December 27, 2010
Fr. Stefano Penna

Fr. Stefano Penna


Edmonton — If you want to learn more about Pope Benedict, look to Newman Theological College.

Beginning in January, the college will offer a course on the history and theology of Joseph Ratzinger.

Teaching the course will be Father Stefano Penna, the dean of theology at Newman and an admirer of the pope.

“We are going to look at the life and thought of Joseph Ratzinger,” Penna said.

“He is one of the premier theologians of the past century. Since the 1950s he has stood at the centre of theological developments in the Church across the world and is really one of the central figures in the Second Vatican Council.”

The course will last one semester — from Jan. 5 to April 6 — and will include 12 lectures of three hours each “with lots of breaks and maybe we are going to have some good German beer available,” he laughed.

“And it’s a great opportunity to see the new college.”

The course will meet on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

“We are going to be looking at this man whom providence has given us as pope and who is one of the pivotal thinkers and implementers of the Second Vatican Council and the renewal of the Church,” Penna said.

From 1962 to 1965 Ratzinger was present during all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council as a chief theological advisor to the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Josef Frings.

He wrote Frings’ intervention in the first session of the council and thus helped change the direction of the Second Vatican Council into a positive development for the Church, Penna noted.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed Ratzinger archbishop of Munich and Freising. In May of that year, the pope named him a cardinal and in 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He also became president of the Biblical Commission and of the Pontifical International Theological Commission.


“The man has a prodigious intellect and a prodigious work ethic. Despite doing all these many ecclesial jobs in the Church, he produced a large amount of theological reflection,” Penna said.

“One of the great things about him being elected pope is now we are able to look at that theological reflection.”

Among Ratzinger’s contributions to the Church are “his accurate grounding of the Church’s position in the historical moment of modernity with a view to what is required to be an evangelical voice in the world,” Penna said.

“The second point is a systematic grounding of the vision of what Christian life is in the person of Christ Jesus. And thirdly, is a re-articulation of the sacred sacramental sense of the Church as the place chosen by God to encounter the Good News.

“He is superb in articulating how Christianity meets and engages other religions. Benedict is a scholar through and through and he is able to bring clarity and organization to the most difficult of concepts.”


Penna said Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Benedict’s first encyclical, “alerted the whole Church to the profound faith and vision and wisdom and knowledge of the man who was the pope.

“People on the left and the right were surprised by this document. But if anybody had been reading him over the last 25 years, they would not had been surprised at all by his stance.”

The course will look at Ratzinger’s history and background; where he came from, how did growing up in Bavaria in the 1930s and 1940s shape him. “We are going to look at the major thinkers that he encountered along the way and his interlocutors — the people that he was interacting with,” explained Penna.

“Then we are going to identify several central parts of his thought, mainly his understanding of modern culture in the modern situation, his vision of the Church, his ecclesiology, his vision of who Christ is, his understanding of what the liturgy and the sacramental of the Church represents and expresses and his view of the moral issues that are facing the world today.

“And then we are going to conclude the course by examining his three encyclicals: Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved) and Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). And that’s the course. Should be fun.”