Actio Divina

The Marian Mystery of the Church in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI)

by Martin Onuoha (Author)
©2022 Monographs XXX, 122 Pages


This book is a study of a significant nexus in contemporary Catholic thought that has not had the attention that it deserves and is peculiarly relevant to the turbulent conditions of the Modern Church, especially in relation to Vatican II. It is a portrayal of Ratzinger’s discerning grasp of Vatican II Mariology and ecclesiology as a peritus of note during the Council’s sessions. The author lucidly sets out Ratzinger’s understanding of Marian theology as key to the Church’s self-understanding, which was the primary burden of Vatican II and still of the contemporary Church. Faithful to his hermeneutic, one of continuity in reform, the book casts Ratzinger’s appraisal of the Mary-Church relation as receptive to a new shift in the decision not to have a separate Council document on Mary because Mary is already the full realisation of the Church. One of the book’s strikingly novel contributions is its depiction of the Marian dimensions to the Church’s liturgy and missionary evangelization. The author shows that Ratzinger’s thought here is both intricate and coherent and that it discloses a profoundly unifying direction in the Council as a whole, that has not yet been fully understood.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword 1
  • Foreword 2
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Part i
  • Chapter 1 The Church’s Self-Understanding
  • Part ii
  • Chapter 2 Resurgence of Ecclesiotypical Mariology
  • Chapter 3 Main Ecclesiological Models of Vatican II
  • Part iii
  • Chapter 4 Ratzinger on the Marian Nature of the Church
  • Chapter 5 The Liturgy: Ecclesial Self-Expression as Marian Mystery
  • Chapter 6 The Marian Church: Mission and Ministry
  • Bibliography
  • Index

←viii | ix→

Foreword 1

Martin Ifeanyi Onuoha’s two books on the Marian thought of Joseph Ratzinger – the one you hold in your hands, and its ‘prologue’, Mary, Daughter Zion: An Introduction to the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger – are an extended commentary not only on the whole corpus of Ratzinger but also, in a different way, on the Catholic Church of the past sixty years. In these decades, in Western societies, many people have left the Church entirely or else have found themselves so interiorly alienated from the Church that there is little chance their children will remain in the Church. The result has been an accelerating apostasy. People today believe in the Gospel less, participate in the Eucharistic liturgy less, pray to God less, receive the other sacraments less and so on – the very opposite of Vatican II’s hopes.

Theologically, the marks of the crisis are twofold. First, within the Church, a significant group of laity and clergy, not only in Ratzinger’s native Germany but all over the world, seek to redefine Catholicism into something that would be unrecognizable to previous generations. There is a movement to rupture Catholicism from its past, getting rid of many of the Church’s moral teachings and many matters pertaining to the Church’s solemn understanding of the sacraments. This movement understands itself to be either an open dogmatic rupture, or an enlightened discovery that the dogmatic teachings of the second millennium were never really binding dogma. In either case, it is not hard to see that the proposed changes would strip the ground from every element of Catholic doctrine; there would no longer be a reason to be a Catholic rather than a Protestant, and no pope or Council could ever teach in an authoritative or binding manner again. In fact, the pope or Council that taught these ruptures would thereby be revealed as lacking in authority to teach. All too often, one hears that it is the ‘Spirit’ who justifies such changes, but the doctrine of the Spirit was itself solemnly formulated by a Council and was contested by many in the ←ix | x→fourth century. There is no logical reason that the dogmatic understanding of the Spirit should stand while other dogmatic teachings fall.

The goal of this rupture-movement within the Church is clear: to assimilate fully into contemporary Western culture, in which the sexual revolution and certain economic and political outlooks govern acceptable thinking. The actual teachings of the Gospel fade away, while what remain are certain liberative stances taken by Jesus – not the liberation from slavery to sin and death that he actually brought, but rather a liberation from Jewish cult and Roman empire (reflective not of the actual Jesus but of modernity’s theopolitical dreams).

Second, unfortunately, another rupture-movement has emerged. This movement, like the above one, began already in the immediate aftermath (or, in certain ways, during) the Second Vatican Council. It finds the Council’s documents to be deeply problematic. In this regard, it is similar to the religiously liberal movement, which also has little use for the letter of the Council’s documents. For both movements, the Council functions at best as a pastoral Council, but one whose pastoral recommendations almost immediately became outdated. For this self-styled ‘traditionalist’ movement, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Gaudium et Spes are deeply troubling, and even central elements of Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium come under suspicion. Documents such as Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate are more firmly rejected as mistaken and in need of being jettisoned. In various writings, Ratzinger responded both to the traditionalist movement and to the religiously liberal movement. He argued at length that both of them were dead ends, although he well understood the problems that have encouraged the rise of both movements.1

In this context, Onuoha’s profound reading of Ratzinger’s Marian theology invites two thoughts, or, more precisely, two hopes. One is that it may well be the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary – teachings promoted by Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II, and others – that provide the impulse for the renewal sought by the Council, a renewal ←x | xi→that is now more urgently needed than ever. A second is that it may well be African pastors and theologians who ultimately enable the Church to overcome the extremes of religious liberalism and reactionary traditionalism.

Onuoha highlights Ratzinger’s and the Council’s insistence on Mary as the type of the Church. Specifically, Onuoha judges that ‘Ratzinger’s Mariological and Ecclesial thinking (the two are always linked in his understanding) is a crucial resource for the recovery and the renewal of basic teachings which feed the hearts as well as the minds of believers’. Among these basic teachings, Onuoha includes the priority of the Logos, the Marian fiat or self-surrender in love, the Church’s feminine receptivity (not merely passive but also active) to the Word of God, the essential historical veracity of the New Testament, the universality of redemptive grace, the value of virginity, the importance of contemplation and interiority over against mere ‘activism’, the priority of being over doing, the complementarity of man and woman, the Church as a communion of persons rather than merely a bureaucratic institution, the need for kenotic humility in the face of truth and the nature of ‘rational worship’ (Rom 12:1). For Onuoha and Ratzinger, the Council’s decision to include the treatment of Mary within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is decisive. In thinking about the Church, we must reflect upon these above foundational ‘Marian’ principles, because the renewal of the Church will come about through a reassertion of these principles. The turning (or re-turning) of human beings towards Christ will take a Marian form – one that stands apart from the anthropocentric ‘activism’ of our day, and is open afresh to the inner mystery of God’s presence in the incarnate Lord.

Lumen Gentium teaches, ‘Having entered deeply into the history of salvation, Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith: and when she is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son, to his sacrifice and to the love of the Father.’2 This is the very lesson that Onuoha draws out of Ratzinger: the Church learns how to be the Church by meditation ←xi | xii→upon Mary. As Lumen Gentium further explains, ‘Devoutly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse.’3 A Church that neglects Mary will struggle to be configured to Christ, since it will lose touch with the Marian attributes that are crucial for being open to her Son by his Spirit. A Church that recalls Mary – not as a mere individual but as a person who shows the Church how to follow her Son – will be, to that degree, a healthy Church. In this regard Lumen Gentium reports, ‘As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ.’4

As Ratzinger and Onuoha remark, the current crisis in the Church and world has a variety of dimensions, including loss of faith in God the Creator, loss of liturgical symbolism and the sense of mystery, historical-critical doubts about whether the Gospels accurately teach about the person of Jesus, loss of a sense of sin and so on. Catholic scholars have proposed various solutions, such as improved catechesis, reinvigorated theology and a renewed liturgy. But I am struck by the thought that Onuoha – drawing upon Ratzinger and Lumen Gentium – has arrived at the heart of the matter. Namely, what we learn from Onuoha is that for Christian faith to be renewed, the Church’s Marian identity must first be recovered, so that the Church is able to be fully open, in self-surrendering love, to the incarnate Son of God.


XXX, 122
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XXX, 122 pp.

Biographical notes

Martin Onuoha (Author)

Fr Martin Onuoha, also the author of Mary, Daughter Zion: An Introduction to the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), is a theology lecturer and examiner to the B. Div. and Postgraduate students at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, UK. Faculté Nôtre-Dame, Paris, who oversees Maryvale’s Pontifical status, appointed him permanent faculty and a member of the HIRS Council in 2014. He holds a doctorate and a Licence in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, with dissertations on the Writings of Joseph Ratzinger, both of which were awarded summa cum laude. He is a member of the Theological Commission of the International Marian Association, of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria. In addition to his lecturing duties, he is currently the parish priest of the parishes of Our Lady and the Apostles, St Ambrose, and St Vincent, Stockport, while providing priestchaplaincy support for Aquinas College, St James’ Catholic High School, and the Nigeria-African chaplaincy, Liverpool. He is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, Mbaise, in Imo State, Nigeria.


Title: Actio Divina
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
154 pages