In an era of rapid secularization outside the Church and a spreading wave of progressivism and dissent within the Church, there is great need for clear headed thinking about divine and ecclesial realities. Arguably, there is no better theologian alive today than the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger.
As he himself said, the whole of his theology stands in the service – not of his personal interests – but the proclamation of the Word of God. Today’s world needs desperately to hear that Word proclaimed in all its fullness.
Back in 1996, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sat down for a book-length interview with the journalist Peter Seewald. That interview was later published in English as Salt of the Earth. In the course of that free-ranging discussion, Cardinal Ratzinger encapsulated the mission of his life’s work in theology, saying that “God is the real central theme of my endeavors. I have never tried to create a system of my own, an individual theology … The point of departure is first of all the Word. That we believe the word of God, that we try really to get to know and understand it and then, as I said, to think it together with the great masters of the faith. This gives my theology a somewhat biblical character and also bears the stamp of the Fathers, especially Augustine.”
Beginning this February, students living in Rome will be able to plumb the depths of this theological method and vision by way of a new Master’s degree program in Ratzinger Studies, entitled Joseph Ratzinger: Studies and Spirituality.
This new course of studies will be offered at the Pontifical Patristic Institute, more commonly known as the Augustinianum. The new degree-granting program “has as its purpose the understanding of the person, doctrine and spirituality of [Joseph Ratzinger] through his works and ministry,” according to promotional materials.
Students entering the program will be required to successfully complete two semesters of coursework and write a thesis in one of five languages (i.e., English, Italian, German, French, and Spanish). The Institute will offer this program in its entirety in both English and Italian, obviating the need for American students to learn a new language prior to matriculation. A small number of partial scholarships is available for students. But, the total cost of the program is 2,400 Euro – a small fraction of the tuition of most American post-graduate schools.
During the first semester of coursework, students will study Ratzinger’s Theological Method, Fundamental Theology, Christology, and engagement of Saint Augustine. Topics covered in these courses (or, modules) will include: The mysteries of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ, the vocation of the Catholic theologian, the Second Vatican Council and the hermeneutics of continuity, the God of faith and the God of the philosophers, secularism and relativism, the person as relation, and the relationship between power and grace in political theology, among other issues.
In the second semester, students will take courses on Ratzinger’s theology of Revelation, the Church, and Sacred Liturgy, as well as his philosophy and theology of Dialogue. These courses will examine his understanding of the formation of the Catholic Tradition; his approach to the relationship between exegesis and theology as well as his engagement of patristic and medieval exegesis; his ecclesiology and theology of ecumenism, especially his Mariology; his writings on the sacramental foundation of Christian Existence; his theology of beauty in relationship to the liturgy; and, his treatments of the place of Christianity in the history of religions, including the Church’s dialogue with Jewish tradition and the Church’s relationship with the modern world, among other topics.
According to the program administrator, the course of studies is “open to those who possess a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in philosophy, theology, or related studies.” Students admitted to the program will have complete access to the Augustinianum Library located at the Patristic Institute as well as the new Joseph Ratzinger Library at the Campo Santo Teutonico.
The Augustinianum Library is a “highly specialized library collection [that]serves as an invaluable aid in the study of the Fathers of the Church,” according to an official statement from the Institute. In addition to that world class library, students will also have access to the new Ratzinger Library, which houses the complete works of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as well as secondary literature in multiple languages. Many of that library’s holdings have been donated by the Pope Emeritus himself.
Classes will be held one day a week in the afternoon. For English speakers, there will be classes every Monday between 15:30 and 18:15 (that is, between 4:30-7:15pm). Those wishing to complete the program in less than two semesters, can take classes in both English and Italian. Courses offered in Italian will be taught on Tuesdays between 4:30 and 7:15pm. English language courses will be taught at the Patristic Institute, which is located directly across the street from St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Augustinianum will offer the Master’s degree program in Joseph Ratzinger: Studies and Spirituality starting this February 2016, and concluding in January 2017. This program will be offered in alternating years. During off-years, a separate Master’s degree program in Augustine Studies and Spirituality will be offered.
Allied with the Pontifical Lateran University, the Patristic Institute has the purpose of studying Church Tradition and its transmission. “Church Tradition is at the heart of studies at the Augustinianum. That is, the living transmission of the Christian faith, the Evangelium Christi in the first nine centuries of Christianity,” according to the school’s official website (which can be accessed at www.patristicum.org/en).
In addition to the Ratzinger and Augustine studies programs, the school also offers ecclesiastical licentiates and doctorates in both Patristic Theology and Patristic Science (or, Patrology). These programs prepare graduates “to pursue in depth research into the history of Ancient Christianity and to teach, in a contemporary environment and with ecclesial sensibility, the fundamental elements of the transmission of faith.”