Patriarch Bartholomew Pays Tribute to Benedict XVI

Orthodox Leader Says Pope Emeritus Built Close Friendships With the Orthodox

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has paid tribute to Benedict XVI, saying the Pope Emeritus’ entire journey «is characterized by stability and unwavering devotion to the fundamental ecclesiological principles and by complete dedication to the Church.»

In an address to the Circle of Students of Pope Benedict XVI at the opening of a Conference on “Benedict XVI and Orthodoxy”, held in Halki, May 1-4, 2014, the Patriarch also discussed shared common challenges, namely the identity of European civilization, and the close friendships Benedict built with the Orthodox.

Paying tribute to Benedict XVI’s theology, the Patriarch said it is the truth that «respect for tradition does not render the Church un-worldly, while openness to the world does not imply secularization. Authentic theology springs from this dual reference to the tradition of the Church and its dialogue with the world.»

Full text of the Patriarch’s speech below:


Your Eminence,
Esteemed members of the Study Group dedicated to the theology of Pope Benedict XVI,

We welcome you with great joy to the City of Constantine during this radiant period of the Lord’s resurrection. You have come to the Sacred See of the Holy and Great Church of Christ in order to deliberate on the theology of Pope Benedict XVI, the “theologian pope,” whose profound and prolific theological scholarship clearly proves that ecclesiastical ministry – even at the highest church offices – can coincide with a creative commitment to theological study.

Theology is the articulation and interpretation of the life of the Church in conversation with the signs of the times. This is why theology has always been the axis of action and thought for Pope Benedict; this is why all of his choices and decisions were based on theological criteria; and this is why he always took a stand against theological minimalism. In his opinion, nothing constructive can develop in the Church without proper theological foundation.

Pope Benedict was an admirer and student of patristic theology and spirituality. He did not regard the Church Fathers as monuments of the past, but as an essential dimension of life and of the Church’s identity. He was inspired by the charismatic and mutual coinherence and enrichment of church ministry and theology in the Christian witness of the Fathers.

Dear participants, you are concerned with the work of an ecclesiastical man, who has deeply influenced the evolution and shaped the face of contemporary Catholicism. He was professor of systematic theology in Bonn, Münster, Tübingen, and Regensburg; he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising; Cardinal and President, since 1981, of the Congregatio Fidei; coworker, advisor and successor of the recently canonized Pope John Paul II, and the first pope of the twenty-first century. Benedict XVI proved faithful to the tradition of the Church and of theological witness before the existential pursuits and challenges of our time.

The entire journey of Pope Benedict is characterized by stability and unwavering devotion to the fundamental ecclesiological principles and by complete dedication to the Church. As he declared in one of his interviews, faith in God and ministry in the Church of Christ were his life’s compass from the outset. Indeed, when asked whether his theological development was directed toward conservatism, he observed: “I cannot deny that there has been evolution and change in my life, but I insist that these are included within the context of a stable identity. It is precisely by changing that I endeavored to remain faithful to that which was always the basic concern of my life.”

We share common challenges with Pope Benedict; and our opinions coincide on many contemporary problems. For instance, we agree on the subject of the identity of European civilization – of its present and future. Both of us are convinced that it is impossible to conceive and assess European civilization without reference to its Christian roots. The fundamental values, morality, education, art, science, economy, social and political structure of Europeans are linked to Christianity, even if much of this was achieved or imposed, sometimes in conflict with the Church.

With regard to the situation of modern Europe, we believe that the route toward comprehensive secularization, which is advocated by representatives of the “modern fundamentalism,” has been definitively interrupted inasmuch as today we speak of “post-secular” societies, which have embraced the presence and public role of religions. At any rate, the notion of an absolutely secularized society was entirely foreign and inconceivable for other civilizations, which are no longer too distant from us but in fact comprise part of the multicultural European societies. On the other hand, of course, the ongoing explosion of religious fundamentalism provides welcome arguments to those who either doubt or deny religion today and who continue to identify the negative expressions of the religious phenomenon with its essence.

On the ecumenical movement, Pope Benedict gave particular emphasis to the theological dialogue of Roman Catholicism with the Orthodox Church. He promoted this dialogue as well as bilateral contacts with individual Orthodox Churches but especially with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We shall never forget the visit of Pope Benedict to the Phanar in November, 2006, which decisively contributed to the advancement and enlargement of relations between our two Churches. At the same time, we too visited Rome on two occasions at the official invitation of Pope Benedict. During our second visit, we spoke in the Capella Sixtina on the subject of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” before the Synod of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Benedict, who – it should be noted – established close relationships of confidence and friendship with many Orthodox hierarchs, believed, just as we too believe, that a spirit of mutual trust and sincerity should prevail in the dialogue among the Churches, which should also wholeheartedly respect fundamental theological and ecclesiological criteria. The evolution and success of dialogue are associated with the faithfulness of each side to the particularity of its respective tradition as well as with their mutual openness. We believe that the “dialogue of truth” is not a search for the truth or a journey toward truth, but rather a dialogue “in Truth.” And this saving Truth is Christ Himself, the “head of the Church” and “savior of the Body.” (Eph. 5.23)

Dear scholars of Joseph Ratzinger’s theology,

The message that emerges from the impressive ecclesiastical and theological work of Pope Benedict is the creative coexistence of the offering of the Church and the study of theology. It is the truth that respect for tradition does not render the Church un-worldly, while openness to the world does not imply secularization. Authentic theology springs from this dual reference to the tradition of the Church and its dialogue with the world.

We especially greet the fact that, among the scholars of Pope Benedict’s theology, there are also Orthodox academics, something that we are certain also delights the Pope himself.

Even as we experience the foretaste of our imminent encounter in Jerusalem with Pope Benedict’s successor to the throne of Rome, Pope Francis, fifty years after the fraternal embrace of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in the Holy City, we wish you every success and fruitful deliberations.

Thank you for your attention.

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