Your seventieth birthday is approaching and even if I’m no longer able to write a true scientific contribution to the miscellany that will be dedicated to you on this occasion, I’d like nonetheless to participate with some words of greeting and gratitude.
Twenty two years have now gone by since you gave me a copy of your Katholische Dogmatik für Studium und Praxis der Theologie, in March 1995. For me this was an encouraging sign that also in the Post-Council theological generation there were thinkers with the courage to devote themselves ‘to the whole’, in presenting what the faith of the Church is in its unity and completeness. In fact, just as the exploration of detail is important, no less important is that the faith of the Church appear in its internal unity and entirety and that in the end the simplicity of the faith emerges through all the complex theological reflections; since the sensation that the Church is overloaded with a burden of incomprehensible things, which in the end may interest only the specialists, is the main obstacle in saying ‘yes’ to the God Who in Jesus Christ is speaking to us. In my view, one does not become a great theologian by the fact that he is able to tackle minute and difficult details, but by the fact that he is able to present the ultimate unity and simplicity of the faith.
Your Dogmatik in one volume however, pertained to me even for an autobiographical reason. Karl Rahner had presented in the first volume of his writings a project for a renewed construction of dogmatics, which he had worked on along with Hans Urs Von Balthasar. This obviously awoke in all of us an incredible thirst to see this schema filled with contents and completed. The desire for a Rahner-Balthasar signed dogmatics, which arose on this occasion, ran into an editorial problem. Erich Wewel had convinced Father Bernard Häring in the 50s to write a manual of moral theology which after its publication became a great success. Then the editor had this idea: that also in dogmatics something similar should be done and that it would perhaps be necessary for such a work to be written in a single volume by one person only. Obviously he turned to Karl Rahaner asking him to write this book.
However, Rahner was at that time involved in so many undertakings that he thought he would not be able to correspond to such a grand enterprise. Strangely he advised the editor to ask me, who at that time, at the beginning of my journey, was teaching fundamental dogmatics and theology at Frisinga. Yet even I, despite being at the beginning [of my vocation] was involved in many undertakings and did not feel capable of writing such a daunting work in acceptable time. So I then asked if I could involve a collaborator – my friend, Father Alois Grillmeier. As far as possible I worked on the project and met Father Grillmeier several times for extensive consultations. However, the Second Vatican Council required all my energies, as well as having to think in a new way about all the traditional exposition of the doctrine and faith of the Church. In 1977, when I was named Archbishop of Freising- Munich. it was clear that I could no longer think of such an enterprise. In 1995 when your book reached my hands, I unexpectedly saw that what had previously been desired by my generation but was not possible to carry out, had been achieved by a theologian of the successive generation.
Then I got to know you personally, when the German Episcopal Conference proposed you as a member of the International Theological Commission. In this you distinguished yourself above all for your wealth of knowledge and your faithfulness to the faith of the Church which poured forth from you. In 2012, when Cardinal Levada left his office as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on grounds of age, you seemed, after some reflection, the most suitable bishop to hold this office.
In 1981 when I accepted this office, Archbishop Hamer - the then Secretary for the Doctrine of the Faith - explained to me that the prefect did not necessarily need to be a theologian, but a sage, who in tackling theological questions would not make specific valuations, but would discern what to do for that [particular] time in the Church. The theological competence would rather be found in the secretary who guides the Consulta, that is, the meeting of experts who together give an accurate scientific judgment.
Yet in similar way to politics, the theologians don’t make the final decision, but rather the sages, who know the scientific aspects and along with these, are able to envisage the entire life of a grand community. During the years I held office, I sought to live up to this criteria. Whether this was achieved may be judged by others.
In the confused times in which we are living, the whole scientific theological competence and wisdom of he who must make the final decisions seem to me of vital importance. For example, I think that things might have gone differently in the Liturgical Reform if the words of the experts had not been the last ones, but if, apart from them, a wisdom capable of recognizing the limits of a “simple” scholar’s approach had passed judgment. [added emphasis]
During your Roman years you always undertook to act not only as a scholar, but as a sage, like a father of the Church. You defended the clear traditions of the faith, yet along the lines of Pope Francis, you sought to understand how they can be lived today.
Pope Paul VI wanted the great offices of the Curia – that of the Prefect and the Secretary - to be assigned always only for five years, in this way guarding the Pope’s freedom and the flexibility of the work of the Curia. In the meantime, your five-year contract in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith has expired. Thus you no longer have a specific charge, yet a priest and above all a bishop and cardinal, never retires. For this reason you can and will be able to serve the faith publically also in the future, starting from the heart of your sacerdotal mission and theological charism. We are all happy that with your great and profound responsibility, in addition to the speaking gifts given to you, you will also be present in the future struggles of our time for the correct understanding of ‘being man and being Christian’ May the Lord sustain you.
Finally, I would again like to express a very personal thank-you. As Bishop of Regensburg you founded the Pope Benedict XVI Institute - which guided by one of your pupils – is carrying out truly commendable work in maintaining publically present my theological work in all its scope. May the Lord reward you for your efforts.