Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Ratzinger's theology of divine revelation: a comparative study


Wood, Andrew Francis. (2018) Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Ratzinger's theology of divine revelation: a comparative study [Thesis].
AuthorsWood, Andrew Francis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This dissertation is a comparative study of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Joseph Ratzinger’s (b.1927) theology of the way God reveals, or divine Revelation.

The Dissertation’s Question and Outline

Early in his theological formation Ratzinger was disenchanted by the Neo-Scholastic presentation he received of Thomas’s theology from his seminary professors in Freising. Upon discovering philosophical Personalism, he subsequently acquired an Augustinian, Bonaventurian, and even neo-Platonic tendency. Despite this, he claims never to have rejected Aquinas or his doctrine.

With his early work in Fundamental Theology, laying important foundations for his theological career, and the contentions over interpreting Aquinas between the twentieth-century’s Ressourcement and Neo-Thomistic theologians, along with Ratzinger’s influence on Dei verbum’s composition, an opening arises for a comparative study of his Revelation theology with Aquinas’s. Thus the dissertation seeks to answer whether or not Ratzinger’s Revelation theology is congruent with Aquinas’s, and if so, does it advance from Aquinas’s principles (although definitely unintendedly). The study therefore presents and compares their understand of: (1) Revelation’s essential purpose; (2) its essential act; and (3) how it is received.

Presenting the evidence substantiating these claims, the dissertation takes a threefold approach. It outlines important background details, and identifies its key question, its methodological approach and sets its objectives (Section 1.). It presents the evidence of Aquinas and Ratzinger’s positions (Sections 2. to 4.), and finally compares them (Section 5.).

The Dissertation’s Contention and Summary of its Argument

This dissertation contends that the foundation of their differences lies in Aquinas’s Aristotelian intellectualism as a university professor, and Ratzinger’s philosophical Personalism, which he employed for pastoral reasons.

Regarding Revelation’s purpose, Aquinas understands it as ultimately given for our salvation (i.e., the attainment of the beatific vision); while Ratzinger understands it as bringing about the loving dialogical communion between persons, climaxing in Christ himself. From his intellectualism, Aquinas understands the essential revelatory act as consisting in the divine illumination of the Prophet’s judgment (and Christ’s beatific vision) within an Aristotelian lineal history; whereas Ratzinger understands it as consisting in a Christological dialogue, unfolding in a circular or spiral Christocentric history. Regarding their understanding of Revelation’s reception, Aquinas posits that it essentially consists in the intellectual acceptance of the revealed sacra doctrina through divine faith; whereas Ratzinger posits that it consists in a personal encounter and one’s entrance into what he terms, the ‘Christ-Event,’ by entering the life, worship and faith of the Church (and especially through her liturgy).

The dissertation contends that Ratzinger’s Revelation theology is congruent with Aquinas’s principles, since they fundamentally agree that the revelatory act is a divine ‘speech-act.’ (Although Thomas does not employ this exact term I believe it can be argued that it adequately describes his understanding). It also contends that Ratzinger advances Aquinas’s understanding by positing that Revelation is not just a ‘speech-act’ stuck in the past but has a perennial connotation as it is an ongoing dialogical ‘speech-act’ unfolding throughout history. Ratzinger does this by essentially incorporating history into his theology, as derived from his study of Bonaventure. Ratzinger also advances beyond Thomas’s understanding by affirming that for Revelation to be had it must be received, and that the proper receiving subject is not the individual believer but the believing community of the whole Church (this is ‘Revelation’s proper dialogue partner’). Here they differ in their respective understanding of the Church’s role. Whereas Ratzinger incorporates the Church into Revelation’s essential act, Aquinas understands it more as a guarantor of Revelation’s message.

Regarding Revelation’s reception through faith, Aquinas understands it as an intellectual assent to the realities revealed; whereas Ratzinger understands it as consisting in a personal encounter whereby the believer enters into the divine dialogue of love by entering the Church’s life, teaching, worship, and especially her faith, as manifest in and through her liturgy.

The Contribution made by this Comparative Study

Undertaking this study, I offer a contribution to the ‘reconciliatory dialogue’ currently occurring between ‘intellectual descendants’ of the twentieth-century’s Catholic Ressourcement Movement and Neo-Scholastic Thomism. I contribute to our understanding of Aquinas’s positions concerning the way God reveals, and further our understanding of Revelation theology. The dissertation is not a historical study of Ratzinger and Aquinas, but a constructive study in systematic theology.

Keywordsthomas aquinas; joseph ratzinger; divine revelation; personalism
PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
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Publication dates
Online01 Mar 2018
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