Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Curmudgeon Alert: Ratzinger Foundation Prizes

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 17, 2014

In response to many requests, Pope Benedict established a Vatican Foundation in 2010, named for Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, to foster the work of theologians, including the study, development and application of the special contributions to the field which, as a professor, Joseph Ratzinger had bequeathed to innumerable students. Moreover, Pope Benedict provided much of the initial funding for the Foundation, by donating a substantial portion of the proceeds from his own books.

In addition to offering prizes, the Foundation hoped to establish a chair in theology at the University of Regensburg. Clearly, the Foundation is a worthy project, and I was glad to see that it has announced its annual prizes.

At the same time, I can’t help but notice that the two scholars to receive prizes for 2014 are noted for their work on women and on Judaism, as if to say that Christ’s message requires special particularization for females and Jews. I am very sure that the Ratzinger Foundation, like any foundation, has certain preoccupations that it wishes to encourage, and I do not deny that these are both significant topics in our times. But this raises important questions.

Has something significant changed from the way Christianity was advanced in apostolic times? Where does a burning proclamation of the power of Christ come in? Where is the universal message of salvation, the compelling insistence that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations” (Lk 24:47)? Why is the success of the Catholic Faith now so often perceived in terms of the special needs of different interest groups?

I am not saying this is useless. I am simply asking whether our modern preoccupation with special groups does not sometimes compromise our confidence in the Gospel itself. Jesus Christ is the only name under Heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). We do well to remember that He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 18, 2014 10:49 PM ET USA

    Bravo. It is very wise to look at what we are doing and why we are doing it. Particularly for baby-boom Catholics and for those born after, these questions are essential. Are we so much more complex and sophisticated than Christians of the past? Has the human condition changed so radically in recent times that we must revolutionize the gospel message? Is Augustine less relevant today than he was 1500 years ago? Excellent insights Dr. Mirus. Indispensable questions for a better tomorrow.

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jun. 18, 2014 8:47 PM ET USA

    The Church's 'agenda', so to speak, should not try to follow the world's agenda. But it can respond to it, as necessary clarification when so many in Church confuse the two. Not being acquainted with those works, it's hard to say if Elizabeth is right and the foundation is merely being reactive, or if the foundation is serving as point of progressivist infiltration.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 18, 2014 2:46 PM ET USA

    I have found this to be true, working in a Diocesan chancery. We spend a lot of time talking about the needs of particular groups, and almost no time talking about the universal message of the Gospel. For instance in the case of ministry to natives, it is never even mentioned any more that we might seek to evangelize and convert them, rather, we just speak about respecting their traditions and beliefs. There is a great fear to speak as if all people are in need of salvation in Christ.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jun. 18, 2014 11:52 AM ET USA

    The recipients are noted in the linked story. Please understand that I have little doubt that the theology of the recipients is excellent, and that they deserve the awards. I merely used the occasion to raise a question about whether our constant willingness to focus on the special needs of this or that group, while it has its place (see ElizabethD's point, for example), might at the same time tend to obscure the even deeer reality that all persons are in need of the Gospel in essentially the very same way. Neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek: We are all to be one in Christ (Gal 3:28). Can differences and the obstacles they present be overrated?

  • Posted by: - Jun. 18, 2014 9:51 AM ET USA

    Who are the recipients? Just wondering if their work is in some way related to the Gospel message. I mean, is the Ratzinger prize for any theology? or only for Catholic theology?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 17, 2014 10:52 PM ET USA

    Very good questions indeed. A term that recently appeared in a controversial George Will article-"faux sophistication"- comes to mind. Another is hubrility; the unfortunate facility for discarding established enduring principles under the banner of humility. Catholics are seeing almost daily a moral attrition in the face of intense and rather very self-righteous declarations of freedom, happiness and equality for all. Resistance is politically futile; we have done ourselves a disfavor.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Jun. 17, 2014 9:49 PM ET USA

    In the case of studies related to women, it seems to me there can be a "contra heresias" aspect to this, since there is a simply vast amount of heterodoxy regarding women and the Catholic faith. When it is framed in positive terms, orthodox work on this subject matter helps counter unsound radical feminist approaches.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Jun. 17, 2014 6:02 PM ET USA

    Heheh, I'm afraid I have to agree with the self-imposed "curmudgeon" title. Women are hardly an "interest group", and Judaism is the cradle from which Christianity sprung. As someone somewhere has said, the Church is big enough to walk and chew gum at the same time. I expect your sense that there is in the Church a "preoccupation with special groups" may be exaggerated because your line of work requires you to see and hear about them disproportionately to their actual effect.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jun. 17, 2014 2:46 PM ET USA

    "Why is the success of … " Excellent question! One part of the answer is that academics have lost the ability to get to first principles, and have, as a result, become subject to fads and groupthink.