The Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn and its Faculty of Catholic Theology mourn the loss of its former theology professor, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died on December 31, 2022, at the age of 95. "The University of Bonn mourns not only an important figure in contemporary history, but also a great theologian and pope whose work and ministry will remain influential in many ways," wrote Rector Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch and Dean Dr. Jochen Sautermeister in a joint obituary for the deceased.
The future Pope Benedict XVI held the chair of fundamental theology at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Bonn from 1959 to 1963. He had received the call shortly after taking over a professorship for dogmatics and fundamental theology at the Philosophical-Theological University of Freising. After further university stations in Münster, Tübingen and Regensburg, Joseph Ratzinger became Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977. From 1982 to 2005 he served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On April 19, 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope to succeed John Paul II and gave himself the name Benedict XVI. On February 28, 2013, he became only the second pope in church history to resign.
The time in Bonn was of central importance for the development of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological thinking. This is already evident from his much acclaimed inaugural lecture, "The God of Faith and the God of the Philosophers." At the same time, this period was formative for his understanding of the university and science. In his Regensburg speech in 2006, Benedict XVI made prominent reference to his time in Bonn. He impressively described his impressions of this "old ordinariate university," which he saw as characterized not least by interdisciplinary exchange. Here he experienced a common struggle for the cause of reason. His great theological work is characterized by this concern and the mediation of reason and faith - in this he always remained completely a fundamental theologian.
According to his words, Joseph Ratzinger has fond memories of Bonn: "But I must confess that I have remained homesick for Bonn, for the town on the river, its cheerfulness and its intellectual dynamism." He greatly appreciated Bonn’s cosmopolitanism: "At night I heard the ships on the Rhine flowing past the Albertinum. The great stream with its international shipping gave me a sense of openness and expansiveness, of a touching of cultures and of nations that had met and cross-fertilized here for centuries."
The Bonn period also marked the starting point of his commitment to the world church. Since the beginning of the 1960s, Joseph Ratzinger had served as an advisor to Cologne Archbishop Josef Cardinal Frings. From there on he had a decisive influence on the development of the Catholic Church. He participated in the Second Vatican Council as a theological advisor. He accompanied and helped to shape the Council’s reforms theologically. This applies, for example, to his collaboration on the Revelation Constitution "Dei Verbum".
The University of Bonn mourns not only an important figure in contemporary history, but also a great theologian and pope whose work and ministry will remain influential in many ways.