With these precisely chosen words, Joseph Ratzinger distils the essence of his theological thought in one concise phrase. In it, he brings together two things that should be inextricably bound up with one another, yet which are often separated in today’s mentality, where love and truth are viewed as opposites, and freedom is associated only with love, but not with truth.
Why love and truth are inseparable
For Pope Benedict XVI, however, love and truth are so dependent on one another and so mutually reinforcing that he can succinctly state: “Without truth, love becomes blind, a caricature of itself – without love, truth becomes cruel, thus squandering its very essence.”  In the eyes of Benedict XVI, Christianity is indeed the religion of love, not only in its origins but in its deepest essence as well. Christianity springs forth from the love of God, who loves us and who leads us human beings to love, which we give back to God and thence to one another.
This love, however, is not something convenient or cheap; rather, it requires us to open ourselves to its truth, which places demands on us. This fundamental reality can be made clear with a simple example: Imagine a young person who has become addicted to drugs and is now a prisoner of his vice – if I truly love him, then surely I will not comply with the sick person’s hidden desire to poison himself; rather, I will do everything I can do cure him of his addiction, even if I have to act against the blinded will of the addict, to the point of inflicting pain on him.
This example shows how love also presupposes healing, and is itself healing; or, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Participation in the pain of transition from the drug of sin to the truth of love”.  Below, we will continue to reflect on this intimate connection between truth and love in the theological thought of Pope Benedict XVI.
picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Erzbistum München und Freising
Joseph Ratzinger’s coat of arms as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Below it is his episcopal motto Cooperatores Veritatis, “Co-workers of the Truth”.
The meaning of Ratzinger’s episcopal motto
In 1977, when Joseph Ratzinger, then a theology professor at the University of Regensburg, was consecrated Archbishop of Munich and Freising, he chose as his motto a phrase from the Third Epistle of John: “Therefore, we ought to support such persons, so that we may be co-workers of the truth” (verse 8).
In this passage, John is primarily thinking about itinerant missionaries, for whom he demands hospitality in the conviction that love in the form of hospitality towards them is at the same time service to the truth that the missionaries proclaim. Because the faithful enable the missionaries to preach by showing them the love of hospitality, they themselves become “co-workers of the truth”. This is the phrase that Joseph Ratzinger chose as the guiding principle of his episcopal ministry . In doing so, however, he was only putting into words the way he already viewed his calling as a theologian; namely, to place his intellect at the service of God’s truth, which he has revealed in his history with humanity.
In the modern world, where there is great danger of man capitulating before the question of truth, precisely due to the greatness of his knowledge and abilities, Joseph Ratzinger understood this service as being “custodians of sensibility to the truth, not to allow man to be distracted from his search for the truth” .
As a theologian and beyond, Joseph Ratzinger was always guided by his episcopal motto, “Co-workers of the Truth”. This principle forms the common thread running through the life and work of Joseph Ratzinger as a Christian and as a theologian, as a bishop and as pope, testifying to a deep and abiding continuity that spans his entire life story.
Servant of the truth – as theologian, bishop, and pope
On the one hand, Joseph Ratzinger always and primarily understood his theological thought as thinking along with the whole Church and, in this elementary sense, as part of the Church´s service to the objective of her faith. On the other hand, even when he was called to the offices of bishop, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and pope, he never left theology behind.
In his conviction that he was called first and foremost to be a theologian, and thus a servant of the truth, he remained committed to this duty as a theologian even as pope and perceived in it the innermost essence of his pastoral ministry: “to safeguard sensibility to truth; to invite reason to set out ever anew in search of what is true and good, in search of God; to urge reason, in the course of this search, to discern the illuminating lights that have emerged during the history of the Christian faith, and thus to recognize Jesus Christ as the Light that illuminates history and helps us find the path towards the future.” .
The pastoral ministry of the pope, therefore, consists in the duty to authoritatively teach the truth of the Faith, and includes in particular the service of obedience to the faith, as Pope Benedict XVI stated at Saint John Lateran during his homily at the Mass of the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome.
IMAGO / Heinz Gebhardt
On 25 March 1977, Joseph Ratzinger was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising by Pope Paul VI. Ratzinger received his episcopal consecration on 28 May 1977 from Joseph Stangl, Bishop of Würzburg at the Munich Frauenkirche.
Believing, thinking, obeying: How theologians differ from other scholars
According to him, the Chair of Peter is a symbol of that teaching power that can be nothing other than the “power of obedience and service” so that the Word of God, and thus the truth, may shine out into the world and show humanity the way of life. Since the mission of the Bishop of Rome consists in committing the whole Church to obedience to the Word of God and to bear witness by his own exemplary obedience, his ministry must guarantee obedience to Christ and his truth, which, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, means: “He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.” 
In the eyes of Joseph Ratzinger, obedience to the faith, which must be demanded of both the theologian and the pope alike, is most deeply grounded in the fact that the truth in whose service both theologian and pope stand is already given to them. This is what distinguishes theology and the Magisterium of the Church from all other efforts of scientific and scholarly thought, and ultimately from every thinking individual. The thinking person is characterized by the fact that for him, thinking precedes speaking and thought precedes word. For we are right to say that human beings, who first need to have heard themselves speaking before they even know what they are to think, are not particularly intelligent or wise.
Things are quite different in the case of the Christian theologian and preacher in the service of the Church. This is by no means to deny that he himself may be a solid thinker – quite the contrary. But with the Christian theologian and preacher, if they understand themselves and their responsibilities correctly, the Word always precedes their thinking. Of course, this is not the word of the theologian or the preacher himself, but the Word of God, which is given to the theologian and preacher and which he must first receive and accept before he can reflect on it and pass it on.
In theology, the Word of God always precedes thought. Theological thought is therefore, in the best sense of the word, always reflective, always thinking after.
For theology cannot invent the Word of God, it can only discover it, or better yet, let the Word discover it. Theology cannot produce the Word of God; instead it can only bear witness to it, with its necessary concern for systematic coherence. Theology cannot create the Word; it can only depict it to others, and in the most straightforward and honest way possible. Only in this way does theology serve the truth that the Christian faith claims for itself.
In theology, the Word of God always precedes thought. Theological thought is therefore, in the best sense of the word, always reflective, always “thinking after.” Christian theology is the disciplined reflection on what has already been said and already been thought by God, and in this respect it starts with an answer – one that it has not arrived at or come up with itself, but which is much greater than its own power of thought and which it must constantly measure itself against, as Pope Benedict XVI stated quite profoundly in an address on the spiritual and intellectual legacy of the great Catholic theologian Romano Guardini: “The principle that establishes the yardstick is not our own thought but God who surpasses our units of measurement and cannot be reduced to any entity that we may create. God reveals himself as the truth, not an abstract truth but rather one to be found in the living and the concrete, ultimately in the form of Jesus Christ.” 
picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Vatican_Pool/Mari
Joseph Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI. The newly elected Pope greets the crowds of the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square from the loggia of the Basilica following the end of the conclave on 19 April 2005.
What is meant by “the revelation of God”?
This fact, that the Word of God precedes the theologian’s own thought, gives rise to two consequences that are of fundamental importance to the theological thought of Joseph Ratzinger. First, since the Word of God comes before Christian theology and at the same time enables its existence, then theology, by its very nature, presupposes auctoritas – more precisely, the authority of that truth which in the Christian faith bears the name “revelation”.
At its essential core, Christian theology is reflection on the revelation of God; it does not discover its contents on its own, but receives them from revelation, “in order then to understand them in their inner coherence and intelligibility” . Christian theology is, in its elementary sense, the theology of revelation  , and the concept of revelation is, as it were, the beam of light in which all other theologically significant realities need to be viewed and understood.
In the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, the concept of the revelation of God refers first and foremost to the act of God showing himself to man and promising himself to him as love, and not the objectified result of this act: “Revelation is not conceived in Scripture as a system of propositions, but as the event – complete yet ever occurring – of new relation between God and humanity“. 
Why Ratzinger has always defended the faith of the simple believer
From this, the second consequence of the precedence of God’s Word over the theologian’s own thought becomes apparent. It consists in the fact that the first response to the revelation of God is not theology, but faith, and that as a result, theology can only be properly understood if it is carried out in the service of faith. The truth that Christian theology seeks to discern is accessible to us only through faith. Faith is “the gift of a new beginning for thought which it is not in our power either to set in existence or to replace.” . Consequently, theology cannot be the measure against which faith and the proclamation thereof is judged; rather, conversely, it is faith, lived and reflected upon, that is the measure against which theology is to be judged.
This primacy of faith over theology is the reason why Joseph Ratzinger, as a theologian, as bishop, and as pope, has always defended the faith of the simple believer and has regarded the Church’s Magisterium as having a special duty to be the advocate of the faith of the people of God, or more precisely, “to embody the voice of simple faith and its simple primitive instincts.”
Mass of the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome by Pope Benedict XVI at St. John Lateran on 7 May 2005. Benedict XVI sees the chair as a symbol of the Bishop of Rome’s power to teach.
It is not intellectuals who measure up the ordinary people, but the ordinary people who measure up the intellectuals. Scholarly explanations are not the measure of the profession of the baptismal faith, it is the profession of the baptismal faith, in its naive literality, that is the measure of all theology.
It is in this advocacy for the faith of all the baptized that Joseph Ratzinger sees the bishops as having a “democratic function” : “It is not intellectuals who measure up the ordinary people, but the ordinary people who measure up the intellectuals. Scholarly explanations are not the measure of the profession of the baptismal faith, it is the profession of the baptismal faith, in its naive literality, that is the measure of all theology.” 
What lies behind this partiality towards the common ground of baptismal faith is emphatically not a contempt for simple believer, but on the contrary, a positive view of man in general, in that he is convinced that man is capable of recognizing and acknowledging the truth. Taking his cue from St. Augustine, whose theological thought was motivated by asking the fundamental question of what man desires more than truth – Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem? – Joseph Ratzinger sees man as not only capable of truth, but above all as a being who is in need of the truth, whose deepest longing is directed towards knowledge of the truth, as Pope Benedict XVI emphasized in his message at the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 2012: “Man is a being who bears within his heart a thirst for the infinite, a thirst for truth – a truth which is not partial but capable of explaining life’s meaning.“
And since the question of man and the question of the truth are one and the same, Joseph Ratzinger is also convinced that it is only in the encounter with the truth that is God himself that man is able to discern the ultimate meaning of his own life: “Only in reference to God's Love which is revealed in Jesus Christ can man find the meaning of his existence and live in hope, even if he must face evils that injure his personal existence and the society in which he lives.“
Faith and Reason depend on one another
The word “truth” denotes the central concern of Joseph Ratzinger as theologian, preacher, and teacher of the Church. His life’s work revolves around the pre-given nature of the truth and its ability to be known. For it is in the very nature of the Christian faith to seek the reason within itself, and therein the reasonableness of all that is real, and reason itself; hence, it claims to be true.
To make this elementary claim – in which lies the very mission of Christian theology – one must himself be concerned with the reliability of the truth and the reasonableness of faith, and thus with the intrinsic relationship between faith and reason. The dialogue between faith and reason was a matter that lay especially close to the heart of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI. For he is deeply convinced that each depends on the other and that only in mutual dialogue between the two can sicknesses of faith and pathologies of reason be overcome.
“In the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, the concept of the revelation of God refers first and foremost to the act of God showing himself to man and promising himself to him as love.” – Pope Benedict XVI kneels before the Cross during the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter’s. Archive photo from 6 April 2012.
For without reason, faith is in danger of obscuring its truth and turning into fundamentalism, just as reason without faith is in danger of becoming one-sided and one-dimensional. With this concern in mind, Joseph Ratzinger constantly sought dialogue with critical thinkers such as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas , the Italian political scientist Paolo Flores d’Arcais  and the philosopher and then-president of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera . And as Pope Benedict XVI, he also dedicated many of his major speeches on his apostolic journeys to the dialogue between faith and reason. 
For Benedict XVI, critical dialogue between faith and reason is so important because in the light of the Christian faith, God is to be understood first and foremost as Logos – as word and meaning, as reason and truth. Therefore, it is in the reason of God that the reasonableness of the world, from to the very top to the very bottom, shines forth, meaning that the Christian option for reason is thus grounded in the Christian faith in God.
The author, Cardinal Kurt Koch, is Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. He was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Benedict XVI in 2010. The Swiss theologian is considered an outstanding expert on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.
Note: The abbreviation “JRGS” stands for Joseph Ratzinger Gesammelte Schriften, the multi-volume collected works of Joseph Ratzinger in German.
 J. Ratzinger, “Faith as Trust and Joy—Evangelium,” in: id., Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, trans. Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 75–84, esp. 88.
 J. Ratzinger, Gottes Wort ist niemandes Knecht. Zum Wesen christlicher Existenz. Predigt bei einem Gottesdiesnt am Hochfest des Hl. Korbinian im Freisinger Mariendom am 18. November 1981 [“God’s Word is nobody’s servant: On the nature of Christian existence, homily for a mass in Freising Cathedral on the feast of St. Corbinian, 18 November 1981”] (Munich, 1981), 7 [JRGS 4, 544].
 J. Ratzinger, The Yes of Jesus Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love, trans. Robert Nowell (New York: Crossroad, 2005), 95. (Previously published in English as To Look on Christ, 1991).
 cf. J. Ratzinger, Preface, in: id., Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, trans. Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. and Reverend Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1992), 5–6.
 Benedict XVI, canceled lecture originally intended for presentation at the Sapienza University of Rome on 17 January 2008.
 Benedict XVI, canceled lecture originally intended for presentation at the Sapienza University of Rome on 17 January 2008.
 Benedict XVI, homily at the Mass of the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, Basilica of St. John Lateran, 7 May 2005.
 Benedict XVI, address at the Guardini Foundation’s congress on “The Spiritual and Intellectual Legacy of Romano Guardini”, Clementine Hall, 29 October 2010.
 J. Ratzinger, “Faith, Philosophy, and Theology,” in: id., The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today’s Debates, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2016) 13–29, esp. 16.
 cf. K. Koch, “Offenbarung der Liebe Gottes und Leben der Liebe in der Glaubensgemeinschaft der Kirche” [“Revelation of God’s love and life of love in the faith community of the Church”], in: id., Bund zwischen Liebe und Vernunft. Das theologische Erbe von Papst Benedikt XVI. [“Covenant between love and reason: The theological legacy of Pope Benedict XVI”] (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2016), 18–53.
 J. Ratzinger, Das Problem der Dogmengeschichte in der Sicht der katholischen Theologie [“The problem of the history of dogma from the perspective of Catholic theology”] (Cologne and Oppladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1966), 19 [JRGS 9, 567].
 J. Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesiastical Identity of Theology,” in: id., The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today’s Debates, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2016) 45–72, esp. 56.
 J. Ratzinger, “The Church and Scientific Theology,” in: id., Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, trans. Sister Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 322–331, esp. 331.
 J. Ratzinger, “Was ist Freiheit des Glaubens? Silvesterpredigt 1979” [“What is freedom of faith? New Year’s Eve homily 1979”], in: id., Zeitfragen und christlicher Glaube: acht Predigten aus den Münchner Jahren [“Contemporary issues and Christian faith: eight homilies from the Munich years”] (Würzburg: Naumann, 1983), 7–27, esp. 21 [JRGS 9, 324–339, esp. 335].
 Benedict XVI, message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace on 1 January 2012: “Educating young people in justice and peace”, the Vatican, 8 December 2011, no. 3.
 Benedict XVI, address during a visit to the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 3 November 2006.
 cf. J. Habermas & J. Ratzinger, The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007).
 cf. P. Flores d’Arcais & J. Ratzinger, Gibt es Gott? Wahrheit, Glaube, Atheismus [“Does God exist? Truth, Faith, Atheism”] (Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach Verlag, 2006).
 cf. M. Pera & J. Ratzinger, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, trans. Michael F. Moore (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007).
 cf. G. Cottino, L’Avvenimento della Conoscenza. Un itinerario tra i discorsi di Benedetto XVI al mondo della cultura, dell’Università, della scienza. Con un’antologia di testi del Papa [“The advent of knowledge: an itinerary through the speeches of Benedict XVI on the world of culture, the university, and science. With an anthology of texts by the Pope.”] (Milan: Edizioni Ares, 2011); Benedict XVI, Die Ökologie des Menschen. Die großen Reden des Papstes [“The ecology of man: the Pope’s great speeches”] (Munich: Pattloch, 2012).