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The Church as Hermeneutical Community and the Place of Embodied Faith in Joseph Ratzinger and Lewis S. Mudge


Mary McCaughey

This book adds new impetus to ecumenical theology by focusing on embodied faith or the contextual interpretation of Revelation. It does so through an exploration of the insights of Lewis S. Mudge and Joseph Ratzinger. Mudge advocates catholicity as a hermeneutic which embraces the contextuality of faith in local contexts, including Christian communities and the religious practice of those of other Abrahamic faiths. Through his use of semiotics and social theory, Mudge offers novel ways to interpret faith lived as redemptive existence.
Since for Joseph Ratzinger Revelation can never be fully confined to rational statements, it is nevertheless expressed in living praxis. This relates to his view of wisdom, Tradition, truth and the sensus fidei. Ratzinger focuses on embodied faith in Christian experience, the lives of the saints, New Ecclesial Movements and the plurality of different expressions of faith in synchronic unity.
This study encourages the reader to explore the Church as a sacrament of redemption through contextuality and embodiment. Through the writings of two authors with contrasting and yet complimentary approaches, it highlights the transformative potential of Christianity which can serve as a point of ecumenical learning.
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Chapter Five: Joseph Ratzinger on the Church as a Hermeneutical Community

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In this chapter we introduce the understanding of the Church as hermeneutical community in Joseph Ratzinger. While his theological approach differs from that of Lewis Mudge in that his ecclesiology pays less attention to sociological explorations of context, his theological approach nevertheless includes attempts to understand how Christian Revelation is interpreted through reception, faith community, context and faith in its existential praxis. In this way he provides a suitable dialogue partner with Lewis Mudge. In bringing both authors into dialogue we have in mind also how both these theologies of the Church as hermeneutical community can learn each from the other. Considering too that their respective ecclesiologies are from the perspective of two different Christian denominations, there is a sense that our work serves an ecumenical purpose.

We begin firstly, by setting a biographical context and highlighting certain early theological studies and influences. We examine in particular Ratzinger’s doctoral study of St Augustine’s ecclesiology and his post-doctoral work on St Bonaventure and the relationship between history and metaphysics. These two studies have influenced Ratzinger’s understanding of the Church as hermeneutical subject which holds together the historical and the metaphysical, the objective and subjective, and the synchronic and diachronic dimensions of Revelation.

Details of Ratzinger’s life are usually divided into three main stages: firstly, his early years growing up in Bavaria and his studies as a seminarian; secondly, the period after ordination and his post-graduate studies up to the Second Vatican Council and thirdly, his work in...

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