Benedict XVI will celebrate his 90th birthday on Easter Sunday. Cardinal Joachim Meisner famously described him as a man who is as intelligent as 12 professors and as pious as a child making his First Communion.

If one inserts the words “Joseph Ratzinger” into the Google Scholar search engine, which records academic publications, one obtains some 24,600 hits in four seconds. The words “Benedict XVI” bring up even more results – 66,100. As a comparison, Walter Kasper scores a mere 6,930 and Hans Küng 6,270. Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac score 16,900 and 13,200 hits respectively.

The only theologian of the last century I could find who trumps the 66,100 figure is Karl Barth, who has been the subject of a massive 127,000 academic articles. The Catholic theologian who came closest to Ratzinger was Karl Rahner, weighing in at 41,500 hits.

As Bavaria’s most famous son since Ludwig II enters his 10th decade of life, it is worth considering what the impact of all these publications might be in the brave new world of 21st-century Catholicism. My thought is that the publications of Ratzinger will form a treasury to be mined by future generations trying to piece together elements of a fragmented Christian culture.

Ratzinger himself emphasises that the seat of all faith is the memoria Ecclesiae: the memory of the Church. He believes that “there can be a waxing or waning, a forgetting or remembering, but no recasting of truth in time”. As a result, “the decisive question for today is whether that memory can continue to exist through which the Church becomes Christ and without which she sinks into nothingness”.

In this void of nothingness, in a world without the memoria Ecclesiae, the human person strives for an autonomy that is in conflict with his nature. It is natural, normal and healthy for one’s sense of self to exist within the context of a living history and tradition. Those without such moorings often spend their entire youth trying to “find themselves” without much success and often only after years of painful experimentation.

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