11 January 2023, The Tablet

Benedict's encyclicals will stand the 'test of time'

The life and legacy of Benedict XVI was discussed at a Tablet webinar with Anna Rowlands and James Corkery SJ.

Benedict's encyclicals will stand the 'test of time'

Benedict XVI in 2010. Anna Rowlands said that his social encyclicals would stand the test of time.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales/Mazur

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered as a theologian and a public intellectual, a special commemorative Tablet webinar on his legacy was told last week.

Anna Rowlands, professor of Catholic Social Thought at the University of Durham and an adviser to the Vatican, said it was in Benedict’s social encyclicals that the public intellectual and the private church theologian came together, and that these encyclicals “will last the test of time”.

In writing about hope and eschatology he helped to reframe the big social theory debates and he also sought to provide a Christian metaphysical account of freedom, integrity, equality and emancipation.

Professor Rowlands noted how Benedict focused on the attempt by modern society to turn human beings and every aspect of their lives into products.

“What he wanted to do was to use his social teaching to point out the ways in which turning human life into a product, into something which has only a use value – a utility, distorts and dehumanises.

“What we need to put back on the agenda as Christians is the notion that we are natured, that we are created, that we are relational and our fundamental relationship to each other, and to our Creator, is gift.”

She said one of the reasons why Benedict was important for a generation of young people was that he offered an articulation of a counterculture in a moment where there was a deep thirst for that.

Professor Fr James Corkery SJ, an expert in Benedict’s theology, in his assessment of the former pope’s theological legacy told the webinar that he had left “a coherent synthesis” in which he had spoken about almost every aspect of Christianity. But he had “never built a system of his own”.

“Fundamental lines run through it: the priority of logos over ethos, the place of the cross in the Christian life, the centrality of love, the unity of faith and reason. These are refrains that turn up whatever he talks about.”

Professor Corkery said this edifice would be of use to students of theology in the future.

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