Liberation Ecclesiology? the Quest for Authentic Freedom in Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of the Church

By Corkery, Sean; Fastiggi, Robert | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Liberation Ecclesiology? the Quest for Authentic Freedom in Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of the Church


Corkery, Sean, Fastiggi, Robert, Journal of Markets & Morality


Liberation Ecclesiology? The Quest for Authentic Freedom in Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of the Church Sean Corkery Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2015 (579 pages)

A Liberation Ecclesiology? is an important study of a central idea in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), namely, freedom. The author of this extensive study is Fr. Sean Corkery, a priest of the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland, who completed his doctoral studies in systematic theology at the Pontifical University, St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, Ireland.

Father Corkery's book is especially concerned with Ratzinger's understanding of freedom as it relates to ecclesiology. The topics covered, however, go beyond the theology of the Church. In the introduction, Corkery not only explains the theme and focus of his study; he also provides an extensive overview of recent books that discuss Ratzinger's ecclesiology. Here he displays a familiarity not only with published works by H. Verweyen, P. Hoffmann, G. Mannion, M. Volf, and E. De Gaal but also with doctoral theses such as that of (now Bishop) James Massa who wrote on the theme of communion in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Fordham, 1996).

The book is divided into three sections and nine chapters, with chapter 9 being a concluding evaluation. Section 1 (chapters 1-2) deals with the formative influences on the thought of Joseph Ratzinger with a special focus on how these influences shaped his understanding of freedom. As is well-known, Ratzinger grew up in a twentieth-century Europe marked by the rise and fall of "Nazi and Communist supremacy" (41). The twelve years of Nazi rule had a "permanent impact on the future theologian" (43). The young Ratzinger saw the Catholic Church as a true alternative to the destructive ideology of Nazism. After the war, Ratzinger became a priest and theologian who attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as the theological peritus (expert) of Josef Cardinal Frings of Cologne. The theological hopes of authentic religious freedom envisioned by the Council, however, were soon overshadowed by the Marxist-inspired student revolts of the late 1960s. In this regard, Corkery cites the observation of John Thorton who describes Ratzinger's way of life as "having survived the horrors of Nazi Germany and the turbulence of the Marxist revolutions of the sixties, always serving the Church he loves with unwavering will, profound intelligence, and great heart and soul, in a life marked by joy and gratitude" (46).

In addition to the false ideologies of the Nazis and the Marxists, Ratzinger also developed his insights on authentic freedom in dialogue with (and opposition to) the one-sided views of freedom expressed by Luther, the philosophers of the Enlightenment (Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel), and Sartre who professed a type of "anarchic freedom" (112). Ratzinger found a deeper and more authentic view of freedom in the biblical message as interpreted by Augustine, Bonaventure, and the Catholic Church. Authentic freedom must move beyond individualist concepts to a more community-supported understanding. In this regard, however, Ratzinger believes that civil society is not sufficient. Authentic human freedom must be nurtured within the community of the Church, which provides a true understanding of the human person as directed toward Christ and divinization.

In section 2 (chapters 3-5), Fr. Corkery explores the theological foundations of Ratzinger's "ecclesiology of liberation," which is not the same as the various "theologies of liberation" that arose in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, the term liberation ecclesiology was first used by the Mexican Jesuit, Alvaro Quiroz Magana (b. 1942) in 1996 "to describe the Church as the sacrament of historical liberation, and the sign and servant of the Reign of God" (6). As Corkery shows, Ratzinger develops his own "liberation ecclesiology" in response to: (1) the human thirst for freedom, (2) modern rationalism, (3) the reawakening of the reality of God, (4) the orientation of the Church in contemporary society, and (5) the need to reclaim a sense of interiority (147-51). …

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