The communion theme in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger: Unity in the church and in the world through sacramental encounter

James Massa, Fordham University


The concept of communio in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger serves as a fruitful instrument for addressing a multiplicity of theological problems. Above all, the term connotes the essence and mystery of the church--its source of life in the eucharistic body of Christ. The notion of communion also applies, however, to many different areas of ecclesiology and anthropology. For the cardinal communion determines not only the character of the church and its structures, but also the purpose and meaning of human existence. Ratzinger's investigations into the works of Augustine and other church Fathers provide a context for addressing contemporary systematic problems, especially those pertaining to the interpretation of Vatican II's church constitution. As a unifying hermeneutic, communion functions to integrate not just one aspect of ecclesial life, such as worship, hierarchical authority, or the proclamation of the word, but all such aspects into a coherent whole. The people of God are such only to the extent that they live as "co-believers" and form sacramental communion with Christ. It is Christ who founds the church and continues to conform it to the image of himself. To forget that he is its source, its principle of organization, turns the church into a merely human enterprise. By insisting so strongly on the priority of the "vertical" and "receptive" aspects of communion, Cardinal Ratzinger avoids portraying the church as glorifying itself or losing itself in any manner of worldly activity. The benefits of this concept in the German author's work extend to his treatment of ecumenical issues and to the role of the church in today's world. Communion points to the already existing bonds that unite Catholics with others Christians, but also aids in penetrating the causes of separation, such as those having to do with the status of the Roman primacy and the role of the magisterium as witness to the biblical word. Within the secular context, Ratzinger maintains that a communion in truth remains the always prior condition of every responsible exercise of human freedom and of every form of political praxis that truly enhances human solidarity.

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Recommended Citation

Massa, James, "The communion theme in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger: Unity in the church and in the world through sacramental encounter" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9715526.