Academic journal article Theological Studies

"For the Many": The Vicarious-Representative Heart of Joseph Ratzinger's Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

"For the Many": The Vicarious-Representative Heart of Joseph Ratzinger's Theology

Article excerpt

Stellvertretung or vicarious representation (sometimes translated, less adequately, as "representation" or "substitution") stands at the heart of Joseph Ratzinger's theology. (1) It is also a concept that has gone largely unnoticed or undeveloped in most analyses of his thought,* 2 which may be surprising, given its importance to his theological vision as a whole and to his Christology and ecclesiology in particular. Ratzinger uses the concept of vicarious representation, for instance, to develop a Christology centered on Christ's pro-existence as the one whose entire being is "for" the service and salvation of the many, and an ecclesiology that sees the Church--in the words of Yves Congar that Ratzinger makes his own--as a "pars pro toto" and a "minority in service of a majority." (3) Far from being marginal, the concept of vicarious representation illumines Ratzinger's thought on the salvific relationship between the "few" and the "many," between Christ and humanity, and between the Church and the world. My aim here is twofold: first, to elucidate this essential, if often overlooked, dimension of Ratzinger's theology, and second, to suggest that such elucidation helps address both contested questions in his thought and their implications for the contemporary Church.

Vicarious Representation

The theme of vicarious representation is present throughout Ratzinger's corpus, both chronologically and systematically. Kurt Koch notes the "central role" it plays in Ratzinger's theology, and Karl-Heinz Menke has examined at length its place in Ratzinger's thought. (4) Ratzinger himself has noted that the theme of vicarious representation is a

   fundamental category of biblical revelation that nevertheless plays
   only a meager role in theology, most likely because it lacks a
   corresponding philosophical model. The concept has instead been
   largely relegated to the literature of edification and spirituality
   [die reine Erbauungsliteratur],... New Testament theology is first
   and foremost a theology of vicarious representation. (5)

Ratzinger's thought bears witness to his effort to develop this concept in a constructive, properly theological manner.

Chronologically, vicarious representation is addressed most directly in Ratzinger's early thought (ca. 1958-1965): for example, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood', (6) "Die neue Heiden und die Kirche"; (7) "Paulinisches Christentum?"; (8) "Stellvertretung"; and "Kein Heil aufierhalb der Kirche?" (9) In the mid- to late 1960s Ratzinger developed the theme through the lens of pro-existence, most substantially in Introduction to Christianity, his major work from this era. (10) This weaving of vicarious representation and pro-existence continued through the 1970s, (11) 1980s, (12) and 1990s, (13) even as his theological attention often focused on other subjects due to his responsibilities as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982 and as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005. Vicarious representation finds its most recent and mature expression in the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth, which serve as the capstone to his theological labors. The theme is therefore a significant, longstanding presence in his theology.

Systematically, vicarious representation appears in the various areas of Ratzinger's theological corpus, as in Eschatology and The Spirit of the Liturgy, for instance, but I focus on the three areas in which it is articulated most prominently: (1) salvation history, (2) Christology and soteriology, and (3) ecclesiology.

Salvation History

Ratzinger argues that salvation history's "fundamental law" (14) is one of vicarious representation, which manifests itself in several dimensions: divine election; the relationship between the "few" and the "many"; and the exchange between Christ and humanity, as well as between the Church and the world. The foundation of Ratzinger's thought on vicarious representation is laid in The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, particularly in its concluding section, "True Universalism. …

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