mater Studiorum) and the two Spanish universities of S. Damaso and Navarra, the Università del Sacro Cuore of Milan, the University of Chieti and the Lateran University.

Which is the main theme of the thought of the two theologians?

Both Daniélou and Ratzinger let people understand them easily even when they deal with the deepest truth. Beyond technical books, they also wrote immensely readable and appreciated volumes. This is due to the fact that they respect history, they speak to the man of their time and let him be in contact with the sources (the Scriptures and tradition, the Fathers of the Church and the liturgy). Sometimes Daniélou was opposed by some patristic scholars and Ratzinger by some experts of exegesis. As theologians, both of them developed a patristic, biblical and liturgical theology but they are far from historicist reductionism. The main reason why we put them so close is their theological conception of history and of its mystery.

History is not a simple subject that we can study as we usually do with minerals and fossils: it has a deep value in itself and it deals with our lives. The mystery of history means that we have to study it by means of a dialogue, because every event is the answer to a question. A mere philosophical or historicistic approach to history is not the right way to understand it, because history is linked to our freedom, that is the centre of this mystery. What Ratzinger and Daniélou have in common is that they have developed an authentic theology of history in the period in which idealistic and positivistic philosophical views of history ruled; the same happened with historicism.

Which are the points that the two protagonists of the Church of the 20th century have in common?

They have got a lot of things in common. First of all both of them have been very careful with scriptural and liturgical sources and their thought is full of patristic theology. Joseph Ratzinger referred mainly to Latin sources and to Saint Augustine, and to the medieval tradition that followed. He also investigated theology of history and Saint Bonaventure. Jean Daniélou chose Greek sources, such as Gregory of Nyssa, a father from Cappadocia (fourth century a.D.). His intellectual concerns are clear in the thought of the French theologian and are particularly evident in his spiritual dimension, pastoral openness and philosophy.

Ratzinger and Daniélou shared the interest for philosophy: both of them knew the differences between theology and philosophy, but they investigated the relationship between the two disciplines as a proper need of the Gospel. In fact the Good News has to be spread; but speaking to non-religious people means having a deep knowledge of philosophy and of the search for the Truth, that characterizes the history of the human thought. If we spoke as Ratzinger use to do, we would say that the gift of divine love (agape) throughout history is always linked to romantic love (eros) and human affection. The attention to the mankind is also evident in their study of religions. Both authors overcome reductionism and use a dialogical perspective, trying to find out questions and answers.

The most important point the two authors have in common is that they committed themselves to pastoral dedication and ecclesial service during their lives, without any fear. Even though they have been great intellectuals and university professors, they have always helped the Church and the poorest people, in obedience to Christ.

Religions, missions, liturgy, the truth and history are the topics you have chosen to debate on during the conference. Could you tell us how will you discuss these topics?

As I have just explained, the conference will be about the dialogue between love as eros and love as agape and it will start from the study of religions of the two authors. This is a fundamental element to understand human doubts about God, while liturgy will help us to develop the topic of divine love. We will stress that their thought is fully inclined to mission and the mystery of history, and to love for the Truth. Then, we will develop their theology and discuss about how to help people to answer to their doubts. The last part of the conference will be about theology of history and about Ratzinger and Daniélou as good examples for this kind of studies. Great importance will be given to the relationship between theology of history and philosophy, metaphysics in particular. Both Joseph Ratzinger and Jean Daniélou are considered as points of reference for Trinitarian ontology, the study that finds the source of its Trinitarian origin in creation.

Could you tell us about your presentation?

I committed myself in studying how the Trinitarian dimension is linked to the mankind and to the whole world. I have always wondered how the Fathers have succeeded in questioning classical metaphysics and in developing a new thought. They have successfully answered to contemporary man living a postmodern crisis. The crisis metaphysics is living is not due to the fact that it is an old discipline. We use metaphysics every day in every situation. It helps us when we order our meals at restaurants, when we ask “What is that?”.

Metaphysics was born in Greece in a pagan context, in which the real value of history and the mankind was not evident. Only after Christian Revelation we have been able to understand the truth. Ratzinger and Daniélou started to think about what would happen if we accepted that God lives in communion with Trinity. Today theology examines this topic, thanks to well-known theologians, such as Lubomir Zak, from the Lateran University and Piero Coda, from the Sophia University Institute.

This is the reason why the last two presentations of the conference will be dedicated to the relationship between the human being and history. They will be made by Robert Wozniak, from Cracow, one of the best Polish dogmatic theologians, and me.

Why did you invite an Anglican theologian as John Milbank?

I cannot say that John Milbank is an expert of the thought of Ratzinger or Daniélou, but the aim of the conference is not only to speak about these authors, but also to find out how can we manage their theological inheritance. Milbank will help us with this topic, because he has always promoted a theological movement with the aim to examine the relationship between theology and philosophy, with a view to history and its mystery. We asked him to talk about theology of history. He is one of the theologians searching for a Trinitarian ontology and we consider him as a extraordinary companion to share this experience.

Luca Caruso

(Translation by Iolanda Lanzafame)