The Institute for Theological Inquiry (ITI) is an ongoing theological enterprise that is a division of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. Its American partner is the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey. The Institutes objective is to engage world-class theologians to break new theological ground on focused research projects in areas critical to Judaism, Christianity and world culture. Through its research, ITIs aims to develop rich new foundations for cooperative Jewish-Christian understanding, as well as spiritual and moral values that will bear on global religious, cultural and political life in the 21st century.
This book does not claim to be a systematic theology, and unlike my previous books, does not contain references to other authors, except to Biblical and Patristic sources. It is written primarily for undergraduate students, although I hope that other theologians may find it useful too.
Orthodox theology in our time must operate in an ecumenical context and so in dialogue with other Christian traditions. And it cannot take place in a cultural vacuum that ignores current philosophical trends, and it cannot simply repeat the traditions of the past.
It is unfortunate that much of todayâs Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history â a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of âtheologyâ? just as well or even better. Although this kind of âtheologyâ? claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition, it is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too.
In the lectures contained in this volume Christian doctrine is approached as a tradition that comes to us from the past but which is interpreted in a way that answers the needs of human beings in our own time, particularly in the context of Western culture. It is an attempt at dogmatic hermeneutics that aims to answer this question: what would the Fathers say to us today in response to our own concerns, as these are shaped by our own culture?
Sunday sets the rhythm of Church time. It is “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1), and therefore the first of the seven days of creation. But it is also the eighth day, the new time that began with the resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, therefore, Ratzinger says, Sunday is “the true measure of time, the unit of measurement of their lives,” because at every Sunday Mass the new creation breaks forth. Each time, the Word of God becomes flesh there.
The Scriptures illustrated by Benedict XVI in each of his homilies are naturally those of the Mass of the day, to which they impart a distinctive character. And this brings up another great expression of Church time, which is the cycle of the liturgical year. On top of the basic rhythm, the weekly rhythm marked by Sunday, a second rhythm has been added since the early Christian centuries, an annual cycle centered upon Easter and with Christmas and Pentecost as two other centers of gravity. This second rhythm highlights the Christian mystery in its distinct aspects and moments, along the entire span of sacred history. It begins with the weeks of Advent and continues with the season of Christmas and the Epiphany, with the forty days of Lent, with Easter, with the fifty days of the Easter season, with Pentecost. The Sundays outside of these special seasons are those of ordinary time, “per annum.” And there are feasts like the Ascension, Holy Trinity, Corpus Domini, Saints Peter and Paul, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption.
But the liturgical year is much more then the serial narration of a single great story and its main characters. Advent, for example, is not only the memory of the anticipation of the Messiah, because He has already come and will come again at the end of time. Lent is indeed preparation for Easter, but it is also preparation for baptism as the source of Christian life for each individual, a sacrament that is administered, by ancient tradition, at the Easter vigil. The human and the divine, time and eternity, Christ and the Church, the experience of all and of each one are surprisingly interwoven at every moment of the liturgical year.
Sandro Magister has collected and introduced a collection of Benedict’s homilies.
Benedict’s Opening Address to the Synod
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away“. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, a breath. As soon as it is pronounced it disappears. It seems to be nothing. But already the human word has incredible power. Words create history, words form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.
Furthermore, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality.
Sandro Magister on benedict as homilist