Mary, Daughter Zion

An Introduction to the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI)

by Martin Onuoha (Author)
©2022 Monographs XXVI, 252 Pages


This book is an original study of the Marian discourses of Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) who is recognised as a major modern theologian within and without the Catholic Church. It evinces Ratzinger’s ability to open new horizons in inherited teaching and new ways of understanding it within the parameters of orthodox theology. This is especially true of his theological understanding of Mary and the relationship of her being to that of the Church. The author gives a succinct introduction to this Mariology, navigating through biblical theology, Patristics, history of dogma, Christian anthropology, and some contemporary developments in Marian studies. By highlighting the devotional and pastoral implications of Marian spirituality in the Church, Ratzinger is further portrayed as a faithful theologian and conserver of the truth of Christian worship (lex credendi, lex orandi). Undoubtedly, Ratzinger is a renowned theologian, but the scholarly nature of this text convincingly presents him as a sound and outstanding Mariologist. This book is the fi rst to offer a fascinatingly comprehensive and intelligible account of this subject by drawing together, for the fi rst time, passages from a very wide range of Ratzinger’s writings.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword 1
  • Foreword 2
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Part I
  • Chapter 1 Ratzinger the Theologian and His Theological Method
  • Part II
  • Chapter 2 Mary in the Old Testament
  • Part III
  • Chapter 3 Mary in the Infancy Narratives of the New Testament
  • Chapter 4 Mary in the New Testament as a Whole
  • Part IV
  • Chapter 5 The Marian Dogmas
  • Part V
  • Chapter 6 Pedagogue of Continuity (The Centrality of Mary’s ‘Yes’)
  • Chapter 7 The Placing and Contexts of Mariology
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Foreword 1

In Mary: Daughter of Zion, Fr Martin Onuoha not only assembles the scattered fragments of Joseph Ratzinger’s Mariology but also argues that Ratzinger’s works offer a whole new dimension, not only to Mariology, but to theology itself. Following upon the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century searches for a principle upon which a sound Mariology might be built, Onuoha argues that Ratzinger identified this principle as the spiritual disposition made manifest in the Virgin’s ‘fiat’. In the words of Cardinal Suenens: ‘The fiat of the Annunciation expressed an abiding state of soul, extending to her whole life, and translating into action the whole theology elaborated by the inspired teachers of Israel’ (Suenens: Mary, the Mother of God, 1959, p. 34). The question asked of the Virgin by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation was God’s marriage proposal to humanity, and the Virgin’s active (not passive) response, was an act of cosmic significance. Citing the axiom Agere sequiter esse – action follows being – Onuoha argues that Ratzinger’s understanding of the unity between Mary’s being and her actions is one of his outstanding contributions to Mariology.

In his interview with Vittorio Messori, Ratzinger listed six reasons why Mariology is needed to secure the equilibrium of the Catholic faith and in other places he spoke of the role of Mariology as a pointer towards the correct positioning of Christological accents. The notion of securing an equilibrium and of identifying the correct positioning of accents are both concepts related to poise and balance. In theological parlance it is commonly remarked that Mariology is intrinsically related to Christology and to ecclesiology such that anything that is said of the Church can also be said of Mary, and vice versa, and that Mary is all that she is, because of her relationship to Christ. Ratzinger, however, with his references to equilibrium and correct positions, almost paradoxically, invites us to look at these relationships from the other direction, as it were. While Marian theology, and especially Marian devotion, is often regarded as the most ←ix | x→unbalanced dimension of Catholic faith and practice, especially by those outside the Church, Ratzinger suggests that it is precisely Mariology that offers an anchor or steadying and balancing mechanism, for the larger edifice of Catholic theology.

Specifically, the reasons Ratzinger offered to defend this claim are: (1) the perpetual virginity of Mary sits well with the notion that in Christ two natures are united in the one person; (2) since the Marian dogmas have their foundations in Scripture, Mariology becomes a kind of show case of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition; (3) Mary is the bridge or clasp uniting the Old and New Testaments; (4) Mariology has both a rational and an affective dimension and thus brings together the operations of the intellect with the ‘reasons of the heart’; (5) since Mary is, in the words of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, ‘figure’, ‘image’ and ‘model’ of the Church, Mariology deters ecclesiology from moving towards a masculinized model of the Church as a cold bureaucracy and (6) the study of Mariology offers insights for a deeper understanding of spirituality.

A further hallmark of Ratzinger’s approach to Mariology is his appreciation of the fact that the Scriptures work through connected narratives and symbols, or what are described as typological motifs. The typological reading of the Scriptures was retrieved and amplified by the French Ressourcement theologians of the mid-twentieth century, especially by Henri de Lubac and Jean Daniélou who were theological influences in Ratzinger’s youth. Salvation history is peppered with typologies and Ratzinger situates Mary within a long line of female ‘types’ culminating in her own ‘type’ as Daughter of Zion.

This recognition of the ‘type’ requires a panoramic view of the whole of salvation history and is an incidence of what Ratzinger, following Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was also seized by the cosmic significance of the Marian ‘fiat’, described as the relationship between the whole and fragment. One must see the whole within the fragment and the fragment within the whole.

Yet another hallmark identified by Onuoha is the personalistic quality of Ratzinger’s Mariology. As he says, Ratzinger’s Mariology is affective, incarnational and personalistic, it includes all three dimensions. In relation to the personalistic dimension Onuoha quite acutely observes that ←x | xi→Ratzinger emphasizes the fact that God really wanted the consent of the Virgin to the Incarnation. Her consent mattered. Her withholding of consent could have changed the whole trajectory of salvation history. She had the freedom to say No. Her Yes meant that salvation history rests on a free decision of a free person, not on a cosmic necessity. The German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) may have a problem with this, and his phrase a ‘great ugly ditch’ meaning that the accidental truths of history can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason, may have been echoed down the centuries, nonetheless Joseph Ratzinger is not scared of the ditch. He is prepared to acknowledge that the mediation of history in the realm of ontology presented Catholic theology with its most serious crisis in the twentieth century, but his appropriation of personalist philosophy helped him to understand the mechanics of the mediation, and above all, the place of the theological virtue of love, in the economy of salvation. The Christian God is a God of love and a God who respects human freedom. The Christian God is a personal God, indeed, a tri-personal God whose relationship with humanity is personal and this personal dimension of the God-Man relation is exemplified, at its highest intensity, at the moment of the Incarnation. It is this moment that for Ratzinger becomes the axis of his Mariological reflections.

Fr Martin Onuoha brings his synthesis of Ratzinger’s Mariology to a conclusion with the observation that, for Ratzinger, Mary is the revelation of the essence of femininity and, as such, the remedy to the contemporary ‘crisis of woman’. After a century of feminist social theory all we have is a history of ‘waves’ of feminist theory, each wave crushing down upon the judgements of its predecessor. The positions of one wave cancel the arguments of another. Essentialist feminism and constructivist feminism remain irreconcilable while the Daughter of Zion, who is, without any doubt, the most famous woman in history, is myopically sidelined by the purveyors of ideologies wearing blinkers. Fr Onuoha’s scholarship presented in this monograph may help to broaden our horizons.

Tracey Rowland

St John Paul II Chair of Theology, University of Notre Dame (Australia)

Foreword 2

When Catholics think of Marian popes, some will consider pontiffs like Bl. Pius IX who defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, or Leo XIII, who issued twelve encyclicals on the Rosary. Others might point to Pius XII, who defined the dogma of the Assumption, or St John Paul II and his extensive Marian corpus. Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI usually does not come to mind as a Marian pope or a significant Marian theologian. This understanding, though, needs to be challenged. In Mary, Daughter Zion Rev. Martin Ifeanyi Onuoha shows that Joseph Ratzinger is a significant Marian theologian who understands that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays an indispensable role in salvation history centred on the great event of the Incarnation.

Although the Marian writings of Joseph Ratzinger are not extensive, they are essential to his theological vision. Fr. Onuoha does not try to place Joseph Ratzinger into a Mariological category such as Marian maximalism or minimalism or ecclesio-typical as opposed to Christo-typical Mariology. Instead, he allows the great Bavarian theologian and pope to speak for himself. In the process, we come to understand that Ratzinger’s Mariology is grounded in a theological vision that is biblical, patristic, liturgical and above all incarnational.

For Joseph Ratzinger Mary’s ‘yes’ to be the Mother of Word Incarnate unites the Old Covenant with the New and God with human history. Mary’s ‘yes’ is a salvific and cosmic event prepared by her predestination and Immaculate Conception. It is a ‘yes’ that has been eloquently celebrated by Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas. Mary’s active receptivity of grace provides a model for how human beings are to respond with full freedom to God’s call. For Joseph Ratzinger Mary unites within herself all the great mysteries of the faith (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 65). Mary is Daughter Zion who exemplifies the faith of Israel. She is the figure or type of the Church as bride and mother. She expresses genuine faith and true freedom, and she is the model of authentic ←xiii | xiv→femininity. For Joseph Ratzinger, the Blessed Virgin Mary shows how human beings are called to holiness and communion. Mary embodies truth, beauty, grace and joy. Her Magnificat is the great model of the human response to God rooted in worship, praise and thanksgiving.

In Mary, Daughter Zion, Fr. Onuoha helps us understand how central Mary is to the theological vision of Joseph Ratzinger. This is a vision that is Christocentric, liturgical and contemplative with Mary as the supreme model for all the faithful – men as well as women. For Ratzinger, the supreme dignity of the human person is found in relationship with God. Mary is at the centre of God’s revelation for she unites the universal Logos with humanity in the Logos Incarnatus, conceived in her womb.

When we understand how central the Blessed Virgin Mary is to the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, we will not be surprised by the remarkable words he spoke as Pope Benedict on 11 May 2007 at Campo de Marte, São Paulo, for the canonization of Frei Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão:

Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, stands particularly close to us at this moment. … She, the Tota Pulchra, the Virgin Most Pure, who conceived in her womb the Redeemer of mankind and was preserved from all stain of original sin, wishes to be the definitive seal of our encounter with God our Savior. There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady.

Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. Bishop Kevin M. Britt Chair of Dogmatic Theology and Christology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan USA


‘Without Mary the entire process of Gods stepping into history would fail of its object …. She has an indisputable place in our belief in the living and acting God.1 In these words, Joseph Ratzinger reiterated the call of recent Popes (and even the current Pope, Francis) on all Gods people to give special attention to the role and place of the Blessed Virgin in salvation. Ratzinger spoke as a theologian but Mariology, the branch of theology that deals with this subject, has had a complex and often dialectical history journey. This is evident in debates about the Theotokos in the fifth century and the debates about the Immaculate Conception in the nineteenth century which was, in fact, long preceded by debates in the Middle Ages (with Bernard and Thomas opposed and Scotus in favour) and again in the sixteenth century when the Spanish tried to have the dogma promulgated. Exception needs to be made here for the dogma of Assumption in the last century which sailed smoothly, as all those consulted consented because it had been a teaching and liturgical feast in both Eastern and Western Churches for centuries. The intermittent agitations for and against a fifth Marian dogma, on Mary as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix, however, continue this dialectical pattern in Mariology.

Some positions in this dialectic exhibit an exaggeration that Ratzinger calls a sort of miniature second edition of Christology.2 Others, in avoiding this extreme, or perhaps anxiously ecumenical, end up in a reductionistic Mariology that either contradicts, or does not adequately represent the evidence of the revelatory texts and events. No less dangerous are the tendencies of sitting on the fence, avoiding or suspending judgement, or ←xv | xvi→the alternative of settling into excessively devotional language and thereby eschewing all theological engagement.

Such tensions appear to have reached a decisive moment at the Second Vatican Council. The impassioned debate as to whether to dedicate a separate treatise to the Virgin Mary or to integrate Mariology into the document on the Church, and the subsequent vote on the matter, is now a familiar theme. The fact that the winning side succeeded only by a narrow margin (1114–1074) demonstrates the weight of the conundrum, and the extent of the prevailing confusion. The apparent victory, of what we could call the biblical-ecumenical-liturgical School over the Charismatic-Marian School, brought about the insertion of the Marian tract into Lumen Gentium – the teaching on the Church – as the eight and the concluding chapter, a chapter that Saint John Paul II has described as ‘the “magna carter” of Mariology for our times’.3 This marked the crowning of ecclesio-typical Mariology. Theological epochs to come, though, will continue to grapple with the full comprehension and the harnessing of the implications of this ecclesial Mariology, or Marian ecclesiology. For, as Ratzinger rightly notes, it ‘brought about a decision whose significance can hardly be overestimated’.4

It stands to reason that what one makes of Mariology largely depends on attitudes to Christology. Remarkably, this works vice versa too, as evidenced in the declaration of Mary as Theotokos which preserves and proclaims both the absolute humanity and absolute deity of Christ in unmitigated fashion. Ratzinger has attempted to produce a remedy for the mariological challenges, based on secure theological premises: fidelity to the Revealed Word of God, Tradition and the wisdom of the Church Fathers of both East and West, together with an emphasis on the wholeness ←xvi | xvii→or unity of revelation. In this view, every part of the revelatory texts and events is linked to the others and needs the whole for the grasping of its true meaning.


XXVI, 252
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XXVI, 252 pp.

Biographical notes

Martin Onuoha (Author)

Fr Martin Ifeanyi Onuoha, also the author of Actio Divina: The Marian Mystery of the Church in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger, 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 Pontifi cal 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 Pontifi cal 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. He is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, Mbaise, in Imo State, Nigeria, ordained in 2001, after receiving degrees in Philosophy and Theology from the Pontifi cal Urban University, Rome (through Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu), and a HND in Mass Communication from Enugu State University of Science and Technology. 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 priest-chaplaincy support for Aquinas College, St James’ Catholic High School, and the Nigeria-African chaplaincy, Liverpool.


Title: Mary, Daughter Zion
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