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By Dr. Edward Mulholland | Benedictine College Asst. Professor of Classical and Modern Languages
Back in the early ’80s when Pope John Paul II asked the Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German prelate’s answer was not unconditional. He accepted as long as he could carve out time in his schedule to study and write as a professional theologian.
The Holy Father, seeing that such a “concession” could only make his already brilliant right-hand man on Church doctrine all the more brilliant, said yes in a heartbeat.Since he became Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI has not left behind his “day job” (probably more like his “evening job”) as a professional theologian.
He has continued to publish as a theologian (his third book on the person of Christ is about to come out), and we can distinguish what he says as an individual theologian (but future first-ballot hall-of-famer) from what he says as part of his magisterial teaching as Pope Benedict XVI.
I guess even those who are infallible have a right to their own opinion.
One of his initiatives as a theologian has been the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. Established in 2010, its purposes are the promotion and study of theology, the organization of high quality academic meetings on various themes, and the awarding of a special prize to theologians of outstanding merit by their publications and academic research.
He has said that the prize exists to say thanks to “a theology that wishes, through love, to know more about the beloved.” A theology, therefore, that is fueled by love, and which in turn, brings us to love that which we, through prayerful study, come to know better.
This morning in Rome, the two winners of this year’s awards were announced: French philosopher of religion Rémi Brague, and Orange, New Jersey new favorite son, Fr. Brian Edward Daley, SJ.
Rémi Brague, born 1947, married and father of four, is professor emeritus of medieval and Arabic philosophy at the University Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris I) and professor of philosophy of the European religions (Romano Guardini Chair) at the Ludwig- Maximilian University in Munich.
Fr. Daley, SJ, an expert in Patristics whose studies and teaching have taken him from Fordham to Oxford to Frankfurt to the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Ma., now holds the “Catherine F. Huisking” Chair of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
His work on history and theology has brought to light that the fight for Catholic identity is nothing new. In his 2006 volume on St. Gregory Nazianzus, Fr. Daley sheds light on the polemic orations of the Saint against the non-Christian and often anti-Christian Emperor Julian the Apostate. The question of how much Greek culture they could absorb without danger to their faith was very real for Christians in the 4th century. Did being a true Greek mean being a pagan? Fr. Daley says St. Gregory’s life and work meet a tough challenge: “to show his contemporaries and all later devotees of Greek literature how one could be both a Christian and a humanist.”
How the Church Fathers dealt with these issues is very instructive for us today, who struggle to show the world that we can be true Catholics and true Americans.
When William Butler Yeats won the Nobel Prize, the Irish government issued an official congratulation to him, citing the “recognition which the nation has gained, as a prominent contributor to the world’s culture, through his success.” As members of the Catholic Church in these United States, we can be proud of Fr. Daley, whose life’s work and recent award makes us all proud.
In his remarks announcing this year’s winners, Cardinal Camilo Ruini said, “Brian E. Daley is a great historian of Patristic theology, but also a man committed with his whole self to the life and mission of the Church, who brings together in exemplary fashion academic rigor and a passion for the Gospel.”
In certain Catholic environs, one hears snickers and complaints against the Jesuits or against Notre Dame (disclaimer: I went there; counter-disclaimer: I dropped out) or about a host of other things. I’m thinking things can’t be all that bad, or they’ve certainly taken a turn for the better, when a Jesuit professor at Notre Dame brings home a Ratzinger.