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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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In Washington in 1990, Joseph Ratzinger posed what he understood to be a fundamental question about the human condition: “what is freedom and where does man find that road which doesn’t just go anywhere, but leads to true freedom, to the real ‘promised land’ for human existence?”1 Twenty years earlier, he voiced a similar concern for freedom and its full and proper flourishing: “[t]here is a cry for liberation from the prison of positivism, as there is too, for liberation from a form of faith that has allowed itself to become a burden instead of a vehicle of freedom.”2 At all times, both in those years and up to the present day, he has explored and promoted an answer to the question that considers the Church as Raum der Freiheit – as “locus” or “sphere” of freedom in terms of divine-human relationality,3 ← 1 | 2 → the liturgy,4 reconciliation,5 faith,6 hope,7 theological endeavour,8 and society.9 It is a rich and dynamic expression intended to acknowledge the nuanced ← 2 | 3 → and multifaceted challenge existing today for ecclesiologists who wish to reflect on the concept of freedom in its relation to (modern) religious man.

The purpose of this book is to consider how cogently Ratzinger presents the case for the Church’s presence in the world as a liberating force for humanity. It asks: how does Ratzinger characterize the Church as a sphere beneficial to humanity’s yearning for liberation in a time when...

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