Monday, October 23, 2006

Ratzinger at Tübingen

[Hat tip to Whispers.] A really fascinating article exploring Joseph Ratzinger's years at Tübingen, based on conversations with his students and colleagues, the years that have become somewhat legendary in his biography. This is from the Enlgish edition of the Italian monthly 30 Giorni (Thirty days).

It seems to be a series, under the rubric: "The Story of Joseph Ratzinger 1967-1977". I've located these:

The difficult years
. (The one quoted below.)

It seemed the end of the line, instead... (And here's a photograph of Ratzinger and his former students.)

This first article describes the increasing rift between his colleague, Hans Küng (at whose insistence and invitation, Ratzinger was hired at Tübingen), the tumultuous events of the late sixties, when the revolution arrived on German campuses, and the move to Regensburg (Ratisbon).

Some gems:
Ratzinger did not take sides, he retained his critical attitude, but he was certainly not the person to go looking for arguments and quarrels with his colleagues. He is not by nature a fighter, he doesn’t like putting on the gloves, he flees from academic brawling. He had absolutely no intention of taking on the role of the guard dog to organize resistance to the growing drift.
The “rebels” also took over the university parish of Saint John and demanded the democratic election of the chaplain. Then they stretched out on the stairs of the faculty, preventing the staff from entering: there was no longer time for listening to useless lectures, one had to get ready for the coming revolution. Ratzinger more than once underwent the “people’s courts” held by the students. As Martin Trimpe recalls: «They interrupted the lectures with chants, or they took the platform and forced him to answer their “revolutionary” questions». Other teachers tried to wink an eye at the protesters. Ratzinger answered with his even and logical argumentation. But his light voice was often overwhelmed by the shouting. Seckler again notes: «He does very well in steady and reasoned discussion. But he gets lost in violent argument. He doesn’t know how to shout, he’s incapable of shouting others down in bullying fashion»
Ratzinger’s move from Tübingen to Ratisbon is often pointed to as the time of change, when the reforming Council theologian, traumatized by his experience in Tübingen, began his metamorphosis into the lucid (or insidious, depending on the mindset of those bringing forth the cliché) conservative. Here were born the legends of Ratzinger as Titan of the orthodox counterattack on the evils of the time, and the contrasting one of Ratzinger crypto-conservative throwing off the mask of reformist theologian and revealing his visceral reactionary urges.
The first to reject the renegade’s role that both right and left were trying to force on him was Ratzinger himself. «I haven’t changed, they have changed», he was to say in 1984, in the book-interview edited by Vittorio Messori, about the theologians who wrote with him on Concilium.
And then there's this really interesting bit, how Ratzinger signed on to an article published by the faculty calling for term limits to the office of bishop.
A marginal episode that occurred towards the end of the Tübingen period is particularly enlightening. In the summer of 1969 some of the Tübingen professors wrote an article in which they threw a hand grenade: the abolition of the duration for life of the episcopate, the fixing of a time limit for the ministry of residential bishops. The article was given prominence in Theologische Quartalschrift, the prestigious Tübingen magazine that can boast of being the earliest of German theological periodicals. Before publication all the teachers in the Catholic faculty, including Ratzinger, signed the article. In its twelve dense pages sociological arguments are piled up to demonstrate that «the scaffolding and conception of the law of the Church appear as an out-dated, foreign world when matched to the current image of society». According to the authors the present form of episcopal jurisdiction did not derive from «the Gospel, nor even the structure of the early Christian community, but only from a tradition that emerged later», that «in various aspects is no longer adequate». Then they set out their proposal for fitting episcopal power to the new times. According to the Tübingen professors «the duration of the office of residential bishops must in future be eight years. Reappointment or prolongation of the period of the office is possible only in exceptional circumstances, and for objective, external reasons, due to the ecclesial political context». The authors specify that the proposal «is for now made only for western Europe» and that «implications for the election to the papacy do not come within the present exposition and therefore are not here discussed». Another excusatio non petita, given that the provocation ipso facto implied the possibility of conceiving an ad tempus mandate for the Bishop of Rome himself.
Professor Ratzinger’s adherence to his colleagues’ proposal hardly matches the image of the straight and tough opponent walling himself in against the theological drift of the time. But nor can it be invoked in confirmation of the opposing stereotype, Ratzinger the incendiary theologian soon destined to change his coat. Professor Seckler, who was one of the authors of that article and now remembers it as part of the “waywardness of youth”, tells 30Days: «At the start Ratzinger was the only one who didn’t want to sign the article. His conception of the episcopate didn’t fit with the thesis argued in our proposal. So I went to his home, to try to persuade him. We had a coffee, talked together for a long time. And when I left I had got his agreement». Even his closest students were perplexed at the time. Trimpe recalls: «The professor was usually determined in backing his convictions. In that case, perhaps he hadn’t read the article sufficiently, or gave in for a quiet life. He wanted to avoid further arguments with his colleagues». And perhaps what they were asking him – a simple adherence to a collective text – didn’t seem anything remarkable. After the publication of the article, while students and collaborators were in turmoil, Ratzinger didn’t seem too concerned about his reputation. He even suggested a lightly humorous way of placating their unease. Trimpe tells us: «When he saw that some of us were scandalized, he smiled and said: well, if you’re angry, write something, write an article against the proposal, and I’ll help you get it published».

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