Home > Archives > 01/02 - 2006 > It’s the faith that makes questioning possible
from issue no. 01/02 - 2006

Ratzinger and “his” professor in Munich

It’s the faith that makes questioning possible

A mass celebrated by Ratzinger among the mountains near Ruhpolding, 
in the summer of 1952

A mass celebrated by Ratzinger among the mountains near Ruhpolding, in the summer of 1952

Excerpts from the sermon by Joseph Ratzinger
at the funeral of his professor Gottlieb Söhngen, Cologne, parish of Saint Agnes,
19 November 1971

In the breadth of his thought lay his greatness and also his destiny. Because who asks questions with so vast an openness, cannot exhibit a closed synthesis. Söhngen knew it; he knew that the hour of the theological summae had not yet sounded. He knew that he had to be satisfied with fragments. But he always strove to look at the whole in the fragment, to consider the fragments starting from the whole and to delineate them as reflections of the whole.
That gives a glimpse of his underlying spiritual attitude also: Söhngen was one who questioned in profound and critical fashion. Even today one cannot question in a more profound way than he did. But at the same time he was a profound believer. What in him fascinated us students in an ever new way was precisely the unity of those two elements: the courage with which he posed each question, and the clarity with which he knew that, by so doing, faith has nothing to fear from a vast search for knowledge.
That is why he was not frightened of the fact that his thinking could turn out to be hesitant, stammering, ill-equipped or contradictory in the face of an individual author or even in face of an entire period. He knew that there is no need to extort violent solutions, when they genuinely can’t be found…. Thus for him it was also clear that the theologian doesn’t speak in his own name, albeit he must give himself, but that instead he affirms the faith of the Church, that he does not invent, but receives. The courage of his questioning sprang from the inward recognition that, as regards truth, we could not have questioned unless truth has not asked of us first, if beforehand we had not already been found by her.
I believe that the humour, the naturalness and ease that he maintained in the great effort of thinking are related to this. From this one can understand his relation with the Church, that even with all his critical approach was never put in question by him; and this perhaps also because that relation was so concrete. The Church, for him, was not some distant abstraction. It was present to him immediately, in his bishop, in the cardinal of Cologne….
On that, finally, depended a very significant characteristic of Söhngen: his great love for his mother city, Cologne. All his life he felt it a particular privilege to be at home in this city, with its ancient Roman and Christian culture. His love for Cologne and his relation with the Church went hand in hand. The Cologne he loved was precisely the Christian Cologne, through his bishop he knew himself to be embraced within the Church one, holy, Catholic ….
Now he is gone from us. The direction he signposted remains. And he, too, remains – in the hands of God.

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