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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 8: The Church as Witness: Practising Freedom in the World



The Church as Witness: Practising Freedom in the World

As a consequence of contemporary value systems, Ratzinger believes Christianity must acknowledge the fact that the psyche of believers, no less than that of other members of society, is possessed of a desire to safeguard personal autonomy. In and of itself a good and noble development, he points out that for members of the Church it can lead to “a flight from the demands of Christianity and an attempt to have as much of the powers of religion as possible and to give as little of oneself as possible, to have to commit oneself as little as possible.”1 At the same time, he says it has to be remembered that “God does not want to have slaves, whom he simply renders righteous and whom he himself does not take at all seriously. It is, rather, a matter of his making men into genuine partners, into real conscious agents, who then on the basis of this beginning that he has given them, become capable themselves of cooperating and who are also responsible in this cooperation.”2

The challenge for the Church as witness is to come to terms with how “our manner of thinking and our actions become thinking and action with Christ and of Christ.”3 In the face of this, Ratzinger believes there is a need for a growing awareness of “that none-too-easy balance between a proper incarnation in history and...

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