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|The Ratzingers. Jospeh seated at left. Photo: Ignatius Press.|
After his work on Augustine, he wrote a second doctoral thesis. This was required by the German theological academy for anyone seeking to teach. Ratzinger's topic for this thesis was St. Bonaventure's view of history and revelation. The thesis caused great turmoil in large part because of disagreement between Ratzinger's advisers. It may surprise some today to hear this, but some of these advisers challenged the young theologian that he would become "dangerously modern" with his work on Bonaventure's view of scripture having a "historical character." But Ratzinger (and the other advisers) won the day. The result was a substantial work that has added greatly to the Catholic academic corpus.
Something else took place in writing this thesis that is important for the present conversation. Ratzinger's study of Bonaventure was specific to an episode within the young Franciscan Order. Not long after the death of Francis, a faction of the order known as the "spiritualists" found themselves at odds with orthodoxy. These Franciscans followed and somewhat misinterpreted the writings of a twelfth century abbot, Joachim of Fiore, who seemed to have made a series of intriguing predictions about a "new age" and who saw the story of the Church as an active one because history was far from stagnant—which, by the twelfth century, seemed fairly obvious.
The details of the matter are too great to delve into here. What is important for understanding Ratzinger's development and his eventual championing of Catholic ecology was how he witnessed in Bonaventure a pastor who was both unafraid of worldly change and was able to lovingly find ways to call errant members of his flock home. Bonaventure was able to offer the spiritualists a way back to orthodoxy by providing a fair reading of their works and finding aspects within it that had value. As a result, Bonaventure added to Christian thought the sense of revelation interacting with history—of grace baptizing new historical realities because of what Ratzinger would describe in his thesis as the "obligation" for disciples of Christ to sacrificially "love in the present."
Our fitness will always be more effective the less we seek our own glory and the more we are aware that the reward of the righteous is God Himself, to be united to Him, here, on a journey of faith, and at the end of life, in the peace light of coming face to face with Him forever (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).
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