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A Liberation Ecclesiology?

The Quest for Authentic Freedom in Joseph Ratzinger’s Theology of the Church

Sean Corkery

Freedom, one of the most potent ideals of the post-Enlightenment era, came to remarkable prominence in ecclesiology through the emergence of liberation theologies in the twentieth century. At the same time, Joseph Ratzinger – a German university professor – was appointed a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His interaction with the pioneers of the liberationist movement led him to engage directly with the Christian understanding of freedom and its significance. As a result, his interest in freedom as a theological question expanded from the 1970s onwards.
This book explores whether the basis for a liberation ecclesiology can be attributed to Ratzinger in his own right. While the volume’s focus is ecclesiological, the author also gathers together many strands of Ratzinger’s core theological insights in an attempt to establish how he approaches an issue that is both provocative and highly topical.
Ratzinger is a controversial and engaging figure, and this book is essential reading for those who wish to understand how he deals with a theological topic of ongoing concern to society in general and the Catholic Church in particular.
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Chapter 2: Reading the Contemporary Cultural and Ecclesial Dynamics of Freedom

Extract

CHAPTER 2

Reading the Contemporary Cultural and Ecclesial Dynamics of Freedom

Ratzinger says that nowadays the theme of freedom “gets its specific contours from the modern era, which begins with the Enlightenment.”1 In fact, he maintains this historical period “claims to be in a special way the history of freedom, in which the nature of freedom comes to light for the very first time.”2 To his mind, one must study “the question of what freedom is and what it cannot be within the panorama of this history” because in it, “for the first time, [man] no longer has to accept history as an unalterable fate but can guide his own destinies and thus shape history as a process of liberation.”3 At the same time, Ratzinger is under no illusions about the complexities of the topic. Something of its “problematic and inscrutable nature” rapidly surfaces, he says, when one considers how remarkable it is that the experience of freedom and constraint applies even ← 99 | 100 → to Western societies “which with good reason can call themselves ‘free’.”4 The outcome of the contemporary (western) way of life, he says, has been that an “abundance of regulations, reaching into everyday life, produces an odd sense of restriction, boredom with institutionally organised freedom and a cry for a better, radical, anarchic freedom.”5 He maintains that the ← 100 | 101 → sensation has increased of feeling hemmed in by an excess of institutionally organized freedom. This cry for freedom...

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